Day 166 – How do you celebrate 50 years of marriage?


Just to set matters straight.. We were married on Friday, September 11th, 1970.

Yes – I know – September 11. Not our fault. That date became infamous way after we were married – not fair really – a group of terrorists stole my anniversary date and made people think of something other than us..

For many years – because we were married on a Friday – Victor thought our anniversary was on September 13 (Friday the 13th) – but no… it’s Friday September 11, 1970. For sure.

6 months later, we went back to Atlanta to visit my parents – and Victor tried to return me. My dad told him – nope – warranty is up.

And on Friday, September 11, 2020 – it was 50 years…

Which is almost impossible for me to truly believe.

I was 21 when we got married. Hopelessly young and innocent and foolish and so much in love. I’m still in love you know – I adore my husband – ponytail and all.

I’m kinda hoping I’m no longer foolish and innocent – but I keep thinking that I’m still young..

Doomed to disappointment I’m afraid to say.

So just how does one celebrate 50 years of doing anything.. It’s a really long time. Way more than 1/2 my life. And here’s what really scary – longer than 80% (according to the US Census) of folks alive today have been alive!

Martin, the charming manager of Boneparte’s here in Montreal – where we celebrated our anniversary with an absolutely lovely dinner party for just 6 – annouced that he was born – BORN – the year we were married.

Our celebration – as most of our celebrations these days – was broken down into parts.. We celebrated in March in St. Croix – right as the COVID lock-down was happening with just our kids.. First time in over 20 years that it’s been just the 5 of us. It was really great – but the conversation centered around the COVID cases and how the world was going to react. We now know the answer – not great. But at the time.. we were a bit optimistic. Wrong – but positive.

Then we celebrated by traveling to send a lovely long Labor Day weekend in Barrie with our friends and Lucy and Lacy – the horses. It was a blast… a long drive each way – but worth it.

Then we had a wonderful dinner party at Boneparte’s – filled with laughter and gift giving and my kids and their kids.. Only Grover didn’t come, but the feeling was that perhaps the party would go on past his bed time. So we shared videos of him. He stayed home and went to bed on time. Probably better all around.

We got caught up on the lives of our two charming grand-daughters – who look more and more beautiful every time I see them. Their lives – like the lives of all kids from 13 to 21 these days are complicated by the truth of COVID. The youngest one is caught in a ‘bubble’ at school that doesn’t include her closest friends, and the older one is trying to have a relationship with a guy, be a young adult, start her working career – and dealing with idiots who refuse to wear masks, to social distance, to admit they are COVID positive, and thus put her life in danger.

I just don’t understand why people are so sure that their right to do what they want trumps the right of other people to feel safe. Why would any one who knows they are COVID positive not alert their friends. What is there to gain by not saying something. It confuses me.

As usual – I have digressed…

Back on track – Saturday afternoon we had a Zoom conversation with all the family – my daughter and grand-daughter in London (hubby was sick with a cold in bed – not Covid), my son and daughter-in-law in California, and my kids here in Montreal.

The we finished off with an equally splendid dinner party – period correct this time – which means we were dressed in our 1812 finest… Silver service, candles lit, music softly playing, amusing conversation, and No IT! Unfortunately for our hosts – their maid and butler had taken the day off (they always do when we come over… ) so while the service was excellent – it was our friends doing the service!

The meal celebrated our trips together. First course was a salmon tartar (yummy) with ground cherries. They are one of my favorite ‘fruits’ – which my friends only discovered when we were together in Quebec City. The 2nd course was a lobster Bisque with shrimp – we’d gone out to Boneparte’s – in period clothing – and three of the four of us ordered the Lobster Bisque… The 3rd course was Rabbit with Olives – in honor of our time together in Malta. The cheese course was again in memory of the Quebec City trip – we had cheese every evening before dinner in the ‘lounge’ area of our room in the BnB in Quebec City. And the desert course was a magnificent Charlotte Russe with a fruit topping. This was in honor of our times together at the Regimental Dinner parties in Vaudreuil.

The dessert was amazing. The dinner outstanding. The wines were well chosen to compliment the different dishes, and the conversation was delightful. We dragged ourselves out close to midnight – feeling very well feted indeed.

So this is how we have celebrated 50 years of being together.. And today is just another day – we’re headed off to buy fruit at Costco and the Marche near by – and having dinner together…

Life marches on… It’s 50 years and 2 days – if it lasts…

The Soup Lady

Florida Snowbirds – The North Welcomes you…


I don’t normally quote someone else’s article – but this one was impossible to resist. It was published in the Montreal Gazette on August 30 – and totally summarizes the differences between living in Quebec and basking in the sun in Florida…

The author – Josh Freed – is quite funny – in the subtle and understated way of most Quebecers… We know we live in a unique part of the world, and are more than willing – as Josh so clearly points out – to laugh at ourselves..

Read and Enjoy! The Soup Lady

Josh Freed: Floridians can reverse-snowbird here, under these conditions

Dear Florida:

Every year since the last ice age, almost a million of us Quebecers have temporarily migrated south to your state, to escape the cold jaws of winter.

But now, at last, you Floridians may be ready to escape the cold jaws of COVID and flee north to us. Several Gazette readers sent me an entertaining column by Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino that makes the following modest proposal:

“Dear Canadian snowbirds: As an unofficial South Florida ambassador, I would like to begin negotiations for a reverse migration this winter. We’ve bungled the response to COVID-19 so badly nearly all the world won’t allow American tourists to come … and we really need to leave. We’re desperate. Now it is your turn to host us. We here in South Florida will come to you in Canada this winter.”

The writer wants Canada’s Parliament to arrange special “refugee visas” for COVID-fleeing or election-exhausted South Floridians between November and March.

But he promises Florida’s new snowbirds will be good houseguests who’ll shovel our driveways, learn to ice fish and embrace Tim Hortons double-doubles.

Overall, Florida, this seems a reasonable request to me. Perhaps we do owe you shelter after all these years of Quebecers swarming your beaches and all-you-can-eat-buffets.

As well, we desperately need some almost-extinct U.S. tourists, so I’m open to Florida’s proposal on certain terms.

But before I go to bat as your unofficial Canadian ambassador, you Floridians must know the rules and realities of cold, COVID Canada.

If you want to migrate here this winter, then as Joe Biden might put it: “Here’s the deal, folks!”

There are no outings whatsoever permitted, not even to McDonald’s, Burger King or KFC. Just order-in healthy meals from say, Mandy’s salads.

Like all good Canadians, you must also wash your hands 10 times a day, which will then be inspected by our Royal Canadian Hand-washing Police.

Protection: Here in Canadaland we worship hand sanitizer, not hand guns like many Floridians, who can still legally carry a concealed weapon.

Masks are mandatory indoors under Quebec law, and we always wear ’em. There are no major culture wars over face coverings here, where a mask is just a mask is just a mask.

You do have the right to protest against masks democratically, outdoors, but ideally while wearing a mask.

Also, under Quebec’s Bill 21 you have the right to see the faces of all government service employees. But under COVID laws they don’t have the right to show their faces to you.

Quarantine: To start, you must spend two weeks in quarantine — and I mean Canadian quarantine. That’s 14 full days under virtual house arrest, Canada-style, not some sissy-style Florida quarantine where you probably get to visit Disneyland every other day, then play golf.

Politics: Be warned, Florida is a politically mixed state with redneck Republicans in the north and blue neck Democrats in the south, and many voters swing both ways. But Canada and especially Montreal is strictly Kamala Harris territory.

She’s the first former Canadian resident to become a U.S. vice-presidential candidate, and we’re homers.

We can offer a Kamala Harris Early Roots Tour, from her mom’s former McGill office to Kamala’s one-time algebra classroom and Westmount dance class studio.

Unlike your president, we see her as a remarkable American woman, not a foreigner, immigrant or illegal V.P. candidate.

Of course, we’re also counting on Harris to grasp crucial Canadian and Quebec issues. As an ex-Montrealer and lawyer she will surely understand the subtleties of the “bonjour-hi” debate, the complexities of the Montreal English School Board Wars and the intricacies of Westmount Park’s dog run laws.

Weather: It is either cold and unbearably freezing here or hot and unbearably humid, so dress accordingly.

In winter, be warned: There are no Early Bird dinner specials, no pitch-and-putt golf courses, no winter surfing. There are no all-you-can-eat buffets since COVID arrived, in fact no buffets at all.

There are several important new Canadian words you must learn, including snow tire, windshield scraper, wind chill factor, polar vortex and Celsius.

The temperature here is an entirely different system than yours, but don’t worry: Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures do meet and become identical at minus 40, which you may well experience.

On the plus side, if you do somehow get COVID-19, our Medicare-for-all system is free and we welcome all your pre-conditions. On the down side, be warned orange juice comes from cartons here, not from oranges.

Ultimately, if you do migrate to Canada, then when COVID ends you can decide if you want to leave or not. If you’re a Biden-lover and Trump wins you might want to settle here.

Likewise, if you’re an arch Republican and Comrade Biden wins and DESTROYS AMERICA’S SUBURBS as Trump claims, you can find refuge in Mississauga or Longueuil.

But there is one last condition before allowing you in: Come the U.S. election, your home state of Florida has to vote Harris-Biden, otherwise the deal’s off.

Day 116 – Traveling during a Pandemic – or dealing with Covid on the road


Honestly – who would have thought we’d be almost 4 months into this thing with cases in the US on the rise, and even here in Montreal we’re not feeling exactly safe.

At least Disney World has re-opened. I don’t know about how you feel about that – but I for one am greatly relieved. They are taking a huge chance – will folks come, can they make sure that these folks are safe – but knowing the massive brain power they can call on – I’m guessing that this is a very measured risk.

I’m quite convinced that they at least know what they are doing… I’m not so sure about our governments. In too many places the rules are changing daily.. Here in Quebec, after much discussion and public consultation, and – I fancy – navel gazing, the PTB (powers that be) have decided to make Masks mandatory in all indoor spaces in the province. They have also decided that the recent upswing in cases (over 150 new ones today – which pales when compared to the over 7000 in Texas alone) is primarily due to large house parties over the two long weekends – June 24th and July 1st. Not the re-opened bars as was feared.

Has anyone mentioned that the US is having a huge upswing about 2 weeks after the July 4th weekend? Just wondering.

Anyway – subject of this blog is going to be travel in the times of Covid-19.

Last night we did a lovely evening Zoom chat with friends in Utah who are planning a 3 week trip to Georgia with their kids and grand kids. When I expressed dismay, they were quick to point out that they were driving – using the kid’s very large motor home. To be safe, they were buying all their food before leaving Utah, and thus stopping only for gas. They wouldn’t even have to use public bathrooms. They are leaving in a few days – I’m quite keen to hear how it goes. I know motor home sales are way way up – people liking the idea of total control over their environment… so I shall hopefully be able to report back.

Meanwhile – We recently decided enough is enough – we’re taking a short trip to the Toronto area. That’s about a 6 hour drive from Montreal but our plans called for us to visit several groups of friends who live in that area of Canada. Our trip journal starts with us leaving home on June 29th, heading West with plans to be back home on Saturday July 4th. So we packed up our clothes, our masks, some sanitizer, and headed out.

Since we were driving in our own car – that part of the trip felt very safe. It’s our car, no one else has been inside – we’re ok.

Our first stop was going to be Kingston, Ontario – about halfway to Toronto. It’s a small city by even Canadian standards, but home to several universities and most of Canada’s major prisons. I allow you to make the obvious links – but we weren’t planning on visiting either. We were going to grab a quick lunch and then get back on the road. Our thought was that a terrace was safer than an En-Route… for sure more yummy.

Our daughter, who lived in Kingston for 4 years (she went to University there), highly recommended Chez Piggy – and they had a terrace. We felt good about eating on terraces – and called to reserve. They cautioned us that wearing a mask was mandatory unless seated at our table – but we thought nothing of that. We were used to wearing masks in public – no biggie.

Turns out it was a biggie. A nail salon in the Kingston area had just been determined to be a hot-bed of Covid cases, and everyone was running scared. Over 20 people picked up the virus from that one location – and while testing is free in Canada – it still takes about 2 days to get results. While folks were waiting to see if they had been infected, Masks were mandated.

Of course we found this out AFTER we were seated and had ordered our lunch.

Nothing was going to change by leaving now – if we had been in contact – we’d been in contact. So we ate our lunch (yummy), and then walked back to our car, and continued our drive West. I will admit, we were crossing our fingers that we were ok – all the servers had been properly masked, and we’d stayed well away from everyone.. we were hopefully fine. (NB: it’s been 2 weeks – we’re fine!)

We stopped at an En-Route – one of those service centres off the highway to get gas and get a bit of a stretch and a toilet break. They had blocked off 1/2 of the toilet stalls in the ladies room (deemed lacking in social distance), and 1/2 of the urinals in the men’s room (again – not enough social distance). They had also shut off every other sink. Interesting. Lines on the floor indicated how to stand to get service front the take-out restaurants that were open – although there were so few people that it wasn’t an issue.

Unlike in the Kingston area, Masks were not required here – although almost everyone was wearing one, including us. We stayed away from other folks, got the needed relief, and headed on to Markham., about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Our hotel for the first two nights was there – a low price option run by the Radison chain, so again – we felt safe.

And the hotel was indeed perfect. They had taken some basic precautions – no maid service, a plexiglass barrier between us and the staff, no breakfast offered, doors (except for our room) opening automatically and sanitizer dispensers everywhere. For the price, we felt quite comfortable. Few folks wore masks, but we did whenever we were inside and stayed away from others.

We took a long walk in what was a light industrial area with basically no traffic. In the early evening the weather was quite pleasant. We found a take-out Chinese hot-pot restaurant for dinner, and walked back to the hotel for bed. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

Today we were doing the most ‘exposed’ portion of our trip – we were driving into downtown Toronto to visit very good friends. There was more traffic than expected, but for Toronto it was exceedingly quiet. The surprising thing was the noise level. On previous visits, Downtown Toronto was always quite noisy, but not now. And the change was a pleasure.

We got to our friends condo building, which also had taken significant COVID precautions – hand sanitizers, staff behind plexiglass barriers, cautions on the number of folks who could ride together in an elevator – that kind of thing. Our friends joined us in the lobby, and we walked (wearing masks) to the Royal York Hotel.

The ‘wear a mask’ concept hadn’t really struck home in Toronto at this point in time – we were basically the only folks wearing them on our walk past the Convention Center. But then – the crowds were missing, and that made it easy to keep social distance from anyone we got near.

The Royal York decided that one way to cope with the pandemic was by creating an outdoor eating space – and it was lovely. They had taken over a huge section of the sidewalk and by using fake greenery and a lot of fung shui – created a garden. There were different kinds of sitting/eating areas, all marked at ‘sanitized for your protection’ including an outdoor sofa/lounge section. The 4 of us were seated at one of the lounge chair options – easily maintaining social distance. Wait staff were all masked, menus were cleaned before being presented, and the food was lovely. We sat and chatted and relaxed. It was perfect.

With the lack of traffic noise, it did indeed feel like we were in a Garden – complete with water features including spouting lion masks.

We walked back to our friends condo – and this time braved the elevator to their place. The rules on the elevator were no more than 4 people, and you had to stay in the corners. But in truth, folks just waited as one group completed their trip up (or down) before getting in – and carefully avoided touching anything. Our friend used her key to touch the elevator buttons for example.

Once in their home – we were still careful about keeping social distance, but took off our masks and shared snacks and had drinks. We spent time relaxing on their tiny balcony – just enjoying the view of Toronto harbour.

When it came time for dinner, our hostess took out binoculars to check on available outdoor tables at the restaurants they could spot from their location on the 33rd floor. When she determined where there was space available – we hopped back on the elevator – and walked quickly to that restaurant. It was notably ‘down-scale’ from the Royal York – both in COVID awareness and price range. The wait staff were wearing masks but no face shields and at least one only had only her mouth covered. The menus might have been sanitized, but certainly there was no effort to make sure we knew that this had been done. And we had issues keeping social distance – one gentleman – unmasked – came way too close to our table for my comfort to talk to us about his dog.

But like in Kingston – we did the best we could to be as safe as we could.

After a take-out breakfast at Tim Hortons (got to love Timmy’s) the next day we headed away from Toronto into the Barrie area to visit friends who live on 5 acres out in the country. Seriously out in the country. While the air in Toronto was surprisingly – for Toronto – clean – this was heaven.

In the country – keeping social distance was much much easier… They had one bathroom cleaned for our use – and we spent the day outside on their lovely porch just relaxing and chatting. Our hostess is an amazing cook – she made her own sushi for lunch, and created designer pizza for dinner. What a smashingly perfect way to spend a day.

And the drive from their place to our hotel near Barrie was very cool. We were in rolling farm land – vistas went for miles and miles every time you crested a hill – and it was the evening of July 1st – Canada’s birthday. Fireworks are the norm – and they were visible everywhere. I counted 20 different displays from the top of one raise – simply by rotating my body in a 360 degree circle. We were too far to ‘hear’ them – but it was very easy to see them. Happy Birthday Canada.

Our next hotel was a Best Western Plus in Barrie – and they had also done a decent job of making sure we were protected. Kinda. For example – there was a large plexiglass barrier between us and the staff at check-in – but you had to reach around the Barrier to get your keys, sign the register – etc. So safe… and not so safe. And unlike the hotel from the night before – the walls were like paper. We could hear the music from next door – so loud it might have been in our room. This is not a COVID problem – this is just plain thin walls and cheap hotels. Oh well.

Breakfast was odd. They had signs up explaining that because of COVID they were being careful – so they had removed all the tables and chairs. No sitting in the breakfast area to eat. And there was sanitizer available for use before touching the items on display. Cereal had been pre-poured into bowls and covered with plastic wrap. You had to touch common pitchers to pour your milk, but they didn’t have any ‘buffet’ style offerings like eggs. Yogurt and the like was available from a fridge – but again there was a common handle. I grabbed the food and coffee I wanted, pleased that it was free, and washed my hands when I got back to the room.

Today we were ‘surprising’ our 77 year old friend on his birthday.. His wife and another mutual friend were to go to a brunch restaurant with a terrace – and we were to go there to say – surprise. He wasn’t that surprised I’m sorry to say. My husband had spilled the beans – and while he and my hubby had agreed not to tell anyone that the surprise was ruined – I think they had guessed. In any case – the restaurant was more like the 2nd place in Toronto than the Royal York. Wait staff had masks, but some were only over their mouths. And while the inside was closed to guests, you had to walk thru it to get to the bathrooms. They had gone to the effort to clearly mark a one way in/ one way out path – but narrow hallways made staying social distance really a challenge.

I actually opened the bathroom door from the inside – and was staring straight into the face of the lady waiting her turn… I backed up, she backed up. We strategized – and then she backed out into the hallway so I had room to pass. Awkward moment there…

But lunch was lovely – company was great – and afterwards we drove with our friend to see the horses. We were going to go riding the next day – but today we wanted to just say hi.

Horses get lonely during COVID too.

The barn had rules posted. No more than 5 people at one time in the building, keep social distance, wipe down when you leave. No sanitizer on display here – but it is really not that kind of place. We did bring our own – so we could be careful.

Back to the hotel for break. We took a walk, did some serious liquorice shopping at ‘The Dutch Shop’ and I spotted a rock shop. A large rock shop. As in a shop for large rocks. They even sold stepping stones of Italian Marble.. So our car is going to be loaded heading home.

Our friend’s birthday dinner was outside in their backyard with the rabbits and the birds. It was delicious. The devilled eggs were particularly wonderful and his wife also served cold shrimp, fruit salad – and ice cream for dessert. Yummy doesn’t start to describe it.

The next day we went riding – with a horse between you, keeping social distance is very easy – so no problems there. We had a lot of fun – and again spent time just chatting and catching up on the news – and bemoaning the boredom of too many days too separated. Little did we know that in two weeks the US would be seeing a spike larger than the initial one… but that was two week away.

Our drive home was uneventful – except for our visit to a different En-route. At this En-route – they were enforcing the wearing of masks indoors. A staff member was sitting outside politely telling anyone not wearing a mask that they couldn’t enter. Since we were wearing masks – it wasn’t an issue and I didn’t see anyone get too upset when they were asked to go get one. They were not handing masks out – so I don’t know what folks would do if they arrived at the En-route and had no masks – but we didn’t hang around to find out.

So – our first travel during COVID ended with us glad to be home.

It’s now been two weeks – we are fine and so are our friends. Dodged that bullet I guess. But meanwhile we all know what’s been happening in the US – and as a result Canada and the US have agreed to keep the border closed for another month.

And here in Canada – folks are seeing what is happening to our South, and we are getting a lot more serious about making sure everyone is wearing masks. And that folks know that hot spots like large groupings of friends that don’t keep social distance are problems. We were careful – but were we careful enough – or just lucky.

Like in Bridge – sometimes just being lucky is good enough.

Signing off to plan another trip – still keeping social distance – and definitely not going into the US – The Soup Lady

Blursday Posting – but at least there is light at end of the tunnel


It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to… Words to a song that formed part of my impressionable youth that resonates with me still today.

After countless days in self-isolation – some imposed because we traveled back from St. Croix on April 1, and some just done because my kids were fussing at me about going even to Costco… Like I suspect most of you, my oh so loyal readers, I’m getting a bit bored.

And it’s going to be my 72nd birthday on June 24. Oh man – I never ever thought I’d be this old – I’ve lived longer than my Grand-mother, and I’m 2 years shy of the age my mother was when she died.

My vision of 72 – at the tender age of 15 or so when I thought about my grand-parents – was house bound (check), living basically in a chair in the TV room (nope), limited conversation topics (what was the weather?), and moving only when absolutely necessary.

My husband and I just returned from our daily 2 mile walk along Lakeshore – dodging the bikers in Spandex that race along like it’s an Olympic track – and enjoying the breeze off the lake. My dad was doing something similar when he was this age, but my mom was totally house bound. I work out daily if possible, lifting weights, doing push-ups, squats, planks – well – you know the basic drill. So yes, I’m in much better physical shape than my parents. And glad of it.

But that doesn’t do much for the gut fear reaction to COVID-19. This is scary stuff because it is targeting my age group. 80% of the deaths in Quebec (most in Montreal where I live) are in the 70+ group.

The good news – here in Montreal – the numbers are definitely on a slide downward. Fewer and fewer cases every day, and while the deaths are still happening (about 50 a day) – but they are the cases that were detected weeks and weeks ago.

Testing here – which by the way gets reports in 2 days – was limited to folks showing symptoms or who had been in contact with folks who had tested positive. But the numbers of folks getting tested has plummeted so they are now saying – anyone can come in.

I haven’t been tested – and am unlikely to get tested at this point. I have been careful to sanitize and wear a face mask when out in any kind of public environment – so while this may be a false sense of security – I do feel secure.

Which brings me to the reason for this blog. It’s my birthday. And restaurants in Montreal will be opening up starting June 21. And our favourite restaurant in the city – Bonaparte’s – is having a grand opening dinner on June 23. It’s the day before my birthday – but I’ve never been a stickler for exact dates. And we are going. In 1810 style. Our dinner companion will be the local Vicar – so the conversation, while polite, should be interesting. He’s always in the gossip loop on local doings.

Yes – I’m excited!

The restaurant has taken all the precautions the management can think of. Limited # of diners, all staff wearing masks, menus sanitized before being presented, table etc sanitized before you sit, and they will usher everyone out at 8:00 to re-sanitize the entire space before seating the next group of guests. You can check all this out at their website.

Interestingly – the better description of what they are doing about being prepared to be open again is found on their opentable site… now that is interesting… Check that out here

I shall of course dutifully report back.

Signing off to go fuss in my garden (I think this year everyone is going to have the best garden’s ever…) – The Soup Lady

Narita – Worth staying at least 2 nights!


Most folks just pass thru Narita on their way to Tokyo or Kyoto – If they sleep even one night in town, it’s to rest up after their flight – and then to quickly race off to other parts of Japan.

But that’s not fair to Narita. It’s a very famous place in it’s own right! One of Japan’s most famous and most often visited pilgrimage sites is right here in Narita – the Naritasan Shinshoji temple.

This is a huge complex – dating back to the beginning of Buddhism here in Japan – and is well worth a long visit. Particularly special is their three times a day services in the main hall. These feature some amazing drumming – and were very very different from the services we saw in Koyasan.

This temple has been performing a Goma (fire burning) ritual every day for over 1000 years. No matter what your religious affliction – that’s a lot of devotion!

And I had to see it. So we got organized, left our absolutely lovely Air BnB lodging, and went to Temple.

The service started with a brief introduction in Japanese – to a congregation of almost 500 people. There were 4 sections of participants. two large groups kneeling quite near the center alter on the right and left, a much larger group kneeling in front of the altar, and then the senior group. We were sitting on benches that ran along the back wall – with a good view and no kneeling required.

I expected something similar to the morning prayers in Koyasan – but what happened was very different. The service started with the entry of the monks – about 10 of them in formal attire. The main monk seated himself in front of the altar, the gong rang out in the courtyard, the lights dimmed, and a monk sounded a single, extremely loud, Thump on the giant Taiko Drum. That started the service. The monks said some prayers that clearly the gather congregants knew, and then there was some gong ringing and drumming. Suddenly a huge fire burst out in front of the main monk. We were blocked by his body from the bottom of the flame, but the top was easily a body length above his head. This was a signal for everyone to get up and line up to the right and left of the altar.

The Intrepid Traveller and I tried to decide in our own minds, what they might be doing. Comparing notes I thought they were going to do confession, the Intrepid Traveler thought that they were going to a lesson or communion. But it turns out they weren’t doing either. They were handing bags and purses and personal belongings to the helper monks, who were bringing these items to the altar and exposing them – briefly – to the flames.

We had read up on the Goma ritual – and the idea is that the flames represent the wisdom of the Buddha of Unmoving Knowledge – and they burn away the root causes of your suffering. Bu exposing your belongings to the fire, you are allowing the wisdom of the Buddha to impact your life.

Obviously as soon as I realized this was what was happening, I got up with my backpack and joined the line.

After the service ended – folks again lined up – this time to run their hands along a staff that ran in front of the main Buddha. We never figured out why they did this – but it’s been happening for a really long time. The staff was carefully wrapped in ropes to prevent it from being worn away by hundreds of hands, multiple times a day.

Great Service, very interesting Temple, lovely walking meditation garden. This shrine was a definite winner.

We did also had an incidence of ‘Japanese nabbing’. I left the Intrepid Traveller alone for just a minute – and when I got back, she had disappeared. Two older Japanese ladies had grabbed her and forced her to go with them into the tea room for a cup of tea. They spoke no English, so she felt the polite thing to go was to go with with them.

While she was being polite, I spent several anxious minutes wondering where she’d gone when she finally re-appeared to explain that she just had to drink the offered tea – it would have been rude to have refused.

Lunch was in a traditional Eel house. It turns out that Narita is famous for it’s ell restaurants – they are the preferred food of pilgrims – health restoring and considered beneficial after a long trek. And the Eel restaurants in Narita have been serving this dish for over a hundred years. We sat down in a traditional looking restaurant, but with a hole for your legs – no kneeling unless you wanted to – and ordered a meal of eel to share.

It was delicious – and the tea (both hot and cold) was unlimited and free. We were the only westerner’s in the place – it was packed with Japanese – so you know it’s the right place. Delightful meal – and a great way to end our trip to Japan. Tomorrow we are heading for home.

A note on shopping in Narita. We happened into the two largest grocery stores we’ve seen in Japan here in Narita. The land is clearly cheaper – and the shoppers clearly either locals or pilgrims to the shrine – not a foreigner in site.

The sushi selection in the 2nd of the grocery stores we found was unreal. So fresh, so beautiful and so reasonably price. $5.00 Canadian ($6.00 US) got you a platter of at least 8 different sushi option. And need we say delicious?

We are so glad we opted to spend two nights in Narita. It’s a really cool spot – well worth visiting. If you come – check out the Aeon Mall – and buy the sushi. And of course – have at least one eel dinner.

Signing off to get our selves to the airport – our flight home awaits.

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

BHAG* Achieved!


Back when I started this blog – back when my husband suggested calling myself Montreal Madame… I set myself a BHAG.

In MBA terms – a BHAG is a *Big Hairy Assed Goal – and it represents something that you really would like to achieve – but think is well outside the realm of possibility.

So I decided getting 500 followers would be my BHAG – And I wanted to get it done by January 2020.

Well guess what – I made it MONTHS early! i actually have officially 504 followers – so the follower that put me over could be one of 4 champions – and I love them all!

So Thank you follower #1 – and #100 and #201 and #350 and #500 to #504… Thank you all in fact!

Couldn’t have done it without you.

For my next BHAG – I’m thinking 1000 Followers by January 2022. That’s a lot in a very short time considering how long it’s taken to make 500 – but I’ve got my fingers crossed and my ‘Muttering’ Boots on!

Signing off – Content for the moment – and celebrating in Japan with a glass of very lousy but I don’t care red wine… The Soup Lady

The Saroche – Luxury has a price!


I’m aboard the 39 meter (127 foot) long barge – the Saroche. And I honestly – I’ve think I’ve landed in the lap of luxury.

The service on the barge is so personal, and so fast that I’m reminded of Goldie Hawn’s line when her butler brings her Cavier in the film ‘Overboard’, “Thank goodness, I almost had to wait”.

This is definitely not your budget holiday trip, but then sometimes it’s fun to be different. We opted for this cruise for several reasons, and it is interesting how close and yet not close it came to matching our expectations.

I should start by explaining that this is not really a cruise. It’s really a barge trip down a series of canals in the Champagne Region of France – the Marne Valley to be exact. And where our expectations and the reality have diverged is really in the Champagne Touring. But I’m getting ahead of my story.

The Saroche is an absolutely lovely boat – low and long, she was purpose built to be a ‘hotel’ barge, and while her history diverted from that at times, it is her basic design. The front of the barge, under the deck where there sits a large Hot Tub, a dining area, and a lounge area, are just three staterooms. This is a trip for a max of 6 passengers – and with 4 crew, it’s easy to imagine why the service is so completely personal. And we are just 4 passengers – one of the couples had to cancel at the last moment, leaving Jason, our host, unable to fill that slot.

Our cabins are glorious. Dawn and Jason spent last winter completely remodeling the cabins – and they now reflect the Art Deco/Art Nouveau theme that Dawn thought would be appealing. Light wood, poster art from 1930, and huge beds and equally large bathrooms make the cabins a haven. I’m particularly fond of the shower in the our bathroom – it has both a rain shower and a hand shower, and plenty of nice hot water. Perfect.

The main cabin, which has the spiral staircase to the upper deck, a large lounge area with a full open bar, two sofas, and a game/library cabinet is quite comfortable. The focus however is on the dining area. Here Dawn with the help of the crew (Sarah, Luther, and occasionally Jason) serves up delightful 4 course meals for lunch and dinner. I’ve never eaten so well, or so often, in my life! Wine glasses are never allowed to be empty, and once they figure out your preference (I love hot water if the weather is nippy), they are fast to be sure that your need is met, before you even have time to think about needing it. “I almost had to wait…”

There is simply nothing that I can say about the food that wouldn’t sound like I’d been drinking the Koolaide. It is outstanding. Jason does his very best to match the food with wines from Vineyards in France, but with less absolute success. His pairings tend to be young wines, and their lack of maturity is often a flaw. But this is a minor quibble. This cruise is not about fine wines (albeit that there were some outstanding wines opened and enjoyed) – it’s about knowledgeable pairings – and in that Jason excels.

The cheese courses are a case in marvellous point. We have a cheese course twice a day for 6 days. And Jason does not repeat a cheese. I will admit that there were cheeses that I could die for (the Comte he served us was the best I’ve ever had), and cheeses I didn’t try (I’m not keen on the Blue Cheeses, and I can’t eat cheese made with goat’s milk, it makes my throat swell), but all in all, the cheese course and the wine pairings that with them were legendary.

Jason did promise us a list of the cheeses and wines – I’m sure it will come by email in a few days – but even holding a list I doubt I could duplicate the experience. The kitchen has a built-in cheese store, so that they are served at the right temperatures – something that has always given me trouble at home.

Each night finds us moored at a different location along the Marne Valley Canal system, enjoying a late dinner. Each morning finds us either moving at a snail’s pace down a canal or through a lock, or sometimes taking a day trip into the surrounding area.

While I loved the relaxed pace of the cruises – not really a snail’s pace as much as a walking pace – it was the side trips that I found truly interesting.

We visited a little known battlefield from World War I – La Main de Massiges. This labyrinth of trenches laid buried for years until it was unearthed and an association started (only in 2008) to keep it open, accessible, and properly signed. For an in-depth description of the place (in French – sorry) – do click here. Our visit was made even more interesting by about 20 WWI re-enactors who were there to film a movie about the involvement of soldiers from the Czech Republic. It was unworldly to walk thru the trenches, knowing that just around any corner one might run into soldiers doing their level best to be period correct.

For me, as much as I dislike visiting battlefields in general, this visit was a highlight.

Another outstanding exploration was to the Eisenhower War Rooms – a small museum in Reims that was the actual site where the treaty ending WWII was signed. It was signed again the next day in Berlin because the Russians wanted it to be officially signed there – but here in this tiny room, in this now lovely town – but at the time heavily bombed battlefield – the treaty was signed. It is hard not to find the room strangely inspiring, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see the then movers and shakers gathering to end the war.

I also loved the visit to chocolatier Thibault. It’s a lot of fun to make praline filled chocolate champagne corks – although the very best part was the wrapping machine. I’m such a techy! I really loved the tasting as well – there’s is simply nothing wrong with chocolate – particularly good chocolate.

Bottom line – I loved aspects of our cruise. I enjoyed the company of our new friends, I totally relaxed in the hot tub in the afternoons as the glorious scenery glided by, and I ate way to well, and way to much. I think for me, a week of ‘relaxing’ is too long. I was itching to get going again, but that’s a personal problem. And I definitely think that Dawn, Jason, and their crew deliver on their promise – you are indeed in the lap of luxury for a week.

Signing off to enjoy Museum Night in Paris – Muse d’Orsey here I come! 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

Regional at Sea – or Bridge till you drop!


18 months ago I decided to learn to play proper duplicate bridge – and I’ve been chasing that goal almost daily. Not easy.

When I was in Charlotte several months ago, a gal had her partner for a bridge cruise cancel on her, and she went looking for someone who took playing bridge seriously, didn’t have too many master points, and had the money and ability to travel.

Hmm? Did some one call my name? I’m not the best player in the world, not even close. But I’m serious about getting better – and apparently being able to afford to travel to Charlotte marks me with the money and ability to travel.

Leaving her motives aside – she asked, I thought about it, and then accepted when I found out that Larry Cohen, who I think is the best bridge teacher in the world, would be giving talks every morning.

Fast forward 3 months – and here I am. Sitting in the Harmony of the Seas, participating in a regional bridge tournament. And having a blast. It’s not for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s for most folks. But for me it’s perfect. Bridge with a reasonable (and arguably much better than me) partner morning, noon and night! Perfect!

Let’s call her The Bridge Keener – and we’ve got my partner in a nutshell. Crazily enough – the deal including sharing a room – with effectively a perfect stranger, and of course playing bridge with her in all the games on offer. It’s a bit scary to share a room with someone you never really met – particularly for an entire week. So many things can go so wrong. And my sisters would tell you- I’m not the easiest room mate in the world. But The Bridge Keener has been able to cope with my outrageous behaviour, to ignore my bad roomie habits – and basically make this experience a delight.

We get up every morning with the sun – and a phone call from room service to tell us breakfast is on the way! Why they need to call me to tell me that the waiter will be knocking on my door is beyond me – but they do. So setting an alarm seems redundant. But being a tad anal, we do it anyway. Have yet to be woken by the alarm though!

Anyway – cute guy, hot coffee – and a fruit platter. What’s not to love.

After we get the day started by admiring the view from our balcony while we enjoy our coffee – we head up stairs (or down stairs – there are restaurants in all directions) for breakfast. We have consistently opted for one of the buffet places – I’m not fond of their coffee (room service coffee is better), but I do like to have a bowl of cereal and some fruit. One day I blew it by trying the grits – what possessed me? Cold and yucky. Oh well. Stick to tried and true and hard to mess up I say.

Then it’s bridge, lunch, bridge, dinner, and more bridge.

I know – sounds dull. But trust me – it’s never dull. Lots of things happen. Folks fight, Partners do double revokes (not a good idea), and you get lost in the bidding. I’m pretty decent on play – but if I’m in an un-makable contract – I tend to crash and burn. So instead of down 2, I’m down 4. Oh well, something to work on I guess.

More excitement – Larry Cohn’s lectures, Unlimited cookies, the possibility of placing first, and checking out the slogan wearing fellow bridge players. My favourites – Bling laden hats with “I Heart Larry Cohn” and T-Shirt slogans like “Double Trouble”, or “No one knows the Doubles I’ve seen”.

The Bridge Keener and I have been working hard at communicating with each other with mixed results. We came in first or second several times – and washed out several times. Which pretty much put us in the middle of the pack in terms of Master Points earned. Of the 236 people who participated (a totally booked out bridge cruise), we placed in the upper middle. I’d be short sighted and kinda silly not to be pretty proud of our results.

But it’s not all bridge. We spend a significant amount of our on-board time eating dinner with various members of the bridge group.

Our first night’s dinner was an unmitigated disaster. No, probably worse than that to be truthful. I wanted off the ship – and was thinking of opting out of dinner completely. 3/4 of our table mates were friends from Boca Raton – and I’m not a fan of the ladies of Boca in general – and definitely not of these ladies in particular. They carefully excluded us from their conversation – which as far as I could tell was gossip about what was happening at home. That left my partner, a 90 year old woman player with bad eyesight and bad hearing, and myself isolated on ‘our’ side of the table.

Add to this misery a terrible waitress who hadn’t smiled in about 3 years – and yup – it was bad.

So the second night the Bridge Keener and I decided to bail on that table and find a table with some empty spaces. Much, much better! But the third night we totally lucked out. The Bridge Keener recognized a gal from a previous cruise – and she invited us to join her table. And it was a hoot! There were 8 of us. The self-sacrificing friend who had agreed to partner a gal with a solid 11 Master Points. (That’s a beginner folks – and her playing got worse and worse over the course of the week), her sister, a diminutive older woman who had come on her own and spent the trip picking up partners. Her success was varied. There was a male – our token guy – who was a computer geek and lawyer and seemed a solid player. Our 6th table companion was a lady who announced she was allergic to noise – particularly my noise. So I got to try to whisper (or better plan – keep my back to her). She was a bit of a stiff neck, but apparently enjoyed our table – she dutifully came and joined us every night. My favourites of our group (aside from the self-sacrificing friend and the older woman) were a mother and daughter team. The last night I found out the daughter was 62 – (a surprise – she looked younger) – which makes her mom an unbelievable 85. They were a hoot. Not doing well at bridge unfortunately – they announced the last night that they need to find regionals with more folks at their level… – but so nice! And funny! We spent every dinner laughing, joking, and basically being silly. Our charming waiter was thrilled with us – and got in the habit of bring extra food when ever he could.

So that goes a long way to explaining my 5 services of Lobster, and my 3 servings of Rack of Lamb!

Bit more on the bridge. One of the goals of most of the players was to get their life masters. And often it’s Gold Master Points that have proven elusive and hard to get. So not surprisingly – at least 3 folks got their life masters on board this trip. One of them was part of our Knock-out exam (unfortunately we got knocked out in the 2nd round) and Swiss Teams. Charming couple, super nice, decent players – and easy to be around.

When she got the points she needed for Life Masters – the organizers made a big fuss – and on the last night they even presented her with a trophy. Man – I want to make life master on a ship and have them recognize me! It’s exciting.

This was the first time I’ve gone to a tournament with a partner – the same partner – for every game. This is a good/bad thing actually. The Bridge Keener and I are decent partners – but we need work. So as reported earlier – our results varied. With PUP (Pick up Partners) you can always pretend to yourself that it was the other guy that was wrong. With a regular partner – you have to take responsibility for your mistakes. And in my case – there were a lot of them. But you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs (except on the cruise ship – I don’t think an actual egg got cracked the entire trip).

So – great fun (albeit sometimes frustrating) was had. And I’m definitely doing it again. And I’m doing it with the Bridge Keener.

Signing off to study her bridge defence book – The Soup Lady

Elephants to the Left, Elephants to the Right – and the Bull is thinking about charging us!


Again we wake at dawn. Today is less foggy – it’s clear with no sign of rain. The Cape area has been suffering from a drought for going on two years, and the lack of rain is an issue. Here in the Shamwari it is less of a concern though. There is a river that runs thru the reserve, and it is flowing freely. Plus the balance between herbivores and carnivores is excellent. There’s no over grazing, and the carnivores eat well almost every day. Or I guess – what ever day they feel like it. So our surroundings are green and lush. Nice.

Coffee, biscotti, and we’re off. The former policeman and his wife have opted not to come – they are sleeping in and relaxing, but the 4 of us are keeners. We’re up, ready and waiting when the safari vehicle arrives!

This is likely to be the last safari I shall ever do. We’ve been to the Southern part of Africa now three times – and I’m done. The grinding poverty amid the extreme wealth is just too hard for me to ignore, but that won’t prevent me from enjoying my last time among the animals.

And we luck out.

We drive into the main section of the reserve, and Freddie spots an elephant. We drive closer, stop and turn off the engine – and realize it’s not just one Elephant. It’s a dozen or so. A complete family. There’s a huge Bull keeping watch on the ridge to our left, and lower down along the track are his wives and kids. And the kids are adorable. Under a week old, playing butting heads and push and shove, they run around our vehicle, get embarrassed and dash behind Mom, and then peak back out. Their trunks are extremely short – just long enough to reach Mom I guess – and they are awkwardly learning how to control them. Where the adults can use their trunks to pick up what ever they want (the ends are almost like fingers – with an opposable thumb), the youngsters don’t have nearly that much control. In fact – they have almost no control. Sometimes they actually act surprised to have a trunk. It’s amazing.

One of the females positions herself directly behind our vehicle. She is using her trunk to check us out – taking sniffs of the back wheels and literally peering into the truck to see what is inside. Meanwhile a young, but fully grown male is standing to our left. He’s either interested in the females, or thinking about some elephant porn because I suddenly appreciate the joke one of the rangers told us.

“How do you know how many elephants are in the herd you are watching? Count the legs and divide by 4. But sometimes the math just doesn’t work.” Everyone laughed at the time – now I can appreciate why you might count 5 legs…

Anyway – we’re snapping madly – enjoying how very close the animals are to us (I could easily reach out and touch the male elephant – if Freddie wasn’t repeating constantly his advice – keep your hands inside. Do not break the outline of the vehicle. Do not talk. Keep quiet.

Meanwhile – we are all keeping an eye on the large Bull. He’s huge – with good sized tusks, and is obviously dominate. No one argues with him. With surprising speed, he decides that he’s not too happy with our vehicle in the center of his family group. And he wants us to move out. He signals his displeasure by getting ready to charge us. He flares his ears, lowers his head, and starts moving directly at us.

Here’s the situation. Our engine is off. We are on a narrow track. There are high bushes to our right – clearly a challenge to move thru if they were empty, but currently there are 3 elephants in there – two junior elephants, and one large female. To our Left there are at least 6 more Elephants – including the 2 young babies, and several females. Behind us is the very curious female who is still sniffing at the tires.

And in front of us is the Bull. His flared ears make it obvious that he’s not happy with us. But to make it worse – he’s in Rut. Elephant must is staining his back legs, and it is obvious that this is one very discontent Elephant.

Freddie warns us again – no sound, no flash, no breaking the shape of the vehicle. Stay calm. It will be fine.

The Bull comes closer and closer until he is inches from our front bumper. One smash with those tusks, and we’re a vehicle without an engine. If he decides to hook his tusks under the safari vehicle, he could easily toss us.

But it’s not the right day. He veers to the left – and starts checking each and every female to see if she’s ready. He certainly is – of that I’m sure.

If we’d been with our Photographer friends – we should have stayed on the chance that we’d see Elephants matting. But this is not a photographers tour – and Freddie is more concerned with our safety then our Photographers. So as soon as the way ahead is clear – we’re off.

Well – that was cool!

But we’re not done yet. Freddie has been monitoring the radio channels – and he’s heard of another lioness sleeping with her cubs nearby. We drive in that direction and spot the sleeping lions. The vehicle that reported the sighting pulls out, leaving us to watch. We no sooner get into position than the sleeping cubs wake up – and they are hungry. They paw at ‘Mom’ to encourage her to feed them – and she gets up, stretches, and proceeds to lead the pack off to find food.

She takes the 4 cubs about 100 yards, and then clearly tells them to stay put. They are too young to hunt, and would only ruin her chances. The 3 female cubs obey completely – is it surprising to anyone that the male cub breaks rank and moves down the track towards where mom is hunting.

We watch as long as we can, but must eventually leave. We’re out past quitting time – and Victor and I have a long way to go today. We do need to pack.

We return to the Lodge, eat our 3rd Breakfast, pack and say fond goodbyes. We had fun here – and I know I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Baby Elephants.

Our return home, while long and very boring, is uneventful. We spend one night in Jo-Burg, fly overnight to London, spend a day sleeping in London, and then the flight back to Montreal.

I’m so glad to see my house and my bed and my grand-kids…

Signing off to enjoy Montreal – The Soup Lady