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:
Glacier Bay National Park (scenic Cruising), AlaskaScenic Cruising
Icy Strait Point, Alaska
Vancouver, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
I don’t usually say much about history but this is important, in case you, like me, don’t know much about Portugal, except that it shares the Iberian peninsula with Spain. What really differentiates it from Spain and the rest of Europe, is that while the rest of Europe was fighting itself, Portugal was under the rule of Arabian invaders, whose advances in science and philosophy put them in the forefront of learning. It became independent in 1140 and its explorers around 1500, The Age of Discovery, were second to none. Portuguese is still the sixth most spoken language in the world. (At least that’s what our tour guide said. I googled and got: 1 English. 2 Chinese. 3 Hindi. 4 Spanish. 5 French. 6 Arabic. 7 Russian. 8 Bengali. 9 Portuguese. 10 Indonesian.)
Our first official event in Lisbon was the welcome dinner at the Queluz Nacional Palace. I have eaten in some pretty swish places, but this might be the swishiest. In St. Petersburg, we got to eat in the summer palace, but in the basement. Here we got the actual dining room:
We dressed up for the occasion but not to do it justice, I am afraid. This dining room is still in use for dinners of state, so the tourists do have to compete for it. I met six lovely people, traveling together, while we were having champagne and hors d’oeuvres in the garden, and they took me in at their table. We had a lovely time. There were a number of groups of six or so on the tour. Tauck tends to attract like-minded people and they keep in touch and travel with each other again.
Thursday, July 7, in Lisbon
Tauck took us on tour in the morning, in a couple of buses. We learned about the earthquake of 1755 which pretty much annihilated the place. Luckily Portugal was at the summit of its riches at that same time, so they managed to rebuild a fabulous city. My only quarrel with it is the very small cobblestones, which are everywhere. It’s only a walking city for the young, and that’s only until they turn one ankle too many. A very few sites survived, one of which was the Monasterio Jeronimos in Belem. The Arab influence is all over the architecture.
Vasco da Gama is buried here. He also has a restaurant across the street from me in Montreal.
They took us through the nearby “Museo dos Coches”, which contains the oldest coaches in the world. I was quite smitten with them and took a lot of pictures. Here’s one:
Royalty used to travel all over the country in these things, heavily guarded, of course. Can you imagine? It wasn’t all that long ago, either. The automobile only came into use in the 20th century. There were hundreds of years of these.
We were free for the afternoon and I spent it with my computer, as usual. Around 6:30pm, I ventured out seeking the simple restaurant Caroline had found a couple of nights ago. It was at the other end of Edouard VII Park from the Intercontinental, and about at the end of my ankle’s tether. It was well worth it, though. I ate on the street and my waiter danced attention on me because I was alone. I had clams in white wine, Spanish style, Frites, flan and a half bottle of vinho verde for 25 euros. He called me a taxi and I went home happy.
The restaurant is O Cagho Dourado Rue Eca de Queiroz, no5, 7, e 9
Lots of addresses for a little place. A very good little place.
Friday, July 8, Lisbon to Porto
The adventure begins. The loaded us into our two buses and took us to Coimbra, Portugal’s medieval capital. Today it is best known for its university, which we visited. There was an optional walk to go hear Fado but I have heard it before and it wasn’t worth doing in my ankle for. I had a chocolade with a meringue in a place that specializes in them. Spanish and Portuguese hot chocolate is more like chocolate pudding before it hardens. It was one of my favorite things as a kid. I have it all the time here.
From Coimbra, we drove to Porto, where we boarded the Andorinha, Tauck’s new riverboat, built for the Douro. Andorinha means “swallow”, sweet birds who mate for life and only nest in one place. There are only 65 of us on board, so she’s not quite full and she feels like our luxury yacht.
I had dinner with a different group who are something like eleven, so they have multiple tables. They were lovely, food was good, had a nightcap in the bar and turned in.
Saturday, July 9, in Porto
We were docked away from the centre of town, off towards Afuera, near the fishing village I had walked to on St. Peter’s day. There was an estuary coming in and a bathing place, very near the end of our dock. A couple of people went no further for the day. It was hot and it only got hotter as we went inland. The temperature was well over a hundred most days. I am not going to complain. We all went into this, eyes wide open.
I didn’t take the walking tour, I went by land river and air. The land included an historic tram, and a very historic bathroom in a park. The river, we crossed one way by water taxi and back by cable car. We were rewarded with a very nice snack and a wine cooler. We saw the sardine canneries and the grand mansions of “The Brazilians” and we learned more about bacalao, cod, and its importance in the Portuguese diet. They have at least 365 recipes so they can have it every day of the year. The funny thing is it doesn’t even come from Portugal. They buy most of it from Canada, as it’s a cold water fish. Huh.
Lunch was served on the Andorinha and I used the time to work a bit. There was a port tour and tasting in the afternoon but few of us were impressed. We do wine tours and tastings so much better in California and even a Porto tour guide we picked up on the pier about 15 years ago did a better job. I had dinner with Irene and Donn from Williamsburg, VA and Patty, Doug and Randi from Escondido, CA. This is fast becoming “my gang”, the ones that close the bar every night. I don’t hardly drink anymore but old habits die hard and a couple of glasses of soda water before bedtime insure a good night’s sleep. All five of these people arrived at the ship, after a couple of days in Lisbon, still with no luggage. Some of it trickled in but Irene and Doug never saw theirs at all and I am not sure about Donn. Irene was super at shopping in every port and was almost the best dressed person on the ship. Patty won that one, after her luggage came through. So, not exactly a fair competition. I was out of the game, that which you give up for the pleasure of carryon.
We had entertainment on board that night, a university group called a Tuna. They play baroque instruments, sing and dance and raise money. Here they are on the top of the ship with the Porto skyline in the background:
Sunday, July 10, Guimaraes & Vinho Verde
More Tauck touring in the morning. We went to the historic city of Guimaraes and saw a lot of old stone buildings and had another historic bathroom experience.
That’s Susana, one of our tour conductors, beloved by all of us. The town was very interesting and afforded about the only place we found for souvenirs. I now have eight new table napkins to replace the wine auction ones that are starting to give up their ghosts. We drove into the countryside to the Aveleda Winery, which had some of the most beautiful grounds I have ever seen, complete with peacocks, goats, and the like. I took a lot of pictures there. I think this is my favorite:
The winery served lunch with their vinho verde. It was some kind of stew, which I found fine, but a lot of Americans won’t eat what they can’t identify, so they went hungry. The wine was drinkable but unexceptional, the same as everything else they have been giving us. The Andorinha had been moving as we were, so we rejoined her and kept sailing on, through happy hour, dinner and bar time. It’s all very pleasant. We seem to have a routine now.
Monday, July 11, Peso Da Regua
This would likely have been my best touring day. I had picked Vinyard Walk and Cocktail making, and we were in Regua, the lovely place where I had visited my friend, Kay’s Winery & B & B. I needed a day off, though, that is, my ankle did. I can’t ask it to go 8,000 steps for a week without protest. It just swells up and gets impossible. A day of rest resets it and that is what today was. Also, the tour was billed as “Vineyard Walk & Cocktail Making” and the last thing I think one should be doing with good port is making cocktails. You just drink it. I don’t have any use at all for bad port.
Just before happy hour, Inken, our Tour Conductor, gave us a nice lecture about the Moorish occupation of Andalusia. When the Moors first arrived they were tolerant of the local people but became increasing less so and more insistent on Muslim observation. Then there was the Reconquista, whish we have all heard of, where the Christians of Europe took it back. It took them 780 years, mind you. The Moors finally fell in 1492 – momentous year, that one.
It also heralded the start of the Inquisition, which was NOT a good thing.
Dinner was a nice event at a Portuguese riverside restaurant called DOC, a nice mix of traditional and modern. I enjoyed it but it could have been made more exceptional with a knowledgeable sommelier and a wine pairing.
Tuesday, July 12, Pinhao
This morning, we went on the most fun activity of the entire tour. We were set up with clues to get us to visit five or six local merchants. The closest one to the ship provided a tasting of chocolate and port, which one wag dubbed “Breakfast of Champions”. We moved on to, of all things, a Viking butcher, who had us tasting meats and cheeses, washing them down with red wine. Next we were on a terrasse scarfing down a hot dog, with mustard, cheese, ketchup, and French Fries. There was a Coke with that lot. The fourth place was closed due to some family emergency and the 5th was the train station. This latter was in a beautiful setting and its walls were covered with very nice tile paintings, well worth the walk to see.
A dozen or so of us had a Portuguese dinner in Arthur’s, which was excellent but I would only do it once. It was a lot of food.
Wednesday, July 13, Cruising the Douro
We haven’t had enough of just cruising and it’s delightful. I went up top were the view is the best, only to miss a lot when I inadvertently got shut in Arthur’s, most of which collapsed ingeniously to permit us to exit a lock. Not to worry. There was plenty of gorgeous scenery and a couple of fixer-uppers that we might like to buy:
For a couple of hours Susana held us spellbound with her own story of life in Spain under Franco. His dictatorship lasted 40 years (1935-1975) and inflicted terrible hardships on the people. You were only free to speak inside your own homes, everywhere else there could be government ears. All the music was military marches, all the TV shows were propaganda, dissenters were tortured and killed. Susana was born on Cordova in the ‘50s. Her parents soon moved to the countryside to a two-room home with 13 people living in it. She was one of six kids. Everything got washed by hand. There were only very basic supplies. You brushed tour teeth with baking soda and a branch. They got meat and fish once a month. They ate a lot of potatoes and the odd tomato.
Women could not work for pay, nor get divorced. They could not go out without a man. They didn’t learn much in school and were married off at 16. Yes, her, too. Her husband was nice enough to teach her to read, though, but to this day, she’s not good with numbers. Franco only had two allies, Hitler and Mussolini and he fell with them. Meanwhile Susana’s grandfather was living in a cave because he was a dead man, if caught. Her grandmother and 8 children fled to another cave. Only two of the children survived. Her grandmother lived to 104 and never told the rest of the family how they survived.
Susana finally got out to NYC in the ‘80s and all she could think to do was to bring the USA home with her – candy, gum, trinkets, etc. What a story!
In the afternoon, we visited another winery, which, again, wasn’t much. Happy hour, dinner on board and its aftermath were good, as usual and more and more people are now getting up to dance. It took us a while, but, we do party.
Thursday, July 14, Coa valley and Castelo Rodrigo
50 years ago, they discovered Paleolithic Art in the Coa valley and have made a big deal museum out of it. I wish I could say it blew my socks of, but it didn’t.
There had been fire nearby a couple of days previously and the fire brigade were still at the museum looking out over the gorgeous landscape, dimmed by smoke, and hoping not to see it start up again.
Not there, too.
We got back on the Andorinha for lunch and a sail and got off farther up the river at Castelo Rodrigo. It’s a partially ruined, partially restored hill town. The Portuguese government is subsidizing settlers who will re-occupy the houses in the town and take up the old crafts to show tourists, like us. Not sure how that will work in the long term, but the chocolade was good.
And the farewell dinner was good and even more people got up and danced.
Friday, July 15, Salamanca and Madrid
Salamanca, near where we disembarked, is a limestone city dating back to the1200s. I think I like this organ best there. It didn’t hurt that someone was actually playing it:
We bussed into Madrid and checked into The Westin Palace, Madrid. What a gorgeous building, in a city of gorgeous buildings. The wealth of Spain is on display everywhere you look. I could probably spend a lot of time in Madrid. As it was, we went Tapas tasting that night and finished up in the bar with top-up tapas, just Anne and I. We should have got together sooner.
Saturday, July 16, Salamanca and Madrid
We visited the Royal Palace and the Museo del Prado and had our farewell dinner at the hotel.
Sunday, July 17, Madrid
And I was glad of a day on my own in Madrid to walk around and rest up for the trip home. I had a lovely dinner with Gail and Sherry at the concierge-recommended Rincon de Estevan. We had way too much food – just the paella would have done it:
Sorry for the delay. I realize I am now chronicling the events of a month ago. I have been back for almost three weeks, but they have been eventful, to say the least. First I rested up a bit and delivered all the travel deliverables to the travelers who are now traveling again. Then I got busy on my annual summer party at Ginger’s on Ile Bizard. Ginger supplies the fabulous venue, the guests supply most of the extravagant vittles, and I supply steaks and organization. In the process of making a dozen phone calls on a Sunday afternoon (July 24) I slipped on a scatter rug in my office and made a three point landing, shoulder, knee and toes. The shoulder came back quickly, the knee (the one that broke a Volvo steering wheel in 1968 and has had plates and screws in and out twice) landed me on crutches for a day, and the toes, which are doubtless broken, still hurt and swell. July 25, the day I spent on crutches, was also the day I had Mohs surgery scheduled for my nose. So, I showed up in the hospital and had it. Then I spent the rest of the day, until 10pm in emergency getting the knee X-Rayed. The doc released me at 10pm, unable to tell whether there was a fracture there or not, the image was such a dog’s breakfast. By then, I was able to put a little weight on the knee, so there was hope. I managed to pick up Chinese food with my taxi home and finally got something to eat before I crashed.
The next day I could walk again and I started getting on with my life, interrupted with dressing changes on my nose, and a 2nd shingles shot, which flattened me for a day. Yesterday was the party and it was as wonderful as ever. The participants are ageing and we don’t last until 2am anymore, but we do appreciate still being able to get together and have fun. Now, back in time to Europe and my story.
Saturday, July 2 2022
Jerome picked me up early in the morning in Batignolles and drove me to Orly, where I caught my little Vuelan to Porto. I took an easy train to the center of town and a taxi to the Hilton Porto Gaia which had graciously offered me two free nights with breakfast for having met them at a “Visit Portugal” event in Montreal in May. It’s a beautiful, newly renovated hotel, very modern, comfortable and spacious. I can highly recommend it as a place to stay in Porto. I can see most of this view from my balcony, but I took this picture from the waterfront itself, when I walked out to dinner.
Alex, the concierge, who was sweet and helpful, had sent me to Sancho Panza, on the waterfront. I found it too touristy, though I did see many locals there. My recommendation for where to eat on Gaia’s beautiful waterfront comes in tomorrow’s section. I walked up and down it a bit and home to the Hilton for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, July 3
It was a quiet day for me. I began with my exercise program on the computer. The staff wanted to clean my room, so I took it out into the hall, which was about 25 feet wide and contained a sofa and coffee table, right outside my room. I put the laptop on the coffee table and exercised with Miranda while my room got spiffed up. I spent most of the day in it, catching up. I did write some of this stuff while I was on the trip, and this is one of the places I did it. I was also busy being my own travel agent and figuring how I was going to get to Regua, in the middle of the Douro, where I had to be on the 4th. Around 3:30 pm, I walked down to the waterfront and found a pastry shop that served Natas tarts and hot chocolate, which made a wonderful 4:00pm breakfast.
Back at the hotel, I investigated my commercially available options and checked with Kay Bouchard, owner of Quinta do Tedo, where I would be staying. She put me in touch with Clare Mellor, a Brit living in Porto who has a little business called MyFriendsRoom and books limos at decent prices. Around six, I went down to the front desk, to discuss my dinner options. Diogo was very sweet. I told him I wanted an authentic Portuguese experience, unlike Sancho Panza, and he sent me to a fishing village a 3 km walk away. The restaurant was called Amazem do Peixe and sounded perfect. But…It was San Pedro’s day and I ran into a procession, where the locals were carrying their favorite santos through the streets. It was a fun to be a part of. I didn’t get dinner there because the restaurants were all closed, but I was glad of the experience. I was also still hungry. I thought of trying to beg my way into one of the family dinners that were being set up in the street all over the place, but my Portuguese is almost non-existent, which would doubtless have spoiled the fun. I found a girl with enough English to call me a taxi, but it wouldn’t come into the village during the festival. I would have to walk out a km or so. So, I did that and ended up back on the Gaia waterfront near Sancho Panza. Just a little toward the cable car from there was a restaurant called Provas v Nova that looked nice enough. They said they were full and couldn’t take me. I told them my sad story and how tired, footsore and hungry I was, and they relented. It was a staff problem, there was plenty of space. The whole world has staff problems now, though. They had a special they only do on weekends called “cod in cream”. The Portuguese have hundreds of ways to cook cod. This one was like coquilles St. Jacques, if you substitute cod for the scallops and boiled potato pieces for the mashed. I absolutely loved it, scarfed the lot and went home happy.
Monday, July 4
I don’t eat until 4pm but figured I needed to have one of the Hilton’s free breakfasts, so I could tell about it. I was very glad I did. I had a mimosa, some smoked salmon, bacon, prosciutto, a cheese, onion and bacon omelet made to order, an apple turnover, a chocolatine and a natas tart. The tea was done right. It arrived with the bag already in the teapot. I had another natas tart and a piece of French toast with apricot jam (oink). The room was spacious and well-appointed and my fellow patrons were interesting. The one at the next table was on his fourth glass of champagne when I left to go meet my driver. I was sorry for his young oriental companion.
Carla, my driver was delightful, and I had an entire Mercedes Sprinter to myself, so I sat up front with her. The view was outstanding. We’ll be doing this route on the river, but I was happy to do it overland, too, because it’s entirely different. There has been terraced farming in these hills for at least a thousand years and they are enchanting to drive through. Carla has never been out of Europe because she is afraid to travel on boats and planes. She was afraid to drive through the necessary 5 km tunnel, too, but she braved it. It’s even harder for her when she makes the return trip alone, but a gal’s gotta make a living.
Quinta do Tedo is positively enchanting. I was there because it is owned by Kay and Vincent Bouchard (of Bouchard, Père et Fils) and I met Kay at a food truck near the DMV in Napa in 2019. I was having my car fixed at Gabriel’s. Her son was with her and he went to McGill. They have a cork business in Napa and live there part of the year, etc. You know when you just click. So, I was here for an evening with my friend Kay. Their bistro was only opening the following week, due to staffing problems. (Everybody has them.) But, the chef had brought her a lot of food to try and she created a feast for us out of the left overs of that tasting. We had cold Spanish garlic soup, Turkey fricassé with sweet potato gnocchi and panna cotta with apricot sauce. We ate it in her dining room and had dessert on her terrace, overlooking the Douro. Thank you, Kay. That was fabulous. The rest of you, go to http://www.quintadotedo.com/ and think about this B&B for a holiday in Portugal. It’s smack mid-Douro and four days here with a rental car would give you a super experience. Just look at that view.
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
The Bistro was open for breakfast and it was delicious. The pastries were flaky and he view was to die for. I had made another exception. Carla picked me up again and I had another lovely ride to the Porto airport and $56 plane ride to Lisbon. In the Lisbon airport, after Tauck’s limo failed to appear and couldn’t get to me sooner than a taxi, I was helped into the taxi rank by a very nice young woman, who is now a new friend. I found our where she was going, offered her a ride in my taxi and there we were. She has been living n Madrid for three years and was on a quick trip to Lisbon to meet up with some US friends. She’s a Californian and will be going back there soon to continue her studies in Criminal Justice. Another click.
I checked into the Intercontinental Lisbon, Tauck’s hotel. I should have been meeting Chris Silver and Karen Irvin, but they had had to cancel, so I was eating alone tonight. Danièle had made me a reservation at their favorite Lisbon restaurant, Essencial.
OMG – was that some dinner reservation. It was exquisite, and unpretentious. Food like The French Laundry’s (and, yes, I do know. I have been there 5 times and I know Thomas Keller, too.) And it was about 1/10 the price. Essencial – rue da Rosa 176. I had the tasting menu for 80 euros with the wine pairing, 45 euros – TK wants about a grand for that. You can also get a bistro menu for 45 euros that looked just fine. Not that I don’t love the French Laundry, just that I can come here more often, like every time I am in Lisbon.
It was also just the right place to dine alone. There was enough kitchen theatre and nice attention from the staff, with the many courses and pairings and all, that the time passed very easily and pleasantly for this solo diner.
This was the second course…
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
This was another quiet day to get a bit of work done in the hotel. I checked in with Tauck and met the first three people with lost luggage, arriving from the states. There were at least three more, that I later found out about. I checked in with Caroline an we found an hour to get together near the end of the afternoon. So I ended up introducing her to Natas Tarts and Hot Chocolat at Il Corte Ingles, the big Spanish department store. It turned out to be the closest place to our hotel that did that. The view was spectacular:
The Tauck welcome dinner will start the next and likely last installment.
We got to Plumanac’h around lunchtime, found the Schéré’s house and found our way in. It’s a different, larger house than it was last time I was here, probably 15 years ago. We had a little aperitif in the living room and made off to lunch at their favorite seaside restaurant. It was a very yummy lunch. I started with mackerel rillettes, followed with carpaccio St. Jacques, which is scallop sashimi, in a different culture. They were delicious with some of the frites that came with Gil’s burger. Dessert was the best, a crèpe au caramel au beurre salé with ice cream. Purrr.
We got back to the house to find out we were locked out by Constance, the other Schéré daughter, who was off having osteopathy or some such like.
So Gil and Jean went for a swim in the pool, which has its own little house, and Danièle and I went to visit her mother, Elizabeth Cosson, who will be 104 on October 7. I always remember her birthday because it is 3 days before mine. I don’t want to live quite that old, though, as there really isn’t that much left you can do. Elizabeth kept up her Paris apartment, went out every day, etc., into her late nineties, but she doesn’t do much now. She does live in a very nice place called Kergomar in Lannion, that provides total care, and she can look forward to a visit from a family member every day. Robbie will be flattered when he hears she has our Christmas card with its pictures of him on her wall and that I had no trouble finding the loo.
Oysters were obviously in season in Brittany, because they were on the Schéré’s dinner menu, too. Gil volunteered to shuck them but Jean said “non, non” and that he was good at that. Gil, being about the most competitive person I know, insisted that they have a contest. He gave up when Jean had shucked 6 of them before he had one open. Sandy would have loved to have been there.
And we had shrimp, too, and Danièle roasted a chicken, the wine flowed, and we had a local custard cake called a tropezière or something like that, for dessert. I must mention that the Schérés and Gil follow politics, avidly, to say the least, and that their favorite political commentator is an expat from Québec named Mathieu Bock-Côté. I must say, he has good insights into world affairs, but he does repeat himself. Likes the stage he is getting, I suppose. I knew we were exporting French entertainers, like Celine Dion, and the Cirque du Soleil, but political commentators, well, that’s a new one.
Thursday, June 30, 2022
We got up late and futzed around the house, me doing TA work and Danièle doing some of that and everything else, including laundry, for which I was grateful. In the afternoon, we went to visit her mother again and she took me on a bit of a tour, and shopping, of course. We visited a particularly nice cathedral in Lannion, built by the Ordre des Templiers (Knights Templars), filthy rich warrior monks at a time when they were not compelled to celibacy, in the XIIth century. The parish is called Brélévenez whose name has a lovely origin. It is made of of two celtic words “bre” and “levenez “, which mean “Mountain of Joy”. It had lovely vistas and I have pictures of same, but I found the graveyard even more interesting.
Here you have an actual china wreath. It’s beautiful, doesn’t look cheap like all plastic flowers do, is cleaned by the rain, or maybe the groundskeeper’s hose, and doesn’t fade. It just sits there looking elegant. It’s also a testament to the respect the site is afforded by the people of the town. There are a lot of these and they don’t get vandalized. Kudos, gens de Lannion. You know how to bring up your kids.
Friday, July 1, 2022
Jean drove us to the train station. It might have been Lannion, or one a little further that was even more convenient. On the way, I finally remembered to ask him whet Plumanac’h meant and here’s your answer: “Plu” is parish and “manac” is monk. So, it’s the parish of the monks and that explains why one part or the other of it appeared on a lot of road signs. And the town has just changed names, so I’ll be addressing my “thank you” note to “Perros Guirrac”. I forgot to ask what that meant.
The TGV got us to Paris by about four, without event, except that, when I went to get out of my seat, I didn’t take about a seven inch drop into account and fell into the table across the aisle. The seven inch in diameter bruise is still turning all sorts of pretty colors, eleven days later. I’ll spare you a picture of that. Jerome had managed to screw up again, and after waiting for him for almost a half-hour, we gave up and took a cab that was just there. We dropped off our bags at the house and went straight to Printemps on the bus. We sat down for an ice cream before making for the dress floor, because I had decided I needed one, and had just enough space in my carry-on for it, as long as I kept it simple.
Like everywhere else these days, Printemps dress floor is arranged by designer and Gerard Darel came through for me again. I am very happy with it. Danièle and I made an event of diner when we walked to Guilia, a short walk from the apartment, and a great place. The Schérés know Rashid, the owner, of course, and Danièle knew what we wanted to eat. It was a côte de boeuf for two, and it was rare and succulent with both garlic mashed potatoes and frites. Danièle started with a salad and I had terrine de foie de volailles, and we finished up with the dessert of the day a fresh home-made lemon pie. Rashid danced attention on us and recommended our bottle of wine, which was excellent. I love this picture:
Back at the Phoenix Copenhagen, I was up early and off to the airport, while the others were having breakfast. I am pleased to report they had uneventful trips home. After the agony they went through getting to Reykjavik, it was only what they deserved. I had an uneventful trip to Paris, too, only Danièle’s faithful driver, Jerome, wasn’t as faithful as usual and I ended up taking a taxi after ascertaining that he was still 45 minutes from Orly. Danièle, and her daughter Liz were at their apartment in the 17th arrondissement, and we were soon off to lunch, just down the street. They live in Paris like I do in Montreal, with everything you could want close to hand. It was weinerschnitzel at the German place and that was fine with me.
I had some TA work to do in the afternoon, a good bit if it for myself, this time, because the shoemaker wears bad shoes, and my travel between my various destinations wasn’t booked yet. I had invested in a Eurail pass for $US441 and I won’t repeat the list of derogatory adjectives Danièle had for that brilliant move. It just wasn’t worth it. She couldn’t picture me going through all the hours of train travel that would entail from Copenhagen to two destinations in Brittany and on to Porto all in 9 days. She got me an SNCF (French Railway) senior’s card for cheap train rides within France and had me buy cheap airline tickets for Copenhagen to Paris, Paris to Porto, and Porto to Lisbon. Then she went about getting the train tickets I would actually need, Paris to Vannes and Lannion to Paris. Good to have a friend who can be the travel agent’s travel agent. I needed that.
Liz has a friend who has written a book called “Dinner for One” about how cooking and eating got her through her after divorce period in Paris. Her name is Sutanya Dacres, and you can buy it at Amazon. I did. Haven’t read it yet, I have been so busy, but I will get to it in another couple of nights. Anyway, it was a very nice book signing, in a nice Monmartre Bistro, where the wine flowed and the charcuterie were excellent. Daniele and I were, by very far, the oldest people in the place. I like that. We met some nice young people but we left early when Danièle noticed that her wallet was missing from her purse. It was likely at home because we had had in-house financial transactions for her TA services, but she wasn’t sure. That kind of thing can ruin your evening, so we decided to walk back, downhill, to the 17th to check. Sure enough, wallet was at home where he belonged and we could relax. We hadn’t eaten quite enough, so we popped out to the local creperie and had a couple with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and salted caramel sauce. I was in heaven.
Sunday, June 26, 2022
Danièle’s driver, Jerome, showed up early this time and she came with me all the way to the Montparnasse train station and right on to the train. She got past the ticket checker by explaining that I was an old dotty person, from Canada, who spoke no French. It was very sweet of her and I probably did need it, but oh, the ignominy of it all. I must admit I had to ask for help transferring at Rennes. So I asked the best person, a lady with a baby in her arms, a carriage to deal with, and a large soft suitcase. A person like that has to know how to get from A to B the most efficient way. It still involved an elevator up into the station and an escalator down to the track for the train to Vannes.
The French countryside, from the train, is beautiful. Little farms and villages dot the land and fields display their crops. Farmhouses that are too close to the tracks have a row of trees standing guard over their privacy. And so they should, but I’m a voyeur. That is, I am when my nose isn’t down writing away, like I was on that trip. All those long train rides I gave up, in the interests of efficient travel, might have got this newsletter out sooner.
Gil wasn’t there at Vannes, when I arrived, which didn’t bother me except that I didn’t have 20 cents to pee. I had 100 Euros but not 20 cents. So, I called him and he was across the street having lunch, having got the time slightly wrong. So, I crossed over and had a pee and lunch, too. It was a very nice Croque Monsieur. We drove to the ferry pier for Ile aux Moines, and Gil dropped me, and the luggage there, while he went and parked the car in his rented garage. This is what you do when you live on an island, you see. The Merciers do without a car in Paris, take the train to Vannes, like I just did, and the ferry to their house on Ile aux Moines. While we were waiting for the ferry, we noticed some nasty weather coming out of the clear blue sky and after seventy years of using the expression” out of the blue”, finally figured out where it came from.
The Merciers now have a motorized tricycle, and that’s how we got to the house with the luggage and all. Sandy and Rudi were waiting for us. I settled in and learned a few things, as you usually do when Gil is around to teach you, and I got this really cute picture of the author of “The Rudi Reports”.
Dinner was unexpected and delicious. It was pork vindaloo, which is explained by the fact that the Merciers spent a lot of years in Indonesia, back in the ‘90s.
Monday, June 27
I got up late and indulged in a nice bath, while Sandy took Rudi to Vannes for dental work. I brought the computer downstairs to do my exercises with Miranda Esmonde-White on my computer. I should have known better. I endured fifteen minutes of him making fun of her gentle stretches and moves, based in ballet. I don’t think laughter mixes all that well with relaxation-based exercises. But when she got to the part where you are to pretend to squeeze a beach ball between your legs, it really went off the rails. We were still howling when Sandy got back, looking like the proverbial drowned rat. The skies had opened between here and the ferry and she was on her bike. An hour later the sun was back out and Sandy was hanging out the laundry when Gil took me on a trike tour of the island.
It’s interesting to see what was built, centuries ago, on what was a remote island and still doesn’t have a bridge. Here’s an example:
And, being the observers of the human comedy that Gil and I are, here’s an example of a modern tourist with exceptionally poor fashion sense:
We were trying to find a restaurant where I could take the Merciers out to dinner the next night but none of them were open and, if they were, they weren’t planning to serve dinner until July, which, alas, is 3 days away. Gil decided he would make faijitas and have a party instead. I continued to protest because I was trying to make less work for these nice people, not more. But, Gil was having none of it and I had to admit, they have a pretty spectacular party venue.
Luckily, Sandy had been smart when she was out and had come back with a very nice quiche for dinner and rhubarb tart for dessert, so it was an easy night. We finished up playing backgammon, the girls against Gil. He didn’t much like it when we won.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Party or no party, this was the day Sandy and I planned on going shopping in Vannes, and so we did. When I got in the car, I thought a cheese had fallen out of Gil’s grocery bag from a couple of days ago. But we didn’t see one on the floor of the car, so we just opened the windows and drove on. Sandy introduced me to AmorLux about twenty years ago and I have been buying it ever since. I was ready to stop in at the factory outlet they now have in Vannes. I replaced my well worn Brooks Brothers navy and white striped three-quarter length sleeved T-shirt. Sandy is putting it in the poor box on the island. It can go sailing now.
Then we got to downtown Vannes, which has some very good shopping. I needed a couple of things to wear over the black sausage base of tights and T-shirt. I had forgotten to pack the usual, but Gerard Darel and Burton were happy to fill in for me. When we got back in the car, Sandy discovered the source of the cheesy smell. It was a little bag of dog poo, which was summarily dispatched to a bin. By the time we got home, Gil had actually made the faijitas and was ready to make the short trip to a neighbor who harvests and sells fresh oysters. How good does that get?
Gil shucked the oysters and Sandy got out all the necessary and pretty soon we had a party going. We were lucky with the weather. It was the first day we could have sat out on their fabulous deck and we made the most of it. Gil had invited the neighbors in and we ended up with two couples, Lucie, the 15-year-old grand daughter of one of them, who is going to school in Drummondville this fall, and 90+ year-old Francoise, who was very impressive. She still keeps an apartment in Paris and bikes all over the city, like she bikes around the island here. I didn’t tell her how much of a wuss she made me feel.
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
Gil and Danièle had hatched a plot whereby he would drive me the three hours from Ile aux Moines to Plumanac’h, stay overnight there and return to Sandy, who had a son arriving from Canada the next day. We started out by ferry, as you have to when you leave an island. If I thought I was impressed by Francoise, that doubled when there was a 100-year old lady, spiffily dressed off to do her shopping in town. It’s inspiring.
Our conversation in the car was free-ranging and, as usual, and, also as usual, I learned a lot. Gil is a Renaissance man and he has a lot to share. While we were engaging in more-or-less intelligent conversation, I was taking in the road signs of Brittany. Given our destination was Plumanac’h, I was especially interested in places that began with “plu” or had “manac” in them. There were plenty of each. So, I decided to ask Gil, who knows pretty much everything, what “Plumanac’h” meant. All I knew was that it was a Breton word and that isn’t saying much in these parts. To my astonishment, Gil admitted that he hadn’t a clue what it meant. I figured that, it that case, he would just make something up but he couldn’t, really, because all I would have to do is ask Danièle of better yet, Jean, who had been coming here for more than 50 years. So we left it as a question for him.