100 Best Cities in the World – Where have you been?


Part 2 – Cities 50 – 74

I finished Part 1 – Cities 100-75 with a score of 13/25. Let’s see how I do with this part of the list.

Keep in mind that I’ve had 73 years to do all this travelling – and it’s not surprising I suppose that I’ve been to lots of places. But let’s be honest here – years 1-15 were spent growing up (Atlanta, New London, and a Navy Base), and years 16-21 were spent going to University and meeting my husband. Of the two – I probably worked harder on the later. But that’s a story for another time.

Bottom line – I started to seriously travel my junior year at Tufts. I spent a year abroad in London – and we took several trips to parts of Europe during school breaks and the summer that my year aboard ended. Be careful what you allow your kids to do I must say. That experience definitely set the tone for the rest of my vagabond existence.

74. Lyon – been there. Lyon is best known for it’s train station – and I think that’s were we spent most of the time we were there. Again this is pre-internet – so you visited the places you could find in a travel book. Lyon was more of a pass thru than a visit kinda town in those days.

73. Shanghai – Missed it! Toured almost all of China and didn’t manage to visit Shanghai. Oh well.

72. Minneapolis – Been through there. Big city in the middle of flat flat flat everything. Might be nicer to live there. Not a wonderful place to visit.

71. Warsaw – Missed it. Same trip as Cracow and Kiev – which is why the price got so out of hand. Check it on a map. You can’t do all three in one tour. We were nuts to even consider it.

70. Brisbane – sigh. See Perth. Never been. Love to go. Not now though.

69. Valencia – Been there! Great oranges. We spent a night there on our way from seeing the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Which I have to tell you is an absolute must see place! Valencia was a disappointment in comparison. Way it goes.

68. Helsinki – Nope – never been there. On a long list – not a short list too. So I won’t put the odds in it’s favor….

67. Ottawa – Been there lots! It’s the capital of Canada of course – and only about 1.5 hours from Montreal. They have a fabulous Regency weekend there every year – and we’ve been several times. They also have nice bridge sectionals and regionals. And of course we’ve taken folks who visit us there – particularly if they come from overseas. It’s an impressive kind of place – not a big city of course – but a lovely small town. I’m proud of our Capital.

66. Portland – Now here’s a question – Portland Maine or Portland Oregon. Doesn’t really matter because I’ve been to both. Portland, Maine is the cuter place – trust me here. Nice museums, nice shopping, cute water front, nice restaurants, easy walking. Portland, Oregon has big trees. And it’s a fairly big city. 66,000 for Portland, Maine, 695,000 for Portland, Oregon. So that’s really it in a nut shell.

65. Brussels – Ah, Brussels. Can’t even think about Brussels without thinking of Jacques Brel. Love his music – and of course he’s famous through out the city. Brussels has some of the best food in Europe in my opinion. And it’s so accessible. There are great places to stay that won’t break the bank, there are museums to see and enjoy, and there’s the food. Let me repeat – the food alone is worth the trip! And not just the Pates Frit! (Fries to you who don’t read French. And don’t call them French Fries – you are Brussels – that’s in Belgium.)

64. San-Jose – My son and his wife live in San Jose – so of course I’ve been there. We came thru several times – once on our way to Anza for an Napoleonic Re-enactments which I fondly remember. We had rented a motor home planning to visit some of the National Parks. Great plan – but it had issues. For starters – it took us 2 days to get out of San-Jose. We were simply too new to the entire Motor Home thing to feel safe leaving the driveway of my kid’s home. But once we got on the road – it was better. Truly scary thing – driving the highway from San-Jose to Los Angeles. Cross winds and a motor home are not fun!

63. Buenos-Aires – Been there. One of our good friend’s was in the middle of a rather nasty divorce and they hadn’t told the kids yet. And his son was getting married in Buenos-Aires. He commented that the only people he’d know would be his wife (and they weren’t speaking), his son and his daughter. So we volunteered to come to the wedding! It was an awesome trip. We included a trip to Iguacu Falls (they are amazing), went into wine country, rode horseback in the Andes, and had some incredible Argentine BBQ. We toured Buenos-Aires from tip to tail – even paying homage to Evita Perron’s grave site.

62. Delhi – Nope. Not on the list. Frankly – India scares me. I know folks that love it – they call it home. But they are seriously wealthy, and I think that might make a big difference. I love watching movies about India I will admit, and we once were invited to join a photography trip to take pictures of Tigers – in India. That might have been a lot of fun, but still – India scares me. Too crowded, too many really really poor people, Too much class divide.. I know myself well enough to know that I’m not comfortable in a country that treats parts of it’s population like dirt.

61. Riyadh – Nope. Never been

60. Philadelphia – City of Brotherly Love. Been many times, for many different reasons. It’s lovely. Classic even. A little bit of everything, tons to see and do – hard city to resist!

59. Stockholm – on the short list.

58. Denver – Mile High City. It’s not the city itself that’s so amazing – it’s the location. So near the Rocky Mountains you could spit on them. A bit of a cowboy kinda of place, mixture of rough and ready and high tech. Fun to visit. Skiing is incredible. Apparently the Mountain Climbing is also ‘to die for’ – but way out of my comfort zone.

57. Oslo – nope. Like Stockholm (and all of Norway, Sweden and Finland – it’s on the short list)

56. Naples – Florida or Italy? Doesn’t matter actually – I’ve been to both. And like the Portlands – I think I like the smaller one better. Naples, Italy has amazing food, lots and lots and lots of hills, some incredible views, ice cream I can still taste today, and of course – Herculum and Pompeii. I loved Herculum – partly because I had no expectations. And I admit that Pompeii was exhausting and hot and dusty. But still – worth the visit. Naples I’d go back to. Just for the food.

55. Phoenix – been there. Fell in love with it. I was totally ready to move there until my husband pointed out that there is no ocean. Right. That’s a problem. Ok – I’ll just have to visit. Don’t go in the summer though. We were there in the late fall and it was incredible. Still warm enough that you could enjoy going for a late night swim, but the days weren’t so insanely hot that you couldn’t walk outside!

54. Austin – missed it somehow. Which given how much of Texas I’ve visited seems a surprise. Maybe I was there and don’t remember. Hmmm.

53. Lisbon – Love it. My husband hated it. Ok – I admit, it’s hilly. And we were walking everywhere which drove my husband’s hip nuts. But it’s a simply wonderful place. Tons of things to do and see and some of the most incredible shopping. I loved our Air BnB with it’s private garden, I enjoyed riding the buses (a way to avoid the walking), and I found the food delicious.

52. Osaka – My kind of town. I had never been despite at least a dozen trips to Japan and frankly – I was impressed. Great museums, beautiful parks, tons of history, friendly people, nice walking, good bus/metro service – and like all of Japan – very very clean. What’s not to love. Oh – and the food was good. A win, win, win!

51. Hamburg. Germany again – and this one I know I visited. Lots of clocks, lots of old architecture, and lots of Germans.

Ok – so we’re half way thru – and my count is now 15 + 13 = 28 out of 50… Getting there!

100 Best Cities in the World – The count down begins now!


Part 1 – Cities #100-75

I saw this list and of course I started checking them off. Been there, want to go there, not on your life would I go there.

Which given that no one has been able to travel for MONTHS – seems on the face of it an insane activity. But I suppose a traveler remains a traveler at heart. It’s just been a time off kind of year I suppose.

I’m breaking the list down into 4 parts – partly to keep you interested… Marketer at heart that I am – and partly to keep the length of each blog reasonable. Too long is just begging to be boring!

Blogs should be like mini-skirts. Short enough to grab your attention, Long enough to cover the interesting parts!

I am also of course reminded of the line from “Changes in Latitudes, , Changes in Attitudes” that Jimmy Buffet sings – “Reading departure signs in some big airport Reminds me of the places I’ve been. Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure, Makes me want to go back again”

100. Cracow – never been. Probably never going to go either. Oh well – nothing like starting on a high note, right? This actually was on a plan maybe about 5 years ago – but the price of just getting there was daunting. But see – if I’d done it – I’d have done it!

99. Raleigh – I’ve been there. I don’t remember a ton about it though – we might have just driven thru – but it’s a lovely town. So now I’m 1 for 2

98. Salt Lake City – Been there LOTS! Seriously – I know this city. It’s on the way to Park City – where my husband and I have been going skiing regularly since 2002 (yes – that’s when they had the Olympics). It’s not a place I’d live – Salt Lake City that is – but it’s got a lot to recommend it as a tourist high point. And best – it’s a starting point for the truly outstanding National Parks Tour in Utah. Now that should definitely be on your must do list.

97. Mexico City – Now that’s a place I’d love to go. I’ve been to Mexico – but managed to miss Mexico City. Some day…

96. Glasgow – How did this dirty smelly kinda down in the dumps – sorry I went there – city make the top 100 list. Miracle or they paid off someone. Anyway – been there. Not going back any time soon. Never being soon enough actually.

95. Sacramento – I always think I’ve been here – but it might have been passing thru. We did do the drive down the West Coast – and I can’t think we’d have skipped it. But honestly – that was 49 years ago. So I honestly can’t say I remember it. So – 2.5 out of the top 5…

94. Manchester – This was one of my favourite stops on our UK trip s couple of years back. Great Museums. Fabulous train station. Well worth a few nights!

93. Düsseldorf – hummm – can’t remember for sure. I did a ‘Germany’ tour when I was 20 – and I’d bet that Düsseldorf was on it – but if it was – I don’t remember anything noteworthy. I’ll give it a – haven’t been. Probably never going.

92. Nashville – This is on my to do list! I lived in Atlanta for years and years – and never made it to Nashville because my parent’s had no interest. I came close when I went to play bridge at Gatlinburg – fried food capital of the world – they even fry Oreo cookies – but didn’t visit Nashville. Missed out on Dollywood too.

91. Bucharest – Been There. I was young – it was still Communist – I loved it because it was cheap and I could eat like a Queen and pay under $1. Don’t count on doing that today folks. So… 5 out of the bottom 10 on the been there list. 2 on the want to go list.

90. Minsk – sigh. I’d love to go – never been. Not looking good either. Oh well.

89. Perth – Missed that entire Continent! Same for New Zealand. On my to do list… when Covid is over and we can travel again…

88. Hanover – Been there. Part of my Germany Tour. Industrial. Ok. Nothing much to add. Sorry.

87. Kiev – remember how Cracow was on a plan… well Kiev was on the same plan. Trip got canceled due to insane cost.

86. Kuwait-City – Another entire part of the world I’ve never seen. And not on my to do list either.

85. New Orleans – Now we’re on familiar ground! I spent a week here visiting my daughter who was living there for 2 years. Plus we had a fab weekend there when my husband was being interviewed for a position at their new Marriott hotel. We even did the Mardi-Gras Bead tossing silliness! It was a hoot. Good food too. Fried Oysters were the best. And don’t get me started on the Red Fish Grill’s Double Chocolate Bread Pudding. Stuff of dreams….

84. Cologne – Another city that I visited multiple times. This is the home of one of the world’s largest (it might well be the largest – but I’m hedging my bets) Food Fairs. It’s incredible. A floor of Chocolate. 2 Floors of beer stalls. The most amazing raisins I’ve eaten at the Morocco pavilion. Insanely large, your feet are guaranteed to hurt – and that’s just day 1. It takes at least 3 days to see everything – and even longer if you actually want to try the food. I first tried Illy Coffee here – mind blowing. One year we did a taste tour of the competitors to Prosciutto Ham. Another year we focused in on Tomato’s. The fare is called Anuga – and when this madness ends – I highly recommend it if you think you are a foodie. It will set you to rights. Great Cathedral, adorable restaurants, and charming evening walks. Just do all this BEFORE the fair opens. You won’t have the energy to enjoy it afterwards.

83. Auckland – see Perth. Sigh

82. Baltimore – Check that guy off! I lived in Washington, D.C. for 3 years – and it’s not called ‘Balt-wash’ for nothing. Lots to see, lots to do – and super cool. Baltimore – definitely better than #82.

81. Rio-de-Janeiro – on the to do list. Not now of course. Someday.

So – out of the bottom 20 – I’ve been to 9. Not doing that well actually. But lots more to come.

80. Stuttgart – Been There! It’s lovely. Walled city is old fashioned and super quaint – and the new part is – well – new. I was young – on a bike – and stayed in a youth hostel. It was a different time, different kind of travel. You used books to decide where to visit – or relied on other folks reporting back on what they’d done that day. Man – has the internet changed the way I at least travel…

79. Athens – Been There! Went back. Twice. I love Athens actually. It’s not the cleanest city in the world, but folks there are actually really really nice. I sat on my glasses when I visited with my travel buddy – The Intrepid Traveller – and really flattened them. We were staying in a cheap hotel with an amazing view of the Parthenon – we actually shared both the bathroom and the shower with everyone on our floor. The guy running the hotel was super nice though and had a friend who was an eye glass guy! We walked to his office – and he fixed my glasses. For free. Since we didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together – we were thrilled.

78. Muscat. Nope.

77. Marseille – Yup – check that one off. Got to love the French Rivera. Such a lovely place. Too bad I can’t afford it anymore.

76. Edmonton – Yup – that’s another been there. Highlight of a trip to Banff and the Canadian Rockies that we took with our kids 35 years ago. Why the highlight? The Mall blew them away. They have more submarines in that Mall than the Canadian Navy. (Not that hard to do – we actually only had 3 at the time. And I think we might still only have 3). We had heard that the Pierogi’s were amazing – so we went on a Pierogi hunt. Good luck with that. They are made at home – so you need to know someone. We didn’t. Oh well. But the Mall was a hoot and a half.

75. Adelaide – oh dear – ending on a down note. See Perth.

Ok – Out of the bottom 25 cities – I’ve been to 13. So over 50% That’s not bad. I’m not cheating by looking ahead – so you’ll have to stay tuned.

How did you do against the Montreal Madame?

Signing off – The Soup Lady

The escape to Canada – Travel in the time of COVID


I’m not saying I thought getting home was going to be easy – I know London has a scary Varient and that travel was being heavily restricted – but I was still hopeful for an uneventful trip…

But first – what is this War Measures Act? I think it’s pretty important to understand that on a global scale – Canada is doing pretty well – and yet we’re seriously talking about the War Measures Act – now called Emergencies Act. This name change and ability to implement it was done in 1988. The big difference is that the Prime Minister can’t just say – I’m doing this. Parliament has to review it. Not sure they have to agree – but they must review it. So if it gets implemented – it will be after Parliament reconvenes on Monday, Jan 25.

But even so – getting out of Dodge and into Montreal seems the right thing to do on Saturday, Jan 23.

Adrienne and I, as planned, got up from a sleepless night at 6:30, got dressed and loaded up the car with my suitcases. Before leaving the condo I did one last sweep to be sure nothing was forgotten – looked good.

Our drive from her flat to Heathrow was absolutely uneventful. The only scary part was getting the car out of the seriously too small parking spot and onto the road. Once accomplished – the sailing was smooth. Traffic was light to non-existent and we arrived at Heathrow by 8:15.

Parked the car – took the elevator (only had to wait for one other group to board before we were able to ride up alone) to the 5th floor to find out that the COVID testing center – our first stop – was on floor zero. Ok – back on the elevator – back down.

There were lots and lots of signs of floor zero – so we pushed my loaded cart to the test center. It was clear that they were prepared for hundreds of people to be waiting in line – it looked like Disney land on a very bad day. But all the stanchions and all the ropes that marked line after line were completely empty.

There were perhaps 30 folks in line – and several ‘helper’ types directing traffic. I got in line by just asking folks – is this the end of the line – and Adrienne stood with my luggage waiting. It was much cooler in the open space near the stanchions – so she put on my good winter coat. I’m glad it got some use – I think that’s the only time it’s been warn since I left Montreal.

For a line, it moved quickly. Although the guy in front of me kept giving me the snake eye – I was standing too close to him. Even though I was masked and had on my face shield. Sorry about that – I should have grabbed an empty luggage cart to keep us apart.

The guy behind me was chatty – he told me that he’d decided to get the test done today but he was only flying tomorrow. He was heading for the US – and like me – needed a negative result to get on the plane. I’m guess that was true of most folks.

Rather quickly (maybe too quickly – I am nervous about this test) it was my turn. The helper at the front of the line told me that I’d go inside, get tested – they would email me the results. I could just show the PDF of the results to the ticket folks, or come back down and (for free – or basically included in the price) they would give me a printed copy.

Then I was ushered into a make-shift space. There was a row of tables with plastic separations, both front and sides. A young man guestured at me to sit down – took a look at my passport, and made sure I had an appointment (for an hour later – but apparently that was no problem). He took my money, and then sent me directly behind him to visit the nurse.

The nurse couldn’t have been nicer. He told me to relax, that this wouldn’t hurt, and when I had closed my eyes, took a wand and quickly swiped the inside of both nostrils. No swap down the throat, not pain, not even scary.

Whew.

I left the area – they had once side of the row of tables labeled in, one labeled out – but a bottle neck at the door. I had to wait till folks cleared the door way to get safely out and back to Adrienne.

We’d thought we’d be able to sit and have a cup of coffee/chai – but everything was blocked/closed/not available. We could have sat in the car.. but I was too nervous to take that option seriously, so we hugged and said good-bye.

Adrienne headed back to the car, I headed back up to floor 5 to wait for my ‘you are positive/you are negative’ email.

To my surprise – the inside of the airport was mobbed. Seriously mobbed. Well, ok – mobbed by COVID standards. I threaded my way past folks toward the coffee shop that was my destination. I needed coffee and I needed it now.

Unlike 3 months ago – the coffee shop was open ONLY for take-out. All the tables and chairs were blocked off or piled up – you are definitely not sitting here to enjoy that coffee. I got my top favourite British treat – a Bakewell Tart – and a medium latte. I found a quiet corner near Air Emirates and sat on my luggage cart to enjoy my coffee and read my newest story- Calico Joe.

Shortly after 9:30 I got my email saying my test was negative.. Whew. I drag myself back down to floor zero where a lovely staffer takes a picture of my phone showing my appointment ID – and returns with a printed copy of my test results- clearly showing the time, the date, the company that did the test, and my status – Covid Negative.

Whew

Now – onto check-in. I take the elevator back up to floor 5 – again waiting to ride alone. I’m not spending even 1 minute in a closed space with folks I don’t know… and I wend my way thru the crowds towards the Air Canada check-in. They verify my test results, my passport, my ticket – and let me in to the actual check-in area. There they again verify my passport, my test results (Am I Leslie Eiser, Leslie Agrin Eiser, or Leslie Agrin? I explain about my maiden name and the rules in Quebec – and I’m cleared), and told to go thru security.

I’m well ahead of the time I needed to be doing this – but I don’t care. Let me in.

Once passed security – again painless – I’m in the main area of Heathrow – and can check for the Gate assignment. The sign clearly says that the gate won’t be listed until 12:45 – and it’s now just shy of 10:00. So I find a safe corner – and actually can sit down. Unlike outside of security – here there are restaurants open, and even some shops. Everyone is masked, although not every one is ‘securely’ masked – and I spot a few staffers taking the whole – wear a mask thing – a bit too casually, but they have put large Cardboard signs on every other seat. So there’s lots of space between people. I’m fine.

Sooner than I’d have thought (Calico Joe is a great story), my gate is posted and I make the long long walk to section B. Basically I’m walking under the runway. But it’s not crowded (I think all those crowds went somewhere else – I’m not sure where though), and I’m fine.

I get to my gate, I wait for my turn to board. Staff is circulating thru the waiting area – making sure that everyone is clutching their negative COVID test results, has a valid ticket and a passport. The gal came a bit closer to me that I liked, but she did have to take the papers.

Eventually we’re called for boarding – and they take my temperature. Nice. They once again check my test, check my passport (I have to pull down my mask so they can see my face), scan my ticket – and I’m on the walkway to the plane.

Even getting myself and my carry-on down the tiny aisle isn’t too horrid, and I’m thrilled to see that I’m alone in my row. The stewards and stewardesses are making anyone further back than me move forward – they want to be able to sit separated as well. There’s someone sitting at the window to my right, then an empty seat, the aisle and then my seat. So I slide over one leaving 2 two empty seats and the aisle between us. There’s no one behind me. That’s good. And no one on the row to my left although there are folks at the windows both in front and behind that row. At first the row in front of me is also empty – but after the plane takes off, one of the passengers moves in. He’s wearing a mask, looks ok, and immediately lies down to sleep. Ok then.

Lunch is served – and is a LOT better than the cold Eggplant dish they served me on the way to London. At least it’s hot. And there’s a yummy chocolate pudding.. which might actually have had some real chocolate used in the making.

I watch 4 movies – two of which I can recommend – Military Wives (tear jerker but very good) and Wild Wild West. Wild Wild West is a steam punk version of a western action comedy and is really quite amusing, if a tad strange. Time went by quickly. I sanitized carefully every time I went to the toilet – and the ‘goodie’ bag they handed me had personal hand sanitizer inside. I had wiped down my seat before I sat down – so I felt pretty good about the whole thing.

We land in Toronto without issue. Since I’m in the very back of the plane, I allow all the folks to exit before me, and slowly make my way up the aisle and off the plane. Next challenge – Canadian Customs and Immigration.

Again – painless. There’s an extremely short line – clearly marked with 6’ separations and the inspectors are fast and efficient. The only hiccup is my ArriveCAN form. Turns out that there are 2 pages to the form, and I only saved the first page with the ID. I have to turn on my ipad, go back to the app and scroll down to the second page to show the very pleasant border guard my name. I’m in. He didn’t even ask me about the food I’m carrying (most of which I ate actually).

Now it’s follow the signs to the flight to Montreal. It’s a long walk, but since I only have my carry on, the biggest challenge is getting one foot in front of the other without tripping over my coat. All the doors are braced open so you don’t have to ‘touch’ anything. Again – that’s good.

Unlike Heathrow, the airport in Toronto seems relatively quiet. Some restaurants appear ‘open’ with folks sitting at tables. But since it’s now around 10:00 PM in London – I’m neither interested in food or even a drink. I just want to get on my flight to Montreal.

In the past – there were flights from Toronto to Montreal twice an hour – but in the time of COVID – they are down to 3 flights a day. The next flight leaves at 9:00 PM – 5 hours from when I arrived here in Toronto, and 2:00 AM London time. I’m going to have to hang tough on this one. I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m not happy – and I’m scared of exposure. I’m wearing my mask, my face shield, I’m sanitizing everything – and I’m still scared.

I walk and walk till I find the Montreal Gate. It’s isolated at the far end of one of the long halls – and at 5:00 PM is relatively empty. I sit down, but after about 30 minutes get very uncomfortable. Since this is the only flight to Montreal – anyone who is flying in from Florida, from Mexico, from Cuba, from any of a zillion holiday sun destinations – is coming here to sit and wait. And a lot of them are clearly NOT taking COVID seriously. Too close together, too many, too casual about masking.

I’m moving.

I find another area of the terminal that is much less busy, and settle down again. This time, it’s clear I’m not going to have to move on. No one is coming near me at all. I set a timer to remind me when to move back to my gate – I don’t want to miss the flight – and eventually it rings.

Walking back to my gate I realize that things have gone from bad to worse. Flight after flight must have arrived – and the number of folks waiting to get to Montreal has sky-rocketed. This flight could well be full – or at least a lot more crowded that I’m comfortable with.

Eventually they start boarding the flight. No temperature check. No looking at COVID Negative results – just scan your boarding pass (lower your mask so we can see your face) – and then on board. Oh dear.

There are lots of folks who have clearly returned from ‘sun’ destinations. They have beads in their hair, kids in tow, suntans, masks hanging from the glasses instead of snuggly around their faces, sandals and palm frond hats.

The Prime Minister of Quebec has been going on and on about folks taking these all inclusive holidays – at bargain rates I might add – and then returning – infected – back to Quebec and Montreal. He has been publicly blaming them for Quebec high infection rate – not that this has prevented them from going apparently. Part of the logic behind implementing the War Measures Act (Emergency Act) is to stop folks from doing exactly this – And I’m going to be on a plane full of them.

Oh dear.

My seat is on a row to myself, but there are folks behind me and in front of me who are clearly returning from these ‘sun’ destinations. I try to figure out where I can move that would at least feel safer. I try moving further back – but that feels worse. Finally I spot a row near the exit door that is empty. At the last minute I grab my things and take one of those seats. There is still one guy in front of me – and a lady to my left, but they both look like they are treating COVID more seriously.

At this point, the lovely stewardess comes over to hand me my forgotten back cushion. I guess she had spotted me trying to find another place – and knew exactly where I’d dashed off to! After handing me my cushion, she takes her place in the jump seat just in front of me – but safely distant.

The flight lasts for a very scary hour and a quarter. I drink the water they hand me – I don’t want to get dehydrated, but otherwise my mask and face shield stay firmly in place. If I don’t get COVID from this flight – it will be a miracle.

When we are landing, the nice stewardess sits back down on the jump seat – and I ask her if she’s concerned. She admits that the flight is quite a bit more crowded than normal – and it’s a tad alarming, but says that being careful seems the safest option. I hope she’s right.

I wait for EVERYONE to get off the plane before going back for my luggage, and then drag myself down the aisle,

Naturally – the terminal is basically empty. Everyone from our flight has bee-lined to the luggage pick-up location, and since I was last off, I’m basically alone.

I make the walk to the luggage carousel hoping that the suitcases have already been delivered and picked up. No such luck. The herds from our flight are all clustered around the carousel – waiting.

I back off, and move to a quiet area and wait. When I spot my suitcase, I circle around the hoard and grab it off the Carousel.

Now I just need to get a taxi and I’m home. The taxi proves to be more challenging than normal. There’s no one running the dispatch line – it’s a free for all as folks push past me to grab a cab. Finally one taxi takes pity on me and actually stops right in front of me. I get in, we leave, I get home. I’ve never been so glad to see my home – EVER!

Hubby, Bed, Bathroom, my fridge, my house, my yard, my bird feeders… I’m so happy.

Signing off in fond hopes that things are going to get a lot better – soon would be nice… The Soup Lady

The trip Home – Travel in the time of Covid


War Measures Act? – OMG – Friday – Jan 22. The news from Canada is taking a frightening turn. Not that cases and deaths are going up – actually they are going down a bit, but the government is mulling mandatory 2 week quarentine in hotel rooms for all incoming travelers. And this morning they are talking about invoking the War Measures Act. This allows the Federal Government to over-rule the Provincial Governments in time of crisis. Think Biden’s Executive orders on Steroids.

To say that my husband – who has manfully been living at our house in Montreal all alone – for 3 months – put his foot down is understating the obvious. I need to get home. And I need to go NOW!

So Friday – while playing my scheduled Bridge games – I need a Mountain of Silver to earn Life Master status – I’m madly trying to piece together all the things that have to align for me to fly from London to Montreal on Saturday.

No two ways about it – that’s short notice.

Ok – the pieces. Move the plane tickets, figure out how to get a COVID test that reports fast enough for me to get on the plane, Cancel my hotel reservation, Figure out how to use the ArriveCanada App. Deal with the emotional upheaval leaving my daughters will create. Pack – figure out how to get to Heathrow. – the list is endless.

And the best way to deal with endless lists is to just start.

First step – figure out how to get the COVID test. Lots of folks I know have gotten one – including my daughter and her husband. They have been getting their tests by mail order – for free. But the rules in Britian are clear – you can only get free tests if you have symptoms or have been exposed or work for an essential service. You can NOT get a free test if your purpose is travel.

Sigh. My purpose is travel.

So – it’s google time. There are lots of folks offering quick turn around COVID tests – with prices from 100 GBP to 200 GBP (that’s about $150 to $250.. like that). But the standout option is a testing center at Heathrow that offers RT-LAMP tests with results in 60-90 minutes. And there test is a bargain 79 GBP – about $135. That would work. But first I have to figure out when I can get to Heathrow.

Consider the complications – My daughters Flat – let’s call it point A – is at least an hour to 2 hours away from Heathrow – let’s call it point B. So I have to figure on a 2 hour drive. (She’s got a 4 hour drive… but there aren’t really safe options. She is going to suffer. I’m so sorry). My flight leaves at 2:00 in the afternoon. I want to check-in at least 2 hours ahead, the test results take up to 90 minutes… I need to plan to get the test as soon as the testing center opens basically.

So I make an appointment – Saturday, Jan 23 – 8:45-9:00 AM. We’ll get up at 6:30, leave by 7:00 – should be ok. It’s Saturday during lock-down. How much traffic could there be?

Then I discover that the Testing Center’s system – while showing me booking for the 23rd – emails me that I’ve booked on the 24th. That’s odd. I’ll do it again. Nope – same result. I fill in the form a third time – take photos of it showing me booking on the 23rd, and the email confirmation clearly says the 24th.

Ok – I’ll contact them. No phone number. An email address only. Ok – I’ll email. Surely they can straighten this out. Step 1 -maybe done.

Now – step two – move the plane tickets. That turns out to be the easiest thing. I call Air Canada – I explain the decision – They (FOR FREE) move my flight and change my seats. Whew. Step 2 – Done.

Now – cancel my hotel reservation. Originally I was flying out on a Friday, but my daughter didn’t think we could make the drive from Point A to B in any reasonable time on a Friday morning. Most of the drive is thru the crowded, narrow, stop light filled streets of London – and on a Friday morning – even in Lockdown – these would be mobbed. So we decide that I will spend the night in a hotel near the airport. But now, moving the flight to a week early and on Saturday means she can drive me in the morning. Won’t be fun – she doesn’t generally get up and out that early – but it’s possible. So I call Hotwire – and low and behold – they offer me a choice of a full refund or a different date. Refund please. Step 3 – Done.

Now – on to ArriveCAN – it’s an app by the Canadian Federal Government that you must use prior to traveling to Canada. You tell them how you plan to Quarantine – and they keep track of you. Cool. I had already filled it in for my original leaving date, so I went back in. No way to change anything. Hmm. Ok – maybe a new application. I try that – and the app works. I take a photo (as directed) of the final screen with my ArriveCAN Receipt ID – and figure – Step 4 – Done.

What else – well – Packing isn’t that difficult – I only take a week’s worth of clothing on these kinds of trips – and I don’t need stuff to be clean to pack it. I toss my suitcase together, leaving out what I’ll need in the AM and search the house. I definitely don’t want to forget anything. The $$ for sending stuff by post from London to Montreal is crazy. Step 5 – Done

What else, what else…

Food – I had a horrid food experience on the flight here – they served me an ice cold Eggplant Parmesan which was inedible. So I raid my daughter’s fridge. Carrot sticks, 3 quick peel oranges, nuts, prunes, some candy. We can’t go shopping – too dangerous to go to the stores – so I’m just grabbing things that will be easy to eat and stuffing them in my backpack. At the last second my daughter hands me an Apple. Step 6 – Done

Meanwhile – back to Step 1. Remember the COVID test date issue? Well they finally (hours and hours later) email me back to explain that the problem isn’t on their end – it is the date setting on my ipad. Really? It’s on British time, and has been for 3 months. But I try their site again – using my daughter’s computer – and what do you know – this time the dates match up. Problem – the time slots earlier are gone. I book for 9:15 – the earliest – and figure we’ll just beg. Begging often works, right.. Ok Step 1 – Now really done.

I try to remember to notify everyone that my flights have DRASTICALLY changed – I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone and I’m sure they will let me know. (Turns out I forgot a lot of people – but that’s the way the Rushed up cookie crumbles).

My husband emails asking me for my food list for the lock-down. He can’t go shopping after I arrive and needs to stock up the fridge. Our plan is 14 days of ‘together’ time – otherwise known as mandatory Quarentine – and he won’t be able to leave the house. So he’s doing a massive shopping and needs to know what I think is essential. I tell him fruit – lots and lots of fruit. And Fish and Steak for dinner. I have kids who live in Montreal – and they have said that they will shop for us as needed – so we’ll be fine. But it’s hard to pre-plan 2 weeks of meals. I feel really sorry for folks forced to do this without some of the advantages we have – like kids nearby and friendly neighbors. It’s not easy for us – it must be insane for other folks.

My daughter had planned on a nice dinner and a game night with her husband and me as a farewell kind of thing – and we slide those plans forward to Friday night. We actually end up playing Monopoly – a British version with the names of the properties all strange.. Or exactly right if you ask my daughter’s husband! It’s a 80 year celebration set – so the playing pieces are actually metal, and the money looks right. We love it – and my daughter wins. Then we watch a final episode of Ru Paul’s drag race and it’s definitely bed time.

I always have trouble sleeping before I travel – tonight is no different. I toss and turn and read my book (Great Story called Camino Winds by John Grisham – real page turner). Too soon it’s 6:30 and time to get up.

Tune in tomorrow for the actually adventure – and remember – it’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong…

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Day 243 – Last Commandment for Seniors (#12)


You sill haven’t learned to act your age – and hope you never will!

Hear-Hear! I never ever ever wanted to act my age. I never acted my age all my life, and now is most certainly not the time to rethink that strategy.

When I was in my early teens – and by this I’m referring to that torture chamber we call High School – I was way to studious and concerned with math and science in particular to take notice of the things ‘girls my age’ considered important – like clothes and boys. To be very honest – I’m still not overly concerned about clothes – See Commandment #2 for Senior – “In Style” are the clothes that still fit.

I did go thru a ‘boys are amazing’ period – but for my time – it was very late, and ended rather abruptly with me marrying my still to this day husband – Victor! I arrived at University as a ‘Southern Belle’ – complete with breathy accent – and was immediately considered a very desirable date. This was beyond amazing to me – no boy had ever considered me interesting outside of class before – and I would have 4 dates a weekend. One on Friday night, One on Saturday afternoon, One on Saturday night, and one on Sunday afternoon. With 4 different boys. And for the record – no kissing until the third date!

Sunday night thru Friday afternoon – I was the model student – taking high level math and science classes, and for the first time discovering that there was history after the end of the civil war (for the record – that ended in 1865). I was raised in Atlanta Georgia – and that’s when our history classes deemed that history stopped. Surprise Surprise – it didn’t stop!

So between fending off boys (I took to hiding in libraries to be sure to get my studing done) and then going to parties all weekend – I was very busy.

I suppose this period is the closest I came to acting my age.

After I met Victor – things got really interesting in the ‘boy’ department. Victor was in the habit of waiting until the last minute before making a date – and I would be ‘taken’ long before. After several ‘I’m sorry, I can’t go out with you, I’m busy” conversations, he learned to book me ahead – and eventually we agreed to go steady. I think the crisis was ‘Homecoming Weekend 1967’ when I was the Princess from one fraternity – not Victor’s – and thus too busy to be with him. I think he asked me to go steady so that he could stop having to ask me out so far in advance.

But I still had to keep up my studies – but now I had to hide out in new places – and just from one boy! Fortunately, Victor pretty much hated libraries – and there were lots of smaller ones on campus that I don’t think he ever found. I was able to keep up my work weeks, play weekends lifestyle.

Then I spent my Junior Year Abroad. I choose to go to London to study Drama – which for a Math/Physics Major was a bit of a stretch. But the folks in the Drama department were ok with it, and while the Math Department got their knickers in a knot (I had to drop my double major), the Physics Department agreed to it. So – London, without my boyfriend, for a full year abroad.

This was, I admit, one of my favourite years (Fall of 68 to the Fall of 69)… and again – I wasn’t acting my age. I was interested in studying, getting good grades, visiting Museums and Art Galleries – and my Drama Department co-students thought me dull, boring, and not really a decent drama student. Push came to shove when I won a lottery to go behind the scenes at the Royal Vic and meet Sir Lawrence Olivier – then starring in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”. Despite pressure to give up that opportunity to a ‘real’ drama student – I persisted in taking advantage of that win, a meeting I remember to this day.

My year aboard ended the way a year aboard for a square peg in a round hole must always end. I drove with my friends to Istanbul – then waved goodbye as they crossed into Asia on their way to India. I traveled alone by train and hitchhiking (ok – I was 20 – it seemed acceptable) back into ‘Europe’ and met up with a friend who I didn’t really know – but who wanted to do a bicycle trip thru the German speaking section of Romania. We met up in her university town – took our bicycles by train into Romania and spent 2 weeks or so biking from village to village. In those days (Summer 1969) the way you showed off your wealth was by the height of the manure pile in front of your house. I grew to love Lard Sandwiches – and we feasted off the garden crops of peas and green beans. One of the villagers bought my bra for her daughter for the equivalent of a weeks living money – and in a Youth Hostel in Czechoslovakia we swapped a $1 American bill for a day’s worth of food and lodging. Interesting times to visit behind the Iron Curtain.

I eventually made my way back to Paris, met up with my sister who flew in from the US, and we continued to wander thru France and eventually to England. We flew home from London – and while she returned back home to Atlanta and University – I went back to Tufts for my final year. Victor had meanwhile changed schools and was now at Cornell. Our plan was to see if we were still ‘an item’, and if so – I’d graduate and continue my schooling at Cornell – provided I could get accepted of course.

We did, I was – and we got married Sept 11, 1970. It’s 50 years and counting today…

Enough of this – bottom line – I’ve always persisted in being a tad different. I had my kids a bit later than other folks, I got married a lot earlier (I was 21 – Victor was 20), I was studious to the point of embarrassment to most of my peers, and when I got close to retirement – my friend ‘The Intrepid Traveler’ and I started our yearly trips to far off places. Not to be left out Victor and I did a fair amount of traveling too!

I’ve been to China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Japan, South Korea, Bali, France, Fez, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, Scotland, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Malta, Liechtenstein, Vatican City, Belgium, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Israel, Amsterdam, South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Rwanda, Zambia, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, Czechoslovakia, Greenland, Northern Quebec, Most of the US, Eastern and Western Canada, Venezuela, US Virgin Islands, Mexico, British Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, Belize, Jamaica, Bermuda, Bahamas, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. I realize of course that traveling now is not the same – but I was young, I was keen – and I was willing to travel cheap. Mostly – I was lucky to have a friend willing to travel with me! And grateful to have a husband who also found travel interesting.

There are so many places that I loved at the time I was there that I couldn’t imagine going back to – my ‘roughing it’ ability is seriously suffering from concerns about where there’s going to be a clean toilet – but I would recommend doing it NOW – don’t wait till you are your age to travel. It’s never too late – and it’s always rewarding – Masks on for safety of course.

Enough of this trip down memory lane. It’s getting embarrassing. Bottom line – I’m not planning on acting my age any time soon… Get over it.

Signing off to think of something else crazy to do… Mask on of course – The Soup Lady

Day 219 – Traveling under COVID Restrictions


Getting stir crazy yet? How about a trip across the Ocean – does it sound a bit scary? Well – It seems really scary to me

But my daughter lives in London – and she needs me/wants me to come. And I need/want to come. And since saying no to my daughter just isn’t happening – I’m heading out, masks in hand.

All this explains why I am sitting in a deserted airport lounge waiting for my flight to London to depart.

Last time I flew was April 1 – on my escape from St. Croix (I’m still sorry I had to go – but that’s another story). The airports were deserted then – and trust me – that has not changed! If anything, more things are closed, there are more barriers up, and you can forget about eating anywhere that looks like an inside.. Closed, Closed, Closed!!!

And coming into the airport is now restricted – or at least there is only one working door (conveniently in the middle of the airport – so FAR from where I need to go). I snake around the barriers, spritz my hands, and walk into the empty main concourse. Air Canada is located to the far right – so I drag myself and my luggage basically 1/2 the length of the very long terminal building to the check-in desks.

The plan is for me to leave Montreal and fly to London. I first checked with American Airlines – who are holding my tickets to London on British Airways. BUT… they can only fly me to London via the US. And I’m not going into the US right now. I’m not easy about being in the airport in the US – I’m definitely not going to be in an airport on Election Eve in the US.. Nope. Not for me.

So I had to get a credit for that trip – and re-arrange my trip. I had a choice – X for a flight that changed in Toronto – and Y (X ++) to fly direct. I choose direct. I am not comfortable with going to any more airports than I need to.. No way.

Ok – so I choose Air Canada. My logic here was – it’s the national airline of Canada – no matter what they will get me home from London.. At least that’s the plan.

I had pre-checked in – which may or may not have helped because when I get to the check-in counter they ask for my COVID form for the UK.

Huh? What form?

Conveniently they have an OR code for me to scan that takes me right to the form – so I stand near the check-in desks to fill it in – Nope, I don’t know anyone with COVID. Nope, I don’t have a fever. Nope, I don’t have other symptoms, and Yes – I have a place to Quarantine when I get to London.

Form done – I go back to the counter – and the gal makes a scary statement – “Cutting it close aren’t you?” I immediately start to panic. I thought I’d have 2 hours to clear security and walk to the gate before it was time to board. Time to even include a bathroom stop. Now I’m upset and alarmed – I must have the time wrong – I’m going to be running.

I do the really old lady run (ok – don’t laugh – we can run, it’s just a very slow thing to watch) and get to the snaking line that goes to security. No surprise – it’s empty.

As will quickly become the norm here in the airport – there is more staff than customers in the security area. I breeze thru – well, except I forget that my watch is made of metal – which causes the bells on the metal scanner to go off. Take off watch, leave on counter, go back out, come back in – all clear. Sigh.

Now I need to get to my gate. For those unfamiliar with the Montreal Airport – there are 3 distinct sections. There’s the part that goes to the US (I’m not there), then there are the co-joined parts that go either to other parts of Canada or to other parts of the world. The issue here is that there’s US immigration here in Montreal – you effectively enter the US on Canadian soil – so that part is isolated.

I’m in the Canada and the rest of the World section – with the Canadian gates to my right – and far far far on the left – the World gates. Naturally – my gate is almost at the end of the far left section. Another long long ‘run’ dragging only my carry-on this time – but still – down an effectively empty concourse.

I reach my gate – and discover that the friendly check-in gal was thinking I was going to Paris – not the UK. Her time is short alarm was based on when the flight to Paris left – not when my flight departed. I do have the hour and more to wait that I’d figured on. But now I’m sweaty, I’m panicked, my stomach hurts – and there’s nothing open. I’m not walking back – so it’s find a seat far away from everyone else, recharge my phone and ipad – and wait….

Eventually – and on time I will admit – they load our flight. I’m counting passengers – and it looks like about 40-50. Given that this is one of those massive trans-ocean flights – seating upwards of 400 passengers- the flight will be empty. In fact – there are more staff than passengers. Not only is my entire row empty – so is the one in front and in back of me.

I’m very happy about that. Fewer people, less exposure.

The food is predictably lousy – a cold Eggplant Parmesan which would have been lovely heated, some kind of strange salad I couldn’t eat, and a too too rich piece of chocolate cake. No dinner for you dear!

Well – my husband kindly packed my grand-daughter’s Halloween treat bag gift – so I ate that, watched a movie, slept in a contoured position, and woke to the flight crew announcing that we were landing in London.

Cool – that was painless.

I’m all the way in the back of the plane – so to get off – it’s yet again with the drag the bag. And then there’s the forever long walk thru the empty terminal towards British Immigration.

Huge lines (where did all these people come from?) snake from the immigration booths towards me – and again I panic needlessly. I’m carrying a Canadian Passport with the seal that lets me use the electronic booths – and I’ve pre-filled in that form. I literally breeze past everyone else – walk up to an empty electronic booth – present my passport – and I’m in! Well – that was easy.

I find my suitcase, exit the secure part of the airport and drag myself, my suitcase, my carry-on, and my Montreal weight Winter Coat to my favourite first stop in London. Cafe Nero at the airport for a Late and a scone with Clotted Cream and Jam. Heaven on a plate! And they are open – and they have seating… And the seating is well spaced.

I’m a very happy camper.

Now I must wait for my daughter to arrive. My plane arrived at around 7:00 AM, I was out of the secure portion of the airport by 8:00 AM – and my daughter can only pick me up at 1:00 PM. I’m going to be hanging at Cafe Nero for a while.

But except for a group of airport employees on break that weren’t wearing masks and decided to cluster at a table near me (I picked up and left that seat) – I was fine. I found a comfy chair, put the cart with my luggage in front of me blocking anyone from coming to close – and I played bridge!

Eventually my daughter arrived – wearing a mask of course. As were most of the folks I saw. We exited the airport, loaded my suitcases into her car – and started the long (over 1.5 hour) drive back to her place. London traffic on the eve of a Lock-down is insane. But the rules are that I must go directly from the airport into lock-down, and we’re following the rules.

Our plan now – my daughter and her husband are joining me for the required 14 days of Quarantine. They have been shopping madly, and stocked up. Plus we can get delivery – no worries. So we’re going to hang out here in her tiny condo and try not to get on each other’s nerves or in each other’s way.

Signing off to finally sleep…. The Soup Lady

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 137 – Whales – I’m going to see Whales!


Well -hope I’m going to see whales.

This is going to be my second try – the first was in South Africa – and for those of you who read my blog regularly – that didn’t work out that well.

Actually – it worked out seriously badly. And my husband and I had one of our infrequent knock-down/take-out fights about the experience. Turned out that I had one agenda (see whales) and he had another (go to wineries). The highlight of that mis-adventure was the hotel (amazingly beautiful – with a private butler) and the dolphins. No whales.

But this time – I’m hoping for much much better results.

Because of COVID-19 – Canadians can’t travel into the US until late August at the earliest – and honestly – I’d be amazed if the border opens up before late September. So while we can fly to Europe, the Caribbean – actually anywhere except the US and Australia and New Zealand – effectively our travel is restricted to ‘Chez nous’. That’s French for Our House. And by that we mean within Quebec and minor excursions into Ontario.

So – I’m going to Whale Country.

There is a huge section of the St. Lawrence Seaway that is semi-salty – has ocean tides, and some seriously amazing geography. And the result is a version of Whale Heaven. Krill (a Norwegian word for Whale food) inhabit the lower temperature zone of the seaway in huge huge numbers. And the tidal shifts mean that twice a day those Krill are drawn up from the lower reaches into the warmer water.

Whale Buffet in the making.

There are 13 different types of whales that come into this part of the St. Lawrence between May and October – and the Bulgas make this area their year round home. The best time to visit of course is while the weather is warm, even hot. This doesn’t bother the whales of course – and it will make your time on the boats a lot more pleasant. It is definitely cold in a zodiac in the middle of the St. Lawrence – even in July!

We knew that Whale Watching Center was a place called Tadoussac, but honestly – that’s all we knew. I couldn’t even have found it on a map!

Looking back, I think a bit more research might have been in order because, while Tadoussac is of course the ‘Visitor Central’ – it’s a town completely devoted to tourism. It barely exists outside of the months of June, July, and August when tourists ‘flock’ to see the Whales.

I’m using the term ‘flock’ with a bit of a sarcastic grin. While there is little question that there are a lot of tourists in this tiny tiny town – this is a huge recreation area. Folks come to do a lot more than stare at whales. They hike, they bike, they climb the massive sand dunes, they fish, and they kayak. Boy do they ever Kayak.

Keep in mind that while Tadoussac is clearly ‘Tourist Central’ – it’s not like New York – or even Quebec City. It’s simply too hard to get here.

The drive from Montreal to Quebec City is a simple 3 hour jaunt on Super Highway – your pretty standard stuff. Once past Quebec City however, the coast road turns into a 4 lane snail trail thru not so picturesque towns that have sprung up to capture the tourist dollar. And the driving is tough – watch out for cars, trucks, bicycles, pedestrians and even strollers. Fun looking, not so fun for the driver.

As you get closer to Tadoussac, the towns do get cuter. Also smaller and more likely to be clustered around a cove.. old fishing villages that have seen the light – and it’s tourism.

We kept checking Google Maps – and suddenly realized that our road ended up at a ferry! Man I thought I had ferries turned off… wait a minute – I did have ferries turned off. Why am I headed for a ferry anyway?

Turns out that the ONLY way across the Saguenay Gorge when you are on the coast road is by car ferry. You want to go to Tadoussac by the coastal route – you are taking that ferry.

The good news – it’s huge, it’s COVID-19 friendly (even the bathrooms – thank goodness), and it’s free. And we hit it perfectly – no traffic to speak of, and they were just starting to load it up. So we followed the directions of the masked man in the yellow visibility vest – (Ok that sounds weird – but trust me – it’s the truth) and drove onto the ferry.

I immediately walked up the three flights of iron outside stairs to the ‘observation’ room – which was closed due to COVID – and lined up for the bathroom. Why, oh why, is there always a line-up for the ladies room.

The view was spectacular – and made me want to take a boat trip up the gorge – which it turns out is closed at this time of year to keep the whales safe.

Once across the Gorge, we were right at our lodging for the night – a cute little tourist lodging called Hotel Gagne. It featured breakfast, a room with an en-suite bathroom, and great reviews. It was on a large pond that fed into the Gorge, and while the view from our room (more on that later) wasn’t great – the location was perfect. 15 minutes walk from the marina and beach were the boats to go Whale watching could be found.

My husband had done the research on restaurants – and had our dining completely planned out.

I had done the research on whale watching (Ok- different priorities) and had picked out the smallest Zodiac Adventure with the highest ratings. And I’m glad I did. Called Tadoussac Adtremont (I kid you not) – these folks had just one zodiac – but it featured a plastic cover with large windows that you could move out of the way – and more importantly – comfortable re-cycled seats from a defunct airline.

According to their website – tourists were required to wear masks at all times – so that felt safe. It was also a lie. Once the boat got started, the Captain climbed into the driver’s seat on top of the plastic shell and out of sight of the tourists. And the family next to us immediately ditched their masks. Thanks.

However – we opened our window so the rather harsh breeze was blowing from us to them, and kept our faces looking outward. I think we will be ok.. I hope we’ll be ok. But I really want to see the whales, the family has 2 kids who are sitting next to me, and theoretically should be safer, and anyway – the boat has left land.. I’ll just be careful.

The long ride out to where the whales were playing was spent in comfort – sitting on cushy seats, and not holding on to a railing exposed to the rain and cold. Once at the site – we could move onto the back of the zodiac to get straight outdoor shots – the best view – or kneel in our seats to shoot over the heads of the other folks.

And we saw Whales! Several Minke swam past, at least 2 Bulgas – easy to spot with their white skin – and the highlight – an hour spent watching three Humpback Whales – a mom, a dad and a baby (only a few months old).

The baby of course was the best – diving, jumping, flapping his fin – doing all the whale stuff you see in movies.

The down side – and you should know this – is that whales in general are endangered, protected, and respected in Canada. So no going closer than 100 meters. This meant that the ability of your captain to predict the movement of the whales was key.. If they swim towards you – you get the best views! And our captain was an expert. We were perfectly positioned to get the best possible views.

And while I did the best I could with my iphone – a proper camera with a long lens and a motorized drive would be much better. But I didn’t come to take pictures – I came to see the whales.

It was great!

So now I’m checking Whale Watching off my bucket list. I’m finally able to say – yes – I’ve seen whales..

Signing off to work on her next blog – The Soup Lady

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