Roch Pelletier

Joined August 2015
  • Sep18

    Otaru

    September 18 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Our first port of call in Japan was Otaru, a port city on the northwestern coast of the Sea of Japan. It's not as well known or populated as Sapporo, 25 kms to the east, but it is a charming place to visit.

    When we arrived, we had to go through Japanese immigration where we were photographed, fingerprinted and briefly interviewed by the local authorities. With some 2500 passengers to process, some people didn't disembark until almost 11:00AM. Fortunately, we only had to go through that exercise once on the trip. In any case, even the last person to leave the ship would have had plenty of time to visit all the highlights.

    After nine days at sea, it was nice to get back onto solid ground for a few hours. We wandered through the market and visited the music box museum, where they sell boxes ranging in price from about $25.00 CDN to over $10,000.00!!! For that kind of money, you'd best really like the tune it plays.

    Right in front of that museum is a steam clock very similar to the one located in Vancouver's Gastown district. In fact, Otaru's clock was a gift from the city of Vancouver in 1994.

    We strolled along the Otaru Canal, which was built in the first half of the 20th century. At the time, when entering the port, large vessels were unloaded by smaller ships, which then transported the goods to warehouses along the canal.

    The canal became obsolete when modern dock facilities allowed for direct unloading of larger vessels. A portion of the canal was restored in the 1980s instead of being landfilled, while the warehouses were transformed into museums, shops and restaurants.

    But what struck us most on our first day in Japan were the eye-poppingly high prices, particularly of produce. At the markets, one can purchase a slice of melon, similar to cantaloupe, for ¥500 or about $6.25. The entire melon was selling for ¥3,000 or almost $37.00 CDN!!! A handful sized bunch of grapes was ¥700 and a beautiful looking peach was ¥550. We vegans would have to come out of retirement to be able to afford to live there.

    We initially thought these prices were so high because the shops and markets are located in a touristy part of town. However, we learned later in our travels that those prices are pretty much the norm. Yikes!

    After seeing and visiting all we wanted to see, we made our way back to the ship and chilled for a while before dinner.

    Although Otaru was very pretty, I think if we pass this way again we'll probably hop on the train to Sapporo, which likely will have a little more to offer.
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  • Sep12

    Sailing, sailing...

    September 12, North Pacific Ocean ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Sorry, this one is a little longer read than I had wanted, but it does cover nine days of our travels.

    After leaving Sitka, the Celebrity Millenium set off for nine straight days at sea. That was, in fact, the main reason I didn't blog this trip until now. You see, once on board, one settles into a daily routine that varies only slightly based on the activities and entertainment offered. So rather than write a daily article that said essentially the very same thing, here's the Coles Notes version.

    With the clock being set back one hour each night as we traveled west across the Pacific, Brenda and I found ourselves wide awake at around 5:00AM every morning.

    First we'd hop out of bed and hit the gym for an hour or so. Unfortunately, after a couple of days the sea was so rough we couldn't use the treadmills, but there was plenty of other equipment available to provide a pretty good sweat.

    After that we'd shower and visit the breakfast buffet to fuel ourselves for the morning. Overall there were a lot of options for vegans and vegetarians as well as a selection of gluten free options for Brenda. Ee noticed that as the cruise wore on, our fruit options gradually diminished with the more perishable and fast ripening fruits lasting only three or four days.

    At 9:00 there was a thirty minute guided meditation session headed by a Buddhist monk which we attended almost every day

    Mid-morning offered a "Beyond The Podium" talk that was presented by a variety of speakers, all very interesting and engaging. One series on the brain was hosted by a neurologist, another was on adventure travel, the auto racing series was given by a driver/instructor who works at Silverstone and the Buddhist monk led a series various aspects of Buddhism. None of the entertainers, David Klinkenberg, a virtuoso violinist, have a one of presentation on THE REAL DaVinci code that Brenda and I both found captivating.

    For the rest of the morning we would do the daily Sudoku and crossword or participate in trivia competitions or instructional workshops. One morning I won an archery competition and on another Brenda learned how to make Origami flowers.

    Around noon it was back to the buffet for more food. There were so many options available it was hard not to overeat.

    Afternoons were two rounds of trivia, one musical, the other general knowledge. The latter was a cumulative game where the team of six with the most points at the end of the cruise wins. We had Formed a team with a young man from Calgary, a couple from just up the street from us in Vancouver and a woman from the States. We ended up in second place, only two points behind the winner.

    Dinners were usually back at the buffet because of the excellent choices for us, but we did eat in the main dining room a few times when the menu suited us and, of course, for the three "chic" nights.

    After dinner we'd check out either the 7:00 or 9:00 show, which provided pretty diverse entertainment, some of which was first rate. We saw a magician, a crooner, an acrobatic couple, aVegas songstress, a very funny and talented pianist, a virtuoso violinist and an excellent Stevie Wonder impersonator.

    We entered a couple of slots tournaments in the casino in which both Brenda and I won $50 US to play with. We turned it into $149 and cashed out, walking away with our winnings .

    We were usually so tired by 10:00, we'd head back to our rooms, turn the clocks back an hour and pass out.

    On our eighth sea day we caught a glimpse of land in the form of Russia off the starboard side.

    We saw pods of whales and orcas and schools of fish leaping out of the water to escape an unseen predator.

    Our sea days were filled with so many activities, we barely saw them pass by. And despite a couple of days of rocking and rolling with rough seas, we both thoroughly enjoyed the crossing.

    Next stop: Otaru, Japan.
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  • Sep6

    Happy Birthday

    September 6 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Since we settled in Vancouver, Brenda and I have talked about taking an Alaskan cruise. For whatever reason, we just never got around to it.

    For her birthday this year, I decided I would offer to take Brenda on that much discussed voyage.

    Although her birthday is in May, we had already been away from Vancouver for a good part of 2019, so we planned to set sail sometime in the late summer. We began scouring the travel websites for the best deals and most appealing offers, but we just couldn't seem to find anything that met our criteria. And then one day Brenda came to me with a "sorta" Alaskan cruise. On September 6 the ship sets sail for Sitka, Alaska, makes a brief stop there and then heads across the Bering sea to Japan. For a 15 day cruise with several perks thrown in, the price was unbeatable and we jumped on the offer.

    And that, folks, is how we ended up in Tokyo on an Alaskan cruise.
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  • Day54

    Homeward Bound

    May 24 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Well I'm sitting in a railway station
    Got a ticket for my destination...

    Ok, I'm sitting in an airport, but you get the idea.

    Brenda and I spent the last two days enjoying the beautiful weather London offered us and wandering through the streets and shops.

    We got into the city around 1:00 P.M. on Wednesday and Brenda immediately snagged us two tickets for Come From Away, my first London theater experience. Another item crossed off the bucket list. The show is a rousing musical based on the hospitality shown to seven thousand stranded airline passengers by the residents of Gander, NFLD on September 11, 2001. It made me proud to be Canadian.

    After the show we dined at Norman's Coach and Horses, a vegan English pub, where we had Tofish and Chips, marinated tofu, wrapped in seaweed and deep fried in beer batter. Incredibly delicious.

    Thursday was much of the same. A late lunch scheduled with a friend was cancelled and we found ourselves with time on our hands in one of the worlds great cities.

    We ended up browsing through the shops, shaking our heads at the crazy prices in Harrod's and eating some vegan street food for lunch on Tottenham Court Road at Enter the Eden. We ate so much, so late there that dinner was a very simple sandwich and crisps (potato chips to us Canadians) purchased at Sainsbury's, where we also stocked up on some gluten free treats to take home for Brenda.

    This morning we took the tube out to Heathrow and immediately made our way to World of Whiskey, where we filled our one liter per person alcohol quota with two lovely bottles of Scotch. Of course, the samples of several high proof Scotch Whiskeys on a relatively empty stomach went straight to our heads and I can only hope the ones we bought are as good as I thought they were.

    And so this wonderful journey now comes to an end. It's been one of discovery, reunion and relaxation. Of great food, wonderful wines and, surprisingly, a plethora of vegan and gluten free choices.

    As much as we enjoyed our travels, the constant moving around was not usual for us, nor was it something we'll likely repeat. We've decided that on our future lengthy journeys, our minimum stay in one place will be one month. Even though we travelled very light the constant packing, unpacking and organizing point to point travel becomes quite wearisome. Live and learn.

    As we prepare for take off, all I can say is: Arrivederci, au revoir and TTFN.
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  • Day50

    Bath

    May 20 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    For the penultimate stop on our journey we spent two days in Bath Spa. As the name suggests, the Roman's built baths and a temple here in 60 AD because of the hot springs that emerge in the center of the city. More about that later.

    We came here to meet up with Brenda's friend, Laurie, who came from Wales to spend Monday with us. Unfortunately, our train from Bromsgrove was cancelled and, by the time alternate arrangements were made, we arrived ninety minutes behind schedule. So much for the efficiency of British rail. We nonetheless made the most of our time with her and she brought us around to areas of the city we likely would not have discovered had she not been our guide.

    I had no idea what to expect from Bath and was astounded by how beautiful it is here. Many of the Georgian style buildings date to the 17th century and some are even older than that. The Gothic abbey was founded in the 6th century and was rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. It is a very impressive structure, although we didn't find time to visit it on this trip.

    And why were we so short of time? Because my beautiful and generous wife treated us to a day at the Thermae Spa baths that included three hours of soaking, sweating and chilling followed by a 50 minute spa treatment. Aaaaaaah!

    By the time we had showered, changed and de-pruned, it was after 6:00pm so we went for our first pub meal at the Grey Fox pub. The therapist at the spa suggested I take in plenty of liquids to replace those I'd lost, but I'm not sure he included a pint of stout in his recommendation.

    We wrapped up our day wandering through the streets and enjoying our very relaxed state.

    Now we're off to London for our last stop outside of Canada.
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  • Day50

    Bromsgrove

    May 20 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    When traveling for nearly two months it's always difficult to choose one event or destination as a favorite.

    After all, we've been to so many beautiful, historic and storied places, had fabulous meals, reconnected with old friends and tasted wonderful wines.

    Who would have imagined that one of my highlights of this journey would have started in the little English hamlet of Bromsgrove?

    Yesterday we arrived here and immediately made our way to meet with my 94 year old Aunt Roma, who, the last time I saw her was half that age! As soon as we walked into the room where she was waiting, even Brenda, who had never met her before, picked her out of the crowd. The family resemblance to my sister, Dena, and my late mother is uncanny. My Mum left us much too young and Roma gave me a glimpse of what Mum would have been like had she lived to a ripe old age. Roma is spry, witty and charming and recounted many tales from her youth about my Mum. It was a wonderful visit.

    My cousin Phil and his wife Pauline then arrived to drive us all to Worcestershire where we had lunch at cousin Richard and his wife, Jude's home along with my cousin Trevor, his wife, Claire and their two children.

    Jude went above and beyond to meet our vegan and gluten free dietary requirements with an awesome choice of vegetables, potatoes, rice, vegan chili and even homemade gluten-free pie and vegan meringues accompanied by mountains of fresh berries. Everything was amazing!

    Dinner conversation was lively and included a video chat with my sister Dena and her husband, Ed.

    When all was said and done, we all vowed that we wouldn't wait another 47 years to get together again.

    What a wonderful day!
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  • Day49

    Birmingham

    May 19 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 14 °C

    Our flight from Dublin got off the ground an hour late and then, due to a missed communication, we had to wait half an hour for our Airbnb host to show up. So, in the end, our visit to Birmingham became nothing more than a whistle stop.

    We did, however, get out to celebrate Brenda's birthday with a meal and bubbles at Ba-Ha Vegan restaurant, which unbeknownst to me when I reserved, was just a stones throw from where we stayed.

    And now we're off to Bromsgrove to catch up with family I haven't seen in 47 years!
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  • Day48

    Dublin

    May 18 in Ireland ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    We arrived in Dublin on Wednesday and were greeted at the airport by Brenda's ex-coworker, Gerry. She and her husband, Eddy, were kind enough to offer us lodging during our stay and took the time out of their schedules to act as tour guides.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Gerry drove us out to
    The Wicklow mountains, where we visited Hollywood (the original) and Glendalough, which contains the ruins of a sixth century monastery. As we drove the different cycling routes that Eddy frequently rides, we were treated to breathtakingly beautiful vistas.

    Since this was my first time in Dublin, Brenda and I bought a two day Dublin Pass, that granted us admission to more than thirty local attractions, including the Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson distillery.

    We managed to get good return on our investment by doing a complete bus tour of the city and visiting the Dublin Castle, Jameson, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublinia, Teeling Distillery and Guinness.

    The church is very strong in Ireland and, according to our bus tour guide, there are 651 churches in Dublin. When you consider that 25% of the country's population (1.5 million) is concentrated there, the number sounds reasonable.

    However, one institution of contemplation outranks even the church since there are 851 pubs in the city. With statistics like that, it was easy for me to cross the "Drink a Guinness in Dublin" item off my bucket list. And yes, it's true: the Guinness is better in Ireland.

    And now we fly back to England to embark on the last leg of our European vacation.

    Exciting times ahead!
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  • Day43

    I Love Paris Every Moment...

    May 13 in France ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    Every moment of the year ...

    This was my third visit to the city of light and I was no less wonderstruck this time than I was the first go around in 2007.

    There are so many iconic buildings, monuments and places here, it's hard to look around and not see something of beauty. To name a few, the Eiffel Tower, The Opera, Le Grand Palais, City Hall, Les Jardins de la Tuillerie, l'Arc de Triomphe, all standouts. But those landmarks aside, even the row upon row and block after block of six storey apartment buildings, with their wrought iron balconies, give you a clear indication of which city you're in.

    We spent our first couple of days here hanging out with Carhy, one of Brenda's friends, who traveled here from Nantes to share some time with us. We ate, drank, wandered aimlessly through different arrondissements and even did the touristy Seine cruise on Sunday afternoon, that turned out to be most enjoyable and very informative.

    On Monday, we had a brush with fame. Another of Brenda's friends, Patrice Romedenne, who she met in Vancouver many moons ago, is now a well known writer and TV journalist. He invited us for coffee at Le Cafe de l'Homme, which offers probably the best view of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I have to admit, I was glad he picked up the tab because the three scoops of sorbet that Brenda ate and the very delicious, but tiny apple tatin I chose were both priced at €15.00 each. I hate to think how much his chicken caesar salad cost!

    On Tuesday, Brenda and I picked up a bottle of rosé, a few spreads, falafels and vine leaves from Le Marche des Ternes and, of course, a baguette (from the bakery that won 4th prize for the best baguette in Paris in 2004), all of which we gobbled down while sitting in the sun on a park bench in Parc Monceau.

    In a city where real estate prices, like Vancouver, have skyrocketed in recent years, it's great to be able to find a large green space amidst all the concrete

    So now we say au revoir to Paris and fly off to our first English speaking destination of this trip: Dublin, Ireland.

    I've been to Paris in the fall and in the summer when it sizzles. Now I've been here in the spring and have only to visit her in the winter, when it drizzles, in order to be able to have lived the song lyrics.

    Why, oh why do I love Paris? Because my love is here. (Or at least she's with me every time I've been).
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  • Day40

    Beaune & environs

    May 10 in France ⋅ ⛅ 9 °C

    When I was studying to become a sommelier a dozen or so years ago, I decided that one day I had to make a visit to the Burgundy region of France. It wasn’t only for my love of Pinot Noir or the way the French bring out the best in Chardonnay, it was the beauty of the architecture, the complexity of their classification system and the long and storied history of their vines.

    Brenda was thoughtful enough to include a five day stop in Beaune in this European trip’s itinerary, allowing me to cross one more item off my bucket list.

    For me, the magic of visiting a place like this is the way in which all the theory and instruction I received during my sommelier classes suddenly becomes concrete. I now understand how the classification between regional wine, Villages, Grand Cru and Premier Cru are established. I saw with my own two eyes many of the 1247 different parcels of land that are under vine. I walked through the rocky, limestone, clay or Marl soils that give these wines their individuality and complexity. I saw the hills where the grapes grown at the top of the south facing slopes produce the finest and most expensive Pinot Noir on Earth. I learned that one vineyard may have a limestone subsoil, while its immediate neighbor may be clay, giving completely different expression to the wines produced there. I saw numerous small plots of vines surrounded by short masonry walls that were built from the stones taken from those very vineyards. These enclosed plots are what are known as “Clos” , and the wines made from those grapes will show that word on their labels.

    The entire Burgundy Appellation covers a length of only 67 kilometers, and although we were based in Beaune, we managed to cover a good portion of it, and more than one third on foot!

    As we walked South from Beaune to Santenay, passing through Pommard, Meurseault, Chassagne Montrachet and Puligny Montrachet, tasting fabulous Chardonnays as we went, all the names on all those bottles I puzzled over in wine shops for so many years, gained recognition and gave me one of those big “AHA!!!” moments when it all became a lot more clear.

    To the North, we did some exceptional tastings in Nuits Saint Georges, where the Pinot Noir was in the forefront, except for our last event where we sampled five different bottles of Cremant de Bourgogne, which I’m pretty sure were Brenda’s favorites of the entire Burgundy visit.

    The weather on Wednesday was wet, windy and cold, so we pretty much stayed in our room, did laundry and relaxed.

    On our last day in Beaune, we did a tasting at Le Cellier de la Cabiote, where, in their XVIth century cellars, we sampled six different wines, and a very syrupy, but delicious, Crème de Cassis. Of all the tastings we did, this was probably our favorite. All the wines were from different producers and each was hand selected by the owner of the shop, who provided detailed and knowledgeable comments on each of the samples. Anyone going to Beaune should make it a point to stop into that shop.

    Our time in Bourgogne is now over and we’re about to start a five day visit to Paris, where Brenda will be catching up with another old friend. Other than that, we have no real itinerary, although I may want to spend a day at the Louvre if the weather is uncooperative.

    We already climbed the Eiffel Tower eleven years ago, so we have no need (or desire) to do that again.
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