Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fabulous 50 in Alaska

I can't believe I have been blogging for over ten years. Although I certainly post far left often than I did at the beginning, it's great to be able to go back and remember where and when we did what. I couldn't remember what I did for my 40th birthday so I checked the blog and saw that we really didn't do much except go out for drinks and dinner. I wanted to make 50 memorable so we decided to go to Alaska.

We booked an Alaskan cruise that left out of Vancouver. I didn't want to risk missing the boat by flying in the same day, so we flew in the night before and stayed at this delightful little hotel. It was rainy and gloomy in the morning.

We took the Skytrain down to the port to meet the ship.

We were among the first batch of people to board the ship. We had purchased the Signature Drink Package for this trip which entitled us to 15 drinks a day of our choice. As usual, we had a champagne toast to kick off the cruise.


By the afternoon the rain had stopped and the sun came out just in time for the deck party sail away. We knew we wouldn't be able to drink 15 drinks the first day, but the next day was an "at sea" day so we thought we could manage that.

The second day was formal night so we suited up. This was our 8th cruise in 10 years. I seriously don't know how we afford it. Although we thought we could do 15 drinks, we were thwarted again.

This bar team really made our vacation special. The reason we couldn't do the 15 drinks is because of them. They routinely poured doubles and triples for us and we learned to only go to this bar. We tipped them handsomely at the end.

First stop was Ketchikan. We didn't plan any excursions for this town and it took us a couple hours to walk around. We bought some smoked salmon and walked down the street eating it. Fishy, oily goodness.

These signs were all over and creeping me out. Before we got back on the ship, we stopped at  a little bar for a beer and free wi-fi. It took us about 15 minutes before we realized there were ashtrays on the bar and that people were smoking! I didn't know that existed anywhere in the states, but Alaska is still a bit wild west.

This became our favorite beer on the ship.

The next day we landed in Juneau. It was my 50th birthday and we had bought a helicopter ride and glacier walk excursion to celebrate. I was quite disappointed when they cancelled our morning departure due to inclement weather on the glacier. We hoped to join the afternoon departure.

With a couple of hours to kill, we walked around town, found an internet cafe and went back onto the ship for lunch. The grey drizzly weather persisted and we were convinced the afternoon departure would be cancelled.

Birthday lunch was hot dogs and fries! We had been doing the fit for life diet before the cruise and lost several pounds. By the time we finished this trip we had gained it all back and then some. This pic pretty much explains why.

When we met the guide for the afternoon departure, we learned that it was a go. Yay! So we took a bus to the heliport and watched a safety video and suited up. We had to wear a life preserver thing in case we went down in water.

It was my first time in a helicopter. They took us up and down the Mendenhall glacier and the pilot pointed out features before landing and meeting the glacier guides. It felt so alien, like we were landing on the moon.

We learned all about the glacier and even drank some ten thousand year old meltwater. Pretty nifty. In fact, probably the niftiest thing I've ever done. So glad we sprang for it. 

I was high all afternoon from that excursion. We reserved dinner in the special dining room where the food is even better but you have to pay extra. I was thrilled to see Ossetra caviar on the menu for an extra $45. I know caviar and I knew the ship wasn't making any money off it so I ordered it. SO GOOD. 

We were so stuffed at the end of the meal, I couldn't even order the souffle I wanted. The staff knew it was my birthday somehow and when we got back to the room, this cake was waiting for me sent by the waiter who had waited on us. Nice touch.

The next day we had an excursion into the Yukon. Although the weather had been gloomy for three days, once we got up and over the pass, the skies cleared nicely and there was stunning beauty everywhere. Pictures cannot do it justice and I kept telling Serge to remember this, remember that, because I know pics don't convey the spectacularity of nature easily. 

It was so beautiful and yet so sparsely populated. This is the area where the Klondike gold rush happened in the late 1800's. We learned a lot about it. 

In fact, the gold rush prompted the construction of this narrow gauge railway which we took for the return trip to port. It was an amazing feat of engineering as we came down the mountain hugging cliffs that dropped off hundreds of feet below. 

Serge didn't really like the train ride because he is afraid of heights. Once we got back down we headed back to the ship instead of walking around the town of Skagway. Just a bunch of tourist shops and we had some drinking to do. We had been gone all day on the excursion. 

The next day we cruised Glacier Bay National Park. There was a park ranger on board narrating for us. We got to see a big chunk calve off of the glacier in the background. I wish it had been sunnier so you could see the blueness of the glaciers. 

The next day was an at sea day again, the last of the cruise. We made good friends on board and took group pictures for souvenirs. Of course we are now all friends on Facebook. I wish my brother had been with us but something terrible happened a week before the cruise and he didn't make it. We never were able to consume the 15 drinks allotted. Well played Holland-America.

For the transfer back to Anchorage from the port of Seward, we stopped at the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation center where they rescue injured wildlife or abandoned babies. They try to rehabilitate them and release them back to the wild. We got to see bears, moose and reindeer (which I learned is simply another word for Caribou) which was a nice treat.

We have some camper friends who live in Anchorage so the first night we met up for dinner. It was cool that we learned that like us, they like to share an assortment of appetizers instead of having a main course. We stuffed ourselves silly.

We stayed with our friend Jim who took us on a day trip to Talkeetna. It's hard to see in the pic, but that is Mt. McKinley in the background, tallest mountain in North America. Jim taught us about Geocaching and we had lots of fun finding treasures on the drive up. 

It was a beautiful drive. I just couldn't get over how beautiful it was up there. Also, the days are so long! It was still light out at 11pm. I learned that this is why you don't see the northern lights in the summer - it doesn't really get completely dark. 

The next day Chuck took us out on a couple of hikes. We had bison and caribou burgers for lunch. 

We were lucky enough on the way back to see the bore tide come in. Hard to see but there are surfers riding that wave. It really did fill the bay like a tsunami which is probably why they are also referred to as tidal waves. 

Did I mention how stunningly beautiful it was?

The final full day of our trip we bought a day cruise around Prince William Sound to see the glaciers. The sun was out so we got much better pictures than at Glacier Bay.

See? I was just blown away by the glaciers and their blue color. We also got to see a raft of otters, bald eagles, sea lions and puffins. 

It was simply a magnificent day and I am so glad we decided to do it. I met the forest ranger on board and she told me I should apply to be a guide too. Best job she's ever had. 

Finally it was time to go home. Red-eye flight to Chicago was made very nice since Jim knew the crew working on board. Oh how they plied us with drinks until we fell asleep. Only the second time I have slept on a plane. 

Now we are home sweet home and I would be in a post-vacation funk if it weren't for the fact that we leave for Campcamp next week. Thanks y'all for stopping by.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summertime fun

So far summer has been amazing! I finished working about a month ago and every day is just a joy to wake up to and think, "What do I want to do today?" The life of a teacher, while not the highest paid, is one of the most gratifying. Plus summers off. I spent the first three weeks of June finishing up my evaluations and then began to plan my weekends. That's because Serge signed up for school. His program is aimed at people who are working so the courses are Wednesday nights and weekends. Which leaves me alone on the weekends.

Here he is before going to class on the night where they took pictures for their linked in profile. He is so handsome. So the first thing I did was plan a little getaway to Massachusetts for the fourth of July holiday.

I stayed with our friends who had time to get most of their house organized since the last time I saw them at the end of July. They have a beautiful property in Worcester (why is it not spelled Wooster as that is how they pronounce it?) and we enjoyed little junkets, barbeque and movies. Here we are in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is a lovely town on the water. It took us more than double the usual time to get there as EVERYONE was heading up to vacationland for the holiday weekend.

They were so sweet and bought me a Boston hat and took me to Newport, Rhode Island, thus helping me cross off another state from my list. After Alaska later this month, all I will have left is Iowa. Here I am on the grounds of the Breakers, the Vanderbuilts "cottage". Or what the filthy rich call a cottage.

It was right up there with Versailles in the opulence department. Everything dripping with gold and platinum. There were 28 rooms just for the servants, whom they called "staff". This wording is supposed to indicate their benevolence as uber-wealthy. When we got back to their place, we watched a bunch about the Vanderbuilt's rise and fall. Essentially, the early family members built up enormous wealth and all the descendants squandered it. Imagine learning as a child that you would never have to work your whole life.

They wanted this maple whiskey that is hard to find in the states so I brought them that as well as other maple treats. OMG it is the BOMB. Just perfect to sip with some ice cubes. We made ice cream with it which was to die for. Not only that, but I got to have a lobster roll in Newport. It was a great weekend with one little glitch. See, the ex-best friends are mutual friends with them. Once they knew I was visiting (one of the perils of facebooking) all communication stopped (their specialty) even after a "Happy fourth" text from them (not me). Petty children, they are. We get it, they hate us, I wish we could all just move on.

The following weekend I booked a trip to Toronto to see my cousin. Although not as grand as Grand Central, our train station is pretty neat. I love that I can travel downtown to downtown in less time than it takes to drive.


There are huge windows in the train and free Wifi so the hours passed easily. I also had a chance to study for my upcoming travel agent exam. I managed to get through all the materials so now I just have to do a few exercises and review. The big day is next Thursday. I really hope I pass it the first time. Then I will be able to offer family and friends the better deals that I will have access to. My friend Annick has been bugging me to do this as she has and every time I check with her before clicking the "buy" button for flights, cruises etc, she has been able to get me a better price. Now I'll be able to do that for family and friends too.

As soon as I arrived, I met up with my old students from many years ago. Layla on the left was a little girl last time I saw her and now she's all grown up. We had a delightful dinner together and then I took the streetcar to my cousin's house.

The streetcars are so cool and they have many lines criss-crossing the city in addition to the subway. The day pass was great as you have unlimited hop-on and hop-offs so it was easy to get around town.

We took a 20 kilometer bike ride into the city the opening day of the Pan-American games. There were all kinds of things going on in the city and by the time we reached the harbourfront, we were famished. I wasn't able to respect our "fit for life" diet while there except for only fruit in the morning. I figured the next best thing is to eat vegetarian the other meals so I had the panini with avocado and goat cheese. One of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten.

Dang that tower is big. This is still several kilometers away. The harbourfront was buzzing with activity with all the boats, people, zip-line, and airport just across the straight on the islands. I had never really explored this part of town and it was quite the place just to people-watch.

The next day we went back into town and my cousin took us to a place she knew called Grand Electric. Toronto is years ahead of us on the Mexican cuisine, as there are many to choose from, unlike here. That first taco in front is a "crispy cauliflower" taco that my cousin said I had to try. It was really good but I have no idea how they made the cauliflower light and crispy like that. I also had a pork belly taco. Yum.

My beautiful cousin, Cindi, was great. See, I had forgotten to bring my blood pressure meds with me so she plied me with Omega-3 and Curcumin to subsitute. My pressure wasn't bad when I got home so maybe she is onto something there. The city has these urban spaces set up so you can relax downtown and there is always a food cart nearby if one wants to grab a bite.

They had a bunch of concerts and activities set up for the Pan-Am games. I got the official pin and everything. They had the Franco festival going on too where I turned them on to Beaver Tails (I only eat one per year) as they had never had one. I love the uniquely Canadian things like that. As Cindi noted, it's like fry-bread, something you find in New Mexico. I had the maple and they had what I usually get, the nutella and banana.

I mentioned that I would like to have tapas so we went to Kensington Market to get some. I love that part of town as it reminds me of Venice, California. Very student/hippie oriented with tons of little places selling all sorts of things. That is a shishito pepper people! I have never been able to find them here and it is one of my favorite tapas dishes in Spain. Just fried in a little oil with salt and pepper. Delicious. It was very authentic and we enjoyed lots of Sangria, chorizo, octopus, olives, and more.

We can't close out without a pic of my men now, can we? George likes to sit on the top of the sofa and look out the window and if he sees a person walking their dog, he dashes out back to howl at them. It is so cute. 

So there you have it, all caught up now. I am soooooooooooooo frickin' excited about our upcoming cruise in less than two weeks. Going to Alaska for my 50th birthday and I booked a helicopter ride to a glacier, both things I've never done before so it should be memorable (the price certainly was). Bonus, my brother and his girlfriend are coming with us and he has never done a cruise. I hope he is as impressed as I was the first time. But he is difficult to impress. Fingers crossed. Thanks for stopping by y'all, until next time. MWAH!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Road Trip 2015

We departed last Friday for our annual road trip to see friends. Upon departure our tenant who agreed to water our flowers and pick up our mail snapped this shot for us. Because we have had such bad luck with car trouble on previous road trips, we decided to rent a car for this one, a Hundai Elantra and it was just great with amazing gas mileage. Seriously, it cost $25 to drive to Boston. Such a deal.

First stop was to see our friends in Worcester, pronounced "Wooster" for those non-east coast people. They bought a house just a week before and were still unpacking but I feel more comfortable in a chaotic, messy setting than I do in a "perfect" house. They have four animals too, including this amazing cat, Eros. I just love him and more than once sat down on the couch only to discover he was hiding under the blanket keeping warm. He is such a snuggler too, hands down my favorite cat I've ever met.

Our friends had a little barbecue and we played ladder golf and ate some of the best brochettes I've ever had. We enjoyed hanging out with Veronique and her husband and loved Susan's visit who regaled us with stories. Oh how we laughed all night long.

I forget the name of the product but you throw it in the fire and the fire becomes technicolor, not for mere minutes but for nearly an hour! It made the fire mesmerizing. Jello shots and magical brownies added to the fascination by the fire.

The next day we headed into Boston to see my first baseball game in 20 years. We had lunch at the Yard House and went into the park.

Was it not a picture perfect day? I really love attending baseball games, it's too bad Montreal lost the Expos years ago. We had two dozen CampCampers there with us so it was fun to mingle and get excited about this year's Camp in August. Another funny thing - there were no "no smoking" signs anywhere, so Serge and I smoked a bunch of cigarettes. Then when we left we noticed the sign at the entrance, "Fenway Park is a completely smoke free facility". Could have fooled us. No one said a word to us about it.

As it was Memorial Day weekend, the flags of the fallen were all over Boston Commons. We strolled around and had some amazing cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcakes. Mine was chocolate peanut butter cheesecake. Divine.

Next stop on the road trip we met Michael in New York City. First night out for drinks and although I didn't get a picture of us with Michael, I did get one of the cute bartenders. As it was Memorial Day, there were free hamburgers and hotdogs with our martinis.

The next day was great fun. First I decided to have a New York bagel since there is such a rivalry between Montreal and NYC on the matter. I thought it was no contest, Montreal's are infinitely better. Then we headed to the new TKTS outlet in Brooklyn to buy theater tickets for the evening. After that we walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan and over to Century 21, our favorite shopping place in New York. We loaded up with $300 of stuff that would easily have been $800 up here.

We had planned to go eat Singapore noodles at the place we discovered last year, but alas, we could not find it. So we scarfed down a burger (Serge's bison, mine vegetarian) and went to see Kinky Boots. Great show! And the bonus was that Cyndi Lauper showed up on stage at the end to accept a $150000 check for her True Colors fund.

Then it was time to head down to Delaware to visit our friends Mark and Joe. It was a bitch getting out of NYC as traffic was terrible, but then it was smooth sailing all the way down.

They had some neat stained glass pieces. I took a picture of this as I would like to try to make it at Camp Camp this year. We also got to meet their new dog Walter who was as cute as can be.

Mark took us down to Rehoboth Beach to stroll the boardwalk. I loved the ice cream menu at this place. Hugh Jass Flavor and Booger and The Girl with the Dragon Cashews were my favorite names. Alas, I chose boring old Black Cherry Vanilla because, well, I'm a waspy white dude.

That evening we attended the Rehoboth Idol competition and met Joel who seems to be an Adam Levine (is that his name?) wannabe. We also met several other people. I seem to be able to talk to just about anybody these days or maybe people just gravitate toward me. Whatever it is, I like it.

The next day was a bit hazy as we stayed up past one the night before. I never do that. We took it easy, went out to breakfast, strolled the beach, toured the town and relaxed before going out to happy hour at this really good Japanese place with half priced drinks and appetizers. We stuffed ourselves silly and without us knowing Joe (who left before this picture was taken) picked up the check. Wow, we had only just met him. What a nice man!

The next day Serge let me be a little kid and we went to Great Adventure in New Jersey, the largest theme park in the world. We tried to get on Kinga Ka, the tallest, fastest roller coaster in North America but it broke down while we were in line so we headed over to Superman. We were behind this guy and his girlfriend in line. OMG he was just perfection. Be still our hearts. So I slyly snapped a few pics.

The food and beverage prices were exorbitant. Here we split a bacon, cheddar, ranch fries which I dubbed American Poutine and each had a beer. $27 bucks. Earlier we had two small diet cokes for $10. Outrageous. Plus absolutely no drinking fountains whatsoever. There oughta be a law!

They had this ride called Safari Adventure which intrigued me. Little did I know it was over an hour long and we got to see a TON of wild animals in a Jurassic Park style army vehicle with a guide. We saw lions, tigers, bears, zebras (a first for me) and lots of other things.

I think my favorite was the anteater. Such a bizarre creature. Apparently they are quite aggressive so you couldn't touch him. Evolution is such an amazing creator.

After that we finally did get to go on Kinga Ka. It was the most terrifying ride I've ever been on and I will NEVER do it again. 0-128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, shoot straight up a fifty story (456 feet) tower and then back down again. 28 seconds total. The whole time my brain was in "I am going to die" mode. There is a fine line between thrill and terror and this ride crossed it. Here, some fool took a video on the ride over on Youtube. Watch it here.

Yesterday we drove home but stopped in at Breen Acres and had lunch with the boys. Forgot to take pictures but it was great. The hours pass so quickly and we had to get back on the road to get home. Sorry I don't have a Georgie pic as Serge is at his mom's as I type picking him up. I hope you enjoyed our little recap. Until next time peeps, Mwah!