Sunday, August 28, 2011

Winnipeg: one great city

Rob's roommate sends us off with his blessing

earlier this May, i flew to Winnipeg with my friends for a wedding, at what was apparently the best time to see the prairie city: after the biting cold winter had ended but before the pesky bugs came out to bite.

great cityline...creepy crow...

Winnipeg jostles with Edmonton every couple of years for the title of "Most Murderous City" and some people just see the Peg as a rough, stabby desolate kind of place. I wasn't quite sure what to expect myself, but was pleasantly impressed with what Manitoba's capital had to offer.

for one thing, i completely fell in love with the architectural styles of the building downtown. they say filmmakers love to use Winnipeg to shoot movie scenes of Chicago in the 1950s. I could see why. The buildings certainly have this gorgeous distinctive industrial look to it that I don't see very often.

for those familiar with Canada's past, Winnipeg has also played an important part in history, everywhere from the struggles of Louis Riel to the General Strike. And the city most certainly retains its memory of the past, everywhere from the "Keep It Riel" t-shirts to murals like in the above photo.

i was also quite impressed by the Manitoba legislature. I've now visited eight out of ten provincial legislatures in Canada, and this one was quite striking. It almost had an American feel to it - with the big lawn stretched out in front of it and the majestic look of the giant building that overshadowed everything around it, i felt like i was in DC.

when we got to Winnipeg, spring was in full force and the Red River was flooding.

my favourite Winnipeg neighbourhood, Osborne Village, houses a vibrant cultures of hippies and hipsters. lots of great boutiques displaying local designers' wares, trendy restaurants and rowdy pubs... It's also where you can never be too far from a Starbucks (or two).

yes, it would appear that there is a starbucks across the street from this starbucks

another thing that really surprised me about Winnipeg was how multicultural its population was, compared to my expectation that it would be a lot of white folks. there were a lot of Asians, including the wedding party, which really shouldn't surprise me, i suppose, since my grandfather first immigrated to Winnipeg from South Korea many decades ago, because the immigration process was a lot quicker in the Peg at the time. I guess he wasn't the only one to do so. There were also a lot of Aboriginal folks, everywhere you looked downtown, and while there are still many issues in government/First Nations relations, it was neat to see a lot of aspects of First Nations cultures everywhere, including a drum circle that was being formed at the Forks.

starting up a drum circle at the Forks

there are lots of other things to do at the Forks, including shopping, of course. On the advice of a friend, we tried some delicious cinnamon buns from the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company. I also bought some fresh chokecherry jam for my mom. what i love about Winnipeg is that its proximity to a whole lot of farms means that there is a whole lot of good food, fresh, local, organic, whatever buzz word gives you your thrill. The majority of Ontario's farms grow only corn and soy (my backyard grows both) but in Manitoba you've got all the beef and bread that you could ask for, and its freshness is apparent in the food. the egg yolks are oranger. the beef is juicier. the fruit TASTES clearer, if you can understand what i'm trying to say. all this makes for a foodie culture that you wouldn't necessarily have expected in Winnipeg cuisine.

Rob and the Jesses decided to go to Fude for dinner, where we got to feast on a veritable Noah's Ark of locally raised meat. Although the line up to get into the restaurant was out the door, the charismatic owner, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt despite the classiness of the cuisine, kept us entertained and even forgave Jess for claiming to be from Toronto (Winnipeggers share Ottawans' sentiments toward Toronto). We were served by a stunning slim Asian women with a soft voice who sang in a hardcore metal band when off work. We ate bison, which was nowhere near as tough as i expected it to be. we ate chili chocolate chicken, which despite what you think, actually went as well together as its alliteration. We also ate this magical dish, toadstool puffs - goat cheese, mushrooms, caramelized onions, in a puff pastry - which won the Fetzer Appetizer Challenge Award. my mouth just about died of happiness. seriously. try out this restaurant.

the next morning, we went to Stella's Cafe and Bakery which was not as upscale and expensive as last night's dinner, but just as delicious. like i said, i had never tasted eggs or bread so fresh before. Also, they served locally brewed breakfast beer.


i was in Winnipeg for a reason (other than gluttony), of course, and that was to see my old buddy Alan marry his girl Laura - and to celebrate with a few (a lot) drinks with my good friends from high school.

like laura and alan (Lauralan?), the wedding was extraordinarily classy, like one of those dream weddings you'd imagine having ever since you watched your first Disney movie (incidentally, Laura marched down the aisle to a Disney song). The wedding was held at the Fort Garry, Winnipeg's historic CP hotel, and was as fancypants as fancypants can get.

(uh, so, seriously, don't expect anything fancypants like this at my wedding, guys. i'm still paying off my law school debt, and unlike Lauralan, who are both fancypants doctors, i don't foresee a fortune heading my way any time soon, unless i find a diamond while i'm in Africa)

Jess, surrounded by all her men

we had a fantastic evening at the Fort Garry Hotel, drinking, dancing, taking an accidental midnight cab ride to the French Quarter in search of more booze at the suggestion of a mischievous concierge...

Mihai is singing the 59th Street Bridge Song

interestingly enough, the next morning rob and i set out to figure out where the heck the actual Fort Garry was. For the record, it's not all that easy to find; apparently it's not that big of a deal, unless you consider a relocated set of ruins to be a big deal.

Fort Garry

the rest of Winnipeg though, i would go ahead and call a big deal. a big, delicious, fresh, fancypants deal. (Cue the Weakerthans song)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


there's a lot of wind outside, guess we're feeling the edges of toronto's tornado, and yet i have this urge to go sleep outside under the stars. i've borrowed every book the public library has about Namibia, all four of them, and reading them makes me excited for new adventures. soon i'll be on the move again!

Monday, August 15, 2011

one last prince edward island entry

playing one of my old originals in a farm field in Prince Edward Island:

thanks to rob for filming this

Friday, August 12, 2011

on the way home

well, we've finally made it home from our annual trip to Prince Edward Island. the drive was pretty smooth, but still long. this is the third time now that i've driven to the east coast; I wonder at what point does it get easier and seem not so long? i guess i might have to try driving out to BC sometime; after that, nothing will seem as long.

this time on our way back we stopped off in the town of Montmagny for the night.

at first i wasn't terribly impressed by montmagny. if you look at the above picture, every single store on that block has gone out of business, except for this one resource office which helps people find jobs. that can't be a good omen. all the empty streets...

but then we rounded the corner and found the actual downtown Montmagny. it was still quiet and empty but with all the pretty shops and stages set up in the park, it wasn't so hard to believe that the town was probably livelier during the day.

and then we were defeated by Casa Pizza. on the road, we were thinking about how we were craving pizza. then we arrived in Montmagny and found in the motel a single pamphlet for Casa Pizza. okay, that sounds like fate. we went over to Casa Pizza and rob decided that the two of us could probably handle a 16 inch meat lover pizza. WRONG. we had never been confronted by Casa Pizza before.

what is hidden from view is the massive piles of meat underneath the cheese. what cook in his right mind would stack that much meat on a pizza? did the Casa Pizza folks think that I was the Epic Mealtime guys in disguise? i could have done bench presses with the pizza, the box was so heavy. it was sheer madness. the words "too much meat" has never crossed these lips before but i came awful close that night.

but now we've arrived at home safely in Ottawa, with a suitcase of dirty (red dirt) clothes, a case of Gahan beer and a bag of island potatos that we bought from NOBODY.

potatos bought from NOBODY

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

points east coastal drive: road signs

the day before we left the Island, we took a long drive down the Points East Coastal route which wraps around the eastern shore of the Island. it's long stretches of potato fields and views of the ocean disappearing into the same coloured sky. it feels like we drove a long time, but then we saw a car on the road with a British Columbia license plate and figured those guys have probably been driving longer.

we drove a while before we decided to stop in St. Peter's Bay to grab a bite at the Chowder Factory, attached to the very quaint green Bayside Inn that overlooks the bay. the staff looked tired, harried and overwhelmed and as a result were surprisingly not very friendly. our bill was higher than what we would have liked, but at least the chowder was very good.

we kept on driving, past the rows and rows of wind turbines of North Lake, swinging their arms like terrifying giant robots wielding weapons against the humans. we then were confronted by a road sign that read ROAD ENDS IN 300 METRES.

more like the island ends in 300 metres. we'd arrived at the East Point Lighthouse, the most eastern point of the island, the farthest you could drive before you hit Newfoundland, and then, Cape Spear, and then, the Atlantic Ocean, and then, Europe. it was a fierce shock of blue waves hurled upon red dirt, framed by those freaky wind turbines. it was really something to look at.

you know what's really awesome about being on the most eastern point of the island? at one point you stop on the highway, and ahead of you is a sign that says HIGHWAY 16 WEST. you look behind you and there is another sign in the opposite direction that also reads HIGHWAY 16 WEST. all roads go west on this island.

we drove on.

Souris was supposed to be a neat town, one of the bigger towns around here (but of course, around here, "one of the bigger towns" means there actually exists a town at all). it was spraying rain, so we only stopped for gas.

this side of the island, like many parts of the island, are long stretches of nothing but trees and fields and road signs informing the cars the name of that particular space of nothing. at one point, we reached a crossroad, with two road signs pointing in opposite directions.

one sign points left and reads CHARLOTTETOWN 63 KM.

the other sign points right and reads CHARLOTTETOWN 64 KM

all roads go to Charlottetown on this island.

dinner, also named (by me) as Lisa Lobster

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

music on the farm

it finally stopped raining so we decided to play some music on Rob's parents' farm.

we recorded this song "When You Come Out" in the barn:

(you can see this song performed by my band here:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Prince Batman Island

one of the biggest things that are on PEI folks' minds is the erosion of land. every year, the brute force of the ocean eats away at a substantial chunk of the red dirt cliffs, which means that people's oceanfront properties (and subsequently the Island itself) just keeps shrinking and shrinking. this is a major concern for folks. Prince Edward Island is already small enough. I, like everyone else, agree that something should be done to protect the land. However, I think that we can take advantage of the erosion and carve the shape of the Island to a new and exciting design.

Consider the current shape of Prince Edward Island:

Consider the shape of the Batman symbol:

would it really be that hard? People of Prince Edward Island, think about it.


yesterday we drove out to Summerside to hang out with our buddies Ian and Mackenzie. Ian's parents said that THE place to go in Summerside for eats was Brothers Two, which as it turns out, is also a dinner theatre joint.

we did not, however, do dinner theatre. Lobsterfest was going on in Summerside, so i enjoyed at a lobster bisque followed by breaded haddock which, as i said in my delight, tasted way better than a Filet-O-Fish.

in the evening, we stayed at Rob's parents' farm house in New Dominion for the first time. I am pretty sure it is haunted. It is 170 years old, totally pitch dark at night and just isolated in the countryside enough to be the perfect location of a creepy zombie farmer horror movie.

scary barn

instead, this old farm house was the location for a Japanese film about (surprise!) Anne of Green Gables.

Looking For Anne, from Zuno Films
Somebody told her that Anne was a fictional character, right?

But ghosts and confused Japanese tourists aside, it's a pretty awesome property.

the other farm buildings on the property: the alpacas will live in the former hen house, chamber music will be performed in the cow barn by Yo Yo Ma (i wish!), and the pig pen will be used to shoot Meatloaf music videos

Hay! inside the barn

Rob's dad should turn this milk vat into a hot tub or a wine brewing vat OR BOTH

this building is not feeling so well

Farmers used to be pretty short, two centuries ago.

This is where Harry Potter lives

Farmer Rob

Sunday, August 7, 2011

beach day on the island

yesterday morning, rob's dad drove us around the island to where his side of the family is from, in Emerald. we got to see the old family farms, which have now got giant (scary) wind turbines erected over the potato fields. We continued on past the shipping coves of Malpeque Bay, home of the delicious oysters and also where Rob's grandmother is from, on to Cabot Beach. It was a sunny day so the perfect time to take advantage of the sun and the salty Atlantic Ocean.

On our way back, we passed by St. Mary's Church in Indian River. This is an incredible church placed in the middle of nowhere, seeming to rise right out of the potato fields.

The inside is even more beautiful. CBC records a lot of shows performed there. maybe one day Scary Bear Soundtrack will play a special acoustic show there.

on the way back, we also BOUGHT EGGS FROM NOBODY.

invisible sellers of eggs

this is what i love about the Island. basically you drive up to a mini barn where there are eggs for sale (but nobody selling them). you drop a toonie into a basket and pick out your favourite eggs. it's based on the honour system, the eggs are fresh, and nobody is stuck being bored manning the egg stand all day.

in the evening, we headed back out to Charlottetown, which seems like the place to be on the island on a Saturday night.

in the evenings, they project a big light show on to the historical Province House, which is pretty neat to watch.

we also checked out Gahan House, which brews their own beer locally.

obviously i got a beer sample tray.

man, i love trying local beers. at Island prices too. yum yum.