Cruising the St Lawrence Seaway

I’m having trouble transferring John’s photos using weak wi fi and forgot the cable so will have to wait until Boston to post me and better photos.  I’m doing this in a cafe in Bar Harbour Maine.  Boston tomorrow.

Sunday, 5th June

After all the wonderful weather we have had it was a shock to wake up to winter. At 6.30 breakfast arrived in our room after which we ventured ashore in warm clothes. The Old Town of Quebec is only a short walk from the ship so we walked out with little idea of where to go except to find the funicular which would take us to the top of the hill.

imageQuebec is at the meeting of two rivers, St Lawrence and St Charles. A long row of picturesque buildings on the lower level have become elegant shops designed to appeal to tourists. This is called the rue du Petit-Champlain and was voted Canada’s most beautiful pedestrian street in 2014. The funicular took us up to the magnificent Chateau Frontenac which looks like a fairytale castle and is the most photographed hotel in the world. In front is a boardwalk called Dufferin Terrace which meets up with an intact city wall encircling the city. Our next stop was the visitor information centre where we asked for an Internet cafe which had espresso coffee. imageWe were directed to Smith’s where we escaped from the cold wind and downloaded our emails. The coffee was excellent. We have learned to ask for a double shot of espresso with some steamed milk and it usually turns out something like a flat white. Back to the information centre and we asked for advice on museums. They seemed like the best option on this cold day. We crossed the road to the Musee du Fort where we were joined by a group of teenage schoolchildren who had to complete a quiz in French at the end of the show. At the front of the theatre was a replica of Quebec in 1750. The sound and light show showed the successive invasions by British and Americans and the effect on this French/English city. It was very well done but we didn’t stay to answer the French quiz.

As we walked down the hill we saw another history museum which I planned to visit after lunch. Back on the ship I felt unwell with headache and sore throat so slept for a couple of hours. Fortunately I recovered enough to enjoy a glass of prosecco and dinner in the Rotterdam dining room. The entertainment this evening was a comedian and ventriloquist who was very funny. I particularly like his comment about his dummy. It is not PC, he said, to call them dummies. They must be referred to as Mannequin Americans.

Monday, 6th June

 

Today was spent on the ship but that was welcome as the weather is awful. At least it is comfortable and warm except for the decks and the pool so no Aqua jogging for us. There were a few people in the hot tubs but we weren’t tempted.

As the clocks were moved forward to Nova Scotia time and we got up late we found we had ten minutes before breakfast finished in the Lido. We made it however and then investigated the laundry rooms. On level 5 there was a queue out the door but on level 6 there were plenty of machines free. We needed 8 quarters for the washer and 4 for the dryer so now we have drawers full of clean clothes which should last us until Boston.

The Explorers Lounge (where the library is situated) does espresso coffee so we ordered our double shot with some steamed milk and found it very good. It is also a reasonable price (before tax, gratuity etc). After lunch at the Lido which was very crowded, probably because of the weather, we repaired to the Showroom on level 7 where the location guide Jeremy (Australian), provided an overview of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia and what to expect at the ports of Charlottetown, Sydney and Halifax. We haven’t booked any ship excursions so I am hoping we can visit some Anne of Green Gables sites as they about 35 kilometres from Charlottetown.

imageIt was gala night tonight so we donned the formal gear. John wore his dark blue suit with a tie and I wore my dark blue dress. Somehow I lost a shoe in Niagara or Toronto but at least I had some black sandals which were not too bad. Just as well I didn’t have to wear my joggers! Very few men wore tuxedos but most had a jacket and tie. Women can wear anything and get away with it. There were a few in long evening gowns.

We listened to Adagio in the Explorer’s lounge sipping a glass of prosecco. The group consists of two women who play violin and piano. They played some Grieg and Rossini with great skill. It was very pleasant looking out across the rolling sea.

An extra effort was made with dinner tonight. The chairs were covered with white material and the menu was more extensive, with four courses instead of three. I think the food was better too. We chatted to a couple from Boston who gave us plenty of ideas for things to do when we arrive.

We read for a while after dinner in the Explorer’s Room. At 10.00 pm it was Showtime with the Veendam Singers and Dancers singing British hits from the 1960s, 70s, 80s and beyond. They were very good and rounded off a perfectly enjoyable day.

Tuesday, 7th June

It was so foggy that the ship could not pass under the Confederation Bridge and had to take the long way round Prince Edward Island. We woke to a grey sky as we tied up at Confederation Landing. Not booking a tour has its disadvantages. It was easy enough to find a driver outside the terminal but not so easy to find two others to share with. We asked two women but they were intent on getting to the Information Centre and seeing what they recommended. Finally a man called Steve approached us and said he had been told by the driver that we were looking for someone to share the cost of $210 for 3 and a half hours. He had to go and find his wife on the ship so we waited some more. imageEventually we were seated in a six seater van with a driver/ guide named Mickey. He was originally from Iran but came with his father to PEI after the revolution in Iran. As well as being a guide and driver he runs a B&B near the Anne of Green Gables house.

imageAlthough I would have liked to visit LM Montgomery’s museum and family farm, the fact that the New Orlean’s couple we were with were not fans of Anne meant that we followed the scenic route through New Glasgow, stopped at a pottery shop and a goat farm, saw the scenic red cliffs and beaches on the North Shore and finally drove into the Green Gables farmhouse. Although it is very touristy I was pleased to know that it was the original house belonging to a brother and sister related to LM Montgomery on which she based the setting for the book. The rooms have been furnished as they are described in the book. There was Matthew’s room downstairs. There was Anne’s little room with its window looking out over a blossoming crab apple tree.

 

Something I will be always grateful for was the gradual disappearance of cloud cover so that by the time we reached Green Gables the sky was a brilliant blue and the area looked every bit as picturesque as I had imagined.

imageAfter the tour we wandered around Charlottetown, choosing the Row House Lobster Co for a lobster roll (John) and seafood chowder (me). Did you know Prince Edward Island supplies nearly all the potatoes for McDonalds in America? The lobsters are also cheap at around $7 a pound but John was disappointed in his roll and is still searching for perfection.

imageIt was such a lovely day we stayed around the port for a while looking in the souvenir shops and admiring the scenery. Finally we were back on board but departure was delayed by an hour while minor repairs were done to the ship. Some sceptics we met said this was a euphemism for lost people who had not returned to the ship. Rather than go without them they delay departure until they are found.

The meals have been steadily improving and we have settled into a pleasant routine. Before dinner we had a G&T in the Ocean Bar as we listened to The Neptunes play and watched a few couples expertly dancing to the music. After dinner the Halifax Citadel Bagpipers encouraged us to visit them when in their port and played a few rousing tunes.

Off in the Veendam

Saturday, 4th June

It has been a big day. We revisited Place Jacque Cartier and chose a pretty flower bedecked restaurant for breakfast. The prices seemed reasonable so we ordered pancakes with strawberries, cereal with yoghurt and tea for me and coffee for John. The menu said espresso but I warned John! He didn’t listen and even ordered a double shot. It was basically a double shot of percolated coffee if that is possible and they charged six dollars for it. imageIt took a while to get over the bill but we found some beautiful and interesting buildings including a large market called Marche Bonsecours and the Musee Marguerite-Bourgeoys. They weren’t open so early in the morning but the buildings were impressive. We then crossed the railway line to the waterfront area which is made up of a big top housing Circe de Soleil, children’s parks, zip lining, bicycle and segway hire, rows of containers operating as stalls and a huge ship on dry land designed for climbing on. Grace and Harry would have a ball.

imageA bit before 11 am we checked out and wheeled our bags across the railway line to the pick up point. Soon we were in a mini bus on our way to the ship. In about half an hour we had filled in our papers, had our photos taken and were crossing the gangplank.

imageOur room took a bit of getting used to as on our last two cruises we have had balconies. This time I opted for a window only (another economy measure) and we weren’t sure if I had made the right decision. However we reversed the pillows on the bed and could lie down watching the world go by so are pretty happy now. So far the shore on either side is not too far away and we can see typical picturesque Canadian houses sliding by. At least we don’t have to close the curtains unless we are in port.

It was 12 o’clock and the Lido Bar was open so we found our way there and had lunch. Next was a tour of the ship by Joel whose accent led us to believe he was from the North Island of New Zealand and we were right. Originally we weren’t going to book a fancy restaurant but decided to try the Pinnacle on the second formal night. It is $39 extra a head so had better be good. The drinks package at $45 a head a day plus tax seemed a bit steep as I don’t think we could drink that much so we will just pay as we go.

The Mandatory Passenger Safety Emergency Drill was next. We had to report to Level 6 under Lifeboat 3. This took a long time as a roll had to be called and missing people chased up. Eventually we were freed and it was nearly time to leave. On Deck 11 they were offering $10 cocktails (keep the glass) but we opted for a prosecco beside the pool. There were lots of children here but I have become more tolerant now I am a grandmother and besides, it’s a relief to see someone who isn’t 103. The ship moved away from the wharf and began its voyage to Quebec, where it will arrive at 4.00 am. We can go ashore at 7 so have ordered room service for 6.30 am.

We had booked dinner for 7.00 pm and were seated on our own at a table for 2. The people at the next table were Japanese so we talked for a while and found we had many things in common. The main difference was their ability to speak English far surpassed our ability to speak Japanese. John ordered a bottle of Grant Burg Shiraz which we planned would last two nights. It seems to have about a third left so looks like a lean night tomorrow. The meal was quite OK and better than anything we have eaten recently on land.

imageThe entertainment tonight was a showcase of all the acts on the ship. We were surprised to see our life jacket demonstrator was also a singer and entertainer. You have to be multi purpose on a ship.

I was really tired by this time but John had a new burst of energy. We wandered past piano bars and jazz groups, people dancing and playing gaming machines until we came to the library and games room. There is a great collection of books and John was soon in a comfy chair facing the water reading about the Berlin Wall.

Vive le Quebec Libre!

Thursday, 2nd June

A short taxi ride to Union Station and we stocked up on food and drink for the trip. For five hours we travelled past Lake Ontario viewing vineyards, green fields and waterways. There was a food trolley where we could have bought lunch but opted for tea instead. Montreal Station Centrale was an eye opener. Whereas Toronto was in renovation chaos and with only two food outlets, Montreal boasted rows of shops more like an airport. There were patisseries with pastries and cakes only seen before in France, bottle shops larger than any we had seen in North America and every imaginable  variety of food. We couldn’t dally as we had to get to the Old Town. It was a slow taxi ride through traffic and when we arrived we were rather taken aback by the unobtrusive appearance of our hotel. Quite different to the Doubletree edifices!

imageUp two flights of stairs with our luggage and we were shown into a delightful French style room. As an economy measure I had opted for a room without a view as this is an expensive part of town to stay in. However it was light and cheery.

We asked directions from the receptionist in the foyer and found a bottle shop and a small convenience store where we bought smoked meat, cheese, tomatoes, salad and crackers. On the way back we passed a patisserie where we bought two delicious but expensive tarts for dessert. Apparently the owner is from Paris and is very famous for his creations. In the room is a coffee maker and a toaster oven plus plates, knives and forks so it is possible to make a simple meal.
Friday, 3rd June

We had a great breakfast in our room of fresh baguette, smoked meat and tiny tomatoes along with tea made in the coffee maker.

The first things to do this morning were to find where our ship is leaving from tomorrow and get a walking tour map of the area from the Tourist Information Centre. We found a white marquee near the waterfront with a picture of a ship on the side and after a few enquiries found that a shuttle bus will take us seven kilometres to the ship as the dock is currently under renovation.

imageAt the Tourist Bureau we picked up a map and checked out some of the attractions. The Old Town is very well preserved although the waterfront is cut off from the town by a railway line and features some ugly, falling down industrial buildings. With the rate of redevelopment going on I am sure it will look very different in five years, especially as an effort is being made to retain the character of the area.

 

Most of the City Wall has gone but we found some behind the Hotel d’Ville. The Town Hall itself featured some beautiful stained glass windows, chandeliers and marble. The balcony is where General Charles de Gaulle proclaimed his famous “Vive le Quebec libre!” in 1967. This brought to mind John’s often told joke from an English cartoon of the time. There was a shipment of toilets of the squatting variety bound for Canada from France. De Gaulle was supposed to be saying, “That will get the French in Canada back on their feet!”

I know, I know – it’s a Dad joke.

imageWe walked up Place Jacques-Cartier which looked very touristy. It has been a marketplace since the early 1900s and was just setting up as we passed by. The sides were lined with French style Cafes festooned with spring flowers. Our guide at the Information Centre was Spanish and directed us to a cafe called Veritas for a good strong cortado. Sometime later we saw a cafe offering flat whites but by then had enough caffeine in our system.

The highlight if the day was a visit to Chateau Ramezay, opposite the Town Hall. Built in 1705 as the Montreal governor’s residence, it was later sold on to fur traders, then became the headquarters of the Continental (American) Army, then a British governor’s residence, then a Faculty of Medicine for Montreal University and finally, in 1895, a museum. In each room, representing a different era of the house, a recording could be played from a person of that time. It reminded me of the book, “My Place”. It certainly gave a great overview of the history of Montreal including the Iroquois Amerindians. Now there’s a new word I discovered today. An Amerindian is any member of the people living in North or South America before the arrival of the European.

The cafes outside our hotel were in full swing when we returned so we had sandwiches and soup under the umbrellas in the shade. It had become a beautiful sunny day and many people looked settled in for the Friday afternoon.

We were both tired so grabbed a nap before setting forth to buy some food for dinner. The atmosphere was festive and we were tempted to enter one of the hundreds of restaurants beckoning in the Old Town. Instead we bought bread, salad and yoghurt and with the smoked meat, tomatoes, cheese and pickles in our room we washed it all down with a good red.

Niagara and Beyond

Monday, 30th May

We sadly waved goodbye to our home for nearly a week and set off with Bob and Nancy on the six hour journey to Niagara Falls. First stop was at the best coffee shop in the Adirondacks. To think we only discovered it today. We both ordered cortados and a croissant. Definitely a nine. It was about two hours to Albany travelling south and then another two to Syracuse where Bob and Nancy’s friends John and Linda had invited us for lunch. Again they were very friendly people and we were sorry to move on but the falls beckoned. The plan was for Bob and Nancy to drop us off at the Rainbow Bridge where we would walk across and catch a taxi to our hotel.

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The Rainbow Bridge

However they were on the bridge and had paid the toll and before they knew it they were in Canada. We all showed our passports and after answering a few questions we continued on to a car park where we farewelled our hosts and went in search of a taxi. New York it was not so we gave up and walked.

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Foyer of the Doubletree

It was only about a kilometre but the hill was steep and the day was hot so we were glad to reach the Doubletree Fallsview Hilton, shower and go out to check out the falls. The view from the front of the casino would have been good if there weren’t so many trees. But we saw enough to whet our appetite for more tomorrow. We have booked a double decker bus tour. So that should be fairly stress free.

Dinner was at Barefoot Joes. It was not memorable.

Tuesday, 31st May

Another beautiful day. The weather has been so good. I stood at the window at 6 am and watched the mist rising from the two sets of falls. We had breakfast at a diner. It started off reasonably priced. Then there is tax and then a minimum of 15 percent tip and next thing you know it is expensive.

I was trying to book a bus to Toronto for tomorrow on my iPad but every time I put in my credit card it was rejected. Finally I rang Megabus from the room phone and paid for it over the phone. It cost more but by then I was getting desperate. We will be catching the 11.15 am bus to Toronto arriving at 1.20 pm.

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John thinks he rode in this bus in the 1960s

Today was a lazy day in that we were picked up in a 1960s double decker bus and driven to various places of interest in Niagara.

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Journey Behind the Falls

The first was Journey Behind the Falls, then the Whirlpool Aero Car above the Niagara River and finally the long awaited Hornblower Cruise. Maid of the Mist leaves from the USA side and Hornblower from the Canadian. It was truly spectacular seeing and feeling all that water pounding around us. It certainly did not disappoint. We also got to see a bit of the area on the tour including the bus station we’ll be leaving from tomorrow. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant near our hotel and was better than last night.

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Hornblower Cruise

Wednesday 1st June

We didn’t have to hurry this morning so slept in. The Starbucks downstairs was run by an Italian woman named Maria. I asked her for a double shot espresso with some steamed milk. She said it was a macchiato in Italy but added a bit of extra milk. It was certainly good. Best coffee I have ever had in Starbucks.

imageA taxi took us to the bus station where we caught a Coach Canada bus to Toronto. The trip was very scenic and followed Lake Ontario for much of the way. It looked huge like an ocean but you could see the tall buildings of Toronto in the distance across the water. There is new dense housing development along the water’s edge. As we drove into Toronto we marvelled at the number of modern high rise buildings and the freeway which carved its way through them. We could see our hotel from the bus depot which was a lucky coincidence as we only had to wheel our bags a short distance. At Doubletree Toronto Hilton we were given our warm choc chip cookies and sent up to the 19th floor.

imageWith only an afternoon to see Toronto we opted to go up the CN Tower. It used to be the tallest tower in the world but now is number three. We had good views of the waterfront and the islands just off the shore. There is an airport at one end of the islands so we watched planes take off as well as all sorts of boats on the water. Just below the tower is Rogers stadium where a big baseball match is being held tonight between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays. (nb Blue Jays beat Yankees 7 nil.)

We were both tired after a long walk to Union Station to check out where we leave tomorrow. It is being renovated so is a bit of a mess. Anyway we ordered pizza in our room and making the most of the guest laundry room did a load of washing. I think that Holland America has a laundry which will be a big improvement on past cruises. As long as it isn’t in the bowels of the ship. That is a sure recipe for seasickness as in my honeymoon cruise on the Oriana in 1972