The Places We’ve Been – 2015

I have a tendency to go to bed early.  Sometimes very early.  If I had it my way, I’d have dinner in bed.  Often I find myself laying on top of the bed sheets by 7:00.  The lights are just bright enough to read by, the cell phone is within arms reach, and the television is on, with the volume low.   But because I’m in bed doesn’t necessarily mean I’m sleeping.   I just find the bed to be one of the most comfortable places in the house, kind of like a bear in his cave.  Besides, what the hell else am I going to do during a winter on Long Island?  After reading, I’ll most likely be asleep by 9.

But it’s not always that way.  There are those major annual events that may keep me up late. New Year’s Eve last year actually had me awake until nearly 10pm.  I know, I could hardly believe it myself.  I’ve become such a party animal in my old age.   For a couple of years Mrs. SirOzzy and I went to our (my) favorite local restaurant.  But even there we found ourselves crapping out by 10 and struggling to keep our eyes open and head above the table by 11.  The problem with New Year’s is that it just comes too damn late.

Ahhhh, but all this old man-pooped out nonsense is for when I’m home.  When I’m out traveling everything is different.  I sleep just late enough to enjoy the comforts of the strange bed, then I’m up and out.  I try to explore every nook and cranny of wherever it is I am.  I’ll find the local breakfast joint, a tour, museums, hiking paths, people watching, adventure, shows, bars.  And I’ll stay up so late it’s early tomorrow.

My first resolution for 2016 is TRAVEL MORE and stay up later.

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After virtually hibernating for the entire month of January, our first trip of the year was to The Baker House 1650.  We celebrated our first wedding anniversary at this fantastic Bed and Breakfast in East Hampton.  It’s very pricey during the season, but equally reasonable during the off season.  For a little bit extra we had the spa closed off and reserved just for ourselves.

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What a difference a month makes.  We went from the brutal cold and snowy environs of the Northeast to the tropics of Jamaica.  Yeah Mon!    There are not many things in this world more satisfying than catching a big fish, and I caught one.  Since we were staying at a fantastic place that fed us all the freshest seafood we wanted, I had no need to keep my catch.  Not thinking it was too big a deal, I gave the fish to one of the mates on the boat.  He hugged me and told me it would feed his family for weeks.  Giving the fish away was even more satisfying than catching it.

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We decided to switch things up a little and drive to Quebec City.  And man, did we drive hard.  10 hours, only breaking for gas and restrooms.  The drive was worth it however, as we stayed at the Fairmont Chateau Le Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world.  A grandiose building that is visible from nearly everywhere in the city.   We drove hard the way home too, staying for a night in Freeport, Maine .  But as beautiful as Quebec was and the memorable drive, the thing I came away with most was the nightmare that followed.  Our Jeep spent the next 3 months in and out of the mechanic’s shop recovering.  More shit in that engine had to be repaired than you could shake a stick at.

A midsummer day-trip brought the SirOzzy family to Montauk for a day.  After a long scenic drive through portions of the Hamptons in our rental car (the Jeep was still in the shop), we found ourselves at an ocean beach.  Teaching an inexperienced 10 year old how to body surf in 4 foot waves has to be one of those things only slightly more satisfying than catching a big fish.  We could have been out there for eternity.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a single picture.

Which brings me to my second resolution.  This year I’m going to take more photos and become a better photographer.  I recently received as a gift a sparkly new Nikon D5500 DSLR camera, which I’m learning more about everyday.  I can’t wait to share my new masterpieces in 2016.

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Shortly after acquiring the new hardware we made our way to one of the more scenic regions of our country.  Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains is as beautiful and grand as anywhere else I’ve been.  One of my favorite things was driving around the lake, occasionally pulling off to the side to capture images.  Mrs. SirOzzy hated it.  She was near paralyzed with fear that we would fall off a cliff or a boulder would come crashing down on us.   One month after we left, this happened.

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We wrapped up the year with a family trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania.   This was our Christmas/Chanukah gift to the kids.  I suppose with all the wonderful trips we take, it’s only right to include them once in a while!

My third and final resolution for 2016 is to write more.  My goal is to post one blog per week for the year.  So please help inspire me by following this site (there’s a link at the bottom of the page), “Like” SirOzzy on Facebook, and follow _sirozzy_ on instagram.  I’m hoping for a ton of new followers by 2017, but in the meantime, lets Enjoy The Journey.

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Ces Petites Choses, These Little Things

Ces Petites Choses, These Little Things

I decided long ago, any day that starts at an airport, a bridge, or a ferry is going to be a good day.  This trip had us starting at the Cross Sound Ferry in Port Jefferson.   If you had asked me on the ferry what I thought about Quebec City before this trip, I would have not been able to tell you much.  There is a vague recollection of doing a report on Quebec around fifth grade.  The men were fur trappers, maybe religious, and the winters are brutal.  If you ask most Americans to be honest, I think they would say everybody from “up there” speaks French, are rude, arrogant, and probably hate everybody.  The town is probably dark and cold, and I think there’s a river near by, I guess that’s where they caught beaver and otter.   As with all travel, this stereotype would be blasted right out of the St. Lawrence River in no time at all.

We drove through Connecticut, then Massachusetts, and into Vermont.  Nothing quite like a long drive to open lines of communication and just talk and laugh for hours.  A brief stop in Brattleboro, Vermont found us noshing on sandwiches and fresh juice at a groovy little café on Main Street.  Back on the road, it’s going to be long day.  I love how outside New York, drivers actually use the right lane for cruising, the left for passing.  I’m sure someday I’ll write a long rant on that alone.

The border crossing was a welcome sight, and an opportunity for a new learning lesson.  We had the youngest member of our tribe along with us for this trip.  Of course his Passport has more entries than most adults acquire in a lifetime, and we are always fully prepared to provide proper documentation.  However, this time, the Border Agent, who was otherwise very friendly, asked us for a notarized letter from his birth father, granting permission to leave the country.  We’ve never needed one before, we explained, why now?  Well, apparently there is a rash of international custody battles.  We  spoke it over with her, and after some slight persuading, she obliged and let us pass.  Phew, that was close.  And the kid in the backseat was perfect, never said a word, as we direct him to behave with all Customs and TSA agents.

We stopped in a little town called Magog, not too far from the border.  A tremendous amount of restaurants located along Main St., considering we hadn’t seen any population for the last 100 miles.   With some reluctance to eat unfamiliar food, and all signs and menus in French, it took a little while to decide where we’d eat.  An outdoor seating hamburger joint caught our eye, so we settled on that.  Over an hour later, and after more than a few language related misinterpretations, we left praying that the food and service would be better in the city.

Restaurant. Magog, Canada.
Restaurant. Magog, Canada.

Our final destination brought us to The Fairmont Chateau Le Frontenac, known as the most photographed hotel in the world.   A magnificent 622 room castle, it was built, accordingly, on the highest ground in the city.  The brick façade and mansard copper roof are visible from nearly anywhere in the city, but looks most splendid from the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  We had a suite on the 14th floor, and enjoyed the benefits of the Gold Level Service.  A private breakfast and evening cocktails were just some of the included amenities.

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While the weather was gorgeous in the morning of our first full day, we learned the climate changes faster than anything here.  The cloud cover was a welcome respite from this very hot summer and added ambience to the old European-style city.  From the cobblestone streets, to gas lamps, to the corner butcher, not much has changed through the centuries.

We jumped into the hop-on, hop-off, double decker red bus.  It really is the best way to get your initial bearings in any unfamiliar city.  The 90 minute tour started outside our hotel entrance, in Terrasse Dufferin.  This area has a beautiful boardwalk that overlooks lower city and the river.  The funiculair is located here and it is a popular spot for street performers.  These are not the current type of annoying Times Square, SpongeBob Squarepants, or Minny Mouse characters that look for a picture with you and then aggressively hound you for money.  These are people that play the Harp, or sing beautiful operatic melodies, or they perform magical card tricks. These are trained acrobats, jugglers, and comedians.  They don’t harass and they don’t accost.  In classical French Vaudevillian style, their culture and history come through in all their acts and personalities.  Never a disappointing performance, always worthy of our pocketchange.  The entire time we were in the city, we saw one policeman.  Just one.  And he was just hanging out minding his own business.  No heavy artillery, no attitude.  So in this happy place, we started our tour.

Our guide, with full French-Canadian accent, requested we stay on the bus for the full 90 minute tour.  Afterward we could decide where to get dropped off.  He was an excellent tour guide, very knowledgeable with a sense of humor.  Much focus was pointed toward the roof tops and architecture of the buildings.  Discover the roofs, and you will find the history, was much of the refrain.  Mansard roofs, tincan roofs, the flat roofs of the 1960s.

We saw the famed Musee de Civilization, a marketplace, Break Neck Steps Street, government buildings, and the historical Plains of Abraham.   A beautiful, clean city,  I couldn’t help but fall in love during that 90 minute tour.  But we decided the best place to be was right where we were, at Le Chateau.

The next few days were spent sightseeing mostly on foot.  We enjoyed a guided river cruise to Montmorency Falls, a waterfall taller than Niagara.   We spent a lot of time window shopping in Lower Quebec, and people watching on Terrasse Dufferin.  The Changing of the Guard at the Citadel is a drawn out, but interesting, event to see.  But mostly, we ate.  The food is where the French culture is still at it’s strongest.  Sounds of café music and Madeleine Peyroux reverberated around the city.  The constant clanging of wine glasses and the aromas of fresh food were everywhere.  Service was generally impeccable and exceptionally friendly.  This charming old European city gradually came alive to reveal it’s more cosmopolitan side.

Ahh…. which brings me to the Poutines.  How this ridiculous mishmash of cultural cuisine has not taken off in the States amazes me.  French Fries drenched in brown gravy with white cheese curd, I enjoyed mine with pulled pork and bacon.  Washed down with a Moosehead Lager, I could feel my blood thickening as I took it all in.

Our last night brought us to the circus.  Quebec is the home of the original Cirque De Soleil, and to pay homage to it, the city funds a free, outdoor, performance every night.  The 45 minute wait on line for this 2,000 seat amphitheater is well worth it to see these amazing young performers practice their craft.

A rich history.  Fine culture.  Magnificent cuisine and wonderful music.  An extraordinarily low unemployment rate.  Virtually zero crime.  The government is the largest employer, followed by tourism.  I do believe this area of the world has got it figured out.  We left all the wiser for our experiences, and I’ve been listening to French Café music ever since.

Restaurant. Lower Quebec
Restaurant. Lower Quebec
Mesmerized by the songs of Evita.
Mesmerized by the songs of Evita.
Street Performers
Street Performers.

The drive home had us stopover for lobster in Freeport, Maine.  That was followed the next day with lunch at Mystic Pizza and another ferry ride.  SirOzzy was happy to have us home, but as always, we look forward to our next adventure.

“Ces petites choses” translates to “these little things.”  We should all strive to learn a new phrase in our host country’s language.