Quebec City…in the Daylight

I tossed in that “in the daylight” line because the last time we were in Québec City, we were here overnight, and I was lucky enough to be able to get some incredible shots. This time, I got a chance to actually take the same photo at midday that I took five years ago at 5:00 a.m. It will give me a great photo to show to people when they think I am crazy for getting up so early just to take photos. In fact, while I am mentioning it, here are the two pics, side by side. Five years ago at 5:00 a.m. and yesterday, at around noon. Click on the photos to read my captions.

We had a pretty good day in Québec City. Kathleen and Jocelyn had gotten totally worn out from our three days in Montreal, so I set out with Cathy, Mike, Steve and Jamie to explore the city. As I mentioned above, we were here just about exactly five years ago. It was a lot warmer yesterday than it was five years ago. Our ship was docked just a few hundred yards up the pier from where we had been that time. But both were just a short walk from downtown. We walked through the lower town to the funicular that, for $5CAN, would take you to the upper town. It’s a good thing we were early because when I walked by the lower station later in the day, there was a line the proverbial mile long.

Once up at the top, we found something that amazed me—the Québec Marathon. What were the chances that the two times I would come to Québec City in my lifetime, I would be there for the marathon? Of course, that meant that we would have to see the city and work our way around the city, avoiding the race. We were able to get across the track with the help of race officials, but we still seemed to run into the racers wherever we turned.

We walked around, as Cathy was looking for a kind of embroidery museum that she had seen on her previous land-based visit. It was part of the works of the Ursuline nuns who pretty much-founded education here in Québec City. When she had been here before, she said it had been a cute little shop attached to the convent. Now, they have a complete museum, but it was more about the order’s history than the embroidery. The others decided to take a look and I decided to shoot a couple of photos of the church next door. Mike and Steve were out in almost no time, but Cathy and Jamie really enjoyed it.

I decided at that point to head off on my own to take some more photos and then head back to the ship to have a late lunch with Kathleen and Jocelyn. We ended up trying the Waves Grille. I would tell you all about the lunch and the Grille, but I am saving those thoughts for a big post on the food. That is really what Oceania is all about, and I want to hit it all at once. So here’s my meager number of photos from Québec. The light was just too harsh for me to really get into taking photos. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

On openness

When I do a live report on a cruise, I also put most of the text and one of the photos on a thread on Cruise Critic (for the non-cruisers, find out about Cruise Critic here). Fellow cruisers will ask me questions on the board, and I got one this morning. I thought I would post the question here as well. The person asking was comparing Viking Ocean to Vista and wanted to know if this was an “open ship.”

Here’s their exact question:

“Does the new Vista have the same openness as a Viking ship? Can one see the sky and water when in common spaces? Or is there drapery hanging from the ceiling, or are there walls of windows?  I am a Viking Cruiser because of the ship design, first and foremost.”

Here’s what I told them:

If it’s sky and water you want, stick with Viking. Thanks for making me think about this. It’s not something I usually would even contemplate, but you really made me realize how little there is below deck 12. When I got up in Québec, I wanted to see the city. I had to climb to Deck 14 and go into the Horizons Lounge to be able to see the Hotel Frontenac. On Viking, I could have done that from at least three lower decks.

I would say, on the whole, this ship is more closed up. I know exactly what you mean. I found the Viking ship we sailed on to be VERY open. Like most cruise ships, some lower decks are public (in the case of Vista, that is, five and six) and some upper decks that are public (12 through 16—there is no 13). You can only see the water from the upper decks or your own verandah. I am typing this sitting on deck six. You can’t see a thing anywhere on this deck except in the dining room, and there, we have been put in a windowless corner every night because of the size of our party. Most of the rest of the dining room is covered with sheer curtains you can see through. Some people sitting by the windows have opened those up.

This also reminds me that on sea days, I exercise by walking on the ship. On Viking, there is a wrap-around promenade deck that I walk on. Here, the only place to do that is a very nice walking/jogging track around the back portion of deck 15. The Viking promenade is 1/4 mile, and the Vista track is 1/10th of a mile. So you see a lot of the same things again and again.

Quebec City is the most European of any city in North America; they speak French all the time. There is a part of the town called Old Quebec, which is really like being in France. The architecture is just gorgeous, food, shopping. I’d say Quebec City is the most beautiful city in North America I’ve seen.  —Sebastian Bach


Day 3: Montreal For the Photo Followers

Yes, there are two posts today. If you are a cruising fan and missed the earlier one on our stateroom, it is below this one.

Here they are for my readers who follow me for my photography and have been asking about what happened on my third day in Montreal. I’m so sorry I forgot to put them out there. I got into the cruise stuff and forgot to add them.

On our third morning, I awoke onboard Vista. One of my favorite things about overnights on cruises is that you can get on or off at any time of the day or night. So I was up at my usual 5:15 and walking out of the port at 5:30. Here’s what I shot on that walk. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Back on board for breakfast

Once back on board, we met the group (sans later sleepers Jamie and Steve) for breakfast in the buffet—which was outstanding. I will do a whole post on the food toward the end of the cruise. Then we took a walk down the waterfront with most of the gang to see Old Towne. I took about 25 photos, and I am not happy with a single one of them. The light was directly overhead and incredibly harsh. Not even going to bother to show them to you. Just know, they were bad. And nothing I could do made them in any way special, and I can usually fix them somehow.

Afternoon boat tour

We wanted an activity that didn’t involve a lot of walking, so we decided to do a harbor cruise on a smallish boat. We used Bateau Mouche. Don’t use them. It was NOT a good value. $21CAN for a 45-minute ride, of which half was the same sights as the first. We got to see the river and learned some fun facts, but we all voted that we wished we had gone with another company or skipped it altogether.

I got some photos, but the best ones were of the Six Flags amusement park that sits on a man-made island in the middle of the St. Lawrence. Those were fun. And a couple of other river-cruise-type shots. Here they are—you know the drill.

That about covered our time in Montreal. It was a great city. Lots to do, and if you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it. We had a great time, ate great food, saw many cool sights, and so much more. Tomorrow, a little more about the ship and our visit to Québec City. We did sail right on time and had a very peaceful voyage down the St. Lawrence River to Québec City.

Montreal is a great town. There’s equal parts blue-collar town.
—Jay Baruchel

Vista Day 1–Embarkation and Our Stateroom

When last I wrote, we had just boarded Vista and been through a beautiful embarkation. When we left the hotel in three separate Ubers, we truly believed we would not be boarding until at least 1:30 or 2:00. But about halfway through our Uber ride (Kathleen, Jocelyn and I), my brother texted that they were letting anyone on and should they go through. We said to hang on; we would be right there. The cruise port was only a 10-minute drive from the hotel. But by the time we got there, the others had gone through and were waiting to board the ship.

We got in line (which was a little longer by then) and were also on board within ten minutes. The port of Montreal is the EXACT opposite of the port of Vancouver, where on our last cruise in May, embarkation had taken three hours and forty-five minutes (you can read about that fiasco here).

When we reached the inside of the ship, we were met by an officer who asked for our key cards (which came to us in a really cool little leatherette folder) so he could see where our muster stations were. We had already watched the video at home when we did our check-in and again a few days later when they sent another reminder (I think we got about five e-mail reminders to watch the video). The officer directed us to our muster station (we were in the main dining room), and we headed there immediately, got our key cards scanned and as far as Oceania was concerned, we were through with them until we sailed the next afternoon. We headed up to the buffet for lunch, where the rest of the gang was holding a table for seven for us, and we started to sample the amazing food that Oceania calls “the best at sea.” Just a note here. I could start going on and on about the food here, but I am going to do a complete post on the culinary glory that is Vista cuisine (at least so far).

Our stateroom–Concierge Verandah 9118

When we boarded, we were told that our suites would be ready by 2:00 p.m. and the rest of the staterooms soon after. But about halfway through lunch (close to 1:00), there was an announcement that suites (not us) were ready. We were in a Concierge verandah, and they announced that those would be available by 2:00 and the rest of the staterooms by 3:00. Lo and behold, at around 1:30, there was an announcement that our staterooms were ready. It was then I realized what had happened with our embarkation time, and what was now true about stateroom readiness was that Oceania was one smart cruise line. They were practicing one of the greatest marketing tools known to business: underpromise and over-deliver. Tell us things will be bad; we grumble a little and then be a hero by getting them done a lot better. It’s impressive to me and something I love to have happen. Should they not have been able to deliver early, they were fine. I had already grumbled.

But getting back to our stateroom, we are in Concierge Verandah 9118, which is aft of amidships on deck nine. We had read that the staterooms were pretty large, and our last stateroom on HAL’s Koningsdam was only 185 square feet, so we thought these would be much bigger at 250 square feet, but honestly, they don’t feel any bigger. Sadly, we have been spoiled by our last three major cruises. In July of 2021, our first cruise back after the pandemic shut down was on Celebrity’s Flora in the Galapagos. Those staterooms are HUGE—almost suite size (330 square feet). Then we were lucky enough to snag a Neptune Suite on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam, and they are even bigger (380 square feet). And last year, we did 21 nights on Viking Ocean in a Penthouse Veranda, and it was smaller than the Neptune but much larger than we are now (338 square feet).

I am only really concerned about the comparison to Viking Ocean because we are VERY loyal cruisers (as evidenced by our 20+ Celebrity cruises), and we are looking for our next cruise line to give our loyalty to, and the stateroom we are in now is just about the same daily price as the much larger one we had on Viking Sky. Not only was it larger and had about 3x the storage space (the worst part of our current stateroom) and about the same size bathroom. The shower is bigger, but not by enough that I noticed it. But where we have a tiny couch and the usual oval miniature coffee table today in 9118, on Viking, we had a full-size couch and coffee table plus plenty of room between the bed and a full-size dresser/desk. Let’s look at some room photos instead of continuing with the comparison. And I apologize for the fact that I took the pics after we had unpacked. I usually get them right away, but because Jocelyn was in a regular verandah stateroom, she came down to ours while Kathleen unpacked, and I walked around the ship taking photos.

BTW: No admonition on looking at these on a cell phone. Feel free. Not my best photography. And if you click the first one, they play as a slideshow. If you can’t read the captions, do the slideshow and if they are still cutoff, click the i in the circle.

A great feature of the stateroom that I almost forgot is the huge (for this size room) television. There are a lot of choices on this Smart-TV. Free movies, TV shows, A great bridge cam, two maps—one interactive, a music library, ship info and of course you can check your ship account as well.

One other thing that is kind of a pain. If you cruise, you know where your big suitcases go when you are done unpacking them—under your bed. You can’t slide large suitcases under these beds. They are too low. We were kind of worried about that until Mike told us that you could ask your stateroom attendant to put them under there for you. They have a special tool that lifts the beds. Sorry, but that’s poor planning on Oceania’s end. I mean, buy a bed that’s a little higher (like every other cruise line).

All in all, we feel like this Concierge Verandah stateroom is a poor value when compared to a similar-priced Penthouse Verandah stateroom on Viking Ocean. Score one for Viking. But that might be the only one. Stay tuned.

I have been black and blue in some spot, somewhere, almost all my life from too intimate contacts with my own furniture.
—Frank Lloyd Wright




Montreal Day 2: Incredible Sunrise & Inside the Basilica

The saga continues. The following day (Friday), we awoke at our hotel in Montreal. This would be our last morning at the hotel as we would board Oceania’s Vista this afternoon. Of course, this meant one more predawn photo walk for me. Initially, before they had changed our boarding time, I had planned NOT to walk this morning because we would be leaving the hotel before 11:00, and I would have needed to pack and get ready to leave by 10:30. But when they pushed our embarkation back to 2:00 (more about that later) I decided to walk, and as you will see from my photos, it would have been a tremendous loss if I hadn’t.

The day before, when I had gotten lost trying to get to the top of Mount Royal in time to take sunrise photos, had been kind of a bust with me arriving after the sun was over the horizon and having missed the blue and golden hour of light. But today, I decided to walk Montreal’s waterfront and didn’t miss anything. One of the reasons I wanted to walk the waterfront was to take some. early morning photos of Vista (our home for the next two weeks). On the way I would get not only photos of Vista but some cityscapes of Montreal from the bottom looking up, some early morning lights and then one of the best sunrises I have ever had the pleasure of shooting.

Sunrise the day before, I had been kind of blah. Even if I had gotten to the top before the sun came up, it was rather hazy up there. Not so this morning on the waterfront, as you shall see. Here are my pics from that morning (with captions). Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

After breakfast, Mike, Steve and I wanted to go back and get more photos inside the basilica. because we had been rushed the night before after the performance. There had also been so many people. We still had tickets that would let us in for a tour, so we headed over. We got some great shots–here are mine.

After shooting the church, it was back to the hotel to pack for the ship, process photos, do a little writing and then grab an Uber. Even though we had received the e-mail about not boarding until 2:30, our check-out time at the hotel was noon. So we thought we could just as easily wait at the port than in the hotel lobby. Plus, if we went over early, we could drop our big luggage with the porters. But Oceania surprised us by just letting us onboard.  And I have to say it was probably the best and smoothest embarkation we have ever had in 30+ cruises. We were getting out of the Uber at 12:20 and sitting down to eat lunch in the buffet before 1:00. More about that (and the ship) tomorrow.

There’s never one sunrise the same or one sunset the same.
                                                                —Carlos Santana

Montreal: Food Tour and Church Show

I’m up very early today (our third on the road). We boarded Oceania Vista yesterday, and I haven’t adjusted to the AC in the rooms. With my sinuses, that means I get up when I can no longer breathe through my nose. But enough about me. I promised you more about Montreal.

Following my pre-dawn photo walk (see previous post), we had a complimentary breakfast at our hotel. We had a two-night stay at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Downtown. It sat right at the base of Chinatown, just across a roaring freeway from Old Town. At least we were on the eighth floor, so the noise didn’t bother us that much. The breakfast (we ate there both days) was OK—your typical free hotel food. Which was OK; we had a bunch of food headed our way.

At 10:30, we grabbed Ubers. I wish there was a better way to order an Uber. We needed a larger car because there were seven of us. We knew that we couldn’t all fit in one car, so we ordered two of their XLs. Those are supposed to fit up to 6 people. What we got this morning (for four of us) was a Mazda that barely fix four, and I had to climb over seats to sit in a third-row seat that was designed for a child of about eight years old. Not a grown human. Yet my brother got a full-size van that could have easily fit seven, but they were already gone by the time we got ours. There needs to be a way to see the kind of car you are getting before you say OK.  Maybe there is, but I don’t know what it is.

On to the food tour. We met our guide, Eric, of Secret Food Tours of Montreal, at Guillaume Bakery in the Mile-End section of Montreal. Eric was a great guide and had quite the tour planned for us. We started off with a brioche from the bakery, which was delicious. I might have even voted it the best thing we had. While we ate it, Eric told us all kinds of cool facts about his city and quizzed us to see how much we already knew. Great brioche, fun facts and trivia—I’m in!

Our next stop was Drogheria Fine, where we got to sample some excellent gnocchi. Eric told us what was really important here was their world-famous (or at least Montreal-famous) tomato sauce. The gnocchi were only a delivery system for the sauce. Not only that, the place only does take-away in paper cups with chopsticks. Either way, the gnocchi was delicious, and the sauce was pretty good (I like my Italian grandma’s sauce better).

From there, we were off a long walk to the Green Panther restaurant. This place has a fully vegetarian menu, and we sampled a pita sandwich made with jackfruit. Even though Kathleen and I don’t eat a lot of meat, which means I cook a lot of veggies, the jackfruit sandwich did nothing for me. It’s easily my least favorite food on the tour. And the very long walk it took to get to that restaurant left Kathleen and Jocelyn worn out before we even got to the fourth place out of six.

Our fourth place was St Viateur Bagels. Montreal is (we were told) famous for its bagels, which are not boiled but baked in a wood-fired oven. Eric wanted us to sample bagels right out of the oven, and they were delicious. The ones coming out of the oven when we walked in were sesame seed (again, not a favorite of mine), but my bite was very good. The bakery provided an excellent photo opportunity of the bagels being moved around the HUGE wood-fired oven.

Next up was Poutineville. Guess what the specialty of this place was? If you guessed poutine (Canada’s favorite comfort food), you would be correct. For those who have never had poutine, it is a beef gravy (this one had lots of Montreal Smoked Meat in it) poured over french fries (which, in this case, were kind of wimpy) and topped with cheese curds. As I mentioned, gravy and smoked meat were delicious—the fries were kind of flat.

Our last stop was a tiny Italian deli-type place called Caffe Grazie Millie, where we sampled espresso and some outstanding cannoli. I LOVE cannoli, and they have four different types of filling. I chose the traditional ricotta, and Kathleen had the limoncello. We each took a couple of small bites from our three-inch long cannoli and swapped. I still go with the traditional. It was excellent.

Here’s the food tour pics I promised above. Please don’t drool on your device of choice. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Completely stuffed, we again grabbed Ubers back to our hotel, where I did a bunch of photo-processing, and Kathleen took a quick nap as we had tickets for a performance of Aura at Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal. I would love to show you photos of the actual show, but they don’t allow photos during the 20-minute-long performance. If you check out their website, you will see the kind of laser-light show we got to see. It was truly amazing and very beautiful. Our entire group said they would recommend it to those coming to Montreal. I was able to take a few photos before the show, and they are below. If you come back tomorrow you can see a lot more photos of the inside because Mike, Steve and I went back the next morning for a photo shoot. We were late getting there before the performance so we didn’t have time to really take photos then.

Whew! That was one long day. But a good one. We would do just about everything again (other than the Uber rides) and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Montreal. The food tour was a little long for those who aren’t regular walkers. Eric told us it was 1.6 miles, but my walking app said it was closer to three. Just keep that in mind if you decide to go.

I love Montreal. I love the people, I love the history.
—Stephen Thompson

Day 1: Getting Lost In Montreal

I am starting this post at 4:15 in the afternoon on our first full day in Montreal. It’s not even dinner time and we are exhausted already. Kathleen is taking a well-deserved nap and I am writing about today.

This morning I did my usual pre-dawn photo walk, and I knew exactly where I wanted to walk even before I got here. The only problem was, neither Google Maps nor Apple’s maps could figure it out. We are staying at the Homewood Suites by Hilton at the base of Montreal’s Chinatown. I wanted to walk to the Belvedere Kondiaronk Lookout which is up above all of Montreal. That’s where I shot the photo at the top of this page. The only problem was, that both map apps wanted me to take the long way to get there. Proof of this is that it only took me 40 minutes to walk back but it took me almost two hours to find the place. Two hours of walking up hiking trails in the dark. And then being sent backward and forward on the same trails, again and again being told to “take the path on the right,” when there was no path. So I would continue the way I was going and then be told, “Go Back!”

The best thing I can do to show you my frustration is to show you what the app Map My Walk showed me I had done. It uses GPS to show me exactly where I walk each day. Here’s my overall route.

See the part between the two and the three-mile marks? Those were on tiny trails in the pitch-black darkness, using my phone’s flashlight to see where I was going. See the five and six-mile markers? That’s the way I should have been going. I was trying to get somewhere near the five on the map but couldn’t figure out where to go. Finally, a very nice jogger (whom I had already passed twice) said she would show me, and I got there. Late! I had purposely left early enough at 5:15 a.m. to be on the lookout by 6:30 for the sunrise. I got there around 7:15, and I was NOT happy about it. I got photos of the view, but I really wanted that golden hour light. Oh, well. The sky was not that great this morning anyway, and once there, I did make it back a lot easier than I went up.

Here are the photos I took from the top with captions. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…