Nothing like Tomato Soup – it soothes the soul
Even if it’s cold
With a celery stalk
In Canada – we add spices… call it a Caesar!
Have a safe and healthy day
The Soup Lady
Nothing like Tomato Soup – it soothes the soul
Even if it’s cold
With a celery stalk
In Canada – we add spices… call it a Caesar!
Have a safe and healthy day
The Soup Lady
One of our closest friends mother died in early April – Not from Covid – and things being what they were, the funeral was delayed.
But on Sunday, July 5th – our friend decided to hold a funeral and a ‘life celebration’ for her mother.
We couldn’t really avoid going. It would be impossible to explain our absence – and despite my mis-giving on the topic, we promised to attend.
So Sunday found me in a car, heading to a funeral home in Laval, dressed sombrely as befits a funeral – and with huge butterfly’s doing the tango in my stomach.
I don’t like funerals under any conditions, but this one really had me on edge. Quebec had recently approved social gatherings for up to 50 people, and had not yet required masks to be worn indoors – so while we had our masks, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the funeral home.
Do keep in mind that today – 2 weeks later – the rules have changed. Now Masks are required for indoor gatherings – for any movement in an indoor space – but on July 5th – that wasn’t the rule.
Our friend had chosen one of the largest funeral complexes in Laval – there were at least 5 other ‘life celebrations’ being held at the same place at the same time – and attendance was significant judging by the number of cars. My comfort level was not increased…
We parked and walked to the entrance where we were greeted by an employee of the home, properly masked, who had a check-list of the day’s funerals. He directed us to first use sanitizer, and then to go the Ste-Dorothy room for our friend’s mothers memorial. Plexiglass barriers surrounded the staff desk, but the huge open 3 story high central entrance room was not barricaded. There were signs implying one-way traffic, but no one was in the main entrance.
So far, so good
But when we entered the St. Dorothy room – I panicked. I know – I never panic – but this time – I promise you – I was absolutely alarmed. My stomach did one of those scary flip-flops, and I caught my breath.
My friend had done everything expected of a ‘life celebration’. Her mother’s ashes were on display, there were pictures of her mother next to the ashes, and there was a slide show of images on a large screen.
All this I saw, but I also saw that there were about 45 people in the room, most not wearing masks – including our good friend. While the funeral home had placed chairs to prevent people from getting too close to each other – it was clear that social distancing was not happening.
Forcing myself to keep calm – and carefully keeping social distance, I moved closer to my friend, said how sorry I was for her loss, how we had to get together soon to celebrate her birthday, and then told my husband I was leaving.
And I left.
I’m definitely not ready for larger gatherings.
The Soup Lady
We pack up our island hideaway – and eat a last farewell lunch on our balcony overlooking Sand, Ocean and Warm Salty Breezes.
When will I ever get back here?
They are closing the island around us – the restaurants have gone to Take-away only – the news reports are getting worse and worse, and while it’s easy to find Toilet Paper – there are no masks on the island to be found.
So we put bleach into little bottles to use for cleaning our seats on the airplanes and in the waiting area of the airport – and head out.
The airport in St. Croix is pretty much as expected – they haven’t really bought into the social distancing thing here, and no one has apparently taught them exactly how to wear a mask.
The TSA folks are clearly traditional islanders – and the mask they have been given are either on their chins or on their foreheads. I get it – these things are comfortable, but they aren’t really trying hard either.
To boot – the whole – social distance thing is a bit foreign. So some folks – like us – try to stay away from other folks, and other folks don’t mind standing in tight groups. Even on the airplane, crew members lean over to chat with other crew members. I’m sure the message will eventually get thru – even here – but for now, I’m leaving a place that still thinks this might be some kind of mainland joke – and going to a place that is already reporting over 1000 cases.
There are very few other passengers. Which explains why the earlier flight out of St. Croix to Miami was canceled. It makes no sense for airplanes to fly empty both ways – and American is obviously cutting back on all the excess flights it can afford to lose without leaving folks stranded or losing their gate privileges .
Our fairly boring flight lands us in a deserted Miami Airport and we head over to pick up our luggage and get on the shuttle to the EB hotel. I stayed there once before – they are a wonderful 4 star property near the airport – and they have the best bathrooms (aka great showers!) ever. We check in – again a rather casual attitude toward social distancing – and move in.
Our shuttle driver had listed the restaurants nearby – the one in the hotel is doing ‘carry-out’ only – and to be honest, looks closed. The one our driver described as a Latino cafe sounds the best and we walk thru deserted street to get there.
There’s a customer at the take out window – so I wait for him to move away so I can grab the menu. He signals me to move in – and I tell him – we’re social distancing – can you please back up? He laughs – but moves away. Miami just isn’t totally on the right page yet I’m seeing.
Dinner was typically Cuban – heavy handed by delicious. We eat in the room, watch a snatch of TV, then go to bed.
In the morning I enjoy the shower – for a good 20 minutes – it’s that nice – then we board the shuttle back to the airport.
Our driver tells us he’s fine – he’s been showering more often.
Our flights back to Montreal are more of the same. Empty planes, Empty airports, Empty waiting areas. I wipe down everything, stay as far from other folks as I can – and buy 16 masks when I spot them at one of the little shops that sells candy at the airport. Apparently they just got a big shipment in the day before – but with no customers – there are no sales.
Once back in Montreal – we realize that clearly folks here are taking the whole thing more seriously. Masks are now on over mouths and noses – and there’s protection set up for all the folks manning the custom booths. I wipe down the screen of the terminal we use to do our ID check – we pass thru customs, grab out suitcases – wipe them down too – and head out.
Our taxi cab is equipped with a plastic shower curtain – hastily stapled along the roof line separating the driver from us – and we have to use the tap feature on the credit card reader. This does feel like Montreal is taking the whole thing more seriously.
Once home – we realize that our darling Daughter-in-Law has done a massive amount of shopping for us – there’s food for a week, either on the counter or stacked carefully in the fridge.
She’s even bought me flowers! A glorious Hydrandia that is in riotous bloom. Lovely. We are well and truly welcomed home to start our mandatory 14 day ‘stay at home’ period. The rules are simple. No leaving your yard – for anything. No visitors. Wipe down everything that enters your home.
Signing off – The Soup Lady
We pick our lodging so carefully – private room, good location, right (low) price point, common space, a kitchen, non-smoking – I have a check list and I’m very cautious.
And yet – sometimes things just work out oddly.
Tonight was weird.
While doing Air BnB here in Japan and indeed all around the world, we’ve met some lovely fellow travelers and some amazing hosts. Folks from all over Europe – gals from Moscow when we were in St. Petersburg, Australians everywhere we travel, a smattering of Americans, South Koreans, South Africans – you name it, we chat them up!
And tonight’s group seemed lovely. A mother and daughter from Australia, by way of the Philippines – enjoying a long holiday during a school break. The daughter is 14 and a charmer. Smart, cute, and very well spoken. It’s her mom that’s the surprise.
We arrived back at our lodging in Osaka around 6:00 PM – tired and wanting nothing more than a glass of wine and dinner. We were the only folks there – our charming hosts live elsewhere but visit daily – so we toasted our bread, microwaved our pork chop, and opened our bottle of wine. We’d basically finished eating when the other couple arrived home. The daughter made up her own dinner, and the mom announced that she wasn’t hungry – she’d just join us for a moment.
Her conversation was very garbled – and she was telling us a lot more than we wanted to know about her life, including how she felt about her parents – who she hadn’t visited for years.
I thought she was drinking tea. It was in a coffee mug, and we’d been enjoying our tea and hot water. It wasn’t until I walked into the kitchen that I realized she had been drinking her own bottle of wine – and it was 3/4 finished!
Now her confusing and very personal dialogue made a lot more sense. She was drunk. You can’t drink 3/4 of a bottle of wine, weigh maybe 100 lbs and have no food without feeling the effects – and clearly her daughter was used to this.
Her daughter announced about midway thru one of the mother’s rants that she’d heard this before and was going to bed. She got up, washed her dish, and left.
The Intrepid Traveler and I were a bit stuck. Our room is Japanese style – so futons on the floor and no chairs. So we couldn’t really sit and read in our room. The only western chairs in our lovely Air BnB were in the common space, and so was the mom!
We tried to send our new best friend a message telling her we wanted quiet – I started using my iPad, the Intrepid Traveler started editing the pictures on her iphone. But the mom didn’t take the hint. Instead she started on a rant about folks using computers, iPhones and the like when they came to her house to visit.
I’m guessing they were tying to let her know she was going off the deep end like we were – but what can you do.
Eventually – we excused ourselves to go to bed. She continue to rattle around in the common room for a while – before she too went off the bed.
First time for everything… In the morning there was an empty bottle and 1/2 of wine in the trash. I guess her drinking didn’t stop when we left.
There’s a first time for everything..
Signing off – The weirded out Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler
A city of 10 Million (1/4 of the entire population of Canada) like Tokyo needs a proper subway system. And boy, does Tokyo have subways.
In fact – there are 3 major companies that run subways under, around, and in some cases above the city. So getting from point A to point B can generally be done several ways – and making a decision about which line, and what route is often a question of price vs speed.
I’ve been using the iphone app maps.me to help me get around – although to be honest, it’s more useful if I’m walking than if I’m on the subway. To use the subway, I must rely on quick reading, and slow walking!
To avoid feeling like a salmon swimming up stream among the bears – walk on the left! And that goes double for riding an escalator. This is not something I’m good at either. My natural tendency is to walk on the right – and I get bumped a lot. No wonder the Japanese think we’re awkward. We keep getting in their way because we walk on the wrong side of – well – everything.
But back to subways – The least expensive in general is the ‘Tokyo Metro System” There’s English on the signs at all the stations, and many of the stations are new. The Ginza line is currently undergoing renovation – so it has the most stations that are a challenge to navigate. The other lines are in much better condition. There are public toilets at all stations (so clean you could eat off the floors), there are well indicated elevators, and most staircases also have an escalator if not two. Clearly this is my favorite system. I particularly like their 24 hour pass – at 600 Yen, it makes sense if you are taking 3 trips or more in the next 24 hours – and that’s pretty easy to do.
The next more expensive is the Toei System – which has 4 lines. This system duplicates a lot of the Tokyo Metro System, and you can buy tickets that allow you to change from one to the other – for a price. We were standing at a station in the Toei System – and the price to go to Ikebukuro was 400 Yen. But if we walked to the nearby station that was part of the Tokyo Metro system, the price to Ikebukuro dropped to 170 Yen. A significant difference. But effectively, unless you realize you are using the subway lines of a different company, you can’t tell when switching from Toei system to Tokyo Metro system.
A note on switching lines. Even within one system – say the Tokyo Metro System – the distances from one line to the other line, officially in the same station, can easily be 250 m or more – that’s pretty far to navigate in a crowded environment. So the better if more time consuming plan is to try not to change lines if possible.
The third system, and my least favourite by far, is the JR Line. Yes – that’s the same company that runs the long distance travel and sells those rail passes. They run a subway system within the city that makes a giant circle with one line that goes out into the islands nearby. It’s not the cheap option, but if you want to go to Tokyo Disneyland, or even out to the Sea Life Park – you will find yourself on these lines. The lines are old, the elevators tiny, and there seemed to only be escalators on rare occasions, and always going the wrong way. Not a winner.
Given this complexity – it shouldn’t be a surprise that each line sells it’s own tickets. And each line sells tickets that will work on the competitors lines (no idea how that works financially), but they won’t sell the discount ticket options that include the competitors.
Now, the nice thing about the ticket machines is that they all have a language button that allows you to pick English. Some just offer English or Japanese – others offer several languages – I’m thinking one might be Chinese. Whatever – English is always an option.
Once in the English option, it’s of course easier to use the machine. And all the machines I saw offered a search by destination station name and often by destination station number. And I have to say – knowing your destination station number is a huge advantage! It’s just one letter for the line, followed by a station number. So rather than remember Ikebukuro- you can remember Y09, F09, or M25. Since you can reach Ikebukuro by 3 different Tokyo Metro lines (Y, F, or M) , as well as it being a stop on the JR line it can be confusing. But still, if you know your station name, and it’s number – that’s a huge help.
Another help when getting around by subway is to realize that most stations have signs every few feet, visible from the metro car, that give you the station name (in English and Japanese), the name of the next station in either direction (both languages) and the station numbers. This make it easy to track your progress thru the system when traveling. And there are announcements – again in both languages giving the next station name and connecting information. The problem is that the way Japanese say the names, even in English, isn’t the way we’d phonetically pronounce them. So it’s a better idea to watch the monitors! Much less confusing.
As for navigating the stations – that can be a nightmare. If you hit a station during rush hour, or even just during a busy time (lunch say), the rapidly moving crowds are daunting, truly daunting. And it is easy to get really confused and turned around. In a station like Ikebukuro there are probably several hundred different stores, not to mention 3 huge department stores and cute pop-up shops as well. Signs are everywhere – pointing you correctly to the destinations, and even giving the distances to the destination, but still – I’ve gotten really lost.
One time I ended up in what can only be called ‘Shopping Hell’. It was a sub-basement of a department store with no apparent way out and the only clothes on sale were size 0 to 3. It was mobbed with young Japanese women, and between the throngs, the garish displays, the flashing signs, and the bowing sales people – it was seriously overwhelming. I think they were as confused as why we were there as we were to be there.
My next piece of advice – learn to hug walls. The Japanese have learned this, and know that putting your back to a wall is the safest option when in a crowded environment. Near the toilets it’s not unusual to see 10 to 15 men all lined up along the wall – waiting we assume for their sig other to exit the ladies room. We learned the hard way that stopping in your tracks in the middle of a passage is a recipe for disaster. At tbe least you are going to get bumped – and I’m not so sure that you wouldn’t get trampled!
And my last piece of advice, and one I gave earlier – walk slowly. If you keep moving, even slowly, the crowds will part around you. And by walking slowly you have the time to visually identify and read the signs. They are extremely well written – giving not only the line, but often several key destinations, so if you are moving slowly, and know where you want to go, you can get there.
Bottom line – the Tokyo Metro System, in all it’s complexity, is a thing of beauty. Use it – Enjoy it – but do it slowly and on the left. Let the folks that know where they are headed flow by – take your time and you too can enjoy the voyage.
Signing off to do more traveling on the Subways of Tokyo – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler
I’m forcibly reminded, yet again, that human behaviour is hard to predict. When we challenge someone – it’s easy to imagine how they might react. Probably negatively of course. But sometimes even positive behaviour can result in someone behaving negatively, and that I find hard to explain.
All of this to say – I’m once again traveling. This time it’s not anywhere hugely exciting. Just to Park City Utah for some much needed relaxing time skiing, which is probably an oxymoron if every there was one. And of course a bit of Sundance for me, and a lot of Sundance for my husband and our friends. Nestled in amongst the skiing and the movies is even a bit of competitive bridge playing – so all in all, I’m hoping for exciting times.
But how is this related to addictive behaviour? Ah – as always, I do have a point. When I travel, particularly long airplane trips which define boring, I entertain myself by watching movies or playing games on my iPad. Right now – I’m actually writing this blog en-route between Montreal and New York City, but that’s not the norm. The norm is to play video games.
And I’m finding that video games are getting more and more addictive. I refuse to pay money by the way – so I only play free to download games, and I blissfully ignore all their attempts to get me to spend money. But don’t tell the designers. If they figure out how many of us make rather hard use of their offerings with out contributing even a penny to their coffers – I’m sure they will come up with some underhanded slight of hand method to make us cough up some dough.
But right now – all my favourite games are free. Well, free if you don’t mind blanking out for 30 seconds or so every few minutes while they show you a mindless commercial for yet another addictive computer game.
I will admit, and I suspect the same can be said of most of my readers, I have actually done the dirty deed of downloading an app that was shown to me first in another app. Twice actually. I felt bad about doing it – but I guess that generated some money movement somewhere in the great mystery that is the internet, as one app developer paid another app developer.
So – what apps do I find addictive I hear you wonder. Here is my current favourites – roughly in order of time spent playing them (and watching their commercials).
#1 Most Addictive – Criminal Case. I’ve been playing this game for almost 3 years. No joke. It’s been a long long time. I played it when we were just criss-crossing the US, and now I’m traveling the World. Currently I’m in Indonesia solving a murder that involves a young woman and a subversive group called ‘Sombra’. This is a search and find game with the occasional other type of puzzle. Nothing particularly hard to solve, but I think the graphics are very cool – and I’m enjoying the evolving story line. Best of all – it can be played off line. Which means that you don’t need Internet. This is a huge advantage over others of it’s type.
#2 Most Addictive – Harry Potters Hogwarts Mystery. The biggest downside to this game is the WIFI required aspect. So if you don’t have a strong WIFI connection – no game. The idea is simple, you are a student at Hogwarts, several years before Harry Potter will arrive. There’s slightly younger versions of the popular teachers like Snape, Dumbledore and Flitwick, plus a new teacher who you meet in the 4th year and who teaches Care of Magical Creatures. You can adopt pets (I have a Cat, an Owl, a Toad, a Dog and a Rat), you can adopt Magical Creatures – (I’ve adopted a Niffler and a Fairy), and you can explore the school. Like Criminal Case, I love the graphics, I think going to the classes is a hoot – and I’m continuing to play because I’d love to adopt a flying horse! This game is a demanding time waster though. Energy is recharged a one point per 4 minutes, so it takes about 2 hours to get back to full ‘strength’. You can get extra energy by spending real money (nope – not doing that), picking up bits of energy here and there around the school (I like clicking the stick and watching a young Fang run out to chase it), and by spending gems. But the easiest thing is just to wait. Again, not a difficult game, and probably a snore-fest if you aren’t a Harry Potter Fan, but I am, and I love it.
#3 – Woody Puzzle – This is a new game on my iPad – and it’s a version of Tetris that doesn’t allow for rotations. It’s un-timed, and not limited. You don’t use up energy that needs to be topped up by failing, you just start again. The only down side is that every start again requires watching a short commercial – but that’s not a huge price to play for a game that is really quite strategic in it’s way. No WIFI required – so you can play whenever you feel up for it.
#4 – Garden of Words – This game, and Woody Puzzle, were downloaded because of marketing on my other games. Again this one has no energy to rebuild, you keep working on the puzzles until you solve them, or give up and ask for a hint. The concept is actually kinda fun. There’s a ‘plate’ of 5 or 6 letters – and a cross-word format to fill in by picking letter after letter. A bit like scrabble, if scrabble was really easy to play and very forgiving. There are apparently over 2000 word puzzles to solve – if one believes the marketing. Again – no WIFI needed – so you can play any time you want. This game is apparently available in other languages – even though I play my games only in English, I’ve been seeing ‘commercials’ for this game in French. I think it knows I’m in Quebec.
So – those are the games that I’m playing while I travel today. If you have a moment – I do recommend them, at least do the free download and give them a spin. You have nothing to lose except time… And maybe that’s what’s really wrong with these games – they steal time!
Signing off because the plane is landing and they are definitely going to expect me to get up and get out!
The Soup Lady
I’m a tad conservative – I’m not talking political, I’m talking life style. Husband, kids, house, grandkids – conservative lifestyle, conservative dress – you wouldn’t think from looking at me today that there was a flower child in my past. And the honest truth is that there wasn’t. I was in University during that period in history – but I spent that time studing physics and computer science, not marching from rights at every opportunity.
Color me conservative.
So you can also color me surprised to discover that I’d managed to decide to visit Toronto during Pride Week. This is a massively important week for Toronto, if the sheer number of rainbow flags, wall hangings, designs, and posters is any measure. I don’t think it would be possible to ignore the fact that it was Pride week anywhere in Toronto, but my sisters and I had managed to reserve ourselves a VRBO rental right in the heart of the Gay Village. No way we were going to be ignoring the festivities. Much to our surprise, we were part of them!
Hot Spot Central for Pride events is Church Street near Bloor – and we were just 2 very short blocks away on Mutual Street. We couldn’t have asked for a better location if we’d realized what we were signing up for. Church Street is party central, and we were just far enough away to avoid the noise – and close enough to have to walk thru it every time we ventured out.
We arrived in Toronto on Thursday, navigated our way to our lodgings, and quickly realized that something was happening. The unmistakable signs of a huge street fair being set up were everywhere. Tents being dropped off, boxes and boxes of supplies being unloaded, and giant marquess being set-up at all the major street corners were just some of the more obvious hints. And to say that folks were dressed – well – distinctively – would be an understatement. Clearly, something big was happening, and it didn’t take us long to put it all together. Of course – Pride Week – with the huge Pride Parade (over 3 million people (apx?) attended in 2017) was happening on Sunday.
By Saturday, things were in high swing. The street closures started at Bloor and Church and extended for blocks and blocks – well past where we were and only petering out at around Gerrad Street. Even the local Loblaws – a super Loblaws with both an upstairs and a downstairs was in on the act. An entire section of the grocery store was getting a quick redesign as a dance floor – with a DJ of course. Folks were handing out free drink samples at both entrances – Some kind of Lemon/Lime Coke at one door, and a fru-fru water at the other. Nothing like shopping to head-banging noise…
The hundreds of stalls set up along Church were definitely an eclectic group. From Light your Dick (selling penis shaped candles), to a wooden watch display whose 6’2” salesman wore high heels and a sequinned top, to a pose yourself in a bathtub photo opp – there were stalls the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
The lower portion of the parade route was devoted to more community oriented stalls of the likes of Save Water (handing out free metal water bottles), Pet Rescue (with their doggy mascot in his wheel chair), and a huge 2 floor bar/DJ set-up sponsored (yes I asked) by the largest Pot growing company in Canada. Nope – no free samples there!
My sisters and I wandered up and down the street – many times with our jaws dropped open in surprise at the clothing choices of some of our fellow revellers.
There were drag queens galore – some young, some definitely not so young. One of my favourites was wearing a dashing ballon headdress – and not much else. There were men – at least a dozen in my best count – sporting the full Monty. They had on rings that were strategically placed – I never did figure out why, but if you need to know – ask a guy. Leather strips formed a lot of the clothing options, as did push up bras, corsets, and tatoos. For some reason – lots of guys were wearing dog masks – mostly of the German Shepard variety – and being lead around on chains by either other men, or young woman. I will leave to the reader’s mind to figure out what they were doing. There was a Goth Statue of Liberty, a guy wearing ‘grapes’ (I think he was from a wine store), and lots of belly buttons (and other parts) on display.
And the noise – oh my – the noise. Every major street corner had a DJ booth and dance floor set-up. Some were massive 3 story affairs with light shows. Other’s were a bit more subtle – but not by much. One booth was playing a wild rendition of YMCA as we struggled past, but most were the more popular younger music that I can barely recognize as music. It’s mostly base noise, with a hint of melody.
And this party lasts, lasts, and lasts. It started warming up around noon on Saturday, and only slowed down a bit when it rained late Saturday night. On Sunday morning they began gearing up for the main event – the Pride Parade, but we opted to avoid both the rain and the crowds by heading towards the Royal Ontario Museum. This kept us dry and relatively sane. We let the crowds of Pride Parade Goers do their thing with out us. There is only so much Full Monty I need to see in my life.
Would I go back to Toronto for Pride Parade? Nope. Been there, saw that – I’m done. Would I suggest you check it out? Sure! It was eye-opening for sure.
Signing off to go back to her conservative life-style…
Our plans for today – a Monday – are fairly simple.
MP has a list of ‘must see’ items – among them the amber room at Catherine II’s Summer Palace in Pushkin. We get another rather late start, those lazy breakfast and sleeping in mornings are going to be the doom of us – and head out by metro/bus to Pushkin.
The directions, as per the Lonely Planet Guide book are simple. The Palace is only open from 12 to 2 for individual visitors – so arrive around 12.
Oh – how I wish I’d done some internet searching BEFORE venturing out to Pushkin.
Going by metro/bus wasn’t the fastest option – it took about an hour to get from our central location to the bus stop nearest the Palace. Part of that time was wasted trying to find the correct bus stop at the metro station. Fortunately, while people may not speak English – they are great with numbers and pointing – so we eventually end up in front of a MacDonalds – getting on the right bus!
We ride, and ride – the country side of the paintings we’d seen in the Russian Museum unrolling in front of our eyes. Pushkin is a town that grew up around the Tsar’s Palace, and it’s really a bedroom community for St. Petersburg. Lots of flats and square concrete buildings dating probably to the Soviet era. Landscaping is pretty pedestrian – clearly not a priority for the flat owners. Too bad too – with a bit of care these buildings might look quite nice. Today they look badly in need of a paint job and some basic concrete repair work.
Helpful souls on the bus push us off when we arrive at our destination. We walk around a corner – and there it is – in all it’s Russian dome glory! The garden that surrounds the palace looks amazing – but it is completely fenced off from us common types. Clearly you must enter from the palace ticket office.
As we walk towards the Palace, along a small creek that has been carefully scluptured with water falls and lava rocks, we notice the begining of bad news. There is a mob of people outside of the gate. Carefully lining up – no barriers, no controls – just huge long long lines.
As we get closer – we realize that there are 3 ticket booths – each with it’s own long line. We join the shortest (but not fastest unfortuantely) and then IT and MP go out hunting for lunch.
I wait patiently in line for their return.
Lunch consists of Russian Fast Food – mystery meat rolls in a yummy bread crust. I do enjoy these things – but I wish I had some Ketscup. They are really the predecessors of our Tourtiere – only hand sized!
Anyway – once MP and IT return, I decide to investigate further. It turns out that Lonely Planet was completely, utterly wrong. Things have drastically changed at Catherine II’s Summer Palace. Today you are given a time slot based on when you arrive at the ticket booth – and the slots range from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. That’s all good – but we have theatre tonight – what times are they giving out now? Given the disorganized queuing process – 3 booths, 3 lines – worst queuing method ever – it’s not a surprise that there’s no sign saying what the next times to be distributed are. In fact – there’s no information – just endless queues. I’m totally reminded of some of the opening scenes in Robin William’s film – “Moscow on the Hudson”.
Finally I can’t take the lack of information any longer, and I go stand next to the exit line at our booth – and try to peer at someone’s ticket. Noticing my interest, they kindly ask if they can help – and I explain I’m trying to see what time slots are being assigned. 5:00 PM is the answer.
Won’t work. It’s 12:30 now – we are definitely not going to hang around the palace – you can’t even visit the garden until your time slot – and then miss ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
So we pack it in – no Amber room for MP today.
According to Lonely Planet – there is another palace, almost as nice, within a short bus ride of Catherine II’s monster. It’s called Pavlovsk – for Paul I. And it sounds really perfect. We walk back to the bus stop – and after several false starts – get on the right bus to Pavlovsk. After a ride quite a bit longer than we’d hope for – the bus actually takes us right to the ticket booth of the Palace. And there is no line. Perfect.
Oops – not so perfect. The palace is closed for Sanitary Cleaning. What? Not announced, not planned, not on the schedule – just – the palace is closed. A private tour guide is standing at the ticket booth giving grief to the poor defenseless ticket agent – who can only sigh, shake her head, and repeat – it’s closed.
Having few options – we decide to make the best of what is rapidly becoming a disaster – and at least visit the park.
The garden is lovely – no two ways about that. And it is huge. I keep thinking what an amazing place to ride horseback – or to wander in a lovely dress and a parasol. We are passed by a bride and groom in a horse drawn carriage – what a lovely day and place to celebrate your wedding. (sigh)
We enjoy the surroundings, then get back on the bus to head back to St. Petersburg. Seriously hungry by the time the bus meanders back to the metro stop, we opt to eat an early dinner/late lunch of rice with a meat sauce. Then it’s onto the metro and we head back downtown.
Thinking we had plenty of time – we get off at one of the downtown stations – and we plan our walk to include another of MP’s must sees – the Bronze Horseman. This iconic statue was made famous in a poem by Pushkin, and is the northern most anchor of a large public park. We wander past St. Issac’s Cathedral, admire the horseman, take photo’s of the Russian’s enjoying the garden around the horseman, admire the river, and than continue our walk towards the Theatre.
We thought that our Ballet began at 7:30 – and are surprised at how quiet the area around the new ‘Mariinsky’ was. Where are all the guests? The staff admitts us – points us to the cloakroom to deposit our back-packs – and then shows us the elevator (wow – an elevator). We get off on the 4th floor – but when we try to enter the theatre – the very pleasant hostess tells us that we can only stand. Surprised – we walk in – to discover that the ballet started at 7:00
Oops. It’s the middle of Act I – the child has been born, and the fairies are doing their dances. We sit on the steps (we couldn’t stand for even 10 minutes to be honest) – and watch in amazement at the spectacule. This is ballet as it should be. Even from the 4th level – we’re so close to the stage I feel like I could reach out and touch the dancers.
The ‘new’ hall is all blonde wood and muted colors – but unlike the concert hall in Montreal which also features a new design – here the acoustics are wonderful, and the dancing sublime.
Time flys by – we get to take our seats for act II, relax during Act III – but most enjoy Act IV. After the evil fairy is defeated – there is the wedding feast – and all the fairy tale characters – from Puss in Boots to Red Riding Hood and her wolf show up to celebrate the marriage. The dancing in this section is no longer the restrained classical style of the first acts – instead the dancers and the audience are caught up in the fun and delight of the fairy tale characters. Oh – such fun.
I haven’t seen much ballet – in fact I can’t remember the last ballet I saw. But it doesn’t take an expert to realize that this is ballet at a vastly surperior level. The ballet corp is both numerous and well trained – at one point we counted over 100 dancers on the stage. There were kids as well – all sorted by height, all dancing with a level of experience that is shocking for us to see. It is as if they have been dancing forever – and I suppose perhaps they have!
Perfectly sculptured legs, dramaticly high leg lifts, and men who leap and soar seemingly weightless fill the stage. We can’t help but be impressed, thrilled, delighted and pleased.
We leave the theatre promising ourselves not to arrive late the next night – and consider walking home. Nope – we’re wiped – Taxi it is. Problem – where do we live. I know where it is of course – but I have no address – certainly not one to give a taxi cab driver who speaks only a spattering of English.
Decision – take us to the Hermitage – we’ll walk from there.
He does – we do – and it’s bed time!
The host at the hostel is thrilled to see us – they didn’t realize we were going to the theatre – and had expected us back much much earlier. But all is well – and we’re wiped.
Signing off – MP, IT, and you know who… The Soup Lady!
This is insane. I’ve been back from Bali for a week – and last night was the first night I slept thru. Really. Body – what gives!
I didn’t have jet lag issues on the way to Bali – despite the 35 hours of travel time. I think that the saving grace there was actually the 8 hours on the ground in Paris. When you get your feet on the ground – and can organize a bed – you get a decent rest. And it sets your body’s alarm clock.
On the return journey – I left Bali at around 5:30 a night – and arrived at about 6:30 PM the next day in Montreal. So in Theory – I should have been fine. But in practice – not so good.
I went to bed at 5:30 PM several times – woke at 3:30 AM like a shot – wide awake – absolutely raring to go – and then of course – died out again at 5:30 PM. So doesn’t work when you have to go to the office and people expect you to function.
And I did all the standard tricks – drank lots of water, tried to sleep when they turned out the lights on the plane – even walked around a bit when the seat belt light was off. And I did those crazy exercises the ‘relax’ option on the Audio suggest – rotate your feet – up down with your toes, self massage your neck. If I could have found enough space to do a bit of Tai-Chi – that would have been nice – but I think they are making planes larger with less space. Mine had a bar – but no space to stretch!
I don’t care for drugs – so I ignore all suggestions that start with ‘Take’ – as in ‘Take Gavol’, ‘Take Melatonin’, ‘Rub yourself with Lavender Oil’, and ‘Take Pycnogenol’. And I’m certainly not going the Prescription Sleep Meds route. It’s natural or deal with it in my book.
But I do think time on the ground to break up the trip is the best route – and next time – I’m adding travel time on the route back to grab some proper shut eye. It’s so worth the money – losing a week of focus is such a terrible way to end a great holiday trip!
Signing off now that she can sleep when the rest of the world around me is asleep – The Soup Lady
We’re in Detroit – that should be steak country right? I’m thinking if you want a great US steak – you should be able to get it here. Well – forget about that if you go to Prime 29. So beautiful, so disappointing.
Lets talk about the good stuff first. The restaurant is beautiful. They did a brand-new renovation in a space the size of a small Target (Ok – probably not that big – but you get the idea.). The space is divided up into a series of smaller spaces with huge round tables/banquets nestled into the walls, a huge bar, a huge terrace area with a glassed in gas fire pit and heat lamps, plus standard dining rooms as well. It went on forever.
I just loved the look – dark woods, rich carpet, nicely dressed wait-staff (well – except for hostess in too tight skirt and top – and huge high purple heels – but the guys ate that up), and comfy seats. We opted for the terrace – open air, not a great view – but the weather was so nice it was worth it.
The menu was a bit of a shocker – $41 for a 12 oz rib steak is in the pricy area in my book. But the Filet – 8 oz – was just $34, much more reasonable. And as a teaser – there’s Prime Rib for $29 – but only on Sunday. Since I was eating there on Saturday night – that’s a non-starter.
But I’m flexible, so I order 2 appetizers – a cheese and fruit plate and a tuna tataki, neither of which was cheap – but I had hopes they’d be good. The tuna was a winner. Nice slices of cold tuna, served on a seasoned salad of avocado slices. Yummy. The cheese platter really should have been awesome. There are so many delicious cheeses from micro-producers these days that you can really pick and choose. So Cheddar, Pepper Jack, Cheap Brie and amazingly – Boursin were hardly an impressive selection. Not that they aren’t good cheeses – but for $18 I’d expect at least something like a Jasper Hill, or a local Michigan cheese. Not cheese bought from Price Club. Really. This the best you can do?
But ignore my complaints – my husband’s medium rare filet was medium well, the truffle fries were battered frozen fries (come on people – frozen french fries – at an upscale restaurant?) that weren’t very truffled, and the lobster bisque was declared thin and watery by my friends.
So – it’s a beautiful place to go to be seen, but hardly foodie worthy. Oh well. Next time in Detroit, maybe we will make a better choice.