Vietnam: Saigon 3 nights

Vietnam
I was dealing with four currencies in one day – very confusing. The VND is in ridiculously high notes – 500.000VND = 30CAD. At least my just shy of 500CNY can be put away for 20 days. I will have to be vigilant about spending, too easy to get confused and end up paying too much for something. The fact USD/CAD/EUROS & even CNY could be used at the airport – besides exchanging – surprised me. I squirrelled my money to brave the streets of Saigon to find dinner. I hoped to do some tours while in Saigon as there was no way I had enough time to work out how to get anywhere on my own.

When I first went to China in 1996 I could not believe how many bicycles there were, to be replaced by motor scooters then cars over two decades – all making for some crazy driving. Move forward 21 years to Vietnam and it is motor scooters – except the streets are insane! The noise is deafening, people jostle for a foot or wheel hold, horns toot, people shout out to passing riders to stop for a bite, parents are fetching children from school, the after school vendors are on their scooters (ready to push off if any authority shows up – happens in China too). Everyone has a place to with pedestrians at the bottom of priorities. Perhaps simply because they must not be going far if walking?

 
I somehow managed to walk to the wet market several blocks down – I had no idea where I was heading – and even tried out some street food. The French influence means some pretty tasty, crusty bread is found at many stalls. One place drew my attention when a crust had just been opened and was being filled with something interesting. The fellow holding it was also quite entertaining while he tried to entice me to try some. It worked. For 20,000VND I had dinner – bread filled with nicely done tofu, a long slice of cucumber marinating in something (most likely to keep it fresh), some pickled goodies, slightly cooked sprouts and a dash of hot sauce. No pictures, no pandas allowed out to share, too dangerous with all those scooters. Probably some fumes mixed in the meal. Picked up some milk to make coffee, then called it a night other than arranging for a full day City tour the next day. 

View from my room.

War Museum, how the hell does humanity still get so entangled to maim, torture, wrest away freedom, deny basic rights, fault religious and political beliefs, enough to kill each other? As my fellow morning seat mate said, I was crying on the inside. We did not have enough time for thoroughly learning about the atrocities of yet another crime against humanity.

Made from shrapnel this sculpture depicts the anguish of the mother’s of Vietnam.

Reconciliation Palace (not the War Museum) ignore the date – itvreally wasx taken in 2017!

While there My youngest daughter tried to call me. Her closest sister let me know then connected us with FB – seems she wishes she had met me in Saigon after all. I said to just come. Logistically it will most likely mean she will be a day behind me on the motorcycle tour. We are waiting on flights and an available driver and bike. (Update – it took a couple of days for her to organize everything so she would meet me in Hoi An after my tour)

Chinatown – sort of the same as any wet market, and wholesale goods in China. No idea why we were brought there other than perhaps to keep us amused for an hour. I think most of the participants were just confused and not too happy at the prospect of hanging around a maze of shops selling everything from spices, chili sauces, dried everything to whatever one might need in the home or office- plus items never even considered, let alone knowing what they were for, this form someone who has shopped in Chinese markets.

Incense cones – individuals buy these to be hung from the rafters. They tend to burn longer than the sticks.
Two deities in full glory – so brilliant behind glass. Note the pink seat next to it – in some cultures a most venerated monk would sit here, I am unsure if that was its purpose as I did not see such seats in Chinese Buddhist temples.

Pit stop for civet coffee. Of course this was the inevitable sales pitch to buy, buy, buy. At least the coffee served was free. 
A short stop, about 20 minutes at the Chinese Temple to the goddess of the sea. Built in the 17th c. The idols were beautifully draped in finery. I was beginning to feel rushed. Lunch stop, I finally had Pho! Naturally this was an extra charge. It worked out because everyone could order what they wanted or go to one of many other small restaurants. They all seem to work together when it comes to large tour groups.



Another Pit stop, this time at one of several (I discovered this the next day)Handicapped Handicrafts tour/sales pitch. The sign says 100% of the proceeds goes to the care of the individuals doing the lacquer work but how do we know? The Reunification Museum – where the tanks crashed through the gates in 1975 which basically ended the war – has about 100 rooms but we only had an hour to rush through maybe half of them. I know it sounds crazy for someone interested in history but I chose to give it a miss and headed to Highland Coffee outside the gates where I had an iced coffee and stayed cool. The gardens did look lovely, but I could see hem from outside the wrought iron fence. When I asked a fellow passenger what she thought she said it was only alright and they were rushed. Happy with my decision. Perhaps I will return to Vietnam.

Notes Dame Cathedral, built in the 1880s, was on the list of places included in the tour – too bad they did not bother to mention, until we were there – that it has been closed past three years for major renovations. All we could do was peer through the fence and take photos from a distance. I would have loved to see inside. However, with the Central Saigon Post Office right across the street I might have managed some interesting pictures. The post office was built in 1886, busy times back then, with a definite French architectural influence from the time. This is a favourite stop for tourists to buy a postcard, buy a stamp and have it postmarked from Ho Chih Minh – I wonder if they mail the postcard to their address. 

The arched, high ceiling of the post office.

That ended my first full day. I foolishly booked a 5:30am early morning tour plus the Cu Chi Tunnels for the next day. It was time for bed.

Day Two

Time for my early morning tour. I opened the door to don my sturdy, comfortable, Clarke’s sandals that used to be my mother’s….to discover they were not there. I looked inside, I checked my room, I checked all the rooms, although I knew full well I had left them on the door sill. Someone had stolen my shoes. So much for trying to live like the locals. I thought I was doing what everyone does by removing my shoes before entering a home. Seems they also bring in their footwear before retiring, I was furious and angry. I hoped the shoes would bring him nothing but misery – perhaps trip and break a leg; a possibility considering they were a size 8 whereas most women in Vietnam wear a couple of sizes smaller. Perhaps it was a man. So, that place will not be recommended.The poor guide who met me was unsure what to do with a sobbing woman the age of his grandmother when I informed him I did not know if I was up to a tour. All I wanted to do was pack and go home. 

I persevered, we headed out to see the sun rising, feel a cooling breeze and watch the city wake up. Although my guide, whose name has now escaped me, suggested I turn around to watch the sunrise I chose to watch the reflection on the river and buildings in the centre of the city . Much prettier than the garbage and rat I saw scurrying nearby.


Saigon has a massive population of over 20 million, very little space and few tall buildings to put them in. They do however have the Saigon River and many people live on the water selling a variety of goods. Most of these people come from further north, only going home during major holidays. Their children stay with grandparents to attend school. The one boat we were hoping to visit was not yet pulled into shore so we chatted about the lives of the people and some of the goods they sell. This one appeared to sell plants and, like nearly every other boat, coconuts. Each boat has living quarters and a small kitchen at the bow and lots of space for goods. They all had large, stylized eyes painted on the prow looking down to frighten away any evil spirits lurking in the water. Unlike many fishermen off the westcoast of BC when I was young up boat dwellers know how to swim – we discussed this and came to the conclusion that it is easier to climb out of a river than an ocean if you fall in. I should note that nowadays fishermen in Canada tend to know how to swim and have all sorts of flotation equipment. 

My guide was sweet, he asked if I felt any better and could he give me a hug. He was an awkward 22 year old so I thought it was alright. I did indeed feel better. Our next stop was the wholesale flower market. Flowers, flowers and more flowers. Made the me think of the musical My Fair Lady where everyone is preparing to sell and buy flowers for the day. The market never closes, 24 hour flower power. Deliveries of flowers from the delta arrive in the early morning – usually by 4:00am – and flower shops from all over the city pick up their choices starting around 6:00am. Not only were there flowers to sell in large quantities though; some stalls had astonishingly large arrangements prepared, others were preparing fancy arrangements and everywhere was busy. I learned that a display including purple and white flowers are for funerals whereas ones with red flowers are for good luck. We stopped at a stall where roses and orchids are sold where my guide presented me with a red rose. I knew it was a gimmick but his sincerity washed that thought away. 



The next stop was to a park for breakfast where people gather to hang their bird cages, sip coffee and eat breakfast while visiting. Hundreds of bamboo cages were hanging above the low tables where the birds could have fresh air and provide some rather pleasant birdsong. I would have though so many varieties of birds would create a cacophony of noise. It was actually rather pleasant. Of course we had coffee. I am becoming good at saying absolutely no sugar although I do get some stares of horror. Thick, heavily sweetened, condensed milk added to a Espresso shot is practically a national drink in Vietnam. In addition, a glass of iced green tea is often provided to help cut the bitterness. Coffee and Pho, not a bad was to end my early morning tour. We went past the two hours so had to hustle to my next tour – the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chih Minh.


The war in Vietnam was a tragedy, as is, in my opinion, any war. The politicians do not suffer the indignities or war. So, again, how often do we need reminding?  The tunnels are about a 1 1/2 – 2 hour drive from the city centre. We made one stop at yet another Handicapped Handicrafts site – a chance to stretch my legs while avoiding the sales pitch. 

The Cu Chi Tunnels were built and used by the Viet Cong from the 1940s, hidden in the jungle, as a way to escape the French during the Indochine war and eventually from American soldiers into the 1970s. The Viet Cong lived in the tunnels when absolutely necessary but otherwise had camps above ground also. Rather gruesome traps were built to prevent discovery, hidden air holes were drilled and hidden for staying underground for several days. Quick escapes into and out of the tunnels were built and camouflaged. I did try one of the tunnels, these are nasty places even now with low lights to guide visitors. I am only 5’2″ but had to stoop to pass through. It is impossible to carry a bag on your back and in some spots it is necessary to nearly crawl forward close to the ground – I did not make that attempt. Not a place to visit if claustrophobic.

Like an enemy soldier, it is possible to stand on one of the escape hatches without knowing it is there.

When I finally made it back to my room there was still no sign of my sandals. They were truly gone. I went in search of dinner, got turned around at one point – not a good idea in a city maze – finally made it to my corner, bought my dinner then was stuck where I was when a major rainstorm hit. An hour passed, I ate my dinner, sat on a chair provided by a shopkeeper and watched as water poured from the sky, down the road and into ditches. We were nearly inundated. I finally made a dash for my corner again to be stopped by water that would most likely go half way to my knees. So I did the only sensible thing – I bought a pair of pink thongs (flip-flops).
Fast food in Vietnam.

Exciting last night in Saigon. I would be heading out in the morning on a ten day motorbike tour – I hoped for sun.

Vietnam visa 25USD; SIM 15CAD;Taxi 165,000VND;Room 1.9 mill (106CAD) includes brkfst; Lunch 51,000; Entrance fees 15,000; Tour 9USD; TAXI 62,000; Iced coffee 49,000; Dinner, water, milk 42,500; Morning tour 25USD; Tunnels 125,000? + 110,000+ lunch 70,000 Pho & bottle water; Dinner: bought two eggs 6000VND; one orange 12,000!; donair because caught in a rainstorm 17,000; thongs 39,000

Or, to make things easier, I spent about 75.00CAD per day. 

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Pushing My Buttons: or why my BP goes up

First, I should make it clear that I do not think my blood pressure did go up. Of course I chose to not check it. As I grow older I am also far more mellow than when I was younger, raising children and juggling all the unnecessary stuff that made up my life. Slough off much of that and everything seems just that much easier. It might not be, but it feels like it. Then every once in a while I hit a roadblock. Or, in this case a derailment.

Not to worry, it was a figurative one. After spending far too much time working on an itinerary that will give me time to actually enjoy each place I visit, I booked my train passage for the first leg of my trip. I had every intention of booking this time with travelchinaguide.com a dollar (USD) cheaper than chinahighlights.com and far more information to glean ideas from. However, I found some challenges with their payment request. Little did I know that their competitor also requires a copy of the ‘payer’s passport’. In other words, although it is me paying, me going, but not my PayPal account I would have to ask the person whose account I am using to send along a photo of their passport. 

National Day crowds I am hoping to avoid – one of Shanghai’s three train stations

I realize someone is under the impression this is for security measures. I just do not see it. Therefore, after checking out chinahighlights.com -I used them last year – and finding nothing to suggest any difficulties, I booked and paid through them. Except the app used seemed to only Book one trip at a time. Which then seemed to be booked – but not yet paid – and an email was sent with a booking number along with a request for money. I sent a message to cancel it. 
Back on track using the website, four trains booked, paid for through PayPal using my debit/visa, no need for anyone to do it on my behalf. Except this time all I received was a PayPal receipt. No booking number, no confirmation, nothing. I started to panic. I thought my money was lost in the ether. Finally, about three hours later, I received a message (I had sent an email) that the money was received and my tickets would be ordered. Except….did I really want to leave Shanghai on May 20th? Oh my goodness! Am I glad some bright individual caught that.
Not my ticket, but look at all that information!

So, happy with the agency I used, still unsure if they need a photo of my passport for proof of purchase – the cancelled app order asked for it , but the main order there was no mention. So long as I have four train tickets to pick up in Sep no problem.
Shanghai to Suzhou; Suzhou to Nanjing; Nanjing to Huangshan (this was a test – I told my daughter Hangzhou); Huangshan to Shanghai. All for 165.67 CAD

Kingston Penitentiary Tour

The Pen never got less intimidating as we made our way. Birds soaring free – unintentional taunting.
Main entrance centre of building. Everywhere there is fencing. This is where a messenger was shot and killed by a trusted inmate.

If all the paperwork we had to sign was any indication it would seem some clever person had the brainstorm to make a visit to the decommissioned Pen as real as possible. Once our tickets were paid, no discount for youth 14 and up, we then had to print several pages each to sign our lives away. With initials indicating we had read each section. Which I managed to do in the wrong place. They are thorough, came back to me to initial in the marked spots. Tours are blocked by time and people must arrive 20minutes ahead of their block if they do not want to be left behind. There are no refunds for rescheduling. Not a problem when I need to be somewhere – we were so early I asked if we could join an earlier tour. Fortunately the well oiled machinery that makes the tours work run somewhat in an old fashioned order – much is on paper. A quick look, count, and check with a guide and we were in. We were officially in the blue group.

Grilled, bars, fences everywhere. No sections were opened in simultaneously.
The Hub. No glass until after the 1971 riot. Guards controlled all the levels, individual cells and movement from here.
 

Some reminders before we started: bags subject to search, no AC or heat, no recordings (photos allowed), do not leave your designated group for any reason. We sat passively in a section of what was once a Family Visit area. My first thought was if we all seemed rather shellshocked what must it have been like for new prisoners? Of course we knew we would be leaving and the inmates who had been incarcerated were there because they had been found guilty of a major crime. Kingston Pen had been a maximum security prison. 

Cells we were not allowed to view. Open and closed doors – unsettling.

It was made very clear to not ask about any of the well-known, notorious names, by law no information could be divulged. Of course one idiot did indeed ask about one prisoner. Yes, any Canadian in the group knew about him, but I certainly did not need to be reminded. Our guide managed to not roll her eyes, took a noticeable breath and reiterated that prisoners who had been incarcerated at Kingston Pen could not be discussed – and shut down the conversation.

The Hole – solitary confinement. Probably where guides want to shove those with stupid questions.
‘Private’ cells for all inmates by the time the Pen closed. Meals were taken at anchored McDonald’s style tables in across from the cells. Less fuss, no integration.

The original Pen was built between 1833-1834, 154 cells in 5 tiers plus various outbuildings and residences for the administration. Any person working at the Pen had to be within hearing range of the bell that rang every day, if it rang out any time other than to announce the beginning and end of the day that was the signal that all staff were to come running. The cells were miserable, the museum across the street has a model of what they were like – step inside for size – a mere 27″ wide, 8′ deep and 6’7″ high. A man or woman would not be able to stretch from side to side, nor up. Cells remained this size until renovations between 1895-1906. For the first 99 years women were also sent to Kingston Pen although segregated from the men. Even children as young as 8 were imprisoned for petty theft.  By the time the Penitentiary closed there were 431 cells and 120 rehab beds and had expanded to include shops, an education program, a palliative care unit, and various programs or services ranging from health care to religious.

All mail was read before going on to various departments and outside.

Some of the shops, and eventually classes for credit, included carpentry, tailoring, mattress making and barbering. As we passed each sector we were greeted by former corrections staff who had at one time been employed at the Pen. One story about the barbers was that staff and prisoners could use the services provided for $2.00 per year! I still wonder if I misheard that. Cuts, perms and colours were all offered as this was a skill that could be used outside prison. Although wages were horrendously low, shop work up to $8.00 per day, general work 6.90 per day, skills learned could lead to outside work after terms were served. Half the wages were placed into a bank account and half could be used for purchases at the commissary; however, nothing was less expensive than outside the walls – a coke inside was a luxury.

There were three major riots, 1932, 1954, 1971. There were also several escapes and attempted escapes. One story we heard was about John Kennedy, born, lived, worked and died in the Pen. His father had been a messenger and raised his family within the walls of the Penitentiary. In 1948 John Kennedy, also a messenger, was shot by a prisoner, who had smuggled a gun into the car Kennedy was driving. As Kennedy was leaving the prison on an errand he was jumped – an excellent personal account can be found at thewhig.com/remembering uncle johnny – that prisoner was the last to be hanged at the Frontenac County Jail.

The tables and seats were removed. No recollection why.

I have no idea if there was a Scared Straight program that might have allowed for schools to visit the prison, it sure would have had me walk the straight and narrow. Perhaps it was the very real feeling of being caged or trapped so far removed from the outside.   Although not enclosed prior to the 1971 the Hub, where we were provided with a fascinating history and insight of its purpose, was where each cell corridor ran from, commonly known as a ‘range’. This was where guards kept control of all the coming and going of prisoners top to bottom. Looking down one corridor was a row of doors held sharply at even angles – I had a vision of men just gone with barely a whispered protest. Another range of heavy cell doors shutting out all hope. After the riot the Hub was enclosed with glass and an armoury 15′ deep was built (dug?) in the 1990s. Sort of closing the gate after the horse got out.

Some interesting facts: inmates were allowed up to $1500 in their cell. Foreign national inmates were subject to deportation upon release. In 1990 the complex was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, 13 years before it was shut down. To date, being an Historic Site, along with the Women’s Prison, there has not been any decisions made for using the prime space. 

This brought to mind, Like sheep to the slaughter. It was the main trades shop. The only person looking up is my grandson. At least he was being aware of his environment.
Photo does not do the brickwork of the ceiling justice. Beautiful, sharp curves.
Although built as a prison it has some aesthetic architecture.

As the years advanced and programs were instituted to improve the quality of life for prisoners, particularly as the population was aging, facilities also had a bit of a facelift. The Eagle and the Phoenix mural, done in the Regional Treatment Centre – repurposed from the gym as a offender-patient space – was painted by urban artists in 2003 as a gift to the inmates and staff. It certainly looks much nicer than bare brick walls.  I found here, listening to a former nurse, talk about his time at the prison, a staff member with less of the hard edge presented by all the other former corrections staff. There was no question that they would never have been on friendly terms with any prisoner – they were guilty as charged. When the reasonable question about prisoners whose sentences were overturned was asked one member said until that time the inmates were always guilty. It was an interesting tour I was happy to leave.
My interpretation was a fiery Phoenix entering, a mute swan emerging.

40.00 Kingston Pen; 15.00 lunch for two; 13000 steps

Fort Henry and Ghost Stories

More Big Ticket Tours: final week
Each trolley and cruise tour I took brought me tantalizingly close to Fort Henry. It was finally time to hop off the trolley and enter through the gates into the past. Another nod to the wonders of the K-Pass, the price was included. However, the $20.00 per person, including a tour in English or French, seems reasonable. For anyone wanting to keep to a budget this is equal to about 8 cups of coffee. Make your own coffee = a day of history. 

We were a small group, perhaps ten people including our guide. This meant no crowding, craning necks or being jostled on slippery stairs. Unfortunately, due to poor lighting it was not easy to take indoor photos using my iPhone that would turn out. That certainly made me appreciate the conditions the soldiers and their families lived in. Not that it was that much cozier for the officers.
First built during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States – mostly over shipping rights – the Fort was built on a strategic location to protect trade and communication routes to Kingston. the Fort we now see was built as a fortification between 1832 – 1837 to protect the newly built Rideau Canal, only to be abandoned by the British in 1870 then by the Canadian military by 1891. Fort Henry became a a living museum in 1938. Someone was very forward thinking! It should be noted that not a single shot was fired against an enemy to the country. Great posting in my opinion. 

Cedar Island in the forefront; Wolfe Island in the distance.

The higher ranking officers lived in relative comfort with their own rooms, a desk, some personal belongings and meals. The latter were generally shared with fellow officers. The highest ranking officer had a larger room, a bigger and more comfortable bed, a nicer desk (this seemed important – probably for all the important daily events of the day, not that much was going on), a table for hosting guests and more personal items such as fishing gear and a special bed for a dog. Even a tub for bathing that neatly tucked under the bed. See http://www.royalengineers.ca Life In the British Army for an account of what life was like for officers and ordinary soldiers. 

Of course the differences between officers -usually commissioned (bought their way in) and educated – and soldiers were glaring. Officers lived rather sumptuously in comparison to non-commissioned soldiers, with two separate kitchens and staff, whereas soldiers and their families shared barracks with each other, the wives or single males did cooking other than the daily bread. Bread was baked daily in massive ovens that held 120 loaves of whole wheat bread each to feed the garrison of about 350. To my recollections, no photos, there were two ovens. Whole wheat bread was considered inferior with white flour saved solely for the officers. No air conditioning. No windows. With an average of three children per family and only a curtain for privacy life was not a bed of roses. Women and children counted on the support of the soldier in their family. If I were a soldier I would be glad for the days when on duty! 

Jail cell, sometimes soldiers would try to get thrown in.

The tour was very informative and well paced. With so few in the group I think we were lucky as it meant we could peruse the various rooms, most behind glass or rope, without feeling hustled out before another group arrived. I was glad to not have heard one of the ghost stories until later in the day from my daughter, I might have decided to move along a little faster. Seems there is a mischievous child, or young adult, who likes to hang out in the common kitchen, and goes about closing heavy corridor doors and moving items then gaily laughs as she skips away. (Or something along those lines) There was even a time when a guide could not open the doors – I think he started to believe there might be beings beyond us after all. I know my daughter does not disbelieve after working as a tour guide.
Playing at being soldiers. Candidates to work the summer go through rigorous training before making the cut.
The parade grounds and walls were pretty impressive despite the starkness.

As we left the barracks and returned to the sunlight everyone breathed a little easier, it was dark, dank and low ceilinged where the population of the Fort had lived. Of course the Fort has the best view of the lake and surrounding land, from the battlements the vista is fabulous, looking out to Wolfe Island with its giant, rather mystical wind turbines in the distance, and Cedar Island sitting a scant distance from the Fort. One ghost story dates back to Sep 12, 1846 when an oncoming storm found 23 men headed to Fort Henry in a 12 man boat. 17 drowned. The distraught fiancée of one, who visited the landing area daily, was found drowned on the nearby promontory one cold day? To this day people say they have seen the young couple, Robert and Elizabeth, walking hand in hand or picnicking on the island.

Another story, this one told to me by the sentry posted as I was leaving, had some holes in it when mention of men dying of malaria in the trenches was made. However, I decided to seek out the Lady in the Orange Dress, first through my trusted source – my daughter – then online. I did not find anything about a ghost but, as mentioned in the tour, there had been a garrison hospital nearbya and there was a cholera outbreak in 1832, and seasonal malaria was a problem, possibly into 1924 when the hospital burned down. Considering the bites I received while in Kingston I would not be surprised!

Keep an eye on the third, to the front soldier.
Somehow he did not flinch when the fellow behind him knocked off his hat. I expect 150 years ago he would have been thrown in the brig for losing his cap.
After the rapid firing they had to pick up all the spend shells. In the heat.

The tour was finished just as the guard was going through drills. Lots of fun; and I grateful I managed to find some shade while I watched them go through their paces. I even had time to visit the Springer Market for some fresh produce before heading off to meet my daughter. 
The Numbers: 5.00 coffee; 20.00 market; 15,000 steps

Finishing With a Bang: the big ticket trips

Until now all I have mentioned is hopping on and off one of the regular trolleys to get from one of the many tourist attractions. What I have not included is the actual cost. Fortunately the 
K-Pass is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours $79 – $119 plus tax, with the higher passes offering a lunch or dinner cruise. A quick calculation, based on the three day pass shows this is indeed a fantastic savings considering the dinner cruise alone is a whopping $78-$98 per person, and that is not on the three level Island Queen. The Trolley Tours, keeping with 72 hours, is $ 51.50 plus that glaring tax not including entry fees to any of the sites they stop at. Although I did not add up all the entry fees included in the K-Pass an estimated savings seems to be about $250.00 if all sites are visited. It is important to note that the Kingston Penitentiary Tour is not included.

All Aboard! Island Queen Brunch

First, this was a brunch cruise, the lunch and dinner cruises aboard the Island Star, and the Island Queen for that matter, have different menus. I will also note here that I had the buffet on the Island Star in May of this year. Which leads me to wondering how they could have been so far off the mark for a simple plated brunch. Put bluntly – food mediocre, views fabulous. Gorgeous day. Unfortunately, I found the cruise far too overpriced for what is offered meal wise. Which for us was a comped meal. The set menu – with one of three choices of croissant – sounded promising. 
Miniature Frittata Florentine, pretty basic, easy to make and serve as well as covering dietary needs for many passengers. This should have been a delicious beginning to the meal. However, before even taking a bite I was disappointed with the plating of the food. Simple salad, croissant, frittata looked just okay when everything should have looked pleasing. However, I let that slide. Until I tried the frittata. I know mini size baking can be an issue with balancing ingredients but surely these were made by trained staff – or maybe not. The flavour of the three cheeses was just not there and there was a taste of iron in each bite that I thought might be the spinach unless, in an effort to ensure fluffiness, baking soda was added. 

Next, the Applewood Smoked Salmon on a Croissant, a difficult choice for this westcoast islander to make considering I was inland. However, I made that decision on the assumption it must be Atlantic salmon and I do not care for cranberries with turkey nor did I want the vegetarian choice. Presentation is important, as already noted the plating was not great. The croissant top was falling off its sad bed of salmon and red onion with capers (they were the best part) and appeared to have lost its glory as a trumped up sandwich. More between the covers might have made it more palatable. Fortunately there was not much they could do wrong with the fresh lettuce salad and the strawberry/mint dressing was actually quite nice. Dessert was a small apple danish, far too sweet for me. We were plied with coffee once I suggested leaving the pot on the table and my daughter enjoyed her speciality coffee – no idea what was in it.

Just a little too tipsy in my opinion. That open window was straight down to the lake.

Ah yes, but how was the actual cruise? That was wonderful, somewhat crowded, it was a Sunday after all. With three levels we had the choice of staying at our window seats in the dining area, heading to the first level to listen to the live music, or head topside for the lake breeze and fresh air. We did all three a couple of times. The crowd on the main level was a tough one for the entertainers. Perhaps it was a mix of it being a late morning/ early afternoon cruise and several families – they were just not interested in the entertainment. Being drawn to dance whenever a tune pulls us my daughter and I were far more energetic in our appreciation than anyone else. Talking to my daughter we both felt the mood was just too stifling to strike the centre of the dance floor. Must be tough for the musicians who were pretty decent and the lead did try to keep up a mix of humour between songs. Topside had the best unobstructed view. Overall we had a wonderful three hour Heart of the Islands cruise and were able to put aside the mediocre meal until later. A few days later my daughter sent a response to an email from the individual who had provided us with the tickets asking how the day was. Do I recommend the cruise, YES! With brunch, not so sure. 

Once back on land we came across the firetruck pull. Looked like a lot of fun! Raising money for epilepsy. Loved the guys in their tutus.

The drive back to the country was very strange. Giant grey. Louis loomed ahead, directly over where we were heading, when a sudden downpour burst open on us as we moved towards its direct path – it was like entering a waterfall, dry on one side, soaking on the other. Just walking the few feet from the car to a store we were drenched. I was grateful we had clear blue skies with just whiffs of cloud during the cruise.
All Aboard! Wolfe Island Trip
I am an islander through and through therefore, as though my three hour cruise the previous day had not been enough, I headed over to Wolfe Island with my other daughter just for the fun of it. This was after wandering around downtown a bit and discussing what I had not yet done. It was sort of a lightbulb moment when my daughter asked if I had ever taken the free ferry. I was up for free! 
So inviting….I think I could have made the swim.

The Wolfe Island ferry route is considered part of the provincial highway which means free passage for all vehicles and passengers. Too bad we do not have the same consideration in BC. The ferry runs 365 days of the year. During the summer it goes to the Marysville dock, 20 minute ride. In reality it only seemed a leisurely pace for everyone standing on either side I. The open air, probably due to the lovely day, as it does go at a fairly good clip. Inclement weather probably finds walk on passengers huddled up in the car deck side rooms. The vessel holds 55 vehicles and around 300 passengers. (I kept finding different figures so settled on this) the best part is that the dock on the Kingston side is right downtown, as the Marysville summer dock. Walking on and off was a breeze.
This is plating to please the palate and eye.

Of course, once on the island there is not a whole lot to do unless you are driving. One major attraction, Big Sandy Bay  was closed due to high water. Which was fine as we had plans back in Kingston for later. However, a light lunch seemed like an excellent idea and we headed off to the very nearby Wolfe Island Grill, visible form the ferry. A great place; with nary a patron sitting inside we might have thought it deserted if we had not seen people on the multi-level dock enjoying the view, sun and some very nice boats tied to the pier. This was Island living. Knowing we would be having dinner later we both chose the Wilton Aged Cheddar Cheese Bread. I could stop there, except I had the extras on mine – bacon, caramelized onions and portobello mushroom. I was in heaven. Wilton cheese is an Ontario delicacy. The combination I chose was beyond perfection. Who knew anyone could enjoy a few crusts of delectable bread and cheese so much. I was very nearly tempted to order a fancy drink to prolong the day. I think I stuck to lots of water and probably a coffee. 

I think she is now tempted to get a large spinning wheel.
I think I mentioned the bubbles to prevent the lake from freezing over. This is to show I was not imagining it.
Murals seem popular on Wolfe Island

We visited the local museum, checked out the Wolfe Island Bakery where shared a peanut butter truffle – beyond the heavens deliciousness. Checked outvaclocal craft place hidden at the back of a church, or maybe it was City Hall, and found a very strange painting. A wonderfully relaxing afternoon.
This outdoor painting was just plain creepy. No explanation.

The Numbers: I finally reached the stage of not taking careful note of my expenses. This meant adding up how much I had left to figure out where I was at. Which led to a bit of a dilemma, I did not write down what I started out with! I thought it was $1800.00, then had a vague recollection of having put aside $200.00 for various expenses at home while I was away. As of this entry my remaining funds ($138.00) were lower than how much I would still need. This happens to nearly everyone when they travel. Some of my expenses were for my next trip. It was time to do the math and figure out where to draw the extra funds from.

What I know I spent in the last few days: $85.00 dinner at Mandarin for two including tip$20.00 misc Market purchases; $8.00 coffees; $12.00 items for train trip; $5.00 light snack. 8.00 brkfst; 4.00 snack (Small Batch Cafe carrot cake shared with daughter 3); 36.00 lunch $5.00 coffee Steps: two days, falling behind a bit – only 14,000. Must have been be all the sailing.