Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New Friends We Met on the Cruise

What is it?
Miss Elly

I am the walrus, goo goo g'joob
Moonky - Just Hanging Around Your Cabin

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Day 8 and 9 - Quebec City

For years, Richard and I each have had a strong desire to visit Quebec City. But, for one reason or another, neither of us quite found a way to make it there. Well, our cruise has ended, and now we are finally in Quebec City. And, I have to say, It has been totally worth the wait!

The tired old adage about Quebec City is that it is like visiting Paris. Only closer. And cleaner. I hate to admit it, but the old saying is mostly true. Now, no place can really, truly compare to Paris. But Quebec City does have something of the architecture and gastronomy of the City of Light. All without having to cross the big pond.

And, the city IS clean. Very clean. No dog poo on the sidewalks. No litter on the streets.

There is a disturbing lack of panhandlers.

The people are, well, NICE. And they don't hesitate to speak English (especially after hearing my well intentioned but sorely lacking attempt at French).

It's like France with training wheels!

Some of reasons for the tidy and pleasant nature of the city and it's citizens was explained by the guide of the city tour we embarked upon. Over half of the population works for the government, with reasonable Monday to Friday work hours that leave ample time for recreation and leisure. The residents of Quebec City are ethnically homogeneous, meaning ninety five percent are French-speaking, Catholic and white. In a city of 700,000, the murder rate last year topped out the year at four people. Wow. It all gave me a lot of food for thought. I certainly admire the social welfare aspects of Canadian society, but at the same time was somewhat dismayed at the the lack of ethnic diversity in Quebec. Not making any judgments here, just saying that I came away with a lot to ponder regarding different social systems, why they work in some areas but not in others, and what kind of lessons can be learned from them.

You know, being a responsible traveler.

On to the touristy stuff. Quebec City is divided into a historic riverfront, and then a more modern area further out. The historic area has a lower section (Basse-Ville) and an upper section (Haute-Ville). In days past, the lower section housed the poor and working class, while the upper town was the province of the wealthy and elites. Typical!

The city winds along narrow streets from the river docks of the lower town, up to the steep ramparts, and then into the upper town. Along the way, restaurants, shops and art galleries entice. The crown jewel overlooking the city is the grand Chateau Frontenac. Built in the latter part of the 19th century, the Frontenac was commissioned by the CN railroad to house travelers back in the day when rail was king. Boasting 650 rooms behind an imposing, faux-chateau edifice, the Frontenac recalls the grandeur of The Gilded Age.

Richard and I, minus top hats and monocles, commemorated our visit to the Frontenac with a drink at the the hotel's watering hole, the Bar St. Laurent. Clubby, warm and with commanding views of the city and the St. Lawrence River, it was well worth the stop-in.

Having been founded in 1608, Quebec has a rich history that includes the First Nation peoples, the French settlers, an unwelcome British Invasion (think RedCoats, not MopTops), and the controversial modern Separatist movement. Take one of the historic city bus tours to get the whole story.

I won't go on about dining too much, except to say French food abounds (natch!), albeit with a Canadian twist. A good example I experienced would be the Confit of Duck Salad with Maple Vinaigrette I had at the Aux Anciennes Canadienes.

By far, though, the best culinary experience we enjoyed was at place called Toast! The kitchen is run by a chef who apprenticed at The French Laundry under Thomas Keller. As you would expect, all was about super fresh ingredients and layers of flavors. Instead of entrees, the menu consisted of making as many selections as desired from a long list of appetizers. To give you an idea, I had a Surf and Turf of sweetbreads sautéed in lardons, along with seared sea scallops paired with duxelles of mushrooms. Richard had an unusual, but surprisingly light, tartare of deer. Delicieux!

I guess from reading this post you are getting the sense that I really enjoyed this city. I did. A lot.

I just wish I hadn't waited so long to see it!


Let me make one comment to Frank's posts. I owe him a heartfelt THANK YOU for all of his posts from this journey. I hope you enjoy his contributions to The Urban Flaneur as much as I do.

And stay tuned as we are planning our regular, post-travel "Hits & Misses" feature enjoyed by many of our readers.

That's all I'm saying (for now).

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Day 7 - La Baie

On Day 7 we visited our last port before our destination port of Quebec City. The weather was very similar to yesterday, cold and very windy. Since there were no sites of interest to either of us, we elected to stay on board, relax and catch up on some reading.

Dinner was at Le Bistro, the French surcharged restaurant. In my opinion it was the best meal of the cruise. I had the Duo of Duck consisting of a roasted duck breast and a confit of duck, (leg quarter seared in duck fat).Yummy I say. Frank had the Fruit de Mer which was a tasty collection of seafood in a puff pastry. Yummy also.

After dinner we visited the casino trying to recover some of our earlier losses. The one armed bandits are like sirens calling us in the fog. We are big gamblers each of us putting $20.00 into the effort. By the end of the cruise we still had $10.00 left out of are original $40.00. We did better on our last cruise on the Jade where we were big winners, maybe $20 - $30 ahead for the cruise. Not big winnings but when you are playing the penny slots you can play all week.

Our final stop was in the Gatsby lounge to hear and bid our goodbyes our favorite pianist and crooner, Nathaniel Reed.

Next stop will be Quebec City, a highly anticipated visit, where we have a couple of post-cruise days in a city neither of us have visited before.


Day 6 - Gaspe and Perce

Today we awoke to the coldest temperatures of the cruise to date. The temperature at 9AM was 38 F with high winds. The wind chill must have been in the mid-20's. But we put on our warmest clothes and headed out for our excursion to Perce.

Perce is a large rock island with a hole through this rock just off shore from the little fishing village of Perce which is French for "pierced". Perce was a one hour drive from Gaspe via a yellow school bus. The drive was along the beautiful rocky coast line. Unfortunately we were about one week late for peak colors. The high winds over the past couple of weeks blew the colored leaves away. There was still some yellow in the trees but the intense red from the maples didn't make it. While slightly disappointing but not unexpected as we are here at the end of the season. The drive along the coastal region was still lovely.

After a short rest back on the NCL Dawn we headed to the Star Bar for a pre-dinner drink before dinner at Aqua, one of the main dining rooms, (no surcharge).

We both started with the crab cake appetizer. It was nicely seasoned with just a little heat. I ordered the pork tenderloin medallions with a mushroom sauce, wilted spinach and roasted potatoes. It was tasty but a little overdone in my humble opinion. Frank opted for the sliced turkey and gravy with all the trimmings. Frank gave the meal a thumbs down.

The one thing I applaud NCL on is the portion sizes in all the restaurants. Over-sized portions is one of my pet peeves and were not a problem on the Dawn.

Overall, a cool but enjoyable day.


Day 5 - Charlottetown

If you have ever read the novel "Anne of Green Gables" as a child, you may have at least had something of an introduction to Prince Edward Island. Where I grew up in Alabama, any male child reading "Anne" would have been immediately suspect. Better to pick a book of another color, say "The Red Badge of Courage", for example.

Suffice it to say, I had no real literary primer on what to expect in PEI.

Fortunately, Richard had been to PEI about 10 years ago on an Elderhostel culinary trip, and gave me a hint of what to expect.

Charlottetown, PEI is a small place, with about 60000 residents. It's charming, though, with a smattering of galleries, restaurants (not just seafood!), and unique shops. It has the feel of many similar historic towns that have managed to be preserved thanks to a combination of political relevance (Charlottetown is the capital of PEI), educational distinction (PEI's main colleges are located here) and, of course, tourism.

We started the day with a trolley tour of the city. Let me just say here that our tour guide was a very sweet PEI native who did her best to stretch the most out of a two-hour tour that would have been better served clocking in at half that time. I mean, I really don't need to have the local Tim Horton's spotted out to me, nor do I care to spend ten minutes trolling around a rather non-descript college campus because that's "where we test our food." Not really what I came for. But a chance to see the historic neighborhoods, the Province Capital building and the shops along Victoria Row and all was forgiven.

We capped the excursion at a lobster house near the dock. I have had PEI mussels many times, and love them. I cannot remember, however, having a bowl of PEI mussels that were so plump, tender and consistent in size and texture. The mussels were served in a broth of white wine and garlic that was pretty much superfluous when measured against the delicious, natural briny liqueur given from the mussels themselves. The whole idea of eating local food really gets driven home when you get something as good as this. Any mussels eaten back home will have a hard act to follow.

I wish we had the time to explore the island more. I guess one measure of whether a trip is successful or not is if you come away feeling like you would very much want to return to see more. In that case, I would say our day in PEI was a success. I definitely would like to come back, maybe in the summertime, and try the locally made COWS ice cream, visit the factory store where PEI's Paderno cookware is made and sold, and try some more of the surprisingly good local white wine.

And when I do come back, I am bringing along a copy of "Anne of Green Gables", where I doubt even an eyebrow, let alone a suspicion, will be raised.


Friday, October 26, 2012

A Day at Sea

We are en route from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island, which means day 4 of our cruise is a Sea Day!

I love sea days, because they force you to do the one thing that so very often is missing from a vacation, i.e., relaxation!

Now, don't get me wrong, I want to get as much out of my time away as the next person. So much so that, at times, with the constant focus on itineraries and logistics and worries about ticket times and what is open and what is not and, oh Lord, will there be a bathroom that doesn't look like something out of Slumdog Millionaire, well, a vacation can seem like WORK!

So I say it's darn nice to have the time to read another chapter in that book you've been promising yourself to finish this year. Or take that nap in the middle of the DAY. Or sit down and actually enjoy that nice, tall glass of beer.

I guess I really should be giving you all some details about our day, like the nice lunch, or the wonderful performers, or the weather. And I will. Soon as I finish my beer. And perhaps after that nap.


Halifax and Peggy's Cove

Day 3 of the cruise, and we are in Nova Scotia. Which means, for me, ANOTHER country added to my list of places visited (O! Canada!).

Before I continue on, however, with the rundown of the day's events, let me take a moment to pay my respects to my fellow passengers who spent the previous evening going Green. Oh, not the Eco-friendly kind of Green. I mean head over the porcelain pagoda kind of Green. It seems we had a lot of nautical miles to cover between Portland and Halifax, and our captain put the pedal to medal to get us there in time. Hint, when you see the staff breaking out the sick bags and placing them all around the common areas, get ready for a bumpy ride.

Fortunately, Richard and I took our daily dose of Bonine, so our overnight was kinda pleasant. Something like taking a long nap in one of those MoonWalker machines you see at kid's parties. And hoping little Timmy doesn't hurl on you while you are dozing'.

Ok, moving right along.

First part of our day was a bus ride to Peggy's Cove. We were fortunate enough to see some of the best foliage color of the season on the way, per the tour guide. Our guide and driver were really top notch. The guide was pleasant, knowledgeable, and thankfully short on awful jokes, which is always a blessing. I learned a lot about the Acadian history, about the superstitions of the local folk, and about the events that tied Nova Scotia to the tragedies of the sinking of the Titanic and the crash of the Swiss Air flight in 1998. Pretty dramatic stuff.

Peggy's Cove is a small fishing village of around 30 to 40 people. It is picturesque, complete with colorful fishing boats and an oft photographed lighthouse. Quiet, however, it is not. Swollen during the day with bus loads of tourists (myself included), it is far from being a respite from the crush of the modern world. And yet, with my camera and my thoughts, I could imagine what this town might have been like, at a time when hard work and isolation were the norm. Throngs or no, I am glad I had a chance to visit.

Halifax is a clean and pleasant town of about 300,000 people (about a third of Nova Scotia's population). Richard and I enjoyed a hop on and hop off bus tour of the town. Among the highlights, a visit to the historic Citadel that has defended the city since it's beginning, and an awesome lobster roll at a casual diner recommended by our tour guide.

Interesting fact. During WWI, a ship loaded with TONS of TNT exploded in Halifax harbor. It was the largest man made explosion in human history prior to the A-bomb being dropped on Hiroshima. Thousands of Haligonians were killed instantly, many more were injured and even more became homeless. Were it not for the aid of the US, and most especially the citizens of Boston, the citizens of Halifax may have not made it through the ensuing winter. In gratitude even to this day, Halifax donates a 40 foot Christmas tree to Boston every year.

Back on the ship from our day of sightseeing, we dined at the Venetian Dining room on a luscious, rosemary scented leg of lamb, and a rich mushroom ravioli covered in a three cheese sauce. We washed it down with a lovely, dry Spanish Albarino, and then took in a performance of Mowtown hits from our favorite on board entertainer, Nathaniel Reed. We learned from the set that Nathaniel was a session player for Mowtown, and you could tell by the fact that this was a set that came from love, and far from the workmanlike shows some cruise performers coast on.

Ugh, bad pun. Time to hang it up.

Day 3 - Halifax Nova Scotia

Note: Due to the lack of free wi-fi on-board the ship, this post and others from the ship will be delayed until we can snag some free Wi-Fi.

Today was a much better day than yesterday. Clearer skies, although still some overcast but moments of sunshine made for a pleasant bus tour of the Halifax area and out to Peggy's Cove. (Google it to learn the relationship to The Titanic and to the crash of Swiss Air Flight 111 which crashed in the Atlantic nearby.)

Peggy's Cove has a lovely, much photographed lighthouse sitting on a rocky shore with Atlantic waves crashing all around. It is a beautiful site.

The scenery along the coast is lovely but rugged, dotted with little fishing villages.

We returned to Halifax and picked up the 2nd half of our journey, a Hop-on, Hop-off double decker bus tours- 3 separate 30 minute tours around the city. We rode on Route B around the harbor area. We hopped off for lunch at the Blue Nose restaurant for lobster rolls - very good.

Next and last stop was The Citadel caping a high hill overlooking the city and Halifax Harbor. We picked up route C for the return to The Dawn.

We are back onboard the ship relaxing before dinner.

It was another interesting and fun cruise

That is all I'm saying.


Day 2 - Foggy in Portland, Maine

We started the day in dense fog when we docked in Portland and we finished the day still in the fog. But that didn't hinder our enjoyment of our bus tour of Portland with a stop at the lighthouse

Dinner was enjoyed at Bamboo the Asian themed up-charged restaurant on the Dawn. I enjoyed a nice plate of scallops in Asian sauce with rice and Frank enjoyed his sesame chicken.

Next stop is in Halifax - Frank's first visit to Canada. Bravo

Saturday, October 20, 2012


This morning occurred at 3:00 AM so we could be on our 6:15 flight to Boston via Philadelphia. Our flight to PHL ended with 50 minutes in the holding pattern due to weather and traffic. We still made or connecting flight to Boston but ended up in a takeoff backup of 45 minutes.

Regardless we arrived in Boston in plenty of time to cab it to the cruise port and had a very smooth and quick check-in. After an OK lunch at the Garden Cafe buffet we participated in the mandatory evacuation drill.

We headed out to sea and after a drink in the Star Bar we headed to a packed Aqua Main Dining room ( no surcharge). While we waited on our table we went to a nearby lounge to listen to the same piano player who was on our NCL Jade cruise in April. What a coincidence. We enjoyed Nathaniel's performance again - he is a really good performer.

I enjoyed a broiled maine lobster and Frank enjoyed his grilled salmon.

We dock in Portland Maine tomorrow. I'll continue posting as I have time.

Richard Simpson

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, October 15, 2012

4 Days to Go !

Only 4 days to go before we board the NCL Dawn for our New England and Canada Cruise. Not excited, are we?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ready to Sail

Another cruise. We are about to embark on another cruise on October 19. We are sailing on the NCL Dawn out of Boston and finish a week later in Quebec City, Canada. Frank will add two countries to his Traveler Century Club quest (a la Paul and Libby - but well behind them) He will check off Canada and Prince Edward Island (yes, considered a separate country  by TCC. (<----- link). Both are already on my list so no new countries for me. Anyway here is our route map. If anyone has any suggestion on these ports, drop me a line or add a comment to the post (preferred). We know it will be cold, so save your breath on that one. The one recommendation we already have is from my Oncologist - he said we must stop in the Hotel Frontenac in Quebec City for a drink. I like that prescription, you won't have to twist our arms on that one, Doctor.

Stay tuned

Thursday, October 4, 2012


OK, here are a couple of words you don't often hear together. Greek Cuisine!

Yeah, maybe you know a few places in your area that serve some gyros, or Greek salads.  Maybe, some spanokapita.

But Greek cuisine?

Well, a few weeks back, Dick and I decided to check out some real Greek cuisine.  Albeit with a Disney twist.

The impetus of all this was an email from the Buena Vista Palace resort in Downtown Disney promoting a $79 dollar a night special fall discount rate.  Considering I had stayed at that same resort previously for several trade shows at twice that amount, it really sounded like a bargain.  So Dick and I jumped at the chance for a change in scenery,

The next decision was, where to eat?

Both Dick and I and had on several occasions discussed dining at Cat Cora's Orlando restaurant in the past.  For those of you who may not be familiar, Cat Cora is a celebrity chef who has not only competed (and won) in Iron Chef competitions on the Food Network, but who has also gained a reputation for successfully combining the flavors of her Louisiana upbringing with her Greek heritage.  No small feat.  

Add to that the fact that she is not only a renowned female chef, but also a renowned lesbian chef.  And darn attractive and telegenic to boot.  A combination that is both formidable and laudable in what is still, for the most part, a male dominated field.

Needless to say, both Dick and I arrived with a great deal of anticipation for her Kouzinna restaurant.

Kouzinna means "kitchen" in Greek (think cocina or cucina in Spanish or Italian, respectively.)  The restaurant is nicely ensconced in the Boardwalk area next to the Epcot resort area.  The decor is very casual, and evokes the atmosphere of  a Greek or Turkish taverna.

The menu is heavy on the Greek influences, with only a smattering of the LA bayous.  And all is done with flair.

Dick decided to order the fish stew (a Greek version of bouillabaise.)  For my part, I ordered the sampler (pastitsio, lamb sliders, and a chicken stew.)  The fish stew was excellent, redolent with the aromas of well prepared fish stock and perfectly cooked seafood.  No rubbery shrimp or overcooked scallops, here.  All was expertly prepared in what was, to be honest, a simple recipe that all too often many restaurants screw up.

My sampler was great.  The pastitsio may have been a bit heavy on the bechamel (not so much a crime in my book), and the sliders may have been a tad too spicy (a bit of Cajun exuberance, perhaps?), but all was forgiven with the chicken stew.  Who knew that cinnamon, with a judicious hand, could have provided such a sublime result?  

A bit of Greek wine, a shared baklava, and a final douse of chilled ouzo capped off the evening.

All in all, it was a great evening in a comfortable, welcoming environment.  Disney has a LOT of great dining options (and a lot of crappy ones, let's be real here), but anyone who happens to be at the resort and is looking for something not too expensive, casual, and above all, different (i.e. Greek cuisine), give Kouzinna a chance.  

As Dick would say, "That's all I'm saying..."