Registration closed at midnight last night, but if you still want to come, I have a way to get you in, if you’ll promise to donate $10 Canadian, to MCLL. Just email me and I’ll send you both links.
Thanks for your interest.
Love and Purrs,
Registration closed at midnight last night, but if you still want to come, I have a way to get you in, if you’ll promise to donate $10 Canadian, to MCLL. Just email me and I’ll send you both links.
Thanks for your interest.
Love and Purrs,
HK Helen Rides Again on Zoom
This Friday, 1:00 p.m. EDT or 10:00 a.m. PDT
YCLML 523 A Montreal Expat in British Hong Kong
Time: Friday, May 6, 1:00 p.m.
Presenter: Helen Megan
When she found herself between husbands and banging her head against the glass ceiling, Helen Megan left a nonetheless very full, fun life in Montreal, to seek her fortune in Hong Kong. How this happened and what she found there will be revealed in this light-hearted look at a fascinating and complex place. Helen will illustrate her presentation with personal anecdotes and pictures.
There. Doesn’t that look Official? It’s part of the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning program. I have the mis-fortune to be a personal friend of this year’s Program Coordinator, so I got tapped. Most of these lectures are from serious people about serious things. And, then there’s me. I couldn’t be serious if you paid me. But here I am and I wonder how serious they are because
They scheduled me against
This is a famous doctor talking about the subject most near and dear to our hearts. I’m doomed.
But… If any of my friends (That’s you) wants to hear my Hong Kong story again, no holds barred, and with pictures, you can. It’ll cost you ten bucks Canadian but I think it will be a fun and I’d love to see you there.
Here’s how to do it: Click on
Scroll down to the numbered list and click
1 – Registration for all lectures
Then pick me, the 4th one down
Click on the “+” to add to cart
Click on “add to cart”
Then click on “Checkout” – When this screen presents, unless you are one of the chosen few who already takes classes at McGill, go over the black bar with “I am a new user” in it, scroll down and click on “Create Account”
And, I warn you. It’s not the easiest thing in the world so pay close attention. It might be an intelligence test. Thank God all my friends are smart. If it defeats you, call me and I’ll help you through it.
After you’re all signed up, just wait for the link on Thursday and I’ll see you on Friday.
Fall for Montreal – and Sail with Me – Just for Fun
I am not even working on this sailing – well, I will for my own friends and clients, but it’s not official. As you know, I was supposed to be hosting New York City to Quebec on Crystal in October, but we all know what happened to that. My good friend from Napa, Carol Berg, had a cabin booked on it, too. We were bummed when Crystal put its keel in the air. I just got Carol her money back in a tearing hurry and we left it alone for awhile.
Last week carol came back to me and I had a look at options to include some fun in Montreal. I am a 5-star Mariner on Holland America, thanks to all those world cruises, and I get travel partner rates. So, I turned up this:
It’s brilliant! I figured it would be a treat and Carol agreed. We can play in Montreal for four days or so and then just take a taxi to the pier. My city is finally waking up and the shows and festivals are back. James Taylor played the Bell Centre on Thursday. I don’t know what’s going to be on in late September, but we board on a Saturday and so there’s bound to be something great. And I’ll have you on tour of the city and surrounding area, getting you into places only I can. Gourmet restaurants abound and I’ll take you to have the best Rotisserie Chicken in the town that invented it. Did you know that? Then there’s Montreal smoked meat, another delicacy “de chez nous”. We can skip poutine but you can order it at the chicken place or the smoked meat place. You get to meet a bunch of my friends, too.
It may not be SilverSea or Oceania, but when you sail Holland America with me, we buy premium wine packages for 50% off and party like it’s Napa. That’s what 5 stars will do for you.
Who’s in? The more the merrier. Have a look at X256 9-DAY THE ATLANTIC COAST (hollandamerica.com). The current offer includes: 3 DAY DEAL: $200 Shore Excursion Credit per stateroom. Take advantage of this great cruise at the lowest fare available and a 50% reduced deposit (non-refundable).
Might as well grab it. But don’t book it online – call or email and let me collect the commission, for my trouble in organizing the best time ever in Montreal. I can’t wait to show off my city. But I’m waffling. If a couple of people sign up by Tuesday. I’ll put down my deposit. So, dawdle not. Ship Ahoy! All aboard! Whatever.
On Monday, April 4, we disembarked in Civitavecchia, port for Rome, Italy, around 9:00 am. That’s when they basically kick you off the ship to make room for the next lot. Such is cruising. It’s no use refusing. If you didn’t pay for the next leg, off you go. Anthony from DayTrip picked the six of us up with a nice shiny black Mercedes, to ease the pain.
It was a pleasant sunny ride to Fiumicino, airport for Rome, for Tricia and Helen. We left Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby in our nice limo, to go check in at Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, now run by Hilton. I kind of wished I was going with them, as I do love Rome, but I love the shows in London’s West End even more. So, off we went.
We were very spoiled by our nice ride to Fiumicino, so while we were in the airport, I managed to log in and book us a car and driver to the Conrad St. James in London, too. We got that one from a company called Tranzitt, and it was only 70 quid for a good long ride. The car was basic but clean and the driver found the fastest way in. We were just in time for a drink and nibbles in the Executive Lounge. We had opted for that rather than full breakfasts and it did turn out to be a lot better deal. I’m not eating breakfast anyway these days, but I have taken to tea and scones, and have always had wine before dinner.
There’s a pub next door to the Conrad, called “Feathers” and, while the service was slow, it certainly had good pub atmosphere and food. Tricia had toad in the hole and I had fish ‘n chips. All that was missing were the crowds. I didn’t miss them much.
The Conrad St. James is a modern hotel, but it served our purposes nicely. It’s located on St. James’s Park, so it’s central without being frantic. I would recommend it. The area is Tricia’s old stomping grounds. She was once Head Housekeeper at the St. James Hotel, after starting her career at Brown’s.
Tricia had a bunch of errands to run on Tuesday morning, April 5. I took care of business in the room, which made a great office. In the afternoon, we walked through St. James’s Park on our way to Harrod’s. London has some beautiful parks and they are exceptional in the spring. This is where we entered.
There is a large assortment of feathered wildlife in the park and the males of the species were horny. I love this time of year. I spent hours watching the pigeons display on McGill’s Lower Campus, from the windows of the Redpath Library, when I was a student, and should have been studying something else. There were no exams on pigeon mating dances.
We came out of the park near Buckingham Palace, so Tricia decided I should have a quintessential tourist picture and here it is.
It hadn’t started to rain yet, but you can see the threatening cloud over my right shoulder, so the raincoat was a good idea. Like I had much else to wear. I was in carry-on, remember. We had a look at the map and, figuring we were only half way to Harrods and had done the pretty part of the walk, we hopped a cab from Canada Gate to Harrods. Neither of us had been to Harrods for at least 25 years and what a disappointment that was. If I want any Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, etc. I can get it a two minute walk from my own apartment in Montreal at Holt Renfrew Ogilvy. There were no regular English items whatsoever. All that was left of the Food Halls were a few biscuits and a couple of pots of jam. We took another cab back to the Conrad and had tea in the lounge, which was very nice. The scones were better than the ship’s.
When we got back to the hotel, we noted a lot of security and asked the doorman who our dignitary was. It turned out to be a whole soccer team – Real Madrid, no less. They weren’t in the Lounge, though. But the TV told us that Zelensky would be speaking to the UN soon, so we finished our tea and went back to our room to watch, where we could have the sound. The situation in the Ukraine is so heartbreaking.
We went off to escape into a fairy tale. First we took a cab to Drury Lane, where the Gillian Lynne Theatre is, and set to looking for a restaurant. I fancied Indian food, because it’s good in London and, with the help of a local, we ended up in Punjab, on Neal St., which has been there since 1946. The food was a little hot for Tricia but I thought it was excellent.
Then we went to the theatre. Our seats were absolutely perfect, fifth row, center. Couldn’t be beat. We were a little uneasy, being two of about ten people in the whole place wearing masks, but it was too late to turn back a month ago. One person in thirteen in London tests positive for COVID, and here they all were, acting like there was nothing to fear. You would have thought they would be more sensible.
Cinderella is the new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and it was absolutely wonderful. Just the tonic we needed. It had the costumes, and the dancing, and the singing, and enough twists on the old plot to hold our interest. Some of the dancing was positively spectacular. We were a pair of very happy campers. We were lucky, too. When we got out into the cold windy night, we managed to find an off-duty taxi on his way home, who was going our way.
Wednesday, April 6, Tricia was off again in the morning while I worked out and worked a bit. Among other things, she went to see what the St. James Hotel was like now. But her/our real treat was Tea at Brown’s Hotel in the afternoon. Look at us, will you?
Of course it was champagne tea, with all the trimmings. We could have had that sandwich tier refilled as often as we wanted, too. We did get a double order of scones, jam and clotted cream. Oh, yum. The décor was Victorian or maybe Edwardian, but so what you want for afternoon tea? The pianist could have been better, but we didn’t care. We were in hog heaven. When the staff found out Tricia had worked there and lived in, they provided us with a guide and a little tour of the historic parts of the hotel. The most notable tidbit, and one Tricia had not known, is that Brown’s Hotel is where Alexander Graham Bell was when he made that first transatlantic phone call.
By the time we were done there, there wasn’t much to do but go to the theatre again. This time it was Dirty Dancing on Tottenham Court Road. Again, we sat with our KN95s among the great unmasked. Again, it was an excellent show. I could take Michael O’Reilly home in my suitcase. We agreed that we preferred Cinderella, but this was no mistake, either.
I had planned to stay until Friday, with a fourth day in London, but had started to question that, and I didn’t have a third show booked – yet. Instead of getting a third show, I decided to see if I could improve on my air arrangements. I had booked my return flight on Air Canada, business class, with United points, back in December. It was a nonstop. A month later, it had become LHR-YYZ-YUL. Now YYZ is Toronto, which means the plane flies for an hour longer so you can get off, wait, change planes and fly another hour back to Montreal. This adds three hours and no fun at all to the trip. I wondered if the nonstop might not have been reinstated.
Well, it was, but not so’s a poor passenger who had previously booked it would know. (The bastards.) And, they had sold it out of seats available for points flyers. But, they still had space on Thursday, April 7. For a few more points and just a few more dollars, I changed my flight to Thursday. Tricia was picking up her car for her month-long tour of England, so she offered me a ride to the airport. That worked well. We were not pleased to see that Heathrow is now charging you five pounds to set down a passenger, though. What next?
I meant to be writing this blog on the airplane but I was exhausted and I slept most of the way home. I got tested for COVID in Montreal on Thursday because I had not filled out the ArriveCAN app and they wouldn’t accept the paper version Air Canada in London had given me to fill out. Apparently the rules changed again on Thursday. First you need it, then you don’t, then you do. I was supposed to be notified within 48 hours by text to phone and by email and was told to self-isolate. I got no results but my cold got worse. I did a home test and it was negative. On Saturday, I reported the cold to my doc and she told me to self-isolate and approved my med choices. I ordered groceries on line. Sunday, the groceries came and I muddled through the day, feeling lousy but not terrible.
On Monday I got a call from the Federal Government checking on me, to be sure I was self-isolating and to see how I was. I had tested positive at the airport, last Thursday. I wasn’t surprised but I wasn’t happy that no text or email had come to let me know. So, if I am lucky, I get to come out on Easter Sunday. That’s appropriate.
It was not the cruise that did me in. That was a nice vaccinated, tested bubble full of heathy people. You would know if the ship was struggling with COVID on board. There’s nothing like a ship’s rumor mill, especially on a cruise that hardly sees a port. It was definitely London. But, not to worry. I am getting better.
Still, and seemingly forever, at sea on Saturday, March 26, we saw a lot of people at the desk but it was pretty much all chit-chat. We still need waivers from a couple of people, both of whom say they have signed them. They just haven’t delivered them.
The ship has been pitching and rolling, but its stabilizers are very good and we are all fine. This is the view from the window behind our desk:
The water line goes all the way up the window and disappears, too. It’s impressive to watch.
My email brought the menu from our Funchal tour guide, which I shall be pleased to publish in tomorrow’s newsletter. Today, it was all logging and blogging.
We had Happy Hour and then we all went to dinner in the dining room. A lot of our people were at that Happy Hour, because it was the best yet and the word was out. We finally got to see Michelle Montuori and she’s great. She got a lot of people up dancing. The dancers from the show were available as dance partners and our Cruise Director, Peter Roberts even sang. He made a very good Beatle. The after dinner entertainment was George Clancy again, and this time I stayed awake.
On Sunday, March 27, we were supposed to be in Punta Delgado, but that was not to be because of the weather. The captain is concerned about damage to this pretty ship and its lovely passengers. So, on we sail. When we finally get to Funchal, we will have been 9 days at sea.
I Played Bridge again in the afternoon. T’was fun. Happy Hour was small and we had a nice dinner with Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby for dinner. We saw the pianist, Linda Gentile, again after dinner. The bloody clocks moved forward another hour.
Forever at sea on Monday March 28, we had more office hours, where a lot of small unreportable things happen, all pleasant enough. And we got a newsletter out focusing on the tour.
We had a nice lively happy hour and dinner with Pat & Mike and Pat & Toby at Jacques, Chef Jacques Pepin’s signature restaurant on board. It was absolutely delicious and I made a total porker of myself. I had a cheese soufflée, followed by onion soup gratinée, roast beef and chocolate mousse for dessert. A very good chocolate mousse, I might add, darkly. We took in the Broadway show in concert, while downing a club soda, in an attempt to settle that lot. It worked, more or less. We had to be up early next morning.
Tuesday, March 29 was the date of our Distinctive Voyages Shore Excursion in Funchal, Portugal. Our 49 people who were coming on tour all made it into Jacques between 7:30 am and 8:00 am and we were ready to go off. We weren’t meeting a bus. We were meeting seven Land Rovers, with seven nice young driver/guides. There was an 8th Land Rover, containing TrueSpirit’s manager, and a film crew with a drone. They had photographed Marina coming in to port and were coming along to get more shots of our tour.
Off we went. Our first stop was the “Skywalk” that had struck fear into my travelers when first they read the tour description. It turned out to be a piece of cake and it had excellent souvenirs. Standing on my balcony overlooking Peel St. is scarier.
It didn’t take long for the reason for the four wheel drive vehicles to become apparent. This is mountain goat country. These two little guys were right beside the road posing for us, as we wended our way up into the mountains.
There had been a lot of rain and the road, which wasn’t very wide in the first place, was washed out in a couple of places. Our drivers had to get out, scope the lay of the land and maneuver appropriately. One lady, in my jeep, had her head buried in her lap and came up muttering “I want my money back”. My instant reply was “You already have it. It was free.” That happened early on in what turned out to be a fabulous tour. She and everyone else was very happy with the tour. The reviews are great. Our new supplier has definitely scored.
Our second stop was a tiny little enterprise that made honey. They had a wonderful deck to look out from and the best honey most of us had ever had. Some of it was inside dark chocolate and it was to die for. This is a new enterprise and very small. They didn’t have any for sale. We would have cleaned them out if they had. Maybe someone else did that yesterday.
On we climbed through the terraced vineyards, placed wherever they could be. Take a look at this:
Up near the top was the winery and they had quite a bit or wine for us to taste. We were very happy when we left there. Lunch was another room with a view. It was a revolving restaurant, with both sea and mountain views. The food was good and the wine flowed freely there too. Too bad I am barely drinking anymore. Not that I can when I am working, anyway. Got a lot of pictures of happy people, though. As usual, I got my pictures during the salad course. I never touch the stuff so it’s no hardship.
We piled back into the jeeps and proceeded to Madeira to taste — you guessed it. About 6 kinds of it, no less. TrueSpirit had more to show us, but I had to remind them that we were due back at the ship at 4:30 pm to sail at five. It was a wonderful day, and, when I went through ship’s security at 4:45 pm, there were only 4 passengers still out. We certainly made the most of that port.
Believe it or not, we were at Happy Hour at 5:30 pm, and there were a few people with us. We only wanted a buffet dinner after that day, and a couple of them joined us. I had the lightest dinner I had had yet, mostly sushi, and was up a good part of the night digesting it. It happens.
Back at sea on Wednesday, March 30, I sent a thank you email to TrueSpirit and got a reply back that they were so happy to have had our “enthusiastic and joyful group”. I like that we are referred to that way.
It was a bit of a zoo at the desk because Oceania was having a County Fair, which should have been held in the pool area, but, well, the weather there was far from cooperative. The Captain announced that we were now going to miss Marseille, too, because of it. That’s three ports cancelled. We have been at sea 12 days and only seen 2 ports.
I stayed at the desk and finished a newsletter to send around with the comments cards, which Tricia duly delivered. We had a nice Happy Hour and dinner at Toscanna with Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby. I liked Toscanna a lot. We went to the show, too. It was Dimitris Dekavallas on the Spanish Guitar. Go figger.
On Thursday, March 31, we docked in Malaga, Spain. This is only the second time we have been on shore, and the third time for the ship. We had skipped the first day on the private island in the Caribbean. Malaga is a nice city and I can usually have a lot of fun just walking around and taking the Hop On Hop Off Bus. The six of us, Pat and Mike, Pat and Toby, Tricia and I did exactly that. The plan was to ride all the way around and those who wished could get off at the ship, while the others went off seeking adventure. The others turned out to be just me and it wasn’t my best decision. I had chosen the downtown stop I wanted to get off at on the first round and, when it came around again, I duly alighted.
It was raining lightly but not so’s you’d notice under the spreading trees that lined the boulevard. Not until the sky really opened, that is. It poured. I made a run for the Santander Bank because I needed Euros anyway.
The cheapest way to get local currency is to stick one’s debit card into a local ATM, and Santander is the big Spanish Bank. The ship was offering Euros for $1.17 US plus a 5% fee. I expected to do better. Not quite. Santander’s rate was $1.20 plus a 7 euro fee. On 100 euros I would have been better off with the ship. So, I took out 300 euros, just to make it worthwhile. I’ll be able to use them in the summer. It will be interesting to see what the rate is then. Some days I am more brilliant than others. Some days I should stay in bed.
Strolling around downtown in the pouring rain is not my idea of a great time, but I still wanted my churros y chocolate. I got back on the HOHO bus and got off at Il Corte Ingles, Spain’s big department store, where I used to buy shoes for Elvon. It made a nice rainy afternoon browse. I went to the Café on the 6th floor for my churros but you can’t have them until five pm and I had to be back on board before then. I settled for Iberico ham and eggs and very greasy potatoes, which repeated for hours. I did get my cup of hot chocolate, though, and it was wonderful. Spanish hot chocolate is like warm dark chocolate pudding. Unctuous is the word that comes to mind. It’s my treat whenever I am in Spain.
I was back to the ship by about three-thirty. We did Happy Hour and dinner in the dining room, saw the show, a repeat performance by Chris Ritchie, and called it a day.
Still at sea on April 1st, no one noticed it was April Fool’s Day. Not a soul. I always used to like the mixed up rugs with the days on them in Holland America’s elevators, but Oceania didn’t mark the day and no one said a word.
It was quiet at the desk, just social calls from passersby. I wrote one more Newsletter to remind my people that there is money to be won for filling in the Comments Card and that we are having a Farewell Dinner on the last night.
Happy Hour was good again. It’s always the same core group but the ones that come like each other and it’s a nice way to wind down the day. We ate at Polo Grill with Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby. The service was better but the wow was gone the second time. Jaded, we are. Dimitris, the Virtuoso Guitarist was back on stage and that was a nice end to our day.
April 2nd was another sea day. It was supposed to be Marseille but the weather has kept us offshore here, too. The Mediterranean in bad weather is more of a chop, where the Atlantic was large swells. Marina rode both out admirably, but she wasn’t going to try docking. More’s the pity because we were really looking forward to our stop in Provence.
So there were more office hours. A couple of women traveling together came by for a fun chat. They have a cousin on board who actually found himself a girlfriend. There is hope. More hope for the guys than for the gals, by the numbers, but hope, none-the-less. I updated the tally of Comments Cards in, printed and cut up entries for the drawing.
Happy Hour was fun and the show was great. I love the all-singing, all-dancing production numbers. This one was called “Dancin’ Fool”, so you can imagine.
Sunday, April 3, we docked, in Monte Carlo, across the harbour from the Yacht Club de Monaco, like we were supposed to, for once. I had one phone call to deal with, from a passenger who had heard that when a ship misses three ports, there might be some insurance compensation to come I the form of trip interruption. She wanted a letter on Oceania letterhead, describing that had happened and naming the ports. I emailed the Executive Concierge and she was happy to comply. I wonder if it worked.
The weather wasn’t perfect but it was acceptable and I was taking a couple of my people to the YCM, as promised. I had a couple more takers earlier on, but they decided it was too much money to just spend on Brunch when they could give it to the Ukraine. So, the three of us walked over to the club, past the grandstands for the Grand Prix, in various stages of completion and the mega yachts. We took pictures of each other on this exclusive spot.
Then we went in to Brunch. It was wonderful, not as wonderful as pre-COVID, where the food was on display for ogling and photography, but still wonderful. We were served our oysters on the half shell, lobster, smoked salmon, sushi, sashimi, carpaccio, multiple salads (not me) torchons de foie gras, on and on. And those were just the starters. We partook lightly of the main courses and saved room for dessert.
Yes, I really ate the four of those. I was in heaven. It was a Champagne Brunch, of course and the Moet et Chandon flowed into our glasses from jeroboams, throughout.
And I learned something important. The last time I brought people here for brunch, there were eight of us. The club gave us a private room and charged us about $250 each. This time we were seated in the main restaurant, and charged about half as much. It was even more fun, too, as we could watch the fashion parade that was the buffet line. The little boys in $300 shirts and $800 shoes, were particularly endearing. Their fathers were in jeans and $2000 sports jackets. You can just imagine what the women were wearing, just for brunch at the club, you know. My numbers are probably low. I don’t shop in those places much. I did buy myself the YCM silk scarf for $200, though. I’ll have it for the rest of my life and it’s red and white.
After all that food and champagne, it’s a good thing we were walking. I didn’t even have time for a nap because there were phone calls to return about dinner tonight and the drawing to arrange. There were at least twenty people in Horizons for Happy Hour. I was running back and forth to the Dining Room with late dinner reservations, etc. In the middle of it all, we made the lucky draw and it was won by a person who “never wins anything”. Luck changes.
Seventeen people come to our Farewell Dinner. I had consommé and a baked potato and the lady who had come to the YC with me had a couple of French fries. We were pretty done in. Tricia was fine, of course. She had gone touring with Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby, our original friends from Santa Rosa. We are all friends now.
On Monday, April 4, we disembarked in Civitavecchia, port for Rome, Italy, and that’s the next installment.
Wednesday, March 23, still at sea.
We lost another hour last night and we aren’t getting up any earlier. We got it all together, though and were at the desk on time again. Our people were coming in to give us their tour lunch orders. We got another newsletter out because we had things to offer and more answers to get re lunch.
In the afternoon, I did a little work on my log and blog but Pat and Mike and Pat Jordan wanted to play Bridge and so did I. It has been too long. It took a bit to get me back in, but I really enjoyed it. I’ll make all the time I can for it.
We broke up about 4 pm, and I got my delicious milk shake from the ice cream bar, and did a bit of email before it was time for Happy Hour. Bill called to invite us to dinner with him and David and I asked them to join us with Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby. It’s really starting to look like the Lodge now.
Happy Hour is taking off. This time we were eight. Then we had our FGL eight-some to dinner and a lot of laughs, because David is a ventriloquist. The show was Linda Gentile and I stayed awake all through it, even though I ate like a pig, again. Ate pig, too, Serrano ham, pork chop garnished with bacon. The lobster wasn’t a pig and neither was the chocolate volcano, but I didn’t discriminate. I had three of the gluten free rolls, too. Oink.
Got back to the room to yet another lose-an-hour note. This is getting old.
On Thursday, March 24, still at sea, it’s getting harder and harder to get up. The desk was still busy. Our big question is still “meat or fish” for lunch on our tour in Funchal. Of course, now they want to know, what kind of meat or fish. They also wanted to be sure there were ample pit stops. I assured one and all that I would be on that one. A lot of people gave us their lunch choices and we recorded them. That question really drove people to the desk.
I went up to Future Cruises to get the lay of the land and to find out when to bring my clients there. Then I worked on deck for most of the afternoon. There were 8 of us for Happy Hour and, it was was a lot of fun.
We went to dinner at Polo Grille, which reminded me of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. It was probably supposed to.
The service was so slow that we missed the show and it was Michelle Montuori, the same entertainer that we missed the last time that happened. Merde, alors.
Again at sea on Friday, March 25. For once we didn’t lose an hour, and it was a good thing, too, because we had both been up in the night. Good that we are timed to have our bad nights simultaneously. Neither of us had to feel badly about waking the other one up.
The traffic at the desk is thinning out and is all easy to handle. One guy came by to request a later shore excursion, which we don’t have. We just have a really good one. Pat Gustafson came by at the end, as planned, and we went up to Future cruises together, because I am their travel agent.
One of our people had left a note at our door that she was giving a talk, in the Marina Lounge at 11:15 am, about Medal of Honor winners. It had become a major interest of hers and she had the talk all prepared. Tricia went to that and said it was excellent. She learned a lot of background on the men who are usually commended for their one big, brave act. They are real people, though, and Kris made them come alive. That fueled our Happy Hour conversation, too.
Between lunchtime and Happy Hour, we phoned everyone we hadn’t heard from with our “meat or fish” question. We finally got a response from one who had not previously answered and I was able to diagnose her over the phone. She has Alzheimer’s, just like Elvon did, only she is travelling alone. Her first problem was losing her luggage. Apparently she got off the plane and just walked away and into a taxi without it. Luckily there are shops on board. I went to visit her in her cabin and she is very sweet but could sure use a companion. I invited her to our group dinner tonight, in part to see if she would be able to get herself there.
Happy hour was really good, ten people this time and we had a lot of laughs. We did have a couple of the younger generation with us:
They were actually looking up the price of Norwegian stock, having heard that you get ship board credit for being shareholders.
Our group dinner was small but very nice. Our test case did make it and acquitted herself nicely. She even brought her signed waiver. We’ll be happy to take her on tour if we can figure how to muster her early enough to meet us. Maybe the concierge can help.
The show was a tribute to Peggy Lee and the music was really old, even for me. But, it was all singing all dancing and so very easy on the eyes. I slept well after it. Tricia was almost asleep when I got in.
Sunday, March 20, 1922
Tricia was up and about when I opened my eyes at 8:00 am. In Grand Stirrup Cay, Bahamas. We debated getting off, but we had a lot to do, and we understood there wasn’t much at all to see. The beach lunch was probably great, but it was the same chefs as on board, so we didn’t see any great advantage to getting off. We had just got on, and the ship is beautiful.
We went to our Hospitality Desk for 10:30 am, where we were accosted by a pretty irate lady, with her husband, and another couple in tow. She wasn’t mad at us, thank God, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be her TA at that point. She had a group of eight, and only her own cabin had been included in the DV. They were all booked with the same agent. God bless her, she had all their booking numbers in her phone, so I collected those on the spot. It was Sunday, so I told her to bring everyone along to the cocktail party tonight and promised to write for clarification.
Then we met a lot of people who mistook us for the ship’s concierge or future cruises or dining reservations or who were just wondering what we were doing there. We also met a few of our own people and they were all very nice, including Pat Gustafson and Mike Desky. We got pictures of all of them.
Then we went back to our stateroom and got ready for our cocktail party. We went up to Horizons a half hour early and right into the middle of a very well-attended Afternoon Tea. I nearly had a heart attack. They told me it would be fine and they would be ready for our party at five. There were people all over our section and a few of them looked like they had no idea of leaving for hours. I was biting my fingernails down to my elbows. But, sure enough, they got the cordons out and set them up, the people filtered out, the teacups and saucers disappeared, and the ship’s brass arrived. I told them to come back around 5:15 pm as I would have to check everyone in, first.
And I proceeded to do just that as fast as I could and from all directions, since there was no real entry or podium. I just went to them with a roster and nametags. Tricia did the same thing with a camera and got a lot of nice photos that we can use to learn names.
There was no microphone and what we had was one quarter of a very large venue. The officers introduced what they do on board and I hollered myself hoarse and then went around the fringe and repeated myself, table by table. Everyone we talked to said it was a great party, though. Maybe my manic antics were entertaining.
Then we went to dinner with Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby in Red Ginger, which is great, and we fell into bed again. We missed the show, though. We stopped by the cabin on the way and our beds just looked too good. The entertainer was Michelle Montuori and by all reports, she was terrific.
On Monday, March 21, we were at sea and would be for six days, now that we weren’t going to Bermuda. We woke up refreshed, Trica went for breakfast and I exercised with Miranda, instead. That’s Miranda Esmonde-White on my computer. I credit her, along with going gluten-free and intermittent fasting, with the return of my boundless energy. I feel fabulous and the pounds are dropping off. I am losing weight too fast, if anything. So, once I start eating at 4:00 pm, there’s no stopping me. Gotta slow that weight loss down. What a nice problem to have on a cruise ship.
We dealt with the usual desk traffic. Tricia is very good with the passengers. Her old hospitality training has come right back. This good-looking guy stopped by and I showed him the super picture Tricia had got of him and his wife,. He liked it so much, he gave me his email on the spot. It was mistral44@… And I knew he was a sailor, IPYC, no less. That’s Ile Perrot Yacht Club and I used to live on Ile Perrot, back in the sixties, when I was first married to Brock Maxwell. We had a Flying Junior at the time, and we sailed it off our own dock. It was no Mistral 44, I can tell you. That got me my first takers for Yacht Club de Monaco, my $250pp brunch offer.
My email brought me the good news that we could take the guests who hadn’t been properly coded, so they got full packets, while the rest got the first Newsletter.
Our Happy Hour conflicted with the Captain’s Welcome Party, but it was in the same place and we managed to gather about six of the group and that was nice. One of them had an interesting story about one of her grandchildren, who was learning a word a day, when he was about six. The day the word was “distinctive”, he came out with “distinctshit”, and she hasn’t been able to get rid of it. Now neither will I and one really shouldn’t get one’s s..t where one gets one’s bread.
We had a dozen people at our first impromptu DV dinner in the Dining room. We caught the tail end of the Production show and it was fun all fifties and sixties – our music.
Tuesday, March 22, still at sea, we lost an hour last night. Europe is five hours ahead of EST and we have to get to the time zone as well as the territory, you see. So we got up at nine and were very pleased we had called Office Hours for 10:30 am.
The Executive Concierge told us that there could be no Galley, nor Bridge Tour, etc., because of COVID. Everything gets blamed on COVID, which, God knows, deserves it.
We found out that we have people on this cruise to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Wow. One gal wanted to know if they had good gluten-free bread on board and I didn’t know, so we both promised to ask at dinner. All our people are fabulous, not a whiner in the bunch. Speaking of wine, the Executive Cellarmaster came by at my request. I wanted to bargain for a deal on one of the wine tastings. We settled on reds from 5 countries, 10% off if we round up 10 people and 20% if we get 20.
I managed to get a little blog out in the afternoon and we had a little happy hour with just two couples, whom we left with each other to join Pat and Mike and Pat and Toby in the Dining room. We managed to see an entire performance for the first time. It was the Irish Comedian, Brian Clancy, and I fell asleep during the show. We are sleeping like a pair of logs and Tricia saws wood. Not that I can talk. I burp and fart and she puts up with that. Not without protest, mind you.
Friday, March 18, 1922 … continued
When we got back to the Muschett’s house, the results of the Antigen test were in, so I was good to board. Bermuda wanted a PCR, though, so I had to wait a few hours for that, but it did come in, and I was able to complete their Travel Authorization form, duly uploading it and sending them $40. All of this is a serious PIA.
While I was waiting for test results, I wrote yesterday’s blog and then cleared email. In my email was a solicitation about a Fund Raiser for the Courtois Cardiovascular Program at the McGill University Hospital Centre. I joined it a few months ago. It’s a study about hearts of all ages and 79 is the cut-off, so I figured I’d better get in. It gets me a lot of free extra special monitoring, so if anything goes wrong with my heart, they’ll catch it, while they are studying me. Can’t hurt.
Anyway, I got carried away and decided to walk for the cause in what I think might actually be a marathon.
You must be falling off your chairs, laughing. Not only am I 77 years old but I have never been athletic pour 4 sous. Bien c’est ça. I’m not going to run. I’ll walk, and if my ankle starts swelling, I’m quitting. But I am getting a lot of benefits from the Courtois Cardiovascular Program and I’d love if you would join me in supporting them. If you live in Montreal, you might even want to walk with me or to join the program. Check my fundraising page out here:
Neville, Peggy and I went out to dinner at J Marks, in a local shopping center because Friday night of Spring break wasn’t the time to do anything touristy. It was great, though. We got to eat outside, the food was good enough to recommend, and, if you asked for them, you got $3 drinks. Neville and Peggy had Mohitos and I had Margaritas, yes, two each. No wine that night. They were delicious and we had a wonderful time, so wonderful that I broke my first promise to you. We were having so much fun, I forgot to get the waiter to take our picture.
Saturday, March 19, 2022
I got up, packed and did my exercises with Miranda, like I do every morning now. (They’re great – I feel like a million bucks.) Then we all piled into Peggy’s car and Neville drove me to the port of Miami and Oceania Marina, which was waiting. That wasn’t the easiest drive in the world, but Google Maps and Neville made a great team and we didn’t have any major slip ups. Many thanks to the Muschetts for their fine hospitality and chauffeur services. It was great to see them again.
It was great to see my co-host, Tricia Harrold, too. Thanks to cell phone coordination, she met me less than five minutes after I got there.
That’s when the agony of COVID started again. We had to line up, outside and then in, a hot tent full of cattle gridding, to have our vaccination and testing credentials checked. It’s a bit of a process at the best of times, and very long, when a thousand people are boarding a ship.
We walked over and into the cruise building, got through a much shorter line and boarded. While she was checking us in, the agent drew our attention to a letter from the ship that had to be read. Not a good letter. It told us that because of weather, we would be taking a more southerly route and bypassing Bermuda, entirely. Neither Tricia nor I had been to Bermuda and it was on both of our bucket lists. And never mind how much stress, and PIA getting the right tests and authorization had been. Not sure we even believe the story about the weather. Merde alors, rien à faire, bien c’est ça..
My contact on Oceania is the Executive Concierge. What a concept. Her name is Conny and she said she would do everything for me, and she did. I got all I needed about our Hospitality Desk, Cocktail Party tomorrow, printing procedure, etc. We matched manifests, and I got to work, finalizing welcome letters and amenities lists, while Tricia made 34 phone calls to our people to welcome them on board and tell them what they could expect from us. I did the mail merge, emailed it to Conny and it was back in our stateroom, all printed , before I could unpack.
Tricia helped me put the newly printed information in the folders. At that point it was time for dinner and we were excited because we were joining Pat Gustafson, Mike Desky, and Pat and Toby Jordan in the Dining Room. It was old Fountaingrove Lodge week. Just like (the) home. Oh, but so much better. The food was good, the wine was good, the company was good. We were all so happy to be back at sea.
The welcome packets however, had yet to be delivered. So, we divied them up and took them out. We were tired puppies when we put out lights out, but we were on top of it. That felt really good.
March 1-16 – The run-up
Hoo Baby, those last two weeks were a ride. After a very quiet two years in the travel business, punctuated by cancellations and re-books, all hell broke loose and we’re traveling again. Not to Russia, mind you, and certainly not to the poor, brave Ukraine, but, we’re traveling. It’s not exactly optional in winter, when you live in Montreal. Here’s St. Catherine Street from the wheel of Marc’s car on February 19. Marc is my neighbor. He’s in Revelstoke, you see.
Before I could go off for three weeks, I had to attend to any and all business for the first half of this year, and book anything anyone wanted, because cruises for ’22 and ’23 are filling up. (Commercial Break: If you didn’t get a booking in and you meant to, just email me. I can book anything from anywhere, these days. Especially contact me while I am on board if you want to book Oceania. Most cruise lines extend the on-board future cruise deals to clients of travel agents on board. I’ll let you know about the deals as I am offered them but, meanwhile, it can’t hurt to go to www.oceaniacruises.com, and fish around. End of commercial.)
So, I booked, cruises, air, hotels, cars and drivers, insurance, the works, and lots of it. I was at my computer for eight hours a day, minimum, 7 days a week, except for the day I went to Laval to see Rod and Claude’s new place. Luckily, I thrive on work. The last two days at home, I made deposits or final payments on 14 staterooms, to give you an idea.
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
I finished packing, did a couple of last bits of travel work, popped out for a COVID test, and almost had it all together when Robbie’s staff rang the doorbell at three. The taxi arrived then, too, so the last-minute house tour was pretty quick. Karen and Paul live in Toronto. They came by train and rolled their luggage (underground) from Central Station, through Place Ville Marie, The Eaton Centre, Montreal Trust, Simons, into Cours Mt Royal, and up the elevator. I got into the taxi at 3:20 pm and was at the airport by 3:45, thanks to the HOV lanes.
While I was standing in the security line, I checked a client in to a flight. See what I mean about working anywhere? It’s all wonderful, but you never stop. Security took away my 250ml bottle of Listerine. I should have known better. I’ll get used to traveling with carry-on only. I managed this one, by having Distinctive Voyages sending the folders, letterhead, etc. directly to Neville and Peggy Muschett’s house in Fort Lauderdale. I was also rather interestingly attired in indoor boots, which will double as sneakers for the trip, a large, warm cashmere shawl, and the old light raincoat, that I got in HK, back when I lived there. Lots of versatility, minimal space.
When I checked it, I sprang for business class, for another $320. I’m still nervous about flying sardine can, and there’s some slack in my travel budget. Ya think? Business class was only half full, so I felt very safe and got right to work. I had downloaded all the documents I needed for my assignment. So I could set to work, getting the manifest the way I wanted it, setting up the mail merges, creating a check list of what to do on boarding, scripting the welcome broadcast and the cocktail party speech, etc. I barely had time to eat and had to chug the last few sips of my ONE glass of wine, before we landed in Fort Lauderdale.
Neville and Peggy Muschett were at the airport to meet me. My B & B comes with chauffeur service. I have known them over 50 years. We all worked together at IBM and had the best Bridge eight-some ever, back in the day. We played the entire card – 7 rounds of 4 games. We started around 7pm on a Saturday night, played bridge and drank until about 1am and THEN, we ate. Good stuff, too. We were always trying to out-do each other and still have it just pop out of the oven at 1am. This was way before you could just buy the meal and heat it up. It was the early days of TV dinners and we had too much self-respect to serve the likes of those. We made it all, from scratch, and it was all good. Not that we would have cared after all we drank, but it was. We got to know each other very well, who could fart the loudest, who would try to grope you under the table, and important stuff like that. This is how you make best friends.
I had only one glass of wine at dinner, so I could have a scotch on arrival, and I did. And off to bed we went, because it was way after midnight and we’re old now.
Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day
So much for the “Kiss me I’m Irish” button. The business of the day was getting a COVID test. I had a PCR booked at a CVS, but it was for Thursday and we figured it might be a good idea to move it up a day, or get an Antigen, to fit into COVID’s ever changing rules, as interpreted by Oceania. They must have sent us six sets of rules, all slightly different. So, Neville and I went off to CVS and talked to the pharmacist. He had the time to do it and would have, but CVS has rules, and he couldn’t. I could come at 9:30 tomorrow morning, though, which would give me a pretty good chance of having the results by the time I boarded at noon on Saturday.
Then we went cruising around the ‘hood and found a pop-up testing tent. We both got PCR tests and I got an antigen test, too, just in case. The results would come in by email and text. This baby iguana was just around the side of the strip mall, from the pop-up testing place.
It was Spring Break, and St. Paddy’s day, but we were going to eat outside. Neville and Peggy had wanted to try Lucky Fish, a new place at Pompano Beach, which friends of theirs had recommended. It was fun, live music: good but too loud, great Margarita, bar food: I had popcorn shrimp and poke – two appetizers – yummy. After dinner we walked out to the end of the new pier and it was just magic. I wanted a picture of the three of us but it was too dark, even with the full moon. I’ll get one tonight. I promise.
Friday, March 19, 2022
No email, no text, no results. Oh, dear. So Neville took me to CVS for 9:30 am and I took another PCR test. They didn’t charge for the first one, because I had Medicare, and if they charge this one, I am going to claim it on my Canadian medical insurance. They don’t know I’m also American.
Then we went back to the pop-up place, where it was a different guy from yesterday. He wasn’t very friendly and tried to blame me for not having the email, as in “Did you check your spam?” (“stupid old white lady”, implied). We both remained sweet and calm, something neither of is in real life, and he softened up. He found a way to do that which he had said he could not, and I have the results of the Antigen, at least, which will be enough to get me on the ship. Neville, who can say this stuff because he’s from Jamaica and 10% black, said that was an example of an NWA. For me, that’s a new name for Robbie, replacing the also politically incorrect LBB. But look at him:
You MAY have gotten an actual, physical, printed card from me. If you did, please forgive its flaws. Most of them have some. More of you would have gotten them, if the process had gone better. By the time it was over, I had laughed, cried, sworn (a lot), given up, and vowed never, ever to do this again.
I hadn’t sent physical cards out for at least five years, maybe longer. It is so much easier and faster to do the job electronically. And, in my case, so much more professional. I could have just made the thing and sent it to VistaPrint, or whoever does that kind of thing in Canada. If American Greetings had hooked up with a printing service and tempted me, while I was making the card at their site, I probably would have.
Mais, non. Amazon had nice looking double sided glossy card stock, and envelopes by the hundreds. I ordered a couple of hundred. Then I went to work “creating” the card. I never should have used American Greetings, either, because there’s no way to save your work-in-process. I left the last grammatical error in and never did translate it into French, because I got tired of redoing the whole thing, every time I thought of an improvement. Next time: Microsoft Publisher. And that was the easy part.
It was the printing operation that nearly sent me screaming off to the funny farm. It started off innocently enough. I had been using OEM inkjet cartridges, and my printing had gone a little iffy, so I put fifteen minutes unto all the aligning and cleaning steps at my disposal. Then I printed a couple of cards on plain paper. They looked okey and the double-sided printing attachment at the back of my pretty expensive, 3-year-old HP printer, worked just fine. I was sufficiently emboldened to load up the glossy card stock. It went pretty well for the first forty or fifty cards. Some printed better than others. Some of the printing is dark and some is streaky. I had to let it go. I didn’t buy enough paper to get that picky. I ran the cleaning/aligning stuff periodically. When that stopped working, I just ditched all three of the color cartridges and replaced them with HP originals. The printer said it was happier and it worked better, at least on the ink front.
But the sheet feeding mechanism was starting to balk. And the double-sided printing attachment started jamming. I cleaned it as best I could, but it didn’t help much. First every third or fourth card needed attention. Then it went down to every single card and they would have to be printed one side at a time. It’s not intuitively obvious how to feed the second side in. Some of you will notice that when you open your card, you have to turn it right side up to read it. Sorry about that. After a good few balls-ups, I put these little post-its beside the feeder tray.
Then it went from bad to worse. The regular sheet feeding mechanism decided it had had enough of this card stock stuff and wouldn’t take it off the stack. I had to put each piece into the feeder by itself. After another ten cards or so, it wanted me to set them in there just so. It wouldn’t pick them off the floor of the tray anymore. It’s tough when the mechanical staff starts getting uppity. Can you imagine the color of the air in my office? The printer was deaf. It didn’t care if I was sad, mad or going hysterical. I thought of taking them to a nearby copy center, but by this time, I had gone stubborn, too. I labored on.
When it was kicking back every piece of card stock, I added a back stop. Believe it or not, this arrangement worked for the last thirty or forty cards. Note: paper already fed because it won’t pick it out of the tray. The little piggie USB drive prevents the card stock from being pushed back into the tray. At one point, every piece, that went half way in, stuck there and had to be cleaned off until I found the source of the dirt and eliminated it.
Then I broke the tab that stops the paper from falling on the floor. That’s easy to do when you are hand feeding every page. If you forget and leave it up, but not extended, the card stock tries to feed back into the printer. The mad grab to stop that isn’t pretty. Some of you got cards with evidence of that action on them. In the process, I broke the mechanism, so it doesn’t fold down anymore and is harder to deal with.
The more tired and frustrated I got, the dumber I got. I am not exactly proud of this operation.
So…You don’t all have cards at all and it’s too bad I’m not famous. A good few of you would have collector’s items. Next year the process is going electronic again!
And, for all of you, with our love, here is Robbie’s and my Holiday Greeting:
And I made the card before Omicron hit. May it be off as quickly as it came. I can think of no better wish.