Archive for the ‘Museums’ Category

Newseum, Terra Cotta Warriors, and Food in D.C.

November 20th, 2009 at 1:09 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Our time here in Washington D.C. has been flying by quickly. Between museums, shopping, eating, and sleeping we have not had time for much else. Of course, there may not be much else we need time for.

I got a head start on the Newseum (day 2) yesterday morning, and by happy circumstance ended up meeting one of the technicians there who gave me an hour-long behind-the-scenes tour of the Newseum’s amazing electronic infrastructure. The Newseum prides itself on being the most interactive museum in Washington D.C., and the video and computer “farms” I saw attest to that. Thank you Mike! The family joined me after my serendipitous back stage tour, and I took the opportunity to ham it up in a fake newscast (see photo below).

Jake does the news report on the Woodstock presentation at the Newseum

Jake does the news report on the Woodstock presentation at the Newseum

After lunch at The Capital Grille next door and a few more exhibits at the Newseum the girls headed off for some shopping and Bas and I remained until closing time. We all met up at the National Portrait Gallery again, where we explored the Luce Foundation Center’s art archives.

The Luce Foundation Center at the National Portrait Gallery

The Luce Foundation Center archives at the National Portrait Gallery

Dinner was around the corner at Zaytinya, another of José Andrés‘ excellent restaurants. I’ll post more on that on A Foodie Moment in the next few days. We were joined there by old Richter family friends and virtual cousins Nell and Lauren Dennis.

Nell and Lauren at Zaytinya in D.C.

Nell and Lauren at Zaytinya in D.C.

Today was spent at the National Museum of Crime and Punishment as Krystyana’s current self-schooling interest is the field of crime scene investigation (CSI) and the museum has a pretty decent section on that topic as well as criminology in general. If you’re a crime buff or have a morbid interest in what sort of punishment was doled out for various crimes over the last millennium, this museum is for you.

Full Kee in D.C.'s Chinatown

Full Kee in D.C.'s Chinatown

We took time out for lunch in nearby Chinatown, at a Chinese restaurant a local friend had recommended – Full Kee. It offered a very diverse menu selection, including a number of Chinese dishes we had never seen stateside before (e.g. pork intestines and duck blood dishes), and the dishes we ordered were tasty and filling. I will note that I could not convince the rest of the family to try the more exotic dishes.

The highlight of the day, however, started in late afternoon when the real purpose of our trip to D.C. commenced.

We are here in Washington D.C. for something called the National Geographic Grosvenor Council Weekend, as the result of a donation we made to the National Geographic Society last year after spending a week on the National Geographic Polaris in the Galapagos.

The weekend is an event (for extra cost) set up to inform donors about the on-going activities of the National Geographic Society, and includes some additional and special events not available to the public at large.

The fossil skull of BoarCroc - Kaprosuchus saharicus

The fossil skull of BoarCroc - Kaprosuchus saharicus

The first of those events was a presentation by paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno about his recent discovery of three new species of crocodiles from the Cretaceous era at a couple of sites in the African Sahara, plus additional fossils from two more species. That discovery was publicly announced this morning. Paul explained how the fossils were found and how, based both on the fossilized bone structures as well as the physiology of modern day crocodilians, he discovered that these ancient species – dubbed BoarCroc (see skull above), PancakeCroc, DuckCroc, DogCroc, and RatCroc – had distinct capabilities, including rapid movement on land in the form of galloping. He supported his research with his observations of a galloping freshwater crocodile from Australia (the video of this was just too cool – unfortunately it’s not on-line, at least not that I can find).

The BoarCroc skull with with paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno

The BoarCroc skull with with paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno

After an extensive question and answer session, we moved to a reception where we got to say hi to National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle. With the various marine environmental and educational efforts Linda and I have been involved in over the last decade and a half we have met Sylvia several times – she’s a wonderful lady and pioneer in ocean exploration and conservation, and you may want to check out her new book, The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One. It should also be noted that our home island of Bonaire recently honored Sylvia Earle with a lifetime achievement award when she was there this past summer for the Bonaire Dive Into Summer Festival.

Terra Cotta Warriors presentation at the National Geographic Society

Terra Cotta Warriors presentation at the National Geographic Society

Following the reception was a presentation on the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit which opened here at the National Geographic Society’s museum today. We were told that advance ticket sales to the exhibit as of early morning today were close to 106,000 – completely exceeding expectations, but a real delight to anyone supporting the noble goals of the National Geographic Society.

The Terra Cotta Warriors are part of a three and half decade excavation near the city of Xi’an in the Shaanxi province of China. They were created in clay by command of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect him in death, over 2,000 years ago, and only rediscovered in 1974 by local farmers. The terra cotta statues include archers, chariot drivers, soldiers, performers, armor, horses, and a variety of animal forms as well. And we have wanted to see the Terra Cotta Warriors ever since we had first read about them in National Geographic Magazine decades ago.

So naturally we were delighted when our evening ended with a private tour of the Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit for our group of about 50 people. We were guided by a pair of doctoral candidates from George Washington University specializing in Chinese history. Alas, we were not permitted to take any photos, so there are none to share in this blog entry. That small disappointment aside, we’re pretty certain that all those people with advance tickets, as well as the thousands of others planning to attend will enjoy the exhibition, which contains the largest number of Terra Cotta Warriors to be seen anywhere outside of China. It also includes a variety of supporting artifacts, models, and explanations to help attendees get a better grasp of life during the Qin dynasty more than 2,000 years ago.

For us, if anything, the exhibit created an even greater yearning to visit Xi’an in person to see the huge excavations and the many thousands of warriors that have been painstakingly reassembled from a multitude of broken pieces. A visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Society is something we would highly recommend if you’re in Washington, D.C. in the coming months.


Washington, D.C. – Food and Learning

November 18th, 2009 at 2:18 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived in Washington, D.C. on Sunday afternoon, and so far have eaten at four great restaurants – Makoto, Jaleo, Ten Penh (for lunch), and Rasika.

There’s also been a fair bit of shopping done by the girls, my Alienware M17x monster notebook computer has finally been repaired so that my screen doesn’t shimmer in super graphics (SLI) mode, and we spent several hours today at the amazing Newseum followed by a too-short visit to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. And we’ve been doing lots of walking between places with the beautiful weather we’ve been experiencing here. In fact, Krystyana and I enjoyed a great nighttime stroll from Rasika back to our hotel tonight, taking in sights like the White House.

Krystyana in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Krystyana in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.

We’re planning on spending more time at the Newseum and the National Portrait Gallery on Wednesday, and hoping to hit the Museum of Crime and Punishment on Thursday before the National Geographic events we’re participating in start in earnest.


More Berlin – Nazi Terror, Bavarian Food, and Chocolate Delight

October 14th, 2009 at 5:57 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 – Breakfast at the Hotel Adlon was included as part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts hotel package we had booked through our American Express TeamOne travel service group, and what a breakfast it was! A dozen different kinds of cold cuts, a half dozen kinds of French soft cheese (including several family favorites), a handful of different Meuslis, fresh fruit juices (such as pineapple, coconut, and ginger blended together), eggs to order, different sausages, and all sorts of fruit, as well as carb-evil pastries and breads. Champagne, coffee, and tea were available too.

By 11am we were finally on our way, with the intent to see the famed Checkpoint Charlie, and more specifically the museum there.

A performer dressed as a statue shills for for tourist tips at the Brandenburger Tor

A performer dressed as a statue shills for for tourist tips at the Brandenburger Tor

We started by tracing the path south from Brandenburg Tor where the western part of the Berlin Wall used to be, and found ourselves at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a memorial created to remember the Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Cement blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Cement blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The memorial consists of 2,711 blocks of cement of identical width and depth, but varying height. These blocks fill a plain of undulating brick, spaced equally apart, thus creating walkways. The feel is that of a cemetery when you first enter it, but soon you feel like you are in an oddly symmetric warren as the rectangular blocks start to reach the height of your head and beyond. Disconcerting and eerie, which was no doubt at least part of the intent of the memorial’s designer, Peter Eisenman.

A Berlin Wall exhibit at Potsdamer Platz

A Berlin Wall exhibit at Potsdamer Platz

By the time we hit Potsdamer Platz a bit to the south we were so cold we needed to warm up, so we chose a local café for some Café American, tea, and a cookie for Bas, as well as free Internet service. After waiting through a massive rain storm, we continued on towards Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at an outdoor museum entitled “Topopgraphy of Terror”, dedicated to provided a history of the prison and torture facilities at that location, run by the SS, Gestapo, and Reichssicherheits Dienst (Empire Security Service) during World War II.

Part of the exterior exhibits at the Topography of Terror museum

Part of the exterior exhibits at the Topography of Terror museum

However, the exhibits at the Topography of Terror covered much more, explaining the evolution of the Nazi party and their plans for systematic deportation and killing of Jews, Gypsies, and other “lower races” (pretty much anyone that was not Aryan German) in order to claim their lands and property for German expansion and resettlement. It was a frightening and sobering exhibit, as well as violently graphic, picturing hangings, executions, and many photos of people being marched off to certain death. More astounding was that the Nazi bureaucracy maintained meticulous records of all their actions, and many of the ledgers and memos used to both record their actions as well as direct those actions were shown (with translations for English readers). A number of the Nazi leaders were profiled, as were dozens of victims of “Nazi justice” who were interned in the prison at the site on Prinz Albrectstrasse at the behest of the so-called “People’s Court”, a bureaucratic body used to justify arrests and executions in the name of the people of Germany, but truly to simply further personal and political goals of the Nazi leadership.

Documents at the Topography of Terror show Nazi plan of conquest by extermination

Documents at the Topography of Terror show Nazi plan of conquest by extermination

The exhibit also covered the atrocities the Nazis carried out in the territories they captured. For us, with our Czech ancestry (Jake’s parents were born in Czechoslovakia shortly before the invasion by the Germans leading up to World War II), it was particularly poignant, as the exhibit documented how the entire Czech village of Lidice was slaughtered and then taken completely apart, leaving virtually no sign that there ever had been a village there. And all this in retaliation for the attempted assassination of a high ranking Nazi officer.

The Traveling Richters pose with Maximilian the Bavarian

The Traveling Richters pose with Maximilian the Bavarian

Jake’s brother Mike joined us as we finished going through the exhibition and we proceeded to Checkpoint Charlie, passed it by to get on the U-Bahn (Berlin’s subway) for one stop and then have a late lunch at Maximilian’s, a Bavarian restaurant. We gorged ourselves on Bavarian food – Schweinshaxe (pig knuckles with crispy skin), wurst (sausages) of all kinds with both sharp and sweet mustard, leberkäse (a slice of a loaf of meat made with liver), and goulasch of two sorts. And beer, of course. For Jake, this brought back memories of his childhood, growing up in Munich. We finished up with coffee and tea at the Café Einstein (a coffee shop chain which appears to be Starbuck’s main competition in Berlin) next door.

A model of the Titanic in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch

A model of the Titanic in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch

Instead of actually going back to Checkpoint Charlie, our intended destination for the day, Mike instead gave us a personal tour of other nearby parts of Berlin (and we managed to hit Checkpoint Charlie a couple of days later instead). We visited Berlin’s biggest chocolate shop, Fassbender & Rausch, followed by a walk around a plaza called the Gendarmenmarkt (police market). The Gendarmenmarkt features a number of large historic buildings from the 19th century, including a church, a performance hall, and a government building, surrounded by “plattenbau” apartment buildings. These were apartments built by the East Germans using a modular construction methodology which allowed for buildings to go up very quickly. Functional but rather unattractive.

From there we moved on to a collection of three buildings known as the Galeries Lafayette. These buildings feature high-end fashion shops and a delicatessen area, all connected via an underground shopping passage.

Tne New Synagogue in Berlin - note the Moorish archictecture

Tne New Synagogue in Berlin - note the Moorish archictecture

Mike then took us to Oranienburger Strasse, an area featuring a synagogue with Moorish architecture, as well as an artists’ commune and numerous coffee shops and eateries. At a small Italian restaurant in one of the many small courtyards, we enjoyed some Glühwein (hot spiced wine – great in cold weather) while we waited for Mike’s son Mat to join us. Mat is 21 and is training in the field of event management, and also has his own band called “Danke” (“thank you” in German).

We continued our walking tour with our personal family guides, exploring more courtyards and sights, including an old dance hall that is still in use today, ending up for dinner at Pan Asia, a restaurant with Asian-themed food. Quite good and enjoyable, with a great ambiance.

Unter den Linden in Berlin lit up during the Festival of Lights

Unter den Linden in Berlin lit up during the Festival of Lights

We walked all the way back to our hotel, enjoying the lighting of various buildings and objects as part of the Festival of lights that had just started in Berlin that night (and running for a full week). Again, as we strolled, Mike and Mat both gave us some history of the parts of Berlin we were walking through, helping feed our ever present desire for knowledge about the places we visit. We arrived back at the Hotel Adlon full (both food and information-wise), tired, and happy.

Brandenburger Tor lit up at night for the Festival of Lights

Brandenburger Tor lit up at night for the Festival of Lights

Our final achievement for the day was discovering that our shower in the Hotel Adlon also featured a steam bath button, allowing us to thoroughly warm up after freezing all day long. What a brilliant feature for showers in cold climates! (Note: The kids’ shower did not have this feature – something we teased them about incessantly.)

Note: Larger versions of the above photos as well as a dozen additional images can be found at Jake’s Flickr Page.


Wie Geht’s? Hoe Gaat Het?

October 10th, 2009 at 5:10 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The title of this entry is in German and Dutch for those not familiar with those phrases. In English it’s “How’s it going?”. We’re doing well, and hope you are too!

But the main reason for this post is to share that tomorrow we’re off to Germany and Holland.

Our trip starts with a flight from Bonaire to Berlin, Germany to see family. Jake’s older brother and nephew live there, and his parents will be coming in from Prague to meet up with us. We also plan on learning about Germany’s history, with a particular focus on World War II, which Krystyana is now studying in depth. We also plan on exploring and learning more about the Cold War and the various aspects of how half of Berlin came to be an island of democracy in a sea of Communism, and how that impacted the lives of Berliners on both sides of the infamous Berlin Wall.

We’ll be in Berlin until October 20th, when we fly up to Amsterdam to explore a few corners of Holland. For all that we’ve lived on Bonaire, part of the Dutch Kingdom, for nearly twelve and a half years, the only time we’ve ever spent in Holland was at Schipol Airport. While it is a nice airport, we’re pretty certain there’s a lot more to see outside its confines. We plan on learning all we can about Dutch history first hand, as best we can in Amsterdam, and will then bop over to Rotterdam for a long weekend to spend time with our friends Martin and Angela (who have promised to show us the sites in their city, including a sea-based tour of one of the world’s largest ports).

Krystyana says she will post images and blog entries during this trip, and with my mini-notebook in hand, I hope to be able to provide a few updates as well. Hopefully we’ll do better than during our recent four week exploration in middle America, which brought us a new understanding of everything from civil rights and discrimination to bluegrass and country music. But we didn’t post much because we were so very busy morning to night (and probably a wee bit lazy too).

So, wish us a Schöne Reise! (“nice trip” in German)


Lots of Miles, Lots of Countryside – Three Provinces, Three Days

October 17th, 2008 at 11:21 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

In case you might have been worried about us falling (or driving) off the face of the earth, rest assured that we’re alive and well and presently in the city of Moncton in New Brunswick.

We left Louisbourg on Cape Breton on Wednesday morning for Pictou in mid-Nova Scotia, intent on timing things well for the 4pm ferry to Prince Edward Island. We stopped off at Harbor Quilt Company, a quilting store and gallery outside of Antigonish, and then had lunch at Gabrieau’s Bistro in downtown Antigonish.

Gabrieau’s had an interesting looking menu, but the we found the service to be pretty terrible. Our waitress mis-heard a couple of our orders, and when asked about it, explained what she thought she heard and then left without offering to correct things. She was also quite slow and difficult to flag down. The food that we ended up with was also underwhelming. The spicy Thai beef salad used deli-style roast beef, which gave it an odd flavor. The Caesar dressing lacked any real flavor. The Asian baby back ribs and vegetable and chicken stifado were better though. And the two different cheesecakes we had were a disappointment too. We did note that a table with a different waitress appeared to have had a much better experience, but that was little comfort to us, and a different waitress would not have improved the food at all anyhow. So, if you’re tempted by Gabrieau’s when in Antigonish, contemplate your alternatives first.

One of the issues with the service at the restaurant was that we were now getting concerned about making the ferry, as time was starting to get a bit tight. Turns out to have not been an issue at all because I misread the ferry schedule, and the ferry left at 2:45pm (which we had, by then, missed), with the next one at 6pm.

To burn time, we ended up taking a leisurely stroll through picturesque Pictou (with the only thing marring the pretty harborside being a factory of some sort across the bay) and then had some tea before heading to the ferry terminal.

At the ferry terminal, while waiting for the ferry to arrive, we came across another rather distinct wild creature – a real, live fox. Turns out this fox has become an opportunistic feeder and waits for ferry travelers to toss it food scraps. The fox provided us with about 20 minutes of entertainment before it scooted away with the arrival of the ferry.

A fox at the Caribou Ferry Terminal near Pictou, Nova Scotia

A fox at the Caribou Ferry Terminal near Pictou, Nova Scotia

An hour and a half later we were driving off the ferry in Wood’s Island, on Prince Edward Island on our way to the island’s largest city, Charlottetown, and also the most unique and attractive of all the various accommodations we have had so far on this trip.

We had booked two nights at The Great George, which is a collection of suites and buildings spread out over a block or two. The main reception area looks and feels just like one might picture a club room at a posh British gentleman’s club. The staff at the hotel was excellent and efficient, and within a short time had directed us to our lodging – a standalone house called The Dorchester.

The Dorchester was a two story house with two large bedrooms and excellently appointed bathrooms upstairs, along with a den, a living room (with fold out sofa), a kitchen, and another bathroom (this one with a washer and dryer) on the main floor. And all at a price cheaper than some single rooms we had stayed in so far. And the king size bed (one of the few we have encountered in the Canadian Maritimes) was perfect in terms of comfort – nice and firm without being hard.

Should you ever visit Charlottetown, The Great George is where you have to stay.

We arrived pretty late – around 8pm – but the front desk staff was able to suggest a couple of restaurants for dinner, and we settled on Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oyster House. Nice ambiance, but very spotty service. The food itself was quite good, with excellent appetizers and decent main courses. A particular favorite were the extremely fresh and plump PEI mussels. I also had some local oysters, and Canadian rib eye. Linda and I also enjoyed a very good Margaux with our meal. The food is definitely worth a trip to Sims, but be aware the service may be lacking a bit in terms of efficiency (and we’re used to island-time service back on Bonaire, and this was worse).

Our next day was spent driving around the center of Prince Edward Island in search of Anne of Green Gables and other diversions.

First, let me say that PEI (as Prince Edward Island is known) is beautiful and pastoral – outside the city the buildings are far apart with large fields separating them, lots of the fields used as farm land, with sprinkles of cows and horses here and there.

However, being the middle of October, we found just about every retail store and accommodation we drove by closed until next May or so. It appears that the main season for any sort of activity runs May through September – five months. The rest of the year things just close down and hibernate. The same applies to places like Cape Breton, as we noticed this past week.

We did find one shop open – Rustico Bay Wool Sweater Company, where the owner, the aptly named Kathy Winter, was also getting ready to close down for the season. Kathy was among the few people we had encountered on our trip who had heard of our home island of Bonaire. We ended up getting Bas a set of very soft and warm Alpaca wool gloves and being offered a couple of nice PEI apples (which tasted like Cortlands) on our way out.

We managed to find the PEI Information Center in Cavendish barely open – brochures were being boxed up in anticipation of closing down the center for the season this weekend. We did get some good advice on things still left to see, and then headed to the nearby park to explore some fabulous sand dunes.

Cavendish is one of the places where Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables (and numerous other books featuring strong female heroines), lived for a good bit of her early life, and many of the settings in her books, as well as the characters, were drawn from her own experiences and observations on PEI in the Cavendish area.

What we found fascinating was how much of the local tourism industry had evolved around a fictional teenage girl from a book published in 1908. In addition to the house used as the model for Green Gables, the birthplace of Lucy Maud Montgomery, and a couple of museums, a vast number of commercial enterprises had all hopped on the Anne bandwagon. We saw Anne of Green Gables chocolates being promoted, the Kindred Spirits Inn (using an oft repeated phrase from the Anne books), and several amusement and theme parks all based on the characters and stories of the various Anne of Green Gables books.

Anyhow, after the dunes we visited the Anne of Green Gables Museum near Shining Water. The museum was actually a museum about Lucy Maud Montgomery, and situated in a house owned by relatives of hers where she had spent a fair bit of time during her younger years. In addition to furnishings and memorabilia actually mentioned in some of her books, we saw excerpts from her journals, signed first editions of her books, and photos and stories documenting Lucy Maud Montgomery’s life. Pretty interesting. We also learned that the book Anne of Green Gables at one point was required reading in Japanese schools, and thus the whole area, and the museum in particular, was a major Japanese tourist attraction.

Amusingly, we found that a not insignificant number of the tourists to the area believed Anne was a real person instead of the fictional character that she actually is. That said, Anne certainly seems to have a life, and following, of her own.

After the museum we continued our scenic drive, ultimately ending up in Summerside, another city, about an hour from Charlottetown. We were starving by the time we got there, but sadly had no idea where to look for a good restaurant (not having brought our Fodor’s or AAA guides with us, foolishly), and ended with experimenting with “Chinese and Canadian Cuisine” (the subtitle for every Chinese restaurant we had so far seen in Nova Scotia and PEI) at China Star Restaurant in the heart of a rather desolate Summerside. The food was not bad, but as we had ordered a couple of Szechuan dishes, we had hoped for more spice and flavor. A fine place to go if you’re hungry. By the way, the “Canadian Cuisine” thing is apparently something that is almost required if you’re serving foreign foods in this area, as we’ve learned, as it tells less adventurous diners that it’s “safe” to eat there – they can get their sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fried fish and scallops, and french fries in addition to whatever else might be on the menu.

We continued our scenic route back to Charlottetown, with the sole highlight being a farm for miniature horses, several of which were out in the yard by the road. They were absolutely adorable, and quite friendly. Bas was convinced we should go buy one right then and there, but we explained that we only had four seats home, so if we got the small horse, he’d have to stay behind. He wisely decided this might not be the right time for a miniature horse after all.

I had a conference call to attend to when we returned, and we then attempted to do a little bit of shopping in the pretty historic part of Charlottetown, but our efforts were brought up short when it turned out that all the shops, with one exception, closed at 5pm, which is what time we had gone out. We did find one shop, Firehouse Studios, which was open a bit later though. Firehorse is a shop specializing in artistic glass – including fused glass, stained glass, and the like. Some beautiful work there. Plus they also have classes and supplies for making your own glass art. The person working the shop was kind enough to provide us some tips on how to fuse glass and we hope to be able to give it a try ourselves once we get the necessary materials and dust off our kiln.

For dinner we chose Lot 30, which we had been told was the best restaurant in Charlottetown. We left Bas behind at The Dorchester, well fed from leftovers from lunch, and Krystyana, Linda, and I headed for Lot 30. We found the menu interesting and tried to make sure to each order something different so we could do our own tasting. Our waiter was a bit slow and hesitant in responding to our questions, but much better than the one from the previous night at Sims. We enjoyed our appetizers immensely – I had foie gras with scallop and shredded beef, Krystyana had a turnip and apple soup, and Linda had fried local oysters (which were the best appetizer of the three).

But the main courses were a bit disappointing, perhaps in that each of our plates shared key accompaniments with one of the other main courses on the table. For example, my scallops had a vegetable medley which was identical to that for Linda’s duck, and mashed potatoes just like those with Krystyana’s pork belly. And the girls both had another type of vegetable in common as well. First, the flavors of the accompanying items, while possibly better suited to one of the dishes did not translate well to the other in terms of a flavor combined, and second, it seemed to be a bit, well, lazy, at least in terms of creativity. And it also didn’t quite mesh with the descriptions of the dishes on the menu. One area where service was excellent though was in food delivery, in that they always made sure that each person at a table got their course at exactly the same time. However, on the flip side, the food was delivered without explanation, which considering how the food was not as described in the menu, was a bit off-putting.

If Lot 30 was supposedly the best fine dining restaurant in Charlottetown then Charlottetown has a ways to go in terms of fine dining.

Our final day of our three day, three province experience, namely today, started very early, as we needed to drive for about two and a half hours to make it to the Joggins Fossil Institute in Joggins, Nova Scotia for a 10am walking tour. This involved, other than an early departure, driving a number of kilometers over the Confederation Bridge (which also charges a hefty toll of CA$41.50) into New Brunswick, and then back into Nova Scotia. So, in fact, we hit three provinces in about two hours.

The Joggins Fossil Institute consists of a newly built (opened April 2008) museum and research complex atop the cliffs in the village of Joggins. Joggins is a recently certified UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the location of the discovery of the world’s oldest reptile fossil, all the back from the Carboniferous Era around 350 million years ago.

Our tour turned out to be a private one simply because no one else showed up, so we had Brian Hebert, the Chief Interpreter of the Joggins Fossil Institute, all to ourselves for two whole hours. Brian walked up up and down about one kilometer of shoreline (it was low tide in the Bay of Fundy, which Joggins abuts), showing us examples of fossil trees, veins of coal, rock stratification and collapse, details about tidal erosion, and all sorts of other good things.

While it was freezing out (at least for us thin blooded types), with high winds causing a biting chill factor, we braved it out and by the end of our tour were able to find all sorts of interesting fossils of our own in the limestone debris littering the beach below the museum. Unfortunately we didn’t find anything unique enough for the museum to want to put in its depository of fossils. Brian was an excellent and enthusiastic guide, and, as it turns out, one of the most prolific discovers of new and unique fossils in the area. He had recently found the only fossil of a scorpion ever seen in the Joggins area, for example.

After warming up a bit with hot Chai and coffee after the tour, we finished exploring the museum, “donated” to the gift shop for a number of new books, and then made our way back into New Brunswick and the Schnitzel Haus in Aulac, right across the border from Nova Scotia. We had a good hearty German lunch (with pretty reasonable service, for a change), and then made our way to the city of Moncton and the Crowne Plaza hotel here.

There was no clearly marked entrance to the hotel, at least not for bringing in luggage, so we ended having to call the hotel from a nearby parking lot for assistance with our growing pile of luggage. Our room was nice and big enough for all of us to sleep in, but we’re not impressed with the rest of the hotel. The corridors outside our room reek of cigarette smoke (apparently because the rooms themselves are supposed to be smoke free with fines for those who light up in them), and the hotel is located in a kind of grungy part of town, just a block away from a nicer section with lots of restaurants.

As Krystyana is still tired of seafood, we opted for a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant, Vien Dong, on Main Street. I found the food pretty good, but Linda wasn’t thrilled with her soup or any of the rest of the dishes we ordered, commenting that this was basically repackaged Chinese food – she may have been right to an extent.

Service again was quite slow though, but this time possibly because the restaurant was quite busy and there was only one waiter. We also found the beverage options (at least the ones on our menus) rather limited. The portions were huge compared to what we had experienced so far in the Canadian Maritimes. If you’re desperate for Thai food in Moncton, Vien Dong would not be a bad choice in any event.

We got back to our room and started planning our next day, which involves trying to go experience the Magnetic Hill, see the Hopewell Rocks, and then make our way to St. Andrews, near the Maine border.


Fortress of Louisbourg

October 14th, 2008 at 10:25 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Today was a bit less eventful for us than yesterday. No moose or whale sightings, although we did see an old fashioned musket fired.

We departed mid-morning from Baddeck for the village of Louisbourg, on the east coast of Cape Breton. We tried to stop at a fossil museum in Sydney Mines (a small town in Cape Breton), but as with a growing number of attractions on Cape Breton, it had closed recently for the winter.

We arrived at the Point of View Suites in Louisbourg around 10am, and were a bit surprised to find it was also an RV park. But in fact, there was a large building on a small cliff at the back of the property, overlooking the harbor of Louisbourg, and in that building was our suite. The managers of the property actually upgraded us from one large suite into two connecting smaller suites so that we could each (kids and adults) have our own space. That was something we really appreciated. One reason they were probably so generous was that the property is closing down in a few days for the winter season (when tourism is pretty much dead in most of Cape Breton). In any case, the rooms are spacious, and the kitchens appear well provisioned. But bring your own shampoo and soap, as what they provide is good for only one or two showers.

After dropping off our bags in our room we headed up to the Fortress of Louisbourg. The Fortress, run by the Canada Parks Service, is a recreation of a part of the fortress that was once located on the same grounds during the early and middle part of the 1700s, owned and controlled by the French (except for a three year period where the British ran it). The Fortress of Louisbourg was twice besieged and attacked by the British, and both times the French surrendered after about six weeks, due in part to running out of supplies because of British blockades, and also because the British brought many times more soldiers than there were inhabitants of the fortress. Surrender was an easier out than dying from starvation or being shot. After the second capture, the British pretty much destroyed Louisbourg, and it took a government project in the 1960s to attempt to rebuild aboutt 20% of the buildings that had once stood on the fortress grounds, and make the Fortress of Louisbourg a historic attraction.

Most of the people at the fortress are in period costume, playing the part of a person from circa 1744, but were kind enough to explain differences between that time and the present when asked. We learned an incredible amount about the daily lives of merchants, nobility, servants, and soldiers during the times of the Fortress. We also learned that we would not liked to have lived there during that time as the people endured what we would consider enormous hardships – ranging from very bad winters and poor health care to extremely difficult working conditions, among others.

We also enjoyed an 18th century lunch of soup, cod, and carrots, including a single, versatile eating utensil – a spoon with a curved tip on the handle which could be used to cut and pierce ones food. It was all very tasty.

We had gone to the Fortress of Louisbourg with minimal expectations, and left overwhelmed with new knowledge and information, and thirsting for more. And that’s taking into account that only a fraction of the various buildings were open and staffed because it’s low season here (and the fortress closes down on Saturday for the winter season too – just like everything else). During the summer months, the Fortress of Louisbourg is a hive of nearly non-stop activities, and it’s estimated that it would take at least 18 hours to see and do everything there is to do (not including spending time talking with the in-period docent/actors).

If you have any interest at all in history as well as how people lived and survived in the 18th century, then the Fortress of Louisbourg is a must.

Our dinner was at the Lobster Kettle, one of the only two restaurants still open for the season in the village of Louisbourg. Linda and Krystyana had a fabulous snow crab dinner special while Bas and I enjoyed haddock and halibut – both quite good, and amazingly Bas enjoyed the fish. So far, on this trip, Bas has learned to like lobster and fish. We’re working on him for scallops, but he seems to have set his mind against them for the moment. In any event, we enjoyed our meal at the Lobster Kettle – both in terms of food quality and service – large difference from last night’s meal at the Lobster Galley in St. Ann’s Bay.

Tomorrow we leave Louisbourg for Pictou, where we will take a ferry to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We’ll be spending a couple of nights there, and hope to visit Avonlea and the museum of Anne of Green Gables, among other things.

For followers of our writings who are also familiar with our home island of Bonaire in the Southern Caribbean, we discovered after dinner tonight that Tropical Storm Omar had formed near the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) in the last day or so, and strong weather conditions have created very large swells and waves on the normally calm west side of Bonaire, damaging numerous piers and soaking some waterfront properties.

There are links here and here on BonaireTalk with more information.

Please note that most of the reports on BonaireTalk are independent observer reports or passed on from those on islands and that there is also a lot of speculation based on water drenched visuals. As we know from the past with large surge actions, until the surge subsides (sometime tomorrow afternoon hopefully), it will not be clear how much damage has actually occurred, and it won’t be clear for days how long any such damage will take to repair.

If you love Bonaire like we do, keep the island in your mind and think positive thoughts. For those concerned about our animals, we understand they are doing fine, albeit a bit shook up by the wind and rain.

To all of our friends and extended family on the island, we hope you are well and safe and dry.