Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

The Four Seasons living in Ottawa: Winter

Well, it was a winter that won’t soon be forgotten. A truly Canadian winter from the days of our youth when the snowsuits were hauled out in November and didn’t come off until April. Even the hardiest, most winter-loving among us have to admit to wondering when that meteorological villain dubbed The Polar Vortex would finally release us from its icy, unyielding grip.

On the positive side, with all that extreme cold, we almost broke a record in Ottawa for longest number of skate days on the Rideau Canal. The protracted deep-freeze also ensured that the ice surface was in pristine condition for just about the whole skating season. The ice was so smooth at times that you could be forgiven for thinking you were skating inside a hockey arena on synthetic ice and not outdoors on a natural rink. What a pleasure it is to skate to work in the morning, get out for some fresh air during your lunch hour, or enjoy a romantic pas de deux with your significant other under the stars at night – especially if there is light snow falling…

There was also plenty of snow to be had this past winter, too, much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders. The cross-country ski season started in December and went right through to April. We are so lucky in Ottawa to live so near Gatineau Park. It’s only a 20-minute drive from downtown Ottawa. Although it is but one of many outdoor recreational sports I engage in, skiing in Gatineau Park is easily my favorite winter activity. There’s nothing like leaving the city behind and winding your way up through the heavily wooded Gatineau Hills for some unparalled aerobic exercise and mental relaxation. No matter how I feel when I leave the city, I always feel amazing after an afternoon of skiing in Gatineau Park.

The photos below were taken this past winter while out skating on the Rideau Canal Skateway or cross-country skiing in Gatineau Park. They were all taken on my iPhone and then edited later in Photoshop. Normally, I would use my SLR camera for photoshoots, but it’s too bulky to carry around when you’re doing sports! Although it is no substitute for a good SLR camera (which you can do so much more with when shooting in manual mode), I was impressed by the quality of the images I was able to get from the iPhone’s camera.

Winter may be harsh at times, but it is truly a beautiful, magical, contemplative season, as eloquently and convincingly argued by Adam Gopnik in his 2011 CBC Massey Lectures series, “Winter: Five Windows on the Season”. I highly recommend listening to the podcast or reading the book. You will gain a new appreciation and perhaps affection for winter.

At the National Arts Centre looking northwest towards Parliament

At the National Arts Centre looking northwest toward Parliament

Skating under the bridge at Patterson Creek to the Rideau Canal

Skating under the bridge at Patterson Creek to the Rideau Canal

Skating after a fresh snowstorm on the canal near Dow's Lake

Skating after a fresh snowstorm on the Rideau Canal near Dow’s Lake

The natural skating oval of Patterson Creek

The natural skating oval of Patterson Creek

Skating near the Bank Street Bridge with Southminster United Church in background

Skating near the Bank Street Bridge with Southminster United Church in the background

Taking a break under the bridge

Skating under Bank Street Bridge

Cross-country skiing through the mist along Ridge Road in Gatineau Park

Cross-country skiing through the mist along Ridge Road in Gatineau Park

The impending storm: descent from Huron Look-out

The impending storm: descent from Huron Look-out

Climbing the Fortune Parkway in Gatineau Park

Climbing the Fortune Parkway in Gatineau Park

The serpentine ascent up the Fortune Parkway to the Lake

The 1.5-km serpentine ascent up the Fortune Parkway to  Fortune Lake

Tough slog up Fortune Parkway

My sister taking a break from the tough slog up an icy Fortune Parkway

The bench at Huron Shelter where skiers take a break from an ascent up Ridge Road or collect the courage for the ride down!

The bench at Huron Shelter where skiers can take a break from the ascent up Ridge Road or summon their courage for the wild ride down!

Last skier out of the park

Nightfall: the parking lot at P9 was abandoned and in almost complete darkness (save for the glow from my headlamp and the lights in the distance from the ski hill at Camp Fortune) after I finished my late afternoon ski in Gatineau Park.

 

First Bite Out of the Big Apple: The Rest of the Weekend in NYC…

No matter what city I visit, invariably I find myself drawn to the large urban parks: Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Stanley Park in Vancouver, Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Shubie Park in Dartmouth, Centennial Park in Moncton, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens in London, UK, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, etc, etc… So, it is not surprising how affected I was by the beauty of NYC’s Central Park. My sister, a former resident of Toronto, tells me I would love High Park there; although I’m sure I’ve run through it several years back when I was in town and went out for a run with a group from the Wellington Street Running Room, I always end up sticking to a very urban route for my runs when in Toronto, mostly because there’s so much interesting people-watching and window-shopping to be had!..

Back to NYC…

On our first big day exploring the city, we took the subway and visited SoHo, curious to check out the reputed great shopping to be had. I was also interested in the opportunity to practise my street photography, which I was certain would not disappoint for unique scenery. SoHo was definitely a grittier neighborhood compared to Midtown, but had an undeniable vibrancy and some beautiful architecture to admire. You had to be really vigilant crossing the streets in SoHo, however, as it was a bit of a free-for-all with the carnival of cars, trucks, and people in a rush to get to their destination.  As for the shopping, we weren’t that successful; though I did manage to pick up a nice lemon-colored belt from Bloomingdale’s. Otherwise, we mostly came across super-trendy, hipster shops that catered more to the teenage or 20-something set. That night, we hit Broadway, and saw the Irish musical, Once, which we loved, at the Jacobs Theatre.

Day two was a Saturday, and had us spending several hours walking through Central Park after eating lunch on a park bench. I went crazy photographing the rowboats at the Lake. We also walked by the bustling Boathouse, but didn’t stop for food. After leaving the Park, we hit 5th Avenue and walked for several blocks on the Park’s perimeter until we came upon all the fancy stores like Bergdorf Goodman (which we didn’t dare enter) at 58th Street. And FAO Schwartz. And the Nike store. It was retail nirvana for a while before going on to 30 Rockefeller Plaza to venture to the Top of the Rock, taking a quick peek inside the MoMA‘s gift shop, and some more shopping at J. Crew. On our way back to our hotel in Times Square, we passed the the NBC Studios, where Saturday Night Live (one of our favourite comedy shows ever!) is taped, a street vendor selling New Yorker cover art prints (I bought two for $5), Radio City Music Hall, Magnolia Bakery (ok, I had to stop in while my sis continued on to the hotel).  When I finally made it back to the hotel, we decided to go out for pizza (which was awesome!) before meeting up with friends for some late night drinks at our hotel’s revolving rooftop restaurant. All in all a very full day.

Our last day, the Sunday, was really relaxed. We did brunch at Central Park and then walked along Central Park West until we hit the American Museum of Natural History. My little sis was quite thrilled to recognize the Museum from the Ben Stiller movie, Night at the Museum: by contrast, I kept being reminded of the Nanny Diaries with Scarlett Johansson. We decided to see the exhibit, Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, and Culture, which was the most interactive, educational exhibit I’d ever seen at a museum. Educators could’ve picked up an endless number of pointers on how to teach content to a diverse audience using various multimedia approaches including excellent infographics and typography. My little sis, a foodie, also loved it. We – or I – had hoped to dash down to Lower Manhattan to bike across the Brooklyn Bridge before our respective flights were to depart for Canada, but it was not to be. There was no time. (Sigh) I was a bit bummed by this missed opportunity since I had heard this was a photographer’s dream shot, but NYC is simply too large to even attempt to do in one weekend. It will clearly take several trips to see all the other neighborhoods I had wanted to see like the Meatpacking District, TriBeCa, Greenwich Village, etc. Until next time then, NYC; it’s been a slice… :-)

Pax shop

After discovering the Pax Wholesome Foods shop following a run through Central Park one morning, my sister and I quickly became ‘regulars’ for grabbing quick, healthy lunches or brunches to take to the Park for an al fresco meal on a park bench under the trees. We loved how Pax posted the total calories for all their food; it made meal planning and purchasing decisions really easy.

People in Central Park

This was the scene in Central Park mid-morning on the Sunday of our trip. Tons of people were out enjoying the beautiful, warm day by foot, bike, in-line skates, or rowboat. We even had an interesting conversation with a jolly homeless lady, who reminded me of the elderly beggar lady selling tuppence a bag to feed the birds in Mary Poppins. Hearing we were visiting her city, she proudly recommended a bakery nearby for the best, freshly-baked cookies. (Clearly, she had sized up our sweet tooth correctly!)

Central Park carousel

Ever since seeing them all over Paris, I am drawn to carousels. Not to ride them, but to observe happy children bobbing up and down and all around on their trusty steeds. My favorites were the one outside of the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre, which I passed every day on the way to my flat, and of course, the famous carousel at the foot of the Butte to Sacre-Coeur Cathedral also in Montmartre. There were hints of a lovely carousel in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was mostly covered by a tarp the day I walked through that beautiful urban park. [Above: What a magical, whimsical childhood pleasure the carousel is. This colorful carousel in Central Park clearly enchanted the kids (and even the adults) who rode it. ]

Central Park bicycles

As I found out, NYC is quickly becoming a bike city. I was impressed by the reconfiguration of Broadway Avenue along Times Square, which had a protected, painted bike lane added to encourage cycling. If NYC can do it, then there is no excuse for other cities not to follow suit and encourage active transport. Bikes were also all the rage in Central Park. As soon as we approached the south entrance to the Park, we were aggressively solicited for a bike rental. As much as I would’ve loved to have ridden a bike through Central Park, I knew I’d be stopping every few feet to take a photo, so regrettably passed on the opportunity for this first trip.

Central Park Terrace detail

This is a view looking down from the upper Terrace in Central Park; the tree-canopied mall is to the left (up the stairs) and the Bethesda Fountain to the right. I took this picture on the morning I went for a run through the Park. I loved the architectural detail of the Terrace’s stonework. It actually reminded me a bit of the stonework you see along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa just below the National Arts Centre near Parliament Hill.

Central Park art vendor

All along the mall, there were vendors set up with their wares. I loved the colors of the artwork on display at this particular kiosk.

horse & pigeons

A queue of horses & carriages lined a section of 5th Avenue near the south entrance to Central Park. This white horse was particularly patient tolerating the aggressive flock of thirsty pigeons, each jockeying for a perch on his pail of refreshing water. A carriage ride through Central Park is an iconic thing to do, but something I would be more inclined to do in the fall or winter with a handsome suitor.

sidewalk book sale

After I was able to tear myself away from photographing the Lake and its boats from all angles, we exited Central Park and walked along 5th Avenue, where we spotted a sidewalk book sale. There were some beautiful, New York-themed, hard-cover childrens’ books on display, the artistry of which just can’t be duplicated on an e-reader.

Magnolia Bakery

On recommendation from a friend at work, I stopped in to check out the famous Magnolia Bakery on 6th Avenue and its cupcakes. My sister was spent from the long afternoon of walking, so she headed back to the hotel, leaving me to my own devices – a dangerous proposition considering my physical addiction to all things chocolate. Fortunately, I only emerged with two cupcakes – one for me and one for my sis. They were delicious! :-)

NYC subway musician_B&W

On our way back from SoHo, we encountered this Rastafarian musician, who distinguished himself by his warm smile and chilled out demeanor, greeting various subway commuters as they passed by him, seemingly perfectly at home on his bench straddling the subway platforms. He also had an undeniable air of urban chic, perfectly put together in his long, flowing robe with leather pant leg peaking through; the curved chopines completed the look. I was compelled to pause momentarily in order to snap his picture.

subway platform_B&W

Waiting for the subway for an afternoon of exploring in SoHo.

NYC subway blur_B&W

Roz_SoHo graffiti

My little sis looking all bad-ass, hip hop chic in SoHo. ;-)

SoHo street scene_B&W

Bustling street corner in SoHo with splendid architecture and where hipster shops – and aggressive drivers – abound.

SoHo foodtruck

Line-up for lunch at a food truck in SoHo.

Roz in SoHo_B&W

My sis seeking refuge under a canopy at Dean & DeLuca in SoHo before the drops of rain turned into a deluge and we sought shelter inside Felicity‘s old haunt. Unfortunately, Ben Covington did not serve us coffee.

yellow taxis_Times Square_B&W

This was a scene we passed many times during our extended weekend in NYC. Times Square is definitely an assault on the senses with it bright lights & neon colors, endless noise from cars & people, and all sorts of street smells – good and bad. It’s hard to imagine how much crazier it gets here for New Year’s Eve.

David Letternan cyclist

I was a bit awed being so close to the Ed Sullivan Theater, where the Late Show with David Letterman is taped. Staying in a hotel in Times Square was wonderful for a first trip to NYC.

pizza night

The photographer is usually more comfortable behind her lens. Street scene in Midtown on our way to a supper of pizza. Yum!

Roz & Heidi_Once musical_B&W

After dodging the raindrops in SoHo to grab a subway back to Midtown, I decided to try and snag some last-minute tickets to Once at the Jacobs Theater. I was in luck, though we were in the nosebleed section in the upper balcony. It was a beautiful, ornate old theatre, and the house was packed on that Friday night. As a huge fan of the eponymous film, Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova,and The Swell Season, I was thrilled to hear those familiar alternatingly joyful and heart-rending Irish songs played live by a cast of talented musicians and singers.

Once musical_B&W

Cast treating the eager audience to a lively musical warm-up prior to their performance of Once at the Jacobs Theater.

Skycraper & piston_B&W

While waiting for my sis outside the ATM, I noticed this interesting display of geometry and perspective along Broadway Avenue.

FAO Schwartz guard

Like I had done while visiting Hamley’s toy store in London, UK last fall, I posed (this time, without reluctance) with the affable ‘toy soldier’ greeting customers at the entrance of FAO Schwartz on 5th Avenue. (Toy shops are super-fun places to visit, especially when you have kids or nieces/nephews to spoil! I have to admit that I personally love toy stores and the traditional or unusual toys you can often find at these places. Also, I totally had to see the Big piano that Tom Hanks famously played.

The Big Piano_Heidi

This was awesome! I really had to cajole my little sis into doing this with me, though, especially since there were just little kids trying out the keys at first. However, it only takes one to start a trend and so after we had our 30 seconds of fun or so on the piano, more adults followed suit and we’re equally delighted by the experience. We’re all just Big kids in the end.

TopoftheRock_B&W

Top of the Rock with Empire State Building in the background. Word to the wise: the view is spectacular from the top (70 stories up on a super-fast elevator), but think twice about purchasing the photos; they’re a bit of a rip-off and you just end up being posed in front of a fake backdrop. We  were only permitted to choose  one measly $5 electronic pic (from the four that were taken), which was really poor quality. (I ended up Photoshopping it – see below.) You can, of course, get more expensive photo packages with the prints inserted into frames for you, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. Maybe if you were planning to propose (or be proposed to), or marking another special occasion. Even then… maybe best to just bring along a friend who’s a good photographer. Also, it’s probably more dramatic to view the city from that vantage point at sunset or at night. We went in the late afternoon, so the sun was really bright and hot!

Butterfield Market bike

We visited the Butterfield Market on Lexington Avenue in the Upper East Side for a quick al fresco lunch on a bench in front of their shop. Lovely, old neighborhood food market, but pricey!

Met Museum

Sadly, we did not have enough time to explore the exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but at least we made it inside and soaked in a bit of the scene on the steps. (I didn’t realize it was located on the perimeter of Central Park along 5th Avenue.) I did manage to pick up a wonderful hard-cover historical perspective on Central Park in the Museum’s store called Central Park: Then and Now.

Heidi & Roz at 30Rock_B&W_text

After initially receiving a corrupt electronic file of the picture we had taken with the fake backdrop of NYC at 30 Rock, I received one that was in color (while the background was black & white) and uncropped with the shiny black floor showing. Needless to say, I got to work in Photoshop and pimped the pic up a bit. Too bad I don’t know how to Photoshop in more glam clothes worthy of a ‘Vogue – New York’ cover shoot. (Oh well…)

First Bite Out of the Big Apple: Weekend in NYC

I’ve visited a fair number of US cities over the years but surprisingly, never New York City. So, when my corporate wunderkind little sis suggested we meet up in the Big Apple for an extended weekend, I was all in.

Ever the planner and trip-maximizer, I happily marched over to the World of Maps shop in Hintonburg to pick up some pre-trip research materials, namely Lonely Planet’s Discover New York City, National Geographic’s Walking New York, a super-handy and compact Popout map of New York, and of course, the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine at my local newsstand. This systematic review of NYC was rounded out by consultations with NYC-savvy friends and colleagues along with studying a vast number of electronic articles and resources.

I figured, rather blusteringly on retrospect, that hey, I organized and executed a solo first trip to Europe last fall by myself, so how hard could it possibly be to take in all of NYC that I wanted to see on a 3 1/2 day extended weekend?

Afterall, I thought, I’m an infinitely curious person with energy to spare (especially when it comes to travel and exploration), I’ve got a keen sense of direction, and am a consummate strategist and contingency planner. Perfect, right? Wrong. Despite all of these desirable qualities for travel in tote, even I would be forced to admit that I am not super-human and this portfolio of assets, though valuable, would still not permit me to simply discard any notion of having to make rational choices or trade-offs and instead live like a hedonist in an economically-lawless utopia (or dystopia, depending on your view).

In the end, in spite of not getting to see everything I wanted to see, I still wound up with a good introduction to NYC. Kind of like making new friends at a meet & greet with a promise to meet up again for more than just wine & apps. Until next time then, here are a few slices out of my Big Apple trip. (More to follow later…)

Waiting for train into Penn Station from Newark Airport

Waiting on the platform for a train into Penn Station from Newark Airport, which was kind of sketchy…

On Broadway Ave outside our hotel in Times Square

Exploring Broadway Avenue outside our hotel in Times Square after rolling my suitcase (with a broken wheel) 14 blocks  through a sea of people to get to our hotel. As my little sis aptly observed, NYC is like ‘Toronto on steroids’. Indeed. Couldn’t have described it better, myself.

Interior of Marriott Hotel in Times Square

Interior of NY Marriott Hotel in Times Square where we stayed  overlooking the lounge below. The whole time, I was trying to figure out whether the design was representational or abstract. My logical-thinking left brain insisted that the repeating pattern of lines & curves was clearly a stylized rendering of musical notes and symbols along bars & staff lines as the hotel’s acknowledgement of being located on Broadway Avenue. Never did get around to validating this theory though…

View of Times Square from hotel window

View of Broadway Avenue/Times Square from our hotel window. It’s true what they say: New York never sleeps, though it was a lot quieter on the Sunday morning.

Grabbing a quick lunch at Pret a Manger near Times Square

When I was in London, UK last fall, an ex-pat friend there had introduced me to the popular Pret a Manger chain for picking up fast, healthy lunches. I was quite pleased to discover it upon arrival in NYC. They post total calorie counts for all their food, which is fantastic for helping one make purchasing decisions. Pax Wholesome Foods was a similar restaurant that posted total calorie counts for everything they sold. My little sis and I visited the Pax shop on Broadway in Midtown a couple of times to pick up lunch/brunch en route to Central Park for an al fresco meal under the trees on a park bench. Thanks to the posted calorie info, we discovered that a half-sandwich along with a small beverage and treat (usually a small cookie) provided ample energy to fuel an afternoon of walking the streets of NYC. It would be nice if restaurants in Canada likewise posted calorie info to help consumers (including travelers without access to home-cooked meals) make better food purchasing decisions.

Thursday evening diners at Eataly

On our first night in NYC, my little sis, her work colleague, and I decided to check out Mario Batali’s Eataly on Fifth Avenue for supper. I was particularly curious since the combination resto-market had come highly recommended by several friends. It did not disappoint! The space is huge and the vibe energetic, sophisticated but unpretentious (thank goodness, since I was not exactly rocking my most chic self in jeans & sneakers). It clearly looked like the go-to spot for the after-work crowd. After hearing we wouldn’t be able to snag a table for supper for close to an hour, we decided to check out the bar scene and soak in the atmosphere in the interim.

Eataly is a combination restaurant-market, so expect to see many people come in for different purposes including to pick up groceries, mingle and enjoy a few after-work drinks with co-workers, or relax over a leisurely supper with friends in the restaurant space. I personally thought Eataly had a magical, almost festive quality about it, making it a potentially great spot for a date or a celebratory outing. Speaking of dates – sort of, I was flattered to be approached by a well-dressed, lean, fit man while waiting in line for some stracciatella gelato on our way out of Eataly.  The guy, a silver-haired, smooth corporate type from Brooklyn, looked exactly like John Slattery of Mad Men fame. He chatted with me in line and then proceeded to buy my gelato. (Guys take note: buying a girl ice cream is always a good call compared to offering a cheesy pick-up line.) ‘John’ happened to also be out with two other variously intoxicated, but well-attired businessmen, who then (like loyal wingmen) proceeded to engage my sis and her colleague in sidebar conversation. After a while, and especially since everyone but me was sporting a wedding ring, we girls decided to conclude the evening festivities, much to our prospective suitors’ dismay. We quickly made our way out into the night, and after failing to hail a yellow cab despite our best efforts, we made a run for the nearest subway station under an inadequately-sized single umbrella as it began to rain again. [Above: The 'meat market' at Eataly.]

Wine & appetizers at the Eataly bar

The bar scene: Where we, along with the after-work crowd, initially congregated at Eataly. Small, elevated rectangular tables served as the anchor for delicious food & drink, animated conversation, and  the requisite people-watching. It was standing room only.

Enjoying wine, cheese, and a charcuterie plate

My comparatively more food & wine-savvy little sis & her colleague ordered a nice charcuterie plate with cheese along with some wonderful wine. It would be easy to spend the entire evening simply enjoying these delicacies, as the couple next to us seemed to be doing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & apps and plenty of socializing

After-work crowd enjoying drinks & appetizers and lots of socializing at Eataly.

Running route along western side of Central Park

After our memorable, epicurean night out at Eataly, I was keen to get up early and go for a run in Central Park, which I had yet to explore. As someone who much prefers running on quiet trails in the woods to unforgiving asphalt in a noisy, urban, concrete jungle, Central Park turned out to be a little piece of paradise for me. [Above: Running route along western side of Central Park with the famous San Remo apartment cooperative in the background.]

Central Park mall

The lovely Central Park mall, which reminded me of the time I spent walking, running, and cycling through London’s Hyde Park last September, and to some degree, the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. NYC nannies with their precious charges, dog-walkers,visual artists, food and NYC knick-knack vendors, and musicians could all be seen along the route.

Central Park mall

A couple is spotted walking under the protection of their umbrellas along the Central Park mall on a cloudy morning marked by occasional light showers.

View of Bethesda Fountain near upper Terrace

Toward the end of my run, a view of Bethesda Fountain through the trees from the upper Terrace in Central Park.

Central Park St. Bernard puppy

I spotted this gorgeous, 4-month-old St. Bernard puppy named ‘London’ lounging at the  steps to the Lake in front of Bethesda Fountain. Of course, I had to pat him (he was so soft!) and chat with his gracious owner.

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

'London' contemplating the beauty of Central Park

‘London’, like a Wordsworth, clearly contemplating the inspiring beauty of Central Park (all the while, unaware that I was crafting an elaborate dog-napping plan once I hit upon on a suitable diversionary tactic to distract his owner. ;-)).

Nostalgic gelato shop near south entrance of Central Park

Central Park had made such an impression on me that previous cloudy morning that for the remainder of my stay in NYC, it became somewhat of a ritual for me (and my sis) to visit this urban oasis each morning/early afternoon before hitting the busy streets and shops for a packed day of sight-seeing. [Above: Nostalgic gelato shop located near south entrance of Central Park.]

Father and son watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park

Father and son contentedly watching the boaters on the Lake at Central Park on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Four children gather at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Scooters and children seemed to be everywhere in Central Park. Here, four young children pause from their spirited play at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

Talented children's singing ensemble performing in the Terrace Arcade in Central Park

Soaring, angelic voices could be heard from the ornate Bethesda Terrace Arcade in Central Park from a talented children’s musical ensemble. We encountered performers  of all sorts in the Park, including a lone saxophonist and a lively crew of very athletic tumblers.

View of the San Remo  across the Lake in Central Park

Wherever we walked in Central Park, I always found myself drawn back to the Lake to admire the scene of dozens of rowboats before me. It brought back fond memories of the all-too-brief afternoon I spent in Oxford, UK, last fall when I happened upon punters under the Magdalene Bridge. (Now, that was romantic on a scale of Lord Byron. (sigh)) [Above: Couples and families enjoying leisurely paddle across the Lake in Central Park with a view of the San Remo in the background.]

Fit couple in foreground enjoy leisurely paddle on the Lake in Central Park

A very fit, tanned, attractive middle-aged couple in the foreground articulates the romance of a paddle on the Lake perfectly, particularly as the woman enjoys a chauffered ride on the water like Cleopatra with her Mark Antony on the Nile.

Young boy stares longingly at the remote-control sailboats on the Conservatory Water in Central Park

I came upon another lovely water scene at the Conservatory Water in Central Park, where a young boy stares longingly at the remote-controlled model sailboats gliding atop the pond in Central Park. A model sailboat-hire kiosk was located nearby, where children and adults alike indulged in this time-honored activity dating back to more than 135 years. Even E.B. White‘s beloved Stuart Little sailed these storied waters.

Structure and Function: Line, Light and Shadow in the Byward Market

Fire Escape, Lower Town, Ottawa

Fire Escape

Fire Escape, Lower Town, Ottawa

Fire Escape

Fire Escape, Lower Town, Ottawa

Fire Escape

Church railing

Church railing

Church railing

Church railing

Bricks & bike rack

Bricks & railings

Fountain spray

Fountain

Wrought-iron fence

Fence

U.S. Embassy, Ottawa

U.S. Embassy, Ottawa

After the Rain: An Early Evening Stroll through Major’s Hill Park, Ottawa

Here are some more photos I took after the mini-monsoon we had last Wednesday night in Ottawa. As I mentioned in my last post, I got completely soaked while riding my bike downtown to my photography class that night. I was lucky the air remained warm and the sun only slowly sinking below the horizon as our class was given a 2-hour street photography assignment to complete for that evening’s class.

One of the locations I chose to explore while wandering about was the lush, green, urban oasis of Major’s Hill Park nestled between Parliament Hill and the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa.

The picture below shows a group of planters located at the entrance to the park accessed from MacKenzie Avenue, which I crossed after climbing the stone steps from Sussex Drive. In my last post, I had remarked upon some similarities I had noted between Ottawa’s Lowertown neighborhood in the Byward Market and Paris, France. Major’s Hill Park likewise provided a few reminders of my trip to France last fall.

planters & benches

Below is a picture taken a few steps into the park. You can see the Peace Tower from Parliament Hill in the background. A lone woman is seen walking toward the statue of Colonel John By.

figure & Peace Tower in park_sepia

The setting sun casts long shadows through the tree canopy onto a brightly lit stone drinking water fountain just inside the park.

water fountain

Fittingly, a decorative rail line draws the eye to the luxurious, French-inspired Fairmont Château Laurier, seen in the background. This premier Ottawa hotel conveniently situated next to Parliament Hill was constructed by Charles Melville Hays of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and opened on June 1, 1912, less than two months after his tragic death aboard the ill-fated Titanic. The style, grandeur, and scale of this hotel would not be out of keeping – except by architectural era – among the lavish French castles I visited while in France, in particular the fairy tale Château de Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley.

rail line to Chateau Laurier

I was struck by how much the scene below suddenly transported me back to my first full day in Paris. After checking out a bustling Parisian street market in the 7th arrondissement, I remember walking for some time in the direction of the Eiffel Tower until I came upon the Champs-de-Mars. The sun-drenched wide open green space of Major’s Hill Park with dense, leafy trees on the periphery giving way to the National Gallery of Canada‘s glass-paned Great Hall* in the distance was the kind of dramatic framing that I experienced as I gazed upon the Eiffel Tower from the long, carefully manicured grounds of the Champs-de-Mars. In Paris, however, the lawn was not so deserted of people as it is here in Ottawa. (*Note: The Great Hall is currently shrouded in scaffolding as its glass pyramid-like structure undergoes some needed maintenance work.) On Canada Day, you can expect to see Major’s Hill Park teeming with people late into the night since the park serves as a prime location for hosting festivities and for viewing the evening’s fireworks display.

NGC from park

Yet another Paris reminiscence… While exploring the City of Light one afternoon, I wandered into the Jardin du Luxembourg, and came upon a similar scene where a lone man in business attire sat quietly, slightly hunched over on a park bench, as if to take refuge from the heat of the day under the shade of a great leafy tree.  By comparison, in the scene below in Major’s Hill Park, the man – perhaps a public servant – seated on the park bench appeared to be completely unaware of time, leisurely absorbing the last rays of sunshine – or mentally reviewing the work day that was – before retiring to a nearby pub or an upscale condo in the Byward Market.

man on bench_sepia

This tree-lined, winding section of the park adjacent the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River with its benches and traditional lamp posts was a déja-vu for me as I recalled how hurriedly I had walked along along the Seine one late afternoon, rushing to catch a ride on a departing bâteau-mouche to tour Paris from the water before the light faded to night…

Couple in park_sepia

Before Sunset: Reflections through the Byward Market

Last night was the second class of an SLR photography course I am taking at the School of Photographic Arts in downtown Ottawa. I’d taken and really enjoyed an introductory course there last summer, borrowing a friend’s old, but reliable, Nikon camera. This time around, however, I decided to invest in a comparatively beastly Canon EOS 60D camera, the operation of which, I am still getting familiar. It’s been like going from an old flip phone to a smartphone!

After getting completely drenched during the 7-km bike commute to class from a short but intense rainstorm, I was grateful to learn that we would be spending the majority of the evening roaming the streets of the Byward Market to shoot street scenes. The specific focus for this night’s class was to photograph buildings or their geometric features (e.g., windows, doors, etc), varying the angle of view by alternating between a long versus wide lens. We were given a generous 2 hours for this assignment, ample time for my rain-soaked clothes and hair to dry in the setting sun and warm early evening air.

Eager students, we all ventured off in separate directions, as if on a competitive scavenger hunt, searching for that perfect architectural gem among the many specimens we would collect. Fortunately for us, there is no shortage of interesting architecture, particularly of a historical nature, in the Lowertown district of the Byward Market. At the end of the first hour, I had easily amassed a respectful number of shots for the assignment and so began to turn my attention toward the more whimsical. The following is a sample of some of the self-directed shots I took after completing my ‘homework’.

The image below is a shot of the famous Notre-Dame Basilica located on Sussex Drive opposite the National Gallery of Canada taken at dusk from the corner of avenue Guigues and avenue Parent in Lowertown. I was struck by how much this church reminded me of the beautiful chapel of the ancient Pontlevoy Abbey in France’s Loire Valley, which I had the pleasure of visiting in September 2012. Surprisingly, I found myself transported back to Paris and the Loire Valley several times during this walk as I encountered urban parks, squares and the Château Laurier reminiscent of this inaugural trip to Europe. (Perhaps a sign that I must get back to sorting through my Europe trip pictures for a future posting!)

steeples at sunset

France continued as the theme of the night, as I found myself drawn to a puddle left over by that earlier rainstorm on the steps leading up to verdant Major’s Hill Park from Sussex Drive. The water showed a reflection of the Connaught Building, which resembled an Impressionist painting not unlike an inverted version of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral.

puddle painting 2

This is another shot of that same reflected image of the Connaught Building, but with pedestrians making their way down the steps toward Sussex Drive. I love this photo because it’s so whimsical and looks like the people are walking over a fresh painting. One could easily imagine them jumping through the image, like characters from Mary Poppins, to land at any one of the many French castles dotting the countryside of the bucolic Loire Valley.

puddle painting 1

This last photo is a reflection of a show-stopping blue wedding gown fit for a princess on display in the window of  the high-end wedding boutique, McCaffrey Haute Couture along Sussex Drive. (The American Embassy located on the opposite side of the street can also be seen reflected through the glass.)  I could imagine the late fashion icon, Grace Kelly, making a grand entrance to a royal ball in this lavish frock as smiling courtesans gaze admiringly upon her.

blue wedding dress

Ottawa Race Weekend in Review: Snapshots from 2012 and 2013

This weekend, Ottawa played host to the largest road race in Canada – the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. Although it wasn’t sunny & warm like it was for the 2012 edition, the cool temps, gusty north winds, and grey skies for this year’s races nonetheless didn’t stop some record-breaking finishing times.

Like I had done last year, and since I was still dealing with running-related injuries, I decided to practise some action-shooting with my new Canon EOS 60D SLR camera, which is a beast compared to the more vintage (but respectable) Nikon model I was using last year, and also a bit of a challenge familiarizing myself with all its advanced gadgetry! Hopefully, with time and dedicated practice, I will come to tame this beast. I took in the 10-k race on Saturday night (May 26th) and the half-marathon race on Sunday morning (May 27th). Since I’m not a morning person, I opted not to take in the marquée marathon event, since it got underway too bright and early for my liking on Sunday morning at 7:00 AM…

The picture below was taken from the Bank Street Bridge over the Colonel By Parkway. It shows the crowd of 10-k runners closing in on 7 km in the final stretch of their race. The night was sunny, warm, and spectacular for spectators and photographers. If I were running the race, I think I would’ve preferred the cooler conditions we had this weekend. It’s awful to be overheated when you’re running, so a good rule of thumb is to always dress a bit on the cooler side, knowing you’ll warm up as you get going.

2012 10-k race along Colonel By at Bank Street Bridge

2012 10-k race along Colonel By Parkway from Bank Street Bridge

This shot was taken of  some 2012 half-marathon runners progressing past the 4 km mark along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just before the canal empties into Dow’s Lake. I had found a prime piece of real estate on the grassy median. Prior to descending to this spot, I had been perched atop Bronson Bridge and had a fascinating chat with a fellow SPAO student experimenting with long-exposure photography using a homemade pinhole camera. I never did get to find out how his photograph turned out…

2012 half-marathon race on Queen Elizabeth Parkway at Bronson Bridge

2012 half-marathon race along QE Parkway near Bronson Bridge

This final shot from the 2012 Race Weekend was taken from Bank Street Bridge overlooking the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just over 3 km into the race. You can see the stream of 10-k runners peeking through the trees with the old (now demolished) Frank Clair Stadium in Lansdowne Park in the background. In the foreground, a couple in a canoe alternate between paddling the Rideau Canal and cheering the runners on.

2012 10k race on Queen Elizabeth parkway at Bank Street Bridge pre-Lansdowne demolition

2012 10-k race along QE Parkway at Bank Street Bridge pre-Stadium demolition

A bit of a blurry shot of these super-fast elite women runners (=the leader pack) past 3 km into the 2013 10-k race before they disappeared under the Bank Street Bridge along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway.

2013 10k elite women on QE parkway at Bank Street Bridge

2013 10-k elite women on QE Parkway from Bank Street Bridge

The even faster elite men approaching the 7 km homestretch mark of their 2013 10-k race along the Colonel By Parkway from the Bank Street Bridge.

2013 10k elite men on CBy parkway at Bank Street Bridge

2013 10-k elite men on CBy Parkway from Bank Street Bridge

The leader of the pack after 4 km of the 2013 half-marathon as seen from Bronson Bridge. He clearly owned the road at this point, as the next competitors were several seconds behind him. I actually thought he would overtake the guy on the pacer bicycle, who looked more like a recreational cyclist than serious athlete. This guy, a local Ottawa runner, held the lead and went on to handily win the half-marathon race.

2013 half-marathon elite men leader after 4k on QE Parkway at Bronson Bridge

2013 half-marathon elite men leader after 4 km on QE Parkway from Bronson Bridge

This threesome of cyclists, who I think were probably volunteers with Race Weekend, were particularly spirited with their loud cheers and even louder cowbell. There were plenty of high fives and lots of smiles from those 2013 10-k runners who decided to glance their way or reach out for a high-five. As a spectator, it was quite a festive and fun atmosphere being alongside this group, who were stationed along the Colonel By Parkway just before the ramp to head up to Bank Street (south).

Cowbell-clanging cyclist-cheerers lifting the spirits of weary 10k runners along CBy at Bank Street Bridge

Cowbell-clanging cyclist-cheerers lifting the spirits of weary 10-k runners along CBy Parkway just before Bank Street Bridge

Tinkering with my shutter speed as another group of 2013 10-k runners speeds past me along the Colonel By Parkway just prior to the Bank Street Bridge.

2013 10k runners speeding toward Bank Street Bridge along CBy

2013 10-k runners speeding toward Bank Street Bridge along CBy

A dad encouraged his kids (who were all likely there to cheer on their running wife/mom) to step out and extend a high-five to the 2013 10-k runners making their way into the homestretch along the Colonel By Parkway toward the Bank Street Bridge. The cheering kids were clearly delighted with how many runners obliged them, often flashing them a wide smile. In the background, you can see the steady stream of 10-k runners progressing through the first 3 km of their race on the opposite side of the Rideau Canal on the Queen Elizabeth Parkway. You can also see the huge cranes punching the skyline that have become a permanent fixture in Lansdowne Park as redevelopment is now well underway.

Cheering kids delight in giving 2013 10k racers a much needed high-five along CBy at Bank Street Bridge

Cheering kids delight in giving 2013 10-k racers a much needed high-five along CBy Parkway near Bank Street Bridge

The throng of 2013 half-marathon runners progressing through 4 km of their race along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway as seen from the grassy median before Bronson Bridge. Note the pacer bunny in red in the middle, whose job it is to keep her racers on pace for meeting the group’s finishing time goal; these pacer bunnies are definitely the unsung altruists in the race, putting the glory of others ahead of their own. Having said that, it was interesting to hear how the elite pacer (sans bunny ears) from Kenya initially charged with keeping the elite marathon men’s leader pack (two men for most of the race) on track for challenging a course record decided to throw down against his lone runner protégé from Ethiopia for the gold medal through the final 10-k or so of the race. The Ethiopian runner, however, ultimately eked out the win but with the narrowest of victory margins (i.e., less than seven tenths of a second).

Pace bunnies play an essential role helping 2013 half-marathoners meet their race goals

Pace bunnies play an essential role helping 2013 half-marathoners meet their race goals. (Shot from the grassy median along the QE Parkway just before Bronson Bridge)

This woman cheering on the 2013 10-k runners along Colonel By at the Bank Street (south) ramp was so enthusiastic I thought she had to have been a varsity cheerleader with that energy. Not only did she wave a homemade poster à la American Idol or The Voice with a message she said was designed for no one in particular (‘You are Super-Fantastic!’), but she was also unwavering in her cheering words of encouragement for all the runners who raced past her.

Cheering fan holding poster proclaiming to all 2013 10k runners  'You are super-fantastic!'

‘Cheerleader’ fan holding poster proclaiming to all 2013 10-k runners ‘You are super-fantastic!’

A mass of 2013 half-marathon runners with varying gaits and cadences along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just before Bronson Bridge. It reminded me of a conversation I had recently with my hard-core, younger running cousins, who are varsity runners in their track & field and cross-country teams at university. They noted that most people do not run as efficiently as they could, in large part because of the tendency to heel-strike instead of striking with the (more aerodynamic) ball of one’s foot. They believe that the less efficient heel strike is as prevalent as it is among recreational runners because of the design of running shoes today, which they say, favors this type of strike. They also spoke of how amusing it was to see how extensively some runners pack their fuel belts with hydration solutions and gels for such relatively short-distance runs; they personally do not don this nearly standard piece of recreational running apparatus. (Since I personally use a fuel belt to run – not to hydrate, however, but to house my i-pod and keys – I must admit to having felt slightly sheepish and a bit uncool owning up to my own habit of regularly cinching up with a fuel belt, despite my non-traditional purpose.)

2013 half-marathoners passing the 4k mark along QE parkway at Bronson Bridge

2013 half-marathoners passing the 4-km mark along the QE Parkway just before Bronson Bridge

The enthusiastic cheering section along Colonel By for the 2013 10-k race. It was such a chilly evening (owing to those strong north winds) standing out there. I actually wore gloves and dressed in layers, but still left prematurely owing to getting chilled! By comparison, this time last year, people would’ve been in tank tops and shorts, and enjoying weekends at the beach or outdoor community pool. I’m not complaining since I don’t love those protracted heat & humidity waves that invariably settle in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor over the summer months, but it seriously felt like a mid to late autumn evening. Nearly ideal for running, though, were it not for those strong headwinds on the final half of the 10-k.

Crowds lined CBy at Bank Street Bridge as the 2013 10k racers closed in on their final 3k

Crowds lined the CBy Parkway near Bank Street Bridge as the 2013 10k racers closed in on their final 3 km.

This is a shot of a particularly determined group of predominantly male 2013 half-marathon runners along the Queen Elizabeth Parkway just before Bronson Bridge. This was a great vantage point for taking some close-up shots of the runners, but I had to be vigilant of where I was in relation to the runners as some who were doubtlessly chasing PBs were so (understandably) intent on breaking free from the pack, that they would off-road it temporarily onto the grassy median where I stood before inserting themselves back onto the road. Fortunately for me and the other spectators, race volunteers were out in force to limit this leap-frogging, likely to minimize the risk of a Betty White-like Snickers ad tackle on an unsuspecting spectator.

2013 half-marathoners pushing toward Bronson Bridge and Dow's Lake after completing 4k

2013 half-marathoners pushing toward Bronson Bridge and Dow’s Lake after completing 4 km

Vancouver: Is there a more beautiful Canadian city – despite all the rain?

I’m an East Coaster born and bred, and so I already come from God’s country – The Maritimes. Having said that, I’ve also lived for nearly a decade in Montreal, a city very near and dear to my heart. Known for its vibrant arts & culture scene, politics (provincially), gastronomy, and of course, the Habs. Montreal was also where I found my voice both personally and professionally.

It has been said that those who grew up by the sea will always feel the lure of the ocean even if they end up moving away. In other words, you can take the Maritimer away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean away from the Maritimer. And so, whenever I have the opportunity to spend some time by the sea – east coast or west coast – I take it! :-)

Last week, I had to be out west for business, so I decided that once the work was completed, I would tack on a few extra days and fly over to Vancouver to hang out with my relatives and recharge with a little R&R and a lot of great outdoor recreation.

If you’ve never been to Vancouver, I highly recommend a visit. I’ve been there three times in all: once in 2002 (fall), 2012 (fall), and just last week (spring! :-)) with this latest trip. Don’t let Vancouver’s ‘wet blanket’ reputation dissuade you from exploring it. Despite the clouds, fog, and rain of last fall, there was still no shortage of natural beauty and activities to enjoy in the city, including shopping and great dining. As you’ll see from the photo spread below, the weather gods totally spoiled me during this latest trip. How many cities can deliver warm sunshine, fresh salt air from the ocean, snow-capped mountains, dense forests, lush vegetation (in the form of flowers, blossoms, and a thick urban tree canopy), a magnificent, oceanside city park, cool breezes at night, all manner of outdoor recreation (believe it or not, there is still some downhill skiing to be had at this time of year), shopping, and world-class dining all on the same trip?.. I thought not. Too bad it’s so expensive to live there!?.. :-(

So, this is a sunset view from the waterfront of Granville Island looking out toward downtown Vancouver. We hunted all over the place to find a gelato vendor that was open on a Monday night. Finally, we discovered the little Asian lady’s shop tucked unobtrusively between several other small tourist shops along the wharf.

View of harbour from Granville Island

Enjoying a gelato and the view of the harbour at dusk from Granville Island

This is a shot of the harbour fronting downtown Vancouver that I took while cycling through Stanley Park last fall. It was a damp, cool, cloudy, foggy day, but I thought the grey and blue tones produced a beautiful, moody landscape.

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

View of Vancouver waterfront from Stanley Park, fall 2012

A popular tourist activity in downtown Vancouver is to take a flight on a float plane over to Vancouver Island. It’s tempting and the views are probably quite spectacular, but I think I will personally stick to the ferry service!

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront

Float planes on Vancouver waterfront, fall 2012

These intrepid kayaking guys – at least one of them – were not shy about being photographed for posterity as they plied the sometimes choppy waters of the harbour from False Creek across the narrows dividing Granville Island from the downtown.

Kayakers in harbour near False Creek

Kayakers enjoying early evening paddle in False Creek harbour

This photo was snapped on my first afternoon roaming Granville Island on foot (I hung out a lot there!) using my Blackberry’s camera. It wasn’t a very high res pic, so I decided to sepia-fy it (à la MacAskill) in Photoshop to give it that old school feel.

Yacht club along Granville Island

Boats moored along Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

View of harbour at dusk from Granville Island

These guys and their vintage car were such a throwback to James Dean cool. So wished I’d brought my hard-core SLR camera to take their pic instead of my BB camera. At least, the BB was much more covert than a bulky SLR with a big, protruding lens.

Boys & their car

Boys & their cool retro car on Granville Island

Ahhh, the Public Market on Granville Island… Such a great vibe, despite it being high-tourist season now. Super place for people-watching and doing some photography. When I first visited it last fall (see pics below), it was not so bustling as it was last week, but weekends can still be teeming with people. The food – especially produce – looked amazing. I was so tempted to just buy my groceries there even though that would’ve been completely impractical stuffing perishables into a suitcase for a flight home. Except for the ocean outside, the Granville Island Public Market reminded me a bit of the Jean Talon Market in Montreal, where I previously made many fond gastronomical shopping memories.

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market

Fresh produce aplenty at Granville Island Public Market, fall 2012

Good enough to eat!

A feast for the senses, fall 2012

Public Market on Granville Island

Public Market on Granville Island, fall 2012

A must-do activity – regardless the weather – while in Vancouver is to go for a bike ride around the seawall of Stanley Park. I read recently that the Dutch believe there is no such thing as bad cycling weather, only bad clothing choices. I would mostly concur with that assertion. It’s hard to imagine not enjoying the splendor of the Park – even if you happen to get caught in some rain. Could be quite Zen or even romantic!

Stanley Park Boathouse in the fall

View from Stanley Park Boathouse, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Cycling on the east side of Stanley Park, fall 2012

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Van in background

Riding on the west side of Stanley Park with North Vancouver in the background

Did I mention all the city beaches in Vancouver??? It seemed everywhere we ran or cycled, we came upon a beach. This one (below) was located on the west side of the Park facing English Bay. Clearly, school was out, as this beach was packed with sun-seeking students. I was amazed by the number of bikes. Vancouverites really embrace two-wheeled transport; at times, I felt like I was in a Little Amsterdam or Denmark.

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Second Beach, Stanley Park

Yet another beach – Kitsilano. What was so interesting about this particular pic (below) was the Coney Island-like Kitsilano Showboat stage, whose history dates back to 1935. I discovered this little nostalgic gem while I was biking back from a trip out to UBC. The huge swimming pool located behind it was also a curious juxtaposition against the Kitsilano Beach waters of English Bay. You can see the small outdoor amphitheatre of seats in the foreground, where I spotted several runners racing up and down the steps for their morning work-out.

Kitsilano Showboat - a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Kitsilano Showboat – a totally retro stage with pool and English Bay in background

Pedaling a bit further, you bike through a sandy bit of trail that cuts across the main section of Kitsilano Beach before entering a more treed section of bike trail, where if you’re lucky, you will gaze upon a number of lovely sailboats dotting English Bay through the trees. The morning before these shots were taken, I was running through this area – sans camera, unfortunately – and saw the most perfect scene of tranquility in the greyness of the sky and the colorful sailboats bobbing peacefully on the glassy water. It was a breathtakingly beautiful scene that would’ve inspired a classic Kiff Holland nautical-themed watercolor.

Bike path along Kitsilano Beach

Bike path near Kitsilano Beach

View of English Bay

View of English Bay

This was a cute, spontaneous moment. Two kids on bikes and their mom were stopped along the trail staring intently up into a tree. The little girl announced with the earnestness of a budding biologist that they were observing a woodpecker carving the entryway to his waterfront tree house. I spotted him alright, but he certainly blended in well with the bark so that I really needed a zoom lens to capture his image clearly.

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

Kids fascinated by woodpecker in trees by English Bay

When I visited Vancouver for the first time back in 2002, I did a day trip by ferry out to Vancouver Island to explore Victoria and its famous Butchart Gardens (as well as the Rogers Chocolates flagship store and the Empress Hotel). I did not even know of the existence of the beautiful Van Dusen Botanical Garden located right in Vancouver! I learned of it this trip, however, because my cousin was helping host an evening fundraising event at the Gardens, so I was invited to tag along. Since I am not exactly a glad-handing, work-the-room extrovert, (au contraire!) I decided to explore the grounds and go on a bit of a photo shoot.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusan Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was the main building where the fundraising event was held. It was the perfect, sunny, warm evening for it. The setting was absolutely magical. Too bad I didn’t have a date! :-(

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

I loved wandering through the canopy of flower bushes and tree blossoms, but I also loved some of the interesting trees in the Asian garden section.  I think for my next trip to Vancouver, I will have to explore a lush, mature forest like that of Lighthouse Park recommended by my cousin.

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

This was a particularly stunning section of the Garden. I love roses and the landscaping reminded me of when I was in France and visited Monet‘s Garden at Giverny. This rose garden definitely would’ve inspired an Impressionist canvas!

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

Van Dusen Botanical Garden

The hustle and bustle of Granville Street… Now this was a part of the city (lower Shaughnessy) that I spent a lot of time walking through. The retro Stanley Theatre (below) reminded me of something I would see in a Fred Herzog exhibition.

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

Stanley Theatre, Granville Street, fall 2012

There is a great Chapters store on Broadway and Granville where I could (and almost did) spend hours whiling away the time browsing through the latest books.

Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

W Broadway Avenue at Granville Street

Shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

Hallowe’en display in Pottery Barn shop window along Granville Street, fall 2012

bike

One word: Meinhardt. This was my adopted food haunt in Vancouver. And yes, it’s a grocery store, but it’s a really cool, European-like fine food emporium with sidewalk terrasse and colorful flowers on display that really knows fresh food and merchandising. I discovered this shop last fall and would go there every day to pick up a delicious homemade sandwich or salad, perhaps some yogurt and fruit, maybe a slice of banana bread or homemade granola bar, but always the requisite chocolate chip cookies +/- dark chocolate bar. This time around, I picked up a 6-inch decadent carrot cake for a birthday party and it was awesome – though I still am left wondering how off-the-chain delicious that decadent dark chocolate layer cake would’ve been – my cousin is not a chocoholic like I am, so carrot cake it was!.. Next time…

Meinhardt grocery store, fall 2012

Meinhardt grocery store on Granville Street, fall 2012

This poor Lab puppy looked so forlorn waiting outside in the rain last fall as his owner no doubt was inside enjoying a delicious, fresh, gooey cinnamon roll – probably straight out of the oven…

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Puppy waiting for owner outside Granville Street shop, fall 2012

Mmmm Purdy's along Granville Street, fall 2012

Mmmm… Purdy’s along Granville Street, fall 2012

If you are as addicted to Indian cuisine as I am, then no visit to Vancouver would be complete without a stop at one of Vikram Vij’s award-winning restaurants. Last fall, I was fortunate to be in town on business with a colleague who was acquainted with Vikram Vij, himself, so we decided to go to Vij’s one night for supper. We were greeted personally by Chef Vij and I was totally starstruck! It was a Friday night, so his restaurant was packed. They don’t take reservations, so we had to bide our time patiently at the back of the restaurant with all the other foodies, feasting on complementary wine and hors d’oeuvres. It was like a party atmosphere not unlike an after-work cocktail hour. Since my friend is Indian, I deferred to him for recommendations on what to order, but we shared our plates. He, having the famous lamb, of course. I settled for something vegetarian with (lots of) curry. We were stuffed, but it was worth it!.. Last week, my Vancouverite cousins and I went there on a Monday night and got a table right away. I think I was the only one who had eaten there before, ironically. We ordered four different dishes for sharing and it is safe to say, there was not a speck of food left on the plate when we finished. The pork tenderloin in curry sauce was particularly outstanding. I had to laugh at my super-slim cousins, who are accomplished varsity runners: they easily devoured their meal along with several rounds of naan bread. Afterward, I treated everyone to gelato on Granville Island, which required us to walk down hilly Granville Street (and then back up!) to get there. Good way to work off all that food!..

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij's two restos: Vij's and Rangoli

Highly recommended: Vikram Vij’s two restos: Vij’s and Rangoli at W 11th and Granville

A walk through the quiet, tony, tree enshrouded neighborhood of Shaughnessy, where a good proportion of Vancouver’s elite reside, is a relaxing diversion. The houses are imposing but tasteful, and the properties impeccably managed. These are the kind of homes one would expect to see featured in Canadian House & Home. An elegant black limousine stopped to allow me to cross the street during my walk, doubtlessly carrying some famous Vancouver luminary inside.

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

The tony neighborhood of Shaughnessy

One of my last excursions was a bike ride out to the University of British Columbia from the downtown. My cousin works at the UBC hospital, so lucky for me, she said she’d bike with me to UBC. So, we set out in rush hour traffic that crisp, sunny morning, joining the throngs of other cyclists making their way to work or school. It was a great 35-40 minute ride, but wow, there was quite a section of hills to climb toward the end. Glad I dressed light and in synthetic fibers or I would’ve needed a shower! The campus was modern and minimalist with an eye to sustainability. Trees could be spotted everywhere and I was quite impressed by the flowers and shrubbery by the hospital’s urgent care entrance.

UBC campus

UBC campus

UBC Hospital

UBC Hospital

The ride back to the downtown was absolutely thrilling! I was on my own, so had to navigate my way through campus and down the hill through a couple of posh neighborhoods to pick up Marine Drive.  I was a little leery about riding in traffic without a helmet (my cousins did not have an extra helmet to loan me) on a road bike, but Marine Drive was a mostly flat, smooth, relatively quiet ride on a country-like road that ran parallel to the ocean. With trees on either side and snow-capped mountains visible across English Bay, I was practically euphoric in the experience! It got a little trickier, however, around Jericho Beach with the traffic picking up, so I moved over to the relative safety of the shoreline’s bike trails and continued weaving my way along the coastal path until Granville Island. Knowing time was short for catching my flight back home, I quickly dropped into Meinhardt one last time for a great take-away lunch before grabbing my suitcase, and hustling out to catch the city bus and then Sky Train to the airport. Until next time, Vancouver!..

The accidental scientist

It was to be a marriage of convenience, this encounter, lasting for three years, no more. And then, I would most certainly move on. That was the plan. Although I had a notion of what I wished to gain by the end of this experience, the time in between remained a mystery. I was young, naive, and brimming with idealism, yet I felt a certain apprehension about this new adventure. It had all happened so fast, and now here I was about to uproot myself and move to Montreal like a bride to New France, not knowing what kind of life I was about to begin.
It had only been two years since I graduated from university. I should’ve been happy. I had a high-paying job, a comfortable lifestyle, and no debt. Yet, I wasn’t. I remember thinking, is this it? Is this what I studied four years for? It wasn’t enough; I needed more. And so, here I was, ready to trade in the familiar and the secure for uncertainty and a drastic change in lifestyle. I was going back to school.
Until this point, I had not imagined myself doing research. Sure, I was critical, analytical, rational, curious, and creative, but somehow I never connected these dots to research. Maybe it was that ill-fated grade 12 biology lab experiment when I sliced a poor, unsuspecting worm in sagittal section instead of making a gentle, superficial incision to expose the structures beneath the peritoneum. My lab partners, horrified by my lack of surgical precision, demoted me to note-taker for all subsequent dissections.
During my undergraduate years, lab work was an integral component of my health professional program. Yet, despite doing well, I remained largely unenamored with scientific experimentation – at least fundamental or laboratory-based research.
My MSc program at McGill would change all that.
Before coming to McGill, my notion of ‘scientist’ was a largely stereotypical one, in which a white lab coat-clad social misfit toiled away in his/her lonely lab for years on end conducting highly esoteric experiments with no real-world applicability. While that character sketch is not necessarily a fiction, it fails to recognize all the other types of non-laboratory scientific research being conducted.
At McGill, I was exposed to ‘clinical research’, in which people are recruited to participate in an experiment in order to answer a specific scientific question. My experiment was a randomized controlled trial of patients with untreated high cholesterol. We sought to answer whether prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medication affected patients’ concurrent efforts to adopt a healthy lifestyle. It was a formative experience, requiring me to play many diverse roles, including scientist, clinician, teacher, counselor, and entrepreneur. I had no idea at the time just how much I would love research and its many creative opportunities.
That was 12 years ago. Scientific research, rather than being a stepping stone, has instead evolved to become a core element of my professional career, complementing my clinical work and continually inspiring me to ask why.

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Does running regularly give one license to eat?

Does running regularly give one license to eat?

I don’t know the definitive answer to this question, but I suspect the answer is probably no. Even for those among us who have a healthy body mass index (BMI) and who have achieved a high level of cardiorespiratory fitness.

I used to run with a fairly hard-core, fit group of runners (many of whom would win races or finish near the top in their age category) until I got injured; I still run regularly, but I now also participate in other sports for cross-training to mitigate the risk of further injury. Anyway, when I used to run with this group of talented runners, it was customary to hit the local pub twice a week following a run for beer, a burger & fries or big plate of pasta. Although I didn’t personally partake in this food/beverage post-work-out feasting ritual, I did (and still do) regularly indulge in a fair amount of dark chocolate.

With all this unchecked eating/drinking among runners/athletes I knew, I often found myself wondering whether the running really undid these regular dietary splurges. Despite the amount and type of food consumed, the runners didn’t seem to gain weight (that I could see), but was there anything else adverse happening inside their bodies, metabolically? I don’t know, but it’s a question I’d love to know the answer to.

Many years ago, as part of a Master’s in Nutrition, I did a study of people with untreated high cholesterol to see if prescribing a cholesterol-lowering medication (in this case, a statin drug) affected whether people adopted the concurrently recommended ‘usual’ lifestyle advice given for eating healthy and exercising regularly. My hypothesis (or hunch) was that if people were given a pill, which they believed would control their cholesterol, they wouldn’t see the need to eat healthy or exercise regularly. My study was small (53 people), single-blind (participants didn’t know whether they were receiving a statin or placebo, but the investigators did), and only conducted at one site, so the findings have important limitations. Nonetheless, we did not find any appreciable differences between groups in any of the parameters we investigated, including weight, food intake, or exercise after 12 weeks, suggesting that maybe the presence of a pill didn’t affect behavior. It’s only one study, though, and a small one at that. Had I gone on to do a PhD, I would’ve liked to probe this question further in a larger, longer, more detailed study, perhaps in another group of patients, where we would also look at hormone levels and other endpoints.

Regardless, I have now been sensitized to my own dietary indiscretions after reading that the amount of exercise I do likely doesn’t completely vanquish all those chocolate (and other indiscriminate) calories I consume like I hoped it would. (See http://www.weightymatters.ca/) I’ll still exercise regularly, because I love it, but I won’t count on it for undoing the bad dietary choices I make.

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