Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Maryland: Assateague in the Fall

The Saturday after Thanksgiving 2011, Jane and I went with a couple of friends to Chincoteague and Assateague, two Atlantic Ocean barrier islands off the coast of Virginia at the Maryland line. In fact, part of Assateague is in Maryland, though you have to leave Maryland to drive to it.
We went because it was supposed to be the height of the autumn bird migration. Indeed, this time of year is usually so good for birding that the wildlife refuge on Assateague opens a long back road to the public -- the only day of the year it does this -- to accommodate the crowds of people with expensive cameras, tripods, telescopes and binoculars.
But this fall is not like other falls. It's been a lot warmer and the birds are late. So we saw many of the same sorts of birds -- egrets, herons, bald eagles, mallards, black ducks -- that we see at home by the Chesapeake Bay. We did see a few of the wild ponies that have been famous ever since the 1947 publication of the book "Misty of Chincoteague." The lack of fowl did not mean the cameras weren't used. Lots of birds or few birds, Assateague is a beautiful place.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Canada: Toronto Revisited

Photos top to bottom: an art school near the Ontario Gallery of Art; the financial district along King Street; outside the Rex, a jazz and blues bar on Queen Street; the Queen Mother Cafe on Queen Street; a gallery in the Ontario Gallery of Art on Dundas Street.

A November 2011 trip to Toronto was very different from our June 2011 trip. For one thing, we flew this time. Air Canada's Jazz service flies a turbo prop on the 90-minute trip between Baltimore Washington International airport and Toronto's Pearson International. We also stayed in the heart of downtown, not going as far west as some of the restaurants we visited in June, and not using the city's neat streetcars nor its modern subway. We walked everywhere from our fairly conveniently located hotel, One King West.

Downtown Toronto, at least the heart of downtown, can be thought of as three east-west corridors: King Street, a few blocks north of the waterfront; Queen Street, a few blocks north of King; and Dundas Street, the next big east-west street to the north of Queen.

King Street is the financial district. Our hotel was at the corner of King and Yonge, which divides downtown into east and west. To the east on King was the auction house that was the purpose of our visit, an auction of Inuit art at which we were fortunate to win some interesting inventory for our Inuit art business, Head west on King, cross the major artery Spadina, and you come to Crush, an excellent if rather pricy wine bar.

Queen Street has loads of Indian Restaurants, though no one would confuse it with Brick Lane in London or East 6th Street in Manhattan. It also has the Rex, a jazz and blues bar with a handful of hotel rooms upstairs. Another favorite on West Queen Street is the Queen Mother Cafe, which can have long lines at breakfast but is also a great choice for lunch. The Bloody Caesar is a generous take on the Bloody Mary with clam juice.

Dundas has a string of small Chinese restaurants and the Art Gallery of Ontario, a major museum. It's basement has a glass wall allowing visitors to see its shelves and shelves of stored Inuit carvings. We caught an exhibition on Marc Chagall and the Russian avant garde. It also has a large gift shop that stocks a number of good books on Inuit art, a stylish but friendly bar, and a large restaurant.

Jane and I were lucky in that the weather was perfect for walking during this visit. We also benefited from a very slightly weaker Canadian dollar -- something like 98 U.S. cents would buy a Canadian dollar. Back in June, it went the other way.

Though we had no amazing restaurant experiences and our hotel was decidedly unremarkable, we still had a great time. This may have been a business trip, but there was a lot of pleasure.