Nice day at sea, Oceania Club party, excellent dinner, docked in Bermuda, the resilient people of Bermuda

Wednesday was a relaxing day at sea. The sea and air temperature warmed up and we enjoyed the time outside as we cruised from New York to Bermuda. Wednesday evening was the Oceania Club party; over 400 of the ~650 passengers on board are repeat passengers, including some folks with ten or more cruises. We got our “bronze” pins before the party for having done five cruises. Before we went to the party we turned in the paperwork for a cruise for 2016 to get the shipboard incentives and chose a 16-day journey from Lima, Peru to New York on Marina that goes through the Panama Canal and will give us four new countries.

We heard during the party that our original docking location in Bermuda (St. George) was problematic due to forecasted winds on Friday afternoon, so the Captain said we would dock at Heritage Wharf (also known as the King’s Wharf area). St. George has a very narrow pass into the harbor, so it can be an issue.

After the party, we went to dinner Wednesday evening in the Grand Dining Room. We invited another couple to join us. I had a free-range chicken remoulade done with fontina cheese and prosciutto and Steve had a veal Bolognese pasta and both entrees were superb. Dessert for me was another amazing pistachio and chocolate thingie (love those combinations).

We slept in Thursday morning and Regatta docked around 11:00 am. Steve didn’t get the alarm set, so we were racing through preparations and of course they varied the times for meal setups for the first time in the cruise. We finally found continental breakfast items in the Horizon Lounge.

Heritage Wharf is attached to the more well-known King’s Wharf, across the bay from Hamilton. This area is at the western and northern tip of the strangely shaped series of attached islands that make up Bermuda (Bermuda looks like a big fishhook). The national museum is located here, with the large British fortress on the spit of land nearby. The wharf area was very nicely laid out and immaculate. We found it hard to believe this island was hit by two hurricanes less than a month ago. We walked around one of the square areas and found a nice art shop and bought a few items. Next to the shop was a pub, the Frog and Onion, and we sat outside for a while and had a snack and drinks (Steve loved the beer). Bermuda is overrun by wild chickens and roosters; they are beautiful birds and several came near us while we ate. Afterwards, we went inside (the pub was very large and quaint) and bought great t-shirts in bright orange and black for Halloween.

We walked back towards the ship and visited another establishment near the ship, striking up a nice conversation with a local family and seeing many crew members relaxing, including Captain Hansen, who waved at us as he passed with a pretty girlfriend in tow! He was wearing a Captain America t-shirt (hilarious).

We got back on board, relaxed for a while and had dinner outside at the Terrace. This morning (Friday), we had our last ship excursion of the cruise, a tour to Hamilton and back. We boarded one of the small pink buses and had fun with our driver/guide C.C. Smith. He seemed very concerned that we wouldn’t like Bermuda because of the hurricane damage, but what we saw was a populace working hard to restore order. You can visit some of the Caribbean hellholes years after a hurricane and still see damage and dilapidation (heck, you can still see that in New Jersey), but the people of Bermuda love their home, have a high standard of living and want it to be picture-perfect. Our bus traveled through villages, across the smallest drawbridge in the world (the opening is wide enough for a sailboat mast) and past many churches. The homes, churches and other buildings are painted in a variety of wonderful colors, including blue, pink, orange, yellow, bright green, cream (with contrasting shutters), purple, and other lovely shades.

The tour stopped at a lighthouse near Horseshoe bay for pictures, then continued on into Hamilton. We had one hour of free time, which seemed nice, but we weren’t sure what to do, since the Main Street is filled with shops and banks and it was too early for a sidewalk cafe. I must make a confession: A few months ago Steve and I did the 23andMe genetic testing, which is primarily for ancestry tagging. However, they did inform me that I had a fragment gene that wasn’t working properly, the one that drives most women into a frenzy when they get near a shopping district (just kidding, but it could be true). My Mom was an inveterate shopper, but I find it to be really boring and follow the apparently male instinct of “go in, buy the target item, leave”. I do like art galleries and folk art and the occasional jewelry store, but clothing/purses/shoes and other ladies accoutrements make me almost panicky.

So we walked a few blocks in Hamilton, took a few pictures, then sat by the waterside near the bus until we left. We really liked Bermuda and would like to come back. We’re sitting in Waves grill outside right now awaiting our departure (pilot was late). The weather is close to perfection right now. Apparently, we might also get rough seas tomorrow on our way to Charleston. We’re supposed to arrive at noon Sunday and we booked a private carriage tour at 2:20 pm (not cheap, at $135 for an hour). I hope we make it on time!

More to come from our last port on Sunday. Oh, and by the way, this has been a very good cruise overall, ranking up there near the top in terms of the experiences. It still isn’t over yet, but we’re pretty happy at this point.

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Shortened nighttime tour, a visit to the Intrepid museum, heading to Bermuda

At 6:45 pm Monday, we met for the nighttime city lights tour. At first, this seemed like a fun way to see the city. Our bus journeyed south, through Chelsea, SoHo, and Tribeca and crossed the city on Canal street through Chinatown to the Manhattan bridge, crossing over to Brooklyn. We were let off the bus near the River Cafe, and rewarded with amazing views of the Downtown skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge. Our next stop was the Empire State Building. Keep in mind that we were here on a Monday night in late October. We got our group tickets and proceeded to the security checkpoint; at this location, we found out that the wait time for our group to get to the 86th floor observing platform would be at least an hour. My back was not feeling well at all and I knew I would struggle to stand in line for an hour. I told the guide that we did not want to wait that long (Steve agreed). Our guide offered the group an option to continue waiting or we could take the bus back to the pier, skipping Times Square. We were the only folks who left; we have been to the viewing area before (not having to wait that long that time for just two people). We were glad we came back to the ship, because I would guess the tour ended very late and Times Square is, IMHO, quite intimidating, especially with crowds at night. I guess we chalk that one up to experience; probably time to get my back checked again when we get back.

This morning we had breakfast, then walked a fairly short distance to the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum, located a couple of piers south. The USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier and anti-submarine air support vessel, was commissioned in 1943 and saw significant action during WWII, including battles in the Marshall Islands, Palau, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa. It was damaged by a torpedo and two separate kamikaze attacks and was briefly decommissioned after the war. Intrepid then went went through upgrades to support jet aircraft and participated in NATO and Cold War exercises, as well as being designated as the carrier to pick up Scott Carpenter after the flight of Aurora 7 (Mercury program) and the crew of Gemini 3 (John Young/Gus Grissom). Undergoing more retrofits, Intrepid saw more action during the Vietnam war, setting speed records at the time for consecutive aircraft launches, and was finally decommissioned in 1974. The museum concept was developed in the early 1980’s and the carrier was moved from a scrap yard in Philadelphia to New York. Intrepid is now home to the shuttle drop test vehicle Enterprise, which was moved from the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy museum near Dulles, Virginia to New York in 2011; it also has a large number of military aircraft and helicopters of various vintages, a companion cold-war submarine (Growler), a Concorde aircraft and many other exhibits. It was quite interesting to visit this facility, although it was overrun today with loud and unruly school groups.

We sailed at 4:00 pm and had incredible views again of midtown and downtown; we thought the light would be flat with the haze and a few high clouds as we left, but it was amazing, especially with all of the water traffic. We saw that the QM2 was docked in Brooklyn, so it was good to see that large ship again after our transatlantic on her in June, 2010. We have a day at sea tomorrow (Wednesday), then we arrive in Bermuda on Friday at noon.

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Photos: Halifax, Bar Harbor, Boston, and New York City

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A contrast between Presidents, Cape Cod Canal and the Big Apple, The High Line Stroll, lunch at the Empire Diner

At noon Sunday, we left the Boston cruise terminal south of the city for our tour of the Old House (Peacefield) at the Adams Historical Park, followed by time at the JFK Presidential Library and exhibits. The trip to Quincy, south of Boston, was pretty quick and soon we pulled up in front of the historical house that John and Abigail Adams bought in 1787 and occupied on and off until their deaths, including during the time while John Adams served as Vice-President and as the second president of the United States. Their son, John Quincy Adams (sixth president of the United States) also lived here with his wife and family. Two more generations of Adams resided in the house (sometimes in the summer only) until 1927. The National Park Service received the home and much smaller property in 1947. The Adams never threw anything away, so the house was full of their belongings and books.

The Park Service divided our bus into small groups. Interestingly, we visited on the weekend celebrating the 250th wedding anniversary of John and Abigail Adams. Our park ranger was absolutely superb, one of the best tour guides we have ever had for a historical site. She brought the history of the house alive, showing us the original rooms in the small, unusual brick structure, as well as the additions overseen by Abigail and the stone library constructed after the passing of Charles Adams, the third-generation member of the family and the ambassador to Britain under Abraham Lincoln. We couldn’t take pictures inside the buildings, due to the narrow confines and the plethora of fragile antiquities. This was a wonderful visit, however, and we walked away with renewed admiration for John and Abigail Adams and their legacy.

Next, we journeyed to the JFK presidential library and archives, situated on a spit of land with a beautiful view of Boston proper. The exhibits begin with a 17-minute film, narrated by JFK himself, talking about his youth, WWII service, book-writing and burgeoning interest in politics, including his congressional and senatorial campaigns. The film ends with him accepting the 1960 Democratic nomination as their candidate for the presidency. The exhibits take off from this point, with the election, the inauguration, and the years of the presidency. The assassination is handled with small TVs in a black wall with the breaking news from Dallas. There was also a special exhibit on the Cuban missile crisis. Although this facility very interesting, we enjoyed the visit to Peacefield much more. Our country has diverged so much from the ideals of the Founding Fathers, with all of their faults. JFK was a classic liberal, in many ways, but he was also an heir to the philosophy of big, paternalistic federal government.

After our time at the library, we returned to the ship just in time to sail (missing trivia). Regatta cruised through the harbor, then turned south to the Cape Cod Canal. We ate in the Grand Dining Room last night (good dinner, very low-key service) and had a table by the window; we were able to watch as we entered this historical canal that cuts off the journey around Cape Cod for smaller ships. Regatta traveled under three bridges (with tight clearances) and often the towns and roads were right by the canal.

This morning (Monday), we slept in and woke to clear blue skies over Long Island Sound. The views were spectacular as we cruised into New York, under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, past the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and along the west side of Manhattan to the cruise dock at pier 90 (mid town). We disembarked about noon, caught a cab and went to the south end of the High Line trail, an elevated walkway created out of an old abandoned railroad line on the lower west side. The High Line is wonderful, with many plants, works of art, places to sit and interesting views of the city skyline, we walked 12 blocks (from 12th to 24th streets), exiting at 24th to find lunch. We picked the Empire Diner, recently bought by Food Network celebrity chef Amanda Freitag. Lunch was classic grilled cheese with yummy fries (low-calorie of course). We’re back at the ship right now killing time until our evening tour to Fulton’s Landing,across the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building and Times Square.

More from the city that never sleeps! We sail tomorrow afternoon at 4:00 pm.

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Rough seas, Halifax in the rain and mist, Nor’easter clears, spectacular Bar Harbor

After leaving Sydney, Nova Scotia, Thursday afternoon we headed into some rough seas for several hours. Even many of the veteran cruisers disappeared and we decided to not eat dinner, as we had a late lunch when we got back from our tour. We both felt fine, but sleeping was not easy with all of the rocking and rolling. The 20-foot seas delayed the pilot vessel from Halifax Friday morning and we weren’t sure we would make it into port, but finally at 10:30 am, a brave soul from the pilot station leaped between the heaving small pilot vessel and Regatta.

We had a private tour in Halifax arranged by Halifax Tour Guys scheduled for 8:30 am, but obviously it would have to be shortened. I was in touch with the company via email during our delay and we elected to press on with a four-hour tour starting at noon. The ship’s departure was a little later, at 5:30 pm, so this would work. We met our driver Stewart after we debarked and headed off for a driving tour through Halifax first. The weather was very gloomy and foggy, with intermittent heavy rain showers, but the temperatures were moderate, in the low sixties. Stewart drove through the nice neighborhoods and the business districts and then we visited the Protestant cemetery to see gravestones for 121 of the bodies plucked from the seas after the Titanic went down. Apparently, some poor souls who were working to lay the first transatlantic phone cable (hi there, Alexander Graham Bell) were commissioned to do body recovery in April and May, 1912, as were other ships in the area. If the body was identified or there were some good guesses, the remains were assigned to various cemeteries or the families claimed them. There were 306 victims recovered in total by the CS Mackay-Bennett, half of them buried at sea.

The headstones for the bodies in this cemetery were laid out in three rows in curves resembling the forward bow structure of the ship. Some of the more famous headstones include one of the famous musicians, John Law Hume, and the unknown child (who has been identified through forensic DNA testing has been identified as Sidney Leslie Goodwin from England, who perished with his entire family). There is also a marker for an enigmatic J. Dawson, who was actually Joshua Dawson, a coal shoveler in the engine room, and not the fictional Jack Dawson from the potboiler James Cameron cinematic epic.

Stewart also talked about the disaster on December 6, 1917, when a French ship loaded with munitions and other explosive materials collided with a Norwegian ship in the Halifax harbor narrows, destroying many homes and businesses and killing 2,000 people while injuring more than 9,000. The explosion was estimated to be 2.9 kilotons, the largest man made detonation prior to the atomic era.

After visiting this area, Stewart drove us to Peggy’s Cove south of Halifax through lovely country homes by lakes. We stopped on our way at a maple products store and bought some goodies, then headed to the popular Peggy’s Cove fishing village. This cruise is at the end of the season, so this busy tourist attraction was quite empty and very dramatic, with the low clouds and grey light. We took many pictures, then headed back to the city. Our tour was very relaxing and boarded just in time for trivia!

The seas were calmer Friday night. This was the evening that we had had our dinner with Chief Engineer Dujo Mijic, from Croatia. The dinner group had four couples, including us, in addition to the Chief Engineer as well as one of the cruise entertainment staff. It was a nice evening, although I didn’t feel very hungry for some reason, but we did enjoy the conversations. We went to bed and slept well as we cruised to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Saturday in Bar Harbor we had the best weather of the trip so far. A low cloud layer was present when we cruised into Frenchman Bay, off Mt. Desert Island, where Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are located in northeast Maine. These clouds burned off quickly and we had very cool, but almost cloudless skies as we set out to explore this resort area. We had cell phone service back, too!

We boarded the tender for our tour after going through US Immigration on-board, which was quick. First, the bus took us into Acadia National Park and around the loop road, with views of the bay, interior lakes and ponds, small mountains, and beautiful fall colors. Then the bus ascended the road to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Atlantic seaboard in the US (at 1500 feet, a mere molehill in Colorado). The views were spectacular and we could see our ship at anchor in the bay. After leaving the park, the tour stopped at the Cleftstone Inn, a historical B&B near Bar Harbor. In 1947, a devastating forest fire on the island destroyed many homes and half of the forested areas, barely sparing the town itself. Bar Harbor was a popular summer playground for many wealthy industrialists and financiers, including the Fords, Rockefellers, Joseph Pulitzer and other famous names, but the fire destroyed many of the palatial mansions. The Cleftstone Inn survived. Our short tour viewed the inside of this beautiful home, built in 1889, with later additions.

After a stop at the Inn, we drove to the Lobster Oceanarium for a short visit. This quaint, but amateurish little facility resembled the backyard experiment of a high school science student. We also had a lecture on lobster trapping and lobster habits by a genuine New England curmudgeon who had a wry sense of humor and a faint resemblance to Quint from “Jaws”. The highlight was when he pulled a gorgeous blue lobster out of a tank to show us. This one-in-a-million genetic variation happens when the lobster cannot manufacture yellow and red pigments for its shell, leaving only blue. When you cook a normal lobster, the combined pigments that make the lobster look brown are affected and the yellow and blue disappear, resulting in the bright red color.

Our final stop after this was at Looking Glass, a restaurant on top of a hill overlooking Frenchman Bay. We had delicious blueberry pie, loaded back up on the buses and returned to the dock area. Since there was ample time before we sailed, Steve and I walked to a nearby restaurant to have a lobster roll. I must admit to having a growing love/hate relationship with most seafood, but particularly lobster. I thought the sandwich was merely ok, but Steve devoured his and we sat in the autumn sunlight and enjoyed cell service and a couple of beverages. We boarded the tenders again, did rather poorly at trivia (ridiculous questions yesterday), coming in third. We were supposed to eat in Toscana Saturday night but canceled and had a small plate of pasta for dinner in the Terrace.

Today, Sunday, we are docked in Boston. We have a tour that leaves shortly that visits the Adams house in Quincy (home to John and Abigail, John Quincy and other members of the Adams family) and the JFK library. Weather seems pretty nice and tonight we transit the Cape Cod Canal!

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Informal Meet and Greet, Superb Polo Grill, Alexander Graham Bell and Cape Breton, On to Halifax

On Wednesday we went to our informal Meet and Greet for anyone on-board who posted on the sparsely-populated Cruise Critic roll call. Two other couples showed up initially, including one couple we met last year on Nautica. We all had a very pleasant conversation for a while about cruising and Oceania, then we were joined by a woman from British Columbia, who assured us her husband would be there soon (I didn’t recall her nickname from CC). She also seemed pleasant, but she did like to inject little “digs” at other people’s habits and Americans in particular. We ignored this and continued the conversation and then her hubby showed up – this guy was a supreme jerk right off the bat, one of those precious academics who knows more than everyone else, especially those idiot rubes from the hellhole located south of the “greatest land on earth”. Steve and I tolerated his sneering grin and diatribes for a while and then he finally hit a sore spot with us on a particular political subject near and dear to us (details are not necessary) and I had had enough. I abruptly stood up, said that we did not want further discussion on topics that are inappropriate for casual conversation and we left. He looked a bit stunned, but we didn’t care. Argumentative discussions about why America and Americans “suck” are not our cup of tea. Our country has many problems, but we have also been close allies with Canada over the years and we are so sad about the latest terrorist attacks in Quebec and Ottawa. I’m sure this alliance between our countries is something this buffoon would change if he had a chance. Since I am a natural-born fighter, I am finding the approach we took to be more appropriate these days – just walk away.

Yesterday, we also formed a trivia team and came in first! We have more plastic cards now towards our wonderful cheesy gifts! The people on our team are fun and many are starting to contribute.

Wednesday night we attended the Captain’s welcome party and re-introduced ourselves to Captain Meinhardt Hansen, who was the master on Nautica last year on our Midnight Sun voyage. He remembered us! He is a delightful Captain, very personable and always looking for something interesting to do with the ship. Last year, we did a unique route out of Harstad, Norway, that required putting down the front mast to go under a low bridge, but this route allowed us to cruise past the Lofoten Islands for hours. For our current cruise, Captain Hansen hopes to guide Regatta through the Cape Cod Canal when we leave Boston, a short-cut to Long Island Sound that has three low bridges that will require putting down the front mast. This unique canal transit will be on Sunday night around 9:00 pm.

We had our first specialty restaurant reservation for dinner last night at Polo Club, the steakhouse. We’ve had mixed reviews of this place in the past but last night’s dinner was superb. I had a Caesar’s salad and Steve had a shrimp cocktail and beefsteak tomato salad and we both had 10-oz New York Strip steaks (cooked perfectly). We shared a small side dish of lobster mac and cheese. I had cheesecake for dessert and Steve had a very clever chocolate mousse burger with a sesame seed pastry bun that looked just a small hamburger. Stuffed but happy!

This morning, Regatta anchored off Sydney, Nova Scotia, on the northwest coast of the province in an area known as Cape Breton, which is actually an island separated by a causeway from lower Nova Scotia and the rest of the mainland. The landscape is dominated by forest-covered hills around the Bras D’Or lakes, which are actually saltwater lakes formed from several ocean inlets. We tendered into the small dock area and boarded a bus for our tour (Alexander Graham Bell Museum and Village of Baddeck). The famous inventor and his family lived in this area for many years, although he was a naturalized American citizen; his descendants still come to the family estate. The museum was small, but quite interesting, filled with artifacts and inventions, including the telegraph phone (precursor to the first telephone), a fast hydrofoil vehicle, and a replica of an early bi-plane design that was built and piloted by a Canadian astronaut in 2009. After the visit to the museum, we had a little free time in the village of Baddeck. This tiny tourist town on the lake was singularly unmemorable, with a few crapola emporiums with Gaelic gifts and a couple of restaurants that appeared to be closed. At least the weather was decent, with overcast skies, and temperatures in the upper 50’s and no rain. Our tour guide was usually pretty interesting and wore a kilt; many of the residents of Nova Scotia trace their ancestry to loyalists who moved from the colonies before or during the Revolutionary War.

After our tour, we returned to the dock, took the tender back to the ship and split a burger at Waves Grill. We came in second at afternoon trivia and we decided not to go to dinner tonight, sitting in one of the lounges writing. The sea conditions are quite rough due to a Nor’Easter due south of us hitting New England. More after our stop in Halifax tomorrow.

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Photos: Quebec City, Quebec — Sydney, Nova Scotia

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A walk to the cruise ship, farewell to Montréal, dinner in The Terrace grill, late room turndown, a long but excellent tour of Québec City and environs

On Monday, we slept in, thinking that breakfast was available until 11:00 at the hotel (we got there about 10:35). Oops – it closed at 10:30, but the great staff was very accommodating and we had coffee, juice and bagels. We grabbed our bags, checked out and walked to the pier, a first in 25 cruises. It was a short ten-minute walk and we were processed quickly and immediately got on the ship. Our stateroom is 7096, a concierge veranda on the port side, a few doors toward the stern from the aft elevators; we’re 99% certain this was our cabin on our first Regatta cruise in 2010. Our bags were already in the hallway, so time for “happy, tidy”; Steve set up his iPhone to do a funny fast-motion video of our bag-emptying. The cabin attendant, Nattalia, also came by and seemed at that time to be very efficient (a loose door handle on the bathroom door was fixed immediately).

Dinner Monday night was in the informal Terrace Grill – grilled lamp chops, pasta with an excellent marinara sauce, and great desserts. It was my birthday on Monday, but I didn’t want a fuss, so this worked out well. We were a bit tired, so we decided to head back to the room, read and retire early because of our full day planned in Québec City Tuesday. We got to the room a little after 8:00 pm and were quite surprised that the evening turndown service in our room had not been done. This was a first, as we have never been on a cruise where the room was still in “daytime mode” this late and never after dinner. The cover was still on the bed for emptying luggage, curtains were open and the bathroom had not been checked for towel usage. We waited and waited and finally about 8:40 I went into the hallway to see if our cabin attendant and her assistant were there. Nope….so I paged Nattalia ….no response. I was not very happy at this point and called guest services. Immediately after this call, Nattalia called back and we asked for the turndown service. She seemed flustered and offered up excuses, but they showed up right away. Apparently, Oceania has a new rule that you should put the “make up my room” card out on the door whenever you want service, in the morning or evening. This is not a good rule and will be a problem when you forget to put the stupid card out. Grrrrr… Oh, well, a first world problem again, but we also did pay a lot for the service, so there’s that consideration.

Ok, so after the late turndown we slept well and got up in plenty of time for our Tuesday excursion at 8:30 am, entitled “Grand Exploration of Québec”. When I booked this tour several months ago, it sounded comprehensive without being exhausting and was, in fact, advertised as appropriate for folks using wheelchairs and scooters. Our bus was not full, with about 25 total, which was quite nice. Right off the bat, however, the accessibility aspect of the trip was completely compromised when we did a forty-minute walking tour of old Quebec City, complete with some small, steep hills and lots of cobblestones and no place to sit while our excellent, but detail-oriented, guide stood for long periods and threw out facts and dates about many of the buildings in this historic area. We finally re-boarded the bus to our next stop, Montmorency Falls, located a short distance outside of town. This cataract is taller than Niagara Falls, although not nearly as wide, but it is impressive. There were two paths at the top of the falls, one that required quite a few stairs and another path that was supposedly easier to get to the falls. I envisioned a short walk behind the historic building, but we walked a fairly long distance before finally arriving at the suspension bridge above the falls. I saw many elderly people from our ship and the Ruby Princess (also in port) trying to hurry along this trail to see the falls. The view from the suspension bridge was not at all impressive, so Steve went down to a nearby lookout (52 steps each way) to grab some photos and we headed back.

So far, I was not a happy camper, believing that the easy-to-moderate rating of the tour was quite misleading. We boarded the bus again and had a short stop at the bottom of the Falls for the best scenic shots. Our nice guide assured me that the worst walking was over for the trip, but my back was starting to get stiff.

From the Falls, we crossed a bridge nearby over to Ile de Orléans, an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence seaway. This large island has been the home to farmers since the 1600s and it was very beautiful; the main crops are strawberries and real maple products and there are fruit orchards. We pulled up at an Inn on the west side of the island, facing Québec City, and had a lovely lunch. Steve and I both had the chicken with a mustard sauce, on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes. Our table mates were a mixed bag, with a nice couple from Georgia and a pair of grumps from California. After lunch we headed further east to St. Anne de Beaupré, a village that was home to an absolutely huge basilica that has been on the site since the 1600’s (the current incarnation was built in the late 1800’s and is still a work in progress). We entered the basilica and were quite impressed with the mosaics and intricate ceiling, but found it to be less spiritually moving than the exquisite Notre-Dame Basilica in Montréal. Again, lots of walking was involved inside and to get to the restrooms outside; we rejoined the group on the bus and headed back to Québec City for our last two stops.

The weather Tuesday varied from nearly pleasant to downright frigid, but at least it wasn’t raining. We had some sun early and during our stops outside of town, but when we returned to Québec City, it was overcast and a nasty, cold wind was blowing. Our next stop (a short one) was at the Plains of Abraham, the site of many battles between the French and British and even the fledging Americans, who invaded Canada during the Revolutionary War. My great-great-great-great-great Grandfather (I think I have enough greats) on my Dad’s mother’s side of the family emigrated from Germany to New York in 1754 and moved his family to Québec when the Revolutionary war started because he wanted to support the British, so he likely fought in some of those battles.

Our final stop of the tour was a 30-minute free time near Chateau Frontenac, in the upper “old town”. This famous landmark is only one of two tall buildings within the city wall of Québec City. We walked around for a while in the bitterly cold wind, but didn’t have enough time to really do anything. We boarded the bus one last tome and arrived back at the dock about 4:00 pm. Although the tour was physically challenging for me, we thought it was quite interesting and certainly gave us a good glimpse of the highlights of this beautiful and prosperous city. We would love to come back in warm weather! The people that live in Québec City (and Montréal for that matter) certainly must be able to enjoy winter, because they have snow on the ground from November to April.

Well, to my surprise (or not) when I checked my Virgin Pulse gizmo, I had over 11,000 steps Tuesday, which is a new record for steps in a day since I started tracking earlier this year. My back was not happy, but seemed to recover fairly quickly last night. We had a couple of glasses of wine at happy hour, ate a light dinner in the Terrace, and played evening trivia, getting the all-important Big O points towards cheesy shirts and hats. When we got back to the room, we had a pleasant surprise: We are invited to have dinner with the Chief Engineer on Friday! We keep thinking we had an officer dinner experience one other time, but we can’t remember which cruise. This will be fun!

Today, Wednesday, is a day at sea cruising the St. Lawrence seaway towards Nova Scotia. We can see land to the south (New Brunswick) but not to the north. It’s partly cloudy and very calm. Stay tuned!

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Tedious truck-filled drive to Montreal, nice little hotel, Dolcetto & Co bistro dinner, lovely carriage ride, gorgeous cathedral, nice people!

Yesterday, we headed out early from Toronto and decided to stop on the road for breakfast (skipping the very expensive fare at Trump Tower). We found our way out of town just fine, because it was Saturday.  There was still a lot of traffic, but at least it moved well. The main route between Toronto and Montreal is Highway 401, AKA “Autoroute des Héroes”. We drove for a while and finally exited in the suburbs to find breakfast.  Since Tim Horton’s are on virtually every street corner in Canada, we wanted to try one, but, alas, the exit we picked didn’t have one nearby, so we settled for McDonalds.

Our original plan was to take a detour and see the capital buildings in Ottawa, but we quickly realized how far we had to drive, so we scrapped that idea.  Driving almost non-stop, it took more than seven hours to get to Montréal, which is also plagued with the construction virus. The countryside was scenic, but not very interesting from a freeway perspective. Steve drove and we probably passed over 500 semi trucks, which was quite tedious for me, the nervous passenger, and we had the occasional moments of alarm for both of us when one truck would suddenly pull into the left lane as we were trying to pass it so it could go around a slower truck or car. We also came across the horrific aftermath of an accident that had just happened, with a vehicle upside down in the center ditch on top of a concrete culvert; many bystanders and rescue workers were desperately trying to free people trapped in the car. We were glad to get finally get rid of the rental  car in Downtown Montréal, especially after Neverlost likely suffered a apparent disabling stroke and let us get completely off the route near the end of the drive, and we found ourselves suddenly heading south towards the US before we realized what was going on and turned around and headed in the right direction.

We noticed something interesting in Quebec – all of the signs, company billboards, and even company names were in French, with absolutely no English translations allowed. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken — KFC in most of the world — is PFK here (Poulet Frites Kentucky). In the rest of Canada, the bilingualism is accommodated with English and French versions of most information, but this compromise is apparently unacceptable to the Québécois.  This is an amazingly provincialist attitude, IMHO, and is one that we never encountered previously in other countries we have visited, including France.

After dropping the car off, we had a nice cab ride with a friendly driver to our hotel in Old Montréal. The subject turned to hockey.  Ironically, last night the Avalanche were in town to play the Canadiens. We actually considered going, but realized that we would not be very energetic after the drive so we didn’t try to get tickets.  Right before we turned in the car, we passed the Ritz Carlton hotel and saw a bunch of people standing outside with cameras.  We realized they were hockey fans, and we saw several Av’s jerseys along with old Quebec Nordiques gear, so the Av’s apparently stay in this luxurious hotel (nice!).

For the two nights in Montréal, we booked a small boutique hotel on Rue St. Paul in the heart of the old city.  The hotel, simply named Le Petit Hotel, is quite nice, with 28 rooms decorated in modern style tucked into an old building.  They provide continental breakfast and were quite helpful with restaurant recommendations.  We ended up crossing the street last night to an Italian Bistro named Dolcetto & Co and had a delightful dinner with delicious pizzettes and good Sicilian wine.  The  staff was quite nice and we ended up carrying a little extra corked wine with their permission back to the room, which apparently is a bozo no-no.

We had a very good night’s sleep, woke up late and had breakfast, and then set out to explore the area.  It was very chilly today, with mostly overcast skies (no rain), with temps probably not getting out of the 40’s (brrrr).  On Sundays, the gorgeous Notre-Dame Basilica, built in 1829, opens at 12:30 pm to the public; the church was a short walk from our hotel.  To kill time before the opening (since we were early), we hired a horse drawn carriage for an hour to see the sites.  Our guide was terrific and the beautiful grey Percheron mare (Cinderella) gamely dragged our big butts (or my big butt at least) through the streets of Montreal. This was so much fun!

After our carriage ride, we were dropped off right in front of the Basilica.  This large cathedral was intended to rival Notre Dame in Paris and we believe it is more spectacular.  We took dozens of pictures (Steve is working on uploading pictures, always a crapshoot with the idiotic WordPress application). Afterwards, we were ready for lunch and found a little bistro that looked very nice and seemed popular.  It turned out this place, Modavie, is very highly rated and one of the favorite jazz clubs in Montreal.  We split a lamb burger, which was superb and chatted with the extremely nice owner, Lorenzo. Two for two on restaurants!

To finish the afternoon, we walked further north on St. Paul into a pedestrian area. The scene abruptly changed from elegant bistros, boutique hotels and fine galleries to a couple of blocks of pure tourist cheesiness, with loud sports bars and crapola emporiums selling geegaws and Canadiens gear. We decided to go rest at the hotel for a while, then eat a light dinner.  Our original plans included dinner at Europea, one of the top restaurants in Montreal, but we preferred to play it by ear so we canceled the reservation.

Dinner tonight completed the Trifecta of great little restaurants in Montréal.  We walked a couple blocks south on St. Paul to eat at Barroca, a small wine bar that had good ratings.  We shared a small cheese plate and charcuterie platter and it was perfect!  We had a very nice day in Montreal and the people were just wonderful, all speaking perfect English. We can board Regatta tomorrow at noon and we are close enough to the pier that we will probably walk.

More tomorrow from the cruise ship!


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Some photos from Vieux Montréal

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