Fun and Travel with our British friends

I have written before about our good friends, Stewart and Barbara from Lancashire, particularly our great trip to Italy with them. See: You will have a better idea of our relationship and our ease in travelling together after checking out these earlier blogs. We have now done 6 visits/trips with them and we are still friends.

We first met in Florida, where we live in the winter months. We had a jolly time, and I said, ‘You two should visit us sometime in Canada. Stewart replied, ‘Okay we will come in the fall.’ And that is how it all started. We planned a trip ourselves to southern France and I said, ‘Wanna come and meet us in Nice?’ And they did. We have subsequently visited them in Lancashire, and travelled to Scotland and the Lake District, to New Orleans, and then to Italy. So it was time for another jaunt.

Stewart has been talking about a train trip in western Canada for a while, and finally we planned it for this past September. But first they came to stay at our house in Toronto for a few days, as it had been over 10 years since their last visit. As it turned out, I was in the finals of a golf four-ball competition that I had to play so as to not let down my partner. Their arrival coincided with the match, but Charles picked them up at the airport and brought them to the golf club.

It was very warm, and exceedingly windy, but we opted to eat outside on the upper patio at Islington Golf Club after the match. We ordered a delicious Cajun seafood soup, and white wine, and then headed home, about 5 minutes from the club, for them to unpack, take naps, they were still on British time, which was 5 hours ahead. Then we walked to our favorite restaurant, Azarias, about 10 minutes away. A booth was reserved for us, and we chose lots of goodies from the unique menu of small plates. The restaurant is a noisy, fun, happening place. The owners, Mark and Heidi are welcoming and the waiters are a delight. We always see folks from our neighborhood there. A brisk walk took us home and then bed.


Charles and Stewart outside the Pearl


tall buildings in Toronto viewed from Harbourfront


ice cream vendor at Harbourfront

Stewart had requested a return visit to Pearl restaurant at Harbourfront where we had all had dim sum years ago. At that time we had cycled down from our house to the water on the bike path through parks, and it was a wonderful ride down hill mostly, but then there was the uphill to consider, and I had become used to my new e-bike in Florida, so car it was. I booked us in for lunch, but first the three of us (without Charles) went on a long walk into the ravine near our home with Oscar. It was much cooler, but sunny and we walked alongside the Humber River. When you walk in this huge park, called Etienne Brulé, that adjoins our Kingsway area you feel as if you are in the countryside because of the rapidly moving river, the giant trees, and the wildlife. It is a terrific walk that ends amongst some very beautiful stone homes. We were energized, and the dog supremely happy.

Harbourfront is a particularly scenic area of Toronto at the foot of the city by the harbour. It is picturesque with many boats, galleries, restaurants and lots of walking spaces. Pearl has been a staple there for years and is unique in that it is a Chinese restaurant that is very contemporary in its design, and has a view. They serve from carts on the weekends, and the food is tasty, and it seems never ending. It is marvellous to see what you are getting, and point at the dishes that you want. Of course you always order more than you need, and still manage to eat everything, and wash it down with copious amounts of tea.

It was a sunny day so my convertible afforded a great view of the downtown core of the city and some of the vast array of neighbourhoods in Toronto. We relaxed in the afternoon before we headed off to my sister’s house, about 30 minutes away, for dinner. My sister, Carol, had met the Craggs, and it was wonderful that she offered to host this dinner in her lovely home. She also invited my foster parents’ daughter and son in law, which makes Sally and Neil, my extended family. See:, which is the site for my book about much more than being an opera singer. It tells of my life.


feeling good after a delicious meal. Guess which one is my sister

It was a special evening. My sister always sets a beautiful table, and is imaginative with her appetizers served outside on her porch, and her cooking. This time it was beef tenderloin, challenging because we all like our beef at different temperatures. Her risotto was velvety, and she served Carpineto wines that reminded us of our trip to Italy, and a memorable visit to that winery. The owner is a dear friend of Carol’s, and we spent a glorious day with him in Tuscany. See the links above. There was lots of lively conversation, and then we headed home.


memories of Carpinetto wines with Antonio, the owner ,in Italy a few years back

The next day we travelled to the Stratford Festival where we saw The Music Man. Charles and I have been supporting musicals at the Festival for five years now, and we do this because we have great respect for Donna Feore who is a brilliant director/choreographer, and she delights and surprises with her incredible productions. We are always thrilled. This was my fourth time of seeing this lively show and Charles, because of our connection with the production, got a chance to be backstage and shadow the stage manager. He had to be there early, wear all black, and naturally he loved it while the three of us sat in great seats and enjoyed every minute of the musical.


outside at Stratford


the fabulous Donna Feore and cast of Guys and Dolls
brilliant performance of The Music Man


intense concentration backstage  by the stage manager during performance

After the show we drove back to Toronto and I prepared dinner. I love cooking and entertaining. In fact, even when I am swimming or walking the dog, I am thinking about meals and planning dishes that go together. I absolutely enjoy this, but not as much as I enjoy the execution and the creativity. This particular evening, I served a carrot and orange soup that I had made previously, and refrigerated. I put a spoon of yoghurt on the top in little swirls when I served it. Charles barbecued some sea bass filets that I had marinated briefly with sesame oil and my favourite condiment, the Indonesian Ketjapmanis, a sweet and aromatic type of soy sauce. It is an oily fish and difficult to overcook to dry, never a problem for Charles who does it perfectly. I cut some Brussels sprouts into slivers and sautéed them with broken bits of bacon, and thin slices of new potatoes. Together they made a delicious hash. The fish sat on top of this. Yum

The following morning, all packed and ready, we left for the airport at o’dark hours and went to the lounge for a bit of Air Canada breakfast. I had free vouchers so I took our friends. We were travelling in hostility class, but I had booked exit rows that only had two seats so it was doable, except the plane was chilly. The flight was uneventful which is always good. We arrived in Calgary after about 4 hours and went to pick up the rental car. Now Stewart assured us that the one he booked would handle our entire pile of luggage. Of course if you have ever reserved a rental car it is rare to get the one you booked. So the car was too small and we eventually got a larger one with a decent trunk for all our bags. If you read the blogs that I mentioned at the beginning of this one you will understand why.


won’t fit, Stewart , car in Italy


still tight fit, this time in Calgary

We then set off for Canmore and lunched on delicious flatbread at a fun restaurant called incidentally, Rocky Mountain Flatbread. Some of us had homemade soup as well as flatbread, and we warmed up. Then we were off again on the highway to The Post Hotel in Lake Louise. This Relais et Chateau property was marvellous, cozy, charming with excellent service. The mountains of course are breathtaking, and the weather was co-operating, so we could see them. We unpacked, relaxed, then I quizzed the front desk staff about ‘what to do’ and in what order in Lake Louise and Banff where we were heading in two days time.


lunch and flatbread oven


the views begin

I had booked dinner our first night in the Fondue Stubli restaurant in the hotel. We met for a drink in the small but appealing Sir Norman Lounge, and then headed to the restaurant and Charles and I chose a traditional cheese fondue and some wines to match. All good. We reflected on the extraordinary beauty of the area, and how lucky we were with the weather. Apparently, it had been snowing before we arrived, and the week after we left, the roads were closed due to more snow, so as we always say better lucky than smart.


cozy bar at the Post Hotel

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fondue at the Post

On the advice of the charming front desk person, there wasn’t actually a concierge; we headed to the actual Lake of Lake Louise fame to go for a hike around the shore. The enormous Fairmont Hotel looms in the background and was filled with many tourists, but it wasn’t difficult walking and the views as you can see in my pictures are incredible, magnificent, and unbelievable. The water is emerald green apparently from the silt created when rocks underneath the surface of the ice are grinding from the movement of the glacier there. The rock flour is very light and stays suspended in the lake water for a long time. The sunlight that reflects off this rock flour is what gives the lakes their spectacular turquoise blue or emerald green colour.


magnificent Lake Louise

We spent a few hours there and then headed to the gondola to take it to the top for a view of the area and lunch of seafood chowder. Afterwards we walked in the small village and went for a swim in the salt-water pool at the hotel. We actually stayed in the least expensive rooms at the Post hotel, and they were excellent. You should judge a hotel by its standard rooms, not its most exclusive, and this one more than passed the test.


pool at The Post

The next morning I went for my usual early morning swim in the pristine pool, then a steam, and a stint in the whirlpool. Great start to the day. Then breakfast. I could feel my clothes shrinking again. Wonder why?

The second day we drove on the slow route to Banff along the Bow River Parkway, stopping along the way at Johnson Canyon for a long hike. Our trip was at the end of September, and even then it was pretty busy with tourists. We started early on our hike around 9:00. I can only imagine how tight the narrow paths would be in July and August. In fact, just reviewing a small map that I took for the Lake Louise area, there is an advisory that says: During the summer, visit before 8 am or after 7 pm for the best chance of finding parking and avoiding large crowds.

no end of gorgeous views


We also stopped at Moraine Lake, another turquoise/emerald beauty and walked there as well. It is no wonder that this part of Canada is so popular. Everywhere you go there are mountains, rivers and splendid views, and the weather made it possible to see this. I keep mentioning the weather because I have lived in the west and visited these places before, albeit many years before, and it can rain and rain and be very cloudy. Sort of reminds me of a bike trip we did in Ireland that was sunny every day except the final one, when we realized we would have seen nothing had it rained as it did that day. Hmm.

in the gondola and more mountain views

That afternoon we took the gondola up to the top of Banff and even though it was chilly and windy we got an amazing view of the area. This was even more impressive than the Lake Louise gondola visit. There is an Interpretive Centre, Observation Decks, a  boardwalk through the trees, and different types of dining. We chose the simplest and it was just fine. We were already anticipating dinner. However, after the ride we split up and walked around the very touristy town, one souvenir shop after another, and lots of stuffed bears sporting red Mountie uniforms.

at the Interpretive Centre
at the top of the Banff Gondola


Charles and friend

We had a rest, and then met for dinner in the main dining room and were delighted with the delicious food. We had stroganoff with very good wine. The chef is Swiss and excellent. Breakfasts were also yummy with great pastries.

We checked out of the Post and headed to our overnight destination in Banff, and found our hotel, the much-lauded Rimrock Resort property. We were delighted to get rooms there, as there had been no vacancy on the Internet all summer when we tried to book, but alas Expedia and many other sites were offering deals in September. Was this a ploy? The hotel is not inexpensive, but then nothing is in Banff. The cheapest room in the Banff Springs Hotel in late September was listed as $1,000 a night. I think the Asian market is the target for these hotels, but I digress. We checked in, and our rooms were ready. What a surprize! The view was terrific in the cavernous room, without much furniture, but the bathroom was an embarrassment. Two people could not fit in at the same time. This bathroom made the Motel 6 look like luxury accommodation. Work to be done. Fortunately, we were only staying for one night. This was to enable us to get up very early to get to our train the next morning at 7:00 am. We had booked a dinner in their premier restaurant, Eden, and assumed it would be a wonderful evening.

ugly bedroom and tiny bathroom at expensive Rimrock Resort


downtown Banff

This is where I leave you hanging, because I am going to stop now, and continue on in my next blog to tell you about that appalling restaurant, and then our brilliant trip through the Rockies on The Rocky Mountaneer to Vancouver.

More to come,



2 thoughts on “Fun and Travel with our British friends

  1. Another great read! Every time you talk about food, I feel like I am there cooking, preparing or eating with you.


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