Saturday 30 July 2011

Our Genealogy Group in the Cumberland News

The article about our genealogy group, Cumberland Document Transcriptions, is in this weeks Cumberland News. We buy (with money donated by Cumbrian-connected genealogy enthusiasts all over the world) documents pertaining to our county, transcribe them, put them up on our free website and then donate the original documents to the Cumbria Archives Office in Carlisle.  We've been doing this for two years now and it's a lot of work, but worthwhile.

If anyone who reads this is interested in their family history and has Cumbrian connections come and have a look at our website Cumberland Document Transcriptions.  If you have any queries or want to help in some way, get in touch with us on, we'd love to hear form you.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Canada Part 6 - Another 360 in the Sky

July 12

As we had our usual early hours post U2 gig celebrations we had a lie in next morning.  After a breakfast of chocolate biscuits I met up with Deb and Julie in the foyer and we went to the St Lawrence Market.  There has been a market on this site since the early 1800s.  It's a lively place full of atmosphere, sights and smells, including a stall that sold every kind of burger under the sun, camel, buffalo, kangaroo, you name it they had a burger made out of it!  I loved it there and if I lived in Toronto I'd be a regular customer.

Afterwards we chilled at the hotel before getting ready for our meal at the 360 restaurant at the CN Tower.  We treated ourselves to a taxi and met up with Dan And Dianne at the base of the Tower.  It takes 58 seconds in the lift to get to the restaurant, our ears popped as we watched a whole new view of Toronto appear below.  The CN Tower opened in 1976, and for over three decades was the world's tallest free-standing structure at 1,815 feet, only recently losing that distinction.  I've always thought that it's a very elegant building and it helps you keep orientated in the city too!

Me, Debbi and Julie in the 360 Restaurant
We were given a table beside one of the windows, and when we first sat down we had a gorgeous view over the Toronto Islands and Lake Ontario.  The restaurant does one full rotation every 72 minutes so everyone gets a chance to see both the fabulous lake and downtown views.  We were there for over two hours so we saw it all both in daylight and when the city was lit up like a Christmas tree.  Mother Nature even treated  us to a gorgeous red sunset!  The rotation of the restaurant was very gradual but it was both funny and disorientating to suss out where the toilet was only to find it was in another place when you wanted to go again!

We ordered from the fixed price menu ($55) as there was no way we could afford a la carte!  Dianne has snails as a starter, Debbi and I were curious about them and tried a morsel each.  My verdict?  A bit like mushrooms in consistency and taste (the snails were cut into small pieces) but with a slightly spicier taste.  I had a delicious caesar salad for starters, followed by pan seared fillet of applewood smoked Atlantic salmon, Saskatchewan wild rice, wilted arugula and water cress, sour apple beurre blanc.  The salmon just melted in my mouth, I had no idea what argula was (I later looked it up, it's rocket) but it went perfectly with the watercress and wild rice.  We washed it down with a delicious Valpolicella which should be good at $51 a bottle, (Dan kindly put the first bottle on his bill, thank you!) 

My heavenly dessert in the 360 Restaurant!
Then the big decision, what do I have for dessert?  Dark chocolate tower with summer fruits and raspberry vanilla creme Anglaise or maple walnut roulade with candied walnut meringue and vanilla bean creme Anglaise?  The chocolate won (it usually does).  It looked almost too good to eat, it was truly a work of art.  The mousse inside the tower was perfection and I loved every morsel!

The service was very good and the atmosphere relaxed.  Yes, it wasn't cheap but the quality of the food was excellent and I don't mind lashing out money on good food occasionally.  It was also the last night Dianne, Debbi, Julie and I would be together and what better place to be than the 360 Restaurant after all the good times we've had on U2's 360 Tour over the last three years?  It was the perfect way to .  end it.

Dianne, me, Debbi and Julie getting the cobwebs blown off
in the Red Zone!
After the meal we decided to go out onto the viewing platform It was a tad blowy to say the least, we didn't spend very long out there.  We then went to the area that had the glass floor.  It's strange but even though you know the floor is safe (there was a sign saying it could withstand the weight of 14 large hippos!)  there is an inbuilt primeval fear of stepping into the "void". I eventually did step onto it, well I actually also lay on it for a photo, must have been all the Valpolicella LOL!

Then it was time to say goodbye to Dan and Dianne, they were going home the next morning.  It's always sad when friends who live a long way away leave as I don't know when I'll see them again.  But we have shared great times and I'm sure there will be more.

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Oh My, What a Way to End 360 in the US!

A slice of U2 heaven in Pittsburg, their last show of the 360 tour in the US, what a way to end.  Wish I'd been there.....

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Canada Part 5 - Hot, Hot, Hot and "Canada Shining Out Of My Backside"

11 July

We felt refreshed and ready for anything when we got up the next day.  We decided to go to the nearby St Lawrence Market and have some breakfast there.  However, it was closed on Mondays so we found a Starbucks around the corner and had coffee and cake.  While we were sitting outside a man tied his gorgeous little dog beside us while he went in to buy something.  The dog was so sweet, chilled and loved a tickle.  When the man came out I asked him what type of dog it was and he said it was a Maltese cross and that she was a lovely dog, she was called Poops (hopefully a nickname!)  It was so sweet to see how much he loved his little dog and vice versa.  

At lunch time Debbi, Julie and I walked to the Radisson Harbourfront Hotel where we were meeting Dianne and her husband Dan for lunch.  It was nice to see Dan again, he's such a lovely man.  I had a delicious salad with goats cheese and strawberries, a perfect combination, just the thing in the hot weather.

We walked the short distance to the Rogers Centre which was beside the still elegant (after 35 years) CN Tower that dominates the city. We waited for the band's arrival, we only saw Bono smiling and waving from his car.  It was an extremely hot day, and Toronto was the hottest place in Canada  - at one point the mercury hit 33 degrees centigrade!  Add to that the humidity created by the Great Lakes and it was unbelievably hot, for me, an English rose from northern England that was very, very hot, but somehow I survived it!

We didn't want to go into the stadium until the as late as possible so we ended up back at the Radisson and had something to eat outside on the patio overlooking Lake Ontario, there was a nice breeze coming off the lake so it was pleasant there. Even with the heat I was loving Toronto, it's such a handsome city, fabulous location, lovely vistas, great new and old architecture, for me it beats Montreal any day.

Then it was off back to the Rogers Centre.  It was all well organised, no Fan Jams, easy to find seats, toilets, food etc, in other words, how it should be!  We had cheaper seated tickets this time so were quite high up, but each row of seats had a metal bar in front of them so it felt safe and helped my vertigo!  The stadium was round rather than rectangular and very high,earlier in the day the retractable roof (it was the first in the world) was closed as a storm had been forecast, but it was now open as the storm hit further south.  This was one of the few stadiums the Claw didn't peek out of.  Opposite us stood the CN Tower soaring into the sky.  It was still very hot and humid and sweat stood on my brow the entire evening.

U2 started at the usual time and as usual we were up out of our seats and bopping away only to realise most of the people around us had their arses firmly planted on their seats!  Though a U2 audience is always very mixed age-wise around us it was mainly young people and I just could not believe they were so boring!  As the seats were so steep we didn't block people's view so we just stayed stood up.  Even in the pit around the Claw people seemed not that into it.  Bono worked really hard to get the crowd going and they did improve but were not a patch on the two Montreal crowds.

For the Toronto band intros Bono apologised for the year's delay caused by his back injury last year referred to the changes in the members during the tour. Adam "became a father for the first time." Larry was in a movie with Donald Sutherland; and Edge wanted to write a musical about a "superhero? scientist?  - being bitten by a spider and becoming a nerd." He rambled on, "Who can fathom the workings of this man's mind? A genius on guitars and everything else... very good at train sets."  To which Edge mumbled something about modesty LOL! 

During City of Blinding Lights Bono got a boy up on stage and walked an entire circuit of the walkway with him, the lad imitating Bono's stance etc. prompting him to say, "you're not a shy boy are you?"

All through the show the Claw had a rival unique to Toronto for special effects - the lights of the CN Tower.  Lights of varying colours pulsed and rippled around and up and down the tower, often in time to the music, it looked great!   

At one point Bono said he had "breaking news" and the stadium became amazingly quiet and he continued to say that over the last two years two million more Africans had been saved from AIDs-related illness in the last two years.

A one point Bono was on one of the bridges and someone threw a Canadian flag at him.  He picked it up and put it in a back pocket of his trousers, "Canada shining out of my backside" he laughed.  He briefly mentioned the moon, saying we couldn't see it, but that it was, "smiling down on us."  Strangely Bono didn't mention the tower, maybe he couldn't see it from the stage.

The set was the same as the first night in Montreal, I was hoping for Bad but it wasn't to be.  It was a good show, but not a great show.  I think part of that for me was due to the lacklustre crowd around us, don't know why they pay good money to sit in their seats for a rock concert! 

It was also my last 360 Tour show and I felt a bit sad as I watched the band leave the stage.  360 had been a part of my summer for the last three years and it was now finally over for me.  Lots of travel, fun, highs and lows, sun, rain, wind, magic U2 moments, good friends - what wonderful times we have on these escapades.  Now I'll have to start saving for the next tour!

Friday 22 July 2011

Canada - Can You Find Me?

Edge took this photo on his mobile when he was leaving for the stadium in Montreal and posted it to his Twicpic page here .  Can those who know me find me?  Maybe that's a bit much to ask LOL!   I had no idea there were so many people there.  More posts about my Canada trip coming soon.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Canada Part 4 - Rockin' and Rollin' and the Strangest Cup of Tea Ever!

9th July
Edge in Montreal
Due to our very late night we had a lie in today.  After breakfast Debbi and I went into the city centre and met up with Michelle.  We saw Edge leave for the stadium, he signed autographs and chatted, as lovely as he always is.  I think he's taken over form Larry as the most youthful looking band member nowadays.Michelle shouted out "Play Out of Control tonight" I was amazed quietly spoken Michelle could shout like that LOL!   

We didn't have time to go back to the apartment before we needed to head for the stadium ourselves so we decided to have something to eat in Chinatown which wasn't far form where we were.  We found a place called The Jasmine Garden that did a buffet meal for $14.95, sounded perfect for us.  It was very nice, so much to choose from, some was unlabelled so some of it was a surprise, I nearly put a chicken foot on my plate but realised what it was in time!

We went back to the Metro and got the train to Namur ready for our second gig.  It had been another hot day but as we arrived quite late the worst of the heat was gone.  We walked to the stadium only to be stuck in another Fan Jam of people trying to get through the entry points!  I couldn't believe it, there was an ocean of people inching it's way forward. It took an hour to get to gain entry and by now Interpol were nearing the end of their set.  We all really needed the spend a penny so we joined yet another long queue for the portaloos.  As we got nearer we had a laugh with the people around us, saying we could only have five seconds in the loo, but then we decided fifteen was a little better!  I could hear people counting out loud when I was inside!  
U2's Claw Stage in Montreal

Deb and I parted company with Michelle as she was sitting in another block of seats.  We gingerly made our way up the steps of the temporary stands which were held up by thousands of scaffold poles, it didn't look as if it could hold all theses people!  

We met Dianne and Julie at our seats, they too had be stuck in the Fan Jam and hadn't been in their seats very long.  It wasn't long until U2 came on, and the crowd was even more receptive than the previous night, they went crazy, it created a fabulous atmosphere.  This gig was being broadcast live on and Bono explained that because of that he would be mostly speaking in English - 

"This has one extra benefit,' he added, 'you don't have to listen to me mangle your beautiful language. "  LOL!

The first few songs were from Achtung Baby once more and the crowd sang along and jumped up and down (no one sat of course). The structure holding the seats rocked and rolled too, it swayed to and fro, side to side and up and down, we were constantly re-balancing ourselves until we learned to rock n roll with it lol!

The first surprise of the gig was Out of Control - Michelle would be one happy woman!  It rocked and didn't sound over 30 years old.  During Get On Your Boots Bono got a guy wearing turban up on stage to sing with him and boy was he into it and knew every word!

This was followed by a full version of All I Want Is You, such a treat.  They had tweaked it a little, especially at the end, which included a bit of harmonica from Bono. Beautiful.  This was followed by another welcome surprise, Stuck in a Moment.

Prior to his band intro Bono said.
"We've taken our space station around the world, we're nearly home, we're going to have to find something else to do.  When we were kids joining U2 was like running away with the circus, maybe we need to find another circus...'

Just get down to recording another album lads!  Montreal is the home of the world famous Cirque du Soleil so Bono's intro continued the circus theme.

" Larry is a 'fire-eater, a sword-swallower, the world's strongest man." Adam? 'The bearded lady...' Edge? "Trapeze artist, high-wire act..."  

"Knife thrower," added Edge, pretending to aim at Bono.

"Thanks very much," said Bono, throwing a look at Edge, before adding, "And I will play the clown."

Again Zooropa was a highlight for me.  From our position we had a perfect view of the claw (something you don't appreciate as much when you are closer on the field).  Lights shone out through the Claw into the crowd as the static flickered, and vague words ran across the screen.  It was stunningly effective and went perfectly with the song, just as the undulating reds had when they did The Unforgettable Fire in the early legs of the tour.

During Elevation Bono got a young boy out of the crowd and carried him onto one of the bridges as he sang.  He asked the boy his name first in English, then in French he replied Paco.

During the encore Bono sand a spine-tinglingly beautiful snippet of Hallelujah which segued into Where the Street Have No Name and the whole stadium went crazy, and I was hoping the structure holding us up would be able to cope with all these people jumping up and down!

Ultraviolet had been changed slightly and we all liked this version.  I love how many U2 songs develop over the years and something new is found within them.  With Or Without You had "Shining like stars in the summer night......" ending, the one soooo many fans love so popular it was trending on Twitter!) and it's been a long time since Bono had used it.  It was so appropriate for this night too, it was one of those magical intimate U2 moments, when the huge stadium felt like a small club.  Wonderful, touching and why I love this band so much.

I read the following in a review and I thought I'd add it in here as it conveys something of what that is all about so well:
"I’ll remember helping to hold up the metal posts of the media tent as the rain blew horizontal Friday night. But perhaps the most enduring memory I’ll take from this weekend comes from the first night, when I turned to my left and saw the girl next to me had two perfect tear streams coursing down her face during With Or Without You. Going in, I’d thought the song should have long since been retired from the live show. Perhaps I was wrong. Connection, intimacy. You just have to pull focus back from the Spidercrab immensity of the stage. Which may be exactly what U2 intended. Build it up to the sky, work that much harder to reach back down and in." (Mark Lepage , Montreal Gazette)

The show finished with Moment of Surrender at the end of which Bono shouted out.
"Vive la difference, vie le Quebec."  Which went down very well with the audience.

This was one of those exceptional gigs, the band was on fire and the audience was amazing.  We felt elated afterwards and for a while didn't talk, each taking in what we'd witnessed. Eventually we returned to the reality of the trial of getting back to our apartment.  We decided to hang back a little to see if the Metro would be less clogged up.  We could see the huge mass of people flowing out as we sat in our seats as long as we could before we were asked to leave.  We then sat on the grass outside for a while until the crowd grew thinner before heading to the Metro station.  And it was nowhere near as bad as the previous night, it maybe took us ten minutes or so to get into the station and soon we were on the train home.

We were home a lot sooner and that night we had McDonalds for our post-U2 supper and only a little wine, were in bed by 3.30am as we had a five hour journey the next day so were sensible for a change.

July 10
A travelling day.  We left our apartment and took a taxi to Montreal's Central Station.  Soon we were heading west towards Toronto.  We'd had fun in Montreal, but it's not a city that I feel I would like to go back to.

Debbi in The Old Spaghetti Factory, Toronto
 under a motto we wholeheartedly agree with
The train journey to Toronto wasn't very exciting, we passed through flat, featureless countryside.  But ti gave us a chance to recover from the hardships of the last few days lol!  We had made sandwiches for the trip and got tea on the train to have with them.  Well, I've never had tea like it, it was weak and like English breakfast, Earl Grey, herbal, green and any other variety of tea all mixed together.  The weirdest tea we'd ever had! I do miss a decent cup of tea when I'm overseas - only Ireland has proper tea like the UK.

We rested for a while in our rooms before meeting up in the foyer to go across the road to The Old Spaghetti Factory for a meal.  We had a really good and very reasonable meal there.  We all were tired so afterwards we returned to our rooms and were in bed by 10pm.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Canada Part 3 - U2, A Howling Wind and Stinging Rain, and a Fan Jam

July 7
For sale on the Rue St-Hubert, Montreal
Another hot and sunny day. which we had delegated as one of our lazy days.  We sauntered to the Rue St-Hubert to do some shopping.  It was a lively colourful place selling almost everything under the sun.  We bought three hats to protect us from the sun a bit - we snapped the three up for $10!  We'd baulked at the cost of things in Quebec (food etc was much more expensive than here) but obviously there were bargains to be had on Rue St-Hubert.

That evening we went to another of Marie-Anne's recommendations, a Portuguese restaurant called Casa do Alentejo.  It was what I would call cheap and cheerful with excellent food.  I had grilled sardines to start - never seen such huge sardines and they were succulent with crispy skin.  For the main I had a barbecued steak with fries, the steak was very tender and cooked perfectly.  All washed down with a smooth litre of Valpolicella (between us I hasten to add!!)

July 8
Show time!  We had standing tickets for the U2 360 gig today and Debbi and Julie left early to get a good position in the pit area.  Dianne and I couldn't be bothered to stand in the heat for so long and left a few hours later.  Luckily our Metro Stop, Beaubien was on the orange line which went directly to the venue so it was a simple trip.

The Hippodrome, which was just a ten minute walk from the Metro, used to be a racing track but it was demolished a couple of years ago and it was just open ground.  A special stadium was built just for the two U2 concerts.  The seats looked a bit scary, open, high and supported by thousands of  metal poles. The signage was abysmal, little to tell you which was to go and once inside nothing pointing to toilets, concessions or merchandise. There was also a distinct lack of security staff organising things.  There were lots of pointy tents that reminded me of Glastonbury and a music event called the Fan Jam going on.

Dianne and I found a really good place on the outer rail of the red zone on Adam's side of the stage.  We could see the catwalk and the main stage and the screens from there so it worked out well. It was still very hot and I was really glad I'd bought the pink floral hat lol!  It didn't do much for me but it kept my head cool. There was a good concert vibe around.

The support band was Interpol and they were as boring for me as they were years ago when they supported U2 in Glasgow on some tour (can't remember which.)

U2 took the stage at 9.15pm to the strains of Space Oddity by David Bowie and launched into the Achtung Baby songs that they opened with at Glastonbury - I was hoping for this.  It took me back to those heady days when we were even madder than we are now lol!  Great songs and an amazing vibe in the crowd.

Bono was in one of his funny moods evident when he did the band introductions after a quip, "I need another two minutes" as he tried to catch his breath.  He introduced Larry as Bonnie Prince William (a nod to the recent tour of Canada by William and Catherine).  Adam was Kate Winslet, not sure why!  Edge was "Our own Prince of Wales" and he referred to himself as a, "Chien royal" which the French speaking crowd received with bemusement, "Corgis, you know, royal dogs?" The crowd didn't get it, not the best place for that kind of joke Bono, but we found it hilarious!  He talked a lot in what sounded like a poor French and the translation in English of his words that appeared on the screens was very amusing, it seemed like another language at times.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm looking for was magical, with the crowd singing a verse themselves, all the more amazing seeing it wasn't their mother tongue.  A snippet of Springsteen's Promised Land was added at the end.

Poster in Montreal
Beautiful Day had an intro by astronaut Mark Kelly in a recorded piece from the International Space Station, where he let cards with the words on float off in the gravity free environment.  The song was dedicated to Gabby Gifford, Kelly's wife, who was shot and seriously wounded at a political meeting in Arizona a few months ago.  Everyone rocked and sang along, it was certainly a beautiful night!

My favourite section of the show began with Miss Sarajevo.  The operatic part was very emotional and Bono hit all the notes perfectly, it still amazes me that he can sing like that!  Beautiful.  Next up was Zooropa which I'd been waiting for not having seen it played live since 1993.  The Claw screen stretched down until it was right on the stage with the band behind it, and like that they played the song.  It was a brave thing to do as the song is one most of the audience wouldn't know and the band was out of sight, but it was fabulous!  What a brilliant off the wall song it is and i loved the version they played as static and blue light played over the Claw screens.  What a treat!

The Claw during City of Blinding Lights was beautifully coloured.  Vertigo rocked and I like when the screen whizzes round at high speed at the end of the song. 

Good also to hear a little of Scarlet prior to Walk On which had the One/Amnesty International supporters coming onto the catwalk with white lanterns.  Bono acknowledged Aung San Suu Kyi's release but said he was singing the song for the other 2000+ political prisoners in Burma.

It was the usual encore, with a very powerful and emotional With Or Without You that had me transfixed.  I've tired of songs such as Pride and Sunday Bloody Sunday which are played at almost every gig, but With Or Without You is played as much yet I love it every time. 

The band closed with Moment of Surrender, and I still think it does not work well as an ending.  There was such a fantastic vibe at the end of With Or Without You, that should have been the point to end.
As Moment of Surrender was finishing raindrops started falling (a storm had been predicted) and Bono started singing The Beatle's Rain.  Then, suddenly, it was as if a dam had broken and a monsoon like rain fell, followed by a swirling, gale force wind came equally out of the blue.  Talk of timing, right at the end of the show the heavens opened.  I glanced up at the screen to see the band disappearing down the steps, a big smile on his face, it was ok for them!!
Dianne first put her umbrella up, it blew out one way, then the other way, no way could it cope with the wind.  We had our ponchos with us but getting them on was another matter, the wind kept whipping mine off, I couldn't find where to get my head and arms through as it flapped in the wind.  Then I got hysterical with laughter underneath the blue plastic, already well soaked.  It took ages but in the end managed to help each other into our ponchos still giddy with laughter.  All around us people were scattering, laughing, yelling, struggling with various items of rainwear, it was hilarious.

There was a sea of fans as far as the eye could see, we had arranged to meet up with Debbi and Julie , but in this mass of people being buffeted by wind and rain we knew we would never find them.  I could hear my mobile text alert going but couldn't take out the phone because it was so wet.  We peeped in a tent, it was crammed full of people sardine style and it was lovely and warm and dry!  We squeezed in and I read the text which was from Deb, we agreed to make our own way home. 

Then we braved the elements again, it was no better, huge puddles and mini rivers forming.  It was hard to know which was to go to the Namur Metro station as there were no signs, no security to guide us and neither of us could see well because our glasses were waterlogged!  Wide masses of people stretched off in four different directions so we just  took pot luck and went with the nearest one.  About half way to the Metro station the crowd of people came to a halt and for the next one and a half hours we moved forward a step at a time.  It was truly a Fan Jam!  It was still raining and thunder rumbled above.  Being in the midst of a sea of people I didn't feel the wind anymore.  It was now quite cold but the plastic ponchos helped keep us a bit warm, others were not so lucky and some and literally shivering with the cold.  It was total chaos, I've been to many, many big concerts like this over the years and have never experienced such badly organised security outside a venue.

When we finally got into the station I felt like getting on my knees and kissing the ground!  The Metro staff were well organised, people telling you where to go and which carriage to get in.  We sank into our seats with a sigh of relief, good to get off our feet after all the standing and it was lovely and warm in there too.

When we got off at Beaubien the rain and wind had stopped, it was 1.45am when we got to our apartment, Debbi and Julie arrived five minutes after us looking as bedraggled and wet as us!
We have a tradition of having champagne, pizza and a U2 quiz after the last gig we see.  It was a bit different this time, we had two gigs to go but, for various reasons we were having our celebration that night. 

Due to the ridiculous price of the Veuve Clicquot in Montreal ($68!!!) we had good prosecco instead and it was delicious!  Dianne won the quiz and we were up until 5am, we can still hack it as rock chicks LOL!

A little clip of the last moments of the gig below, gives a little impression of the rain and wind (By Cara)

Saturday 16 July 2011

Canada Part 2 - Friends, Food and Flour Mills

5 July
Dianne arrived safely the next day, now there was only one more person, Debbi, coming tomorrow.  Did a lot of catching up with Dianne, we hadn't seen her for two years, then we went out shopping.  It was another very hot day and I was wondering if I would be able to cope with the heat during this trip.  

My main at Le Plaza

That evening we went to a local restaurant Marie-Anne had recommended, Le Plaza.  It was just five minutes away on the Rue St-Hubert.  The restaurant was elegant, very brown and had large, sliding doors open onto the street.  We sat on one of the tables by the doors, it was cool there and we could feel the ambiance of the area as life went on outside.  I had beef with bourguignon sauce, haricot verte and a baked potato with sour cream and crab.  It looked gorgeous and tasted divine! 

We shared a dessert recommended by the waitress, yankee toast, something I'd never heard of.  It was a thick slice of bread that seemed to be soaked in something then fried until brown.  Over this was poured some kind of syrup (maple maybe) and topped with vanilla ice cream.  It was lovely, but very sweet, my third was more than enough!  We spent the rest of the evening drinking a lovely red wine and chatting, it was very enjoyable and relaxing and we felt back to normal once more.

6 July
Notre Dame Basilica
It was a bit cooler and overcast today which was a relief!  Dianne, Julie and I got the Metro from Beaubien to Peel in the city centre.  We booked ourselves onto a hop on hop off tour of Montreal.  The tours were in old London red double decker buses with the roofs taken off, ours was from 1967, they were certainly built to last.  We were given blue, plastic ponchos just in case it started to rain, little did we know that these ponchos would be a godsend a couple of days later!

The first stop was the Notre-Dame Basilica in the Old Town area.  A stone church has stood on this site since around 1672, initial construction of the present basilica was between 1824 - 1829.  The architect was an Irishman called James O'Donnell who lived in new York but moved to Montreal to oversee the work.  He died in 1830 just after the inauguration and was buried beneath the floor of the building.

There were fabulous paintings all around, many depicting First Nation people, which made it different from any European church. There were wonderful carvings too.  All in all an amazing building. It was a beautiful church, very dark inside (the huge stained glass window behind the altar had to be removed and replaced by a painted, blue-lit wall as it was south facing and so churchgoers were often blinded by the sun). All around were racks of remembrance night lights in red, white, green, blue, yellow and purple holders, these looked beautiful flickering in the darkness. 
Notre Dame Basilica
We passed the Montreal Science Center into the docklands.  Montreal is 1000 miles from the sea but it was a major port because of the mighty St Lawrence River.  The docklands was very rundown and I'm surprised we we taken there, the guide even pointed out a flour mill as if it was something special!

The next stop was the Casino, a strange building that, to me, looked unfinished.  Then it was onto a stop in the designer shopping area of the city, we gave that a miss!  
Then we started to climb Mont-Royal and stopped at St Joseph's Oratory, which was a stunning building.  We didn't get off as there were millions of steps up to it and we were not in the mood to climb them (and saving our energy for the U2 gigs, got to pace ourselves nowadays!)  

St Joseph's Oratory
The bus continued up to the park a-top Mont-Real and we got off here.  It was a peaceful oasis far above the bustle of the city below.  The rain that had threatened all day came down, there was a cafe called Maison Smith nearby and we had a delicious sandwich there. When we had finished and left the rain had stopped.  We got the next bus back into the city, the last stop was unavailable due to roadworks and that was it.

On the way back to our starting point I noticed two circling birds of prey reflected in one of the skyscrapers, whatever they were, they were huge.

I must say I was pretty underwhelmed by what I saw of Montreal on this trip.  These tours usually take you to the most interesting places in a city so when they are showing you rundown docks, flour mills and a casino you wonder about the place.  Even the Old Town was very small.  I may be doing the city a dis-service but what I saw of it on the tour wasn't that exciting.

Debbi was arriving that evening and we were also getting a visitor, my friend Michelle from New York who just happened to be in town for a couple of gigs by  a certain band LOL!  I met Michelle at the Metro station and we walked back to the apartment.  It was good to see her again.  Shortly afterwards Debbi arrived in a taxi and at last our group was complete.

I made a simple meal of pasta Alfredo and garlic bread and we finished with a slice of mango cake that Michelle had brought along, it was lovely.  Then we sat outside in the balmy night drinking our favourite wine (Errazuriz Merlot) and chatting. At 11pm Debbi and I walked Michelle back to the Metro.  We'd had a lovely evening, sometimes the simple things are best.

Michelle, Dianne, Julie, Debbi

Canada Part 1 - Are We There Yet?

2 July

We had a convoluted trip to Montreal due to there being no direct flights there from northern England or Scotland, only London, with (good and cheap) Air Transat.  So it was either fly from London - a long way for me - or go to Montreal via Toronto, we chose the last option.  Due to the time of our flight Julie and I had to stay overnight in Manchester previous to the flight, we got a good deal at the airport Hilton which was great value for money.  We also had an over night stay in Toronto, yet it was all still easier and cheaper than using another company or going to London.

3rd July

Our flight was delayed by a couple of hours and then we had the seven hour flight to Toronto, it actually passed over quite quickly and we were coming into Toronto, Lake Ontario and the CN Tower glinting in the sunshine.  That's when things got hairy.  The plane was banking a lot, and moving in an unusual way.  As we were descending, there were short, but severe drops that made your stomach turn.  A man said loudly, "Is this normal?"  No one answered, but we knew it wasn't, a little girl cried out every time the plane "dropped".  The runway appeared below us but it was a while before we touched down, very heavily.  The brakes screamed and again, I've never experienced brakes being used so strongly, We were pushed forward in our seats, I gripped the seat arms and Julie put her hands onto the back of the seat in front.  I thought the plane was going to run out of runway.  Luckily it didn't, and people broke out into applause and sighs of relief as the plane slowed right down.  I've never, ever experienced a landing like that, maybe it was the pilot's first landing, God knows, but it wasn't pleasant and hasn't helped my underlying fear of flying!

The heat hit us as we left the airport, in the taxi on the way to our hotel I saw a temperature reading of 31 degrees centigrade, yikes!  Out hotel was the Sandman Signature, and it was lovely, excellent service and posh, quality rooms of above average size, very, very good value for money.

We went for a meal in Moxie's Grill, in the hotel.  We were served by a guy called Colin who recited a huge list of side dishes and specials in one breath!  The meal was lovely and we washed it down with a glass of red wine.  We had an early night as our flight to Montreal next day was at 9am.  I was beginning to wonder whether getting to Montreal this way was a good idea, it seemed we were never going to get there!

4 July

The flight to Montreal took just an hour, and we took a taxi to our rented apartment. The journey wasn't very scenic, lots of shabby and derelict areas, but the street in the Petite Patrie district where our apartment was situated was lovely. Most of the street was apartments and the stairs to the upper ones were on the outside of the buildings, very unusual to us. Our host, Marie-Anne, was there to greet us and we left our cases - we weren't able to take over the place for another four hours, we did already know this - so, not quite fully arrived yet!

We went to do some food shopping.  There were lots of shops nearby and the Beaubien Metro was a five minute walk. It was very, very hot, a bit much for me and I think that along with all the travelling it made us feel quite weary.  By then I thought we should have flown direct from London!  In the end we parked ourselves in a MacDonalds and had a long, slow, cold drink until we could return to the apartment.

At 4pm, with huge sighs of relief, we flopped down on the couch and kicked off our shoes, at last, we had ARRIVED!  The place was lovely, three large bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a big kitchen/diner, throughout it had beautiful, real wood floors.  Outside, we had a small garden area with a table and chairs.

The third member of our group, Dianne, was due to arrive around midnight, but at 9pm I heard from her by text - she was stranded overnight in Minneapolis because her plane was "broken!"  She would now be arriving around noon the next day, oh dear. Time for an early night and we'll be raring to go tomorrow!