Thursday, November 24, 2016

Setting the Gold Standard

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

I grew up in a small Central Illinois town called Pontiac. At the time, there was not much to do. Since I was in middle school, the town has been growing its tourist department, especially based on Route 66 travelling. There is actually a lot to do, and makes for a great weekend getaway from urban hustle and bustle. It is small, quaint, and quite pretty. Similar story to a smaller Ontario town. They have really done a lot, worked hard at it, and it shows.

What brought me to write an article about something there was the Museum of the Gilding Arts in downtown.


Logo of the Eagle Theatre
Back story time. Since I lost my job at State Farm, and I had not opened my travel agency yet, so I needed to kill a lot more free time than usual. I volunteered for a community theatre group in Pontiac called Vermillion Players. In October, the group did a play at the Eagle Theatre, and I was informed that the ornamentation around the stage was laid on1. with gold leaf. Also, the manager of the museum was also in the play, and set me up on a personal tour of the Gilding Arts museum, and with an interview with the president of the Society of Gilders, who opened the museum.



In 1988, professional gilders all over the world came together to share ideas to create the Society of Gilders. In the past gilding was a secretive trade: the gilding masters kept their secrets of the trade from everyone, including other gilding masters.2. The opening of the Society opened up those secrets among the differing gilding craftsmen.

Back in 2009, the Walldogs came into town and painted 18 murals in the downtown area. One of those Walldog members, named Joe, was also a member of the Society of Gilders. He liked the town of Pontiac, and knew that the society was looking for a location to open a museum. M. Swift & Sons in Hartford, CT were the last hand beaten gold manufacturer in America. Now, gold leaf is made by machine. They donated the old hand beaters and other contents from their factory to the Society for display. Among the choices they had available, they chose Pontiac. Now, that display is open permanently for free.3.

I definitely recommend taking a weekend trip to Pontiac, and making this as one of your stops to see while here. You will be pleasantly surprised.

***Edits***
1. I incorrectly said that the gold leaf was pressed on when the correct term is laid on.
2. My interview with the president of Society of Gilders was over the phone, and I am working on a project about the guilds of the Middle Ages, so I mistook what she was saying and superimposed guilder when it was gilder that she was saying. I removed any reference to the guilds.
3. This paragraph was quite unclear the first time. I hope I made it more clear and accurate.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Old Copper Calls

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

I have been looking forward to this trip for awhile. As Canadian-wannabes, or Canadians-in-heart-only, my wife and I celebrated Canada Day by watching Canadian-heavy episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. This was when my wife admitted to never having tried Tim Horton's. While I acknowledge that there are Tim Horton's here in the States, we still took that as inspiration for a Toronto trip.

We hit some heavy construction near Michigan City, IN on I-94 while driving there. This caused us to only make it as far as London, ON in a course of 11 hours. Normally, it takes me around 5.5, 6 hours to get there. Toronto is only 2.5 hours away from London, but we were just too tired to drive anymore. We had to stop.

This turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. While it was too late to do much exploring of London itself, and we had to stay at the Casa Blanca motel (no website, and I do not recommend the stay at all) right off of the 402, we ate at a Buffalo Wild Wings. The bartender who served us was very helpful. I ordered a Creemore Springs Premium Lager, which spurred the prompt from the bartender that we should visit the Creemore Springs brewery in Creemore, ON, as it is relatively close. He gave us directions, and we decided to go.

I am so glad we did. We spent all day at the brewery and the town of Creemore. I loved it there. Growing up in a rural community in Illinois, getting there was like I was driving home, only more hills.


The Town of Creemore, Mill St
One point of interest in the town is the jail. It has only two cells, and claims that it is the smallest jail in North America.



Also, there are a lot of small business boutique style business on Mill St. that are definitely worth a look and a purchase. When there, get a meal and a drink at the Old Mill House Pub. The brewery offers a free tour and complimentary samples of the beers they have available. Not to mention, they have a pretty sweet storefront where you can buy some beer, glasses, and other merchandise.



Yes, the rest of the weekend (and yes, we did miss out on Independence Day in the States for this trip) we spent in Toronto. I wanted to show the Loose Moose to my wife. It was after we left Creemore and I did a bit more research, I discovered that Creemore Springs was hosting a beer festival called the Copper Kettle Festival on Saturday, August 27. I knew that we needed to go, and I am so excited that we were able to.

Once we parked for the festival, we were greeted by the sounds of a highland bagpipe band that seemed to beckon us from the lot to the festival. When we made it to Mill St., we saw two long rows of classic cars that lined the street all the way to the park. Included on Mill St. was a farmer's market and a couple food vendors. It was at the park where the main event was. It was there where the beer garden, the beer kegs, the stage for the bands, some food vendors, and some games for the kids.



The BelleRegards






As the easiest way for me to be attracted to a city or location is good live music and craft beer, this beer festival was exactly what I was looking for. The music was great and the beer was a pleasure. I cannot wait to return next year.

After the festival was over, we stayed nearby in Barrie, ON. I heard that the nightlife is good, but I was so tired that I slept instead. However, we got to enjoy Barrie in the daytime. After waking, we ordered Tim Horton's to-go and ate our breakfast on the shore of Lake Simcoe.


Lake Simcoe
We then went into downtown Barrie, and walked into a local hat shop, Le Petit Chapeau. Here, we spent a good portion of our afternoon just talking with Meagan, the owner, and Sara, her employee, about anything and everything. The best part was comparing the history in the Canadian textbooks with the history in the textbooks that I grew up with, especially with the War of 1812. Actually, Meagan inspired a few future travels and tips on what to do in Barrie. Hopefully, a trip to Montréal will be soon. *hint hint*

After a quick coffee at Casa Cappuccino, we went to the Flying Monkey brewery for a brewery tour, dinner, and pints.



If you are in the Toronto area, either as a resident or visiting, and you have a day or two: take the time to visit Creemore. It is only an hour drive away, and it is an enjoyable day away from the hectic city life. Not to mention the great beer to go with it. A man with a rural upbringing myself, I know that I could spend more than just a day here, and find something to do everyday.

Staying in Barrie was great. I now want to go back and enjoy a few days and explore. Again: *hint hint* It definitely seems like a city worth exploring and showing off.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Bourbon Street Blues

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.


A friend of mine had his first day off since the beginning of January, and we celebrated by a last minute road trip to New Orleans. After all, this is random wanders, not meticulously planned wanders, so I have to live up to the name sometimes. We loved it so much. Both my friend and I have a strong musical background, and he is currently working in that field with his tuba. Combined with local alcohol and a deep historical story, we felt right at home with the live brass bands on every street corner.

While there, we had the inspiration to assist the people in Baton Rouge and their flood relief programs. 10% of revenue through my Google Ad network and my Patreon page will be donated to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation flood relief fund through the end of September 2016. Please help out during this trying time for those families.

The interesting thing was that my wife and I were visiting her parents in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago earlier that day, so within the course of 24 hours, we drove the entirety of I-55. The total driving time for that, not including food or gas breaks was roughly 15 hours in the car, north to south.

With only 24 to explore a city none of us have ever been to before, where do we go? None other than the world renown French Quarter of course! Yes, it is touristy, but it is so for good reason. The French heritage shines through with an afterglow of Spanish. Everything is named after a Catholic saint, including a lot of the streets. There was a brass band, playing repertoire ranging from all types of jazz, on every street corner, and a blues band in every bar. I loved it. As well as live music, I also enjoy locally brewed beer. For that, there is JAX Brewery. Since I actually love coffee more than booze, I was also able to enjoy the world-famous Cafe du Monde next door.



For dinner, we stopped at Café Pontalba (no website) right off of Jackson Square. It was delicious. Cajun and Mississippi River Valley food. I was so happy.



Of course, there is no talk of New Orleans without talking of Bourbon Street. It is Bourbon Street where the nightlife is renown. Every other door is a bar, with a live band playing, and the other doors are strip clubs. Alcohol is legal to drink on the streets. Random men shine your shoes for no reason.



I wish I had more time to explore this city. What little time I spent there was amazing. I want to go back so badly. You know what? Maybe I will.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Normal Jazz

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

On Saturday, July 16, my hometown of Normal, Illinois had a beer and jazz festival in the uptown centre hosted by Medici, a local American style restaurant and pub. I love Medici, and is a great place to go. It is one of my favourite places to go after work and enjoy a pint from a large selection of beer on draft, and should you find yourself here, I highly recommend that you come here.



The festival lasted from around 4:00 PM until 10:00 PM. It cost $5 to get in, and tickets to get beer cost $0.50. The proceeds went to the local Children's Discovery Museum. The street in front of Medici was blocked off for the entire block, with the stage on the west end. In the festival there were six beer booths each with roughly six beers each of varying beer styles. Each beer was usually 2 or 3 tickets worth, some being 6 tickets, and you got a 4 ounce pour.



Meanwhile, as everyone was enjoying their beers, the jazz bands were on stage playing. With the music in the background, you get to mingle with friends or other beer drinkers.

Also, the neighbouring shops, both on the block and in the blocks surrounding, kept their doors open. Stave Wine Bar, who also had their own booth at this festival and is across the street from Medici, offered pints of locally brewed beer, such as White Oak Brewing and DESTIHL Brewing, plus a wide variety (as the name of the bar suggests) of wine and hor d'oeuvres. During the festival, I spent a lot of my time here, enjoying the local beer. Also, the Rock, a great spot for lunch, offers tasty Mediterranean food. Next door to them is Coffee Hound coffee shop. While I rarely patron this one, they have a store front in Downtown Bloomington1, a couple blocks from my day job, that I patron frequently.

This was a festival that had many things I loved: it was in my proverbial backyard, craft beer abound, and live music, especially jazz. Yet, I did not find it to live up to its potential. Do not get me wrong, I still enjoyed it, and I recommend it for next year. The bands they got were not the best. Not bad, per se, but not necessarily good either. Also, after it picked up, it got very crowded. To get to the beer stations, you had to push your way through a crowd that was shoulder-to-shoulder, then get back to the sidewalk as it was too crowded to drink on the street, and pray that you do not spill the 4 ounces before you get there. I hope they get the permissions to expand the festival area for next year.

As the evening was waning down, I took a quick walk east, past the Uptown Circle, and went to another of my top favourite bars and pubs in town: Maggie Miley's. Best place in town for a Guinness, and the among the best Irish whiskey selection in town.



Normal is a pretty chill town, especially during the summer when the university students are gone, but with State Farm headquartered here, it is still stacked with things to do all year round. If you are here on business or visiting family/friend at school, there is always a pint to be poured, a festival to go to on a weekend spring through fall, and somewhere a live band is playing. Also, if you live in the Central Illinois area, or happen to be in the area next summer, I still recommend coming for the next Beer and Jazz festival. There is a lot more I can show about Bloomington-Normal, and more will come. Stay tuned for more!

Notes
1. Bloomington and Normal are two different cities that are conjoined, Normal in the north, Bloomington mostly to the south. Bloomington is much bigger and is where I work. Normal, being a college town, offers more for people my age and is where I live.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Mexican Serenade Solace: Cabo san Lucas

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up, and also by my gracious wedding guests. Thank you.

This is the final post in a series. This means this is a conclusion and a summary of the previous posts. If you want more detail, please read the previous posts here:
Other than owing to the fact that this was my honeymoon, I overall enjoyed this trip. For lodging, we were given time as a wedding gift to stay at Villa del Arco resort. I am not one to stay at resorts (though I did enjoy a lot of the amenities there. Why would I not?), so I took this opportunity to explore the localities around. While Cabo san Lucas itself is a city that caters to a more party, Spring Break like crowd, there was still a lot for us to enjoy.

Los Cabos is the municipality (similar to counties here in the United States) in the state of Baja California Sur, and is located at the southern most tip of the Baja California peninsula. It is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Gulf of California to the east. The municipality contains the two cities of Cabo san Lucas and San José del Cabo (the municipality seat). It is where the Mexican desert meets the Sierra de la Laguna mountains meet where both the Pacific Ocean meets the Gulf of California. It all culminates in a beautiful arch of rock over the meeting of the waters, created by erosion over time.


The Arch found at the end of the cape.
Life stands still in Los Cabos. It is often too hot to go outdoors during the afternoon, so staying put and having a margarita is a very tempting part of the afternoon. If not, then taking a siesta and coming back out when it cools off considerably during the evening. However, there are a lot of touristy things to partake in, and usually water-based. From the marina at Cabo, you can hope a tour boat for lunch and enjoy snorkeling and swimming with the fish amount the coral. For dinner, there is another tour boat, Caborey, from the same marina that brings you around the arch and Land's End, as it is called, where you get to enjoy a premium dinner while watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean. There is also a beach that is on both the Gulf and the Ocean called Lover's Beach, called Divorce Beach on the Pacific side, and it is only obtainable by boat. Unfortunately for us, the seas were so choppy that week, that all the beaches, including Lover's Beach, was closed due to strong undertow. Sadface.

As I stated above, Cabo definitely catered to the American tourist very well. Most people spoke English as well as Spanish, signs were in English, and the American dollar was often more accepted than the Mexican peso. I was actually disappointed about that. Granted, I do not speak Spanish very well, so I was grateful for the great amount of English speaking there, but I really prefer to see more local establishments instead of tourist traps. I honestly felt like I was at an American party city instead of visiting a Mexican city. With that said though, even beyond what was provided from the marina, I still enjoyed what I did there. Any fan of Sammy Hagar will know that this is where Cabo Wabo, his bar that he opened with other Van Halen members, is located at. The food was delicious and of course the margaritas were amazing. They offer live music daily to enjoy when the sun goes down and the electric lights go up. Plus, the only microbrewery in Baja Mexico Sur, the Baja Brewing Company, has two locations in Cabo: the rooftop of Cabo Villas and on the marina. My recommendation: go to the rooftop, enjoy a cold one, and soak in the best view of the Gulf in all of Los Cabos.

While I was disappointed in Cabo san Lucas for what I was looking for, I thoroughly enjoyed San José del Cabo. It is only a quick thirty minute drive up the highway, and it offered exactly what I was looking for. We were initially drawn there for a swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery, just outside of town. This was a place that I could see myself spending a lot of my remaining life, provided I can get used to the heat. Nordic family background and all. There was so much to see in such a small town, and everything was right off of, and centered around, the town square. Go to a pub called the Downtown Pub (yes, in English, but too small for a website), have a margarita made by Dominic, and let him tell you a story. For dinner, go up the hill and get fresh seafood from El Toro Güero (also, no website). In the evening, enjoy the many art and artisan shops surrounding the square. Bring pesos! While some shops will take the American dollar, most only take the local currency. If you are there on a Thursday evening, also take a stroll through the town art walk on the town square. The locals will bring their art to sell.

Even though Cabo san Lucas itself disappointed me a little, I still loved Los Cabos. It was very beautiful and scenic, and I fell in love with San José del Cabo. I will definitely come back for more, and next time, I will remember to bring my party spirit to enjoy Cabo.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Everything is Hotter When the Sun Goes Down: Cabo san Lucas Part III

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up, also by my gracious wedding guests. Thank you.

This is a continuation, start with Part I here or continue with Part II here.



Today is our last day in Los Cabos, and tomorrow morning we fly back to Illinois. It has been a great trip, but I am satisfied to go back home (though maybe not back to work).

Today we had a lazy day. We slept in, went to breakfast, and then spent most of the afternoon having cold margaritas at the bar. It was very relaxing sitting in the shade, drinking margaritas, and watching the waves run up the beach. The view of the gulf is beautiful enough that it is best to have a single day devoted to just enjoying that view.

In the evening, we went back into the city one last night, and walked around the marina. There were a lot of artisan vendors selling art or jewelry to the tourists or sailors/yacht owners that walk by, as well as another storefront for Baja Brewing Company. Interestingly enough, there was also a Hooters restaurant there. It takes about twenty minutes to walk from one end of the marina around to the other end.

What brought us to the marina was a dinner cruise around the cape and the bay. It was a fantastic classy dinner and showcased traditional Mexican folk dancing and Argentinian tangos with view of the sunset over the waters. It was a beautiful end to a beautiful vacation.

When I return home, I will write the usual summary of the trip, and share more of my impressions.

Time in the Sun: Cabo san Lucas Part II

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up, and also by my gracious wedding guests. Thank you.

Hey! A local magazine here has heard of my series! Check out their Tweet!

This is a continuation of a series, start with Part I here.

Yesterday (1 June 2016), we did a few more "touristy" things that we do not get the opportunity to imbibe in while living in the landlocked state of Illinois. We woke up, went to the beach, and rented a wave runner. We then took an hour riding the waves of the Gulf of California. After which, we left the resort and went back into the city. Here, we went to the marina, and took a lunch boat tour with snorkelling. I had never been snorkelling before, and this was a blast. The tour offered an open bar and a taco bar available after the snorkelling was over. While snorkelling, I got to see fish that I had never seen in person outside of the Shedd Aquarium. That was definitely a must-do for anyone visiting from a landlocked state such as myself.


The Arch found at the end of the cape. This was formed from erosion, and is where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean.
Doing more exploring in the city, I discovered a gem hidden by the beach: the Baja Brewing Company brewery. It has a full menu, and a variety of brews on tap. A fan of darker beers, I recommend the Baja Black while sitting on the upstairs balcony with a view of the Gulf.

Today, we woke up and took a shuttle to San José del Cabo, and swam with the dolphins. If you have never done that, I recommend it at least once. Maybe even twice. It is a great family outing for the kids.

From here, we explored the village of San José, and I immediately fell in love. Here, everything looks picturesque. The streets are cobblestone, the buildings are adobe, and the town square is shadowed by the local church. There were much less people comfortable speaking English here, so I had to try my very low Spanish skills. It was all very low key, chill, relaxing, and very enjoyable. Even the places I went to and enjoyed are too small to have a website for me to share. I shared this sentiment with the locals I met, and they agreed with me: Cabo is where you go to party; San José is where you go to enjoy culture. They even had a nickname for Cabo: the Mexican Las Vegas. There are art galleries, from traditional Mexican to modern lining the town square. Should you find yourself here, and I so hope that you do, go to the Downtown Pub, across the square from the church, and say hello to Dominic for me, pull up a bar stool, order a margarita, and let him tell you his story. Enjoy a fresh sea food meal from El Toro Güero, only five blocks off of the square. Walk up and down the square and chat with the locals. Visiting San José has been my favourite stop so far on this trip, and I want all to enjoy it, even for a day.


San José town square
Of course, I found/made the "local" variant of poutine today.


Simply replace the gravy with guacamole and pico de gallo!
Tomorrow is my last day here in Cabo, and tomorrow evening will be my last post before my final summary when I return. Read Part III here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Mexican holiday: Cabo san Lucas Part I

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up, and also by my gracious wedding guests. Thank you.


View of the end of the cape from the resort deck.
We [my wife and I] landed safely yesterday (30 May 2016) and it was immediately a blast. After checking in at the resort we are staying at, and immediately went to the beach. Unfortunately, both today and yesterday, the authorities gave a strong undertow warning, so we could not do a whole lot of beach swimming. However, we still waded to about knee's deep, then took to the resort pool. However, after an hour, we went inside to get ready for dinner, and instead accidentally took a 14 hour "nap."


Part of downtown Cabo.
After waking up the next morning as if Monday never really happened, we had breakfast, and then left the resort to go into the city. At first impression, the city definitely caters to its American tourists. It would be a place I recommend for Spring Break. Every other door is either a bar or a spa, while the other doors are either a pharmacy or a trinket shop. We stopped at Cabo Wabo, known most for being the bar opened by rock star Sammy Hagar, to have lunch and a couple margaritas. We were not disappointed. I recommend it to anyone visiting the Cantina to go at least once. The best part: live music almost every night. With my love of live music, I was definitely pleased.


Cabo Wabo from the back.
Tomorrow, we plan on doing more exploring of the city of Cabo san Lucas, snorkelling in the waters, jet skiing, and hopefully seeing the rock arch at the end of the cape. Please continue with us on this trip by heading to Part II.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sweet Home Chicago, Birthday edition

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Last week was my birthday, and my beautiful fiancée brought me to the city I love most: Chicago, IL. Yes, I already wrote about Chicago, but there is so much more to do and see, that I can write scores more posts about it, and still feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what to share. Yes, the same can be said about every else I have travelled and will travel, and I may or may not write multiple posts on a single location, sharing different things each time in the future.

I will say that I went back to Three Dots and Dash. The first Chicago post was the first time I went there, and I loved it. I had to go back. I still love it. I want to go back again the next time I am in Chicago. Turns out, so did my fiancée, and that is where she went for her bachelorette party the week before. This is not a place we can recommend enough. I also returned to Elephant and Castle because poutine.


Left: my fiancée and I enjoying Three Dots and a Dash
Right: Poutine at Elephant and Castle. This variation included grilled chicken and curry sauce.
We tried a pub that we found on random called Stocks and Blondes. It was pleasantly delicious, and a great way to break up the surprisingly chilly afternoon. Found on Wells St on the Loop, the door is very easy to miss. Had I not had my phone on, looking for food, I would have walked right passed it without giving it a second look. Inside, it has the homey sports bar feel to it. If I ever go to Chicago during a Cubs game and do not feel like dealing with Wrigleyville crowds and cannot get my hands on a ticket, this would be the place where I would go to watch it. Pull up a bar stool, get a cold pint, and order a burger, and then enjoy the afternoon.

Speaking of cold pints, I finally got to go to the official Goose Island taproom. Goose Island is a Chicago local brewery named after, but not found on, the Goose Island in the Chicago River. It was founded in 1988 to bring European beer styles to America, and is my go to beer when at home. It was great to see where my favourite beer was made. While closed on Mondays, they are open on weekdays from 2-8PM, and 12-6PM on the weekends where you can sit and enjoy beer on draft (some brewed only for the bar there and not found anywhere else), their own bottled beer, or a $12/hour tour of the brewery. It is a quick walk from the Green/Pink Lines Ashland station in the Near West Side, and found in an industrial section of the city. Definitely worth the departure from the Downtown area.



I stayed in an apartment in Ravenswood (northern neighbourhood). Within a short walk is Lincoln Square. This place is a microcosm of a world within itself. I truly believe that it would be possible to spend your entire life in Lincoln Square, and never need to leave, there is that much to do there. Bars, restaurants, even theatres and art galleries. Lincoln Square in itself is a small slice of Chicago that will take months to explore deeply.

Starting Memorial Day, I will be in Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur, Mexico for a week. For this, I will try something new: I will post shorter and more frequent posts on an almost daily basis which may or may not be followed by a longer article summarizing the entire trip, depending on how I feel when I come back. Please support this trip, and all future endeavours, by becoming a patron on Patreon (link above).

Friday, April 8, 2016

Just Walkin' in Memphis

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.

Quick behind the scenes update: I updated my phone. I never used to have a smartphone, but now I have a Samsung Galaxy S4. This allowed me to then get an Instagram account to post my pictures better. It also allows for faster posting to my Facebook page or Twitter account. I also now have Uber, which allows for cheaper and faster exploring than either a taxi or walking. My favourite part of this upgrade to my tech: I will get to start my YouTube channel sooner than original planned! While I was not able to start it for this trip, it will be implemented shortly by the end of the year. My goal: by the beginning of June of this year. This is something that I am very excited about, because it will allow me to better show off those travels in a more real format.

As of this post, I am an engaged man and I will be getting married this May. I write in another blog, which can be more polemical than this one, but I wrote on how we met. Please take a quick moment to read that here. For those without the time to read it, we met at a swing dance, and love to dance together. One evening, my fiancée said that she wanted to go blues dancing, and so we thought: where better to go blues dancing than the City of Blues itself, Memphis, TN?


View from my apartment
I stayed at a lovely apartment in Downtown. The host was amazing! A lot of where I went was under her guidance. I owe her a lot of gratitude.

Memphis has a rich, unique history. It has strong elements of being both in Dixie and in the Mississippi River Valley.

Rock 'n' roll is a derivative of the blues, and the King of Rock 'n' Roll spent most of his life, and passed away, in Memphis. His house, Graceland, is now a museum open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM most days for $38.75 per adult, not including parking. It showcases life in the 70's, Elvis's life and the legacy he left on rock 'n' roll. If you want to visit Graceland, I recommend arriving early. By noon on a Saturday, it was completely crowded.

As it is in Dixie, it has a difficult racial past. It was a major slave trading post in its antebellum past, and was in the crossroads of the Civil Rights movement in the 60's. The Lorraine Hotel in downtown Memphis was where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. At this site is the National Civil Rights Museum. Built to honour the work that Dr. King worked towards, the museum hosts exhibits ranging from showcasing the Jim Crow laws, Rosa Parks's boycott (though her bus is in Detroit), and of course Dr. King himself. It is open daily, except Tuesdays, from 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM and is $14.00 for adults. Something to note about the museum: across the street stands Ms. Jacqueline Smith, the last tenant of the Lorraine Hotel before she was forcibly evicted in 1988, in her protest of the museum. She is against the gentrification of the surrounding neighbourhood, also that Dr. King would not approve of a tourist trap moneymaker in his name. Instead, the city should be using the hotel for housing the poor of Memphis. Please read her story here.



Above: the spot were Dr. King was assassinated
Below: Ms. Jacquelyn Smith

As I said, I came here on the pretence of enjoying blues music. Across the street from the National Civil Rights museum is the Blues Hall of Fame. It costs $10.00 per adult to get in, and you are greeted with living masks of quite a bit of recent blues performers. Also, there is a database of videos, full songs, digitized pictures, etc. of all the inductees. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there and recommend it highly.


As well as a hall of fame, Memphis boasts a fantastic live blues scene. World renounced, I went and visited Beale St. It was full of people enjoying the evening. While others did, I recommend not bringing children. That way you can stay longer, and enjoy the alcohol that compliments the music more. (Hence the Uber account.) Upon local recommendation, I went to Silkey's, enjoyed a local group at Jerry Lee Lewis's, and just overall enjoyed the bands that played on the street. I recommend to bring a fair amount of cash. Covers range from none all the way up to $20.00 per person, plus tipping the performers and bar/wait staff. The street will be hosting an annual three day music festival starting April 29th.

Bars on Beale St with live blues
In the South, barbecue differs by region. In Memphis, they have both dry rub then smoked pork and a tomato and vinegar based sauce added during or after cooking. I went to Charlie Vergos' Rendezvous, where they have the dry rub pork rib, with the sauce in a bottle on the table. It was delicious. So delicious in fact, that I bought a bottle of the sauce and a bottle of the dry rub seasons. What if you are not a BBQ eater? Good news! Being in the Mississippi River Valley, fried cat fish is another great local favourite! At Flying Fish, you get access to a whole range of Mississippi River delta favourites, such as fried catfish, shrimp, gumbo, crawfish, etc. Plus, I got them to make me a "Memphis-style" poutine: just replace the gravy with Memphis BBQ sauce. Because I can never have enough poutine in my life.







Ever on the hunt for the best poutine. Or to just brag about eating it, whether you care about the poutine or not.

Also, by recommendation, I went to Midtown. Open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM for an adult ticket priced $15.00, the Memphis Zoo boasts of conservation of over 500 animals, and is about to open an hippo exhibit for Spring 2016. Although they were closed when I was there, the Brooks Art Museum is close by. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, the hours they are open do vary by day, so please check the website first. To wrap up the weekend, Overton Square is the place to go. With over a dozen restaurants, and almost as much retail shops, and more, all within the size of about a city block, it is the best place to spend a lazy afternoon.

This was my first time in Memphis, but I definitely enjoyed it. I still feel like there was a lot more for me to explore and report on. Until next time, please enjoy the City of Blues for yourself.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Toronto, or On the Love of Poutine

This post is made possible in part by my Patreon supporters, and for Rasmussen Travels for setting the trip up. Thank you.


CN Tower by day and by night.

I am still going through my locations I love most before I start exploring outwards. Toronto, for me, is that one place I want to move to most, and I never want to leave once I am there. A lot of the stereotypes we have of Canadians as Americans are true: they are incredibly nice, everything is clean, hockey is everywhere, etc. Being so close to the States, a lot of our culture dominates. However, with sharing the Crown with the United Kingdom, there is a lot of British culture as well. It all combines with each other to create the distinctly pleasant Canadian culture that I love.

I stayed in a very lovely loft just off of Lake Shore Blvd that I booked through Airbnb. I cannot recommend staying here enough. The host was very accommodating, and it is within walking distance of about everything, so once you park your car, you no longer need it.

Toronto is the capital of the Ontario province, and Canada's largest city. With that, there is a lot to see and a lot to explore. Starting off with its governmental status, the Ontario Legislative Building is in central Toronto, located in Queen's Park. While the land is owned by the University of Toronto, the building is owned by the Queen of Canada, and serves as both where the Legislative Assembly of Ontario meet and also the viceregal apartment of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Between September through May, it is open for public tours Monday through Friday, 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM; from June through August, weekends are included as well, 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. The main entrance on the south end of the building is flanked by two Russian cannons captured by the British navy during the Crimean War, and were gifted to Toronto by Queen Victoria. Also, the façade of the southern entrance served as the backdrop for the album cover of Rush's album Moving Pictures.

Within Queen's Park's immediate vicinity, you can take a walk and explore the campus of the previously mentioned University of Toronto. Originally charted as King's College, it is the oldest higher level institution in Upper Canada1. It gets to boast about a significant amount of scientific achievements: creation of insulin, start of stem cell research, first electronic microscope, and the study of the first observable black hole (Cygnus X-1).

Just north of the campus is the Royal Ontario Museum, the largest museum in Canada. Open daily from 10:00 until 5:30, Fridays until 8:30, an adult can get in the doors of general admission of $17.00 (roughly US$12.00). Check the website to see if they are offering any "break" specials. As of this post, they are currently running a Spring Break special with lower prices and Friday hours all week (only from March 12-19). They have many exhibits ranging from art, culture, and natural histories from all over the planet. There is enough here for entire day's visit, and the experience is well worth it.


Ontario Legislative Building
To the southeast of the Legislative Building is the Allen Garden park and indoor botanical garden. It can be found on the between the streets of Jarvis, Gerrard, and Carlton, and is open from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM. Along the north side of the park, there is a leash free enclosed dog park to allow your dog to run around and enjoy the outside. Inside the over a century old conservatory are six different greenhouses that exhibit that range from various different temperate zones, from dry to humid and from hot to cool, and everything in between. My suggestion? Grab a coffee from Redline coffee down Queen, take the short stroll to the park, and enjoy the afternoon observing the plants, or other people and their dogs. Your choice.


Allen Garden Conservatory
You cannot talk about Toronto without talking about religion. Now a post-Christian city, it used to be call the City of Churches, and for good reason. Despite attendance decreasing, there are still numerous congregations across the city of most world faiths, including my own Orthodox Christianity. On the corner of Church and King streets is the Anglican cathedral church of St. James, the cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, the largest Anglican diocese in Canada. It is also the site the Queen worships at when she visits Toronto. With Canada's French background, especially Upper and Lower Canada, most of the population of Toronto claim to be Catholic. Straight up Church St is the Catholic cathedral church of St. Michael, with the basilica church of St Paul nearby down Queen St.


St. Paul (Catholic) Basilica
St. James (Anglican) Cathedral
After the afternoons of exploring the parks and museums, it is best to wind down at a pub. For me, I chose to wind down at the Loose Moose.


The Loose Moose
They were absolutely fantastic. So many beer choices on draft, most of which are Canadian brews. There were moose head trophies on the walls, including full busts and just antlers. Plus: hockey. I wanted to get tickets to the Toronto Maple Leafs vs Ottawa Senators, but the tickets were already sold out when I tried to get them. Good thing they had the match on at the bar! Too bad Toronto lost that night though. Not to mention the large bowl of poutine. It was meant to be shared, but I was alone that night, and no body comes between me and my poutine.


If you are starting to think that I only use this blog to take pictures of poutine and share them, you may be on to something there.
Only an hour around the edge of Lake Ontario is Niagara Falls. While I only visited the Falls, there are a few other attractions there that you can check out with that hyperlink. The day I went, the temperature was below freezing, so the mist from the falls froze to all the trees and the ground. The ground was taken care of from the custodial staff, but the trees looked stunning in the early morning sun with the ice glistening off of the branches.


Horseshoe Falls
Mist covered trees
Toronto is a great city to spend the weekend in and enjoy the top things it can offer. With its large enough size (4th largest city in North America), a truly extensive trip will take more than a couple weeks to explore everything. So, like, take off.