A 1,000-K Run

After meticulous planning we decided that we should try to get to Thunder Bay in one day from Manatoulin Island. That’s over 1,000 km. If we did it, we would not have to go over 400 miles on any other day and still make it to Vancouver by the 1st.

We had a bad start. We chose to have breakfast at a Tim Horton. To sum up, if Michelin ever visits a Tim Horton they will immediately award one star to McDonald’s. The service was slow, the sausage biscuit was soggy and tasteless, the hash browns were flabby, the doughnuts were made sometime yesterday; even the coffee tasted bad. We have no idea what item on the menu is “Always Fresh.” We didn’t have it.

After breakfast things got better. The weather was perfect and the scenery beautiful. We agreed, however, that the best way to enjoy the lake and the woods would be to stop and sit down for a few hours. Perhaps a cottage would be a good idea? After a few hundred kilometers we found a pullout (not many are signed). In this one spot we found lots to see.

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Wildflowers abounded. We passed hundreds of km. of them beside the road. These yellow and white flowers were the most common, but occasionally you could see fields of lupine.

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These were everywhere on our little beach.

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Lots of puffy white clouds.

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I think these are swallowtails.

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A driftwood dolphin? No real dolphins in Lake Superior.

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More clouds rolling in.

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All this from just one stop!

We had a cracker and cheese lunch and ploughed on. The rains did come, sometimes quite hard, but with only modest traffic they didn’t cause any trouble. By the time we were ready for dinner they had stopped. We chose the Red Dog Motel in Terrace Bay just by chance – Alice had been demanding Lake Superior Whitefish (not Lake Ontario, Lake Superior…) and the menu of this otherwise ordinary-looking restaurant had fresh Walleye. It turned out to be very good – a winner!

200 km later we were in Thunder Bay at 9:15. Now we can relax. Only 400 miles to Winnipeg.

Rain

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The last two days have been dominated by rain. Alice and Biber (Sue and John’s Turkish black and white cat) solved this problem by sleeping in.

When the rain stopped after lunch we drove up the Niagara Escarpment and took a walk in Lowville Park. Bronte Creek was full, no surprise.

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We found lots of black damselflies, a color I’d not seen before.

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After a relaxing drive back home, we had a grilled steak dinner, perfectly cooked in spite of the appearance of the bodacious upstairs lady, minimally dressed, out for a walk with her Chihuahua. John had previously been banned from the grill after burning a steak while talking with another tenant.

Today it was time to leave, sadly. Sue and John were great hosts and we had a great time even in the rain, talking non-stop. We learned amazing things about old acquaintances, such as Marci McCallum who was a horse-riding buddy of Sue and my sister Nancy in Oakville, and is now the daughter-in-law of the late Lady Astor (Nancy) and is by that route now herself Lady Astor.

We’re still trying to design a route home and for the moment it goes across Canada. The first leg was up to Owens Sound and then Tobermory to catch the ferry to Manatoulin Island. On the drive we saw lots of farm fields flooded and at least one farmhouse/barn surrounded by water with a greenhouse upended. It really has been too wet this spring. It rained most of our drive.

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We heard the ferry long before we spotted it coming out of the fog.

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The name of the ferry is local First Nation (the tribe I don’t know) for Big Canoe. The paint is fresh!

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Big Snapping-Turtle would have been equally appropriate.

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Mobile passengers ranged from busses to bikers.

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Echoes of the Queen Mary. What with the fog and sailing into the wind there were no takers for the promenade deck.

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The sun did come out. Bikers had gotten off, but more bikers got on. At the café for dinner that night they were filling orders for pizza for an entire motel full of bikers. The ones we met were very pleasant.

So, we made it to Manatoulin and the fog cleared. The weather map says we have a day or two where the rain will not bother us much, so tomorrow it’s on to Thunder Bay.

Flowers

Today’s expedition was to the Royal Botanic Gardens on the Hamilton/Burlington border. It’s a complex of about four ‘gardens’. We went to the Rock garden first and got a red “[Notorious] RBG” stamped on our wrist so we could visit the other four.

Our eccentricity of the day was a group of people on the pedestrian overpass of the train tracks, waiting with their video cameras at the ready. Trainspotting. What do they do with the videos? To be fair, they probably make as much use of them as I do with food photos.

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One of the roads into the gardens was flooded, to the delight of the local geese.

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The Rock Garden is an old gravel quarry. In the foreground, penstemon “Dark Tower”. The iris cultivars had some weird names too, like “Baboon Bottom.”

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Looking rather like an exhibit in Tomorrowland were these “ornamental” onions.

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Sue and John and The Onions.

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Not every tree was green.

Well, this blog is not a flower catalog, thank goodness. BUT, the garden[s] are spectacular and worth a day. Timing is important – we were a bit late for the iris gardens, for instance. There are indoor gardens for Mediterranean flora to keep the cactus happy in the winter. Even the café is not bad (try the Reuben).

Burlington Ontario

Yesterday we drove from Connecticut to the border, had a jolly talk with the Canadian border officer and drove another 50 miles to Burlington to see Sue and John Swan.

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They rent the ground floor in this very attractive house which is a ten minute walk from the lakeshore.

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So we took at least an hour’s walk down to the lake and along the shore. The lake is at its highest recorded level ever. There were some sandy beaches but they have been submerged or washed away, and the sump pumps in lakeshore houses are working overtime. It’s still beautiful – and much cleaner than when I lived here. There are even catchable salmon! Amazing.

We walked a  bit more to a café for cappuccino and a croissant. What a life.

After lunch we went to Toronto to see Faye and Willi. Faye has been housebound because of a bicycling accident so we stopped and got scones for tea at an Oakville bakery.

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Faye, Willi, Sue, Me, John.

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Faye, Me, Sue, John, Alice. Can’t get everyone in without a tripod.

Faye hasn’t changed a bit – still full of laughter in spite of being under house arrest. We had a non-stop chin-wag for two hours. Faye told us about seeing a sport that old fogy tennis players are adopting: pickleball. Sue described a rowdy adult party game called, “Are you there, Moriarity?” The latter needs a few cocktails before being played.

For dinner we went out in the driving rain to a Greek restaurant.

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Gyro & Greek salad; souvlaki; appetizer trio. We are in danger of eating too much.

A Broadway Play

But first, an addition to yesterday’s visit to The Cloisters. The café at this museum is bad. Terrible. Minimal choice, third-class quality and way overpriced. Avoid at all costs.

Today we drove to NYC to see a matinee of “Present Laughter,” a Noel Coward revival starring Kevin Kline. It was superb. Noel Coward wrote well but requires exquisite comedy timing to deliver the goods. Badly timed dialogue kills the wit completely. Luckily for us every actor was up to the task. Mr. Kline as the ham actor star was perfect. He did physical comedy, played some Beethoven on the piano, and his tour de force was extracting a dressing gown from its box and after a 360 degree turn somehow was wearing it. When you get applause for putting on a dressing gown ….  and he did win the Tony for the role.

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We had 4th row seats and were able to see that his close-up interactions with the other actors were full of facial nuances that most of the audience would never see. He and the cast were really into the play – and they do this every day and twice on Sundays.

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Alice, Merion and Steve Stricker at the Intercontinental.

Afterwards we stopped at the Intercontinental Hotel down the street for some bar food which was excellent. We were back in Norwalk by 8:00 where we said goodbyes to cousin Merion and Katrin.

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Merion’s apartment view.

I [heart] NY

I Red heart NY
(would you believe WordPress won’t let met put a Red heart in the title?

We are here in Norwalk CT in the EVEN hotel. It’s funky. If you like glass, chrome, and kale for breakfast, this is the place. It is obviously designed for the young, hip, and fit youth market. For us old, hep and alive people, it is still a nice hotel but the fitness equipment in the room has not been touched. After putting the 6 ounce box of organic chocolate chip cookies for $7.50 out of our minds, the remaining problem is noise. The sliding opaque glass bathroom doors make every event a public event. The hallway doors are perfect transmitters of sound. We had two wedding parties last night and even the youth trying to sleep came out in the hall to object.

Yesterday we went to The Cloisters. This is an arm of the MET Museum, built to house things created from the Romanesque to late Mediaeval periods, from spoons to entire rooms. Sometimes the ‘new’ building is impossible to tell from the old doorway it contains. Very nicely done.

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From a Romanesque chapel near Segovia, Spain, ~1200 AD. This shows how well the museum integrates itself with the artifacts. Also, the mural is from a second chapel, also of the period, near Tredos, Spain.

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Southern France, 12th century. Detail from a cloister column showing an unusual imaginative move from the stone mason – tiny busts instead of the more common leaves and animals.

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One of four cloister gardens, this one for flowers.

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The glory of The Cloisters is the collection of tapestries. This is one of an original set of Nine Examples for Kingly Behavior and it is King Arthur. The 3-crown pattern indicates his (supposed) rule of England, Scotland and Brittany.

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And the pinnacle of the tapestry collection is the series, “The Hunt of the Unicorn.” Dedicated readers may remember our visit to Stirling Castle in Scotland where a copy was being completed. The tale the tapestries tell is still being deciphered. In this panel the unicorn is defending itself; in another it has been killed; in the most famous panel it is captured alive. What really happened? What is the allegory?

Why Stirling Castle chose it to be reproduced for their total renovation of the castle is a bit clearer. Apparently James V owned a copy of the original (I didn’t know there were copies).

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To my birdwatching mind, this tapestry is the most interesting. It is called, “The Falcon’s Bath.” (Low countries, 1400-1415). Giving a falcon a bath is a fascinating concept. Rumor has it that there was an accompanying tapestry entitled, “Giving a Cat a Pill,” but it was in such poor condition (shredded, actually) that it could not be restored.

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Finally, the most exotic item, a chessboard/box made of amber. I mean, wow. The chess pieces are not original, but the originals must have been special too. This was among the items that the MET considered must be encased in bulletproof glass.

Driving from Norwalk to the Cloisters was not so bad, except for the occasional idiot driver. NY drivers are aggressive, and considering the way the traffic and the streets are, one understands. Some of them are insane, like the pickup truck that tried to get ahead of us after the merge lane had disappeared.* Oh well. And the trip home took 1:45 for 36 miles. I’ll be glad when we leave the urban area, but tomorrow we have to go in again for a play. Better be a really good play.

* he failed. We California drivers aren’t made of glass.

Last day at sea

We had a docking day in Halifax on the 13th but I had caught a cold (the famous ‘Cunard Cough’) and we stayed aboard. The next day, our last at sea, was sunny but windy. In the afternoon I took a walk around the top deck and was the only one there. The QM2 had morphed into the Marie Celeste.

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This deck did not get any use during the trip. Even on a sunny day it was cold.

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Interesting. Right out in plain view.

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Finally, in the only protected space, a few people were out in the sun. They were all fully clothed. There was an indoor pool under a transparent roof and that was well-attended, but you will be spared a photo of elderly pale people in swimsuits.

I had  been going to bridge lessons on and off and on the last day we had a duplicate ‘tournament’. By some miracle my partner and I came in 2nd! While that was going on Alice went to the last concert by the classical guitarist – we both went to the other two. And so the day passed until it was time to pack and and an early bedtime so we could be up for the pre-dawn arrival in NY.

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We arose at 4:30 and it was way too dark. And it was very dim when we passed under the Verrazano Bridge,

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The sun was just coming up behind the Brooklyn skyline. Our dock was in Brooklyn so we did not get a shot of the Manhattan skyline at sunrise.

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Eventually there was enough light to get the Statue of Liberty.

Because we had packed relatively lightly and did not need luggage assistance, we were able to walk off the QM2 at 7:15, find a taxi, and by 8:30 we had our car and the hotel lost and found gave us our cell phone. Back in the USA, ready to cross the continent one more time!