Clanton’s Cafe, Vinita, OK

Clanton’s cafe on Route 66 in Vinita was one of the places I had marked as MUST try their foods… and I even planned my day to arrive there around dinner time… only to find it was closed!

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Clanton’s was one of the restaurants along the trek I was really looking forward to trying. This place has no shortage of accolades from TV and magazines, not to mention getting almost 5 stars on TripAdvisor and 4 on yelp. AND they’re supposed to have the best Chicken Fried Steak on Route 66, which is one of my favorite dishes

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But MY good luck, between me planning my trip and arriving there, they’d posted NEW hours which include being closed on Sundays. So

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The Grove (shopping mall) & The Original Farmers Market, Los Angeles California

These two shopping areas, The Grove at Farmers Market & The Original LA Farmers Market are directly adjacent to each other, are built on what was initially one property, are radically different from each other and still, should be done as one visit. The Grove is a VERY upscale open-air shopping mall that is frequented by locals, and out-of-town tourist flock to in hopes of seeing movie stars. The Farmers Market, by comparison is a historic landmark, is a far more down-market, mostly indoor facility where the locals go to buy fresh produce and to grab very tasty but affordable meals from over 100 small vendors … that also sells a lot of affordable tourist stuff (T-shirts, mugs, etc).IMG_0168.JPGAnyone who watches TMZ is familiar with The Grove; it is supposedly frequented by Actors and stars; and as such, it’s just a major draw for tourists hoping to run into said stars. According to a friend of mine who is movie star adjacent (he grew up in Beverly Hills and has worked in the film industry his whole life, not an actor) they in actuality NEVER shop there… with the caveat that if they do, they’ll usually call the photographers before they get there to let them know they’re coming. Usually they have a project about to be released that needs press, or their marriage is rumored to be in trouble so it’ll be a “happy family” outing, etc. My friend went so far as say that the mall has a sort of copacetic (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours) relationship with said actors, singers, etc., to make sure that they choose The Grove as the location for said ‘upstaged out-on-the-town ‘ photos. And it’s “outdoor” venue is highly useful in that respect.

[I have to admit, I watch TMZ live regularly, as in almost every night. I load their pod cast, put it next to my pillow; I don’t usually really listen to it closely, so much as it lulls me to sleep. Occasionally it holds my attention and is genuinely interesting and informative, but more often than not — on the days when there’s no real “news” of any note, they’ll start with something about the Kardashians or Kanye West and I’m out like a light. So, that said, I was a bit excited to see it. (AND, my cousin lives walking distance from it so it was it was walking distance from the Airbnb I rented in order to be near her.)]

But, now that I’m here, I don’t get what the big deal is…

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In the middle of the mall area is a water feature, that does the dancing waters thing

it’s an outdoor mall, a bit like Old Orchard in Skokie, near where I grew up… maybe a bit nicer/newer.. but similar… although a bit more upmarket… unlike the Grove, Old Orchard does NOT have its own trolley that runs INSIDE the mall area

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The Trolley only runs during the daytime, probably for safety reasons

Among the stores was this desert place called Dominique Ansel Bakery that was kind of to die for from the looks of it. It makes all sorts of very fancy looking deserts and ice cream concoctions that look like other kinds of food. IMG_0179.JPG

I got the water melon thing, which was made with a non-dairy ice-cream… but in retrospect I wish I’d gotten the avocado sandwich, because the other than the little chocolate seeds and the actual hollowed out melon, it was a major let down. (The non-dairy ice-cream kind of seriously sucked. It didn’t taste good, nor did it taste like watermelon… I ended up dumping it into the trash and just eating the fruit and the chocolate)

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—OK then, I had to go to the bathroom and discovered it is the NICEST mall bathroom I have ever seen, it is far more like a 4-star hotel’s bathroom.

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… and after that, as I was standing at the roundabout where you’re supposed to get picked up by “Taxi”‘s (including Uber and Lyft), the valet guy offered me two bottles of water one for myself and one for the cab driver… (this is NOT a level of service I’ve ever encountered at a mall before) …so, that said, I think I’ve discovered what the big deal is

The Farmer’s market was (with the exception of the Grove’s bathroom) far more my speed. I went there one night on my own, and discovered it has a music scene

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The night that I was there (a week night) a game of trivia was being hosted

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Note all the different food stalls surrounding the area

There were SO many tasty choices… I could eat here over and over and go months before I had to repeat a dish.IMG_0182.JPG

But I found this Afghan/Middle eastern place called Moishe’s — known by most for their Falafel, but they were also selling one of my favorite things, so I bought it, and it was good… I got a doughnut at Bob’s for desert, as they were described as baked and not fried (it was too bready/cakey for my taste).

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A Afghan/Turkish sort of ravioli that covered in yogurt, spices, and a some spicy oil

and then my cousin and her spouse brought me here for dinner. They’re vegetarians, so they got the Falafel from the vender I had eaten at the night before, and I opted for this seafood place which I discovered puts all the food that’s already out in their case for sale at half price starting at 7pm on weekdays. I got a very large lox and bagel sandwich — tasted like they were using Costco purchased lox and bagels, but I love that stuff. Afterwards we got ice-cream from Bennet’s, which they promised me was handmade. I got one of those cones dipped in chocolate and topped with nuts. It was very good.

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Like I said my cousin lives nearby, and she and her wife come here to eat regularly and buy produce — which she did again that night.

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McDonald’s with a view; Plattsburg, NY

During my visit in Montreal I had to drive across the border to the US to get a refill on my prescriptions, because CVS didn’t seem to have any outlets in Quebec, and I found a McDonald’s with an amazing view in Plattsburgh, NY. Now granted, it’s a McDonald’s, but there are benches out back where you can sit and eat your meal while sitting by the lake, and they had LOBSTER ROLLS???!!!!

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I didn’t even know McDonald’s HAD a lobster roll!! Lord knows they don’t sell it Chicago. Am guessing its a seasonal thing for the east coast. While it was a bit fishy tasting it wasn’t bad, especially consider the price of $9.

Photo on the left is what my sandwich looked like (not bad), the photo on the right is the “advertised” image … only 295 calories!!!

It’s a shame ALL McD’s don’t carry it.

Hello From Miami, FL

Am in Miami, have been here since Nov, 28th and will stay here through Dec., 22nd. I’m not going to bother you guys with pictures of the place much, because Miami is so well photographed (no end of TV shows and movies filmed here)… and it looks pretty much like you imagine. In fact the only impression I got was that it was far more run down looking than I had thought it would be, other than in places like Miami Beach where the ultra rich own homes.

I’m at an Airbnb in a neighborhood south of the city proper, walking distance from more than a few decent restaurants; that said, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to find a decent bit of fish. You’d think, since I’m maybe a 15 minute walk from the ocean the fish here would be really good, really fresh, and cheap … like it was in Victoria, B.C., but it’s not. Not only that, the fish here is really expensive. Honestly I don’t get it. … oh, and dolphin is a common dish on menus here. It’s a bit disturbing when you first see it, but relax, it isn’t Flipper, it’s Mahi-mahi (aka, the dolphin fish).

The only REALLY good fish I’ve had so far was after walking the length of Miami Beach Island I rewarded myself with a piece of Black Cod marinated in Miso from Nobu’s — but that’s been marinated is miso and sake for a full two days before it’s served, which is sort of cheating.

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That said, I got there at 5:30 pm only to discover that the restaurant wasn’t going to be open until 7pm, and did I want to make a reservation? Like I said, I’d walked the length of the island and I have a feeling the girl expected me to go to my hotel room, and shower and change before they’d seat me.  But, she also suggested that if I didn’t want to wait I could get a lot of the same food at the patio bar, whose menu includes the restaurants best sellers. So that’s what I did, sitting out by the back patio’s fountain.

Anyway, anytime I DO anything of note regarding Miami, I’ll post about it. So far I’ve just been walking around the neighborhood, getting situated, running erands, and escaping the 80 degree weather with 70% humidity… it’s supposed to cool down this week.

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Stratford, Ontario (Shakespeare Festival)

A cute enough town with many of its buildings dating back to the 1880’s or 1910, with a lot of top of the line yet affordable resturants; the fact remains that the only real reason to come to Stratford — and MANY people do, is to attend the internationally recognized, Shakespeare festival, which runs yearly from April through October (i.e., not during Canada’s winter).

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Normally when I blog, I break up an extended visit like this — 23 days — by the day or by specific things I’ve seen or done, but since Stratford is not that kind of town… people come here for one reason, the theater, I’m going to do it as one extended post …. with the caveate of a day trip I took to Niagra Falls (in part because I had a day off and some business I had to do early the following morning in Toronto, before returning to Stratford that night for another play)


The Town


Originally a railway junction (and you can still hear the train as it passes) Stratford’s main industry (which collapsed) had been furniture making. Today the town has a population of around 31,000 and has a new main industry — theater. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began in 1952 as a way to stimulate the local economy, with its first production (Richard III, starring Alec Guinness) being staged the following year, the festival is now held in such high regard that they often attract the best of Canada, the US and Britain to take part in their productions, and their company has nurtured Canadian talent that has gone on to be world famous. While the central theme of the festival is to produce the plays of “The Bard of Avon,” they also produce musicals and plays ranging from the ancient Greeks to modern works. In fact this year only half of the shows were by Shakespeare, although one of the non-Shakespeare plays was about him.  And they offer all sorts of deals, which vary based on if you are purchasing well in advance, or during the festival, so that if you plan it strategically you don’t have to pay through the nose to see every play (which is exactly what I did).

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I was here for slightly over three weeks, I stayed at the home of a friend Dayna Manning, a local musician (and someone whose been successful enough that she’s been able to support herself fairly comfortably just on her music — which is a hell of an achievement). In fact while I was visiting she and a friend put on a ‘test’ concert at a local venue. They’d only played together once before, at the request of a friend, enjoyed it, and decided to work together to build material for a gig to take on the road. This concert was performed mostly in front of friends and family (and local fans), with the aid of some friends who just joined them to jam.

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Granted, most people might not have a local friend but not to worry; the town sports plenty of proper B&B‘s & Airbnb‘s — in fact practically every block seems to have one or the other, as well as various hotels (some chain, some historic) serving the town’s visitors. While here I met a LOT of older (usually retired, or semi-retired) people visiting from Chicago. I also discovered that there is in fact a dedicated bus line (of the air conditioned tour bus sort) that runs from Toronto to Stratford that only costs about $25, saving people a drive back late at night.

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Like I said, Stratford’s main industry is the Theater, and as a result the local schools have a very STRONG arts mandate. I’m constantly running into packs of local teenagers who all claim to be theater nerds, and the streets are full of VERY YOUNG musicians (most often found providing entertainment to folks waiting for their plays to begin) whose parents can always be found standing guard just across the street or down the block. According to Dayna, Canadians with musically gifted children will in fact move to Stratford, just to take advantage of the musical programs there. The overall quality of the music these kids were preforming was very high.

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I did not discover this until about half way through my visit but apparently Justin Bieber hails from Stratford. (There are t-shirts for any visiting Beliebers) when I mentioned it to my friend Dayna, this is actually her home town, she said that his mom was a year ahead of her in high school and had been the only teen mom in their school, and that she used to bring him to class.

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Architecturally the historic downtown of Stratford is very cute; most of the building were built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, spiral out from the central point of the town hall, and sport a strong emphasis of multicolored brick work as their main form of decoration.

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Running through the center of Stratford and offering a pretty walk between the Patterson and Festival theaters is a very cute river, with loads of ducks and swans (not to mention a plethora of Pokemon stops).

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Locals and visitors both make active use of the river for boating (rowing), picnicking, and just enjoying it.

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On nights when there is a play being performed, and the weather is fine, there’s a boat that travels up and down the river, performing live music.

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Right across from the main (largest) theatrical venue for the festival is Tom Patterson Island, which is a pleasant place to hang out, and had the benefit (from my perspective) of being a Pokemon hub — a place where three poke-stops are so close together that assuming you’ve got active lures in place Pokemon emerge rapidly — and the more players there are taking advantage of the spot at one time the even more rapidly they emerge… its not uncommon to find groups of young adults playing the game there at 3:00am

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Right along the river along one of my favorite areas — and it was only two blocks from the house where I was staying — was the lawn bowling club.

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The Theaters


Currently, the festivals takes place in four venues scattered around the small town: The Festival theater, The Avon theater, The Tom Patterson Theater (named after the guy who had the idea of creating the festival in the first place), and the Studio theater (I will describe each in detail later on). And, if you have the good sense (as I did) to find digs that are centrally located to those, you can quite easily walk to any of them (assuming normal mobility and reasonable weather). There are taxis in the town, but they are few and far between (I’ve rarely seen them), so if you’re going to need one I strongly suggest contacting the companies directly and reserving them in advance (there is no Uber or such in the area, although you think the locals would push for it as a way to earn an extra buck during the festival season). Otherwise, parking at these locations is at a premium, and you will actually have to RESERVE parking in advance if you’re going to need it, or try to find street parking nearby, which won’t be all that easy.

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One of the slightly odd things I noticed about the productions here was that extreme ‘Color Blind Casting’ seems to be the rule, to the extent that it can sometimes be disconcerting with absolutely no thought to reality … so that thought of race does not even happen in casting family units, forget about historical likelihood. As such, I saw a Caucasian actress as the mother, with an actress of African decent (who appears to lack any mixed heritage) as her daughter, and then a granddaughter played by an Asian actress (in this case Vietnamese)… whose father was played by a Caucasian actor…. in a play set in the 1850’s in Sweden, a place and time where even brunettes were a rarity. While I appreciate the need and desire for color blind casting, I wish they’d at least integrate some deniable plausibility…. otherwise its much harder for the audience to suspend disbelief and enter into what I refer to as the magical transformation of theater… where you forget it’s a play and stop seeing it as actors on a stage.

I had heard about the Stratford Festival in Canada all my life, but growing up — as much as my family LOVED theater,  we never came here. (In fact we never crossed the northern border to Canada… I came once on a business trip as my father’s assistant, and once for an academic conference when I was in grad school, but that was it). We did however go to London almost yearly to visit with relatives (at least until most airlines stopped offering the “kids fly free” deals in the mid 1970’s) and that’s where we would gorge ourselves on government subsidized theater, sometimes seeing as many as three shows a day in our attempt to see EVERY possible production before heading home to Chicago; that, or we’d attend local student productions at Northwestern University (which has always been one of the top ranked drama programs in the country), getting the specially priced for staff tickets (dad was a professor at the business school). So, what drew me to decide to invest almost a full to the Stratford Festival this year? It was a school friend who has been coming here almost yearly with her mother, and listening to her going on and on and on … and on… about how great it was.

As previously stated, four venues make up the festival:

The Avon Theater: Let me admit right now (to my utter embarrassment) that I completely missed the punny nature of this till my cousin by marriage pointed it out… The Avon in Stratford? Get it?

Anyway, it is located in the heart of downtown (which is only about four blocks square), so its very convenient in terms of you go, you eat dinner, and then you wander over to the theater.

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The Avon Theater, and its upstairs lounge area
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The theater’s interior

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This theater seems to get the shows expected to do well, but not SO well that they will require the festival theater; during my stay I saw Shakespeare in Love, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (a musical); and Sondheim’s a Little Night Music.

Festival Theater:

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The Festival Theater is the main venue for the Festival; it is where all of the ‘classic’ Shakespeare plays are performed, as well as any performance expected to bring in the crowds — which this year was A Chorus Line.

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It is the venue located farthest from the Historic downtown of Stratford, alongside the Tom Patterson Island (located in the river).

Hidden within the building (by the stairs on the way down to the bathroom) is a real find, a chair that is strongly believed to have belonged to the Bard himself.

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Tom Patterson Theater:
The building that this venue is in doubles as the Kiwanis Community Center. It’s one of the smaller theaters, with a full in the round construction. It’s located directly adjacent to the river, and when there are performances (and good weather) musicians will perform on a small dock.

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This is where they host the Shakespeare shows they’re not expecting as much interest in — in this case a mashup of four of the historic plays, as well as serious dramas from top play-writes. In this case I saw “All my Sons” and one of the lessor plays by Ibsen.

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Studio Theater:

The studio theater, which is 3/4 in the round, is located directly behind The Avon Theater. It doesn’t even have a proper lounge area, just a little stand which doesn’t even take credit cards. Most of the audience ends up hanging out at a book store located across the street (about where I’m standing when I took this picture).

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It is the smallest of the Stratford venues. It’s where they display experimental theater or new plays that have never been seen before. As in, at my high school we had an in the round theater for when we put on Shakespeare plays and the like, which was bigger.

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The Eats


The Good:

Bijou (midpriced Farm to table, French gourmet):
Located smack in the center of Stratford’s downtown. The food is French/ Farm to Table & prix fixe… and MOST of what’s on the menu I can’t eat. I explained my dietary issues to the waitress, who GOD BLESS turned out to be a dietician. She immediately agreed I could only eat the main and changed the price to adjust for that. I had trout on a bed of grilled veggies, which was delicious.

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And then she brought me a little champagne cup full of fresh blueberries for my desert — and didn’t charge me for them.

CrabbyJoes (chain type):
Located outside of the downtown on the main road from Toronto. I came here under the mistaken assumption that it would include crab… it doesn’t. Its sort of like a TGIFridays, or a Chilies, type place… only the wait staff is actually HELPFUL and KIND and CONSIDERATE. First time I came in I explained my medical conditions and asked for a suggestion. The waiter said, “well to be honest most of what we serve you can’t eat… but there’s this one page in the back of the menu you should look at.” (which had healthy options I decided I would try at some later point — the fish dinner was delicious with lots of raw veggies as the salad, not boring lettuce)

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But I wasn’t hungry enough for that at the time, just wanted a snack, so I asked if I could have the grilled chicken breast that comes on the salad… but without the salad. The waiter immediately pointed out that they normally brush it was garlic butter, and should they not do that? HALLELUJAH, the man earned his 20% tip.

I later had their Mediterranean Chicken from the skinny menu, sans the dressing on the salad (because it was pretty much oil). That was NOT as good as the fish, for a lot more calories — 500+ instead of 300+

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Foster’s Grill (mid-priced Gastropub):
Center of downtown, almost next door to the Avon & Studio theater: I had tried this place before for dinner and was highly unimpressed with their “healthy” options… ended up eating the mussels which (this being the heart of the Midwest) were uninspiring. However, friend Dayna whose house I’m staying at, suggested that they’d be among the best local place for me to get breakfast, so I gave that a try. BINGO…

The dish is normally two pouched eggs on steamed spinach for $9 (Canadian), but I asked if I could only have one egg as I have high cholesterol, and they accommodated me, dropping the price to $6 … add one slice of dry toast which they didn’t charge me for, and a cup of coffee. Now THAT’S a breakfast! … For a grand total of $6.97 in US currency. The DOWNSIDE is that with the exceptions of Sunday Brunch, the breakfast menu goes away at 11am, and that’s about when I’m waking up — that said I found it pretty easy to get other local breakfast diners to make me the same thing (usually sans the avocado which these other diners don’t seem to ever have on hand) for a few dollars less.

The Prune:
Firstly, reservations are a must. The restaurant is in a converted house, on a street off to the side of downtown (with a bunch of other homes also converted into businesses — you get the feeling downtown is bursting it seams, but that the homes are considered historic so they can’t be torn down and replaced with business appropriate buildings).

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This place is a fixed price only, two courses minimum restaurant. As I’m on a diet and have gotten used to small portions, $55 for two small portions and no vedge didn’t bother me, but I could see it pissing off a lot of people wanting US sized portions (see Demetre’s below). That said everything was tasty, and they were able to accommodate my dietary needs. The appetizer was smoked trout on a green apple vinaigrette (the assured me almost no oil), with one little bit of crisp bread with trout row on it (forgot to take a picture before I started eating), there was another large piece of fish where the fork is.
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The main was Skate wing, which I’ve only had once before as it is most definitively NOT kosher (it’s a form of shark), so my parents never ordered it for us at restaurants. (I discovered it while eating out with a friend in Brighton, UK).  You all know what Skate looks like, there’s barely a major aquarium that hasn’t got them in the main tank… they are the fish who look like they are flying through the water, rather than swimming… The wings are tasty.

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Demetre’s Family Eatery (Greek owned Diner)
And in the best bang for your buck (but not necessarily all that tasty) category: Again, located away from downtown, this is a place that apparently all the elderly folks already know about (based on the average age of the customers) and that locals like (according to the person whose home I’m crashing at). They have smaller “elderly” portions, but on average their portions on MASSIVE. Where normally (for the same price) I’d get one blackboard eraser sized portion of grilled fish, here I got four of them. Also, as they have a predominantly elderly clientele they had NO issue with adjusting the dish so that the fish was almost bone dry when it arrive (barely any oil was used while cooking)

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Unfortunately what the restaurant seriously lacks is vegetables. The fish came with baked, mashed or fried potato, or rice… no veggies. They didn’t even have them in the kitchen to make compromises with (the girl told me they’d have to unfreeze them, always a ‘good’ sign, NOT). When I explained my situation they compromised and gave me salad. When it arrived the fish tasted frozen…

Looking around EVERY portion for every dish was massive. Additionally I spotted two deals:

So gourmet food it isn’t… but if you want a family owned place comparable to any of the major ‘diner’ chains… think Perkin’s … with a lot of Greek style dishes, this is the place.

Revival House:
This is converted church is the most architecturally “interesting” restaurant in town, and is also a favorite of my friend Dayna (although I found relatively little that I could eat on their menu).

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For myself, I thought the food was OK but nothing to write home about…

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The bad:

Mercer Hall (mid-priced Japanese influenced Gastropub):
HIGHLY overrated in my humble opinion. Yelp had this listed as one of the best places in town… my experience did not support this. First, they had run out of the mussels and it was barely dinner time. Then I asked them if instead of deep frying the fish option could they bake it or grill it or steam it as I have fatty liver and oil is poison to me …they flatly refused (I should add that this is a request no restaurant has EVER before had an issue with unless they also unblushingly admitted that they’d already fried everything up in advance and are just re-frying it to warm it up — mercer made no such admittance) finally I opted for the only low fat item left on the menu (its a VERY unhealthy menu), which was a smoked salmon appetizer platter, and it was unimpressive and massively over priced. In general the wait staff treated me like “how dare you come to a restaurant if you have medical problems, you’re weird.” (And let’s keep in mind that elderly people are the majority of the tourists that come into this town for the yearly festival.)

Annie’s Seafood Restaurant (Diner):
One of the reviewers on YELP had described this as a greasy spoon fish place, and wasn’t kidding.  It’s an inexpensive mom and pop looking place outside of the center of town, but on one of the main roads into town — the one you’d take coming from Toronto. I had come in before actually eating there, to check it out, explaining my health issues and telling the waitress I could only eat there if they ALSO served up the fish as a healthy option, not just fried… she assured me they did and pointed to their grilled and steamed options… When I finally went there to eat I specifically told the waitress I had diabetes and liver disease, and that’s why I was getting the grilled haddock, and I couldn’t eat the potatoes, rice, or bread either … So, for $17 what I got was a tiny sliver of fish sitting in a puddle of fat (and I’m not overstating it), and then a mass of steamed carrots (high glycemic-index — lots of natural sugar, and cooking it breaks down the fiber so you don’t even get the benefit of that) with some broccoli… so, I separate out the carrots … I eat the fish, first letting the oil drip off of it as much as possible and when I get to the broccoli I realized that even though it had been steamed, they then DOUSED IN BUTTER!!!! WHY bother to claim you have healthy options only to serve them up swimming in fat? So I couldn’t eat that either cause its impossible to get fat out of broccoli once it’s doused in it. And then… not even an offer to reduce my bill because the mostly served me food I could not eat after I had been more than clear about my medical condition when ordering.


The Shows: All 13 of them — or at least that was the plan


 

I’m now going to give my take on the shows I saw, as this will only be helpful to anyone showing up in the 2016 season, I’m putting it at the end of the post. The shows I saw were (in order of viewing):

LOVED it! I will admit that the politically correct/racially blind casting threw me for a while, and kept me from turning my brain off and just ‘entering the magic’ created by highly talented and skilled actors. (The grandmother was white, her daughter was pure African Black, and HER daughter.. the granddaughter.. was Vietnamese… and the show was is set in Sweden during the beginning of the industrial revolution, a time and place were even being a brunette was a rarity.) Ultimately however my brain was able to suspend disbelief and I enjoyed this production of the Sondheim classic greatly.

And my $58.50 (achieved by utilizing their half price Tuesday night ticket deal) got me great 4th row/ center orchestra seats…

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I think the last time I saw this show I was maybe 14 going on 40, and it was with my mother on the London stage; and, at that time I did NOT enjoy it half as much. I really do think it’s ‘adult’ material, in that you really can’t appreciate the full depth of the humor till you’re a bit older.


It was good. I found the staging of it to be really impressive. They had constructed a stage within a stage where they could move sides back and forth so that sometimes you were looking at the “back stage” events (which were being performed stage front) while the play was being performed (stage back), and visa versa… IMG_5636

Other than the innovative staging however, it was good but not great, and to be honest, I think the movie was better. One major change from the movie is the increased role of Christopher “Kit” Marlow, who is played as much more Gay (many historical scholars suggest that this is anachronistic, as sexuality was a much more fluid thing back then, with bi-ness being almost normative) — and strongly suggesting to the audience that he was in fact responsible for many of Shakespeare’s best lines, plot ideas, etc. (something that historians argue about — one theory being that Shakespeare’s early works were in fact written by Marlow — which is true in the movie as well, but not to the same degree — here Kit plays a ‘Cyrano’ in the garden to William’s ‘Christian’ with Kit even helping William climb the wall by literally “boosting him on his shoulders” … as Will initially woes Viola — in the balcony scene that will… according to this tale.. later ‘inspire’ the one in Romeo & Juliet…. .

My $32.77 ticket ($29 US, achieved by utilizing a deal where you waited till a specific date, and then bought a ticket where you had no choice as to where you’d be seated) got me a ticket in the upper balcony — the nose bleeds if you will — but once the doors had closed and the “please turn off your ring tone” reminder had been issued, the Jewish couple from Chicago seated in front of me – he was a professor from Loyola – and I all picked up our stuff and moved forward about 6 rows, as almost all of the rows before us were empty seats (they tried to stop us but, hey, they were empty!) … and then during the break the couple had even gone down to see if there were better empty seats in the orchestra level but then decided that where we now were was actually much better, especially considering the fact that 1/2 the play took place elevated up on a balcony


  • As You Like It – by William Shakespeare (Festival Theater, August 11th, 8pm)

This was a ‘modern’ interpretation of the show with a high level of audience participation.

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According to the advertising the show was supposed to be set in 1980’s Newfoundland (a part of Canada), a concept that sounded cute in theory but kind of died in execution. To be blunt about it, had I not read the inserts all I could have told you was that the actors seemed a bit confused as to which accents to use, most of them starting off the show as an accent I was unfamiliar with (it sounded garbled, and made it very hard to hear them) but by about 1/2 way through they were all back to their regular accents or something a bit more British sounding. Also, the 1980’s time period was mostly identifiable by the MTV inspired fashions and one character wearing a Walkman. But the whole gender bending aspect of the show, women being able to hide their gender just by wearing pants, kind of dies in a time period where women in men’s clothing is normative. So in my opinion, this switch of location and time period was a bit of a fail.

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Other than that, the show was a lot of fun with a lot of physical humor and singing and dancing thrown in. I also enjoyed the interactive elements. As we walked in each of us was given a bag of items. All the people in orchestra seating were given an artificial pine branch, a laundry pin, a poem, and a green party hat; the people in the balcony were given stars instead of branches and some other items but I forget what as I wasn’t sitting there. Any time the scene was set in the forest we were supposed to hold up our branches, and before the scene where the romantic lead Orlando litters the forest with poems to his love we were instructed to pin our poem to our branch, and the actors as they came through plucked various ones off the branches… the fans (where were all blue) were supposed to represent the sea with the audience creating waves… and at one point a massive rabbit was passed around the audience as the characters went shooting for rabbits, etc. And then everyone on the lower level was instructed to put on our green party hats (I noticed only about 1/2 the people were willing to play along with this), and we were bathed in green light… I think we were supposed to be a meadow.

Ticket price: $60.60  ($46.72 US)


 

Very cute show; I was expecting it to be a play, but it was a musical and there were some cute songs in it. It is of course an adaptation of Lewis’s children’s book by the same name (while many think of the book as just a harmless piece of fantasy fiction, for those who don’t know, Lewis was lay theologian and story is in fact allegory of the death and the resurrection of Jesus, ‘who died for the sins of man’).

That said, whoever did the set design did a really amazing job; the curved screens altered images as needed, some animated, some not. For the animals they did every thing from hand held puppetry to a massive oversized Aslan the Lion (that looked to be deeply influenced by the oversized puppet-horses that practically breathed, that I saw used in the London production of Warhorse a few years ago), and the little podiums in the photo are constructed of what looks like over sized books — A design touch that I really liked.

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… and there were a few more”adult jokes” thrown in — so for instance among the books Lucy spots in fawn’s home in Narnia was “how to train your unicorn” and “50 shades of fun” — followed by, “we don’t have these books in my world”

I was able to snap a few decent images of the show (once I noticed other folks in my row doing the same)

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For the White Witch, better known these days as Elsa from Disney’s Frozen, and I think partly to avoid the confusion of one with the other, the same actress who had played the part was same one who had played the actress in A little Night Music (see above), who is most definitely black… as in ebony skinned. (Again, race blind casting, but in this case I think it might have helped distance the character from the Disney version, helping to reduce confusion in little kids.

One thing I found rather odd was while the local candy stores are selling Turkish delight, a confectionery that most American and Canadian kids have probably never tasted… and that is central to the story… it was NOT being sold at the food and drink counter during intermission… MARKETING FAIL!!!

My $32.77 ticket (Again, $29 US, achieved by utilizing a deal where you waited till a specific date, and then bought a ticket where you had no choice as to where you’d be seated)  got me a seat in the 2nd row of the balcony, just off center. I overheard a conversation among the folks sitting right next to me. The show was completely sold out and they had been unable to get tickets just a few days before, but had been able to the day before and day of… cancellations I assume. They asked me how much I had paid, and when I told them one of them actually gasped, “we paid three times that amount of our tickets!”

Let’s heard it for planning in advance.

One very cute thing at this show was this couple, I passed them on the stairs before the show started:

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“Did you guys just come from a wedding? ”
“Yes ” … light bulb goes on if my head
“Was at your wedding? ”
“yes ”
“You guys are my kind of theater nerds “


 

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All my sons (1947) is an Arthur Miller play(author of such crowd ticklers as: Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955) — or Marilyn Monroe’s ex-husband for those of you who know nothing about the theater). It is set in the aftermath of World War II (and costuming and hairstyles placed the piece in the period as written). The central family has a son who died in war, Only the mother refuses to accept it. The surviving son now wants to marry his brother’s “girl” … That is  the initial conflict. Over the course of the play we learn that the girl is actually the daughter of the fathers old business partner and that they were next door neighbors, so the kids had grown up together. Then we learn that both fathers had been initially found guilty of producing faulty airplane parts that resulted in the deaths of 21 pilots, they had both gone to jail but the father central to the show (we never see the other one) had on appeal been found not guilty, while the other father is still in jail.

Like I mentioned before, Stratford likes to play fast and loose with the racially blind casting.But a play is not a TV show, if you’re going to change the racial profile of the characters then you are changing backstory and motivation… And you have to do it without actually changing the script, so it has to be far more strategically done in order to work, especially if it’s set in a certain time and place.

In this show, however, it actually worked powerfully. The casting of the show the main in central family is cast with white actors while most of the neighbors are actors and color. This did not bother me, In fact I think it’s made the story line stronger… In that, firstly, the liberalism (for the day) of the relationship between the father and his black neighbors strengthened the inability of the son to believe his father’s guilt, and it brought in modern-day concerns about how the justice system is not in fact colorblind. The white business partner (who we ultimately learn is the guilty party) gets off Scott free, while his black business partner who had actually tried to do the right thing ends up spending years in jail. That brought a modern relevance to the play. That totally worked.

That said, Stratford has in one aspect of the show done the beyond all reason blind racial casting again. This time there’s a black family with a white son and a white family with a black son. Now I can perfectly understand let’s say replacing one of the white families in the show with a black family or a Asian family or a mixed racial family even, but if you were going to cast two black adults as the parents and you’ve got a black kid in the cast wouldn’t make sense to have the black parents have a black child? There is a point where political correctness becomes absurd.

That said, at least they cast a black actor to play the brother for the black actress– I was seriously worried till he came out that he’d be white, like in a little night music. That said its a very good production. In fact, in this play I think most of the actors of color acted the pants off of the white actors. 

The woman sitting next to me was really bothered that there was an interracial relationship going on in the 1940s and nobody said boo about it. I don’t agree with her; as Arthur Miller wrote the script these families have a backstory that goes back years and the deceased brother was involved with his African American Neighbor — if there had been any race issues it stands to reason that these families would’ve already worked all of that shit out years ago, before the son who died had even gone off to war. So that I’m not saying anything about it now is utterly reasonable.

However, the fact that the African-American couple (that had moved into the house that used to be the home of the family whose father is now imprisoned) have a white son…. That’s just lazy casting. You’re casting a kid who basically runs across the stage II or three times and has no lines…. They could’ve picked up anybody to do that.

After I got home I bounced this off my friend Dayna, the local woman whose home I’m staying at, and she laughed and said, “Rebecca, this is the whitest town I’ve ever seen, they probably couldn’t find two black 8-year-olds to play the parts.” So she might be right, it may have just been a practicality issue.


 

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Molière is considered by many to be the creator of modern French comedy. He was successful enough in his day that his troupe performed for the king, but his works didn’t really become popular with the public and the critics until the 19th century. Known for comedies that so scathing in their criticism of social norms (as to border on impossible to not realize that “respected members” of the highly class structured, and patrilineal french society were being made to look like fools), in his day he was often getting into trouble with censors (French media back then was HIGHLY censored — which basically meant the ONLY way you could publicly criticize the status quo was via humor, etc.).

The Hypochondriac, which premiered in 1673, or to use its original French title, “The Imaginary Invalid” is a three-act comédie/ballet by the French playwright Molière with dance sequences and musical interludes (which is NOT an innovation of the festival but rather is true to its original design). The story centers around a very rich, but miserly, merchant who produces all of the carpet pads for King Louise XIV’s carpets, and his hypochondria. Add to the mix a much younger unfaithful wife, who is a professional black-widow, who is constantly conniving to disinherit his daughter while refusing him sex… and is just waiting for him to die, who he none the less loves blindly; a daughter he uses as a tool, who none-the-less loves him dearly, but is also completely in love with one of his apprentices (who is also smitten with her); a maid who treats her boss with a completely disrespectful tough love… so more like a son than her boss; and the father’s obsession with marrying off his daughter to a doctor (no matter how much of an idiot) so he doesn’t have to pay doctors bills (and Molière’s complete disrespect for pre-Enlightenment doctors) and what you have is silly farce whose real objective was probably to function as a revolutionary document intended to upend many of the values of French cultural norms during the reign of Louise XIV (who reigned from 1643 until his death in 1715), otherwise known as the Sun King.

Now to put this in context, I have a post graduate certificate in history and one of the courses I took was on French history, specifically the years leading up to the french revolution (and got an A) … So I’m well versed in the culture of the time and how the Enlightenment reversed a lot of it… which means when I was watching the show my brain, rather than perceiving it based on current social norms (and laughing along with the audience, who were laughing a lot) was busy interpreting it based on what the author was trying to communicate to the audience of his day… and just how radical and sociopolitical a lot of what was happening in the scenes would have been to them (which is why it was fine comedy for the court to see these shows, but not “appropriate” fare for the common man).

When intermission rolled around I started to try to discuss what I was thinking with the British woman seated next to me. At that point, even though she admitted she couldn’t actually hear what the actors had been saying, and had been enjoying it more for the physical comedy than because of any of the ideas hidden in the text…  so I got her to follow me (she required a cane and some assistance), and took her to where they passed out the hearing aid devices. Apparently, she and her Hubbie had been coming to the festival for years and didn’t know they were even available, let alone that they were free. She got one for both her and her husband (thanked me repeatedly) and they were both laughing the whole way through the second part and thanked me a lot after the show was done for pointing out the hearing aid option

One of the really CUTE touches was how they reminded the audience to turn off their phones… At all the theaters in Stratford what they do is play this recording of highly annoying ring tones right before the play starts, often followed by a voice saying “thank you.” Here they had some actors dressed in the doctor’s robes of the time, examining this odd thing they had found and trying to identify it… (a smart phone)… and they’re arguing about it in a sort of mini play when suddenly it starts to ring … freaking them out, and they start attacking it and claiming it is a devil item, or demon spawn, or what have you… and stomping on it trying to kill it… The audience all enjoyed this a lot and gave them a round of applause.


 

  • Macbeth – by William Shakespeare (Festival theater, Aug. 20th, 8pm — $32.77)

Very well done, very scary and spooky from first special effects of lightning and fog, and very well acted… and I had great seats (2nd row balcony just off center)

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I am a bit embarrased to admit this but…. 

… I left at intermission. I packed up my stuff, returned my heard of hearing headphones and went home.


To be honest, I bought the ticket more as a “any self respecting adult going to see the Bard should of course want see his master work The Scottish Play … it’s expected. It’s adult.” Not, to be honest, because I “wanted” to see it… That and I had decided to see EVERY play, and that included the ones I had not enjoyed as a kid.

I blame this on a certain degree of intellectual pomposity and lack of self awareness on my part … As a kid, my parents took me to ALL the Shakespeare plays (Dad was British, and we went to London every year), and as part of my ‘education’ I got heavy douses of Shakespearean theater; and, at a certain point I began to realize that there were certain plays they just stopped taking me to and I knew it was because I didn’t like them … I just didn’t remember why I didn’t like them (assuming that at that age I would have even been able to understand why I didn’t like them). They did however supplement this with repeated viewings of the shows I did like, “As you like it,” “Midsummer’s night dream,” Etc… There’s even a family story of my being like maybe 7 and attending one of the comedies at a Shakespeare in the park performance in London, my laughing to it… and a stranger commenting to my dad, “she can’t possibly understand it, she’s too young.” So my dad had him quiz me about what was happening and to his amazement I TOTALLY understood it… I had by then been exposed to so much Shakespeare that I had no difficulty following the language.

So … when buying my tickets for the festival I figured, “hey, it’s ONLY $35,”… I’d give it a try. Basically, I’m 51 now and I think the last time I was the Bard’s Play I was maybe 8…   So …

Anyway, all through the first half while intellectually appreciating the acting and the staging, and the special effects (of which there are many) I was uncomfortable and uncontrollably yawning through the whole thing… I disliked it for the same reason I don’t go to see horror films and fast forward through the star trek episodes that are all about violence… To be blunt I am quite simply NOT a fan of blood and gore and violence, no matter how well written

— A few days later, watching A Chorus Line, the woman next to me told me that in fact the reviews for Macbeth had NOT been good, and as such, that I shouldn’t based my feelings on this production… we’ll see


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I didn’t like Aeneid either, but mostly because they veered away from the original story of the founding of Rome, and made it into a really pompous and self indulgent lecture to the audience on the current refugee crisis. I had known when I bought the tickets (based on the description) that they were going to modernize it and play on it’s parallels to refugee crisis… I just had no comprehension of how heavyhandedly they were going to be about doing it. At half time, while struggling with the decision of should I stick it out or leave (as I had the night before with Macbeth) I walked around looking at the audiences’ dour faces and overheard bits of conversations by multiple folks, each trying to convince their friend or partner that, yes, they really were in fact enjoying it (and sounding like they were really working hard at also convincing themselves). Personally, I think it fell more in the category of they didn’t want to admit they didn’t like it — more than a bit of the Emperor’s New Cloths (only smart and wise people can in fact appreciate how beautiful and fine his clothes were).

At the very end of intermission, and walking around the crowd and hearing the same sorts of comments from multiple directions — I decided I wasn’t enough of a masochist to slog it out till the end, went home and loaded the romantic comedy NottingHill into my Netflix in order to clear my brain of my annoyance before going to sleep.

That said, the play was sort of a cross between 1930’s modern theater (the type Hollywood movies love making fun of because of how self indulgent it was – often is more about making actors feel important than about entertaining customers) and traditional Greek theater. I did notice that 90% of the lines were delivered by men, which I found ironic considering how hard they were pushing liberal politics. When I got home, I had decided to pull up reviews of the show (I had purchased my tickets WAY before the season had even started, so I couldn’t check reviews then) and found this inconsistency noted by a few of the reviewers who didn’t like the show either.

**As a side note, one of the things I’ve noticed during my stay north of the US border is that Netflix while your Netflix account works across borders, the options of what is available changes; and in Canada there are fewer TV series available, but a lot more/better movies on streaming, including stuff that in the US you’d actually have to get a DVD shipped to you in order to see).

 


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No one familiar with Ibsen attends one of his plays expecting to do any laughing. Ibsen, sort of by definition is about dysfunctional people behaving dysfunction-ally, hence his designation as “the father of realism” in that he put skeletons onto the stage of the sort of stuff most families kept stuffed firmly in the closet — a tendency that in 1896 (when this play was written) was pretty radical stuff. The fact is without Ibsen you might never have had plays like Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” which I had seen on the same stage back on August 16th — which in a way runs thematic parallels to this show (both have fathers who had been thrown in jail for committing fraud that destroyed the lives of others, both involve adult children breaking free from parents who want to live through them, etc.)

Also, this is pretty much by any standard one of Ibsen’s lessor plays (most folks probably haven’t ever heard of it, unlike A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler, or Peer Gynt) and as such you just can’t expect it to be a great play, even if it was by a great playwright…. and this wasn’t. But, that said, it was OK. It dragged a bit in places, and they managed to make the audience laugh in a few others, but to be honest it was bit like going to the dentist to get your teeth cleaned, you go because you know it’s good for you rather than because you expect to enjoy it.

The only racially blind casting in this show was the son’s girlfriend was black — in turn of the century Norway (again, a place and time where just having dark hair would make you stand out).


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Good thing I went to the bathroom before the show. Apparently, there will be no intermission; that, and they warned us that if we left for any reason we would not be allowed back in. 

So here is an admission, I forget who introduced me to a chorus line in high school (1980?), but my girlfriends and I, we all, as a group, memorized ALL the songs and used to walk around singing them. However this is the first time I’ve actually seen the show in its entirety on the stage. I remember there was a movie version (1985) and I saw that, but I’ve never seen it on the stage before this.

That said, I was mouthing along to every song. And felt that this is a great production (although I would have recast about three of the characters). The girl who performed “Tits and Ass” one of my favorite songs stole the show… the only weak point was the girl who played Cassie couldn’t dance.

Both me and the woman sitting next to me bonded over this; we agreed that Cassie had all the grace of a bouncing elephant. — When I got home my friend Dayna (who had already seen the production although she wants to see it again) said it was because they had updated the whole show, but NOT that one dance… so the dance was really outdated, but personally I also think it was also that the girl playing the character lacked grace



  • Breath of Kings — (part 2 redemption) – adapted by Graham Abbey, based on the Henriad plays by William Shakespeare (Aug., 26th, Tom Patterson Theater, 8pm)

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This play is a mashup if you will of Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2 and Henry V (think Battle of Agincourt). You’re supposed to see the part 1 ‘Rebellion’ play before you see the part 2 ‘Redemption’ one, but I had set a low priority on seeing this one, and bought the tickets last (at the $35 sale), and had been unable to fit it into my schedule in the correct order — I HAVE to leave here on the 31st of August because I have two friends getting married on the 4th in Chicago, and needed to leave myself spare time (in case) for the drive there.

2 min before show — place is 1/2 empty

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Intermission — I slept through most of the first 1/2, just couldn’t keep my eyes open.

Freezing ! I think the Aircon was set to accommodate twice as many people it’s freezing in here — I did not sleep through the second half, battle of Agincourt

During the show last night there was a scene where actors walk through the stands and sit on the lapse of audience members in the far right corner (the part elevated above the doorway); I now realize, looking at the photos, that only four of the five seats had audience members seated in them when the show started, but were full when the actors showed up there; so the staff must’ve moved people into the empty ones right after intermission so that the gag would work.


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Dayna, the friend whose home I stayed at, and I discovered we both had tickets to the same show tonight so we decided to do dinner together. Granted we are almost on opposite sides of the theater. That said, according to Dayna our next door neighbor is playing the title character, and is a very nice woman. Apparently that home is rented out by the festival as housing for visiting artists, so that Dayna has met quite a few of the actors that way.

That said, I think bunny was probably the best play I’ve seen so far from all of the plays at Stratford. The title character, Bunny, was an incredibly relatable character, both Dayna and I were like, “we know this woman we would be friends with this woman.” The character seems to be ever so slightly autistic, but cursed with the looks of a model. Women don’t like her and she doesn’t understand why, men drool over her. She is the daughter of two academics, and ultimately becomes a professor of romantic period literature. The story begins with a confused scene that in retrospect is her running an event over in her mind trying to come to grips with it, and then jumps to her childhood, running through the major events of her life (often in soliloquy) so that we can get to know her and understand her when the events happen again at the end of the play.

It was very funny, very well acted, and poignant.


  • Breath of Kings — (part 1 rebellion) – adapted by Graham Abbey, based on the Henriad plays by William Shakespeare

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Yes, I know, I should have seen part 1 before viewing part 2, but I just couldn’t work it out in my schedule.  As thing evolved I didn’t actually get to see this one either. Essentially the night started with an illness, and ended with one… mine

Before the show started one of the staff members apparently collapsed, and had to be taken away. What was sort of ‘interesting’ was that most of the people waiting outside were more concerned about getting into the theater, than the guy who collapsed. When they reopened the doors to bring his body out they were more concerned with pushing their way in than allowing the emergency staff to bring him out… it was not a pretty picture.

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Finally they let us in, but not long after it started my stomach started to cramp, and I was forced to disturb my neighbors, get up and get out as quickly as possible. Ah the joys of irritable bowl syndrome… spent the next 20 minutes or so in the bathroom, and then staggered home. The staff was all worried about me since I was in there for so long. But this has become one of the downsides of my life, … Growing older, it’s not for wimps.


Victoria, B.C., Great Destination town

I spent a full month living in Victoria, a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, and liked it so much that it is now on my list of favorite cities on the planet (and I’ve been to most of the good ones) … so much so that I could almost see retiring there, if the Canadian Government would allow it.

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So … as an explaination of WHY I like it much, let’s start with with a seemingly insignificant fact ….. no bugs — seriously! And this lack of annoying little critters extends to all of the Island, not just British Columbia‘s capitol city, Victoria.

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One of the seemingly infinate pieces of outdoor art to be found along the streets of Victoria

Now, granted, of course there are bugs, there wouldn’t be life if there were not bugs… but not so much that you’d notice; and more to the point, other than chiggers (out in the woods) not much in the way of bugs that bite. I was on Vancouver Island  for two whole months and only suffered ONE … seriously… ONE mosquito bite. And it really doesn’t seem to matter what time of day we’re talking about. Granted this may seem trivial, but after having spent a few months in places like Florida or parts of the upper midwest — where you’ll be eaten alive at certain times of day; and when you are bitten you run the risk of things like zika and other nasties … 24 hours a day; and let’s not forget to mention myriad places on the North American continent where if you drive at dusk, within miniutes your car will become so THICK with dead bugs that you’ll have to get it washed, and the job will HAVE to be by hand, or you won’t to get rid of them all (and if you don’t … you’ll have the pleasure of watching other bugs swarm your car to feast on the carcasses of their dead friends. So, really, you learn to appreciate ‘no bugs.’

Beyond that, let my list the other reasons why I love Victoria so much:

Architecture

As my pictures will show, it is a visually GORGEOUS city; the local government has put laws into place that require that all historical buildings be maintained (at the very least their facades) and/or restored. The result is panoply of colors and designs to delight the eyes. Architectually it’s buildings range from Stuart influenced Victorian British and early 19th century Americana, to a smattering of modern glass and steel on the outer edges of town.

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This is the capitol building for British Columbia

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The red pagoda looking building is a school that serves the Chinatown community

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History:

Victoria it is a city that with British zeal embraces and honors it’s history in a myriad a ways; if you pay attention, stop, look and read, you almost don’t need a tour guide to learn about the place; and it’s not allways done via obvious things, like this memorial to Captain Cook,

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The plaque below it reads:

Capt. James Cook, R. N. (1728 – 1779)

“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific Ocean, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage, with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as master of the Resolution and midshipman George Vancouver.

This statue was commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation and unveiled by The Honourable William Richards Bennett, premier of the province of British Columbia. July 12, 1976.”

Rather, in Victoria you really need to pay attention and look, because the place is RICH with historical documentation, but it tends to go overlooks; for instance, one of the things I noticed (during my month long stay in Victoria where I passed this statue almost daily) was that MOST tourists never seem to stop and take notice of is the LONG line of smaller plaques all along the wall located right behind that statue (see picture above), and all along the dock which memorialize all the notable ships that docked in her port (below are just a few example, but they line the whole dockside):

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Another example is that there is ample evidence and explaination regarding the location of the original fort on the main shopping street in Victoria, but if you don’t stop and look (as the Asian tourists who were being led by a professional guide — the guy in the red shirt — are doing in the picture below) … you’ll miss it:

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The large tan and white building, across from where the fort had stood, was the first office building of the Hudson Bay Company, when Victoria transitioned from a fort to a city
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Every name memorialized in these bricks is that of a founding citizen of the city

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And then every single historic building that’s been renovated and repurposed (and there are LOADS of them) has attached to it a sign explaining the history of the building. Below for instance is a bank building that is now a bar.

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img_9582And then Victoria has different districts, and again, if you stop and look you’ll find plaques, and the like, explaining the area’s past.

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And then in the front of the Government building, there are little vignettes, describing the history of the city, performed by the Parlimentary Player’s, a group of young actors dressed in historiacal garb that try to ‘bring history to life’ in a way that might be more appealing for those who don’t enjoy reading — including one playing the role of Queen Victoria herself. After which, you can enjoy a enjoy a tour of building itself (either self guided with a pamphlet, or led — for a fee, see my blog post).

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That said, it is STILL worth your while to invest in one of the many historically themed walking tours, because they will often add more information than the signs and plaques, not to mention point out little historical tidbits that city has overlooked — or chosen not to — document… for instance, as you walk along Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s China town you might easily walk right by this little piece of history which links back to the active opium trade that used to exist in the area.

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What the picture doesn’t show (or at least well) is that across the alley from the door are two peep holes in the opposite wall. From here, guards would check the alley for cops, and if they gave the all clear, the metal door would open, handing a customer his or her opium.

In addition to the history that exists in historic parts of town, There are more historical spots, just on the outskirts like the  Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site (see my blog about it), which host historical events, Craigdarroch Castle (again, see blog), and Christ Church (ditto).

Public Art:

Public Art is visible almost everywhere you look; be it street art, murals (government sanctioned or otherwise) that either celebrate the city’s history and rich cultural past — or simply decorate boring buildings, sculptures that range from monuments to famous people involved with the city’s history, to the more esoteric and fanciful, Victoria almost doubles as an outdoor museum.

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Mother Nature, Natural beauty:

Although one could argue that Victoria’s proximity to the ocean is such an incredible an asset, that the aforementioned, massive investment in public art, is “gilding the lily” just a bit …

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And in addition not only have the Canadians inherited the British love of gardens, but they the almost perfect weather for a wide variety of flowers and plants. The weather is SO good (not too hot, not to cold), that it is considered to have a mediteranian climate (PALM TREES growing outdoors, north of Seattle, REALLY!).

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To that effect, a short drive away (maybe 20 minutes) is the world famous (see my blog post on) Butchart Gardens, which not only hosts musical events, but also serves up a very nice afternoon tea

Shopping:

I was really impressed by the shopping in Victoria. The prices for pretty much everything are low (well, at the exchange rate at the time, that could change); And there is great shopping from high fashion to antiques;

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A bank, converted into a book store

img_3255The guy who owned this store, which was stocked with stuff that made my history major heart swoon, said that he USED to have significantly more WWII era stuff, but that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. bought out most of his best items a few years ago.

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This next store was probably the coolest of of the MANY gaming stores I found in Victoria, as in one every few blocks — apparently gaming is a popular activity there. You could come with friends, or join up with other folks already there, play board games, etc., and buy them if you enjoyed them… plus it was a cafe.

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The owner of this next, historic store, which is the oldest contiuously running store in the city, said he was worried now that US and Cuban relations were about to normalize, as a large chunk of his business was selling Cuban cigars to Americans tourists who couldn’t get them at home.

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Once many years ago, while in the UK, I accidentally purchased a t-shirt made of hemp, found it to be an amazingly comfortable, sturdy, and breathable fabric, and have been looking for clothes made of it ever since; hemp clothing was difficult to find in the US, till quite recently, because of it being a variety of cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana).

So when I saw this store, I got excited; Now, granted, there wasn’t much I could buy — since living out of the trunk of a car limits one’s closet space,  but since I was supposed to attend the orthodox Jewish wedding of an old friend a month later, and didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, I had a reasonable excuse to buy myself a really nice formal (yet informal) dress made from hemp.

Safe!:

From the perspective of a girl from Chicago, Victoria has an impressively low crime rate (see happy homeless people for part of why that is) so that as a single woman I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, even at night;

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Great resturants:

There are no shortage of really great resturants,  (see the blog post about my favorite, the Ferris Grill) all of which have fresh from the ocean seafood obtained from the local, and more importantly working, (see my blog post about) Fisherman’s warf; so that I got spoiled with buck-a-shuck amazingly fresh oysters, most of which were HUGE… and then keep in mind the exchange rate, so that from my viewpoint it was actually cheaper than $1 each. While there is a China town, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese.

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RedFish BlueFish is a VERY popular foodstand on the dock across from the fancy hotel (not fisherman’s warf)

Music and Art:

There is an active music and arts scene! (Although, sadly, not much in the way of Theater) For instance, there are free concerts almost every week day in front of the city hall, not to mention orchestral presentations at the local cathederal, and a plethera of street performers.

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Tourism:
From a straight tourism point of view, there’s relatively little in the way of “tourist trap” attractions (which is not necessarily a bad thing). There’s the aforementioned fisherman’s warf area, there is one really good museum (see my post about the Royal British Columbia Museum) which hosts really impressive traveling exhibits, and a few small ones. There are also in addition to the aforementioned historically themed walking tours a few tour different bus tour companies, whose offerings are for the most part, the same (I took two of them).

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of the multiple tours the most amusing one I spoted (although not for me as I don’t drink) was the rolling pub tour.

And, as a Jew, I was very excited to see an active Jewish community (albiet a tiny one) that was active in the city

Ferris’ Grill & Garden Patio, Victoria B.C.

Back when I was living in Victoria, British Columbia for a month, Ferris’ Oyster bar (upstairs Grill & downstairs Patio) became my go-to restaurant, and over the course of a month I worked myself through much of their menu. The seafood is amazingly fresh, well prepared, and very reasonably price (and if you factor in the US to Canadian dollar conversion rate, down right cheap).

There are in fact two restaurants with overlapping but distinct menus: The fancier one is up a long flight of steep stairs and the more laid back one is located on the ground floor.

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Bouillabaisse (top left), a selection of their baked oysters, steamed clams & mussels, and seared rare albacore tuna (bottom right)
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Seafood Laksa in Malaysian coconut curry broth, Fresh B.C. Halibut in miso dashi , Bouillabaisse in fennel broth w/Saffron Ailoi, Warm Cauliflower Salad,

EVERYTHING I had was tasty, but of everything my most favorite meals were firstly the bouillabaisse served at the downstairs restaurant (the version in the upper pictures, the upstairs one has too much fat for my diet), the laksa (although the coconut milk is verboten for me), the halibut and the warm cauliflower salad.

While all the food is amazing, the more I went there (and I’d been there maybe 12 to 15 times) the more I grew to dislike their downstairs wait staff. Don’t get me wrong, they’re highly efficient, and good at their jobs, but I increasingly got the impression they don’t much like their jobs and would be thrilled if they didn’t actually have to interact with customers. Also, it seems like there’s a high turnover in the downstairs staff because I rarely saw the same folks twice, even though I always sat in the same place. And no, I don’t think it’s just me. I have watched and listened to their interactions with other patrons… same deal.

By contrast the upstairs staff was MUCH friendlier, seemed happier, and did their jobs better.

That said, I will miss both restaurants.

Victoria B.C.’s Fisherman’s wharf

Cute place, but you get the feeling they developed it mostly because tourists kept asking, “where is the fisherman’s wharf.” Not worth making a special trip to unless you’ve got ample time, there’s better seafood joints elsewhere.

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I’d heard that Victoria had a fisherman’s wharf, but I didn’t really bother about going there till after I had already taken two different bus tours, both or which had pointed it out as a place to go.

To put it bluntly, it was inconveniently far from a walking point of view. Looking at the map below, you can see where the wharf is relative to my Airbnb apartment, which is in Chinatown, ( or about two blocks north of the bridge). Now, considering that it takes me about 20 minutes to walk from my digs to the legislature building, that adds up to the wharf being almost a full hours walking distance, or, to far to not take some sort of transportation — which I’ve been avoiding. (Let me just note that keeping my car in the garage and relying mostly on my feet to get around, combined with a diet that in majority has consisted of steamed or grilled fish, has resulted in me going down one pants size in two weeks!) However, after my second bus tour had dropped me off in front of the Empress Hotel at about 3:45, and I was tired, and cabs line up at the Empress; I decided it was too early to go home, so I grabbed a cab and paid about $8 (Canadian = $6.96 US after the 3% foreign transaction fee) for ride over there. (Granted, from there it was a walk-able distance, but like I said I was already tuckered out.)

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As fisherman wharfs go, this one is kind of tiny. To it’s credit, is an actual fisherman’s wharf, in that fisherman still dock their boats there and locals can buy fresh catches from them, specifically Dungeness Crab, which is slightly ironic as I’ve only seen this sort of crab sold in one restaurant the whole time I’ve been here (a Chinese place).

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But to get to where these boats are you’ll have to negotiate past all the tourist trap shops, which sell food, rent canoes, and offer whale watching tours; well that, or enter the wharf from a walkway at the far end, i.e., no where near the parking lot.

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Just past all the business are a large collection of houseboats, which kind of confused me. Having lived in the San Francisco area for many years I was more than familiar with houseboats, I even have a few friends and acquaintances who live on them… and the think is that usually houseboats are not cheek to jowl with tourist areas, for obvious reasons. So on one hand while I felt kind of sorry for the folks living in these ones (practically every house was decorated with ‘PRIVATE’ and “Trespassers will be Eaten” signs, and the like) the fact is they knowingly signed up for the invasion of their privacy… which makes me wonder if the city of Victoria (or the wharf) doesn’t offer some sort of economic incentives to keep them moored there.

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Once upon a time I lived in an apartment whose living room balcony opened up to canals, so that we had a gorgeous view of sailboat from our living room, and a multi-million dollar estate just across the way (complete with a yacht that could house more people than our apartment building). So I could totally get into living on a houseboat moored next to sailboats, but I’m not sure I’d be as sanguine about being able to watch airplanes take off and land from my living room window.

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On the upside, this wharf meets my current culinary restrictions, as I can easily find seafood that is either raw, or cooked with the bare minimum of oil (I have a fatty liver and borderline diabetes, so it’s no longer about vanity dieting).

For my late lunch (4pm) I had three buck-a-shuck oysters and a cup of a cream free halibut chowder, which had an Indian curry flavor to it, which was ok but didn’t have much halibut in it and wasn’t anything to get excited about

On the way back I grabbed one of the water taxis, which actually turned out to be cheaper than a normal one, but quite a bit (as a single traveler, $4.64 US for twice the distance, but I was able to use my Discover card so no 3% hit); although, since they charge per person I can see how a normal taxi would be cheaper if I were traveling in a group. Of course it had the added advantage of seeing the harbor from a different vantage point.

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Malahat Chalet, Malahat B.C.

A tasty seafood restaurant with an AMAZING view located alongside TransCanadian Highway Route 1.

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I drove by this place on a semi regular basis during my one month stay in Schwanigan Lake, and never tried it (stupid me) until I had moved on to Victoria. The main reason is, you really do NEED to know it’s there, and have it as a set in your mind as your destination — and if your not local, preferably set your GPS to it so that you have ample warning of when to slow down and turn; this is necessary because it sits alongside a severely graded, winding highway with cars wizzing along it at dangerous speeds… so you can’t suddenly realize you’re there and throw on the breaks without the very strong possibility of creating a multi-car pileup.

When I finally did set my GPS to this location I was very happy with my meal and amazed by the view.

Firstly, I have a severely restricted diet due to all sorts of medical conditions I’m trying to simultaneously control with diet. As it turned out this place has ACTUAL chefs who, to quote the waitress, actually relish the opportunity of being forced to get a bit creative, rather than the sort who cook on remote control and get upset if you ask them to veer away from their programing.

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I require low fat & low carb and nothing on their menu met my needs, so after a brief description of what I could eat, they made me a stir fry with almost no oil of shrimp, scallops, and low glycemic veggies that was spiced so as to bring out the flavors… wonderful!

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That said… THE VIEW….

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SO granted, I didn’t eat off the menu, and only ate here once, but what I can say is they have chefs who know how to cook, do wonderful customer service, and have an amazing view and fresh seafood.

Cowichan Bay (& Mill Bay)

Cute place to stop for a meal, a bit like an affordable/low rent cousin of Sausalito, CA.

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Cowichan Bay is a semi-idyllic small fishing town, in a ‘crunchy granola’ sort of a way. It’s not unlike a lot of other small towns located along the west coast of the North American Continent that have made the effort to try to be touristy by adding to, rather than distracting from, their natural advantages — namely attractive vistas. Neither of the primary ferries from the mainland to Vancouver Island land here (they go either from the city of Vancouver to Nanaimo an hour north, or from Seattle to Victoria an hour south of here), but if you happen to be driving between the two and wanted to stop midway for a meal in a cute seaside town, this would be a good option. It reminds me a lot of a smaller version of Sausalito in the San Francisco Bay area, only sans the gourmet restaurants, sans the view of the city and Golden Gate bridge, and no fairly regular flow of movie stars, although (keeping on the SF comparison) the vibe here is a bit more Berkley.

That said, I’m not sure its a place worthy of a special trip, but if you are in the area anyway, and I am, it’s nice…. I came to Vancouver Island British Columbia, specifically to check out where my friend Louise grew up. She and I shared an office for two and a half years while teaching at a University in South Korea, and she often told me about how great her hometown was and how much she missed it, especially the pristine clear air. She recently returned to Mill bay, which is only about 10 minutes from here. From the balcony of her home, she has an almost unobstructed view across ~140 miles (or 230 KM) to Mount Baker (if you ignore the electrical lines)…. which from my perspective beats the crap out of anything you can see in the horribly polluted air she and I used to breath daily in S. Korea — it was not uncommon for the air to be so smoggy that I couldn’t even see the mountain located an easy walking distance from my apartment. Add to that the fact that she regularly sees seals, bald eagles, and the occational whale while walking her dogs by old growth forests and a bay …Victoria Island is fairly idyllic on the “places to live” scale, assuming you can find a decent job; so, I wanted to check it out.

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See the tiny woman standing in front of the almost six story tall old growth pine? That would be Louise; she was the one who suggested we come here for lunch, to a local fixture restaurant her parents used to like to come to, the Rock Cod Cafe.

IMG_1280She had a bowl of fish chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, while I was forced to take the healthier option (during my last visit back to Chicago I got diagnosed with fatty liver, on top of my pre-diabetic status), so I went for the grilled Pacific Cod with prawns, with a side of veggies on a bed of rice pilaf that I could only “taste” since white rice is now verboten. Nothing about it was what I would describe as a meal worth making a special trip for, but it was simple fresh ingredients, cooked well at reasonable prices (for the area — cost of living on Islands is always a bit higher than on mainlands due to added costs for transportation and energy).

After our meal, we went directly behind the restaurant to check out the view

When I had to choose an Airbnb I was actually looking at this area and where I am — because I couldn’t find anything decent right in Mill Bay, where my friend lives. I thought the place I opted for would be a more ‘Mountain lake’ type thing cause that’s how it is advertised…but it isn’t. Apparently it’s a popular place for folks who live in Victoria to have their summer homes, but you can’t really see any mountains from Shwanigan Lake, and from my airbnb you can’t even see the lake. Add to that the fact that there’s only one semi-decent eatery in the place (and I judge places by how they eat)…  Next time I come to visit Louise, I’m thinking I’ll try to get a place here.

Note added June 14th: There are in fact a few different restaurants, here, that I’m intending to try before I leave. One that I recently tried, I feel should be avoided at all costs; it is the Ocean View restaurant, which is on the top floor of a hotel with the same name. I went there initially to check it out as a place to take two of my friends who are coming in to town for a visit. Let’s just say what shows up on the plate doesn’t compare to what’s advertised on their web site… they actually served me burnt food, and the windows were all scratched up — like someone had taken a brillo to it. Pretty sure the view on their website was taken through an open window.