Monday, 29 April 2013

Woodstock Choralaires present HMS Pinafore

This is not exactly travel, but still a great experience I'd like to share.

I was in the unusual circumstance of being a member of the Woodstock Choralaires but not being able to be in the chorus for the Saturday night performance of HMS Pinafore.  What a show!  I was overwhelmed with delight seeing and hearing the whole production.  Gilbert's brilliant lyrics and Sullivan's sumptuous tunes transported me to a tuneful nirvana.

The entire production was put together expertly.  An orchestra of 11 fine musicians, professional singers sang the leading parts, the chorus filled the hall with the most wonderful rich choral sound, and all directed by our rigorous and tireless director.

Director, Doug Shippey after the show

Everyone was having a great time: the orchestra, lead singers, chorus and audience were happy - enchanted by the rather ridiculous but completely charming story told in lyrics and music that are fresh and captivating still today.

The Orchestra rehearsing with Josephine (Janelle Murray)

This is not an opera of angst and conflict but about the foibles and absurdities in ourselves and the leaders of our time.  Many years ago when I was young and impressionable I read this graffiti on the restroom wall at the Isabella Hotel in Toronto, " Don't adjust your mind, the fault is with reality."  Gilbert and Sullivan were right on the mark for this sentiment.  They took the realities of their time and lampooned them.  Amazingly, the situations hold up well after a century.

The libretto lends itself to augmentation so that lyrics and dialogue can be added to reflect current times.  Josephine, the female lead, weighs the choice between marrying the admiral or the sailor by comparing her shopping options: Holt Renfrew vs. Wal-Mart.   The Admiral of the Queen's Navy gives instruction on how to rise in government.  In G&S times that depended on class, now it seems, it depends on being part of la famille Trudeau.

The Sailors of HMS Pinafore

To make HMS Pinafore joyous and amusing, a thoroughly dazzling experience, took incredible amounts of energy, quickness of mind and plain hard work.  Set, costumes, props, directions, management, and none of these have to do with the music and lyrics, which are both challenging.  It was all too easy to go gaily tripping over the words in the patter songs.

Admiral Porter's Sisters, Cousins and Aunts

The fact that the production looked relaxed with all the cast enjoying the performance indicates the amount of work, attention to detail and dedication that was expended.

So to be thoroughly entertained, charmed and delighted, treat yourself to a Gilbert and Sullivan opera now and again and do come to the Woodstock Choralaires' concerts and productions in the future for an enjoyable and sparkling choral experience.

By The Way:  A Bonus - Gilbert and Sullivan tunes stay with you, so you will hum them for days after the performance.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Back to California - La Jolla

Once again I am continuing my  love affair with California.  This year we decided to spend a few days in La Jolla in the north end of San Diego before we headed up to the Central Coast. 

Clear skies on the flight to LAX afforded spectacular views of the mountains and canyons in New Mexico and Arizona.

This year we planned to stay for almost 2 months so we picked our car up outside the airport, which saved on the cost.  We took the San Diego Freeway (405) south to Irvine to pick up Hwy 5, which follows the coast.  Of course California captivates me with the first row of palm trees and then it just gets better.

The coastal communities vary from the typical beach type with and eclectic mixture of low rise adobe and clapboard buildings to the higher end towns with beautiful architecture and lovely shops.  We stopped in Oceanside for lunch at the Hill Street Cafe and Gallery and had good food and a stimulating conversation with the owner about the native history of the area 10,000 years ago.

La Jolla  is an upscale part of San Diego with beautiful homes, good restaurants and the beach just down the road from our hotel.  We started our first morning at Ellen Browning Sports Park for a walk in the sun and to see the harbour seals.  There were about 50 sleeping on the rocks across the bay, a few swimming in the ocean feeding in the shallows. One lazy but playful fellow was lying on a smooth rock then he would slide off when a wave washed over him, haul himself back up and do it again.

Groups of human swimmers looked as if they were training for a triathlon by swimming out into the bay and around buoys, then back to the beach. They must be very tough because they were only wearing bathing suits even though the water temperature was around 60º F (16ºC).

This beautiful old park has gardens and a classic building housing the La Jolla Cove Bridge Club.

 At another park by the sea, we watched pelicans gliding just above the undulations of the ocean, exquisite performance and this magnificent specimen sight seeing just like us.

How wonderful to sit outside in the February sun and drink coffee and watch the passing scene at Pacific Beach.

By The Way: When you go to La Jolla, or anywhere in southern California, go to an authentic Mexican restaurant and treat yourselves to guacamole made right at your table.  Fantastic!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Ports of Call on the Queen Victoria

Lift bridge over the inside waterway in Fort Lauderdale
Going south away from the Canadian winter becomes more imperative with each passing year.  This year we are cruising out of Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal aboard Cunard Line's Queen Victoria.  Even sitting on a bench at Port Everglades, the cruise port, is a treat because the air is soft and breezy with palm trees in view, the symbol of warmth and invitation for me and no jacket required.  Fantastic after having to wear boots, down jacket, scarf and aviator cap with the ear flaps down very time I ventured outside.

As I've mentioned before, I always like to read a novel that takes place where I am traveling.  I picked up one by John D. MacDonald.  His hero is a feisty roustabout Robin Hood type named Travis McGee, who gets money back from scam artists and returns it to the rightful owner.  I had read several in the series some years ago when I was going to a friend's cottage in Haliburton that had a collection of MacDonald's books.  It was a rollicking read and took place in Fort Lauderdale very close to where the Queen Vic was moored.

A freighter leaving Port Everglades for the Atlantic Ocean

Queen Victoria docked in Aruba
After two days at sea we docked in Aruba,  practically a desert island with a consistent temperature of 29ºC or 84ºF and  a constant breeze.  The capital city, Orangested, is quaint with an obvious Dutch heritage evidenced by the gingerbread house style buildings.  It has become a popular resort destination because the weather is always sunny and predictable.

When we sailed out of Aruba in the early evening heading to the Panama Canal we could see a dozen ships on the  horizon all sailing to or from the canal.

By the Way -  Make sure you pack Gravol for a cruise.  When the wind direction makes the ship roll it can play havoc with your balance, i.e. seasick.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bruges, A Medieval Town In Belgium

Hello Everyone. 

I'm back at my blogging desk once again after dealing with some medical issues and very glad to be back traveling and sharing it with you.  The California saga will continue in a while, but today I shall tell you about our recent trip to Bruges in Belgium.

We traveled from St. Pancras Station, London by Eurostar to Brussels and from there by local train to Bruges.

This medieval town was untouched during both World Wars.  The buildings date from the 13th-15th centuries when Bruges was a center for the cloth trade.  The houses line the narrow cobbled streets that are perfect for wandering, window shopping and stopping for coffee or beer at an outdoor café.  The beers are fantastic.  I especially like the cassis or black currant beer and on a rather hot afternoon I had a pineapple beer that was like drinking ambrosia.  Scott's favorite was Bruges Zot brewed by the only brewery right in Bruges. The De Halve Maan  brewery has tours through the brewery, even up on the roof to see the town and where they cooled the beer in the old days.   You'll get a token for a sample too.
Laces of amazing intricacy and fine quality and tapestries are still made in Belgium.  They are such wonderful examples of artistry and unique mementos of this trip.

The Market Square,
as you can see is the center of activity with buses and carriages skirting half the perimeter.  The Government Palace and Post Office buildings are on one side and the statue of Jan Breidel and Pieter de Coninck, both involved in securing independence from France for the Low Counties. 

The square is dominated by the Belfort with its octagonal belfry and carillon singing out to the town every quarter hour.  17th century houses with main floor restaurants line the other two sides of the square.  Although the fixed prices are somewhat higher than those away from the center, the atmosphere and charm of the square at night is worth the extra.

We found our stay very relaxing because there were few vehicles, many people were walking and the clip-clop of horses hoofs when the carriages passed was charming.  A tour of the town was 36 Euros and a great way to see the sights.  One of our favorites was the park and buildings the Minnewater.  The horses are watered and rested here, so we walked across the bridge to the park and the Begijnhof that was the home of lay sisters  founded in 1245. 

The atmosphere was peaceful - quite delightful.  The lake and adjacent canal is populated by ducks and apparently the swans have been here since 1448. 

The highlight of our visit was the canal boat tour.  When you go to Bruges don't miss it.  Seeing a town from the water always gives a different and yet interesting perspective. 

Our guide spoke in 4 languages: German, French, English and Flemish for the  members of the tour.  Most Belgians speak these languages and Dutch as well.  Here is a short video so you can come along in the boat with us to enjoy the ride.

The tour gives a good view of the buildings and sights particular to Bruges. 

In Northeast Bruges
St John's Hospital Building

By the Way When you go to Brussels make sure you have a .50 Euro coin with you because that is the cost of using the washroom at Midi Station.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fabric of Philadelphia

As you know, I usually write about California, but we go other places too; this blog is about Philadelphia.

The Roberto Capucci exhibition of Art into Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is spectacular.  If you can get to see it before it closes on June 5th, you will not be disappointed. Many of  Capucci's designs are sculptures of exquisite fabrics, fabulous colors and stunning textures.   The exhibition is breathtaking.

We took this museum shuttle to the Perelman Building to see the Chagall exhibition.  Another beautiful building with some of Chagall's work we had not seen previously.

Philadelphia is a beautiful city with varied and interesting architecture, both classical and modern.

 This grand boulevard, Benjamin Franklin Parkway is  lined with the flags of all nations, has fountains and statues in the median and leads to Philadelphia Museum of Art and the museum district with the Rodin Museum, Barnes Collection and the Childrens Museum which are all housed in magnificent buildings.  The purple fountain is in John F. Kennedy Plaza.

Fairmont Park sprawls through the museum district all landscaped with rocks and plants, flowers and open parkland for walking, running and various team sports.

I can recommend a ride on the Phlash trolley through this area and back to Penn's Landing on the Delaware River.  A great way to see the city for $2 a ride.

 By the way
It's easy to get around Philadelphia by trolley. subway or Phlash trolley in the summer season.  The cost is $2 a trip or 2 tokens for $3.10

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Avila Beach

Avila Beach is located just north of Pismo Beach off Hwy 101.  This picturesque beach town has a long beautiful  beach, harbor with piers, a promenade, beachfront shops, restaurants, hotels, condos, fresh fish available on the San Luis Bay pier and a Farmers' Market from April to September on Fridays from 4-8 pm on the promenade.

It is sublime place for a stroll with an ice cream cone, a drink at Mr Ricks, lunch at Custom House or the Hula Hut (buy some fudge to take home, which will conjure sweet memories).

Free trolley rides on the weekends will take you the Avila Valley Barn and hot springs, then on to your hotel in Shell Beach.

Avila Beach is sheltered from the northeast winds by Port San Luis so that it Avila the warmest of the local beaches.

The wineries are another highlight of the town.  Wood, Alapay. Avila Wine and Roasting Co. and Morovino Wines are all in Avila.  Spend a laid back afternoon sampling the wonderful California wines and food and wine pairings at Morovino during their many special events.

By the Way
If you are on the Central Coast in May, the Annual California Festival of Beers is held at the Avila Beach Golf Club  at the end of May.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Pismo Beach and Shell Beach - Things To Do

Pismo and Shell Beaches occupy two bays between Avila Beach and Grover Beach to the south.  These are laid-back ocean side communities that straddle Hwy 101.There are a host of things to do.  In February the Monarch butterflies settle here in a eucalyptus grove;

for shoppers there is an outlet mall on Five Cities Drive with a California information center;  in downtown Pismo visit the famous Tomasko saltwater taffy shop; taste a variety of local wines at Vino Versato;  watch the surfers on Pismo Beach near the pier, snap photos of the water birds: gulls, grebes and red-billed oystercatcher; play frisbee on the beach: walk and enjoy the sun on your face, the breeze in your hair and the sparkling water; have lunch at an ocean front restaurant near the pier or overlooking the bluffs at Pelican Point where you can see the pelicans glide by in formation.

In Shell Beach you can walk along the cliffs near Dinosaur Park;

kayak in the bay;

have a massage; keep fit at the Pismo Beach Athletic Club for $10/day or buy 5 passes for $35, take your coffee and muffin to the bluffs;

see the impressive selection of exotic beers at the liquor store, shop for food at the grocery store or at DePalo's fine food shop.

We spent an evening of absolute hilarity at Comedy Night at the Spyglass Hotel and swayed to the music at the Wednesday Night Jazz at the SeaVenture from 6-9. For a romantic treat stay in one of their beach front rooms and enjoy the hot tub on the balcony, the thick terry robes and have your breakfast while overlooking the blue Pacific.

By the way:  The San Luis Obispo Tribune lists what is happening each day and every Thursday the New Times gives a more extensive variety the week's happening and is available at no cost in many shops.