Sunday, 15 July 2018

Postcard from Quebec City


Bonjour mes amis! One of the items on my summer fun list as written here is to meet up with friends in Quebec City in July. For this family vacation, we decided to fly to Quebec City and stay close to Old Town Quebec where most of the attractions are. We've been to Quebec City before, however, some of our friends have not, so this is an opportunity for us to re-visit some of our favourite sights in this beautiful city and create new memories with friends.

We had a record-breaking heat wave the entire week that we were there. The daily high temperatures were about 35 Celsius (95F). With humidity it felt like 45 Celsius (113F) but we kept cool and carried on. We did most of our sightseeing either early in the morning or later in the afternoon into evening, and stayed indoor during the day. Coincidentally, Canada's 151st birthday and the Festival d'Été de Québec (FEQ) were on in the same week so we enjoyed great celebrations and music as well.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Quebec City or Ville de Québec is the capital city of the Canadian province of Quebec, on the Atlantic side of Canada. It's about 800 km (450 miles) north east of Toronto.  You can get there by planes, trains, automobiles, or boats as the city is right by the St Lawrence River. The airport code is YQB.


WHAT I LOVE ABOUT QUEBEC CITY:
  • Quebec City is a walkable walled city with a unique European feel and is incredibly well preserved after 400 plus years. It's the only walled city north of Mexico.
  • It's a mostly French-speaking city with visible signs of French culture, architecture, and cuisine, including the quintessential poutine. Want French patisserie and boulangerie? Check! Enjoy un petit café? Check! If you don't know French, no worries, as staff in the tourism industry are bilingual in English and French or multi-lingual.
  • Charming Old Town Quebec is a UNESCO World Heritage site, perfect for me to wander, browse, and admire several national historic landmarks in a compact space.
  • It's a city where I feel like a kid, excited to walk along the ramparts, touch huge cannons, climb uphill to the Plains of Abraham to get a good view of the St Lawrence River below, listen and watch the street artists perform under the statue of Samuel Champlain, or take a peek at the artisan shops. The combination of hills and river offers some spectacular scenery (plus good workouts for the legs and lungs!). Oh, if you're not into hills or walking, no worries, there are funiculars and horse-drawn carriages which are attractions on their own.
  • It's so Europe and so close that I can visit and enjoy without leaving Canada.
Without further ado, please see some of my photos below. Click on the images to enlarge them.

HISTORIC LANDMARKS: Too many historic landmarks to list here, however, every time I go to Old Town Quebec, I always visit Le Château Frontenac hotel (dated back to 1893), Dufferin Terrace, the Plains of Abraham, the Citadel, and the various gates such as Porte Saint-Jean, Porte Kent, Porte Saint-Louis that are part of the fortifications.

Le Château Frontenac celebrating its 125th year

Dufferin Terrace and St Lawrence River

Plains of Abraham and the Citadel

Porte Saint-Louis, part of the fortifications

View of Porte St-Jean Tower

Cannons along the rampart

Grande Allée Drill Hall completed in 1887

Notre-Dame Basilica Cathedral dated back to 1647

Notre-Dame Basilica Cathedral interior

STREET VIEWS: There are plenty of eateries, art galleries, and shops along Grande Allée Est, rue Saint-Jean, avenue Cartier, all the small streets in the Old Town, and rue du Petit-Champlain in Lower Town. Quebec City is also dotted with welcoming greenery, fountains, art statues, and flower beds.

Grande Allée Est lined with eateries

avenue Cartier and its funky street lamp shades

rue du Petit-Champlain from Escalier Casse-Cou

Hilly rue Sainte-Ursule towards rue St-Jean

Parkette across from Hotel de Ville

Tree-lined sidewalk along Grande-Allée Ouest

Splash pad in Old Town Quebec

Another tree-lined sidewalk with old lamp posts

Pretty summer flowers

FESTIVAL D'ÉTÉ de QUÉBEC (FEQ): Quebec City summer festival is an annual 11-day music festival. This year, it's on from July 5 to 15 with a great line up of performers at various stages in the city. We were able to join in some of the performances and let me tell you, this city knows how to celebrate!



All in all, I've again had a wonderful time in Quebec City and another amazing trip this year. I'm now back at home enjoying summer in my city, and plotting my next adventure.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about Quebec City.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Wellness Wednesday July 11


Welcome to our 7th Wellness Wednesday link up in 2018! Today I'm providing updates on my June wellness goals, setting goals for July, and linking up with a group of terrific bloggers who are also on the wellness adventure.

The optional prompt this month is Emotional health care tips. I'll share what I do to stay emotionally healthy. I look forward to reading any tips that my fellow bloggers or readers may have to share.

June wellness goal updates:
  1. Meditate 15 minutes daily: I continued to meet this goal in June. I feel that I've got a good habit doing this by now.
  2. Exercise one hour daily: I achieved this goal by walking, running 5K, yoga, or working out in the gym, both at home and abroad in June. The hotel that I stayed at in Warsaw had a fitness centre which made it convenient for me to get my workouts done.
  3. Smile or laugh daily: I had an excellent June as written here and many reasons to smile or laugh daily.
  4. Take online French and Spanish lessons daily, fifteen minutes for each: Yes! I've been doing this throughout the month of June.
July wellness goals: With warmer weather and upcoming cultural, social, and travel activities in the summer, I'll stick with the same four wellness goals that I had in June:
  1. Meditate 15 minutes daily.
  2. Exercise one hour daily.
  3. Smile or laugh daily. 
  4. Take online French and Spanish lessons daily, fifteen minutes for each language.
What I do to stay emotionally healthy:
  1. Move my body daily: Physical activities such as walking improve my mood. When it comes to physical movements, I believe it's the consistency that gets results. Once I establish my fitness routine, I move on to increase the intensity, and introduce small changes to my routine to keep things fresh and to moderately challenge myself.
  2. Do the things that make me happy: I identify the list of 18 FEASTs at the start of this year and I make time for them. FEAST stands for Fitness, Entertainment, Arts, Social, and Travel.
  3. Be more mindful: I pay attention to what surrounds me and try to notice my thoughts and feelings. I find that my daily walk near nature is a great setting for me to be more mindful. I also make time to meditate 15 minutes daily. I'm mindful of the win circles.
  4. Practice deep breathing: Deep breathing relaxes my body. Try to breath in deeply, then exhale slowly and visualize the breath through your body. Do this a few times and I guarantee your body is more relaxed. I do deep breathing at night to help me fall asleep which leads to the next point.
  5. Sleep well: We know adequate sleep is important for our mind and body. When we don't have enough sleep, we feel tired and become cranky. I'd say that when I make time to do the above four steps, it's guaranteed that I'll sleep well.
Now your turn...How are you doing with your wellness goals? What do you do to stay emotionally healthy? Please share below.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Postcard from Warsaw, Poland

Greetings! Back in May and early June, I took a trip to the Baltics and Poland. I shared a map of my itinerary here. You might like to see some photos and read about my fun time in Tallinn here, in Riga here, and in Vilnius here.

From Vilnius, I headed south by bus towards Warsaw, Poland's capital. The distance is about 468 km (292 miles), the longest of the three bus rides that I took on this trip. Similar to the rides through the Baltic countries, the road condition from Vilnius to Warsaw is very good. Again there is no passport control at the border since Poland is also in the European Union. The weather continued to be warm, with a small chance of showers in the forecast for my first morning in Warsaw.

QUICK FACTS:

Poland is much bigger geographically and has significantly higher population than each of the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). Located in Central Europe, Poland's population is about 38.5 million people. Its official language is Polish, and its official currency is the Zloty. Warsaw, Poland's capital, is a sprawling city with about 2.8 million people.

After having spent about a week in the more relaxing Baltic capitals, I kind of braced myself for the bustling pace of an urban centre. Fortunately, I arrived on Poland's Children's Day, Friday, June 1, and most of the local residents were enjoying the long weekend so Warsaw was quieter and had less traffic than normal.

WARSAW'S TOP SIGHTS: Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Warsaw Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has suffered almost complete destruction during World War II and survived. Today it's a bustling tourism hub with its cobbled streets, reconstructed medieval buildings, and lots of Polish eateries and shops.



At the entrance to Warsaw Old Town, the Royal Castle, the former residence of Polish kings, is located in the Castle Square. This massive brick building is a copy of the original blown up by the Germans in World War II.

The Royal Castle, Warsaw, Poland

A covered walkway links the Royal Castle with St. John the Baptist Cathedral. Originally built in the 14th century, St. John's is steeped in history. The last king of Poland, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, was crowned and eventually buried here. The details in the stained glass windows are simply amazing.

St. John the Baptist Cathedral, Warsaw

Stained glass in St John Cathedral

The Old Town Market Place is the centre and oldest part of Warsaw Old Town, with a mermaid statue. This medieval square was blown up by the German Army immediately after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and was reconstructed after World War II.

Mermaid statue in Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town Market Place
 
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a monument dedicated to the unknown soldiers who have given their lives for Poland. It is open 24 hours, and the guard is changed every hour.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw

Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes is a memorial that honours those who died during the unsuccessful Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.

The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes

Green park space in former Warsaw Ghetto

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a museum on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The Hebrew word Polin in the museum's English name means either 'Poland' or 'rest here'. Within walking distance from the museum is Umschlagplatz, the departure point for Jews transported to Treblinka, with a memorial to the more than 300,000 dead. I'd encourage visitors to spend time exploring this neighbourhood and visit the museum which has a beautiful interior design and excellent exhibits.

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

POLIN words on the glass panes

Lazienki Park is the largest park in Warsaw. Lazienki was acquired by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski in 1764 and transformed into a glorious park complete with palace, amphitheatre, and various buildings. Within the Lazienki Royal Gardens, there is a massive bronze sculpture of the famous Polish composer and virtuoso pianist, Frederic Chopin. It was here that the brief rain showers caught up with me and you can see the rain bubbles in the reflecting pond below the Chopin statue.

Chopin Statue in Lazienki Park, Warsaw


If you're a Chopin music fan, the city of Warsaw has brought Chopin to the people by placing fifteen musical benches at key sites connected with his life. Made of cast iron and polished black stones, these Chopin benches feature a button which when pressed play a thirty second of Chopin melodies. They also come equipped with a route map, brief explanations in Polish and English as to the site's relevance to Chopin, and a bar code which when scanned, you'll be rewarded to free access to Chopin music, facts, figures, and photographs.

Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Poland. It was constructed in 1955 as a Soviet 'gift' to the people of Poland. With 3,288 rooms, if one was to stay in a room each night, it would take about nine years to go through the building.

Palace of Culture & Science, Warsaw

WILANOW PALACE:

In addition to exploring Warsaw historic centre, I also took a side trip to visit Wilanow Palace, known as 'Polish Versailles'. The Wilanow Palace is one of the most important monuments of Polish culture. It was built in the late 17th century in Baroque style as a summer residence for King Jan Sobieski III. It survived the two world wars that swept through Poland and has remained unchanged from the 17th century to the present day. I'd encourage visitors to spend at least half a day to visit the Palace, its lovely gardens, and surrounding park.

Wilanow Palace, Warsaw, Poland





POLISH CUISINE & UNIQUE SOUVENIR:

During my stay in Warsaw, I had delicious dishes at the various eateries. I remembered to take photos of the beet salad, soup, and dessert but forgot to take photos of the pierogies (filled dumplings)!




If you're into shopping for souvenirs, there are many shops in the Old Town. Something unique is the striped flint stone usually designed with silver. Amber is also popular here.

MY CONCLUSION:

I greatly enjoyed my first visit to Warsaw, Poland. It's truly remarkable that Warsaw has not only survived virtual destruction at the end of World War II but thrived. As a result, there are many fascinating neighbourhoods and landmarks to explore. Although I chose to walk when I was there, Warsaw has two subway lines, an extensive bus and tram network, and some dedicated bike paths. Excellent museums are available to interpret its complex history, from the tragedy of the Jewish ghetto to the joys of Chopin's music. I hope you enjoy reading my trip recap and viewing my photos.  

Did any of the information or photo surprise you? Would you add Warsaw to your list of cities to visit? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

June in a nutshell


Greetings! June had an exciting start since I was in Warsaw, Poland, finishing the last stretch of my trip. Upon returning home, summer weather is here and I'm enjoying outdoor events which leave me with much less time for sitting at my desk to blog. I still want to record my month of June with several highlights as it was another excellent month.

Without further ado, here's my June in a nutshell:

FITNESS - I kept up my fitness routine both at home and abroad. For my mind, I meditate and continue taking online French and Spanish lessons, each for 15 minutes daily. When I was in Warsaw, I did a lot of walking to explore the city and used the gym in the hotel. Once I returned home, I continued with my daily 5K walks, gym workouts, yoga, and 5K runs. I'm grateful to have access to a gym with air-conditioning, especially on warm and humid summer days.

ENTERTAINMENT - I watched a spy movie titled Red Sparrow while flying home from Warsaw. Other than that, I enjoyed visiting the outdoor farmers' markets four times, attending four great outdoor music performances by Jerry Leger on June 7, Angela Saini on June 14, Mike Branton on June 21, Amanda Rheaume on June 28, and the indoor Luminato Instruments of Happiness event which was a tribute to George Harrison by 100 electric guitarists led by Montreal virtuoso Tim Brady and hundreds of Doane Uschool ukulele students.

Farmers' Market before the crowd comes

ARTS - I saw plenty of beautiful architecture and art work in Warsaw. At home, I enjoyed the indoor Spring art exhibition and the outdoor HTO Pendulum Wave festival. The local parks and gardens have also been looking fabulous with lush green trees and seasonal flowers. The Toronto Harbour is dotted with sailboats and the lake view never gets old.

HTO Pendulum Wave festival

SOCIAL - I went out with my friends for a tasty Chinese dinner. We ended up with lots of leftovers for my friends to take home because the portions were so big. Another friend and I had a nice coffee meeting to catch up on our news. I also enjoyed a big BBQ family gathering at my sister's. The evening's sweet ending was the three birthday cakes to celebrate three family members' birthdays. On my blog, I wrote eight posts in June with many photos (Maybe too many?), had one guest post, replied to all comments (Thank you to everyone who left a comment!), and submitted my comments on other blogs when I could. I say 'when I could' because sometimes Blogger and WordPress do not play nice together and my comments disappeared or I had to log in different accounts to leave a comment.

TRAVEL - As mentioned earlier, I started June in Warsaw, Poland. My short stay there was wonderful and it made me think of planning another trip in the future to focus on Poland. I hope to finish a blog post about Warsaw with some photos when I'm at my desk long enough to do it. At the moment, I'm in Quebec, about 800 km (450 miles) away from home, enjoying summer time with family and friends.

Toronto-Quebec City route

That's my short and sweet June recap. July is already off to a festive start with Canada's 151st birthday on July 1!

I'd love to know how your June was. What was most memorable for you?