Malta to the Max

It’s day 3 of our stay on this lovely island – and I’m beginning to appreciate why folks retire here. It is another lovely day – the sun is warm, the sky is blue, and the folks are friendly. What more does one need?

Well – if you are into Regency re-enacting – the answer is a day in the country.

Our plans for today are to do a bit of visiting – although our horse drawn carriages are not up to quite so long a trip. We must take transport from the future – a Bus. Well, actually – two buses. There are a lot of us, and we need space for our hats and canes!

Our ‘outing’ is to the homes of two family members of some of the organizers – at the first stop we enjoy a stroll in their olive grove, and do a bit of olive oil tastings. We also stroll down to a small local chapel, and the more energetic of us even visit the remains of the last donkey driven well on Malta.

We then change homes to a larger estate that has a swimming pool (no skinny dipping – sorry), a lovely flower garden, a commanding view of the ocean, and sufficient room for dancing. I’m guessing at least 2 acres of grounds in total, all of it beautifully maintained.

We stroll, we dance, we eat, and we chat. All things that Regency folks would have found endlessly amusing.

Eventually we must return to Valletta (it’s already 8:00 PM) – and regretfully end our Regency Weekend.

We retire to our rooms – and change clothes. There is of course the rest of this evening and all the next day to enjoy ourselves in Malta.

Dinner is at a lovely restaurant built into the walls of the old city, and featuring it’s own museum. Our group is a buzz with the excitement of the weekend, and we stay late chatting.

The next morning our plans include shopping for lace and trimming for more Regency gowns – and Malta offers some wonderful shops for this purpose. I buy meter upon meter of lovely trim, enough to make several more dresses. Now all I need is the material!

After shopping, we head over to the Armoury of the Knights of Malta – a highlight for my husband and Peter. I’m less impressed – if you’ve seen one helmet – you’ve seen too many.

We walk down to the walls that plummet down to the Grand Harbour to admire the set-up for tonight’s FireWork Finale. There’s a huge floating performance stage with enough electronics on it to cause a significant shock if it should hit the water. We watch crews position fire work barges out on the water – this should be a pretty decent fireworks display.

We’ve made reservations at the roof top restaurant that we enjoyed our first evening – they have a commanding view of the Grand Harbour – and should be a perfect place for watching the fireworks.

And they definitely deliver. There is an outdoor terrace – but folks have reserved tables there – and we can’t block their view. Instead we are told to climb a spiral staircase to another terrace – and discover the view is even better.

The fireworks start late – everything starts late here – but is well worth the wait. They are outstanding. Because they can – they use the entire length of the harbour – well over 2 km long – and the fireworks fill the space. They are coordinated to music – which we can hear rising almost dream like from below us. It’s an incredible experience – one I shall long remember.

This is our fourth night staying up after midnight, and I’m beginning to feel the strain. Since my normal bed time is around 9:30 – ok, I’ll push it to 10:00 – you can imagine that I’m beginning to feel a bit like butter spread too thin on toast. And tomorrow we must say good-bye to Malta and travel onwards.

My feet hurt, my back is saying – stop, and my mind agrees.

Enough is enough.

Signing off to get a well deserved nights rest – even if it starts at 2:00 AM – The Soup Lady

London like a Local

I’ve been in London now for almost 2 months – and am beinging to feel local. Or at least as local as a very foreign older lady can possibly feel.

I love riding my bike thru the parks around the flat that my daughter and her darling husband own – I feel like one of the regulars as I ride by the same people walking the same dogs day after day.

I know I’m getting to be local because my coffee shop gal recognizes me – I’m a cappuchino with 3 sugars and no chocolate! She sees me open the door – or even just park my bike at her bike lock, and she starts my coffee. That plus a friendly smile definitely builds repeat business!

And I’ve price checked my morning coffee – the range is 2 GPB to 2.7 GPB – and more $$ doesn’t mean more coffee – my local gal is the lowest price with the largest serving – another reason to make her my go to coffee place.

I even know where my closest bus and tube stops are. There’s several near me, which turns out to be typical of most of London. What is really nice are the electronic scrolling signs that list the next 2 to 10 buses – depending on the stop. In Montreal, you have to phone up – but here in London, it’s super easy. Just know your destination – and you know when the next bus will arrive. I particularly like when it says ‘due’ as the bus pulls up to the sign.

Other signs that I’ve become local – I know the panhandlers by sight. There’s one man with a dog wearing one of those cones around his neck that is particularly distinctive.

And I’m learning some Cockney! My newest lessons – Completely Nackkered if you are very tired, or Cream Crackered if you really want to sound local. There’s also Done and Dusted for finished. And just last night I got told that the expression Quid pro Quo is the origin of the term Quid for a 1 pound coin. No wonder I only understand about 1/2 of what people say to me!

 But there are things about London that still amaze me.

The weather for starters is very odd. It’s already November – and it really feels like May – or maybe early September. I can go outside without a fall jacket – although I’ve seen kids – and adults wearing fur already. Seriously – it’s just not that cold. It is however always damp. It doesn’t rain that often apparently – but every morning I wake up to fog. I rarely go out without my rain jacket, but I also rarely need it after about 10:00 AM.

Another interesting thing – even though my kids live in a very residential area – there is always noise outside. Apparently Londoner’s deal with this omnipresent sound by having seriously sound proof windows. Last night, well past midnight – someone outside was setting off fireworks! In early November? Apparently – this isn’t as odd as I imagined.

Guy Fawkes day is November 5th – and it’s bigger here than Halloween – which the stores are trying to build into an event, but with limited success. I saw some folks in costume, generally near bars and pubs and odd ‘hangouts’, and there were a few kids dressed up – going I’m guessing – to a party or community gathering. I saw no one going from door to door – not on the street, nor in the hall of our condo building.

But Guy Fawkes day promises to be special. We’ve gotten ‘free’ tickets to the local borough fireworks display – the gates open at 5:00 PM, and close at 6:30 with the fireworks set to start at 8:00 PM. In between I suppose we’ll be chatting wiht our neighbors or visiting the food stalls. We shall see. I’m excited, but in the end, I might be glad it’s walking distance and free.

Things I haven’t done – I’ve done no theatre since my grand-daughter was born on October 14th. Not surprising I suppose, she’s a bit fussy at odd moments to chance in a theatre setting. And we’ve been eating in. I organized meal delivery from a wonderful company called “Gousto”. It’s an on-line, we deliver the groceries, you do the cooking, site, and it’s been absolutely perfect so far.

There are lots of these services springing up here, there and everywhere. There are at least 2 here in London – one of which features Jamie Oliver ‘meals’. But we like ‘Gousto’. The website is very easy to use, and there’s at least 9 recipes to choose from every week. The pictures look yummy – and we’ve now had 6 of their meals – all at least 3.5 stars – and some getting into the 4.5 level. This rating is by my daughter – who is a chef – and should definitely know good food when she eats it. I’ve been doing the cooking – which is what is truly amazing. You must know that I don’t cook – I make reservations. So when the challenge is to create a recipe with instructions suitable for the lowest common demoniator – I’m the perfect test case.

My only complaint with ‘Gousto’s’ recipes is a simple one. I do wish they had a ‘Mise en Place’ stage – where you did all the prep work at the beginning, and then just concentrated on putting stuff together once you started the cooking. The recipes for GoodFood – which we use in Montreal – does it that way – and it makes it a bit easier. I found having to stop and peel and slice carrots half way thru cooking to be a pain.

But the meals have been yummy – and varied. We’ve had Beef Burritos, Asian Noodles, Minty Lamb Burgers, even Chicken Snitzel. All Yummy, all easy, and all fun.

Most importantly – it’s cut way way down on our need to eat out (much more expensive than doing these meals), and even on our need to order in (also more $$). I’m sure the local restaurants aren’t that pleased – but I’m very happy! And more importantly – it’s a lot easier with a 15 day old baby who delights in needing to be feed the moment I announce ‘Dinner is served’.

And the icing on the ‘Local’ cake – I got my hair done at a local beauty parlor. It wasn’t quite the same as I’m used to – they were equally as busy – but took no reservations, everyone was a ‘drop-in’. And they shampoo’d my hair 3 times – I don’t know why. Another oddity – the color took longer to set. Normally it’s 35 minutes, they left it for 40. But then they didn’t massage it in to the ends and let me sit for 5 more minutes – they just washed it out. Different.

I shall report on Guy Fawkes as it happens – meanwhile I’m signing off – it’s another day in the life of a little baby – and I need to be there for her!

The Soup Lady

Roissey en France – More than just a Transit Stop

I adore walking around small towns in France – the cobbled streets, the ever present gardens, the tiny shops selling interesting things – it’s just plain fun.

So the Intrepid Traveller and I decided to schedule our trip to Berlin so that we had almost a full day – plus a full night – in Roissey. It’s about 45 minutes by train from Paris – and seconds from Charles De Gaul Airport. Planes fly overhead morning, noon, and night – carrying people to and from just about everywhere in the world. In order to cater to their needs – Roissey en France grew from a tiny village occupied with farming to the Hotel packed destination it is today. But city planners have worked hard to keep the millions of tourists at bay.

The hotels that surround Roissey have clearly been zoned away from the traditional city center – you can see the ‘ring’ road on the map – and all modern development is prevented from corrupting the traditional city center.

The Roissey Department of Tourism has worked hard to make sure that visitors understand the age of the city – and there are wonderful old pictures – dating from 1905 and 1910 that show buildings that still exist – in all their former glory. We walked from huge plaque to huge plaque – identifying the pictured buildings – and admiring the elaborate dress of the country folk who posed so proudly next to their drug stores, post office, or the Marie. Even the original schools are still proudly in use – dating from before 1905. It’s easy to compare the pictures – with their stern looking teachers and stiff postured students – with the present buildings with their modern renovations.

Our wanderings included visits to the 2 local ‘depaneur’s’ or grocery stores. I needed a toothbrush, forgotten at home during the rush of last minute packing, and besides – these are fun to visit.

Tiny, cramped, with products stacked from the floor to the ceiling – they featured ‘Made in France’ products – a huge fridge full of French Cheeses – and an elaborate selection of French wine (starting price – 2 Euros or $2.65 Canadian). I loved the cookie isle, although fortunately the Intrepid Traveller was there to restrain me. You can’t eat what you don’t buy – so we settled on a fairly larger slice of Brie du Meaux and a Camenbert. We’ll visit the pastery store for bread tomorrow before flying out.

The wonderful thing about small towns in France are the attention paid to common spaces – and Roissey is filled with gardens that are supported by locals and open to the public. We toured the cemetary with it’s war memorial (Roissey was the site of much resistance fighting during World War I), checked out the local Sports facility – soccor field, Boules Courts (18 folks were playing in this area – without benefit of lines or boxes – how they kept from forgetting whose Boule was whose’s – I’ll never know), Play ground, Tennis field, Outdoor Swimming Pool, and community garden. The lilac’s were in bloom, the air fresh, and the walking lovely. Such a pleasure.

Naturally each hotel on the ring road made an effort to keep their clientele’s money safely in their hands – so each hotel offered a bar and a restaurant featuring pretty pedestrian fare – at very high prices. Not our thing – so we went looking for something more local. And not surprisingly – found plenty of options – running from outdoor pizza parlors to sushi and a surprisingly upscale place featuring foie gras and local game! We opted for the tiny, but charming Aux Trois Gourmounds.

Our Dinner at this local Creperie featured a jug of Red Cider (made from local Red Apples), a ‘dinner’ crepe stuffed with steamed potatoes, roasted onions, and lardons and served with a dollop of Creme Fresh, and dessert crepes – Nature with just Sugar. Oh it was delightful and in our price range – under 20 euro for 2.

Best of all – that night there was a free Schubert Festival – Piano, Full 50 people Choir, mini orchestra, Clarinet, etc. It was being held in the local Church d’Eloi – built in 1655 and a gem of that style even today, and we felt that was a must attend. It was delightful – particularly the Mass with a wonderfully full throated Soprano in the main role. Lovely. The church was packed – we suspect mostly friends and family of the performers. The effort was outstanding, the music delightful.

Tomorrow is a travel day – we need to get from Charles de Gaul to Orly – and from Orly to Berlin. Fortunately, both the hotel and the department of Tourism in Roissey agreed on the easiest way to do this.

Take the free shuttle back to Terminal 2E. Walk to Terminal 2F, exit 8. Find the correct bus stop – and board the Air France Airport Shuttle to Orly. Cost of the bus – 21 Euro per person. Travel time on the Bus 1 hour and 15 minutes. Piece of cake!

So up at 7:00 – Delicious breakfast (french croissants and all the coffee I could drink), then a quick walk to the village to buy bread and check out the 4 stall farmers market. There was a cheese truck with probably 100 different cheeses, a vegetable/fruit stand where we bought vine ripe Breton tomatoes that smelled of summer, a meat stand selling uncooked Chickens, Ducks and Foie Gras, and a Rotisserie Truck.

I found that truck the most interesting. There was a large rotisserie machine built into the truck – electric – with chicken’s roasting. In front was a display stand with the cooked chicken parts on sale. It really looked (and smelled) lovely.

Trip to Orly was uneventful, boarding Easy Jet almost boring in it’s predictablity – and now we’re on our way to Berlin.

Signing off for the landing at Schonnefield…. The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

The Basics on Getting Out and About – Pre-Planning matters!

How do you start planning a trip? Do you decide when, pick a place – and then find out what’s going on there? Or do you do the reverse – decide what you want to do – find out when it’s happening – and then move foward?

I take a combo approach.

First step – Pick some place interesting to visit. That’s the most random part for me – because basically anywhere I’ve never been – and sometimes places I have been – are on the hot list. Budget matters too of course – we’re very restricted – $3000 for 4 to 5 weeks of travel – including air fare – doesn’t leave a lot of room for places to sleep and food to eat. So Cheap places tend to perk up to the top of our list – seriously expensive to visit places – like London – tend to perk down. But there are other concerns besides value for our Canadian bucks.

We love interesting places – historical places – places off the more beaten paths. While that may explain China in 2007 and Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in 2005 – it doesn’t explain Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Brussels in 2015. Nope – this next trip is not off the beaten path – but it will deviate from the norm in terms of how long we’ll be staying in each city.

Unlike most of the folks I’ve chatted with – we’re spending 2 whole weeks in St. Petersburg. Our inital thought was to have enough time to do the Hermitage slowly – 4 days felt right to us based on our inital reading. This contrasts with the more normal visit of 1/2 day if you are off a cruise ship – or even 3 days as is described in many guide books – including Honestly – how can you possibly see anything in 3 days in a city as complex as St. Petersburg? On tripadvisor – the 3 day plan puts the Hermitage, the Faberge Museum, and the State Russian Museum – all in one day. Are you supposed to run thru the museums? Just find the greatest hits and go?

Not my style.

Berlin was a must do for the Intrepid Traveller – she’s never been – and historically it’s a really interesting place. Great museums too – so win win as far as we’re concerned. A week there is the minimum. But then – for us – a week in a city is pretty much a minimum regardless of the city!

And last but not least – Brussels. We’re cutting that one short – just 5 nights – but the Battle of Waterloo looms large – and I hear the trumpets calling me to battle! (More on Waterloo and fighting for the Emperor in another blog).

So on to inital planning.

Once The Intrepid Traveller and I had agreed on where – it was a question of when. I first check weather, and then check for when a place gets crowded. I want to avoid the worst weather, and I definitely want to avoid high season. Shoulder seasons work best for budget travellers – restaurants have better specials, theatre offerings are more geered towards locals, lower cost housing is easier to find.

High season is definitely to be avoided!

So – St. Petersburg in late spring sounded perfect. And we totally lucked out with that option – because low and behold – there’s the ‘White Night’ Festival. We here in Montreal know all about ‘Blanc Nuit’ – but for us – it’s held during our coldest month – an attempt to cheer us up during the doldrums of winter. In St. Petersburg – it’s about 24 hour long days! And even better – it’s all about theatre – the major ballet troops (at the Marlinsky and Mikhallovsky Theatres) are performing one outstanding ballet after another. By shopping early – I scored center seats in the 3rd tier – I could have paid a lot more and been on the partiere – but hey $20 to see ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – I’m so on it!

Even better – the opera troops are also performing almost nightly – for similar prices if you are willing to buy early and sit in the 3rd tier. Tickets to Aida and La Travaita – here I come.

So – take advantage of what’s happening when you are there – don’t berate yourself for not being in New Orleans for Mardi Gras – plan ahead.

Planning to Feed the Mind. The Intrepid traveler and I adore going to Museums. 42 museums in 5 weeks in Italy is probably our record – spurred on by free museum week in Florence. So before a trip – I research. What is happening in all the major muesums. How do I get tickets? Are there senior prices? Are they closed on specific days – are they super busy on other days? Knowing this information helps prevents standing forelornly in front of locked doors. And more importantly – when you hit the ground in your city of choice – read the signs, get the newspapers – even the touristy ones, and chat up your host. What happening this week that’s special? How do we get to see it? You never know until you look around and ask.

For St. Petersburg – I’ve already bought my passes to the Hermitage – and for Berlin, I’m pricing out the Berlin Museum Card. The options can be overwhelming – which feels frustrating – but the results are generally worth it.

Some more ‘beaten path’ options I tend to avoid include tour buses. I’ve had great experiences on tour buses – the trip in South Korea to the temples springs to mind – but more often than not – bus tours are about the common denominator. You rush past stuff so fast, you can barely read the signs, let alone see things. And too often your fellow tourists are – well – tourists! So generally we avoid the bus tours – considering them expensive and too fast paced. Instead we opt for the slower, more patient route of simply walking a city – or riding public transit! Never underestimate the joys of public transit. Bus routes in most cities are clearly explained in pictorial fashion, so our lack of language skills doesn’t kill us. And they are cheap. You can spot stuff that looks fun – and hop off if you feel like a visit. With no time contraints – and no herding into pricy lousy restaurants for mandatory rest stops.

Ok – enough for this blog – Next up – feeding the Body – so do follow me – I love followers! Signing off to create a blog on eating in strange and wonderful places… The Soup Lady

Planning to feed the body

Ah restaurants! One of the intense joys, and most frightening aspects of extended travel in an unknown city is deciding where to eat. I’ve picked winners so good I was blown away – and losers so bad, I feared for my digestive system. But along my culinary journey into the unknown – I have learned some important lessons – which I happily share.

Not to backtrack – But Montreal is home to some amazingly fun Festivals!

Ok – I know – I am part way thru a trip in Business Class to Bali – and I’m writing this while sitting in the Air France Executive Lounge enjoying free drinks, free food, and comfy chairs in Paris. So a blog on the Festival of Lights in Montreal is going to appear out of the Blue.

But bare with me on this.

Montreal – in February – is cold and dreary. And the PTB (Powers that be) in the city decided that having a festival in February – which didn’t conflict with Mardi Gras (March), New Years (January), Jazz (June), Laughter (July), Graffait (who knows), etc. was a great idea. And thus the Festival of Lights was born.

At the end of the Festival – which runs for 10 days of entertainment and restaurant craziness – is Nuit Blanche. Also not a new idea – or even an idea unique to Montreal – but with typical half French/half English style, organization and verbe – springs to life in our Beautiful City. The basic idea – keep the lights on all night – with free entertainment in basically every venue in the city that can host a crowd – churches, museums, bars, you name it – there’s something happening! Frozen Pianos, Casual Art, Singers, Jugglers, Musicians, Art happenings, Art tours – the city bumps and grinds and parties till Dawn.

For The Intrepid Traveller and I – it’s an occassion to stay up just a bit later than normal – and its a time to take in (for free) a show that we would never ever even consider attending. Our selection criteria is simple – has to be inside (we get cold), has to have seats (we can’t stand for even 5 minutes, let alone hours), and it has to be multi-lingual – my french is horrid.

Several Nuit Blanche ago – we discovered the caberet at the National Theatre School. They take a long thin space, fill it with chairs – put performers in front and in the middle of the space – and just go at it. The first year they must have had more funding – because there were at least 20 performers. Each year the number of performers has decreased – but that’s been more than made up for by the quality of the acts.

This year was the best ever for quality – a group of 4 young men who cloned the harmonies of the Beatles – in French. They looked, acted, and played the parts – even if the songs weren’t familiar – the joy and abandonment felt absolutely right. We loved it.

What we actually loved even more was a performance of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucassion Chalk Circle. This was put on in the big theatre of the Theatre School – by the junior professional and extremely talented students there. As is typical with the Theatre School – no expense was spared on costume, set design, and quality of performance. These kids are not interested in impressing me – it’s the Montreal andToronto Theatre folks who come to see and hire that they want to amaze. We’re hangers on that profit from the opportunity to see the future in performance today.

So – enough on the Festival of Lights. It’s over for another year – but listen up if you aren’t from Montreal – this is a reason to come to our fair city. And if you do live in Montreal ask yourself – are you missing something amazing?

Signing off to go back to blogging about travel – The Soup Lady

Re-enactment 101

Why would anyone dress up like a solider – march around for 3 days – and go back for more.

Excellent question. And this time – we are doing 2 re-enactments. First we’ll re-enact the Quatre Victories in Montmirail, France. Then we’ll journey to Elba to celebrate Napoleon’s arrival on the Island – not so good for him – but great for Elba.

But first Montmirail. Instead of doing one battle each day in each or the Quatre Victories locations – we’ll do 2 battles in 2 days – both on just one battle field, the Montmirail-Marchais.

But first – we must arrive, find our friends, set-up a tent, get started. It turns out that Victor is well-known by almost everyone – including the Emperor. We barely walk 20 paces before people recognize Victor and rush over to say hi.

For this re-enactment – Vic is going as Marin de la Guarde and I’m a doctor. Not a very high-ranking doctor – a low-level doctor, who has just graduated. My uniform is perfect for this role – and it gives me the opportunity to march with the troops, provide them with water, tend to the ‘wounded’, and move among both enemy. Which is why I’ve been shot at several times by my own troops. Nice guys, eh? Don’t they know a doctor when they see one?

We’re bivouacked with the other Marin – who are staying with the Grognards de Fontainebleau. And we are on the right flank of the Emperor’s tent. Which means we get to watch him (in civilian dress – actually combat fatigues) – setting up his tent! Naturally – the emperor doesn’t get his feet dirty – once he’s the Emperor. So first thing is to lay down huge carpets to form the ground of the ten and dinning/meeting/combat prep room. In his sleeping area there’s a cot with a leopard skin spread, several of his saddles on display, and various other items, including a wash cabinet. In the ‘Pavilion’ area there is a huge table with chairs bearing the Emperor’s Bee’s – cabinets for holding his silver, candlesticks for light.

The Marin and the Imperial Guard set up guard posts – 15 to 20 minutes on guard when ever the Emperor is in ‘Residence’.

When all is done – the transformation happens – and out from the tent strides the Emperor. Cheers from every corner as he visits each bivouac – troops line up at ‘Gardez Vous’ – and he strolls down the line – commenting here and there on this and that. He remembers Victor from Fountainbleu and singles him out for a comment. He gives the young son of one of our officers a coin with his likeness – and after prompting (this is how it would have happened) – gives a Medal of Honor to one of the troops that displayed great bravery at a previous battle.

More Cheers – and he moves on.

Friday night we eat dinner late, relax around the campfire, visit the tavern (there is always a tavern), and eventually people drift off – some like us to a hotel, others to bed down in tents or even in the open air.

Saturday is the day of the great battle – all day friday and all friday night troops and Calvary and cannon crews have been arriving. The number of re-enactors has grown from one or two, to several hundred, to several thousand. There are well over 100 horses, and I counted over 20 large cannons. But not everything is for us – there are also facilities that have bloomed up overnight for the spectators – and that’s a source of much fun for the re-enactors.

There are several different food vendors – this is France – so the cheese is amazing, there are croissants available to buy – 1/2 price for re-enactors. We spot tents with books on Napoleon, others with antiques (and not so antiques) for sale. Ladies in long gowns, white parasols and long gloves stroll amid soldiers in various uniforms, officers in gold braid, Calvary in all their finery, and the strangely dress tourists!

Bleachers have been built with seats – but standing room only space is the norm, and provides great views of the entire battle field. To the amusement of the growing crowds, the French Line decides to drill in the middle of the space allocated to the viewers. We do our drill in a separate area, and I’m not sure where the allied forces were drilling. Everywhere there is Calvary – and the cannon crews practice their drills.

As a doctor – I’m free to roam – and I watch the cannon crew for a while. Cannons are very very loud – and there’s a ton of smoke released – much to the surprise of a photographer who had gotten up close for a perfect shot. It was perfect ok – until he had to run out of the dense smoke cloud!

Drill complete – we resume camp life – then gather for the muster of the troops prior to the battle.

We don’t really know the plan – we just follow the shoulder pack of the guy in front of us. I spot a collection of Medical men – all French – standing off behind the army. But I greatly prefer to be in the heat of the action, and stand directly behind our troop of around 100 Imperial Guard, made up of Marin, Grenadiers, Moyan Guard and Jeune Guarde. Victor is positioned to the front – and acts as an NCO, repeating orders as the Marshal and Generals and Majors yell them out.

Napoleon canters by with his entourage – to gay cries of Vive L’Emporeur.

For this battle, we are being held in reserve – so while the solders of the line see plenty of action, our involvement is limited. When we finally do charge the enemy – we quickly over-run their lines – and I’m busy helping the wounded – of both sides. I suddenly realize that I’ve become separated from the Imperial Guard. There are soldiers every where – just done of them my ‘team’.


This is awkward.

I search madly for someone – anyone I recognize the uniform of – and eventually spot Rudy marching with the 85th. At least I know for sure they are on ‘our’ side. I march with them off the battle field – relieved to get off the field, and to put down my now depleted supplies of water.

We re-form lines for a final salute – we break ranks to ‘Vive L’Emperour’ – and collapse into our tents, our piles of straw – or head to the tavern. Whew – one battle down, one to go.

Sunday we repeat as above – only this time we start the battle much earlier in the day – around 10:00 am – and thus it is neither so hot – not so ‘touristy’. And this time the guarde is called upon to fight. We rush uphill towards the ‘town’ – firing as we go. We are rushed by Calvary – and form square to defend ourselves. As the doctor, I’m ‘smushed’ into the middle of the square – unable to see much besides the heads of the horsemen as they gallop around our outward facing bayonets.

At the town, we rescue the townsfolk, and defend the town. We even take over several cannon positions  – it’s really hard to move a cannon quickly. I minister to the wounded – narrowly avoiding being shot by my own troops again. I heard the command to load the muskets this time – and fled before they could fire. Whew.

The battle continues, boiling down the hill of long grasses towards the bleachers – until the Marshal’s call for a cease-fire. When I finally catch up to the Guarde – Victor proudly shows me his saber – nicked in battle with a Prussian who was up for a bit of a fight.

Eventually we march off the field, dismantle the camps, and head back to the hotel for a very much-needed bath and shower.

Success was ours today!

Spencerville Mill Heritage Days – Living History can be so much Fun

The War of 1812 is big news in Canada – at least the part along the St. Lawrence River. In the Canadian History books, we are the winners, and the War is a source of pride. And given that this is 2013 – We are in the middle of a series of 200 year celebrations. Spencerville Mill Heritage Days is a part of that – and like most 1812 celebrations – it’s free.


As Napoleonic Reenactors – we’ve come to be a part of the celebrations. On Friday there are dance lessons followed by a pig roast. On Saturday – more dance lessons, a 45 minute skirmish between the Americans (bolstered by a member of the French Imperial Guard), and a series of planned lectures – including one on dueling, another on medical expertise in 1813, and two rather boring historical lectures on clothing. At night will be the Grand Regency Ball. On Sunday the schedule includes more lectures – including one called ‘Petticoats on the Battlefield’, another called “Period Cooking”, visits to sutlers (period correct craftsman and women), and finally clean-up.


We are 3 – my husband who will be re-enacting as Imperial Guard during the fighting, and then coming to the ball as Royal Horse Artillery, I’m doing a period grand lady – Lady Bertram carrying Pug to be specific – for the ball. During the skirmish, I’ll do ‘Vivandaire’ duty – which puts me on the battlefield but behind the troops. Meanwhile, my granddaughter will also be ‘doing’ a grand lady for the ball, and a fellow camp follower during the day.


So much for our plans. How did it turn out? Well parts exceeded expectations – a very good thing. My favorite parts – the ‘medical’ lecture which was so interesting, we actually went twice. Pug even volunteered for brain surgery. He loved the laudanum, and did better at staying still than the next volunteer, who screamed dramatically from the ‘pain’.


And I adored the English Country Dancing! There were probably about 60 dancers in total – many of them with a great deal of experience. This means that it is a lot easier to look good – you can rely on your partner to guide you if you get confused.

For those who don’t know English Country Dancing from Ballet – a quick description. Generally English Country Dancing is done in long lines – men on the right, women on the left – with a caller. The practice sessions differ from the Ball in two ways – first everyone wears period dress to the ball, and second, the caller takes a bit more time going over the dances. So if you’re a ‘newbie’ – you just go to the practice sessions! Another important fact about English Country Dancing – it’s considered very rude to only dance with the person you came with. The idea is to change partners on every dance – never doing a repeat if you can avoid it. This way you get to meet other people – and since it’s the expected way to behave – your partner can’t get upset about it. I think it’s fun!
And my third highlight – the fireworks! They were amazing, done by a local fireworks company called Han Fireworks – they lasted at least 15 minutes – and it’s was finale after finale.

For the skirmish – there were 2 cannons – one on each side – plus our side – the Americans has a Blunderbus – a hand carried musket that creates an unbelievable amount of noise. Unfortunately, the British are the victors – out numbering and overwhelming the Americans – who end up having to flee with they fix bayonets and charge. We tried for an orderly retreat – but ended up fleeing with our lives to fight another day.

Bottom line – fun for the participants – fun for the spectators – and you even got to learn something about living history. The perfect definition of a Win-Win situation.

Glee and Flash Mobs in Korea – Why Not?

You never know what you’ll see just wandering around a city like Seoul, and I guess seeing the Korean version of Glee is a perfect example of what makes Seoul such an outstanding place to visit!

We were just walking into the King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunshin Exhibits when I spotted a sign on a stage saying – I’m guessing actually – tonight 6:30 – 7:20. I didn’t know exactly what they’d be doing – but hey – it was a nice night – we were going to be there at the right time – why not.

So when we finished seeing the outstanding exhibit on Admiral Yi Sunshin, we walked out into the setting sun and seated ourselves on the stone benches to wait for the ‘event’ to start. Almost as soon as we’d sat down, a young man runs up to us with seat cushions – oops – missed those when we walked in!

The crowd was decidedly young – I’m talking from 15 to maybe 30 – so to say we stood out would be too obvious. But hey – not the first time I’ve stood out in the last few weeks. No problems.

A few minutes later – the show begins! On stage are 2 electric pianos, a guitar, and a drum set – and the performers are from the Seoul Arts College. I’m guessing this is an end of the year production showcasing their accomplishments – from dancing (hip-hop or grunge or traditional) to singing. From the all Korean brochure they handed out – I’m guessing at least 2 have been featured on TV shows, and they sure all looked adorable.

The instruments were on stage for 3 numbers, then they were removed to allow more space for dancing. Sometimes the teams rushed on stage from the sides, but at one point the kids, who had been sitting as members of the audience – jumped up and run onto the stage right past us. At another point – a lovely group of young ladies in traditional clothes glided onto the stage and performed a very beautiful fan dance.



Music – good, dancing – wonderful, enthusiasm – catching! Final grade – A+

As the show ended, two young ladies (22 years old it turns out) approached us to ask if they could interview us for their class. They are studying English translation at a nearby college, and had been asked to practice their interviewing skills. Both of us agreed of course – and gladly answered their questions – yes we enjoyed the show, yes we liked traveling around Korea, yes we’re from Canada, yes Korea is a great place. My interviewer was Lee Woo-I – and she gladly posed for a picture.



We were just finishing up when the flash mob happened – it was on the square directly in front of us – and featured about 200 young people – who gathered – did a line dance (everyone does the same steps – in unison) to music from a speaker system – and then just as quickly disappeared.

Nice ending to a nice day, eh?

Signing off – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Children’s Grand Park in Seoul – Go with the kids for a splashing good time!

Sometimes the best things are Free!

On Monday – the museums are closed in Seoul. So we ended up going to the Children’s Grand Park. This is reputed to be the largest of its kind – at least in Korea, and I must admit that it was huge.

As I’ve mentioned previously – Korean’s know how to do big public spaces – and this is another wonderful example. They thrown in a bit of everything – and most of it is free. The highlight of our visit, for the younger crowd (age 5 in our case), was the adorable water playground.


It had fountains, it had mini-waterfalls, it had rocks, and bridges, and lots and lots of kids. Including an adorable pair of toddlers who proved why man invented ‘swmmies’ – diapers designed for swimming. They weren’t wearing them – and quickly were clothed in incredible soggy messes! Off with the diapers!


There was also a Zoo – a tad tired around the edges, but it did have tigers, and leopards, and a Puma. I’d never seen a Puma before. The best exhibits were hidden away in separate buildings – I loved the bonsai tree garden, and found the kiddie zoo section quite cute.

One Koreanism that struck me as very funny was the Polar Bear exhibit. Yes they had a Polar Bear – for whom I felt very sad. But they had also created a photo moment of an Inuit with an Igloo. I couldn’t resist taking a picture – and got 2 willing Korean volunteers to pose for me. Based on this zoo’s image of Canada – Inuit are small – and vaguely resemble Santa Claus. Doesn’t it make you wonder what we have wrong in our Zoo’s?


There is a sculpture garden made out of bits and pieces of everything (including ET) – quite fun to examine. And there are bridges to cross, animal shows that charge $, and 2 amusement parts – one for little kids, and one for bigger kids (More $), and the predictable junk to buy.

But really – it’s about the water playground if you are with kids – and that is well worth seeing.

Signing off – completely exhausted – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Enjoying the Flavors of north-east South Korea – The Jungang market of Sokcho


Jungang market is described on the map as a ‘fairly famous conventional market’, but to my mind – it was the quintessential market of Korea. Just large enough to qualify as a market, but small enough to remember which stalls were where! I loved it.


The market covers an area of roughly 4 city blocks – but it’s on 3 floors – we pretty much stuck to the main floor – which had at least one, and often 4 or more – examples of everything. For instance – there’s an awesomely delicious typical chicken dish here in Sokcho – Dak-gangleon – or deep-fried spicy chicken with a sweet sauce. It is finger-lick’n good. I’m no fan of KFC – but this stuff was amazing. The contrast between spicy and sweet was so good, I keep wondering how I can bring a box home to Montreal. There have to be at least two dozen stalls selling this stuff – each stall has it’s signature box, its deep fryers, its special sauce. But it doesn’t take a lot of mental effort to realize that the stall with the continuous lines is the one you want to buy from! We couldn’t figure out how the other guys stay in business, this one stall claimed so much of the ‘chicken’ shopping crowd!

But the Jungang Market isn’t just about chicken – it’s about fish and huge fruit and lots of other goodies!


That’s a Giant Pacific Octopus – we saw live ones in the aquariums and in the fish tanks, and boxed ones like this one ready to be taken home for dinner. I can not even begin to imagine how they are caught – but they sure were huge!


Speak of huge – look at the size of the apples (or is it a pear?). According to the son of the Intrepid Traveler, these fruits taste more like a pear than an apple – but regardless of taste – that’s a huge piece of fruit!


That’s a chestnut – and yes – it’s the size of my fist. I tried some roasted from a vendor just inside the market gates – and they were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Fresh, no bad spots, super sweet. The son of the Intrepid Traveler admitted that they were so good – he might even revise his opinion of chestnuts.


So – if you keep the fish alive and in a tank – if they don’t get sold – you can toss in fish food – and sell them tomorrow. We saw Squid (above), flat fish we think were in the flounder family (below), and two of the huge fish with giant mouths – your guess is as good as mine on what kind of fish that is. I really wonder who will be brave enough to buy him – or his brother in the same tank…



There were also giant red snow crabs (I snapped a picture of one trying to make a get-away – going from the fire into the frypan I think!).


I’ve yet to taste one – even though the lower part of the market features stalls with grills – and apparently they will cook up your fancy up for you – no charge!


Couldn’t resist the sock display – aren’t they adorable?


The hit of the market was clearly young Sophie – at 3 months old she looks a lot like a tiny Buddha – and we never passed a grannie that didn’t come over to pinch her cheeks. They would even take her away from Chris to get an extra cuddle.


I think Sophie showed great style and grace here – never fussing, never complaining – just taking in the oohs and ahs like it was her due!


The delicious food options were virtually unlimited – there were fried veggies and fish – including shrimp that were battered and deep-fried with not only their shells on – but their heads! So definitely munch carefully.


And for those of you wondering if their were veggie options – of course there were! Here’s what we think might have been cucumbers – or maybe they are squashes?


We tended to stick to tomatoes and bean sprouts – at least we know what those were! And for just $1 = you got enough for at least 2 meals. Such a deal.


Just outside the market – marking the entrance are two bronze statues. I did not care for the one of the bull – but the one with the fish really spoke to me of Sokcho, Fishing, and the hard life people in the area have had.


Its only in recent years that this area has economically taken off – and Korea is putting in big money in infrastructure here, from sidewalks to proper highways. So if you are coming – come soon – or even the Jungang Market will be changed beyond recognition.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady