March 13, 2017 – Paris
This is the first time my wife and I have returned somewhere in our travels together. Ok, that’s not entirely true, but ruling out Philadelphia and Pittsburgh for football game trips, it’s true. Not only did we return to Paris, but we consciously returned to Montparnasse, the 14th arrondissement.
There is a very comforting feeling returning here. Our first visit in 2009 was a great one, and we loved the slightly out of the way, definitely not overly touristy, authentic Montparnasse. Returning here eight years later, not much has changed. Such is the way with great neighbourhoods. Boulangerie, fromagerie, wine merchants, restaurants, gorgeous parks – all still here. And all as lovely as eight years ago.
Being back here in Paris, not even twenty four hours after arriving, I’m comforted. I don’t feel a rush to get out to see the sights – we did all of that the last time here. This visit, I’m envisioning a much slower pace. Lingering in cafes, strolling streets and parks just for exploration. Simple stuff really.
Of Portland, I expected nothing less than some funky and interesting public art. Audacious, touching, poignant, curious – I got the full menu of art experiences from just walking around the city. I love how public art enlivens urban spaces, but perhaps nowhere was this more evident than outside the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital. In a small garden for patients and their families is Sophie Ryder’s sculpture “Standing Lady Hare with Dog.” On one level as simply an animal lover, this is touching. On another level, I love how the tenderness shown in this piece reflects what occurs mere feet away inside the hospital.
One of the main reasons for choosing Portland for my winter escape this year was its abundance of craft beer. Many say Portland has the highest per capita concentration of craft breweries and beer bars in the USA – that was good enough for me to book my flights! Once I arrived in the city, I knew I would be dedicating at least a couple of afternoons to some beer tastings.
My first afternoon “crawl” started at Rogue. When you arrive here, they pour you a sample to welcome you. For me, it was their Chocolate Stout, which ended up being my favourite of the visit.
They have so many beers on tap it was difficult to make a selection of only four. I knew I’d be hitting two more breweries, so was trying to pace myself. My favourite of these was the 4 Hop IPA on the far left which was very full flavoured for a lower alcohol beer. By far one of the most intersting samples of my trip was their Beard Beer (second from the right) using wild yeast from the brewmaster’s beard. It was a touch sour with a hint of hipster.
When I planned my short February escape from wintery Saskatoon, I had a few criteria: (1) somewhere I hadn’t been before, (2) cheap airfare and hotel, and (3) get to attend at least one professional sporting event. Portland fit the bill on all of those including a Monday night Trail Blazers basketball game.
I probably follow basketball the least of the major North American sports, but always enjoy attending the game live as it’s much better in person than on TV. One thing I love about getting to an NBA game is arriving early, sneaking down to the lower level, and watching the players warm up. The size of the guys is amazing and seeing so many nearly 7-footers in one place is kind of cool.
I’m also always up to explore a new arena. Even though most of the new ones are fairly similar, the Moda Center in Portland had some unique touches including outposts of a couple of favourite downtown eateries. That let me fit in an extra meal here of a very respectable Bunk Sandwiches cuban sandwich. In fact, my meal came with this great view of the arena from one of the lower level corner seats.
It has been quite the year. Early on the morning of March 31, 2016, I headed to the airport in Halifax with two suitcases of clothes and belongings. About nine hours later, I landed in Saskatoon, took a cab downtown and walked into a temporary apartment a few days before starting my new job. Those early weeks were a jumble of emotions, especially until my wife joined me almost two months later. I have laughed a lot, learned a lot, and shed a few tears during a year of establishing my life on the prairies.
Looking back, it has been a treat to experience Saskatchewan’s uniqueness. In no order, here are some of my favourite “Saskatchewan firsts” in the year I’ve called Saskatoon home. Not surprisingly, a lot of these are going to be weather related.
1. First Riders game – To make me feel right at home, the green guys lost by falling apart late in the game, just like every team I’ve cheered for. This trip down to Regina to take in a game will be an annual tradition for us.
Note: I’ve transcribed something I wrote in a notebook last year on August 12th in Minneapolis during a trip I took to watch some baseball games. Re-reading it, I like it, so I’m offering it to the world here. It’s about baseball. It’s about the Montreal Expos. It’s about what my baseball trip in the summer of 2016 got me thinking about. As I head to Montreal with my Dad to take in some preseason baseball, this is also about what I hope will happen one day.
August 12, 2016 – Minneapolis, MN USA
Two games and a rainout later, I can’t shake the feeling of what might be. A smallish downtown ballpark, a small market almost contracted into oblivion like what threatened my Expos. A northern city. A second sport city. It’s striking really. In between innings here, if I squint just enough and let my mind wander, I can almost imagine the same scene in Montreal.
I came to Minneapolis, in part, because of early days visits to Montreal. The thrill of the event in the Big O left an imprint on me. Growing up, baseball was everything. Ask me Al Oliver’s stats from 1983 and I can quote them to you. Between early life fanaticism, then growling older and wiser, baseball was always floating around in my mind. It’s something my dad and I have in common, and I love it for that alone.
Then 1994 happened. I was in college and studying hard, had a girlfriend, and an Expos season for the ages stopped. Bitter, my focus left baseball for a while. The Expos were terrible for a long stretch. But still, every time in Montreal I would head to a game or two, and that feeling would return. Even as I was disengaging from baseball, every time I was back in the Big O, beer in hand, there was something magical dancing inside me.
As my wife and I were traveling back from Paris yesterday, while waiting for our connecting flight in Toronto, we spoke about how good it was to be back in Canada. For as much as I love to travel, I have always relished the feeling when my feet are planted back on Canadian soil. That being said, if there’s one place that could entice me to pack up and move, it would be France.
Two weeks ago after landing in Paris, even through the fog of jet lag, I knew instantly we were going to be in for a great trip. We spent about half of the trip in and around Paris based out of the 14th arrondissement where we had stayed back in 2009. The other half, we stayed in Lyon, a first for us. For the Paris part of the trip, we defiantly ignored the locations we visited on our first trip there – no Louvre, no Arc de Triomphe, and no Eiffel Tower except one distant view when we were exploring the Père Lachaise cemetery off in the distant 20th arrondissement. Instead, we lingered over drinks taking advantage of the spring warmth on outdoor patios, ate at cozy neighbourhood restaurants, and explored some quieter areas of the city.
The eminent philosopher Homer Simpson once said “I discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch.” I think that’s the key to getting the most out of eating in Portland. It is a great food city. Amazing, really. It was a type of city that I had trouble planning out what I was going to eat each day, only on account of there not being enough meals in a day and me not having enough stomach capacity. With Homer’s mantra on my mind and hoping I could walk off all the calories I’d be consuming, I wasted no time once my flight landed in getting my first meal into me.
Lardo (a seriously awesome name for a restaurant) was my destination for dinner. As a sandwich lover, I had too many choices. I settled on their double burger from a menu where everything was “tied for first” in my mind – I mean, how do you choose among porchetta, a bahn mi, a Philly pork sub and about a half dozen other selections? The burger was great, but the star was the crispy pig ears with fennel salt and honey. I’ve eaten a lot of pig parts in my days and these may have been the best ever.