Sunday, November 28, 2010

Subways of the World!

I enjoy watching trains, and love riding in them. I have a special fondness for Metro systems or subways, and I suppose this dates back to my childhood when a ride on the Toronto subway was a special treat. Legend has it that a three-year old Mooncattie was intercepted at Toronto's Davisville subway station, having wandered off from home with notions of heading downtown! Well, many years passed before I got a chance to visit another city's subway (1975 - London). Now I make a point of taking a journey on the Metro of whatever city I visit.

2010 was a banner year for Me and Metros! This year I managed to board trains in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Berlin, Munich, Nürnberg, Hamburg, and Warsaw. Below are a few highlights from past travels.

Here's a station in Nürnberg, Germany. The newest line features automatic "driverless" trains, which means you get to sit up front if you like and enjoy the driver's point of view.



Below is a scene from a much older system (with much older stations!), in Chicago. The Windy City is famous for its downtown elevated Loop trains, but this particular line reaches out into the western suburbs.



Another long-established American subway can be found in Philadelphia. This is the Market Street line, which features a nice outdoor stretch to the west of the downtown. Stations here are, well, pretty old looking!



Many of Europe's major cities are very well-served by Metro systems. Vienna is an excellent example, and here a U-Bahn enters the outdoor Stadtpark station.



Berlin has a huge railway system, integrating the regional S-Bahn lines with underground U-Bahns. Below is the recently-opened U55 line stop at Brandenburger Tor. It currently shuttles back and forth between this station under the Brandenburg Gate and Berlin's main railway station. One day, it'll be extended eastwards to Alexanderplatz.



I enjoyed riding the subway in Warsaw, Poland. Here is an entrance at Centrum station, with the gigantic Palace of Culture and Science looming above.



Having finally been bitten by the camcorder bug, I've joined the hordes of nerdy folk who post YouTube clips of whatever they are interested in. For me, that meant videos of subways and Metros, and you can see my work posted under the name of "murrener". Or just click on www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvDRwFMUesM if you're REALLY bored and go from there! I'm looking forward to 2011, when I hope to add more Metros to my collection.
UPDATE:
Yes, it's true! I've now lost 25 pounds, and I've got the Weight Watchers ribbon to prove it! I've hit the 27 lb. mark as of November 22nd, and hope to whittle away another few pounds if possible by Christmas. I've got more energy, and I'm fitting into clothes that I haven't worn in many years (in some cases, NEVER!). I'll keep you posted!


NEXT: Going away in 2011!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Weight To Go!

I've been overweight for about thirty years now. Adding on a few pounds each year, every year, led me to where I am today. Early on I began to love food, then I discovered the joys of beer, and with a job and some cash and time off I had the means in time to indulge and enjoy.

I have now reached my Fifties, I've endured a decade of living with Type 2 diabetes, and as the many posts on my blog have illustrated, I've tended to ignore my health and enjoy eating and drinking (and traveling to eat and drink). By the summer of 2010, I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life. Moving around was exhausting, it was all I could do to stay awake during the workday and make it home to fall asleep. And although being heavy bothered me, I didn't really care or like myself enough to do anything about it.

Take a look at the photo below. There I am at my favourite German beergarden, happy as can be, and look at that stomach!



Here's a self-portrait from this past July. I'm on board a train bound for Warsaw, and when I saw how this picture turned out I took another with my arms folded across my stomach. Of course I'm not fooling anyone - see the Mooncattie-sized bag of chips?

My family has faced a number of health challenges in 2010. Both my parents have had extended periods of ill health. I fractured a bone in my foot in the springtime. No wonder - imagine the stress it would be under every time I took a step! Seeing my holiday photos from this past summer, and thinking about my probable life span, I realized that it was time to do the hardest thing of all, to make a change in my lifestyle and try to be healthier. Perhaps better health would lead to a different kind of happiness, not dependent upon the consumption of calories. I knew dieting would be difficult, and I have such a long way to go to attain my proper body weight - but why not give it a try? Maybe I'll actually like myself a little more in the process!

So I joined my local chapter of Weight Watchers in early September - about two months ago. I resolved to attend the meetings, to do the tracking of food intake, to be honest about the weigh-ins whether I have a week of success or a relapse into past habits.

The folks at the meetings are very supportive, and all seem to be cheering each other on. The parts of the organization that I don't really support (such as the WW products like Power Bars and Smoothies and various recipe publications) are easily ignored while I concentrate on the daily tracking of what I eat.

The change of diet has been dramatic for me. It means pushing away snack food, fast food, beer and milkshakes. It means deliberately keeping track of physical activities and planning walks when I normally wouldn't bother. I'm a devotee of 1/% milk nowadays, and I try to make a point of doing the 40-minute walk to get it instead of the 5 minutes there and 5 minutes back by car. It means eating more fruits and vegetables and cereal. Lunchtime is now generally my main meal of the day, and during the weekdays that means soup of some description. I found a "soup-erb" spot ten minutes' walk south of my office, and most work days now I bring back a tub of tomato, or hot & sour, or mulligatawny, or jambalaya to my desk.

Weekends means forcing myself to walk in the neighbourhood somewhere, and avoiding the activities that led me to high-calorie experiences. I've stopped going to movies, for instance, because I know I don't want to see a film without popcorn. I've actually saved a bit of money that way, so the Weight Watchers program isn't necessarily costing me that much extra!

Well, so far so good. Here's a photo of me taken this afternoon.


Yes, that stomach is still there! So is the chin! But I'm wearing jeans that are two full sizes below what I wore in the summer, and I need the belt tightened an extra two notches to keep it from falling down to my ankles! I'm fitting into that shirt for the first time in years - maybe a decade. I'm down 18 lbs since joining, and I plan on continuing to work at this. I'm determined to be down a total of 25 lbs by Christmas. It won't be easy - cold weather is coming, and I'm definitely NOT a winter person where exercise is concerned. The festive stuff is going to be a big challenge as well. Well, bring it on! I got through Halloween without succumbing to the temptations of candy, and the support of family, friends, and work colleagues have convinced me to keep it going.

I'm looking forward to 2011 already, and thinking about travels that will allow me to keep moving forward in every way possible. Oh there will be treats, but they will be accounted for and be special occasions to enjoy instead of daily cravings to be accommodated. I'll keep in touch re: my progress or lack thereof!

NEXT: Subways of the World!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

All Aboard for The Station Inn

I really like trains. I like riding in them, and I enjoy looking at them. So when I learned of a bed & breakfast in the United States that specifically caters to railfans, I had to find out more! The Station Inn is located in Cresson, Pennsylvania, and for over a decade now innkeeper Tom Davis has been offering folks a spot to sit and watch lots and lots of trains go by.



His Inn sits across the street from one of the main freight routes over the summit of the Applalachian mountain range, taking goods from the American east coast to the mid-west, and beyond, and back.


I paid my first visit to The Station Inn in May 2010, staying for two nights on my way to Mid-Atlanticon in Washington, DC. What a treat! Cresson is a very pleasant small town just west of Altoona, and the area is chock-full of railway history and spots to enjoy train-watching. One of the best spots is from a rocking chair on the Inn's front porch!



Yes, I was really there!



AND I've got a dirty mind. So what? And my prostate is just fine, thanks.



I returned for another two-night stay this past August, with the expectation that after covering all the train-spotting sights in the area I would have gotten the whole business out of my system. How wrong I was - it was such a relaxing spot and everything about The Station Inn experience was so enjoyable that I was already planning an autumn return. The photo below, taken from the nearby Highway 53 bridge, shows the main line in all its October glory with the fall colours at their very best.



It really hasn't been the best of years for me health-wise, so I was very glad to return to the area and actually do a bit of proper walking around on some of the many rail-trails in the region. I highly recommend a visit to the Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railway tunnel ever built in the USA. The line has long since been relocated, but the walk to the tunnel is spectacular and well-signed with a series of interpretive panels that outline the history of railways in the area.



I stayed for three nights in early October, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Can't wait to return in 2011! Must-see train-spotting locations for the visitor (besides the Inn itself) include the Cassandra Crossing pedestrian bridge over the tracks, a nearby level crossing at Carney's Road, the above-mentioned Highway 53 bridge and observation area, and the National Parks Historic sight at Horseshoe Curve. If you want to do some hiking in the area, it's well worth Googling the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and having a look at some of the pathways you can access.
For more train action, have a look at the Station Inn website itself for a preview of the sights to see in Cresson and vicinity as well as information on how to book your own visit. If you're really lucky, you'll be there when they're serving sausage gravy on toast for breakfast! That in itself will make up for any bad weather during your stay!
video

NEXT: Losing Weight: Can This Be True???

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mid-Atlanticon 2010!

I suppose I'm not much of a joiner. I'm not one for clubs or conferences or conventions in general, but when I heard about Mid-Atlanticon 2010, that was a different story. I had to be there! It was a meetup somewhere along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States of America, featuring fans of the Comics Curmudgeon blog site that takes an alternative, often hilarious, and always interesting look at the daily funnies. Yes, those comics we see every day but usually don't give much more than a passing glance at. Who ARE those people behind Beetle Bailey, For Better or For Worse, Mary Worth, and Mark Trail? (the answer to the latter may be disturbing to sensitive readers)

The Comics Curmudgeon was created by Baltimore-based writer and editor Josh Fruhlinger, and he has a fan base of many thousands who can't wait to read what he has to say about whatever daily comic he chooses to comment on each day. Many of us can't wait to weigh in with our own opinions. Well! A Comics Curmudgeon Meetup was something not to miss, so off to Washington DC I went!

My trip got off to an exciting start when I discovered an authentic Montgomery Ward mini-fridge in my Virginia motel room! Montgomery Ward has been out of business for years now, but their fine products remain. It was a wonderful fridge.


Next up was a fun evening with fellow curmudgeons wossname and bourbon babe, unbuckled that included a barbecue, lots of laughter, and Mooncattie's first Scotch!

The following afternoon - a group of happy curmudgeons gathered at Washington's National Zoo for a tour of the Small Mammal House conducted by volunteer guide Perky Bird.


The animal we all came to see! A real live prehensive porcupine!

Oh, and I saw a Panda bear as well.


Finally, it was time for the great event. Our meetup took place inside Washington's Capitol City Brewing Company brewpub. As you can see, it's a pretty impressive looking place from the outside. Yes, it really was that big.

Sadly, I don't have a good photograph of Josh himself. But I do have this photograph of the star of the evening, Mark Trail's plucky young ... er ... ward? Son? Buddy? Well, it's Rusty's Head On A Stick, and we all agreed that was indeed the best place for him. His occasional extreme close-ups in Mark Trail are pretty frightening usually. We're pretty sure he's a science experiment gone horribly wrong, but in Mark Trail that's sort of par for the course.



Well, amid much laughter, fresh beer, and fine food, an excellent time was had by all. I met some wonderful people, and it was great fun to share comics-related chat with folks I had only previously known through the blog. I hope there will be another meetup one day (full disclosure: I had gone to a previous gathering in Tucson, Arizona in 2008!), and I hope to return to Washington DC as well.
NEXT: All Aboard for Cresson, Pennsylvania and The Station Inn!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Warsaw

Crumbs! Here we are with the Summer of 2010 finish line coming into view, and I haven't been very good at keeping up with entries on this page. I've done loads of traveling and have lots of stuff to chat about, so I'll have a go at putting up a series of short chapters on my comings and goings since early April in no particular order.

Here are some photos from my first-ever trip to Warsaw, Poland. I dropped in for two nights in mid-July of this year during a rather extended European heat wave. Happily, my Novotel room was nicely air-conditioned.

Here's a view of Warsaw's gigantic 1950's era Palace of Culture and Science from my 15th floor window. The guides usually say that one should begin any visit to Warsaw with a trip up to the Observation Deck of this so-called "gift" to the Polish people from Stalin.



Here's the view looking south-east, back towards my hotel and the city beyond! Not especially attractive, I'm afraid.



More evidence that the city in general is rather, well, ugly. This view looks west from the Palace of Culture and Science, with a large shopping mall and office complex in the bottom-left corner. Much of the area to the west was part of the Jewish ghetto set up by the Nazis during World War II.



Much of the border of the Jewish Ghetto has been marked for posterity with inlaid bricks as seen below, similar to the Berlin Wall outlines that one sees nowadays marking the old boundary between East and West Berlin.



There is very little of the original Ghetto wall left. This one section remains in the courtyard of a housing unit, and one sees the ever-present Palace peeking over in the distance.



My favourite part of Warsaw was the Kazienkowski Park, a former royal park now open and free for everyone to explore. I enjoyed the bits of forest, lagoons, sculptures, and pathways. It was a pleasant place to wander around on a hot summer's afternoon. Peacocks make their home here, and are fun to watch.









How can you resist a park that features a bust of Caligula? I guess he would have been an improvement on a lot of the folks who invaded this city.



My other Warsaw highlight was in the newly-rebuilt Old City, which had nothing to do with the buildings. It was a hose laid out as a sprinkler for folks to get some relief from the heat wave. It was wonderful! I'd love to see that sort of thing in other cities, especially my home town. Children would hop in, then run out squealing with delight. This little bit of Warsaw put a smile on every visitor's face.
video
I visited Krakow about five years ago, and I have to admit that it is a much more beautiful place to visit than Warsaw. It benefits, of course, from not being razed to the ground by Hitler's army. Although the apartment blocks, office blocks, and retail blocks of Warsaw seemed monolithic and charmless to me, there are still some nice places to explore in the city. The Nowy Swiat "royal route" is chock-a-block with high-end cafes, nice restaurants, and a brewpub or two. At the north end, the Old City features a number of rebuilt churches, public squares, and cobblestone laneways. The city appears to have a very good transit system. I enjoyed hopping on and off the trams that seem to form a web from the inner city, and Warsaw's single-line subway system is in the process of being expanded with the Euro 2012 football championships fast approaching. There is a lot of construction going on in Warsaw, and I do hope that the architecture of the next generation is more imaginative and attractive than that of the past few decades.
NEXT: Mid-Atlanticon! A Meeting of Curmudgeons!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

To Michigan, for Easter!

Easter weekend, 2010. In the Great Lakes area, it'll go down in the books as a mostly sunny weekend, weather-wise. Spring seems to have made an early appearance in this part of North America, and the always-iffy prospect of traveling over a long weekend in early April ended up being no problem at all!

I made an early start on Good Friday, and was at the Ontario-Michigan border by 9:30am. By 10:15, I was starting my first Rail Trail walk of the season.

This is the Wadhams to Avoca Rail Trail, and it can be found just west of Port Huron, MI. It was a super walk on a day that topped 70 degrees F (perhaps 22 C). I was very happy to manage 7 miles of walking, although the blisters that were born that day are still visible! I'm hoping to do lots of healthy walking this year, and have mapped out a series of interesting trails to try.

This is the Gallup Park Trail in Ann Arbor. It took me two visits over Easter weekend to complete this one (lots of limping by this point!). This trail goes alongside an active Norfolk Southern line for part of its length, although I sadly missed being able to capture any trains for posterity.

A nice drive, a family visit, some pleasant walks, and ....beer! MICHIGAN beer!

Yes, it's something of a Golden Age for the beer industry in Michigan. And I was eager to find out a little about what our next-door neighbours have been up to. A good place to start my research was a visit to the fine folks at
Ratebeer, who have some very nice things to say about Michigan beer, what to try, and where to buy it. That led me to a very fine place indeed, Champane's Wine Cellars.

Yes, that's how it's spelled! Champane's is at 7007 Chicago Road in Warren, MI, just a bit north of Detroit. It proved to be my first-stop shop for a grand introduction to the beers of Michigan. I met up with the manager of the "Beer Department", Michael, who was quick to offer some advice as to what to choose. And there is a lot to choose from! After explaining that I was allowed to bring a total of 24 bottles back to Canada, we quickly went to work. I spotted a newly-arrived Hofbrau Maibock (yes, we get to drink the stuff even before the Muncheners do!), so a 6-pack of that was a MUST. That left eighteen bottles of beer for my wall.

Michael noted that as I was spending a few nights in the state, I really ought to pick up a couple of extras for consumption while in America. He brought out two singles from the fridge with the warning NOT to leave them on a shelf for any length of time. Keep them cool! I did just that, and here are the two in question.
Both are from Bell's, out of Comstock, Michigan, and I should note that most of the beers that Michael recommended came from either Bell's or Founders (from Grand Rapids).

This is Bell's Consecrator Doppelbock, a very dark red beer, smooth and exceptionally easy to drink. It's up there in alcohol content at 8%, but it didn't taste overly strong or bitter. Absolutely delicious!


The "Keep It Cool" Beer #2 was Bell's Lager of the Lakes (referring to the Great Lakes, of course!), a very light-coloured lager of 5% strength. This is one of those perfect backyard BBQ beers. Very pleasant...but I think that Consecrator with those dudes with the horns is our winner!

Well, it's time for a break from all this local brew sampling, so why not head off to Bay City for a Saturday evening? The place seemed mostly closed for the Easter weekend, but here's a find (thank you again, Ratebeer!) It's the Stein Haus at 1108 N. Water Street, and wow-we-wow! Look at all those steins hanging up there! And what's this? Hofbrau helles AND dunkel...ON TAP? Yum!
A friendly chat with patron Beth was a highlight of my visit, and she was quick to suggest I try another Bell's offering, Oberon. "It's like a Michigan summer afternoon", she smiled, and the label on the back of the bottle backed her up! It was also one of the beers that Michael at Champane Cellars chose for me (17 left to go!), and here's what an Oberon looks like. It's a 5.8% wheat ale, a very refreshing cloudy beer with perhaps a hint of orange, or is it just that nice bright label with the sunshine? Whether in a Bay City bar on a Saturday night, or back home on an April Friday night, it was very enjoyable. Even if (at the bar) they serve it with a slice of orange. Is that a sneeze I feel coming on? Ahhh....ahhhh. CORONA!









NEXT: "My Other Beer Is A Stout"!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Peterborough For Beer

Peterborough, Ontario. It's a Junior A Hockey powerhouse, a passionate supporter of its Lacrosse team, and the gateway to the Kawartha Lakes cottage region. I was surprised recently to learn that it's also becoming something of a beer hotspot, both for home-grown craft brewing and for imports. I had a chance to pay a couple of visits to Peterborough (approximately 130 kms. north-east of Toronto) in the past month, and I'm glad I went!

My first stop was 300 Charlotte St., the home of the Publican House Brewery. Not so flashy on the outside, but inside they were sampling and selling three tasty products. A stout and a "west coast style India Pale Ale" were available only in 64 oz. Growlers, or big glass jugs for the uninitiated.


I went home with several cans of a very pleasant House Ale, which I found to be quite robust for a 4.8% light beer. It would find a place of honour on my cottage deck this summer, and now all I need is the cottage and the deck! There's a patio next door to the actual brewery on Charlotte St, so perhaps that'll do once the weather warms up a bit.

Now it was time for the main event, a visit to the St. Veronus Cafe and Tap Bar at 129 Hunter St. West. What a nice building. What a great restaurant! WHAT A SUPER BAR!















It's hard to tell from the photo, but four out of the five draught taps are for Belgian beers, and the fifth is for Stiegl from Austria. This would be big news in Toronto, or any other Canadian city, but is really quite spectacular for Peterborough. The fridge in the background protects at least a dozen Belgian offerings that would be very unusual to find pretty much anywhere in this country.

I met up with my friends Rick and Cathy, and it's thanks to them that I even found out about this wonderful place! (By the way, you Yarning Fans out there may enjoy visiting Cathy's Project Fleece blog.) The food menu is as true to Belgium as the beer list - mussels, frites and stoemp all make an appearance. I opted for a Carbonnades Flamandes, a sandwich featuring a ribeye steak stewed in Leffe Brune beer, in a sourdough bread. One of the finest sandwiches I have ever tasted.

However, for us it was all about the beer, and here's a look at our round. Wow!
A nice Bavarian Weihenstephaner for Rick, a lovely Leffe Brune for me, and a cherry flavoured Mort Subite for Cathy. All served in their appropriate glasses. A Leffe Brune, on tap, in Peterborough! Yum. On that particular day, St. Veronus was offering, as their speciality draught, a Russian Imperial Stout from southwestern Ontario's Wellington brewery. Our server assured me that he was able to sample quite a lot of it!

I was able to sample one more Belgian beer that day, and I liked it so much that I came back two weeks later to try it again! It's a 9% from the Brasserie de l'Abbaye des Rocs, another Brune that seemed a tad more bitter than the Leffe version. Hey, I'm not supposed to even like dark beer much, so what's the deal here?

Here's my other treat from Visit #2, an 8% Gouden Carolus Ambrio. I've never even heard of this, yet there it sits in a fridge in Peterborough. Yum! I found it perhaps a bit more sour to the taste than the l'Abbaye, but it sure grows on you with each mouthful.

I'm told that St. Veronus regularly rotates their selection of Belgian brews; indeed, their "recently acquired" beer menu insert was quite different two weeks after Visit #1. This is all very impressive!

There is yet another Peterborough beer spot to try out, and it'll mean another visit from me, hopefully in the near future. It's the Olde Stone Brewery, just around the corner from St. Veronus, and it will be interesting to try their products and compare them to the Publican. Roll on, summer weather weekends!
NEXT: Meanderings in Michigan!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Getting Down, Downtown

Jeepers! It's been over two months since I've bothered to write anything. As usual, life got in the way. Working, sleeping, and commuting between the two. I meant to write some nonsense way back in January about a new brewpub I visited in Toronto. Most of my memories from the evening at Duggan's Brewery have vanished into the mists, but I'll quickly jot down what I do recall from my visit.

For starters, you may find yourself in Toronto one day and ask yourself "Where can I go to enjoy some really good beer here?"

If I was in an especially snarky frame of mind, I'd offer these wise words:
1. Rent a car
2. Leave town

Oh, I guess it's not all so bad in Toronto The Good. The sidewalks are no longer rolled up at night, you can actually drink on a Sunday, and you needn't flee to Buffalo to have a good time. Although if you do, you no doubt will!

There are a few places here and there in T.O. that are keeping jive alive, and I'll try out a few of them in 2010 to see how they rate. First up is a visit to Duggan's Brewery at 75 Victoria Street.

Duggan's is the child of Toronto brewmaster Mike Duggan who previously worked out of the Mill Street Brewery. He connected with the old Victoria Street location of Denison's Brewery and in December 2009 opened up Duggan's, a proper little bistro with nice food and a nice selection of suds. I wandered in for an evening in mid-January to check the place out.

On the upside, it's a very pretty room. The staff are very nice. There is food, and there is beer, and overall there's a rather upscale, pleasant vibe to the premises.

Is there a downside? Well, not as such, but aren't I the picky one when I feel like it? Duggan's selections are numbered without much of an explanation that I could track down. The #5 is an Asian lager featuring Japanese brewing rice and is described as having a "straw" flavour. Well, it tasted extra-grassy to me, and it just didn't sit too well. It's one of the few beers that I have ever gulped down in order to get to the next one. I have heard very positive comments about it from a trusted colleague, so we'll put this one down to my less than developed beer tastebuds.

I then tried the #13 Weisbeer (sic). Yes, that's how they spelled it. By now, you must be thinking that they've got at least thirteen beers to try. Well, no, they don't. Lots of numbers are missing from the menu, and several that were on the menu were missing in action. One had a problem "with the tap", another had a pressure problem, but the problem was apparently solved within the hour as it was available...within the hour! I suppose another problem was li'l ol' ME. I wasn't wearing a suit, you see. But the table of gents that took up a table next to me were, and although they ordered their Weisbeers well after me, they sure got them served way before me! No matter, it eventually showed up in a nice Weisbier-style glass, looked properly cloudy, and didn't taste too bad at all. I'd trade it in a heartbeat for a can of Denison's Hefe, but it was fine enough.

Friends soon arrived to scope out the rest of the available menu. I should mention that when I arrived, a bit before the Corporations That Employ Suits let out, the staff were bringing in brand new Duggans glasses, complete with the brewpub's logo etched into the glass. Very nice. If you don't mind your large glass holding 0.4 l of beer! There seems to be some sort of problem with folks wanting to shortchange you a mouthful of beer. This kind of thing gets the folks in Prague real mad - they know when they're getting a smaller glass than they bargained for, and they'll support the establishments that offer the full 0.5 l as a result. If you're that proud of the beer that you make for heaven's sake, give us that little extra, please!

Don't get me started on the smaller sizes! Well, OK, get me started. My aforementioned friends decided to give the #Whatever (I've lost my notes!), the Belgian Trappist style with the extra-high alcohol content, a go...well, it's served up in Juice Glasses! Little Juice Glasses! I totally understand, of course. You know what Canadians are like once you've poured 40% of a litre of Belgian-strength brew down their gullets. Oops, I stand corrected. None of us know. Little Juice Glasses. The prices weren't little, however. Meh.

The big calling card at Duggan's is the #9 IPA, a 6.2 % pale ale that is very hoppy, pleasant to drink, and my favourite of the pack. It's the only one I returned to, and the Duggan's that I'd drink again if I found myself back there.

The snacks were pricier than average as well, but very nice. Ribs and poutine showed up with curry as a base for their sauce. They're big on curry here, and it's quite tasty. My order of wings was billed as coming with a stilton flavoured dipping sauce. It didn't, but subsequent orders from my colleagues did, and I gather it was all quite acceptable.

Overall, my impressions of Duggan's are that they are in their own way, quintessentially Toronto. Quite diverse, pleasant and polite, clean, kind of over-priced for what you're getting, and missing something that is hard to put one's finger on, that something that makes you want to come back as soon as you can. I hear this a lot about Toronto. Folks love to come here....ONCE. Perhaps I'll pop back in to Duggan's one day. If you ever do, I'd enjoy hearing what you think.

NEXT: The Peterborough Project!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy New Year At Long Last

I just haven't had much incentive to sit down and write anything. I'm not a Winter Person, I guess - I feel like just hibernating and waiting out the cold weather. At any rate, my best wishes to those of you who read this (and to those of you who I'd like to!) for a very happy 2010. Where's my flying car? What a rip-off century.

It's been a special sort of month already in my life. Apart from the start of a brand new decade (even if it technically isn't, I prefer to start it off with a Zero), I've already observed my birthday (the Big 5-2!), the 28th anniversary at my place of employment, an 18th birthday for a niece, and next week, a 10th birthday for another niece. Later this year, a nephew turns 21 - so there are all sorts of momentous numbers flying around. And get this for a January - it's raining outside!

My neck of the woods went through the entire month of November without seeing a single snowflake - unprecedented in our weather records - but December brought us a series of small centimeter or so deliveries of the white stuff, so that we indeed had something of a White Christmas this year. There is still some snow out there, thanks to the below-freezing temperatures we've had through most of January, but this weekend we've shot up to 36 F and yes, it's pouring outside. Usually this would be some sort of significant snowfall, but I guess I'll ditch the boots again tomorrow and head back to work in shoes. No complaints from me.

I very often have travel plans by this time. Not that I'm particularly antsy to get out of town once New Year's Day is over, but January is the month for Air Canada seat sales that stretch into late spring and the summer, so it's generally around NOW that I figure out what I've got planned for holidays. It hasn't happened this time around. There were some hints of sales around Christmas week and late December, but with every announcement of "great deals" from Canada's national airline, the price tags have been higher. And higher.

Here's an example: I was thinking of a flight to Houston sometime in the spring. This would faciliate my long-standing dream of a Texas BBQ tour, taking in some of the best rib joints in the state (and therefore, of course, the world). In late December, there were fares available on Air Canada for $131. Well, $131 EACH WAY, plus taxes and all kinds of add-on fees. Well, by early January, the fare was suddenly up to $161. And the "great deals" seat sale currently on offer, those wonderful annual January specials? Well, it's now up to $198. Goodbye BBQ!

The present security concerns make flying anywhere seem like an arduous and unpleasant experience, or should I say, even more arduous and unpleasant than usual. So I guess travel is sort of on the back-burner for the moment. I'll keep my eyes peeled for specials, though, and who know? Perhaps something will come along. But when China looks like an affordable destination compared to London or Munich, then something isn't quite right.

I'm holding to last year's New Year's Resolution, which I'm happy to say I kept big-time: To drink more High Quality Beer. A return to Munich last summer, and a first-ever visit to Prague helped me keep that promise, and I was very happy to visit several fine brewpub establishments in the United States as well. I've already made my first visit to a brewpub for 2010, which will be the subject of my next bit of written ramblings. Best Wishes to You All!
NEXT: A New Downtown Toronto Brewpub!