Kingston – a pit stop on the road to Toronto


I’m on the road today. Leaving Kingston by train for Toronto. My sisters are flying in to Toronto this morning too. It’s my 70th Birthday – and we are meeting up at the UP station near the train station to spend a ‘sister”s’ weekend celebrating that milestone.

I’m hoping there’s a waiting room or somewhere to sit at the UP Station. I can’t remember for the life of me. But I’m sure I’ll work it out.

I came to Kingston from Montreal by train on Tuesday – to play bridge. They are having a Regional Competition this week, and I’m squeezing in two days of bridge before my birthday celebrations in Toronto. My trip here was uneventful. I arrived early at the train station in Kingston, which is located in the middle of basically nothing but forest/farm land. A local bus driver, with help from two of the other passengers, determined my best bet to get to the St. Lawerence College was to take the slow and winding 16 route. At least I don’t have to change buses, and I get a free tour of downtown Kingston. I also get to chat up some of the locals – who for reasons I do not understand decide to share their medical histories with me. To you both – I hope you feel better soon!

Soon enough I”m at the college, and a young student (he’s a grad student, so not that young, but it’s in comparison) walks me to the door to the residences so I can drop off my small suitcase. He also points out the food court, and the gym where we’ll be playing bridge.

The College is one very long, very narrow building on two floors that is probably the result of joining several smaller buildings into one at some point in it’s history. It’s relatively modern looking, and has most of the expected facilities – non-gender toilets, white boards in all classrooms, and signs. Lots and lots of signs. There’s a cooking school (the student restaurant isn’t open for the summer, but I did see signs of a class being held), a vet school (complete with a furry quick stop, and even a weight room. Recycling here is big – and there are 4 different sorting bins – including one just for coffee cups.

And it’s clean. And relatively empty being that it’s summer and while there are classes – the population is clearly reduced from what it must be during ‘term’. But I”m not here for school – I’m here for bridge!

And Kingston for bridge was interesting. I met some very nice people and saw a lot of the same faces from Toronto Regionals. My PUP (pick up partner) was ‘The Independent Lady’ – 73 years young and very very interesting. She’s been married 4 times – has 2 sons from two different husbands – and is very independent today. I admire this of course, but do not envy her at all! I kinda like my cozy married life of almost 48 years.. But she was a very decent partner – we had our ups and downs on Tuesday, but on Wednesday we put our acts together – and did very well. We came in first in our section in the Gold Rush (yeah!!) and even finished in the top 4 in a side game against some pretty impressive competition. I was very pleased.

Last night we decided to share a 3/4 bottle of red wine after the night game, and went up to the lounge on her floor of the college residence. There were others bridge players there – and we chatted and drank and practiced yoga (yes – someone has the pictures to prove that) until after midnight.

We agreed to try to get together again – like me she travels a lot and lacks a consistent partner. We shall see how that works out. She’s not as good as Fern (the gal I went on the cruise with), although she has more master points. While she’s been playing for a long time, she’s still open to new ideas about defence – what I think is the most crucial part of the game. Everyone can learn conventions – but 50% of the time you are on defence – and that makes or breaks your scoring.

I think there’s a definite problem with folks that have been playing for too many years and are willing to teach, but not so willing to learn – they are sure that they know what they know – whereas I’m sure of what I don’t know.

On the subject of college residences… Well, they haven’t changed much since my Tufts University days in 1966-1970. I honestly felt transported back to that single room I had my senior year. The only difference – they have put bathrooms inside the rooms – so no sharing the toilet. But otherwise – it was identical. My bed was the upper part of a bunk bed that had been split, so a metal frame that was a good 25” above the floor. I had to hoist myself up to get in! I had a single window on one wall – which at least could open. The sheets and bed covering were thread bare and had been washed a zillion times. Same for the towels. The closet had no hangers, so I had to just dump my jackets on the floor, or hang them on the back of the only chair in the room.

On the first night – I was so so cold. I didn’t realize that the thing that looked like an AC on the wall was also a heater. I got up in the middle of the night, walked the long long walk to ‘reception’, and asked for a blanket. (I was already sleeping in my sweat shirt, and wearing socks). She kindly gave me a nice cuddly blanket, and explained how to make the heater work. Finally – I was warm enough to sleep!

Last night I asked for better towels – and that too was provided. So I had a nice warm shower before bed – very nice. Maybe I should have had more water to drink though… Wine tends to give me a bit of a headache, and this morning I feel a bit hungover. But two cups of latte at Via Rail’s expense and a warm breakfast makes for a good pick-me up!

We are playing bridge in the University Gym, and the nearest bathroom is clearly the Woman’s locker room. Two tiny toilets – and the biggest shower space I’ve seen in years. No barriers, no curtains, no separations. I know, guys are not surprised, but for women, we tend to shower in our own space – not in huge open spaces with multiple shower heads. And it smelled horrid. Ah well – I guess Gyms are Gyms.. What was I expecting? Marriott? Not hardly.

Food at the residences was also interesting. I was staying at St. Lawerence College, not Queens. I mention this because it was a bit of a distance from ‘downtown’ Kingston, and the closest food was the ‘food court/cafeteria’ of the college. To get to any restaurant required a healthy walk, or a car. Good news – The Independent Lady had a car. Bad news – the restaurants were Tim Hortons, Subway, and a local Sushi Joint.

The food at the cafeteria was actually excellent – I ate lunch there both days – and it was quite acceptable. But they close at 4:00 PM – And the afternoon bridge game finished at 5:30. So you couldn’t go there for dinner!

The first night – we drove over to Tim Horton’s. The Lady had poutine (seriously?), and I ordered from the Sushi place. It was ok, but too much food, so I carefully took part back to my dorm room and put in the fridge.

The second night we opted to eat at the Residences. The Lady munched on some of my grapes and some cookies I”d taken from Via Rail on my trip into Kingston, I ate most of the remains of my sushi. Not a gourmet meal by any stretch of the imagination.

The company however was stellar. We were sitting outside, and were joined by a young man who is studing to be a Correctional Officier. He was adorable – cute, young, very very strong, and very articulate. He was born in Corsovo (sp?), and had immigrated to Canada while very young. He felt that the Canadian Federal Government had saved his life, and wanted to return the favour by working for them.

We chatted and chatted. He explained that the program is 3 months long, and a new ‘course’ starts every week during the summer, with 30 new trainees. If you finish the program, you are guaranteed a job. But getting into the program is the challenge. Thousands apply, few are accepted! They weight train for an hour every day, the rest of the time is filled with courses and lectures and more physical training. It was an eye-opening look at what kinds of decisions young people make today – and it was very interesting discussing how he felt our prision system is managed.

This morning on my way out to get my taxi to the train station, I saw a large group all dressed in their uniforms heading out to start their day. Man, they looked fit and ready for action.

Yes – both women and men if that was the next question.

One of his reasons for making what I can only think is a odd career choice is that the comarderie among the folks who work/manage the prision system is so intense – something he really wanted. He had done a few weeks in a prison prior to committing to the training program, and had experienced an inmate uprising. This made him want to be part of the system even more.

He also told us that folks can retire from the system after 15 years – young enough to easily get another job where their excellent training make it easy to get hired. His original, and I think final, goal is to be a policeman. This is an inbetween stop. But a long one if it’s a 15 year committement.

One of the interesting things about meeting new folks who are so different from what you normally meet is the increasing odds that you’ll find something that relates them to your own life. And so it was not surprising that this morning I was reading the paper waiting for the train, and ran across a review of the play that my sisters and I bought tickets too in Toronto. Tiled “Out the Window”, it’s subject is police brutality!

Well, how’s that for a blending of fate.

In any case – that’s the news from KIngston. Next stop – Toronto.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Sintra – The Tourist Capital of Portugal


Up till now, our journey has been delightfully free of crowds – but that changes drastically when we arrive in Sintra.

There are bus loads of tourists everywhere! And the sizes of the tiny streets are just not up to this kind of congestion. In an attempt to deal with the onslaught, the city fathers have made almost all the streets of Sintra one way – and driving thru the maze of city streets packed with cars, tourists, and the occasional local is daunting.

Victor does a wonderful job of it however, and we manage not to get divorced en-route. I can’t say that we escaped without a bit of yelling at each other – including my finally screaming – JUST PARK THERE!

Our resting place is a legal, albeit heading the wrong way space, quite close in fact to the National Palace of Sintra, our destination. Victor’s hip (not the artificial one) has been bothering him this trip – and I’m sensitive to the fact that walking up and down hills isn’t comfortable for him. So I’m thrilled we found a parking spot that won’t require miles of hiking, and more than will to pay the price for it – if we can find a parking meter!

We search right and left for something that explains how to pay for parking, and finally decide that maybe it’s not required. Strange, but I’m willing to believe anything some mornings.

Fortunately, our walk to the castle takes us right by a meter – and they don’t need your space ID – they need your license #. Whew! We took a picture of the back of the car early on, thinking we might need this number – and are prepared. 5 Euros later – we’ve paid for our parking spot. What a relief.

Parking paid for, we walk to the main square – predictably packed with tourists. I’m both starving and dying for a toilet stop, so we pick the nearest restaurant (expensive, very pretty, and not very good) and empty one end and fill the other. Rest stop over, we are ready to visit the Palace.

We’ve been warned that the crowds here can translate into insane waits to get in, and poor visiting conditions, but luck is with us. We’ve managed to catch a break between tour groups and bus loads, and sneak in with no hitches, and no crowds.

The Palace is a stunner. Built by the Kings of Portugal after visiting the Alhambra in Spain, it has moorish influence, and has seen countless renovations. There’s a free audio tour, and senior pricing. We’re happy.

The highlight of the tour, for me in any case, was being in the room where Columbus was given his commission to find a path to India, and where Vasco Da Gama returned to announce to King Manual I that he had found the Cape of Good Hope and sailed to India and back. Wow – history happened right here…

I’m glad we came to Sintra, but I total understand why some folks have given us conflicted reports. The mobs are daunting, and we are not even in high season. I can not imagine what this place will be like in just a few weeks. But for now I’ve seen it – done it – Don’t have to come back.

Our plan for the rest of the day is to navigate our way into Lisbon (Lisboa for those in the know – like the Portuguese) and park the car. Tomorrow we are going to return the car and be done with it. And I for one will say good riddance. Cars are nice to have, but getting lost isn’t any fun, and we’ve had our parking challenges. So all in all, I shall be happy to return it to Europcar.

And for once, our plan actually works. Our directions to the AirBnB are easy to follow, and while it’s on the slope of a hill (Not good for Victor’s hip issues), it’s quite lovely.

Occupying two floors, we walk in to a hall, dodge around a staircase to squeeze past the bathroom to another hall and the bedroom. Our bedroom has a massive window overlooking the garden below and from there out to distant buildings and eventually the ocean. There’s even an orange tree to admire. Down stairs is the kitchen (kinda old and crummy – but all we really wanted it has – a fridge and a clothes Washer (heaven..)). The main room has a dining table (perfect for Victor to use with his computer), and a comfy sofa. Outside of sliding glass doors that take up the entire width of the apartment (about 12 feet – max) is a tiny garden with a paved floor and several plants. It’s sunny, and the birds are having a blast. It’s perfect.

For dinner we go to the near by Journalist Club, one of the top restaurants in Lisboa, and certainly interesting if not overwhelming. After dinner it’s a short walk down hill back to our tiny palace. It’s late (of course) and it’s bed time. I’m out like a light. Give me a good bed and an open window – I’m a happy camper.

Signing off to get a good nights rest – finally – The Soup Lady

Averio – the Venice of Portugal


Well – not quite. But they do try! There are definitely Canals – and what look like Gondolas if Gondolas were much larger, had much brighter paint jobs, and the Gondoliers wore T-Shirts.

But leaving the comparison to Venice aside – I kinda liked Averio. It’s very touristy = and the side walks are rather hard to navigate between the undulating terrain and the mobs of people, but the canals are definitely pretty. I liked the jovial atmosphere and particularly liked the buskers (we saw a group of actors doing a pirate imitation that got the kids really excited, and one of the best living statues I’ve ever seen – it was a woman with a baby carriage dressed as a Victorian lady – and very cool).

We stayed in a lovely hotel – The Averio Palace, located right on the ‘Grand’ Canal. We ate an over-the-top dinner that while not overwhelming, was at least a better value than the one we tried in Porto, and we managed to even tour the old convent/museum. Altogether it was a nice over-night.

It was getting to Averio that proved complicated! I’m not sure what it is about our two – count’m two GPS systems – but neither is being all that easy to use.

Our first GPS system is my cell phone – and the issue with using it is two fold. First off – it costs Data Plan, and I don’t have unlimited Data here in Europe. So I have to use the trick my daughter taught me – you turn on Data, download the directions, and immediately turn off the data. This works great – unless you make a wrong turn. Then of course you are in big trouble. There’s no re-routing ability – and by the time you turn back on your data and request your destination again – you are seriously lost.

How lost became very obvious when we spent an hour driving back roads (one lane, unpaved) thru what looked to be endless forest in search of the former and quite famous convent in Arouca.

We did manage to find it eventually – but not without a great deal of yelling at each other – and the phone!

Our 2nd GPS is a Garmin. And in theory should be better than the phone since it is constantly hooked into the GPS system, no data plan needed.

The issue with the Garmin is that often it just can’t find a place. Case in point – that convent. Which is why we were using my phone in the first place.

But never mind our GPS issues – we did manage to leave Porto with little problem. I must admit that I loved our Air BnB booking – it was a one bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor of a condo building. There was an elevator – our one and only elevator in Portugal as it turns out – a tiny kitchen area, a nice sized living room, a bathroom that required my husband to sit sideways on the toilet to have room for his knees – and a perfect location.

It definitely provide that old real estate maxim – The 3 most important things in buy real estate? Location, location, location!

After a lovely breakfast at our local coffee house (only 4 days – and they greeted us as old friends) we headed south. Our first stop was the castle at Santa Maria de Feira. It is really a castle – exactly like one would expect from the Middle Ages – complete with curving stone stair cases, a great room, and a long involved history. My husband loved it. Our 2nd stop was the afore mentioned convent – which was not only almost impossible to find – was a bit of a disaster as far a visit went.

We arrived in Arouca, and after finding parking (always daunting in these tiny towns) we opted for an extremely locals only dining experience. Mom in the Kitchen, Dad acting as waiter -and when folks arrived who spoke only English – the 20 some Son showing up to help out! He had to check with Mom to find out what was on the menu – we had a choice of steak or veal stew – a local speciality. And I must say – both were delicious. We shared a bottle of wine, and throughly enjoyed ourselves. A good thing given what happened at the convent.

After lunch, we walked to the convent ticket office – where a sign clearly stated – opens at 14:00 (that’s 2:00 PM). No worries, we’ll wander for 5 minutes and be back. We wander, get back – and get told that the ‘tour’ won’t start till 2:30 PM. What is the point of opening at 2:00 if the only way to see the convent (by tour guide) is only happening at 2:30? But never mind – we wait the 30 minutes – to be told, there’s a group coming, they are short staff – and could we please wait till 3:00? Sigh – I drove for almost 2 hours to get here – I’ll wait. So, we wait. Only to discover when the group finally arrives that it is huge – 2 full bus loads. That’s it. I’m not touring a convent with 60 folks who speak only Portuguese. So we tell the gal running the ticket booth – forget it – we’re leaving.

She takes pity on us – and says – I’ll open the doors – tour by yourselves. So she does, we do – and we admire the outstanding work done in the choir stalls for the nuns, the huge kitchen, and the fabulously over the top altar pieces that make up the wealth of this former convent.

From there it’s back on winding roads to Averio, a quick walk around the canals, dinner and bed.

Tomorrow we are going to Coimbra – home of the largest university in Portugal.

But for now – it’s enough.

Signing off to get some much needed shut-eye – The Soup Lady

EB Hotel – Now that’s a shower…


This blog post is a continuation of the one about my almost aborted trip home from St. Croix in March. In case you’ve forgotten – our plane ran into a bird on it’s landing approach in St. Croix, and American had to ground the plane until a very expensive piece of equipment could be flown in from New York City. But there was no where for American to put the 200+ passengers in St. Croix – FEMA has taken almost all the housing. So they found a plane in Puerto Rico and flew it down to Miami. Clearly most/all of us will have missed our connecting flights!

I land in Miami, and no surprise here, join a long long line of my fellow travellers waiting for the American agents to re-book us. It’s not as if they didn’t KNOW we were coming – that they didn’t KNOW we’d missed our flights. You’d have thought, foolishly as it turns out, that there would be some kind of triage.

You already rebooked – so all you need is printed boarding passes and a hotel voucher. Oh – you haven’t rebooked yet – ok that will take more time.

Nope – didn’t happen. So instead we all stand in one LONG line, waiting our turn. At first (given that it’s after 11:00 PM), there are only two poor agents at the re-booking center. But as the line grows and grows, the number of agents dedicated to getting us taken care of increases. By my turn, there are 7 agents working, so the line is moving.

Since I already re-booked – it’s a print and ‘have a nice night’ meeting. The hotel voucher says EB Hotel – and I question the agent – EB? Never heard of it. He reassures me – it’s a nice one. And sends me on my way.

I leave the airport security area, and cross over to the ‘hotel’ shuttle waiting area. Standing with me are several of my fellow passengers – all of us slated to go to the same hotel. One guy smartly calls the hotel to check on the shuttle – to be told – it’s on it’s way.

Shuttle arrives – not large enough for everyone, but I’m lucky enough to score a seat, which I’m not giving up. I need to be back at the airport at 5:00 AM – and it’s now almost midnight. I don’t want to lose any more of my precious sleep.

My room at the EB is amazing. Seriously – I’ve stayed in some pretty high end places in my life, but this is probably the fanciest hotel shower system I have ever seen. I set my alarm for 4:00 AM – it’s too late now to shower – but I’m willing to wake up early to take advantage of it tomorrow.

About my shower. It’s a hoot! There are 4 different kinds of shower heads. A rain shower in the middle of the space – partly over the large stone ‘sitting’ area, a more standard shower head, 4 body jets that are serious about giving you a massage, and a handheld shower head. It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys – and I’m having a blast turning every shower possibility on and off – playing with temperature, pressure, and position.

I’m having so much fun – I’m almost (but not quite) late to my 4:30 AM Shuttle back to the Miami airport.

After the excitement of the bird hitting the nose cone, the jet being flown in to St. Croix from San Juan to get us off the island, and the over-the-top fancy hotel shower – the trip on to Louisville, KY is just long and boring. Ah well – can’t have too much adventure at my age – probably bad for the digestion.

Signing off to sip her Illy Coffee – paid for by American Airlines – The Soup Lady

Coco, Marjorie Prime, Robot & Frank – Memory is a curious thing!


I’m beginning to see a pattern here – In the last little while I’ve watched 3 movie/theatre events that addressed Memory Loss among the aging – and trust me, this is a very nervous subject.

As an aging senior – and my 70th birthday is fast approaching – I’m getting more and more concerned about what I can personally do to keep my memory intact. But I’m clearly not alone on this – clear evidence being Marjorie Prime, Robot & Frank, and surprisingly the kid oriented Coco. I’ve seen all 3 in the last month, and trust me – they have more in common that one can imagine.

First a quick summary of what I find ring similar about these three theatre pieces.

First Marjorie Prime. I’ve seen it both as a movie, and as a play. Of the two, the play is actually superior in so many ways. In fact, the movie just skims the surface of the play’s content. In the play, there are a series of ‘Prime’s’, not just the one in the movie. This makes an enormous difference in how one sees the Prime’s. For those who haven’t seen the movie or play, ‘Prime’s’ are Robots who recreate the key people in the lives of aging seniors – who thru the aging process are losing their memories, and whose ‘care-givers’ have decided to help them out by acquiring the ‘Primes’. So you are looking at the problem thru 3 lenses – the view point of the aging senior, the view point of the caregiver (generally a child of the aging senior), and the view point of the ‘Prime’.

Second is Robot & Frank. This I’ve only seen as the movie – and again you have the three lenses – the view point of the senior (Frank), the view point of the caregivers (his wife and kids), and the view point of the Robot.

Third is Coco. This animated movie is primarily told by the young great grandson of the aging Coco, but the focus of the story is the interaction of the Dead (who live thru the memories of those who knew them) and the living. As Coco’s memory fails her, her father who ‘lives’ in the land of the dead only because she remembers him, is increasingly alarmed that when she finally dies, he will no longer ‘live’. As the young great grandson learns who the father of Coco really is – he makes the decision to remember him.

So memory plays a key role in all three. Who do we remember, what do we remember, how do we remember them are really important questions. Will my kids remember me? Will their kids? Will their kids kids? I never knew my great grand parents, nor of course their parents – and there is nothing in our society that helps us know to know them. Compare that to my daughter’s in-laws. Her mother-in-law has made an effort to trace back her and her husband’s family back as far as she can – and has gotten back to at least 1100 AD.

But worrying about being remembered is only a small part of concern. What will I end up forgetting? And once it’s forgotten – it’s only if my kids remember that things are going to be remembered. Will my kids think I’ll need a ‘Prime’ or a ‘Robot’ to help me remember. Will the technology be there to support me? I’m not so sure, and so I worry.

As the optimist that I am, I’m ending this blog with ideas of how to keep your mental health as you age. These come from googling “Improving your memory” on the internet.

1) Play Games, Do puzzles, Do mental exercises. I like bridge and silly games like Criminal Case. But Chess, Backgammon, Tai-Chi, even Ballroom dancing are all ways to stay alert.

2) Be social. I’ve read this many times in many places. Folks who make an effort to be social are generally healthier – and age ‘happier’.

3) Exercise. Hey – very few of us really get enough exercise as we age. So get up and do something. Dance, Walk – and my sister’s favourite – Tai-Chi. Believe in the Nike Slogan – Just do it! I’m a fan of an app called “7 Minute Workout”. You can find it in the App Store, and it gets me up and moving every morning. Makes my heart beat faster too!

4) Master a new skill. Seriously – that sounds harder and harder to do as we age, but it’s a really good way to improve your mental health. I have friends who at 70-80 are taking on new degrees at university, or like me – have opted to get serious about bridge. You are never too old to try something new, and your kids will be amazed.

5) From Harvard Health (health.harvard.edu) we get the following recommendations: follow a healthy diet (fruits and veggies people – eat those fruits and veggies), don’t smoke (you will smell better too), and keep those key medical indicators under control – that’s blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. They also suggest getting a pet, because caring for a pet gives us something to do – and definitely correlates with metal health. If getting a pet seems too challenging – then caring for a grand-child (or someone else’s kid) is also good for your mental health.

6) Make life style changes. If you are overweight, have high blood pressure, smoke, don’t exercise, eat poorly – you know who you are. Stop. Re-think what you are doing, and make those life style changes. All of these negative things have been correlated with decreasing brain function – ie: memory loss.

7) Here’s one that apparently cuts both ways – Multi-tasking. One source suggested stopping multi-tasking as a way to help your memory, but the Harvard Health site suggests that busy people who do lots of different things have less memory loss. I’m thinking that Harvard is more likely to have it right.

8) Stop taking certain over-the-counter medications. There are clear indications (generally written right on the boxes) that these can negatively impact your mental health. I’m not going to quote the lengthy article on the subject – but here’s the link (Click here). The drugs to avoid deliberately impact the parts of your system that helps the brain and nerve cells process information.

I know that none of this is really new information – all of us have heard from our mothers that it was important to eat right and exercise. But if avoiding or delaying memory loss is as important to you as it is to me – clearly taking this advice to heart is important.

Signing off to go do some more physical exercise.. and play some more bridge … and do some traveling..

The Soup Lady

Downsizing – Step 1


Make a Plan. Seriously – start thinking now about how you are going to get on with the rest of your life when you don’t have an unlimited amount of space to store things.

Why is this even a topic for me? Well – I have made the first of what will be a series of major steps – I’ve bought a condo. And I’m going to have to sell my home of 38 years.

For me, this is going to be a traumatic experience. My house has been my home for so long, it’s actually hard to remember what it was like to live elsewhere. And I love my home. I love my bedroom, I love my bathroom, I love my garden, I’m happy with my kitchen – and I occasionally visit the other parts of my house.

And there-in lies the problem. The house is too big. I raised 3 kids here – and we filled every nook and cranny. Sometimes we overflowed in fact. But today my kids are grown. There are rooms in my house that I walk in to dust. There are drawers I haven’t opened in years. There are boxes behind boxes in the basement. I have a library with over 500 books (maybe closer to 1000 books) that just catches dust. My home office is little more than piles of boxes.

I am even storing the grade school homework of kids who are now over 33 years old. And I just found my husband’s kindergarten diploma. We have too much stuff.

My house is too large. And it’s too far from the things I love to do – like go to the theatre, attend lectures, take courses, eat out in restaurants, even grocery shop. Anywhere I want to go, I must go in a car – or take the bus. The only shopping within walking distance is at a gas station.

And all my friends and family have left. The neighbours I knew when my kids were young have all sold their homes and moved on. My friends all live closer to the city, and I’m thinking that I’d like to be closer to the city as well.

And then there is the question of stairs. Big houses have staircases. Our house is no exception – and my husband is complaining more and more about going up and down the stairs. I must agree – I tend to live on one floor or the other, timing my need to go up or down to keep this to a minimum. Which is completely silly of course since I do exercise every morning. Stair climbing is just exercise. But I’ve read too often about older folks falling down stairs and seriously getting hurt. And I am more and more concerned that this is an adventure I would rather not have.

So – Step 1 – Plan ahead. Where would I like to go if I leave my home. Well, obviously I would like to be downtown – or at least on a metro line to make travel to downtown easier. And I’d like to be in a condo. I’m not keen on the idea of condo fees – having carrying costs is a reason to avoid making this change, but the pros of living in a building with amenities – a pool, a gym, underground parking – seem right now to be worth the money.

And I found such a place. I love the floor plan – every bedroom has it’s own bathroom, there are two balconies to catch sun and air, and the building is extremely well located near metro and bus routes. It’s in an up and coming area of the city – filled right now with relatively inexpensive restaurants and packed with young students who attend two of Montreal’s English language Universities – conveniently nearby. There’s easy access to one of the major outdoor markets of the city, and two large grocery stories in easy walking distance. It’s not built yet – so I have until 2021 to get my house de-cluttered and eventually sold.

So – we bought a condo there. I’ve done Step 1. Let’s see how the next steps go.

Signing off to think about Step 2 –

The Soup Lady

Oh the People you’ll meet..


Funny how you randomly meet people, eh? You are sitting quietly – doing nothing much, and then for some reason someone says something – and you end up in a conversation.

I just spent several hours talking about this, that and the other with Tommy – but as usual – I’m ahead of myself. Let’s start at the very beginning.

I’ve just finished spending a week on the lovely island of St. Croix. Many years ago now I lucked into buying a small condo here, which meet my every objective – it was comfortable, not up too many stairs, and it has a simply magnificent view – nothing between me and the ocean but 40’ of sand and 2 palm trees. It’s heaven. But it also got hit by Hurricane Maria – and I felt obligated to go down and check it out personally. To find out what the island is like now – read my earlier blog. But this blog starts upon leaving the island.

Getting to and from the island, which normally at this time of the year is simple, has become a bit of a challenge. While the airport on St. Croix is open, and mostly in good shape, the airports that feed into the island are in worse shape, and that has complicated matters. Plus the recovery process has actually increased the number of folks arriving and departing from the island – there’s a large (over 2000 passenger) cruise ship docked semi-permanently in Fredericksted, there are the countless FEMA, Corp of Engineers, Red Cross and related personal who have come to aid in the recovery – and there are the folks that have simply decided that living without electricity for 6 weeks is enough – and they want off the island.

All this means that flights are packed, and the airline folks are working with limited technology – power is still on and off, and WIFI that is more hopeful then in fact!

But despite the challenges – I arrived at the airport in good time this afternoon, processed thru check-in, the long wait for border patrol, and finally sat down in the waiting area for my flight to finally board. I ate a decent dinner from the cute snack bar (great Jamaican Patties), and boarded the flight. I’d even settled into my seat and said hi to my seat mates. But then nothing happened. No announcements, no nothing. So we all waited, and waited. Suddenly the pilot is addressing us – explaining that a bird hit the plane during the landing – and the plane has to be checked out before it can take off. Nothing major – it will be just a moment.

A few minutes later he’s back – this time explaining that the bird made a direct hit on the nose cone – which is where all the radar is located, and the equipment need to check the plane isn’t on the island. In fact, it’s not even in Miami. It’s in New York, and they must fly it down. And without this specialized equipment to check that the radar is ok – the plane can not fly. We must de-board and wait for further information.

What follows is pretty much what one would expect of about 200 folks with plans and places to go who suddenly discover that their plans are going to have to change – and change fast.

We all de-board, and cluster around the poor gate agents. The three lovely local ladies are fielding questions – to which they effectively have no answers. Should we leave the airport and wait till tomorrow? Will we be rebooked on the plane tomorrow? Will American find places for us to spend the night if we can’t get off the island?

Quick answers – finding places to stay on the island isn’t going to happen. Too many of the hotels are closed – there’s no options. The pilot gets on the microphone and says – the best option is for American to find us another plane and get us off the island. Otherwise, we are stuck here overnight – the part to check the nose cone can’t make it to the island until tomorrow – at best. However, once in Miami – we’ll be able to figure out what to do with you. But I’m done here – it’s in the hands of the airport folks. With that, he leaves. And we are left sitting in the rather basic waiting area of the St. Croix airport, with no idea what is going to happen.

Exactly Where does our now ‘disappeared’ pilot think American is planning on finding a plane?

I’m no fool – I’m on the phone to American – please rebook me – I won’t make my flight to Louisville, KY tonight – make reservations for the first flight out of Miami tomorrow morning please.

Meanwhile, some people start to leave – but then the airport manager grabs the microphone to announce – STOP – don’t leave. American has found a plane in San Juan and it’s on it’s way here. You’ll board at 8:00 PM – and spend the night in Miami. There are hotels there – and American will put you up.

Ok – now we at least know what is going on – so we must sit and wait for the new plane to get here. Thank goodness I already have my flight arranged for tomorrow. I just don’t trust American (or any airline for that matter) to make those arrangements in a timely fashion. Nah – they will wait, and I’ll be stuck with lousy options.

While I’m waiting for the replacement jet to arrive, I call the hotel I’d organized for tonight – only to find out that I’d actually organized it for Monday night. Well, that’s a relief. Guess I knew something would go wrong… (nah – it was a lucky oops – that’s all).

All this organized, there is nothing to do but sit and wait. So I sit. Behind me are two guys talking about the shuttle from their cruise ship. I’m intrigued – and turn to chat.

Tommy – the young man closest to me – is a Stand Up Comedian. (No seriously – check him out at TommyDrake.com – he’s famous!) He works the cruise ship circuit for Carnival – 3 days on one boat, then 2 days on another boat, a few days off – and repeat. His friend runs the Guest Services function – and at first our conversation revolves around issues related to Guest Services.

Some of the issues are exactly the same as what I face – guests who have an issue, say insects or a broken DVD player, and simply don’t tell you. Or worse – only tell you via the guest book – or an on-line review. What gives – let me know what your issue is, and I’ll fix it. Why would it be a good idea to keep this stuff a secret? But then our conversation gets interesting. Like my guests – their guests are on holiday – and sometimes, that’s an invitation to behave badly. Traveling in multi-generation groups is particularly challenging – as we all know, and apparently getting on a cruise ship (or staying in a condo) doesn’t solve them!

On to happier topics, the guys go on to explain how the cruise system works – their boat is based out of San Juan, and they were on the most Southernly part of their trip when the hurricanes ran roughshod over the islands. This caused the ship to divert – landing most of the guests in Miami rather than San Juan. Naturally – some guests were really upset over this unexpected change of plans. Then they took several trips out of ports in Florida before FEMA hired the boat to provide housing for their staff in St. Croix. So now they are semi-permanently docked in Fredericksted, and providing ‘hotel’ rooms for FEMA, Red Cross, Corp of Engineers, etc. They are also providing entertainment – Hence the Comedian. There are over 500 Comedians who work for Carnival – rotating around ships so that the shows stay fresh for the guests.

And there’s a morgue on ship. With 2000 guests, 1000 crew – it’s a small city, and in a small city people die. And statistically because of the age issue (more cruisers are more older), deaths are more likely. Apparently, the per diem on a cruise ship competes with the per diem in a fancy full care facility – and it looks and smells a lot nicer! So there are folks who literally live on board ship. Maybe changing ships occasionally – or visiting family for a week or so – but effectively they are spending their retirement in a full care, luxury environment, with wait staff that know their names, porters who cater for their every needs – and nightly entertainment. Sounds like it might get a bit boring, but I can totally see why this solution would be super appealing.

Several topic shifts later, and we’re talking about being a Stand-up Comedian. Turns out that Tommy was the opening act for some major performers – including Cher. And he’s met Beth Middler among others. Must be an interesting life, eh? He tells me about after hour parties – for Cher they included bowling and going to the movies – but of course you don’t just go to the movies – you rent the entire theatre. I ask about private jets – but Tommy tells me that actually most of their travel – for the 3 years he was with Cher – were by bus. Very very fancy buses with lots of tiny bedrooms for the staff, but buses just the same.

We continue to chat – he talks about how he has to generate new material frequently – and can never be too overtly political today. Best topics are things we can all appreciate – like the issue of families divided along political lines. Some jokes have long lives, other jokes (like ones about the Hurricanes) were ‘old’ within a few weeks. Interesting, and not even close to anything I’ve ever talked about with anyone else. We chat about his ‘blog’, originally started long before the word ‘blog’ came along – it’s really his on-line journal. You can check out here: http://www.tommydrake.com/blog

Our time together has simply flown by – and the gate agents suddenly announce that our airplane as arrived from San Juan and boarding will begin immediately.

I say a fond goodbye to my fellow travellers – it’s been a fascinating 3 hours – but now it’s time to head on to Miami.

Frankly – I can’t wait!

Signing off to head on another adventure – The Soup Lady

Sugar Beach Update – Or After the Hurricane..


Hurricane Irma – followed closely by Hurricane Maria dealt the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico a severe One/Two punch. And the islands are all still reeling from having two – count’m two – Cat 5 Hurricanes come to visit.

I am fortunate enough to own not one, but two lovely condos on the island of St. Croix. It’s one of the 3 sister islands that make up the US Virgin Islands. We’ve been the property of the US since 1917, when concern with our military importance prompted the US to buy us from Denmark.

St. Croix is, by island standards, a large island. We have a population of around 35,000 – more when it’s winter in the rest of the US, although our weather doesn’t change that much. It’s pretty much 85 degrees year round here – with some rainy months when the cisterns get filled, and some dryer months when we use up the water. Our population is stable, hard working folks who count themselves lucky to live in Paradise. You just ask them and they will tell you – this is heaven, and we know it.

But back to that one-two punch. How did my beloved island fare under what can only be described as disaster conditions. And I’m proud to say – pretty well! I came down to check things out a week ago, and I’ve driven around the island from one end to the other – watching the line crews working hard to get electricity back up. There are still lots of places without power, and lots of places without gas, and lots of places without functioning WIFI or cell service – so things aren’t perfect yet – but the progress is visible.

Our roads – awesome by Montreal standards to begin with – are now in much worse shape in places. The main roads are generally fine, but I found some potholes you really don’t want to hit on some of the ‘back’ roads. Current Island advice – if you haven’t driven that road in daylight – don’t drive it at night. Good advice that.

After Maria left to pick on Puerto Rico, she left behind downed everything. Telephones were broken like match sticks, and even 6 weeks later you can see the remnants of poles that were dragged out of the roadways and left lying as mute witnesses to the devastation. There are transformers sitting next to downed wires – mostly telephone wires now. There are piles of what were once tin roofs neatly gathered at the side of the road. And there are branches.

It’s pretty interesting to see the quantity of dead branches that have been carefully stacked almost everywhere. There are no big trees on our island – but there are lots and lots of bushy trees – and these are the dead branches that had to be cleaned up. Fences were torn apart – right off their posts in some cases, and now they hang as forlorn and ineffectual property protection.

Some buildings fared a whole lot better than others, and I’m quite sure that there will be a lot of conversations among homeowner associations – why did the ocean front section of Colony Cove lose their entire roof, and why did Sugar Beach suffer so little physical damage. Even how Hurricane Shutters were attached seems to have made a significant difference. I had one real estate agent explain that at one nearby property, some hurricane shutters were attached to the outside of balconies, while other shutters were attached to the inside. Outside ones were ripped off – taking pieces of wall with them. Inside ones suffered little to no damage.

With the high winds came a lot of water – and in the early days after the storm there were lots of pictures of flooding. But flooding isn’t the only water problem. At Sugar Beach, the water torrents ran down our driveway and across our beach toward the sea. And they took a lot of our sand with them. There are huge gullies where before there was flat beach. And the tidal surge, which fortunately stopped short of the buildings themselves – also took out a lot of our beach. Palm trees have their roots exposed, and that’s a problem. The trees will die sooner or later – and I’m hoping that someone is working on a plan to get those roots undercover.

In Christiansted – which actually suffered very little damage – the flood waters overwhelmed the drain water system – and even 6 weeks after the disaster, we could still find places where water pipes must have been broken and sewer lids forced off. While we’ve been on the island, I’ve been watching these places – and the crews are going one by one to get them fixed and back in ‘business’. The plan island wide is to be totally up and ready to rock by Christmas – and I have no doubt this is going to happen.

For folks living here – it’s been a time of great challenges. We take having electricity for granted – even when it goes out, we naively assume it will be back shortly. But shortly turned out to be weeks and months here. Some folks have been told that it could even be spring before they are hooked to the grid.

The problems aren’t simple to solve either. Almost every telephone pole on the island was damaged – and they have had to import 42,000 telephone poles by barge from the US Mainland. And there aren’t enough lineman on the island to handle a job of this size – so NY State sent down by barge dozens of their trucks with their crews. We’ve seen them all over the island – gradually rebuilding the infrastructure. And consider the challenge. You must remove the old pole, re-dig the hole for the new pole, put the new pole in place, and then re-attach the electric wires. As far as I can tell – they are not even touching the phone lines. Those cables are still mostly dangling lose, or laying in coiled snakes on the ground.

The lack of ‘land lines’ has created an interesting problem for some of the re-opening businesses. If you accepted credit cards by internet (like K Mart), you are ok. But if you used a land line to do the credit card transaction – you are suddenly a cash only business. And that has put pressure on banks and ATM’s to provide a flow of cash for which they were not prepared. We’ve seen line ups a dozen folks long at some banks, yet the ‘pay’ ATMs are no problem. But we did find ourselves choosing dinner restaurants by their ability to accept credit cards, and one of our favourite grocery stores isn’t getting our business – they are cash only.

There is an entire alphabet soup of aid workers here – FEMA, Corp of Engineers, Red Cross, etc. There are NGO groups as well – including Doctors Without Borders. Last weekend they were giving free insulin shots to those in need, today I ran into a sign-language interpreter who told me how critical his team is to the operation. Because TVs are effectively ‘off’ for many on the island, the only source of information is the radio. And that’s an auditory medium. So if you can’t hear – you have no idea what is going on, where to go for help, or even what kind of help is being provided. And for many of the folks thus impacted – there is a decided fear of IRS. So his first job is to reassure folks that he’s not IRS, and his next job is to find out what kind of help they might require.

When I at the airport, waiting on my out-bound flight, I ran into some of the crew from the huge cruise ship that has been semi-permanently docked at Fredericksted. It’s been ‘booked’ by FEMA to provide housing, and apparently other facilities, not meals and entertainment. They said that they are locked in until February, although they were also sure that the island will be ready to rock by Christmas. Interesting, eh? We covered a lot of other topics as well – you might want to check out my next blog.

But despite the hardships, the lack of electricity, the cost of generators and fuel, there is still a feeling of optimism here. Folks are determined to get back on their feet – and the current word is back to normal for 90% by Christmas. Schools have re-opened, albeit with staggered hours to make it easier for kids to get around, and the curfew has been officially lifted. Tourists are finally returning to the island, boats are taking folks out to SCUBA dive, and fisherman are back to catching Wahoo for dinners at the restaurants. I was very relieved to find that one of my favourite ‘designer’ houses even had a party to celebrate their 20th year in business this weekend.

What does the island need now? Time and Tourists willing to understand that while the beaches are yet to be restored to their former glory – the ocean rolls on relentlessly, the seagulls and pelicans continue to soar and wheel above the waves, the sun sets, the moon rises – and life on this beautiful island goes on.

Please come. We want to see you!

Signing off to go spend some more money on the island – The Soup Lady

Pick Up Partners – or Exactly why am I doing this?


I decided about 18 months ago that I would learn to play Bridge better. I’ve played Bridge on and off (mostly off) for almost 50 years – but actually trying to improve – that never happened.

So 18 months ago I made the conscious decision to focus my energy, such as it is, on bettering my bridge play. Since then I’ve spent about 7 months playing ‘real’ bridge with real partners, and the other 11 months either studying or playing on line – or both. Mostly both I shall admit.

How is it going you ask? Not that well, unfortunately. Bridge is a really really tough game. There are 52 cards in the deck, but there are a zillion (maybe more) combinations and permutations on how those cards can be arranged in the 4 hands. And the trick is to figure out the optimum contract for each set of 4 hands – and then make that contract.

Easier to do if you can see all 4 hands of course. But that’s so not how the game works. Nope – you have to figure out the contract by bidding your hand – and trying to visualize what could be in the other 3 hands from the bidding. Example – the person to your left (LHO – Left hand opponent) bids 1 Spade. Well, he should have 5 spades, and at least 12 points. And so on.

I’m not trying to teach you how to bid, or play in this mutter. I’m just explaining that the game is complicated – and folks spend their entire lives trying to get better at it. It’s like golf. Some days are better than others, the goal is to have more better days than not so good days. But golf is a personal sport – you compete against yourself. In bridge – it takes 4 people, you and your partner – and the two opponents.

And that’s where PUPs – or Pick Up Partners get involved.

I am currently in Charlotte, NC attending their Regional competition. Like most competitions, it’s held in a big hotel, with games in a variety of different rooms, and at different levels of playing skill. To determine playing skill, there’s a thing called Match Points (MP). You get MPs by playing and winning matches of 24 (more or less) boards. In theory, the number of MPs you have earned should be a measure of your playing skill. But I’m reminded of the old joke – I’ve been doing this job for 12 years – 1 year of training, and 11 years of repeating the same thing over and over. In an attempt to make the MP system better at measuring skill, and not just being a reward for attendance, the ACBL (that’s the American Bridge League) created different colours – Black (gotten easily in club games), Red (gotten in Regional or National competitions), Silver (oddly enough – these come from Sectional Tournaments which I’ve yet to figure out how to know which they are) and the highly valued Gold Points.

Gold points are the toughest to get – and to earn the title of ‘Life Master’ – you need 50 of them. So it’s not unusual to meet folks with plenty of Black – but not enough Gold to get that title. In any case – you get the idea. There are MP (a measure) and coloured MP (another measure).

Back to my efforts – in 18 months, I’ve earned about 40 Match Points, 5 of them Gold and 2 of them Silver, – which isn’t amazing, but it is pretty decent. There are folks here with thousands of Match Points – yesterday I played (and we lost badly) with a gal with over 2000 match points. We should have done a lot better – I’m not sure what went so wrong, but there it is.

On Monday I played with a fellow with around 300 Match Points – and we placed first Overall in the Gold Rush Pairs. Some days I’m a hero, some days I should haven’t have picked up the cards.

So – partnership game – you can’t play without a partner. And I have yet to find a regular steady partner. I’ve been very lucky about Picking up Partners (PUPs) in the various cities I’ve been to, some of whom will play with me again – some of whom never want to sit across from me again – ever. (I had one PUP announce that to me about 3/4 of the way thru a game. Not one of my better days.)

So where do you Pick Up Partners? Most bigger games (like this one), have what is called a Partnership desk. Folks who aren’t fortunate enough to bring their own partner, put up a yellow card describing how many points they have, when they are available to play during the competition, and what biding conventions they use. I think there is a critical bit of info missing off the standard partnership cards. I’d really like to know how long you’ve been playing. My favourite partners generally haven’t been playing for years – they are still in the ‘learning’ mode – and know the newer conventions, and some of the newer ideas of partnership.

But it is what it is. You post your name, then other folks stand in front of the board – reading each and every card, searching for someone who sounds like they might be a good partner. It is a bit like the worst meat market ever. Think e-harmony with a scoring system. Or your first dance at Junior High – all the guys on one side contemplating all the girls on the other. If you have to post your name – you open yourself up to rejection – in a big way. And while some folks (like my 2000 point partner from yesterday) have been playing long enough to know that number of MPs is just one way of judging folks, other folks take actual point count seriously. And I have to agree. I don’t want to partner with someone with 20 MPs earned over 10 years. They probably aren’t very solid players. And in return, someone with over 1000 MPs might not want to partner me. If I’ve only been playing seriously for 18 months, I probably make plenty of beginner errors.

Which is true.

I make a lot of mistakes. I bid wrong – showing more points than I have, or too few. I pass when I should bid, and I bid when I should pass. And worse – I forget things – not usually what my partner bid – that’s often an error by folks who are more ‘beginner’ than I am, but I will lose track of the count of one of the suits, I might forget that a spot card in dummy is good and leave it stranded, or I might opt not to take a finesse when the odds are in favour of the finesse actually working. I have gotten better at making safety plays to make sure that the contract makes – but under the pressure of the match, sometimes I will forget that I made that play…

As I said, it’s complicated.

But fun.

In the past 18 months I’ve thrown myself on the PUPs board in 4 different Regional and National Competitions. I’m not sure that makes me a veteran, but it does give me some experience. And I’ve had some success – friends I played with in Toronto in April who were totally keen to play with me again in August. And I actually had a lady ask me to join her (as her bridge partner!) on a bridge cruise in February. So here’s my advice to folks who need PUPs.

1) Be nice to the folks running the partnership desk. They do an amazing job – there are hundreds of folks looking for partners, and their goal is to try to make as many of them happy with the match-up as they possibly can. It’s a completely thankless job and one that requires the patience of Job and the social skills of a match maker. Be nice to them. Thank them. They are your buddies in this game of finding a PUP – let them know you appreciate them.

2) It is easier to find a PUP later in the competition. I’m not sure why this is – but it’s true. I guess maybe things happen. I found my 2000 point partner because her regular partner suddenly had to leave – an emergency back home. On Monday – the partnership board was almost empty. Today (Friday), the board is almost full. But some of the cards, despite the best efforts of the folks running the desk, get left long after the player has found a match. I know – totally frustrating. But still – finding a PUP on day one of the competition is a huge challenge. Finding one later on is a bit easier. Maybe.

3) Keep a record of your agreements. Folks will say on Monday – let’s play Friday evening. Ok – that’s a date. But there are 3 games a day, and there are 7 (or more days). In my case – I needed PUPs for 16 games. And I blew it big time. Agreed to play on a team in the morning of day 3 – only to discover I’d also agreed to play in a single match in the same time slot with another person. Not a good way to make friends – trust me! I know I’m repeating myself – but on Monday at noon I needed to find partners for 16 games. I didn’t have a partner for all 16 games until Thursday at noon. At least my dance card is full now. That’s a huge relief.

4) Get your partner’s contact information. And keep notes. There is absolutely nothing worse than deciding after a game or so that you are not a match made in heaven, and forgetting that a day later. Or worse – a month later. Or in my case – a year later. Notes are critical. Email addresses matter to! You never know when you are going to be doing PUPs somewhere else and these folks will re-appear. It’s a universe after all – only so many folks in it!

5) Go over the convention card early – and try to keep to the simplest possible set of agreements. I played with 7 partners – not one of whom used the same conventions. I tried to make notes of who played how – but my little brain got completely bolloxed up by partner #5. No wonder my ability to play got worse during the week – I simply couldn’t remember if the person sitting opposite me played a specific convention – or not!

6) Be nice. Be very nice. People play a lot better if you compliment them then if you critique them. Trust me. And body language matters. If I messed up the last hand – don’t hold a grudge on the next hand – I won’t play better if you are sitting across from me with a scowl on your face. And no matter how badly I do – please don’t tell our competitors. One of my partners – after I’d played the hand, won and gotten a top score – announced – well she tried her best to lose.

7) And for goodness sake – don’t try to improve your partners play during the match. Waste of time. You’ll get them focused on the last hand – not the hand we are playing now – and it’s likely to be completely different. This advice is even more important if you are playing social bridge with your spouse. You’ll have a much better game if you just live with the mistake and solider on!

8) Always assume your partner is an expert – that they are bidding their hand correctly. And don’t try to ‘save’ them. Man – I wish I’d remembered that advice a few times when I tried to ‘save’ only to make matters much, much worse.

9) Partnership Mantras – My partner knows what they are doing – if it’s a mis-fit – Pass. My partner has a reason for doing what they did – try to imagine things from their point of view – what must they be looking at to make that bid, or not to bid. My partner knows what they are doing. They know what their hand is like – I don’t.

10) Thank your partner. Thank them when they put down their dummy, thank them when you finish playing, thank them for giving you an opportunity to play with them. They didn’t have to say yes. And they did.

Signing off to go play more bridge…

The Soup Lady

Sunrise at Shamwari Game Reserve


We wake at dawn. Seriously – game drives always start at sunrise – and I’m not surprised that this is true even here. So Dawn it is folks. They make it as relaxing as possible of course – this is a luxury version of a safari. So we wake, enjoy coffee and a biscotti while we admire the fog draped tree that stands between us and the game park. Quite lovely.

Freddie is there to welcome us. He’s been up since 4:30 – and I know he left the lodge last night after 9:00. He works seriously long days.

The safari vehicle has been given a wash and a re-load with 2nd breakfast goodies. We are promised a proper breakfast when we return – but for now it’s off into the reserve.

I don’t think I’d thought about the differences between a National Park, a Game Reserve, and the wide open, unfenced reaches of say Rwanda or Botswana. But they are vastly different. Partly it’s about the fences. The Shamwari game reserve is completely, 100% fenced. And the fences are checked every day for signs of tampering. There’s a path that runs along side the fence, we’ve taking that track several times- and it’s easy to see that no one is going in or out easily. Electrified, turned over to prevent burrowing, and then rocks placed every few inches for additional protection. No wonder the Shamwari has a reputation for being anti-poaching. And it’s hard to see the fence. In all my photos – it only appears once. The landscaping is such as to create vast vistas – with the fence carefully placed to avoid ruining the view.

In contrast, the wide open spaces of other game viewing locations means that the wildlife is less safe. We saw animals that were clearly having issues getting enough food in both Botswana and Kenya. But that wasn’t the case here. All the animals – prey and predators alike – looked healthy and well fed. Sleek coats, shiny horns, and lots of little ones spoke towards the feeling that life is good. Well, unless you get eaten I suppose.

Back to dawn at the reserve. Freddie is determined to show us the Rinos and the Water Buffalo, so that’s his focus this morning. But our first stop are Giraffes. There are at least 2 baby Giraffes, adorable in their long legged awkwardness. Giraffes have their young standing up – so it’s a big drop down for the infants. And the first thing they must do is get up to nurse. So really awkward long legs are a must. These babies are young – maybe 2 weeks at most – and spend their time and energy running around madly from adult to adult. Occasionally they might stop to try a nibble off a fresh twig, but since they are basically nursing, it’s run madly – nurse – run madly!

It’s obvious that the parents aren’t particularly worried, and our vehicle is such a normal part of life, we are totally ignored. If they happen to get really close (and they do), the photo opps are amazing.

Next a few long views of the Park as Freddie decides where we should go next – and then a run up a hill past the “Born Free” Foundation buildings. This huge collection of buildings houses predators, mostly lions, that have been rescued and can no longer be trusted in a park. You can hear them roaring good morning from quite a distance. And this is such a normal part of life that the herd animals graze right up to their fence lines. No fear here!

Not so among the warthogs that are literally everywhere in the Park. We have seen dozens of them – surprised at least two out of their burrows – and watched their young at play. Since I’m a particular fan of Warthogs – I’m quite happy to see so many, so happy.

Our game drive ends on a ridge admiring the sunrise, the views, and enjoying a 2nd cup of coffee. Life in the Luxury lane.

We return to the Lodge for third Breakfast, and are offered an afternoon game walk at 12:30 if that’s of interest. I’m the only one who takes Freddie up on the offer. I’m keen for any exercise – normally I get a lot of walking in, but that hasn’t been the case here, and I miss it.

I meet up with Freddie outside of the lodge, and after getting equipped (he has a stick and a radio – that’s nice), we amble off into the ‘open’ park land outside of the lodge. There are no predators in this section of the park – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful. Warthogs can break legs if they run at you, and there are snakes. Even the cute antelopes and Zebras aren’t to be messed with. I’m reminded of these challenges twice. Once verbally by Freddie, and once when I spot a safari vehicle ahead of us. When I ask Freddie why is the vehicle there – he tells me it’s for my protection. They are pre-spotting our ‘walk’.

Oh dear – I have managed to create a job for 3 rangers in my desire to just take a short (hour and a half) walk. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty. Freddie re-assures me. For him this is a nice break. We get to walk thru the reserve, spot animal scat and foot prints, and generally take the slow route.

I can’t say anything exciting happened – but that wasn’t really the point anyway. It was a lovely walk. I’m glad I went.

I return to the Lodge for lunch – and a new problem. All the guests at the resort (except us) are from South Africa – and the Springbox’s are taking on the New Zealand All Blacks late this afternoon. One of our fellow guests is actually a former member of the Springbox’s – and he is truly huge. Big, Tall, in excellent physical condition. Wouldn’t want to run into him anywhere. Anyway – the issue – the afternoon game drive will return AFTER the start of the game. And while Victor and I can’t really relate to the problem (can’t one just record it?), apparently missing the start is a disaster. And the team has been doing badly of late, so how they perform today will make or break it as to their remaining part of whatever competition this is. (I’m guessing Rugby World Cup).

There is a lot of discussion – and eventually the decision is made to turn on the game, which would effectively ‘record’ the start – and rewind when we get back from the drive.

The folks in our vehicle are keen to see the match, but not crazy. The folks in the other vehicle are totally determined to see the start as close to the time of the real start as is possible. I’m glad I’m not in that vehicle, but I say nothing. Not our country, not our sport!

Decision made, we head out for the afternoon drive. On the hit list are Black Rino (we’ve seen white Rinos, including a baby, but Black Rino’s have not made an appearance as yet) and of course Elephants, Lions, leopards, and Cheetahs. Freddie finds us several Black Rino’s, and we spot a clearly nursing lioness on the hunt. She has targeted some warthogs playing nearby and surprises everyone by disappearing into the brush – and then making her dash for dinner from the other direction. She missed – I’m not sure if our vehicles alerted the Warthogs to their danger, or if she just didn’t have the timing quite right. Too bad. Freddie tells us that she will continue to hunt until she finds dinner – clearly she’s feeding her cubs as well as herself, but we can’t wait around. We have that game to watch.

We return towards the Lodge, and spot some really wonderful photo opps with Black Rinos. Since we’re not in a hurry – the other vehicle has long since gone back – Freddie stops and lets us do our best with the Rino. That works great until the Rino flares his ears to let Freddie know that his patience has just about run out. Freddie announces that we are done here – it would be dangerous to try the Rino’s short fuse any longer – so home we go.

The game is in full progress. And low and behold – the South African Springbox’s are in the lead! Not by much, but still. We gather around and enjoy being with folks who know and love a game – and try their patience by asking dumb questions. I start by asking how do you score points? And then wonder if only the guy in yellow shoes can kick the ball. Our fellow guests think my lack of knowledge is kinda cute – in a dumb blonde way. And while the ‘professionals’ don’t even bother to answer – the Lawyer takes a stab at explaining some of the more basic aspects of Rugby. It is a brutal game – many of the players have ear protectors (apparently getting an ear ripped off isn’t unusual), missing teeth is the norm, and broken collar bones are considered a calculated risk. Players get tossed into the air to catch kicks – and there is something called a Scrum that defies description.

The All Blacks have been dominating the league – beating the pants off every other team by huge margins. I’m not sure I heard correctly, but apparently last year they beat the Springboxs by over 100 points. They are powerful. And ugly. Most of them have no front teeth, and apparently start the game by doing a dance that involves significant amounts of growling.

On the other hand, the South African team can be described as cute. There is a red-head (apparently a star, star player) who is completely adorable, and gets a lot of screen (and scream) time. I cheer along with the rest as the score see-saws back and forth. Finally one of the South African’s is given a Red Card – and escorted off the field. That leaves the Springboxs down one in numbers – and signals the end of the game. The All Blacks have won, by only a point – but still. Our fellow guests are not exactly disappointed – losing by one point is a miracle against the All Blacks – but hopes had run very high for a while. It did look like we might win.

Game over, it’s dinner and bed time. Tomorrow is going to be a very long day. Another ‘up at dawn’ safari, and then we must start the long long long journey back to Montreal.

Signing off – The Soup Lady