2023 – Grand World – Part 1.2 Panama to nowhere yet

Tuesday, January 10 was the start of 8 days at sea.  An amazing thing has happened to my left ankle.  It no longer hurts when I get out of bed and put it on the floor.  All this walking the decks of a moving ship, delivering newsletters, appears to be really good for it. I am delighted. I’ll get a few massages, too, but just a few, as they are about three times the price I pay in Montreal and I don’t even know how good they will be.  It would be hard to beat the people I have looking after me back home. 

Quite a few people want to go to the Opera, and some have very specific requests.  One has to have an aisle seat or she will be very claustrophobic.  I got on the Opera House site and saw that aisle seats were almost gone, and half the price because they don’t have a full view of the stage.  Since she was part of a group of three, I got back to them with this info to see what they wanted to do.   Some people already have Opera tickets but like the idea of the Ouverture Dinner and ride back to the ship

Holland America allowed free phone calls to do some insurance work for a passenger and it turned out well. He is going to be able to have acupuncture treatments and we can start the paperwork much later, when we see how it’s going and have better Internet. 

The Opera thing is fast turning into mega-project.  We are seeking tickets for Don Giovanni, on Thursday, February 9, 7:00 pm show.  It’s a 3 hour and 20 minute show, including one intermission.  It will let out at 10:30 pm or so.  Then we’ll want a ride back to the ship.  This is a pay as you go for my subscribers.  I am just hands on the keyboard.  I have shared with the Shore Excursions Manager, that I am doing this and he is OK with it. Ours will include choosing their own seats, dinner and the ride.  Getting all this is turning out to be tough.  The Internet is not cooperating. 

At 2:00 pm, I had my first real meeting with the Shorex Manager.  The first thing he wants me to do is to have everyone watch his video on their stateroom TV that tells them how to book shore excursions and cautions about not booking that which they cannot handle.  It’s a perennial problem, mine and his.  It breaks our hearts to say no to our handicapped guests but it is getting harder and harder to accommodate them.  I volunteered to pay for easy tours out of my own pocket, when he told me HAL would not be offering alternatives. 

At Happy Hour, we worked n a birthday party for Sandra Hobson.  Sandra is very interesting.  She’s an Audiologist, because she has been deaf herself all her life.  They think it was the measles she contracted at age 2.  She copes amazingly well, lip reads, has super hearing aids, speaks a couple of kinds of sign language, etc.  They are on this cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary, which we’ll celebrate May 10.  Everyone was gone by 7:00 pm and I still had a half hour before dinner, so I went and sat with Elizabeth and Reuben, with whom I had sailed in 2012 and 2014.  He used to be the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to different countries, like the USA. 

Dinner at the table and an Elliot Finkel performance.  He’s a concert pianist whom we all know well.  He’ll be having dinner with us one of these nights. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023, the second of eight sea days. The office was very busy.  It was sign ups and Opera stuff and a sad case.  One of my people was almost beside herself.  She had been sleeping on Deck 3 for a couple of nights.  Her cabin is under Rolling Stone.  She didn’t mind that the band played until eleven, but when the disco music started up after that and didn’t quit until 2:00 am, she couldn’t take it.  I promised to talk to the powers that be and get her relief. 

She had no sooner left when Shiv Charan, the Housekeeping manager came by.  We are old friends.  I decided to ask him how full the ship was, to get an idea of what my chances of getting a better room for Susan might be.  He reported 1228 passengers of a possible 1960.  That looked like plenty of room to me, so I told him why I wanted to know.  The next thing you know, he was back telling me to tell Susan to pick up the key for 1085 from the front desk and see if that one would suit.  She checked it, she liked it, she moved and she’s delighted.  She sleeps all she likes now.  Thanks, Shiv.

I had an appointment back in my room at 2:00 pm, with my Taiwanese people.  The husband came with his translating machine and after that was taking too long, he called his son in Vancouver.  I spoke to Jason and we exchanged emails and agreed that I would email him a copy of what I was sending to be printed and he would translate for his parents.  Very nice of him. 

I worked on the Hobson’s birthday party with them at Happy Hour and I learned that when you need to clear your ears on an airplane, you shouldn’t hold your nose and blow (the Valsalva method), you should hold your nose and swallow three times (Toynbee Method).  It’s safer.  And Sandra told me that I may refer anyone in the group with a hearing problem to her.  We have some interesting benefits.   She is also willing to give a lecture. Her company was called “Helping you Hear”  HuH?

Dinner at the table was fine as usual, and the entertainment was a special treat.  Chris Pendleton turned out to be a she, funny as hell and a good fiddler to boot.  I took a picture of my wine because I liked it so well.  A French name on a new world region famous for a grape, can yield a marvelous wine.  Old world know how and terroir.  Good formula.

Thursday, January 12, 2023, the third of eight sea days.  Right after my Essentrics workout, I got to work on Sandra Hobson’s birthday party.  Everything onboard is both easy and complicated.  Sandra just has to talk to the Neptune Concierge and glasses and hors d’oeuvres will appear magically on the designated day at the appointed hour.  I had to craft invitations for her to pass out and we would have to keep track of cabin numbers to tell the Dining Room manager, for the after party dinner.  I made up a spreadsheet and started populating it. 

The Sydney Opera House project is not getting any easier.  There is quite a lot of interest and the Internet is starting to fail.  Bob Todd and I spent almost an hour getting him seat G24, only to fail when the site insisted sending him a code by text, which, of course, he wasn’t receiving.  We all have our phones on airplane mode to avoid huge onboard roaming charges.  I’ll have to gather everyone’s particulars, email and snail mail addresses, birthdays, the works and call it all in when we arrive Nuku Hiva.

I got some tipping envelopes and filled them with cocktail party tips, had tea with Bobi  and printed and delivered Newsletter #2.   Then I went to Happy Hour for more party planning, dinner and a pretty terrible show from Rebecca West called “How to be a Headliner”.  It was everything you hate about these shows, the formula of it.  I was bored to tears or maybe sleep.

Friday, January 13, 2023, day 4 of 8.  Another busy office hour, with one lady

patiently waiting, until all my people were seen, to come and inquire as to why not she, and her partner, weren’t in the group.  She had been before and hadn’t changed travel agencies.  I agreed and did something about it.

We all got dressed up for formal night, me in my best formal wear that hasn’t fit for about five years, and ate surf and turf and drank free wine, courtesy of the captain.  Our table host was Maria, the Hotel Manager’s Executive Assistant.  She was lovely.  There was dance music everywhere on Deck 2, but not much dancing as there wasn’t all that much room to dance with all of us milling about. 

Saturday, January 14, 2023, day 5 of 8, I did a bunch more work with the Shore Excursions Manager and saw a bunch more people.  Our litigious society has spread around the world now.  Some drivers and guides are forbidden to lift the devices into their vehicles, so the handicapped people need a caregiver of their own to do it.  All of them are within their rights to refuse.  Even the ADA rules do not require a service or venue to have personnel to provide assistance like lifting wheelchairs and scooters.  Facilities, yes, lifting, no. 

Sandra Hobson’s birthday party in their Neptune Suite was fun.  The Neptune concierge did them proud with the hors d’oeuvres and about half of us repaired to the dining room for a jovial birthday dinner topped off with Panjang Amurnia.  Certa mulia.   Pianist Elliot Finkel was on the main stage and this show was better than his first.  He’s very good.

Sunday, January 15, 2023, was our 6th day at sea and with execrable Internet, which was the only bad part of it, really.  I did a little research on Dim Sum at Zilver in Sydney and Paddy’s market and that looks very doable.  Same thing on the Occidental Bar in Auckland.  I also talked to Tina in the Pinnacle and we can have 10 to 26 in Section 1.  The date will be Feb 6.

Dan and Sandra were at Happy Hour again, joined by Keith Bean & Cher Arceneaux.  Cher had a tip for me that Titada was a good massage therapist.  So, on my way to dinner, I stopped by the Spa and asked that she do the massage I had planned for tomorrow.  That settled, I toddled off to dinner, where Elliot Finkel was our dinner guest.  He’s a lot of fun as well as a very accomplished pianist.  In his seventies now, he still practices four hours a day.  On the ship, those turn out to be 4 am to 8 am.  At home in New York City, he and his wife have seven cockatiels and four finches.  The cockatiels have bowls set at the dining room table, with whatever Elliot cooks for them that day, quinoa, pasta, whatever.  Each has his own way he (or she) likes it.  This explains why his wife rarely joins him on board.  Who would take care of them?

There was a production show after dinner.  What a great night.

2023 – Grand World – Part 1.1 Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal

Our first day, Wednesday, January 4, was a sea day, and I had plenty to do.  One of my tasks as a DV Host is to make sure everyone on my manifest got their welcome packet and to see if they have any questions about our offering.  I got most of those calls done between my 4:00 pm breakfast and my 8:00 pm dinner, on embarkation day.  They were routine and pleasant, or I left messages.  Everyone had the packet, which taught me that the sooner you call, after delivering, the less likely they are to have lost it, or maybe World Cruise passengers are just more savvy.

One of my passengers was having a terrible time settling in.  She has both a power chair and a walker and it wasn’t working in her little cabin.  Life was very tough.  She had been DV Host for years and has done 13 cruises with Holland America.  She’s a 5* Mariner and was hoping for better treatment.  I couldn’t do anything for her as she knows the ropes as well as I do and had already contacted the powers that be.

Another passenger told me he couldn’t speak English and hung up on me.  I’ll have to see if I can find an interpreter when I find out what kind of Chinese he speaks.  It’s not Cantonese, for sure. 

A single man  turned out to be my proofreader.  He noticed that the Jan 6 cocktail wasn’t in the Amenities notification.  I was blindsided by the fact that I actually have six(6) cocktail parties to offer my people, and had missed that one on the list.  My first newsletter was destined to come out the very next day.

People told me their nicknames and if they went by their middle names and stuff like that.   All good. I updated the manifest before I went to my 11:00 am Office Hour appointment near the Front Desk. 

There were a couple of people who knew people who should have got a Welcome packet and didn’t.  No surprise.  There usually are. One couple, whom I have had the pleasure of hosting on a world cruise before came to say I was the best DV host they had ever had.  I hope they hold that thought until it’s time for the comment cards. 

Some came to volunteer to do deliveries for me, if I needed help.  Very sweet of them, but so far, so good.  Some came to say they were delighted with the program and wanted to know how to pick a cruise that’s a DV for the future.  I was happy to help.

As soon an I was able to get away, I hastily worked up a newsletter to correct the omission of the January 6 Cocktail party and add whatever else I did know.  I delivered my newsletters during the ship’s Block Parties, which was interesting.  I kept getting offered food and drink but both my hands were occupied holding the newsletters or putting them in the doors.  When they offer a three-handed version of homo sapiens, I’ll be signing up.

Five people came to Happy Hour, and they were all very nice.  Then I had very good lamb chops for dinner at “the table” and we all went to see the Lincoln Center Stage – our classical quintet, playing rock, pop and jazz on the Main Stage.  It was good and I was ready for bed, after that busy day.

I didn’t know it then, but my good friend, Denis Mavrias, (Chef Dr Pizza Guy) died on January 4.  In a strange turn of fate, I was unable to make it to my own family for Christmas, because of terrible weather, and a tree falling on the train tracks, so I spent Christmas Day with Denis’ family.  Most of you will die laughing when I tell you they’re Vegans, but I was glad to have had that time with him.   He was a good, kind man, and we had some great times together over the last couple of years.

We docked in Falmouth, Jamaica, on Thursday, January 5.  I went walkabout with Dee and Lyann, but not before I took care of important business.  I am still sorting out discrepancies between my manifest from Distinctive Voyages and Michelle’s from Holland America. 

Around 11:00 am, Dee, Lynann and I got off to go shopping in Falmouth, Jamaica.  We dubbed ourselves three Lame Old Ladies, and went off to find a taxi.

We rejected the first one that was presented and took the second.  He had a lot better attitude and took very good care of us, his charges.  We were very pleased with Delano Crooks, despite his somewhat suspect name.  He took us to a local shopping center, where we wouldn’t get robbed and that was good for basics.  Soon we were out of time and back in the tourist shopping compound by the ship.  Prices were high there and so was my sales resistance.  I did enjoy my late afternoon breakfast, though.  It was a beef and cheese patty with scotch bonnet sauce, and a beer.  Just right. 

Sail away was delayed and delayed again and I pretty much missed it.  Won’t do that again.  I had dinner at the table and we all went to see the comedian, Steven Scott, who was hilarious.  We met him after, and Dee presented him with an invitation to dine with us.  He had one night free, January 8.  We took it.  His schedule is a lot more crammed than ours. 

Back at sea on  January 6, I printed a birthday card along with my cocktail party speech and two new shore excursion flyers, which I now have. In the Atrium for office hour, I met more nice people.  I had tee’d up a dinner for 16 in the dining room for after tonight’s welcome cocktail, and it’s already booked up.  Nice.  I’ll do it sooner in the future and get more participation.

I took my cocktail party speech to tea around 3:15 and it worked very well as breakfast for me.  The cocktail party came of without a hitch.  63 of 80 people came.   I had recruited Dee Wescott, one of the best photographers I knew to take pictures and she did a great job.  Arthur and Linda Starr came too, so I could introduce them as our bus monitors.  I just can’t be in two buses at once and the Rabbi and his wife are a popular choice. 

The Sydney Opera idea floated well, so I’ll be doing that for sure.  After my speech, I usually invite everyone to say a bit about themselves, but this group was just too big.  We had three tables for dinner in the Dining room and I got to eat a course at each of them.  It’s a great way to get to know the guests and we were done in plenty of time to make the show, which was “Dance Fever”.  It’s nice that we still have singers and dancers on board, albeit a couple less of each. 

I finished the latest Louise Penny novel on my Kindle and, while I was exiting, it presented a critical error and threatened to never work again unless restarted, rebooted, or put in communication with Amazon support. 

On Saturday, January 7, we were docked in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. The first thing I did was deal with the kindle.  I wanted to be in port if I really did have to access Amazon support.  Like everybody else’s, it isn’t much these days and I dreaded the thought.  Luckily the simple restart fixed the problem, and I will travel the world with all of my Kindle content, which is substantial. 

A good few emails flew around, as the manifests got sorted out, until they now match and in spite of that, I did get a couple of hours in Puerto Limon with Nona Hamilton and Beryl Mitton, my 2012 tablemates.  We just had a walk in the park, a beer, and shopped the dockside market.  I got a white embroidered blouse, a pair of colorful pants, and a sloth.  The sloth is a stuffed toy, so I don’t have to sleep alone.  He’ll go to Ginger’s Toy Tea next December, having been around the world.  I’m not hard on my sloths.

Sail Away was nice.  I spent it with three of my people.  We had one of the lecturers, Mike West, and his wife for dinner at the table.  Then we went to see Steven Scott again, doing old Catskills schtick.  We won’t get him for dinner tomorrow, as the ship has fingered him to do a funny interview in the Ocean Bar, with Cruise Director, Ian at 9 pm, and performers don’t eat before they perform. 

Cruising the Panama Canal on Sunday, January 8, I found Bobi in her power chair in trouble again.  She had just settled into her re-designed room, when she was hit by another plague.  Now her power chair wouldn’t charge and her Oxygen machine went that a notch farther, when its charger actually drained its battery.  While she was telling me all this, Henk, the Hotel Manager, innocently stopped to say “Hi” to both of us.  I’ll bet he was sorry when, like Shiv before him, he ended up spending most of the day in Bobi’s room, calling on assorted experts as needed. 

Through all of this, Bobi has maintained a very decent amount of good humour.  She went from being a DV host to the wheelchair in a surgical accident, meaning back surgery gone south.  I am going to just keep exercising my little heart out and do my damnedest to stay off the operating table.  So far, so good.  And the folks kept coming by for the usual conversations.

We are going through the Panama Canal today and it’s pouring rain for a lot of the time.  It’s still interesting but I don’t have a lot of time to pay attention, yet.  I had a cruise to help book with the Future Cruise Consultant,  and some advice to give on insurance.  One of my people fell in his cabin on day one and it aggravated an old back injury he got in the service.  Dr. Kim’s acupuncture is helping but it’s pretty expensive.  He was wondering if his insurance, Holland America’s platinum, would cover it.  I am pretty good with insurance claims so I told him to go back and get a doctor’s letter to submit with the claim, and that if Holland America wouldn’t help him with the claim, I would. 

We all decided to go for an earlier dinner so as to be able to catch Steven Scott’s interview with Ian, as Steven had agreed to meet us for drinks privately after.  The ship was having a “Burgers and Beer” thing on the Lido, by the pool, that looked like it would work.  I went with Nona and Lynann.  The burgers were sliders, one beef and cheese with bacon, one chicken and avocado and one vegetarian.  Nona and I had them bring us two beef and cheese, no vegetarian.  And we ordered three Laguanitas or whatever the name is, supposed to be good.

Well, when it came, everything was cold, there was no bacon or avocado to be seen anywhere, both burger and bun were dry and they brought the wrong kind of beer.  You had to be there.  The ship sends supervisors around to every table to ask if you are liking the food and service.  When our guy came over and asked “How’s everything here?” all three of us pounced in him at once “Terrible” was our verdict, in one voice.  You shouldn’t ask when you don’t want the answer.

Steven the comedian’s interview with Ian was fun but we never got our private time.  Holland America were picking him up at 5:30 am to catch his plane in Panama and he had to go pack.

On Monday, January 9, we were in Fuerte Amador, Panama, having stayed overnight. If you didn’t take a shore excursion, there was nothing but two shuttles.  You couldn’t walk in the port.  There was a lot of construction going on.  Our first shuttle went to Isla Perico, where everything was closed, but Vicki and Peggy saw a HOHO from there, found a way to take it , and that was good.  Nona and I didn’t see that so we decided not to get off the bus at all.  We rode back to the ship, switched buses and went to the mall. 

I forgot the name of the mall, but it was a plenty glitzy one, with Chanel and Gucci and Louis Vuitton and all, just like home.  I live within five minutes’ walk of all this stuff.  Luckily, it also had ordinary stores, too, like H & M and the shop where I bought a couple of plain dresses for wearing like blouses.  This is how I supplement my wardrobe, without having multiple suitcases.  At the end I’ll just toss whatever I no longer want, whether I brought it with me and it wore out, or I bought it and don’t like it all that much, after all.  I had brought a dying bra with me, and it had had the nerve to get to extremis on day 2 of the cruise.  I repaired it but it will go again, soon.  I replaced it at this very American mall, for the very American price of $52.99.  Some things aren’t optional.

I got back to the ship and spent an hour or so working on pictures.  The weather had worsened considerably and there was heavy rain and thunder.  Some of it loud enough to be scary, but I just worked on.  At one point, we had an announcement that the ship had been struck by lightning but that it was nothing to worry about.  When it was time to go looking for something to eat, I decided on French Fries from Dive-In, poolside.  It turned out that was where the lightning had hit.  Tim told me he was in the hot tub at the time and that was an experience and a half.  He was probably 10 feet away from the point of contact.  The plexiglass roof took the blow.  I got this picture:

I did go to sail-away after that, where the hors d’oeuvres completed my breakfast, and spent some time with Peggy.  We didn’t sail away when we were supposed to.  The Volendam did, though, and it was fun waving at her.  The weather got nasty again, and I headed back to the room to work until dinner time. 

The entertainment was a movie on the big screen of the Main Stage, “Panama”, 1989.  It wasn’t very good.  I kept falling asleep. 

2023 – 1 Grand World – Part 1.0 – Fort Lauderdale

New Year’s Day -Sunday, January 1 2023  on the plane to Fort Lauderdale

The first installment of a ‘round the world diary always seems to begin with a bitch and moan about all the terrible stuff that happened in the last week before I left, and this one is no exception.  It’s also the saddest.

There is always a lot going on with me leaving for over four months, and on the first day of the year.  There’s all the client work that I try to get done before I leave, and I usually get through almost all of it.  Luckily, modern communications are now such that I can finish from the middle of the ocean.   It’s just a bit of a slower slog. 

But I did not need my Royal Bank Credit card, which had been faithful for 25 years, to get compromised on December 26.  The bank caught it on the 28th and texted me a sample transaction to see if I recognized it.  When I did not, they texted that they would be phoning me.  About twenty minutes later the call came in, and put me on hold for another twenty minutes, which did nothing to improve my good humour. 

Since Quebec passed Bill 96, which goes after English rights here, big time, I have ceased to speak French on every call, and had pressed “1” for English.  Eventually the call was answered by a guy, with a thick accent, who I thought said his name was “Julio”.  He wanted to know how he could help me.  “You called me, I said, how can I help you?, Julio?”  At this point he got upset with me and told me his name was “Leo” and he wasn’t “some immigrant”.  That’s when I switched to French, figuring I had a real “numero” and nothing was going to get done, if I didn’t get really nice.  So I did, and we went through a pile of transactions, a goodly number of which were fraudulent, so I was getting a new credit card.  This was why I had to be so sweet, I needed it in two days, because I was leaving for four-and-a-half months.  God bless Leo, but that, and all the notifications I am having to effect, were about the last thing I needed. 

The absolute last thing I needed was the phone call I got at 9:00 am the next morning, from my cousin in Cornwall, where I hadn’t been able to spend Christmas thanks to a tree falling on a train on the Montreal-Toronto line.  My favorite cousin, Rosemary O’Connor Sidorchuk, was dying, sometime soon, and certainly before I would be back.  I knew what I had to do.  I rearranged my life some more, sent apologies instead of deliverables, and looked for a car to get me there.  Communauto delivered the minute I asked.  Their fleet of “Flex” cars is pretty big now and there was one sitting at the end of my lane.  The slush in it hadn’t even melted when I picked it up.  The universe is taking care of me.  My very nice friend, Gaetan Villlemure, came along to take care of me, as I don’t feature doing 90 miles of highway in the dark.  I did get to say “Goodbye” to Rosemary, so closure.  Not much fun.  I will miss her. It was cancer.  She was 88.

That same day I got a letter from the IRS to say they had received my 2021 tax form 1040, the second time it was sent in.  My accountant swears you have to file by mail when filing from out of country, so that’s what he did. My return got lost with 129,999 other ones and was re-filed in October.  So this letter said that now they have it and just want me to verify my identity, so they can process my 2021 tax return.  I called from the car and they answered in a timely fashion, but their computers were down, so they wanted me to call back on October 3, which would be boarding day.  How convenient.  Together and separately, my accountant and I tried to fix it so he could do it, but I did end up doing it on January 3.  They have now agreed to process my return.  Nice way for them to have kept my $8,500 for a couple of years.

I did manage to go to a little New Year’s Eve party with Rose and Patrick and a few of their friends and, on New Year’s Day, I was off to Fort Lauderdale, arriving at the Renaissance Hotel in time for a late bar dinner and bed.

Monday, January 2, I found my friends, Linda and Bob Eckert, in the condo next door and they brought over all that which Amazon and Distinctive Voyages had been delivering to their place.  Nice to have friends. I worked in the room all day, making up about 50 welcome packets for delivery the next day.  Then I took Bob and Linda out to a Thai restaurant that they like and we had a delightful meal and a lot of laughs.  We have been cruise buddies since 2015 and have seen each other a few times in between.  Great people.

The next day, Tuesday, January 3, Bob and Linda arrived at 11:00 am to drive me to the ship.  It took all of five minutes.  Talk about a great place to live.  Embarkation hasn’t gotten any easier on Holland America at Port Everglades.  I was in line for an hour and three quarters.  I could have got into the five star line but it was also the handicapped line and took just as long. 

Once aboard, things started to go more smoothly.  I met with Michelle, the Group Event Coordinator, as usual.  And, as usual, our manifests didn’t match.  I had 87 pax on mine.  She had 53. She told me to go ahead with mine and made the inevitable room changes

I wanted a desk of my own but they don’t have enough desks, with so many groups on board.  So nobody gets one.  I met Tom Mullen of Cruise Specialists, with whom I have sailed many, many times, and Louisa from Signature.  I don’t know the others.

It was time for my 4:00 pm breakfast.  I have lost 20 pounds on intermittent fasting.  It works for me but am I ever hungry when it gets close to four.  I went up to the Lido which was closed until 5:00 pm and I almost cried.  Intan, one of the more senior restaurant staff, read my distress and said she’d be able to get me something from behind the screens.  I peeked and saw a baked potato that would do.  It turns out it was just the display item, so it was cold, but it was good enough for me at that point.  I am eternally in her debt.  The dessert station was open by the time I ate the potato, so I had a Brazo de Merdedes to top it off.  It was yummy, meringue, custard and raspberry. I met Beryl and Nona up there, too.  They were my tablemates on the 2012 world and I had just sailed with Nona on Montreal-Fort Lauderdale in October. It’s old home week on here. I got my Welcome packets delivered and made it to dinner with Wells and Dee Wescott, Lynann Barnes and Jean and Ross Copas.  This is my regular table but there will be a lot of eating around for all of us.  Then I went back to my cabin and unpacked.  You have to, if you want to sleep on the bed, which I sure did by then. Dee took this nice one at sail-away from Fort Lauderdale.

2022 – Christmas Letter

Christmas Letter – 2022

It’s Christmas Eve.  I meant to be writing this on the train on the way to Cornwall, where my family is.  I had reserved a rental car, as usual, but had second thoughts.  It costs over $700 CAD to rent a car for three days, if those three days include a holiday.  I paid it for Labour Day, but I really do not like supporting highway robbery.  So, three weeks ago, I booked train tickets and one week ago, I cancelled the car.  With the massive, continent wide storm this week, I was feeling pretty smug this morning.

I can, and did, walk to Central Station underground.  It takes longer than I thought so I had to hoof it to get to the station with 10 minutes to spare.  I need not have rushed.  My train, and every other train going west to Toronto, was cancelled.  The line to reschedule or refund snaked halfway around the perimeter of the station.  While I was in line, I put in a call to VIA Rail and, after an hour or so, it answered.  Lo and behold, I am rebooked out of here tomorrow morning at 8:50am and writing to you from my adjustable bed, with my feet up. 

It could have been a lot worse.  A tree had fallen on the track and had actually hit an engine.  The poor people on that train got to freeze for hours until they were rescued.  I would not have liked that.

December in Montreal has been a lot of fun and all the winter I have to bear.  The fun started on December when I finally had my housewarming party, two years late and still under the shadow of COVID.  Two couples cancelled because of it and I lost five more people to fear of COVID.  In the end 30 people came and it wasn’t crowded at all.  My caterers were fabulous, and their delicious Cocktail dinatoire left no one hungry.  My entertainer, Maxence Lapierre, did me proud, too.  He played all the old party songs from the sixties and seventies and even had us old farts up dancing.  Old Napa habits die hard and I had bought six cases of wine, which proved to be excessive, but there is a lot less Mumm Napa left than Bourgogne blanc or pinot noir. 

My friend Ginger’s Toy Tea, started in her home 31 years ago, was able to return in person this year and was held at an armory, since Ginger is in the army now.  There were more children’s choirs than you could shake a wreath at.  Here’s one.  Note the beautiful diversity in our city now. 

And there were meals at Bonaparte and plays at Centaur, Bach’s mass in B minor at Place des Arts and a lovely evening at the Canadian Grenadier Guards party, courtesy of Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Ginger Petty.  I didn’t get a picture of me with Ginger in her splendid uniform but there were two actual guards at the door and I do have this:

It was one of those very special winter nights, too, where our weather is on display.  I took this one walking to Ginger’s house for the pre-party party. 

It could be a Christmas card, that. 

Because I am running for daylight to get out of town on January 1, my Christmas décor isn’t much this year but I did bring out Fran Neilsen’s St Nicholas cat.

I just love him and I love all of you, too.  So a very

To one all with love and purrs, from Helen and Robbie

And I am off on the Zuiderdam for 4 ½ months, leaving January 1 and sailing January 3.  Back May 12.

Email will always work and I can WhatsApp you by appointment.  

In an emergency you can phone the ship directly at 1-800-993-5483 or +1-321-837-6106 from outside the USA.

Doing Alaska right – July 25, 2023 – with me

Doing Alaska right – July 25, 2023 – with me

Life can sure get interesting.  I wasn’t planning on doing another Alaska cruise, until some Montreal friends had it on their bucket list for this coming summer.  They wanted to do it properly.  Princess joined the Distinctive Voyages program last year with their Alaska Cruise Tours.  So, I had a look at those and they looked awfully good.  The clients thought so, too, and they are the kind who do their homework.  So, the three of us booked, with me as the DV Concierge Host.  I am going to get to stay at the great old lodges, ride the railway and visit the sled dogs.  I am also going to get to visit San Francisco, Napa, Sonoma and Vancouver again, where I have a lot of friends and I haven’t been out west since I left in late ’19. 

Then came Fiona, hurricane Fiona, that is.  We were worried that she might mess with our East Coast cruise last October, but she was done before we got started.  She was done with my Alaskan cruise buddies’ cottage on Prince Edward Island, too.  She blew the roof right off of it and that’s not the sort of thing designed to improve the décor of the living space.  It was a write off. 

Time passed and insurance companies adjusted, and, by some miracle, they will be rebuilding, this coming summer, living on site in a trailer.  What an adventure.  But I lost my cruise buddies. 

I am still committed to my DV assignment, and my California and BC friends, and so, I’m still going.  I will be in Napa and Santa Rosa for most of July until the Cruise Tour starts on July 25.  That’s when I’ll want you to join me.  The Cruise Tour is a Travel Leaders/Distinctive Voyages exclusive.  Here’s how it’s going to go:

On July 25, we fly to Anchorage and stay at the Captain Cook Hotel, in the heart of beautiful downtown Anchorage.  Their web site says every single room has a stunning view of either Cook Inlet or Cugach Mountains.  And it looks like about the best hotel there is there on TripAdvisor. 

The next day, July 26, we get a scenic bus ride along the George Parks Highway to The Mt McKinley Princess Wildernes Lodge.  Princess was the first cruise line into Alaska and set up right away.  They are still best in Alaska.  We’ll have time to walk some of the many trails around the Lodge or just relax and take in the views from the Great Room.  After lunch, there are tours to take if you are so inclined.

On the 27th , we travel by motorcoach to the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, where we will stay for two nights, the 27th and 28th.  There are places to walk and tours to be booked but there are free tours, too, compliments of Travel Leaders (well, somehow included like the good meals) They include:  The Husky Homestead Tour, to which I am really looking forward:  “Experience the call of the wild and visit Iditarod champion Jeff King . Visit his homestead, dogs and his cuddly puppies . Learn what goes into creating a winning team. 

In the afternoon we have a Tundra Wilderness Tour which will guide us along the spectacular road corridor to mile 43, promising a wonderful experience, as Denali’s wildlife moves at its own pace and according to the seasons.

Travel to the Murie Cabin near the East Fork River to experience where Adolf Murie lived while conducting his famous research inside what was then known as Mount McKinley National Park! This tour is approximately 5 hours in duration and includes a bottled water and snack.  You can tell the parts I didn’t write myself, can’t you?

On the 29th we go by rail to Whittier approximately 9 1/4 hours (295 miles) with the train scheduled to depart Denali National Park at 8:15 a.m. and arrive in Whittier at 6:00 p.m.

And we board, and the ship sails, and here’s where she goes, while we enjoy her luxurious amenities:

Sat,07/29/23Anchorage (whittier), Alaska–8:30pm 
Sun,07/30/23Hubbard Glacier (scenic Cruising), AlaskaScenic Cruising3:00pm–8:00pm 
Mon,07/31/23Glacier Bay National Park (scenic Cruising), AlaskaScenic Cruising9:15am–7:30pm 
Tue,08/01/23Icy Strait Point, Alaska6:00am–7:00pm 
Wed,08/02/23Juneau, Alaska6:30am–5:00pm 
Thu,08/03/23Ketchikan, Alaska10:00am–6:00pm
Fri,08/04/23At Sea
Sat,08/05/23Vancouver, Canada6:30am
Sat,08/05/23Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada  

And I get off and re-connect with my Vancouver contingent.  I trust you are ready.

I’ll be happy to get you a quote and happier still if you decide to come with me.  What a hoot we will have.  The freebees that come with the DV package, for which yours truly is the host, include beverages, gratuities, and WiFi.  I’ll be having a cocktail party, too. If Travel Leaders doesn’t pay for it, I will, for my own clients, for sure.

The Black Friday, Cyber Monday stuff continues until November 30.  And then there’ll be another sale.  Happy to get you a quote anytime.

Acknowledgments: Photos courtesy of Dave Lasker, my friend who raises puppies for Canine Companions.  Here he is with one of Jeff King’s.  One of my travelers, Joan Westgate, knows Jeff from before he ever went to Alaska.  Small world.  Wrecked cottage photo is the cottage in question – Thanks to Sheila Mason and Bob Martin for contributing it and getting this snowball rolling.  We will travel together again.

2022 Mtl – 4 – Megan’s Montreal – Part 4 The Cruise – Part 2

Friday, October 7, Boston

We figured the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus would be the thing to do in Boston on another perfectly beautiful day.  I was hoping for Filene’s basement but Wiggles, out driver guide, informed me that it was long gone.  More’s the pity.  We set out at different times and were on different HOHOs.  Geri used public transportation and saved a bundle, but she didn’t get Wiggles.  Joan, Nona and I did.  I had been appalled when Montreal’s HOHO was $62 for two days and here was Boston’s for $66 for one day.  That’s almost $90 Canadian.  I apologize to Montreal’s Grayline, who are offering a bargain.

Having a live guide was a lot better than the disembodied voice in the ear, though, and Wiggles was excellent.  He knew a lot about history, architecture and sports and shared well.  The oldest building still standing in Boston was built in 1770, and, if I’m not confused, hosted the infamous Boston Massacre.  Five people were shot.  Doesn’t seem like much these days. 

Wiggles was apologizing for all the construction going around town.  He obviously hasn’t been to Montreal lately.  I think we saw six or seven cones, there was a half a block that narrowed down to one lane, and one of the stops was closed.  Not a patch on Montreal.

One of the stops had the Cheers Bar as an attraction, but it wasn’t open at eleven o’clock in the morning.  We drove through Beacon Hill and Back Bay and could visualize the mansions as they once were.  Most of them are condos or dorms now.  Education is a big deal in Boston, with something like 17 universities, many of them very famous, like Harvard, Yale, M.I.T, etc.

We rode it most of the way around and got off at Boston Common on the way back.  We then walked through the park and hit up a CVS, where my phone number still works.  I got a $2 tube of toothpaste and it shot out $5 in CVS bucks.  So, I bought Joan’s toothpaste, too and got a bottle of water with those.  Don’t know how they can make money like that. 

We kept on walking and soon were at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, where we met up with Annette and Tim and had a lobster roll and a beer for another $60 each.  It was delicious and such a beautiful day that we ate out under those blue umbrellas in the picture.  Thus fortified, we walked through Quincy Market, where I let myself be tempted by a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of hazelnut ice cream.  The ship wanted us back on board at 3:30, so we walked to the end of the Harbour Bus loop, which was free on the HOHO ticket, and took that one back.  It was a very good day in Boston.

That night we ate in The Pinnacle again, another five-star perk.  I had crab cakes, shared the bacon again, enjoyed scallops with both risotto and mashed potatoes, and had another chocolate souflée for dessert.  The comedian, Hank Benson, was pretty good, but he did catch me sleeping in the third row.  We met him later and I told him not to be any more insulted than all of my professors at McGill.  I slept through most of the lectures and somehow managed to graduate.

Saturday, October 8, at sea

It’s getting warmer, not so warm as to sit out, but warmer.  Not that it matters that much to me when I have work to do.  I got another episode of this story out, had dinner with Joan at Nona’s table, with yet another chocolate souflée,  and went to see Magali Dahan perform again.  She’s easy to listen to, à la Piaf.

Sunday, October 9, at sea

Finally, a day to sit out on my balcony.  Nona came by with some very juicy gossip, so juicy it doesn’t bear repeating and you know I would, if I dared.  You might ask me in person.  Then I packed, took a leisurely bath and dressed for my own birthday party.  We had a table for nine, my original six, plus Nona, Gerard and Jan, my cruising buddies.  I had said no presents, but I got some and a particularly fabulous card.  It was a special menu, too, and I particularly enjoyed the roast beef.  There was red velvet birthday cake and “Panjang Amurnia” which I particularly love.  It’s nice to know I’ll be back on Holland America on January 3.  It has the feel of home.

Monday, October 10, Fort Lauderdale

Up and out.  I no sooner turned the phone on when it rang and, how cool, it was Carol Kieschnick, from my Napa years.  She and her new friend (of four years) Steve, will be in Montreal, for three days, starting tomorrow.  They are staying at the Ritz, which is practically around the corner from me.  We get to have dinner together on Wednesday.  Can’t wait.  It’s like this holiday doesn’t end.  Denis picks me up tonight to take me to a birthday dinner chez Patrick and Rose, I’m out with my AOII sister and Robbie’s staff, Louise Archer, tomorrow night and now Carol and Steve on Wednesday.  Life is very, very good.  I have the best friends.  And, I have to admit, I’ll be very happy to cuddle Robbie again, for the thirty seconds he’ll give me.  I know he’ll be glued to my body when I wake up in the morning, purring softly. 

PS: Went to Bonaparte again with Carol and Steve, who is delightful, and met my new favorite soufflee. It’s Bonaparte’s Chocolate Chip. Have it if you get to go there.

Updated Commercial:

I just took on a new hosting assignment that a few of you might like.  I sold it to a couple in Montreal, then asked to host it as it’s a Distinctive Voyage.  They gave it to me, as they usually do.  It’s a Princess CruiseTour in Alaska.  It’s 11 days, total, starting in Anchorage on July 25, 2023 and ending in Vancouver on August 5.  One night in the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, one in Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, two in Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and seven nights aboard ship, starting July 29.  Tours and most meals are included for the land part, including the Husky Homestead Tour, where we can see the puppies in training.  You know how I love that part.  It’s the Majestic Princess.  Princess was first into Alaska and its Lodges and tours are the best.   I have the full itinerary and will share it when you show interest. 

I’ll be in California for at least a couple of weeks before and in Vancouver for a week after.  Robbie will be looking for staff for July and half of August.

The link to just the Cruise part is:  Cruise Details – 7-Day Voyage of the Glaciers with Glacier Bay (Southbound) – Princess Cruises 

Don’t jump and down too much when you see the price.  It’s a good bit higher with the tour in it and that’s the way I want you to buy it.  I’m your host for the whole thing and we’re going to have a lot of fun. 

2022 Mtl – 3 – Megan’s Montreal – Part 3 The Cruise – Part 1

I am not too happy with myself at the moment.  I had about two hours work done on this episode when I first moved it to a different folder and then added a few notes from Boston to it.  Then I managed to delete everything I had written about Quebec City, and it was pretty interesting, so here goes again:  @#$%^&*()(*&^%$#@#$%^&*(*&^%$

Sunday, October 2, 2022 – Quebec City

It was a gorgeous day in Quebec City, sunny, crisp and cool.  Perfect touring weather. The only fly in the ointment was that it was also the Quebec Marathon.  Our guide, François Paré had never seen the city closed down over such an extensive area.  They had a way to direct him into the port, but it made him at least 20 minutes late and dashed any hopes we may have had about a nice little ride around Old Quebec.  He showed us what little he could, that which we passed on the way out, and we did get two good stories out of him.  We also got a history lesson, to which I have added my own take.

The history lesson started with the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759-60.  The French had colonized Quebec in 1608 but the English, who had settled a hundred or so miles to the south, were very interested in possessing the whole of North America.  The Plains of Abraham is the land above Quebec where the Chateau Frontenac now stands.  It was easy to defend and had been for years, by the settlers and their militia.  They weren’t career soldiers, like the British were.  They endured a year of 40,000 cannonballs, before the British attempted an attack up the hill.  They were significantly better armed, with rifles that could get off two shots before re-loading, a thing the French hadn’t even heard of.  And there were at least twice as many of them.  They won the battle and with it, Canada, which remains part of the British Commonwealth.  For how much longer is anybody’s guess.

At that time, and up until the 1960s, the Catholic Church controlled everything in Quebec.  Every family had at least one priest in it.  Since only the youngest son would inherit the farm, it was the next best career.  When they first took control, the British were very concerned that the French would flee to the south, regroup, and come back to re-take their land.  So, they made a deal with the priests.  In return for remaining on the land, which they were tilling so well, the French settlers would be allowed to keep their language and culture.  That is why, when I was going to school in the 50s, we had four different school boards: French Catholic, English Catholic, English Protestant and French Protestant. 

Then, in the late 1960s came the “Quiet Revolution”.  I lived through it and I can’t remember it as having been so quiet.  You would be afraid to walk past a mailbox in Westmount in case a bomb in it would go off.  There were scary mobs protesting in the streets.  I worked for IBM at the time, and we turned off all the lights on our main floor, where we had innocently been displaying mainframe computers.  Then we moved them upstairs.  The FLQ (Front de Liberation du Quebec) kidnapped James Cross, the British Consul and Pierre Laporte, a well-known politician.  They released James Cross after a couple of months and killed Pierre Laporte.  Charles de Gaulle made a complete ass of himself, when he decided to meddle by standing up and hollering “Vive le Quebec libre” at and Expo’67 event (I forget which – likely the closing).  I am sure many of the French thought it wonderful.  I’m an English Canadian, now known as a “historic anglo” fighting for the right to be served in English.

Big English businesses, like the Banks and Insurance Companies, simply picked up stakes and moved to Toronto, which experienced a real-estate boom such as is seldom seen, except maybe in California.  It has been sixty years and Montreal still isn’t a patch on what it was when I was young.  But I digress.  We were in Quebec. 

We passed a row of nicely restored 18th century houses.  Quebec families were very large in those days.  Twelve children was a small family.  Twenty wasn’t uncommon.  They would build a nice large house and add a second, and maybe a third, story as the family grew.  Time would pass and the children would grow up and get married.  At that point, they would create separate apartments by rearranging walls and doors and moving the staircases outside.  This had the added benefit of making it harder for the matriarch downstairs to just pop in whenever she felt like it.  They called the outside staircases “mother-in-law staircases”.

Then we passed the Quebec Bridge and François told the tragic stories of two accidents that claimed a hundred or so lives, during its construction.  Those stories are taught in great gory detail to all freshman engineering students in the province of Quebec and all of our graduate engineers wear an iron ring on the little finger of their dominant hand to remind them of their responsibilities, as evidenced by the Quebec Bridge fatalities.  I just googled “Quebec Engineer Iron Ring” and Wikipedia has the University of Toronto claiming the origin of the practice.  They aren’t convincing me of that one. 

We took a little detour through Laval University, which was founded in 1852 and is the oldest French University in North America.  François graduated form Laval in Journalism and practiced for many years before becoming a tour guide.  He knew a lot about just about everything and the time passed quickly.  We talked about our health care system, and how they sometimes clear the playing fields with shovels during football games.  “Je me souviens” on Quebec license plates means “I remember” and politely, “I remember my roots, my history, my culture”.  I have long suspected it means “I remember how the English screwed us over.”  I kept my trap shut in the car.

Soon we were on the Ile d’Orleans and this is apple season.  François wanted to get us on and off before all the Sunday pickers arrived.  We made a pit stop at a commercial establishment that sold apples and more apples.  They had every variety you could imagine, but I wanted our local apple, the McIntosh, for my people.  For $7, Canadian – $5 to you murcans)  I got a nice little basket that gave everyone a couple and my room stewards, too. 

It’s a beautiful island and the local government has had the sense to develop a building code that keeps new housing to the old style and properties large enough that it still has a nice rural feel.  Very pretty.  There is still a lot of farming going on, too. 

The mountains in the background are the Laurentians, the same ones we have north of Montreal.  The highest peak, at 2700 feet, is Mont Ste Anne, which is only 45 minutes from Quebec City.

When Jacques Cartier discovered this island in 1534, he initially christened it Bacchus, as there were grapes growing.  But you can’t get money from Bacchus to further your expeditions, so he sold the naming rights to the Duc d’Orleans and got plenty.  He had to press on and discover Montreal, after all.

We pressed on to our next stop, a chocolatier.  This is when Carol and Helen think they have died and gone to heaven.  I think Carol had her best hot chocolate, ever.  She bought a can to drink on the ship.  We all bought something.  It was wonderful.  I have been having a mint cream dark chocolate bamboo stick every night, just before I turn off my light.  I have one left, just enough. 

There was somewhat of a traffic jam getting off the bridge, as François had predicted.  So he kept us amused with a little French lesson.  Potatoes are “pommes de terre”.  “Pommes de route”, literally “road apples” are another thing entirely and come out of the back end of a horse.  When you are playing hockey on a rink cleared in a field of snow, you can use them for pucks when you have lost yours in the snow.  It’s probably just as well we didn’t spend too much time in that traffic jam.

Our last stop was Montmorency Falls, which, I’ll have you know, are one-and-a-half times as high as Niagara Falls at 270 feet.  They just aren’t as wide so they aren’t as impressive.   The falls do freeze in the winter.  When the water keeps coming, it builds up behind the frozen falls to form a “pain de sucre” or “sugar loaf” which people bring their sleds to slide down. 

Quebec also has an ice hotel.  It originated here at Montmorency Falls but has been moving around year by year.  It’s in the Valcartier Vacation Village now.  I might go there for a Hot Buttered Rum, but I wouldn’t want to stay the night. 

I had dinner with Nona at her table for four.  She was supposed to be traveling with Beryl and two other ladies from Florida, but the three of them were staying home to take care of hurricane business.  Luckily none of it too serious.  Nona has a lovely table on the rail and her stewards treated us very well.  We went to the show which was “The Step One Dance Company Presents: Humanity” and was one of the new things they are doing on cruise ships.  They marry technology with live dancing.  The dancers were very good and the technology so-so, but I miss the live orchestra.  It kinda feels like they are cheaping out. 

Monday, October 3, 2022 – Quebec City

We overnighted in Quebec City, so people could get out and see more of it, and because we were going to miss P.E.I.  I took care of accumulated travel agent business until about noon, cleared my email and had a long call to the CRA who are trying to get $24,000 out of me that I don’t owe them.  The IRS has it and Canada needs to allow my Foreign Tax Credit.   Had to get it done while my phone was on land, though, because once the ship sailed, I would have to deal with ship’s roaming charges and they are terrible.   So now, at least Canada Revenue Agency have agreed to stop chasing me for 90 days while THEY process that which they should have processed over a year ago.  Finally, I sat down to photoshop and write. 

I hadn’t taken very many pictures, so I put a call out to Mike and Geri for a few of theirs and hereby thank them very much for sending same.  I also took a lovely bath in my in-suite Jacuzzi got dressed up, met Joan and took her with me to dinner with Nona at 8:00 pm.  Our group has split on dinnertime lines.  Carol, Cindy and Mike like to eat at 5:30, while Joan and I, being Montrealers, will always choose 8:00.  Geri goes back and forth.  She was with us tonight.

It was what they now call “DRESSY” night, so we did dress up a bit.  Joan had on her signature perfume “Angel” by Thiery Mugler.  It’s getting a lot of attention from the stewards.  They say things like “You smell nice”.  Gotta get me some of that stuff. 

On Dressy night, the food is a cut above, and it was very nice.  We were later entertained by a female vocalist in the French style, named Magali Dahan.  We enjoyed her and met her again in the Ocean Bar, where Nona and I had a nightcap.  This little guy in the Dining Room was just adorable.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022, at sea

Finally, a quiet day, when I could begin to write, and I did.  Not as much as you would have thought, though, because there was a wine tasting at two o’clock and it was free for Five-Star Mariners.  When have you ever seen me say “no” to an offer like that?  Nona and I went and had a hysterical table and a very good time.  It sort of puts the kaibosh on literary endeavors, though.  Oh well.  I need the de-stressor. 

I had dinner with Joan and Nona and saw another hybrid Dance and Technology performance.  This one was called “Musicology”.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 – Cap aux Meules, Iles de la Madeleine

This place was our substitute for Charlottetown, P.E.I., which was still trying to get all of its power back, and in no position to welcome tourists.  Cap aux Meules has no experience hosting cruise ships and I wish I had been there to coach the local merchants before we got there.  They had some nice souvenir shops, a chocolaterie, a bar, and what looked like a reasonable restaurant.  But they didn’t know enough to be open all day.  They had silly signs in the window like “Closed for Lunch”.  The restaurant wasn’t open at all.  Neither was the bar.  When is the next time they will see 1,000 people with money to spend on chocolate, beer and lobster rolls?  It really was a shame. 

I don’t know how people live in such places but, in one of the shops, we met a guy, in a souvenir shop, who had gone off to seek his fortune in Montreal.  Thirty years later he came back, feeling richer on the island than he ever had in Montreal.  It takes a lot of different people to make a world.

In the evening Joan, Nona and I had dinner with Gerard Darnel and Jan Magnolo, whom we had met at sea a long time ago and a few times since.  They are from Vancouver.  We met on a ship that had a little public verandah off the stern, on Deck 7, that hardly anyone knew about.  Elvon and I had an ocean view cabin, the last one aft.  Elvon used to sit out that deck most of every day and I joined him with my computer as much as its battery would allow.  Gerard spent a lot of time out there, too, Jan somewhat less.  Some evenings one of us would go fetch a cheese platter from the Lido and we’d break out a bottle of wine.  Those were the days when you could buy a bottle on shore and just bring it on.  Days long gone, sad to say.  But now that we are all Five-star Mariners, we get ship’s wine almost as cheaply.  That’s a great perk and keeps us loyal.

The One Step Dance Company had one more performance left in them and we all went and enjoyed it.  It was called “in Tandem”.

Thursday, October 6, 2022, at sea

Here’s a day where there really isn’t much to report as I just put my head down and wrote for most of it.

I met Nona for the BC Earth show at 7:30pm as we had complimentary reservations at the Pinnacle Grill at 8:30pm.  Joan decided to pay her way in and eat with us swells.  The Pinnacle doesn’t disappoint.  I had steak tartare for an appetizer and we all shared a little clothesline of candied bacon strips.  They had a fancier name, but that’s what they were, and they were great.  Then I had a boneless rib steak with green peppercorn sauce, frites and mushrooms, and a chocolate souffle for dessert.  Urp. 

2022 – Megan’s Montreal – Part 2 Montreal and Boarding

Nancy Nelson caught a whopper in my last entry.  To correct it, please note: It was Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve, who came back in 1641 and founded Montréal. Sorry about that, Paul.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

We walked to our museum on Thursday morning.  It was the McCord, now the McCord Stewart, as the Stewart closed and the McCord inherited its collections.  It’s on Sherbrooke, right across the street from McGill, a five-minute walk from my house, three from Le St Martin.  They have a wonderful exhibit called Indigenous Voices that is a “must see” and a very nice photography exhibit from the late eighteen hundreds.  I particularly loved the ancestor of the puffer jacket we all wear.  It was waterproof because it was made from the intestines of a water mammal.  Sorry I don’t have a picture. 

From there we went to Sakura for lunch.  It’s one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in Montreal.  It was one of two when I was working right near where I live now.  They had moved, though, and I would have picked a different one if I had known there was a flight of stairs to navigate.  They were short staffed, too, so it took a long time, but, lunch was very, very good and it gave Carol and Geri time to make a discovery that has bonded them like no other.  I love it when that kind of thing happens.

After lunch we finished “Rosemount to Westmount”, in Westmount.  There are some amazing homes to look at on the west side of our mountain and four lesser ones that I happened to live in at various times in my life, after my first marriage.  We drove past three of them, Westmount lookout, and its beautiful parks. 

We had cocktails at McGill’s Faculty Club, which is in one of the original nineteenth century mansions, and dinner back at Le St Martin, which has one of the best Italian restaurants in town, Fiorella.

Friday, September 30, 2022

This was the day they came for. I had to take a minute to stop and thank the universe when it dawned bright and sunny.  I was thankful for the bits of frost we had been having in the night, too.  The stars and planets had all lined up and it was the perfect day.  Denis arrived on time.  We piled into the van and off we went.  I had the very back seat this time because I didn’t have much to say.  I let the landscape speak. 

It doesn’t get better than that. 

We arrived in time for our lunch reservation at Stonehaven, which I had sussed out a month ago, when I was driving back from the Godwin’s cottage.  It’s a Relais et Chateaux property, so you know it’s good.  It would definitely be worth going up for a weekend some time.    Here we are:

Mike, Helen, Geri, Cindy, Carol, Denis

And here is my dessert, taken from the top.  It was a fabulous chocolate mousse.  Just look at the creativity in the presentation:

After lunch, we drove further up north for more gorgeous colors viewing and back to the city for dinner at a Greek restaurant.  I left this one up to Denis.  He’s Greek and has owned many restaurants in Montreal in his time.  He found us a very good one.  It’s called Philinos, on Park Avenue, above Mount Royal. 

Denis had driven enough, I returned the van to the Hertz parking space under the IBM Building.  It was a very short walk home.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

It was time to board.  Carol and Cindy decided to sleep in a bit and just take their own taxi to the ship.  It was a good, easy option.  Denis picked up Joan McGuigan, who lives on the way between his house and mine, then Mike and his luggage, then Geri and Helen.  There wasn’t enough room left in his Jeep for people, so I called a taxi for Mike and me. 

We had DimSum at Ruby Rouge, which is always good, and something different, if you don’t live in a big city with a big Chinese population.  Then it was a short ride to the ship and we boarded. 

It turned out to be old home week for me.  There was a Mariner’s cocktail party.  I was looking for Nona Hamilton, my tablemate from 2012, when John and Marta, whom I didn’t know, hailed me and asked if I wanted to join them.  I explained I was on a mission, and they said I could do it from there, and they were right.  Next thing you know, Nona walked by.  What fun.  A couple of minutes we were all chatting with the Daphne, the Guest Relations Manager, always a great contact to have.  Then Beryl Mitten called Nona, and I got to talk to her, too.  Beryl had been at that 2012 world table, too.  That left only Stan and Marilyn, who were on another ship but will be back on the World again in 2023, with all of us.  I checked by email. What a wonderful time we will have.   

2022 – Megan’s Montreal – Part 1

Monday, September 26, 2022

It’s a bad news, good news story, which is pretty much life, these days.  This was my first Montreal tour since I moved back home in 2020, six weeks ahead of COVID.  The city is finally open again, but all is not as it was.  I must admit, it was always a construction site, but now, it’s worse.  There are a lot of unfinished projects from years ago, plus the new ones, that spring from urgency, or were already planned.  They all go on at once and the city is full of cones, blocked streets, one lane bypasses and all. 

Add in the labor shortage.  A lot of people don’t want to work anymore, unless it’s from home.  This helps keep the traffic still flowing.  If the office buildings ever fill up again, it will be gridlock for miles, all day, every day. 

Every store, hotel and restaurant has a sign outside saying “we are hiring”  And service is way down from what it was.  Carol Berg and her sister Cindy Clot checked into Le St Martin Hotel Particulier, across the street from me, on Sunday night, after midnight.  Monday morning, they were looking forward to the hotel’s great breakfast, that was still being advertised when I was on hold with them the day before.  What they got was a rude awakening to the fact that the kitchen wasn’t open in the mornings anymore due to staffing problems. 

Luckily, that was fixable once I got wind of it.  I met them in the lobby and walked them across to Au Pain Doré in my building.  They had croissants and quiches and hot chocolate and coffee and felt a lot better.  They did a little shopping in Les Cours Mt Royal and took the rest of the day to rest. 

My very good friend, Denis Mavrias, had volunteered to be our driver in exchange for being a full participant in the experience.  I was grateful as that left me free to concentrate on talking about the city.  Denis had been helping me plan the routes we would take and helping me test restaurants and attractions.  He knew how good this was going to be.  Denis came by at three o’clock and we walked over to Hertz to sign the van out and register both our driver’s licenses.  Our branch of Hertz now closes at 4:00pm, for lack of staff.  We had rented the van from 6pm Monday to 6:00pm Friday, you see, so we would go back later to pick it up. 

Denis went back to take care of his own business.  He has a business brokerage and a take-and-bake Pizza place.  He reappeared at Chalet BBQ around 8pm.  We had one of our favorite Montreal meals and picked up a chicken, fries, sauce, and coleslaw to go for Geri Randall and Mike Donigan, whose plane we were meeting. 

The plane from SFO docked on time and Geri was soon out, but Canada customs saw fit to detain Mike for a bit.  It turns out he had crossed the border once in Windsor, without his passport, about ten years ago, and it was still on his record.  Because he remembered the story and had all the right answers for them, it wasn’t too, too long, but it sure wouldn’t have paid to have attempted anything else but the whole truth.

Back at my apartment in Cours Mt Royal Geri and Mike had the same meal Denis and I had had four hours earlier and pronounced it just as good.  Then Mike walked across the street to Le St Martin to bed.  Geri went to my office, not as swish, but closer, free and there’s food in the fridge.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Mike was up early and did the Pain Doré run for everyone.  Denis was back at 10:25 am to start the tour as planned, but with all the late arriving, we didn’t get our act together quite so quickly.  So, when we got to Pointe à Callière, which was the first planned stop, there were six school buses parked outside.  Of course, no one had told me about those, either.  But the staff were very helpful.  We got our stickers, which were good all day and they told to come back in the afternoon, when it would be quieter.

I called the tour “Megan’s Montreal – Rosemount to Westmount”.  I had wanted to start at Pointe à Callière because it’s where Montreal started in the early 1600s.  It was actually discovered by the French Explorer, Jacques Cartier, in 1534, when there was an Iroquois settlement on the island.  When he returned a hundred years later with settlers, the entire colony and its buildings had disappeared.  The French moved in, started farming and building homes and churches.  They ran the place until the English, under General Wolfe, defeated the French in 1760 at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  Then Montreal, was colonized by English, Scotch, and Irish settlers.  The Scots were heavy into trading and soon turned the place into a major gateway to North America.  By the late nineteenth century Montreal was almost as important as New York city, and when Prohibition started in the USA in 1920, it became a lot more fun.  You can imagine what went on.  Lots of partying, entertainment, jazz clubs, whore houses, the really good stuff.  It was a city of churches, too, but this is my tour. 

My father was born in Montreal 1896 and my mother on a boat in 1902.  They grew up in the glory days of Montreal.  At that time the population was split 50/50 between English and French speaking Canadians and the city was divided down the middle by St. Lawrence Blvd, which was known as “The main”.  The money was concentrated in the hands of a few clever hard-working Scots, who had known how to trade.  There is a section of the city, known as “The Square Mile”, where they lived, and where there are still a few mansions for us to see.  Over the years, it became the Commercial center of the city, and I live in it now.  But I didn’t always.

My mother’s father was Hungarian and tailor to the ladies of the Square Mile.  My Irish grandfather was a Cop.  My own father was a Commercial Traveler, which means he was a salesman but to big businesses, rather than individuals.  So was I, now that I think of it.  He sold containers, I sold mainframe computers.  I was brought up on the French side of the line.  It was good for me.  It gave me a second language and more tolerance, because I grew up a minority in my neighborhood.  I learned French quickly, because then I could pass for one of the majority. 

So, off we went towards my old neighborhood.  First, we drove around Old Montreal, where it all began, but is more of a tourist area now.  There are still quite a few buildings from the 16 and 1700s.  And there’s construction, some of it has been going on for a long time.  The vines have had time to grow through the scaffolding cover.

From Old Montreal, we went up the Main, through old and new, often ethnic, neighborhoods.  When we got far enough east and north, we picked up St. Hubert Street, where the whole city still shops for dresses for proms and weddings.  We had lunch at a very old restaurant called “Le Roi du Smoked Meat”.  Montreal smoked meat is unique.  It is served the same way as pastrami in New York, but the meat is different. It is brined, while smoked meat is rubbed with curing salts and spices and smoked.  Smoked meat always starts as brisket.  Denis has a PhD in Food Science.  He knows these things.  

We continued east for another ten blocks or so and turned back south on the street I grew up on.  An interesting feature of the ordinary people’s housing in Montreal is an outside staircase.  I had been wondering about this all my life, because it is just plain stupid.  Montreal gets a lot of snow and you have to shovel it off the stairs.  I had heard them called “widow makers” more than once.  Our Quebec tour guide was able to explain how they started, so you’ll have to wait for that one. 

These two are the buildings I grew up in.  It’s a very ordinary Montreal neighborhood, but it’s clean and pretty, with nice mature trees.  We lived upstairs on the right in the stone one and downstairs in the brick one, which is twice as big.  These are triplexes, one flat on the ground floor and two on the second floor.  When we moved downstairs next door, I was fifteen and knew a lot of sixteen year old boys.  I think the move cost us a couple of cases of beer and a bunch of burgers. 

We worked our way back, past Lafontaine Park to Old Montreal and Pointe à Callière, where they have a nice sound and slide show depicting the history of Montreal.  After that we toured the ruins below the building, which are very interesting, and skipped the sewer this time.  We needed to get across the street to the Museum shop before it closed. 

We had dinner that night at Diese Onze on St. Denis Street, one of the few jazz clubs still in operation.  The food was good, the jazz excellent, if a little loud.  It was a 12 piece band in a very small space.  We want Charlie Biddle’s back, but he’s dead and so is his wonderful club. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Denis wasn’t available this morning so the gang had to put up with my scary driving.  I don’t know how he does it so well.  He’s a Montrealer, too, but they sure are happy he does most of it.  This morning it was the typical HopOn-Hop Off bus route, circling the mountain, up to the Oratory thing.  We didn’t go into the Oratory because we were running late and, anyway, they have ruined it.  I liked it when it was a humongous old church, filled to the rafters with all the crutches people had ditched after their miracle cures.  Now it’s all nicely set up as a tourist trap, with a small chapel, gift shop, Brother André’s heart and all.  Easy to get in and out of, all modern inside and, well, fooey. I decided it was more important to focus on our lunch stop because it was Duc de Lorraine. 

Right around the corner from the Oratory, Duc de Lorraine started off as a pastry shop.  It was good, and it grew, and one day someone had the bright idea to add a restaurant.  Denis and I saw it when we were testing the HOHO bus to see if it was worth doing.  We could see the crepes from the top of the bus and decided we needed to have them.  Ya think?  I then had trouble convincing anyone we should ever eat any place else. But it’s Montreal, and there are plenty more good places to eat, wonderful as that was. 

After lunch we went to Maison St. Gabriel, which was built in 1668 as a farm.  Like most of the land in Montreal, it was owned by an order of nuns.  Margarite Bourgeoys was their leader at the time, and it was to her the King of France turned when he received a request for women from the French settlers.  All these guys had gone out as pioneers and they were doing pretty well but very few of them had brought women with them. After twenty years or so, some one noticed something was missing.  So the king had the orphanages emptied of any girls over fourteen and a few French citizens volunteered their daughters, and lo and behold, came a boatload of “Les Filles du Roi” or the king’s wards.  In the house we visited, they met the men looking for wives, who were mostly about forty.  The next thing you know there were kids all over the place.  First they had large families just to have more workers for the farms.  Later, to get back at the English for making all the money, the French Canadians staged the “revenge du berceau”, ‘berceau’ being ‘cradle’.  They had huge families, 12 to 20 kinds being not uncommon and ran the population up so that by the time I came along, Montreal was 70% French. 

Most of the building burned down a very long time ago and was rebuilt on the footprint, so it is still an excellent example of the rural architecture of New France.   The interior displays everything needed to sustain life in a tough climate.  I love this place and show it to everyone.  The gardens are lovely, too. 

That night we went to see the sound and light show at Notre Dame Cathedral, in Old Montreal, where my biggest Tandem client had its office.  We ate where I used to take my clients to lunch and what became Elvon’s favorite Montreal restaurant, Bonaparte.  We had the tasting menu, 6 courses with wine pairings for under $225 US, including tax and tip.  It was very, very well worth it. 

And now for the Commercial:

I just took on a new hosting assignment that a few of you might like.  I sold it to a couple in Montreal, then asked to host it, as it’s a Distinctive Voyage.  They gave it to me, as they usually do.  It’s a Princess CruiseTour in Alaska.  11 days, total, starting in Anchorage on July 25, 2023 and ending in Vancouver on August 5.  One night in the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, one in Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, two in Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and seven nights aboard the Majestic Princess, starting July 29.  Tours and most meals are included for the land part, including the Husky Homestead Tour, where we can see the puppies in training.  You know how I love that part.  I’m on board ship at the moment and can’t get to the link, but I’ll put it in the next issue or you can fish around the Princess site yourself and likely have better luck.  Princess was first into Alaska and its Lodges and tours are the best.   I have the full itinerary and will share it when you show interest. 

I’ll be in California for at least a couple of weeks before and Robbie will be looking for staff for most of July and some of August.  He would prefer one person or couple to take the whole assignment.  July has Montreal’s very best weather. 

2024 – Going around for the 6th time

And I haven’t even done the 5th yet.  The 5th is Holland America’s very non-standard route with 9 ports in Africa but no Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Thailand…I think that will be a lot of fun for a change but I’ll be happy to be on the

Queen Mary 2.

Full World Voyage, 123 Nights

Jan 3, 2024 – May 5, 2024
Departs : New York, NY, USA
Arrives : New York, NY, USA

A roundtrip Transatlantic Crossing and overnight calls in Cape Town, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Singapore are standout moments to enjoy on this 123-night World Voyage departing from New York.”

Ya think?    See the whole itinerary at 123 nights – Full World Voyage – January 2024 – Cunard

It goes around the world ever eastbound, while most of the others go west (young ships). 

OK – If you aren’t up for four months, how about segments? Like:

New York to Cape Town: 29 nights – New York to Cape Town – January 2024 – Cunard  Jan 3 to Feb 1

Cape Town to Freemantle, Sydney or Hong Kong Pick one from this link.  Be sure it reads Queen Mary 2 if you want me on it:  Search and book Cunard cruises 2022, 2023 & 2024 – Cunard

Any of those places on around the world.  Let’s look at Hong Kong.  You can go to Singapore but that’s too short to be worth it.  How about Hong Kong to Dubai? 24 nights – Hong Kong to Dubai – March 2024 – Cunard  or the rest of the way home.

If you have got into this, you’ll be able to navigate the Cunard web site now.  Don’t laugh too hard at which pictures they pair with which ports. Everybody has a lot of new staff these days.  Do appreciate the pretty good prices, but don’t think of booking an inside cabin.  You’d likely hate it. 

I just hope this gets you thinking into the future and that you’ll give me a call to talk about it.  You know where I am.  And you know you have to buy it from me so you can be in my group and enjoy all the added value I hope I bring.

Last but not least, Robbie will be looking for staff in the best located, most tastefully decorated, 2-bedroom apartment in downtown Montreal.  Put “house tour” in the search bar of this blog to see it.  That’s for two world cruises, January 2 to May 12, 2023 and January 2 to May 4, 2024.  Winter is avoided, when it’s nasty, by means of location on the underground city and Metro. 

TTFN, and Purrs,

Helen

Holland America World in January 2023:  U309 128-DAY GRAND WORLD VOYAGE (hollandamerica.com) 

And the 2024 World Cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary – NYC – NYC 123 nights – Full World Voyage – January 2024 – Cunard