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
Just to set matters straight.. We were married on Friday, September 11th, 1970.
Yes – I know – September 11. Not our fault. That date became infamous way after we were married – not fair really – a group of terrorists stole my anniversary date and made people think of something other than us..
For many years – because we were married on a Friday – Victor thought our anniversary was on September 13 (Friday the 13th) – but no… it’s Friday September 11, 1970. For sure.
6 months later, we went back to Atlanta to visit my parents – and Victor tried to return me. My dad told him – nope – warranty is up.
And on Friday, September 11, 2020 – it was 50 years…
Which is almost impossible for me to truly believe.
I was 21 when we got married. Hopelessly young and innocent and foolish and so much in love. I’m still in love you know – I adore my husband – ponytail and all.
I’m kinda hoping I’m no longer foolish and innocent – but I keep thinking that I’m still young..
Doomed to disappointment I’m afraid to say.
So just how does one celebrate 50 years of doing anything.. It’s a really long time. Way more than 1/2 my life. And here’s what really scary – longer than 80% (according to the US Census) of folks alive today have been alive!
Martin, the charming manager of Boneparte’s here in Montreal – where we celebrated our anniversary with an absolutely lovely dinner party for just 6 – annouced that he was born – BORN – the year we were married.
Our celebration – as most of our celebrations these days – was broken down into parts.. We celebrated in March in St. Croix – right as the COVID lock-down was happening with just our kids.. First time in over 20 years that it’s been just the 5 of us. It was really great – but the conversation centered around the COVID cases and how the world was going to react. We now know the answer – not great. But at the time.. we were a bit optimistic. Wrong – but positive.
Then we celebrated by traveling to send a lovely long Labor Day weekend in Barrie with our friends and Lucy and Lacy – the horses. It was a blast… a long drive each way – but worth it.
Then we had a wonderful dinner party at Boneparte’s – filled with laughter and gift giving and my kids and their kids.. Only Grover didn’t come, but the feeling was that perhaps the party would go on past his bed time. So we shared videos of him. He stayed home and went to bed on time. Probably better all around.
We got caught up on the lives of our two charming grand-daughters – who look more and more beautiful every time I see them. Their lives – like the lives of all kids from 13 to 21 these days are complicated by the truth of COVID. The youngest one is caught in a ‘bubble’ at school that doesn’t include her closest friends, and the older one is trying to have a relationship with a guy, be a young adult, start her working career – and dealing with idiots who refuse to wear masks, to social distance, to admit they are COVID positive, and thus put her life in danger.
I just don’t understand why people are so sure that their right to do what they want trumps the right of other people to feel safe. Why would any one who knows they are COVID positive not alert their friends. What is there to gain by not saying something. It confuses me.
As usual – I have digressed…
Back on track – Saturday afternoon we had a Zoom conversation with all the family – my daughter and grand-daughter in London (hubby was sick with a cold in bed – not Covid), my son and daughter-in-law in California, and my kids here in Montreal.
The we finished off with an equally splendid dinner party – period correct this time – which means we were dressed in our 1812 finest… Silver service, candles lit, music softly playing, amusing conversation, and No IT! Unfortunately for our hosts – their maid and butler had taken the day off (they always do when we come over… ) so while the service was excellent – it was our friends doing the service!
The meal celebrated our trips together. First course was a salmon tartar (yummy) with ground cherries. They are one of my favorite ‘fruits’ – which my friends only discovered when we were together in Quebec City. The 2nd course was a lobster Bisque with shrimp – we’d gone out to Boneparte’s – in period clothing – and three of the four of us ordered the Lobster Bisque… The 3rd course was Rabbit with Olives – in honor of our time together in Malta. The cheese course was again in memory of the Quebec City trip – we had cheese every evening before dinner in the ‘lounge’ area of our room in the BnB in Quebec City. And the desert course was a magnificent Charlotte Russe with a fruit topping. This was in honor of our times together at the Regimental Dinner parties in Vaudreuil.
The dessert was amazing. The dinner outstanding. The wines were well chosen to compliment the different dishes, and the conversation was delightful. We dragged ourselves out close to midnight – feeling very well feted indeed.
So this is how we have celebrated 50 years of being together.. And today is just another day – we’re headed off to buy fruit at Costco and the Marche near by – and having dinner together…
Life marches on… It’s 50 years and 2 days – if it lasts…
The Soup Lady
I got married on Friday, September 11, 1970. For years my husband remembered it as September 13.. because it was a Friday.
And for the record – we are still married. Which in and of itself feels like a record. So of course – I googled it!
We are still playing it ‘safe at home’ – so what else is there to do…
Turns out that – yup – it’s something of a record. Only 7% of American’s celebrate 50 years of marriage.
But upon further digging, it turns out that while I’m among a distinguished few that make it this far – it’s not really the record one might think. It isn’t really about being married… it’s about not dying.
According to a wonderful piece in a blog site called ‘Family Inequality’ the truth of the matter is more that neither of us died!
If you discount the folks that died, and the folks who are widowed – then you are left with the folks that got married married before 1971. And of those folks – who have the potential to celebrate 50+ years of marriage – fully 50% of us are still married.
So what does this mean. It means that folks that got married before 1971 thought we were getting married forever. We didn’t think of divorce as an option, it never even crossed our minds – or at least 50% of our minds… I guess the other 50% that didn’t die, did get divorced.
Bottom line – I’ve gotten to this milestone thru lucky genes (I didn’t die), lucky genes on my husband’s side (he didn’t die), and then I guess – because we never considered being anything other than married.
One other important factor – not to embarrass my kids or my readers – we still find each other very appealing physically. We also share a lot of history, but have our own unique interests and hobbies. We can let each other go on trips without being jealous (too jealous anyway), and rest comfortable in the knowledge that they will return. We give each other space… and a place to be separate inside our home. We forgive each other when we must – if not immediately, then eventually – and almost always before bedtime. We try hard to find the positive stuff – to not get bored when stories get repeated, but to enjoy them re-told and often mis-told. We are still in love.
I’m still happy every morning when I wake up and say ‘Good Morning Honey’.
My daughter-in-law just reminded me that when they got married – I told her that marriage is a 60-60 relationship – you must always feel that you are giving the bigger portion. If both of you feel that way – the marriage will work.
How are we celebrating this milestone? Are we having a big party or taking a fancy holiday? Well in the days of COVID-19 – the quick answer is – of course not.
We’re lucky in that we’re in Montreal, and the better restaurants are open under COVID-19 restrictions and taking it very very seriously. So we’re going out to dinner with the kids who live here in the city. It won’t be a fancy party – but it will be our style. Comfortable and happy.
Signing off to figure out what dress to wear (not really) … The Soup Lady
Honestly – who would have thought we’d be almost 4 months into this thing with cases in the US on the rise, and even here in Montreal we’re not feeling exactly safe.
At least Disney World has re-opened. I don’t know about how you feel about that – but I for one am greatly relieved. They are taking a huge chance – will folks come, can they make sure that these folks are safe – but knowing the massive brain power they can call on – I’m guessing that this is a very measured risk.
I’m quite convinced that they at least know what they are doing… I’m not so sure about our governments. In too many places the rules are changing daily.. Here in Quebec, after much discussion and public consultation, and – I fancy – navel gazing, the PTB (powers that be) have decided to make Masks mandatory in all indoor spaces in the province. They have also decided that the recent upswing in cases (over 150 new ones today – which pales when compared to the over 7000 in Texas alone) is primarily due to large house parties over the two long weekends – June 24th and July 1st. Not the re-opened bars as was feared.
Has anyone mentioned that the US is having a huge upswing about 2 weeks after the July 4th weekend? Just wondering.
Anyway – subject of this blog is going to be travel in the times of Covid-19.
Last night we did a lovely evening Zoom chat with friends in Utah who are planning a 3 week trip to Georgia with their kids and grand kids. When I expressed dismay, they were quick to point out that they were driving – using the kid’s very large motor home. To be safe, they were buying all their food before leaving Utah, and thus stopping only for gas. They wouldn’t even have to use public bathrooms. They are leaving in a few days – I’m quite keen to hear how it goes. I know motor home sales are way way up – people liking the idea of total control over their environment… so I shall hopefully be able to report back.
Meanwhile – We recently decided enough is enough – we’re taking a short trip to the Toronto area. That’s about a 6 hour drive from Montreal but our plans called for us to visit several groups of friends who live in that area of Canada. Our trip journal starts with us leaving home on June 29th, heading West with plans to be back home on Saturday July 4th. So we packed up our clothes, our masks, some sanitizer, and headed out.
Since we were driving in our own car – that part of the trip felt very safe. It’s our car, no one else has been inside – we’re ok.
Our first stop was going to be Kingston, Ontario – about halfway to Toronto. It’s a small city by even Canadian standards, but home to several universities and most of Canada’s major prisons. I allow you to make the obvious links – but we weren’t planning on visiting either. We were going to grab a quick lunch and then get back on the road. Our thought was that a terrace was safer than an En-Route… for sure more yummy.
Our daughter, who lived in Kingston for 4 years (she went to University there), highly recommended Chez Piggy – and they had a terrace. We felt good about eating on terraces – and called to reserve. They cautioned us that wearing a mask was mandatory unless seated at our table – but we thought nothing of that. We were used to wearing masks in public – no biggie.
Turns out it was a biggie. A nail salon in the Kingston area had just been determined to be a hot-bed of Covid cases, and everyone was running scared. Over 20 people picked up the virus from that one location – and while testing is free in Canada – it still takes about 2 days to get results. While folks were waiting to see if they had been infected, Masks were mandated.
Of course we found this out AFTER we were seated and had ordered our lunch.
Nothing was going to change by leaving now – if we had been in contact – we’d been in contact. So we ate our lunch (yummy), and then walked back to our car, and continued our drive West. I will admit, we were crossing our fingers that we were ok – all the servers had been properly masked, and we’d stayed well away from everyone.. we were hopefully fine. (NB: it’s been 2 weeks – we’re fine!)
We stopped at an En-Route – one of those service centres off the highway to get gas and get a bit of a stretch and a toilet break. They had blocked off 1/2 of the toilet stalls in the ladies room (deemed lacking in social distance), and 1/2 of the urinals in the men’s room (again – not enough social distance). They had also shut off every other sink. Interesting. Lines on the floor indicated how to stand to get service front the take-out restaurants that were open – although there were so few people that it wasn’t an issue.
Unlike in the Kingston area, Masks were not required here – although almost everyone was wearing one, including us. We stayed away from other folks, got the needed relief, and headed on to Markham., about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Our hotel for the first two nights was there – a low price option run by the Radison chain, so again – we felt safe.
And the hotel was indeed perfect. They had taken some basic precautions – no maid service, a plexiglass barrier between us and the staff, no breakfast offered, doors (except for our room) opening automatically and sanitizer dispensers everywhere. For the price, we felt quite comfortable. Few folks wore masks, but we did whenever we were inside and stayed away from others.
We took a long walk in what was a light industrial area with basically no traffic. In the early evening the weather was quite pleasant. We found a take-out Chinese hot-pot restaurant for dinner, and walked back to the hotel for bed. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Today we were doing the most ‘exposed’ portion of our trip – we were driving into downtown Toronto to visit very good friends. There was more traffic than expected, but for Toronto it was exceedingly quiet. The surprising thing was the noise level. On previous visits, Downtown Toronto was always quite noisy, but not now. And the change was a pleasure.
We got to our friends condo building, which also had taken significant COVID precautions – hand sanitizers, staff behind plexiglass barriers, cautions on the number of folks who could ride together in an elevator – that kind of thing. Our friends joined us in the lobby, and we walked (wearing masks) to the Royal York Hotel.
The ‘wear a mask’ concept hadn’t really struck home in Toronto at this point in time – we were basically the only folks wearing them on our walk past the Convention Center. But then – the crowds were missing, and that made it easy to keep social distance from anyone we got near.
The Royal York decided that one way to cope with the pandemic was by creating an outdoor eating space – and it was lovely. They had taken over a huge section of the sidewalk and by using fake greenery and a lot of fung shui – created a garden. There were different kinds of sitting/eating areas, all marked at ‘sanitized for your protection’ including an outdoor sofa/lounge section. The 4 of us were seated at one of the lounge chair options – easily maintaining social distance. Wait staff were all masked, menus were cleaned before being presented, and the food was lovely. We sat and chatted and relaxed. It was perfect.
With the lack of traffic noise, it did indeed feel like we were in a Garden – complete with water features including spouting lion masks.
We walked back to our friends condo – and this time braved the elevator to their place. The rules on the elevator were no more than 4 people, and you had to stay in the corners. But in truth, folks just waited as one group completed their trip up (or down) before getting in – and carefully avoided touching anything. Our friend used her key to touch the elevator buttons for example.
Once in their home – we were still careful about keeping social distance, but took off our masks and shared snacks and had drinks. We spent time relaxing on their tiny balcony – just enjoying the view of Toronto harbour.
When it came time for dinner, our hostess took out binoculars to check on available outdoor tables at the restaurants they could spot from their location on the 33rd floor. When she determined where there was space available – we hopped back on the elevator – and walked quickly to that restaurant. It was notably ‘down-scale’ from the Royal York – both in COVID awareness and price range. The wait staff were wearing masks but no face shields and at least one only had only her mouth covered. The menus might have been sanitized, but certainly there was no effort to make sure we knew that this had been done. And we had issues keeping social distance – one gentleman – unmasked – came way too close to our table for my comfort to talk to us about his dog.
But like in Kingston – we did the best we could to be as safe as we could.
After a take-out breakfast at Tim Hortons (got to love Timmy’s) the next day we headed away from Toronto into the Barrie area to visit friends who live on 5 acres out in the country. Seriously out in the country. While the air in Toronto was surprisingly – for Toronto – clean – this was heaven.
In the country – keeping social distance was much much easier… They had one bathroom cleaned for our use – and we spent the day outside on their lovely porch just relaxing and chatting. Our hostess is an amazing cook – she made her own sushi for lunch, and created designer pizza for dinner. What a smashingly perfect way to spend a day.
And the drive from their place to our hotel near Barrie was very cool. We were in rolling farm land – vistas went for miles and miles every time you crested a hill – and it was the evening of July 1st – Canada’s birthday. Fireworks are the norm – and they were visible everywhere. I counted 20 different displays from the top of one raise – simply by rotating my body in a 360 degree circle. We were too far to ‘hear’ them – but it was very easy to see them. Happy Birthday Canada.
Our next hotel was a Best Western Plus in Barrie – and they had also done a decent job of making sure we were protected. Kinda. For example – there was a large plexiglass barrier between us and the staff at check-in – but you had to reach around the Barrier to get your keys, sign the register – etc. So safe… and not so safe. And unlike the hotel from the night before – the walls were like paper. We could hear the music from next door – so loud it might have been in our room. This is not a COVID problem – this is just plain thin walls and cheap hotels. Oh well.
Breakfast was odd. They had signs up explaining that because of COVID they were being careful – so they had removed all the tables and chairs. No sitting in the breakfast area to eat. And there was sanitizer available for use before touching the items on display. Cereal had been pre-poured into bowls and covered with plastic wrap. You had to touch common pitchers to pour your milk, but they didn’t have any ‘buffet’ style offerings like eggs. Yogurt and the like was available from a fridge – but again there was a common handle. I grabbed the food and coffee I wanted, pleased that it was free, and washed my hands when I got back to the room.
Today we were ‘surprising’ our 77 year old friend on his birthday.. His wife and another mutual friend were to go to a brunch restaurant with a terrace – and we were to go there to say – surprise. He wasn’t that surprised I’m sorry to say. My husband had spilled the beans – and while he and my hubby had agreed not to tell anyone that the surprise was ruined – I think they had guessed. In any case – the restaurant was more like the 2nd place in Toronto than the Royal York. Wait staff had masks, but some were only over their mouths. And while the inside was closed to guests, you had to walk thru it to get to the bathrooms. They had gone to the effort to clearly mark a one way in/ one way out path – but narrow hallways made staying social distance really a challenge.
I actually opened the bathroom door from the inside – and was staring straight into the face of the lady waiting her turn… I backed up, she backed up. We strategized – and then she backed out into the hallway so I had room to pass. Awkward moment there…
But lunch was lovely – company was great – and afterwards we drove with our friend to see the horses. We were going to go riding the next day – but today we wanted to just say hi.
Horses get lonely during COVID too.
The barn had rules posted. No more than 5 people at one time in the building, keep social distance, wipe down when you leave. No sanitizer on display here – but it is really not that kind of place. We did bring our own – so we could be careful.
Back to the hotel for break. We took a walk, did some serious liquorice shopping at ‘The Dutch Shop’ and I spotted a rock shop. A large rock shop. As in a shop for large rocks. They even sold stepping stones of Italian Marble.. So our car is going to be loaded heading home.
Our friend’s birthday dinner was outside in their backyard with the rabbits and the birds. It was delicious. The devilled eggs were particularly wonderful and his wife also served cold shrimp, fruit salad – and ice cream for dessert. Yummy doesn’t start to describe it.
The next day we went riding – with a horse between you, keeping social distance is very easy – so no problems there. We had a lot of fun – and again spent time just chatting and catching up on the news – and bemoaning the boredom of too many days too separated. Little did we know that in two weeks the US would be seeing a spike larger than the initial one… but that was two week away.
Our drive home was uneventful – except for our visit to a different En-route. At this En-route – they were enforcing the wearing of masks indoors. A staff member was sitting outside politely telling anyone not wearing a mask that they couldn’t enter. Since we were wearing masks – it wasn’t an issue and I didn’t see anyone get too upset when they were asked to go get one. They were not handing masks out – so I don’t know what folks would do if they arrived at the En-route and had no masks – but we didn’t hang around to find out.
So – our first travel during COVID ended with us glad to be home.
It’s now been two weeks – we are fine and so are our friends. Dodged that bullet I guess. But meanwhile we all know what’s been happening in the US – and as a result Canada and the US have agreed to keep the border closed for another month.
And here in Canada – folks are seeing what is happening to our South, and we are getting a lot more serious about making sure everyone is wearing masks. And that folks know that hot spots like large groupings of friends that don’t keep social distance are problems. We were careful – but were we careful enough – or just lucky.
Like in Bridge – sometimes just being lucky is good enough.
Signing off to plan another trip – still keeping social distance – and definitely not going into the US – The Soup Lady
It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to… Words to a song that formed part of my impressionable youth that resonates with me still today.
After countless days in self-isolation – some imposed because we traveled back from St. Croix on April 1, and some just done because my kids were fussing at me about going even to Costco… Like I suspect most of you, my oh so loyal readers, I’m getting a bit bored.
And it’s going to be my 72nd birthday on June 24. Oh man – I never ever thought I’d be this old – I’ve lived longer than my Grand-mother, and I’m 2 years shy of the age my mother was when she died.
My vision of 72 – at the tender age of 15 or so when I thought about my grand-parents – was house bound (check), living basically in a chair in the TV room (nope), limited conversation topics (what was the weather?), and moving only when absolutely necessary.
My husband and I just returned from our daily 2 mile walk along Lakeshore – dodging the bikers in Spandex that race along like it’s an Olympic track – and enjoying the breeze off the lake. My dad was doing something similar when he was this age, but my mom was totally house bound. I work out daily if possible, lifting weights, doing push-ups, squats, planks – well – you know the basic drill. So yes, I’m in much better physical shape than my parents. And glad of it.
But that doesn’t do much for the gut fear reaction to COVID-19. This is scary stuff because it is targeting my age group. 80% of the deaths in Quebec (most in Montreal where I live) are in the 70+ group.
The good news – here in Montreal – the numbers are definitely on a slide downward. Fewer and fewer cases every day, and while the deaths are still happening (about 50 a day) – but they are the cases that were detected weeks and weeks ago.
Testing here – which by the way gets reports in 2 days – was limited to folks showing symptoms or who had been in contact with folks who had tested positive. But the numbers of folks getting tested has plummeted so they are now saying – anyone can come in.
I haven’t been tested – and am unlikely to get tested at this point. I have been careful to sanitize and wear a face mask when out in any kind of public environment – so while this may be a false sense of security – I do feel secure.
Which brings me to the reason for this blog. It’s my birthday. And restaurants in Montreal will be opening up starting June 21. And our favourite restaurant in the city – Bonaparte’s – is having a grand opening dinner on June 23. It’s the day before my birthday – but I’ve never been a stickler for exact dates. And we are going. In 1810 style. Our dinner companion will be the local Vicar – so the conversation, while polite, should be interesting. He’s always in the gossip loop on local doings.
Yes – I’m excited!
The restaurant has taken all the precautions the management can think of. Limited # of diners, all staff wearing masks, menus sanitized before being presented, table etc sanitized before you sit, and they will usher everyone out at 8:00 to re-sanitize the entire space before seating the next group of guests. You can check all this out at their website.
Interestingly – the better description of what they are doing about being prepared to be open again is found on their opentable site… now that is interesting… Check that out here
I shall of course dutifully report back.
Signing off to go fuss in my garden (I think this year everyone is going to have the best garden’s ever…) – The Soup Lady
The borders are closing and the flights out of here are getting canceled.
As much as I’d rather hide here on the island – we have just 9 COVID-19 cases on the island – we need to get back to Canada while the getting is still possible.
We had a flight planned that would leave the island around 3:30 in the afternoon, getting us home (via Miami) at around midnight. But the direct flight from Miami to Montreal was an early casualty of the need to cut back on planes flying empty.
Our next option – leave early in the morning – fly to Miami, from there to Chicago, and then home. The idea of spending 4 hours in the Chicago Airport exposed to all those travellers was frankly scaring me to bits – but at least it was just one day.
Now the morning flight from St. Croix has been canceled.
We have to go to Miami and spend the night in a hotel there. Then in the morning – we need to get back to the airport – from there via Philly home.
I called the hotel – who warned us that food service is very restricted – basically carry out only and eat in your room. And there are no services in the hotel – no pool, no sauna, no nothing… and no loitering in the lobby.
On the good news side – they are using serious measures to sanitize the rooms – and I trust them to do what they say.. It’s a very nice hotel, and I think they would make every effort possible to make sure we’re safe.
So that’s the plan.
I’ll report on how it goes when it goes….
Signing off to wish her husband of 50 years a very happy 70th birthday – The Soup Lady
Ugg – I hate to travel. Well, not the meeting new people, seeing new things and visiting new places part of traveling – it’s the TRAVEL part of travel that drives me bonkers.
I never sleep the night before I have to fly – too many things can go wrong… And it’s more fun to start a trip exhausted, right?
So – Night before we had to fly home from Japan was no different than any other night before a big TRAVEL – I couldn’t sleep. But eventually dawn comes, and the Intrepid Traveler – who has no such issues – wakes up cheerful as always. I’m just tired.
We spend our last day in Japan looking for souvenirs to bring home – we have lists and we try hard to get stuff folks will like without breaking our poor bank – and eventually, we head off the airport. We each buy a package of sushi to have as a last meal… The grocery store Sushi in Japan seriously rocks – it’s so yummy – and we know that whatever we’re served on the plane – this will be much better.
Quick train trip (200 Yen or $2 Canadian) and we’re at the Airport. Check-in is easy, security is easy, boarding is easy. Things are going too well to be honest.
The flight is full, full, full. My seat mate is a young man from Vietnam, heading back home to the US. The seriously older gentleman behind the intrepid Traveler is also from Vietnam, being sent to Phoenix by his family. His son dropped him at the airport – I’m guessing (hoping) that another family member is going to meet him in Phoenix. He’s just a bit confused about why he’s on the airplane, but the crew takes it in stride and gets him seated and his carry-on bag safely stowed above his head.
This is actually a problem. He wants his bag, speaks neither Japanese nor English, and gets more and more concerned about his bag as the pre-flight stuff moves forward. The plane takes off – and he’s quickly up and moving around trying to locate his bag. I only know this because the only person on the plane who can talk to him and also talk to the crew is my seat mate.
Apparently the older gentleman doesn’t understand that the plane is in the air – and wants to get out. He also wants his bag. And he’s roaming around thru economy, Economy Plus, and First Class. The flight crew really don’t want him roaming First Class – Economy is apparently ok.
The crew has their hands full trying to get him to stay seated. With the help of my seat mate, eventually they realize that they need to let him hold his carry-on – at least he’s less alarmed when he knows where that is.
During the entire 13 hour flight – he’s either getting up, sitting down, being calmed down by the crew, trying to roam into first class, or finally – sleeping. The crew apologizes to me, to the Intrepid Traveler, to his seat mates, and basically to everyone in our area, but there is little to be done.
Mostly we’re all pretty annoyed. It’s clear that his family had to know that he wasn’t going to handle a long flight very well, but they didn’t plan enough to put a family member on the flight with him. Nor did they warn the airline. In chatting with the crew, they are very concerned that he needs to change planes in Dallas, and since no one is meeting him in there, they are worried about how that is going to happen. I understood their concern – what I didn’t realize was that no one was changing planes in Dallas!
Neither the Intrepid Traveler nor I can really do anything to help (we don’t speak Vietnamese)- so I watch movie after movie, and the Intrepid Traveler tries to sleep. It’s tough to do with him constantly pulling on her seat to get up, or banging her seat when he gets escorted back and forced to sit.
But all things must end, and eventually we arrive in Dallas.
I’ve now been over 24 hours without sleep – so I guess that explains what else goes wrong.
We need to change terminals – but since we have 3 hours between flights, it’s not a big deal. We go thru security and customs into the US – our bags are booked thru to Canada, so it’s just us and our tiny backpacks. We then re-enter the airport thru US security (again – no problems), and find what our gate number is for the flight to Montreal.
Quick note for those who don’t normally fly into Canada from the US. Major airports in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary) actually have US border control. So you officially leave Canada for the US before you leave Canada. And the reverse is also true. The flight going from Dallas to Montreal is a US controlled flight. We don’t go thru passport control until we get to Montreal. So in effect, we physically entered the US when we got off the plane from Japan – and won’t ‘leave’ the US until we physically arrive in Canada. That’s going to make a difference shortly!
Anyway – we are now in the Dallas airport – without our luggage – it’s bound for Canada. We make our way to our gate – and we sit and wait. There’s a lot of people roaming around – and we’re hearing bits and pieces of conversation. “I’m not sure where to spend the night”, “I hope they get us out of here”, “Any news on our flight?” Under normal circumstances I’d have reacted – but I was working out 26 hours of no sleep and counting – so I ignored the warning signs.
My bad on that one.
Our gate agent announces that the flight from Montreal is slightly delayed, but should arrive shortly. Then she announces that the flight has arrived and we’ll be boarding shortly. Then she announces that while the plane and our crew are here, our pilots were bumped off their flight into Dallas and are stuck in San Antonio. But no worries – they will arrive soon. Then she announces – we’re boarding.
I’m still obvious to the problem… and quietly wait to board.
We get on the plane, and I start to watch a movie. Another bad move – I don’t notice that our pilots still haven’t arrived.
Suddenly – our pilots do arrive – and announce that they don’t think there is enough fuel in the plane – they have sent out for more.
Then they announce that they just realized that there is a curfew in Montreal – planes can’t land after a certain time, so they are trying to get the curfew lifted for us.
Then the steward announces that the pilots have been working for too many hours – they have to find us new pilots.
Then the steward asks us to leave the plane, take all our belongings with us – just for a few minutes.
As I’m exiting the plane – I’m now at almost 30 hours with no sleep – I spot the sign that says – flight canceled!
What – our flight has been canceled. You are kidding me!
It’s now 10:30 PM in Dallas – there is no way we are leaving here tonight. Best hope is tomorrow.
We have no luggage – just the clothes we have on. The Intrepid Traveler doesn’t even have her toothbrush.
But I know how to use Hotwire – and I quickly book us an inexpensive hotel that offers a free Airport Shuttle. And then call American to see if I can get us rebooked.
I’m still on the phone (on hold of course) as we make our way to the Customer Service (or really – Customer no service) Desk. It turns out that things are worse than I thought. There is only one way to get us out of Dallas on Thursday – they offer us a 16 hour, 2 stop, overnight trip that would get us into Montreal late on Friday.
I ask to speak to a manager. Surely there’s another airline that has seats available?
No luck. Every airline is booked solid. There have been huge weather issues all over the central US and flights were delayed and canceled – shoving everyone into a frenzy. We could get one seat maybe – but not two. Won’t happen.
Meanwhile the automated system books us onto the non-stop that leaves at 7:00 PM on Friday. That’s almost 48 hours away!
We decide to accept that option, and after being sure our luggage is really, seriously, completely impounded – you can’t not have it – we head to our hotel.
On the way to the hotel, we realize that both of our husbands are going to wake up Thursday morning wondering where we are… so we dash off emails to them on our way out of the airport.
I’m now at 31 hours with no sleep – and definitely not thinking clearly.
I managed to book us a hotel with a shuttle that stops running at 8:00 PM – it’s now almost 11:30 PM. Thank goodness I know how to use my Uber App!
That at least goes well. Our Uber arrives – and drives us to our hotel. On the way it finally dawns on me that I have family in Plano, Texas. So I ask – how far is it to Plano? Answer – 25 minutes.
Ah Ha – Maybe I’ve got Thursday night solved!
Yup – family is willing and able to put us up for Thursday night (and keeps asking why we didn’t come Wednesday night). We spend Wednesday night in our hotel and wake up feeling a whole lot better about the world in general, and Dallas in particular. We have a decent North American style cheap hotel breakfast – Make it yourself waffles, eggs that saw a chicken somewhat recently, and sweet pasty. The best part – unlimited coffee. I’m so happy. The Intrepid Traveler enjoys her tea.
We take the now operational shuttle back to the airport, pick up a rental car, and drive out to visit my relatives for 2 days. They kindly lend us clothes (our suitcases aren’t going anywhere but Montreal – end of story), feed us, bed us, and let us use their pool.
You have to love family in a crisis.
On Friday the weather has cleared, the planes are operating normally and alls well with the world.
We drive back to the airport, return the rental car, and head out. Thank goodness no further adventures await us – the rest of the trip goes painlessly. We arrive in Montreal on time – and low and behold – there’s our luggage!
All’s Well that Ends Well.
Signing off to catch up on much needed sleep – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.
Most folks just pass thru Narita on their way to Tokyo or Kyoto – If they sleep even one night in town, it’s to rest up after their flight – and then to quickly race off to other parts of Japan.
But that’s not fair to Narita. It’s a very famous place in it’s own right! One of Japan’s most famous and most often visited pilgrimage sites is right here in Narita – the Naritasan Shinshoji temple.
This is a huge complex – dating back to the beginning of Buddhism here in Japan – and is well worth a long visit. Particularly special is their three times a day services in the main hall. These feature some amazing drumming – and were very very different from the services we saw in Koyasan.
This temple has been performing a Goma (fire burning) ritual every day for over 1000 years. No matter what your religious affliction – that’s a lot of devotion!
And I had to see it. So we got organized, left our absolutely lovely Air BnB lodging, and went to Temple.
The service started with a brief introduction in Japanese – to a congregation of almost 500 people. There were 4 sections of participants. two large groups kneeling quite near the center alter on the right and left, a much larger group kneeling in front of the altar, and then the senior group. We were sitting on benches that ran along the back wall – with a good view and no kneeling required.
I expected something similar to the morning prayers in Koyasan – but what happened was very different. The service started with the entry of the monks – about 10 of them in formal attire. The main monk seated himself in front of the altar, the gong rang out in the courtyard, the lights dimmed, and a monk sounded a single, extremely loud, Thump on the giant Taiko Drum. That started the service. The monks said some prayers that clearly the gather congregants knew, and then there was some gong ringing and drumming. Suddenly a huge fire burst out in front of the main monk. We were blocked by his body from the bottom of the flame, but the top was easily a body length above his head. This was a signal for everyone to get up and line up to the right and left of the altar.
The Intrepid Traveller and I tried to decide in our own minds, what they might be doing. Comparing notes I thought they were going to do confession, the Intrepid Traveler thought that they were going to a lesson or communion. But it turns out they weren’t doing either. They were handing bags and purses and personal belongings to the helper monks, who were bringing these items to the altar and exposing them – briefly – to the flames.
We had read up on the Goma ritual – and the idea is that the flames represent the wisdom of the Buddha of Unmoving Knowledge – and they burn away the root causes of your suffering. Bu exposing your belongings to the fire, you are allowing the wisdom of the Buddha to impact your life.
Obviously as soon as I realized this was what was happening, I got up with my backpack and joined the line.
After the service ended – folks again lined up – this time to run their hands along a staff that ran in front of the main Buddha. We never figured out why they did this – but it’s been happening for a really long time. The staff was carefully wrapped in ropes to prevent it from being worn away by hundreds of hands, multiple times a day.
Great Service, very interesting Temple, lovely walking meditation garden. This shrine was a definite winner.
We did also had an incidence of ‘Japanese nabbing’. I left the Intrepid Traveller alone for just a minute – and when I got back, she had disappeared. Two older Japanese ladies had grabbed her and forced her to go with them into the tea room for a cup of tea. They spoke no English, so she felt the polite thing to go was to go with with them.
While she was being polite, I spent several anxious minutes wondering where she’d gone when she finally re-appeared to explain that she just had to drink the offered tea – it would have been rude to have refused.
Lunch was in a traditional Eel house. It turns out that Narita is famous for it’s ell restaurants – they are the preferred food of pilgrims – health restoring and considered beneficial after a long trek. And the Eel restaurants in Narita have been serving this dish for over a hundred years. We sat down in a traditional looking restaurant, but with a hole for your legs – no kneeling unless you wanted to – and ordered a meal of eel to share.
It was delicious – and the tea (both hot and cold) was unlimited and free. We were the only westerner’s in the place – it was packed with Japanese – so you know it’s the right place. Delightful meal – and a great way to end our trip to Japan. Tomorrow we are heading for home.
A note on shopping in Narita. We happened into the two largest grocery stores we’ve seen in Japan here in Narita. The land is clearly cheaper – and the shoppers clearly either locals or pilgrims to the shrine – not a foreigner in site.
The sushi selection in the 2nd of the grocery stores we found was unreal. So fresh, so beautiful and so reasonably price. $5.00 Canadian ($6.00 US) got you a platter of at least 8 different sushi option. And need we say delicious?
We are so glad we opted to spend two nights in Narita. It’s a really cool spot – well worth visiting. If you come – check out the Aeon Mall – and buy the sushi. And of course – have at least one eel dinner.
Signing off to get our selves to the airport – our flight home awaits.
The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler
In my pre-trip reading – Nara sounded really cool. It was the capital of Japan for about 70 years – starting in 710 – and a backwater of the country every since. But my reading made it seem lovely – several interesting museums, traditional homes to visit (for free – we love that price point), a very intriguing guest host we could stay in at our price level, and it was the birth place of Japanese Buddhism in 703 or so.
What I didn’t know was that despite the fact that it’s a small town, it’s a small town with an agenda. It wants to compete with it’s bigger, more famous, and much more important neighbors – Osaka and Kyoto – and the city fathers are doing the best they can to make it so!
Some things are being doing very well too. Since it’s the original home of Buddhism in Japan – it’s famous among the tour group set – particularly the student tour groups. We’ve seen more student groups on tour than we’ve seen anywhere in Japan. And interestingly enough – some of them still do the ‘Hello’ thing to us as they walk by.
In case you don’t know what the ‘Hello’ thing is – every kid in a long group of students walks by and says – ‘Hello’. One after the other. Some of the kids branch out and say ‘How are you’ or ‘Where do you come from’ or other catch phases. They are clearly very proud that they finally have a chance to practice their English on real live tourists. It’s adorable.
When we were in Japan 20 years ago – all school groups did this. Today it’s one in 10 or so – and we’ve been told that those are the groups from well outside the major cities. Which figures – city kids see tourists constantly – the country kids don’t. So for them – we a treat.
Nara also has one of the best (and basically cheapest) bus systems we’ve run into. For 500 Yen you can get an unlimited day pass that is a small cedar plank. You wear this around your neck and just flash the drivers! Basically all the buses a tourist would care to ride are now free. Even if you aren’t prepared to cough up that much – a single ride is 210 Yen provided you stick to the city limits. But in addition to that – on the weekends Nara runs 3 ‘low cost’ bus lines on the heavily touristed routes. These smaller buses only cost 100 Yen – and they will do the trick if your desire is to arrive by train, visit the critical sites (The Big Buddha and the Deer Park) and then high tail it back to where you came from!
There is one obvious tourist confusing aspect of the bus system here in Nara – some of the bus lines require you to enter from the rear and pay as you exit, other lines work the other way – enter and pay immediately, exit when you want. Locals know which is which, and of course the bus drivers do – but us tourists? Forget about it! We are constantly trying to get on while everyone is getting off! It’s a mess. But I’m nit-picking – it’s still a really great way to get around the city.
Another thing that Nara has definitely gotten right is the Deer Park. This is a total hoot and a half. I didn’t want to enjoy it – but honestly – it’s beyond funny to watch tourists interact with Deer that know perfectly well that a) Tourists have Deer Crackers to feed them and b) Those Deer Crackers leaving the park! So while the deer are willing to bow to get a cracker – and they are even willing to pose for pictures, basically they know they have an easy life of it – and they put up with the constant petting, touching, and teasing with amazing grace.
Some deer have figured out that camping by the ladies selling the deer crackers is a winning strategy. Other deer have staked out their spots, and hang tough in that location. During one of our rest breaks, we watched a deer stand in one spot for at least 30 minutes – bowing repeatedly if needed to get a cracker. We also spotted deer that are just bored by the proceedings or have eaten their full for the day. They gather in the off-limits sections so the tourists can’t get to them.
And there are deer that clearly get off by playing with the tourists. They hang in the center of the pathways, shamelessly begging for crackers – and willing to what ever is needed to get them.
We are not talking deer in the hundreds by the way, we’re talking thousands of deer. And probably about an equal number of tourists. Not surprisingly – one of the big festivals here in Nara is the Spring Fawning.
Given the popularity of the deer park, and the historical significance of the city, and the marketing efforts that the city fathers have made to put Nara on the lists of all tourists – there are a lot of tourists!
Fortunately, they are clustered in the area near the Deer Park – making the Temple of the Big Buddha a tad crowded, and the buses heading to and from the Deer Park area packed. But outside of that space – and a couple of roads leading in and out of the area – the rest of Nara goes on with it’s business without interference.
And it gets worse – a lot worse – on the weekends. I’ve literally never seen this many tourists in one small space in my life.
On the good news side – Nara can handle crowds. In addition to the doubled up bus system on the weekends, the main attraction – The Big Buddha – is in a huge Temple. Plenty of room for everyone. And we arrived in the middle of a ‘classical’ concert! There was a wonderful Soprano with a glorious voice, accompanied by about 4 dozen kindergarten students who gave it all they had. Recognizable pieces included an hair raising version of Ave Maria – and an adorable ‘Take me out to the Ball Game’ – sung with tons of energy by the kids. For the music there was a piano, a violin and a cello. The acoustics were amazing.
Tourist bottle necks included the ‘crawl thru the nose of Buddha’ exhibit – which folks were lining up to do with great enthusiasm, and of course the bus stops. There was plenty of deer to go around however.
Once off the tourist track – the museums were lovely. Quiet, beautiful and generally free. We lucked into a tour of the section of the original Imperial Palace (703- 789 or so) that is being rebuilt in the traditional manner. But first they built a giant outer shell of steel beams, harnessed against earthquakes and Typhoons. Inside the outer shell is the area being used to hand carve using traditional equipment all the wood pieces needed to make the Main Gate of the Palace. Normally this area is closed to tourists – but when we were there it was open for visitors to go in and climb all the way to the top to gaze down from what will be the final height of the gate.
It was wonderful. There were craftsmen there showing us how to carve out the huge cedar columns and beams that will be used to make the Gate. We were told that all the Cedar comes from the Nara area. I was amazed. They are using only trees over 250 years old (the columns are huge), so there has to be a giant forest not too far away.
My other favourite site was the renown Gangoji Temple. While the Temple is beautiful, the highlight for me was the museum space where they had displaced some of the columns and beams they had found during the excavations. These wood pieces have been dated back to 700 AD! That makes them 1400 years old. Incredible.
For a garden walk, we opted for the free Yoshikien Garden rather than paying 900 Yen to visit it’s neighbor, the much better advertised Isuien Garden. We loved our tour of the Yoshikien Garden – we were alone on the paths, able to sit quietly on the deck of the tea house to admire the pond, and generally cool down from the heat and the hordes.
Speaking of heat – it’s been really really hot here in Japan. Over 30 degrees C (that’s over 90 degrees F) every single day. That kind of heat has taken a toll on our ability to get around – so that bus pass was a god-send.
One time we got on the AC bus, and it felt so good, we just rode around twice. The driver got really worried that we didn’t know we had to get off! He even found someone to explain that to us. But we re-assured him we were fine, and got off on the right stop the 2nd time around!
One final note – because of the heat – we’ve been visiting the local convenience stores in search of ice cream. And trying all the different options! I had a fabulous watermelon looking ice thing that actually had bits of chocolate placed into the red part looking like seeds. And the Intrepid Travellers favourite was a mint ice cream version covered in chocolate with crunchy pieces.
We are living the highlife here in Nara.
Signing off to check out a difference Convenience store (maybe their selection of Ice Cream is different) – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.
Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.
I admit to being emotionally hard hit by leaving Kyoto. I definitely didn’t want to go – and yet we had to move on. I shall miss our lovely lodgings, the wonderful kitchen and common area, the ease of getting around, and the sheer abundance of Shrines and Temples to admire.
But all good things have an end – it’s the way of the universe – so move on we did.
Our trip from Kyoto to Osaka was about the price of a long subway ride – and just about as easy to organize. These cities are really sister cities, and it’s hard to say from the train where one ends, and the other begins. All of which means that we were in Osaka before we really had a chance to say we’d been travelling.
But while Osaka may be only minutes away from Kyoto – it’s a world away in feel! This isn’t our cozy upscale residential neighbourhood with it’s lovely grocery shops, fancy and not so fancy restaurants, and ladies out cleaning their door steps. This is a working class place – and it shows.
Our new lodgings are a shared ‘home’ – literally one room wide, and 4 stories tall with a super narrow, super steep staircase running thru the center.
There is a common kitchen, a common ‘bath’ room for bathing and showering, and two toilets for 3 bedrooms. In many ways, it closely resembles our lodgings in Tokyo in that our hosts do not actually live here. However, unlike our host in Tokyo who frankly ignored us during the 9 days we stayed in her place, Ken and Mark have gone over the top to make us feel welcome.
Our adventure here started upon arriving at Exit 3 of the Hanazoncho Station. We’d gotten delayed leaving Kyoto- more traffic then we’d thought there would be, we’d missed the earlier train, and then we’d gotten turned around on the Osaka Subway. All of which meant that our 12:00 estimated time of arrival became more like 1:00 PM.
This would not have been an issue, except that again I had no internet. So I had no way to let Mark (who was patiently waiting for us outside of exit 3) know that we’d been delayed. Every time I thought I got a WIFI signal – I’d madly try to email him – and I’d check for messages from him. But were our messages getting thru? I couldn’t tell for sure!
Finally I received one that said – use the WIFI at MacDonalds. So when we finally got to exit 3 – we left the station and found the MacDonalds. Unfortunately, my iphone and their internet security features didn’t jib – I couldn’t get on line! Panic.
I decide to leave the Intrepid Traveler to watch our suitcases in MacDonalds, while I left to search the surrounding area. Up and down staircases, in and out of the subway station – I could find neither hide nor hair of a single gentleman looking like he was looking for 2 lost tourists. And since we were the only Westerners in sight – I know if Mark were here – he’d spot us.
What to do?
What to do?
Looking above street level, I spotted a sign for ‘World Gym’. Hmm, wouldn’t a gym offer WIFI? I climb the narrow staircase (is this a pattern in Osaka?) and sure enough – there’s a gym – looks and smells like gyms everywhere. So I put on my best lost lady look, and a big smile – and beg for WIFI. The kind young clerk immediately understands what I’m gesturing about – but he doesn’t know the password. Two very quick phone calls later – and his friend must have told him to look on the wall of the gym. Sure enough – there’s a sign – in English – with the password!
Success! I reach Mark, he comes to find us – and we’re in our new digs.
What follows then is a first for us. Mark gives us a detailed and incredibly rule oriented tour of his place. We are not allowed to cook, but we can microwave and toast. We can use the fridge, but we must label everything ‘Nara’ – our room name. Our room is a Japanese style space on the third floor, so we must make our own futon beds. The front door has 2 locks – we must turn them the right ways. Windows must be shut when we leave, AC must be off, lights must be off.
After the house rules have been shared, Mark becomes much friendlier. We chat for over 2 hours on a host of different topics, including the new Emperor and the future of his dynasty. Mark spent several years in London studying and his English is impeccable. Clearly being a host is his retirement job – and he takes it seriously.
We decide to shop for a cheap dinner from the nearby grocery store – forgetting that this is a working class neighbourhood and like most working class areas – the grocery stores are more focused on cheap rather than good food. The options aren’t wonderful.
We do try a Takoyaki – a very traditional and very well known Osaka delicacy. It’s done in a dry fried cooking manner on a specially shaped grill. The balls are puffy, made from octopus bits and flour, and served topped with mayonnaise and Bonita flakes. I ate two and thought that’s enough of that, but the Intrepid traveler is made of sterner stuff and finished the portion!
So back to Ken & Mark’s for dinner and bed. Tomorrow is another day!
Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler