Monday, July 17, 2017

CONFIDENTIAL ASSIGNMENT (Directed by Kim Sung-hoon) *****




North Korean detective Cheol-ryung is guarding a Pyongyang laboratory, Cha, his superior and his gang of thugs steal plates for printing counterfeit US dollars. They invade and kill workers there, including Cheol-ryung’s wife. Cheol-rung must go to South Korea to get the plates back. He’s totally dedicated to his country, but is paired with Kang, a policeman who certainly does not feel the same way. While Cheol-ryung is tight lipped about the operation, and Kang is passionately curious and caring, the latter is left in the dark as to why his North Korean partner is really here. Is it really to find a murderer, or is it for something else?

The action is super, the comic scenes fetchingly touching, and the plot is brilliant. I loved the fact that North Korea has its hero in the film, and that in the end both men are able to embrace one another and soften their own hard-lined thoughts about each other. This is a must-see entertaining winner with some soft political themes embedded in the story. The chemistry between the two characters I great, mainly because their contrasting personalities in wonderfully exploited . There’s never a  lull in this original script. It was in this year’s official Selection in Hawaii’s International Film Festival. Shown at this year's Fantasia Festival

Thursday, July 13, 2017

WATERFALL RAPTURE, COUNTRY AIR AND CONSTANT CARE




                             



                                         A COCOON FOR SUBLIME RELAXATION


                                                
Nestled alongside the waterfall of the North Missisquoi River, the beauty begins. The setting with its never-ending cascade of scintillating pleasure instantly has its healing effect on all who enter the premises. You can hear and see the watery symphony at every turn.


                 Dip your feet in

 




 Snooze beside it as you stretch out in one of the spa’s riverside hammocks. 
       




                               Listen, watch, breathe it all in!                                                                       
                     


I was so taken with this view, I sat for a good hour just listening to the waterfall and watching the birds dart among the trees.

Unquestionably, one of the Spa Bolton’s most distinguishing features is the harmonious integration of outdoor beauty within the spa’s interior. Take a look at the ceiling over the reception desk. Yes, that is a panel prettified with real moss that’s fed by the humidity from the spa. It’s colourful and enhanced by the wood-covering panels alongside it.  In addition, a  magnificent Medusa, carved from a litchi tree impressively adorns a wall. Fabulous to behold, it reminds us all how nature's growth can be transformed into a work of art. You can't miss  its striking effect, it as you enter the reception area.




No matter where you gaze, the outdoors is ever-present. Inside treatment rooms, it’s not just your body that will be massaged by the view, but your senses as well.





                                A Unique Place for your Massage
Surrender yourself to Spa Bolton’s natural magic, and soon personal epiphanies begin to fill your soul.  How utterly charming and ingenious that a series of adorable yurts is where you receive massages. 



 A flap lifts up over a screened portion so you can hear and see the waterfall. And that’s not all. Overhead, the sky comes into view via a small glass dome. Watch the clouds float by as you lie on your back, and drift into massage heaven. I had a wonderful full-body massage given by Guylaine, and although I had the choice to have it in one of the six bigger open-to-the river, tent-like yurts that were on higher ground, I was perfectly content with the breeze  that sifted in, and the sky above me. It was like a mirage; I was looking at a portion of sky painted by Michelangelo.  But within hours, the pools beckoned. 


                               

                                               Pick your Pool
  Of course Spa Bolton is all about the baths! There’s a kidney shaped swimming pool with a waterfall you can activate with the press of a button. Two really warm Jacuzzis also operate the same way, and let’s not forget about the polar bear pool that you absolutely must use once you spend time in one of the two dry saunas or the steam room.








 Julie Paige, who has been working at the spa since it opened, knows everything there is to know about Spa Bolton’s healing powers. She insisted I do four alternating dunkings between the hot steam room and the “freezing” cold pool to help me with my arthritis. I did it, and for the first time, my knee no longer hurt. I escaped as well into the heated big yurts; there are two.


 
 



    Lie down down on a chair
    or one of the huge floor cushions.



Julie epitomizes the incredible friendliness exuded and the casual ease one feels with the staff.  “No one is a client here; each person is our guest.”
Indeed the hospitality of this homey spa was what I think I most enjoyed about the personal side of things, aside from my treatments.
I had an hour-long facial, masterfully given by Véronique.  She used Ella Baché’s tomato-based products from France. They felt divine.Véronique gently applied at least 10 different hands-on-my face applications. The mask which gave me a noticeable after-glow consisted of macadamia nuts, cranberry, camphor, and tomato. Best of all, while leaving it there to work its healing effect, Veronique began applying cream on my arms and hands while rubbing them. That’s a facial with a highly soothing added touch.

 



                                  Changing the face of my feet
I had an hour-and-a-half pedicure that was foot fabulous. Twelve steps were needed to get my feet into silky smooth shape. This included a UV lamp to solidify the gel nail polish and an exfoliant that went knee high – not to mention the zillion other things she applied to my feet along with massaging them one exceptional part included putting my feet in plastic bags filled with very warm melted paraffin wax. 
                                                                  


Véronique applied nail polish, appropriately named Elite 99, that actually changes colour depending on how hot or cool your body temp is. Now how cool – or should I say hot is that!!! From fuchsia for heat to orange for cool, my toes became my very own thermometer.
Truth is, you should stay here as long as you can. Fortunately, Spa Bolton is open until10 pm.  It is so romantic at night. 
Enjoy the many treatments and idyllic natural surroundings the area offers.

                                              
                            The Villa





I spent three nights housed in Spa Bolton’s 4-bedroom spacious country villa. 







You can book the entire villa for your family and friends. If you’re alone, common areas, including the two bathrooms, ground floor living room, dining room and kitchen will be shared with newly arrived overnight guests. But it is so big, it’s easy to find your own privacy. My room was lovely, and the bathroom next door was ever-so roomy.















 
                 


                                        Outside was equally splendid
                                                                                     



                                           A Site for a Visionary
Owner, Claude Provost junior, son of the late great hockey legend who played for the Montreal canadiens, is a man of vision. He saw the waterfall and fell in love with  the site. Formerly a mill sat here, (the waterfall reminds us of this). Claude was set on keeping everything natural when he began building his spa. Ingeniously, solar energy acts as a geothermal station for the building and water heating. In 2001, Spa Bolton was opened, and soon word spread about this unique place built with heart by a conscientious man keen on creating a healing environment. 



How lucky for us! I left wearing a smile that perhaps resembled the enormous wall mural that greets you at reception.




Spa Bolton offers a specified series of treatments and great packages that also include overnight stays. It’s open every day of the year, winter too!
Only an hour-and-a-half easy drive from Montreal,
The address: 883, route 245 south, Bolton-Est.
Visit their website: www.spabolton.com
You can also call them at (1-888)944-4772.




Although Spa Bolton has wraps, snacks, soup and cookies, full meals are not served here. Julie suggested I dine at Auberge du Petit Randonneur in Potton. Only six minutes away by car, this one-of-a-kind dining hall is akin to a Quebec-style Downton Abbey. You can even sleep in one of its six expansive rooms, including a suite. Historical in feel, and resembling an enormous dance hall, the place possesses 140 acres of pastoral views. Hosts, Louise and Serge are about the nicest people you can ever find. They made me feel so at home, I spent over three hours there just talking and being given a tour of this impressive old-world mansion. Staying here did cross my mind.


My candlelight dinner with Serge and Louise

Together the couple cook up hearty home-cooked meals. They even make their own beans. I had the most tender fillet Mignon that Serge served me. His coup de grace is the sauce he makes from scratch with onion, and broth from the beef and more. I told him he should bottle it and sell it. He did bottle it, in fact, handing me lots to take home with me. How generous is that?  I liked the place so much, including their affable company, I went back for their big breakfast the next day. The huge portions of egg, sausage, ham toast, beans listed on the menu as a brunch breakfast hit the spot. In fact, every Sunday, Louise and Serge serve the best brunch this side of Bolton. Their home-made strawberry compost is to die!
Call to reserve: (450) 292-4444.
www.aubergedupetitrandonneur.com

Another place Julie recommended was le Côte in Eastman, about 12 kilometres from Spa Bolton. Bustling busy, popular and noisy, this happening place is known for its meat, fish  and chips, mussels and innovative dishes. I ordered a bavette (flank steak) and a terrific tataki.




The parsnip soup was creamy good too.
I loved the barbecue popcorn with melted Parmesan cheese that was served in a little bag you before your main meal arrives. 


 

                                                        The crème caramel  was a taste treat.
Here is the website:  www.lecote.ca




                          


              


                                                      

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Close Encounters of the Wild Kind in Costa Rica









They say good things come in small packages, but “great” hits the mark when it comes to Costa Rica. Comparable in size to Virginia, Costa Rica claims only .03% of the world’s terrain, yet it boasts a staggering 5% of the entire planet’s biodiversity. Still, vacation options seem limitless: over 200 pristine beaches for swimming, surfing and snorkelling; and spectacular landscapes of jungle and waterfalls that plunge down volcanoes. No wonder snowbirds flock to Latin America’s second smallest country!

What to choose? Where to go?
I found my answer by hooking up with Pacific Trade Winds, an exceptional organization based in Costa Rica. They plan and personalize all types of Costa Rican vacations. Through emails and phone calls, they designed a ten-day itinerary that satisfied my quest for adventure minus the adrenalin rush.

Selecting four destinations, I started from San Jose, set my sights on the South Pacific coast, then went inland, and ended up in the northern part at La Fortuna where my favourite excursion brought me 16 kilometres before the Nicaraguan border. Despite several long drives, including a five-hour trip through fog-infested ascents and winding lanes leading to La Fortuna, I never felt tired or fearful. In fact, the entire experience was exhilarating, fun and expertly run.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Manuel Antonio National Park

Heading towards the Shangra-La of wateralls – only 91 kilometres north-east of San Jose, we passed near Poás Volcano. 


Its 38 eruptions – the last one occurring in 1928 – produced highly rich sulphuric soil that to this day accounts for the great agricultural activity in the region.

 




A load of palm nuts

The higher we climbed, the cooler it got. and soon, several coffee plantations came into view – a verdantly lush introduction to our final destination: La Paz Waterfall Gardens.




 “Paz”, meaning peace, is the perfect name for such a tranquil place. Although privately owned, this former animal rescue preserve – is open to the public. Thirty-five kilometres of stone paths lead to various sections, including orchid gardens, butterfly bird, frog and wild cat habitats.  Blue Morpho butterflies landed on me; macaws eyed me, and one hilarious black-bellied whistling duck seemed to want to converse with me.




Sure to impress you are the Gardens’ five loud waterfalls that gush from Poás volcano, but for a softer sound, climb up to Peace Lodge – the most acclaimed rain forest accommodation in all of Central and South America.  Actor, Will Smith has hung his hat here. The 35-acre view from on high will surely give you that godly glow. 






Hard to believe that in 2009, a huge earthquake destroyed La Paz’s 35 acres, taking lives with it. Lovingly rebuilt by all the employees, it’s a treasured cocoon of peaceful beauty.  (www.waterfallgardens.com)







If the Gardens are a gentle introduction to containable wildlife, Manuel Antonio National Park’s 4200 acres offer the opposite.  Hoping to find some of the 108 mammal species hiding here, I followed Andrés Morera, a naturalist who carried a very heavy spotting scope for close-up animal viewing. 
 How he found each creature was another feat; jungle animals shy away from human beings – except for white-faced monkey “gangs” – commonly referred to as the “Monkey Mafia” because they descend to the beach to steal your knapsack in the hope of finding food. 















Lizard names are laughable: the helmet-headed basilist – “the god of lizards: who rules over his brown helmetless relative, A.K.A. the “Jesus Christ lizard.”   Frogs are less reverent; some are poisonous – such as the Gladiator whose spiked thumbs spears predators. But even gladiators must sleep, and when this one does, it turns ghost white. Iguanas were pretty much everywhere.

         

As for those mammals, I spotted a howler monkey  cradling her baby. 





 I saw a three-toed sloth hanging precariously upside down on a branch. 

                    That made my day! 



              

                 Into the Water

 





My snorkeling venture in Biesanz Bay – a cove off the coast of Manuel Antonio didn’t disappoint.  

On the way, dolphins “danced” alongside the catamaran, and once I was in the water – brilliantly coloured angel fish flashed by me. Back on the boat, free drinks and a fish barbecue topped off the day. Then the sun slowly sank behind the Pacific. What a glorious way to enjoy a sunset! (www.planetdolphin.com)





La Fortuna Excursions
                 It was time to “conquer”  or at least face Volcano near La Fortuna.   According to 
volcanologists, this active volcano spewed enough lava rocks in 1948 to form a highway around the world. Its last eruption was in 2010.

      




On the lava flow trail, my guide and I were taunted by the weird call of the Motezezuma Oriopendula and surreal plants like the guineo belong in Jurassic Park.





 
The guineo plant






Before leaving La Fortuna, I visited the Ecological Waterfall of Fortuna River. Climb down its 480 steps (don’t’ forget you have to climb back up), but it’s all worth it. Immerse yourself in the water at the falls and look up at the fall plunging 600 metres from above. It’s unforgettable.












                                                                           
I made it down and then jumped in

Now I have to climb back up those stairs
                                                                                                                 


 I
                     

                                               Cano Negro
The most exciting excursion took me into the wetlands of Caño Negro River. Launching from Los Chiles, (where we later feasted on a classic “gallo pinto” meal), we meandered up the murky Rio Frio near Nicaragua. Garnets, herons, blue flycatchers and other amazing birds clustered alongside its banks.




On the Cano Negro boat
 
    

                        


  


White faced monkeys eating palm nuts
by the water’s edge were as thrilling as hearing the loud roar of a huge howler monkey nearby. Then again, that caiman was pretty scary too! Bring your binoculars.
                (www.canoa-aventura.com)

         


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Two Wonderful Words

“Pura Vida” – is the catch-all phrase constantly used by Costa Ricans when greeting and bidding adios to one another. It’s a sweet reminder for everyone to enjoy life in the purest of ways – protecting, preserving and cherishing the bounty this stunning country offers the world.
Pacific Trade Winds customizes your vacation to include airport pick-up, hotels, all breakfasts, several lunches, entrance to parks, guided nature tours, excursions with travel in luxury mini-vans. Hassle-free, you pay before you go. (www.entercostarica.com)

Where to stay and Eat
In San Jose: Don Carlos Hotel; a traditional huge mansion with authentic wall art. There are American style luxury hotels, but Don Carlos has the culture. Conveniently located for shopping and visiting the gold museum. (www.doncarloshotel.com)
In Manuel Antonio: Mandarina Hotel; fabulous hospitality. Enjoy eating breakfast under the trees with monkeys swinging nearby. (www.mandarina.com)
Eat at Emilio’s across from the hotel. Nutritious dishes with fabulous salads, miraculous cakes, served on the terrace overlooking the Pacific.
Café Milagro for their award-winning coffees. Mixed menu with heavy Cajun flavouring
In La Fortuna: La Fortuna Hotel; ask for room # 404 (volcano view). Eat at Don Rufino; Astounding gourmet meals. Try the risotto chicken with shrimp. (www.donrufino.com)


                                                       








                        
                                                                                                                                 
















































































































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