#ThursdayDoors: Halifax NS

For one of the oldest cities in Canada, Halifax NS has a remarkably young and energetic vibe. 

People don’t seem rushed or anxious to be first in line. If you step off a curb, cars stop and wait patiently for you to cross the street.  Of course, we lucked onto beautiful weather.

Like Montreal, it is a city for walking with a mixture of old architecture and new.

The old Town Clock was getting a facelift.

And tourists flocked to watch the hourly changing of the guard at the fortress (Citadel) on top of the hill.

It’s not quite as formal as its namesake ceremony at Buckingham Palace, as you can see.  Of course, the fellow above is not a soldier, he’s a docent.

The Citadel was never attacked although they were prepared. Below is the entrance to a zigzag of foxholes.Aside from wandering around the streets, we did visit the Immigration Museum where I found out my ancestors came to Canada before there was such a thing as immigration.

They just appeared on early census records listing their birthplaces as Ireland.  And here I always thought they were Scottish.  Right now I’m miffed at them for ever leaving Canada.

Check out other doors over at Norm’s Place! 

Car Eighteen Where Are you?

Don’t you just hate it when you’re not as smart as you think? Or that you were smart but too late in the game.  Or you just plain weren’t smart at all.  I’m talking about the overnight train from Montreal to Halifax in “renaissance” cars with old world charm, three course meals, and wine and cheese tastings in the afternoon.  The one with the observation car available only to the sleeper class passengers where you can enjoy panoramic vistas  of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  The train with the friendly staff who will regale you with local folklore. Yes, that undiscovered gem I was so smart to have stumbled upon.

You can probably guess the moral of this story. Googling “unique vacations” is going to get you to the same URL as three billion people also searching for a unique vacation.

In our case, we were joined by a group of about sixty party hardy retirees from Minneapolis. Relax and enjoy the countryside?  Hell no. The scene on board reminded me of the geriatric version of the movie Some Like it Hot.

 

Compounding the raucousness of the trip, the aisles in the sleeper cars (all eighteen of them) were so narrow that if you were heading toward the dining car (at the front of train) you would have to wait at the end of a car for the aisles to be clear or hop into a stranger’s cabin when confronted by someone going the opposite direction. But what am I saying? 

There are no strangers on a party train.  At times one group would confront another halfway down an aisle and flip coins as to who should back up and let the others pass. It was like being part of an eighteen hour conga line and guess which car we were in?  Yup, the eighteenth car.

Would I do it again?  Yes. Nova Scotia via train is spectacular although it’s not easy to get good pictures so you’ll have to take my word for it!  

Waiting at the End

tin hats

There are no heroes here, in the dark place, upon the black crust.  Walk you say.  Walk where you cannot walk.  Strive for the slope and hope to get above it all.  Fly to a safe clean vantage point, float in your mind, but you are stone, and there is no escape, no home, no warm bed and you have chosen this and there is nothing to be done but turn inward and make the best of a fucked up situation: be alone, be alive.  Deep into your body you grasp for cynical humor and bastardized love.  You stand upon the absurdity of how the world rips apart and causes great pain. All of this you feel as if you are in love with terror and you have dressed it in a kind of light that glows and shows you the way and so you begin to walk along the…

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Montreal, c’est si bon!

When I was a vain young woman, light years ago, a man once said to me “you’re not the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen but there’s something about you.” I was, of course, hurt because I was too stupid to recognize a true compliment.

I feel that way about Montreal. There are cities with more impressive skylines, grandiose monuments, luxuriant gardens, and iconic bridges but there’s just something about Montreal.

Take its namesake, Mt. Royal. It’s not really a mountain; it’s a hill. But what a peaceful way to spend an afternoon, climbing to the top on a gently winding path.

Of course, when I was eighteen and hungry for adventure, I’d bounded to the top on a series of steep stairs and listened to the musician, song-writer whose beautiful face now smiles down upon the campus of McGill University.

After leaving Mt. Royal, we walked down to the river through Vieux Montreal. There, in honor of that great Quebecer and photographer extraordinaire, Norm Frampton, I found a door.

And here is the plaque outside the door.

Across from the bank is Notre Dame Basilica:

We didn’t go inside because there was a line and we had a cruise to catch. But I did manage to catch a shot of the side door.

Besides being known as the city of a hundred bells, Montreal is also famous for its assortment of “quirky” buildings.

Most were built for Expos, World Fairs and Olympics. I should have been paying more attention to the tour guide but I was drinking this lovely Canadian ale and getting a sunburn.  Seriously, a sunburn in early October in Montreal? This apartment complex, called Habitat 67, was designed by a young architect as a part of his master’s thesis. Joel thought it was a little too quirky for his tastes but that’s Montreal.  Perhaps not the most beautiful city but an original.

Leave Room in Your Take-on for a Lobster

We just returned from a ten day trip and so now I am a travel expert. I could write a book and charge you money for my expertise but heck, I’m a generous sort of gal so you’re getting my top five or so tips free of charge. 

Tip Number One: After checking in to your hotel, Airbub, VRBO or friend’s couch, locate the nearest liquor store.  This is not as easy as it sounds. In Canada, where where we spent most of our vacation, liquor and wine are sold in well-guarded holes in the wall that are often hard to find. However, these shops only sell alcoholic beverages so if your nightly poison is a gin and tonic, you will have to find a separate grocery to purchase the tonic. Oddly, beer and hard cider are not considered alcoholic so they’re sold just about anywhere food is.

I’m not saying you should avoid the local bars and hole yourself up in your room to get sloshed. God no. Good bartenders are true artistes and it’s always fun to see what regional spin they’ll invent to liven up a standard. But, if you consume more than one Hop, Skip and Go Naked, you might just hop, skip and go naked.  So, it’s best to wait until you’re back in your room to get wobbly sloshy (the only way to watch the evening news in a country where the citizens think your president is a sick and perverted joke.)

Tip Number Two: If you can, splurge on a centrally located hotel so you can walk everywhere you want to go. Do not assume ride sharing services such as Lyft or Uber will be there for you. The two cities where we stayed, Montreal and Halifax, have outlawed them. Of course, there’s the Metro and bus service which I’m sure are absolutely wonderful but I’d rather march the old goat I’m married to all over town and listen him to complain for the next three days (another reason why locating the liquor store first is smart thinking).  Besides, a wrong turn every now and then can lead to new and fun adventures. Here is Joel on an overlook that overlooks nothing. Now, that’s not in the guidebooks!

Tip Number Three: If your hotel has one of those obnoxious turn down services, put the Do Not Disturb sign on your door and leave it there for the duration of your stay.  I don’t know about y’all but once I return from marching the old goat all over town, there ain’t no one gonna pry me from bed for a chocolate mint. A chocolate martini perhaps. Heck, if we’re staying at a hotel for more than one night, we put out the Down Not Disturb sign and never take it down. I’m one of those women who can’t stand to have people see my mess and so I will scour and scrub a hotel room if I think a maid might be coming in while I’m gone which kind of negates the idea of a vacation.

Tip Number Four: If you’re staying at a popular tourist destination, such as Halifax Nova Scotia, and you look out your hotel window in the morning and see five super gigantic cruise ships docked in the harbor, adjust your plans to visit all the must-see places.  I can assure you that the mile long line of buses parked at the wharf are waiting to shuttle three hundred thousand retirees out for a delicious lobster feast at Peggy’s Cove. Getting that perfect shot of the most iconic lighthouse in the world, well, is it worth trailing a line of tour buses for thirty five miles? Nay.  Trust me, there are other picturesque lighthouses in Nova Scotia. (Below Baddeck’s lighthouse)

Tip Number Five:  If you’re planning to take the famous Adirondack train from Montreal to Manhattan and are worried about passing through customs at the US border, keep two things in mind. First,  you will be leaving from Gare Centrale which is a cavernous station filled with shops, cafes, and the most heavenly bakeries in the world.  For crying out loud, unless you prefer microwaved hamburgers and three dollar bottles of water, purchase food and drink at the station.  It’s an eight hour trip and the tiny snack bar on the train runs out of everything by the time you reach Albany.

 The second thing to keep in mind is to rehearse your story.  You will be questioned at least three times by armed customs agents who stop the train out in the middle of nowhere.  They stand over you and, after asking the usual “Are you carrying explosive devices?” will ask gotcha questions such as: “When did you have your wisdom teeth removed?” “Are there any left-handed people in your family?” “Are you currently or have you ever eaten a rutabaga?”

And you better give the same answer every time they ask or they’ll pull you from the train and you’ll never be seen again.

Last tip: Always make room in your take on bag for a lobster. I didn’t and so we had to leave Halifax lobster-less.  Ah well, live and learn.

What are your favorite travel tips?

Who the hell cares?

Apologies for my quietude.  I’ve fallen into one of those rare moments of clarity, one might say “my muse hath come my way,” and I have been trying to make use of each moment she deigns to stick around. But I had to weigh in on a current controversy.

In 1994, an American writer by the name of Ethan Canin published a short story collection titled after its most famous story, The Palace Thief.  In this story, Mr. Hundert is a classics instructor at an elite prep school outside of Washington DC who encounters a student (Sedgewick Bell) who has no ethics. Bell mocks Mr. Hundert and the other boys in the class who are there to learn.

When Mr. Hundert catches him cheating at their annual Mr. Julius Caesar Contest, he calls the boy out. Twenty-five years later Bell gets his chance at vindication when, as a candidate for Senate, he lures Mr. Hundert and his former classmates to a campaign fundraiser at his estate and convinces them to recreate the Mr. Julius Caesar Contest. Again Bell cheats and Mr. Hundert calls him out.  But not in front of Bell’s audience of wealthy campaign donors. Instead, he lectures him in private.

The book was made into a movie titled The Emperor’s Club.  It’s a very good movie, however in the book Mr. Hundret is a far more complicated character than Kevin Kline’s portrayal. His commitment to teaching and to ethics borders on prissiness and inflexibility. He’s accused of being detached from the “real” world and his dedication is unappreciated by his peers. So, when he realizes he’s devoted his entire adult life to creating honorable men and has failed miserably with a man who might one day be in a position of great power, he falls off the cliff and into an ocean of self-doubt.  Is he mourning the decline of ethics in the modern world or the futility of his own life?  It’s hard to tell.

I thought about the Emperor’s Club this week as the Senate moves to approve the nomination of someone like Bell to the Supreme Court.  I’m not saying that  Kavanaugh would be the first unethical prep school boy in a position of power,  but the alarm has been sounded. Are the words of writers and the efforts of movie makers in vain in this our new reality, the real world? As Bell says, who the hell cares?

A Plea from the Headwaters

From the SF Chronicle today: “Our culture does not know the dream of the individual, the single person.  We have never lived with the dream of the self-made man.  We only know a world of symbiotic coexistence, one universe, and shared perpetual interconnectivity.  And that is what we wish to share, considering the destruction of the headwaters of the Amazon and the “aerial rivers” of vapor will affect both the residents of your Fisherman’s Wharf and our Sapara community of Naku.”

Read the whole article here:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/We-come-from-Ecuador-to-say-we-must-stop-the-13219226.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result