Category Archives: Photographs

Be a star at the Warner Bros. studio tour in Hollywood

Visiting a Hollywood studio has been on my bucket list since I was a child. Now that I’ve done it – it was everything I had hoped it would be.

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Warner Bros. Studio sound-stage

My husband and I along with our teenage son had a blast. This attraction is a top-ten LA must-see.
Located in Burbank, north of LA, it’s hard to get to without a car. We arrived as part of a day-long tour of LA and were dropped off for a couple of hours.
The tour starts with a video presentation and then you board a trolley driven by a guide through the Warner Bros. back-lot.

Along the way, you get off the trolley and walk around the open-air sets designed to look like city streets. There are more brief video presentations along the way. You’re also left to tour some departments on your own.

A highlight for our family was visiting the Ellen set. The sound-stage is enormous and her set, as seen on TV, occupies a small part of the building. You can’t take photos of active sets.

Harry Potter

We also walked around the props building (West Wing Oval Office furniture), costume museum (Harry Potter and DC Comics movies). There’s also an any-town USA street. The cottages are fronts for various production offices.

Friends TV Show

Another highlight was taking photos on the set of the Central Perk Café from the Friends sitcom on Stage 48. Stage 48 is a self-guided tour of the movie process from script and filming to post-production. You can feel like a star and hold a real Academy Award, presented to Warner Bros. for a “best picture” win in the 1930s.

My husband and son enjoyed the Batman-cars garage.


The movie La La Land was filmed on the lot and my husband and I got a kick out of picking out the movie locations. Parts of Jurassic Park (original) were filmed here too (the rainforest close-ups). Yes, there’s a cultivated rainforest on the lot!

Tickets cost about $60 for ages 13 and up. It’s worth the money. Allow three-hours for the tour. The guides are mostly film students and you guessed it, they want to work in the movie business when they graduate. In LA, everyone we met at their workplace said they really wanted to be a ‘producer’ or ‘director’ and that this was just their ‘day job’. It’s a cliché but true. Welcome to LA.

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What to do in Gaspé

The Gaspé peninsula is a road-trip holiday. There’s no public transportation to speak of and the distances between towns are significant. You’re here for the scenery, which is free. But in between magnificent vistas there are some worthwhile fee-based attractions. In this last Gaspé blog, I share what stoked my family.

Percé Rock in Percé

This is the raison d’être for our road trip. Over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet high and wide, the rock is a monolith jutting out from the ocean. It made its way to Quebec from Africa in prehistoric times. It’s imposing and impressive and it will take your breath away. A boat tour is the best way to see Percé Rock up close. You can walk out to the rock in low tide but expect to get very wet. Also, chunks of the rock are falling into the ocean so it’s dangerous to wade out to the rock just to touch it. Signs warn of falling rocks.

Julien Cloutier boat tour in Percé

My husband, teenage son and I took two boat trips on the same day in August. Both trips were okay.

The first, was the trip to Bonaventure Island. Good commentary on the island and on Percé Rock. The captain took the boat around the rock and the Island. We didn’t get off on the island. It was a cool, cloudy day and it was fresh at sea. No coffee or refreshments on board.

The second trip was the 1 p.m. whale watching tour. We were gone 2-and-a-half hrs. on choppy seas and saw two harbor porpoises and one Minke whale (barely and briefly). So, the second trip was a bust. It cost $240 for the three of us.

Apparently, chips, water and the like were offered on board but an announcement was never made. Thankfully, info on life-vests and how to use them and where to find them, was presented in English and French.

Julien Cloutier is the only tour-boat operator in Percé. You have to drive to the town of Gaspé for a competitor. I just wish we had better luck.

GeoParc in Percé

We had run out of things to do in town and were waiting for the whale watching boat tour when we stumbled upon this gem. It’s behind businesses on the main road, near a camp ground. Easy to miss but worth it.

We were not sure what the attraction was about and had to ask at the front desk. It’s a presentation of Percé’s geological history. It’s designed to capture your attention and imagination.

You’re given what looks like Tarot cards at the entrance to the exhibit. You’ll need to insert the cards into individual stations to active the station. Each symbol on the card is representative of that station’s information. The first station looks like a carnival fortune-teller stand. Sure enough, a crystal ball illuminates and an audio track kicks off the ‘mystical and magic’ history of how Percé Rock came to be.

It’s very dark inside and very young children may be frightened. There are three video presentations. Nothing ordinary about the videos. It’s all Industrial Light and Magic stuff!
The stations incorporate audio tracks, video, and for lack of better words, trick lighting. At one point you appear to be walking through a brook, with babbling water and all. Yet, you remain perfectly dry. The second floor has information boards designed in glass. Beautiful.

Expensive. 15$ per adult. Lasts one hour. There’s also a kids’ jungle gym/climbing room across the hall. We saw young adults climbing the day we were here!

Metis Gardens/Reford Gardens in Grand Métis

We stopped at the gardens en route to Gaspé National Park. It was pouring rain and we thought twice about it and I’m glad we went.

Our inn-keeper gave us coupons for 15 per cent off the entrance fee, which made the detour even sweeter. The staff had a supply of enormous umbrellas at the entrance, which we were thankful for. It would have been impossible to see the gardens without them.

Despite the rain, we visited for over an hour. Elsie Reford is the woman behind the gardens and she dedicated herself to creating an English garden setting in the wilds of Quebec.
The gardens are lush, rich and colourful. The setting is natural, wooded, hilly and rocky in places. There’s a natural stream running through a portion of the gardens. A naturalist’s dream. Thanks to a micro-climate, she cultivated gardens where there were only trees and rocks. Reford introduced species of flowers new to Quebec.

At the end of the garden is a lodge, which was Reford’s summer home. It’s open to the public as a museum of what life was like at the home in the early 1900s. Fascinating.
Even our teen didn’t seem to mind walking around flower beds and touring the lodge. Must see.

Gaspé National Park in Ste. Anne des Monts

This national park is actually a provincial one but that’s Quebec for you. The Chic-Choc and McGerrigle Mountains cross the park. Some of the highest peaks in Quebec are found in these mountain ranges. Between the mountains are valleys with streams, forests and lakes where depending on the season, you can hike, swim, boat, fish, cycle, ski and snowshoe.

A visitors’ centre in the middle of the park provides information as well as supplies and equipment rentals. And, the service here is bilingual.

Accommodations in the park range from upscale hotel rooms in the Gîte Mont. Albert to un-serviced camp grounds in the woods. We stayed in a ready-to-camp huttopia. There are also isolated wood cabins and comfortably furnished cottages and bungalows near the Gîte, which are ideal for large groups.

We stayed a couple of days but honestly, you could spend a week here.

 

 

Gaspé accommodations

This blog on Gaspé is all about where to stay. There’s plenty of places to rest your weary head but none will be at a chain. There wasn’t a single hotel chain to be found during our seven-day trip. Welcome to mom and pop inns, B&Bs and motel/hotels. Good-bye Best Western, Holiday Inn and the like. A break from the standard highway hotels gave us a chance to meet and speak casually with local workers and experience small-town hospitality.

Gite la Roseraie in Ste. Flavie

We stayed in the “Familiale” suite on the second floor. It consists of one room with a double bed and a twin bed in an alcove with a curtain divider. The room has its own bathroom with shower. There’s no air-conditioning but there are two windows, which provide a decent breeze. Many trucks drove by through the night and it was too hot to sleep with the windows closed in summer.
I stepped on nail clippings on the floor early in the morning on my way to the bathroom and when I picked it up, I got long strands of hair in my hand as well (not mine). Apart from that, the room, sheets and bathroom were clean. The shower is minuscule but functional.
However, the caveat is that the beds are rock solid and immensely uncomfortable! My husband and I were in pain in the morning and our son, who can sleep anywhere, complained that his back hurt. The inn-keeper needs to change the mattresses in the “Familiale” room, not to be confused with the “Famille” room on the same floor. Maybe the other beds are more comfortable.
Breakfast is included and it’s homemade, hardy and delicious. Between us we had crepes, French toast, eggs and bacon, orange juice and coffee, fresh fruit and toast! Everything is included in the price ($95). Can’t beat that, or the inn-keeper’s hospitality.

Huttopia in Gaspé National Park

My son loves to camp and since I don’t, a huttopia was our compromise. We both loved it. This is glamping at its best. Just show up with your sleeping bag and some food. And, don’t forget wine. You can store it in the fridge! Yes, this ready-to-camp-tent has a fridge, outdoor stove, all the cutlery, plates, pots and pans and glasses you’ll need for four people. There’s even a toaster and kettle plus dish-washing accessories including dish soap and clean rags.

A picnic table and chairs are placed in the middle of the A-frame tent. To the right is the kitchen counter with cupboards below and a small fridge. At the back are beds, which consist of a raised wood platform with four plastic mattresses. Just plunk your sleeping bag on top and you’re ready for bed. Right outside the front door to the tent is a propane stove. The canvas roof is high enough so you don’t have to stoop inside (except on the beds) and the front door has a pad lock. There are also zipper-windows.

One night was about $150, which included taxes and the daily park entry fee for three people. Your kids will love it and so will the kid in you.

Hotel-Motel Manoir de Percé in Percé

Manoir de Percé is a good deal. It’s located across the street from Percé Rock on HWY 132. It’s super clean, offers free Wi-Fi, complementary coffee at reception and a small fridge in the room.
The bathroom and room décor are dated and the towels are rough. Those are my only two criticisms. Our room, 157, is the last room on the second floor; accessed by outdoor stairs. The porch and room window overlook the rock! We had the best view in town. And no one walked passed our room!
We took the hotel up on its dégustation (tasting) menu. The package was a five-course dinner and a hardy breakfast. The restaurant is located on the main floor. The décor is also dated and a little stuffy, but the food is delicious and the service friendly and attentive.
The room, with two double beds, was $104 a night. We all agreed that we would stay here again.

Gaspé restaurants

In the second of the Gaspé vacation blogs, I’ll highlight the restaurants we stopped at during our week-long drive. You’d think that being right on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the verge of the Atlantic Ocean, the seafood would be out-of-this-world. Think again.

While seafood is a mainstay on most local menus, most of it is deep-fried and battered. Unbelievable, but true.

Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon

The first restaurant we ate at was in Ste. Flavie on our first day, at the end of the long drive from Montreal. Our innkeeper suggested it. Centre d’Art Marcel Gagnon looked promising with Easter Island-inspired carvings in the water behind the restaurant and in the art space next to it.  The restaurant is attached to an art gallery downstairs and an inn upstairs.

I learned this place is highly regarded  but it was a regal disappointment. We were thankful they could accommodate us with no reservations on a Saturday night, but an hour wait-time for our food to arrive, after we ordered, was ridiculous. I wish they had said, ‘sorry no tables.’ When the food did arrive, it was tasteless and the bill, expensive.

Drop-by for the art and Gulf views. Dine elsewhere.

Le Matelot

This place, right on highway 132 in Baie des Sable, hugs the shoreline. It was packed on a weekday afternoon. Le Matelot came highly recommended to us by Montrealers who have summer homes nearby.

This casual place serves good seafood. A lot of it is caught locally. We dove into our seafood chowder full of Matane shrimp, scallops, and fish. We also ordered the escargot and pasta dish. The portions are small. The waitress was friendly and the service quick. What more do you want from a lunch-stop on the side of a highway?

Resto-Pub la Revolte

We stopped for lunch in the town of Gaspé. La Revolte is a sports bar/pub that wouldn’t be out-of-place back home in Montreal. Mid-range, on the water, typical pub menu, quick and friendly service.
A McCoy bus-tour of seniors piled in shortly after we arrived, so I take it that the restaurant is popular with tour companies. The restaurant also has a waterfront deck. We ate inside and had club sandwiches and a hamburger platter between the three of us. If you want authentic Gaspésian food and décor, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a big-city-style pub right on hwy 132 .

Gite du Mont Albert

The bar accommodated us on a weeknight without reservations when the restaurant couldn’t. Located inside Gaspé National Park, the bar was packed, so the staff was slow to acknowledge us and set our table but once they did, service was awesome.
We each had the burger platter and I had an aperitif. Best burger in years! However, the salad was limp and the pasta portion was tiny and tepid. After glamping in a huttopia for two days this was a treat. The décor is a mix of traditional Québecois country lodge and contemporary restaurant. We lingered as long as we could because no one wanted to go back to the campground in the rain!

Hotel Motel Manoir de Percé

We took our hotel in Percé up on its dégustation (tasting) menu. The package was a five-course dinner and a hardy breakfast. The restaurant is located on the main floor. The décor is  dated and a little stuffy, but the food is delicious and the service friendly and attentive.
The package is for manoir guests only. The dinner/breakfast deal was $47 per person. Wine is extra. Breakfast ranged from eggs and bacon to pancakes with orange juice and coffee included. Considering how expensive Percé is, this was a deal.

Boulangerie le Fournand 

We stopped by for a late lunch in Percé and we all had the croque monsieur. It was 3 p.m and most of the lunch offerings were gone. We had seen a long line-up around 12:30 p.m. The service-person heated up the sandwiches and brought them to our table.
The service was quick and friendly and the sandwiches only $6.95 each. This is a budget-friendly lunch-spot right on the strip.

Auberge la table à Rolland

We stopped in here for dinner our last night in Percé because it was getting late and there was no line up, like at other restaurants. Now we know why. It’s just okay and pricey for what you get.
The tables had clear plastic covers over the table cloths. Not pretty. I had the lobster club, which came with the worst fries ever; limp and not even browned. I couldn’t eat them. No salad side-option. My husband had the basil pizza, which he said was delicious. My son went with the 12-inch pepperoni pizza. That, with 2 ice teas, one aperitif and one garlic bread came to $87 before tip but after taxes.
It’s expensive for what you get. There are so many other restaurants to choose from on the strip.

Gaspé, Quebec vacation

We’re well into fall and it’s raining today so what better time to start planning next summer’s vacation?

If you’re like me, you dream all winter of your next summer holiday. Will it be by the beach? How will you get there? What will you do there?

With the Canadian loonie so low compared to the American dollar and the political climate uncertain south of the border, the time is ripe to stay home and explore Canada.

Last summer, my family stayed in Quebec and travelled to the stunningly beautiful Gaspé Peninsula. The ultimate destination was the seaside town of Pérce at the very eastern tip of the province, famous for its monolith, Percé Rock, in the harbour.

The Gaspé is a region of Quebec along the south shore of the mighty St. Lawrence River. The peninsula extends to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and ends at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean.

The journey is a 2,000 km return trip from Montreal to Percé on the achingly slow but gloriously panoramic Highway 132.

Six-day Gaspé itinerary

This is how we planned our 6-day trip:

  • Day 1: Montreal to Ste. Flavie. 575 km. 5h35 min. drive time plus breaks.
  • Day 2: Ste. Flavie to Gaspé National Park. 293 km. 2h25 min. drive time.
  • Day 3: Gaspé National Park
  • Day 4: Gaspé National Park to Percé. 300 km. 4h drive plus lunch break.
  • Day 5: Percé
  • Day 6: Percé to Montreal. 975 km, ouch! 10h25 min. drive plus breaks.

The rest-stops on the highway are far between but they’re clean and decent. They’re not modern like Ontario’s ONroute chain of pit stops, but you can get sandwiches and chips at most of them. We brought our own food.

There’s one breathtakingly beautiful town between Quebec City and the start of the Gaspé region in Mont. Joli. Kamuraska sits on the south coast of the St. Lawrence River next to vast mud flats that attract a variety of birds. These flats have been painted by thousands of artists over the years. A lunch-stop here includes a nip into the old-time general store, visiting art galleries and a peek at the restored town church.

In my next blogs, I’ll highlight the accommodations and restaurants that were hits and misses and of course, the attractions. There’s lots to do in Gaspé and most of it is weather-dependent, so bring rain gear and a good attitude. You’re in for quite a trip.

Jamie Oliver can cook anything from zombie brains and alien heads to Chernobyl vegetables

What’s the name of this vegetable? Don’t peek.

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It’s a celeriac. I’ve been told it looks like an alien’s head, a zombie brain, a Chernobyl vegetable and “the thing that was stuck to Spock’s back.” The celeriac was part of our fall organic vegetable delivery a few weeks ago. Someone gave me a Jamie Oliver recipe to try cooking this unique veggie. The recipe rocked and everyone enjoyed eating zombie brains for Thanksgiving. It tastes like celery and cooked, has the texture of a potato. Celeriac is rich in potassium and vitamins C and B-6. Here’s the Jamie Oliver recipe, just in time for Halloween. Let me know how it works out for you.

 

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein.

Four-hundred and eighteen pages. Europa Editions.

9781609452339Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay reads like a soap opera. You know the entire cast of characters; new and fleeting ones are introduced and they get themselves into dangerous, sad and fascinating situations. You know they’ll get out of the mess they’re in but you don’t know how, so you keep reading.

The third in the four-book Neapolitan series is definitely not pulp fiction, yet it contains lurid and sensational subject matter and its narrative is operatic in scope. The main characters Lina and Elena alone would be comfortable in a Jackie Collins novel; not to mention the characters that surround them. In fact, that may be the broad appeal of the series.

The characters are so richly described and the writing so evocative, that the book is more than typical chick lit about women’s relationships. Ferrante’s talented writing elevates Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay from a light fluffy read at the cottage to literary prose.

The third book becomes more about Elena and how she asserts herself as a person and as a writer, while Lila spins down into a horrible abyss before climbing back up. Characters from the previous two books come together. There’s a reversal of fortune.  At this point, I could give you a synopsis of the novel but I won’t. I didn’t have a clue as to what would happen on these pages and I want to give you the same pleasure.

However, I will tell you that what Lila and Elena go through is almost symbolic of the cultural and social changes that take place in Italy during the late 1960s and 70s, the period the book is set in.

It’s a great read but a thick read at 418 pages. Enjoy.