Monday, July 16, 2018

Watching "Cranford" With My Mother


possible semi-spoiler warning?

Mom: "You have to come watch the Cranford DVD with me! It's such a charming show!"

Me: "Fine whatever okay."

45 minutes later:

Mom: "Did... did that lady... die?"

Me: "Looks that way."

30 minutes later:

Mom: "Is... is HE dead?"

Me: "Looks that way."

1 minute later:

Mom: "Wait, she's dead, too?"

Me: "Looks that way."

30 minutes later:

Me: "And now he's dead. That's four people in three episodes. This is the most depressing show ever. I'm sorry I ever complained about all those characters on Downton Abbey being put on a bus. At least they got to return a few episodes later. It's not like they had to die! Well, except for Matthew."

Mom. "Matthew! Oh, that was so sad. Yes....

....

So... can you order the next Cranford disc for me?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

An Excellent Eastern Expedition! Day 9 & 10... & Home!

--An Excellent Eastern Expedition--
DAY 9 & 10 (& Home!)

(Previously: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7, Day 8)


Day 9

I woke up about 7 and went down to enjoy my hotel's continental breakfast. I was half-asleep as I wandered into the breakfast room. A sign, in French, said something about choosing your own table. As I passed the sign, a hotel employee stopped me and said something to me in French. 

Let me pause and say that while I was able to figure out most French signs and can understand quite a few words, I can't understand mumblespeak French any more than I can understand mumblespeak English. Especially at 7am before I've had a drop of coffee.

In English, I asked the guy to please repeat what he'd said. He then pointed behind me and said I needed to check in with an attendant. I looked behind me and saw that I'd totally passed by this guy sitting at a table by the door. Apparently he needed my room number. I turned back, apologizing, and gave him my number. He rifled through a packet of papers and made a tiny check mark. And that was it.

The funny thing was, I realized afterward that the sign that said "choose your own table" had a second message written on the back. You know, where you likely wouldn't see it until you were leaving. It read (you guessed it) "Please check in with the attendant." And as for choosing one's own table, over half the tables had "Reserved" signs on them, though there was no one sitting at them.

This place was just weird, is what I'm saying. 




Breakfast items offered were: cereals, juices, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, bread (for toasting), various cut fruits (melons, pineapples, etc.), slices of American cheese, pastries, mini croissants, and coffee. You could also order hot foods (eggs, bacon, etc.) but they cost money. I guess that was one of the reasons the breakfast place had "attendants" -- a reason other than just making me feel bewildered, I mean.

I left the hotel around 11 and stopped at Tim Horton's for an iced coffee and a box of Timbits (aka donut holes.) 



Then I began to walk in the direction of the Museum Of Fine Arts, thinking I'd stop at the Barbie museum on the way. The website for the Barbie Museum had been vague on the hours, so I wasn't sure when it actually opened. To complicate things further, today was a Canadian holiday (Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, or FĂȘte Nationale), but as it was also a Sunday, some things were closed but some things were to be closed on Monday instead (when the holiday was observed). It was all a little confusing.

Anyway, the Barbie museum was not open as I walked by, and I didn't see any hours posted. So... onward to the Museum Of Fine Arts. It was about a 2-mile walk from the hotel.


The Montreal Museum Of Fine Arts consists of several buildings, all connected by underground passages. The adult ticket price was $15. 

The museum is huge -- possibly the largest one I've been in yet. But the place is like a maze. They had maps available, but those basically just gave a general overview of the buildings. Getting from one building to another was apparently something you were supposed to figure out. 

There was a special Picasso exhibit going on, but it cost extra, and I didn't do that.


I saw many cool things...












I stopped for lunch at the museum's cafe (I bought pre-made pasta salad; quite good.) After lunch, I continued to look around the museum. I spent about 4.5 hours there total. 

As I was about to leave, I noticed that the skies had turned dark. When I stepped outside, I realized it was pouring rain! I had brought my windbreaker along that day, which was great, but I had definitely worn the wrong pants (jeans) and shoes (sneakers). On the walk back, everything from my waist down got soaked.

I stopped at Tim Horton's and grabbed some dinner, which I brought back to the hotel.

Back in my room, I hung up my wet clothes and got warm & dry. I settled in for what I hoped would be a relaxing evening. Unfortunately, I started getting a bad headache, and even though I took something for it, it didn't let up for many hours. Woe.

Blame it on the rain.

Yeah, yeah.

Actually, another weird thing that was happening was that I was experiencing what some call "land sickness," the feeling that the ground is moving or that you're unsteady on your feet, after getting off a boat. It came and went throughout my days in Montreal, but I definitely felt it. After my previous two cruises, I got on a train almost immediately after disembarking. I wonder if the transition from boat to train, and then train to land, helped in those instances?

Going straight from boat to land was like... whoa, no.

Your mileage may vary.



Day 10

Homeward bound today.


I got up around 8. Breakfasted. Packed. Went down to the lobby and bought some Canada postcards & some stamps for sending a few of them. 

After checking out of my hotel, I literally had to just walk across the street to catch the shuttle bus to the airport. (The bus is appropriately numbered 747). Cost: $10. I'd checked, and a Taxi would have run me about $60. The ride took 30-40 minutes. Once at the airport, it was a little confusing trying to figure out where to go, but eventually I figured it out.

I printed my plane tickets at one of the kiosks. You know how it asks you to scan your passport or credit card? I scanned the latter and then almost left it in the machine. I'm still kind of haunted by that "almost." There were no blinky lights or reminder messages on the screen, so I wonder how many credit cards get left behind...

Next I proceeded through security and customs. I seem to be doing that a lot lately. Crossing the border, I mean. In the past year, I've crossed the US/Canadian border roughly ten times, via bus, boat, train, plane, and bicycle. 

I was at the airport by 1pm, but my flight didn't leave till nearly 4. I got some lunch from Starbucks Cafe (that's what they call it there, bless them). I also purchased some snacks for my flights, successfully using up the rest of my Canadian coins. 

The first flight was relatively short. We landed in JFK on time. My connecting flight was in a different terminal, so I had to take a shuttle from one to the other. I figured out where to catch that, but the employee who was in charge of people traffic wasn't friendly. She told me to wait behind the rope, which I did. But the next person to approach had to be told the same thing, as the person after that, and she was grouchy every time she had to tell people to wait behind the line. (Here's a novel idea... SIGNS.)


As the shuttle crossed the tarmac, I could see the New York City skyline! I'd only been through NY once before, via train, and by train you mostly just see... underground stuff. So this view was cool. The airport was so crowded, though! Masses of people everywhere. Huge lines for food. Lines for the ladies' room. Lines for the shuttle that backed up the downward escalators (imagine being stuck in line while on a moving staircase.)

While waiting for my flight, I was able to call my mom. She would be picking me up from PDX around 11pm her time. But I had a 6-7 hour flight to make it through, first.

My second flight -- from New York to Portland -- boarded & took off on time. It was a large plane, and they said it was relatively new. There was in-flight entertainment, which I wasn't expecting, but it was super helpful in distracting me during that long flight. (No, that's not the longest flight I've ever been on, but it was still about 5 hours too long for me!)



Where's our plane now? Let's check the monitor! Why, we're currently flying over Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and part of Ontario all at once! And it appears we're headed for... Seattle??

Dinner was good. There were three free options to choose from, but as I'd indicated "vegetarian option" on my reservation beforehand, when the flight attendant came to me she didn't ask what I wanted but simply handed me the veggie wrap option. I had actually been leaning toward the cheese tray, but I took the veggie wrap because it would have been rude not to. Thankfully it turned out to be delicious, so that worked out well. 





If you ever take a westbound Delta flight, you, too, should try this veggie wrap.

I watched several episodes of HGTV's Good Bones (a house-remodeling show) and I also watched Black Panther, which I had not seen before.

Our flight landed in Portland earlier than we'd expected, but once again, we had to wait for a gate to become available. What is up with that new trend? It happened twice on this trip and I don't recall that ever being an issue before, having to wait on the tarmac for a gate. 

At last we deplaned, and it felt good to be back. Sure, in the weeks since, I've thought, "I need to go on another cruise!" because cruises > real life, but being home is nice, too.



Some final thoughts...


What would I do again?

All the cities I visited were great in their own way. If I were to take this exact same cruise again, I think I would probably book different excursions in each port, for the sake of "trying new things." Maybe I'd book an excursion in QC; maybe go up to Montmorency Falls. Perhaps I'd go on a "lighthouses" tour out of Bar Harbor. But I'd also be happy seeing the Anne & Gilbert musical again and going on either of the horse & trolley tours again. Even just sitting on the opposite side of the trolley than I did would make that ride different. The weather could make those rides different. 

I would not likely return to the Fortress Of Louisbourg unless it was "in season" with everything open. 


What do I wish I'd done differently?

My unfortunate embarking experience left me feeling a bit... unwelcome on the ship, I'll admit. Perhaps that prevented me from being as bold as I would've otherwise been. Then again, maybe I would have felt the way I did anyway. The truth is, I just never felt like going to the sit-down dining room. It just seemed so formal, and I wasn't feeling it. Now, looking back, I think... maybe I should have? Even just once? Just to try it? Okay, we'll call that a "plan for next time."

Also, I do wish I could have had more days at the beginning of my trip to sight-see, and then come home right after the cruse. I mean, I loved Montreal, but it's hard to do things in that order. I prefer land then sea vacations. But... this was the way it worked out. Just a note for next time.


Overall impressions of HAL?

Forget the idea of Holland America being an Old Folks' ship... yes, there were older people. Probably more than on DCL. Fewer families with young kids, certainly.  But there were a lot of young couples, a lot of middle-aged couples and groups, and, as I mentioned a few posts ago, a fair number of gangly teenagers.

The activities on board didn't really interest me. There were a quite a few seminars on technology, but they were things like "Getting to know Windows 10" or "Learning To Take Great Digital Photos" and I wasn't compelled to go.

I did like the fact that this ship had a lending library as well as DVDs for rent.

The food was comparable to DCL. Some of it was mediocre, but some of it was superbly delicious. 

I was asked to take a survey by the cruise line a few days after I returned. One of the questions asked was if HAL would be my "first choice" for booking my next cruise. I would certainly travel with HAL again, but "first choice" is a bit laughable. More important to me would be price and itinerary. I hear Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian are all good lines, and who knows which one I'll try next?


Favorite thing I saw?




Sunsets.


Monday, July 9, 2018

An Excellent Eastern Expedition! - Day 8

--An Excellent Eastern Expedition--
DAY 8

(Previously: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6, Day 7)

This morning, the Maasdam docked in Montreal.


I was up at 6:45, had a light breakfast, packed, showered, went up to Lido for some cereal, returned to my room, waited for my number to be called (around 8am), and then left the ship foreverrrr.

Disembarking from a cruise can be a sad process. I will say, though, that the whole thing felt slightly more relaxed on HAL than it did on DCL. 

HAL's vibe: "Thanks for sailing with us! Have a great trip home!"



DCL's vibe: "Okay, the magic's over, go home now."

At least, that's the way it felt to me. DCL's embarkation process, on the other hand... well... night and day, there. ;)

Stepping off the ship and entering the cruise terminal in Montreal, I was expecting to find the luggage storage place, but it appeared to be closed. Great. Now what was I going to do? It'd be 7 hours before I could check into my hotel. Even if they offered luggage storage (and they probably did), I didn't want to walk all the way to the hotel now...  

But what I didn't realize was that there were actually several luggage storage areas at the terminal, and while one was indeed closed, this other one was open. So they took my 2 bags for $5 each, handed me 2 claim tickets, and then I was free to explore the city!


Except, at 8am, not much was open. I wandered toward the Notre Dame Basilica, figuring it would be open, and it was. It cost $6 to get in. 


There was no line when I arrived, and there weren't that many people there. Apparently, later in the day, it gets pretty crowded.


I've visited quite a few churches in my time; this one may have been the gaudiest one yet. 


I do love a good stained glass window, though!




After leaving the basilica, I found a cafe, where I got an Americano and a poppyseed muffin and used their Wifi for a while.



I continued to just wander around until 11am, when the Pointe-a-Calliere - The Archaeology and History Complex -- opened. 


That's the Maasdam, center, and the museum, on the right.

The price of an adult ticket was $22 (Canadian, of course, as will be all the prices I mention for the next two days), but it's only $15 if you're a "young adult" between 18 and 30. ("Oh, to be young again.")


The basement of this place houses the original foundation of the building that was on site in the 1800s.



I wandered the museum for about 2 hours. It was a cool place, with lots of artifacts found in the area and explanations of the items. I especially loved the more "modern" artifacts (ie, stuff from the 1800s) because they were often both recognizable and laughably odd-looking. I do love me some antiques.

There was a tunnel that used to be a waterway, then a sewer... but they had made it all new-agey and trippy. 



A video...


They also had a pirate ship room for kids, with lots of interactive elements.


The museum had a temporary exhibition called "Queens Of Egypt," but for some reason I thought it cost extra. Now, looking at the website, I think my ticket would've gotten me in to that. Oh well.

After leaving the museum, I got some strawberry frozen yogurt from a shop. (Put a giant cow out front of your establishment and you've got a customer, here.)


Then I visited another old church, the Notre Dame de Bon Secours Chapel.



Afterward I went down to the waterfront, where there were lots of cool things going on. There's a giant Ferris wheel, a zip line, rides, paddle boats, and lots more to see and do. 




A telescopic view of the La Ronde Amusement Park...


Below is a complex called Habitat 67, which you can read about here.


The globey building, below, is the former Expo 67 American Pavilion. It's now the Montreal Biosphere.



La Grand Roue De Montreal, below, may give you stunning views, but it will set you back $25.





At 2:30 I went and retrieved my luggage, then began making my way toward my hotel. The walk was less than a mile, but a lot of it was uphill.


When I arrived at the Travelodge Wyndham Montreal Centre, I was a bit startled because there were 30-40 young people, with their luggage, packed into the relatively small lobby of the place. Luckily for me, they were not waiting to check in. I don't know why they were there, actually.

I was able to check in, get my room key, and go on up to my room. My room was on the 10th floor. It was very small, possibly even smaller than my ship's stateroom... but for a solo traveler, it worked. 




Almost immediately, I took a nap.

After my nap, I walked a few blocks up to Tim Horton's, where I got some dinner and a muffin.

Back at the hotel, I relaxed for most of the evening, watching HGTV, part of Captain America, and about 1/2 an hour of The Goonies (in French!)





* * * * * *

Travelodge Wyndham Montreal Centre Pros & Cons

 Pros:

*Location -- Close to port, close to many tourist attractions, 2 blocks from a Tim Horton's. Not the most scenic block in town, but still.

*Fan/AC unit in room.

*Free WIFI.

*A good selection of TV channels.

*Room did not smell smoky.

*Nice-smelling soaps.

*Keurig in the room.

*Comfy bed.


Cons:

*Tiny room. Fine for one person, though.

*The breakfast situation was awkward (more on that in my next post).

*Bathroom light and fan run simultaneously... I hate that.

*Non-carpeted hallway, and doors that slam and shake the walls.

*Towels are the thinnest I've ever seen. And they're even tagged with the hotel's name. Travelodge, seriously -- you'd have to be crazy to want to steal those towels.

*In-room lighting was minimal... only two bed lamps and a window.


Conclusion:

Would I stay here again? Probably not. I would try a different place next time.



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