Back at Sea – To Rome and London – Part 2

Friday, March 18, 1922 … continued

When we got back to the Muschett’s house, the results of the Antigen  test were in, so I was good to board.  Bermuda wanted a PCR, though, so I had to wait a few hours for that, but it did come in, and I was able to complete their Travel Authorization form, duly uploading it and sending them $40.  All of this is a serious PIA.

While I was waiting for test results, I wrote yesterday’s blog and then cleared email.  In my email was a solicitation about a Fund Raiser for the Courtois Cardiovascular Program at the McGill University Hospital Centre.  I joined it a few months ago.  It’s a study about hearts of all ages and 79 is the cut-off, so I figured I’d better get in.  It gets me a lot of free extra special monitoring, so if anything goes wrong with my heart, they’ll catch it, while they are studying me.  Can’t hurt. 

Anyway, I got carried away and decided to walk for the cause in what I think might actually be a marathon.

You must be falling off your chairs, laughing. Not only am I 77 years old but I have never been athletic pour 4 sous. Bien c’est ça.   I’m not going to run.  I’ll walk, and if my ankle starts swelling, I’m quitting.  But I am getting a lot of benefits from the Courtois Cardiovascular Program and I’d love if you would join me in supporting them. If you live in Montreal, you might even want to walk with me or to join the program.  Check my fundraising page out here:

Helping Helen Megan Raise Race Roster Funds — Registration, Marketing, Fundraising

Neville, Peggy and I went out to dinner at J Marks, in a local shopping center because Friday night of Spring break wasn’t the time to do anything touristy.  It was great, though.  We got to eat outside, the food was good enough to recommend, and, if you asked for them, you got $3 drinks.  Neville and Peggy had Mohitos and I had Margaritas, yes, two each.  No wine that night.  They were delicious and we had a wonderful time, so wonderful that I broke my first promise to you.  We were having so much fun, I forgot to get the waiter to take our picture.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

I got up, packed and did my exercises with Miranda, like I do every morning now.  (They’re great – I feel like a million bucks.)   Then we all piled into Peggy’s car and Neville drove me to the port of Miami and Oceania Marina, which was waiting.  That wasn’t the easiest drive in the world, but Google Maps and Neville made a great team and we didn’t have any major slip ups.  Many thanks to the Muschetts for their fine hospitality and chauffeur services.  It was great to see them again.

It was great to see my co-host, Tricia Harrold, too.  Thanks to cell phone coordination, she met me less than five minutes after I got there.

That’s when the agony of COVID started again.  We had to line up, outside and then in, a hot tent full of cattle gridding, to have our vaccination and testing credentials checked.  It’s a bit of a process at the best of times, and very long, when a thousand people are boarding a ship. 

We walked over and into the cruise building, got through a much shorter line and boarded.  While she was checking us in, the agent drew our attention to a letter from the ship that had to be read.  Not a good letter.  It told us that because of weather, we would be taking a more southerly route and bypassing Bermuda, entirely.  Neither Tricia nor I had been to Bermuda and it was on both of our bucket lists.  And never mind how much stress, and PIA getting the right tests and authorization had been.  Not sure we even believe the story about the weather.  Merde alors, rien à faire, bien c’est ça.. 

My contact on Oceania is the Executive Concierge.  What a concept.  Her name is Conny and she said she would do everything for me, and she did.  I got all I needed about our Hospitality Desk, Cocktail Party tomorrow, printing procedure, etc.  We matched manifests, and I got to work, finalizing welcome letters and amenities lists, while Tricia made 34 phone calls to our people to welcome them on board and tell them what they could expect from us.  I did the mail merge, emailed it to Conny and it was back in our stateroom, all printed , before I could unpack.

Tricia helped me put the newly printed information in the folders.  At that point it was time for dinner and we were excited because we were joining Pat Gustafson, Mike Desky, and Pat and Toby Jordan in the Dining Room.  It was old Fountaingrove Lodge week.  Just like (the) home.  Oh, but so much better.  The food was good, the wine was good, the company was good.  We were all so happy to be back at sea. 

The welcome packets however, had yet to be delivered.  So, we divied them up and took them out.  We were tired puppies when we put out lights out, but we were on top of it.  That felt really good.

Back at Sea – to Rome and London – Part 1

March 1-16 – The run-up

Hoo Baby, those last two weeks were a ride.  After a very quiet two years in the travel business, punctuated by cancellations and re-books, all hell broke loose and we’re traveling again.  Not to Russia, mind you, and certainly not to the poor, brave Ukraine, but, we’re traveling.  It’s not exactly optional in winter, when you live in Montreal.  Here’s St. Catherine Street from the wheel of Marc’s car on February 19.  Marc is my neighbor.  He’s in Revelstoke, you see.

Before I could go off for three weeks, I had to attend to any and all business for the first half of this year, and book anything anyone wanted, because cruises for ’22 and ’23 are filling up.  (Commercial Break:  If you didn’t get a booking in and you meant to, just email me.  I can book anything from anywhere, these days.  Especially contact me while I am on board if you want to book Oceania.  Most cruise lines extend the on-board future cruise deals to clients of travel agents on board.  I’ll let you know about the deals as I am offered them but, meanwhile, it can’t hurt to go to, and fish around.  End of commercial.)

So, I booked, cruises, air, hotels, cars and drivers, insurance, the works, and lots of it.  I was at my computer for eight hours a day, minimum, 7 days a week, except for the day I went to Laval to see Rod and Claude’s new place.  Luckily, I thrive on work.  The last two days at home, I made deposits or final payments on 14 staterooms, to give you an idea. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

I finished packing, did a couple of last bits of travel work, popped out for a COVID test, and almost had it all together when Robbie’s staff rang the doorbell at three.  The taxi arrived then, too, so the last-minute house tour was pretty quick.  Karen and Paul live in Toronto.  They came by train and rolled their luggage (underground) from Central Station, through Place Ville Marie, The Eaton Centre, Montreal Trust, Simons, into Cours Mt Royal, and up the elevator.  I got into the taxi at 3:20 pm and was at the airport by 3:45, thanks to the HOV lanes. 

While I was standing in the security line, I checked a client in to a flight.  See what I mean about working anywhere?  It’s all wonderful, but you never stop.  Security took away my 250ml bottle of Listerine.  I should have known better.  I’ll get used to traveling with carry-on only.  I managed this one, by having Distinctive Voyages sending the folders, letterhead, etc. directly to Neville and Peggy Muschett’s house in Fort Lauderdale.  I was also rather interestingly attired in indoor boots, which will double as sneakers for the trip, a large, warm cashmere shawl, and the old light raincoat, that I got in HK, back when I lived there.  Lots of versatility, minimal space.

When I checked it, I sprang for business class, for another $320.  I’m still nervous about flying sardine can, and there’s some slack in my travel budget.  Ya think?  Business class was only half full, so I felt very safe and got right to work.  I had downloaded all the documents I needed for my assignment.  So I could set to work, getting the manifest the way I wanted it, setting up the mail merges, creating a check list of what to do on boarding, scripting the welcome broadcast and the cocktail party speech, etc.  I barely had time to eat and had to chug the last few sips of my ONE glass of wine, before we landed in Fort Lauderdale. 

Neville and Peggy Muschett were at the airport to meet me.  My B & B comes with chauffeur service.  I have known them over 50 years.  We all worked together at IBM and had the best Bridge eight-some ever, back in the day.  We played the entire card – 7 rounds of 4 games.  We started around 7pm on a Saturday night, played bridge and drank until about 1am and THEN, we ate.  Good stuff, too. We were always trying to out-do each other and still have it just pop out of the oven at 1am.  This was way before you could just buy the meal and heat it up.  It was the early days of TV dinners and we had too much self-respect to serve the likes of those.  We made it all, from scratch, and it was all good.  Not that we would have cared after all we drank, but it was.  We got to know each other very well, who could fart the loudest, who would try to grope you under the table, and important stuff like that.  This is how you make best friends.

I had only one glass of wine at dinner, so I could have a scotch on arrival, and I did.  And off to bed we went, because it was way after midnight and we’re old now. 

Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day

So much for the “Kiss me I’m Irish” button.  The business of the day was getting a COVID test.  I had a PCR booked at a CVS, but it was for Thursday and we figured it might be a good idea to move it up a day, or get an Antigen, to fit into COVID’s ever changing rules, as interpreted by Oceania.  They must have sent us six sets of rules, all slightly different.  So, Neville and I went off to CVS and talked to the pharmacist.  He had the time to do it and would have, but CVS has rules, and he couldn’t.  I could come at 9:30 tomorrow morning, though, which would give me a pretty good chance of having the results by the time I boarded at noon on Saturday. 

Then we went cruising around the ‘hood and found a pop-up testing tent.  We both got PCR tests and I got an antigen test, too, just in case.  The results would come in by email and text.  This baby iguana was just around the side of the strip mall, from the pop-up testing place. 

It was Spring Break, and St. Paddy’s day, but we were going to eat outside.  Neville and Peggy had wanted to try Lucky Fish, a new place at Pompano Beach, which friends of theirs had recommended.  It was fun, live music: good but too loud, great Margarita, bar food: I had popcorn shrimp and poke – two appetizers – yummy.  After dinner we walked out to the end of the new pier and it was just magic.  I wanted a picture of the three of us but it was too dark, even with the full moon.  I’ll get one tonight.  I promise. 

Friday, March 19, 2022

No email, no text, no results.  Oh, dear.  So Neville took me to CVS for 9:30 am and I took another PCR test.  They didn’t charge for the first one, because I had Medicare, and if they charge this one, I am going to claim it on my Canadian medical insurance.  They don’t know I’m also American. 

Then we went back to the pop-up place, where it was a different guy from yesterday.  He wasn’t very friendly and tried to blame me for not having the email, as in “Did you check your spam?” (“stupid old white lady”, implied).  We both remained sweet and calm, something neither of is in real life, and he softened up.  He found a way to do that which he had said he could not, and I have the results of the Antigen, at least, which will be enough to get me on the ship.  Neville, who can say this stuff because he’s from Jamaica and 10% black, said that was an example of an NWA.  For me, that’s a new name for Robbie, replacing the also politically incorrect LBB.  But look at him:

2021 – The Christmas Card

You MAY have gotten an actual, physical, printed card from me.  If you did, please forgive its flaws.  Most of them have some.  More of you would have gotten them, if the process had gone better.  By the time it was over, I had laughed, cried, sworn (a lot), given up, and vowed never, ever to do this again. 

I hadn’t sent physical cards out for at least five years, maybe longer.  It is so much easier and faster to do the job electronically.  And, in my case, so much more professional. I could have just made the thing and sent it to VistaPrint, or whoever does that kind of thing in Canada.  If American Greetings had hooked up with a printing service and tempted me, while I was making the card at their site, I probably would have.

Mais, non.  Amazon had nice looking double sided glossy card stock, and envelopes by the hundreds.  I ordered a couple of hundred.  Then I went to work “creating” the card.  I never should have used American Greetings, either, because there’s no way to save your work-in-process.  I left the last grammatical error in and never did translate it into French, because I got tired of redoing the whole thing, every time I thought of an improvement.  Next time: Microsoft Publisher.  And that was the easy part.

It was the printing operation that nearly sent me screaming off to the funny farm.  It started off innocently enough.  I had been using OEM inkjet cartridges, and my printing had gone a little iffy, so I put fifteen minutes unto all the aligning and cleaning steps at my disposal.  Then I printed a couple of cards on plain paper.  They looked okey and the double-sided printing attachment at the back of my pretty expensive, 3-year-old HP printer, worked just fine.  I was sufficiently emboldened to load up the glossy card stock.  It went pretty well for the first forty or fifty cards. Some printed better than others.  Some of the printing is dark and some is streaky.  I had to let it go.  I didn’t buy enough paper to get that picky.  I ran the cleaning/aligning stuff periodically.  When that stopped working, I just ditched all three of the color cartridges and replaced them with HP originals.  The printer said it was happier and it worked better, at least on the ink front. 

But the sheet feeding mechanism was starting to balk.  And the double-sided printing attachment started jamming.  I cleaned it as best I could, but it didn’t help much.  First every third or fourth card needed attention.  Then it went down to every single card and they would have to be printed one side at a time.  It’s not intuitively obvious how to feed the second side in.  Some of you will notice that when you open your card, you have to turn it right side up to read it.  Sorry about that.  After a good few balls-ups, I put these little post-its beside the feeder tray. 

Then it went from bad to worse.  The regular sheet feeding mechanism decided it had had enough of this card stock stuff and wouldn’t take it off the stack.  I had to put each piece into the feeder by itself.  After another ten cards or so, it wanted me to set them in there just so.  It wouldn’t pick them off the floor of the tray anymore.  It’s tough when the mechanical staff starts getting uppity.  Can you imagine the color of the air in my office?  The printer was deaf.  It didn’t care if I was sad, mad or going hysterical.  I thought of taking them to a nearby copy center, but by this time, I had gone stubborn, too.  I labored on. 

When it was kicking back every piece of card stock, I added a back stop.  Believe it or not, this arrangement worked for the last thirty or forty cards.  Note: paper already fed because it won’t pick it out of the tray.  The little piggie USB drive prevents the card stock from being pushed back into the tray.  At one point, every piece, that went half way in, stuck there and had to be cleaned off until I found the source of the dirt and eliminated it. 

Then I broke the tab that stops the paper from falling on the floor.  That’s easy to do when you are hand feeding every page.  If you forget and leave it up, but not extended, the card stock tries to feed back into the printer.  The mad grab to stop that isn’t pretty.  Some of you got cards with evidence of that action on them.  In the process, I broke the mechanism, so it doesn’t fold down anymore and is harder to deal with.

The more tired and frustrated I got, the dumber I got.  I am not exactly proud of this operation.

So…You don’t all have cards at all and it’s too bad I’m not famous.  A good few of you would have collector’s items.  Next year the process is going electronic again! 

And, for all of you, with our love, here is Robbie’s and my Holiday Greeting:

And I made the card before Omicron hit. May it be off as quickly as it came. I can think of no better wish.

2021 – Distinctive Voyages Host Retreat in the Caribbean – Part 5

Footnote to Part 4:  I forgot to mention that Chris and I did get out into Cozumel for just a bit yesterday.  It’s not exactly old Mexico if you stay within easy walking distance of the port.  What it is, like most of the world’s ports, is a shopping center.  But, oh, were they glad to see us.  Chris had been admiring my white embroidered Indian tops and I knew that, in a slightly different style, the same thing was available in Mexico.  So I kept an eye out, as we toured.  She bought a small leather item and a bottle of tequila, and eventually I spotted a white top. 

There was no shortage of sales people to serve us and soon we had decided on identical tops.  After all, we won’t be running into each other, with her in Florida and me in Montreal.  Only her credit card wouldn’t work in their machine and I hadn’t even thought to bring one.  I had enough cash but Chris did not and I didn’t have enough to cover two.  So they ran to another store and got somebody else’s point of sale terminal – no go.  Then they did it a third time.  They really needed that sale.  Still nothing.  Somebody got the bright idea that she could use an ATM, but after three failed attempts, nothing was going to work again that day.  We went home with just one. 

Back in the cabin, I had her try mine on and she loved it.  It looked great on her, too.  I told her I would sell it to her as I have at least eight of them at home, but she decided to run back out for it, instead.  That was so the right thing to do.  The salespeople practically shed tears of joy, when she reappeared with money in her hand.  It’s been a very long, dry spell for them.  We figured we each paid $35 for a $20 blouse and we didn’t mind a bit.  It means so much more to them than it does to us.  When she got home Chris sent me this triumphant pic:

Tuesday, November11 2021

Another day at sea and in class.  Time for our presentations, and yes, our team won for best presentation.  I think we should have got the prize for best agency name, too, but we can’t be greedy.  Key Lime Travel won, likely because the little key lime tarts they served were so delicious. I think ours was the best name:

Ya think?  After the presentations, came the team-building exercise, The Amazing Race. We ran all over the ship, taking team selfies with kewpie dolls, singing songs, and solving puzzles.  We didn’t win that one.  Next all the Canadians had our PCR tests.  I was negative but one of my teammates’ roommate was positive, so I planned to get tested again the next day, in Montreal. 

Another cocktail party, another good dinner with Chris and Dan and it was over.  Getting off with carry-on, and a roommate with a car, was just delightful.  Chris drove me to the airport in plenty of time. Muchas gracias, Mama Bear.  I cleared email, wrote a blog installment and had a nice lunch at PF Chang’s.  The flights were uneventful, except for developing a cough on the EWR-YUL leg.  My poor seatmate spent the whole flight with her head in the window or down on the tray table.  I didn’t blame her. 

I had filled in the ArriveCAN app twice and it had appeared to be happy the second time, but the Canadian Health officials weren’t.  Apparently I had not uploaded my proof of double vaccination into the correct place.  So, in the presence of the agent, I fired up my laptop, only to be greeted by a nasty pop-up that wanted to fix my computer of whatever it had doubtless put there itself.  I NEVER, EVER click on such things.  The warning at the Tampa airport had been real.  I should never have been on their Internet and certainly not for two hours. 

The agent was sympathetic, and we redid the ArriveCAN thing together on his tablet.  Of course it has to go through some processing or other and maybe some human approval, because it wasn’t acceptable when I got to customs five minutes later.  So the customs agent took me over to another branch of the health service and eventually they agreed that all was in order and let me through.  What a performance.  It was 11:30pm by the time I got home. 

Robbie had great staff. Jane and Geo had taken wonderful care of him and left the house exactly as they had found it.  Good people, those, thank you J and G.  Robbie was even happy to see me, or maybe he was just hungry.  I fed him, unpacked everything that had to be washed, which was everything made of fabric, and went to bed.

Saturday, November 13

But it wasn’t over.  I dragged myself up and into the Jacuzzi on Saturday morning.  Then I finished unpacking, brushed Robbie, teeth and fur, clipped his nails, and finished unpacking.  It was Dena’s day to come in and help, thank God.  While she took care of the house, I called Microsoft and had them deal with the phisher on my computer.  The $150 or so a year, that I pay them, to be able to call for that service, is worth every penny, and then some.

Once I had the computer back, I set about looking for a free PCR test, available to people who have been exposed – but not everywhere.  It probably took me an hour of research to settle on Hotel Dieu.  By this time it was almost three.  I was out of potatoes, and no Irish woman can ever be out of potatoes, so I decided to get a Communauto to go get my shot.  Saturday afternoon isn’t the best time, I soon found out.  The closest car was at the corner of Inspector and Notre Dame, a station car, in a parking lot.  I don’t like station cars, because they have to be returned on time and they rent them out based on when they are due back. 

It was almost raining and certainly windy and raw.  I walked down there and there was no car.  I called Communauto and waited on the line for at least twenty minutes.  The car still wasn’t there when someone came on the line.  She put me on hold while she called the previous renter to make sure she was delivering the car.  The call dropped while I was waiting, so I dialed again and got back in Communauto’s queue.  A different car was returned, but I couldn’t just take it until I spoke to them to release it to me.  They still hadn’t answered when my rental came in but I stayed on the line to let them know when I had got the car and that all was well, only it was 4:47 pm.  Then I ran into the cone and detour problem that plagues downtown Montreal, and has for years.

Getting the test at Hotel Dieu was a smooth procedure and I was out of there an hour later. There’s a 24-7 grocery store on St. Lawrence Main, near Pine, and I used it for my potatoes, fresh raspberries, cream, etc.  I took the groceries home and called for a taxi on the way to returning the car. I didn’t particularly want to walk back home, up hill, in the dark. When I got there, there was no taxi. I waited five minutes and called the taxi company who said the driver had been and left because I wasn’t there. They offered to send another but by that time I was too mad to wait. I walked home, up hill, in the dark, and the cold. What an ordeal.  It was a night for one of my pre-cooked meals.  I had chicken paprikash and noodles and went to bed.  Yes, the test was negative.  I’m fine and the next thing you’ll get will be Robbie’s Christmas card.

2021 – Distinctive Voyages Host Retreat in the Caribbean – Part 4

Tuesday, November 9 2021 – 8:00 am – shudder.

When I woke up at 7:00am for my 8:00am meeting, Chris was way ahead of me.  She has been on the balcony, watching the sunrise.  So, courtesy of her, here’s the kind of picture you’ll never get from me:

I did get to my 8am meeting on time.  I landed a smart bunch of teammates and a sweet itinerary from Seabourn, Athens to Singapore, 22 days.  I have pictures from all the ports of call and will be able to make some very pretty slides.  I got enough input from the meeting for content, so all is well. Off to the shore excursion at 10:00 am.

The ship’s clock did us in again and we were an hour early for our shore excursion.  I did a little work in the cabin, while Chris waited in the theatre, where the shore excursions groups were meeting, to see what would happen.  When she called me, I came running.  She had learned something very useful.  If you ever want to know what ship’s time is, pick up the phone in your room to reset it, put it down and check the display.  There will be the correct ship’s time.  Yes, I know it’s supposed to be on the TV, too, but damned if we could find it on this ship.  

We got off late in Belize.  The Constellation was their first cruise ship since COVID and procedures weren’t running quite smoothly yet.  Kind of like the ship. But the tour guides, RC, Doris and Hiro, were so happy to be back at work.  They couldn’t do enough for us, nor tell us enough about their pretty country.  They let us know that they would tell us what was in the script but the script wasn’t always right.  For example, the script says all the Mayans, found on the island by the settlers, were wiped out by fighting or disease.  Doris is sure that isn’t true, just as sure as she is sure she is a full blood Mayan. 

After about an hour of driving through the countryside, we got to a restaurant on a lagoon, for a pit stop, mama bear, and to embark on a motor launch to take us the rest of the way to the Mayan ruins.  If there ever was a place we didn’t need masks, this was it, but they are very careful on Belize. 

We got off on Lamanai (Sleeping Crocodile) island and RC gave us an overview of what we were going to see.

There was a terrible racket going on, which we were soon told was a group of howler monkeys.  These relatives of mine swing through the trees, eating anything they can lay their hands on.  They seldom touch the ground and they make a helluva lot of noise to warn other howler monkeys away, because they don’t want to have to fight them.  That makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s a lot easier to holler than to engage in battle.  It also seems reasonable that they stay up in the trees, as there are crocodiles and snakes on the ground.  We didn’t meet any.  We did see a jaguar, though. 

The natives call this the “Jaguar Temple” and if you look closely at the pattern of the holes, you can see why.  The temple rises about six times as high as what I have shown, and they don’t let you climb it.  It’s too dangerous.  That’s OK with me.  I didn’t want to climb it anyway.  I was much happier to press on to the next one and get a picture of a howler monkey on the way.

This is the Sun Temple and it also has a ball court.  If you want a good read with insights into the Mayan way of life, I recommend “Aztec” by Gary Jennings.  There was some climbing allowed at this one, but I didn’t see anyone doing it.  Chris and I spent extra time here, with Doris, rather than going on to the next one.  My ankle, with its pseudo gout,  was getting a lot more of a workout than it wanted.  It was fine with me.  I can watch monkeys for hours.  Here’s the Sun Temple. 

Presently our group returned and we proceeded down the hill to our boat, and lunch, which was either very good or we were starving.  Whaddya know, there was a sleeping croc at the boat dock.

We were the last boat in and the last bus back at the ship.  We missed the show, but we never miss dinner.  And we slept very well. 

Wednesday, November 10

There is something to be said for just taking a day for oneself and one’s project.  Chris and I finally managed to have eggs Benedict for breakfast, something I just consider a part of cruising life.  I got to the gym for a bit and I got to work.  I had a backup drive with me so I was able to fish up photographs of my own for almost everything I needed, including an Alfred Hitchcock touch for the ending.  I incorporated everything anyone sent me and was ready for our meeting at 6:00pm.  There, we went through it, adjusted it, added a Seabourn video and pronounced ourselves good to go.

Chris and I had a great dinner to go to.  We were joining Jim and Marilyn Atkins for dinner at Le Petit Chef.  Jim and Marilyn took over the Holland America world cruise from me, when I had to give it up in 2016, and have been doing it ever since, until the pandemic hit.  They were anxious to meet me, and I, them.  We had such a wonderful time taking pictures of our animated plates, that we forgot to have the server take a picture of us.  You’ll have to settle for a picture of the winning chef and his dish. Yum.

2021 – Distinctive Voyages Host Retreat in the Caribbean – Part 3

November 7 2021.  Up and at ‘em for a breakfast meeting put on by the Tampa Bay tourist people.  It wasn’t much but it got me going and I now own yet another USB drive, this one in the shape of a shark.  I went back to the room, packed, cleared email, and spent a half hour with Miranda Esmonde-White, my new exercise guru on the Internet.  Then I checked out, which amounted to leaving the key at the front desk, and got on the bus, bound for the ship. 

All I needed to check in was my passport and my phone.  Celebrity’s express pass was there, from my check-in last week, so was my Quebec vaccine passport and yesterday’s negative COVID test.  I showed it all at both ends of the line and I was on.  They kept us masked in line, but they didn’t give us contact tracing bracelets and we are all roaming the ship unmasked now.  I sure hope this means we are all vaccinated.  There are only 600 passengers, of which our Distinctive Voyage group is 100.  There are 1100 crew.  We are well served. 

My roommate, Chris Zimmer, who drove up from Punta Gorda, a hundred miles south of Tampa, was already in the room when I got there.  Her luggage wasn’t though, so I unpacked my few clothes, pharmacy, toiletries and office, while we got to know each other.  At the designated time, we went to the conference room and checked in with the DV people, Pam, Christina and Jose.  Then we went up to the iCafé to try to get on the Internet for free as we had been promised.  Or, as we thought we had been promised.  We got told it wasn’t included in our package of amenities.  So I went back to the DV conference room to check and Chris went to stand in line at the front desk.  The DV folk sent me back to the cabin to get a copy of our invoice to take to the front desk with me. She was still waiting in line, of course.

You’d think a couple of smart Travel Advisors could read a cruise confirmation, but those amenities are all coded and we couldn’t tell what we had and didn’t have.  It turned out that, because Chris had signed up so early, that we didn’t have the Internet, but we did have all gratuities paid, a beverage package and $300 in ship board credit.  We had spent over $300 on two shore excursions each, though, so this would come out of real money, after all.  We went back to Jose in the DV room to beg and he said he’d see what he could do. 

All that nonsense kept us busy right up to sail away at 5:00PM.  It was a gorgeous day and our group was meeting at the Sunset Bar aft of the buffet.  Most of the other passengers were meeting there, too.  Jim and Mary Marks kindly took us in though and here we are:

That’s Chris on the left, with the purple streak in her hair.  You can probably tell I was loving her already.  It might have been the raised glass.  You can tell by my coat that it was cold and windy as we sailed away.  We hit the coldest weather Tampa has had all year.  Never mind.  We were so happy to be sailing again, as we left the dock.

When it got too cold out there, Chris went back to the cabin to unpack and I went to the show, which was a Canadian comedian named Travis Scott.  He was good, but not great.  I was tickled by the fun he made of our Canada geese, though.  Did you know that they fly in that V-formation to avoid the effluent from the goose in front of them?  Neither did I. 

We ate in the main dining room, late seating.  Our dinner companions were Christina and her husband, Dan.  She’s the one who hired me into this program in 2009.  They actually had roast beef the very first night and I had it.  It was good.  There were complaints all through the cruise about the quality of the steaks, but the prime rib was just fine.

Monday, November 8

The ship is playing silly billies with the clock and isn’t very good at letting us know what time it is.  So, we got up an hour early and had an hour to kill before class.  I used it to go to the gym.  It was the first and last chance I got.  We spent the whole day in class:

Worse, we were divided into teams and left class with an assignment to market our DV sailing.  My little group got together and it soon became apparent that I was the one with both the skills and equipment to put together a PowerPoint presentation.  Since a lot of us had shore excursions the next day, we decided to meet at 8:00 am.  I immediately started stressing because we had shore excursions both days, Mayan ruins in Belize on Tuesday and swimming with the dolphins in Cozumel on Wednesday. 

When I got back to the cabin, Chris had read all about the excursions and that the dolphin swim was strenuous.  She was wondering if we were up to it.  That was probably an issue but it was moot.  I was happy to bag Wednesday’s shore trip to get some quiet time to work on the presentation.  We took our tickets down to Deck 3 and turned them in.  It was formal might and this is how we looked at dinner:

2021 – Distinctive Voyages Concierge Host Retreat in the Caribbean – Part 2

November 6 2021.  There’s not a lot of point in going to bed early because you have to get up early, if you end up blogging at 3 am, but here I am, 3 am on the 7th, actually.  The 6th was a great day.  I had slept well and just had time to clear email and write the first installment of this.  Just before I hit ‘publish’, I checked the time.  11:56 and my lunch date was due at noon.  A quick call told me Rose Marie Ray was outside, and I had best get moving.  Rosie is a friend from Tandem days.  When I joined, she was the number one salesman in the entire company, and I consulted her on how to sell our NonStop computers to banks, for their automatic tellers and point-of-sale terminals.  It was the eighties.  There was a glass ceiling for her, too, but Tandem’s commission was so far ahead of IBMs that she did just fine. As did I.  I was number 2 in Montreal, to Number 2 in whole company, Marc Chabot, who sold the Lotto Quebec account.  Those were the days.  The last time we had seen each other was when she visited Hong Kong, which had to be about 1991. 

Rosie is 80 and she’s a triathlete, bike, swim, run.  She’s coming to Montreal on June 20, when I am flying out to Copenhagen.  Talk about timing.  I’ll introduce her to Nancy Nelson, who swims at the world level, in the female old farts category.  Those two will have a great time together.  If you guys think I am high energy, you have to meet them.

We started out with lunch at Seasons 52, a farm to table kind of place, across the street from the Westshore Grand, but a trick to get to with a car.  We should have walked.  Lunch was delicious; butternut squash soup, a crab cake for Rosie, and ahi tartar on mango and avocado, for me.  The desserts were something else.  Here’s Rosie, her empty one and my full one.

I had been googling ‘COVID testing near me’ because that was our next stop.  It had to be within 48 hours of sailing, so my Montreal negative test wouldn’t do.  There was a Walmart across the street that looked promising, so we walked over there.  The pharmacist was very nice.  He only did PCR tests, but he was pretty sure I could get an Antigen test at the city outlet in Al Lopez park.  He even called over to check for us. 

We got back in the car, I got directions on my phone, and off we went.  It was pretty scary, as the directions included a number of freeway entrances and exits, some of them on the left and often with half a mile to cross four or five lanes.  God bless her, she got them all done in her honking great SUV, with its nervous passenger. 

Al Lopez Park is beautiful and the testing went smoothly.  While we were waiting for the results, we took a walk in it.  I found this sign amusing,

particularly as the pond wasn’t all that large and twenty feet away, these alligator appies were dozing:

My phone vibrated.  The test was negative, mission accomplished.  Return to base. 

That was easier said than done.  Google is a perfect ass sometimes.  After another merry ride, just like the first one, it dumped us at the wrong hotel.  Somewhere along the way, we misfired and it promptly forgot where it was going.  So, I punched it in again and the intrepid Rosie followed its new set of instructions, which worked this time.  It was fun to be working with my very quick-witted friend again. 

When I got into the hotel lobby, Willie and Isabel Gray were waiting for me.  They had driven up from Cape Coral to have dinner with me.  Yes, I know, this blog is all about eating.  Off we went, this time to Byblos, a Turkish restaurant, that Willie knew.  I had last seen the Grays at Elvon’s celebration of life in Santa Rosa, CA, in January, 2018, when Willie got to tell the canoe story to his largest audience ever.  We caught up over bubbly splits, humus, kibbeh neyah, gyros and scallops on a set-up of peas and corn on avocado.  Finally, veggies I could eat, plus a chocolate dessert, of course.  It was all wonderful. We got the front desk clerk to take this photo when we got back to the hotel. 

2021 – Caribbean – Distinctive Voyages Concierge Hosts Retreat

November 5 2021, here we go.  This is the shortest trip I have taken in more than twenty years.  I’m using it to see how well I can get along with just carry-on luggage. 

It’s the Distinctive Host Concierge Retreat.  That’s what I am, you know.  It’s being held on the Celebrity Constellation, sailing out of Tampa, FL, and I’m excited.  The last time I stepped off a ship, it was the Seabourn Ovation in Hong Kong, January 4, 2020.  I’ve done a lot of cancelling and booking since then, but no sailing. 

Time to pack.  My friend Carol says I can do in with carry-on.  She should know.  She’s been commuting from Napa to Alaska for years.  She says she’s going to do it to Reykjavik for her sailing with Mariann in June and I can’t wait to see that one.  If this works, I am going to do it too. 

I bought this tiny little Air Canada carry on, because their colors are my colors and they can hardly refuse it.  It’s small, even as carry-ons go, but I am determined.  I was ruthless in my choices and ended up with this:

I have a pair of black boots on my feet to wear out, but, beyond that, footwear consists of bathing shoes, sandals that can go to the beach and everywhere else (Ecco), and minimalist bling for evenings ($10 in Singapore) Note disposable underwear and Tilley hat.  Under the shoes on the right, everything is rolled.  My office is in a backpack.  This is how I am going to look going out:

I went around the corner and got tested for COVID.  Robbie’s staff, Jane and Geo, from Ottawa, arrived around four-thirty and settled in while I finished clearing my email.  Robbie made himself scarce.  They took me out to Reubens for a perfect Montreal dinner, smoked meat and strawberry cheesecake.  We had 1 3/4 pounds of smoked meat between us and shared one piece of cheesecake.  All very satisfying.  Then we sat down for a quiet cup of tea and all went to bed. Jane and Geo had yet to see Robbie.  How embarrassing.  He has no manners.  The little shit slept with me in the office.

Friday, November 5.

Got up at 4:15 this morning – ugh.  Felt okey though and glad to be on the road again.  The mask is NOT fun going through the airport.  When you bend down to reach into a bag, it slips up and clips you in the eyeball.  Apart from the general discomfort, that’s real pain.  I got to the airport in plenty of time and went through security, where the social distancing was about as good as it ever was.   

The poufy coats we all wear now are great for travel.  Once I was at the gate, I managed to get it into my carry-on, so I won’t have to bother with it on the plane and during the connection process.  Brilliant.

I ate my yoghurt with my packet of pills, mostly vitamins, and cleared my email.  In Newark, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts near my gate, so I has two glazed donuts, not healthy but I have travel dispensation.  I enjoyed every bite.

The weather in Tampa was foul, which gave the captain a good excuse to have us all buckled in for most of the flight.  I am a good sailor and flyer, and it wasn’t all that rough, but I had the barf bag at he ready.  I blame the mask.  I watched “Poms” to which I could relate, all too well.  Never saw the ending, though, because, well, we landed in Tampa.

I took the hotel shuttle, checked in, meditated for 20 minutes, and changed for dinner. 

Connie and Charlie Brown picked me up and took me to Bulla, an upscale tappas restaurant, for dinner.  I have been their travel agent for years but had never met them.  They are Steve and Trish’s former neighbors, from when they lived around here.  Every time I book for them, it tickles me that I have Charlie Brown for a client.  They are delightful and I am allowed to tell you that they were the clients of mine who sailed on Celebrity in August.  They loved it.  They were on the Equinox’s first sailing after COVID.  There were only 600 people on it and they, and the staff couldn’t have been happier.  We are going to get that same treatment on the Constellation and I can’t wait.  I’m even excited about the contact-tracing bracelets.

2021 – I’m sailing again in 2022 – Come with me

Travel with me in 2022

I know we’re not out of this yet, but I remain optimistic.  I have clients at sea, as I write this and one of the most comforting things I have is a text from a client, on my phone, which reads: 

Aug. 20, 2021 Someone tested positive for COVID-19.  They have been removed from the ship and the individuals who were identified through the contact tracing bracelet that we wear were isolated and have all tested negative.  Love the ship and the crew.”

The clients were Connie and Charlie Brown.  I am not making that name up.  He’s real.  The ship was Celebrity Equinox, sailing the Caribbean, out of Fort Lauderdale.  She is a big one, and was about half full, per COVID rules.  It tells me, what I have been feeling in my bones, that cruise ships now are very, very safe places.  They have to be.  It’s their one chance.  I have talked to Connie since they are now back.  She has nothing but praise for ship and crew.  The ship was a lot safer than Florida!

All the cruise lines are booking with money-back guarantees, like we never saw, before 2020.  They want us back, and we want to be back.  I am tired of canceling and re-booking, canceling again and re-booking again, but I’ll keep doing it as long as necessary, until we all get our lives back.  Luckily, there’s good WiFi at sea, now, so I can sail and still take care of my clients, from anywhere in the world.  I take the best care of all, when you are sailing with me. 

So, do please come sail with me in 2022.  My Distinctive Voyages are very distinctive, indeed.  I have Oceania and Crystal.   Come share one with me. 

The Oceania is a repositioning cruise on Marina and quite inexpensive.  There are only Verandahs left, but you can have one for about $3500 per person, double occupancy, plus taxes and fees.  or a suite for about $5000 ppdo, and it’s a 16 day cruise!  Miami to Rome!  Crystal wants about the same amount for only 8 days, but they include even more, never leave North America, and I take you home with me at the end and show you Montreal as only someone who was born here can.  I include private homes, exclusive clubs, local characters, etc. 

Here are the itineraries and links to the cruises on the respective cruise lines’ sites, but please don’t click through to buy.  If you want to travel with me, and get my add-ons and TLC, you have to buy it from me.  It’s the same price and I chase all the sales and such that happen after you buy, so you always get the best deal.  Because these are all Distinctive Voyages, there’s a free cocktail party, a nice shipboard credit or a shore excursion, and whatever I can dream up on each of them. Yacht Club de Monaco, anyone?

Here they are:

 Oceania Cruises 16-days from Miami, Florida, United States to Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 

Come join me, Tricia Harrold, Pat Gustafson and Mike Desky in March    

Passage to the Old World                 Marina – March 19 to April 4

Mar 19 SatMiami, Florida, United StatesEmbark 1 PM7 PM
Mar 20 SunCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 21 MonCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 22 TueRoyal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda8 AM6 PM
Mar 23 WedCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 24 ThuCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 25 FriCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 26 SatCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 27 SunPonta Delgada (Azores), Portugal8 AM6 PM
Mar 28 MonCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 29 TueFunchal (Madeira), Portugal8 AM5 PM
Mar 30 WedCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 31 ThuMalaga, Spain8 AM6 PM
Apr 1 FriCruising the Mediterranean Sea
Apr 2 SatProvence (Marseille), France8 AM6 PM
Apr 3 SunMonte Carlo, Monaco 8 AM5 PM
Apr 4 MonRome (Civitavecchia), ItalyDisembark 8 AM


8 Night Ocean Cruise From New York City to Québec City | Crystal Cruises on October 13, with Helen’s tour of Montreal at the end

Northeast Gems

4Oct. 16, SunBAR HARBOR, MAINE, USA7:00AM5:00 PM

Shoot me an email or give me a dingle, if any of this interests you. I’d love to sail with you.

Robbie needs staff, too. My very downtown apartment comes with a parking space, a gym and a pool and there’s a Jacuzzi right in the apartment. Let me know if you are interested in vacationing in Montreal. Possible dates include this November, March-April, 2022 coinciding with Miami to Rome, above, June 20 – July 15 or so, 2022, but not coinciding with the Crystal Colors Cruise. That spot is taken.

2021 – Happy New Year House Tour

New Year’s Resolution – Keep last year’s promises.  It’s easier to do than other years.  I’m not all that busy.  Who is?  I promised you a tour of my Montreal condo, once my renovations were done, and they are, and here it is.  I also promised my Montreal friends a party but that I cannot deliver until this nasty COVID beast leaves town, …country, …world….  Welcome vaccine, we can’t have you soon enough. 

My downtown condo is in a building that was once the Mount Royal Hotel.  It was built in 1922 and was Montreal’s largest hotel at the time, doubtless vying with the Ritz as to which was the finest.  The Queen’s and The Windsor were big fancy hotels at the time, too.  Of the four, The Ritz can still lay claim to being Montreal’s finest hotel, as the Queen’s has been demolished and The Windsor and Mount Royal, repurposed.  The Mount Royal consisted of three 12-storey tours on a base that contained an immense ballroom, more meeting rooms, shops, and a number of restaurants and bars.  Its proximity to McGill University, literally one block away, assured its use for university balls and such, and the popularity of its bars.  The Kon Tiki in the basement was THE place to go on a date in my time.  There was dry ice and little umbrellas in the weird colored drinks.  Thrilling. 

This picture is taken from Peel street, at the corner of Mount Royal Place, which is a lane parallel to Ste. Catherine one building width up.  It shows only the south tower.  The north tower is condos, too.  The middle block is now all offices (likely soon to be condos) and the base is “Les Cours Mont Royal”, an upscale fashion mall, attached to Montreal’s underground city, and the reason it was my choice.  I own the top apartment just under the penthouse.  The penthouses were added in 1989 during the condo conversion and are pretty ugly from the outside, palatial within.  Yes, that’s a little balcony that I have, and yes, my ceilings are higher than all the others.  It’s not much to brag about but I’ll take what I can get and I love the high ceilings and the brightness of the apartment.  It faces what Montreal calls west and gets sunlight most of the day.  I also have two north and one south facing window and the really tall buildings are not close enough to shade me. The snow on street and building is real.  This is how it looks from December to May. Yes, I did know what I was getting into.  It won’t be on fire anytime soon. 

So, welcome.  By now you’ve met our doorman and valet, and maybe even our concierge.  There are always at least two of them on duty and they are super guys.  They spoil us rotten.  The elevator has taken you to the 12th floor and you’ve walked half a block to my apartment at the end of the hall.  Come in. 

You can sit down on the Indonesian carved chest at lower left and take your boots off.  There’s a mat to put them on just out of sight.  You’ll recognize Elvon’s Canadian Bartlett prints, and California Redwoods and a couple of my Canadian paintings.  The big white one on the right is new.  It’s a stylized Hong Kong Skyline by Toby Feldmos, who is making a good living selling paintings on the Internet.  You can buy what he has or commission what you want.  I asked for Hong Kong, of course.  He painted it in Tel Aviv, where he lives, and Fed Ex delivered it, framed.  I needed one more modern piece to go with my Zabel and Leona Apps.  Jamais deux sans trois.  The mirror is Tibetan, purchased in Hong Kong, a year ago.  I had been planning on buying a lot more on that trip, but almost all of HK’s wonderful antique shops are no more.  Hollywood Road is a poor shadow of its former self.  I was to find the same true of Notre Dame Street in Montreal.  No one (except me) decorates with antiques anymore, it seems.  More’s the pity.  The hall runner came out of the Megan family house in Notre-Dame de Grâce and is at least 90 years old.  My good friend Robert Lemire had been keeping it for me all these years.  Thank you, Robert.  The apothecary cabinet, Elvon and I bought in Seoul, in 1990-something, and the cloisonne ginger jar, on top of it, came from ma tante Lucienne and mon oncle Ernie’s house, a very long time ago.  If they were alive they’d be about 120.

You can freshen up in the powder room on the left. Some of you will recognize our pictures from the potty party, when we sold the toilets in the Napa Valley Opera House. Some of you are Plumbers’ Helpers. I have not forgotten.

Turning left at the end of the hall you come into the living dining area, which I just love for its openness.  I also love that I can open windows and turn the heat up.  It makes me feel safe with the one person at a time that I can entertain in time of COVID. 

Walk past the red money chest the Mendelsons gave me, thank you, Ralph and Melinda.  There’s a better picture of it coming up.  Continue between Annie and my yoga mat and past the red ginger jar cabinet.  There’s a better picture of that coming, too.  This does give you an idea of the size of the space and why I needed two sofas and a sideboard that I didn’t have.  I got the sideboard online, from a San Francisco antique store, after having Val Lasker take a look at it.  Thank you, Val.  I have the best friends.  Thanks, Deborah Robertson, too, for minding my 5th and 6th dining room chair for me and having matching red cushions made. 

Speaking of cushions, look at the ones my Montreal designer, Andrée Sauter, had made with saree fabric I brought back from Malaysia, when I visited Linda Chew last year.  The fourth one is turquoise.  Aren’t they fun?  One of those sofas is a sleeper, too.  Just sayin’.

The ginger jar cabinet that wouldn’t fit in the elevator, went to Ginger Petty’s garage for a couple of months, until I took my general contractor and his helper over there, one day in February.  With the help of Dennis Douglas, who made the original in Napa to my specs, they were able to remove the drawer assembly.  Then it was able to come home to be re-assembled.  It looks great here, with its new lighting that has a projector right on the Tang dynasty horse, that Bill Benter gave us for a wedding present. 

The rest of the art all fell into place.  The Izzards are gorgeous with bright new frames that really show them off.  The art fell into Canadian groups and Chinese groups and the moderns stand alone, one in each room.

Remember “Wine Wednesday”, the Zabel that I commissioned after finding the artist at a show in Fort Mason, in San Francisco?  It’s much nearer the artist’s hometown now.  She’s from Trois Rivières.  I asked her to make the background the St. Francis yacht club, and the partygoing couples the way you would find them at Fountaingrove Lodge.  Annie, the sculpture, and The Mendelsons’ money chest got face lifts, too.  Here they all are.

I have a functional and kind of pretty little kitchen, too.  I use it a lot these days, with all the restaurants closed.

The master bed room is very comfortable, with its adjustable bed, being watched over by “Educated Women”  a screen I bought, with Ruth Berggren, on Hollywood Road, in Hong Kong in 2007. 

The screen is joined in the bedroom by an antique Chinese armoire, also purchased on Hollywood Road, by Montreal friends, Patrick Brunet and Rosie Morgan.  I’m lucky they decided to downsize.  The armoire is flanked by my third modern painting, “Wraparound” by Leona Apps, which was a wedding present in Hong Kong.  To the other side of the armoire, is my grandfather Megan’s wedding present to my grandmother in 1894.  It’s called “a gallery table”, and it has been in our family for more than a hundred years. 

On to the office where I still spend most of my waking hours, and where I am as I write this.  My back is to the window and the room contains many of my favorite things; the chandelier I bought for the Lodge, “Lahaina Harbour” by G.S. Hill, which I bought on Maui in 1978, Helmut Gerth’s “The Start – PCYC”, Pak Chan’s “Chinese Scholar”, etc.  It also houses my wine cellar.  Look under the desk and in the next picture.

It has an en-suite bathroom, where Robbie pees faithfully in the toilet and lets me clean up the poo he leaves beside.  So, this is where I am going to sleep when you come visit.

The sleeper sofa is very comfortable.  I have slept on it in Santa Rosa.  All’s well.  Do come.  Happy, happy New Year.