European Train Travel

Recently we experienced Train travel in Europe and it was most enjoyable and cost effective too. We took the Italian Fressciarossa high speed train from Paris to Milan and the next day Milan to Florence. 

We boarded at Gare de Lyon in Paris. Train travel is simple. No security. No baggage just take it on board. Lots of places to put it. No two three hours advance arrival. 20 minutes will do. Find your train’s platform and board. Simple. 

We chose Business Class and the fare for two for a 6.5 Hour trip was $232 CDN. That is a bargain. Economy is even less. Business included very comfortable leather seats with a table between us. USB charging plugs are in the seat and wifi is available. Coffee, juice, soft drinks and a snack was included. In the next car was a snack bar and we purchased a Panini and a small bottle of Prosecco for lunch. Reasonable and good. 

This train has a top speed of 300kph and it ran that fast from Paris to Lyon. After Lyon we headed for the mountains at a slower pace passing not far from Grenoble and then into Turin and on to Milan. 

We stayed at a very nice hotel only a 5 minute walk from Milano Centrale Station and the next day boarded another train to Florence. Two hours. Very fast. The train hit 301kph at one point. Using my Garmin GPS I recorded 300kph. Fast. The route took us through the city of Bologna. Saw nothing. Long tunnel into the station and out. 

This train was newer than the previous. More comfortable seats. We loved the Frecciarossa! 

Arrived on time in Florence Santa Maria Novella Station. 

Train travel in Europe is fast, convenient, comfortable and cost effective. We recommend it! 

If you want to know more I recommend this fantastic web site.

It has all the information you will ever need.  

Just saying..

Paris Revisited

This was my fourth visit to Paris, the last one was in 2006.  There are some notable changes is the city. Paris is much much busier that I recall. People are everywhere. Bistros are mostly full to overflowing and the sidewalks are crowded. 

One thing stands out. Not as many smokers as previously seen. Especially fewer women are smoking. Still lots of smokers compared to Canada but dramatically less than in previous visits. 

Paris has excellent Taxis! Full sized cars including Toyota Camry’s, MERCEDES, Hyundai and Scoda. All Black. Mostly hybrids. Clean comfy and efficient. No Prius cabs here. There are also a few electric TUK TUK’S, which are silent unlike those in Asia. And one can even take a tour in a classic Citreon de Chevue.  

Paris has not gone to the dogs. There seemed to be fewer than I recall and there was little evidence of poop on the sidewalks. However, grafitti is rampant particularly coming into town from Charles DeGualle Airport. 

The French do eat some strange food. In one bistro I ordered scallops. The were presented IN Mashed Potato. No vegetables just potato. In another it was delicious Duck served with excellent scalloped potatoes. No other vegetables. Bread is always served but no sign of butter, ever. And French Fries are served with almost everything.

Disappointing that we did not see a menu which included Liver or Sole Meunière, two items we were expecting to enjoy. We did enjoy the professionalism of many waiters. Very gracious and very efficient. They know their stuff. 

Strong coffee and a Buttery Fresh Croissant is the standard French breakfast and we thoroughly enjoyed that in a bistro near our hotel. Delicious. 

We did not see much sign of homelessness but apparently there is,  just not in the touristy areas. 

Paris is still a wonderful city in which to walk and we did. But it’s harder work at our age. Did we do any museums? No. Been there done that. But we did park ourselves in many sidewalk cafes to enjoy a glass of wine and the ambiance of this grand city. 

If you have not been to Paris, you must go. For me , 4 times is probably enough. 

Just saying…

Paris Bistro

While in Paris we booked a reservation at a Bistro recommended by our hotel. Just a 3 or 4 minute walk. 8:30 PM was the earliest we could get in at BISTRO D’HENRI. This was a rather small joint with room for perhaps 30 patrons. The tables were so close together you could share with your new neighbours. Perhaps 8 inches between. Not unusual in Paris, of course. 

After viewing both the French and English Menu Boards,

we began with a bottle of  icy cold SANCERRE White Wine which was excellent. A Rocket Salad with Parmigiana was shared. My first Rocket and I loved it. Sheila, not so much. Sheila chose Roast Chicken in a Mushroom sauce accompanied by outstanding scalloped potato’s. It was a half chicken and was excellent.

I ordered Roast Duck which also arrived with the scalloped potatoes. The duck was wonderful, perfectly cooked, sliced and resting in a simply delicious red sauce, a sauce I’d like to replicate. No other vegetables were served with either dish. Odd! Of course there was a sliced baguette but no butter in sight. What would Julia Child think? 

It was a truly delicious meal but this joint was crowded and noisy. Oh my, the French do like like to talk.Loudly.  And wave their arms! Most of the patrons were French but we chatted with two sisters from the USA and a couple from Brazil. 

Bistro Henri was a real French Bistro experience. Grreat food, good wine, local ambiance. 

Just saying…


If you are ever presented with the opportunity to attend a College Football Game at a major US College, DO IT! 

Last weekend my Grandson, Maverick, high school football player at Mount Douglas Secondary in Victoria,  and I flew to Columbus, Ohio to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes destroy the University of Wisconsin Badgers. 

Son Jackson and daughter in law Josee joined us from TORONTO For the weekend as well. It was a once in a lifetime trip made possible because of the generosity of my Niece Sheila and her husband Gene Smith, the Athletic Director of The Ohio State University. As a result we had seats in row 8 on the 50 yard line behind the Ohio bench. The game was great made all the better by the crowd of 106,000 in Ohio Stadium,  aka the Horseshoe.  The crowd noise was unbelievable. It was a ‘black out’ pub night so virtually every fan was wearing black, with Buckeye logos, of course, as was the team. And then there is the Ohio State Marching Band, ‘THE BEST DAMN BAND IN THE LAND’. It’s more than a band, it’s a drill team. Before the game they play and March on the field culminating on spelling Ohio and ‘Dotting the I’.  If you have never seen this enormous band search on YouTube. 

Our VIP passes included access to the famous ‘SKULL SESSION, held in a basketball/hockey arena. The band is introduced and play a medley of numbers. Finally the football team march in in street clothes much to the delight of perhaps 20,000 fans. 

Our passes also included the opportunity to go on the sidelines for the warm up which was a thrill for the Canadian Running Back. Great seats, great game, great crowd. 

However, the experience is much more than the game. The atmosphere in Columbus for a home game weekend is Mardi Gras, July 4th and Super Bowl wrapped into one. Outside the stadium is the famous tailgate area where there are tents set up in the parking lot for fans. All manner of BBQ’s, coolers, flat screens etc. it’s is like a carnival. It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere. You really have to be there. Near our hotel was a commercial area with food trucks, outdoor wine gardens and including TWO Jack Daniel‘s trucks, a Corona Beer truck. Live  music was all over the place. Shops selling all manner of Buckeye gear were packed with shoppers.  One can purchase everything from a T Shirt to a front door mat to a Buckeye Bedspread. it is amazing. And everyone is is wearing Ohio State clothing. 

It’s not just a football game. It is a grand SPECTACLE. We loved it all. And you would too. 

We took part, enjoyed and survived a truly Great American Experience.  

oJust saying…

Bistro/Pub in Mill Bay

Met some great old friends, Mike & Alice, for lunch at Bridgeman’s Bistro at the Mill Bay Marina yesterday and had a wonderful time. 

Bridgman’s is located right over the marina and has a great view of Saanich Inlet. They serve up typical Bistro/Pub fare and do it really well.

A very charming server arrived at our table and we chose a bottle of Chardonnay to share. It was cold, crisp and very good. We don’t often drink Chardonnay so it was a nice change. Choices were made including a Burger with Blue Cheese, Fish Tacos, Clam Chowder with fresh clams and a Spanish Carbarnara. Everyone was pleased with their choice although I found the Taco Shells too soft causing me to resort to  the fork. Still delicious. 

The Bistro has an attractive open bar, a patio and also does takeout. If you are in the Mill Bay Area, Bridgeman’s Bistro would make a good stop. 

After lunch we dropped our friends off at the Mill Bay Ferry so they could return home to North Saanich. 

Then, Sheila and I decided to take the slow road home and, no surprise, stopped at some wineries. We Checked out CHERRY POINT Winery just to see if the had a restaurant. They do, a nice Bistro on the patio. ENRICO WINERY was next. It’s just down the road from Arbutus Ridge Golf Course and looks delightful with an indoor/outdoor tasting room. A must stop. Being short of time we didn’t stop. Another day for sure. 

However we did stop at DAMALI VINEYARDS ( they grow both Grapes and Lavender. We must return in July when the Lavender is in bloom. A nice tasting room has wine and various presentations of Lavender for sale. We tasted the Pinot Grigio and then their award Winning RHUBE LAVANDRE, a PINOT GRIGIO blend with Rhubarb and Lavender. We loved it and left with 4 bottles.

These folks encourage picnics on their patio.  DAMALI is just a few yards from Arbutus Ridge Golf. 

The wineries in and around the Cowichan Valley are well worth visiting.  If you have not done so consider taking a day and visit two or three. Have lunch at Cherry Point or Unsworth. Or take a picnic to Damali or Averill Creek Wineries.  You will love it! 

Just saying…


Every once is a while an unexpected good thing happens and this week was one of those times. I had an amazingly good experience with a service provider.

A few weeks ago my right front wheel came into violent contact with a bike lane curb in Vancouver. My beautiful Alloy Wheel was torn asunder. I thought it was possibly un fixable. After getting a quote on a new wheel from the local Acura dealership. Yes they are available at $685 installed. Yikes. Repair must be an option. 

Here is the damaged rim.

On line I found ALLOY WHEEL REPAIR a Vancouver based company. They advised that they had a mobile guy on the island and gave me his contact number. I called and made an appointment. He said they will come to your home but not to a townhome. Too many noise complaints. So I met the truck beside the Toyota store in Nanaimo. 

What a great experience! A very pleasant young man, Hayden Barnes met me at the truck. In seconds the car was jacked up and the wheel was off. It’ll take about an hour said Hayden. While I went for a walk while Hayden ground the rim, primed it, painted it (He had the matching paint) dried the paint and reinstalled the wheel. 65 minutes! $150!  PERFECT JOB.! 

Finished product

Need a wheel fixed? I sure do recommend ALLOY WHEEL REPAIR. What a great service! 

Just saying…

Lunch at Unsworth.

It’s always a good time to visit a winery on Vancouver Island.  A one day tour in the Cowichan Valley is a great way to enjoy several wineries and some very good wine. However, yesterday, we visited only one.  After picking up old friends from Ontario at the Departure Bay Ferry we headed south to UNSWORTH VINYARDS in the Cobble Hill area near Shawnigan Lake, about an hours drive. 

We arrived just in time for our reservation on the Patio at the Unsworth Restaurant. It was perfect but for a cool breeze that required sourcing some blankets from our server. A litre of UNSWORTH 2020 PINOT GRIS was ordered and apparently it came right from a cask, not yet bottled. It was delicious. The menu is limited but the offerings are wonderful. Sheila ordered the House Salad which was both tasty and visually beautiful. Included in it was Yellow Zucchini, beautiful Radish Fans and Almonds with a local cheese, HALTWHISTLE. Our friend Ruth chose the Clam Chowder and after hearing about the special my friend Bob and I abandoned the Burger and chose the Pasta Special. Fettucini with chicken and lobster mushrooms in a fabulous creamy sauce.  It was good! Their Fries looked inviting so an order was placed to share. Here are some food photos. 

House Salad
Fettucini Special

The litre of wine seemed to disappear, perhaps evaporation, so a half litre was dispatched to the table. We all enjoyed the food, the wine and the service. Very friendly and efficient. If you are thinking of noshing there, make a reservation on line as this place is busy. They are open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Sunday. 

After lunch we spent some time in their Tasting Room sampling another Pinot GRIS and the Rose. Purchases were made. Unsworth has a charming tasting patio beside a pond, a spot you might enjoy for a few samples. Or, knock yourself out and sit in the sun and swill down a whole  bottle. 

UNSWORTH VINYARDS is one of the few wineries with a restaurant and we can highly recommend it ! 

Check it out at

Just saying…

HAPPY JACK’S Restaurant

There is a new place in town and since it’s been open nearly a month we decided to check it out tonight. It’s HAPPY JACK’S in the old White Spot location at  Wembley Mall in Parksville. Happily we were not disappointed. 

Happy Jack’s building has been extensively remodelled and include booth seating and a spacious bar with the appropriate big screen TV’s. A large array of nostalgic Parksville photos are on the walls.  Very interesting. The decor is basically black & white with polished concrete floors. 

This joint is a family oriented restaurant with an interesting menu. Burgers of course, but also Fresh Mussels, Tacos, and a Kids Menu which includes Mac & Cheese. The drink menu is really interesting with local Beer, BC wines, and some fancy drinks like Beergaritas, ( a Margarita with a small Corona beer) and Martinis.

A very charming server took our order, Cod Burger for Sheila, Fish Tacos for me. The Cod came with 2 sides, onion rings and CEASAR salad. 

The food arrived promptly and it was nicely presented and hot. The Cod was delicious as was the Taco. I added some Siracha to spice the taco up a bit. The onion rings, one of my favourites, were perfect. 

We arrived just after 5 and as we left at 6:30 it was almost full. I think the owners have the formula. Nice decor, great food, good service, and they will come. We certainly will go again. It’s great to have another offering just a few blocks from home. 

One small complaint. The music was dreadful. At least for octogenarians. 

Happy Jack’s is open for dinner from 4-10. 

Look at the menu here

You must go.  I know you will enjoy this new spot in Parksville. 

Just saying…

Victoria’s Il Terrazzo

This week, I pointed the Acura towards Victoria with the primary goal of replenishing my supply of Dutch Bakery Meat Pies, a favourite since 1956.  Alas, I was to be denied said bundles of deliciousness. The bakery was closed for staff vacation! Who closes in July? Apparently the Dutch Bakery. 

But we decided to continue the trip and perhaps do a little shopping which was a success. We had a nostalgic drive around some old parts of the city and eventually headed for an early dinner at IL TERRAZZO, that wonderful Italian joint in a little alley just off lower Johnson Street. 

It has been several years since I was last there and about 25 since Sheila had been. She told our waiter saying he was probably just a kid last time she was there. He said, “No I’ve been here for 27 years”. Speaks well for a restaurant. 

The place is delightfully funky. Indoor, covered outdoor sort of patio. Lots of old brick, plants and fireplaces. We were seated at a table for two right beside a fireplace. Perfect. Our Waiter, Neil, and the rest of the staff were outstanding. Knowledgable, courteous, and really efficient. 

We shared a wonderful CEASAR Salad. Sheila opted for the MELANZANE Al FORNO, a delicious dish of eggplant , mushrooms, garlic, cheese in a tomato sauce over folded pasta. 3 days later she is still raving about it. For me it was the Calamari. it was like a Squid Steak, lightly breaded and served with Chorizo, roasted peppers, tomatoes with Polenta. Delicious. We didn’t need it but since I’ve never met a Creme Brûlée I didn’t like, we shared one. It was good but no better than my homemade, says he modestly. 

Il Terrazzo is a gem. A must go. If you have never been, put it on your bucket list. Reservations are absolutely a must as they are always busy. Their on line reservation system is the best I’ve ever used, by the way. Plan ahead or you just won’t get in. Open for dinner only from 4.  

You can check out the menu and reserve here.

Great decor, great food, great service. We love Il Terrazzo. 

Just saying…

Concert at St Andrew’s Lodge

At the Northwest end of Qualicum Beach is a beautiful parcel of land that was formerly the site of St Andrew’s Lodge, a facility that opened in 1938. It included a home a and some small cottages designed and built by Simon Muir Little, a local architect. St. Andrews welcomed guests for more than 80 years. Little’s daughter Elizabeth ran the lodge into her 80’s. After the lodge closed the St Andrew’s Historical & Cultural Society was formed to preserve the lodge. The cottages are gone but they plan to restore the lodge to its original beauty.  

As a fund raiser, last night they held a concert. Featured was the ISLAND BRASS QUINTET, a wonderful group comprised of two Trumpets, a Trombone, a French Horn and a Tuba. The Tuba is played by an old classmate and friend from Nanaimo, Bruce Roberts, who, at 82 continues to amaze me with his musical talent. 

The group played two sets which included tunes line ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ ( featuring a fabulous Trombone Solo). The group ended the night with ‘Jada’.  A superb concert that was certainly enjoyed by the audience who were sitting on the lawn with their portable chairs. The weather cooperated, too.  

The Island Brass Quintet are playing several concerts in the Nanaimo area over the summer. If you get a chance to hear them, please take it. You will not be disappointed. 

The crowd of a couple of hundred donated their admission which raised $3000 for the society. 

Great music, great fund raiser! 

Just saying…