Friday, July 28, 2017

Arlington History Ride

The BikeArlington community has people who organize some fun rides. Last Saturday Bob (a.k.a. Bobco) organized an Arlington History ride. I only participated in the first part of it . It was clear the ride was going to run far longer than the planned four hours, it was really hot, and I didn't want to be too wiped for going to the theater that night, so when it got near my house I drooped out and rode home. Of course, if I had stayed with the ride I wouldn't have gone home for that snack of ciabatta bread and I wouldn't have cut my finger open, requiring stitches ...

Some of the places we stopped on the part of the ride I did included:
  • Shirlington (a portmanteau formed from Arlington and Henry Garrett Shirley, former Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Highways)  
  • The site of Arlington Mill (built in 1836 by George Washington Parke Custis)
  • Carlin Hall in the Glencarlyn neighborhood (built in 1892)
  • The actual springs in the Carlin Springs neighborhood (there was at one time a resort there)
  • Mary Carlin House (oldest house in Arlington)
  • Bluemont Junction (former rail junction)
  • One boundary stone and one corner stone marking the original DC boundaries (now Arlington)
  • Minor's Hill, the highest point in Arlington (and, of course, a Civil War outpost)

Further details on the stops and the remainder of the ride are available at Bob's forum post here.

Also, there were a couple of killer hills on the ride. Some people walked them. I did not :)

Our leader filling us in on the  history of Bluemont Junction

At the oldest house in Arlington

Participants listen with rapt attention to Bob's opening shpiel

Montreal Trip Part 2: Days 4-7

Day 4 (Sunday)
I wanted to make sure to get some exercise during the trip (above and beyond the walking we’re doing) and so on Sunday I started my day with a run. I screwed up in planning my route – not realizing that Google Maps was already showing me distances using metric units (since I was in Canada, it defaulted to km) I measured a route that was 3.1 km, thinking I was mapping out 3.1 miles (which would be 5 km). So, I did my run and felt pretty good at the end until I checked my phone. “What, only 2 miles?!” So, I continued my run in the other direction, then back, then a little bit more while watching the phone until I just hit the 5K mark. According to Strava, despite my confused route I clocked in at 39:33, which put a smile on my face – getting back under 40 mins has been a goal since I started being able to run (really jog) again. My run ended right near a Café Starbucks, but I Resisted. The. Urge. To. Get. Coffee. As it was, thanks to Philippe’s readily available high end espresso machine I was already drinking way too much caffeine. At this point I’m not worried about atrial fibrillation (a problem I had had in the hospital the first time I had had coffee after my surgery); it’s more that as long as I’ve broken the caffeine habit I’d rather not get back into it. Philippe insists that espresso has much less caffeine than regular coffee since the water isn’t in contact with the beans for long, but my research says the only reason you get less caffeine from an espresso than from a regular coffee is volume – you drink a few ounces of espresso vs. a full cup (or more) or coffee. I will tell you that on a day when I had a few cups of espresso it felt like I could feel the caffeine tingle permeating throughout my body, all the way out to the fingertips. Best not to let a junkie feel the pleasure of the drug too often, or he’ll be hooked again before you know it.

Beyond that, having had three pretty busy days, we started more slowly on Sunday. Leisurely breakfast. Today’s breakfast was crepes, served with instructions from Philippe on how to spread jam on our crepes (pick up the bowl of jam. Spoon the jam onto your crepe, but do not use the spoon from the bowl to spread the jam.). After breakfast (I must admit, I repeatedly screwed up the instructions and spread the jam with the spoon) Valerie went back and slept for a while. When we finally got moving we headed over to the Jean-Talon market. Montreal has two major markets: Atwater (the English market) and Jean Talon (the French market). Actually, there’s a legacy of there being two of everything in Montreal, since historically the French Catholics and English Protestants did not mix – they occupied two separate worlds demarcated by Saint Laurent Street. The legacy of that tension lingers even today – when Philippe (who is French, not French Canadian) first described the city to us he said the Eastern end is French, and added with some bitterness, “and poor” while the Western end is English (“and rich”). Anyway, the market is a cool place – basically a permanent farmer’s market – with an indoor area selling food products (e.g., honey, meats, spices) and a covered outdoor area which is mostly fruits, vegetables and flowers. We saw some things which never appear at farmer’s markets near us – some fruits we didn’t even recognize. I also played another of Montreal's street pianos.
Jean-Talon Market

The produce!

Things I cannot eat :(
Street piano

Once again, the recipe for a “light lunch” is eliminate all the courses except dessert. Knowing we were going to have a heavy dinner, Valerie had just a chocolate croissant for lunch. As usual I tried not to fall too far off the heart-healthy wagon and had a decaf cappuccino and a hunk of baguette.  
Upon our return from the market we napped to prepare ourselves for dinner at Poutineville. Poutine is is a Quebecois dish made with French fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It’s become such a signature dish of this part of Canada that even McDonald’s sells it. It’s really better suited to wintertime, and really appropriate only if you’ve been burning off a lot of calories working as a lumberjack or mushing sled dogs all day, but it’s become a year-round thing, even among city dwellers. Poutineville offers a design-your-own approach, with choices of gravies, meats, cheeses and other toppings. While the only truly heart-healthy poutine is no poutine at all, I did my best with a vegetarian version: potatoes, cheese curds, eggplant, pepper and mushroom topped with vegetarian brown gravy, all washed down with a pint of beer. Valerie went for a more traditional version with a heap of beef on top of her potatoes and cheese (but the gravy on the side!). Which may have been her mistake.

We waddled back to Philippe’s and settled in for a quiet evening after two fairly late nights.

Day 5 (Monday)
Alas, we had not been able to book our room at Philippe’s for the entire duration of our stay, so Monday morning (yogurt/croissants, BTW) we said au revoir to the shabby chic charm (and I mean that in a good way) and warm hospitality of Le Saint André des Arts B&B and moved to the corporate blandness of the Embassy Suites. Philippe had been horrified at the idea that we might take Uber (“modern slavery”, in his opinion) and so we used his recommended cab service instead. We knew we’d be at the hotel too early to check in. I figured we’d leave our bags and go see some sight – perhaps the basilica, which is right nearby. Unfortunately, it had started raining and so we instead chose to explore the underground city. Mostly the underground city is a set of passageways designed to let people get around downtown without going outside – useful in the cold Canadian winters. But Valerie had read that there was shopping in parts of the underground city and set out on a quest to find the mythical underground mall with a fervor not seen since Ponce de León searched for the fountain of youth.

Valerie wasn’t hungry because he tummy was a little upset, which meant I was not allowed to stop for food. Relentlessly on and on we went through the tunnels, like a loop of the opening credits of Get Smart. At around noon we made a temporary encampment at a food court where I was able to grab a cup of coffee and eat a bit of leftover baguette from our visit to the Jean Talon market, but we soon broke camp and continued. At around 1:30 we sighted another underground food court on the horizon and Valerie finally declared it was OK to get lunch. I got the heart-healthiest thing I could find there, an Asian salad with chicken; Valerie, still not feeling right, had a muffin.

Soon after lunch we reached the end of the underground maze. Making our way back to the planet’s surface, we walked to our hotel - our room was ready. Tired from the exertions involved in wasting an entire day of our vacation walking through underground tunnels, we napped. In the evening we went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant in Old Montreal where they obliged our request to prepare the dishes extra bland – so, like picture on the box from a frozen Indian food dinner, it looked like Indian food but tasted like cardboard.

After dinner we strolled the Old City again, then returned to our room. And then the fun began. The slight stomach upset Valerie had been feeling all day turned into a raging, awful, terrible case of food poisoning. Up all night, running to the bathroom sort of food poisoning. Neither of us slept much. At about 4 AM I moved to the sofa in the Living Room area where I was able to catch a little sleep, but when morning came Valerie was wiped and I was exhausted.

Day 6 (Tuesday)
But it was our vacation, so I plunged onward. We had planned to do a load of laundry once we got to the Embassy Suites. It turned out the Philippe had a washing machine and dryer in the kitchen, but guests weren’t allowed to use it – if you put your laundry into the machine he would do it for you. I thought this was a little weird and didn’t have him do my laundry, but Valerie did. So, most of the dirty laundry we still had at this point was mine. I started my day on Tuesday by putting in a load of laundry but I was so tired that I forgot half the things I had meant to wash. Once the laundry was done I walked over to the nearby supermarket to buy some supplies for Valerie – clear broth, Gatorade, that sort of thing – for when she felt like eating a little bit.

Valerie was not up for even getting out of bed, but (with her blessing) I carried on with what had been our plans for the day, a walking tour of Jewish Montreal. There is a Jewish Museum in Montreal, but until recently it didn’t even have a physical space. It existed only as an archive (physical and virtual) of Jewish items and history, and a set of walking tours. Now they have a small storefront with a restaurant, a small gift shop and a little exhibit space, but it’s still mostly walking tours. Much has been made of the resilience of the Jewish people in the face of all sorts of adversity – the variety of strategies I’ve seen for how these small Jewish museums operate is in itself evidence of that characteristic. Montreal has a virtual Jewish Museum. Last summer we visited the Maine Jewish Museum, which shared space with a synagogue – the combination of the two being just enough to allow both to eke out an existence.
A former synagogue, now being restored as a historic building

Montreal's former Jewish tenements

Montreal is a city of many murals
Another mural
While better known as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson played for the Expos at the end of his career
Anyway, I had figured out how to get up to the museum by bus, but since it was just me I hopped on a Bixi bike and  rode up (and I do mean up – Montreal is one big hill) there. The tour itself was quite good. The Montreal Jewish story is similar to the American one: the tenements, the same waves of immigration, and so on. There are some distinct quirks, though. Jews arriving in Montreal found a city already divided between English Protestants and French Catholics. In a sense this made it easier, since they were just one more small faction added into a pre-existing religious war. The English and French were too busy hating each other to focus on hating the Jews. On the other hand, the Jews had to create yet a third set of infrastructure: Jewish schools, Jewish hospitals, and so on. On the other hand, employment options seemed more limited than in the U.S.: 75% of the late 19th century immigrants wound up working in the garment business.
The only active Jewish congregation left in Mile End

As with New York’s Lower East Side, most of Montreal’s Jews migrated over the generations to better neighborhoods. At one time there were 90 small synagogues operating in the neighborhood. Now there’s one. Here and there you find Jewish restaurants, remnants of the past, but the neighborhood is now multi-cultural and funky – again, like the Lower East Side. Another tidbit: the founder of the Canadian Jewish Congress, an organization that represented and lobbied for the interests of Canadian Jews for many decades, was founded by the grandfather of singer Leonard Cohen.
Yet another street piano (this one was in bad shape)

After the tour was done I continued up St. Laurent Street into the Mile End neighborhood, which has the feel of Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood – funkiness fully gentrified. My destination was Fairmount Bagel, the most famous of Montreal’s bagel shops. Montreal has its own style of bagel, just as Chicago has what it calls pizza. Both are only vaguely edible and are far, far inferior to true bagels and pizza (that is, New York style). My friend Francois had once given me a Montreal bagel to try, but it was a freezer-burned, dried-out version. I had to try fresh ones. The verdict: Fairmount has the feel of an authentic, old school urban bagel shop, but the bagels are way too brioche-like: light and sweet. Non, merci.

Fairmount Bagel

I augmented my inferior bagel with a Kind bar and a soda, all eaten in a little urban park, and that was my lunch. I then Bixi biked home (dowwwnhilll! Wheee!), stopping back near the Jewish Museum to check out a second-hand clothing store. I’m always on the lookout for funky clothes to wear onstage. Then I returned to the hotel to check on Valerie, who was doing a little bit better but was still quite weak.

In the evening, after having a complimentary beer at the Embassy Suites happy hour, I wandered over to the Africa D’Nuit World Music Festival, where I saw an excellent Senegalese (now living in Quebec) singer named ILAM, and Las Cafetras, a Chicano band playing sort of Afro-Latin, hip-hop-inspired music. I also grabbed dinner (a falafel sandwich) at a stand in a big food area that serviced the various festivals going on in the city.

Food area
Day 7 (Wednesday)
By Wednesday Valerie was feeling a little better. She went down and had a little breakfast, then we went back to the supermarket. We actually like to browse supermarkets when we travel to spot the little differences – the package of frogs legs in the freezer case, the unfamiliar herbal tea, and so on. We got lunch in Chinatown (hand-pulled noodles – which is apparently a big deal – the food was good) and then hung out back at the room.

Frogs legs in the freezer case

In the evening Valerie stayed back in the room and I went back to Africa D’Nuit festival. I saw Joaquin Diaz, a merengue accordionist from the Dominican Republic. He was a pretty amazing player – fingers moving too fast to see, but after a while a lot of the music started to sound the same. He was followed by Kobo Town, an excellent modern calypso band. Kobo Town showed the true universal spirit of music: the lead singer was an expat Trinidadian living in Montreal, the bass player and guitarist were Trinidadians, the horn section was from Guyana and the drummer was from Croatia! And they rocked. The evening was somewhat rainy and I hadn’t brought my raincoat, so I had to strategically dodge the rain. When it sprinkled during Joaquin Diaz’s set I took shelter under a canopy. It rained again while I was on my way to the food area, and I ducked into a building. There was a tremendous downpour while I was eating, but fortunately I had found a seat under cover. I stayed mostly dry (except for my back) while I ate my seitan wrap. Fortunately, the rain was gone by the time Kobo Town came on and so the crowd was up and dancing. It was a good finale for the trip.

Joaquin Diaz

Kobo Town

Day 7 (Wednesday)

On Thursday we packed up and flew home. Because of Valerie’s illness and the weather we never made it to the Basilica, despite staying just a few blocks away. I never made it to the top of Mount Royal, and I never kayaked the Lachine Canal. But we had lots of fun, and I had lots of adventures I hadn’t expected, with my Bixi bike explorations, a couple more festivals than we had anticipated, and the walking tour. A good trip overall. Except for Valerie’s illness. And the bagels.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Montreal Trip Part 1: Days 1-3

Day 1 (Thursday)
Our trip started with a bang. Valerie doesn’t have the years of business travel experience that I do and so gets nervous about traveling. So of course, when we tried to get to the airport we couldn’t get an Uber within a reasonable time. Then the taxi took longer to arrive than promised. Then we hit traffic on the way to the airport. Then we went to the wrong terminal. we had booked via United but it was an Air Canada codeshare and only when we showed up at the United counter did we learn that we needed to go to Air Canada to check in. Air Canada is one of the few airlines operating out of the old terminal at National and so we had to walk a Get Smart maze of walkways and tunnels to get there.

We also then scolded by a frazzled ticket counter agent after we accidentally inserted ourselves into the middle of a large group that was checking in (while she as an Air Canada employee, it was clear from her demeanor that she was American). Fortunately, everything ended well. We had planned in lots and lots of time and despite all these complications we still got to the gate with time to spare, but it was a nerve-wracking start to the trip. Once in Canada, things went more smoothly. Well, we did have a ten minute wait to “deplane” due to a mechanical problem with the jetway; however, our bus ride from the airport (on the appropriately numbered 747 bus) went smoothly and we had no trouble finding our B&B.

The place had been recommended by a friend who has stayed there ten years running for her annual trip to see the Montreal Formula One Grand Prix. The place is a charming example of shabby chic in the best way and the proprietor is a charming Frenchman named Philippe. Philippe had lots of instructions for us. The special technique for using the doorknob on the front door at night to make it close more quietly. How far open to leave the bathroom door (bathroom is in the hall) when we’re not using it. How to lock the bathroom door. The proper orientation of the dish drainer should we choose to use the kitchen. And of course, no shoes inside. You get the idea.

That first evening we went for a walk in the nearby Gay Village. Having not read up on it I didn’t know if the name referred to the contemporary meaning of “gay” or if it had some other significance – perhaps the area was settled by Francois le Gay, or something. It was the former – it’s the city’s out-and-proud gay district. The main drag (so to speak) is a pedestrian mall with rainbow-colored flags and beads hung over the street. We walked its length – lots of restaurants and bars, and only the occasional seedier establishment – head shops and strip clubs. We visited a well known chocolate shop that along with more conventional offerings sold milk chocolate penises – complete with a trail of white chocolate cum. There was a cool musical stationary bike installation which I rode – there were four stationary bikes side by side, each of which controlled a different element of a multi-track recording – rhythm, bass, instruments and vocals. So, depending on which bikes were being pedaled you’d hear different elements of a song. Cool. In general, visiting this kind of area, whether it’s Montreal’s Gay Village, the French Quarter of New Orleans, several areas of New York, etc., etc., reminds me of how buttoned down D.C. is for a big city. Nowhere in D.C. can you find people letting their freak flag fly in the way you can in other cities. Even smaller, seemingly more conservative cities. We are a city of boring bureaucrats L

Riding the musical bike installation

The Gay Village

Also on a musical note, Montreal apparently has a thing with street pianos. In the states I’ve occasionally seen a piano set out on the street for people to play (e.g., at Merrifield) but they’re always the most terrible, broken down things you could imagine. In Montreal there are volunteers who look after the pianos; they’re surprisingly decent instruments. We sat for a while and listened to a young guy play a Chopin piano concerto (I had no idea that it was Chopin but musical sophisticate Valerie recognized it as such right away). We spoke with him later on – turns out he recently graduated from college with a degree in classical performance and was in town looking for an apartment as he was about to start a graduate program in music at McGill University. He was really good. It was therefore with some trepidation that I sat down and banged out my relatively coarse versions of some jazz and New Orleans blues songs; however, they were well received. I initially started to get up after one song, but Alain, the piano’s volunteer keeper (who, incidentally, bore a slight resemblance to Jabba the Hutt – but was much friendlier, as you might expect from a Canadian), encouraged me to play more and so I did. After two encores I made my excuses and we continued on – Alain urged us to come back later in the evening some time, when apparently some regulars (New Yorkers, at that!) had been showing up. Valerie and I continued on to dinner at Haru Hana, a true hole in the wall Asian place. Their cuisine spanned Japanese, Korean, and a little bit of Thai. Usually that’s a bad sign, but the food at this place was really good – and dirt cheap. I was pretty hungry, too, as we hadn’t eaten lunch. Valerie had had the good sense to fortify herself at the airport with some delicacies from Dunkin Donuts, but I had limited myself to a mixed carrot/cucumber/apple/turmeric juice and a Kind bar.

Day 2 (Friday)
On our first morning in Montreal we awoke all achy. Old people, first night in an unfamiliar, rather hard bed. My left shoulder (the current good one!) ached – from sleeping on it wrong or from dragging the suitcases, I don’t know.

As usual, I awakened early. I had noticed that Montreal had bikeshare bikes (called “Bixi”) and that there was a station up the street from our B&B. I went out and took an early morning Bixi ride around our area. The Bixi bikes are pretty similar to the DC bikeshare bikes, except that for whatever reason the one I rode had the gearshift blocked out so it was effectively a single speed bike. Montreal is a hilly city. It’s not easy to haul one of those heavy tanks uphill and I have to admit to walking one brief section. Overall, though, it was a fun experience – and during my ride I stumbled upon the location of the Montreal Circus Festival on Saint Denis street, right nearby.
Bixi Bikes

Upon my return Valerie and I had breakfast together – yogurt, fruit and croissants. Phillipe’s is a one-man operation, and he has a repertoire of two breakfasts: the yogurt and croissant one and the crepe one. We had three yogurt/croissant days and one crepe day. As someone who eats yogurt w/ fruit and granola just about every day at home, I had no problem with the seeming monotony of Philippe’s breakfasts.

There was another guest at the table, Marc, a French professor of Physics, in town for some scientific meetings. His research focus is the physics behind biological rhythms, I provide computer infrastructure to computational biologists studying cancer, Valerie is a math teacher and former computer systems analyst, and Philippe, it turns out, worked for HP doing something IT-related for many years (he said he still messes with computers as a hobby – fixes friends’ computers, etc.). So, to the extent possible given the language barrier, we spent a little while exchanging techie gang signs.

The forecast was iffy about rain, but it promised to be the coolest day of our stay and so we decided to risk the rain and head to the Botanical Gardens. Having misread the map we initially set out on foot, thinking it was much closer than it was (it’s actually about a 5 KM walk, which is far from undoable, but it’s still a long walk). After a helpful local helped us realize our mistake we hopped on one bus, then another, to take us there. A “Top Ten Signs You’re from New York” list I once came across online included, “You consider eye contact from a stranger to be a hostile act.” Yes, New Yorkers and Washingtonians alike actively ignore everyone around them on public transportation. Not so in Montreal! A gregarious senior citizen – complete with the big wrap-around sunglasses, as well as a baseball cap perched at a jaunty angle on his head - waiting at the bus stop with us struck up a conversation. Once on the bus he initiated a conversation with some other passengers, all of whom eagerly joined in (as opposed to New Yorker knee-jerk reaction of giving a death glare to anyone who dared to invade your personal space on public transportation). Likewise, the friendly bus drivers (really!) helped us find our way.
Valerie at the Gardens
Art Installation
Water feature

The gardens were quite beautiful. We visited the Japanese Garden, which took us back to our very first trip together, to San Francisco, and got a tour of the tea house garden. We strolled a big part of the place outside of the arboretum section – the Alpine garden, the flowery brook (my favorite spot), the demonstration garden, etc. We visited the Insectarium for as long as Valerie could take it. We did not, however, partake of the insect-based food items available for purchase. Instead, we ate at the gardens’ regular cafeteria, which offered pretty good food. In the States such a place would be all heat lamp burgers and soggy fries; here I had a rather tasty vegetarian sandwich (one could call it a veggie mush sandwich, since it was filled with some sort of vegetarian pate). By this point it was starting to rain, so we decided we’d call it a day on the outdoor part of the gardens and head to the Biodome, which recreates four different habitats indoors. The Biodome is located on the far side of the Olympic stadium from the gardens and it took us a little while of wandering around in the rain to find our way to it (the stadium grounds were actually kind of creepy – enormous in scale and totally deserted).
Poppies will make them sleep

The first environment was a tropical forest. Valerie hated it since it was HOT and so she went directly ahead to the next, more temperate environment while I strolled the first one a little bit. We caught up with each other and went through the rest together. The whole thing is pretty cool. It’s something of an indoor zoo, but the scale of it is enormous and so you really feel immersed in these environments as you pass through them. The trip through the place culminates in an arctic environment where there were penguins. Penguins, penguins, penguins! We love penguins and so were very happy. Penguins. There, I’ve said it again. Penguins.
Inside the Biodome
Penguins, penguins, penguins!

Over lunch we had looked at the map and figured out that we had taken a much more complicated route than necessary to get there and on the way back we took the easier approach – via a quick metro ride from the stop just outside the gates of the Biodome. Then we napped. This trip involves more napping than I’m used to on this trip – I think I’m still not 100% myself and I get tired a little more easily than pre-surgery.

This weekend was one of the weekends of the Montreal Circus Festival (Montreal is a city of many festivals). In advance of our trip I had bought tickets to Limbo, a “circus cabaret extravaganza”. The show was at the cabaret theater at the Montreal Casino. So, afer a quick dinner at a vegetarian buffet on Saint Denis St. (I’m *trying* to eat right – the buttery croissants at reakfast aren’t helping),  we took the Metro out to the Jean Drapeau staion on the island and then a bus from there. I rarely visit casinos and so just stepping into the place was a head trip. The cabaret theater was pretty cool looking – we felt like we were having quite an adventure even before the show started.

The show itself was quite excellent – circus acts (contortionist, silks aerialist, sword swallower/fire-eater, acrobats, etc.) accompanied by a cool band – three pieces that created a lot of sound! It was like a Cirque du Soleil show but on an intimate cabaret scale. Very cool – mesmerizing.

Saint Denis Street had been hopping with Circus Festival street performers when we were on our way out and so after the show we decided to walk that route back to Philippe’s place. We stopped at Juliette et Chocolat on Saint Denis St. where Valerie had a scrumptious hazelnut chocolate bombe and I, still trying to be good, had just a decaf cappuccino. Once back in the hotel room I indulged by eating three M&M’s, which made me feel like I had had a chocolatey dessert. A little.
The circus was in town

Drummers on stilts

Day 3 (Saturday)
Our Saturday breakfast companions included both Marc and a couple from Belgium. The Belgians did not have the common decency to know how to speak English (they did know enough to express that they were teachers – and so they and Valerie exchanged some teacher gang signs) and so Valerie and I sat largely mute while Philippe, Marc and the Belgians jabbered away in that guttural “language” they all speak. Being a good host, Philippe would periodically turn the conversation to English and would catch us up on what they had been saying. One interesting coincidence was that it turned out that the Belgians and Marc lived within a few miles of each other – just on opposite sides of the French/Belgian border. Apparently gas is cheaper in Belgium and Marc regularly crosses the border and goes to their town to fill up.

Our activity for the day was visiting Old Montreal which was, to tell you the truth, a little bit of a disappointment. I was expecting something like Old Town Alexandria, but Old Montreal was dominated by schlocky tourist stuff – with not much even worthy of browsing. Unfortunately, it turned out we had taken the most schlocky route into the area. When we returned there for dinner on Monday we approached via a different route and got a better feel for how the gives you the feel of a 19th century section of a European city – it felt less touristy-schlocky coming from that direction.
We didn’t really have much lunch. Generally, Valerie’s idea of a light lunch is to eliminate all the courses except for dessert, and so our lunch was nut-dipped chocolate-covered bananas. This may not have been as heart-healthy as, say, a salad, but at least it had a large component of fruit and nuts –the chocolate dip was the only unhealthful part. Once finished exploring Old Town we returned back to the B&B for, yes, a nap, in preparation for what promised to be an interesting evening.

Valerie’s college friend Deena lives in Montreal. The two of them had been slightly in touch over the years in the Facebook sort of way but hadn’t seen each other face to face in over thirty years. Part of the reason for this is that they had rarely even been in the same country over the years. Right after college Deena had decamped to Israel to live on a kibbutz and she subsequently moved to Montreal with her husband (a native Montrealer, whom she met on the kibbutz).

Valerie called Deena Friday night and they arranged that we would meet Deena and her husband for dinner on Saturday. I’m always leery of these sorts of setups – sometimes they’re great, occasionally they’re really awkward, but usually even if they’re fun for the old friends they’re boring for the spouses, who are total strangers. Not so in this case. The four of us all got along really well and lingered for several hours over dinner. Interestingly, neither of them speaks any French. He’s just old enough to have grown up before the big French nationalist/separatist movement gathered steam, and in those days people on the English-speaking side of town didn’t learn French. I think it was fun for them too to have an excuse to get out of their (almost) suburban neighborhood and into one of the funky parts of town for a night out.
I should mention that the restaurant we went to for dinner was a Burmese place called Dakon. Valerie and I had spotted it Friday night on our walk through the Gay Village. “I love Burmese food!”, Valerie said. “You do not,” I replied, suspecting that she was pulling my leg. After all, there are very few Burmese restaurants around and I doubted that she had ever even tasted Burmese food. A lesson I should have learned long ago is: Do not doubt Valerie. It turns out that years back she and another college friend has as their regular meeting place a Burmese restaurant back in New York. And by the way, the food at Dakon is excellent. And they can customize the dishes from mild to spicy (or as I call it, bland to regular).

Which leads me to ask: why are there so few Burmese restaurants, anyway? Burma has eight times the population of El Salvador and yet while the D.C. area has more Salvadorean restaurants than you can shake a stick at (this is a “guesstimate” on my part – I must admit that I have never actually tried shaking a stick at even a single Salvadorean restaurant), it has few, if any, Burmese restaurants. Are there not a lot of natural restaurateurs from Rangoon? Are they more focused on catchy shaving-related road signs? Maybe they just never emigrated in large numbers to the U.S. Who knows. All I know is that my dish (eggplant on coconut rice) was pretty darn delicious and I will gladly eat Burmese food again if I ever come across another Burmese restaurant (FYI, the one in New York closed years ago).

After dinner the four of us strolled back towards Saint Denis Street. The circus festival was still going on (Montreal is a city of many festivals) and we watched part of a free performance before Valerie’s friends said their goodbyes and headed home. Valerie and I stayed until the end of the performance and then headed back past Dakon down to the river because this weekend was also part of the International Fireworks Festival (Montreal is a city of many festivals) and that was the night that Poland was presenting its entry, starting at 10 PM. As you might expect in a case where national pride is on the line, it was a pretty spectacular display, with musical accompaniment featuring songs by famous Polish artists including Miley Cyrus and AC/DC.

Circus Festival performers
More circus acts

Polish fireworks

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Pohick Bay Sort of Training Paddle

One of my real talents is my ability to drive myself crazy. No matter what I’m doing, I always think I should be doing something else, or should finish up what I’m doing so I can move on to the next thing. I do not by nature live “in the moment”. In that spirit, I awoke Sunday with a conundrum – bicycling or kayaking? I knew that I wanted to get some exercise – I need to keep building my conditioning back up. I really want to become a better cyclist. But, I have a week-long kayak camping trip coming up in September and I really, really, have to get in shape for that. I know that I am capable of feel that whichever I chose, I could make myself miserable for not having chosen the other. But the need to get into kayaking shape won out. Kayaking it was.

Having finished agonizing over my choice of activity, I next moved on to agonizing over location. I wanted to launch somewhere other than my usual Columbia Island location. I thought about Fletcher’s Cove – close to home, free, and a pretty section of the river; however, it would be a lonely solo trip. There was also Pohick Bay farther downriver. A couple of nights earlier, when I had run into some of my Westover friends at Wolf Trap, they had said they were going to do a paddleboarding/kayaking outing down at Pohick Sunday morning and encouraged me to join them. Now, at the time they told me this they were pretty intoxicated and I know that wasted people say a lot of stuff they don’t necessarily mean (or even remember the next day), but there was some possibility they were going to be at Pohick. While I wanted to get in some miles and they were doubtless just going to knock around, at least if they were there it would add some little bit of socialization to my outing. Pohick it was.

The Pohick Bay web site is ambiguous about the park’s opening time. It says the park is open dawn to dusk, but that the gatehouse doesn’t open until 10 AM (which is when the Westover crew planned to get there). I arrived a little before ten to find the place already open – the woman at the gatehouse said they open at 7 AM in the summer, though some of the amenities (like boat rental) don’t open until 10. It’s good to know for future reference that early launching is possible there.

Pohick has a “small craft” launch separate from the main concrete boat ramp, so kayakers, paddleboarders and such don’t have to mix with people launching motorboats off of trailers. Plus, you can drive right up to the launch, which is nice. This was actually another factor in my decision to go to Pohick. I’m just getting back to being able to carry my boat unassisted and so I preferred the short carry at Pohick to the very long carry at Fletcher’s. Unfortunately, unlike many other places, at Pohick “small craft” includes jet skis. I’m never happy about having to share what I think should be strictly a “car-top” (or people-powered boat) launch with people trailering jet skis into the water. Thus, I have to admit to a little schadenfreude at watching a van get stuck and have trouble getting back up off the sand and onto the pavement after dropping off a jet ski. The four young guys who had arrived in the van – Eastern Europeans of some sort, based on the sound of their language – huffed and puffed pushed and pushed and eventually got the thing unstuck. Then they had a similar amount of trouble getting their ancient jet ski started. During this time they were joined by a fifth friend, who arrived in a de-badged VW Passat with Audi wheels. You’re not fooling anyone with that FAuxdi, buddy.

I also saw a guy launch a small rowboat/johnboat with an outboard motor at the small craft launch. Launching a motorized boat there was a new one on me. He too had trouble getting the engine started and so I got another little opportunity to smirk over a power-boater’s troubles. And in yet another first, later on while I was out on the water several people on horseback rode down into the launch area and let their horses cool off a little in the water. Where had they come from?

At the launch I unexpectedly bumped into two kayaking friends, Jack and Marti. Jack was a regular paddler at Georgetown years ago, but for various health and personal reasons has drifted in and out of paddling over the years. Like me, he was there to get out on the water and rebuild from an injury – in his case, shoulder surgery (been there, done that).

Having had my fun watching the bumbling jet skiers, I launched and headed towards the boat rental area – and immediately saw familiar faces. There was Christine, in the water and clinging for dear life to a paddleboard. There was Dee, doing much better on a paddleboard. And Matt M., and some other folks I didn’t know. I had Christine grab the stern of my boat and I towed her back to shore, where she switched to a sit-on-top kayak (a much better idea for her).

I did wind up hanging around with them for a bit, stealing Cyndi’s old trick and literally paddling circles around them as they slowly made their way up into the bay. After a little bit, though, I bid them adieu and set out for my real paddle. I headed back out toward the mouth of the bay. Let me tell you, they’ve been building some pretty impressive houses along that section of the shoreline. Holy cow. I paddled along filled with house envy. In between ogling at houses I kept a lookout for the waterski boat which was plying the same waters. Back and forth, back and forth -  every time they went by I had to deal with their noise and then their wake.

 After a bit I turned back around again towards the launch. By the time I got back the Westover crowd was gone. I had a pretty strong suspicion, which turned out to have been accurate, that they had stopped at a nearby micro-brewery after getting off the water. I thought about checking the place out to see if they were there, but decided instead to head for home. I wound up paddling about 7.5 miles. I really need to get up over 10 miles and feel I could have done so, but I’m still not 100% comfortable paddling solo and so didn’t want to push it. My ten mile paddle will have to wait until I’m on my “home” section of the Potomac, where I’m more comfortable, or to when I’m with someone else, or both.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fourth and Fifth

I have written previously about the morning "coffee clubs" sponsored by BikeArlington. These weekday get-togethers are part of what fosters such an active cyclist community in Arlington. I started attending them during Freezing Saddles 2016. During the wintertime they are attended only by hardcore cyclists, mainly Freezing Saddles participants. Who else is going to get up extra early just to go riding to coffee in the cold, dark pre-dawn hours? But the warm weather is another story - bigger crowds, early sunrises so no need to ride in the dark, languid breakfasts outdoors, and supreme difficulty in tearing oneself away to actually go to work.

This past Tuesday was Independence Day. The coffee clubs are mainly populated with bike commuters, and since most people weren't going to be commuting on the holiday, I wasn't sure if the Tuesday coffee club would even be held. But, I needed a destination for my morning ride and so I pointed my bike towards Crystal City. As it turns out, a nice crowd showed up - about ten people, at peak.

Crystal City Coffee Club Crowd

I don't think anyone was actually on their way to work, though a few of us marveled at how busy our work had been the days before, a Monday stranded between the weekend and the holiday. Some folks were stopping there on their way to do longer rides. Others were like me - just there to socialize and get a bit of a ride in before we started our real plans for the day.

I mentioned that I was thinking of biking to Wolf Trap the following night and got good advice on the best route to take. When I revealed that I was actually planning to drive from Frederick (where I'd be for work), park my car in Vienna and ride just the last few miles so I could avoid the after-show traffic jam, FFG Dave (center in the picture above) dubbed that approach the "bike dinghy" - moor the yacht in the harbor, then use the dinghy to get to shore.

I followed through and indeed bike dinghy-ied. I parked right by the town green in Vienna and walked over to Whole Foods for a quick snack and to use their bathroom to change from work to cycling clothes (BTW, the slice of pizza I had there was SO BAD that I am taking a mulligan on my monthly pizza ration). When I took my bike out of the car I discovered that somehow my rear view mirror had cracked - maybe I banging it with the tailgate. I don't much believe in superstition and I'm pretty sure I'm already in the midst of a string of bad luck - so maybe breaking the mirror will flip the bit and give me seven years of *good* luck.

The ride to Wolf Trap was easy. I still carry with me the paranoia of the unsafe New York City of my youth (the era of movies like Death Wish and The Taking of Pelham 123) and so I took note that the section of the W&OD I was riding was isolated and unlit - was going to be creepy later. As a a result, true to form, throughout the show I had a background process of worrying running in my brain out of concern for what the ride home was going to be like.

Other than building a reserve of paranoia, I made it to Wolf Trap with no issues and a ranger pointed me to the bike rack. A woman seated on the bench adjacent to the rack expressed that she was impressed that I had ridden - which I ate up. I hiked up the hill to where I had managed to wangle an invitation to a tent hosted by Devil's Backbone Brewery - free beer! I had a tasty double IPA, but in terms of food restricted myself to vegetables to make up for having indulged in pizza back in Vienna (have I mentioned how bad that pizza was?). At DBB tent I bumped into Rob K, who I had met at Neil's party, phenomenal singer Mary El, who has performed with me in Magnolia Blue , and - as I was leaving - the drummer from Magnolia Blue, plus I met up there with Bill Y who at the last minute had stepped up to use my second ticket (after Shawn C. got stuck in Charlottesville and couldn't make it to Wolf Trap in time).

As showtime approached I wandered through the gates. Over the course of the evening I ran into Neil (from Magnolia Blue), Lexi, Bob A., Jeff McL., Dee, Rick & Cheryl, the woman with the dreads who always wears a fedora (she's part of the Magnolia Blue crowd), Jennifer M. (another member of that crowd - I've met her but remember her name only because of Facebook) and more. Running into so many people was a neat vibe - like being at a big party.

The show was great: Hot Tuna, The Wood Brothers, Tedeschi-Trucks Band - but this blog isn't about music so I won't dwell on that aspect of things. I will, however mention that TTB was playing with a substitute keyboard player because their regular guy had just had emergency heart surgery! A familiar story. Maybe schlepping all those heavy Fender Rhodes and Hammond B3 keyboards back in the day strained our hearts. 
Tedeschi-Trucks Band
I cut out a little early. Counterproductive - I had arranged the perfect way to get through the post-show crowds, then I left early to avoid them anyway because I was concerned about riding my bike on the roads with all the people pouring out of the show. Speaking of pouring, it rained pretty hard during parts of the evening. Fortunately, I had pavilion seats so I had stayed nice and dry. It was still drizzling when I hit the road - but I had brought my rain jacket so I was fine, except for getting my butt wet on the soaked bike seat.
Passing The Barns

The ride back turned out to be straightforward - no need to have worried. I took Beulah Road all the way down into Vienna in order to avoid the creepy, dark trail. Tossed the bike into the back of the car, and off I went! It's good to know how easy it is to get to Wolf Trap by bike, and so next time I'll be more at ease with the ride (particularly if I go with others).


Oh, and for no reason at all, here's a picture I took on Sunday to show off my new Ironheart Foundation jersey. I don't usually wear cute little jerseys when I ride, but I decided to buy this one to support Ironheart, an organization that supports athletes with cardiac diseases (ahem).

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Certain of One Thing

I paddled out of Riley's Lock with Tall Tom today. I was running two GPS's - my Apple Watch and my venerable Garmin, the former of which is proving to be unreliable on the water and the latter of which is long known to give unreliable distance readings. Here's the tally of the distance of our paddle:

1. The Apple Watch went completely dark at some point during the trip. I was able to reboot it when we got back. At the end of the trip it read 2.1 miles.

2. When synched to Strava online the data from the watch still read 2.1 miles, but when I exported a .gpx file and then re-imported it (conceptually this should yield an identical result), Strava indicated a distance of 4.2 miles - but it still had only part of the track.

3. The Garmin's display read 8.74 miles.

4. I connected the Garmin to the computer, downloaded the track to Garmin Mapsource, exported a .gpx and then imported it into Strava. That showed the whole track, and read 8.3 miles. This is close to what Tom's GPS read, and I believe it is correct.

One thing I know for certain, it was a beautiful day for a paddle.

At the entrance to Seneca Creek (Riley's Lock)

I arrived early. I usually get a slow start in the morning, eating breakfast , reading the paper, stretching and such until I realize I should have left five minutes ago at which point I rush around getting ready. Since my planned departure time always contains sufficient slack I almost always still arrive on time, but even with lots of lead time I always wind up stressing myself out getting out the door. I have vowed to change that and today I left home with plenty of time - I actually arrived before Tom, who is usually early.

I unloaded my kayak, disturbing two buzzards who had been snacking on a catfish carcass by the boat ramp. As I got geared up a whole gaggle of cyclists drove in, apparently meeting for a group road ride. Have I mentioned that cyclists bug me? [See Note 1] They all had their super-expensive road bikes and of course were duded up in little cycling outfits. Worst of all, these guys were about my age but still had way too much of a "bro" attitude, ragging on each other and exuding way too much machismo. I resisted the urge to whack them with my paddle, for which I deserve some sort of medal.

Next, Mike A., Randi, Rob St.L., and Heather (kayakers) rolled in. They were there to do some sort of rough water training and were headed downriver - towards the falls (it's been nice knowing you!).

Tom and I headed upriver. As already mentioned, we covered a little over eight miles (I think), my longest paddle since my return to the water. Our trip included a stop to scope out one of the campsites along the C&O Canal. The campsites are labelled "Hiker / Biker" sites and are clearly intended for users of the C&O towpath (hikers and bikers, that is), but we wanted to see whether they could be accessed from the water. This one was - assuming one doesn't mind scrambling up the poison ivy-covered bank.

Note 1: Actually, just about everyone bugs me.