Much LAZIER than your average blogger  
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2.25.2007 - 27 comments 

With Fat Tuesday last week (and of course Marti Gras) it reminded me of New Orleans, Louisiana. Which in turn, reminded me of the French Quarter. This picture is actually of the church of St. Louis and sits right in what is known as Jackson Square. This area has many attractions that all of us tourists just love. But truly there are so many unique buildings, restaurants and shops in this area, that it is a tourist's dream (or nightmare depending on how you perceive shopping and other tourists).

We had several good meals in this area not limited to, but including Paul Purdomme's "K-Pauls" (Paul Prudhomme, the Cajun chef with a world-class cooking pedigree and a personality as big as the flavors he creates). A unique thing about dining at K- Pauls, was that there was just the two of us so they sat us with another couple of "two" at a table for four. The place is in such demand, that no one cares, as long as they get to eat there. We happened to be with a couple of nurses who were in town for a convention. They actually made for very nice dinner companions for my wife and I.

My favorite lunch was at the "The New Orleans Cooking Experience" which is inside the Old converted shopping area known as the "Jackson Brewery". Not only was the food excellent, but also we actually got to watch as it was prepared complete with jambalaya, red beans and rice, Creole gumbo, followed up with pralines for dessert.

Speaking of sweets... another favorite for my palate was the Coffee & beignets at the Cafe du Monde. Crispy Crème’s have nothing on these little babies! And people watching at the Cafe du Monde was a plus too.

As for the actual French Quarter and the famous Bourbon Street... I could have easily stayed in the Marriott and forgotten our trip down that street. It was really a place that was full of sidewalk (like) boozy slushy makers positioned every five feet (or so it seemed) and lots of women showing off their wears, similar to what I would have expected to see (along the brothel streets in some European country), where women of the evening are not discouraged.

Little did I know that New Orleans has a history of appealing to the carnal senses. Storyville, the famed red-light district at the turn of the last century, was known for its many houses of prostitution as well as being the birthplace of jazz music until it was closed down in 1917. After vaudeville, and the success of burlesque, striptease became a mainstay on the nightclub stages. In the Forties, stripteasers were in it for the money, as servicemen passed in and out of town looking for a good time.

As for some history about the area around the French quarter... French Canadian naval officer Jean Baptiste Bienville founded it as a military-style grid of seventy squares in 1718; the French Quarter of New Orleans has charted a course of urbanism for parts of four centuries. Bienville served as governor for financier John Law's Company of the Indies, which in naming the city for the Regent Duc d'Orleans sought to curry Court favor before failing spectacularly in the "Great Mississippi Bubble."

The French Period legacy endures in the town plan and central square, the church of St. Louis, Ursuline Convent and women's education, ancien regime street names such as Bourbon and Royal, the charity hospital, and a mixed legacy of Creole culture, Mardi Gras, and the important effects of African enslavement combined with a tolerant approach to free persons of color.

Foundations laid by the French and Spanish in the 18th century survived to shape the course of history in the city. The city plan, the central square overlooked by church and state, French arpents, city lots, faubourgs, heavy trusses, Creole cottages, the old Convent, and Charity Hospital came from the French side. But streetscapes full of repeating arches, Arabesque ironwork, covered passageways, and the still-alluring sense of guarded privacy came from His Catholic Majesty of Spain, not His Christian Majesty of France.

We had many adventures in our time there and some are more memorable than others. The meals there were all very good and not one of them was ever bland. I think that may be where Emeril Lagasse's got his "BAM!!!" from. Though a native of Fall River, Mass., Chef Emeril’s rise to fame and fortune began in New Orleans when he was hired as chef of "Commander’s Palace", the alma mater of Prudhomme (and a very nice place to dine itself). He's also got a place there called NOLA, as well as "Emeril's" which he stared after leaving "Commander’s Palace". For me, there were no bad meals in New Orleans... and boy... am I ever getting hungry now?

"I am going to kick this up a notch.... BAM!!!" ~ Emeril Lagasse

2.19.2007 - 20 comments 

When I first rounded the corner and saw this building... I just thought it was a really cool looking old building, but not until we got inside did we realize just how really cool it was. It was like a mall unto itself. Of course, I took this shot on the way out as it was starting to get alittle dark out, but I think you can still see the beauty of this building?

The lower ground floor (basement) of The Strand is where you’ll find Sydney’s largest duty-free shop, a favorite with tourists. Just above that, the ground floor offers products native to Australia, antiques and collectibles, menswear, and fine giftware. A half-dozen coffee houses and gourmet specialty stores complete the collection of ground floor shops.

When the Strand opened in downtown Sydney in 1892, crowds rushed to the shopping centre to get a look at the city’s newest retail area, promised by its builders and designers to be bigger and better than anything built previously. The Strand soon became THE place to shop or even just browse…as the city’s finest citizens undoubtedly headed there to purchase clothing, jewelry, and a myriad of other items.

When the Strand Arcade was built at the end of the 19th century, it was proclaimed by local newspapers as "the finest public thoroughfare in the Australian colonies." Designed by English architect John Spencer, many saw this project as quite ambitious and maybe even unobtainable. Designed in the Victorian style, The Strand was to be 340 feet (104m) long and 3 stories high. Ornate cedar staircases were to be placed at either end of the structure.

Everything was modern and state-of-the-art. The roof was made of tinted glass and the lighting system a combination of gas and new-fangled electric. Records show that even the toilets boasted the latest technology and modern hydraulic lifts carried customers from floor to floor. In the swinging 1920s, the basement of this grand building even housed an extravagant Sydney eatery, The Ambassadors Café, complete with 700-seat ballroom and a Palm Court for afternoon tea.

Thankfully, the building still maintains much of its original charm, though the gas lamps and the café are gone and the stores have changed hands many, many times. It’s survived a few depressions, two world wars, and the threat of fire twice. Still, it’s a favorite gathering place for both locals and visitors and promises to remain standing for a long time.

The Shops ~ The Strand Arcade continues to be home to some of the finest stores in Sydney. The floors are logically organized so that most retail establishments of a particular kind are situated on one floor, with a few exceptions. The first level of The Strand is where you’ll find the finest in women’s fashions. Dubbed the Designer Fashion Gallery, the shops here feature clothing by hot Australian designers like Wayne Cooper and Alannah Hill.

Level two is home to shoe and clothing alteration services, and a handful of women’s stores and even beauty salons, . Jewelry stores are scattered throughout all three floors as are a few unisex shops. Even though we were on a quest to find some Opal Cuff links for me, it was still enjoyable just to be in this place and to find out about its history and uniqueness. By the way (in case you care... ) I did manage to find my opal cuff links here!

". . .life is short and the world is wide" - Simon Raven

2.10.2007 - 36 comments 

First of all... I apologize to those of you who read me on a regular basis for not doing my usual Monday post, but the truth is that I was was in New York all this week and not able to log into my blog. Plus ever since I was MADE to upgrade to Beta Blogger (or Blogger 2 as they are calling it now,) I have had trouble even posting on many of your blogs. Many of your comments where made (turned to) as anonymous after I made the upgrade as well. (A fact that stilll irritates me!) But... it is still FREE, so I guess I shouldn't really complain.

I actually took this shot of the skyline of Toronto from a place called Toronto Islands. The islands are actually out in Lake Ontario. Only a 10-minute ferry ride from the foot of Yonge Street, the Toronto islands offer a panoramic view of the city skyline. Centre Island offers miles of parkland with beaches, barbecues and picnic tables, boat rentals, bicycle paths, a children's farm and even an amusement park.

Visitors to the Toronto Islands can enjoy their lakeside charm while still having the Toronto skyline in sight. Although the peninsula and surrounding sand-bars were first surveyed in 1792 by Lieutenant Bouchette of the British Navy, they were well-known by native people, who considered them a place of leisure and relaxation.

The main peninsula became known to European settlers as the "Island of Hiawatha". D.W. Smith's Gazetteer recorded in 1813 that "the long beach or peninsula, which affords a most delightful ride, is considered so healthy by the Indians that they resort to it whenever indisposed". Many Indian encampments were located between the peninsula's base and the Don River. The sand-bars were also important to birds and other wildlife. During migration periods vast numbers of birds frequently stopped at the sand-bars and marshlands of the Don River and Ashbridge's Bay.

Toronto, itself is on the north shore of Lake Ontario, is the largest of Canada's vibrant urban centers. It is the hub of the nation's commercial, financial, industrial, and cultural life, and is the capital of the Province of Ontario. People have lived here since shortly after the last ice age, although the urban community only dates to 1793 when British colonial officials founded the 'Town of York' on what then was the Upper Canadian frontier. That backwoods village grew to become the 'City of Toronto' in 1834, and through its subsequent evolution and expansion Toronto has emerged as one of the most livable and multicultural urban places in the world today.

The city was actually one of the cleanest large cities we have ever visited. There were so many exciting things to do there, that there was not time enough to do them all. We went to a Blue-Jay's game, and watched as they rolled back the roof on the Dome (which in itself was really neat to watch). We also took that trip on a ferry out to Toronto Island, where they have a small amusement park, (which kept us busy for a while). Speaking of amusement parks... we also went to what is called Toronto's Wonderland. It was a huge amusement park outside of the city. Paramount's Canada's Wonderland was much like a Disneyland / Disneyworld, but the rides were more like those to be found in Magic Mountain (in other words) lots of fast and exhilarating thrill rides and not really designed for the timid. It was a very well maintained park not unlike the Disney Parks.

On another day, we spent the day shopping around in what was the largest department store I had ever been in. It was called Eaton's. The Eaton Centre, is a multi-leveled, glass-roofed galleria comprising more than 320 shops and restaurants, 17 cinemas, and a 400-room Marriott hotel. Built in 1979, the Eaton Centre boasts almost $750 of sales per square foot of retail space - the highest in North America - and is the number one tourist attraction in Toronto with one million visitors a week.

Modeled after the Galleria in Milan, Italy, the Eaton Centre was among the first major downtown shopping centres constructed in North America. This could actually be a blog post in and of itself. Other things that you can do in the the downtown area are: entertaining attractions including Harbourfront, Ontario Place, Rogers Centre, the CN Tower, (which I got some great shots of the city from) and the Toronto Islands. It's also the setting of many big events including the Celebrate Toronto Street Festival, Caribana, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Canadian National Exhibition and WinterCity. Downtown Toronto offers museums and art galleries galore including The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) , Canada's largest museum and one of the top 10 in the world; the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Canada's oldest art gallery and home to more than 15,000 paintings; and the Ontario Science Centre, which entertains and educates 800,000 visitors a year.

At the northeast end of the city, Canada's largest zoo, the Toronto Zoo, features more than 5,000 animals in their natural environment. We also spent a day going through the Casa Loma Castle in Toronto. This mediæval castle sits on a hill with a breathtaking view of the city and its truly magnificent gardens. A guided tour helped in our exploration of this majestic castle complete with secret passages, towers, an 800-ft. tunnel and stables. The castle also had as one of its most classic home decor items, the first elevator in North America. They called it Otis One, and according to our tour guide was the first one that was built by the now famous Otis Elevator company. (This place could be a post by itself someday).

"I am going away with him to an unknown country where I shall have no past and no name, and where I shall be born again with a new face and an untried heart." - Colette Posted by Picasa