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Jim Letourneau's Blog

Investing, Technology, Travel, Geology, Music, Golf. I think that covers it.

From a Window Seat - YYC to SJD

These photos were taken from a window seat on WestJet Flight 2290 on October 14, 2018. The weather was mostly clear and snow was just dusting some of the mountains in Montana and Utah. We flew over some pretty interesting stuff. Check out the photos and explanations below…

NOTE - more notes and links are available in the desktop format of this post.

Tuscan Food

I had the good fortune of visiting Italy this August. We spent time in Florence and in a country farmhouse near Mensano (party of the Belmond Castello di Casole). On this trip, I developed a better appreciation of the local Chianti wine.

If you want the serious nitty gritty on where to dine in Florence, I know a guy. However, this list consists of a mixture of guide recommendations, my own research and best of all, happy accidents (the best part of travelling). I heartily recommend any of the places listed below.

Why Don’t You Try Singing the Second Verse?

The Hold Steady will be played a 4 night run in Toronto’s Legendary Horseshoe Tavern last week. I attended their exclusive Soundcheck/Happy Hour event that ran from roughly 4-6PM on Friday. There were maybe 30 fans in attendance. 

The band played a few songs interspersed with fan questions. Legendary record collector Dave Hodge served up the questions to the band. Then the band posed for photos and people mingled. Craig Finn maintains an amazing connection with his fans and it is a real treat to hear him talk about music.

Happy hour sadly ended so I grabbed a quick dinner at the Gdous Juicy Chicken House. While eating my yummy chicken, I saw Craig Finn walking north on Spadina a little incognito.

Then I reconnected with family and saw the TIFF showing of A Private War which was a powerful film with a statue worthy performance by Rosamund Pike.

My timing was fortuitous as the concert proper started at 10:45PM. I didn’t miss a thing. The band delivered a fantastic high energy show to a sold out crowd. Their energy level was not hampered by the hot, humid conditions. The crowd singing the ending of Slapped Actress at the end of their set was a personal highlight.

From a Window Seat - YYC to YYZ

When I'm flying, I usually prefer a window seat.I can put my head against the cabin wall and sleep easily. Plus I don't have any stray limbs banged by food/beverage carts. On a clear day, I enjoy looking at the land forms below and if they're really interesting, I'll grab my phone and take a photo. A fun game, for me, is to then identify the feature. Sometimes this is dead easy and other times it can be frustrating*.

*One big frustration is the new iPhone High Efficiency Image File Format (.heic) which is a great format but it currently doesn't play well with others. I use Squarespace and currently like to use their IOS app as it lets me blog during free moments. However the image format issue was a speed bump. Enhancing life seems to require a series of hacks and kludges these days.

Annex Treasures

As a recovering hoarder, it is always a treat to walk through The Annex neighborhood of Toronto. There is a thriving recycling norm here. Unwanted books, umbrellas, sporting equipment, appliances and furniture are placed near the sidewalk where they are usually snapped up within a few hours.   

Every day features new treasures. These photos were taken down the length of two blocks on one side of the street.  It makes me wonder how much unwanted crap is stored in these houses. 

Bucharest- Day 1

We arrived in Bucharest just after midnight on a ~2 hour serviceable Blue-Air flight from Florence. There was a customs line up and a surprising amount of traffic for the late hour. The end of August means the end of vacation for many Europeans and the Romanians were coming home en masse. 

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We arrived in our hotel room late and didn’t hit the sheets until 2:30AM. We slept in on Monday proper and missed the free hotel breakfast. We opted to walk towards Old Town and have lunch at the venerable Caru’ ce bere, an old beer hall with ornate woodwork and stained glass windows. A live band played inside and there was a massive patio on the street. They said the pork knuckle served 2 so I down ordered to a veal shin. The veggies were crinkle cut but the shinbone had marrow in it. 

 Church of beer. 

Church of beer. 

After lunch, we stumbled across a beautiful bookstore, Cărturești Carusel.  Julia decided to do some shopping whilst I sampled a plum brandy on The Ace’s shady patio.

 Cărturești Carusel

Cărturești Carusel

 View from The Ace patio. 

View from The Ace patio. 

Touring Florence

Saturday in Florence consisted of a couple of tours. My day started at 8:30AM in Piazza San Marco which is a short walk away from the Accademia Gallery, home of Michelangelo’s David. After the Accademia Gallery, we walked through Florence seeing Santa Maria del Fiore, the exterior of the Duomo, the bronze Boar, Piazza della Signora and Ponte Vecchio. 

 They’re not booing, they’re saying Dave!

They’re not booing, they’re saying Dave!

 Tanner in front of Ponte Vecchio. 

Tanner in front of Ponte Vecchio. 

   Duomo Bell Tower

  Duomo Bell Tower

   View from Uffizi Gallery towards Piazza della Signoria. 

  View from Uffizi Gallery towards Piazza della Signoria. 

After a nice lunch on the square, it was off to the Uffizi Gallery for another tour. 

Florence Food Tour

We took in a Florence Food tour at 5PM on Friday. Lots of interesting stops!

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 Salumi-I recognize that dress! 

Salumi-I recognize that dress! 

  “tripe toast”

 “tripe toast”

 We didn’t stop here but HAM!!!

We didn’t stop here but HAM!!!

 We did not have limoncello but a nice selection.   A food tour guide must be able to manage their food and alcohol consumption. Our guide’s Mom is a doctor and has lectured her extensively on her diet. Today’s guide is a teetotaling vegetarian who has only done a food tour once! 

We did not have limoncello but a nice selection. 

A food tour guide must be able to manage their food and alcohol consumption. Our guide’s Mom is a doctor and has lectured her extensively on her diet. Today’s guide is a teetotaling vegetarian who has only done a food tour once! 

For lunch today, inspired by last nights food tour, I’m having more tripe!

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Florence!

In retrospect, having a Business class lounge at a temperature 3-4 degrees hotter than the rest of the airport is unnecessarily cruel. 

 Don’t cross streams!

Don’t cross streams!

Our flight was delayed about an hour so we had less than 2 hours  

 Meander of the Po and  Isola Serafini .

Meander of the Po and Isola Serafini.

 View of Florence from the plane.

View of Florence from the plane.

 Hotel Lobby

Hotel Lobby

We landed in Florence close to 3PM and we had a food tour scheduled at 5PM. Just enough time to fetch bags, taxi to the hotel, shower, and walk to Piazza della Signoria for the start of the tour. 

Journey to Florence

Not eating is a good way to figure out what things will make me hungry. The short answer is EVERYTHING! But seriously, food pictures/smells will trigger hunger for me. However, fasting gets pretty easy after 48 hours. I loaded up on fizzy water and decaf coffee at the Aspire Lounge. 

 I hope my crown isn’t too heavy.  

I hope my crown isn’t too heavy.  

 Family of Bears-Stewart Steinhauer

Family of Bears-Stewart Steinhauer

I slept through the serving of the meal but was pretty awake the rest of the trip. I downloaded the Top 50 Rolling Stone Albums of 2018 So Far. “Dirty Computer” by Janelle Monae was at the top of the list. The title track has an assist from Brian Wilson! It was followed by Black Panther - The Soundtrack. Is hadn’t seen the movie and since it was available, I watched it before listening to any more music. 

 This is why we can’t have nice things.  

This is why we can’t have nice things.  

I was able to forgo the big start of flight meal and have it served to me for breakfast! We arrived in Zürich with plenty of time to explore the airport. Julia and Lauren went shopping and I went to the newly rennovated SwissAir Lounge. It is very well appointed but packed and hot. If the plan holds together, we’ll be taking a short (1hr 10minute) flight to Florence shortly. 

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Fighting Jet Lag

We are flying to Italy today and while we are there long enough to allow a gradual adjustment to the 8 hour time difference, I'm hoping to minimize the worst of the jet lag. Many people swear by the use of sleeping pills. For me, the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) looms and I don't need to add an extra risk factor to my journey.

I've tried switching my sleep schedule over to the new time zone by staying up all night in an airport hotel room. The last time I attempted that, my flight to Poland was cancelled. My delay time wasn't excessive (3-4 hours) but I still had to run around LAX to fetch my bags and catch another flight with adrenaline pumping while it was sleepy time in Warsaw. 

I have also tried to use the methods laid out in "Overcoming Jet Lag" which laid out a very detailed 3 step program (used by "the White House, top US business executives and the US Army Rapid Deployment Force"). I found it a bit complicated and difficult to follow, especially when travelling with family.

Last year, I stumbled upon the use of fasting to minimize jet lag and so far, I've had fantastic results with it. All I need to do is not eat.

Not eat!

There is a parade of opportunities to eat and drink on long haul flights. The airport lounge is full of tasty bites. Then there's a parade of trolleys offering food and drink at the beginning of the flight. This simple version is from A “Fast” Solution to Jet Lag:

  • Avoid all food from the time you get to the airport (i.e., about two hours before departure)
  • Don’t eat during the flight — but still drink plenty of water
  • Eat soon after you land, as close to a local meal time as possible

For me, it is far easier to eat nothing than to have a few nibbles. Fasting makes it easy to turn down all the offered alcoholic drinks as well. Most west-east flights land in Europe in the morning. As far as the timing of breakfast goes, anytime between 6AM and 10AM local time works for me. When that breakfast meal is finally offered, I won't be groggy from a big feast 8-9 hours previously. I'll be guzzling coffee and firing up my metabolic engines.

I like this method as it not affected by flight delays.  My last meal was lunch on Tuesday and today is Thursday. My flight is scheduled to land at 10:40AM so breakfast should fall into a nice window. The hardest part is ignoring all the food smells on the plane. The best part will be waking up on Saturday ready to enjoy an 8:30AM day tour of Florence.

 

Calgary Food Tour

Stop 1 - cibo  

 Chef David

Chef David

Stop 2 - Vine Arts

 Jesse Willis

Jesse Willis

Stop 3 - Ollia 

 Ollia macaroon 

Ollia macaroon 

 Not quite the end of the world - but it looks like it today. 

Not quite the end of the world - but it looks like it today. 

Stop 4 - Anju

 Chef Roy Oh

Chef Roy Oh

Stop 5 - Calcutta Cricket Club

 Calcutta Cricket Club

Calcutta Cricket Club

Stop 6 - Royale

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 Our group. 

Our group. 

Jukebox Hero

It is only fitting that the band who created the hit song Jukebox Hero should have a jukebox musical.  Julia and I went to the world-wide premier tonight.

Guitarist Mick Jones and singer Lou Gramm were the songwriting team that powered Foreigner’s extensive classic rock catalogue.  Those songs were re-purposed and crafted into a classic musical storyline by veteran writers  Dick Clement and Ian la Frenais.

The show was supposed to start at 8:00 but it took until 8:17 for one of the producers, Jeff Parry, to come out and introduce the show. This project has been years in the making and part of its origin story includes a fortuitous meeting in Dawson Creek. You can't make this stuff up.

 Program Cover

Program Cover

The storyline does a good job of servicing the songs and creating enough drama to set up chilling moments as the story unfolds. A few lyric changes were required but the hits remain intact and powerful. The end of the first act features the power ballad "I Want to Know What Love Is" - Julia squeezed my hand. That is the power of great music.

 Set

Set

When the story reaches the benefit concert scene in the second act, the show really soars. Not unlike the final surge of a live Foreigner show. Starting with a hand clapping version of Dirty White Boy, then Urgent, Hot Blooded and then a little breather with Waiting for a Girl Like You which sets up the finale with Juke Box Hero and Feels Like the First Time.

 Curtain Call

Curtain Call

It is fantastic to get an early look at a made in Canada musical with a Canadian cast. This is a world class show. How do I know? Julia loved it!

Vulfpeck Music in Mexico City

During dinner this Monday at Blanco Colima in Mexico City, there was a DJ playing in one of the rooms. The volume wasn't intrusive and added a nice backdrop to our meal.

My ears perked up when I heard the bass line (go Joe Dart) of a Vulfpeck song (It Gets Funkier by my recollection but I could be wrong). This was coyly followed by King Harvest's Dancing in the Moonlight.

I knew that was no accident.

Is Mexico City Safe?

I saw a helicopter fly directly over the Plaza Mariana with a gunman standing at the door - just like in this article. it’s pretty intimidating.

A new service called GeoSure showed up on TripAdvisor recently with the claim:

We have developed the most trusted, granular, real-time safety measurement platform ever created.

Wherever you are, opening the app will give you a GeoSafeScore™score from 1-100. The high numbers are bad.

In the Chapultepec are of Mexico City the score is 72.  

  • Johannesburg, South Africa ranges from 60-77
  • Lima, Peru is 62 (the posh Miraflores district drops down to 57)
  • In LA County, Compton is 70, Watts is 68, and Malibu is 17. 
  • Cabo San Lucas is 60
  • Dili, Timor Leste was 65.  

You get the idea. My perception of Mexico City is that it was safe. However the GeoSafeScores™ provided good reason to take precautions, use common sense and be vigilant. 

Of course personal safety is more complicated than a number but when I've been in places with ratings over 60, I've usually been extra cautious.

Day 5 - National Museum of Anthropology, Pujol, Big Band Jazz de Mexico

Touring without a guide really drives home the fact that we are pretty slow and clumsy tourists left on our own. Yesterday we could barley find a shopping mall. However, today  we managed to leave the hotel by 1PM today and walk over to the amazing National Museum of Anthropology. Many of the artifacts that were found inside of and around the pyramids of Mesoamerica ended up in this museum.

I have to confess that I'm a skimmer of museum exhibits, they tend to overwhelm me, but I am a huge fan of museum building architecture. . 

 

 Central courtyard of the National Museum of Anthropology

Central courtyard of the National Museum of Anthropology

 Aztec calendar stone. What time is it?

Aztec calendar stone. What time is it?

 Baby needs a headdress!

Baby needs a headdress!

Our next adventure was a dinner at the highly rated Pujol restaurant.  

 Nobody's taken a picture of this sign before... kidding

Nobody's taken a picture of this sign before... kidding

An interesting side note is that Pujol changed locations effective March 2017 but they still have a note on their website recommending that patrons arriving by Uber manually enter the new street address.

...there is a compatibility problem with the app used by drivers, that can take you to our old location.

it won’t being before businesses will be getting scam calls about their location GPS accuracy instead of their Google listing. 

 A view of the verdant courtyard

A view of the verdant courtyard

 The bar after the first seating

The bar after the first seating

I didn't take food pictures but I can say that this was our best meal in Mexico City by a long shot. This restaurant deserves all of its accolades. Worth every penny. 

We were toying with going to the Folkloric Ballet after dinner, but the logistics didn't work. However, the Big Band Jazz de Mexico was playing less than 15 minutes away at 9PM and the billing included "and friends". That sounded promising but I really didn't know what to expect beyond "big band". We took an Uber to the Lunario of the National Auditorium. 

One we presented our tickets we were whisked quickly to a table. The theater featured stepped terraces and was configured supper club style with rows of small tables surrounded by 4 chairs. Service was prompt and continued during the performance. We didn't need any more food but I was on a mezcal binge and picked one from the menu. Julia was starting to flag and ordered water (which makes for a nice drink between mezcal sips). 

Bandleader Ernesto Ramos came out in a tuxedo and all of the band members wore shirts (Paul Anka would be proud). In addition to several guest instrumentalists and vocalists, the performance included the artist Jazzamoart who whipped off 3 paintings at the side of the stage and unrolled 8 different long banners during the show. Some were wrapped around the stage and some were passed into the audience. The atmosphere was festive and friendly.

 Jazzamoart slinging paint... to jazz

Jazzamoart slinging paint... to jazz

 Guest singer Lenny de la Rosa

Guest singer Lenny de la Rosa

Day 4-Is it Real?

Since I’ve chosen to isolate myself from the outside world by quitting Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, I’ve been paying attention to former tech insiders who are shining a light onto how these platforms operate (http://humanetech.com/). When I search for something, I don’t usually worry that a few possibilities are excluded... but maybe I should.  

Today the inverse of that happened when my wife decided she wanted to shop a Marina Rinaldi store in the stylish Polanco District of México City. We took an Uber to the correct place on the map... but the store was missing.   We spent a frustrating 20 minutes wandering around, but even when we were 10m away from the “store location”, we could not find it.  We could not find it because the store wasn’t there. The virtual world is quite enticing but it isn’t perfect.

Uber has used more than one vendor for its GPS (TomTom, Google, Mapbox, Microsoft, and they purchased deCarta recently) so there’s a lot going on behind the screen. I read an article on TripAdvisor where a driver in Mexico City was using 3 different GPS apps at once because the accuracy changed in different areas. 

After a great lunch at Contramar, we regrouped and tried a different store location. This time we were dropped off at the posh “El Palacio de los Palacios" (The palace of all palaces). The Rinaldi store was not easy to locate because of multiple floors and department stores with multiple brand stores within but Julia easily cut through those obstacles. 

 JulIa heading to the tax free counter

JulIa heading to the tax free counter

 "El Palacio de los Palacios" ("The palace of all palaces") is an amazing building. 

 El Palacio de los Palacios" - The palace of all palaces

El Palacio de los Palacios" - The palace of all palaces

Lunch at Contramar

Lots of great fish options.  

 Mural above the bar at Contrimar

Mural above the bar at Contrimar

I had the octopus. 

 400 grams of grilled octopus cooked in a mole sauce. 

400 grams of grilled octopus cooked in a mole sauce. 

...and a margarita! 

 Natural margarita with a thin jalapeño slice.  Handily outperforms the watery jalapeño margarita  Blanco  Colima. 

Natural margarita with a thin jalapeño slice.  Handily outperforms the watery jalapeño margarita  Blanco  Colima. 

Day 3 - Tlatelolco, Teotihuacan Pyramids, Basilica de Guadalupe

The highlight of our third day in Mexico City was a visit to the Teotihuacan Pyramids. These are about an hour away from The Four Seasons and they are a very popular tourist destination so we opted to meet our guide at 7:00AM to avoid the rush. This plan worked perfectly. An added bonus was that we didn't have to climb a pyramid in the heat of the day.

We pulled over briefly for a quick early morning view of Tlatelolco.  This square is also known as the Square of Three Cultures where an Aztec ruin, 17th century church and a modern office complex are juxtaposed.

Getting up early paid dividends as we almost had the pyramids to ourselves. 

 

 Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun

Many hot air balloons were in the air but only the first one made it over the Pyramid of the sun. The rest were pushed off course by shifting winds. I edited the audio on the above video to remove my laboured breathing. 

 We stopped for a bite at a place with a great view

We stopped for a bite at a place with a great view

Julia then insisted that we visit a cave, which is unlike her, but I played along.  

 La Gruta brochures

La Gruta brochures

 We drank a bottle of wine in a cave. Just like my ancestors did 

We drank a bottle of wine in a cave. Just like my ancestors did 

After a short drive back towards Mexico City (where we both napped off our wine) we hit up the Basillica de Guadalupe. 

 Carrillon tower

Carrillon tower

 Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

 Moving walkways help with crowd control

Moving walkways help with crowd control

 View from the back

View from the back

There were some great geological things to see including building subsidence and a holy spring that spontaneously appeared.