Thursday, November 1, 2012

As the leaves fall.

The truth is, the Cruise tag line, Fall Foliage, really misses the mark. Being in this region to catch the perfect moment that all the leaves change is almost impossible. Days before we boarded the Emerald Princess, we were being prepared by friends and family, who either live in the region, or had just returned from there, that if we would see the leaves at all, we would likely only see them underfoot.

Luckily, all of these ports of call are so full of rugged natural beauty and historically defining American, Canadian, French and British History, that the fall foliage is just a pretty backdrop if you manage to catch it just right. And in fact, to catch the fall colours, you have to be here in October, which is often a bad time of the year to appreciate the other great stuff this region has to offer — because it is frik’n freezing!! Not to mention the possibility of being on a huge ship in a churning sea as Hurricane Sandy approaches!

But I digress.

Our first port of call was Newport Rhode Island. After doing some research, we focused on three aspects of the town, and the region that were the most impressive.

Firstly, Newport has one of the highest concentrations of colonial homes in all of the United States. Secondly it boasts a breathtaking cliff walk, following the eastern shore for 3.5 miles. The trail combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the City’s impressive architectural history. A two for one experience! From the trail, you can view several of the restored Colonial homes. The experience was truly awe-inspiring. The juxtaposition of the roaring waves crashing against the ragged shoreline — with the perfect calm of the rolling manicured lawns and enormous mansions seemingly growing out of them — takes your breath away.

I also learned that there is a fairly significant Jewish connection to this port. In 1658 a group of Jews fleeing the inquisition in Spain and Portugal were allowed to settle in Newport. The Newport congregation, now referred to as Congregation Jeshuat Israel, is the second oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, and they still pray in the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, Touro Synagogue.

From Newport we headed for Boston MA. In Boston, every step tells a story. The Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, brick-lined route leads you through 16 historically significant sites, where you can explore museums and meeting houses, churches, and burying grounds that shine a light on many of the brave people that helped shape a nation. We took a walking tour with a park ranger that covered only a small part of the trail, including a visit to the home of Paul Revere, which is the oldest building in downtown Boston.

Paul Revere
Samuel Adams

John Hancock
I won’t go into all of the people and places and battles in Boston that have helped shape US history, but next time you order a Samuel Adams beer, go to a tea party or ask someone for his John Hancock, remember it all originated here.

Bar Harbor (or Bah Hahbah), the land without r’s, but with plenty of clam choudah and blueberry pie, is the home of the 41,000-acre Acadia National Park — one of the smallest National Parks in the US but also one of the most heavily visited. And no wonder — the park offers incredible mountain, sea, lake, cliff and coastline vistas, as well as an estimated 125 miles of trails, exclusively for hiking and biking.

Marc's mountain bike and the gorgeous carriage road

My set of wheels!

The bike rental shops called out to Marc and Oli’s Trolley tour called out to me. Marc set out on two wheels to cover a good portion of the forty-five miles of rustic carriage roads, (developed by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr.) that wind around the mountains and valleys of Acadia National Park. I on the other hand sat comfortably in Oli’s Trolley discovering the park and learning about the “summer people”. I was kind of shocked to learn that this quiet town had the reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. In the late 1800's, frequent visitors (the summer people) — such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vanderbilts and Fords built massive “cottages” that they used only during the summer months. Apparently, their justification was that they were sick of staying in hotels! Imagine!

Fall Foliage!

Like Newport Rhode Island, Bar Harbor Maine offers visitors opportunities to experience both awesome nature, and the quiet town’s opulent past. Many of the cottages (so called) have been converted into hotels or bed and breakfasts. And, while the rich and famous are long gone, everyone can enjoy the outrageous stories the friendly locals are more than happy to share!

When our ship set sail from Bar Harbor, we were on our way out of US waters towards the Canadian shores of Saint John, New Brunswick.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

10 days of royal treatment on the Emerald Princess

Let’s face it, cruising is all about being spoiled from the minute you get up in the morning, until the nightly chocolate (left on your pillow) melts in your mouth, as you are rocked to sleep by the ocean’s waves. Anyone who has the nerve to complain about ANYTHING, is simply too spoiled to begin with. Seriously. The ship is opulent, the staff, are outstandingly courteous, the entertainment first class and then let’s not forget the food.

If you are averse to being spoiled, or if you are antisocial, or if you are not in favour of eating at least three (four course) meals and at least two snacks and a few alcoholic beverages a day, this may not be for you. If you are not satisfied with organized excursions, or are not organized enough to organize your own land tours, or you are not happy just hanging out on the ship, just say no to cruising.

But if none of the above applies to you, a cruise is one heck of a way to “Escape Completely”, which is Princess Cruise’s new tag line. A brilliant piece of marketing I must say.

Before I share with you our ports of call, I thought I would post a few photos of the ship, for those of you who are new to cruising, or have not experienced one of Princess’s large ships.

The Piazza located mid ship, connects floors 5, 6 and 7 with beautiful winding staircases. From each floor you can view the entertainment below. Coffee shops and bars surround the staircases on each floor where you can relax, listen to music, sip on a cocktail, espresso or beer. Nightly, there are a variety of performances for your listening enjoyment.

If you prefer formal dining, lunch and dinner can be enjoyed in three dining rooms. Each day there are new menus featuring four course meals.

Ceiling detail in the Piazza.
Mid ship, there is a beautiful cafe featuring beautiful salads, sandwiches, quiches, and desserts.

We were entertained by a wonderful string quartet each evening in the Piazza before dinner.

Of course there is also a Casino for those who are so inclined. Just to encourage us all, we were forced to walk through the casino on our way to dinner!

We were treated to a cooking demonstration by the head chef. Felt like we were on a cooking show!

This was our third cruise. We decided when we finished our last cruise (to Alaska), that it would be our last. Now that we have finished this cruise of Maritime Canada and New England, we have again said it would be our last. But frankly it is a love/hate relationship we have with cruising. Being spoiled can be hard work. Saying no to the amazing food and beverages and desserts on board takes a lot of willpower and determination. Finding your way to the gym to try to keep all of that under control is even harder! Yet, the chance to be pampered and entertained by a ship full of men and woman at your beck and call 24 hours a day, is kind of priceless.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On the road (well really water) again ...

This creative photo courtesy of Devora!
We arrived back in North America (Hawaii to be exact) on May 6th 2012. Which means we have been BACK from the big adventure for just over five months. We have done a lot since then. A different kind of adventure, but an adventure none the less. Because I have been lax in documenting most of it here, it is kind of like it never happened. I hardly took my camera out these past months. I thought about it many times. Mostly I thought about the shots I had missed and how that meant there would not be a blog post about whatever it was I should have photographed.

I gave myself a holiday from blogging. Now I am kind of sorry, and kind of sad, but there is no use crying over spilled milk as they say. And just like spilled milk, there is no way to put it back or relive the moments that are gone.

We flew out of New York for Israel on October 29th last year. Today, October 16th almost a full year later, we are boarding a Princess Cruise ship headed for Quebec City with stops in Newport Rhode Island, Boston MA, Bar Harbor Maine, St John New Brunswick, Halifax and Sydney Nova Scotia, and Charlottetown Prince Edward Island.

We are still unplugged, homeless and really really happy. My camera is charged and my blog vacation is over.

Stay tuned for the next chapter!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Keep on Rockin' In The Free World

Some of you may have noticed a short blog post two days ago, as Marc and I made a last ditch effort to get into the lottery for free tickets to a benefit concert in Central Park, being organized through the The Global Poverty Project. We spent literally hours trying to figure out how to get the proper amount of points to be eligible for the possibility of getting on the list for the free tickets (which were actually given out weeks ago, but we thought we would give it a try).

The headliner for the concert was Neil Young, in a reunion concert with his amazing back up band Crazy Horse, which he has not played with in nine years.

Wouldn't you agree it was worth a little extra effort to see this concert under the stars in Central Park?

We managed to get our points by posting on my blog, facebook and twitter and then we waited in vein for the next 24 hours to see if miraculously we would receive the coveted email with a link to free tickets.

The gates were to open at 3:00 with the concert beginning at 5:00. Around 4:00, with no tickets we headed uptown to see if we could at least get close to the concert. We followed the crowds until we got to a place where we saw concert staff shouting at the crowd to hold up their ticket print outs.

We stood around feeling very dejected. I even rummaged in my purse to see if I had printouts of any kind in there to at least flash quickly so that we could join the line of ticket holders. But there was nothing to even create a rouse.

Then we noticed someone calling out "Any extra tickets?".  Miraculously someone stopped and gave him a printout. Not a scalper, just a young man who had an extra ticket.

Humm ...

Now it is not in our nature to do this kind of thing and I was pretty embarrassed (since the average age around us was about 21, but we were already there and could smell the concert from where we were standing (oh sweet maryjane). We had to give it a try.

Marc took one corner and I took the next and we called out "Any extra tickets?" and in about 10 minutes we had success! We proudly waved Nicolas and Andrew's tickets in the air and entered the long procession to the Great Lawn where the Black Keys were already on stage. In another 15 minutes we were there with 60,000 other fans, totally amazed that we had actually made it in to a huge concert in Central Park being broadcasted around the world.

We are in!

Black Keys

Foo Fighters

Over the two hours, listening to the Black Keys and later the Foo Fighters, we worked our way up to the fence, which was the closest we were going to get to see Neil Young with our free ticket status. If we had payed thousands of dollars towards the benefit, we could have been on stage with Neil, but then we would have had to forfeit our ear drums. So we were fine just where we were. His 70 minute set was electrifying to say the least. I could go into details, but I have found two links that I think do the concert justice. This one about the music, and this one about the background for the benefit concert.

The finale with all of the bands on stage. link

The finale with everyone onstage, was a moving rendition of "Keep on Rockin' In The Free World". It was very sobering to hear the lyrics to this song juxtaposed with clips of needy children from the developing world.

The concert ended at about 10:00 pm and we, and the 60,000 other fans filed out of Central Park and onto the subway trains dispersing us to our apartments, brownstones and homes all over the five boroughs and beyond. Within an hour we were back in our apartment on Ocean Ave as if it had not even happened.

On our way in, during, and after the concert, we both looked at each other and said "Can you believe we are in Central Park listening to Neil Young live?". Our conclusion each time was that in New York anything can happen. Luckily for us, that is where we are!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Get involved

We are trying desperately to get ticket to an amazing concert in Central Park tomorrow night. It is a free concert, but the deal is that you need to jump through three hoops in order to get the free tickets. One of the hoops is to post about the event. So here goes.

Here is a link to the concert!

Thanks for clicking!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bob’s Place

We met Bob on December 8th 2011 in the outdoor restaurant at the famed Hotel Tibet in Katmandu. As many of you may remember, we moved to the Hotel Tibet to hook up with all of our fellow “off the beaten track” travelers that day to begin our 82 day odyssey through Nepal and India.

We had quite a few things in common with Bob from the get go. First of all, he is old, (even older than us if you can imagine!). He is Canadian. And he is a non-smoker. He also was crazy enough to be doing the full 82-day trip! But the most amazing thing about Bob, we soon learned, was that he had been travelling around the world four to six months at a time for the last six years — and after all of that, he still had a smile on his face and was looking forward to any kind of adventure Dragoman could throw his way. And I have to say with complete honesty and admiration, that the smile never left his face all through our trip in India. Even through all of the — shall we say — trying experiences that I described (in detail) on the pages of this blog, even through all of the interpersonal reality show like drama on and off the bus, Bob was always the positive glue that kept us all connected and grounded.

I often had to ask myself if he could possibly be human. No one could be that positive and so genuine.

But when you hear the stories he has to tell about his experiences around the world (and personally see them happening in real time), the connections he has made and the unique encounters he has had, you can see that he is — very human and very special. It became my goal to learn from this man. Be more open, I tell myself. Be nicer to people, if I can. Take chances. Believe in people. It is impossible to be as good as Bob, but we should all try, because life according to Bob, is so full it overflows.

As I mentioned, Bob spends part of each year traveling around the world. When he retired at 55 after a successful career as a high school teacher (literature was his subject), and after some time volunteering his services to a variety of causes, he decided to take advantage of his good health and prepared to see the world. When he is not travelling, he spends most of his time at his cottage on Lake Huron; two hours drive from Kitchener, Ontario. When we said our tearful farewells in Bagdogra, India in February 2012, we promised to rendezvous at “Bob’s Place” in July. And that is exactly what we did!

Bob picked us up at the bus station in Kitchener, and we spent the two-hour drive to the cottage catching up on the last few days of the Dragoman trip (Marc and I left the trip a few days early), Bob’s trip to Hong Kong and the rest of our adventure in Southeast Asia. Bob, of course, had been to all of the countries we visited this trip, so there were many notes to compare and experiences to share. Before we knew it we had arrived at “Bob’s Place” nestled among the trees, on the rocky beaches of Lake Huron. I had to laugh when I saw the sign. We all thought he was kidding when he called his cottage “Bob’s Place”. But there it was, the sign at the entrance to his drive way. “Bob’s Place” indeed!

True to his persona, Bob was the best host anyone could hope for. He had all of our meals planned to be as quick (but of course healthy and delicious) and easy as possible so that we were not wasting precious time on food preparation. He had tentative plans for outings each day and even a selection of movies (all based in countries we had already travelled in or want to travel to!) to keep us entertained each evening. And we of course sat outside each night to see the sun set over Lake Huron. Bob was quick to tell us that National Geographic has rated the sunsets over Lake Huron to be the most beautiful in the world and we definitely agree.

After 70 odd days together through sickness and health, endless 12 hour bus trips over harrowing roads, mystic experiences in India’s holy sites, private city tours in Calcutta, climbing mountains in Kerala, dining together on the beaches of Goa, tiger sightings in Bandhavgarh (and the harrowing jeep ride afterwards) and endless other shared experiences — Bob is family. He didn’t let us leave without a promise that we will be back next summer, this time for a longer stay, so that we can fit in an overnight canoe trip and a long hike or two. We promised him we would be back — and really, how can we stay away? Because being with Bob is, well, not only enjoyable, entertaining and educational, but always an inspiration!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

War, Civilization and Food in the Canadian Capital

Cyndy picked us up at the bus station in the height of the heat wave that had been ravaging Ottawa for the last 30 days. Although there were going to be nine people for dinner at her place just a few hours later, she shuttled us off to her favourite lunch spot where we settled into catching up over bagels, salad and smoked meat (I know we are not in Montreal anymore, but we are still very close to the Province of Quebec!).

Cyndy’s partner David’s brother Eli was arriving by plane soon after we arrived, and the Berman Shabbat dinner was being hosted at their place. I was thrilled. I had met the rest of the Bermans on my last trip to Ottawa and I was eager for Marc to meet David’s parents and siblings. Friday night with the Bermans is full of tradition and a lot of fun. When we returned home and got settled, I set to work with Cyndy to set the table, figure out where to place the Sabbath candles where they would not blow out (fans and air-conditioning were blowing everywhere to cool down the house), take the sidur (prayer book) and the kipot (head coverings) out of the drawer and generally figure out the seating arrangement. I was given the honour of blessing the bread, David’s mother would bless the candles and David would lead the service.

Cyndy was practically fainting from the heat in the kitchen, but she still managed to produce an amazing meal with many ingredients fresh from her garden. Shirley and Shire (David’s parents) arrived with fresh challah and a home made triple layer chocolate cake. Eli’s birthday was a few days away and this was a great opportunity to celebrate with the whole family since he was going to be in town.

An hour later the whole family had arrived and the Berman siblings were in deep conversation and we were in similarly deep conversation with Shirley and Shire. They are cut from the same cloth as my Uncle Osher (of blessed memory) and Aunty Irene. They did a lot of the same things at the same time in different parts of Canada. When I told Shirley their names, she immediately said “Osher from Winnipeg right? Oh my god! I didn’t know him personally but I knew of him!” I felt very proud that my uncle was so famous all the way from Winnipeg to Montreal!

It was a wonderful evening from every perspective. Amazing food and great company. What a perfect first night in Ottawa.

Canadian War Museum (courtesy of the Internet)

If there was a theme for our trip to Ottawa, I think we would all agree that it was museums and food. Both aspects of our visit were very satisfying, well presented and educational. Since the weather was quite unbearable, hanging out at the air conditioned War Museum made perfect sense for our first full day of touring the city. The museum itself is huge and packed with exhibits taking you chronologically through the pre history and history of Canada through the lens of the wars fought, the reasons for them, Canada’s role in them and the fall out. Although I had some “design” issues with the overwhelming bombardment (no pun intended) of information, we were both moved by the things we saw. The main message I took away with me was that history is not something that just happens. We are all part of how it unfolds. The last exhibit is a multimedia slide show of images of the conflicts around the world today. Each museum guest is encouraged to speak out about the things they disagree or agree with. Postage paid postcards addressed to the Canada’s Prime Minister, The President of the United States and Members of Parliament line a long shelf on the way out of the exhibit hall. The museum strikes a good balance between the horrors of war, the commemoration of our war heroes and the importance of being informed about the conflicts our Country is involved in. Well done Canada!

Parliament Buildings (courtesy of the Internet)

When the Museum closed for the day, we walked from the Museum down Wellington until we hit the Parliament Buildings where we waited in the shade for Cyndy to pick us up. Once in her car, we were transported from War to haute cuisine in short order!

We did not have reservations, but Cyndy was relatively sure we would be able to get a table at the Side Door, an Asian Fusion restaurant on York street. The maitre de took his time reviewing the reservation list, to make it clear he would have preferred it if we were better organized, but did find us a quiet table in the lower level of the restaurant. The restaurant menu style is based on small sharing plates, so we all perused the menu and came up with a selection of delightful delicacies that brought us back immediately to the delicious meals we had in Vietnam and Thailand. The surprising ending to the meal was an assortment of beautifully decorated sugared donuts presented on a long narrow black slate plank that literally stretched the width of the table. There were seven donuts and three of us! Our waitress was giggling in the background as we found the strategy for dividing up the different flavoured donuts to everyone’s satisfaction.

Hogsback Falls

Our second day in Ottawa, we visited Hogsback falls with Cyndy (barely a trickle due to the drought) and then David joined us for the official tour of Sussex drive including passing the residence of our Prime Minister Steven Harper and the various embassies and memorials in the area including a visit to Rideau Falls, unfortunately less than gushing due to the heat and lack of rain.

But the main attraction was the Zen Kitchen, a vegan restaurant we had reservations for that evening.

The restaurant d├ęcor was a hit with me right away. The quiet restaurant was decorated with masks made of found materials. Each one more interesting than the next. I spent the first few minutes in the restaurant taking pictures of them! Everything on the menu sounded amazing and when we had made our choices, none of us were disappointed. The chef came to our table and we talked a bit about our time in Thailand, as she had a trip planned for this winter.

The grounds of the Museum of Civilization

Inside the main hall of the Museum of Civilization

Day three was the Museum of Civilization, a beautiful building in an incredible setting full of very interesting exhibits. I found two of the special exhibits especially interesting. The first was called God(s) a users guide ( You can read about it here. Marc and I did not have the same impression of the exhibit. He felt it was not a topic that deserved that much time or space in any museum. I argued that in fact it is a topic that is central to the way our world works and the exhibit was a way for people to think about the roots, the symbols, the books and the conflicts and the place God and Religion play in our lives. What was most clear to me after visiting the exhibit (beautifully presented in my opinion!) is that the way we practice our religions, the symbols we use and the traditions we all hold on to, have more similarities than differences. If we could all spend more time appreciating the similarities and accepting that we are all brothers and sisters, the world would certainly be a much better place. If you get a chance to see the exhibit, I would love to know your thoughts.

Right next to it was an exhibit of the life work of an Aboriginal artist named Bob Boyer. I particularly liked a series of paintings on blankets and here are a few examples. You can read more about him here.

Year of the Rat stamp series

Christmas stamps

Olympic stamps!

I had no idea that the Museum of Civilization housed the Archives of Canada Post. However, when I got to the third floor there it was. Near the entrance is a big round room with all of the commemorative stamps Canada Post has produced. It is like a museum in miniature. Hundreds of masterpieces no larger than 2” x 2”, displayed by year and by topic. My heart was pounding as I walked around looking for the stamps Violet and I designed beginning in 2003 and ending with our Olympic stamps in 2010. They were all there according to year and topic. I was all alone in the room, so I couldn’t share my excitement when I found each stamp. I instead took pictures to send to Violet and sat down with my computer to write a note to Alain Leduc at Canada Post without whom we would not have had the opportunity to be involved in these amazing design projects. Violet and I have worked on thousands of projects together, but the stamp projects were our most exciting and rewarding. Knowing that all of our designs are displayed in the Museum of Civilization was a huge source of pride.

I was a bit overwhelmed at that point, and there wasn’t much more in the Museum I was going to be able to fully appreciate. Luckily it was almost closing time!

Cyndy picked us up and we picked up a few groceries and headed home for yet another great dinner. Fresh fish and grilled vegetables on the barbeque! The weather had cooled and we set the dinner table on the back porch. Cyndy, like Violet, is an amazing gardener and our view while eating dinner was her beautiful garden.

Cyndy's garden

We all enjoyed every morsel of the dinner we prepared together. And that is what it’s all about really isn’t it? Good friends, spending time together, breaking bread together, making good food together and drinking good wine together. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scenario.

There was more great food and more activities, but I think I have touched on the highlights. We hugged our friends goodbye on Tuesday morning and Cyndy delivered us to the Ottawa bus station where our bus to Kitchener, Ontario awaited us.