Saturday, 31 August 2013

Stop Press: Alien Mother Ship Saves Day

Previously on Reason and Wonder, I discussed the fact that you can see the Montréal Olympic Stadium from the corner of our street. Since we are moving apartment tomorrow (I know, again!), I thought I'd procrastinate a bit this morning and post some images of a recent trip we made to the stadium because, well, it's totally awesome!

I fell in love with the Olympic Stadium the very first time I came to Montréal, back in March 2011. It seriously looks like an alien mother ship has just plonked itself down in the inner suburbs north of Downtown. But until a few weeks ago I hadn't seen it up close.

A couple of Fridays ago, Charles decided to cash in some extra hours he'd accrued and take the day off work. It was a lovely sunny day, so we thought we'd go take a picnic to the Botanic Gardens and have a romantic wander around. It turns out that because of the giant topiary exhibition, half of the rest of Montréal had the same idea. It also cost twice as much as it usually does to get into the gardens, but there was still an hour-long queue to get to the ticket booth. We decided that we no longer wanted to share our romantic afternoon with so many people, so after I had sulked over our sushi for a bit, Charles suggested we go for a walk around the Olympic Stadium, just across the road, instead.

Wow, wow, wow!

I love the Olympic Stadium even more now: it totally turned the day around.

Thanks, Charles! xo

RIP Jeffrey Smart

Thursday, 15 August 2013

My secret crush

I am loving Montréal. I fall for it more heavily every day. But on my way here I had a brief encounter with another city and I developed a full-blown crush on it. Tokyo, I think I love you!

I have been wanting to go to Japan for years. Flights from Cairns to Tokyo were always so tantalisingly cheap, but for reasons too boring to explain it was too difficult to go before I had a mortgage, and once I had a house to pay off on a single income, well, international travel was at first too much of a luxury, and then purely a necessity in order to see Charles.

When it came time to book a one way ticket to Canada, I discovered the horrible truth that one way tickets are most certainly not roughly half the price of a return ticket! So I put those cheap Jetstar Cairns/Japan flights to good use and booked my flight with a 44-hour stopover in Tokyo. Boy, oh, boy, am I glad I did!

Harajuku Station at 9:20ish am. Where did 400,000 people just go?
One of my Cairns workmates, the lovely Hedy from Tuulikki Titine, showed me a Tokyo city guide by Ebony Bizys from the blog Hello, Sandwich. It was very helpful and I will be forever grateful to Ebony for inspiring me to explore Shimokitazawa. I was also surprised at how much I loved the back streets of Harajuku, away from Takeshita Street, or as Ebony so helpfully suggests as a mnemonic device, "Tacky-shit Street." Most appropriate!

I had 'dinner and a show' at Hiroki in Shimokitazawa, which with its traditional wood fit out and two bickering chefs was everything I had hoped for from my lunch. The layered okonomiyaki was superb washed down with a beer after an already solid morning of tramping around the city looking at vintage shops and awesome stationery. It was so huge that when I collapsed from exhaustion on my hotel bed at only 8:30pm, I still did not feel the need to eat anything.

Hydrangeas are native to Japan. I did not know that!

The next day was my birthday, and while I had hoped to get to the Tsukiji markets at 4:30am to be let in to the tuna auctions, I had also realised my hotel supers (in the perfectly kitsch Hotel Hoshikaikan) did not have enough English to book me a cab when I wanted one. The Tokyo subway doesn't start running until around 5am, but the highly contested battle for entry to the market is done and dusted by then, and you know what? It all just got too hard after weeks of packing and cleaning and tidying up loose ends and all the rest. I now have an excellent reason to go back!

I did make it to the outer market by about 6:30am and that was really quite enough of a birthday present. (Morgan had joked that I was the only person she could think of who would imagine that a 4:30am trip to a tuna auction would be a birthday treat to oneself! I'm sure I can think of a couple of others like me though.) I had a great time just wandering up and down, eating sweet omelette and sushi for breakfast and finally figuring out that those things that looked like cocoa-dusted turds were actually dried bonito ready to take home and shave, paper-thin, into dashi stock or as a garnish. I've always been fascinated by the way it does a little death wriggle all over again when the shavings get sprinkled on a hot dish. I also wished I had had enough cash and stomach capacity to have something from the hole-in-the-wall soup and noodle vendors on Shin-Ohashi Dori. I missed them on my first whirl around and when I stumbled upon them they smelled so good but by that stage I was down to just enough yen for the metro ticket to Tokyo Central and they were cash only. Another excellent reason to go back!

On my next swing past, just over an hour later, this was completely butchered up into steaks and sashimi slabs.

Edamame. I heart you!
After the market started to wind down, I wandered up to the Ginza district and promptly wished myself back at the markets. High-end retail just wasn't cutting it that day and, anyway, I was too early. One thing none of my guide books or the travel websites told me was that most retail in Tokyo doesn't open until 10 or 11am. Yes, it stays open until 8 or 9pm, but opening times are a relaxed, civilised affair that certainly don't align with an early riser traveller trying to pack as much as possible into 44 hours.

Soon I was off, however. Whisked away by the Narita Express for my flight to Vancouver and my new life in Canada. I'll be back though, Tokyo. Mark my words! I love your food, I love your busyness, I love your hybrid aesthetic of tradition and cutting edge, I love your vibe, I love your ceramics. I LOVE your ceramics! Two nights were nowhere near enough!

Walk all day. Plant face here.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Summer lovin' might be time to take a break from gallivanting across half of Québec to tell you a little bit about my adventures.

Just as I had hoped, I have been having a relaxing Northern summer, and it's been almost like finally having a honeymoon except for the fact that Charles has had to work. A few weeks ago now, we went for a trip to Charles's home region, almost nine hours' drive from Montréal, to spend some time with his immediate family—just the 15 of us! Only one brother-in-law was missing.

On the drive there we stopped at a picnic area for lunch and within 10 minutes Charles had snuffled out something he had long told me about: a patch of wild strawberries. They were everything I had hoped they would be! Tiny fruits as small as my little finger nail with more flavour in each one than a whole handful of commercially grown ones. There were also a few wild blueberry plants and raspberry canes, but it was just a little bit early for them, sadly, and there were only one or two ripe ones to be found. Charles showed me the types of spots the strawberries like to grow in—sunny patches that aren't prone to water-logging—and after that I was on the scout.

When we arrived at Charles's parents' home in Ville-Marie, Témiscamingue, we learned that a relative had been out picking wild strawberries and had discovered a plot so good he'd picked enough to make jam. Proving that blood is not thicker than a good confiture, he refused to tell anyone where his special spot was. I was scandalised, but apparently that is just how it goes, so we determined to find our own patch and be childish and not tell anyone else where it was either.

The next day we drove up and down the back roads, me oohing and aahing over the scenery while Charles eyed the grassy verges like a hawk. After two hot, dusty hours we stopped at yet another prospective patch—me losing a little hope if the truth be told—and blam! There it was! The motherlode!

What followed was one of the most perfect 30 minutes of my life: picking teensy, ripe, wild strawberries and the occasional blueberry under the summer sun in a daisy field with my beloved. Yep, perfect! We only stopped because that summer sun was pretty ferocious and we were starting to get sunburnt, but after half an hour of solid picking by two grown adults we were able to hold our heads high and return with this great bounty:

Um, yes, well...ahem! Do you like the way Charles cleverly chose a colour co-ordinating t-shirt for the outing? Oh, look over there! What's that?

Suffice to say no jam making for us, but we did have renewed respect for the elderly relative who had done so well. The next morning we were doubly lucky enough to be able to eat all of the haul for breakfast ourselves—the kids don't like blueberries (what!?) and the adults were kind and claimed they had already eaten a lot of wild strawberries this season, so we should have them. Since we still had to hull each berry, it took us another 30 minutes to polish them off.

So, as you may gather, I have had a very happy introduction to the joys of wild berry picking in North America. I look forward to it being a regular summer event over the coming years, just as I am looking forward to going apple picking in Autumn/Fall. Below is a picture of our special wild strawberry patch, the berry plants well hidden down below the daisies. But come now, beyond vague geographical hints, don't imagine for a second that I am going to tell you where it is!