Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Perks of going on a study tour . . .

Many teachers have said to me before, "Why bother going on a teacher study tour if it's not completely funded? Why not just travel to the place on your own?" The short answer? Because today I met Royal Galipeau and David Jacobson. Who? The first is a an MP (Member of Parliament) who led us on an impromptu tour of the Parliament building this evening. Can you imagine just walking into the US Congress and having John Boehner just walk up and start talking to a group of strangers and leading them all over - including onto the floor of both chambers? Incredible. M. Galipeau is such a humble, down-to-earth guy who not only taught us so much about the inner workings of parliament and history of the building, but also gave us a remarkable glimpse into what it means to be Canadian. The latter is the US ambassador to Canada, whom we met this morning at the US embassy when we were there for a lecture from state department officials and others. He graciously came in and talked to our group, and was so personable and kind, you'd never know that he was a big Chicago lawyer who was the #2 fundraiser for President Obama. He wanted to take a picture with us and since no one had their cameras (so we wouldn't have to go through security with them), he pulled out his cell phone to take a picture, until one his aides brought in a camera! Our focus today was on economics and politics, and in addition to having superb lectures by two of our professors, we were treated to something quite special by two politicians who surely had better things to do with their time - and never acted like it for one minute. This is why teachers should participate in study tours.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Quebec to the capital

Since my last post the Friday morning of Canada Day, much has happened. First of all - that was a parade I heard out my window (considering my hotel was across from city hall), and I hit it just at the right time, just as some very important person (the mayor? the provincial governor? who knows?) was saying some very important words in French that I could not understand one bit of, but I'm sure it was a fantastic speech. The best part, however, is that after his speech the military men dressed in their red uniforms with those funny throw-back British furry hats tucked down to their eyes - began marching in the streets, along with what can only be described as the coolest mascot ever -- a long-haired white goat! While I have no idea why there is a goat as part of their formal marching crew, or what was done to the goat so that it never made a sound during the ordeal, it was quite a site to see. Sorry sis - I have no pictures because my SD card has an error and I only brought the one (gasp!) but I took some video that I'll upload soon. The slideshow is someone else's Flickr photostream of QC. In addition to goat, there were so many other unique Quebec moments:

  • eating at the only Moroccan restaurant in the city and having the very kind owner describe me as a "Fesia Jamila" (translation: beautiful woman from Fes) ... btw - how do Moroccan restaurants function in a French environment? you are served butter with your bread and you have to bring your own wine - as a good Muslim he won't serve it, but he'll pour and open it for you!

  • walking around with the masses of Canadians who came to QC for the holiday - such a festive atmosphere -- until I went into a T-shirt shop and the owner was very nice and was telling me how he hated these days - not because of the crowds, but because of the crowds of country bumpkins it brought to the city, "stupid people from the province," he called them - so I guess the old urban vs. rural divide exists everywhere

  • running into the nicest, smartest 12 year old I've ever met - Justine - who set up a lemonade stand - complete with signs in English - explaining that she was raising money to go on a school trip to Greece next year - she obliged me by letting me film a short video of her talking to my students - this one definitely won't be put online, but I can't wait to show American high school students how important it is for them to learn another language

  • walking the perimeter of the old city on top of the walls of the Citadele - breathtaking!

  • feeling the Will & Kate vibe (they were in QC the day after I left) and buying a chic chic hat that will probably only fly if I attend a swanky British garden party :)

  • attending a free rock concert in the courtyard of the history museum (just because it was Canada Day?? who knows) and apparently there was some comedy thrown in with it - because all of a sudden the lead singers would do some wacky solo and everyone was laughing - I'm sure it was hilarious if you understood it!

  • deciphering the Montreal Metro and making it to my hotel in one piece

  • finding yet another Moroccan restaurant in Montreal and arriving just in time to see the belly dancer (not a Moroccan artform, but fun) perform just before the server (who was Tunisian) brought the bread and butter (!!) - but the best part was that the cook was Moroccan - and the harira was reminiscent of what we had on the rooftop at Foumzguit

  • Making it back through the subway labrynth with my heavy bags and barely making it on time for my train to Ottawa

  • four days of not much convesation - and lots of introspection - which I've decided is one of the benefits of traveling alone in a place where you don't know the language ... you actually get to just be with yourself, and not be bothered by the noise around you or the conversation people are having on their phones or anything else - it's just a nice time think

  • finally getting to Ottawa and joining the teacher group - I think this will be a really fun class

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

Yep - July 1 is Canada Day, which perhaps explains why it sounds as if there is a parade going on outside my window. I wandered leisurely through this 400-year-old city last night, and wished I weren't alone, as it is so romantic. If you have a chance to visit, come with someone you love - or even want to fall in love with! I'm so glad I made the decision to get a hotel within the walled city. My plan today is to just continue strolling up and down the cobblestone streets, and visiting nearby sites, such as the Plains of Abraham and stopping for lunch at a Moroccan restaurant I found last night when I noticed the word "Sahara" on a sign. :) Don't worry sis - I'll post pics soon - but right now I'm just enjoying living in the moment!

Thursday, June 30, 2011


If tgif lets us embrace the end of the week, (as well as a good cheeseburger), then I think tgfw should become our new saying every time we encounter wifi - especially when it's free - as it is right now on Canada's ViaRail line from Montreal to Quebec City. How convenient that I can actually be posting in real time, and not just typing out my random thoughts to be shared at a later date. And while I'm on the subject of convenience, let me say that I had a first last night on my Air Canada flight - a power source and USB port in the back of the seat in front of me, right on either side of the screen! Now, maybe I'm behind the times and everyone has witnessed this, but I've flown at least four times in the past year, and this was the first I had seen that setup. My first taste of on-board wifi just came in March with a flight to Tucson, and although I didn't use it, I have to admit I was happy to see it. Now that I'm constantly online thanks to my MLIS program, it is nice to have convenience at every turn. And as I'm sitting on the train, exhausted but not wanting to sleep because I'd miss the scenery (and that was the whole purpose of taking the train instead of flying), I really appreciate it. So, speaking of scenery, here are some quick observations - lush, green, flat farmland just outside of Montreal, with a few quaint towns so far. It's a weird mix of Seattle lushness and Indiana flatness, with French in the background. Too bad I don't know how to say more than "petit soya vanill latte" because my middle-aged seatmate doesn't know English and seemed to be disappointed at not having any conversation on this three-hour ride. I took out my phrasebook and muddled through "I'm a school librarian traveling from Idaho," which brought a polite smile, followed by a nap. :) Despite the lack of communication, I'm so glad I'm here. Just having a different language in the background is enough to satisfy my desire to experience something new and different, even if it is "just Canada" and just for a few days.


Finally! After 12 hours sitting in the Pheonix airport, then going to LAX for a red eye in order to get here one day late - I feel like I just stepped off a trans-Atlantic flight! I'm exhausted, but so anxious to get out and explore. After a short train ride to Quebec City, I'm looking forward to getting out and stretching my legs on cobblestone streets. It's definitely cooler here than in Pheonix yesterday - it's raining a bit and I had to dig out my jacket while I waiting for the bus from the airport. It's funny how after only two years I had forgotten all the funny little things I learned about Canada the last time I was here - like which coin is referred to a loonie and that Tim Horton's (Timmy's) is on every corner, and that pancakes are referred to in many places as "American" pancakes. It reminds me of the couple we met while in Montana who said they come down every once in a while in order to savor pancakes. Imagine what Grandpa Merritt's sourdough recipe could do to revolutionize the Canadian breakfast industry! ha ha. My eggs and bacon order came with a crepe, but instead of being handed jam as I expected, maple syrup came with it. I was a bit disgruntled until I remembered that I am in the maple capitol of the world. If only the Tosh kids could have seen the enormous maple rolls and donuts in the patisserie here in the train station - they'd leave Texas for good! My few words of garbled French (or the attempt thereof) are pointless, really, as everyone speaks English. I knew that, but I still want(ed) to try. I successfully ordered a soy latte in French, but was still given a look of disdain. Ah . . . to be an ignorant, unilingual American. . . but then I made up for it in a gift shop with a Chinese owner. I didn't think about it - when she handed me the change for my purchase of a Quebec flag, I instinctively said, "shieh shieh." She grinned so big and we had a conversation about why I knew Chinese. Doing so took no effort, felt natural, and makes me want to go back to Chinese. There's just something about that first foreign language (I don't know if German counts for me) that feels so natural and makes me homesick for Taiwan. Maybe that's next summer's adventure. For now, I'm off to catch the train to QC...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New Adventure

While heading to Canada for 10 days certainly does not feel like the adventure that a month in Morocco brought last summer, I still feel energized (even with only two hours of sleep last night and 12 hours stuck in the Pheonix airport). I can't wait to get into Montreal tomorrow morning and hop a train to Quebec City - reportedly the most romantic city in North America (it's a shame I'm all alone for such a trip). After a few days on my own in Montreal and QC, I'll meet up with the Study Canada teacher group in Ottawa, where we'll explore Parliament, the US Embassy, and as many sights as we can in five days. In the meantime, I'm excited to be on my own for a few days and to try and use as many French phrases as I can remember from last summer's French mini-immersion in Morocco, with the help, of course, of a trusty phrasebook. I know English is spoken in the touristy areas of these two cities, but I really want to try . . .

I splurged on a quaint, old hotel within the old walls of QC, and plan to explore every cobblestone street and as much cafe culture as possible. The only exception will be Montreal's La Couscouserie on Saturday night - sure to be a Moroccan treat! I expect to eat my weight in delicious tagine and drink mint tea until I'm buzzing. It'll take me back to a year ago, traveling in Maroc, only without the melon stop in the middle of the Sahara when it was at least 120 degrees!

Salon Marocain

Salon Marocain
In the village of Tinghir

Jess and I on our camels

Jess and I on our camels
Giddy up, Booshtran!