Ideas for Your 'Staycation'

If you're vacationing in Montreal this autumn, and wish to avoid the downsides - potholes growing, elections looming, and cyclists and drivers duking it out, with pedestrians thrown in for good measure - then spend an afternoon at Maison St Gabriel (

From 1668 on, this farm and school was the place where les filles de roi, or the king's wards, lived upon their arrival from France, and were taught by Marguerite Bourgeoys. Photography of the interior isn't permitted, which is a shame because the basement, attic, chapel and bedrooms are all intact and feature many period pieces, from chairs with grooves on the back (upon which the men rested their elbows when seated backwards on the chairs while visiting - their backs to the fire and their faces to the young filles they'd come to 'interview'), to spinning wheels and looms for wool, and even a foghorn for calling out across the river and fields in winter. Also featured is a gorgeous exhibit of silver items through the centuries, both artistic and practical.

Interesting fact: The Saint Lawrence River was much closer to the farmhouse 300 years ago, and was gradually filled in to make room for the railway.


Books in Autumn

Autumn is upon us!

Although summer seems to have bypassed us in Montreal, apple picking and leaves changing colour are already giving way to pumpkin carving and the first frost.

Unfortunately, it's time to unpack our heavy sweaters and mittens, but fortunately, autumn is also the season of curling up to read by the fireplace!

The list of new releases for this season is enough to create a tidy little to-be-read pile by your bedside; look for books by Mitch Albom, Margaret Atwood, Sue Grafton, Nick Hornby, John Irving, Kazuo Ishiguro, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Audrey Niffenegger, Anita Shreve and Nicholas Sparks.

Starting at the end of September, expect blockbusters from Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Dean Koontz, James Patterson and Nora Roberts.

As well, on the non-fiction front, there are Edward Kennedy's memoirs and the autobiography of Andre Agassi.

A coffee table book that would make a great gift is Cake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates. Jen has been blogging at since May 2008, showcasing gruesome, misspelled or otherwise atrocious displays of decoration - except for Sundays, when only successful confectionary is allowed. The blog was the winner of the 2008 Blogger's Choice Award for Best Humor Blog, and has also collected three 2009 Weblog awards. The hardcover version promises 75 per cent never-before-seen content.

None of the above books, however, is as tempting as the release, on 22 September, of the seventh book in the Outlander series: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon. This long-running saga features history, romance, religion, science, natural history, humour - in fact, anything you could ask for from a novel is in there. The latest installment continues the story of eighteenth-century Scotsman Jamie Fraser and his twentieth-century time-travelling wife, Claire Randall. The novel takes place during the American Revolution, spanning the years 1776 to 1778, and features cameos from historical characters such as Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Franklin, Simon Fraser, and Tadeusz Ko?ciuszko. At the same time, a separate thread of the novel takes place in Scotland in the 1970s, featuring Jamie and Claire's daughter Brianna, her husband Roger Mackenzie, and their children. A saga, indeed! And worth reading, even if you haven't read the other novels in the series.

As for nonfiction, you can't do better than to grab a copy of Marsha Moore's 24 Hours - London. A fresh, exciting look at greater London, Moore's guidebook showcases areas of the city that even the most seasoned traveler may not have seen. With up to twenty events listed per hour, 24 Hours starts at 5 am and leads the reader from market to farm, theatre to restaurant, cinema to club, through to 4 am the next morning, with many intriguing stops along the way. Madame Tussaud's and the Tower are not the only London sights, by far; 8 am, for instance, yields The Premises, "one of London's top recording studios for over 21 years" - the current home of the Arctic Monkeys, among other bands - and featuring a full restaurant specialising in Turkish cuisine, "the best in London, according to the Evening Standard newspaper." At the other end of the clock is theatre hour; before the play, head to Mangal Ocakbasi, and afterward, Sömine restaurant is perfect for a late night snack - it's open 24 hours per day! In between, don't forget to visit a working farm, the Tyburn River in the basement of an antique shop, a free lunchtime lecture, and the oldest wine bar in London.

As part of the release of 24 Hours - London on 4 November, Moore is hosting a launch party ( featuring mini 24-hour guides to other cities, submitted by her readers.
Here is a sample from the Montreal guide:
7 am - breakfast at l'Avenue - show up early as the lines grow quickly!
922, Mont-Royal East, Plateau, Phone: 514-523-8780, Metro Mont Royal
8 am - stock up at Jean Talon Market, in the geographic centre of the city.
7075 Casgrain Avenue, Little Italy, Phone: 514-277-1379, Metro De Castelnau/Jean-Talon
9 am - stroll along Monkland Avenue, visiting chocolate shops, bakeries and pubs.
Monkland Avenue, Notre Dame de Grace, Metro Villa Maria
10 am - pick up an ice cream (summer only) or a hot chocolate and more at the art deco building of the Atwater Market and stroll along the Lachine Canal.
Atwater Market and Lachine Canal, St-Henri, Metro Lionel-Groulx
11 am - take a guided tour of Maison St Gabriel, dating from 1668, where les filles de roi, or king's wards, lived upon arrival from France and were taught by Marguerite Bourgeoys.
2146 place Dublin, Pointe-Saint-Charles, Phone: 514-935-8136, Metro Charlevoix (plus a ten minute walk)
12 pm - river surf in the Saint Lawrence! Private lessons are offered through Imagine Surf Shop.
Imagine Surf Shop 01320 Charle-voix, Pointe-Saint-Charles, Phone: 514-504-5522 or 697-0366, Metro Charlevoix
1 pm - choose your own blend at David's Tea, or sample some of their top sellers, including Coco Chai Rooibos, Turkish Delight and Organic Pu'erh Ginger.
1207 Mont-Royal East, Plateau, Phone: 514-527-1117, Metro Mont Royal
2 pm - indulge in cheesecake - or any other cake - at the flagship restaurant of Kilo, purveyors to the Second Cup chain.
1495 Ste-Catherine East, Papineau, Phone: 514-596-3933, Metro Papineau


Old Articles by Deniz B. Bevan:
Istanbul: I Only Have Two Days To See Everything!
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Bladeby Diana Gabaldon
Approaching Ireland by ferry...
Just Plain Nesin