We chose this cruise for it's itinerary since we are native Californians. I had always wanted to see a baseball game at Fenway Park and neither of us had been to Montreal. So we left San Francisco on Thursday leaving us two full days in Boston. As I had insisted only on carry-ons, we took an MBTA shuttle from Logan and after a simple transfer we found ourselves one easy block from the Bed and Breakfast we had booked in the Back Bay District.
Boston was in the middle of a heat wave which was a not too unpleasant change from our much cooler SF Bay Area weather. We took the T to Copley Place, took in a few sites and had dinner at Legal Seafood which serves one mighty fine cup of Clam Chowder. Sue managed to overcome my reluctance for observation decks and bought us a couple of tickets to the 54th(?) floor of the Prudential Tower and I am glad she did. The 360 degree tour and headset audio tour showed and told us about everything from the the distant JFK Library to the nearby architecture of the Back Bay. The next morning we visited the Boston Public Library. A guy feels pretty smart just setting foot in the main reading room. There wasn't time to see the John Adams papers since we wanted to take in the museum of Fine Arts. Wow, what a collection of Egyptian Artifactsthe best I've seen. No way to see everything in one afternoon so we chose a couple galleries. The Hippie Chic exhibition of sixties and early seventies couture was particularly well curated with white monocolor mannequins that showed the contemporary hairstyles while keeping the emphasis on the clothes. We walked back through a park called "The Fens." Through the magic of Wikipedia, we now know the area was named for some English wetlands and hence Fenway Park. That yard is most certainly a Cathedral. Sweet Caroline! Although it was 95 degrees at first pitch, G-d was in his heaven that night and the Sox beat the Yankees 4 to 2.
Saturday, we made our way to the Black Falcon Cruise terminal by theway of the silverline T which left us within a hundred feet of the boat. Within a few minutes we found our stateroom and were relaxing on the Lido where we enjoyed the sailaway out of Boston Harbor. The Maasdam isn't new, but it was in fine enough shape for our taste. And just our speed. Big enough to find quiet spots yet with just enough multiple activities. I loved the exercise machines. I only found the Sauna on the last day. I recommend the Ocean View pool after a day of walking in a port. Sue enjoyed one of the enrichment classes about computer photo retouching and management. Holland America has a some really nice touches, like an onboard version of the New York Times to enjoy with breakfast. We completed the Monday crossword puzzle but by Wedsneday we were stumped.
Sue let me say Baah Haabah all I wanted until we arrived. after that I had to call it Bar Harbor. I thought that was pretty fair. We found the tendering efficient and enjoyable, so I'm not sure what all the fuss was about in other reviews. We prefer to self cater over booked shore excursions so we rented bikes in town and pedaled to Acadia National Park in search of the carriage trails, which we barely found. The road to the park is busy without a real bike path so if you go, put your bikes in the rack on the free shuttle to the park, ride around, and shuttle back to town. We biked through town and grabbed a lobster lunch. And we found a piece of Blueberry Pie which we ate on a bus bench.
The shows on the Maasdam are fun. We laughed, we cried and we went to bed early. The performers are real troopers. The musical about a challenged advertising agency staffed by ex musicians was my favorite. On another night, I thought one of the Simon and Garfunkle numbers was a little out of the vocalist's range, but he made a valiant effort to hit the high notes. And that's just part of the fun, eh?
Halifax is a city of some size. Still, we managed to walk to a few sites in the morning and still make it back to the boat for a Lido Lunch and then more afternoon site seeing. The walk along the boardwalk from the terminal to the museum is inviting and scenic. Our advice is to skip the tour of the fort in Halifax and instead see the Citadel in Quebec City. The fort in Halifax does have a military museum, however unless you are a true military buff, how many five-sided garrisons does one need? The Halifax Maritime museum has Titanic artifacts recovered from the wreck at the time of the loss so they are perfectly preserved instead of the things I had otherwise seen recovered from the sea floor. The proverbial deck chair from the Titanic was virtually identical to the teak deck chairs found on the Maasdam. One imaginative museum exhibit was the turn of the century marine hardware "store" where you can pretend to shop for ship fittings and supplies. I can almost still smell the fresh pine tar used to treat coils of rope.
We enjoyed every meal, from a hot dog at the snack bar to the evening at La Cirque in the Pinnacle dining room. Sue says the poached eggs she had in the MDR were her best ever, and I'm still talking about the blueberry pancakes. I'd say our best meals were in the Pinnacle Grill for dinner and at the Canalleto Italian "restaurant" carved out of part of the Lido. All were definitely worth the modest up charges, although we would have been perfectly happy if we had taken all of our meals in the MDR or at the Lido Buffet. If there was any problem, it was our own tendency to over-indulge since we were on vacation. The wine stewards took great care of us. We don't drink even half a bottle with dinner, so the boat "cellered" our remainders so we could enjoy them with our next meal. A lovely couple we met even sent us a bottle of sparkling wine from their Neptune Suite.
Sydney was our other stop in Nova Scotia. We had been prepared, as part of HALs "On Location" program the night before by the Cape Breton Trio, a folk group with a guitar, fiddle and piano. A local tradition is step dancing which is a kind of jig with a nearly still upper body. Some local high school girls gave a second demonstration just inside the terminal. This is one port where a bus tour might have been a good idea. While the town is charming, we understand the interior of the island is truly spectacular. Perhaps next time, eh?
Next port was Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (PEI). We decided on the Cows Creamery factory tour after leafing through a AAA tourbook a passenger had considerately left in the Maasdam's library. We walked through the old downtown, and then asked a cab driver to take us to the factory. I would rate the ice cream and free paper hat excellent and the factory tour as only a touch above average. We got our first taste of poutine at the hamburger place next door before we called the same cab driver, a proud PEI native, who showed us a few sites on the way back to town. We finished our day relaxing on one of Victoria Parks vast lawns skipping out on the many Canadian Confederation historic sites and the chance to chase after some Anne of Green Gables lore. Perhaps next time, eh?
Be sure to stand outside on one of the upper decks when you set sail from PEI. The Maasdam passes closely under a concrete bridge and it looks as if you are standing still while the bridge flies over you. You can take your turn ringing the ship's bell at the bow. Our day at sea must have been relaxing because I don't remember much about it besides stopping into the crow's nest to listen to May and the HAL-Cats belt out some Motown and sixties numbers.
Quebec City is everything you've heard about. So I won't rehash it here. Bring your walking shoes as there are some big hills and lots of staircases. I liked the climbs and all the old cannons lying about. I'm still not at all sure who they thought was going to attack, but I did learn that if you see a Quebec house with walls of round stones, its probably French who used the rocks at hand, while the English masons insisted on neat blocks brought by cart from a quarry. We ended up lunching at Paillards in the center of Rue St. Jean, a main shopping street. This place was popular with locals and I can understand why. Delicious, and reasonably priced, sandwiches and pastries. You order at a counter and they call your number. It's like Panera Bread with Croissants. At the end of the day we caught this little electric bus called the Ecolobus which makes about a dozen stops in and out of the walled City. We rode the entire loop once to see the town and then stayed on and got off right in front of the boat in time for departure.
The next morning we had one final breakfast in the MDR before launching ourselves into Montreal. A cab dropped us off at the Victorian Heritage Bed and Breakfast on a thankfully somewhat quiet part of the not-at-all quiet Latin Quarter. The accommodations are wonderful, charming and clean. The owner collects Victorian armchairs and serves up breakfasts with Fairmont Montreal Bagels and home made jams. There is a claw foot bathtub in every bedroom, yes, outside the bathroom. We didn't ask. We did find the Latin Quarter very much to our liking. Apparently the countless trendy restuarants, cafes and bars each with a patio, is where one goes to be seen. We noticed many of the local couples carefully coordinate their clothes. In San Francisco if a couple rolled out of their respective closets so similarly dressed one would have to go march right back in and change clothes. Not so in Montreal. This was no coincidence but some deliberate thing they do. Again, we didn't ask. Besides, it was almost too much fun watching out for "pairs".
I'd say our most memorable highlights were the Marche Jean Talon and the Fireworks. The Marche is a Farmers Market with mostly Quebec cheeses, vegetables, fish, sausages and sinfully delicious baked goods. We were fortunate to have an early berry season this year. The displays were so artful and abundant. Samples were available like a free slice of lightly salted tomato or a small bit of sausage or tiny "ice cream" cone of maple toffee for like, a dollar. We got great photographs while we listened to the locals bargain in French. The market is a block away from the Jean Talon Metro station. We didn't have to ask about that happy coincidence.
On summer Saturday nights, Montreal hosts an international fireworks festival. Some of the best viewing is near the waterfront by the Jacques Cartier Bridge, or even on the bridge. Being American with 105 Fourth of July's between us, we figured we were seasoned fireworks watchers. But these were La Bombe. Sacrebleu! So maybe O Canada doesn't go on about rockets red glare or bombs bursting in air, but there ain't one Maasdam thing they don't already know about setting off fireworks in Montreal.
Gastronomically speaking, do try a Montreal Bagel and a Smoked meat Sandwich at Schwartzs deli and brave the Poutine, you'll be glad you did. There's plenty of fine food about, but after our cruise we were ready for "cuisine de rue".
Finally, I have to mention the Bixi system. All over town there are automatic rental stations where you can rent a bike for thirty minute increments to go from point to point. If you need more than thirty minutes, simply dock your bike and check it out again two minutes later. Montreal has as many bike paths as it has bakeries and the automobile drivers are courteous. One day we used the Bixi bike system exclusively for 7$ and the next day we got a Metro pass for 9$.
We liked the Air Canada flight home better than the United Flight to Boston, but that was mostly because the equipment was newer. Sue say's I have to stop saying "Eh?" now that we're home. I'll pick up some new phrases when we go to Mexico at Thanksgiving.