Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the tag “travel”

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.

 

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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.

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

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!..

My Sharpie marker sketch of a geographically inaccurate but artistically whimsical map of courtship memories

Being a detailed-oriented person, this art project was a really fun, but painstaking (esp Gothic architecture) drawing:

Image

Photography class field trip: Byward Market, Ottawa

A few weeks ago, our intro SLR photography class at the School of the Photographic Arts in Ottawa went on a field trip to the Byward Market to practise shooting street photography from a parking garage rooftop. Here is a sample of some of the shots I got:

Fabulous blue Mini Cooper

Blue Mini Cooper close-up: love this car…

Lamp post, early evening

Street reflection through the butcher’s window

Yellow bike

Rooftop view of Market buildings

Bike & bricks

Bike pop art

Cupcake Lounge

Street pattern

Downtown Ottawa near the Market

Fire escape detail, downtown Ottawa

Hot summer evening in the Market

Window shopping at night in the Market I

Window shopping at night in the Market II

Little red dress

Along Sussex Drive

Savoring a wee bit o’ Guinness at work…

I’ve always identified with Irish culture for some reason. I’m not sure why. Like many Canadians, I can reach back into my genealogy and extract an Irish root or two, but the reality is my Dutch and British lineage remain closer to the surface.

I think it’s the Irish traditional music that most stirs me. I’m not one to be coaxed onto the dance floor easily, but when I hear the sound of Irish music playing — usually in a pub — my otherwise rhythmically disinclined body is compelled to move with the beat. Like a self-possessed metronome, my foot cannot resist the siren call to keep time with the music.

My first exposure to Irish culture was during my university days as a very green undergrad student at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known for both its talented pool of local musicians and density of bars and pubs packed into a relatively tight downtown core, an evening out at a Halifax pub (or pubs) was (and still is) THE thing to do starting on a Thursday night and continuing on into the weekend. While pubs and bars have come and gone over the years, some venerable ones remain like the Lower Deck on the Halifax waterfront — a must-do experience for the first-time Halifax visitor.

Despite my affinity for Irish culture, I  have yet to actually set foot on the Emerald Isle. The closest I’ve come was this past spring when I had an opportunity to go to Dublin with my sister, who had to be in Ireland for some international business meetings. Were the airlines tickets more affordable in the context of a week-long stay, I would’ve taken advantage of this chance to visit Europe for the first time. Alas, it was not to be. My sister did go, however, and did enjoy her brief, first-time trip to Europe. Unfortunately, she is not so identified with Irish culture as me and also has little interest in photography, so the images I have of Ireland remain those that I have collected and stored away in my imagination over the years through books, movies (e.g., Leap Year and a very handsome-scruffy Matthew Goode), photos, and magazines.

One of my friends at work, who married an ex-pat Irishman (whom, I imagine has a lovely accent), recently returned home from a five-week family trip in Ireland. I can’t wait to catch up with her, and hear how her trip was, what adventures she had, and if she ran into any Gerard Butler look-alikes (yes, I know he is actually Scottish, but he did play an Irishman quite convincingly in P.S. I Love You, a movie whose only redeeming quality was the presence of Gerard Butler and Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or Allan Hawco à la Love & Savagery (very charming Irish-Canadian film collab).

In any event, I was on the phone when my friend popped by my cube to deliver some Irish bounty — a dark chocolate bar. I was intrigued: a real Irish chocolate bar! I don’t think of Ireland when I think of European chocolate. And Guinness?.. I do recall having once come across a recipe for a chocolate layer cake, in which Guinness was specified as an ingredient… Normally, I hate beer, but maybe all it needs is a little chocolate…

My morning half-pint

Since I had made it to mid-morning without a single chocolate pick-me-up after the requisite dose at breakfast (selected from my always well-stocked dark chocolate stash— and no, we’re not talking Cocoa Puffs or Nutella, or any of that other fake stuff masquerading as chocolate), I carefully unwrapped the bar. Within seconds, my cube started to smell like D’Arcy McGee’s or The Old Triangle! That’s all I needed: my manager thinking I had gone all James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway with my tortured technical writing assignments. Just how much Guinness was in this bar, I wondered — after quickly devouring two squares…

For a moment, I was transported back in time to that enchanting, rainy, cold, fall afternoon along Wellington Street in Ottawa when the remnants of Hurricane Juan were kicking up a blustery storm of wet, fall leaves. We were soaked, my tall, dark, handsome, eloquent Irishman and me, after an afternoon spent playing tourist at the Parliament buildings, Supreme Court, and Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. We had decided to head over to D’Arcy McGee’s to warm up. It was the first time I tasted Guinness. Michael had insisted I take a sip from his pint. Not wanting to disappoint, I raised the glass to my lips and took the most skeptical of micro-sized sips. I remember how it tasted as burnt as it looked. Michael just laughed and said it was an acquired taste. I told him I’d stick to my hot chocolate and warm, chocolate lava cake…

Hmmm… No amounts listed on the ingredient list. I decided to err on the side of caution and not imbibe — I mean, eat — anymore and risk having HR refer me to the Employee Assistance Program for a drinking problem. I put the bar to one side of my desk with a single piece of paper over it like an alcoholic trying to conceal his liquor in paper bag, hoping the scent of Guinness would be somehow magically stifled. It wasn’t.

I was sure my cubemates in the adjacent cube would soon catch a whiff of that unmistakable scent and get up to check who had brought in liquor to work. I should say, that if I actually worked in a non-geeky job, I would be the very last person people would consider as the bootlegger or closet-alcoholic. However, my job being the inherently geeky job it is, geekiness is all relative; the only uncertainty is just where along the geekiness spectrum I fall. I finally hit upon a decidedly non-creative plan, but a plan, nonetheless. I would stuff my bar into my filing cabinet where I also stored my purse and coat. Problem solved — I would keep the thing sealed and out of sight for the rest of the day.

Because of a series of protracted, severe thunderstorms that hit the city in the waning hours of the afternoon, I decided to wait out the inclement weather since I was without coat or umbrella (not that that would’ve been too wise to use in a thunderstorm), had come by bike, and also had to peddle through a densely treed park on my way home. Two hours later, I finally decide to take my chances and venture home as hunger has now trumped fear. I reach for my stored backpack and purse and note the pub-like ambience that hits me again as I open the cupboard to my locker — henceforth, pub door. I hastily stuff the chocolate booze bar into my purse and quickly and steathily make my way out of the office, grateful that only the last diehards of the geek squad remain…

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door. 

Sláinte!

Dragon boat team racing: An Ottawa summer rite of passage

Ottawa has often been called a small big city. As a national capital, it is also a government town, where you or someone you know most certainly works for the public service. This can make the city rather stuffy at times, and then there’s summer with its extreme heat and humidity, and frequent risk of severe thunderstorms (which scare the crap out of me!)… [At least, Ottawa is THE place to be for Canada Day celebrations! ;-)]

Canada Day 2011: Crowds gather by the thousands on Parliament Hill to greet Prince William and Kate Middleton, Ottawa

Despite being a self-identified Nordic girl, myself, where cool temps and low humidity (and in winter, lots of snow! :-)) feature among my ideal climatic conditions for thriving, I have to confess summer in Ottawa is  beginning to grow on me. (Especially now that I live in a place with air conditioning — a must during the sultry days of summer in Central Canada.)

This will make my 4th summer as a resident of Ottawa; however, this year, instead of my annual pilgrimage (or more aptly, “escape”) back east to weeks of (usually) cool ocean breezes, salty air, and relaxed living in the Maritimes, I am spending the bulk of my summer in Ottawa owing to the fact I will be traveling to Europe in the fall, thus deferring my holiday time.

Swimmers bathing on a beach in Fundy National Park, Alma, New Brunswick

On guard along the ruggedly beautiful coastline of Lawrencetown Beach, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia

The waters of the Atlantic Ocean churning up a storm on Lawrencetown Beach for the surfers, Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia

If you are someone who longs for the return of those wintry days of cross-country skiing in the hills of Gatineau Park like me, it becomes essential (i.e., a matter of mental survival) to find a way to embrace summer as you do the cooler seasons. Summer is not going anywhere and the planet is only getting hotter, so the best way to beat the heat is to learn to like it, or at least, adapt to it.

To this end, I decided to try something different this year. Paddling. Specifically, dragon boating.

Friday night paddling at the Rideau Canoe Club, Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

Saturday morning regatta at the Rideau Canoe Club, Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

I am an avid athlete and previously (exclusively) hard-core runner (until I got injured and had to change up my training plan to usher in a long overdue age of cross-training). Despite not being a bona fide swimmer just yet (though this is still a work in progress), I have always had a special affinity for the water. Likely this is partly explained by genetics (nature), as someone who was born and raised in the Maritimes. And, maybe partly an environmental (nurture) influence as I have fond memories of care-free days spent by the seashore as a young child at the family cottage.

Watching the boats from the dock at the Rideau Canoe Club, Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

In my mission to embrace, or at least shake hands with, our notoriously steamy Ottawa summer season, I figured taking up paddling would allow me to build my core in a fun way (since I hate gyms), introduce me to new people I might not otherwise meet, and give me that connection with the water I crave. I had never really dragon boated before unless you count the one time three years ago when I was a last-minute alternate for a team that a running friend of mine (a steerer) was on. It had been a favor (or desperate plea?) since they needed someone in a pinch, and I was thought to be a good bet because of my aerobic fitness. [BTW, a full dragon boat crew comprises 20 paddlers plus the steersperson and the drummer, so it can be a challenge recruiting enough consistently, committed people. The boat, itself is a slim, 44-foot racer that seems to almost fly or hover above the water when great technique, timing, teamwork, and athleticism combine.] I ended up having a blast being out on the calm, sheltered waters of Mooney’s Bay under a beautiful, silvery moon during that warm summer evening. I had no technique, however, and didn’t realize that this team was actually a competitive, well-oiled machine, just days away from the big race. I think I probably splashed the guy seated in front of me with my awkward paddling a bit too much; fortunately, my relative, sometimes out-of-sync contribution could be absorbed by the predominant strength and synchronicity of the other seasoned crew members. [Interestingly — and perhaps, not surprisingly — I was not invited back to this team!? :-(]

Dragon boat teams practising on Mooney’s Bay, Ottawa

In Ottawa, paddling is a hugely popular sport among both competitive and non-competitive athletes. My theory for this much-loved activity is that there is just something innate, viscerally compelling, even spiritual about water and our attraction to it. To revel in its space. To contemplate. To connect. And in the case of the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival in Ottawa this weekend — to compete, or at least to have fun being on a team and giving it your best.

Team “Draggin’ Blades” relaxing before the morning’s first race at the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

One of the main paths through the site; bikes, as the popular mode of transportation, could be found everywhere since there was no parking at the event

Display of personalized paddles from one of the more hard-core competitive dragon boat teams, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

Members of “The Gladiators” dragon boat team, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

The relatively short, outdoor paddle season in Ottawa  is a tease, however, running usually from May to October. Among our boating and paddling clubs, we have two venerable ones located within the city: the Rideau Canoe Club overlooking Mooney’s Bay in the southwest part of Ottawa and the host of the Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival, and the Ottawa Rowing Club — the oldest rowing club in Canada, boasting Sir John A. Macdonald (the first Prime Minister of Canada and founding father of Confederation) as its inaugural club president — located just below Sussex Drive in the tony neighborhood of Rockcliffe Park. I was wondering why the TH Dragon Boat Festival doesn’t rotate sites between the RCC and the ORC, but then I remembered that the relatively open, Ottawa River that serves as the waterway for the ORC can be quite rough compared to the usually gentle waters of Mooney’s Bay; as a result, the average paddler who frequents the ORC is probably fairly skilled in negotiating challenging water conditions and is necessarily an accomplished swimmer.  [For a great article on rowing and the Ottawa Rowing Club, check out “Where Water Moonlights as Soul – Five Scenes from the Ottawa Rowing Club” by Jamieson Findlay and Harry Nowell in Ottawa Magazine.]

Watching a crew return to the docks from their heat, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

The Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival is the premier event held every June on Mooney’s Bay, and is the race that most non-elite athletes and recreational paddlers in Ottawa train for. It is the largest dragon boat festival in North America with over 200 boats entered in the weekend’s races. This year marks the 19th edition of this non-profit, charity event with an expected attendance of 75,000 (including 5,000 paddlers) over its three days of competition and entertainment.

Hundreds of team tents or campsites lined Mooney’s Bay Park along the shore, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

As you may have gauged by now, dragon boating is something of a subculture in Ottawa, much like that of Ultimate Frisbee (the allure of which I never really understood). Although people of all ages, sizes, and cultures participate in dragon boating, there is a preponderance of university-aged kids and newly-minted 20-something grads who make up the majority of crews. Women, in particular, seem to be drawn to the sport (there are several breast cancer survivor and/or fundraising crews), but encouragingly, quite a few guys can be found within the mixed team crews. Since there is a certain amount of power and muscular endurance required to be a competitive crew, having a number of guys on your team is a definite asset in mixed competitions. [Note to the guys: You might be wise to look at dragon boating as not just an opportunity for a great core work-out on water, but also as a chance to meet nice, (usually attractive), fit women; one of my good girl-friends, in fact, met her husband through a dragon boat team and they are engaged to be married this summer.]

Because most people seem to be veteran dragon boaters, the newbies (and few who don’t already belong to a team) must sign up on a wait list on the Rideau Canoe Club’s website and then bide their time to be contacted by teams in need of extra members. There are recreational crews for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced-level crews; although I was tempted to at least indicate “intermediate” on my application since I am athletic and a quick learner, I knew my strength was in my lower body, so I convinced myself to err on the side of “beginner” so as to not overpromise on my skills and risk under-delivering on my performance. [If you’ve read any of my previous posts, risk aversion is unfortunately a recurring theme for me.] The accepted trade-off, of course, is that a recreationally-focused crew may not be as aerobically fit as me, nor as competitive.

Pumped to paddle

Mixed crew getting ready to board their boat at the dock

I ended up joining a semi-experienced team called the Draggin’ Blades, who had recruited a few extra walk-ons to fill the spots left vacant by some of the past year’s crew. We had a weekly practice schedule of Friday nights on Mooney’s Bay with an experienced steersperson/coach. [I was surprised and delighted to learn that when you sign up for a dragon boat crew, your registration fee — which is very reasonable — includes the cost of coaching.] Our coach was great: very organized in her coaching plan for each practice, positive and extremely patient. We learned how to paddle properly, then how to paddle in sync with each other, then with tempo, all while building up muscular endurance and having fun out on the water.

We were not so fortunate with the weather, however, for our first few practice nights. On what was to be our second night out on the water as a team, we were preempted by a vicious thunderstorm, in which an 18-year-old boy was tragically struck and killed by lightning as he took momentary shelter under a tree in a nearby park, not far from Mooney’s Bay.

The week following, we had a torrential downpour (fortunately, not accompanied by a thunderstorm), but the practice proceeded nonetheless, albeit shy a full crew. Oddly enough, I enjoyed this practice. True, we got absolutely soaked to the skin, despite rain gear, but it reminded me of my days of hard-core training as a runner in Montreal when I would once in a while get caught in monsoon-like rain. These are the character-building training sessions. And, there is an unmistakable sense of pride and accomplishment — and noticeable boost in positive energy — that invariably accompanies the completion of a tough training session characterized by less-than-ideal conditions. Such character-building sessions always remind me of the famous World War II morale-boosting slogan created by the British government, that is currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, particularly in Ottawa: Keep Calm and Carry On.

After a grueling set of practices last week (one of which was a make-up for that earlier thunderstorm) and our last one this past Friday night, we were ready to throw down the gauntlet on Saturday at the TH Dragon Boat Festival.

Boys will be boys: Several guys – not sure if drunkenness was a factor – decided to go for a post-race swim in the Bay

Our first race was to be at 11h50 with staging at 11h20. Because the race is a massive undertaking, eight teams at a time are asked to ‘stage’ or line up in a corral-like area as another eight proceed to their assigned docks. While these 16 teams are in a holding pattern on shore, another eight teams are out on the water at, or making their way, to the starters’ blocks for their 500-metre ‘heat’. Approximately every 9 minutes, a race occurs until the entire field of 200 teams is processed. Each team gets two guaranteed races or heats on the Saturday: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The top 75 mixed teams and top 24 women’s teams advance to the final round on Sunday. [There are no all-men’s teams at this event.]

Waiting to enter the staging area

When I arrived on the scene at Mooney’s Bay Park an hour ahead of our race, I was met by a sea of tents and campsites (often creatively decorated), and thousands of people milling about. It was like a dragon boat version of Woodstock or a huge frosh week event at a major Canadian university. It was great! The excitement in the air was palpable (and audible) as paddlers proudly clad in their team colors and various accoutrements could be found rallying their respective teams with cheers, performing group stretching exercises in an open section of field, or sitting contentedly in a big circle on lawn chairs socializing and chilling out (and hydrating) before or after their race.

Since this was my first time participating in this event, I wasn’t sure what kind of secure storage options would be available if any, so I erred on the side of caution (i.e., the case of no secure storage), making sure that everything I brought I could wear. [Hopefully, I adopt a similar, minimalist strategy when I have to pack for Europe!] This meant cycling to the event with my PFD (personal flotation device) securely fastened to my body. [As Stacy London would say, everything was “locked and loaded” to the point I could hardly breathe!?] I couldn’t help but feel particularly ridiculous as — in order to plan on the possibility of no secure storage area — I purposefully left my bike helmet at home. So there I was, riding along the canal paths at top speed with a life jacket on, but no helmet! People must have thought I was nuts. Knowing where my priorities lay, I did manage to squeeze my tiny, compact purple, point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot into the tightly zipped compartment of my diaphragm-crushingly tight PFD, however. (I was determined to ensure I would remain afloat should our boat capsize, so I cinched that thing pretty freakin’ tight!? I won’t get into all the issues I had with PFD-inflicted chafing. Suffice it to say, it will likely be comfortable to wear when the weather is suitable for long sleeves and possibly a turtleneck sweater.)

CIBC breast cancer survivors/research fundraising crew. Love the ballerina tutu!

Old school-dressed ice cream vendors, Tim Hortons Dragon Boat Festival

After spending some time wandering with my camera across the grounds, taking in the carnival-like atmosphere, it was finally time for our team’s first race. We assembled in the ‘corral’ as the race officials took attendance and the teams rallied their crew with cheers, and then proceeded to Dock 5 before heading out on the water for our heat.

Staging area: Eight teams await the green light to proceed to the docks

At the docks: choosing our paddles and putting on our PFDs before boarding our boat

Boarding our boat for the race

All aboard and ready to paddle off to the starting line buoys

I was seated on the left side near the back of the boat. We began with a short warm-up of light, easy strokes then a series of 3 x 5 power strokes followed by our race pace. We then settled into our lane, hunched forward with paddles across our knees in the ‘set’ position waiting for the “Ready! Ready!” cry from our caller/drummer and then the official “Attention, please!” from the race marshal on the floating dock to our right. The final signal to go was the starter’s gun. And bang! We got off to a powerful, fast start, slicing our way through the water with our blades. All you could hear was the sound of the water against the paddles [it’s really important to avoid the dreaded kerplunk! sound, which is akin to executing a belly-flop in the pool versus a graceful dive] and the yelling by each boat’s drummer, calling out the strokes. At about 1/4 of the way into this 500-metre race, we were suddenly and unexpectedly (at least to those of us on the left side of the boat) broad-sided by an aberrant boat from the lane to our right. I wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen next. Were we done? Did we just pick up and go? Some of us had stopped paddling completely, not wanting to ram the boat further while others continued their strokes. It felt like an eternity, but then our trusty coach/steersperson piped up authoritatively and told us to keep going. And boy, did we ever have to kick into high gear! We essentially had to repeat our start from a dead stop and rebuild the momentum we had accrued prior to the collision. We were well behind the leaders, but then something very cool happened. We started really accelerating. Powering our way through the water to catch up and pass not one, not two, but three boats! Of course, as a paddler, you must keep your eyes on the person in front and beside you at all times to ensure synchronicity of strokes (and maximum efficiency), and so as a back-end paddler I missed this drama in real-time, only hearing about it post-race. We ended up placing a very respectable third place in our heat, and were especially energized (as were our drummer and steerer) by our incredible mid-course comeback. This was definitely a character-building race, and we were excited about what we could do in our second race, having finished this heat well despite the initial setback and critical loss of time.

A fleet of dragon boats coming into dock, leaving dock, or finishing their heat

Instead of hanging out at the venue all afternoon until our next race — admittedly, mostly because I had no desire to use those port-a-potties! — I opted to bike back home for lunch since I only live 15 minutes away by bike and knew I had some delicious pasta salad with chicken waiting for me to replenish my glycogen stores. 🙂

Our next race was to be at the end of the afternoon at 17h10, so I made my way back to the site for 16h00. It was a long break spent lounging around or relaxing until our next heat. I had some concerns that maybe we wouldn’t be pumped enough for our next race, where you are matched against crews with similar times from the morning’s races. As before, we made our way through the staging area or corral and then down to the docks. Interestingly, this time, we were told by our assigned dock’s marshal that we were going to be on a ‘lucky’ boat, which had apparently enjoyed a disproportionate number of wins this day. She seemed so sure of her prediction, as to almost dismiss the possibility that ‘her’ boat would not come out on top again. It appeared she had issued us a challenge, perhaps there was even money riding on this particular boat, like a great thoroughbred racehorse favored to win at the Belmont Stakes.

Post-race debrief after leaving the dock area

Post-race walk off the docks: You either saw the triumphant strut or the silent march, depending on how teams fared

With a few last-minute switches — I had noticed during the first race that the woman behind me had a longer reach than I did and so had asked her to swap seats with me, and then I swapped again with the woman beside me so that I could be on what was probably my ‘natural’ , more powerful (right) side — we were ready to throw down the gauntlet again.

Spying another potentially rogue boat with dubious steering [having an experienced steerer, I learned, is so important!], we made it our goal to go out hard at the start to pass them so we would not have to concern ourselves with the possibility of another mid-race collision. We got settled into our assigned lane, crouched low and forward with paddles across our knees in the ‘set’ position, and waited expectantly. “Ready! Ready!”… “Attention, please!” Bang! We were off like a Jamaican sprinter out of the blocks (or so I like to imagine it this way).  We began with the usual set of six powerful start-up strokes — 1/2, 3/4 , full, full, full, full — landing them like a polished, competitive diver making a splashless, rip entry into the pool. Then it was 3 sets of 5 powerful strokes with blade completely buried below the water’s surface. The familiar 5-4-3-2-1 countdown (or mnemonic of “start-to reach it out”) next led us into our race pace rhythm of long, consistent high-cadence strokes that we had to sustain until the last 75-metres of the race, at which point, we would throw down for one final sprint to the finish line. This race felt like higher stakes than the first. The effort also felt harder and longer than the first race. Our drummer and steerer urged us on repeatedly and excitedly, shouting louder as we began to gain on the leader boats and subsequently began passing them one by one. We were almost to the finish line; it was then time to give it everything we had left in the tank. We dug in, and ripped our blades through the water for one final push. It was enough: we clinched first place in our second heat in dramatic fashion — another come-from-behind effort, and another victory for boat # 2. Our soothsayer at dock # 2 had been correct in her prediction all along and greeted us with genuine happiness as we paddled over to the dock to disembark and make way for the next team.

When we exited the boat, we were regaled with a recap of our performance as seen from the shore by one of our teammates’ friends. Apparently, we had been an exciting boat to watch as we ‘made our (tactical) move’ to surge ahead, all chronicled from the shore by the British announcer over the loudspeaker. We were told that our power and acceleration was clearly visible from the shore. [Why can’t there by an instant replay?? Or, a big screen to show the highlights of the race to the completing teams once they clear the dock zone?]

Despite our strong and exciting racing performance, we unfortunately did not qualify among the top 75 mixed teams for the Sunday finals. Normally, I would be disappointed by this outcome, as a very competitive person, but I wasn’t. I knew we had had two really good races and shown a lot of character coming back as strongly as we did after that collision in the first race.

Maybe I’m not just an individual-sports person afterall. Who knew dragon boating could be so much fun while still being competitive? I think this might be the beginning of a beautiful new summer sport for me…

Team “Draggin’ Blades” all smiles before their first race

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