Porto Vs Malta – a Tale of two Cities


It’s hard not to compare Porto and Malta. To start with – I just spent 4 days in Malta, and now I’ve been in Porto for three days – so they are clearly placed in direct comparison.

Secondly, they are actually quite similar in many ways – and very very different in others.

Language of course is the first major difference. In Malta everyone spoke English – it’s the 2nd official language after Maltese – and all the signs, menus, and shop keepers are more than happy to use English. Porto is of course in Portugal, and Portuguese is the first, and for many of the folks we’ve met, the only language. For the first day, my husband was feeling very disoriented, but by day 3 we’ve gotten used to using sign language and are finding it very easy to get around.

Porto is a much larger city than Valetta in Malta, in fact – it is more populated than the entire island of Malta – so there is a great deal more hustle and bustle. And a lot more of everything – more restaurants, more ice cream shops, more cars, more buses, more of almost everything. But there is also less. I haven’t seen a hobby shop, or a store for buying lace or trimmings. There must be shops for hobbies, but in all our walking, we’ve yet to see one here in Porto. However, we have seen hardware stores, linen stories, lots of clothing stores, shoe stores – and grocery stores. Not to mention wine and port shops. There are also more touristy things, albeit crammed into a small area of the city. This is where Malta and Porto share a bit. Valetta was a tourist heaven – everything in Valetta revolved around making the tourists happy. That is the same in the part of Porto closest to the Douro River. If you are looking for souvenirs – you don’t have to look far once you’ve walked past the train station. Packed in from there down to the Douro are restaurants with lively Terraces, stores selling stuff only a tourist would want, and in the spaces not occupied by these, the occasional church.

Architecture is also somewhat similar. No, Porto doesn’t have the crazy glassed in balconies that were so common in Valetta, but they are both walled cities, they both have narrow winding streets – and here’s the strongest shared strength – pedestrian only sections.

I love these sections – you can walk down the center of the street in both Valetta and Porto and not fear for your life. It’s fantastic. Why don’t more cities try this wonderful approach. I realize it’s hard to get supplies in of course – and while I never saw them stocking the stores in Malta, we did spot that happening here in Porto. The traffic jams were of gigantic proportions – cars and truck everywhere as drivers grabbed boxes out of the backs and ran to deliver their orders before the streets were closed to traffic. And the Portuguese have the coolest way of controlling access to these ‘blocked’ streets. There are posts controlled by phone that block the roads. Drivers apparently either use an app on their phones, or call to some central number – and a minute later – down goes the post. Pretty cool, eh?

Both Valetta and Porto also are filled with churches and religious iconography. In Malta the churches are generally gothic or pre-gothic, dating back to the times of the Knights. Here in Porto, the churches are covered in glorious tile work. Either plainly coloured, or patterned, or my personal favourite – huge graphics of religious images. These glint and gleam in the sun, contrasting sharply with the occasional graffitied wall painting.

The inside’s of the churches of Malta, with the stark exception of the Co-Cathedral which is decorated from stem to stern, are fairly plain. But in Porto, over the top is the way to go. The altars, with few exceptions, had staircases leading upwards towards either the crucified Christ, a version of Mary, or sometimes the patron saint of the church. Once we saw a Church were the top of the staircase was empty. I asked – and it was explained that the ‘insides’ varied according to the season. At Easter time, it was the host, at Christmas, the Christ Child – etc.

I also asked about the staircase motif. I’ve been in dozens and dozens of Catholic Churches, and never seen this before. Apparently it’s a Portuguese thing – they had their own version of Catholicism- and is designed to help the faithful find their mental way up to G-d.

Food options in both Valletta and Porto abound, and since this is the start of the season of eating outside – there were terrace options everywhere. In Malta, which is a bit warmer than Porto, huge umbrellas are used to define your terrace from the terrace of your neighbor. And curiously – the terrace didn’t adjoin your restaurant. Instead, you occupied the center of the walking street – with space for pedestrians on the left and right. In Porto, the terraces are much more likely to be adjoining – absolutely the case when the street was open to traffic, but often true even on the walking sections.

Side note – in Coimbra – our next to next stop, I also spotted the use of these huge umbrellas in the center of walking paths to delineate the Terrace area of a restaurant. A ‘Terrace’ that disappeared when the umbrellas were folded and put away. It’s pretty cool.

Pastries in both cities were of course delicious – and if I don’t stop trying all the delicious options, I won’t fit into my uniform. The ice cream in Malta was better – I’m a fan of the Italian style ice creams. I tasted some in Porto – but they didn’t measure up in my opinion – neither in looks nor flavour. But hey – they were cheaper.

We naturally ate well in both cities. Maybe a bit better in Malta, we had meals supplied by locals that were delicious, and did consistently well when we branched out on our own. In Porto we ran into some losers (bummer), but also some pretty decent winners. As noted in an earlier blog, I absolutely adored the roasted chicken – and the Port Houses serve lovely wine.

So – a tale of two cities – both of which you should put on your must visit list.

Signing off to travel to other cities in Portugal….

The Soup Lady

Porto – Surprisingly Wonderful


I think I’ve fallen in love with a new city. Porto is amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the stunning architecture either – nor the fact that we’ve been blessed with lovely weather. Nope – my love affair with Porto is based on what always works great for me – the food!

Oh my but we’ve eaten well here. And not just fancy either, although the Bib Gourmet Restaurant – Dop was right up there. Our first night was a holiday night – and most things were closed, but not Pedro dos Frangos. It’s clearly a local joint – my kind of place. There are dozens of chickens roasting on an open flame in the window – and a long counter with a very mixed crowd relaxing while they enjoy a quick glass of wine with their roast chicken.

We join the throng, and delight in moist juicy chicken – fresh off the grill. Upstairs is more seating, but the food is mostly the same – just basic grilled chicken with French fries. Simple, delicious – and cheap.

For breakfast there is an unending selection of coffee bars – some offering seating, others more simple – but all prepared to make you a lovely cup of Cafe aux Lait – or what ever they term it here. Cafe aux Lait definitely gets me what I want – and I’m happy.

The pastry selection is also outstanding – croissants of course, in a multitude of variety – plain, chocolate, almonds, creme – you name it, they have it. There are also Portugal specialities – a cake with a Carmel flavoured top, and of course Pasteis de Nata – a traditional tart with a rich egg custard nestled in a crisp pastry. Oh did that go down swimmingly this morning. Yum.

For Lunch we feasted on a traditional Portuguese Sausage, French Fries (yes again), Pimentoes de Patron (a delight we remember from Spain), and the absolutely totally Porto only invention – Francesinha.

We decide that this is Porto’s answer to Poutine. Francesinha is a sandwich made with thick slices of white bread, wet-cured ham, fresh sausage, steak – and topped with melted cheese. Poured over this is what we in Quebec would recognize as BBQ sauce, but which the Portuguese describe as a thick tomato and beer sauce. Rich, delicious, and of course soul satisfying – this is comfort food at a new level.

And then there is the Port. We’ve only done two Port tastings – but you don’t need to go to a Port House to taste the named drink of Porto. There are hundreds of Port shops around the city – and many offer guided tastings. But old fashioned as we are – we do the more traditional thing of visiting the Port houses.

Our first port of call is Calum. It’s one of the biggest and most commercial of the Port Houses – specializing in the low end ports, but also offering some of the more interesting options. Our 14.5 Euro tour includes a 7D movie (they spray water on you) that quickly describes the basics of port wine production, an interactive gallery, a tour of the storage facilities with the huge oak vats that tower above us, and of course a two port tasting. I don’t particularly care for either port (a white and a tawny), but I did find the tour of mild interest. I definitely hope for something better at our next stop.

And oh boy – does Graham deliver. Getting to the Port House is a hike – and I’m guessing this fact alone makes it harder for random people to just pop in. Plus they offer a selection of fine Port tastings – and allow you to share a single tasting among several people. This is of course a much better way of doing things – we watched in wonder as one woman downed glass after glass at Calum. For sure she wasn’t walking home. But at Graham, the focus is clearly on the tasting, not on copious consumption.

They offer (for more $$ of course) food to go with the port, and we opt for a cheese tray. Eating the cheese and crackers dilutes the impact of the sweet wine, making it easier to keep our focus and taste the distinctions between the varieties. We try 4 Vintage Ports (5 when our host adds a Colheita), and 4 Tawny Ports. I don’t care for the Tawny Ports – but the Vintage Ports are wonderful. The 5 Vintage Ports are all made from wine from a single harvest and include a Warre’s 1980 and a Dow’s 1985. These are our favourites, but then our host trots out the Colheita from 1972. It was only bottled last year – it’s been stored for 36 years in the cellars of Grahams – and it is lovely. It’s a tawny port – so lighter in color than the Vintage Ports – and it’s been filtered, so it will age extremely slowly in the bottle.

It turns out that one of the tricky things about Port is the aging. You must age the Port for at least two years in oak before you can bottle it. If you bottle it unfiltered – it will continue to age in the bottle – those are the Vintage Ports. Like the Vintage Ports, the Colheita is also from a single harvest, but it has been allowed to age in oak barrels, supervised by the Port makers. So – we bought a 1972 Colheita that was only bottled in 2017. We also bought a Dow’s from 1985. Both were outstandingly delicious.

We are warned to drink the Vintage Port within 3 days of opening the bottle (unless you pump out all the air – or have a way to cap the wine with Nitrogen). LBV’s and Tawny Ports don’t have this problem, and the Colheita, which has been filtered, will also hold its own once opened. It’s just the Vintage Ports that are unfiltered that should be opened on a special occasion, and then drunk promptly.

As a special treat – not that it cost them much – they handed me a small glass of my personal favourite, an LBV (late bottled vintage) from 2012. Much simpler than the vintage ports we’d been enjoying – I loved it anyway.

Well plied with Port, and feeling quite ok with the world, we walked back to our lodging – up hill all the way naturally.

This is a wonderful city…

Signing off to figure out what dinner will hold for us… The Soup Lady

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

Malta – It isn’t just about meeting Royality


Not that meeting royality isn’t fun of course. It is – but life needs more than that – and Malta definitely delivers.

The Royality that we meet are two Marquis – but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Last night was a late night – and tonight promises to be late as well, but before we can go to the ball – our hosts have planned a day of Regency adventure. Well – not really adventure of course – but fun Regency style for sure.

We are all dressed in our ‘day’ outfits – so while not ball gowns – we do look pretty fancy. Our day starts with breakfast – and I must say we create quite the stir at the breakfast area. The staff quickly realizes that we must all be together – and seats us near each other. Handy for comparing outfits for sure.

After Breakfast, we stroll arm in arm over to the Gardens, where we pose for pictures (there are a lot of Japanese who are going to leave Malta very happy), and admire the view, the flowers and each other. It’s a lovely way to spend an hour. We then gather for a group painting (amazing how quickly those square devices make instant paintings these days), then stroll down the streets of Valletta to the Casa Rocco Piccolo. Our tour will be very special – the Marquis and Marchioness de Piro will be our tour guides.

Our group is split in half – 10 of us go with the Marquis, 10 with his wife. We’re lucky to be in the group with the Marquis – particularly because in our group is Tony – also a Marquis in Malta! And of course he and the Marquis de Piro are friends, and trade lively banter through out our tour. I’m dying to ask the Marquis what his children said when he announced – 20 years ago now – that he was opening their home to tourists – but I guess the question was rather mute. His older son runs the company that runs the tours!

The house itself is lovely of course – and packed with odds and ends of a life well lived. They have inherited collections upon collections from their family members – and all of them are carefully kept in the house. There was a folding chapel – for use when you didn’t want to dedicate an entire room to your chapel, there were 3 shoes from various popes – given to the family as thank-you presents. The Marquis explains that being given a shoe said you were close to the Pope, a gift that has since fallen into disrepute – not surprisingly. I think it’s weird.

There were a few outstanding paintings, but most of the collections were books – particularly books on Maltese arts and crafts like lace making. In another room were paintings of famous family members, including one aunt who was considered fairly wild and carefree – in 1920.

In our Regency clothes, we suit the house well – and both the Marquis and Marchioness observe that we are probably some of their best dressed visitors.

We leave for a glorious multi-course luncheon, and then retire to our hotel. I for one am definitely napping before we must dress for the ball. Tonight is going to be a very late night.

The highlights of the ball – aside from it’s location in a Church Museum in Medina – is the horse drawn carriage ride thru the walled city, the glorious desserts provided (I’m very fond of the Nipples of Venus that were served), and of course the dancing. The Dance hall has much better acoustics then our practice space, and a lot more room. I dance and dance till my feet hurt – what a wonderful way to spend the evening.

Tomorrow will be more Regency Fun – but tonight was memorable.

Signing off to tuck her very tired feet into her warm cozy bed – The Soup Lady

Malta – Who knew they do Regency here?


Let’s be even more specific – who knew that Napoleon had been to Malta? I mean Malta is all about the Knights of Malta – wealthy beyond measure, guardians of the pilgrims to the Holy Land, heroes of the Crusades. But Napoleon – in Malta?

Well – he was definitely here. There seems to be some debate about just how long he was here ( I was told 3 days, and just passed a sign that said 7 days) – but there is little question that he came, he said ‘give up’, and the Knights simply said – ‘Ok’. No guns were fired, the French simply occupied Malta and that was that. It only lasted about two years however – and then it went back into British control – which continued until Maltese Independence in 1964.

But that’s .hardly the point. The point is that we are here in Malta as Regency re-enactors. Our goal is to have fun, and show off our best Regency dresses, suits and uniforms of course.

I’m staying in the very fancy Phoenicia Hotel, just at the main entrance to old town Valletta. The hotel is very nice – and fairly expensive. But we have a lovely room and a large bathroom that features Grohe faucets. I must say I like the size and the towel warming rack – but I’m not a fan of the shower. They have taken a tub, removed the faucet part that fills the tub, and added a dual function shower. So there’s a wand and a standard shower head, no tub filling faucet. It’s ok, but not like the EB Hotel. And the water pressure is definitely lacking. I’ve been told that there is precious little fresh water on Malta – perhaps that explains the wimpy shower.

Our Weekend activities are to include a wine tasting lecture, a promenade thru town, a Garden visit, a tour of a Regency period home, a private tour of a local monastery, a dance workshop, a ball, and an afternoon tea dance. Sounds like fun to me! And of course all of this is to be done in period clothes.

Packing to come here was a nightmare, as I’m sure you can imagine. I need at least 2 dresses for Saturday (one for the ball, one for the day time activities), plus a day dress for Friday and a different day dress for Sunday. I need shoes, fans, gloves, head decor, my re-enacting glasses, and for cold weather wear – a Spenser and a shawl. Men, particularly men in uniform, have it so much easier. Which is why Victor is opting to come as a civilian – that way he can change clothes 4 times as well!

Our goal is get all of our re-enacting clothes into one big suitcase – using our carry-on suitcases for non-re-enacting clothes. And surprise, surprise – we actually manage to do this. Victor’s jackets, pants, vests and shirts take up most of the room, I use stuff bags to hold my rolled up gowns. I’ll just put them in the bathroom with the shower on hot and full blast to steam the wrinkles out.

And my plan totally works. I manage to get 4 dresses, 3 head ornaments, 1 black turban style hat, my dancing shoes, 4 reticules (small bags a lady carried to hold necessities during Regency times), and 4 pairs of white gloves into 3 stuff bags. And we manage to get those stuff bags into the one suitcase!

My dress on Friday is rather simple. A plain blue dress with my brand new and very beautiful green and gold Spenser (a short jacket with long sleeves) over it. I’m warm and comfortable, and I look good. Perfect. The wine tasting and lecture was interestingly done – but I can’t say that the wine blew me away. Malta is too dry and too warm year round to allow for really good grapes to grow here. And the winery we visited insisted on using only grapes grown on Malta for their wines. I’ll pass. And their ‘cellar’ is up a spiral staircase. That is definitely odd.

After the wine tasting, we have ‘free’ time – which I choose to spend visiting the Co-Cathedral of St. John – headquarters of the Knights of Malta. And it is wonderful. My senior price includes an audio guide – and I patiently listen to every thing it has to say. The Church is magnificent – but the highlight is the Chapel of the Novices – where hang the art work of one of those novices – the famous artist Caravaggio. After killing a man in a dual in Italy, Caravaggio fled to Malta and became a Knight of St. John. While a novice, he painted two massive paintings, both of which now hang in the Chapel. He was later expelled from the order – apparently he killed another man in a dual – he had a very bad temper – but the order kept the paintings.

And they are stunners. Gloriously beautiful and well worth the price of admission to the Church. I loved them – and spent almost 20 minutes admiring them. He was such a master of light and dark, of the theatre of painting. Sigh.

But I must return to the Regency world – so I leave the church and head back to the hotel.

Later in the day we have a dance practice that doesn’t go that well. It’s in the under-Croft of another church in Valletta, and it’s hard floor, hard walls, and arches make it impossible to hear the caller. She tried to use a sound system, but the feedback was very annoying. But we solider on, and do almost 30 short dances – just enough of each one to gain at least a tiny bit of motor memory.

I’m surprised that she doesn’t think to demonstrate the dance before calling it. We’re mostly experienced dancers – and watching folks do the dance one is just about to do is often enough to enable us to do the dance for ourselves. After two very terrible teaching efforts – she realizes that with this many people (we’re easily over 60) speaking so many different languages (I counted Italian, French, Russian, Maltese, Accented English (British/American/Canadian), and Spanish for sure), showing is faster than talking. So she smartly switches to demonstration mode, and the teaching goes much faster.

Unlike our practice sessions at home, we are learning a lot of dances – and then ‘dancing’ them for a fairly short time before starting the next one. I thought it was great fun – Victor found the feedback pretty annoying.

There’s a break in the middle for some much needed lemonade and biscuits, then back to the grind stone to learn the last dances before we head out for dinner.

The Weekend Price is all included (except breakfast), so as a group of around 60 we walk to our dinner restaurant. It’s on the top floor of an old old building, well located overlooking the Grand Harbour of Valletta.

Like traditional hotels everywhere – there’s an elevator – sort of. But it’s slow and small. And there are 60 of us. I quickly do the math and decide that walking up 5 floors is going to be a lot faster than waiting for that elevator. And so it proves. I arrive in time to grab a table – outside but away from the wind – and Victor and I are quickly jointed by the Canadian Contingent – Sebastian and Elena, Peter and Miyoko. Several other dancers join us – and we make a jolly, if a bit cold, party! Bottles of wine later, we retire to our separate dwellings in Valletta, tired but happy. Tomorrow is going to be a very full, very busy day.

Signing off to prepare for a day of dancing, sight-seeing, and Regency fun – The Soup Lady

EB Hotel – Now that’s a shower…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Soup Lady

Gatlinburg – Honky Tonk Heaven


My travels find me in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to play bridge The largest regional bridge tournament in the US – 4100 tables, 16,400 bridge obsessed folks show up to play bridge for a week here every April – and I, my partner Judy, Fern – my friend from the bridge cruise – and her partner Judy (yes – two Judy’s) are 4 of the lucky travellers.

I must say that it sounded like a great idea to go to Gatlinburg until I discovered that there is no airport in Gatlinburg! None – nada – it’s walk, bike or rent a car to get from point A to point B in this part of the US. There is no airport. The nearest airport is in Knoxville – so my Brigde partner (Judy) and I have taken separate flights to end up in Knoxville. Our original plan had us heading out to Gatlinburg right after my flight arrived. Ah the best laid plans … and all that.

Weather was not my friend on Sunday – and my flight from Montreal was delayed just a bit. The major problem happened in Philly. Bad weather (hey folks – it’s just RAIN) delayed or canceled flights all over the Eastern Coast of the US, and my flight from Philly to Knoxville was definitely impacted.

Much phone calling and texting later – we agreed that I’d spend that night in her hotel room in Knoxville (cancel one night in Gatlinburg – and we’d head out the next morning. And this plan worked perfectly. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn, our choosen spot for bedding down, was very gracious. They agreed to cancel the one extra night without penalty (nice folks, eh?). So Sunday night found me knocking on the door of a perfect stranger and asking to sleep with her!

Fortunately, we’d swapped pictures, and Judy is not a serial rapist. We managed to meet, pick beds, and get to sleep. Tomorrow will be aa big, big day!

We get up, enjoy a rather blah breakfast (the hotel breakfast food can definitely not be called fine dining), and head out. Using Google maps, we original choose the shorter, more scenic route, but a bit of miss direction, and we’re driving mostly on highway until close to the turn off to Pigeon Forge.

Does that sound familiar? It should – it’s the home of Dolly Parton and DollyWood. We’re quickly skip past this bit of Americana and are on the main drag of Gatlinburg.

Honky Tonk doesn’t even begin to describe this place. I never even heard of Shoot’m up 7D – but here it is. And it features a horse singing country songs and ‘riding’ an old miner. Seriously – what’s with that. Opposite this ‘attraction’ is a festival of Ripley Entertainments that demonstrates exactly how far out of the loop we in Canada have become. There’s a Ripley’s Haunted Adventure – which sports multiple signs warning those faint of heart or with ‘medicinal issues’ to enter with caution. There’s also a Ripley’s Hollywood Stars – that apparently is all about cars and the Advengers. There are bits and pieces of cars (all labeled ‘do not touch’) adorning the towering edifice. I’m not sure of the point really – but I think I recognize ‘The New Advengers’, although maybe not. There’s also an ‘activity’ center that features a mirror maze, and as it’s ‘marketing tool’, has a guy swinging on a trapeze high above the main floor of the building. These are only 5D – the 7D activity seems to be only the shooting gallery.

There’s an escape room Adventure, a Sky Lift – fancy name for a chair lift, a towering Sky tower that doesn’t appear to be functional, and a huge – seriously huge – convention center. It’s way way too large for the town, so clearly the idea is have a space to bring in tons of visitors.

There are two – count’m two – Moonshine distilleries, a Paula Deen store, a Starbucks, and here’s a surprise – a Walgreens.

All of these are squished into the spaces between hotels, motels, and other ‘sleeping’ establishments. Most are deliberately designed to be cute – faux log cabins, faux castles, and our lodging – the Historical Gatlinburg Inn.

There are plenty of food options as well – a Bubba Gump Shrimp (can you say – everything fried), several sports bars that serve fried everything as well, BBQ places, Pizza places, and two Sweet Shops where you can buy candy by the very very expensive ounce. I wouldn’t suggest shopping for something practical (like – say – fruit or underwear) but if you need a statue of a bear labeled ‘faith’ – they have you covered.

And that’s just in the 5 minute (max) walk from where we are sleeping to the Convention Center. I’m both amused and stunned. But I should have been warned when our warm welcome is marred by my distraction at the size of our hostess. She is simply the largest person I’ve ever seen. And the maintenance man is equally her size. Clearly weight inflation is real and happening in Gatlinburg.

A little about our lodging. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn is just that – Historic. And in desperate need of a serious renovation. I’m reminded of the ‘before’ section of a reality TV show I used to love – Hotel Impossible. This guy would go in and explain how the owners could inexpensively update their hotel – and then proceed to do it to a single room. The Historic Gatlinburg Inn could really, seriously use help.

The good news here is that the staff is unbelievable nice (if perhaps a tad overweight). They couldn’t have been nicer to us. The breakfast buffet was quite nice – and featured a different type of sausage every morning, as well as unlimited scrambled eggs, 2 waffle machines. There were biscuits, Cereal in those little boxes, wrapped apples (why wrap the apples?), yogurt and coffee. There wasn’t a fridge in our room, but we could put food in a small fridge located behind the bar in the rarely used ‘party room’. And they had a pool. Our room even had a view over the river that runs parallel to the Main Street.

My issues with the Historic Inn were in the decor. I’ve never really appreciate exposed pipes, and the retro-fitted sprinkler system meant that there were pipes everywhere. I know it’s hard to hang ceilings to hide those pipes – but honestly, why hang the pipes a foot or more below the ceiling line? It’s so ugly. But the really depressing thing, aside from the seriously outdated old couches in the room (we had two..) were the bathrooms. I’m not a fan of extra doors in bathrooms – although folks seem to love to wall off the toilet – but I really don’t like horrid tub/showers. They are dangerous to get in and out off, and those cheap plastic sliding doors just say – old and gross to me. Put in a laminate counter and a low sink – you are not going to impress me. Tiny old washed to death white towels complete the picture. This is not a luxury bathroom.

I’m also not fond of odd lighting arrangements. Our room was a huge U shaped thing, with an entrance hall that had a wooden bench (handy) for putting our suitcases, the bathroom in the center of the U, and two double beds on the other side. So the distance from the bed to the toilet was as far as it could be, the lighting was several lamps placed randomly in the room, and two wall/ceiling fixtures. One was a chandelier looking object – placed near the beds, but controlled from a switch near the door on the other side of the U, and the other was a long thin bar that extended over both beds. That rather handily had a switch near the bed to turn it on and off.

The problem = we couldn’t find the switches to turn lights on and off for the first 2 days. It just wasn’t obvious enough.

But I was feeling ok about this until I walked down the stairs instead of taking the elevator (an obvious add on tower probably built when they added the sprinkler system). Old couches could be found all through the hallways – I’m guessing that the owners couldn’t decide if these were to be thrown or kept – so they got put here and there in various hallways. The end effect was a rather unfortunate Bordello look – lacking only the ladies in waiting.

I don’t think I’m coming back to the Historic Gatlinburg Inn the next time I come to this competition.

On the drive back to Knoxville, we opt to take the scenic route through the National Park. It’s a lovely, albeit winding, 2 lane road that fortunately was effectively empty around 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. It criss-crosses the river that runs thru Gatlinburg – and alternated between lovely vistas and narrow passes thru rock walls. Had there been crowds of ‘leaf peepers’ – this road would have been a disaster. But we breezed thru, and arrived in Knoxville in plenty of time to catch my flight home.

Signing off to unwind and eat some fruit…

The Soup Lady

Downsizing – Step 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signing off to think about Step 2 –

The Soup Lady

Fun stuff in Surprising Places – The Toronto Salsa Festival


I’m in Toronto – staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Toronto to play bridge. Not very exciting travel I know – but be patient my readers. I promise that good stuff will happen!

I got to Toronto by train. I do love traveling by train. It’s not always a bargain of course. I prefer traveling ‘business’ class – more comfy seats, cleaner windows, and service. I adore service. Make me happy – do something nice for me! Serve me a meal, offer me coffee, or just smile. I’m relaxed and enjoying my travels.

Any way – Trip to Toronto included a lovely dinner, a glass of wine, desert and a glass of Port, Trip home will include a selection of beverages, a lovely dinner, and some more Port. I’m totally counting on the Port on the way back home to Montreal.

I arrive in Toronto – big city, big city smells, big city sounds, big city hassles. I drag myself and my carry-on up Young street to the Sheraton, navigating pass homeless camping down for the night and young business folks checking out the bars that line this main drag. Lot of lights, lots of action. But I’m focused. Get up the street safely (don’t get hit by a car, a trolley, or a group of revellers) and settle down for the night.

Task accomplished, I check in and check out my room. I guess they felt sorry for me – because the room is a bit of an upgrade. It’s in a corner with a lovely view, and a bit of extra space. More than ample for my needs. The bed is huge – it’s king sized, and since I’m on my own, will mostly stay unmussed.

Tuesday thru Sunday is bridge, bridge, bridge. I’ve written before about the issues with PUPs (Pick Up Partners) and this time is no different. Some great, some not so great. My favourite is the older gent from Sault St. Marie – we manage to place 8th overall – among 80 some teams. This earns us upwards of 2 Gold Master Points, and earns me some very nice praise from his wife! She’s a Life Master, he’s playing catch-up to her – and she’s very impressed by how well we did. Hey – I’m impressed by how well we did.

Fast forward to Saturday night. One reason I like Regionals are the night games. Fewer players, lots of fun, and a great chance to do well. And I don’t have to fuss with thinking about what I’m going to do that night in a strange town. So I’m pleased that there are 2 night games on offer this week – one on Friday, one on Saturday.

Friday’s night game goes as planned – I score some more Master Points – have fun – all is good.

Saturday’s night game is a different story. I have a partner – what I lack are opponents. No one shows up! Well – not enough folks show up. And the game is canceled. Bummer. Now what.

It’s 8:00 PM, it’s Saturday night, and I’m alone in the big city. Hmm.

I check out my options – and spot some kids dressed up in Salsa clothes walking around the hotel. A quick chat – and I find out that the Toronto Salsa Festival is this weekend – here in my hotel. Tonight there is a show, followed by 4 hours of social dancing. The show is due to start at 8:00 – and while there’s a cost of admission, the opportunity to see professionals and semi-professionals dance seems priceless. So I cough up the money – and get my pass.

The lovely ticket sellers explain that the show will start when it starts – there have been workshops all day, and until the room is clear, they won’t let the ‘tourists’ in. So I join a line of other earlier comers and prepare to wait.

I’m terrible at waiting actually – so after being polite for a while – I eventually start chatting with the folks in line with me. In front of me are an ‘older’ couple – not as old as me – but I’m as old as the hills – what do you expect. Their daughter is performing tonight – and they gleefully explain her hobby to me.

She has a full time job – but she joined this dance group – and they are frequently invited to perform at shows around Canada and the US. They are unique in that they are all female dancers (how unique is going to be clear later in the evening), and are in great demand. They will go to your event – do their performance – and then split up and dance with everyone. They give Salsa lessons, and make sure everyone has a great time. I can totally see why this would be a hot idea for a team building activity! And she and her fellow dancers are very cute. Fresh faced, young, and unremittingly cheerful.

The folks behind me are friends of other dancers – and as each group gets organized to enter the hall – they come over to blow air kisses (don’t mess the make-up), and share hugs and good wishes. I get a close-up look at some of the outfits – I can’t wait to see what they will look like on stage.

Eventually they get the stage clear and organized and we’re admitted. The couple in front invite me to sit with them, so we snag seats as close to the front as possible. The first few rows are saved for VIPs – which turn out to be the kids who have finished performing!

There are a lot of chairs – probably over 300 – and it’s hard to imagine that the space will be full, but eventually – it is full. The show starts off slowly with the less professional teams – and suffers from some organizational challenges – the music for the first group doesn’t start on cue. But they quickly straighten that out, and the show begins.

I’m completely utterly amazed. Imagine about 100 young, completely fit, beautiful young people dancing, performing, and generally have a wonderful time. They come on stage in various groupings. Larger groups are generally up to 6 or 7 couples – dancing in pairs of course, but all doing generally the same steps. Smaller groups of 1, 2, 4 or up to 6 dancers also come on stage. The fewer the dancers, generally the higher the quality of the performing. And the later in the evening, the better the performances too.

My favourites are a group of young men (5 of them), who call themselves the ‘Kingsmen’ – and frankly are highly suggestive dancers of seriously good caliber. They come back as a group of 6 – 3 men, 3 women – and trust me – they are memorable. I’m getting very curious about what is keeping on some of the outfits the women are wearing – so it’s not a total surprise when one gal has to keep tugging on the top of her outfit. We almost, but not quite, had a wardrobe malfunction!

Another memorable group feature women wearing string bikinis. To Salsa Dance. Really. The gals twerking in St. Croix have some stiff (hee, hee) competition in Toronto.

I’m totally loving this. The outfits are stunning, the dancing amazing – and then the professionals arrive.

OMG – right – that’s why these guys are the professionals. The beat gets more demanding, and the lifts get higher and the tossing more complex. I’m getting exhausted just watching them perform.

I will never think of Salsa the same way again. This isn’t dancing – this is ice skating pairs without the ice! One couple pushes this boundary the hardest by combining lifts, throws, spins and dance. There is even a death spiral – a spin where the woman’s head is inches from the floor – her weight supported totally by the guy. Strength, Beauty, and Speed.

My new friends invite me to stay for the social dancing, and I’m sorely tempted. There are 4 different rooms – each featuring a different kind of music. But my age and the efforts of a long day of bridge win out over my interest in watching folks dance.

I bid everyone good night – and dance well – and walk out past the rows of high heeled dancing shoes for sale. What an absolutely amazing hobby this must be.

If you ever have a chance to catch a Salsa Festival Show – and there will be one next year in Toronto on Easter Weekend – do it. Worth every penny.

Signing off to head off to my King Sized bed…

The Soup Lady