On day five of our 10-night Autumn’s Palette sailing with Crystal Cruises, we stopped at Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Commonly referred to as “the new Scotland”, we found out why on a guided walking expedition that would end up being our best off-ship experience so far. Appropriately, our day would end with the best culinary experience on board so far too.
“My name is Marty and I’m here to party” began our local guide, a life-long resident of Nova Scotia who had us eating out of the palm of his hand before the first stop. “Let’s get the numbers out of the way right now”, were the next words from Marty’s mouth. “1749, 1917 and 2,500…any questions?” (brief pause) “Good, instead of telling you what those numbers mean, we’re going to go live them”
We proceeded by tour bus to the Halifax Public Gardens, a city center-like place where local residents had stopped come to have lunch bought elsewhere, read a book or just consider the lovely day.
One of the best surviving examples of a Victorian garden, the Halifax Public Gardens were built in 1887 and were listed as a National Historic Site nearly a century later in 1984.
Also the site of a series of Summer concerts, the gardens are a featured stop on Canada’s Garden Route, a comprehensive list of Canadian gardens and garden experiences. Annually, those gardens draw over 300 million visitors.
Actually, many of those visitors to Halifax take advantage of free tours offered by Friends of the Public Gardens, held on Wednesdays through mid-October.
Even at the end of growing season as Summer had faded, Fall had begun and a harsh Nova Scotia winter loomed, the beauty of the place was undeniable. Also undeniable was our exploration of the first of Marty’s numbers: 1749.
Operated by Parks Canada today, the Citadel has been restored to it’s original glory and manned by re-enactors of the famed 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of the Foot.
During our visit, we witnessed a changing of the guard as well as rifle practice, said to be two of the activities commonly performed when the Citadel was in actual operation.
Pointing out a location in the distance but viewable from Citadel hill, Marty explained his earlier reference to 1917 and 2,500.
“In 1917, a French military vessel was entering the harbor at full speed at the same time that a Belgian ship was leaving. Miscommunication between the two resulted in the ships colliding into one another. Onboard the French ship was 2,500 worth of explosives that created the largest, most destructive explosion ever recorded, eclipsed only by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.”
Continuing our tour we walked down Citadel hill to the waterfront, an active area of restaurants, bars, hotels and apartments on the way back to the port.
Back on Crystal Serenity, tonight was our second of two specialty dining experiences, Italian-themed Prego; a five-course culinary event.
In a way, Crystal Serenity is a great big floating restaurant. Don’t get me wrong; Crystal is running a first-class floating hotel operation too. Culinary home runs are an undeniably huge part of that operation.
After five days aboard Crystal Serenity, focusing nearly exclusively on the ships food and beverage operations, I have yet to find one passenger who offers anything but glowing reports about the food. Prego is a big part of the overall culinary program that begins with a choice of Antipasti.
Parma Ham Sopressata and Grana was think slides of Prosciutto, Salami and chunks of Parmesan cheese with olives.
Served along with a variety of hot bread, apparently just out of the oven; a trio of complements including garlic paste, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
Caesar Salad was crisp romaine lettuce with a traditional Caesar dressing, anchovies optional topped with fresh Parmesan shavings and sourdough croutons.
Cream Soup with Selected Italian Mushrooms was designated as a Prego Classic signature item, and rightfully so. Served in an Oregano Bread Cup, this one will long be remembered.
Lasagne alla Casalinga, another signature Prego Classic was touted as “the best Lasagne in the world” by our waiter as we were ordering. He was right. Layers of paper-thin Lasagne noodles made on site ensconced ground meat, Porcini mushrooms, Tomato and Mozzarella cheese in a delightful Bechamel sauce which put Prego’s rendition over the top. Flanked by a fresh red and Alfredo sauce on both sides, the presentation was spectacular.
Veal Scaloppine is served al Limone, Marsala or Parmigiana style. I chose the later of the three and was not disappointed. Quite the contrary, Prego’s rendition of Veal Scaloppine is reminiscent of the best Wiener Schnitzel available in Germany and equally as satisfying,
A grand ending to a fabulous meal was a Tiramisu-like dessert of sponge cake and vanilla gelato that is brought from the kitchen to be completed tableside. Attaching a small French press-like device above the initial ingredients, the waiter pours hot water in and out comes a sauce that elicits a culinary moment I can recall happening once or twice in my lifetime. I’m going to try to get back in to Prego once more before we disembark Crystal Serenity to capture the moment on video for you. It is just that good. Stay tuned.
While all of the above added up to an outstanding day in Halifax with Crystal Cruises, the highlight of the experience came when the otherwise stoic soldiers of the Citadel came out of their characters for a selfie with Whitney.