Welcome to Ottawa
For something completely different, the family took a weekend getaway to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, over Thanksgiving break. The second coldest capital in the world after Moscow, Ottawa is a great small city with a population under 900,000, very walkable and beautiful, if you can take the chill this time of year. Somehow when temperature is given in Celsius and not Fahrenheit, it always seems colder.
We stayed at the Sheraton blocks away from Parliament Hill, known to be one of the world’s most iconic government buildings:
My boys loved its “Hogwarts“esque architecture complete with stone walls, huge doors:
a clock tower, and gargoyles galore:
I remember coming here as a kid and posing with a guard, but even the winter chill is too much for the guards in their tall fur hats. To experience the changing of the guard, I guess we’ll have to come back in the summer.
We walked to breakfast to get out of the cold:
After a great breakfast at eggspectations, we went to warm up in the city’s Museum of Civilization, which is actually in Quebec. Here, you can learn about Canadian History, size up to some totem poles and Native American Art and take in great views of the river:
After a day at the museum, we headed to Ottawa’s historic Byward Market, where we met up with friends who treated us to afternoon cupcakes at the Cupcake Lounge.
Along the streets, the air smelled of fresh pine from the trees and wreaths sold by local vendors:
Celebrate Life (and a good bike ride) with an Ice Wine Slushie
Along the wine trail on Niagara-on-the-Lake is the Ice House.
We were biking along for about 11 miles along the Niagara River and we passed the Ice House. We vowed to go to the ice house on our way back after our furthest point, which involved going down, and then back up, a very big hill, just before we reached the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge.
That way, the Ice Wine Slushie would have been something well-earned on a hot July day.
First, the Ice House is set on a beautiful vineyard. Okay art history buffs, what artist do these photos remind you:
We locked up our bikes, hugged the Ice House Polar bear for luck:
and went inside to learn about how ice wine is produced. Actually, because we live in the Finger Lakes New York region, we have knowledge of ice wine, but it’s worth learning – and tasting – more than once.
Ice wine is growing in popularity and the Finger Lakes and the Ontario wine region produce the highest number of award-winning ice wines in the world. Wineries in colder regions take advantage of frigid temperatures by leaving grapes on the vine in the winter, and then quickly harvest and crush them while the grapes are completely frozen. This concentrates the flavor into a sweet but not syrupy wine that is not just for dessert but can be paired with food. I’m not going to botch up the facts of how it is produced, and why it is more expensive than other wines, you can read about that here.
Here is a photo of an Ice House employee bottling the micro batches of wine produced at the winery:
But now, to the Ice Slushie.
Now forgive me, but being the typical American girl that I am, this is what came to my mind when our inn proprietor first informed us of the Ice Wine Slushie:
I know, right? Unnatural colors. Big – at least 16 ounces. So how am I supposed to drink something made out of a concentrated wine THAT size and get back on my bike?
But no. In reality, the ice wine slushie, a 3-oz. drink was just enough to refresh and not intoxicate. For $10, my husband and I shared three different types of ice wine, paired with different snacks like chocolate, pretzels, and spicy wasabi peas to bring out their different flavors.
No, we did not plunk down the $50-75 for a bottle of ice wine. But the tasting, and the slushie, made this the most memorable stops on our day of biking and tasting. And in the future, if we have something special to celebrate, we’ll be sure to pick up a bottle.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Wrong
As the Commercial goes, everyone loves Marineland.
Everyone but me. I think it’s WRONG.
This blog post was inspired by the blog Platform 9 3/4 after the blogger’s visit to the very sad and neglected animals in “The Guindy National Park” in Chennai, India. The blogger was outraged at the sorry conditions where the animals lived, the weak looking monkeys and birds kept in small cages, unable to fly.
I felt the same sad way when I visited Niagara Falls’ biggest attraction, Marineland.
Marineland, famed for its 450 foot Skyscreamer ride, can’t decide whether it is a zoo, an aquarium, or an amusement park. Maybe it should skip the first two and stick to the rides.
The park has a lot of marine life but clearly they are exploited for the entertainment and not an educational value. When we visited the beluga tank, for example, it was small and bare inside, with one small ball for the belugas to play with. There was no visible literature about how beluga populations have been hurt by whaling, fishing, and motor boats.
That is why I posted this picture in the photo challenge: wrong.
Niagara-on-the Lake: Where to Stay, Where to Peddle, Where to Sip, Where to Sleep
Upon check-out at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Antique Slumber Inn, after a great breakfast of freshly cut fruit, homemade blueberry muffins and French toast, I was asked to sign the guest book that sat on an — antique — desk.
I flipped through the pages to see what other guests wrote. Our proprietor Cathy, a native of Niagara on the Lake said, “you’ll find many folks from Rochester in there, it seems like we get a visitor from Rochester nearly every week.”
And why not?
Niagara-on-the-Lake (on Lake Ontario,Canada, that is) is 100 miles from Rochester, NY , but it feels at some times as if you have gone abroad. Canada is another country, after all. You need your passport to get there. In Canada, where people say “aye” instead of “huh?” in conversation, things are measured in metrics, you will find a wine country that rivals Napa or Sonoma.
First, where we stayed
The Antique Slumber Inn has been in the same family for five generations. While the house itself is 130 years old, inside it was gutted and completely new, you could still smell the newness of the paint.
The bedroom we stayed in had a cathedral ceiling, an octagon window and our own bathroom – all bright, clean and new. The location was right off the main strip but close enough that , once we parked our car, we didn’t drive it for our entire stay, chosing to walk or bike everywhere we needed to go.
At breakfast, we chatted with a young couple from Luxembourg. They were touring around New York and Canada and we asked them where they had been. As it turns out, on their visit to New York City, they went to the same Yankee game my parents attended, left at the very same time at the sixth inning as the skies opened and thunder roared.
Of course, I asked what else they saw and where they ate, and — if they had any good pizza.
They said that the pizza was very disappointing. I asked them, how could this be, disappointing pizza in Manhattan? Until they told me the only pizza they ate was
Completely mortified, I apologized to them whole heartedly.
As a New Yorker, my heart went out to them. I still think of them now, the poor young couple from Luxembourg who think that Sbarros is New York Pizza.
After consoling the folks from Luxembourg, we were on our way to rent bikes. Bike rentals in town go for about $50 a day, but at our B&B, Cathy rented them out for a nominal fee of $5, just enough for their upkeep. She also gave us coupons at selected wineries for tastings. We first peddled into town to stop to buy some sunglasses at the apothecary.
In the heart of downtown, Niagara-on-the-Lake can make the visitor also feel like they are back in time. There are Victorian bed-and-breakfasts with vast porches, streets lined with gardens
There are even ladies on their way to tea after taking in a play from the Bernard Shaw Festival walking with gloves and parasols:
Where we sipped
The wine trail is clearly mapped out with signs bearing a grape logo. Some of our route took us along the Niagara River. Other parts took us along long straight roads called “lines” that went out into the vineyards and orchards.
After we cycled across town and through the Commons, our first stop on our bikes as we traversed the trail along the Niagara River was Riverview Cellars, where our pourer Greg did an impressive job of switching back from English to French as he poured for us and a couple from Quebec.
This was our first stop on a WHOLE day of biking and sipping, so Craig took notes on which wine we liked from which winery. Copious notes. The Pino Grigio was a safe choice, but the Reisling and Cabernet, which had hints of leather (so we were told. Yes, it did taste like leather, but that’ what made it taste good) had much more character, and they were our favorites here.
We tried ice wine at Reif, a winery specializing in German varieties of grapes.
And then did more tasting at the Frog Pond, an organic winery:
I was really routing for the wine here. They use no pesticides on their grapes, rather they rely on a bird they imported from Africa that roam free in the vineyards to gobble up the pests. But really, this was the poorest tasting wine we sipped all day. It’s a new venture so maybe they’ll get it right in a few years.
In all, we peddled over 20 miles and sipped from seven wineries.
Be advised, that if you bike and taste, there are police on bikes to check the sobriety of bikers along the wine trail. After my fifth winery, located out on the “lines” – that’s way out in the vineyards, where each “line” road is separated by a square kilometer of vineyard – I was less interested in wine and more interested in water.
So I stopped to get wet by one of the many irrigation devices that sprayed plumes of water into the parched vineyards.
After a 20 mile bike ride, it was great to get back to our inn and rest in the hot tub.
But I still haven’t told you about the Ice Wine slushies. Yes. Ice. Wine. Slushies. I’ll save that for a later post.
“No, you may NOT tip, Young Man!” And other things heard and seen in a Canoe in Muskoka
With absolute awkwardness, I got in the canoe, rented from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, at the front. I don’t remember canoes being so wobbly, probably because I hadn’t been in one in at least 20 years.
“Are you sure that this canoe isn’t extra narrow?” I called back to my teen son.
My son climbed into the canoe with ease. The one who earned his golden oar after canoeing for five summers straight at camp. I let him take the back.
It was the last morning together with the boys. It had been a blessing in disguise that we couldn’t drop them off for Session II of the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada as early as we planned. That way, we had this one more adventure before we dropped them off for a whole month at camp.
On the first half of our trip, we divided the boys per canoe: My husband and younger son, 8 in one, and myself and my 13-year-old in another. That worked well. My husband and my teen took control, telling the less experienced rowers (my youngest and I) which side to paddle, and actually how to paddle.
Before that morning’s canoe ride with my 13-year-old son, I did not know there was such a thing as a C stroke or a J stroke. To me, it was all one thing, put your oar on the left side or the right, put it deep in the water, and pull back. I also did not know that, several times a week at camp, my son would wake up extra early to go canoeing with a small group of campers. Imagine that, a teen getting up extra early, when at home on vacation, I can barely get him out of bed by 10.
He said at camp he also played his guitar in a canoe.
He also told me one of his most spiritual moments at camp was when he and his other campers brought their prayer books and conducted morning services on the canoe.
Prayer books. On a canoe?
Clearly, the campers knew there were times for tipping the canoe, and other times, carrying precious cargo, times to keep the canoe perfectly balanced.
We rowed along a calm lake that had many inlets and narrow passages, so much that it seemed to have a current like a river. We passed quaint houses with well cared for and decorated docks.
We passed under a freight train bridge where a man working on the rails shouted greetings (and advice) to us from above. (You’ll just have to use your imagination here. I didn’t photograph him. Taking pictures, managing an oar,and trying not to tip over proved to be very challenging!)
“Great day for a canoe ride, Ay? You should steer a little away from the side, Ay? I say, Ay, I think you’re headed for a rock, steer clear, Ay?”
Was my ineptitude that apparent? All those “ays.” I definitely knew I was in Canada.
Things were going well until, exploring the second half of the lake, my older son insisted we switch. My son wanted to take his little brother under his wing and show him the ropes of rowing. He offered the argument that his edah (Hebrew for group) of campers never socialized with my son’s age group on waterfront activities and this would be his only chance to have some brother bonding on a boat.
Begrudgingly, (but I knew it was a bad idea) we agreed.
First, they got stuck going around a curve in a bramble of branches.
Then, they kept turning in circles as they got stuck in a current.
My older son overestimated my younger’s experience with the oar. In his mind, he had to be an expert by now. After all, little brother had been canoeing for an entire hour with dad. It was a lesson in brother bonding, and resisting the urge to throw little brother overboard.
Now that I was in the canoe with my husband, I wasn’t doing much better. Apparently, sitting in the front of the canoe, I pull my oar out of the water way too fast and was splashing my husband at every stroke. He was clearly the one in charge in this canoe, the backseat rower.
“Stop splashing me, please! ”
“Three more strokes on your left, please!”
When I was in the canoe with my son, his main suggestion to me:
“Mom, just sit there and let me do the rowing. We’ll be better off that way.”
I did do some rowing, at my insistence. I needed the workout. Was it my fault I didnt’ spend five summers learning how to canoe as a child? Also, my son didn’t complain that I was getting him was wet when I oared in his canoe! Getting wet was half the fun, just as long as we didn’t tip. Actually, in the heat, I wouldn’t have minded getting tipped, except I had a new camera on board.
Finally, at a private cottage dock with a little white dog barking at us the whole time, we regrouped and switched back to our original rowing arrangements.
Rowing taught us several things. For one, when you are in a boat with someone, squabbling just makes you go around in circles. To get anywhere, you both have to paddle in perfect harmony.
Muskoka & Camp Ramah — It’s worth the schlep
When people ask me where I send my kids to camp, I tell them I send them to Camp Ramah.
Now, when you live in a town where traveling even 30 minutes to get somewhere seems like traveling to another planet (and I’m guilty of this as well), they then reply, Oh, the Camp Ramah in Toronto.
And then I say, “Nooo, it’s actually two and a half hours further. North of Toronto. In a region called Muskoka.”
The response I hear is: Isn’t that far?
And truthfully, Yes.
Yes. It’s very far.
Yes, I send my kids for a month, and now for my oldest two months, six hours away. Many see this as a sign of bad parenting. Many cannot fathom why we’d want to get rid of our kids for a month or even two. But, I have a friend who has five boys. Once, when we ran into each other grocery shopping, she spoke to me about the beauty of summer camp.
“Everyone for one time a year gets to live in their own space. It’s really very healthy.”
I’ll remember this produce aisle advice forever.
To get to camp, they travel across an international border and this requires they all need passports. But that means they are truly away from home, broadening their horizons and meeting kids from many countries and cities who are all bound together by a common heritage and a way of observing this heritage.
This is what I keep reminding myself in the hours my husband and I find ourselves in bumper-to-bumper traffic on our way to visitors day.
The first time I drove up to Muskoka, what surprised me most of all was the traffic. I mean, I can accept traffic in the New York Metro area, but traffic in Canada?
Yes, this is my American arrogance shining right through, because I never imagined such a huge population can exist North of the United States.
In reality, the Toronto-Muskoka corridor is packed. If you want to put it in terms of an SAT verbal analogy question, then Muskoka is to Toronto as the Jersey Shore is to the New York Tri State area.
So, picture yourself on the Garden State Parkway on a Friday or a Saturday and you now completely have an understanding of the traffic scene of “cottage country.”
Except, instead of terms like the GSP, you have roads that start with “the”.
And at last, The 11.
On the 11, suddenly the traffic opens up, and you find yourself on a road that ambles along sparkling lakes and pine forests. A road that’s dotted with honky tonk motels and camper parks, kayak rental places, and fruit stands. And you know you’re almost there.
So, getting back to the “why.” Why do we schlep all the way to Muskoka to send our kids to camp? Why do we send our kids so far away when there are closer camps from which to choose?
For many reasons.
Friendship and Kehilah Kedosha (holy community) It’s the smile on the kids faces that I see on nearly every photo that is posted on the camp website. The photos where nearly 600 children, freshly showered and dressed and arms linked, make their way down to the waterfront for another Shabbat service, that gets me every time. I know that we are doing right by our children for parting with them for a summer of this:
My children are developing deep friendships and in turn, we are also making friendships with the families of these children, all within the framework of an immersive Jewish education program that is nearly impossible to duplicate outside of camp (but I keep trying).
Inclusion: When we arrived at camp for visitor’s day, the very first child my 15-year-old daughter talked about and wanted us to meet was her new friend Julie:
Julie, who has Down’s Syndrome, is participating in Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program. Each day, Jolie meets with Julie to tutor her in Hebrew and through these lessons a friendship has blossomed. I am sure the girls will keep in touch long after camp is over.
Family – In truth, campers, and in turn their families, become one extended family. But I have actually reconnected with extended family members on my grandmother’s side that before our Camp Ramah years, I have not seen in decades. Now, the great-grandchildren of my grandmother and her eldest sister attend the same camp. We stay in touch during the year over Facebook and we’ve got plans to visit them in Pittsburgh at the end of the summer.
New Hobbies: Because of his summers canoeing and kayaking in Skeleton Lake, I got into a canoe with my son with confidence. I sat in the front of the wobbly canoe, knowing he would be the one to give me direction on how to stroke and where to steer the boat:
My daughter also took up a hobby, making her own boat in woodshop:
She also painted the sets for and was one of the angels in “Beauty School Dropout” in the Camp Ramah production of Grease.
And all plays at camp Ramah – the lines and the songs – are performed in Hebrew.
I don’t know how to sing “Beauty School Dropout” in Hebrew just now, but I bet my daughter will teach me when she gets home.
Finally, off camp, there is the town of Huntsville with the world’s most amazing candy store and ice creamery, great restaurants, art galleries inside and out,
and nearby Arrowhead Provincial Park where you can swim in a pristine lake, hike to a waterfall and climb in and see fish swimming around you in the current:
And, at night there is darkness. A rarity in our increasingly lit up world, the skies are dark enough to see THOUSANDS of stars, and even spot a fast-moving satellite:
Really, there are stars in this photo. If you don’t believe me, you’ll just have to go up there for yourself. I’ll even tell you which field to stargaze.
So, we’re back. I try not to think about how far away my kids are, kind of how an extreme rock climber just keeps looking up and doesn’t think how high off the ground they are. But we are happy in our space, and they are happy in theirs.
And the schlep is completely worth it.
Welcome to Canada: Did you bring your Skates?
This Christmas vacation, my family took a mini getaway to Toronto. As an alternative to our New York City visits, we love exploring this cosmopolitan city to the North for its great restaurants, theatres, shopping, and museums. Going round and round on an outdoor skating rink in sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures we regret to say was the farthest thing from our minds.
Because our children go to sleep away camp north of Toronto, not only are we having fun getting to know Torontos’ sites but its people. My daughter spent much of our visit not with us but with the family of a friend she made from summer camp. All arrangements were made over Skype through the girls and without one conversation between the adults. All directions were found via GPS. Welcome to long distance friendships in the 21st Century, I guess.
We dropped Jolie off at her friend’s house and were greeted by the girl’s mother. In the small entryway of the house, we made some awkward chit-chat as the girls settled in for a weekend of catching up and shopping. When we mentioned that we were staying at the Westin Harbour Castle, the mom’s first reaction was:
“They have a lovely ice skating rink just a block from your hotel. Did you bring your skates?”
About a half hour later, the father came home after participating in the traditional Canadian Boxing Day, which is the equivalent to our Black Friday for shopping deals and sales. We were introduced and then his wife went down to the basement to get something from their pantry.
In another awkward introductory chit-chat, the father of my daughter’s friend independently asked us the same question:
“There is this great outdoor ice skating rink near your hotel. Did you bring your skates?”
Now, both my husband and I looked at each other with great amusement. We were struck that Canadians make the assumption that we actually – all of us – owned our own pair of skates. And there was this second assumption that – upon our arrival to this vast cosmopolitan city, the first thing we would want to do was skate.
Another inquiry of our skating habits was made as we were checking out of our hotel. As we waited with our luggage, the bellhop looked at me and my boys and asked me in his French Canadian accent: “Do your boys skate? Do they play ‘ockey?” I had to say no and I asked him why he asked.
He then pointed to a well dressed young man standing in the lobby. “Because, ma’am, that young man plays hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is only 20 and makes over 2 milion a yaear. So, your boys should liarn to play ‘ockey!”
Now, I am sorry to say that I did not recognize this young man, so this brush with fame was completely wasted on me. And I also appreciated this bellhop’s hope that my young sons held the athletic prowess to be hockey stars, but again he was sorely mistaken. I’m afraid, Canada, that we Americans are just not that into skating.
Or are we? Do you skate? And if so, do you own your own pair?