Always on the Verge

Reflections and connections of a life-long learner.

Rounding up the Canada/USA Portion of Summer: Quebec (x2), Corning, Niagara Falls

Fittingly, our last Canada stays are in French-speaking Quebec. Our thought was to get a chance to hear some of the language we would be surrounded by when we head to France for September and October. Well we heard it…and we are still grappling with understanding. The above sign shows the French love of hyphens. And who doesn’t like to have a laugh at the end of their town name?

Quebec City

This destination was added to our list due to Bob’s recall of a wonderful visit there when he was just out of college. And, as memories go, those first-time experiences we have while young don’t always age well. Additionally, we had a rental that had more than it’s share of kinks: the owner lived there part-time so many areas were locked off to us and we had limited access to living spaces and storage areas for our food; the refrigerator broke down and never got fixed (though the owner did unlock the basement door so we could use his spare), the family ended up coming over for forgotten items and to do yard work, items that were supposed to be on hand weren’t. Just odd… But we did have a few nice outings.

We took a bus tour to get an overview of the area. We saw most of Old Quebec, picked up information at the tourist center, and scouted out potential parking options for future forays. Our favorite sight on the tour – these wonderful street lights on Rue Cartier.

Across from Quebec City, in the midst of the St. Lawrence River, is Ile d’Orleans. We spent an entire day here circumnavigating this lovely island and stopping at every small town along the route. Our first stop was at a winery to enjoy a 4-glass flight of their local wines. The view back toward Quebec was the perfect setting. Note Montmorency Falls in the upper left.
The island is mainly agricultural and we passed apple orchards, lavender farms (not blooming), and fields of cattle and sheep which meant cheese shops, and many ice cream stores. We sampled, of course. We also made a stop at a small brewery where I had the most delicious Belgian-style cherry beer. On the northern tip of the island we took a few minutes to stretch our legs and climb an observation tower to see where the fresh water of the St. Lawrence and salt water of the Atlantic meet. It is hard to tell from the photo, but there is a color difference where the waters converge.
The Musee des Beaux-Arte de Tours was a spectacular afternoon. We took the three-floor open staircase to the top and made our way down.
A large gallery on the top floor highlighted modern design.
The next gallery featured the work of First Nation artists. One section of that gallery was dedicated to “the importance of family and respect for women.” This piece by Manse Akpaliapik, entitled Woman from Alaska, is made of whalebone, white stone, and African wonderstone.
Back on the ground floor and the exhibit the had lured us into the museum in the first place: Alexander McQueen: Art Meets Fashion. Each of the clothing designs in the displays were matched with a piece of art, some of which were the pieces that initially inspired a number of McQueen’s collections. It was a visual delight!
McQueen’s talents really dazzled me. He took an interdisciplinary approach to his creations. Besides works of art he used historical eras, settings in nature, and cultural events to spark his design work. Honestly, it was hard to leave this space.
But leave we did, but not before admiring this glassed-in staircase hanging to the side of the building. Watching people coming down the stairs gave the illusion that they were walking at gravity-defying angles.

Montreal

Rather than stay in this island city we chose a flat in Longueuil, right across the St. Lawrence River. The location was excellent as we had easy access to what Montreal has to offer and the quieter, more relaxed pace of a charming town. During the summer months Longueuil closes off traffic to the main business area (which was conveniently located a block from our rental). We had plenty of choices for places to eat (one night Italian, one night Portuguese, one night burgers) and shop, and the night life was always hopping.
The only downside of our flat was the 2-stories of very narrow and curved stairways we had to climb. Getting our suitcases up was an accomplishment.
On our first day in town we took an evening mural tour. Our guide was excellent – a mural aficionado who travels all over the world to watch murals being installed and to get to meet and learn about the artists. He had great stories to share.
You may have guessed that this mural was done by American artist Shepard Fairly, the same artist who did the classic Obama/Hope poster.
Native son Leonard Cohen, who was born in Westmount, Quebec.
Bob, native son of Bellevue, Iowa, who just happened to be perfectly attired to blend into this piece of art.
Jackie Robinson, who played for the Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s farm league team.
Every June Montreal holds a month-long mural festival. Artists and various collectives apply for a spot on a wall that has been “donated” by a local business or establishment. The public gathers to watch the progress, often bringing chairs and food and staying around far into the night. According to our guide, the city center currently has over 250 murals.
This mural is within the former Jewish section of the city, now mostly inhabited by the Portuguese.
The striking ski jump in Olympic Park built for the 1976 games. Just across from the park is the Montreal Botanical Gardens.
The main pagoda (yes, there was more than one) in the Chinese Garden.
Taking a moment to appreciate the stream filled with blooming water lilies.
The colorful dragon who guards the back entrance to the Chinese garden.
A closer look at the construction of the exterior of the dragon – bottles filled with colored water.
In the next section is the Japanese Garden. It holds a teahouse and a lovely Japanese-style pavilion that is filled with bonsai trees. This specimen, a Trident maple, caught my eye because of its intriguing root system.
The FIrst Nations Forest was a maze of meandering paths that lead past examples of indigenous life highlighting how the forests were used and conserved. This larger interpretive area displayed native arts and crafts; in this case, corn husk dolls.
Within the Innovation Garden were displays of horticultural experiments and significant achievements. Look at the size of those hydrangea and hibiscus!
In the Monastery Garden I watched sparrows dining on the sweet sorghum.
Hidden away alongside a garden path is the theodolite used by Henry Teuscher, the landscape architect who designed the garden. The survey marker for the park is atop that stone.
The pond filled with giant water lilies holds a lovely reflection of our sunny day.
For most of our excursions we drove into the city via the Jacques Cartier Bridge. One day we took the ferry, which boarded just a few blocks from our flat. If you look closely you can see the ski jump to the right of center just under the bridge deck. And there is the presence of Canada in both the flag and the Molson brewery.
The Montreal Fine Arts Museum is a five building complex filled with wonderful things to see. Our timing worked out as the day we planned for our visit was a rainy one so we had the whole day to roam about, enjoy, and stay dry.
Not to Confuse Politeness with Agreement by David Garneau is based on a picture from a 1950s postcard. The conversation bubbles were Garneau’s twist.
Transformation by Cedre Jeune is just one of the many pieces on display in a gallery devoted to his work. Jeune carved it out of yellow cedar. If there was one piece I could have taken home with me this would have been it.
“I’m looking for someone who can listen to me. With a good set of ears.” Betty Goodwin’s inspiration for The Secret Life of Art.
The artist Marc-Aurèle Fortin painted his landscapes over grey ground to achieve what he though was the warm atmosphere of Quebec skies. He considered Sainte-Simeon one of his finest works.
The views outside the museum were just as wonderful as the views inside. This mural covers the street between two of the museum buildings.
Another tip of the hat to Leonard Cohen.

Corning, NY

I am a serious fan of all things glass so on our way back into the states it made sense to spend a couple of days in Corning. We stayed in the Gaffer DIstrict, above a burger place and bar. It was kitschy and convenient. For an older industrial city both Bob and I were impressed with the way the buildings and other infrastructure was maintained.

Just a few blocks from our front door was the Rockwell Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, which was housed in the former city hall. Shasti O’Leary Sordant’s playful Antigravity: Space Invaders was a wonderful welcome to the space.
Wayne Higby’s Midsummer Bay is a raku-fired bowl designed to represent a three-dimensional landscape. As you move around the vessel, you can see different hidden vistas. It’s a stunner.

This compelling gallery was a favorite. Robert Shetterly’s series portrays individuals who dedicated their lives to improving their communities and fighting for justice. It was a noteworthy exhibit to encounter in a Canadian museum.
My favorite portrait was of Dorothea Lange, a photographer who captured the desperation of families and the unemployed working class during the Great Depression. I was taken with the contrast between the content of her photos and her relaxed face and casual smile in the portrait.
And then this little gem: a page from one of Georgia O’Keefe’s field sketch books. A drawing and the possibility “and maybe a kiss”.
The Corning Museum of Glass!! The history galleries were rich with information and visually stunning.
At the beginning of its history the Corning plant was famous for its cut glass work. We watched a video of a glass artist cutting a design. It made my hands shake just to see the skills she employed to create these delicate and precise designs. Interesting story: Once upon a time, before that punch bowl was donated to the museum, the owner noticed that the base was cracked. To keep it from splitting apart he used a stapler to bind the weakened section. Not a solution I would have chosen but it seems to have worked.
The contemporary galleries were pretty amazing as well. The black dress, Nocturne 5, is made of molten glass. It took Karen Lamonte, the artist, 2 years to complete the piece. She began by making a mould using the design and drape of an actual piece of clothing worn by a model. After the mould was hard it was cut off the model and joined back together in segments which were filled with wax so they would hold their shape. The mould segments were then filled with melted glass, replacing the wax, and after the glass had been tempered the segments were joined to create the dress. There was a lot of trial and error before they got this piece done to the artist’s satisfaction.
This is another of Lamonte’s creations, Absence Adorned. Our tour guide pointed out the artist’s handprint beneath the draped wrap on the right arm.
This light fixture is made of glass butterflies with a filament that collects solar energy. The light bulb within stays lit 24 hours a day and has not gone out since the fixture was installed.
These elegant vessels by Toots Zynsky are made from glass threads, blown and formed in the kiln.
A closer look at the threads.

Niagara Falls, NY

Since we were close and because I hadn’t seen them we made a one-night stop at Niagara Falls.
Bob caught me taking photos.
Looking a bit damp and windblown but very glad we made the stop. The falls were great, but the food truck Indian meal we had was maybe the best part of our visit.

Now it’s off to France for 8 weeks with a different region/city each week. At this point I think we can actually pack our bags in our sleep. More to come…bisous~

More from the Marvelous Maritimes

Does anyone get tired of these views? The seafood options? Certainly not us!

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Behind these ornate wrought iron doors is the beautiful Halifax Public Gardens. We entered at the side of the gate as the main entrance is reserved for the royal family. The gardens, which are free, are the only surviving authentic Victorian Garden in North America. Bob’s first question: What makes it a Victorian Garden? Our guide’s answer: Fancy topiary, tropical plants (they had pineapple!), bursts of color, geometric planting beds and symmetry, walking paths throughout. So now we know.
The Victoria Jubilee Fountain
There were hosta beds in abundant bloom.

Bob and I were the only ones on the tour that morning and our guide tailored our walk-through by doing deep dives into things we were interested in; for example, the tree shown above. About a year ago vandals broke into the park and damaged quite a few of the oldest specimens by hacking around their trunks. Efforts to save them include grafting over the damage using small branches from the tree itself. We are still trying to figure out why anyone would want to do such a thing.

Overall, a glorious way to spend an afternoon.
In fact, we enjoyed the gardens so much that we went back the next evening for a concert by a group of Ukrainian musicians and singers who had recently resettled in Canada. The concert was a thank you gift to the community, beautifully performed and very heartwarming.

Not far from the Public Gardens is Fairview Lawn Cemetery, the final resting place of 121 victims of Titanic. When Titanic sank, Halifax was the closest major seaport with rail connections and was the base for ships searching and recovering bodies of Titanic victims. The headstones were paid for by White Star Line and, since the refinement of DNA testing, most have been identified.
Outside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia with its iconic John Greer sculpture, Origins.
Our first viewing destination was the Maud Lewis Gallery. Lewis, who lived much of her life in poverty in this cabin (note photo of the cabin in situ to the right), received recognition late in her life for her bright and whimsical folk art painting.
Her distinctive style covered almost every surface of the cabin’s interior.
Roadster and Cow – one of my favorites from the exhibit.
Next we were off to the Inuit Art Wing where Bob immersed himself in Couzyn van Heuvelen’s Avataq. An avataq is a traditional hunting float made from a complete sealskin. Van Heuvelen designed this instillation to unite a practical tool with the idea of Inuit ingenuity. I think Bob just wanted to join the party.
A charming scene, painted by William Kurelek, of Inuit children playing in the snow.
Island in the Ice, painted by Tom Forrestall, depicts a rare occurrence of freezing waters surrounding Devil’s Island at the mouth of the Halifax harbor.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. We never thought we would spend this much time learning about ships. The exhibits were varied and the narratives very rich and informative.
Walking about Acadia was part of the fun.
Seeing another Fresnel lamp from the outside…
… and then taking a peek to see the actual size of the light inside.
Before leaving the Halifax area we took a day trip to Lunenburg, one of only two urban communities in North America designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. We walked about the beautifully preserved town and had a sumptuous lunch of Digby scallops on a patio overlooking the harbor. Wondering: did anyone spot the wedding couple in the lower right corner? They sat at a table near ours while we dined and we ran into them later as they did a photo shoot. Living like locals.

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Full disclosure: We had not originally put PEI on our list for a full week visit. We had planned to stay in Stormont, a small village along the northeast coast of Nova Scotia. Always looking for things that might tempt or intrigue us, I was doing some online research and found a website for a theater festival in Charlottetown, PEI. This sounded too good to miss. We did some tag team searches for rentals in PEI and set things in motion. We booked Charlottetown, cancelled Stormont, reserved tickets for 5 performances at the theater festival and were on our way!

Driving over Confederation Bridge, the longest bridge in the world over ice covered waters. It is 8 miles long and, at its highest point, 60 meters (approx. 197 ft.) above sea level, allowing large sea vessels to navigate between its piers. Driving on to PEI is free however it costs $50 to get off. (There are signs announcing the fee posted prior to the bridge…as if that would have stopped us.)
On our first morning in town we met our historic walking tour guide near the wharf, alongside a Charlie Brown-style kite-eating tree.
Here’s Bob hanging out with a couple of delegates to the Charlottetown Conference which set in motion the move to form a united Canada. In the background is St. Dunstan’s Basilica.
The Parish of St. Paul’s is one of the few structures in the town that is build of native materials – red sandstone.
Our two-hour, 3 mile walk brought us to the edge of the harbor at low tide.
We did a lot of walking in Charlottetown. Our Airbnb was only blocks from the waterfront with its 3.2 mile boardwalk and proximity to other sites to visit. Above is the Government House, Fanningbank, which is the official residence of the lieutenant governor of PEI. In Canada, the lieutenant governor of each province represents the King/Queen (Charles, currently). As explained to us, the majority of the duties are ceremonial. Not a bad gig considering the house, staff, and the extensive gardens included.
One late morning we went on a tour of Beaconsfield and had tea on the lawn. The house, built by W.C. Harris in 1877 for James and Edith Peake, was a modern marvel for its time with both indoor plumbing and heating (for front of the house only; back of the house servants still toted buckets and burned wood or coal.) The residency for the Peake family was short-lived however as the family’s ship-building business encountered an economic downturn and the cost of running the home (estimates are $1000/month) was prohibitive.
Our view at tea time.

Back to the Theater Festival… Three of the shows we saw were in downtown Charlottetown: Maggie, in the large theater space at Confederation Center, and two cabaret style shows – I’m Every Woman and Johnny and June at The Mack, a well-done renovated movie theater. Our other two shows, Steel Magnolias and Gas Light, were about a 20 minute drive away at the Watermark Theater in North Rustico. We were mentioning this to our table mates during one of the cabaret shows and they urged us to check out The Dunes located a short drive from Watermark….so we did.

The Dunes was built by Peter Jansons, originally as his home, his pottery studio and a gallery. The complex now also holds a cafe, an Asian art museum, and has extensive gardens.
The flower beds were a riot of colors.

The lawn furniture carved from driftwood was amazing.
As we drove from The Dunes to the theater we were delighted to get this view of the oyster boxes in the harbor. Being naive regarding modern aquaculture, we would not have even known what those rows and rows of boxes were if our history tour guide at the beginning of the week hadn’t told us about the methods for cultivating oysters, clams, and mussels. On one of our theater evenings we had dinner at Blue Mussel Cafe, located in about the middle of the group of buildings in the center of the photo.

Fredericton, New Brunswick

Our travel this summer is set up so that we transition from one Airbnb to another on Sunday. Then on Monday we try to do something where we get our feet on the street so we can get a feel for our new locale. Well, imagine our surprise when we woke up on a Monday in Fredericton and found out the province was celebrating New Brunswick Day. That’s a pretty impressive line-up of inflatable play options. The lines of kiddos to get on/into them were block-the-street long.
Figuring it would be silly to try parking anywhere near the festival area, Bob & I opted to take the walking bridge, a former railroad bridge over the St. John River that joins the two sides of town. The bridge, a 15-minute walk from our rental, is just under a half mile long, and put us right into the action.
In addition to the massive kids’ area there were stages with live music, food trucks, and craft booths. What we noticed is that locals were smart enough to bring along folding chairs.
Instead of sitting, we took advantage of the day of free admission to the Beaverbrook Art Center.
Bob, getting ready to enter the galleries and still smiling in spite of the crowds.
Eli Bornstein’s Multiplane Structurist Relief IV, No. 1, (Arctic Series) caught my eye.
Especially when seen from the side.
Glassy Apples, an oil by Mary Pratt, got my admiration for her technique and the vivid shine she put on the canvas. Just wow!
We got back home before dark but ventured out again to sit by the river to watch the fireworks.
Once again, we found ourselves spending time walking. Fredericton is known for its network of walking trails and I covered portions of a number of them. Our rental (purple heart) was right in the center of them all and we were directly across from the historic business district.
One day we did a walking tour of downtown. This is the view from an observation point, looking toward the pedestrian bridge.
We took a guided tour of the Legislative Assembly Building (photo taken on New Brunswick Day). Again we were the only two in the group and were able to have a spirited conversation with our guide.
Bob, in particular, had lots of questions about the legislative process, elections, and government. (He clearly doesn’t watch enough BBC.) Our guide’s responses were well informed and often quite witty. He had studied political science in the US so he had some sharp commentary. One of the highlights of the tour (though no photo for obvious reasons) was the case with one of the original Audubon Bird’s of America folios. Exquisite.
Less than exquisite was our visit to the Fredericton Regional Museum. Some of the small rooms had the pretty typical but still credible cases of artifacts but the largest section of the museum was devoted to Stanton Friedman, an American nuclear physicist and UFO researcher who lived his later years in Fredericton. He did extensive research into UFO sitings, extraterrestrials, and related government documents but said he had never experienced the phenomenon himself. Bob and I took this to be a NV connection as we do come from the state that boasts Area 51.
We stopped at City Hall to get a parking pass (3 days/free lot) and caught the changing of the guard, done twice daily, every day of the week, in July and August. Please note the glass front of the middle section of the building to the left.
At the end of the day I was able to capture this great reflection.
And so we are off to our next nest. Maritimes…we will miss you…

And now for a change of pace: CT, ME; BC, NS

We have been heading up the northeast coast for the past 4 weeks, making each stop feel like a vacation as we made regular visits to DQ and taking their packaging advice: Taste the Happiness.

Southington, CT

Bob found us an Airbnb not far from Hartford and, more importantly, only an hour from Niantic and my dear niece, Emily, and her lovely family. I got to officially celebrate my bday with loved ones! As for the rental, well…it was an historic home from the 1890s and had its quirks. We typically like unique but this particular residence needed some TLC and a deep clean. This was a rare lodging disappointment for us, so we tidied and made adjustments and it worked.

This is NOT our rental – it’s the Mark Twain House in Hartford. It’s a beautiful home with lots of gorgeous details (no photos allowed) but the exterior can give you a feel for the place. The interior had undergone some changes after Twain sold it but a Foundation was created to bring it back to the original and to retrieve artifacts, furnishings, and personal possessions. It is a treasure trove of of all things Twain.
A life size Lego structure of Twain greets us when we enter the Visitors Center.
Quick reminder: Samuel Clemens was born in Hannibal, MO, but he was reborn as Mark Twain while he was in Nevada. We claim him as one of our own.
But to give the east coast its due, here is Twain enjoying the Atlantic shore.
On another day trip into Hartford we drove by this wonderful block-long mural. This portion was my favorite section.
Our destination was the Wadsworth Antheneum, named after Daniel Wadsworth, one of the first major American art patrons. It is the oldest continuously-operated public art museum in the United States. And for those who are wondering, atheneum is a term to describe a cultural institution with a library, works of art and artifacts and is dedicated to learning history, literature, art, and science. (Just sharing what I learned.)

We started with the gallery “I Am Seen…Therefore, I Am” which is based on Fredrick Douglass’ reflections on image-making, race, and citizenship. It features 19th C daguerreotypes – many rare and/or being seen by the public for the first time. These old images are presented alongside contemporary photos by Isaac Julien. It was quite a profound showing.

This castle-like building held lots of delights and we spent most of one afternoon browsing. Below are a trio of our favorite pieces.

An anamorphic painting of Adam and Eve (Italian, no known artist). Anamorphic, or a form of optical illusion art, was popular during the Renaissance. Artists used mirrors and other optical devices to alter perspective and depth. When viewed from two peep holes on the side of the ornate frame the figures come together and you can see Adam and Eve with an apple, sitting in the Garden of Eden. There is a large human face at the top and a skull at the bottom and a Latin text believed to be a warning about sin, death and eternal life. Honestly, I liked the look without the peep hole best.
Portrait of Castrato Carlo Scalzi attributed to Charles Joseph Flipart. Scalzi was one of the most famous male sopranos of the 18th C. For my nickel, it’s all about that costume, thought to be a European interpretation of a Persian dress.
A portrait of Ruth Sears Bacon (Mrs. Austin Cheney) by John Singer Sargent. Family oral tradition claims that just before the final sitting Ruth changed into black stockings and brown boots to take a walk in the rain. Sargent was charmed by the look and painted out her earlier lighter clothes and substituted “incorrect” attire for the completed portrait. I agree – charming.

Orrington, Maine

Once again, Bob on a porch. The most significant thing about this scene (sorry, dear) is the sign over the steps: The Last Resort. We were longing for a quiet cabin by a lake and that is what we got. Very cozy, well appointed, and with NO connectivity. Not a problem, overall, but since Bob does need to check our VRBO sites daily we knew we needed some way to get online. We did a walk about to find signal. We took a car drive around the lake to find signal. We eventually drove to a T-Mobile store in Bangor (30 minutes away) and the very helpful associate brought out a big map of the area and showed us where to get service – in a clearing at the end of a bridge about 3-4 miles from our cabin. There was even a handy pullout where we could park and do a quick electronic check-in. Solved.
Lots of reading got accomplished during the week but one afternoon we did do a bit of site seeing and ended up in Old Town for lunch alongside a portion of the Penobscot River Reservoir. It was pretty great: lobster rolls, local craft beer, watching the bald eagles soar over the water. Too bad we didn’t bring a book.
Nearer to our cabin we were able to get sandwiches, pizza, and ice cream. (When is the last time you had a scoop of maple walnut?) The pizzas were unique. They came with 4 sauce choices: ranch dressing, a version of McDonald’s secret sauce, a “sedge” sauce (something brown), and classic tomato. We ordered very carefully.
This photo of the East Orrington business park pretty much typifies the rusticness (I think I just made up the word) of our setting.
On the weekend there was a street art festival in Bangor. It was pretty classic hometown; friendly people, lots of crafters, local musicians. The entrance to the festival was through this very nice pocket park.
We headed back to our cabin thinking about what to have for supper when we saw this small eatery. The sign coaxed us in. The food insured we won’t be going back. Fair warning for those of you who are heading to Maine.

St. Martins, New Brunswick

We knew we were on to something good when we came through this covered bridge on our way to our cottage by the ocean. (In truth, the cottage was a fixed-in-place mobile home with a huge sun room addition. The layout was a might odd with a king bed in one end of the living/dining area but it had both convenience and views so we were very pleased.)
Weather forecasts said we were in for some rainy days so we didn’t waste time. On our first day in the area we took a drive along the Fundy Trail Parkway. Though it was a bit overcast the views were spectacular.
Our drive culminated at Hopewell Rocks, where the massive tides of the Bay of Fundy have been sculpting these formations. There are over 25 stacks, known as flower pots, along this area of shoreline.
Almost up to my ankles in the sticky goo of the ocean floor.
Dedicated stairways for going down to the muddy bottom and then back up to the viewing platform. I am sure you can guess which one is which.
Back at the top without losing my balance and getting totally covered in the brown stuff. (There is actually a pedicure under there.)
After waiting an hour in line I got to the foot washing station. I was grateful they had one.
Closer to home, in fact just one block away, were the sea caves. We timed it right and waited for a full-on sunny afternoon to check them out.
One of us went over and explored the caves, while the other kept to the beach side of the inlet.
Not much sealife to be found (maybe because of the tremendous tide shifts, the world’s highest: an average of 38 feet each day). We did come across these tenacious snails.

On one drippy day we drove to St. John to scout out the ferry terminal we would be using to get to our next destination. We took a brief stroll through town and ended up lunching at Cask & Kettle.
The cuisine was a mashup of Irish and Canadian. This bowl of poutine, a Canadian classic traditionally made of french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy, instead had fries covered with shepherd’s pie and then topped with fried cheese curds. I am embarrassed to admit how much I liked this. Good thing, because the serving was so big it went into a takeaway box and was microwaved again for Bob and I to share for a dinner.

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

One of our best stays yet! This small town, older than the United States, is all about fishing and life on the water.
Since we had so much to learn about this area our first stop was the Yarmouth County Museum and Historical Society. This compact museum, formerly a church, was packed tight with interesting exhibits.
One room was dedicated to daily life in early Yarmouth. I was tickled by the washboard – from its wooden rungs for scrubbing to it’s claims of being self-draining and sanitary.
This is a lighthouse lens from the Cape Forchu lighthouse. The Fresnel lens uses both internal reflection as well as refraction to capture and magnify light so that it can be projected for greater distance. It has been called the invention that saved a million ships.
After seeing that lens we knew we needed to head out to Cape Forchu at the mouth to Yarmouth harbor. Not much boat traffic when we were there except for the one small vessel.
Inside what used to be the light keeper’s house is a free museum with related displays. They are currently doing work on the lighthouse itself so we were not able to climb the 77 steps to the top.
Pubnico, an Acadian village just about a half hour drive from Yarmouth, has occupied this 17 acre site for more that 350 years. In 1755 the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia because of their refusal to sign an oath of loyalty to the English crown. The two main reasons for not signing were (1) the belief that England would one day be at war with France, their native country, and they did not want to have to support England and (2) that by signing the document they would have to give up their allegiance to the Catholic Church in favor of the the Church of England. Eventually many Acadians made their way back to their original town site.
Before reaching the wharf (#10 on the above map) we walked through the living history village and chatted with the Acadian wife, who lived in a cottage (#1) with her husband and 9 children along with her brother, his wife and their 12 children. Twenty-five people in a 5 room + attic house. At the blacksmith’s shop (#3) the blacksmith made us a nail with our initials stamped in the head. At the boat shop we talked to a life-long fisherman who was in the midst of hand-making a boat similar to the blue one in the photo above.
The salty bog area was a benefit to the earliest settlers as they could harvest the sea grasses for their cattle. Note the haystack, just right of center.
We had lunch at the Visitors Center: rappie pie. This crustless main dish gets its name from the French word rapees, meaning grated potatoes. It also includes chicken and onions. Bob was glad he got a corner piece.
One of the things that made our week so wonderful is that we were in town for the Seafest Festival. That meant we were able to join two different (and free!) walking tours. Our very knowledgable and genial guide was a fabulous story teller. As we learned, Yarmouth is close-knit and could even be called insular. People know each other well – through generations. There is also a great reverence for those who have served, either in the military or in the sea trade, and have died. People on the walk got emotional at times. Question: has anyone see a monument where the subject was smoking a cigarette? I think this is a first for me.

During one of the tours we went through the historic Victorian section of town, where our rental was located. In all there are over 200 Victorian homes that once belonged to very wealthy ship owners and merchants.
We were taken with the details on the houses and impressed with how well they were being kept – not easy in a seaside climate.
The bay windows and a widow’s walk are notable features.
Now we are off to Halifax where more rocks, sand, water, and north of the border adventures await.

East Coast Antics: NC, VA, NYC

It would seem we have arrived.

Wilmington, NC

Wilmington is a lovely town with a busy waterfront and beautiful beaches. We spent a week here with dear friends, Laurel and Dick Mazziotti, doing all sorts of fun stuff. It is so nice to have locals provide recommendations.

First on the agenda : a horse-drawn trolley ride through the historic section of town followed by lunch on the wharf – fish and chips of course.

The next day we drove over to Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet, SC.

The grounds, formerly a rice plantation, cover over 9000 square acres which include 500+ sculptures, a zoo, a wildlife preserve, art galleries and historical sites. For our afternoon foray we focused on the sculptures set within the botanical gardens.

Closer to our rental digs we took an afternoon walk through the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden.

We had to look closely to find these small plants that grow close to the ground.
The pitcher plants, on the other hand, were blooming everywhere.

Neighborhood walks, a visit to the wonderful and very informative Cape Fear Museum, a tour of Porter’s Neck Village (the residential area that the Mazziottis call home), homemade ice cream at the fruit orchard, and a pre-bday dinner at a lovely French Restaurant completed our visit. It was, as my dad used to say, “Gooder than good.”

Richmond, VA

Richmond is undergoing a bit of a renaissance so it felt like time for a visit.

Bob booked us a converted row house in the Fan District, right next to the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. We were surrounded by Queen Anne-style homes and Tudor Revival mansions. Lots of dining and nightlife options including music clubs and Cuban eateries.
We walked down wide, tree-lined boulevards to The Branch, the largest single family residence in the city. Designed by architect John Russell Pope as a winter home for the family of John and Beulah Gold Branch, the building now stages architecture and design exhibits as well as musical performances.
In the former kitchen we viewed a Designing Drag installation… across from a 16th C Flemish tapestry. Quite a juxtaposition.

We also did some history-related museums:

The Valentine, right downtown and adjacent to the massive VCU hospital complex, was a happy delight. The main building holds displays interpreting Richmond’s 400 year history and does not shy away from either past or current controversies and perspectives. The floor of the museum has been painted according to the plat of the originally incorporated city. In the back left of the photo is the statue of Jefferson Davis that was graffitied and then taken down in 2020. Next to the statue is a wall filled with post-it note responses to the event and the display.

Admission to The Valentine, the first museum in Richmond, includes a tour of the Wickham House. We have toured lots of period homes, but this one was quite unique in its architecture and design features. Our tour guide was terrific – a natural story-teller who gave us behind the doors peeks and even lifted rope barriers allowing closer looks. Maybe that was to make up for the “no photos” rule… but no complaints. She MADE the tour.

Changing gears from the Wickham House to the Edgar Allen Poe House. Though not his actual birthplace, it contains the bulk of Poe’s obtainable memorabilia – from the practical (the staircase and rail – in the photo – from the home he was raised in) to the arcane (clothing he was wearing when he died though it wasn’t his own…Hmmm…?). Something I learned: After Poe was orphaned at age 2 he was taken in though not adopted by the Allen family, thus the name selection. Something that made me smile: The Poe in Van Gogh.
Bob was a good sport and stepped into a facsimile of Poe’s casket. A bit of a snug fit.

One balmy evening found us at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. The main draw for us was Incanto, five sculptures accompanied by poetry created as a collaboration between two female artists who met at Burning Man. We didn’t know it when we bought tickets, but there was a live band preforming that night so we enjoyed local craft beers between dancing to Grateful Dead tunes. Walking down Memory Lane.

New York City

Full disclosure; we are staying in North Bergen and using bus and Uber to get around. Taking the easy route. Toughest part has been navigating the obtuse NJTransit app.

View of the city from my bus window.

Our week included three museums, all different and all wonderful. First was the Guggenheim.

We started at the top floor with the site-specific installation, Timelapse, by Sarah See. A couple of close-ups follow:

The majority of the museum was given to Gego: Measuring Infinity. This artist, Gertrud Goldschmidt, was new to me. She was born in Germany and fled Nazi persecution to find a permanent home in Venezuela. This particular exhibition knocked my socks off! Most of the impact comes from seeing the pieces in 3D so photos don’t really do them justice but here goes…

I convinced Bob to take a photo before we left.
Here is what he captured. (Yes, it was posed, but I couldn’t resist. It felt like it just had to happen.)

Second museum – The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation

Just opened in May 2023, some reviewers have compared the building, designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, to a Flintstones’ House.
Looking up from the main entry.
The architecture throughout the building was equally as impressive as the exhibits it contained, but the fourth floor filled with dinosaurs and dinosaurs and dinosaurs was a stand-out.
The space was designed to hold massively large displays, like this floor to ceiling honeycomb with busy bees.

Third museum – MoMA

This space! Even the view of its visitors moving about the complex is noteworthy.
The entry hall held the mesmerizing Unsupervised, by Refik Anadol who creates digital artworks that unfold in real time. The display is in constant motion. We watched for a long time as the beautiful images kept evolving.

We did pull ourselves away, and for the next two hours were immersed in gorgeous and thought-provoking art. Some favorites:

Jacob Lawrence; part of The Great Migration series. There was an entire room of them!
Georgia O’Keeffe’s An Orchid.
Kay Walkingstick, a native American of Cherokee descent. The artist jokes that she wishes she would actually be smart enough to come up with a name like Walkingstick.
Upon entering one of the galleries I notice this…
Upon close inspection it is this. I Still Use Brushes by Arman.

But it was not all museums. We saw three Broadway shows: The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (absolutely excellent in every way – the set, the tech, the acting/cast, the staging); Shucked (great show and outstanding performances – especially the musical numbers, laugh out loud hilarious, spot-on set); Fat Ham (very good though more my thing than Bob’s, a riff on Shakespeare set in the contemporary South featuring a gay protagonist- and that’s a lot for one show to handle).

And then there was the food: a neighborhood Colombian restaurant; theater district Italian at our favorite, Carmine’s; deli lunches in Midtown, late night slices on our way back to the bus station.

All in all quite perfect.

Now it’s time to arrive somewhere else. Bringing mindful of the wisdom of Confucius, “No matter where you go, there you are”.

The Best of the Rest: A potpourri of photos to round off our Braga adventure

It was a marvelous three months of investigation and adventures. As many of you dear readers know, our recent trip to Portugal was to figure out if this would be a country we could live in long-term. That premise shaped our choice of city, our daily agenda, and the practical matters of just doing life (shopping, dining, entertainment, weather, activities, etc.). The short answer to “Could we live here?” is yes…but…. We came to realize that we missed our Reno nest more than we thought we would, wanted to be able to conveniently reach our grandbabes and extended family, and were honestly not going to become fluent in Portuguese. However, if anyone asks for a recommendation on where to visit in Portugal I would definitely encourage time in Braga.

In no particular order, here are the final shares of our wanderings:

Church of São João do Souto, just at the edge of the historic pedestrian-only center, offered a Happy Hour special: a tour of the sanctuary and a glass of wine for €5. We admired the rooftop gargoyles and decorative carvings.
We were entertained by the adorable children running about the courtyard where we had our repast.
Clearly we had a lovely evening!
Across the walkway from the church was a pocket park that with an installation by the Portuguese artist João Alexandrino. The tile-faced polyptych marks the 25th anniversary of the Literature Grand Prize and (according to the interpretive plaque) “emphasizes the importance and power of contemporary arts and books in the culture”.
Another church roof that caught our eye. We loved the attention to detail and the variety in the carvings.
About 4 blocks from our flat is the Municipal Market; food booths indoors with a central open area filled with vendors who come in daily with fresh fruits and vegetables. This particular photo was taken the weekend of Carnaval. It was early evening and already there were shoulder to shoulders crowds, local musicians playing at full throat, and plenty of costumes, confetti, and ribbons. Fun fact we learned: turns out Braga has the largest population of Brazilian immigrants in Portugal.
We spent most of our Carnaval evening at an open-air cafe on the Praça. You can see Bom Jesus (covered in an earlier post) on the hill in the distance (just left of center). There was a festive and companionable vibe and lots of interesting people watching.
Bob was in such a jovial mood that he consented to having his photo taken at the Jardin de Santa Bárbara gardens.
We took a day trip to visit our dear friend, Lynne, in Moledo, a beach town at the very north end of the country. Our first destination was lunch at Louro Gastronomic, a Michelin-star restaurant that featured a 5-course winter tasting menu. We were the only table in the place but the staff didn’t shave off any amenities and provided us with excellent service. To our delight, the chef surprised us by expanding our meal into seven courses and added an extra dessert! Three hours, many plates of food, and two bottles of wine later we drove over to Ponte de Lima to see the medieval city’s beautiful Roman-built bridge.
Bob vs the Romans.
On our return drive to Braga we were gifted with a double rainbow.
As we got into the city and close to our flat we watched the crowds of people dressed in red making their way to the Braga Municipal Stadium for an evening futbol game.
Estádio Municipal de Braga was designed by Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura. It was carved out of a rock at the site of a former quarry and consists of two sets of stands, connected to each other by steel wires. Notice the absence of handrails in the seating area.
One of our last outings was to the Museum of Archaeology D. Diogo de Sousa. This relatively modern museum (opened in 1980) has galleries beginning with pre-history and continuing through Roman Times and the Middle Ages.
Map showing Bracara Augusta, now Braga; founded in 20 BCE as the capitol of the province.
The city was named after Emperor Augustus, who reigned at the time of its founding. The mosaic behind the bust of Augustus is a hunting scene, dated 4-6C CE.
Broken piece from a Roman sculpture.
Marble relief with theater masks.

Now it’s just totally random stuff:

Museu do Traje Dr. Gonçalo Sampaio houses a small collection of musical instruments, costumes, and clothing indigenous to Northern Portugal.
Just had to get a photo of these tomatoes.
And these HUGE red peppers.
Shelves of boxed wine – even individual portions.
The week we were leaving and fully a month before Easter they were already decorating the streets for Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations. It’s a big deal!
Scene in front of Braga Cathedral. Love the comfortable proximity of religious and secular activity.
A collection of brochures showing the range and variety of opportunities available during our stay.

And finally: throughout our time in Braga Bob and I played a bit of a guessing game about what you would call a person who lives in Braga. We toyed with Braganite (as in Renoite) and Bragatonan (as in Minnesotan) but it turns out the correct answer is Bracarense. Thank goodness for Google!