Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Trip of a Lifetime

Greetings to the tribe. It's been a long journey from the holidays to June that included a three-week visit to Cuenca Ecuador in January and a 5-night Caribbean cruise at the end of February. If we are connected on Facebook, you've surely seen some pictures from those trips as well as the subject of today's post: Our six-week trip down under and back. It all started on March 21st as we flew to Newark, then San Francisco where we circled the skies for an hour and a half before getting permission to land. The pilot was 5 minutes from diverting the flight to San Jose, which would have made getting to New Zealand in time for the cruise problematic. As it was, we made our flight to Auckland but many others didn't as economy class was only about half full, which the flight attendant said never happens. 

We arrived at 6am in Auckland and familiarised ourselves with the area around our hotel and downtown. Jet lag was not really that bad even though it was a 9-hour time difference. By the next day, we were pretty much on New Zealand time and spent the day hiking up three old volcano mounts that dot the city. This picture is from the highest one with downtown in the background. We were immediately impressed with how friendly everyone seemed. 

The next day was embarkation day for Holland America's 39-day transpacific cruise. The weather was spectacular as we sailed away. There were exactly three children on board and I'd say the average age was over 70. 

On the first and third nights of the cruise, the ship had an LGBTQ meetup. As you can see there was a pretty good turnout on the first night. We ended up meeting for happy hour most days with 6-10 of us then heading to the dining room to eat dinner. 

The next day was our first port of call and we had an excursion to ride the luge in Rotorua. We enjoyed a bloody mary waiting for our group to be called. What? It made the bus ride easier.

Here we are on the chairlift to go up to the luges. In the background, you can see a very large lake which is actually a volcano caldera. There were various hot spots around town with steam rising into the air. 

The next day we stopped in Napier, New Zealand. We didn't have an excursion planned, so we walked around town and shopped for souvenirs. 

The next day we arrived in Picton, a very small coastal town with one main street. We looked up a trail on AllTrails and went for a hike. You can see our ship docked in the background. The weather turned rainy in the afternoon but we were already back on board by then. 

The next stop was supposed to be in Wellington, but due to the rain and high winds, we were not permitted to dock. The captain decided to go to Christchurch one day early for an overnight stop. The storm ushered in some cooler weather as fall was starting. 

We didn't get off the boat in the evening, but the next day we had an excursion to go wine tasting in the Waipara Valley. At the included lunch, we were the last to arrive in the dining area and took the last two seats. Wouldn't you know it, the guy next to us was from Quebec and he happened to be texting his friend at the table, who, wait for it, lives on our street. Small world!

The next day we stopped in Dunedin but again had no excursion planned so we walked around the charming town. New Zealand seemed kind of expensive but they had a version of Target there where Serge was able to get some new sneakers for under $30. Everywhere we went, people seemed super friendly. But it's a small place, only five million people, half of whom live in the Capital area. Quebec alone has nearly 9 million people by comparison. Dunedin was our last stop in New Zealand. 

The next day was a sea day. Finally. We cruised the fiords and saw dramatic scenery. This area is so remote, it takes a week to hike in. Put another way, it's a week's hike to civilization. It reminded us of Chile at the southern end of the South American continent. Largely uninhabited. 

The weather grew stormy when we entered one of the fiords and waterfalls were cascading down the sides of the steep cliffs. It felt like we were in National Geographic. There was narration on board which is how we knew how far from civilization we were. 

If that link works, it's the third stop on the Holland America bar hop. They really put on a show. And stuffed us full of drinks for $35. It all started with wang wangs.

The next stop was in Hobart, Tasmania. We didn't have an excursion planned but kicked ourselves for not doing the animal rescue visit. We would have seen kangaroos and wallabies which we never ended up seeing. That night, Lindsey took us out for dinner and we had wallaby steak. It was DELICIOUS! Incidentally, a group of wallabies is called a mob. 

The next day was a stop in Melbourne, Australia where we had an electric bike excursion in the morning. The guide took us on a stretch of the sparsely populated pedestrian walkway to get to a lookout point. We were a dozen people and when we passed by one lady, she screamed "CYCLE PATH" where the "path" sounds like "poth". It was hilarious, at first I thought she was screaming "Psychopath". Then later on she caught up with us to scream at the guide. Finally, as we headed back to the starting point, we passed her and she was SCREAMING with her cell phone out, "I'm sending this to the police!" as she filmed us passing by. The guide said he'd been doing this same excursion for 15 years and had never encountered anyone like her. We amused ourselves the rest of the cruise saying "cycle path" like Donald Sutherland shrieking in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In the afternoon we walked around the city looking for souvenirs and having a beer along the river. We felt the visit to be too short as we wanted to explore more but we had to get back on board to go to Sydney the next day. 

On the way to Sydney, we had a two-hour electrical storm. It was so cool and I finally got one on video.

I was up in time the next morning to see the sun rise over the opera house. We had a tour of Sydney planned with a private tour of the opera house. We got a nice taste of the city but wished we had overnighted there. In Sydney, the 14-day cruise people got off (about 500) and the 25-day cruise people got on (about 800). About 1200 of us stayed aboard for the 39-day cruise. 

We danced almost every night on the cruise. For the first two weeks, Lynn would often break the ice and be the first one on the dance floor. The band was REALLY good and talented. Once Lynn left in Sydney, I took the baton and was then frequently the first one on the dance floor. Serge says why don't you dance at the discotheque where we live? I said because it starts at 11pm. On the boat, the dancing finished at 11pm.

After two sea days, we arrived in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French territory and it was so refreshing to walk around understanding everything. Their French was very easy to understand. It was really hot, but we still went on a hike to the zoo hoping to see Kangaroos, but no, they mostly just had birds. 

Since the cruise was split into two, they had a couple more LGBTQ meetups and the group morphed a bit as some got off in Sydney while others got on. This is in the Crow's Nest, where we met every day for happy hour. 

The next day we visited Lifou Island which is still New Caledonia and took an excursion to a beach on the other side of the island. It was a gorgeous day but we only had a little over an hour to go swimming before having to get on the rustic bus. I thought it would be the most rustic, but that was still to come in American Samoa.

Next stop was in Lautoka, Fiji where we took a catamaran to a tiny island for a day at the beach with drinks and lunch. We saw sea tortoises and baby sharks swimming around. I also got to try Kava which made my mouth go numb. The Fijians were SO smiley and everywhere we went folks shouted "BULA!" at us which is a catchall word for Welcome or Hello. We could definitely see coming back for an extended Fiji vacation.

Enough with the couples shots, right? We had another stop in Fiji in SavuSavu. There we had an excursion to go on a hike to a waterfall. It was very hot, and I swam in the pools under the waterfall. Back in town, we went to look for souvenirs and noticed how inexpensive clothing was. We got Hawaiian-style shirts for six bucks US. We wished we had bought more because when we got to Hawaii, they were all $40 and higher. 

We had another sea day and then arrived in American Samoa (pronounced SAM-wah) where we had an excursion on a bus with wooden boards for seats driving on terribly potholed roads. In the picture, you see Camel Rock. That was about the most exciting thing we saw there. 

The next five days were at sea. We passed the time playing games, taking mixology classes and learning how to tie a sarong and make Hawaiian bracelets. 

We made friends with the Hawaiian Ambassadors who led a bunch of activities on the way to Hawaii. 

One of the guys in our group was stuck in the infirmary all the way to Hawaii. He had gotten bitten by a spider in New Caledonia and his leg blew up like double size, angry and red. When we got to Hilo, he went to the hospital for 11 days before being able to fly home to Florida. Talk about bad luck! He's on the mend now which we are all thankful for. 

On the way to Hawaii, Holland America had their 150th anniversary, so of course they threw a party. We also crossed the date line and lived April 15th twice. That was weird. 

We didn't have an excursion planned in Hilo. This was not a stop on the original itinerary. We were supposed to go to Maui. We've done the big island before so we walked around town and went to the tsunami museum. 

The next stop was Honolulu for 2 days. We took an all-day circle island tour. One of the stops was the Dole Plantation - an insane place, like Disney threw up on pineapples. But they had these really cool trees called rainbow eucalyptus. We saw where they filmed Jurassic Park and toured the Valley of the Temples. We realized we could have done it cheaper and with more freedom if we had simply rented a car for the day. Just getting on and off the bus was a 15-minute ordeal each time. 

The next day we walked all around Honolulu and Waikiki. I bought a bunch of macadamia nuts and t-shirts. Serge let us have Mexican food for lunch.

Our last stop on the cruise was in Kauai. We walked down to the beach and swam several times. We knew it would only get colder and colder as we made our way back to Vancouver. 

It was a full six sea days before getting to Vancouver. The third day turned stormy and boy did the boat rock and roll. They had to close the outside decks as it was too dangerous. In the picture, we are experiencing a particularly big rocking of the boat. 

The last sunset of the cruise before arriving in Vancouver. We spent the day taking group pictures with all the friends we made on the boat. A lot of us have connected on Facebook and Whatsapp. 

So there you have the map of our trip. We had mugs made with this on it and good shots of us. We also had coasters made with some pictures from the trip. It was actually cheaper to buy a mug or a coaster than to buy the picture. 

I took hundreds of pictures. This is just a smattering. What else can I say? A few trippets:

* We ate like kings every day. When you are on the boat for so long, patterns emerge. It turned out my preferred breakfast was french toast and sausage. The perfect sweet and salty.

* Serge sometimes ordered two entrees. When he did, he ate them all. 

* The Italian restaurant on board had the most amazingly delicious lamb chops.

* We drank Victoria Bitter beer the whole trip. The bartenders were awesome and all knew our names. 

* At about the 30 day point, we started itching for home. We decided to limit any future cruises to less than that. 

* We had an inside cabin for the first time. We really don't spend much time in the cabin, so it was okay. Serge insists though that we at least have a window in the future.

* Everyone was wealthier than us. The only way we were able to go on this trip was because when we sold all our real estate, we put money away in retirement accounts which saved us a ton on taxes. So we used that to fund the trip. 

* There was no smoking in the casino. That was a first. It was also always really dead in the casino. Maybe those two things are related. 

* We were allowed 15 drinks each per day with our package (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). We exceeded the limit 4 times. OMG.

* Possibly related, I gained about a third of a pound per day on the cruise. 

I'm sure there is more, but this has gone on long enough. Hopefully, Serge will make a video of the trip and put it up. I bought the one on the ship which you can see here. Until next time peeps, peace out!

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Holiday letter 2022

Happy holidays y'all! It's a rare year I don't send holiday cards out, but this is one of them. How did I ever have time before? I'll do better next year, but what better reason than to pen a holiday letter? Some people love those letters and others don't. I love them but have never written one myself. And the beauty of the blog is that I can add as many pictures as I want.  So grab a cup of coffee and join me as I review the adventures of Serge, Georgie and me in 2022.

The New Year found us in Palm Springs where we rang it in downtown with friends. It was great meeting up with Olly, whom we had met in 2016 on Serge's 50th birthday cruise. (Later in the summer another friend made from that cruise visited us.) Do you see the red dot on my forehead? This was because my dad and Serge convinced me to let them try to freeze/burn off a perpetually irritated spot on my forehead with wart remover. Although instructed to apply the canister twice, they stopped after once because it was clearly frozen. Hence the healing wound in the photo. The good news is that it worked! (Your mileage may vary.) 

Before we left California, we met up with my long-lost friend Jonathan whom I worked with in my last lifetime at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. (I quit in 1994) We tripped down memory lane and caught up on over a decade of news. (He had gotten married and adopted a horde of dogs, notably.)  I've now lived in Quebec for over 22 years but my oldest friends remain in California.

We came home for 4 days before heading out to Cuenca, Ecuador to visit with our friends there (pictured) and escape a month of winter. We also socked a bunch of money down there since they give 8% interest on your deposit certificates. Given the stock market's behavior this year, I wish we had socked a bunch more. It was a delightful visit with warm days and not too much rain. We enjoyed playing games at Roscoe's house (not pictured) and watching sportsball (it's much more fun with an enthusiast in the room). I ended up working remotely more than I liked, so this year I won't make that mistake again. A previous blog post details more on our trip to Cuenca. 

When we came back, it was depressing. Our first winter here has taught us that we live in a much snowier place than Montreal. With little to do at home, Serge went out and got a job at the local Rona hardware store. He works there three days a week and seems to like it. Nobody speaks English very well there so they all call him when there's an English-speaking customer. He's always been handy so he is good at helping people get what they need (and telling them what they don't need) for their projects. 

As Covid restrictions began lifting, so did people's wanderlust. We ended up dog-sitting several times for customers I had from Montreal. They drove all the way out here (an hour minimum) to drop off and pick up their dogs. Flattering in a way. These two chihuahuas, while adorable, are not house-trained, so although you don't see it in the picture, every square inch of carpet is covered with pee-pee pads. They are so untrained that they just walk through the house, seemingly unaware that excrement is coming out of them, like horses. 

Georgie! He is definitely an old dog now, with growths sprouting everywhere and occasional infections. I have a monthly visit now with the vet as we work our way toward the inevitable. As of this writing, he is still thrilled like it's Christmas every time we feed him and he enjoys his twice daily walks. So we are savoring these good times. Our little guy is 15 now. 

In the spring, I got an in person teaching contract and since we live in the last jurisdiction in North America to get rid of the mask mandate, we had to do the whole thing masked. Here you see half the class and their winning marshmallow spaghetti challenge tower. I didn't know it but I wouldn't be in a classroom for the rest of the year. All my work has been on Zoom or Teams since. 

The love affair continues with the boys next door (pictured) and another couple who are on our bowling team (who you'll see later). Throughout the year we took turns cooking dinner for a night of cards or dice and lots of laughter. There are many wonderful things about living here, but the best has been making so many new friends. 

Finally summer arrived and we spent many days like this, finding or making a shady spot on the beach and sipping soda (ok beer) and when it was really warm, floating in the lake. Well, it was how we passed the non-rainy days of summer anyway, of which there were many. The restaurant and bar and discoteque were open all summer as well as events such as weekly bingo, karaoke and drag shows. I went to the things that happened early like bingo and went to a few of the dance themed nights. Serge went to ALL of them. Atta boy. 

I told Serge to make some art in the yard so he constructed this. It is really cool at night and we've had nothing but compliments from the neighborhood. My project has been to finish my thesis so I can finally get my master's degree. As of press time, I have nearly completed my experiment and now need to analyse the results to see if I can make any sorts of conclusions out of it and write another forty pages on that. It'll be done at some point in 2023.

For my birthday I requested to go to Abraska, a sort of adventure course with varying degrees of difficulty and death defyingness. There I am way high in the trees on that flimsy rope bridge. Serge wouldn't do any of that, he and Pierre stuck mostly to the fun zip lines they had there. There was one moment when I realized I had neither attachment attached, which besides being incredibly careless, is grounds for expulsion from the park. I survived thankfully.

Also in July we were able to visit with our friends Annick and Jesus an hour on the other side of Montreal. They had bought a camper and spent the summer in a place like ours, a campground with mostly fifth wheels and trailers in the summer. There were many rules at their place, and we almost got kicked out for accidentally going 12 kph when the speed limit is 10. It was fun however, as you can see.

Cousin Cindi came to visit too with her new fiance. We met up in the city and went to La Banquise, practically a requirement when visiting Montreal. I had the Panoramix Poutine with smoked meat, mushrooms and sour cream. Later I wished I hadn't eaten all of it, but dang it was good. 

At the end of summer, like most years, we spent a week at campcamp in the woods in Maine (not pictured). I only took 4 pictures at camp this year, but I think we had our best year yet. (I think we say that every year. On the way there, we talk about how we are going to skip next year and then on the drive home we make plans for what we want to do when we go back the next year.) This is autumn beginning to descend on the lake and empty beach. We ended up having a spectacular season with vibrant colors for a good two weeks. 

As the "greens" bowling team (all the teams are colors) we dressed up for halloween. The two on the right are the ones who round out our gang of six who play cards and dice. Another fun night plus we won our games that night. 

James came up from Massechusetts for Thanksgiving and brought his new friend, Don with him (I can't believe we didn't take a picture together during their 4 day visit). Serge had gone to Key West with his friend for a twice postponed vacation so we enjoyed the feast without him. We also binge watched Wednesday and did a spa day. It was my second Thanksgiving dinner that I made, the first being in October for Canadian Thanksgiving when I treated the boys next door to the same feast. The only difference was I bought pumpkin pie (the very last one in town) for Canadian Thanksgiving and James made a to-die-for pumpkin cheesecake for the pictured feast. 

And here we are at the end of the year with so many things to be grateful for. The late autumn sunsets are lovely here in Sainte-Julienne, Quebec. We had many visits with other friends this year, but either I don't have a picture of it, or I'm in it and I look horrid. We are looking forward to a busy 2023 with our 30th anniversary cruise from Aukland to Vancouver, finishing up my thesis and generally enjoying life. Here's hoping your year has been as wonderful as ours filled with friends, family and good times. Happy holidays everyone! 

Monday, July 11, 2022

What pandemic?

Well folks, it looks like I'm a twice a year blogger now. It's important to keep it going for me if only to have a record of my life I can review when I'm old and can't remember anything anymore. As it is, Google photos has been very helpful with remembering what year we did what in. So without further adieu, here is a rundown since the mid winter update. 

After coming home from Ecuador in February, my mom sent us the quilt you see above. Serge picked out fabric while we were out visiting for the holidays and it came out great. 

We have started watching dogs again and these little guys are Nina and Luna. Super cute but not house trained. Luckily, they bring a case of pee-pee pads with them that we carpet the carpet with. 

The program that I work in is slowly dying at the college where I work and so I have been less busy than usual. However, I did get a new contract teaching a student success course. Here they are doing the marshmallow challenge for a demonstration on the power of self-efficacy. The downside to that was DRIVING to the college as there is road construction everywhere in Montreal. It routinely required 3 1/2 hours of driving time to teach a 3 hour class. Oy!

We finished the bowling season in first place! This Friday night ritual was really nice during the cold days of winter when there is nothing to do. We've made some nice friends and the league did several outings including a sugar shack and brunch. It was a nice way to stay connected socially when we are all holed up inside the rest of the time. 

Five of the six members of our team. We've all become pretty chummy and we all live here at Domaine de la Fierte. We plan to bowl next season too starting at the end of August.

Spring finally sprung (the last snowfall was very late this year April 26th!) and Serge painted the Adirondack chairs different colors. 

Then in May, we had our earliest heat wave ever recorded here. But it was just a tease like this photo, the rest of the spring and early summer have been cooler than average. 

I think I mentioned last time how we have become chummy with the next door neighbors. It has only gotten more chummy since. We regularly dine at each other's house, play cards, dice and have good conversation. We are even visiting each other unannounced now. They really helped us out when the great DERECHO of 2022 came through here and we lost electricity for three days. Since they were hooked to another neighbor's generator, they offered space in their fridge/freezer for us and some internet. I didn't take any pictures of the great power outage but did post a couple bits on FB:

The electricity went out yesterday. It’s clear now that our preparation prowess for this sort of thing is mediocre at best, but when it happened as I shivered in fear in the kitchen as the derecho came through, I thought, at least we’re stocked up on beer. It’s now more than 24 hours into this alternate reality, where internet, television and cell connectivity are quaint pleasantries of the past. I picked up ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’ and read most of it this morning, and it was as fresh as everything is for me that I haven’t visited in 25 years. Serge got up, asked for coffee (how?) and toiled in the yard planting things he hopes will beautify our surroundings. I went out to search for coffee. This is how I got a glimpse of the end times. Our society’s collective caffeine addiction was on full display as the entire (ok it’s only two streets) town was snarled with surly Starbucks seekers. Later I heard people I saw waiting in line at every fast food place had waited over an hour for their morning concoctions. I’m no fool, when I saw the mayhem, I headed for the car wash, they always have coffee, and there was only one shrewd local in front of me when I arrived. Serge had asked for a McMuffin (the lineup there was hahahahahaha) when I headed out, and at the car wash they had a shrink wrapped egg salad sandwich, and I thought, this is what one eats at the end times. I bought it and Serge was grateful. The day continued neither propelled nor impinged upon by anything electronic, and we went on a long walk through the neighborhood with George. We encountered other sullens making the best of things and exchanged complaints about the situation as pleasantries. This is how I learned it could be a week before service is restored. Wut? I can do a day of this, but I haven’t noodled through my brain a long term commitment. The neighbors stopped by and offered fridge and freezer space as they and three neighbors shared a generator to keep theirs going. Whew, meat saved. We then enjoyed a game or two of cards and cooked fridge perishables and hotdogs on the bbq. Vive le propane. I’m heading to bed and plan to kneel and pray properly for electricity. If this posts, I owe Serges wifi cellphone hotspot for that success. Here are a couple pics from that walk this afternoon.

Day 2 of the Great Power Outage of 22 started out alright. Serge had suggested making coffee on the bbq, or rather boiling water for coffee. It turns out that redundant little side burner outside the bbq is useful. Last time we had an outage, we learned that when the power goes out, so too do the pumps that deliver water. We also learned the hard way that a number two requires water, so there we were trudging back and forth to the lake with buckets to refill the toilet tank. We vowed to be prepared next time so we stuffed a dozen empty two liter soda bottles with water into every last hollow of our mobile home over the ensuing months. By the time Serge went to work this morning we had one number two’s worth of water left so he took along empties to refill there. You would think that by day two we’d have stopped looking at the digital clock faces or flipping on non-functioning lights, but you’d be wrong. It’s truly alarming what idiots we are. Both breakfast and lunch involved bread and peanut butter. My gratitude for the future working condition of the toaster cannot be overstated. (I was going to treat myself to a fast food lunch but all the lines were hahahahaha again, and I didn’t see myself going to all that trouble for a poutine.) While dreaming up the next non-electronic thing to busy myself with, I decided to ask the tarot cards about the situation and although I was brightened by the good advice and solution they foretold was coming, it irritated me that no timeline was divulged. If I had internet, I’d look to see if the cards had any day of the week connections, alas. At some point today I realized that my life now resembled George’s life and I explored the joys of staring out the window for an hour and dozing on the sofa. The constant clattering cacophony of generators has replaced the birdsong soundtrack and it’s clear that several neighbors made major purchases yesterday. Can’t they put mufflers on those things? They’re descendants of the leaf blower family I’m sure. I canceled the one hour course this morning I was supposed to do on Zoom, but tomorrow I’m scheduled to work all day so off to mother in law’s house we go to crash and work tomorrow out of the basement. The best part I’m sure will be not having to do number two water math. My prayer didn’t work last night, so tonight I will add a few more “pleases”. Here’s George getting some sun on his fire pit cushion today.

On day 3 we did indeed flee to mother-in-law's house to have a shower and so I could teach via zoom. The power came back at the end of day 3. 

At the end of spring, Serge got a part time job at the local Rona (think Home Depot US peeps). He laments that the weather is always bad on his days off, but here is proof that it is not always true. 

For the Quebec nationalist holiday they had a really nice fireworks display by the lake which we watched from the yard of our friends and bowling team mates as they have a house on the lake. 

Serge decided to build some art in our yard, so there you see the glorious hole as a friend put it. The disco ball is lit at night and makes our yard magical. Probably could be a visual definition of "eye-catching".

Finally, here I am with my new floaty chair. It is wonderful lounging in the lake with it. 

Other than that, life is very copasetic here and old friends from Montreal visit frequently since this is like the "gay getaway" place for city boys. George is good, our health is good, and we are surrounded by friends. It still feels like we are in our golden years despite both of us working part time. Until the next dispatch peeps. Mwah!