A short winter escape

Winters in Saskatoon are long. Really, really long. I have found a key aspect of surviving weeks upon weeks of bitterly cold temperatures and darkness is to take things one day at a time and have some form of winter travel plan. Both for the escape from Saskatoon, but also for the joy of planning that escape. I liked last year’s plan – a week in Mexico in late December and then a city break in mid February to Portland. This year due to time and other constraints my plan put all of its eggs into a basket of a few days in Vancouver.

It is not all that hard to find a place warmer than Saskatoon in February, and even though Vancouver was a bit colder than seasonal when I visited, it was a real novelty to not wear a heavy jacket and to be able to venture outside without gloves on. I even enjoyed the nostalgia associated with having to carry around an umbrella during most of my visit, something I never need to do in Saskatoon.

Vancouver was exactly what I needed. A late winter distraction and change of scenery. It had most of the hallmarks of a great solo trip. A couple of fun events – a Canucks game and an international wine tasting fit the bill. There were craft beer tastings at new to me since my last visit East Vancouver breweries. There was wonderful food including a couple of great feeds of sushi. And, of course, there was the water. A rare beautiful blue sky February day greeted me on a day of hiking around the seawall that topped up my spirit with the sights and sounds of the coast. I think this trip will give me just the right amount of strength to see through the final period of winter in Saskatoon, even if that is another month or more.



A good time, not a long time

“Close” is relative. Life on the prairies has me about 4,200km away from where I grew up and where my parents continue to live, in Lower Sackville, NS. When work took me to Boston in November for a few days, that was close enough to loop in a quick visit back home to visit with my folks. And for November, I was treated to some beautiful late fall weather to take in a very familiar view from the back deck of my parent’s place.

Lower Sackville

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Beantown brews

Boston was a rushed trip. With a full slate of work activities and many of the city’s best craft breweries and craft beer bars a train ride away from the core of the city, I had to make due with some selective and time-efficient sampling. I got a good start by picking up six cans at The Urban Grape, an independent beer and wine store a ten minute walk from my Back Bay hotel. I got very lucky as these were all at least solid and interesting beers. Three were real standouts – the Devil’s Purse Kolsch (a style I’m really gravitating to lately as a result of this particular can), Whirpool’s American pale ale (the citrus, the crispness, the thoughts of summer it induced… perfect!) and the Lamplighter Cuppa (a British pale ale infused with coffee which sounds strange, but was a slice of alchemy) all made me very happy. What made me sad was the limited time and work responsibilities meant I wasn’t polishing off any of these cans in full. Pouring half of the Cuppa out almost brought a tear to my eye.

Hotel beers in Boston

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Remembering Ron Tugnutt

I can’t think of the Boston Bruins without remembering what I think was the greatest game in NHL history. March 21, 1991. Ron Tugnutt of my Quebec Nordiques made 70 saves, including a point-blank glove save off of Ray Bourque late in overtime, to preserve a 3-3 tie against the Bruins in Boston. It was one of the few highlights of being a Quebec Nordiques fan before the team moved away and won the Stanley Cup in their first year in Denver. By and large, that means the NHL is dead to me. The one infrequent exception to this is when I’m visiting an NHL city and there’s a game on.

Back in November in Boston, I picked up a cheap ticket on the secondary market (I refuse to directly fund the NHL or any of its teams) and made my way to the rink to check out a Bruins game against Minnesota. Cheap ticket means an upper deck seat, but pre-game I settled into a couple of pricier vantage points to check out the TD Garden.

Bruins game in Boston

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Missing a taste of the sea

All I could think about was “lobster roll”.

My trip to Boston in November for work didn’t allow much sightseeing time, but everyone has to eat, right? And since you have to eat, you may as well make good choices. As a landlocked Saskatonian, my eating plans whenever I get near a coast involve unholy amounts of seafood. And on the east coast, my mind turns to lobster, and in particular, lobster rolls.

You can imagine my glee when I discovered one of Boston’s best lobster rolls was a short two block walk from my hotel in the Back Bay. I strolled into Luke’s Lobster and after being momentarily distracted in noticing that their in-season crab was from New Brunswick (yea Atlantic Canada!), I ordered a lobster roll and with the tiny bit of restraint I had, took time to snap this picture of it in all its crustacean beauty…

Lobster roll at Luke's Lobster

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The harbor and crabs

Even I scratched my head at my pick of Baltimore for this past year’s baseball trip destination. Sometimes the shackles of airline points make for interesting trip planning ideas. I’m a firm believer that there’s plenty of good and fun anywhere if you look for it, and in Baltimore, there were two things that I knew would help round out my trip. First, their harbor (it pains me to write that in the American spelling, I’ll revert to the Canadian and correct spelling for the remainder) would give me some salt water exposure that I’m sorely lacking now that I live in Saskatoon. And secondly, the crab. Oh the glorious, glorious, Maryland crab.

The best single meal I had in Baltimore was also the most simple. Sitting down at a harbour-front patio, I was brought a brown paper bag of steamed Maryland crabs coated in Old Bay, a traditional local beer and a small mallet. I did what came naturally and spent an hour or so working through the crab and picking the shells clean of meat. This was a simply delicious meal.

Baltimore crab

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Outsider art in Baltimore

I ended up choosing Baltimore as my baseball trip destination last year mostly by default. For the week I could get away, it was the only place in North America I could get to on my airline points. Not knowing much about the city, once I started planning for the trip there was something that immediately caught my eye. The American Visionary Art Museum, located just around the other side of the harbour from downtown, is a one of a kind art museum in the USA. It is a museum that specializes in “outsider art.” That alone got me interested in visiting this place.

What exactly is outsider art? It’s quirky. It’s outlandish at times. It’s thematically based and curated in a way that I haven’t seen in other more traditional art museums. It’s exactly the kind of art I’m attracted to when traveling. Many times, I’ll use a city’s avant-garde public art as a way of exploring a new place… In Baltimore, they put it all under and around one roof.

Sometimes you just need an example to get a feel for what an art museum is all about. In a gallery featuring an exhibition about art relating to food, this is “Swpeepish Chef” by Christian Twamley – it’s the Muppet’s Swedish Chef made 100% out of Peeps marshmallow candies.

Swpeepish Chef by Christian Twamley

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Looking back on 2017

Twelve months, a touch more than 50,000km in the air and lots of trains, cars, buses, and subways stitched together a motley crew of places in this year’s travels – Portland, Paris, Lyon, Beaune, Reims, Montreal, Winnipeg, Atlanta, Halifax, Kelowna, Baltimore, Regina and Boston. The places were all lovely (I might be stretching that a bit for Baltimore), but what will stick in my mind is a series of moments and memories. Sometimes they are about the place, but most often, they’re about something else – people, food, a feeling – the really timeless stuff.

In no particular order, here are my favourite memories from my travels throughout 2017.

1. Crushing pints with Dad in Montreal – Less than two hours after touching down in Montreal, Dad coming in from Halifax, me from Saskatoon, we were in craft beer bar Benelux with a couple of pints on the table in front of us. The sun coming in the window on a late March afternoon was glorious, the beer cold and delicious, but the best thing was simply catching up with Dad as one pint turned into two.

Beers with dad at Benelux

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Baltimore beer, ballpark beer

For the four days I was in Baltimore in August, the temperature ranged somewhere from smoking hot to just inside the gates of Hell hot. And humid to boot… like, sweat through three shirts a day humid. Luckily, watching baseball games doesn’t require much exertion, and there’s a ready supply of beer nearby for hydration. Camden Yards, where I spent most of the trip, has a fairly reasonable lineup of craft beers from Maryland and beyond. For game one, the Numero Uno from Flying Dog, a Mexican lager, had a hint of spice and a touch of lime that seemed to help cut through the humidity and made for a very refreshing drink. Another standout from my four days at Camden Yards was the Steady Eddie (named after Orioles legend Eddie Murray) from Union Craft Brewing. This white IPA was delicious, and was an outstanding pairing with the crab waffle fries.

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