Category Archives: Canada
Looks like we need to make a return visit next year to Stratford Ontario, home of the famous Shakespeare Festival (and yes, Justin Bieber.) We used to go to Stratford a lot when I was growing up in suburban Detroit – which is a few hours drive away – but it’s been at least ten years since we’ve returned. The 2013 season includes a production of the “Merchant of Venice” (starring veteran Stratford actor Brian Bedford as Shylock) AND “Tommy”, the rock musical based on The Who’s rock opera. I saw a ballet set to “Tommy” when I was in high school in Detroit – and am pretty sure I can still sing most of the lyrics to the opera. Actor Brian Dennehy will star in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” which I haven’t read since high school. Also on tap: “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello.” The NYTimes travel section recently had a story about Stratford and it looks like there’s a lot more there than there was 40-some years ago when I started going to plays there with my parents.
The NYTimes travel section today has a clever story on “easy” get aways from major cities – and mentions Montreal as an easy getaway from Chicago. Easy doesn’t mean cheap – my son in Evanston, Ill. is going to Montreal over spring break – and the cheapest plane fare he could find was $540 on Porter Airlines. Not cheap at all.
Nevertheless, will be fun place to visit! here’s the times blurb.
EASY GETAWAY FROM New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Chicago.
WHAT YOU GET French cuisine, an indie music scene, European flair.
WHY NOW Temperatures in this Quebec metropolis won’t really warm up until May, but visiting at this time of year has its benefits. Hotel rates are as much as 50 percent off. Night life heats up as diversions turn indoors. There are also plenty of homey restaurants and cozy cafes. And if you really can’t stand the weather, you can escape to the city’s Underground pedestrian network: 20 miles of shops under the city streets. If you go, check out Tourisme Montreal’s Sweet Dealpromotion, which runs through May 31 and offers 50 percent off a second night’s stay, with nightly rates from $115 U.S.
Where to stay: Best Western Ville-Marie Hotel & Suites (hotelvillemarie.com), in the financial district, offers rooms with Wi-Fi from 109 Canadian dollars (about $114 U.S.) a night. The 24-room Le Petit Hôtel (petithotelmontreal.com) in a former leather factory in the historic district, has rates from 159 dollars a night. The Le St.-Martin hotel (lestmartinmontreal.com), opened in June, has rooms from 195 dollars.
I’ve stumbled upon Porter Airlines – which I’d never heard of – while helping my son find a reasonably priced plane tix from Chicago to Montreal in March. The fares overall are ridiculously and inexplicably high. Why can I fly in March from Des Moines to Phoenix for $380 but it costs at least $500 to fly from Chicago to Montreal then? Porter turned out to have the most reasonable fares – about $519. From what I gather it’s sort of the Canadian version of Southwest Airlines – a newer, more nimble, Canadian airline based in Toronto that concentrates on a few markets (including Chicago’s Midway airport.) It boasts of being Canada’s third-largest “scheduled carrier” and of having a four-star ranking according to the World Airline Star Rating by Skytrax. (Other four-stars include JetBlue and Virgin; Most of the major U.S. Airlines, by comparison, get three stars. Five stars is the highest rating.)
Porter flies mostly within Canada – Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Moncton, Halifax, St. John’s, Thunder Bay, Sudbury (Ontario), Mt. Tremblant, (Quebec) but also in the U.S. to New York (Newark), Chicago (Midway), Boston (Logan), and Myrtle Beach, S.C.
And apparently it serves complimentary snacks and drinks (even wine and beer) en route. Who knew?
Shakespeare is here, there, everywhere and we’ve seen some of it – unfortunately not in Stratford, Ontario for about ten years. I used to go there a lot as a kid growing up in suburban Detroit and judging from a recent NYTimes review of “Stratford’s” latest season it’s as good as ever with Christopher Plummer, at age 80 no less, among the performers. In March we saw a very modern Hamlet at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland
And on Thursday, we saw a lively production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (a rather silly play methinks) performed by the Repertory Theater of Iowa on the lovely grounds of Salisbury House, an old English stone and brick mansion in, of all places, Des Moines that provides a perfect backdrop for a Shakespearean play. A local tycoon built Salisbury House in the 1920s, inspired by a visit to the King’s House in Salisbury, England, which dates back to the 13th century according to Wikipedia. (And judging from the pix of Kings House, the Des Moines replica is pretty darned close.) Catch the “Merry Wives” while (and if) you can – performances through this Sunday…
A recent New Yorker (Nov. 23) article reminded me that I must read anything Calvin Trillin writes, even if it’s ostensibly about a topic I’m not interested in (or don’t think I’m interested in) which, in this case, is: Canadian food, specifically an awful-sounding Canadian dish called poutine (pronounced “poo-TIN” like the Russian leader), which is, in its most basic form, a highly caloric combo of french fries, brown gravy and cheese curds (which Trillin aptly described as “Cheddar before the taste is added, that squeak when you bite into them.”)
As always, Trillin’s story is witty and urbane, full of references to other cultural oddities from Scotland’s passion for haggis to Upper Midwesterners love of lutefisk. There’s also a hilarious mention of the humor of a guy who sounds like the Canadian version of Sasha Baron Cohen (or maybe Jon Stewart) – a satirist named Rick Mercer whose television series “Talking to Americans” includes stunts like asking Americans ignorance-revealing questions like “What should be done about the Russian invasion of Chechnya and Saskatchewan?” and to sign petitions to stop the Toronto polar-bear hunt and end the Canadian custom of leaving the elderly to die on ice floes. (Note to self: find “Talking to Americans” episodes.)
But Trillin’s story about food is also a story about a country, its culture, and people – which is food writing at its best. And it’s full of tips for the traveler to Montreal on where to eat – not only to find poutine in all its variations and awfulness – but where to find the best smoked-meat sandwich, something akin to pastrami (the Montreal deli Schwartz’s) and hot dog with, take your pick, the top or the bottom of an onion roll ( Wilensky’s). So thank you Mr. Trillin. And perhaps you’d like to next tackle that British national dish – the chip butty (A sandwich made of french fries and ketchup on buttered white bread.)