LEAF-PEEPING IN BAR HARBOUR

Friday & Saturday September 26 & 27

Arcadia National Park

Arcadia National Park

We went ashore by tender (lifeboat) yesterday and spent the last full day of our cruise in “one of the most beautiful places in North America” (according to the experts). Bar Harbour, in Maine, is famous for its stunning summer ‘cottages’ (try ‘mansions’) from America’s Golden Age … its mouth-watering lobster rolls and clam chowders … and its Acadia National Park, with some 200 kms of ocean and mountain trails and oh-so-glorious views.

We saw it all on our half-day tour: from 360º views from the top of Cadillac Mountain, to a trapping demo by a local lobster expert. And, on the way, we eyeballed our first moose (okay, I cannot lie – he was made of bronze) … we got up-close-and-personal with a very live lobster … and we witnessed, finally, some of the gorgeous autumn foliage that attracts ‘leaf-peepers’ from all around the world.

I say ‘finally’ because, as it turned out, we actually arrived a couple of weeks too early: the colours have been largely absent up until this point on our cruise, and we’ve been rather disappointed. But today made up for that, and we were able to aim our cameras at some of the rich yellows and golds and oranges and reds that, by the middle of next month, will set this entire region ablaze.

We woke up this morning aware that our North American adventure has almost come to an end. Sometime during a rather stormy night on the ship, we left Canada behind and entered the USA – arriving soon after breakfast in New England’s largest city: Boston, Massachusetts.

Watch those claws!

Watch those claws!

It’s here (in what is now a huge and elegant metropolis) that the Revolutionary struggle took place which changed the destiny of the United States of America. But Boston, sadly, was not at its best today – smothered in mist and wet with rain. Although, after saying goodbye to the Maasdam and her crew, we still managed to check out the 300-year-old wooden warship, USS Constitution (nicknamed Old Ironsides) … visit Old North Church with its boxed pews … spot the house of revolutionary leader Paul Revere … and grab a quick lunch in one of Boston’s very lively, very crowded, markets.

Tonight, we’ll all be meeting for one final time as a group at McCormick & Schicks (a very posh restaurant) for our Midlife Madness Farewell Dinner – where goodbyes will be said, and hugs will be exchanged, and the more tender-hearted of our Kiwis will probably get all sad and weepy.

We’ve had a BALL in Alaska and Canada. We’ve seen so much, done so much, laughed so much, and made so many great friends … but the time has come to start heading home.

Tomorrow morning, after bidding a fond “See ya later!” to those Kiwis who are extending their holiday, the rest of the gang will transfer to the airport for our Air New Zealand flight (via San Francisco) to Auckland. En route, we’ll lose a day – because we’re flying backwards (if you know how it works). So we’ll probably be Silly Mixed-Up Midlifers by the time we get home. But hey, who cares?

We’ve had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience … and we’ve got stories and memories and photos to prove it!

Is everybody happy?

You bet your life we are!

Signing off, over’n’out – JOHN

P.S. If following this travel diary has whet YOUR appetite and got you thinking, “Hey, I’D like to go on one of these Mad Midlife adventures!” … click on the TOURS list/logos on the left of this page, and read all about our upcoming schemes and dreams. Or go to our website: http://www.johncooney.co.nz. Or phone our travel colleague and booking agent, Roger Glynan (Lion World Travel) in a week’s time when we’re all back in New Zealand – tollfree 0800 277 477.

P.P.S. You can also follow the ‘blogs’ from some of our previous trips by clicking on the titles under ‘Categories’ (on the left). And remember, if you want a better look at our route map and photos, just click on them and they’ll enlarge – magic!

LOBSTER-FEASTING IN HALIFAX

Thursday September 25

The travel books had warned us: for ocean scenery at its best, nothing rivals Nova Scotia’s south shore. And we had proof of that this morning as the Maasdam cruised elegantly along the craggy coastline and docked in Halifax. This busy Canadian port was founded in 1749 as a British stronghold – so the eager Redcoats could keep a watchful eye on the French fort at Louisbourg. Today Halifax handles 16 million tons of cargo – and remains open year-round (unlike other ports on Canada’s east coast, most of which ice over in winter). 

Peggy's Cove

Peggys Cove

Our shore visit today included a sightseeing drive through the city’s graceful older districts … a wander through one of its many lush green parks … and a sobering stop at one of several cemetries filled with the graves of the Titanic casualties. Then we were off along the coast to Peggy’s Cove – a rustic, charming fishing village and one of Canada’s most photographed sites.

Peggy’s Cove, I kid you not, is simply magic, and it was made all the more so today by the near-perfect weather. The settings, the colours, the reflections couldn’t have been better … and our cameras were soon threatening to overheat.

Lobster pots

Lobster pots

As a delightful finishing touch, we then sat down to a delectable lobster lunch. Oh, what fun we had … and oh, what a mess we made, cracking those hard orange shells and digging the sweet white flesh out of those powerful claws!

Last nights Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza!

Last nights Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza!

 

PEOPLE NEWS: The clock is ticking and the pressure’s on, but people are still doing silly things and Mad Midlife Awards are still being given out:

* The ‘Breakfast In Bed Award‘ goes to Jackie & Peter – who decided to order breakfast in their cabin early the other morning, but mistakenly gave the catering staff the wrong cabin number. They eventually got to eat, but only after the other cabin-dwellers had been woken at some unearthly hour (grumpy and not impressed) with a meal they hadn’t ordered.

* The ‘Pass the Salt, Sweetie Award‘ goes to Monica – who, only today at lunch, added sugar (instead of salt) to her vegetable soup, and then repeated the same mistake, sprinkling sugar all over her hot french fries!

TOMORROW: It’s our last full day on this cruise (sob). We’ll be going ashore in Bar Harbour (USA) to see for ourselves the stunning autumn scenery of Acadia National Park and hear tales of an oh-so-loverly bygone era. Not long to go now, so keep watching …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) under the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages. Also, if you want a better look at our route map and some of the photos here, just click on them and they’ll enlarge – magic!

SOUNDING ALL SCOTTISH ON CAPE BRETON ISLAND

 

Wednesday September 24

 

Sydney - Cape Breton Island

Sydney - Cape Breton Island

Blue skies, a very chilly wind, and one hundred thousand Gaelic welcomes awaited us this morning in the port-town of Sydney on the beautiful island of Cape Breton. And we weren’t long on our coach tour before we were wishing (yet again) that we had more time. This delightful corner of Nova Scotia (Latin for ‘New Scotland’) is riddled with French, English and Scottish history – and boasts of highland villages, the scenic Cabot Trail and golden inland seas.

Fort Louisbourg

Fort Louisbourg

Our choice for today’s shore excursion was the Fortress of Louisbourg – where every barn, barracks and pipe-&-drum corps appears just as it did when King Louis’ troops occupied the site in 1744. Our mad Kiwi midlifers explored its nooks and crannies, engaged in animated conversation with the costumed locals (who played their parts with enthusiasm), watch a musket-firing demo (a big bang and a even bigger cloud of smoke), and munched on hot bread (fresh from an 18th-century oven). It was great fun!

Reading the Riot Act

Reading the Riot Act

Then, for something a little different, we met at the World’s Largest Fiddle (Sydney’s 10-tonne steel landmark) and followed the piper to an intimate musical performance of lively Scottish fiddle-playing, singing and step-dancing. To note the occasion, we were officially inducted into the World’s Largest Fiddle Association and required to pledge “always and within the bounds of reason that each year on the anniversary of today’s date we will turn towards Cape Breton Island and listen for the sound of fiddle music being played and kick up our heels in a joyful ceiliedh-style dance.”

We also got to sample the famous Cape Breton Oat Cakes. Yum!

Showtime!

Showtime!

Tonight, as the Maasdam rides the ocean waves, we’ll be heading for our usual four-course banquet – followed by another evening of top-class entertainment in the Rembrandt Lounge. Last night it was the colourful ‘Showtime’ – with broadway favourites from the 50s and 60s. Tonight, a comedian takes to the big stage.

Oh, and at 10:15pm, if you’re free, there’s a Dutch Chocolate Extravaganza on the Lido Deck. See you there …

TOMORROW: We’ll enjoy a lobster-bake in Halifax, Nova Scotia – and visit Peggy’s Cove, one of Canada’s most photographed sites. So don’t change channels …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) under the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages. Also, if you want a better look at our route map and some of the photos here, just click on them and they’ll enlarge – magic!

FEELING HISTORICAL IN CHARLOTTETOWN

Monday & Tuesday September 22 & 23

Another lovely lazy day was enjoyed onboard the Maasdam yesterday as we cruised in a northerly direction up the St Lawrence River and through the vast Gulf of St Lawrence. Our Kiwis were more-than-occupied with any number of the 101 activities onboard – from watching for whales (one couple in our group spotted a pod of Orcas in a feeding frenzy) … to ping-ponging at a table-tennis tournament … to sipping hot chocolate in the cafe … to downing food-glorious-food at the out-on-deck barbecue … to observing an ice-carving demo by the chefs … to touring the ships’s kitchens … to drinking champagne with the captain … to, oh, no kidding, the list just goes on and on.

And then, after a formal dress-up dinner in the evening, we were entertained in the Rembrandt Lounge by a very convincing John Denver look-alike (who soon had everyone singing along) … followed (for the young-at-heart) by dancing-to-favourite-oldies in the Crow’s Nest on the top deck.

Charlottetown

Charlottetown

This morning, bright and early, we sailed into Charlottetown, the provincial capital of Prince Edward Island. It’s here that the famous Conference of 1864 was held, which resulted in the creation of the Canadian confederacy, and the whole region reeks of history. The Pinkies and Greenies took to their respective coaches for a half-day tour of this lovely old town and its surrounding farmland – sampling some homemade island jams, before visiting the picturesque homestead that inspired Anne of Green Gables.

Green Gables house

Green Gables house

Anne's Bedroom

Anne's bedroom

It soon turned out that we had lots of Anne-fans in our group, and they all went ga-ga over this special chance to explore their heroine’s storytime roots!

After this, most mad midlifers took to the streets of Charlottetown – to shop-shop-shop in the quaint olde-worlde boutiques, or (like us) to lunch on some yummy local seafood chowder. Then it was back up the gangplank and out on deck as the Maasdam cast off and sailed away under brilliant late-afternoon skies.

PEOPLE NEWS: The Midlife Madness Awards keep being dished out:

* The ‘Early To Bed Award‘ to Bev – who chose a chamomile teabag from the wide range on offer at the restaurant, but, upon reading the words on the back of the packet, told Clare (quite seriously), “I’d better not drink this because it says I’ll be asleep in 3-5 minutes.” A closer inspection revealed that what the packet actually said was “Steep for 3-5 minutes.”

TOMORROW: A hundred thousand Gaelic welcomes (plus some lively fiddle playing) will be awaiting us in Sydney, Nova Scotia …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) under the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages. Also, if you want a better look at our route map and some of the photos here, just click on them and they’ll enlarge – magic!

PARLÉ-VOUS-ING IN QUEBEC

Saturday & Sunday September 20 & 21

 Most of yesterday morning was ours – to sleep in, eat a late breakfast, write some postcards, run a short marathon, repack our bags, or wander Montreal’s downtown shops. But the afternoon saw us boarding the m/s Maasdam – sister-ship of (and almost identical to) the Statendam. And as we unpacked in our cabins and headed for the eating/watering holes, it felt like we were coming home. Nice sensation!

Late in the day the ship’s horn sounded, we lined up on deck for the mandatory lifeboat drill, and Maasdam’s giant twin diesel engines pushed us gently out into the St Lawrence Seaway. The second of our double cruises (this time, through the coastal wonderlands of Canada and New England) was underway, and the excitement amongst our mad Kiwi midlifers was obvious.

And over the next few days we’ll learn some colonial and maritime history, enjoy some stunning autumn scenery (‘leaf-peeping’ they call it), eat some lobster, and be pampered-to-bits by our ever-attentive crew. Ahh, yes … BRING IT ON!

We arrived at our first stopover during breakfast this morning – and what a delight that turned out to be! Quebec City with its grand château on the river, its lilt of French accents, its narrow cobblestone streets and charming little alleyways and quaint boutiques and outdoor cafes and busking musicians just wowed us again and again.

Although Canada recognises both French and English as official languages (and all shop/road signs are in both), many impassioned Quebecois speak only French – which caused some frantic recalling amongst the Pinkies and Greenies of long-forgotten phrases from our school days. 

Quebec is a city built on a hill. And, today, we enjoyed a walking tour of the castle-like Chateau Frontenac (one of Quebec’s best-known landmarks) … a horse-&-buggy ride through St Louis Gate (part of the Old Quebec fortifications) … and a very posh tea-for-two (well, for 71, actually) in the Chateau’s gorgeous dining room.

After this little bit of mid-afternoon elegance, none of us felt remotely enthuisiastic about thoughts of dinner-on-the-ship … but, come 7:00 – 7:30, there were Kiwis at numerous tables in both the Lido and the Rotterdam restaurants! Funny how quickly the old appetite recovers, eh!

PEOPLE NEWS: The Midlife Madness Awards keep being dished out:

* The ‘Bicycle Built for Two Award‘ to Kaye & Tony – who, whilst taking a tandem bike-ride through the streets of Montreal, nearly came to grief when Kaye (i) stopped peddling, thus upsetting Tony’s pedalling routine … and (ii) put the brakes on when they were going uphill (to make sure they couldn’t roll backwards).

* The ‘Phantom Pyjama Thief Award to Syd – who, it was recently discovered, has had the missing pyjama-top of his sister-in-law Dianna in his suitcase for the past several days . He claims it was a mix-up following a familiy laundry session last week, but the jury is unconvinced.

* The ‘Bomb Squad Award to Ivan – who was pulled aside at the airport xray machine three days ago with what security officials thought was a detonator in his possession! Turns out the little pink piggy (which Ivan had been awarded on his previous cruise) had slipped down into the lining of his jacket – and, with its tiny battery and wiring, had raised a minor alert.

TOMORROW: We’ve another lazy day onboard, cruising through the Saguenay Fjord – a wonderland for wildlife for more than 650 animal species, incliding whales (which we hope to see yet again)!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on ‘COMMENTS’ (or ‘NO COMMENTS’) under the title for the day’s blog, and type away! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and don’t worry: we’ll make sure they get these messages. Also, if you want a better look at our route map and some of the photos here, just click on them and they’ll enlarge – magic!