LEAF-PEEPING & HISTORY: BAR HARBOUR & BOSTON

ALASKA BLOG 12

Sunday Sept 29, 2013

Hard to believe, but the show is pretty much over. The fat lady hasn’t sung (not sure if she’s going to), but we’ve done everything we planned to do (plus some!) in North America.

Believe it or not, we’re actually in the air right now, flying over New York State on the first leg of our homeward journey. We’re doing 524 mph, it’s a chilly -48 degrees Fahrenheit outside our Virgin America A320, and I hope to email this to you shortly from 34,000 feet. So keep your seat-belt done up while I try to recall what’s happened since we last spoke …

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ON FRIDAY MORNING … (I think it was?) we went ashore by tender (lifeboat) and spent the last full day of our cruise exploring “one of the most beautiful places in North America” (according to my travel book). Bar Harbour, in Maine, USA, 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 – from 360º views up the top of rock-strewn 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) … 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. But the past two days have made up for that, and we’ve been busily aiming our cameras at some of the ‘fall colours’ (rich yellows and golds and oranges and reds) that, by the middle of next month, will set this entire region ablaze.

That evening, as we sailed out through a stunning Bar Harbour sunset, we enjoyed our final at-sea dinner aboard the Maasdam – and I thought you might like a squizz at the extremely limited four-course menu:

Appetisers:       Latin-America-Style Gravlax

Vietnamese Spring Roll with Chicken

Mediterranean Mezze Plate

Brie in Crispy Phyllo with Apple-Cranberry Chutney

Soups/Salads:  Argentinian Guiso

Shiitake Salad with Sesame-Ginger Vinaigrette

Scandinavian-Style Seafood & Potato Chowder

Chilled Pumpkin Soup

Main:                Bourbon Glazed Beef with Portabello Mushrooms

Poblano Stuffed Chicken Breast

Wattleseed Roasted Duck with Apricots

Tofu & Vegetable Korma

Lebanese Lamb Shank

Asparagus & Cheese Risotto with Sautéed Cod

Sautéed Shrimp Provencal

Orecchiette with Italian Sausage & Escarole

Dessert:            The ‘Big Apple’ Shortcake

Kiwi & Passionfruit Pavlova

Mohr Im Hemd (Warm Chocolate Nut Sponge)

Baked Alaska

As you can see, it’s been a tough life, this cruising, and we Mad Midlifers haven’t had a thing to eat for at least 15 minutes …

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YESTERDAY MORNING … after unloading bags and bodies off our floating hotel, we headed out through Boston’s countryside to the historic towns of Cambridge, Lexington and Concord (the birthplace of American Independence) … following the autumn-leafy route that Paul Revere took as he warned local rebels that “the British are coming!”

Along the way we roamed Lexington Green (where 77 Minutemen stood their ground against 700 of England’s finest Redcoats) … viewed some re-enacted battle scenes … and spotted the homes of Nathaniel Hawthorne (gothic novelist), Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women), and Ralph Waldo Emerson (essayist and poet).

Then, following lunch downtown at Boston’s colourful, crowded Quincey Market, we continued sightseeing in this magnificent city … eyeballing the restored sailing ship, USS Constitution … and ending our day with a meander through Harvard University grounds and Beacon Hill (an old-money ultra-posh suburb).

We shared a Midlife Madness Farewell Dinner last night at McCormick & Schmicks … did lots of reminiscing … and tried not to get all sad and weepy. But, the fact is, our Midlife Madness cruise/tour is, sadly, over – and the final chapter of our North American adventure has been written.

However, no one can complain. We’ve had a BALL, we truly have! We’ve seen so much, done so much, learned so much and laughed so much that we don’t know where to put it all!

We’ll never forget our lovely long weeks in this beautiful part of the world … and we’ll never forget each other …

IS EVERYBODY HAPPY? YOU BET YOUR LIFE WE ARE!

PEOPLE NEWS: The last of our Lucky Quacky Yellow Duckies have finally been handed out to delighted recipients:

  • The ‘Last-of-the-Big-Spenders Award’ went to Jeanette – whose only expenditure on our two cruises were for a couple of postage stamps on the Volendam, and three of the little licky-stickers on the Maasdam. Go Jeanette!
  • The ‘Dying for a Ducky Award’ went to Anne – who has longed for and lusted after one of our hotly sought-after awards with such patience and long-suffering that we finally had to give in. (You should’ve seen the smile on Anne’s face!)
  • The ‘I’ve-Gotta-Get-The-Blood-Out-Of-My-Coffee-Stream Award’ went to Bill – who has managed, somehow, with commendable passion and perseverance, to track down the very best coffee in each of our stopovers throughout North America for the past three-and-a-half weeks.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want to receive future blogs hot-off-the-press in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

NOVA SCOTIA: MUSKETS, SCOTSMEN & LOBSTERS

ALASKA BLOG 11

Thursday Sept 26, 2013

One hundred thousand Gaelic welcomes awaited us yesterday in the port-town of Sydney on the beautiful island of Cape Breton – a delightful corner of Nova Scotia (Latin for ‘New Scotland’) that (surprise, surprise) is riddled with French, English and Scottish history.

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. Dodging the showery rain which had followed us from Prince Edward Island, our Mad Kiwi Midlifers explored the Fort’s nooks and crannies, engaged in animated conversation with the costumed locals (who played their parts with enthusiasm), sipped mugfuls of hot melted chocolate, and watched a musket-firing demo (a big bang and an even bigger cloud of smoke). It was great fun!

Then, for something a little different, we met at the World’s Largest Fiddle (Sydney’s 8-tonne steel landmark) and followed the piper to an intimate musical performance of lively Scottish fiddle-playing, drumming and singing. In the process, Bill C and Yours-Truly got to kick up their heels in an energetic ceiliedh-style square-dance … and we all got to sample the famous Cape Breton Oat Cakes. Yum!

Which was followed by the usual four-course gourmet evening meal in the Rotterdam Dining Room.

Which was followed by a Chocolate Extravaganza supper up on the Lido Deck.

Which was followed by some much-needed pillow-time in our cabins … zzzzzz.

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 crept 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).

For all its beauty, this region also has its share of sobering sites. And, before our day was over, we would (i) spot a monument to the Swissair plane crash in 1998 that killed all on board … (ii) motor past several cemeteries filled with the graves of the Titanic casualties from 1912 … and (iii) hear the tragic story of a devastating 1917 explosion, when two ships (one of them packed with munitions) collided in Halifax Harbour, claiming more than 2000 lives.

Our shore visit today began with a coach-tour through the city’s graceful older districts, then an enjoyable longish drive 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. Ancient granite bedrock, smoothed and sculpted by the last ice age, stretching along the coastline and out to an iconic lighthouse. The cove itself, with its gaudily-painted boats and ropes and buoys and lobster-traps. The cottages, the settings, the colours, the reflections. Our cameras were soon threatening to overheat.

As a delightful finishing touch, we then tied-on plastic aprons and 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!

TOMORROW: We drop in on one of the most beautiful places in North America, Bar Harbour, home of the famous Down-East Lobster-Bake and Acadia National Park. This cruise is almost over, folks, so don’t missing the thunderous climax over 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 the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want to receive future blogs hot-off-the-press in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

QUEBEC CITY & PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

ALASKA BLOG 10

Tuesday Sept 24, 2013

In case you’ve forgotten or haven’t been concentrating, we’re now cruising the coastal wonderland of Eastern Canada … and we arrived at our first stopover during breakfast on Sunday morning.

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Quebec City with its grand Chateau Frontenac on the river, its lilt of French accents, its narrow cobblestone alleyways, its quaint boutiques and outdoor cafes and buttery croissants and busking musicians managed to wow us – despite the rain that met us when we first went ashore.

Quebec is a city built on a hill, and we enjoyed a walking tour of the best-known landmarks plus a horse-&-buggy ride through St Louis Gate (part of the Old Quebec fortifications) and along the Grande Allée … dropping in on an Anglican church service, and eyeballing a cannonball (from an age-old skirmish between the British and the French), still stuck in the roots of a tree!

Most of us stayed in the Old Town afterwards to sample lunch and a bit more of this city’s elegance. Then, as the Maasdam cast off its mooring ropes and moseyed north up the Gulf of St Lawrence, we were treated to a glittering evening of Broadway song-and-dance in the Showroom At Sea.

It happens every night when we’re cruising – marvellous, eh!

We woke yesterday to a lovely lazy day aboard our floating hotel, with the chance to blob-out and do pretty-much-nothing-at-all … or choose from 101 different activities: like an acupuncture demo in the Greenhouse Spa … a creative cooking class in the Culinary Arts Centre … a hands-on photo-editing session in the Digital Workshop … a game of Scrabble or table-tennis or Team Trivia … a flutter in the Casino … a travel-lecture in the Showroom … the list just goes on!

Then, in the evening, we Kiwis sat down to an extra-posh, ooh-la-la, silver-service dining experience in the superb Pinnacle Grill.

See what I mean? This is a tough life, I tell you!

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Then, 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.

Our Mad Midlifers rode a coach through this this lovely old town and its surrounding farmland, before visiting the picturesque homestead that inspired Anne of Green Gables. To be honest, most of the men knew little or nothing about Lucy Maud Montgomery and her incredibly popular (and timeless) novels for girls … but we had lots of Anne-fans amongst the women, and several went ga-ga over this special chance to explore their heroine’s storytime roots! (Especially when Jo-Anne of Green Gables turned up herself/himself in person!)

Jo-Anne of Green Gables??

Jo-Anne of Green Gables??

It was a chilly nine degrees in town, but that didn’t stop us shop-shop-shopping or lunch-lunch-lunching in the quaint olde-worlde boutiques and cafes prior to heading back up the gangplank for the Maasdam’s late-afternoon sailing.

PEOPLE NEWS: On more Quacky Yellow Duck flapped its way into the hands of another winner:

  • The ‘Shirt-Sleeves Award’ went to Colin – who managed to leave his very nice, very warm, very necessary jacket hanging in the wardrobe of his hotel room back in Montreal. It took him a day or two to miss the jacket, but his duck reached him in no time at all.
  • There’s usually one person in each Mad Midlife group who seems to attract ducks like they’re going out of style. And, without mentioning any names, Ruth is that person in our current group, and she could easily claim an entire flock of the popular birds. She’s already received one auspicious award, but deserves another Honourable Mention for getting pulled aside by Customs in the airport the other day for having three very sharp, very dangerous MACHETES in her carry-on bag! (Well, they weren’t actually machetes – they were little curved blades for chopping up herbs – but they could easily have become weapons-of-mass-destruction in the hands of Ruth, so were promptly confiscated by the stern officials on the xray machines!)

TOMORROW: A hundred thousand Gaelic welcomes await us in Nova Scotia, Latin for ‘New Scotland’. So don your kilt, grab your bagpipes and join us …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want to receive future blogs hot-off-the-press in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!

VANCOUVER TO- MONTREAL: WEST-EAST PASSAGE

ALASKA BLOG 09

Friday Sept 20, 2013

The longer we’re away on these Mad Midlife Adventures, the more confused we get about what day it is, and which end is up, and why. For example, last time we chatted together, I was telling you about the BEARS – remember? But several days have elapsed since then, and I’m a little befuddled as to how we actually filled them …

As best I can remember:

#1: We spent TUESDAY enjoying our last full day at sea aboard the lovely Volendam … resting up, living it up, and eating it up aboard our floating hotel, while we cruised back down the Alaskan coastline.

#2: We spent WEDNESDAY (once we’d disembarked) exploring Vancouver, British Columbia’s cosmopolitan City of Glass, where rain forests and mountains tower over gleaming skyscrapers everywhere you look. We poked our noses into (or at) Canada Place, Chinatown, Gastown (with its unique steam-clock), Lions Gate Bridge, Prospect Point, English Bay and Stanley Park (with its totem-pole display), before moving bodies and bags to the stunning Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. Then, after watching the Volendam steam out on its next voyage north, we shared a Semi-Farewell Dinner at the historic Steamworks Brewing Company before hugging, shaking hands, slapping each other on the back, and saying final, tearful goodbyes to seven members of our group who were heading either home or in sundry other directions. …

#3: We spent THURSDAY flapping our airborne way across the vast North American continent, west to east, for 6½ long hours, from Vancouver to Montreal. But there’s not much you can say about 6½ hours in economy-class … so I won’t even try.

#4: We spent today, FRIDAY, getting thoroughly merci-beaucoup-ed and Frenchified in Canada’s second largest city, Montreal … which (bet you didn’t know this) is perched on a large island in the middle of the St Lawrence River. In fact, we 16 weary Kiwis have just got back to our rooms in the Delta Montreal Hotel after a very full day eyeballing places that won’t mean much to you – like Mont Royal (with its gorgeous city-views), the 1976 Olympic Grounds (where we rode to the top of the fabulous Olympic Stadium, with Ruth and Colin providing the entertainment), Vieux Montreal (the Old City, with its breath-taking Notre Dame Basilica), plus some early autumn-colours and sundry lesser attractions along the way and a superb steak dinner at the Restaurant du Vieux Port.

Anyway, all this sightseeing is really quite exhausting. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go and run a hot bath to soak my weary body.

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TOMORROW: The final exciting chapter in our grand romp around North America is about to be written. Because cruise-ship #2 – the Maasdam is gonna welcome us onboard and, with much honking and waving, we’ll depart for the coastal wonderland of Canada & New England. So start your engines and try to keep up …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this entry, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief. And if you want to receive future blogs hot-off-the-press in your INBOX, just sign-up (top-right) for your free Email Subscription!