Monday, October 28, 2013

Out at Sea

It's been a long time because Internet is costly and unreliable at sea. Right now, it is 6:00 a.m. just off the coast of Cartagena. Sunrise is early as we are about 12 degrees North. The heat and the humidity is intense but right now the sea is calm.

This cruise has been weird without Monsieur. I really miss him although I don't think that he would be enjoying himself that much. It's 4 weeks since I left home and I am finding the cruise a bit long. The ship has been full since we left Fort Lauderdale. I am an introvert and can only deal with strangers for so long. The other day, an irate guest, who was complaining to a staff member about the delay in tenders actually clipped me in the face and knocked my glasses off as I was standing in line waiting for a tender ticket. A normal-looking man, he had no apology or awareness of the effect of his flailing until I told him that he was very rude.

I have read 8 books in 14 days. My favourite was The Hummingbird's Daughter by Urrea, a Mexican-American author who writes about the indigenous people of Sinaloa. I really empathize with the Mexican peoples (they are ethnically as diverse as Europeans) and find their culture fascinating.

I attended a class on digital photography but it is impossible to upload photos on this slow connection. I am quite proud of some of my photos and will share them at a later date.

We toured the Kennedy Space Centre at Port Canaveral and I felt patriotic to see the Canadarm. I wonder at the money spent when there is still homelessness and hunger on this planet.

I am trying to maintain a healthy eating program as I really want to lose the middle. I see people a few years older than I am and I fear for my mobility. Walking and reading are really integral parts of my life and I would hate to lose the possibility of either.

Sometimes, what we learn from a journey is more about ourselves than about the places that we visit! What lessons have you learned from travel?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Islanders: East Coast Style

As I live on a small island at the mouth of the Fraser Riverand my maternal grandfather came from the small island of Whalsay in the North Sea, it seems fitting that I have really enjoyed Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton.

While I am on a cruise ship, I have chosen to find my own way among the locals rather than joining the ship's excursions. In Charlottetown, we met Billy Murphy , who we paid for a tour of the central part of Prince Edward Island. Billy loved to talk, is married to a Islander and even gave us home-baked cookies. We learned so much about the Island life, economy and history. We watched mussels being harvested, saw the first credit union in PEI, visited the Green Gables house and I found a pub to try the local ale.

In Sydney, there was a Fiddle Festival going on. At an information booth, we were given a free walking map and we visited historical houses manned by volunteers in period costume.For a small donation, we learned about Loyalists and Acadiens and we received warm hugs from a local in period costume.

The people of Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton are very warm and hospitable. They appreciate the tourist dollars and treat visitors well. It was so nice to have the opportunity to meet them and to enjoy the beauty of the east coast of Canada.

I am writing on a free connection in Halifax cruise ship terminal so photos and links are almost impossible. I will try in Bar Harbour to share some photos.

If you are visiting a Canadian or American port on a cruise ship, I would highly recommend finding some locals for a tour. Licensed guides can be found in any cruise ship terminal and the fee will be returned to the local economy. In Mexico and Central America, if you do not speak Spanish or feel the least bit uncomfortable, I would recommend the ship's excursions.

I always think of Valdy as the quintissential Islander.
Socking mussels in Prince Edward Island.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Do You Cruise?

It seems that there are two kinds of people:those who cruise and those who do not.  I am both kinds of person. I probably never would have started had not my mother-in-law decided to travel from Vancouver to Alaska on the ship. She had no one to take with her so she took me! I went with her 5 times after that.

My husband never wanted to travel so a cruise seemed like the solution. He could sleep in the same bed every night and we could travel together.  For a while that seemed to work but he has tired of ship life.

Ship life involves a lot of camaraderie and a lot of eating.  I try to stay away from rich meals but food is abundant. Dressing up is another important aspect of cruise life. I am on a 28 day cruise so there are 8 formal nights.  I attend the opera at home and have some occasion to dress up. Eight nights is a lot!

Monsieur and I usually take excursions from the ship but I have visited many of these ports before and I  speak French and Spanish so I feel confident about my ability to sightsee without a guide. I am an independent traveller so  I don't worry about being alone.

There are those who believe that cruising is more suited to the elderly which is partly true but disembarking in to tender boats is probably difficult for the 80+ set who seem to enjoy playing cards and bingo.

Internet is difficult on ship.  I have paid for access but it does not seem to work well from our stateroom.
I am in the library typing on an unfamiliar computer. A plus however is that Holland America ships have a marvelous library. A chief-librarian in Seattle chooses the books and there are book clubs on longer voyages! I wouldn't mind the job for 3 months!

My meter is running so I shall be brief. Do you enjoy cruising? Is it something that you might do as you get older?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

La ville de Québec

The first time that I visited Québec City was 42 years ago when my Québecoise friend, Clémence, and I hitch-hiked here from her home in Sherbrooke. It seems a lifetime ago and indeed it is for Clémence because she died last October at the age of 60. I always meant to visit her again (last time was 1985) but like many things that we mean to do, it just didn't happen.

In 1971, we stayed at a hostel near the Plains of Abraham where we slept on the floor with a motley group of youth. Separatism was a powerful force in Québec in those days just after the October Crisis of 1970 and The War Measures Act. The music and the literature of the time reflected a growing cultural identity. Québec was an exciting place to visit for a 19 year old who wanted to experience more of the world.

I was expecting my daughter in 1975 when I next visited. My then husband and I drove along the St. Lawrence after attending a wedding in New Brunswick. It was the Festival d'été when we arrived in la ville where musicians were playing on just about every street corner. A summer cloudburst sent us scurrying back to a little hotel in the Upper Town. We lay on our bed and listened to the rain until the music began again outside.

In 1992, I spent a whole month at le Collège Mérici in la ville de Québec. The province of British Columbia provided a French language bursary for educators. I met so many interesting people and learned about the customs of the province. Once more, it was the festival and musicians from all over the French-speaking world performed in the streets of the Upper Town.

At this moment, I am writing from a stateroom on the Veendam where I am using a free wifi connection. I have subscribed to the pay for usage service but it is slow and costly. I shall visit the Upper Town today and I hope that I will find the same cultural and historic richness that I have experienced in the past. Travel is a very personal thing: the Romantic girl who wanted to understand the Two Solitudes of her country, the young wife expecting her first child and the educator wanting to share more of the culture of Québec with her students in far off Western Canada are all a part of the tapestry of my 61 year life.

My first vinyl record from Québec was Robert Charlebois who sings one of my favourite songs with two other great Québecois musicians, Félix Leclerc and Gilles Vigneault.

Friday, October 11, 2013

New York! New York!

Times Square
We have been staying at the St. James Hotel just a block from Times Square. If you are looking for a luxury hotel, this is not the one for you but we have 2 queen beds, a clean bathroom and free wifi. What else could we need? We can walk to all of the theatres, Central Park and Fifth Avenue. Next door, there is a deli/restaurant that serves an inexpensive breakfast, there are three Irish pubs on our block and all sorts of inexpensive ethnic food can be found in the neighbourhood. Most restaurant portions are far too generous for us to finish so sharing a meal or choosing an appetizer is a good idea.

We decided that we would like to see a symphony, a Broadway musical and an off-Broadway play during our stay. We bought our tickets online in advance because we knew we did not want to queue for tickets. Tuesday, we took a taxi to the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center to see the New York Philharmonic play Beethoven's 9th Symphony with a companion piece by Mark-Anthony Turnage. The concert was sold out! To watch Alan Gilbert conduct is delightful as he is so expressive and the
Philharmonic is magnificent. We sat next to a 95 year-old lady who has had season tickets for 52 years!

Wednesday afternoon, we went to see the Motown Musical which is based on 25 years of the life of Berry Gordy, the man who discovered The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five and Smokey Robinson. This production was sold out as well with 60-somethings on the sidewalk trying to buy tickets. Again, we were glad to have bought ours in advance. The singers sounded a lot like the original artists and some  members of audience were singing along. The show was great fun!

Yesterday, we had our off-Broadway experience with a play called Me and Jezebel which was on at the Snapple Theater, a off-beat little place where three plays are presented in repertory. Me and Jezebel is a 2 actor play where Elizabeth Fuller tells about the 32 days in 1985 when Bette Davis came to stay.
There were about 20 people in the audience and we were almost on the stage. Ever since I saw Richard Dreyfus play an off-Broadway actor in the Good-bye Girl, I have wanted to see an off-Broadway play.

You can find some quiet in Central Park.
I have enjoyed my time in New York but the pace is exhausting. Walking through Times Square, hailing a cab in the rain, visiting museums and theatres and sampling seasonal ales has tired me out. Tomorrow, Mary heads home and I fly to Québec City to embark on a 28 day cruise through the Maritime provinces, down the Eastern seabord to Cartagena, Colombia, through the Panama Canal and up to San Diego to meet Monsieur. A few sea days with a book and perhaps some stitchery or a crossword puzzle seem like a good thing right now! I'll be in Canada for Thanksgiving

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NYC at Last

Yesterday, we travelled from Hyannis to New York City on the Peter Pan Bus Lines.  Bidding adieu to our travelling companions of the last week, Mary and I undertook our 6 hour trip to New York. After a week of sitting near the back of the bus, we took the opportunity to nab the front seats. We travelled through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York state. Except for some heavy rains in New York state, the trip was pleasant and restful.

The NYC bus terminal is huge. I am accustomed to the taxi queues in London or Paris and followed the signs to the taxi stand. There were no taxis! I am travelling with one heavy suitcase (for me) and a carryon. We rolled on to 9th Avenue which was  one-way going the wrong way during a rainy rush hour and found that we could not get a cab. The only possible option was to walk through the crowds of Central Manhattan pulling our bags. The Volga Boatman song came to my mind. In front of one theatre there was a large group of young people blocking the sidewalk as they waited for some mysterious event. As I had not eaten for 8 hours and was pulling about 40 kilos behind me, I am afraid I rolled over some toes as I moved through the crowd. Beware of crabby old ladies pulling heavy bags and MOVE!

When we arrived at our budget hotel, I noticed to my further chagrin that there was no doorman. In my 2-star Europe life, there is never a doorman and I always schlep bags but somehow after having porterage included with Mayflower tours, I am getting a bit soft. The man at the desk said that we could use the bellman's trolley but I couldn't get it into the tiny elevator. By the time that we arrived in the room, we were ready for a beer and dinner at the nearby Connolly's Pub. We are developing a taste for Samuel Adams Seasonal ale. The proprietor, who was from Kerry, visited each of the tables, checking on our satisfaction. Great place to visit and only 3 doors down from our hotel.

We fell asleep early to prepare for our first day of  touring the Big Apple.

Friday, October 4, 2013

On Tour

What a whirlwind week! Monday was Boston on our own. Tuesday, we met our tour group, sailed Boston Harbour and drove to Portland Maine where we spent three nights. So far, we have taken 2 boats and two train rides. The tour is appropriately named The Rails and Sails Tour.

 Our tour group is mostly from Franklin, North Carolina, a town of 3500 people of whom 33 are on tour with us right now. They are all retired and a bit older than I am but they're great fun and really friendly. I am not a "tour person" but I am really enjoying sunny skies, delicious meals, a charming tour guide and vividly coloured leaves.

The coastline of Maine is rugged and beautiful. It looks a little like the Oregon coast. We took a tour of Casco Bay in Portland where we saw many islands, cormorants and sailboats.
Portland Head Lighthouse 
We visited the The Portland Museum of Art, one of those jewels that appears unexpectedly in a town of 66,000 inhabitants. Andrew Wyeth and Winslow Homer both painted in the Portland area. Mary and I were so entranced with the collection that we were the last ones on the bus. All of the group do not enjoy spending time in small art galleries as much as I do. For me, that is a drawback of an organized tour because I can spend quite a lot of time in galleries, museums and bookshops.
Conway railway workers
This morning we drove to North Conway, New Hampshire to take a 2 hour train trip through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Another day that exceeded our expectations! The yellows and reds of the trees were so vivid as our train chugged its way over trestle bridges and past shining rivers.
This reminds me of a Group of Seven painting.
Many meals on this tour are included and it is impossible to decide which one has been the best. Tonight's Yankee pot-roast with a local Moat Mountain Bone Shaker Ale was just right for the end of a glorious autumn day. When we were in Maine, we sampled lobster rolls, a variety of seafood chowders and some fresh grilled haddock.

Autumn is my favourite  season. I love the richness of colour, the glowing ambers and browns of October beer, the creamy buttery coloured squashes and the scents of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Tomorrow we will travel along a scenic highway to Cape Cod where we will spend two nights before leaving for New York City.