Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sea Days

I think I've had a love affair with the ocean for as long as I can remember, and my earliest memory is that of a baby-going-on-toddler sitting in my high chair in the kitchen of our Key West home, sunlight streaming through the open window, with a small dachshund named Snorkel taking a bite out of one of my toes!  He was a bad-ass little dog, from what I hear.

Anyway, maybe I channeled Ernest Hemingway when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, or perhaps it was the mysterious comings and goings of my father who counted 22 years in the service of the United Staes Navy, I don't know.  All I do know, is that I've loved everything water since the get-go. I loved taking baths, I loved swimming, and I joined the Mariners within the Girl Scouts.  Climbing a mountain has no interest for me, but sailing upon the open sea brings out the joy in me.

I am drawn to the ocean like a moth to light.  It awakens a deep, visceral energy in me. God speaks to me when I am on the sea. While some may see the celestial result of galaxies, planets and gravity, I see God's imagination take form.  Water is everything. The Big Bang is my God's answer to the question "what is beauty?".

We've had but three sea days on this cruise.  Not nearly enough for a two week journey.  But the ports I've visited have been lovely, and I do not regret a single one.  Still, I ache a little, for more sea days.  There's no Internet at sea, no cell phones ringing. No email to check, no traffic jams, no alarms to wake you at ungodly hours. Only sky and water, as far as the eye can see.

My perfect, last sea day has gone like this:

6:40 AM -- unknown cabin steward FLINGS open the ice room door directly across from my cabin and proceeds to shovel ice into his cart. One eye of mine opens, slowly, like a lizard....I see soon-to-be blue sky outside and decide to finally forgive that damn steward for his daily transgressions against my sleepy stupor.

7:00 AM -- yawn, stretch, get out of bed, stumble into a hot shower. Languish amid soapy bubbles and a steady stream of blissful hot water.

7:30 AM -- dressed for a day at sea, in palazzo pants and purple tank, I make my way to the Lido for a morning breakfast of scrambled eggs, fruit plate, that absurdly delicious triangle of hash browns, and a blissfully divine cup of hot, strong, coffee, perfectly creamed and sugared.

8:00 AM -- A stroll around the promenade deck, feeling the now warmer temperatures of the Atlantic, as we sail ever nearer towards Florida.

9:00 AM -- attend Culinary Arts demonstration of how they make their incredibly tasting Thai Coconut Soup.  I abscond with the recipe (well, not really....they were handing out the recipe on little cards) and enjoy how the executive chef prepares the dish.  At the end, we get to taste, and I swoon with delight at the flavor of this soup).  I ask the chef how to convert this to a vegetarian version and he takes the time to give me pointers and directions. Thank you Chef!

10:00 AM -- Back to cabin to relax, and update my blog.

11:00 AM -- Enjoy special Mariner's Champagne Luncheon. Sit with new friends from Cruise Critic website. 

12:00 to 2:00 -- relax on my verandah enjoying this beautiful, 80 degree day with light breezes and a calm ocean.  Blue skies and white puffy clouds accompany us along the way, along with a sudden appearance of a school of dolphins, keeping time with the ship's cadence.

2:00 PM -- special around the world wine tasting, accompanied with a variety of cheese and other delectable appetizers.  

3:00 PM -- return mostly read books to the library. Take a walk around the ship.  Make a reservation for the Asian restaurant Tamarind, for an early dinner.

4:00 PM -- return to cabin. Sit on verandah. Enjoy breeze, blue skies, gentle swell of waves, as the shop slices through the calm waters of the Atlantic, towards her final destination. 

5:00 PM -- an early last supper.  Asian food of the Tamarind. Seafood wonton soup.  Saki.  Shrimp tempura.  Red panang curry with jasmine rice. Tamarind's version of the chocolate volcano. It's a culinary orgasm.

7:00 PM -- another walk around the deck, enjoying the last gasp of sun and approaching nightfall.  

8:00 PM -- last entertainment show - Celtic fiddler and goofy puppeteer co,Edina encore. Not perfect, but sweet and entertaining.

9:00 PM -- back in cabin. Time to pack. Suitcase outside door. Finish the night with a stroll through the decks, one last time. 

10:00 PM -- sit on balcony, recall everywhere I've been, take it all in, commit to memory.

11:00 -- goodnight,

I shall close this chapter of my travels.


Newport, Rhode Island

Our last port of call (for me at least, as I was disembarking one day early, at Port Canaveral, Florida) was Newport.  

This island region was home to the Narragansett Indians for well over 10,000 years until settlers from the shores across the Atlantic settled here in 1639.  There is a large percentage of Irish Catholics - close to 30% - that settled here in the early 1800s to escape both religious persecution from The English, and due to the great potato famine. Many of these new immigrants worked as domestics in the mansions of the rich. The country's oldest synagogue also calls Newport its home.

The Narragansett called this beautiful area the Island of Peace, and they were responsible for clearing much of this land for farming.  Once settlers arrived, a bustling maritime center developed, with the rum trade being a major contributor to the local economy.

In the mid 1850s, a man by the name of Alfred Smith bought a large parcel of land along and near the harbor, for $20,000.  He and his business partner, Joseph Bailey, began selling off lots to America's wealthiest families, and the Gilded Age began.  This is not to say that huge mansions were not already built  - the Hunter House was built in 1748, during the area's Golden Age.  Chateau-sur-Mer, built in 1852,  is a blended product of both the Golden Age mansions and the more - dare I say - grandiose and opulent mansions like the Breakers mansion of the Gilded Age which was built in 1893 as a summer cottage for the railroad magnate family, the Vanderbilts.

I chose to take a tour to visit two of the area's incredible properties, the Breakers and Marble House, both Vanderbilt properties.

All I can say about these two places - Yowser!  The Breakers summer "cottage" has 70 rooms and four stories in 138,300 square feet. The dining room alone is 2,400 square feet in size. There is a morning room, billiards room, library, great hall, and music room just to name a few.  Architectural and design influences hail from Italian Renaissance, combined with Georgian and Gothic Revival elements.  This home's interiors include walls upon walls made from marble, gilded woods, alabaster and even platinum leaf wall panels.  The Great Hall is two and a half stories high, and the grand staircase off the Hall is something more than "grand".  This place is just insanely beautiful.

They would not allow photography inside this mansion nor the Marble House, so I have nothing to show for my visit other than a sore jaw since it was gaped open for close to 2 hours.  Every time I walked into a new room, my jaw dropped, and all I could utter were the words, "oh my God" and "wow." If you've  ever visited Windsor Castle, the Louvre or Versailles, you can get a feel for what these mansions in Newport look like inside.

The Marble house was equally as awesome, and it's owner, Alva Vanderbilt, even had a beautiful Chinese tea house built on the grounds.  Alva called it "whimsical." As a side note to all of my women friends, Alva Vanderbilt was a tireless crusader for women's rights and campaigned hard for the right for women to vote. You rock, Alva!

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Newport, it would be well worth your time to visit these mansions of the uber rich of the time. To quote a sentence from the brochure, "only in Newport can you walk through centuries of American life in an afternoon; Hunter House was here when the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought; Chateau-sur-Mer saw the age of global commerce by American clipper ships like Flying Cloud; and The Breakers opened as the Vanderbilts' latest achievement in the era in which railroads revolutionized the nation much the way jetliners and the Internet would a century later."


What do you do in a place like Boston when you've "been there, done that"?

Why, you go to Fenway Park, that's what you do!

I had originally planned to spend the day in port, either at the terminal, if it had free wifi, or hunkered down at a Starbucks, and work for the day.  But right before I left for my cruise, my manager said "it's not that busy, why lug your laptop and files with you, go and enjoy your time away and just check in via email when you can." So that's what I did.  Which left me with an entire day in Boston with nothing planned.  I reviewed the list of shore excursions and suddenly, one caught my eye ---- Fenway Park tour. Hoooooooohhhhhh.  YES! A chance to visit an American icon? See the Green Monster up close? YES!   Boy, was I excited.  

It just so happened that the Red Sox were going to play in the World Series, so when our tour bus holding 30 equally excited passengers arrived at the park, there was mayhem all about.  Big semi trucks parked all over, media outlets running cables, cameras being set up in strategic locations within the park to capture the perfect pitch, a base hit, a double play. You could feel the buzz all around.

Fenway has been the home of the Red Sox since 1912.  The very beginning, however, was in 1901 about a mile away, at an open field called the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds and the original name of the team was the Boston Americans, because it was part of a new American league. In 1903, the team played a national league team called the Pittsburgh Pirates, in a new World Series.  Guess who won! Boston, of course.

In 1908 the team got new uniforms designed and there was a pair of red stockings on the shirt, so the team changed its name to the Red Stockings.  But the name was too long to put on uniforms, so it was shortened to the Red Socks.  But then it didn't look balanced - three letters on one side and five on the other side, so for the sake of symmetry and to the horror of Elementary school teachers across Boston, it became the Red Sox. 

Long before corporate sponsors named ball parks and other arenas, Fenway Park was named simply for the city district in which the ball park was built, Fenway district. The stadium opened in April of 1912 and the first team the Red Sox played was a team called the New York Highlanders.  Boston beat them 7-6 in eleven innings.  A year later the Highlanders changed their name to the Yankees, but Boston can truthfully and proudly say that they've beat the Yankees here since day one! 

 A special tie-in here ---- it was exciting news that the team won their very first game at their new park against their arch rivals, but sadly, the story was moved to page two of the newspaper, because the front page was filled with another major news story -- that of the sinking, five days earlier, of the Titanic.

The ball park fell into disarray and the team had some bad years in the 1920s and early 1930s until a new owner from South Carolina came in and poured several million dollars into Fenway -- he added new grandstand seats - wooden, and today they remain the oldest seats in all of baseball, as well as the most uncomfortable! The owner also put a roof over the seats, and added the bleacher section in the outfield.  He also built the wall in left field, which is affectionately known today as the Green Monster, in 1934.  Thirty seven feet, two inches high, 231 feet across. The added seats, including about 2,500 standing room only spots, increased the capacity at Fenway to just over 39,900.  

In Boston, there are only 25 letters in the alphabet. There is no letter "R",  unless the word ends in an "A".  The country 90 miles off the coast of Florida? Cuber.  You want a cold drink? Order a soder. But the left field wall at Fenway?  It's the Green Monstuh.

Fenway enjoyed a sold out status streak of 793 games, beginning with May of 2003 until the second game of this 2013 season.

Most famous seat in Fenway is a red seat out in the bleachers. All the other bleacher seats are "Fenway Green".  This special red seat marks the spot where Ted Williams hit the longest home run in the park, June 9th, 1946, in a game against the Detroit Tigers. Anyone can sit in this seat for the price of just $28..........the same price as any other bleacher seat. 

There's more stories to be told about this American classic, but this is a travel blog, not a history book, so I'll end this here. Hands down, though, this was the best ship sponsored shore excursion I've ever taken.  In addition to our tour of Fenway, our bus and guide took us through some of the historical sections of Boston -- we passed by Trinity Church,  the Boston Common, Back Bay, the tv-famous Cheers bar, old graveyards, and a number of other notable sites.  

It was a great day!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bar Harbor, Maine

Today we arrived in Bar Harbor, our first U.S. port since we set sail from Quebec over a week ago.  We had to clear immigration before we could get off the ship, and tendering was required. Tendering means we have to drop anchor in the harbor or bay because the port or docking area is not deep enough or large enough for most cruise ships. The ship, once firmly anchored, lowers some of its lifeboats and these are used to transport passengers from the ship to the dock or pier. 

I wandered around town for a little while, did a little shopping, and then went down to the dock to get onto a lobster boat for a two hour tour.  We learned all about how Maine lobsterman are able to fish, how, where and when they set their traps, their unique buoy markers, as well as a lesson in lobster anatomy, life cycle, molting and mating. We pulled up one of the traps and we were lucky to have 4 lobsters (good) and several crab (bad) in the cage. Crabs are problematic because they like to eat the bait, as well as some of the soft wood of the cage doors which then can allow any trapped lobsters the opportunity to escape before the fisherman has a chance to pull up the cage.

I never knew that lobsters molt.  When they are babies, they molt 3 or 4 times a year, in order to grow.  In their second year they molt only 2 or 3 times and by year 3 or 4, they usually then only molt once per year. 

The female has thousands of eggs in her stomach.  During mating season, the male will deposit his semen, and then go away.  The female will then, at some point in the future, move that stored semen to her eggs.  She also produces this sticky stuff and she uses that to move her fertilized eggs from inside her body to the outside of her body, along her abdomen area.  There they develop over the next 9 to 12 months.  Then she releases them into the wild, fully formed but tiny.  Mortality is upwards of 95%!

Lobster trivia - fishermen put rubber bands around the lobster's claws not just to protect us from being clamped down upon or cut, but because, in captivity (like in the water tanks in restaurants or markets) if not banded, they will attack each other and eat their catch! They're cannibals!

Tomorrow......Boston.  I've been there several times before, so my special tour will be a behind the scenes visit to an American icon, Fenway Park.  It should be extra exciting tomorrow, as Game One of this year's World Series (Boston Red Sox versus St.Louis Cardinals) begins Wednesday!

Saint John, New Brunswick

Today was our last port stop in Canada.  Saint John was the first incorporated city in Canada, settled in 1785 by fleeing Loyalists from the USA.  Even Benedict Arnold made it his home for a few years.  

The city sits on the Bay of Fundy and has the highest tides in the world, at over 55 feet.  There is a tidal phenomenon of sorts here called the reversing tides - the ocean actually begins to flow upriver at low tide, and then slowly reverses itself as it moves towards high tide.  When we visited it today, low tide was at about 7 AM, when we got there about 10:00 or so, the tide was flowing rapidly up river. When we returned later in the day around 3:30' the waters were calmer and had begun to flow back down river.  It was kind of weird to see!

In 1877, a blacksmith was doing his work in the middle of a windy day.  Across the way was the city barn where many of the horses were kept, giving the blacksmith easy access for shoeing the horses, etc. but someone had left the barn door open.  Because of the wind, a spark from the blacksmith's shop traveled across the street, into the open barn and literally hit the hay, which caused the hay to catch on fire creating an incendiary fireball.  Within three hours, the entire downtown had burned completely to the ground.  Most buildings were built from wood, so they were no match for the fire.  Thankfully, because it was in the middle of the day instead of at night, only 17 people were killed. It could have been so much worse.  

The city was rebuilt pretty quickly after the fire, and life resumed as before.  Today, the city's population stands at about 70,000; including those in the outskirts, the area has about 140,000 residents total.  

Speaking of population, someone on board told me that the population of all of Canada is about the same as that of just California. That was pretty eye opening! I mean, think about the land mass in Canada versus that of California. Even taking into account the sparsely populated Yukon and Northwest territories, the population is really spread out.

There's a small public park in the middle of old downtown, called King's Square. It was built in 1785 as a war memorial.  In 1930, a 17year-old boy by the name of Young was walking down at the docks at the port and saw a 6 year-old boy fall into the icy cold water.  By icy cold, we're talking about 40 degrees, the year round temp, by the way.  Young jumped in, managed to drag the young boy to the dock, saving him, but that cold water got the best of him, and Young then drowned. The townspeople, at the insistence of the 6 year-old's family, proudly erected a statue in King's Square to honor Young.  Every year, the little boy's family came and brought flowers to the statue to remember Young's heroism.  As that little boy grew up, married, and had children of his own, he continued to visit the statue, letting his children learn that if it were not for Young, none of them would be there.  

In the middle of the city sits the largest public park in all of Canada, Rockwood Park. There is a golf course, two lakes, horse stables, miles and miles of trails, a children's playground whose entire ground is made of cork, to help protect the children from serious injury when they might fall down during play.  In the summer, you can swim in the lakes and ice skate on them during the winter.  There are also lots of monuments scattered about, and a drive through section where each province has a small plot where it's unique flag is flying.  My favorite monument in the park follows a similar theme as the flags.  As you know, the maple leaf is the country's flag emblem.  This monument is that of a maple leaf, and it is made from the provincial rock from each of the provinces in the country. It's really a very striking and beautiful monument.

Our tour included a nice drive out to the countryside and to an old fishing village called St. Martins.  It sits right on the Bay of Fundy and is a photographer's dream, with two covered bridges and a lighthouse, and it is possible to capture all three in one photograph, which I did.  Speaking of pictures, I have been posting some to my Facebook page, but I will post photos here once I get back home and have unlimited access to Internet, so I can upload them.  Free wireless and extra free time during a cruise do not go hand in hand!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halifax, part two

We headed out to Mahone Bay and Lunenburg after leaving the Swiss Air memorial site.
Mahone Bay is a very lovely little town sitting at the end of the bay.  There is a famous wooden ship/schooner there called the Bluenose II,  which won many races in the region.

 Lunenburg is an historic town located on the Fairhaven Peninsula at the western side of Mahone Bay.  It was established in 1753 and is a terrific example of a planned British colonial settlement.  In 1995 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

The planned town layout had geometrically regular streets, 7 blocks of north-south streets, intersected at right angles by 9 east-west streets, which then created blocks with 14 lots each.  Only one section was not divided into lots, and this served as a public parade ground. Each settler was given a town lot and also a "garden" lot outside the town limits.  

The setting and layout of Lunenburg has changed only minimally since 1753, giving the town a very high authenticity. The city was and remains today, a successful center for ship building and fish processing. 

Given the distance from Halifax, as well as some of our other stops on this tour, we did not have time to stop and walk around.  Our guide did drive us through most of the grid streets of the town, and we got a good feel for its layout and cohesive architecture. We also had a great opportunity to take some pictures of the town from across the narrow part of Mahone Bay.  

We headed back to Halifax and our last stop before getting back onboard the ship was the Fairhaven Cemetary, the site of the Titanic graves of 150 mostly unclaimed bodies plucked from the icy waters by two ships dispatched from Halifax, the morning after the sinking of the "unsinkable" Titanic.

For me, this was the highlight of the day.  Like many, I've always been fascinated by the story of the Titanic, and it's also one reason I'm so in love with cruising as a means of travel. 

Our guide showed us how the rows of numbered and named grave stones are laid out in the form of a ship's bow on its side, and that there is a grave stone with the name J. Dawson (word has it James Cameron said the name he chose for one of his main characters in the movie is simply a coincidence, but our guide doesn't believe that for a second).  We also learned that most of the bodies recovered in the waters were first and second class passengers, as most 3rd class passengers were locked or stuck below decks during the sinking of the ship.  The few bodies that were found floating and identified as 3rd class passengers were, initially, thrown back into the water, until the rescue ship's captain put a stop to that.  

Even in rescue operations, class distinctions and protocols were followed.  First class passenger bodies were placed into wooden coffins, second class were placed into body bags, and until they stopped it, the third class passengers were plucked from the water, heavy sacks of sand were tied around their ankles, and then they were thrown back into the ocean and the bodies sunk.

Over 200 bodies were recovered. The recovery workers used a new technology, an improved type of photography, to photograph the bodies.  Pictures were shown to families trying to find their loved ones, and 50 bodies were claimed in this manner, and removed for burial elsewhere, by their families.  

Many of the graves remain unmarked with a only the number identifying in what order they were retrieved from that icy cold ocean,  on a bright, sunshine-filled day, April 16, 1912.  May they all rest in peace.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 1749, a young British sea captain by the name of Cornwallis, landed upon the shores of the French occupied and settled area we now call Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia means New Scotland. Cornwallis absolutely detested this cold and forbidding area, and his management skills being poor, pissed off his command, and many returned to Britain with complaints about him.  He succeeded in driving the French out, and also started one of the first germ warfares known to exist in the world.  He came across a settlement where smallpox had run rampant, and he ordered his men to gather smallpox infested blankets, seal them, and then he transported them to the local Indian tribes and the smallpox spread like wildfire, killing off huge populations of native Indian tribes in the area, as the Indians had no immune protection.  Gee, what a fun guy.

He returned to England and today, a statue stands in the downtown area of this city, showing this super nice guy facing towards Britain.  There is some talk of removing his statue altogether, he is so vilified at the moment.

Halifax is a large city, there are about 400,000 residents, making up nearly half of all of the Nova Scotia province.  In the city proper, the economy depends on ship building, tourism and universities.  In the rural areas, the economy relies on an eclectic mix of agriculture (apples, wild blueberries, Christmas trees, and maple syrup), fishing (mostly lobster) and tourism.  

On our tour today, we visited the beautiful and picturesque Peggy's Cove.  A working lighthouse is there, along with a sweet little fishing village.  The cove is made up of glacial rock, and the ruggedness of the cove makes for some outstanding photography. 

Just around the bend stands a somber memorial to the Swiss Air flight that crashed in the ocean nearby in 1998, where all souls perished.  Our tour guide offered up the standard reason for why the plane crashed, fire in cockpit, bad decisions on the part of the pilot to attempt to correct the problem, but he also hinted at diamond conspiracies, and flammable items in the overhead compartment in coach class.  The diamonds were never recovered, even though over 90% of the plane and it's contents, including $100,000 in U.S. cash was......


Sydney, Nova Scotia

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Sydney was first settled in the early 1600's, with the first coal mine in all of North America opening in 1620.  In the early 1700's, an Italian by the Anglicized name of John Cabot, forged a trail in the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia, outside of Sydney.

Sydney really began to develop shortly after the American Revolution due to the emergence and development of its steel industry.  A few decades ago, the coal and steel industries fell on hard and mismanaged times, and eventually shut down.  Life was not easy for the inhabitants for awhile, but a burgeoning tourism industry,mwith an influx of summer travelers to take in and hike the Cabot Trail, helped transform Sydney into a once again productive and viable area.  

Sydney, as with most of the Nova Scotia province, has a long heritage of Scottish and Irish immigrants. Here on Cape Breton, Gaelic is still spoken regularly and many road signs are in both English and Gaelic.  

Today, besides a booming tour industry, lobster and crab fishing is a big business during the summer season, and logging takes over during the winter months. It is very common for families to fish in the summer and log in the winter. Most logging is spruce, and individuals sell to the paper mill.  For fishing,the only way to get a license for lobster is to purchase one from another fisherman who is no longer going to fish, or to inherit it from a family member, as the government no longer offers new licenses.  A lobster license, if purchased, will run you about $100,000.  A snow crab license will run you $1,000,000.  That's not a mistype.

Coming up over the next few days, we've got Halifax, St. John, New Brunswick, Bar Harbor, Boston and Newport.  Then, and only then do we get two wonderful sea days in a row.  I live for my sea days.  They're the best days!

We had a possible chance to see the northern lights a few nights ago, but alas they did not materialize.  But there was a beautiful full (or nearly full) moon last night and its shimmering silvery glow woke me up early this morning, hanging just outside my balcony.  It wasn't a bad way to wake up. I'll take that any day.

Prince Edward Island

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

At the south shore of Canada's smallest province, Prince Edward Island,mor PEI for short, lies it's birthplace, Charlottetown.  It's a very quaint city of almost 35,000 residents.

PEI is famous for having Canada's longest running musical, Anne of Green Gables. I believe they said it's been running continuously since the mid 1960's.  PEI is also the setting of Lucy Maud Montgomery's famous stories Anne of Green Gables, a beloved classic by many, myself included.

You can drive the island, from tip to top, in about 6 hours.  At its longest,MIT is 140 miles, at it's narrowest, just 4 miles wide., at it's widest, just 40 miles.  The biggest industry is agriculture. They produce potatoes, and provide 30% of all of Canada's supply. Go spuds!

Even though I am a Green Gables fan, I chose not to visit the "homestead" because it is just a big tourist trap now, and I didn't want to huff and puff around a fictional farmstead with 1,500 other people.  Instead, I chose to further my engineering knowledge, and picked a tour that went out to the Confederation Bridge, an 8-mile marvel, and also the longest bridge over ice-covered waters, in the world.  Even though the weather was cold, rainy and overcast/foggy, we still enjoyed the tour.  The bridge was built in the 1970's and cost $1 billion. It took six years to build.  It costs $44.50 per car to cross. The bridge links the island with the mainland.  Before the bridge, there was only a ferry, or ice boats available to cross. Today, ice boats are no longer used, and the ferry still runs, at $60 per trip.

The south shore of the island is lovely, dotted with tons of potato farms and lighthouses.  Lots of property is for sale here,  and the going price per acre is about 4,000 dollars. The average home price runs in the mid $100,000's.  There is a lot of waterfront acreage for sale, so an awesome view is there for the taking.

So, some mindless trivia - the island bird is the blue jay, even though the island is filled with ginormous black crows (love them!).  Roman Catholics make up over 55% of the population, gas cost $1.27-ish per liter (about $5.00 per gallon), and Charlottetown boasts one of Canada's finest veterinary colleges.

Baie Comeau

Baie Comeau

Pronounced "Bay Como", the town of Baie Comeau is a new stop for some cruise lines.  It is a small town located on the shores of the St. Lawrence River and has a thriving economy, thanks to its local industries of aluminum, timber and paper production.  

The area also boasts five dams,  four of which are hollow gravity.  What, pray tell, is the difference between a hollow gravity dam and your run-of-the-mill dam?  Well, my friends, it is that the hollow gravity dams are built with some hollow cores. From an engineering perspective, if the area conditions (river, rock and soil type, flow, etc) are right, you can build a dam 80% more efficient with 20% less cement.  Or something like that.  I have to admit, on my tour of the Manic 2 dam (named Manic 2 because manic is short for the mighty Manicouagan River and the second dam built on it)  I was busy looking at this insanely gorgeous hunk a lunka of a security guard that accompanied us through the inner workings of the dam, and wasn't always listening to our tour guide. And when he spoke In French to our guide, ooh la la, there might have been some discreet swooning on my part!

Because this area was covered by 4 kilometer deep glaciers way back when, most of the rock around here is glacier rock, and another reason a hollow type dam can be built. 

Baie Comeau boasts a 3 block long downtown, 20,000 residents, a Wal Mart and a McDonalds. One of the province's governors was also born here, and the town is very proud of that. Our bus guide even drove us by the house where this man was born as well as the house just down the street where he grew up.  I cannot begin to tell you how fascinating that was, but truth be told, I would have preferred to have seen where the security guard lived.....

A lot of the passengers on the ship were less than impressed with little Baie Como, and the rumor is that the HAL ships won't be back next year. I felt a bit sad, because if there is one standout from my visit (besides you know who), it is that the residents of this town are fiercely proud of their city and happy to show it to you. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Quebec City and Saguenay

The Eurodam is the largest cruise ship I have been on so far, with 2100 passengers.  I have decided that I prefer the smaller ships, at least those with 1800 or less.  Why? One word.  Lines.  Lines to get into the dining room for breakfast and dinner.  Does not matter what time it is.  Lines.  I am most annoyed.

Also, for being a scant five years old, the Eurodam shows signs of wear and tear, at least in my cabin.  Perhaps there were just past passengers in my cabin who rode her rough, but there are some stains and nicks and tears here and there. It doesn't bother me, because they are minor, I just noticed it, that's all. The cabin is nicely appointed, everything is clean, the balcony divine, albeit cold (well, it's Canada in October, after all), so nothing to complain about there.

I settled in the first night on board after arriving about ten PM, and had a good night's sleep until the ice machine room door across the hall was flung open by a cabin steward at 6:15 the next morning. Hmmmm. Should I complain? Nahhhh.  Maybe it was just a one time deal. (sadly, it was not)

My plan for the day was to walk across the pier into old Quebec City and visit the area, wander around.  It's a lovely old city with some architectural delights, and a bunch of historical points.  Here in the province of Quebec, French is the main language, although if you smile and are polite, the shopkeepers and other townsfolk will speak English to you.  It always helps to say a few words in French, out of respect....bonjour, merci, au revoir.  That's about the extent of my French, but it is enough to be treated nicely.  Natives always appreciate it when you at least try to say something in their language.

I visited the famous Chateau Frontenac, an imposing hotel sitting atop the old city, above the remnants of this old fortress's walls.  I think it's a UNESCO site now, this hotel.  It's pretty, for sure.

I wandered around the cobblestone streets for a couple of hours, and walked up and down steep hills, so I figured I got my cardio in for the day.  I returned to the terminal area at the ship and was able to Skype with Sam and Ori for a little bit, before they called all aboard.

Yesterday, we arrived in Saguenay, in "haha" Bay.  I don't know if haha is spelled this way or not, but this is my phonetic approach.  It means "dead end" in old French, according to our tour guide.  I joined a tour that took us out to the fjord, which is the big attraction here.  However, the day was foggy and drizzly, so guess what?  No view of the fjord.

Saguenay is an old settlement town of about 150,000 people.  Their main industries are aluminum processing and logging/paper mills.  Running a close third is dairy agriculture, specifically cheese.  Ninety percent of their cheese is exported to Britain, and they make a "royal" cheese that the Queen herself is most fond of.  Who knew.

I learned that to make one ton of aluminum, you need three tons of boxite.  I don't know what boxite is, but you need a shit load of it for aluminum. Made me think about Walter White.  I could have used his chemistry knowledge yesterday.... Anyway, Saguenay is the world's largest producer of aluminum, another tidbit I did not know.  But interestingly,myoud think that if you were the world's largest producer, and if you need a lot of boxite to make the aluminum,mthat you'd have ready local access to boxite, right?  Nope a doodle.  They IMPORT their boxite from Brazil, South Africa and Jamaica!  Don't you think it would make more sense to produce aluminum in those countries? Sigh.

So that's my story of Saguenay.  Tomorrow we visit Baie Comeau.  I am going to visit the Manic 2 gravity dam. It's supposed to be pretty spectacular.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Flight Legs

When you live in Sacramento, even with a nice international airport, you still can't fly direct to many places.  Hawaiian offers one daily non-stop to (you guessed it) Honolulu, and United will take you to Chicago, Denver, and Washington D.C. So you can connect to other parts unknown.

This is totally off topic, but we were talking about skirt steak at lunch yesterday, and it stuck in my head the rest of the day. And last night. So I just googled it, and I am happy to report, for those of you who may give a whit ( or is it "wit"?) that skirt steak is actually the diaphragm  of a cow.  It's a bit tough and fibrous and you would need to beat the hell out of it to get some tenderizing to happen.  The cut is most often used in fajitas. So there you go.  Whew, I can sleep tonight, mystery solved.

I treated myself to the usual pre-vacay mani/pedi after work yesterday, and then went home and got to spend some good one on one time with my little button, aka my granddaughter, Ori.

And, I packed. It took me a little longer than usual, because there were many interruptions of rubber ducky transport between my closet and my shower, by Ori, but I was finished about 7:30, and I am happy to report that I have loads of extra room in my suitcase, and the weight came in at 42 pounds. 

Sam bravely got up at 5:15 and transported me to the airport for my 7:20 departure, and my first leg - Sac to Washington Dulles left on time and arrived early.  We had a very hard and bumpy landing, but  other than that everything went well.

I'm on a 3 hour layover before catching my final flight to Quebec City, so I am enjoying a nice glass of Chardonnay and a shrimp basket in one of the terminal restaurants.

And blogging about skirt steak.....

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Canada and New England October 2013

Countdown begins for my upcoming third cruise of the year. Quebec City to Ft. Lauderdale

I leave next Saturday, the 12th, and cruise ends on Sunday the 27th, although I will disembark on the 26th at Port Canaveral, to drive to Treasure Island to spend a few days with my cousin and aunt before flying home on the 30th. It's a shorter drive from Port Canaveral by a few hours, than Ft. Lauderdale, so I secured an early disembarkation from HAL.

I am visiting several areas in northeastern Canada, where we hope to enjoy the fall foliage, then we head south, stopping in Bar Harbor, Maine, Boston and Newport, Rhode Island before enjoying 2 lovely sea days on the way to Florida.

Hurricanes!!!  Please stay away!!!  Thank you.  Namaste.