Winnipeg

Today was mostly a rainy day. Good day for non-stop driving. Around lunchtime the sun did come out and we looked for a pulloff at a scenic spot. We struck out. For the last 2000 km I think we have counted 7 signed scenic stops. Yesterday our stop was an impromptu turn across traffic to an unmarked stretch of gravel. Today no such luck. We passed many lakes but never a place to stop beside one. USA-1, Canada-0.

Our GPS is also acting up. It gives you the time of arrival and includes traffic delays. Yesterday those predicted delays ranged from 30 minutes to five hours, but they never materialized. Today the range was up to an hour, but again no problems. Something about Canadian traffic sensors is crashing its programming. USA-1, Canada-1, GPS-0.

Because today was so wet, the only photos are from dinner at Maxime’s in Winnipeg. This is a family restaurant and serves chain-cuisine. In other words, if you know what you want (steak, fish, pizza, whatever) find a chain restaurant that specializes. Maxime tries to do everything, and is just OK.

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Cute building, and the parking lot was full. The blue-hair crowd was out in force.

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Helpful waiter.

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Sunday special – roast beef. It was actually pretty good.

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Alice ordered fish again, but en brochette. Don’t do this. You always get shorted on the headline ingredient with a brochette. I have marked the four bites of miso-honey pickerel with an “X”. There was more green pepper than fish.

Dessert was a Winnipeg specialty, the waiter said. It was angel food cake infused with lots of pecan bits that turned it brown, layered and frosted with whipped cream. It was very good and might be worth trying at home.

Tomorrow it’s off to Moose (Møøse?) Jaw, a place I have wanted to visit ever since I heard the name. Our route also takes us, two days from now, through Medicine Hat. As far as I know, the town names are the only unusual thing about them, but they have been on my bucket list for 60 years.

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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.

Food

This is collected into one blog so that anyone who wishes can avoid the topic.

The main dining room for us is the Britannia. It serves all meals via sit-down and menu. For dinner we have formal (black tie or dark suit and tie) and informal (jacket with tie optional). The food is generally good to excellent.

The King’s Court is a buffet and in case you grow weary of dressing up, or want a wider selection, that’s where you go. The food is very good. The Carinthia Lounge is where you go for more boutique food and is a bit of a disappointment so we only went there once.

The Britannia serves three-course meals. The appetizer soup courses are very good, especially the cold fruit soups, but the photos are boring.

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On our second night we were invited to dine with the 1st Electrical Officer. Among other things he uses port time to inspect the electric motors that propel the ship in a diesel-electric configuration, so he gets no time off. But the highlight of the evening was Alice’s place card:

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Lunch in the Britannia. Left; roast Cressingham duck with almond croquette potatoe (sic), panache of vegetables and green beans, cherry sauce with Kirsch. Verdict: a bit overcooked. Right: filet of lemon sole with parsley new potatoes, asparagus and carrots with a brown butter and caper sauce. Verdict: excellent.

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Dinner in the Britannia. Left: grilled sea bass with bok choy, tomato confit, turned potatoes (?) and glazed carrots with a white wine beurre blanc. Verdict: excellent. Right: roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower Mornay, panache of honey roasted thyme root vegetables, roast potatoes, natural jus, horseradish sauce. Verdict: good, but a bit over-described for roast beef.

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Formal dinner in the Britannia. Actually, food did not vary between formal and informal nights. Upper left: Surf and Turf – grilled beef mignon with a Cajun and herb butter lobster tail, pommes lorette and Hollandaise sauce. Verdict: somebody bought a load of lobster tails that had been processed too slowly and had very little flavor.

Desserts were very good, or at least I was told so because I always chose the ice cream. Upper right: trio of chocolate with dark chocolate mousse and Oreo crumbs. Lower right: strawberry delice with champagne jelly and raspberry sauce. Lower left: strawberry and mint chocolate chip ice cream and black currant sorbet and caramel sauce.

Enough! Overall I would rate the food as good to very good. Considering they serve 12,000+ meals a day, they do a very good job.

Exploring the Queen

We received, in the end, and upgrade of 5 levels, from cheap inside cabin to outside cabin with window. No balcony, but in the weather we are having, nobody is having tea on their balcony.

The ‘style’ of the ship is supposed to be a nod to Art Deco, and there is a lot of that. Our room, however, is more Art Moderne.

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It’s long and narrow, but much more roomy than we expected. It’s twice as large as our hotel room in London!

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Nice big window.

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Too small a desk, but the internet charges mean you don’t use the computer very much.

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This is what I mean by Art Moderne. Curved, blonde, and very sleek. And lots of room for our extensive collection of evening wear.

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When you approach the main lobby the style becomes Early Gaudy.

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Then Art Deco floats above.

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This is the entrance to the theater/planetarium. Now we’re getting close to Rockefeller Center Art Deco.

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Inside the theater. The dome is lowered for planetarium shows and only the central red chairs can be used. I’m afraid that the ‘asteroid’ show we saw was pretty pale, both in color and intellectual depth.

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Here is the Art Deco god of cinema, Sikspak Abs.

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The 3rd level approach to the lobby and elevator ranks is a series of 3-dimensional murals.

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Like this one for Africa.

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We were experiencing high winds to the point that the decks were closed a lot and the deck chairs were tied down to keep them from blowing overboard. When we docked in Halifax they finally brought out the chair pads and those of us who stayed on board had a nice afternoon.

Embarkation

Due to the high cost and low, sometimes non-existent performance of the on-board internet, all QM2 blogs are delayed.

Wednesday, June 7th. D-day was yesterday. Today we set sail for America.

This morning we decided not to have a pub breakfast. There was a creperie across the street.

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Nutella on the left, a breakfast crepe (scrambled eggs and bacon inside) on the right. Alice got sugar overload from the Nutella and I could not finish this enormous filled crepe. Too much good.

We checked out, wheeled our luggage 3 blocks to the pickup point, spent 3 hours on the bus and arrived at Southampton Docks.

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45 minutes after that we were in our cabin. We were upgraded twice, for no obvious reason, beginning with the second-cheapest inside cabin and ending up with an outside cabin with a window! The cabin is remarkably large too. Photos tomorrow.

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Replacement propeller blades, known as the Captain’s Cufflinks, adorn the forward observation deck.

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A chill wind did not keep us from the deck chairs. We were about to leave, but another ship got the drop on us. It blew its horn as it cleared our dock and the QM2 replied with the most enormous, blatty horn ever. It was the kind of horn that opened the gates to Mordor.

After the mandatory safety drill we barely had time to dress for dinner. Informal on the first night – jacket required but not a tie.

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Part of the Peasants’ (that’s us)  Dining Room. The style of the ship leans towards Art Deco and is heavily influenced by the first Queen Mary.

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Yes, it’s Food Photo Time! From the upper left, clockwise: Bay shrimp and grapefruit salad with Marie Rose (1000 island it seems) sauce; Leg of lamb with Savoy cabbage and roasted potatoes; Chocolate Marquise (a heavy mousse) with bitter orange coulis; Honey, Coconut and Ginger Ice Cream.

If the first meal is an indication, we are in for some good dinners. This one was excellent.

A Weekend Wedding

Catching up – Friday (two days ago) we had a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call scheduled, but we could not sleep so we got up at 2:30 and drove to the airport. This main Iceland airport is busy 24/7 and the Icelandair lounge was open for business. Alice slept a little in a lounge chair and we had a nice breakfast.

The flight to Hamburg left late but we had no schedules to meet. That was lucky, because after deplaning and renting a car, we ventured into Hamburg and found more traffic than Los Angeles during the Friday rush hour. It was the beginning of a long weekend and everybody had hit the road. Add frequent road works on the autobahn and three hours later we completed the 1 1/4 hour journey to Kiel.

Our hotel is next to the harbor and two gigantic cruise ships were docked. Many hotel visitors were transferring over, but all we wanted was dinner – we had not eaten since 7:00.

Saturday was wedding day. Cousin Carola and her husband Peter drove us to the wedding site and all I forgot was my camera. Oy. It was a beautiful manor house in the country. With horses. And balloons. My bad.

The ceremony could not have been photographed anyway, but the reception afterwards certainly could have. Apparently a large group of friends of the bride and groom are professional bakers, or at least it appeared so because there were 16 beautiful and different cakes set out. The big one that was cut by the B&G was a two-foot heart-shaped strawberry torte. Fantastic. Then the crowd moved on to all flavors, fruit, chocolate, marzipan, and on and on. Prosecco. Party on.

But the party was only in Phase 1. After a brief return to the hotel, we walked down the harborside to a place which, at first, might make one rethink one’s dinner plans.

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This is the pennant of the “Kieler Kanu Klub” (Kiel Canoe Club). Interesting, yes? It’s a rowing and paddling (canoes) sport club with an entertainment venue they rent out.

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Here’s the pre-dinner setup.

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Robert, husband of cousin Barbara, and Alice. Some kind of cocktail was served in straight (black straw) and non-alcoholic (red straw) forms, in tiny mason jars.

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From the balcony we watched one of the cruise ships go out. This apartment block on a raft houses 2790 passengers.

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Note the green VW bus in the parking lot; it is the Otte family’s all purpose camping, field hockey transport, etc., with flowers glued on and a wedding date (and a sign in the back) so the bride and groom can make an inconspicuous departure.

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Here is the happy couple. Philipp is Alice’s 1st cousin, once removed. Lena is a local girl (Kiel) and one he met through field hockey, both of them being players at a pretty high level. They have delayed their honeymoon until September when their first stop will be Our House!

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But on to more important matters – dinner. The first course was DIY tomato soup. I guess this was done as part of the evening’s entertainment.

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Each table had a secret clue under one of the table decorations that told you when it was your turn for the buffet. Ours was “Dirty Dancing.” When the disk jockey played ‘our’ music, it was our turn. The trick was recognizing the music. Alice and Carola took a second or two, but we got our cue.

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After dinner the first dance (with sparklers!) began. Not a good photo, I fear. Lena and Philipp are center left. After the parents cut in and everyone joined in, the disco ball was lit and the fast dancing began. We took this as our cue (it was midnight) to leave it to the kiddies (the hall was rented until 4:00 a.m.).

A Blustery Day

This morning was cloudy, unlike yesterday. After breakfast we drove southeast to find waterfalls and whatever else was on offer. The first hour was in a steady rain but when we reached the Seljalandfoss (the Seljaland waterfall) the sun came out.

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Many more people were here than in this picture. The parking lot was full. One shudders to think of the crowd when summer comes.

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It’s a very large fall and you can walk behind it. We had to choose between the falls in the Golden Circle and this one, and walking behind was the clincher.

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And this is what it looks like when you do. As if there wasn’t enough wind already, the falling water creates its own turbulence and everyone who went behind got wet.

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The entire cliff face had 4 major waterfalls and lots of little ones.

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Northern Fulmars were nesting on the cliff.

We enjoyed this area for an hour or so, and good thing we lingered. As we drove farther south the clouds came down and soon we were in continuous rain. There was a black sand beach we wanted to see, along with the nesting birds nearby, but the wind was ferocious and the rain never stopped.

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I’m guessing the wind was a steady 30 mph plus, with gusts that shook the car and kept me in the parking lot.

We decided to go on to Vik before turning around. We had lunch there, nothing special but typically expensive, and started home. The weather did not let up. We found out later that an “Adventure Tour” our dinner neighbors had booked to this area was canceled on account of high winds. Good call.

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We did grab a few snaps on the way. The roadside flowers were lupine and the national flower of Iceland, the dandelion. Well, they are everywhere, just like the waterfalls.

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A sod house, still being used for hay storage. Our guide from yesterday said all his grandparents were born in sod houses.

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Iceland ponies, but not the wild ones. There were numerous signs offering horses for rent.

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Little House on the Prairie.

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Cloudy and rainy as it was, there were occasional holes in the clouds and the far distant scenery would light up. You could not easily stop on the highway, but this brief illumination took place near a side road so we stopped.

Birdwatching was not easy and except for the fulmars we saw most of them from the car. Identified birds were: Common Raven, Common Eider, Arctic Tern (lots of ‘em), Northern Fulmar, Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, some kind of swallow (they are all rare or accidental, so whatever), White Wagtail, Eurasian Wren, Fieldfare.

We drove over 400km in search of sunlight and found mostly rain today, but the one big sunny spot made up for it. Now we have the task of getting some sleep because we have a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call to make a 7:00 a.m. flight to Hamburg.