Fiji

The thing about going on a long trip is the anticipation of the adventure that lies ahead. I know our trip won’t be pedestrian or similar to any other trip we have taken. My husband Carl is an adventurer. Even at 74, he is very active and loves the thrill of winging it on vacation. So when our Aussie friend finally convinced us to visit him in Australia in October after asking us for 10 years to visit, my husband set about researching the Internet about where we could go to spend a few days to acclimate to the time change and avoid 14 1/2 hours in an airplane. I usually don’t get involved in the planning stage of our trips except to look at hotel pictures online and give my preference for one place over another. At first we considered the Cook Islands as a first stop then settled on Fiji. We found a resort online that seemed reasonably priced and it offered scuba diving & promised a relaxing experience. The name of the Eco-Resort is Papageno located on the Fiji island of Kadavu.

Papageno Resort
We arrived in Fiji on Saturday after a 10 hour flight and had 7 hours to kill in the town of Nadia (pronounced Nandia) before taking a small plane to the island of Kadavu & then a motor boat ride to the very remote resort of Papageno. When we arrived at the resort we were greeted by the Managers at the shore of the Bay and shown to our Bure which is a lovely bungalow consisting of an outer screened in Porch with a sink table & 2 chairs.

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The staff had prepared a welcome drink of coconut juice & rum laid out nicely on a Palm leaf. The inner room was a quite large bedroom, closet area & bathroom. Our room faced the Ocean & we could lay in bed & feel the Ocean breezes, watch the Coconut Palms swaying & listen to the waves. A fantastic way to decompress after a long plane ride. We were asked if we had eaten lunch yet even though it was already 3:00 pm. & told that there was a lovely Quiche prepared for lunch. We quickly situated our bags & went to the large community room for our meal. A long dining table was set up with Franciscanware plates & nice silverware. Our hosts informed us that all food was prepared from ingredients grown in their Organic garden & no sugar was added which was welcome news to my Diabetic husband. We had an outstanding meal of Green Salad with various dressing options, homemade bread, Spinach Quiche & Orange Juice. After lunch we met some of the other guests, a couple from Canaberra Australia who had been at the resort for 10 days following a wedding for one of their friends earlier in the week with 32 guests. Another couple who owned a much smaller resort was visiting from another Island about a one hour boat ride away. Evidently they come to Papageno to get away & get a social fix before they have to greet another guest. They only take one guest at a time.

My husband & I were very tired having only slept about 6 hours on the plane so after lunch we went to our Bure, took showers & both of us collapsed into a deep sleep for about 3 hours. When we woke up we joined the other guests in the community room for a dinner of fish, green beans & potatoes. Dessert consisted of baked Papaya, Mango ice cream & whipped cream. We spent the rest of the evening talking with our fellow resort mates & discussing our diving trip for the next morning. We went to bed around 8:30 pm still feeling a little jet lagged & slept until 6:30 the next morning. Upon waking, I grabbed my camera & went for a walk around the resort.

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What an absolute paradise! The property consists of about 100 acres and is situated in a secluded bay. There are large coconut palms everywhere and strategically planted gardens of tropical plants along pathways leading around 10 various size Bures or bungalows some of which face the ocean & some set back against the jungle including a 4 bedroom 3 bathroom large house for rent which is beautifully furnished in tropical style furniture & accented in the resort owner’s vast collection of African artifacts. There is a huge Organic garden with eggplants, papayas, pineapple, various lettuces, tomatoes, herbs, Mulberry bushes and many more vegetables & fruits. Rescue dogs of various breeds & ages roam the property & one followed me everywhere stopping to smell the fruit & marking his territory.

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Later in the morning, we convened in the community room for breakfast and were served a sumptuous variety of fruit & cereals, homemade cake, & juices. We were asked if we would like eggs as an omelette or scrambled. We learned a little more about the young Australian couple who had been in Fiji for 10 days & were leaving the next day.

Diving
After breakfast, we were introduced to our Dive Master Zacariah who explained our dive and where we were to go to get our equipment. We prepared for our first dive at around 10:00 am & boarded the boat with our wet suits, fins and mask. Our BC’s, tanks & weight belts were already aboard the boat. We motored out about 3 miles towards the reef & anchored at a Dive Spot named Fish Bowl. Carl & I geared up, took a few pictures & then back flipped into the water which was pretty choppy at this point because the wind had picked up. We let out the air in our BC’s & descended to about 40 ft. under the water. We saw many colorful fish, interesting coral & we went through a few tunnels. By the end of the dive, the current was pretty strong so our Dive Master signaled for us to go up. It was a bit of a challenge getting into the boat because the water was a little rough. While the dive wasn’t the most spectacular one we had ever done, it was pretty good for our first dive in Fiji. We decided to postpone our 2nd dive until the next day. We returned to our Bure, showered and took a rest until lunch. The next day our dive was much earlier in the morning & the water is pretty calm. We went to a different dive spot & this time we saw large schools of fish, & some pretty big Tuna.

We spent four relaxing days in Fiji & were totally acclimated to the time change before our next adventure in Australia.

Sicily

One of our favorite countries we have visited is Sicily. I really wanted to see it because my Maternal Grandparents came from there and I wanted to see the town of Alia where they met and married. To prepare for my trip, I took Italian classes at the local Community College for about six months so I could confidently ask for directions, find out where a restaurant or hotel was and hopefully track down some relatives with the same family name as my Grandparents.

We flew to Palermo and spent about three days acclimating to the Sicilian life and getting a feel for the country. Our hotel was located downtown and within walking distance to the Opera House, Teatro Massimo which seemed to be the center of town. We tried to see an opera while we were in Palermo but sadly there were no performances during our stay.

Palermo-Teatro-Massimo

One of the things that was immediately evident was how immaculately dressed up the Sicilians were when going out for the evening. Another attraction to see in Palermo is the catacombs where Capuchin Friars used arsenic baths and quicklime to preserve the corpses of thousands of Sicilians.

catacombs

After three days, we rented a car and we made our way around the island. We didn’t have any reservations, which is the way my husband and I love to travel. We were sure we would find places to stay whenever we wanted to stop and stay a couple of days. For the most part that was the case and we stayed in some interesting hotels and accommodations.

Marsala
Our first stop was the city of Marsala where we stayed for a couple of days and bought some Marsala wine which can be as fine as a top sherry or port. From there we headed inland to the town of Alia to visit my grandparents hometown. It was a lovely cobblestone street town and was known as a place that grows flowers. Maybe that would explain why my Grandfather became a florist. I went into a pub to ask in Italian if anyone knew of anyone in town by my grandparents name and I was corrected in the pronunciation of the name and told no one in town with that name remained.

Agrigento
One of the things that surprised us about Sicily is the number of Greek ruins throughout the country. Many more in number and magnificence than in Greece. One of the largest ancient cities is in Agrigento and we spent a day climbing through the archaeological park known as the Valley of the Temples.

We continued around the cape of Sicily before heading north where we stayed a couple days in the southeastern coastal town of Siracusa. It is full of ancient ruins and beautiful beaches.

We then made our way up the coast and stayed in the little beach town of Catania which is right on the Gulf of Catania. We had an incredible view of the bay from our hotel.

catania

Then we drove to Taormina which is a bit touristy but interesting because from the ancient amphitheater, we could see Mt. Etna which is the largest active volcano in Europe.

Sicilian Food

If you are a foodie, you will find Sicilian food to be very interesting because although its cuisine has a lot in common with Italian cuisine, Sicilian food also has Greek, Spanish, French and Arab influences. Many of the dishes are prepared with dried fruits, olives, pine nuts and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

Sicily-pasta-with-bottarga

Sicily is a country I would like to return to someday and include exploring the surrounding Aeolian Islands. To sum up my favorite aspects of Sicily they are:

  • Breathtaking views of agricultural beauty while you are driving through the countryside;
  • Beautiful black and white sand beaches;
  • Fantastic ancient Greek architecture throughout the country;
  • Friendly and laid back people who make you feel welcome in their accommodations and restaurants;
  • Great food;
  • A country that is small enough you can drive all around it in a couple of weeks

Travel Books

At this time of year, travel is a double-edged sword. It’s busy/chaotic and weather-sensitive. For me, not inspiring.

Where I can be inspired is to travel through books. I recently read, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” which reminded me of my amazing trip in India. It made me want to jump on a plane and spend another 3+ weeks there, immersed in the people and culture of India.

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Another book that I received as a gift from my daughter was, “The Travel Book.” I love looking at the pictures and all of the places I have yet to go.

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When I travel, I like to read guides and novels about the places I’m about to see. For instance, when my children and I were on a road trip through the South, I reread and we all watched, “Gone With The Wind.” For my recent trip to Japan, I recalled the book,  “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Before traveling to India, in addition to reading Salman Rushdie’s, “Midnight’s Children,” I watched the recent films, “Water,” “Fire,” and “Earth.”

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There are many, many examples of how travel writing and films enhance our experience before, during and after our travels. However, they cannot replace the actual experience. Truly, the travel would not be the same without the supplement, however the supplement would never suffice for the real thing. Let’s get out there and travel and see our world in 2015. Bon voyage!

48 Hours in Madrid

We recently spent 48 hours in Madrid where neither my husband or I had ever been. After 2 1/2
weeks traveling around Portugal, we were feeling a little bored and were looking for an interesting city with great museums, good public transportation, since we were going to be carless, and some great food. So Madrid it was.

While we were still in Portugal, we booked a hotel online in the Salamanca area of Madrid which is where all the high end shopping is and it is pretty easy to get around the city by walking, bus or subway. We arrived on a Friday evening and left on a Monday afternoon.

First Evening

The first night we ate dinner at a local place we found by walking around the neighborhood. The food was great and a refreshing change from the food we had eaten for 2 1/2 weeks in Portugal. Mainly because of the variety of options we had to choose from which was one of our big disappointments about Portugal.

Day 1

The next morning after a breakfast of coffee and Omelette Espanha (the Spanish egg & potato omelette) at a Tapas Bar, we went to the Museo de Prado which is the largest museum in Madrid.

spanish-omelette

After the Museum we went to a very crowded outdoor flea market and along the way went in and out of Antique stores. Which is something we love to do whenever we visit a foreign country because we have found some wonderful indigenous items for gifts or furnishings for our house.

flea-market

antique-stores

Day 2

The next day we visited the Museo del Sofia where the famous Guernica by Picasso is and afterwards, we visited the fantastic Mercado San Miguel, a gourmet market where you can walk around and look at all the beautiful food stalls and eat the most amazing Tapas for around 1 euro each.

guernica

Mercado-San-Miguel

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Homeward Bound

The next morning we flew home after a three week trip through Portugal and a short weekend detour to Madrid which made the difference for us from feeling bored with Portugal to feeling refreshed, well fed and cultured from our time in Madrid.

Planning An African Safari

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My advise to anyone considering a Safari vacation is to go with a reputable company who has a presence in the countries you are visiting. We used Kensington Tours because they offered customized private tours at a fairly reasonable price. We wanted to go on a private tour versus a group because we didn’t want to share our game viewing space in our vehicles with anyone and wanted the individualized attention. We also went in an off peak time, late November and early December when the crowds for safaris is really low. Which for us was a perfect time to go because the weather was pleasant each day, mosquitos were at a minimum, our accommodations were practically empty and everyone was very happy to see us. The places we stayed were Safari Lodges and Tent Camps. Both varieties were comfortable and in some cases quite luxurious. We didn’t stay in the highest end lodgings rather the mid-range options and the rooms, food and service was great.

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We were not aware that we could have flown into each National park we visited thus eliminating long, bumpy and tedious car trips. However choosing to fly rather than drive makes it difficult to experience the culture and see how the majority of Africans live. Most of the Eastern African towns we passed through were very poor with makeshift housing and stores put together with wood and aluminum siding, no sidewalks or infrastructure such as running water.

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We saw many women carrying plastic buckets that were filled from the nearest water holes and carried back to their homes. Men and mostly children would tend to the cattle and goat herds during the day while the women did the majority of the daily chores. The Masai people were easy to identify because of the colorful robes they wore and the spears that the men and boys carried. They live in primitive round or sometimes rectangular mud and cow dung huts with as many as 10 in a compound for one family.

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The men are allowed multiple wives and their wealth is assessed by the number of cattle, goats, wives and children they possess. Africans are easy to communicate with because they are taught English in the schools but talk Swahili amongst themselves. Many are knowledgeable about world affairs and are very interested in American politics especially because we have a President who comes from one of the 42 tribes present in Kenya. The other thing that struck me about the country as I drove around was how clean it was. Here are some suggestions for a pleasant African Safari adventure:

Use a reputable travel company that specializes in Safaris. You can contract with
Safari lodges and tent camps directly and they all have drivers and guides they can
refer you to but if you are short on time and want to have things in place before you leave,
it’s best to have your itinerary planned and arranged ahead of time.

-Take many small new bills for tips to your bag porters and waiters at your hotels,
lodges and tent camps. These people are very friendly and don’t make much
money. Porters should get $1.00/bag and five to ten percent of your bill is
appropriate for waiters. Additionally you can add money to a communal tip box
for other personnel.

If you don’t want to spend long periods of time in the car and you are visiting
multiple parks, consider flying to each park’s airstrip and either meeting your driver/
guide there or hire one at the airport. Internal flights can be arranged by your
tour company.

While visiting the parks, you are not allowed to leave your vehicle, you spend many hours sitting in the car while viewing the animals and then driving back to your hotel at the end of the day, so make time to do some regular
exercise during your Safari vacation.

Avoid the overpriced curio shops your driver/guide stops at for lunch or bathroom
breaks. Either buy things at the hotel gift shops which tend to stock a higher quality
merchandise or wait and shop in the main parts of large cities. In Nairobi and
Tanzania, there are Masai markets around town on certain days that sell all the
trinkets you find at large curio shops for about 60% less. Also ex-pat blogs are
good resources for information about where to shop and eat.

Barcelona, Spain

There are a few places out of the many I have traveled to that are truly memorable. Barcelona, Spain is one of them. My husband and I recently traveled to Barcelona and Southern France and had a fantastic time but we were a little surprised about our food experiences in each country.

Barcelona is unlike other areas of Spain in many ways. The language is Catalan which is very different then the Castilian spoken in the majority of Spain. In fact the Catalonians really don’t consider themselves to be the same as Spanish. Catalan is a fusion language of Spanish, French & Basque. Likewise the food is a fusion of the three cultures as well. All over Barcelona, Tapas Bars rule the culinary scene along with restaurants serving Spanish Paella, Sangria and Spanish ham and cheese sandwiches. We found the Tapas bars to have the most creative menus. One such bar that we ate at twice during our 5 days in Barcelona was Tapas 24.

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It is a very small basement restaurant that by 9:00 pm has a line of people waiting out the door for a seat. The first night we ate at the bar where we could observe our food being prepared in the kitchen. Among the Tapas menu of the day and a standard menu of regular offerings, we ordered 4 dishes to share. One was a stewed Oxtail and white bean dish, the standard Pan de Tomate (toasted bread smeared with fresh tomatoes), Marinated Lamb Skewer and Potate Frites which is fried potatoes topped with a spicy sauce.

Potatas

All the dishes were enough for two people and we were quite satisfied. Our neighbor to the right of us ordered a dessert which she took one bite of and offered the rest of it to us. At first we politely declined but my husband’s spoon was soon drifting over to the plate for a taste and I finally succumbed and took a bite and was blown away at how good it tasted. It was a very rich chocolate mousse, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with Sea Salt. We ended up eating the woman’s entire dessert.

Every day in Barcelona, we ate our breakfast and the majority of our other meals at the largest fresh market in Europe called La Boqueria.

La-Boqueria

Inside there were fresh juices from every vegetable and fruit and fresh cut up fruit. There were a couple really good Tapas Bars inside if you happened to go at a time when it wasn’t so crowded and you could get a stool. There were vendors selling Spanish ham and cheeses, stands of olives, bins of nuts and dried fruit.

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Southern France

In France, we found the food to be standard fare, with the exception of a couple of outstanding meals. Each morning we decided to forgo our hotel breakfast buffet and head out to a local boulangerie/patisserie for a cup of coffee and a delicious pastry in each city we visited.
pastries

For lunch and dinner I would research the internet to find where the locals ate and pick a local favorite which turned out to be a better strategy than relying on our guidebook recommendations.

My husband & I concluded that while we did have a couple of good meals in France, by and large Spain had the most creative and flavorful food. If you are going to travel in either of those places, I would skip the recommendations from your guidebooks and do some research on Expat blogs and local websites for each city you are visiting, for suggestions on where to stay and eat and the best things to buy and where to get them.

London

Our vacation last year to Portugal began with a stop in London for a couple of days to see friends. We stayed in the Knightsbridge area of London at the Rembrandt Hotel which was by London standards a pretty good deal in that the rooms are generously sized and a substantial breakfast is included. It is ideally located across from the Victoria and Albert Museum and about a 1/2 mile from Harrods department store.

The-Rembrandt

It had been about 10 years since we visited London and both my husband and I were pleasantly surprised how the dining landscape has changed. It used to be that the only good food to be had in London was Fish & Chips and Indian food. But that has all changed with the influx of immigrants from all over the world. Two doors down from our hotel, was a fabulous Italian restaurant called Orsini Caffe where we had lunch while waiting for our room to come available. The owners are from Naples and they serve traditional Napolese dishes. My husband and I shared an Antipasto with delicious meats and Buffala Mozzarella and a basket of assorted freshly baked breads.

Orsini

In the evening, we met our friends who live in London, and they took us to a fabulous Indian restaurant called Meghna in the neighborhood of St. John’s Woods. Although the service was not great, due to a staffing shortage. the food was delicious. The next day, we took the underground to the neighborhood of Islington where we had lunch at Ottolenghi, owned by one of the most lauded chefs of late Yokam Ottolenghi. The restaurant in Islington is his largest with small take away locations in other neighborhoods in London.

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The lunch menu is simple with a choice of about eight salads and about six mains. All the food is made with seasonal and local ingredients and beautifully displayed in the front of the restaurant as you walk in the front door. We chose 3 different salads each which were all unique in tastes and delicious.

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The second evening of our time in London, we met another friend for dinner, who was in town on business, at an Italian restaurant in Kensington called DaMarios. It is an old family owned restaurant and was a favorite of Princess Diana evidenced by photos and oil portraits of her covering their walls. Great Pizzas and Pasta dishes and a fun atmosphere with a retro disco downstairs. Our third day in London, we had just enough time to visit a few sights around town and prepare for our flight to Lisbon in the afternoon for the rest of our vacation.

Canada

We had some extra airline mileage that we needed to use or lose, so we decided to go to Canada since I had never been and my husband hadn’t been since he was a young child. We flew to Toronto, stayed a couple of nights and then took a six hour train ride to Montreal.  Toronto is a big city, much like New York. It was really late when we arrived, so we stayed in a Best Western near the airport and took a taxi into town the next morning. We stayed at the Westin in the heart of the city and a 20 minute walk to the train station. The weather was definitely Fall like requiring a coat, a refreshing change from the stifling 100 degree weather we had back home. Since we only had one day in Toronto, we didn’t really get to experience many sites other than what was within walking distance from our hotel. We did come across some large and modern Malls with some high end stores and eating establishments.

Our train ride to Montreal the next morning was early and our seats were in Business class which was very comfortable. We were served a substantial breakfast of omelette, croissants & fruit and a lunch. By the time we arrived in Montreal and got to our hotel, another Westin in downtown Montreal, it was the late afternoon. We rested up and then walked around our neighborhood. Montreal is more French looking than Toronto and quite the culinary hotspot. I had made reservations at Joe Beef, a restaurant, I learned about from Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations, about Montreal. Our reservations were for a Friday night at 9:30 pm at the bar. We love to walk all over new cities whenever we travel, so we decided to walk to Joe Beef, even though it looked pretty far on the city map. We set out at 7:00 pm to give ourselves plenty of time to get there. The neighborhood we were going to was called Little Burgundy. We walked through some charming areas of the city, much like some of the neighborhoods in New York, like SoHo or Greenwich Village. We finally arrived at 9:00 pm and were told that our seats would be ready in about 20 minutes, so we walked around the neighborhood which had many great looking and busy restaurants and bars. When we were seated at the bar, we were greeted by Lawrence, the bar host who took our drink order and then our dinner order.

LawrenceOne of the distinctions of Joe Beef is their generous servings of Foi Gras, something I can’t get anymore in Los Angeles since it has been banned. I went for a dish that was dripping in the stuff. It was called Duck ala Royale. It consisted of a Roasted Duck Confit that had the meat shredded off the bone and combined with Foi Gras and topped with a piece of roasted Foi Gras and surrounded with a very rich Demiglace and Caramelized roasted carrots.

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It was heaven and extremely rich. I couldn’t finish the dish, unusual for me, but that didn’t stop me from ordering dessert which was their signature Marjolaine cake topped with a quenelle of whipped cream. Another dish that Joe Beef has on their menu is Chevalier or Horse. Someone at the bar ordered it and said it tasted like a cross between Veal and Beef. Sitting at the bar was great fun because our bar host, Lawrence was entertaining and other people at the bar are friendly and talkative. The couple sitting next to us asked us where we were going and we mentioned that we were staying in Montreal for another night and then we were headed to Quebec for a couple of nights. They gave us recommendations for some good meals for the rest of our stay in Montreal and in Quebec.

The next day in Montreal, we decided to skip breakfast, still full from our Joe Beef extravaganza, and visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and then head over to Beautie’s luncheonette. One of the oldest diners in Montreal and the best place to have a Smoked Salmon sandwich on one of Montreal’s distinctive bagels which is what I ordered while my husband ordered a Beautie’s Signature Sandwich which was grilled cheese, fried egg and ham stuffed with fresh tomato on a homemade Brioche bread. My husband said it was one of the best sandwiches he ever had.

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We spent the rest of the day walking around town and came across a demonstration of City Employees protesting against having their pensions being cut by 50%. Good to know America is not the only one dealing with these kinds of changes. We had a good dinner at a restaurant called Bonaparte, another 9:30 pm meal but a close walk from our hotel. The next morning we took the train to Quebec which is about 2 hours North of Montreal. We walked to our hotel from the train station through old Quebec which is very much like walking through the streets of Paris. There are many small boutique hotels, called auberges and fine art, clothing, antique stores and restaurants. We stayed in a very nice Auberge where we had a large Suite room.

We immediately sought out a place for brunch at one of the restaurants recommended by the couple at Joe Beef, Cafe Monde. It has patio dining overlooking the St. Lawrence river.

We visited Hotel Frontenac, a hotel my Husband remembered visiting with his Father when he was 10. It is an impressive 1,000 room property that has a lot of history and strikes an imposing view from the river.

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The Frontenac is a real highlight of Quebec but there are also interesting Museums to visit, boat rides to the outer islands and a ferry that takes you across the river to a mostly residential area where many Quebecians live. But just walking around the city is a delight. I was wearing my Fitbit this trip and because we did so much walking, it was easy to hit my daily goal of 10,000 steps.

After our two nights in Quebec, we rented a car and took three days to get back to Toronto without an agenda. We decided to visit the Eastern Townships, between Quebec and Montreal, an area of quaint villages that were supposed to be more French than other parts of Eastern Canada. We decided to spend the night in a town called Magog. My husband had made a reservation while in Quebec at a B & B called Au Sait du Lit which has 5 rooms and run by a very nice couple.

Au-Lait

We arrived around 3:00 pm and they directed us to a hiking trail that had a wooden plank walkway around the lake. We walked for about 2 hours and saw incredible Fall colors of Crimson, golden yellow and various shades of green. The next morning after a rather large and delicious breakfast, we set off for Niagara Falls, a place that was still on my bucket list.

The city of Niagara on the Canadian side is trying to become like Las Vegas, with big hotels, casinos and chain restaurants. Everything Is super expensive and the food is just so so.
But the actual Falls is definitely worth visiting.

We took the Mist of the Maiden boat right up to the Falls and then the Journey behind the Falls. Both were thrilling. I was pleasantly surprised because we had been to Iguazu Falls in Argentina and in Brazil which is about 3 times wider than Niagara, so I thought it would be anticlimactic but it was an amazing sight to see how the Falls are situated on the American side and the Canadian side and the incredible power of the water. It was a real highlight of our trip.

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Canada is a country of great beauty, very easy to get to and you feel like you are traveling in a foreign country without giving up too many comforts of home.

Portugal

We traveled to Portugal last September, hoping to miss the usual European tourists that travel throughout the month of August. Other than being a European country, I didn’t know that much about Portugal but had heard from the few friends of mine who have traveled there that it is a beautiful country. My husband and I flew to Lisbon after a weekend in London and met up with my brother in law and his wife who had already been in Lisbon a couple of days. Our plan was to stay in Lisbon for a couple of nights, rent a car and then drive north along the coast to Porto and after stopping along the way at an interesting beach town for a night or two, make our way east from Porto through the wine region of the Douro Valley and then head south as we make our way back to Lisbon. We had almost 3 weeks to explore the country so we left our plans open in case we ran out of interesting things to do in Portugal, we could explore parts of bordering Spain or even take a ferry to Morocco.

Lisbon is very hilly with distinct neighborhoods. One of the first things, we noticed was the entire city, in fact the entire country, is lined with streets of mosaic tiles some with ornate patterns and others just plain. We observed some street repairs being done by the hammering of individual mosaic tiles. It looked pretty labor intensive and a technique that had probably been done since ancient times.

Cobblestones
Lisbon has a pretty active bar scene at night with many outdoor cafes and squares that offer food and drink until the wee hours. In many ways Portugal is still very old world. While I am sure a modern and hip culture exists, what tourists see is the Fado music parlors, simple food, baroque architecture and charming seaside and medieval towns. The beaches are beautiful. In September, the beach crowds are gone because the weather and water is not conducive to swimming, but the natural beauty and fresh grilled seafood is something to experience.

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While driving north along the coast to Porto, we stopped at a couple of medieval towns that had some interesting architecture, old castles, beautiful churches and Roman ruins.

Church

Roman-Ruins

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal and is the hub of the Port wine industry. It is a great walking town with many interesting street sights. While we were walking around one day, we came upon a square with a market selling every kind of bird imaginable. We also came upon a charitable event that featured previously married women were walking around town in wedding dresses. At the Port, we saw ships carrying barrels of Port wine, a beautiful double hung walking bridge, interesting tile faced houses and a food market.

TravelogueThe last area we explored in Portugal before we headed back to Lisbon, was east of Porto through the Douro Valley which is the wine growing region of the country. Breathtaking terraced vineyards line the Douro River which runs all the way into Spain. We found a Quinta (like a bed & breakfast) that was also a working winery to spend the night. It was Harvest season, so our evening was spent stomping on the grapes which is done for 3 hours a night for a month to separate the skins from the juices rather than using machines for the process.

Portugal is a beautiful country. However unlike it’s neighbors, Spain and France, even the big cities of Lisbon and Porto are still very old world. For us three weeks was too long to spend traveling around the country because there wasn’t enough diversity in the sights, food, shopping and other tourist activities. Two weeks is more than enough time to get a good feel for the country and not get bored.

Sailing in the Caribbean

It had been more than 20 years since my husband and I had gone sailing in the Caribbean. So I was very excited about our sailing trip this Summer, even though I usually experience severe seasickness. We planned our trip with another couple we had sailed with 20 years ago who now had two children ages 10 & 8. We were bringing our youngest grandchild who is 8 and my husband’s daughter and her two kids ages 13 & 11. So there were 10 of us on this trip 5 adults and 5 young boys. We rented a 50 foot Catamaran which was new for my husband who is the Captain on our sailing trips and we are his crew. He has a lot of experience sailing a mono hull boat. Our vessel had 5 cabins and 5 bathrooms, a generous indoor salon and a great outdoor sitting area.

Parana

We flew into St. Maarten to pick up our boat and in two and a half weeks we had planned to get down as far as Antigua before we headed back up to St. Maarten to return the boat. This was the first time I had been to these islands. The previous two sailing trips I had taken with my husband and our combined families began in St. Lucia and we sailed the Grenadine Islands.

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Now when I tell people we are going sailing and my husband is the Captain and we are his crew, they really don’t know what that means. It means that there are going to be two times a day putting up the sails and taking the sails down, anchoring or mooring and taking the anchor up, that is going to be hard work requiring all adults on deck and it will be a little stressful. On a 50 foot Catamaran it proved to be even more stressful because the size made it difficult to hear people’s commands and responses. We really needed walkie-talkies to communicate effectively. But instead we just did a lot of yelling. In between those sail management times when we are actually sailing not much is happening. We just enjoy the Ocean and waves and everyone including kids take turns driving the boat. We sail during the day, usually after breakfast until we get to the next island. Then we anchor or moor the boat and either take the dingy boat into shore or swim into shore. Each island is different depending on its history and inhabitants. There are Dutch Islands or French and in the case of St. Maarten, half of the island is Dutch and half is French. I believe one of the islands we went to was English owned. On the French islands, the boys had their first experience with topless beaches which made for some interesting conversations.

The kids got along great but they were more preoccupied with their electronics and finding WiFi than the sailing but we all had a great adventure exploring new islands, swimming in pristine waters and seeing incredible sunsets.

pristine-waterssunset

We didn’t get down as far as we had hoped before we had to turn around and go back up to St Maarten, but we made a plan to do another trip next year so we could explore Antigua and Guadaloupe and some of the remote islands in between. This year I was prepared with a seasickness patch and two pressure bracelets and I didn’t get seasick, which really enhanced my enjoyment of the sailing experience.

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