On the road again – this time we’re bound for Scotland


We leave Liz’s place with much sadness – we had a wonderful time at her house – and we loved York. I’m not sure how Edinburgh and Glasgow can possibly compete – but I guess we shall find out.

We retrace our route to the train station, and as is traditional – arrive too early. Never mind – I shall have a latte while we wait.

We board the train – and again watch the scenery fly by as we head North. Wait a minute – we’re not heading North. My head is pretty sure of this – and when I check on the compass I have on my iphone – it agrees. We’re heading West. Why would anyone want to go West to end up North?

Looking hard at the maps – and thinking about the geography of the UK – I realize that the island of Great Britian doesn’t actually run North South – it’s slanted a bit towards the West. And York is not in the middle of the island – it’s actually quite close to the Eastern Beaches. So the train is heading away from the beaches before the track curves northward.

Whew. We really did want to get to Edinburgh tonight.

The scenery is pretty much the same as it was on our way from Manchester. No dry stone fences, lots of sheep and cow herds, and the occasional horse or three. After about 2 hours, we actually find ourselves running alongside the North Sea. Lighthouses, beaches – and the occasionally cement block house left from WWII – dot the sea side. Sometimes the cliffs plunge off directly into the sea, other times the land takes a gradual slope seaward – but this is an island – and finally – after 4 weeks of touring – we’re seeing the proof.

In Edinburgh, we are once again greeted by a monster of a train station – lofty glass roof and steel ribs clearly label it ‘Victorian’. They were really, really good builders for sure.

We get our luggage off the train (just a bit of help required this time), and find a lift, find an exit, and start walking towards our Air BnB lodging. Isaac and Derek have been emailing and messaging us non-stop – they want to be sure to be home when we arrive to make sure we have no issues with the keys. They also know that we are going to need help up the steps. Good thing they made sure to greet us – their over-the-top, most amazingly beautiful home is a giagantic flat in an A listed building dating over 230 years ago. And it’s up 3 very tight flights in a very small and very narrow spiral staircase. But Isaac grabs one case in one hand, one case in the other – and without stopping for breath fairly runs our cases up to the flat.

Wow. Oh Wow. Seriously Wow. No – really. Wow.

I’m speechless just walking into the entrance hall. This place is glorious.

Later in the evening, Derek explains the limits that being in an A listed building puts on a renovation – but right now – we are just simply stunned. The entrance hall is larger than my daughter’s flat in London. The bathroom (just for us – no sharing) is huge as well – and the ceilings seem to go up forever. We estimate them at 18 feet high, based on Isaac’s height of 6’4″. We’ve never seen spaces like this in the UK outside of palaces.

Isaac shows us our room, explains how the locks work – and excuses himself. He needs to go back to work – but he will be home tonight to make us welcome.

We quickly shop for dinner at the nearby Tesco’s – and then try to locate the Roman Catholic Cathedral. We know it’s here – it appears on both our map and on ‘Maps’ on my iphone, but we can’t spot it.

How do you hide a Cathedral in plain sight?

Well – it turns out that it is hidden on purpose. Religious freedom in the UK in general, and Scotland in particular has never been guaranteed – and at the time that the Cathedral was first built – Catholics were on the out. So the founder of the Cathedral squeezed it in on an anglular corner, squished between two houses and a series of shops. Today the Cathedral is much much larger – but it is still slightly angled to the street – and thus is only obvious from very certain viewing angles. Interesting stuff, eh?

Once we’ve gotten the basics out of the way, we decide to ride the tram and the bus to the Royal Mile, the ‘high street’ of ‘Old Town’ Edinbough. Our lodging is in ‘New Town’, built starting in 1750 – ‘Old Town’ dates back to Medieval days and there are parts of the Edinbough Castle that date back to 1000 AD. Of course, this location has been occupied for much longer, but much of it was originally built of wood – and Henry VIII wasn’t a fan of Scotland after they refused to allow his 2 year old niece Mary, Queen of Scots to marry his recently born son, Edward. The nerve of those Scots! So he invaded 3 times (refered to here as the ‘Rough Wooing’) – twice burning Edinbough to the ground – and leaving frustrated the 3rd time because the town folk had finally made their houses of stone.

We admire the beauty of Princess Gardens (former location of the sewer of Edinburgh as we will find out), and wander up the Royal Mile a bit. We check out St. Giles Cathedral (Church of Scotland) and luck into a story-teller in the Chapel of the Knights of the Royal Thistle. He entertains us by pointing out some of the more interesting wood carvings (Angels playing bagpipes among them), and explains in great length the details in the royal seal.

After learning about the Order of the Royal Thistle, we wander back out of the Cathedral and explore ‘Old Town’. We walk down one close, up another, visit the ‘Grass Market’ where cows and sheep were once sold, and finally quit for the day by catching a bus heading back towards Princess Street.

Everywhere you turn in the touristy parts there are Tartans for sale of all colors and prices, and the war like sound of pipers fills the air. It’s a beautifully warm day – hot almost – and the folks of Edinbough are taking full advantage of the high latitude (at 56 degrees – it’s light until almost 10:00 PM). Folks are picnicking on every grassy spot we can see.

Isaac and Derek’s place is perfectly located. Right at a tram stop, right across from the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and within easy walking distance of a nice sized grocery store. Color us happy. You can get almost anywhere in Edinburgh without getting wet!

We hike back up the 3 flights, and make ourselves a lovely dinner. Isaac arrives home – followed soon after by Derek (only 6’3″ tall) – and they invite us to join them in the living room. It’s another glorious space – huge paintings are carefully selected to suit the space – and the massive windows have shutters flung open so that the air and the view is easy to enjoy.

We sit and chat, and chat and sit – and suddenly realize it’s almost midnight. Conversation has flowed so easily, and so naturally – it’s a shock to realize it is so late.

Of great interest to us are Derek’s challenges with doing their renovation. The rules for A listed buildings (their’s is over 218 years old – for sure. Derek has looked up all the previous owners – and there are many) are complex – and unbendable. You can not touch any existing wall if the original moldings are still evident. Which means that the only rooms they could touch were the bathrooms (there are 2 – one upstairs for their use, one downstairs for our use), and the kitchen. So the kitchen is completely modern as per Isaac’s desire. They were able to put a gas fired insert into the main (huge) fireplace in the living room – and they could also replace the old radiators with new ones that fit better into their color and design scheme. I’ll bet they work better too.

They were also able to add ceiling roses and replace ceiling lighting fixtures. And of course all the electrical had to be torn out and replaced – but without damaging the walls too much please!

There are fireplaces in every room – including their double sized bedroom with it’s view over the Firth of Forth, and even one in our ‘guest’ room. The shower in our bathroom is our idea of heaven – a rain shower, and a shower wand. And large enough for two. One note – our hosts are very very tall – and everything is sized to suit them. So we have to stand on tippy toes to reach the sink in our bathroom, and can only get things off the bottom most shelves in the kitchen. Good thing the guys are so happy to help out! I think they think it’s pretty funny.

They have been working on this project for all 7 years that they have been living in Edinbough, and only deemed it mostly finished in Feburary.

Georgian heaven with a modern twist. Stunning.

We say goodnight – and upon advice from our hosts – shut the shutters. At this elevation, the sun (and most of the inhabitants apparently) get up very early.

Signing off amazed that we lucked into such a beautiful Air BnB – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Getting down and dirty in Birmingham


Birmingham is definitely not on most tourists hot lists. In fact – when we’ve told folks we were headed this way after our visit to Oxford – they were either surprised, stunned, or bewildered. Why would anyone want to visit dirty old Birmingham? It’s not known for anything really – except being the center of Industry for the UK.

But we’re museum buffs – and there are two noteworthy museums in Birmingham. The National Trust Back to Back Houses were on the very tip top of our list of places to see – and the reviews of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with it’s huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings sounded intriguing. So we planned to hop a bus from Oxford and spend 1 day, 2 nights in this under visited part of the UK.

But first we must start at Lovely Lucy’s in Oxford. Our charming hostess bids us good morning and runs out leaving us to fend for ourselves. Breakfast finished, bags packed, and Lucy’s doors locked and the keys put in her post slot – we are off to repeat the walk back to the bus station in Oxford. It goes much much easier this time – there is simply nothing like knowing your way around to make dragging suitcases easier.

I pop in for a quick coffee at a lovely shop called Coco Loco. It’s claim to fame is it’s view of Christ Church Collage – and a lovely view it is too. Suitably coffee’d up – we drag ourselves to the bus station, guided by ‘Maps’ on my iphone. Surprisingly – it directs us into a square that has been taken over by a lively silver market – and while The Intrepid Traveler stays with the luggage – I do a quick round of shopping – finding a delightful buy in a Salt, Pepper and Mustard Silver Plated Service set. Perfect. I have little time to haggle – the bus is leaving – so I make the gal an offer – she accepts – and the service is mine.

Back to Jill who is patiently waiting by the bus driver who has already loaded up our suitcases! I have time to sit down – and we’re off. Our bus quickly gets out of the traffic jam that is Oxford – and soon enough we are driving hell-bent for leather thru the lovely British country-side.

I’m going to tell you now that there is apparently no auto-route from Oxford to Birmingham – at least no auto-route that we North Americans would consider an auto-route. We drove thru village after village – even passing quickly thru Stratford-upon-Avon – on our way. Green fields with sheep dotted on the hillsides like musical scores rolling by, puncuated by traditional british farmsteds. Nary a high-rise, nor glass enclosed modern structure to be seen.

So my first question – do they have rules about what kinds of houses can be built? Or does no one here like ‘modern’ design outside of the big cities – where modern is the go to option? But rules or no rules – there were no modern houses.

And not that much traffic either! Perhaps that’s why our driver chose back roads, but it did make for a very British riding experience.

Eventually we arrived in Birmingham, and at first look the concerns of all the folks we chatted with seemed very valid. The bus station was lovely and modern, but once you crossed that threshold you were plunged into the Bull Ring Market. There’s been a market on this site since Medieval days – and they have the archeology to prove it. The Market was a buzz of activity – one section devoted to fruits, vegetables, eggs of all sizes and to meat, another to the giant ‘Rag Market’ – which sold all kinds of objects – not just ‘rags’, although the cloth merchants were in great number.

What surprised us most was the very different look of the folks wandering the market. In London it was rare to see a hijab, let alone a woman in a Burka. But here – it was almost the norm. And they were young ladies pushing strollers, tugging on the hands of toddlers, and using cell phones. I was reminded – in a good way – of Istanbul. Anything goes, but modesty prevails.

And the street meat prices were so much lower! We enjoyed a lamb kabab, 3 skewers with salad and Nan for just 4 GBP. Definitely on our budget.

Refreshed, we tried to find our lodgings. Birmingham is a city of layers – there are under roadways and upper roadways – and the map you get for free at the tourist bureau doesn’t really have a chance of making this spaghetti easy to naviagate. In fact – they even call this area ‘Spaghetti’. Fortunately – there are traffic folks easily visible, and one of them took time to slowly explain exactly how to get where we were going.

She just forgot to mention one tiny thing. It was up a Steep Hill.

We dragged ourselves past industrial buildings, closed and deserted storefronts, and the occasional homeless asleep on the street to Holloway Circus. This is a giant round-about – under construction. So detour signs for drivers and pedestrians abounded. We navigated this hurdle, and slowly make our way up, and up, and up till we found the “Peace Garden”. This is a garden built on the remains of a church bombed out during WWII, and where our lodging was located.

Relying on the kindness of strangers, we find the conceirge, get the key – and examine our new lodging.

It’s designer minimalist. A two bedroom, two bathroom flat we’ll be sharing with out host – furnished with a combination of Ikea functionality and high design. The airplane coffee table is not terribly useful – but as our host expalins – reflects his passion for high adrenaline sports – from skydiving to road racing.

Floor to Ceiling windows form all the walls on the ‘view’ side of the condo – there are no windows on the other 3 walls. But the view is spectacular. We’re on the 6th floor – overlooking the “Peace Garden” and the city scape. At night, with the city lights aglow – it’s a stunner.

Our host, Sameer, is a charming young man (ok – not so young – probably in his mid thirties) who works for Jaguar in the marketing department, owns 5 fancy cars, another flat in London, and land in India. He’s elegant, well spoken, and fascinating. In our conversation – I ask him why he’d want BnB guests – and he admits – it’s for the chance to meet interesting people. Isnt’ that sweet? We chat over wine and dinner before he annouces that he must work tonight. He works, we sleep – tomorrow will be a busy day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

‘Old School Rodeo’ – Go Steers Go!


or – 95th Inter-Tribal Ceremonial – Day 2

Oops – turns out that Saturday night is the end of the Ceremonial – everyone except the Cowboys have packed up and gone home. So there’s nothing to watch but an ‘Old School’ Rodeo. Which – given that we came to Gallop to see Cowboys and Indians (sorry – so not PC) – isn’t really such a bad thing. So we find our shade sharing friends (whew) and settle in to watch day 2 of the Rodeo.

Actually – this is really day 5 – but we didn’t know that. So most of the top performers have gone home with the Indians. We are left with kids, clowns, and some teams that just won’t quit. But given our knowledge of Rodeo, and given that we were cheering for the Bulls yesterday – this will still work for us!

First up – kids riding wild sheep. Ok – I know you are thinking – really? But it’s true. The little kids (we’re talking top age of maybe 8) get to ‘wild ride’ a sheep. And trust me, the sheep are really not much more interested in having a rider than the broncos – but the broncos buck – sheep just stop and stare at the crowd. Never mind – the kids are a delight to watch – they hold up their free hand in an adorable replica of the way their Dads did yesterday – and one very brave kid tries to ‘spur’ the sheep on. To which insult the sheep reacts by immediately throwing him.

Then there’s the ‘Rescue’. One member of the team stands on a barrel while the other member of the team rides across the ring, hoists them onto the horse, and then gallops madly back to the ‘finish’ line. The top team was a father/daughter combo – the kid was maybe 8 – and small – and the dad just hoisted her up, swung her over the back of his saddle and then rode madly across the finish line with one arm wrapped around her for safety. Sophie was wild about this event, and wanted to know if Grandpa would try it with her.

Sadly – no.

Another super fun to watch event challenged teams of 3 cowboys to saddle and ride a wild horse around a barrel at the far end of the ring. This is a LOT harder than you can imagine. The horses want nothing to do with someone putting a saddle on their backs, so the cowboys have to start by getting the horses to lie down. There’s not a lot of time for being nice either – this is a drag out contest between 3 cowboys and a very mad horse! Only two teams manage to get the saddle on their assigned horse – and of those, one horse managed to throw the rider. So 1 winner, 4 losers – and life goes on!

Highlight you ask? The one-armed bandit. This is a cowboy with – tada – one arm – who has trained his long horn steers to – on command – run up onto the top of a trailer truck! Seriously – how do you think he managed to do that? His horse was also fabulously trained – he not only jumped to the top of the trailer – he allowed the ‘bandit’ to stand up on the saddle and fire his gun! With the steers mildly looking on as if to say – happens every day! He was so good that Victor had to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance when we ran into later that evening.

Other events included trying to ride a Bison, Cowgirl barrel racing, and team steer roping. More often than not – the winners were the Bison, the barrels and the steers! But a good time was had by almost everyone – I’m not sure that the cowboy that got thrown off the Bison – hard – had the best day ever.

We ended the day trying – once again – to eat dinner in Gallop. Turns out that all the Mexican restaurants close on Sunday night – leaving us with limited choices. So we checked out the El Rancho Hotel and Restaurant. It’s rated #5 in Gallop – which gives you a really good idea of how inspiring the food in this town has turned out to be. The El Rancho is old – seriously old – it’s been sitting on Route 66, living on it’s oh so famous history from 50 years ago for – well 50 years. I think some of the trip advisor reviews might date from back then. But it was open – and willing to feed us – and there weren’t that many options.

I spent some time looking around the hotel – which would profit greatly from a visit from the crew of Hotel Impossible, and then ate dinner in the restaurant. Too much food, served fairly quickly by an impatient wait staff pretty much sums it up. I can’t really recommend the food – except to say it solved the dinner problem, and I didn’t get sick.

We headed out towards Route 264 – which is pretty much a straight shot thru Navajo and Hopi Territory – ending at Tuba City. Our goal was the oh so beautiful Moenkopi Legacy Hotel. Why? It had a pool – and Sophie had been promised a pool morning. We knew we’d be arriving late – but our plan was just to hang the next morning – and then head on out to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We’d be changing time zones madly. New Mexico does Day Light Savings – so we left Gallop at 7:00 PM. A few minutes later, we crossed into Arizona, which does not do Day Light Savings – it became 6:15 PM. Then we hit Navajo territory – it’s 7:30 PM. About an hour later, we hit Hopi Territory – and it was also 7:30 PM. Finally we arrived at our hotel – and we were back in Navajo territory – and back in Day Light savings time.

Other than time zone changes – there’s nothing exciting to report on this part of our trip. The road was beautifully maintained, the sky was filled with an almost full moon – and we simply drove in tandam thru miles and miles and miles of barely inhabited country. One of my friends had given me several books and tape – and they made the drive pass by quickly. Soon enough we were at the Moenkopi – bedded down for the night.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Miami in a Nutshell – Spring 2016


I’m not a fan of Miami – what is my problem?

In theory – it would seem that I’d really like Miami – at least the Miami Beach part of Miami. And I’ve had some good times there.

We just spent one of the best days ever – just hanging at the beach under an umbrella, reading a good book and ignoring the world. There were even Beach Boys if I’d wanted to order something silly in a plastic cup – say with Rum in it. And certainly the water was beautiful, and the beach was deep rich sand – and the sun was warm, the breezes soft, the feelings mellow.

What possibly could be my problem?

I can’t fault the hotel – we stayed in the Grand Beach Hotel in Surfside. It’s an up and coming area of Miami – north of the ‘strip’, but sharing most of the amenities – white sand, warm water, and very fancy hotels. The Grand Beach was very cool, very modern, very contempory. Nothing says money like people pulling up to valet parking driving Lamberginis, Porches, and Audis. The lobby was stunning in it’s starkness – although the faux library really turned me off. An entire section of the lobby area – over 3 floors high – was fashioned like a library – except the books were all spray-painted beige to go with the mellow color pallet – and were clearly not meant to be books – they were ‘art’.

The hotel offered two pool areas – the main pool area that ‘overlooked’ the beach, although you couldn’t actually see the beach because inbetween the double pools and double hot tubs was an area of landscaped palms and sand paths, leading to the ‘Surfside’ walking/biking/jogging path. This was at the lowest point – it was ‘uphill’ from there to get to the beach itself. The other pool was on the roof – and was surrounded by tall glass panels to keep out the breezes – which I’m guessing might be cool most of high season. Since we were here in May – they were warm and pleasant, but still it was nice to have some protection since we were up over 12 stories high.

My favorite part – aside from our room – was the restaurant. Simply called “The Restaurant” it offered – for Miami Beach – reasonably priced meal options. The reason for my clear enjoyment of this location – the split nature of the restaurant. About 2/3 of the seating was inside – and 1/3 was outside – either on a covered patio, or nestled among the palm trees on sand. Winner – a clear winner. And the staff was wonderfully pleasant as well.

Our room was a corner room – and featured windows (that didn’t open) on 2 sides. Our view was the next building from most of the windows, but our view from the wrap around balcony was actually really nice. To the West (Sunset), we overlooked the town of Surfside – an older communitity that is yet to be fully gentrified. So the buildings were low, the streets narrow, and the roof tops intriguing. We spent some time just sitting on the balcony – watching Surfside slowly – very slowly – settle down for the night.

The room was set-up quite differently from any other hotel room I’ve ever been in. Like most hotel rooms – it was long and thin, but instead of two beds – it had a king bed near the sliding glass doors to the balcony, then a huge full sized bathroom with a giant walk-in shower, then a sofa facing a huge TV (there were 2 TVs in the room – one to watch while in bed, one to watch sitting on the sofa. And here’s the oddest part – a 2nd bathroom. The 2nd bathroom featured a nice sized shower (glass walled of course), a toilet, and one of the smallest sinks I’ve ever seen. Before you start thinking we had a suite – we didn’t! This was a standard sized room. We didn’t get to peak into a suite – but I did look into other rooms – and they were similar – although some of the balconies I could see had not only 2 or 3 chairs and a table – but also a hot tub and a palm tree.

The number of staff was simply inspiring. There was staff – lots of staff – everywhere. And they were very friendly. Not fake friendly either – there was a delightful honesty to everyone I talked to – from the grand-mother making the waffles, to the young man from the Ukranie who served us breakfast. These were nice people.

So why don’t I like Miami?

For starters – I’m not a fan of the weather. Generally it’s either unseasonably cold, unbareably hot, or incredibly muggy. And the AC is always, always too cold. Setting a room temp to 65 when outside it is 90 is just insane.

2nd – it’s insanely expensive in the nice places, and kinda ratty in the not so nice places. I tend to have trouble finding the inbetween stuff – if it’s been gentrified, it’s astronomically expensive, and if its not gentrified, it’s scary.

There seems less and less middle ground every time I come to this area of the world.

Using our GPS – we drove around several different sections of the city – either on our way to the airport, to a restaurant, or to the hotel. We saw massive brand new hotels being built with 4 floor high water walls, and we passed trailer parks with trailer crowded so tightly together that there was barely space to walk between them. There were signs of the times – “We buy your home – no matter the condition”, “Been hit – call us first”, “Try your hand a shooting a machine gun at Lock and Load gun range”, or “Lottery – 135 Million”. At the beach, there were toned and shaped bodies in string bikinis – and religious women swimming in the ocean while dressed from head to toe. Miami is certainly a mixed bag – and that never makes me feel comfortable. I’m much happier in places where everyone seems to share the good times – not hog them.

But it’s hard to deny that it’s fun to just mellow out on a beach.

So – that’s Miami from me in a nutshell. Signing off – The Soup Lady

A tale of 3 Hospitals – Canada Medical vs US Medical – a winner is declared


We talk a lot here in Canada about our medical system – how long it takes to be seen, how inexpensive it is compared to the US version, how our doctors compare. But until push comes to shove – it’s all highly theortical.

I have been lucky – or unlucky depending on how you see it – to be up close and personal with 3 – count’m 3 – hospitals in the last 4 weeks. Which is about 3 hospitals more than I normally see in a year! So I feel uniquely qualifed to pontificate on how an unwitting participant in the medical world feels about the going on’s.

My first hospital was St. Mary’s – here in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I’d always heard really good things about St. Mary’s – so when my husband was scheduled to have his full hip replacement there – I was pleased. Then we found out that cut-backs at St. Mary’s resulted in the death of a man taken there – incorrectly it turns out – instead of to the new ‘Glen Site’ hospital. Unknown to the amulance folks, St. Mary’s had had it’s ability to perform vasculary surgery taken away. So despite the fact that a surgeon capable of doing the work was standing in the emergency room when the amulance drove up – the patient was sent on. And he died.

oops.

No one was all that happy of course – but consider the point of view of scheduled patient. What happens if something goes wrong with my surgery – and I need that specialty. Do they take me out of the operating room and transport me to the other hospital? Yikes.

But my husband is the braver of the two of us – and he really seriously wanted his hip done and the pain gone. Plus he liked his doctor. So St. Mary’s it was.

The whole thing flowed perfectly. We arrived on a Friday morning at 6:30 AM – and parked right across from the front door. We signed in, went up to pre-op – and my husband walked himself into the closed pre-pre-op room. Next time I’d see him would be in his room on the 6th floor. (also the top floor – if you are counting.).

I sat in the small coffee shop (not the most comfy seats in the world, but the food was reasonable and not too $$), did email and got nervous, until it was time to go upstairs. The 6th floor is divided into 3 sections. The orthopedic wing where my husband would be, the general surgical wing, and of all things – the Kidney Dialysis section. Naturally – that section was only in use during the week. On the weekends – it’s was closed up tight. In fact – the entire hospital was very quiet on the weekend.

But the doctor came by Friday after his surgeries were fiinished, and again twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. So we didn’t lack for opportunity to ask him detailed and proably pretty annoying questions.

Most of the rooms on the 6th floor are doubles – and although my husband asked for a private room – he was quite clearly informed that he’d be sharing. The private rooms were being held for patients that required isolation for some reason – and he clearly did not. Opposite his bed was a ‘white’ board that held various symbols – and as his ability to move freely improved, different symbols were circled to clearly indicate what he was considered capable of doing – only stay in bed, get out of bed with 2 helpers, get out of bed with one helper, get out of bed on his own.

Missing from the board were the names of his nurses – and since they were constantly changing – it would have been really handy had they been recorded there. Because it was the weekend – every shift he had someone new, and I never really caught their names, although a very accomplished nurse from the Philipines stood out.

His roommate was a bit of a sad case. An older woman in the early stages of dementia, she had fallen and broken her hip – which is what had brought her to the hospital 2 days before my husband’s arrival. But in her case – she still required significant help to get out of bed. She often clearly knew where she was and why – but then would suddenly become highly confused and bewildered. We gave her the flowers one of our visitors brought on the day we left – and her graditude was heart-wrencing.

In the 3 days we were there – only once did she have a visitor – her son showed up on Saturday night for an hour. He brought her a deck of cards – and it wasn’t until mid-day on Sunday that she unwrapped them – before that she proudly showed all the staff that he’d spent a whole $6 to get them for her.

On friday – the halls of the 6th floor were crowded with patients, food carts, linen carts, laundry recepticals. By Friday night, everything was cleaned up for the weekend, and the halls were relatively empty. Plenty of room to walk – and walk we did. On Saturday, my husband was allowed his first walk, on Sunday he was climbing stairs and wandering down to the lower floors of the hospital, and on Monday we checked out. Daily parking charge – $15.

This would have been plenty of medical for me – but on Easter weekend my mother-in-law, who spends the winters in Florida, suddenly became ill. I rushed down to Florida from Montreal on Sunday – flying all day to arrive in the hospital after closing hours.

She had been taken to the Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach – and what a hospital it is. Wow. Double Wow. Even closed up tight it was impressive. The lobby looked like a 5 star hotel, marble floors, high arching ceilings, and scrolls honoring donors decorating the walls. One section for donors of over a million dollars, a 2nd section for donor of over $500,000 – and a third much larger, but with much smaller type – for those who donated over $250,000. It felt like a very fancy theatre – albeit a bit medicianal. Daily parking charge – Free.

We had to walk around thru the Emergency section to get into the hospital proper, and we were immediatly shown to the elevators that wisked us up to the 4th – and top – floor. Unlike St. Mary’s – most of the rooms were private – with only a few with double occupancy. My mother-in-law had a room to herself – large enough to hold her bed, a bed for me, 2 visitor chairs, plus a reclining chair for her use. Her bathroom was as large as mine at home – and featured a full walk in shower in addition to the requsite toilet and sink. There was a stack of clean towels and wash cloths for her use, plus back-up clean hospital gowns. And of course a bit of storage.

The most remarkable things were in the technology area. Everything that could be done using a computer or a cell phone or an ipad was done using technology. When the doctors came in on rounds – they consulted their ipads. When the nurse finished changing an IV bag – she turned around and used the computer terminal (flat screen monitor of course) in the room. The work room for the doctors (yes – I peeked in) had computer stations. The Charge Nurse had a private room with lovely dark wood furniture. The nurse’s station was manned 24/7 – and the nurses never seemed to go on break.

On the wall opposite my mother-in-laws bed was a clearly visible white board with the names – and cell phone numbers – of her nurse, her charge nurse, and her PA (Patient Assistant). Every staff member had a cell phone – and every patient had a cell phone enabled hand held key pad to control the lights in the room, the bed position, and to call the nurse. No pressing a button and hoping someone responses. You called your nurse – who answered immediately – letting you know where she was – and when she’d be able to be by your side. If she couldn’t react fast enough – she’d call the orderly (I sit corrected – PA).

The IV’s were all dispensed by electronic dispensing equipment that monitored flow, and sent a beeping signal directly to a large display board opposite the nurses station. On the display board was the name of the patient, their doctor, their status, discharge notice if known, information from the IV equipment, and if the patient had pressed their call button – that information was also displayed. I was very impressed.

A bit like St. Mary’s – the 4th floor was cleanly divided into two sections, each with it’s own nurses station – the oncology and gastro section where my mother-in-law was located, and a much quieter, much calmer section clearly labeled as Hospice. Since my mother-in-law was doing a lot of walking to try and help what was ailing her – I got to see the 4th floor quite a bit. And even on Monday – the halls were kept clear and open. There was a place for everything – and everything was in it’s place.

The same could be said about St. Mary’s – it is just that some of the places were overflowing – and at the Bethesada – there was tons of room everywhere.

On the bad news side – we quite quickly ran into insurance challenges. The canadian based health insurance of my mother-in-law refused to pay the price of surgery at the Bethseda. Instead – they insisted that she be flown by air ambulance back to Montreal.

Consider for a minute what that says about the cost of the surgery at Bethseda. It was CHEAPER to use a small airplane, a pilot and a co-pilot, a special ambulance, and two medical professionals to fly my mother-in-law home (a 5 hour flight each way) – than it was to do the surgery in the US.

That’s seriously scary stuff you know.

Anyway – 24 hours after I arrived, my mother-in-law was taken by stretcher down to a special ambulance. There was an official transfer of information, the sweet folks at Bethseda being careful to be sure that the medical folks from the air ambulance people knew everything that they knew about my mother-in-law. Eventually the ambulance drove with my mother-in-law and the 2 medical techs to the airport in Fort Launderdale – and from there they flew to Montreal. Waiting for her in Montreal was another ambulance – which took her and the 2 medical techs to the General. The staff there was expecting her – and she was wisked into her private room there. The 2 medical techs flew home of course – so a total of 12 hours of travel time to save the cost of 1 small simple operation in the US.

In the space of that 6 hour (one way) trip – my mother-in-law went from 2016 modern to 1935 circa halls, walls, and patient facilities. The Montreal General is a huge – and very old hospital. There are banks of elevators – some of which only go to the 6th floor – other’s of which go all the way up to the 19th floor. My mother-in-laws room (better described as a large closet) – was on the 18th floor. Again – the floor was divided into two wings – only one nurses desk served both sides. The most remarkable difference – aside from the drastic room size reduction – was the amount of stuff in the halls.

There is clearly no storage anywhere in the General. I say this because there was stuff everywhere. Dirty linen, Clean linen, Walkers, Crutches, food carts, stands for holding bags for holding dirty linen and dirty paper gowns, you name it – it was in the halls. What there wasn’t in the halls were visitor chairs. Rumor has it that there were visitor chairs in a ‘sunroom’ located at the far end of the hall – but the same rumor said that the chairs were bolted into place to prevent visitors from moving them. The windows were cracked and dirty – and held together by duct tape. Prominent everywhere were hand wash stations. The amount of hand sanitizer used in a day must be enough to float a large battle ship.

Unlike my husband, my mother-in-law had a private room – just barely large enough to hold her bed. I sat on the narrow window sill when I went to visit, and other visitors had to share her bed, her one visitor chair, or a step-stool. IV drips were controlled by old fashioned plastic rotary clips – no electronics in sight.

To get a nurse – you pressed a red button. If you were lucky – and often you were not – a disembodied voice would boom over the speaker – asking what you needed and promising to let the nurse know. The bathroom had no shower of course – it barely had room for a sink and a toilet.

I will however admit that the floors were generally cleaned – although unlike at the Bethseda – I never actually saw a cleaning person.

But it’s not about the looks of the room, or the window, or the halls- it’s about the care. And while the nurses were much more scare, and I never did see a PA (Patient assistant) – the ones I did see treated my mother-in-law with respect and care.

The staff ran tests all day on Tuesday, and then decided to operate on Tuesday night. They did not find a blockage, but they did find a small tear with they repaired, and they could see where issues might have been that caused the problem.

She is now on the road to recovery – although she is still being held hostage in the hospital. Until something moves – she’s at the mercy of the hospital staff at the Montreal General. But the news is getting better and better every day – and today – Monday – she positively sounded bouncy.

So ends my tale of 3 hospitals. If money is no object – I choose the Bethesda. If money matters – then St. Mary’s is a clear winner. If I never return to the Montreal General – that will be soon enough.

Signing off to tell all her loved ones that she loves them (you might also want to do it now!) – the soup lady.

Happy New Year from the Montreal Madame – 2015 in review


My Blogging Year in Review – as created by Word Press.

Some key stats – I was good at posting in the spring while I was in Russia, Berlin and Brussels – and I was good at posting when I was in London. Not so good the rest of the year. (Oh well – goal for next year – be more consistent!)

Thanks for reading – thanks for being my audience. And most importantly – Happy New Year to all!

The Soup Lady

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Going to the Dogs – or The Dog Days of London


There are few, if any, stray cats in London – the foxes (read my blog later this week) seem to be keeping the cat population well under control – but there are tons and tons of dogs.

When you spend hour after hour standing in a market stall – both at an urban market like Fenchurch Station, and at a neighborhood market like Alexander Palance – you see a lot of people with their constant companions – their dogs!

There are big ones, little ones – ones with jackets – one in a bling covered suit – and one in a full wool sweater, including sleeves on all 4 legs. There are Whippets that look as if they have been rung in the washer for way too long – their fur is soft, but matted to their skin as if it weighs too much to every stand up.

There are tiny little dogs – all of whom seem to sport jackets and coats – and trust me – by Montreal standards – it’s not that cold – even for a small dog. There are long haired and short haired Dachounds – mostly minitures but very cute. I’ve seen countless Jack Russels – and tons of Pugs. What’s interesting about the Pugs are they are huge. Much bigger than the Pugs I’ve spotted in North America – and literally the size of my stuffed Pug that I carry when I’m playing the role of Lady Bertrum from Mansfield Park.

I’ve seen big dogs too – nothing as large as a Newfoundland – but German Sheperds and various kinds of Sheep Dogs abound. There was just one Greyhound – a rescue dog was what I was told. There was even a dog on the train!

Only one stall in the market was selling dog treats – but I’d guess that “going to the dogs” in London is probably not a bad plan if your goal is to make money!

One other observation – most if not all the dogs were leashed. Not the casual leashing of American and Canadian Dog lovers – but a proper harness with a proper leash. And there are rubbish bins clearly marked for dog waste on most corners. In fact often it was easier to find a rubbish bin for doggy-do then for your paper cup of coffee.

Back to the breed identification list – yes I’ve seen the Queen’s dogs – Welsh Corgies, all breed from the one she was given when she was 18. Sounds a bit like in-breeding to me. According to Jan, since she doesn’t want them to miss her when she dies – she’s no longer getting new ones. Now that’s an odd British fact if ever I heard one.

Just one more doggie comment – the gal that was in charge of one of the markets we attended very proudly showed me pictures of her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. So having a ‘bred’ dog is not as classed based as I had assumed – it must be a British Tradition.

Signing off to look up dog breeds – in case looking turns to buying
The Soup Lady

Formally Yours from Austerlitz


Another overcast, cold and damp day in the Czech Republic. One is again reminded of the importance of the Sun of Austerlitz – without which Napoleon and the Grande Armee would have been fighting blind.

We are scheduled to attend a cermony at the Peace Memorial in Parce – one of the dozen villages that lie scattered around the still existing battle field of Austerlitz. About 45,000 men, (9,000 of them French, 36,000 Allies) and over 15,000 horses died on these fields in December 1805. There is an extremely toucing monument to the dead horses hidden behind the Stara Posta where we’ve been eating dinner, The Peace Memorial honors the fallen men – and is one of the few that I think is completely fitting to their memories. The setting is a huge park – the top of which is crowned by a low building topped by a tall column. Under the column is a fairly large Memorial chamber, one that will be important later today. Behind the memorial is a small museum dedicated to Napoleon.

For now – we gather at the bottom of the hill in Parce, a tiny Czech village with traditional homes and narrow winding streets. We prepare to march out together to do the 2km walk up the hill to the memorial. Victor joins the ranks of the flag bearers at the head of the parade – there are the flags of 12 different regiments, proudly organized to make the march.

Unfortunately, we do not have a drummer – so the troop must chant the pace to keep us all in step. The doctors fall in behind the troops – there are 4 of us – Boris Nezbada from the Czech Republic, another aide-Major Ivana Patráková dressed like me in light blue, and a very young ‘Pharmacist’ from the Corps Medical. He looks very dashing in his knee breaches and high white socks, but I immediately think – bet he’s going to be very cold. The 4 of us form up to follow our troop up the hill to the base of the Monument.

In the park like setting of the Peace Memorial, the Elite Gendarmes have used ‘danger’ tape to creat a main section for us – and areas to the left and right for the considerable audience. There are about 500 re-enactors at the ceremoney (quite a bit down from the 2000 that participated in yeserday’s battle – but still considerable) – and the Imerial Garde’s Drum and Fife Corps, complete with a very flamboyant Drum Major.

Not surprisingly – the speeches are all in Czech – so that’s pretty boring, particularly because, the wind is picking up, it’s quite damp, and it’s gradually getting colder and colder. The most excitement we have is admiring the winter coats of the Russian Women Re-enactors. They sure know how to dress.

When the Russian Orthodox priest appears to conduct a service – I’m ready to bolt. In Russia – those services lasted for hours – but this is the Czech Republic – fortunately we got the appreviated version. Only the Russians removed their hats, and only they seemed to know when to cross themselves. I’m painfully reminded of visit to the Churches in St. Petersburg – glorious music – but why can’t we sit down!

My young friend – the Pharmacist – is starting to shiver badly – so I move closer to him to share body warmth – and give him my wool cape. He suffers thru – maintaining his position in the line until we move to march into the Memorial Chamber. At that point he dccides that Hypothermia is not a good way to end the weekend – and hands back my cape to dash off to leave with his family.

Too bad too – because the part in the Memorial Chamber is the most emotional and moving part of the entire day. Marshal Soult (Oleg Sokolov) gave a stirring speech in French – congradulating the GRANDE ARMÉE on their performance yesterday- and encouraging us to continue to perform well in honor of the Emperor!

The Fife and Drum Corps perform several pieces – wreaths are laid on the main stone, there is a moment of silence as we recall those who fell, and when we quietly leave, there’s hardly a dry eye in the place.

Great way to end a wonderful weekend.

Too bad we now have to walk down that huge hill…. At least that exercise will warm our very cold feet.

Signing off to go warm up (hot goulash soup – here I come!) – The Soup Lady.

Travel and an Identity Crisis- Can you have both?


An identity crisis is not a starting point for any journey

Rupert Murdock – Nov 30, 2015

Interesting statement, eh? Rupert was refering to the US government, and his point was that to give the US a sense of direction, a US leader muts understand, be proud of and assert the American personality.

But I took the comment more personally.

If you are considering changing yourself, either physcially by traveling to a different country, or G-d forbid, move to a different country – or mentally – it clearly helps to have a solid place to stand.

If you aren’t sure of what you want to accomplish, of what you’d like to achieve at the end of your journey – the path is more likely to be controted and mis-shappen.

On the other hand – It’s 50 years since Abby Road by the Beatles was released – and I’m just old enough to remember what it was like in those days. We all thought that traveling was how you ‘found’ yourself – trips to SF were pilgramiges in search of self – and perhaps a few drugs. I went to London in 68 – in theory to study Drama – but in reality I wanted to see a bigger world. Not that Boston wasn’t big enough – but Europe, London, Travel, New Sights, New Sounds – and no parents – no supervison at all – that’s heady stuff at 19 to 20.

Are we thinking today that the youth I was at 19 wasn’t having an identity crisis? It is of course hard to look back – age does add a distance – and I’ve always worn rose colored glasses – but I would have to say that travelling when you are young is all about identity crisis – and travel when you are old is about seeing what you missed.

Big topic, tiny blog…

I’m off again – this time to the Czeck Republic – I shall have to consider identity crisis another day. Signing off – The Soup Lady.

Must See Theatre Event in Montreal – Go NOW!!


Ok – seriously – did I get your attention? I meant to. This is one amazing theatre event – and I fear under attended. While we can discuss what that happens – I’m here to tell you – GO!

The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God – by Djanet Sears (nope – not a typo) – is completely enthralling – high end, sophisticated, captivating, entrancing, entertaining, dynamic, sit on the edge of your seat theatrical involvement.

There are 22 actors on stage – several have key ‘name’ rolls – Rainey – the black girl in the title, her father, her father’s good friends, and Rainey’s X-husband – Michel. The rest form a constantly moving a-Capella choir that is at once stage manager, a river, movement behind and round the scenes, drama enhancement, and music. It is stunning. The play runs from now till October 18, 2016 here in Montreal – and I suspect is going to show up in versions from Toronto to – dare I hope – off Broadway. It is that good, that enthralling, that radical.

The story itself is as old as time – and as current as today. Like Job, Rainey’s believe in God is severely tried by circumstances around her – it’s not just about being Black in Canada – it’s about being human in today’s world. Aging parents, husbands that aren’t perceived as properly supportive, a dead child. But all is not woe and grief – the play is surprisingly humorous in so many ways – that you find yourself laughing at points where crying seems the really right thing to be doing.

And like the best theatre – the entire space is open to use by the actors – they move up and down the aisles, they appear on the edges partly hidden by the side curtains, they sing from behind you, above you, around you. The sound alone is worth the price of admission – and the acting builds and twists around the glorious soundscape.

Have I intrigued you enough to go buy tickets? I meant to. Excellent theater like this must be supported – and while audience attendance is a drop in the bucket of money needed – strong attendence does send a message straight to the heart of the actors, directors, and producers. This is a winner.