Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Summer update

Hey kids, long time no blog. Maybe that is because we haven't gone anywhere since Cuba in February. Until last week that is. I am just gonna go through the few photos I have taken since then and see if we can't craft a post out of this.

As it turns out, I have no pictures from March. This is probably because I got terribly ill after I stopped taking Champix and was down for the count for 9 days. Moaning on the sofa and Serge trying to get me to eat. I have no idea what caused it but I wouldn't wish that on anyone. We did have our annual game night though right as I was starting to feel better. I posted a pic of that on FB.

We had a very rainy April but the first chance we got in May, we tripped around town. It was chilly in May, probably ten degrees below normal all month. This is the new installation at the old port where they do light projection shows in the evenings this summer.

The giant marionettes came to town and we saw a couple of them. Quite impressive to see. The crowds were stunningly large and I got a little anxious trying to stay on the perimeter of the crowd which seemed to change constantly.

In June, Serge noticed water bubbling out of the street and alerted the city. Cue 2 weeks of digging and digging and then filling and paving. It was a nice distraction from all the rain and chilly temps. Some of the worst flooding in years plagued the city but what are you thinking building your house on the bank of a river?

At the beginning of July, we had our annual summer potluck at Jacynthe's house. We always have so much laughter together consuming wine.

Our good friend Dave from Long Beach, CA came to visit for a week. We tripped around town playing tourist and managed to get into our fave breakfast spot. Regine Cafe. The only place I have ever been where I consider breakfast to be gourmet.

Then last week we went to visit our friends in Columbus, Ohio. Our first time there and what a lovely city. Thom gave us a little tour of the brewery where he works - Land Grant. We were all worried we admitted at the end, that it might be too long together but we all got along swimmingly.

We did a culture day and saw museums and then we did a nature day in Hocking Hills state park. What a beautiful place. First time I have seen Amish in person. Some of them had digital cameras. What? I thought there were no electronics for them. Maybe they are progressive Amish. Hard to tell but there is also a waterfall in this picture.

All along, we have been watching dogs for others. George looks like he is over it here. Also, I worked all the way until last week and I go back next week already. Hard to get used to after having had 3 months off every summer but it's good for the bank account.

I think I will blog again soon as we are headed to Camp Camp for our 4th year. Really looking forward to my annual cut off from the world week in the woods. Until next time peeps, Mwah!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Wintertime wanderings

The day after my last blog, I went to California for my annual holiday visit. It was cheaper to fly into San Diego so that is where I went. I got to meet up with Beth in Pacific Beach (cute neighborhood!) for food and drinks and a walk on the beach. It was a spectacular day in the 70's. This would not be repeated until my last day.

Then I headed to camp Mama where they have a whole new backyard. I spent a week there hanging out, playing Candy Crush and binge watching Travelers on Netflix. Plus I turned her onto Martha and Snoop's potluck party which she loved.

We got to meet up with my grandma for lunch one day. It was cool because even though she has memory issues, she recognized mom right away. Can't remember the last time I hung out with both my mother and father. Pleasant.

It was nice ringing in the new year with Donna and Nathan and their pups Apollo and Stella. Their neighbor used to work int he pinball business and he had saved up every Canadian quarter that he came across for 20 years. He offered me nearly fifty bucks in quarters for $20 US dollars. You know I jumped on that!

Mom turned 70 so we tried a chic Spanish tapas restaurant and decided once was enough. Not that it was bad or anything, just not extraordinary. Plus it wasn't cheap. It was nice to have foie gras since the ban on it was lifted in California.

Then I headed to Dad's place for the next week. He had scoped out a hike off of Ortega Hwy to San Mateo Peak, the next highest peak after Santiago and Modjeska in the Santa Ana mountains. The summit is 3994 ft, so with my height, my head was at 4000.

It took almost 4 hours to do the 5 miles. Of course we had lunch sitting on the summit gazing from Catalina Island to the Santa Rosa mountains in the distance.

We took grandma out to lunch again at the beach at Ruby's at the end of the pier. Another thing I did with Dad was go see La La Land. Wow, I have not been enchanted like that in a long time from a film. I grinned helplessly throughout, except when I cried at that one part. As an LA boy, I appreciated all the location shots. When I got home I took Serge to see it for a second time. I still loved it so of course I own the soundtrack.

So quickly the last day came. It turned out to be spectacular weather-wise like the first day. My friend David met up with me and we had brunch, walked on the beach and had a drink on the roof of a beach hotel in Venice. What a sweetheart. I got a room near the airport and it had a Denny's attached to it. That is where I discovered everything hashbrowns. YUM! I had it for dinner and breakfast the next day lol.

Ok Imma skip a month now. Not that nothing happened in January. We had fun at Helene's birthday party, at Rita's for dinner, walks around town and lots of trips to the video store as we devour series after series hibernating til spring. Jon arrived the last day of January, a day before all the others would arrive for our big trip to Cuba. I turned Jon onto smoked meat and poutine. He ate that whole poutine and half that pizza and he's skinny as a rail.

We had a big sleep over with all the peeps who came in a day early. Then we headed to Cuba, my third straight year to the same resort. A lot of the staff remembered me and even asked about Serge. Here we are in the evening hanging out in the lobby bar. We totally lucked out and it was in the 80's every day and no rain.

I let everyone experience the resort for a couple days and then knew that suggesting going out to dinner would be a definite yes. It's like the buffet was better than I had prepared them for but still rather repetetive. So we went to Varadero 60 which is #2 for restaurants in the city. (I just learned that and now wish to return to try #1) Everyone loved the food, so much so that some went back another evening to eat there again.

Since we were 13 people (the other 11 who came with us did their own in French) we got to have Havana a la carte. A bus, driver and guide for the whole day for $35 a person and we could choose what we wanted to see. Of course we wanted to see everything that is done in the regular tour. The bus ride is a little over 2 hours to Havana from Varadero. The guide was very knowledgeable and talked about everything we were passing sprinkled in with history lessons.

Our first stop about half way to Havana at a scenic overlook, I had a beer and looked at trinkets. When we got back in the bus, it wouldn't start. So we pushed the bus uphill (!) so that it could use gravity going down the hill to pop the clutch. Yes, the buses have manual transmissions, but thank glob, because we were swiftly on our way. The driver never turned off the motor the rest of the day.

We walked all around old Havana which has no vehicular traffic most of the time. I was surprised to see a couple of high end shops. The architecture is pleasing. I spent most of the time counting everyone even though the guide was doing it too. Still we lost one of our pack members right before lunch. The guide went back and found him, very stressed out about it.

We all snapped a ton of photos. There were street performers and other more pushy kinds of busking going on. Never felt unsafe at all. We ended up eating on the rooftop of the hotel where Ernest Hemingway lived for a while. I burped up that pork sandwich I ate there for like 12 days after. Not exaggerating.

We also went to Revolution Square which has a big monolithic monument and very big likenesses of Che and Fidel and lots of flags. After that we went to a Cuban crafts market which was cool except for the constant pleading to look at everyone's things. The day passed quickly. On the bus home, my American visitors asked lots of questions and the guide was very open and frank. My favorite moment was when someone asked, "Well can't you go into the street and protest to have some change?" Of course not, we would be jailed. It was interesting watching them wrap their brain around the fact that the government owns everything and although appearing free, their freedoms are quite restricted compared to ours.

I went on a Varadero city tour with John (as opposed to Jon) and got to feed the pelicans! He gave me a thick glove but their clacking beaks freaked me out as they clambered over each other to have the piece of fish in my hand. Really neat seeing them up close though.

The week flew by. The last day we waited in the lobby for the bus plying ourselves with drinks. I wonder how many I had had at this point in the picture. I don't even know which day this was. Ah open bar.

We finally got a group shot of the whole English speaking side of our gang. We were 13 and there were 11 Quebcois who came as well. It turned out to be a really fun vacation, I cried laughing several times and we all got along swimmingly. They named me "Richard no filter" after hearing some of my stories. On top of all that, I made a bunch of money doing it. Very cool, and will try to organize more group vacations.

Thanks for stopping by everyone :)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Serge's 50th birthday South America extravaganza

Hey everyone, sorry I have been absent the last few months. I have been crazy busy with work (got a new higher-paying gig, yippy) and somehow we were able to cram in a 16 day vacation to South America for Serge's 50th birthday. Once again, it turned out to be the vacation of a lifetime. Let's get started, shall we?

South America is far! It took us two 7 hour flights connecting through Panama to get to Buenos Aires. (Btw, Panama City is HUGE, it looked like we were flying into Manhattan.) We arrived at 2am to deserted streets, a sight we would not see again.

We had one full day to explore before we boarded the ship. We had heard that the food was good and cheap and that was true. We had a three course lunch (steak) with beer for about $15.

The city has a very European feel to it, which is why it is called the Paris of South America. We spent the day walking the city and hitting the major walking streets and the Recolletta, a famous cemetery where Evita Peron's tomb is.

The cemetery is full of elaborate tombs with coffins in them. Some were like mini palaces as if the dead were continuing to boast of their long ago wealth. All in all rather creepy and for me anyway, highlighting the vanity of humans.

We walked and walked and walked. We had a nice dinner for super cheap and a $3 bottle of wine. The best bargain in both Argentina and Chile was wine. I was glad I had bought Argentinian pesos before I left as none of my cards would let me get money out of the ATMs.

The next day we boarded the ship. Even though the ship was staying the night in Argentina, we ended up staying aboard since everything was free and they had a Tango show in the theater. Another strange thing was the Spanish they spoke. I understood virtually nothing. Once aboard, we knew we would eat like kings and Serge had the lamb chops.

The next day we arrived in Montevideo. It was pretty quiet when we were there, but it too had a very European vibe. We sat in the main square and people watched for a while and then got back on the ship. None of the excursions here interested us, so we didn't spend much time ashore. 

The next couple days were at sea. The captain had to skirt around a big storm but we still got hammered with 30 foot swells. What the video shows is mild. Eventually they drained the pool because all the water kept sloshing out. And I got seasick. It has been a long time since that has happened to me. Luckily, one of the guys we met had extra seasick patches, but I still had to upchuck everything I had eaten and wait for it to take effect.

Then we arrived at the Falkland Islands. Wow, a barren treeless landscape way down south in the Atlantic Ocean. It boasts a village of 2000 inhabitants, all of them speaking with a British accent. This was THE place to do a penguin watching excursion. 

We took the Bluff Cove tour (I highly recommend) to see a colony of Gentoo penguins and King penguins. These are the rare Gentoos. We were asked not to touch the penguins because if they leave their nest, the seagulls circling overhead would have lunch. They are not afraid of people though and will walk right up to you and peck curiously at your clothes. 

These are the king penguins, the second largest of the species after the Emperor penguins. The babies have brown plumage and the adults feed the young ones until they get their adult plumage about 18 months old. 

Here are Gentoos and King penguins hanging together. As you can see, the landscape is pretty barren. There are no indigenous mammals on the islands although there is plenty of sheep farming. 

After watching the penguins for a bit in the howling wind, we were treated to tea and scones with clotted cream and read a bit about the history of the islands. Darwin has a well documented visit to the islands where never before seen species were discovered. 

After the tour, we walked around the town, got some postcards to mail (Sorry Pat, didn't have your address with me) and had a pint with some fish and chips. Souvenir? Why yes we got king penguin salt and pepper shakers.

The best thing about this trip was all the wonderful new friends we made. These are just a couple of them who had been on the boat for over a month. 

The next port of call was Punta Arenas, way down at the bottom of Chile. It was brisk but a lovely day. We headed into town on the shuttle and walked around. 

Still European feeling. I found an alpaca scarf for $6 and we found a cute little cafe where we had a Chilean version of a grilled cheese sandwich and coffee and used the free internet to post on Facebook. This is the first cruise that we did not use the wifi on board. It was liberating. I highly recommend if you ever have the chance to cut off from the connectivity - DO IT. It's hard the first day but then totally relaxing.

Then we cruised through the strait of Magellan, as we made our way to the southernmost town in the world. We were heading to the treacherous waters of Cape Horn although it was pretty protected through the straits.

We took a couple cooking classes on board. That was fun learning to make yummy new things, getting to keep the apron and then having a boozy lunch with the prepared recipes. We made Chilean ceviche, poblano chile and cheese stuffed chicken breast and chocolate flan the first class.

We brought the tuxedos we bought last year with us for the formal nights. This gang we met at the smoker's table where Serge basically lived while on board. They were from Manchester and I have to admit, I had trouble sometimes understanding their English. 

Finally, we reached Ushuaia, Argentina and the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. This is the southernmost road in the world. Had to take the excursion to say we did it but it was pretty much a tourist trap. The t-shirts in the gift shop were $40 and up. No thank you, the photo will do.

Then we departed for 4 days at sea where we experienced every kind of weather including snow on deck. The next morning the captain woke us to have a look at Cape Horn. The legend is true, 73 mile an hour winds and 30 foot waves which were 60 feet if we had gone past the Cape. So about 7 miles from there as the boat was listing 7 degrees in the wind and rain, the captain turned around and we started the long journey up the rugged coast of Chile.

We ate at the fancy restaurant on board for Serge's 50th birthday. We ate like kings the whole time and it seemed like they had brought the food up a notch from our Alaska cruise last year on the same exact boat.

As we traveled up the coast we saw many glaciers and the captain pulled closer to see this monster of a glacier whose name I forget. We saw lots of waterfalls, penguin colonies and other wildlife but no people whatsoever. This whole part of Chile is virtually uninhabited. 

On the third day at sea, I finally saw a boat. You can see the snowy Andes soaring into the sky in the background. Soon we would arrive at our next port where we planned an excursion to go white water rafting. 

We arrived in Puerto Montt, Chile and took a lovely hour long drive to get to the rafting spot. It was unbelievable beauty everywhere like we were in National Geographic magazine.

Boy that water was cold! We had never done this before and it did not disappoint. I have to admit, I was scared the whole time about falling in which luckily didn't happen. The raft went fully underwater several times though so we were lucky nobody fell out. 

On the way back to the ship, we got to stop and take pictures of the volcano Orsono whose last eruption occurred in 1853, There were two other volcanoes in the area, one of which erupted last year. The ground was still littered with several inches of gravel belched out of that one.

We had one last sea day to say our goodbyes to all the fun new friends we made. This was the first cruise where so many people attended the LGBT get together in the bar each evening. The first night there were over 20 of us. So we had happy hour every evening together and many of us played board games and cards during the day. I love gaming as some of you know. 

More goodbyes but we talked about doing a reunion cruise in the future. Then we arrived in Valparaiso, Chile and got off the boat and onto a bus to go the airport in Santiago. I regret not having a couple more days to explore the area but as a teacher, 16 days off in November was already pushing it. Just something to come back and do another time. 

I could talk about so much more, Trump, Christmas, our airbnb sagas, the dog watching sagas and much more, but I think I will just leave this post as the travelogue for Serge's 50th. Thanks for stopping by, mwah!