Weekend in Ottawa–Day Two

Sunday was a straightforward day: wake up casually with coffee in the hotel room, then grab a light breakfast in the Byward Market (fruit and pastry), then head straight to the National Gallery to see the exhibit before the crowds arrived in force.

The plan worked. We haven’t seen a show at the Gallery without fighting crowds in a long time, but things were manageable this early in the morning. The show was of a private collection now owned by the Met. The works were mostly drawing, watercolors and gouache. For a private collection, the show seemed huge, but it was also coherent, focused and defined by clear limits both aesthetic and (I think) financial. Interesting and really enjoyable.

Lunch was a happy error. For reasons I can’t fathom, all the restaurants we considered eating at outside the market were closed Saturday and Sunday until supper, which makes no sense to me but also seems very much like Ottawa. So we went back to Glebe to eat at a restaurant by a used book shop we wanted to browse. That restaurant was closed (grrrr)…so a bit lost, we wandered into a nearby Japanese place and ordered bentos. They came out hot and tasty and hit the spot perfectly, which made them a great end to a very fun but very Ottawa weekend.

Weekend in Ottawa–Day One

Last weekend was a three-day weekend for me and the Beav, so we decided to head down to Ottawa—a city that, like all other people we know, we neither love nor hate, instead finding it extremely odd, managing as it does to be both full of interesting things to do and yet unaccountably dull.

We were traveling down to see the Klee exhibition at the National Gallery, but decided to hold that for Day Two, thinking it would be less hectic to see it early Sunday morning. So after driving down, we stopped by the National Archives to see a small show on art about and collected by Canadian Prime Ministers. Then it was a short hop across the river to the Canadian Museum of History, where we toured the recently renovated Canadian History Hall and looked at some stamps. Then back across the river to wander a bit and to check into the hotel.

After a short break, we headed out for dinner at a great Indian buffet. After that we watched Green Book in Glebe.

Sun, Snow, and Blue Jays

Our second day in Saint-Michel-des-Saints was clear and bright and very very cold. A half foot of snow had fallen covering everything. After breakfast, one of our friends set out croissant for the birds, and female blue jays came to eat them. I’d only ever seen the males, but the female, even without the brilliant blue coloring, are almost more beautiful.

With the table cleaned up and the fired taken care of, we put on our boots, coats, scarves and hats and set out to walk around the lake. It was beautiful.

New Years in Saint-Michel

For New Years, the Beav and I were invited up north to stays with friends in a chalet on a lake in Saint-Michel-des-Saints.

The drive up was long and in the days since Christmas winter had finally set in. The fields were covered in snow and the rocks dripped icicles.

We got to the chalet early enough to offer to make dinner. The kitchen stove was wood burning rather than electric, so we were improvising a bit, but everybody chipped in and dinner—apple and sausage stuffed guinea fowl—was perfect and delicious. Done eating we helped everything digest with a quick walk in the cold.

Back inside, we shared a toast, wished each other a happy 2019, and by 10:30, were in bed and off to sleep!

Improptu: Florida

Home from Mexico, I started looking at the calendar trying to figure out when I could arrange a trip to see family. I hadn’t been down since my brother’s wedding and, come fall, that was going to be two years. It was a long time.

Life’s complicated though, so once I started trying to figure out when I could string together five or six days during the Fall term, I realized that “next summer” was a real option for getting down to see everyone. Then the Beav stepped in: “Why not just go now? You have a a few weeks before classes start again.” It was obvious and brilliant.

The trip begins

So after a couple calls and a few days to take care of some house chores and some Montreal errands, I jumped in my car and drove down. It was a two day trip (20 hours) both ways, but went well. I kept the windows down, the radio off and watched the landscape. Crossing the distance on my own made the two poles of my family life feel closer together.

The visit was great and a surprise: I’d only told mom and my brother. For everyone else it was all very “what are you doing here?!?!?!” when I showed up at the beach. (Well, mostly that. My sister and spiritual twin divined from signs too obscure even to mention what I was up to.) 

Heading home…almost there.

Back now and waiting for Mom to arrive tomorrow for a week’s vacation in Montreal. Clearly, but unexpectedly, it’s turning out to be a summer of partying.

Day 16–Heading Home

Setting off for home.

The schedule is a bus to the airport (3 1/2 hours) followed by the flight home (6 1/2 hours).


Once we’re in Montreal, we’ll take a shuttle to the car, then the drive home (1 1/2 hours). I think we’re going to be pooped once we get there!

Day 15-Rainy Last Day

We wandered out at the end of the morning without the umbrella because it was sunny with no rain in the forecast, but then spent the day trying to stay dry!

Our first stop was for a late breakfast and coffee (under the watchful eye of a dog on a roof) followed by a visit to the Museo de Ignasio Allende. The museum occupies his former home and is packed with long Spanish texts arguing that the city’s namesake was the principal figure in the Mexican war of independence. It also presents rooms decorated with period appropriate furnishings and made “life-like” by never appropriate wax sculptures like this one.

The first storm hit as we were leaving the museum, and we waited it out under the awning of a nearby depanneur. When it let up, we ducked into the Starbucks down the block.

We waited out the next storm there and then set off for the hotel but got caught running in the rain the last block. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading. When things cleared up, we headed out to a pizza place down the street, this time bringing our umbrella! Obviously it didn’t rain.

The food recap for the day is as follows:


Dinner done, we’re packed and ready for the shuttle tomorrow at 9am. It’s going to be a long day of travel.

Day 14-Canyon Hike

Breakfast (seriously)

After breakfast and organizing our ride down to the Mexico City Airport Wednesday, we decided to walk out to El Charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens. The first few roads you have to walk to get there were winding, steep climbs and tough going.

The gardens were worth it. They were spread out across a corner of a larger reserve and were full of all kinds of cactuses and succulents.

The real attraction though is a nature trail running along the top of a canyon the drops down into San Miguel. There are ruins of an old water-powered textile mill and beautiful waterfalls and views. Phone died early on so not many pics but the hike will probably be the highlight of the trip.

Walking home we visited the market and, after cooling off with a couple local brews sporting T-shirt labels for the World Cup, ate Italian food for dinner. Yummy.

Day 13-El Dia con Mole

Today’s big event was a tour of two “historic” houses. The tickets were 20$ each which is exorbitant. (Only a couple meals have cost more than that!) But we bought them because the tour money went to the public library.

Turns out the first house was a renovated property available for rent. The second was a private house—beautiful, yes—but done up in modern Architectural Digest style by the financial planner owners.

We ditched after a quick look at the second and set off walking on our own through the southern part of town.

The rest of the day was low-key. Rain was coming so we hung around the hotel room and read. I had mole pueblano for both lunch and dinner. So I was near euphoric by the end of the day.

Day 12–Books & Birds

We arrived in San Miguel a day earlier than we’d planned. So we stayed the night at a place we’d booked because it was cheap and near our real hotel. It wasn’t great. So this morning, the first order of business was to check into the room we’d booked before leaving Montreal. We were nervous about it—the photos online hadn’t been very clear—but what a surprise: it’s one of the best rooms we’ve ever stayed in!


Check-in done, we started the day with an all-you-can-eat Mexican breakfast buffet. It was great!


Then we set off to the Biblioteca to get tickets for a tour of some historic private homes for Sunday. We hoped to sit in the library cafe & read for a bit but it was full.


So we walked to the nearby Fine Arts Institute situated in an old convent and sat by the fountain in its courtyard instead. It’s in an old convent and tall avocado trees were growing all around with ripe avocados on them!


We read for most of the morning and then stepped across the street to eat a late lunch.

After lunch we wandered around visiting parts of the city outside the center. We saw a public market & a park, then explored winding cobbled streets.


We even found a site with nesting birds: some kind of egret or crane or something. Then climbed the hill to a lookout to see over the city.

Dinner was corn on a stick from a stall in the main square.

Day 11–to San Miguel!

Today was a travel day. So after coffee, we packed and took a taxi to the bus station. By 3:30 we were in San Miguel de Allende.

As per convention the first few hours in a place are just about wandering around and getting the feel of things. So we walked to the central plaza—El Jardìn Principal—and started looping around from there.

What we discovered is that this place is crazy. It’s tourists and shops for tourists and restaurants for tourists and it feels like being at a festival. We haven’t really seen anything like it before. There’s supposedly some beautiful stuff to see though. So hopefully stories soon…

Day 10-Valenciana

Started the day with a solid breakfast at the Plaza San Fernando because we were heading to the countryside and weren’t sure we’d find a restaurant until we got back. On the way out of town, we made a quick tour of a museum that opened up only three months ago in a house built by the Count of Valenciana. The highlight were the engravings but photos weren’t allowed.

From there we caught a city bus to Valenciana, the location of one of the principal silver mines in Spanish Mexico. We toured the local church, which was very wealthy & is famous for its triple retablos done in over-the-top baroque style. Then we toured the first bits of a mine shaft.

I’m not sure why we actually went down the mine shaft. It was hot and I’ve gone claustrophobic the couple times I’ve gone into caves underground. But we did, and when we got to the bottom, the electricity cut out and we were in total darkness until they came back on. It was only for a few seconds, but it was enough to make me “eager” to get topside.

(Posting these pictures now, I honestly don’t know what I was thinking when I agreed to this…)

As we waited for the bus, I watched some dogs on roofs looking for people to bark at. Back in town we sat in the Plaza Fernando over beer and watched people.


Day 9–Los Juglares!

We had three days in the middle of the trip where we didn’t schedule where we’d be or book hotels. We decided to spend two in Guanajuato & booked a new room in the center of town & moved our stuff. The place was great but the front door was a bit complicated to operate!

Settled again, we headed out to see the Diego Rivera museum. (He was a painter & Frida Kahlo’s husband.)

From there we wandered to the public market & the theatre, taking time along the way to see the municipal museum and to grab something to drink.

The theater. It’s interior is inspired by the Alhambra in Grenada.

The highlight of the day was a tour of the hillside roads led by university musicians in renaissance costumes, “los juglares”. (I nearly lost the Beav as we waited in a nearby plaza for it to start.) There was singing, dancing, stories of monkeys, & audience participation. This last had me hiding in the back of the group. A tourist trap but also an “experience” 🙂

Day 8-Alhóndiga

The day started off with crêpes in Plaza de San Fernando, which has become our go-to place to find restaurants. Breakfast done, we set off to the Alhóndiga, a colonial granary turned prison turned museum.


The highlights were the murals about Mexican independence, the pre-Colombian seals and stamps, and the “ex voto,” which are old folk paintings celebrating a miracle by a saint. These last were so great and I was so absorbed that I never stepped back and took a photo! Argh!


The rest of the day we wandered around, seeing the church of San Domingo and the Museo Iconographico del Quijote. This last was the personal collection of an ad exec obsessed with Don Quixote. All the painting and sculptures are of the book! It was crazy. Dinner was leftover chicken and tomatoes at the apartment, supplemented with a pre-dinner snack of spicey Fritos!

Day Seven–Wandering Around

We got up early to walk to an old Hacienda two kilometers out of town. It showed up on Apple Maps so we knew where to go, only when we got there, it wasn’t there! And “there”—or rather, the “there” that wasn’t “there”—was many, many kilometres more than “two” outside of the city. It was a trek and involved a fair amount of climbing!


Discouraged but undeterred, we walked back toward town, stopping to ask for directions in a pharmacy. Turns out we’d missed the turn we needed early on when we’d detoured to avoid a busy street


Spanish Baroque in One Image


Where we waited for a bus that didn’t come


Back in town we went to lunch and then up the funicular to get a view over the whole town.

Then we made a circle to visit the five nearby churches.


The day ended with a nice dinner on a balcony overlooking the Jardin de la Union.

Day Six–Montezuma!

The Beav ate something and was off for the day. So we stayed at the apartment.


The view from the Balcony


I went out early to the market to grab food—fruit, cheese, some bread—and then spent most the afternoon on the patio reading. Late afternoon I went across the street and bought a rotisserie chicken cooked in a wood oven for dinner.



So a quiet day.

Day Five–On to Guanajuato

Today we travelled to our next stop, a colonial mining town called Guanajuato. The bus ride was only a couple hours, but we stepped off into a different world.



Guanajuato is up in the mountains. The streets twist around the central ravine and climb up the slopes. There are tunnels everywhere. It’s beautiful. We got in late in the afternoon, but there was no rain, so we were able to spend the evening wandering around and taking in the atmosphere.



For dinner, we picked a place on a quiet plaza but noticed all the Mexican tourists were going to the restaurant next door. So we did too. Had a huge plate of fajitas!



We both brought shorts and t-shirts because it’a summer but hadn’t realized how much cooler it would be at higher altitudes. Wish I’d brought more pants!

Day Four–Musical Theatre

Our last day in Querétaro, we crossed the river and explored the quartier San Sebastian, which is outside the historical district.

After lunch at the breakfast place from yesterday, we visited the Museo de la Restauración de la Replublica, which deals with the overthrow of the Hapsburg Emperor Maximillian. From there we walked to the municipal museum, which is currently full of comic book paintings by local artists.

Two things stand out about the day though. First, there were no storms in the early evening. So we were able to see the city at night, which was a nice change.

Second, earlier in the day, The Beav saw an ad for a musical adaptation of Frederick Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba. We didn’t know the play, wouldn’t understand the lines but figured that, with the singing and dancing, we could make something of what we saw. Wikipedia said it was a play about a widow & her five daughters. What we didn’t know was that in this adaptation all the actors were men!

The theater was in an old two-story courtyard that was only half covered, and a storm stopped everything for twenty minutes early on. But the show must go on! And once the worst of the rain was past, staff mopped off the stage and the troop came back and finished. It was amazing.