Vacation…Staycation

images1Staycation is now an official word in the English dictionary. I bet the wicked recession had something to do with it ūüôā ¬†I’m on staycation this week after our family vacation last week and that works just fine with me. ¬†I thoroughly enjoyed our one week trip to New Hampshire. ¬†In 2006 we went to the more touristic White Mountain area but this time we stayed a bit south, at the Crotched Mountain area. The resort we stayed at was literally in the boonies and people really only go there to golf in summer or ski in winter. The golf was superb but I would grade the resort a D in terms of family friendliness. The accomodation and customer service was alright and I couldn’t complain but¬†was disappointed that there wasn’t a fitness gym at the resort. ¬†Okay, I can run along the jogging trails but the thought of encountering a bear along the way isn’t exactly a thrilling proposition ūüė≥ But then, isolated as the place might be, there are lots of interesting places to go within an hour and besides Boston was just 60 miles away. It is in a true sense a private hideaway.

images3I couldn’t imagine driving to this place without a GPS. ¬†A couple of times I deviated from the “fastest time” to ” the shortest distance” in the calculation algorithmn and the GPS took me back to the resort in entirely different routes which gave me an eerie feeling that the software had bummed out and I was lost in the mountains in the middle of the night. I had to trust the GPS voice instructions when it told me to go left or right and lo and behold it took us home every time. It’s just me but I’m so particular about reliability and accuracy and when it comes to GPS systems that I only trust brand names that have established credibility in the avionics / navigation industry. Nope, I will never buy a GPS with a consumer electronic brand name no matter how famous.

images2The 10 hour drive from Toronto was quite smooth. As I said before, driving wide and tall vehicles with automatic transmission and cruise control is the name of the game in long driving. With cruise control on the freeway, I set the desired speed, free up my feet from the pedal, put my left foot up on my seat and control the speed with buttons on the steering wheel ūüėÜ A spacious vehicle is great for your passengers as well. When I fold the 3rd row seats, I can also load my kitchen at the back of my van ūüėÜ Since we were staying at a fully furnished unit at the resort, my wife, the ultimate rice queen tagged along her 4 cup rice cooker as usual. Her 10th commandent is ” Thou Shalt Eat Rice Everyday” ūüėȬ†We got an ice packed cooler with laing with shrimp, sinigang baboy, frozen daing na galunggong, longanisa we bought from a Pinoy store. I told her “enough with this now. No stinky stuff okay?” ūüėõ Food is never a problem to find because there are lots of supermarkets you can drive to but hey, why should I complain ? I’m pretty much universal with my taste but heck, what is darn wrong with daing na galunggong and longanisa for breakfast for Pete’s sake ūüėÜ As long as it is not tuyo’ that’ll stink up the neighborhood and get us ejected I’m okay with it ūüôā

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Time Out !

imagesIt took me 10 hours to drive to this place and oh, close to 900 kms. ¬†After a near bout of deafness listening to Nickelback and Journey’s new 2 CD’s ( hey, I’m a frigging Journey fan too) and a near overdose of fat and tasty empanadas to replenish my energy, my driving ordeal finally ceased when we arrived at this mountain resort in the middle of nowhere. ¬†It’s darn hard to get quality FM reception when coz it fades as you’re travelling . ¬†Now I’m thinking of subscribing to satellite radio – crystal clear quality with no commercials. Boredom is your enemy on long drives.

We arrived with the sun was still high at 7pm, but alas the reception folks have left ¬†at 5pm being Sunday. ¬†A big note on the door told me to pick up my check-in package at the mailbox. It contained 2 access cards to our suite and instructions on how to get to our unit. Moose are travelling loose around here by night but darn the golf course looks majestic. Ha, this is my trip man ūüôā My wife and my daughter are a little impatient always asking me ” what’s there to see in this place ??” My wife was quite appeased when I told her an outlet mall is about an hour away ūüėČ ¬†Likewise my daughter believed me when I said ” hey, there’s a huge water park 30 minutes from here ” ūüėõ ¬† I could recharge and rejuvenate my body and soul in this place man. You could bring two warring people in this place and when they leave after a few days they could be friends again, that’s if you make sure you close the door so the fat mosquitos don’t come in ūüėÜ

I’m glad wireless internet is free and I could simply bounce in an out of cyberspace. The cable TV is equally loaded with channels. We got a full sized kitchen, washer/dryer, HDTV so comfort isn’t an issue. I can’t make out this place yet but will blog about it when I return home ūüėé

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Good Old Quebec City

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After living for so many years in this country, I was glad that my trip to Quebec City, capital of the province of Quebec, finally happened this Easter long weekend. My GPS told me that my 800km one way trip would take some 9 hours but I made it in a little more than 8 leisurely hours including pit stops and pee breaks. I knew that I was in Quebec territory when highways turned into autoroutes, road signs and billboard ads became rather cryptic and the familiar 3 letters of your favorite chicken house turns into this . The so called Charter of the French Language law was passed by the province of Quebec National Assembly in August 1977. The province made it mandatory “to make of French the language of Government and the Law, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business”. Since 1977, you need to travel at your own risk in Quebec highways and throughfares. Heck, I had a hard time plugging in French street names on my GPS let alone the voice prompter of my GPS not knowing how to speak French street names correctly. The message is crystal clear. It is their place and you better learn their language – take it or leave it.

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I am normally satisfied with self help tour brochures but¬†for lack of ¬†time I opted to take the bus tour of old Quebec City along with my wife and daughter. I was glad I did because I had a crash course on Quebec’s illustrious history and appreciated the reason for the centuries old squabble between the French and the Anglos in this country. I now understand the separatist spirit of the Quebecers which up to this day and age remains tamed but precariously alive. French explorer Samuel Champlain arrived in 1608 to establish a colony for mother France on a plateau along the St Lawrence River to be later called Quebec. The name “Quebec”, which comes from the aboriginal Algonquin word kep√©k meaning “(it) narrows”, originally referred to the area around the Quebec City where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff-lined gap (wikipedia).

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As the tour guide went around the old fortress city giving us a brief history lesson, I also learned that the British eventually captured Quebec City in 1759 and jointly ruled Quebec for centuries. In last year’s year long fete celebrating 400 years of the founding of Quebec, many Quebecers weren’t too keen on the re-enactment of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, where some 4,000 invading British troops overwhelmed the French defenders. Sentiments die hard, even for centuries. Even until today, the French-Anglo rift although much subdued still exists. Die hard separatists prefer to fly its blue fleur-de-lis flag over the Canadian flag.¬† Two national referendums on Quebec autonomy were conducted and both resulted in favor of the sovereignists. The last one held in 1995 resulted in a 48%-52%¬†narrow split in favor of remaining in Canada.
 
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The tour bus guide without a hint of reservation tells his passengers in heavily accented English – ” the cities of Toronto, New York, Chicago or even Montreal can be called cosmopolitan, but Quebec City is not. We are unicultural”.¬†¬†He simply meant that Quebec City is where it all started and its people struggled mightily hard to preserve its language , traditions and culture until this day. In this place there is no compulsion to speak English. Although English units are being taught in school, you can be unilingual French all your life and enjoy its music, movies and arts and advance in your chosen profession without fear of any setback. Quebec City is an amalgamation of the old and new world yet you get the feeling that you are in Europe and not North America. The Quebec countryside with its farm houses and narrow streets is charming and pretty but unmistakably North American though, if not Atlantic Canadian, not quite the same as the rural setting I saw in Southern France. The province of Quebec is truly a distinct society, proud of its rich culture and heritage, it’s people progressive and hardworking. I wish it remains in Canada forever. Que Dieu vous b√©nisse – Quebec !


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Photograph

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Last Friday my wife called me at the office informing me that when I arrive home we were going to Niagara Falls to spend the long weekend . She booked a hotel room for us and our daughter for 2 nights. Monday Feb 16 is Family Day holiday in this province, recently legislated, two years ago in fact. It meant that we will spend Valentine’s Day at the Falls. Niagara Falls being in our “backyard”, meaning less than 2 hours drive is like going to a picnic at a nearby park. True, it is a celebrated world class tourist spot but going to the Falls isn’t what you do here when you want something really cool. But I guess we are in a recession, the weather had been sucky this winter and it was an impromptu trip so the Falls was a safe bet. The good news is the falls is still there, vibrant and intimidating as ever ūüôā

 

ODD TOWN

Niagara Falls is an odd town. Half of it is in Ontario, Canada and the other half is in the state of New York, U.S.A. , separated by a bridge across the Niagara River. When you say you live in Niagara Falls you better finish it with a N.Y. or Ont. lest you forget ūüôā Canada however got the better part of the real estate. For starters, the smaller American Falls is on the U.S. side and the much bigger Horseshoe Falls is on the Canadian side. It follows then that much of the action is on the Canadian side – hotels, Casinos, amusement arcades, tours, shops and restaurants. There are a slew of hotels and tours on the American side as well and people just hop over the bridge to visit the other side to complete the visit. Just be wary that there is immigration on both sides of the border and depending on the passport one carries, crossing the bridge can be a hassle. ( click on photo for more detail)


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Speak English Please

The LPGA ( Ladies Professional Golf of America) recently announced a policy that requires LPGA players to speak conversational English by 2009. This policy was clearly directed towards foreign players of which a big number hail from South Korea.   Failure to meet the requirement will result in player suspension. The LPGA commissioner claims that the organization is a business based in America and LPGA professionals must be able to meet the interest of the sponsors by making speeches and mingling with the crowd in pro-am tournaments. 

Why, in the words of LPGA superstar Lorena Ochoa, who is a Mexican herself , the drastic change ? First of all the 45 South Korean players in the roll are darn good and many of them  had been winning a lot lately, and they seem to be just taking the trophy and the check and go home. The interviews were pretty perfunctory, with no more than English speaking Korean caddies caddies making the rush translation.

The LPGA¬†commissioner ¬†was harshly criticized by many calling her policy discriminatory. After all, people watch these players because they are good, best in class and no one really cares what language they speak. In fact, there are many foreign boxers who had been fighting in America for many decades like the great, hall of famer¬†Roberto Duran who always spoke Spanish.¬†¬†No one dared asked him to¬†speak English. His interviews¬†even up to now are¬†always conducted in Spanish.¬†¬†Likewise, American¬†golfers aren’t required to speak the local language when they play in Asia, so what’s the big deal?

¬†Well, the latest news is the good¬†commissioner finally gave in to the pressure and revoked the penalty proposal. In other words, players are still encouraged to speak English by 2009 but will not be suspended if they fail to do so. Good for her. I think she finally got it right. It’s for the player’s advantage to know how to speak English and not the tour. For those who want to make a living playing almost¬†every other week¬†in the LPGA tour,¬†no one must coerce them to learn the language. They will have to do it if they want to succeed and survive well in the American society.

Speaking about English, I have a table calendar with 365 pages Рa page for every day at my home office desk. Every day contains a new English word to learn.

Here’s a few of them :

Sept. 1 –¬†lopeholt ;¬†Sept. 2 – singerie ;¬† Sept. 3 – battologist ; Sept. 4 – imberb ; Sept 5. – naufragate¬† ; Sept 6. – uliginous ; Sept 7 – equivoque

Ugh,¬† I have no clue of what they meant until I read the pages. Perhaps the good commissioner does ūüėé

 

MORE PICS FROM THE VEGAS TRIP

At the Las Vegas Bld. sidewalk – pay a buck and shoot the human golden statues.

HOOVER DAM AND GRAND CANYON

I put together a slide show of some pics I took at the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. This is my second time to the dam and my first to the Canyon. I thought the Canyon was quite awesome and the best way to visit it is to camp or rent a cottage in the vicinity and make a trek 8,500 ft down. Just be very careful of the heat though because it can literally kill you. There are safe hiking trails so you don’t lose your way. It’s odd, a reverse of mountain climbing where here you have to go down first then climb up ūüôā A great way of viewing it is by a plane or helicopter ride. The irony is, when the plane takes off from the ground, it will find its altitude change to 8,500 ft once it goes over the canyon without even climbing !