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Charlotte Amalie and the Prairie Dogđź’©

As I had been to this port before, it was no big hurry to get off the ship. When I did there was the typical Caribbean band and warm welcomes. It was sun and rain periods and humid, so even though it was not the greatest, it was not that bad either. When I made it to the Main Street, I considered trying to find a bus to the other side of the harbour and instead just kept walking.

The island looked familiar but very different to last time. Which due to two hurricanes, was not surprising. Many of the building had roves that were replaced with blue tarps, or red metal roofing. Then there were the chickens, no whyin the world have I ever seen more chickens then I did in Charlotte Amalie, and the ear piercing bellow of all the roosters.

Along Veterans Drive, there is a lot of construction work to improve and build a multi million dollars project to build a veterans memorial causeway that will look incredible, especially to visitors. The sight of which is just following the Extreme Tsunami Risk Zone. It is a real shame given the number of hurricane destruction on the islands, and neighbouring Puerto Rico, that so much money is being spent on this project.

About 2km later I made it to Emancipation Garden where I grabbed some water to drink and rest before continuing on to my goal for the day Blackbeard’s Castle. I actually changed my mind As I looked up the steep hill and I was totally exhausted and it was too sunny and warm, so I just stayed in the square for an hour. Getting a taxi back turned out to an ordeal as most of the taxis only wanted to go to the beach or to cruise terminal. I wanted to go to K-Mart, which I eventually found someone that would take me. I really didn’t want to walk back.

As I entered, the store was much more rundown than the last time I was there, there wasn’t what I was looking for there so I grabbed water and walked back to the ship.

I ended up going to the buffet and then various events that were going on. I ended up getting really drunk that night, and had a really late night.

The next morning, I was really hung over and went to the buffet for breakfast and then my stomach felt really bad, like explosive bad. The washroom by the buffet was closed for cleaning and I really had to go, so I went to my room. And guess what happened, my keycard wasn’t working! I go to the stairwell and call customer service, and what do they say, come to customer service. Down the elevator, across the ship, I make it and they replace my card. I then go back across the ship and up the elevator, back to the room, swipe, swipe, swipe, Nothing!!!! I go back to the phone, call again and they send security. As I wait, I start doing the Prarie Dog Dance, in the worst pain ever! The guy finally arrives and opens the door with a key and replaced the dead battery, and reprogrammed the lock. Then I finally used the toilet, even though the prarie dog had partially freed itself by that point. I then showered again and grabbed my sunscreen and headed back up to deck 18 to escape and relax.

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The Virgin Islands, or Where They Used to Be

This was a morning, that I was pumped and excited for, I work up stupid early so that I could emerge for breakfast and grab some amazing, red sky in morning, photos of the island as the sun peaked over the horizon.

For this morning, I wanted to be ready to go early and quickly plate loaded from the buffet. I then returned to my cabin to shower and prepare the day bag with everything I needed, camera, phone, tripod, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and wallet. I really had no plans at all what to do and I had no US cash on me so the vague plan was to get off the ship, find wifi and catch-up, post some pictures to make those at home jelous, and find a bank. Today I arrived to the port of Tortola, one of the British Virgin Island.

I got off the ship and it was a nice close walk to the Tortola cruise village. It was actually quite obvious that the cruise village was a fake example of stereotypical island life and all the usual shopping. I sat on a bench in front of the Diamonds International and got on the wifi there. It was pretty good wifi, all my Facebook feed was filled with people talking about a major blizzard. I felt bad of course so I posted this picture.

Sunrise over Tortola BVI
Sunrise over Tortola BVI

Then I left the cruise terminal area and came across the CIBC First Caribbean bank and took out $40USD. I then went to a local shop and picked up a tiny ornament. One of the first things I noticed was that the island was filled with random chickens everywhere.

As I returned to the terminal, I negotiated taking a safari type truck tour of the Island. It was beautiful, although it was mainly a lot of what like was like on the island, and “This is where X used to be”. One of the memorable moments was when we were approaching the wall with the mural of the islands history, one van going in the other direction got caught on our truck and we were wedged for a while as the only place for the other van to go was over the cliff.

One attraction that is still around on the island is on the far end of the island where there was an amazing rum distillery and a huge and popular beach.

After the tour, I was exhausted and went back to the ship and found a sun chair on Deck 18.

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Off on the Epic, the Dancing King

Okay, the Epic titles and making reference to epic things may be getting old at this point but trust me there will be more and they will be epically cliche. Upon boarding the ship, it was luck time so I headed to the buffet like usual and sampled a bit of everything. Apparently, from the buffet on the first two days of a trip makes up about half of all food waste for the entire week long voyage.

The food was pretty good. Nothing outstanding from most buffets in most ships and restaurants. I was also disappointed that Washie-Washie was not as happy-happy as my last trip. This may seem like complaining, but it is not. The Norwegian Epic is very good, and far superior to not traveling in the first place.

After lunch, I grabbed a drink and explored around the ship until it was time to meet up with the Solo Coordinator at the meetup in the solo lounge. The solo lounge on the Epic was really good and better than the Getaway. It had an espresso machine and was amazing coffee. From this meeting, I went to dinner and then called it a night.

The next day I did a lot of relaxing, and whiskey and rum sampling. After dinner I went to the whiskey bar for a Jack Daniels tasting but was convinced by the bartender that a hour later the Scottish Macallan tasting was more worth the money and had a better quality pairing. So I decided to stay at the bar and socialize for the hour.

The tasting was an incredible experience to learn more about the whiskey notes. (Despite being a certified Jameson Irish Whisky taster) Most people at the tasting and the head bartender seemed to be making flavours up. Anyway after the tasting, we were told of a Martini tasting. This seemed like a great idea.

At the tasting there was 3 gin based and 3 vodka based martinis to taste. The younger woman sitting across from me with her mother was not enjoying at all the non-fruity and classic martinis. From the collection the one that stood out was the Cucumber Martini. It became my friend many times that voyage. The only downside was it was hard to walk around the ship with a martini glass. The glass is just not the best at countering let’s blame it on the ocean swells.

Then it was time for dinner. It was good even if it wasn’t memorable. After dinner was spent between the martini and whiskey bar. Followed by the highlight of the night. The dancing king and queen competition at the Bliss night club. To be honest, with my bad ankle dancing is not the best idea, but there were so few people dancing that I started off the dancing and then sat for a drink. Then come competition time I was dancing back up to the bar and was spotted and selected as the dancing king! From this I won a bottle of wine. Since I had the drink package, I spotted a couple in the back corner on a date night and gave away the bottle.

I then called it a night and went to bed.

The next morning was not the greatest as it was about 11am before I emerged and it was a window that finding food on the ship was hard. I went to the mini-buffet and found a quite place on deck 18 to catch some sun. Which left me burnt for the week. The rest of that day was a blur of activity and fun. I knew I didn’t want it to be a “big night”, as the next day I was off to check the only new county off my list, the British Virgin Islands.

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An Epic Night and Journey to the Epic

Following the subway ride, I ended up on good old St. Andrew Station in Downtown Toronto on a Just above freezing evening. I was a bit hungry so as I wandered Downtown I was looking for somewhere no but ended up going to Hooters on John St.. The meal was good I had the Steak Spice Quesadilla and it was really good. There was a hockey game on so, I enjoyed the meal and a beer, game, and people watching until about 1am. After that I left and continued to wonder down John to Queen West and then stopped at the McDonald’s at Spidina.

Since I had time to kill, I stayed at the McDonald’s for just over an hour to charge my phone and people watch with a coffee and a muffin. This area in the daytime is high class, in the evening it is just high. I sat up on the second floor and there was a guy at the end of the booths that kept being woken up by security, it looked he was very impaired. Then going in and out of the washroom was an uncomfortable assortment of people. Prior to leaving I needed the washroom and there was a guy on the toilet shooting needles. I went to get out of the place but at the top of the stairs there was another gentleman smoking his meth pipe indoors.

I was so relieved to get out of that place and catch the streetcar to connect with the airport night bus. However, that would not be the end. As I was waiting for the streetcar, wouldn’t you know what happened next? There were paramedics called to pull someone out of the McDonald’s and I highly doubt it was an allergy or choking.

Pearson Airport
Pearson Airport

Upon reaching the airport, I picked up my bag from storage and checked in for my flight and quite easily cleared security and the US Border clearance went very quickly, although there were a lot of people panicked for catching a much earlier flight than mine. There is something that, tend to consider Toronto Pearson as the baseline of a good airports. Terminal 1 is an excellent and totally makes sense layout, and the D-E-F layout of the gates it just works for me.

Due to my medical situation, over the past two years, I have gained a lot of weight and now need to ask for the extender belt when on a plane. I find it hilarious that in an effort to be “respectful” the Air Canada staff try to secretly hand off the belt. Everyone on the plane knows, the belt doesn’t fit me, it is not a secret.

I found it surprising how short the flight was from Toronto (YYZ) to Orlando (MCO), it was just a tad longer than Saint John (YSJ) to Toronto (YYZ).

Many airports focus a lot more on the departure passengers over the arrivals. Orlando International is by far a huge exception. The airport consists of 4 terminals linked by automated light rail to the hub. The first thing that happens as you leave the plane is the announcements to where to go and what belt the luggage will be on. Usually you are left to following signs and screens.

Once on the main terminal it has everything you possibly would need and is not as unreasonable as other airports. From the luggage area it is filled with handlers to get people started on their vacation experience so that it starts as soon as you arrive. Disney parks, Disney Cruise, and other cruise lines have the logistics down to a science and make it perfectly effortless,

It is a really beautiful drive to Port Canaveral, there is something about Florida that makes it very unique like you are on safari, and the approaching winter light gives a different world experience.

When we arrived at the cruise port we received the “tip the driver and port people” speech and alighted the bus to wait in a 15 minute long line to get inside to check into the ship. The process was pretty effortless and was much like any other cruise.

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A Subway Journey to finish All the Stations

An evening on a subway train can be a very interesting experience. Tonight my transit adventure began at Pearson Terminal 1 where I picked up the 192 Airport Rocket to Kipling Subway station. The bus ride was really nostalgic as I haven’t taken the bus in quite some time.

The bus was packed and well filled with travellers, airport and airline staff calling it quits for the night. Once at Kipling station I got on the first eastbound train to transfer a St. George station. Watching people is one thing that I absolutely love to do. I noticed that although Toronto is very unique that it still has a Canadianism about it.

At St. George station, I switched to a northbound train to try and visit the new stations I have never been to. There was a kind of new couple that was sitting next to me. She was teaching him things about the subway because he is new to Canada. Although it was cute that he missed his stop to go one more stop because he didn’t want to leave her.

After they left the train around Downsview Park station was there was a larger but still average woman I would say in her twenties pull a needle out of her bag and stick herself with it and then placed the needle back in her bag.

On the return trip there was a group of university students get on the train near York University and they had 3 bottles of Nestea. Except one was clear and colourless and as they gulped it the familiar look of that unique facial expression was very evident from when you gulp a 40% or more liquid and it burns.

The normal coloured bottle must have also been spiked as their attractive female friend asked then to top up her Starbucks cold drink cup.

After I lost interest in them there was another group of very mixed race and the black skinny guy was looking very exhausted. Apparently he works a security gig and goes to school and just worked 20 hours straight. I only learned of this because they were joking about him as a mall cop. The group then started rapping on the train and it was really good.

A little later on in the journey a bagged tried hitting up everyone on the train because he was hungry.

Shortly after I ended up at St Andrew station and successfully ended the subway journey. Except that the station attendant was evil eying me. I just smiled said hello and continued on my way.

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The banged up emotions, banged up car, and big boom finale

As we left off the quest, I was on the back roads of southern Ontario, with the Spotify music pumped. I was taking the back roads partly because it was taking everything to keep myself together, and partly because the 410, 407, and 401 scare the hell out of me.

It was at this point, I decided that seeing Niagara Falls wasn’t going to happen with the gloomy dark cloud of depression. It was also raining and cloudy too. After close to 2 hours, I arrived in Kitchener and the sun came out there. I managed to find a convenient little parking spot and walked down the Festival street. I have written before about Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest but there is something about this festival that in it’s own special way brings it over the top. There seems to even be a much higher percentage of people in traditional dress than you even see in Munich.

The Rogers Hometown hockey was there and there was a beautiful smell in the air that brought nostalgia back. Like most things however, the second time is just not the same and the depression came back. I grabbed a sausage and water and then went to the gift shop to buy a new pin for Oktoberfest hat and Bavarian suspenders. Then got in my car turned on my “Sadness” Spotify playlist and hit the 401.

As I entered Toronto after supper time the only suitable thing to do was to stop and grab some Popeye’s. There was no way after the nerve wrecking of the 401 so far that I wanted to deal with downtown Toronto traffic lights and lanes. I then after eating the meal continued on my way to Oshawa where I was so tired that I pulled over to a Tim Hortons and rested for an hour before proceeding to the ONRoute in Port Hope.

I slept very well that night even for sleeping in my car. The next morning I woke up refreshed and continued towards home. On the way back I detoured a few times the first was to take a photo of the First Railway tunnel. The second was to go to Kingston ON Wal-Mart to buy new shoes because my old ones were so far gone my numb feet hurt.

After Brockville, I dove the side road along the waterfront and found a beautiful little stop in Prescott ON where there is a historic site that was the location of the Battle of the Windmill where rebels were stopped by the Royal Navy in 1838. This was my last detour in Ontario before I stopped for lunch at Denny’s. I gas the most incredible pancakes with a Dolce cream to pour over them and soak in them to make a moist wonderful pile of goodness. Which would be the last goodness of the trip.

I gassed up and hit the road. After the panic of Toronto, I was destined to skip Montreal and take the toll bypass road. Or had wished I did. Instead out of nowhere it seemed I entered Montreal. It was a particular sunny but not too sunny day. From Kingston to Montreal it was “mainly sunny”. I entered the tunnel to leave Montreal and thought well that’s it I made it.

This is when Siri started giving weird directions that made no sense, and I decided to follow signs instead. I was in the 2nd of four lanes and couldn’t lane change due to a transport truck and was forced off on exit 90 of the 20. Well crap… I now had to figure out getting back on the highway and was all frustrated, I was so depressed and just wanted to get home.

I looped back on Boulevard Marie-Victorin and proceeded back to the highway, went to check my blind spot and missed one of two yield signs and the middle on-ramp of two on my left and out of nowhere my fender makes contact with the door of another car! I pull over on the ramp from hell and cars keep proceeding by my car was able to move and my airbags didn’t go off, but my anxiety is through the roof. The bigger fear then the accident, how I was getting home, or even talking to the stranger, my mind went to “what if the guy doesn’t speak English?!” I get my insurance and papers and place them in my pocket and get out of the car taking pictures of the damage and the scene.

The guy started saying something in French and I asked him if he spoke English and he did. Not to get into much detail but the guy has a history in HR and was super calm with a “shit happens, let’s move forward” approach asking if I was alright. After taking the obligatory driver’s license and car licence plate photos we agreed to proceed off the highway and to a nearby mall parking lot. In the lot was spent about 20 minutes exchanging information and then proceeded on our way.

My tire was rubbing on the wheel-well a but on bumps but it was not too bad. I pumped up a Spotify playlist and continued home as fast as I could. Around midnight, I was so tired and a bit low on gas and pulled into the Irving in Saint-Antonin. I slept kind of well until about 6:30 am, got gas, and headed back to New Brunswick on a beautiful, sunny, Thanksgiving Day morning.

That part of the NB highway looks magical and very beautiful with the yellows, reds, and oranges of the autumn leaves over the many rolling hills and the river valley of the majestic Saint John River. I knew that as the water when I reached the end I would be home.

It has been a really long time since I last seen the world’s longest covered bridge, and Hartland also has a Tim’s so it was time to detour into town. Once I hit Fredericton, I was getting sick of Spotify and turned on CBC. This is when I learned that going home might not be as easy as planned. The news broke into programming that there may have been an explosion at the Irving Oil refinery that is only a short 3km away from my house. I texted my sister and she said she was alright and that they were not evacuating the area. As I was passing Grand Bay, I first seen with my own eyes the column would f Barack smoke rising from the refinery.

The journalist side of me knew that so needed to get a photo of it for the day that I wrote about my trip. I stopped at Wolastoq Park where I took my photos and then headed home. I was so exhausted that I went to my TV room and did nothing all day but work on cleaning out my PVR. Thus ended my Thanksgiving Day epic.

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Drywall Flying Off a Trailer is Still a Sign

Planning for this trip started months ago, it was planned as the best available excuse to visit Brampton Civic Hospital to determine what was real and what was not. I had already sacrificed a day from this mini vacation for my day visiting the Anthem of the Seas and had Friday to Tuesday for a road trip to Brampton. “Coincidence” (with air quotes) would prevail that it was also during Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest.

As the weekend approached, I was starting to have second thoughts about this trip and a feeling that it was not the most financially planned decision to make. It was literally the Friday morning that I was going to go. The plan was Montreal on Friday, Brampton/Kitchener on Saturday, Niagara Falls on Sunday, back to Kitchener on Monday for the parade and then drive home.

As I was leaving Saint John and just passing Spruce Lake. Out of nowhere a sheet of drywall flew in the air just metres in front of me and luckily there was none beside me and I switched lanes to avoid disaster. As soon as that happened, I had this dreadful feeling that this trip was a mistake. I continued on anyway. I crossed the boarder, with fairly little trouble and for once wasn’t searched.

I drove the airline to Bangor and stopped for lunch at Dysart’s just outside Bangor. I grabbed a sandwich, dessert, and bottle of juice. The sit down area was really busy. Since I knew that I could go just over 625km on a tank of gas, I went as far as Newport ME to fill up. It was after this fill up that you experience one of the most amazing drives. The road towards Lac Magantic that follows a river and passes the mountains with the changing leaves of fall is breathtaking. It was taking this route that I came across another broken sheet of drywall in the middle of the road.

As I passed through Sherbrooke, QC I needed to get some cash to go out that night in Montreal and while their, I had a rest stop at Tim Hortons. One of the thing I absolutely love about the Tim Hortons mobile ordering is that I no longer need to know enough French to order coffee and a donut.

As I arrived in Montreal, I shut off the GPS telling where to go. Mainly because it made no sense. I circled a whole lot of blocks and there was a parking lot but it was $30 and I thought that that was stupid crazy expensive. I eventually found a free on street spot on Rue de Bullion. Although there was a mentally disturbed person pacing the street that scared me a little so I waited for him to go down the street and I got out placed my stuff in the trunk and walked quickly to dinner.

My main goal was to get the La Belle Province for a smoked meat poutine. I have to say that it was the best poutine I had in as long as since last time I was in Montreal on my way back from Oktoberfest in 2015. As with all things nostalgia, it was disappointing from my memory of it. The meat was more fried and smaller bits than before. After dinner, I strolled the streets a bit and settled on going to Ste. Elisabeth, which is still my favourite little pub. The crowd was good and listening to other people’s conversations, or at least the few that were in English was a great evening. I spent a good two hours there before heading back to the car to find a truck stop.

As, I left Montreal I quickly ended up in Ontario. As you cost the boarder there is an excessive number of law signs, one after the other for almost 2 kilometres. I spent the night at the ONroute in Bainsville. It was a rough night and I didn’t sleep very well but I tried anyway. My plan was to get to Brampton by 1pm.

After waking up I went to go to the Irving to refuel, but ended up not finding it and went to a Petro-Canada followed by Tim’s and off to Toronto I go. Along the way I saw a sign advertising the first railway tunnel in the country in Brockville and detours to see it. It was closed so I took a photo and moved on.

Until I seen the sign for the Big Apple, and I thought it would be a cool place to get a photo in front of the sign and move on. Oh boy was I mistaken, as I drove by I saw that it was packed and thought that it was just a rural market type thing. As I got out of the car the first thing I noticed was the petting zoo and dog park. When inside the building centres around a giant glass walled bakery that was rapidly making apple and pumpkin pies. It was so cute to see the little children knocking on the glass and waiving to the cooks and the smiles as the cooks waived back. To the left there was a craft brewery and cider house that made a wide variety of tasty beverages and a gift shop the sold local goods mixed amongst the typical gift shop wares. Notable amongst the local made items was wine and hundreds of types of chewy candies.

To the right was a large bakery shop that is typical to a farmers market with more baked goods than you could possibly ever eat. In the by the slice case there were over 20 types of apple pie and tarts to choose from. Also, there was a smokehouse to get the freshest ribs, chickens and, brisket. Outside there were rides, a Beavertails mini golf, and an activities area.

After I left there I was on the road again, it was light raining and overcast. As I approached Toronto the 401 gradually split into a stupid number of lanes, and unnoticed until too late a stupid number of cars going very slow. Magically swiping lanes and the merging nightmare of going back and forth between the 401 and 401 Express. My anxiety was also at a stupid level of stressed that if I could have figured out how to change nine plus lanes I would have taken the side roads. Also it was getting close to 2pm at this point and I didn’t want to get to Brampton too late. Thus not getting to Kitchener too late.

As I first glanced the hospital, I noticed the white church that my mother talked about. The inside of the building didn’t at all look as so had imagined and seemed quite advanced at parts. Hearing the announcement voices were far mor terrifying than the 401. In my mind there would be a person at the desk that I could tell my story to and complete the quest. What I ended up with was a desk with two options, “Pod 1” or “Pod 2” and on the wall above it, was a red clock of terror.

Brampton Civic Clock
Brampton Civic Clock

I had frozen and broke down completely, I don’t like calling people, let alone to a pod that I had no idea what was the right one. I just stood there for almost 20 minutes trying to come up with what to say. Also what to say and not sound crazy. I ultimately walked out and went back out to the front doors. I was so devastated that the quest was a disaster.

As I was starting there there was a doctor giving bad news to a woman who was in reality more devastated than I was about how their loved one was progressing and had not much longer. Not because, I didn’t make it but because, I couldn’t hold myself together. As I got to the door, I pulled myself together and convinced myself that I have to go back and try.

As I get back to the phone, I pull together and dial to “Pod 1” then a voice answers and asks what I wanted. I cam up with “Hi I was here 2 years ago on my way back from Rome, and I wanted to see what the Pod I was in looked like.” They then buzzed me in and I took 5 steps and had no idea where to go, then alarms started going off around the corned and I couldn’t breath and had to get out of there.

As I reached the elevator the woman from earlier also got in. I decided to attempt to say something and I told her that 2 years ago they said I was going to probably dead, and I will never forget her response. “You look pretty not dead”.

As I went to pay for my parking, I paid on the terminal, as another woman who was having difficulty paying let me go first. So I offered to help her with the machine and paid her $6 parking pass. She didn’t expect it and was shocked and didn’t want to accept it and tried to pay me back but I told her to help someone else.

After, I took the back way to Kitchener, avoiding all the highways and pumped up the music. Trying to reflect on the calamity of the day that just happened. It was at this point that I had no motivation to go see anything else and I just wanted to be home and not stuck with a 20 hour drive back.

This is getting 1600 words long so the smashing and booming finale will have to wait for the next post.