GOING FRENCH IN MONTREAL

Thursday & Friday September 18 & 19

Awe-inspiring Rockies

Awe-inspiring Rockies

It seems a lot has happened in the last 48 hours, but most of it was not exciting enough to write home about. Yesterday was a mixed-up, getting-from-A-to-B sort of day, with our big Kiwi group splitting into two and (briefly) going separate ways. Following breakfast in the Banff Caribou Lodge, half of us transferred by coach to the cowboy-town of Calgary for our longish flight across Canada to Montreal. The drive from Banff through the Rockies gave us another feast of magnificent 10,000-foot peaks … followed all too quickly by a total change of landscape as we came downhill and crossed into the Alberta – a province of endless flat pastures famous for its beef-steak.

Because we’d been unable to book seats for everyone on the same Air Canada flight, the other half of our group left an hour later and took a very pleasant tiki-tour past beautiful Lake Louise … arriving in Montreal’s Pierre Trudeau Airport around midnight.

Montreal

Montreal

Today, after a much-appreciated sleep-in and late breakfast, we headed out into warm sunlight for a city tour. Montreal is (i) the largest city in French-speaking Quebec … (ii) the second largest in Canada, with a metropolitan population of nearly 3.5 million … and (iii) built on a large island in the middle of the St Lawrence River. (Try and remember these facts, please, because you will be examined on them when we get back to NZ.)
Our sightseeing included the Notre Dame Cathedral with its remarkable wood-carved altar and balconies, the port, the Olympic Grounds, the Formula One racetracks, and Mont Royal with St Joseph Oratory and a beautiful view over the city.

This afternoon, our mad midlifers escaped in every direction – exploring more of the Old Town, visiting more of the 1000 churches whose spires pierce the skyline, visiting the vast underground shopping centre (a haven from Montreal’s harsh winters), and even renting cycles for an adventure of the two-wheel kind.

Dinner tonight was at Restaurant Essence – just a hop-step-&-jump away from our hotel. And, apart from a few minor sniffles, our combined group (which now numbers 71) will all go to bed well. Good eh?!

PEOPLE NEWS: More Midlife Madness Awards have been won by the following hapless victims:

* The ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco Award‘ to Jean & Greg – well, what really happened was they left their passports and credit cards and money in Vancouver. Ahh, the panic! Fortunately, the helpful hotel staff not only found the missing valuables but soon had the whole lot sent urgently to Banff where they were reunited with their owners. Ahh, the relief!

* The ‘Lost & Found Kodak Award to Neil – who left his camera at the xray machine in Calgary Airport and has spent the last two days grieving over lost photos. (The camera, thankfully, has been located and will be waiting for lucky Neil in our Boston hotel.)

* The ‘Screaming Heebee Award‘ to Sharon – who got so caught up in the movie she was watching (during the flight from Calgary to Montreal) that, during an especially tense scene, she let out a blood-curdling yell … scaring the living daylights out of her fellow passengers, and causing the crew to enquire if she was okay.

TOMORROW: We board the lovely Maasdam … unpack in our roomy cabins … and begin our second luxury cruise – this time down the eastern seaboard of Canada and New England to the US city of Boston, Massachusetts. So stick with us, ‘coz it’s just gonna get excitinger and excitinger …

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!

RAIL-RIDING THRU CANADA’S ROCKIES

Tuesday & Wednesday September 16 & 17  

Oh boy! We’ve just had the two most fantastic days imaginable! We’ve been riding the luxury Rocky Mountaineer scenic train, enjoying a stunning rail adventure that’s taken us all the way from Vancouver on the west coast up-up-up into the spectacular Canadian Rockies. 

We’ve seen lush green forests … and winding river canyons … and desert-like highlands … and mirror-like lakes … and gushing, frothy rapids … and high mountain passes … and hold-your-breath tunnels … and teetering snow-capped peaks. We’ve rock’n’rolled through places with names like the Cascade Mountains, Hell’s Gate, the Spiral Tunnels, and Kicking Horse Canyon. 

We’ve had a feast – no, a total OVERLOAD – of gorgeous, natural, world-class views. We’ve even spotted some of the local wildlife – elk, deer, coyotes, bald eagles, and a couple of big black bears (one of which was on the train tracks and very nearly got run over). And I’ve gotta tell you: it’s been a better-than-expected, impossible-to-fully-describe, BLAST! 

We’ve been fed and watered and waited on hand-&-foot, and have had more fun than we’re legally entitled to. We stopped last night in the town of Kamloops (in the heart of British Columbia) where we were treated to a lively Two River Junction Dinner & Show before heading to our hotel beds. And tonight we’re in the resort town of Banff (Alberta) – where we’ve just enjoyed a beef-steak dinner at The Keg. 

It’s now midnight, and we’re pooped. (How come being pampered on a luxury train and pointing our cameras out the window is so tiring?) Although we’re no longer on the train, we’re still rocking’n’rolling (the weirdest feeling). Our mad midlifers have all hit the sack – and, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna do the same. 

Goodnight everybody … 

TOMORROW: We’ll travel by coach to the cowboy-town of Calgary for our longish flight across Canada to Montreal – where our second cruise (on the lovely Maasdam) awaits us. Yeehaa! 

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!

FERRY-RIDING IN VICTORIA

Monday September 15

Stunning Victoria

Stunning Victoria

Our feet haven’t touched the ground today. An early-morning wake-up call (5:15am) got us out of bed … the hotel’s six lifts got us to the top floor for our breakfast … a couple of coaches got us to the ferry terminal at Tsawwassen (can’t pronounce it? try “t-WOS-sin”) … and a giant BC Ferry took us (coaches and all) to Vancouver Island, some 90 minutes away, across island-studded waters.

Vancouver Island ferry

Vancouver Island ferry

We then headed off for a walking tour plus lunch at the world-famous and totally gorgeous Butchart Gardens – where we oohed and aahed and isn’t-it-beautifulled for for a couple of thoroughly pleasant hours under a clear blue sky and hot Canadian sun.

We followed that up with a short tour of Victoria, the truly lovely capital city of British Columbia. (Captain Cook is the first known European to set foot in what is now British Columbia. Just thought you’d like to know that.) 

Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

By the time we got back to Vancouver this evening, our mad midlifers were pooped midlifers – ready for a quick snack and an early night. 

That goes for their leaders, too – especially when I remind myself that we’ve got an even earlier wake-up call tomorrow morning: 5:00am (yawn). So, look, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll wrap this up now … email it (with some fresh pix) to my son-and-blog-tech Mike back home in Auckland … and join my wife between the crisply ironed sheets on our enormous king-sized bed.

 Okay?

 Okay!

 Talk to you again soon …

TOMORROW: Following an early-morning transfer to the rail station, we climb aboard the luxury Rocky Mountaineer for a scenic rail adventure that takes us from the coast up into the spectacular Canadian Rockies! You won’t wanna miss the next couple of days …

 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!

SKYSCRAPING IN THE CITY OF GLASS

Saturday & Sunday September 13 & 14

City of Glass

City of Glass

Chapter #1 of our Great North American Adventure came to an end yesterday morning when we disembarked, said goodbye to the lovely Statendam and her friendly crew, and moved bodies and bags to the stately (and very luxurious) Fairmont Vancouver Hotel for the next three nights. 

Gleaming Vancouver

Gleaming Vancouver

We were free for the rest of the day to do our own thing. And it’s hard to think of a better city to do it in. I mean, cities rarely excite me – once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all – but Vancouver is a worthy exception. This cosmopolitan showcase is the envy of the Pacific Northwest, with rain forests and mountains towering over skyscrapers everywhere you look – and fantastic mirror-glass reflections everywhere else. 

While our 68 mad midlifers ventured boldly in all directions and my wife joined Kaye in a shopping expedition, Tony and I took to the skies in one of Vancouver’s countless floatplanes. I got to sit up front with the pilot – what a blast! And the panoramic views from up-up-up-above were truly sensational.  

Floatplane fun

 Last night we reassembled for dinner at the historic Steamworks Brewery in Gastown (just walking-distance from our hotel) where we compared notes ate ourselves silly (yet again). Gastown (in case you’re wondering) got its name from “Gassy Jack” Deighton (famous in the late 1800s for spinning tall tales and talking without end). He arrived, stepping ashore with a barrel of whiskey, and told the local millworkers that if they’d build him a saloon, he’d serve them drinks. The saloon was up and running within a day … and the Gastown district still retains its historic charm and independent spirit.

Friendly Racoon

Today, after a welcome late breakfast, we went for a good old-fashioned Sunday afternoon drive (remember those when you were a kid?) aboard a couple of very comfortable coaches – and gained an even greater appreciation of this Canadian port. With the help of a running commentary from our expert guides, we Kiwis were introduced to English Bay, Canada Place, Chinatown, Robson Street, Gastow and Stanley Park (where we were greeted by some stripey racoons) – ending up at the very popular recreational area known as Granville Island.

By the end of which we were hungry again – so it was off for another banquet at the Granville Hotel.

Aahh, I tell you folks – this is tough. And as we tick off each new day, it doesn’t get any easier!

PEOPLE NEWS: The Midlife Madness Awards have been coming thick and fast:

* The ‘Locksmith Award‘ to Edna – who, that final night on the ship, locked her cabin key in her main bag (which was taken ashore during the night) and had to ask for a last-minute replacement so she could join Peter inside.

* The ‘Doesn’t Know If He’s Coming Or Going Award‘ to Murray – who, during Friday night’s dinner on the ship, complimented one of the ladies in her brooch. She explained, “I got it today” and Murray asked, “What, on the ship or ashore?” (You had to be there! You see, we’d been cruising all day at sea!)

* The ‘You Can Leave Your Hat On Award‘ to Olwyn (Fraser) – who, when trying on new clothes, left her singlet hanging in the shop’s fitting room. She realised her mistake hours later (when she felt a bit chilly up top) and returned to find her undergarment still hanging in the fitting room!

* The ‘This Horse Needs A Hearse Award‘ to Karen & Rodger – who took a ride in a horse and buggy several days ago – only to have the horse break down! The big Clydesdale got a blood nose (no kidding!) and lost all interest in towing tourists. A vet was called, followed by a horse-float with a replacement horse, eventually enabling Karen and Rodger to continue their seriously disrupted ride.

* The ‘All-Charged-Up Energizer Award‘ to Peter (Scales) – who has a cold for which he’s taking antibiotics. Now that’s not funny, I know, but wait, there’s more. Last night, before going to dinner, Peter wisely put a tablet in his coat pocket to have later (with food). However, during the evening he removed his hearing-aid (which wasn’t working) and put it in the same pocket. After eating, he reached into the pocket, took out the pill, and quietly (so as not to attract attention to his health problems) popped it in his mouth and washed it down with a glass of water. Which might have been the end of the matter, except … when Peter got back to the hotel his pulled out his hearing-aid and discovered that the battery was missing – so he reached back into his pocket and discovered (you guessed it) the pill! (Peter seems okay, although his eyes keep flashing like brakelights every few seconds, and you get a bit of a jolt if you touch him. We just hope the battery goes flat before he next has to walk through one of those xray machines at the airport!)

TOMORROW: We’ve got a 5:15am wake-up call – shock-horror!) – because we’re off to Tsawwassen (bet you can’t pronounce it) where we’re catching a 1½-hour ferry ride to Vancouver Island. 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!

CRUISING BACK TO VANCOUVER

Friday September 12

Glacier spotting

Glacier spotting

We’ve been sailing south all day today – back through the countless islands that cling to the Alaskan Coast. They’re nice days, these days at sea, and this one was made all the nicer by clear skies and sunshine. But they don’t give a bloke much to write about.

Statendam in Skagway

Statendam in Skagway

I mean, earlier today we were overtaken by another big cruise ship (who knows what the hurry was) … and we ourselves overtook a huge barge loaded high with crushed and rusted car bodies (destined for meltdown in Vancouver, I guess) … and several of our group sighted dolphins playing in our bow-waves just before lunch … and my wife just told me she saw a huge splash further out (a whale, in her expert opinion) … and at around 2pm this avo we picked up some British Columbia pilots to help us navigate the Seymour Narrows (although I never saw those pilots climb aboard) … and somewhere on these high seas (if it hasn’t already happened) we must cross from Alaskan waters into Canadian (although I doubt that there’ll be any signposts) …

Heading ashore

Heading ashore

But none of these events qualify for more than a half-sentence – right? So allow me, instead, to summarise our journey thus far:

Since casting off its mooring lines in Vancouver late last Saturday afternoon, our floating-hotel-for-the-past-week has cruised 1930 nautical miles … at an average speed of 15.1 knots … although it’s capable of 20.9 knots if someone wants a race.

The mv Statendam is 719 feet long … 111 feet wide … weights 55,819 tons … and is pushed along by two 12000kW diesel electric motors … which, between them, burn up 72 tons of diesel per day.

Some 1286 passengers have been on board this week … along with 575 crew … and, collectively, we’ve used up 500 tons of potable water per day. (If you don’t know what ‘potable’ means, check your dictionary.)

At a briefing this morning, the cruise director shared with us the “Top 10 Silly Questions Asked By Guests This Week”:

10. A confused passenger standing near the stairwell asked, “Do these stairs go up or down?” (Umm, they actually go both ways …)

9. Someone else enquired about the TV set in their cabin: “Is the television satellite or cable?” (Imagine – a cable all the way from Vancouver!)

8. After watching the chefs demonstrate their culinary art, someone asked, “What do they do with the ice carvings after they melt?” (Duh!)

7. Another person, confused about the lifts, asked, “Do these elevators go to the front or the back of the ship?” (No, dear, they only go up and down!)

6. An inquisitive soul asked, “Is there fresh water or salt water in the ship’s toilets?” (Like, why do you need to know – and who wants to find out?)

5. “What religion are the people with the patches behind their ears?” (Ah, no religion, sir – they’re just trying to avoid sea-sickness.)

4. At the photo-gallery where pix taken of passengers are displayed, someone was overheard asking, “How do I know which photo is mine?” (Hey, lady, if you don’t know what you look like by this stage in life …)

3. As we crossed from one time-zone into another, someone asked, “Do we set our clocks back before or after we go to sleep?” (After, dear – just roll over and grab your watch and …)

2. When going ashore for an excursion, someone enquired, “Where is the bus for the Walking Tour?” (Come again?)

1. And finally, a question asked on every cruise: “Does the crew sleep on board?” (No, madam, a helicopter comes each night and picks them up and puts them ashore.”

TOMORROW: We disembark, kiss goodbye to the Statendam, and have the rest of the day at leisure in Vancouver – before a banquet dinner at the historic Steamworks Brewery in Gastown. So keep watching, folks …

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!