Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Quebec City's New France Festival

As I passed through the gateway of the oldest walled city in North America, I could hear a buzz of excitement. Hoards of visitors swarmed the cobblestone streets. They had come to Canada to join the people of Quebec City in the celebration of their French heritage. For 15 years, the citizens of the UNESCO-protected site have partied in the streets for five days and nights during Les Fetes de la Nouvelle France or The New France Festival.

It takes place in early August in Quebec's Lower Town where, in 1608, the first French settlers established their colony on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The stone buildings that you see today have replaced the original wooden structures that were destroyed in the devastating fire of 1682. Festival activities center mainly in this area, but extend to Upper Town, too. Quebec is a walking city on two levels and traveling through the narrow, incling streets is doable. But if you find the walk too challenging, a funicular will carry you up and down the cliff.

I was fortunate enought to be outfitted with a beautiful gown of that earlier time period. Along with my colleagues, I felt that we had stepped back in time. Dressed in styles from the 17th and 18th centuries, Canadian men, women and children were transformed into the aristocracy, farmers, merchants, soldiers, clergy, trappers, buccaneers and the others who inhabited the early settlement -- with even a few folks representing the native people of the region. Those of us in costume paraded through Old Town behind a band that was dressed in historic uniforms.

Later, my companions and I wandered about, enjoying some of the many street performers, musicians and story-tellers. Characters on stilts entertained us festival-goers. The highlight of the day may have been the authentic marriage ceremony performed in the Place Royale where the wedding party was dressed in historic costumes. In an open-air marketplace, we sampled local foods, wines and beers. There, we relaxed in a shaded pavilion, and listened to live music while savoring our bread, cheese and white wine. In nearby restaurants, "17th century" waiters and wenches served traditional French dishes (with a distinct French-Canadian flavor, of course). You hear French spoken everywhere, although most people understand English, and signs and menus are in both languages.

The New France Festival is unique, and shouldn't be missed. Look for it next year from the first Wednesday to the first Sunday in August.

(This is an excerpt from my article on American Airlines Black Atlas.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lobster Dinners in Maine

If you love lobster, get thee to Maine. They can be found in every seafood restaurant and even in McDonald's. The best news is that the cost for lobsters in Maine is quite reasonable. I also learned they are fresher in Maine, meaning more tender and better tasting. How can that be when we see them alive in tanks at our restaurants and markets? Check out their antennae. In Maine, they're long. In our tanks, they may be short. Because after a while in captivity, the little devils begin to nip at their buddies' antennae.

When I recently dined at the Weathervane Restaurant in Belfast, Maine, almost everyone in my party ordered lobster. The wait staff was more than pleased to show the whole lobster newbies the proper way to get to the sweet meat beneath the crimson shells. One smart woman ordered her lobster already de-shelled.

As the sun set, we sat on Weathervane's outside deck on the water, and devoured the tasty crustaceans, watching a typical Maine scene with sailboats floating by and other vessels already docked nearby.

The next afternoon, we lunched at Angler's Seafood Restaurant, a family eatery in Searsport popular with locals. While others in my group ate creamy clam chowder, lobster roll, lobster salad and other sea delectables, I chose the Fried Haddock Dinner, and immediately became a fan of the fish. Two large fillets came covered with a crisp golden batter crust, perfect French fries and cole slaw.

While we ate, the owner, Buddy Hall, brought out two live lobsters in order to school us in Lobster Biology 101. He pointed out the difference between a male and a female, along with other info. Then he had the female (I guess the smarter of the two) perform. She did lobster tricks, like standing on her "head."

The restaurant also runs a motel, called "The Bait's Motel." I bought a T-shirt with their logo to suggest I had survived a night at the Bait's Motel (to fool all the poor spellers).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Milwaukee's Safe House

If you like make-believe, (and I do,) you should stop by the Safe House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that was established in 1966. I had been there years ago, and was pleased to find it still around. That proves the sustainability of good things. The popular club/restaurant has a classic spy theme -- shades of James Bond and John LeCarre.

The adventure begins as you skulk down a small, dark alley, looking for a nondescript facade with no sign. (After all, you can't have a secret hideout on a busy thoroughfare with a neon lights.) You enter into a circa 1950's office where a receptionist, named Miss Moneypenny, asks for your ID, regardless of your age. (She's not taking any chances in case you're cleverly disguised.) Then we had to give the password -- that none of my friends knew. In order to get in the club, we were given a silly task to perform. We had to form a human train and chug around the small room. This apparently satisfied Miss Moneypenny.  A wall slide aside and we were allowed to enter the inner sanctum.

Once inside, we viewed a video of our performance on closed circuit TV, and we could watch other people who didn't know the password make fools of themselves, too. One fellow struggled to spin a hula hoop for a long time, until finally Miss Moneypenny took pity on him and let him in.

Our group was give a VIP tour of the place. The owners (a.k.a. Control and the Chief of Misinformation) mix fact with fiction. As we passed from room to room, we saw all sorts of spy paraphernalia,Checkpoint Charlie, photos, games, equipment, artifacts and even a piece of the Berlin wall. In one room, the Milwaukee Press Club meets regularly and many important persons have visited it, like Presidents Obama, Clinton, both Bushes and loads of other politicians, famous journalists, authors and celebrities.

When we left, we took the scuzzy secret escape route out. There's a cleaner exit, but what fun is that?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Aspira Spa

I'm a true spa aficionado. For those of you who shrink at the thought of a stranger touching you, think "Pat Down at Airport Security." Believe me, the touch of a professional masseuse is infinitely more relaxing.

At the Osthoff Resort's Aspira Spa, I enjoyed a Moroccan Hot Oil Massage. My masseuse, Serena (what a great name for a masseuse!), drizzled hot oil on my skin, followed quickly by rubbing it in. The only negative about the treatment was that she wasn't a hot Moroccan...

The most memorable area in the spa was the dimly-lit Meditation Room. Designed in a great curve, the rounded walls created an aura of serenity. They say that corners cause stress. Comfortable banquettes hugged the wall, while in the middle, a round shallow pool was surrounded by tea candles.

When my group went for a light, healthy lunch in the Aspira Spa Cafe, we noticed that one woman was missing. Someone eventually found her asleep in the Meditation Room. To me, that's the ultimate spa experience. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Osthoff Resort

The Osthoff Resort, a sprawling AAA Four-Diamond Resort, overlooks lovely Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin. The casual elegance is welcoming. I had an amazing suite in the all-suite hotel with a full kitchen and dining area. The living room had a fireplace which, I'm sure, comes in handy with the chilly Wisconsin temperatures. A balcony stretched across the living room and bedroom. The bedroom had a king-sized bed that was high and took a special hop to get into it. In the bathroom, a Jacuzzi tub and a walk-in shower gave me a choice of cleansing styles.

 The resort is BIG. My room was at the end of a long hall which I reached from another long hall. After doing the trek a couple of times a day, I felt no guilt skipping gym workouts. All in all, the Osthoff Resort was comfortable and is one of my favorite hotels. 


Welcome to my blog. It will be about my travels. I'll be writing about the places I've visited. My reports will reflect my honest reaction, viewpoint and opinion of what I've seen and done without an editorial overseer. Hopefully, you will enjoy my stories as much as I enjoyed the travel experience.