World Cruise Part 7: Italy to New York

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The World Cruise 

Part 7:  Civitavecchia, Italy to New York

 

Sea Miles traveled this leg: 6,125. Air Miles Traveled 702

Cumulative Miles traveled Around the World: 42,009

 

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dateline: Mediterranean Sea

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) +2, 40.45 degrees North, 6.05 degrees East, 94 miles East- North East of the Balearic Island of Minorca, Spain

 

Today is our only sea day between the ports of Civitavecchia, Italy and Valencia, Spain. During the night we traveled up the coast of Italy and turned west, passing Corsica to the south.  Our course would take us past the Balearic Islands of Menorca, Mallorca and Ibiza this evening, although we were able to see the mountains of Mallorca by late afternoon.  It was a sunny day but with very rough seas – one of those batten down the hatches and put your breakables and slide-ables on the floor kind of days. There was a lot of side to side roll since the waves and wind were both coming “abeam”, meaning they were hitting the ship broadside. The captain reported that we had Force 7-8 winds on the Beaufort Scale.

The Beaufort Scale, was created in 1806 by Sir Francis Beaufort, who thought it wise to be able to measure the conditions so as to be able to take appropriate precautions, such as “reefing the mainsail,” which involved rolling it around the boom until it was much smaller, to avoid capsizing. They couldn’t steer with no sail at all, so they left just enough sail on the mast to provide forward momentum. With a standard scale (and hopefully a handbook with “when you see this, do that” type of  instructions) they could perhaps anticipate a coming storm, and then do this “reefing” business  before a gale arrived and blew the sailors out of the rigging, which is always bad for morale. There were no wind instruments in those days, such as the anemometer (that little thing with the cups that spins around in the wind with so many rotations of the cup per minute representing a certain wind speed), so they used strictly empirical data (i.e. that which could be observed). After the anemometer came to be, its measurements were incorporated into the Beaufort Scale, as well as land conditions. Here’s an example:

 

Force 0: There is no wind, which is described as calm, the sea is flat, and on land smoke rises vertically.

Force 3:  There is a 13-18 mph wind, described as a gentle breeze, and the sea has large wavelets with crests beginning to break. On land the leaves on trees are in constant motion. As the scale escalates toward 5 and 6 it’s time to put your umbrellas away or risk turning them into pretzels.

Force 7-8:  (our conditions today) There were winds from 32 to 46 mph, described as near gale to gale, with the sea description as “seas heaping up and foaming with moderately high waves of 13 to 18 feet with breaking crests forming spindrift (a.k.a. wind driven sea spray) and streaks of foam. On land you would have whole trees in motion and difficulty walking into the wind (We did stick our heads out once, but it was sort of like getting squirted in the face with a power washer so we quickly retreated back inside and settled into our familiar eat, read, nap mode).

Force 12 on the Beaufort Scale is only equivalent to a Force 1 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with winds of 72 mph. These winds are described simply as “hurricane” and the seas are described as completely white with huge waves over 46 feet high with no visibility to speak of. Our assumption is that the Beaufort Scale didn’t have anything beyond Force 12 since people who lived through bigger storms were smart enough not to go out on deck to observe conditions. Or of course, those who did go out on deck, probably didn’t make it back inside to report their observations, and couldn’t see anything even if they did. Thus it is just as well that Lord Beaufort stopped at 12.

The captain also shared more trivia today regarding a gesture of contempt common in Britain involving a “Salute” which involves holding up two fingers (like Nixon’s “Victory” wave or the 1960’s Peace sign), only in this case you would be moving your hand up and down. This gesture grew out of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 in one of many wars between the French and the British. The English won the battle, largely due to the skill of their archers. Subsequently, the French decided that those English archers they captured in future should have their index and second fingers cut off so they’d never shoot arrows again. This so enraged the British that their citizens would wave these same two fingers (those that still had them intact that is), in the faces of whomever they were mad at, French or otherwise,  perhaps in lieu of verbally insulting their mothers. I’m wondering if somehow in the US this gesture evolved to using the single finger and a single upward motion to express oneself.  (Shorthand so to speak, no pun intended).

We also attended an excellent enrichment lecture entitled Forensic Anthropology – the Science behind the Myth by Forensic Anthropologist and novelist, Kathy Reichs. She talked about how bones can help solve homicides, suicides and accidents.  She has done volunteer work in Guatemala, and has had assignments in Jerusalem. Rwanda, and Ground Zero and has also worked identifying war dead. She still writes novels and now has a weekly dramatic series called “Bones”. Much of her real life experience goes into her writing and in fact her own life is very parallel to that of her character, Tempe Brennan, in her novels.

Tonight the Royal Ascot Ball is scheduled and while there are many glamorous people who will no doubt attend, being inside all day has given us time to observe and reflect on a few looks that, well, are likely to fall short of true glamour.

We have the man who is regularly seen at meals wearing shorts with black dress shoes and dark over-the-calf dress socks. He also has the bushiest Andy Rooney eyebrows you’ve ever seen – makes you want to find a pair of hedge clippers and go to work on him – although they probably do shade his eyes as a baseball cap would and he doesn’t have to worry about losing them on windy days.  He’s about as grumpy as Andy Rooney too, come to think of it, but much thinner.

We have the lady whom we call Mrs. Birkenstock since she wears her Birkenstock-like sandals to dinner on “formal” nights (and they don’t even have any rhinestones or glittery stuff on them), and has been seen in her house shoes on semi-formal nights. We suspect she gets away with it by telling the maitre’d she has medical problems with her feet.  It really ticks off the men (who have to wear tuxedos in order to dine in the splendor of the Britannia Grill) to see her wiggling her toes in her terrycloth slippers while they are choking in their bow ties and tight collars.

We have the Impostor, a rather short, somewhat stocky man with silver hair who without fail wears white from head to toe, white buck shoes with white cotton socks included. (Picture the character “Tattoo” on Fantasy Island, but not as short, nor as cheerful.) We think he wears white hoping to be mistaken for a member of the ship’s crew. His favorite thing to do is to issue instructions to newcomers who don’t realize he is a passenger impersonating a ship’s officer. He doesn’t actually wear the shoulder boards with insignia, which we suspect were probably confiscated by real crew members early on in the cruise.

We have a woman whom we’ve dubbed Shari Lewis, whose dress is perfectly acceptable, but her claim to weirdness is that she takes a fluffy little hand puppet (just like Shari Lewis’s  Lamb Chop) with her everywhere she goes and actually talks to other people in her “Lambchop” voice. As much weirdness as we’ve seen so far, we still found it rather strange for a sixty-ish grown woman talking to other grown-ups with a puppet. Lamb Chop also went on many shore excursions, so she is a very well traveled sheep. Interestingly enough, Shari hooked up (whether romantically or platonically we don’t know)  with a kindred spirit, a guy, we called “Jaws”  who wore a baseball type shark hat which had a dorsal fin on top about 6 inches high and a bill that would open to look like a shark’s mouth. He wore his hat ashore in every port also, but in a fit of goodwill, Jaws actually gave his hat to his kayak guide in Phuket. And strangely enough, we haven’t seen much of Lamb Chop in recent days so we’ve wondered if she’s been left behind in some foreign port as well, maybe speaking in Arabic or Turkish now.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dateline – Valencia, Spain

Latitude at Valencia, 39.28 degrees North, Longitude 0.22 degrees West

 

Valencia Central Market

Valencia Central Market

We docked in Valencia Harbor, 220 miles south of Barcelona, on the eastern coast of Spain this morning and entered the Western Hemisphere for the first time since January. Valencia is barely in the Western Hemisphere, as you will see by the recorded longitude above. This is the most fertile area of Spain, called the “horta” or garden. In Spanish, garden is “jardin”, but “horta” is the Valencian word for garden. The chief  crop, unsurprisingly are Valencia oranges which are harvested 3 times a year. The Valencian language is spoken here, as well as Spanish, so you will see and hear many words that Spanish speakers don’t recognize. They also use the same “lisp” (a sound referred to as ceceo in which a cis pronounced as “th) as speakers of Catalan in the Barcelona area use. (I.E. Valencia becomes Valenthia, Barcelona becomes Barthelona), which takes a while to get used to. There is a legend that says this pronunciation came to be because the Spanish King Ferdinand,  could not make a soft “c” sound due to a speech impediment, so he ordered everyone else to pronounce words the way that he did, which is still one more reason  why it’s good to be king. However language scholars dispute this and point out that the letter “s” is not pronounced with a “th” and lisping is the inability to make the sibilant sounds, whether spelled with “c” or “s”. They say it’s just regional differences evolving over the years. Personally I like the lisping king story much better.

There has been civilization in this area for centuries. Of course those pesky Romans were here around the 3rd Century BC, but they got into a war with Hannibal of Carthage and lost Valencia for a while. When they regained power, they established a military colony named Valentia on the Turia River. Then in 413 A.D. the Visigoths ran the Romans off and it was pretty quiet here until the Moors invaded from North Africa  and took Valencia in 714. Valencia, along with most of southern Spain, was under Muslim rule for 300 years. In the 1094, a Spaniard named Rodrigo Diaz de Viva (also called El Cid Campeador) took Valencia back from the Moors, but after he died in 1099, the Moors came back. There was a movie called El Cid back in the 1960’s, I think starring Charlton Heston that tells this story, and if I remember the ending properly, he was killed. However, his soldiers propped him up in his armor on his horse with his sword strapped on and paraded him around so as to keep morale up among his troops. So I’m thinking this could be where Charlton got the idea for his NRA quote, “I will not give up my gun until they pry it from my cold dead hands”) Anyway, the Moors were expelled for the final time by the Spaniards in 1238 from Valencia, but hung on in other parts of Spain until 1492. The Golden Age of Valencia occurred during the 15th and 16th Centuries when the city became powerful in international politics and the arts and commerce flourished. Much later (like the 1930’s) during the Spanish Civil War, Valencia found itself on the losing side. Once Franco became dictator, things were pretty bleak from a prosperity perspective. However in recent years, Valencia has experienced a quite a renaissance and was selected to host the 2007 America’s Cup Race.

Valencia is known for its festivals, in particular one called the Fallas de San Jose (Festival of Saint Joseph) which occurs in March. This festival got its start supposedly when carpenters celebrating the end of winter put their wood shavings in a pile and lit a bonfire and had a party – a Mardi Gras sort of event. This evolved into burning effigies of local politicians and various celebrities. For today’s celebrations, which, officially last 4 days, huge satirical figures called ninots indultats have replaced the smaller effigies. They are cartoon-like figures made of paper mache, wood and wax, and can take up to a year to build and they are paraded through the city on floats They are dispatched on March 19th to the flames of a monstrous bonfire, amid fireworks, singing and dancing.

Fresh Octopus at the Mercado Central

Fresh Octopus at the Mercado Central

Our plan for the day was to take a bicycle tour of the sights of old Valencia. It was wisely decided by Cunard that it would not be a good idea for us to ride in traffic, so we had a combination walking and bicycling tour. Our first stop was the local market, the Mercado Central, which is a covered market, sparkling clean (especially compared to the open air markets we saw in China). Agriculturally, Valencia is most famous for its oranges, but as we can attest after a visit to the local market, they have all kinds of beautiful produce including the largest strawberries I’ve ever seen.

 

The Courtyard of the Silk Exchange

The Courtyard of the Silk Exchange

Our next stop was a place called the Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) which was built in 1506. Valencia was the point of distribution for the silk that made its way from China and the Middle East, plus it had a silk industry of its own. The “Lonja” has a trade hall with 57 foot high vaulted gothic style ceilings, with supporting columns that twist, sort of like a Dairy Queen soft cone. It was a most unusual market for medieval times since Jews, Christians and Muslim Arabs all traded there together peacefully. (Come to think of it, that would still be highly unusual today). The architectural elements of the structure reinforced this multi-religion approach. The building is laid out in the shape of a cross for the Christians, has the Star of David motif in the tile floor for the Jews and has the Arabic pillars and arches for the Muslims.

The Old Valencia Cathedral

The Old Valencia Cathedral

We next walked around the Catedral de Valencia which was started in the 13th century, but was completed over several generations, resulting in a combination of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Romanesque architectural features, as styles changed over the centuries.  We then strolled for a quick look around to the main square (which is actually a triangle) called Plaze de la Reina (Queen’s Plaza) which was filled with flowers, date palms, jacaranda trees, with a combination of wide boulevards and narrow lanes converging there, and across the city we saw many old buildings with the Valencia’s trademark bright blue tiled cupolas and domes. Just as we were leaving the plaza, our guide realized she had 2 AWOL tourists, a married couple who apparently had not yet learned how to tell time.  They had strolled off to buy oranges at the market and didn’t return at the appointed hour. One of them turned himself in to another tour guide who phoned our tour guide and our bus went back and got him, but his wife was still on the lam when we mounted up for our bike ride. He told us to go on without her and that she can find her way back to the ship on her own (tough love) so we got our bikes pedaled off without her.

In New Valencia - City for the Arts and Sciences

In New Valencia – City for the Arts and Sciences

Valencia has had a problem with the old part of the city flooding in the past so they have re-channeled the river and used the riverbed to make a huge park with bike paths, sculptures, fountains, plazas, and  huge modern complex called the City for Arts and Sciences. It’s not as far out there architecturally as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Rather it’s more like the Sidney Opera House or Getty Museum in LA. There is a startling a contrast between the old and new, but it somehow works and the city is truly lovely.

The ride was wonderful – it was a beautiful warm spring day –

Exhibition Space in the City for the Arts and Sciences

Exhibition Space in the City for the Arts and Sciences

flowers were in bloom every where, and the delicate scent of orange blossoms filled the air as we pedaled along with historical Valencia rising above us along the old course of the river. We did have one crash, but it was not the person who I predicted would crash. My candidate was the guy pedaling his bike and using his video camera at the same time. The crash victim was looking up in awe at the Arts and Sciences buildings and her front wheel got caught in a small space between cobblestones and she went “arse over teakettle” as the Brits would say. Gary and our tour guide went over and picked her up and Gary straightened out her handlebars, which had gone askew in the crash, while her husband looked on and berated her for being careless. I regretted that we were at the end of our ride because I wanted to run the miserable cuss off the bike path and into the next available drainage ditch. I had to settle for giving him a withering look instead, which was not nearly as satisfying.

A Walkway (and Bicycle Path) through New Valencia

A Walkway (and Bicycle Path) through New Valencia

The City for Arts and Sciences, the largest cultural/educational complex in Europe, is a wonderful collection of very futuristic architecture and includes an aquarium, a science museum, a huge IMAX type theater, and a center for the performing arts. The buildings are surrounded by sculptures, fountains and gardens and a spectacular promenade. We were both sorry we had no time to spend exploring further here. We did have a few hours left, but we decided we’d head back to the old square to soak up some Old World ambiance.

In the Plaza de la Reina we sat at an outdoor café, which is what we always love to do in Europe, and ordered a light lunch of wine and tapas. Gary decided he needed more nourishment after all that bicycle riding so he ordered paella as well, which he pronounced to be excellent. It was such an idyllic afternoon, sunny but still cool with the plaza filled with people and the church bells ringing from the baroque octagonal clock tower of the cathedral across from us. The tower is called the Micalet or, more affectionately Miguelete (little Michael) and has stood in the square beside the cathedral for centuries. There were several QE2 passengers in the square and we overheard one “Bubba” complaining to another that his wife had “drug” him to that factory where they make that “lardo” and he was hot, tired and thirsty. We thought he might be talking about a Crisco plant, but finally figured out he was talking about Lladro (pronounced “yah-dro”), the famous Spanish figurines. We didn’t hear whether they made and purchases, and thus don’t know if they’ll be taking any “Lardo” back to the US or not.

Feeling much of Valencia was still unexplored, and of course, adding it to our list of places to revisit, we caught the shuttle back to the bus. Late in the day this is always risky business since there is chaos in the queue process and we’ve seen the type of hostilities that can break out when queues form. And we didn’t even have a slice of baklava to punish the pushy.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dateline: Mediterranean Sea

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) +2, 36.11 degrees North, 4.11 degrees West, 56 miles east of the Rock of Gibraltar, 366 miles to Lisbon, Portugal

 

The Approach to the Straits of Gibraltar

The Approach to the Straits of Gibraltar

Today was our only sea day between Valencia and Lisbon and the seas are considerably improved. It was sunny out so we planned to spend the afternoon on deck to watch our passage through the Straits of Gibraltar. We attended another Kathy Reichs enrichment lecture this morning on how she turns facts from her professional life into fiction. She is really a talented writer and a very entertaining speaker as well. You wouldn’t expect a scientist who deals with such gruesome death scenes to have much of a sense of humor, but I guess you have to have some off the job laughs if you dig up human remains and study them for a living.

 

The Rif Mountains of Morocco

The Rif Mountains of Morocco

Today’s nautical trivia term is “Codswallop” which is British slang for someone talking “a load of rubbish” as the Brits would say.  Wallop was a term used to describe beer based beverages which the Admiralty provided to the Royal Navy. Around 1875 a man named Hiram Codd invented a form of carbonated soda water which was substituted for the beer beverage. It had three advantages over the beer in that (1) it had a longer shelf life for those long weeks at sea, (2) it was cheaper for the Royal pocketbook, and (3) it theoretically made the sailors less contentious and rowdy. This last point however is debatable since there were a lot of disgruntled sailors who would have been much more “gruntled” if they had had their rations of beer.

In the Straits of Gibraltar

In the Straits of Gibraltar

We approached Rock of Gibraltar around 2:00 p.m. and took approximately an hour to pass through the Straits which are only about 8 miles wide. We could see the Rif Mountains of Morocco to port and we were searching the Spanish coastline to starboard for our first sighting of “the Rock”.  We didn’t recognize it at first because the Prudential Insurance profile (the one on their logo) we were looking for is actually seen from the Atlantic approach. We didn’t get a view of  the “Classic Gibraltar” until we had passed through the straits and looked back. From the Med approach it appears more rectangular. Gibraltar is approximately

The View of Gibraltar from the Atlantic

The View of Gibraltar from the Atlantic

5 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide and is still a British Colony, as it has been for the last 300 years. Before that it was Spanish until the Moors invaded in 711 A.D., but Castile (a Spanish region) took it back in 1462.  Then in 1704 a British-Dutch Alliance took control. Spain tried to get it back in a siege that lasted from 1779 from 1783, but was unsuccessful. There are lots of natural caves and tunnels for defenders to live in to survive shelling and assaults. The reason that it has been so hotly contested over the centuries is that it can control virtually all ship traffic into and out of the Mediterranean. Until the Suez Canal was built, it was the only outlet to the rest of the world’s oceans. Britain and Spain have talked about joint control, but to the 27,000 people that live here, this is an unpopular move – they are British to the core and want to remain so. Other residents here include a colony of Barbary macaques who are the only wild primates on the European Continent.

 

And speaking of wild primates – how about those QE2 passengers?  We had still another passenger incident today.  Around 4:00 p.m. and again at 5:00 p.m., we heard an announcement asking a Mrs. McLean to call the purser’s office immediately. We figured Mrs. McLean had skipped out on a bar tab or maybe left her laundry unattended – something mundane like that.  At 6:00 we heard an announcement repeating the request with the added request that if anyone knows where she is to please call the purser’s office, so we figured she must not have made the last shuttle in Valencia yesterday and her husband just now noticed she wasn’t around. At 6:30 we got an announcement asking us to check our rooms for the missing person, including under the bed, which should have given us a clue that the missing person wasn’t, perhaps, in possession of all of her faculties.  At 7:00 the captain announced he was turning the ship around to return to the point where Mrs. McLean was last known to be seen and asked all passengers to return to their rooms. (We assumed any leftovers passengers who previously may have been assumed to be just snoozing in the public areas, would be checked for pulse and identity.) As the ship turned (about a 30 minute process so we figured that if Mrs. McLean had gone swimming, she was going to have to dog paddle for some time), APB’s were issued with a Wanted Poster of sorts posted around the ship with her picture, age and a description of what she was wearing (no mention of Reward or Dead or Alive).  The description read: American, late 60’s, grey hair, last seen in her cabin at 1400 (2:00 p.m.) wearing red slacks, sneakers, white blouse with a wind breaker. We couldn’t believe Mrs. McLean had jumped overboard since the open decks were filled with people between 2:00 and 4:00 gawking at the Rock unless she had taken the plunge on the Morocco side of the ship. At 7:30 the captain announced that all crew members should check their rooms and common areas, and apologized for the inconvenience to passengers since the waiters and chefs had to stop serving dinner and go check their quarters.  At 8:00 p.m. the captain reported Mrs. McLean had been found safe and sound (well sound is questionable) Our maitre d’ confided that this woman is a regular on the QE2 and is apparently quite looney tunes since this is the  4th time she has pulled the disappearing act on this cruise. She reportedly likes to play hide and seek and thus we assume (in the parlance of the building trades and carpenter’s levels) she is about half a bubble off. Ship scuttlebutt says she was found by a crew member hiding in a crew community bathroom on 6 Deck. So we again turned around and resumed our course for Lisbon, having lost 4 hours backtracking looking for this dingbat. She is undoubtedly getting death threats at the moment because this is a tough crowd on this ship. We were wondering why they even let her on board in the first place, but decided if sanity were a pre-condition of booking, the ship would be about half empty.  Our contribution to the suggestion box would be to put an ankle bracelet (House arrest type) on her or any other “flight risks” for any future cruises. The Captain ordered full speed, about 28 knots, to make up for lost time so we can make our next port of call, Lisbon, on schedule. We hope the McLeans will be billed by Cunard for fuel expended looking for her.

 

Friday, April 21, 2006

Dateline:  Lisbon, Portugal

Latitude at Lisbon 38.41 degrees North,  Longitude 9.10 degrees West

We docked in Lisbon early this morning, having entered the Tagus River estuary at high tide. We had a tour planned to go to 3 little villages in the coastal mountains north of Lisbon. As we were leaving the ship we learned that Mrs. McLean had gone AWOL again. We had heard that Mr. and Mrs. McLean were to be put off the ship in Lisbon, but guessed she planned to stow away for more fun and games. We later learned she was again found and given the boot in Lisbon. We assume there is some fine print in the contract that you can be put off the ship if your craziness negatively affects ship’s operations.

Cruising on the Tagus

Cruising on the Tagus

We cruised 8 miles upriver to the cruise terminal, passing under a Golden Gate-like bridge over the Tagus, with a smaller version (only 90 feet) of the Christ the Redeemer statue above Rio de Janeiro, on a far less imposing hill beside it. The Tagus is still two miles wide at this point so we had plenty of room to maneuver. En route to our berth we saw an old tower that once was used to control access to Lisbon, which like so many European cities, has been fought over for centuries. Lisbon has been settled since ancient times and it is believed that the Phoenicians were the first to set foot there. Lisbon, like Rome, Athens and Constantinople was built on 7 hills (I don’t know if this has some mystical meaning or not – maybe a European version of feng shui or maybe just a coincidence). The Moors occupied this area, just as they did most of Southern Spain, but in 1147, Alfonso, the first king of Portugal vanquished the Moors and thereafter, Portugal developed a powerful legacy of exploration, trade and colonization including Brazil and Macao, as well as colonies in Africa, India and Indonesia. Lisbon has had several catastrophic earthquakes over the years, the most devastating occurring  in 1755 which wiped out almost every building in the city, and thus you don’t see the huge monuments and buildings so prevalent in much of Europe. Although it is on the Atlantic, it has much more of a Mediterranean feel and during the Romantic Period, many writers came here to work.

There are 10 million people in Portugal today, but like Ireland, there are many more times that number who are descended from Portuguese immigrants, which is why Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. In recent years, Portugal was ruled by the dictator Salazar, but in 1974 they threw the bum out and now have an elected government.

Belem - the Old Fort

Belem – the Old Fort

Since we are headed out into the countryside, we didn’t get to see much of Lisbon proper with the exception of the Belem (Bethlehem in English) area where there is an old fort built in the gothic style, in 1515-1521, although it was originally situated on an island in the middle of the Tagus River. The course of the river shifted over the years, and it now is on the north bank. Atop the Belem Fort Tower stands a statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming and this was the last thing departing sailors saw of there homeland as they headed west.  We also drove past the President’s house, an 18th century palace that is quite large and quite pink and is called Queluz. There was also an interesting restored factory where rope for ships was made which was a pastel yellow. Other old building around the harbor, many restored, many crumbling, were also painted in pastels, enhancing the Mediterranean feel of the city.  We also saw the Jeronimos Monastery, which did survive the 1755 earthquake, where many kings and other notables are buried.  There is also Monument to Discoverers of maritime voyagers on the waterfront– and there were lots of them and they were quite an intrepid bunch including Vasco de Gama and Henry the Navigator. Exploration of this area will have to wait until our next visit.   Our tour took us alongs the Tagus and then north up the coast with our guide Amelia and driver Hernando. We drove along the “marginal” which followed the course of the river, which was punctuated with forts every few miles. Amelia spoke English clearly, but tended to stick to just a few verbs. She said for example, “Here you can make some shopping”, or “tourists come here to make surf” (meaning go surfing, not create surf) and she told us that in the old days the King and his court would “go for hunting”. Given how complicated English is, I think hers is a good approach.

The Casino at Estoril

The Casino at Estoril

Our first stop was Estoril  (prounouced Esh-two-ree-al with the accent on “Esh” and “al”), which was originally a spa with mineral springs. Today it is a popular beach town, filled with semi-tropical gardens and is home to Europe’s largest casino where Lisbon dwellers come for the weekend. The casino is owned by Stanley Ho, who also owns casinos in Macao. The city goes way back in terms of being a hangout of the rich and famous. Portuguese kings used to come here in 19th and early 20th centuries (to “make hunting”, mostly), but small fishing boats still work out of these ports.

Caiscais Harbor

Cascais Harbor

Cascais (pronounced cosh-caish with the accent on the first syllable) is a few miles up the coast and has much the same story as Estoril in that it is a weekend and summer retreat, but it is more picturesque. The name comes from a Roman word which means the “place of shells” Cascais has served as an expatriate haven, most notably for King Juan Carlos before he was restored to the throne in Spain. There are also a number of nobles from Italy and Hungary still in residence here. The town bills itself as the home to fishermen and kings, and fishing still a big industry here, although the kings are more of the “kingpin” variety than nobility now days and there are hundreds of big buck homes here. Unfortunately, much of the town was closed to bus traffic because they are re-cobbling the streets so this place needs to be put on our “revisit list” too.

Guincho Beach

Guincho Beach

On the outskirts of Cascais, we stopped at Guincho Beach for photos (too chilly and windy for anything else) and saw Europe’s most western point called Cabo de la Roca (which translates as Rock Cape). They used to have bull fights on the beach here and spectators would have to plunge into the surf to escape if the bull charged them. Now they have a bull ring and this area has become populated with very expensive residences, so the beach has nowhere near the excitement it once did, and the only charging that goes on is in the boutiques that line the streets.   You can get a bicycle for free to ride around the city if you just leave a deposit which is returned to you when you return the bike.

Cabo de la Roca

Cabo de la Roca

From Cabo de la Roca, our final port, New York City is approximately 1.5 degrees north and west 3,375 miles away, with nothing but water between here and there. Most tourists who want to enjoy the beach go to the Algarve in the south of Portugal where there is warm air and warm water. Water here isn’t swimmer friendly and beaches are too windy, but it is very beautiful, reminiscent of the California Coast. There are ice plant-type wildflowers in bloom here along the roadsides, with rocky headlands and small lighthouses every few miles. The climate here also seems like Southern California with orange groves, birds of paradise, coconut and date palms all along our route, and occasional indications that brush fires are a problem here as well.

The Ancient Walls of Sintra

The Ancient Walls of Sintra

To reach Sintra, (pronounced Seen- tra with the accent on “seen”), our last stop, we drove up into the mountains through groves of eucalyptus which is grown for paper since is grows faster than pine, but there are also large stands of native pine. We passed a number of beautiful golf resorts which we thought would bear further exploration on a future trip.  Sintra was a favorite hangout of Lord Byron and he dubbed it a glorious Eden. We thought it was pretty wonderful as well. It is surrounded by rugged mountains with evergreens and big granite boulders, which reminded us of New Hampshire, particularly Bald Peak.

 

The Castle Above Sintra

The Castle Above Sintra

The elevation here is about 1500 feet so it is much cooler than the coast.  It became immediately apparent that we needed much more time to explore the shops and cafes around a central square, as well as the village’s manor houses, feudal estates, castles and the 8th Century Moorish fortress above the town. Like the Romans before them, the Moors knew a thing or two about conquest and they left their mark all across Spain and Portugal.

The earthquake of 1755 which destroyed much of Old Lisbon, also destroyed many old building here. The government has taken over many derelict buildings and has either restored them, destroyed them or sold them with the caveat that the buyer must restore them in the style in which they were built.  In fact even the jail is housed in an old castle.  Unfortunately, as the saying goes, time (nor the tide) waits for no man (or ship), so we had to leave to make our 3:30 departure from Lisbon. We stayed on deck until we cleared the estuary, watching the afternoon sun on the city, regretting that we left so much unexplored, but while still savoring the moment with an exceptionally good glass of fume blanc.

 

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Dateline: Atlantic Ocean

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) +1, 46.15 degrees North, 7.35 degrees West

Bay of Biscay, off the coast of France

 

Today is our final sea day on the QE2. Tomorrow we arrive in Southampton, England and board the Queen Mary 2 (QM2) for the trans-Atlantic Crossing and the final leg of our journey. We were actually going back to the east to reach Southampton, but first we had to clear Cabo de la Roca of Portugal and the Brittany Coast of France. We had a very rough ride today across the Bay of Biscay, but we were told to expect calmer seas as we reach the English Channel this evening.

The captain’s wisdom for the day involves the origin of the term “fore” which is used in playing golf to warn players in front of you that they are in danger of getting beaned with the ball you just hit. In the days of fighting with ball and musket, soldiers would form in lines in order to maintain a barrage of steady fire, with the front line firing, while the men behind them reloaded. When the first line fired, the order “beware before” would be given, warning the soldiers in the front line that the soldiers behind them were about to commence firing and they

should duck. As technology improved, and reloading was much faster, the command was, by necessity, shortened to “fore”. Officers who played golf during their free time started using the same term when a golf shot did not go as planned and people ahead of them needed to take cover. It may also help to explain why a stroke with a golf club is called a “shot”.

Most of today’s agenda involves packing and preparations for disembarkation. We originally came on board with 2 suitcases apiece, plus a carry on and we now have 3 suitcases apiece. We anticipated lots of extra space, but this did not happen and every single piece of luggage is bulging. We also spent time saying goodbye to our Britannia Grill Staff – Jimmy (England) and Anand (India) who were the maitre’d and assistant maitre’d, Balu (India) and Vishnu (India), who were our wine stewards and Helen (England), Milosz (Poland) and Melissa (Nova Scotia) who were our waiters,  as well as Tommy (Philippines) our cabin steward. We also said goodbye to friends we have made over the course of the cruise, although several of them are going on to the QM2 with us. We will miss Steve and Freda from Australia – a couple in their 80’s, who are the most energetic octogenarians I’ve ever known. She loved to watch Gary eat (she even took a picture of him in action) and says he reminds her of her favorite son in law. Several other friends we have made have gotten off at various ports along the way, but we have email contact established and plans to visit.

We will be entering the English Channel late tonight and pick up the harbor pilot at 2:00 a.m. At  4:30 we will pass QM2 in her berth and we should be docked by 6:00 a.m. Jaded world travelers that we are, we will probably sleep through this excitement, but we spent much of this evening having a good glass of wine, a great dinner and  reflecting on our journey – what a ride!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Dateline: Southampton, England

Latitude at Southampton 50.54 degrees North, Longitude 1.25 degrees West

 

We docked this morning in Southampton in the River Test Estuary at the Western Docks, which are the major facility for containers and car transport into and out of England so our first view wasn’t too magical. The port here is filled with “straddle cranes” to load and offload ships. The cranes actually straddle railroad tracks, with the crane operator perched in a little cab on top. Flatbed rail cars are rolled up and the trains are loaded right from the ships or vice versa. Today is disembarkation day from the QE2 and we had the choice of waiting on the ship until our deck was called, which could take several hours, or taking a tour of Stonehenge and Salisbury, so we chose the tour. You would think since we are only a few miles from Greenwich, we would be on Greenwich Mean Time, but England is now on Daylight Savings Time so we are at GMT + 1. Petrol (gasoline) here is $8.00 per gallon so most people take public transportation or drive tiny cars (and have very little sympathy for us whining about gas prices at home).

 

Once again we had another one of those serendipity days. The weather was gloomy and overcast, but created a perfect English backdrop for the scenery of Hampshire and Wiltshire as we passed through countryside that can only be described as pastoral – sheep grazing on emerald green meadows, spring bursting forth with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips popping up everywhere you looked. Winchester is the county seat of Hampshire and has the famous cathedral, but we are unable to visit there today. Salisbury is the county seat of Wiltshire and the cathedral there is on the agenda. Out trip took us through what is termed the New Forest, although it was named that in 1079, so you’d think the “new” must have worn off a little by now.   This is the forest where at Runymeade in 1215, a group of Englishmen forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, granting them certain human rights (this is also the foundation for much of our US law today). The best preserved of the original 4 copies of this document is in Salisbury. The New Forest was also a deer and wild boar hunting area for William the Conqueror. Fox hunting is now banned in England, but fox hunting groups still ride following the trail of a smelly sock or whatever. The deer are still here and there are also wild ponies. The ponies actually have owners who are responsible to ensure they are fed in wintertime, but they roam wild. Ponies have the right of way on parkland and if you hit one, you are fined, and since there are no fences, driving can prove to be tricky business after dark. Of course given the size of the cars they drive here, the ponies actually have a chance to come out of an accident better off than the people.

The New Forest is a broadleaf forest with oak and silver birch, but there are also bog-like areas with wild orchids and rocky areas called “heaths” covered with heather and gorse (now in bloom) and the ponies feed on both. They range is size from full saddle horse size to fat little ponies with big bellies.  We also saw a lot of pheasants, dove and other game birds.  By law, if you run over a pheasant, you cannot stop and pick it up, but the car behind you can. So local wisdom says you should travel in two cars if you want to have pheasant for dinner.  Today the land technically belongs to the Queen and is cared for by special park rangers  called “verderers” We also saw old “tide mills” along the coast. Because there is a 3 meter (9 foot) tide in this area, they would use the ebbing tide in river estuaries to turn millstones to grind wheat

A Country House Near Lyndhurst

A Thatched Roof Country House

and corn. We drove through the village of Lyndhurst and here too evidence of spring  was everywhere along the roadways and in the parks. The streets are lined with fairy tale Snow-White sort of thatched roof houses, and with the mist and the wet streets, the town looked like a series of Robert Kincaid paintings. We were surprised to learn that thatch still used today and is comprised of reeds or straw. It is first batched together and applied in bundles, and surprisingly can last up to 60 years. Netting holds the thatch in place to keep birds from filching nest material for their own homes. The damp weather is ideal for this type of roofing since it keeps the threat of fire down. We also learned that Conan Doyle is from a nearby village, very similar to this one with small lanes, and cobblestone streets, surrounded by dense woods that were no doubt the inspiration for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Since today was Sunday, there were several cricket matches underway, despite the damp weather. Rather than trying to explain it, our guide summed up the puzzling game of cricket as an event where you have 22 people dress up in white and watch 2 people doing things. It works

Swans on one of Many Avon Rivers

Swans on one of Many Avon Rivers

for me. We crossed the River Avon here, but it’s not Shakespeare’s River Avon. Actually there are 5 rivers named that in England and it is the Old English word for water, which is pretty unimaginative of whoever was responsible for the naming of rivers in the old days. The fields are very fertile here, and are covered with a layer of peat over clay. The primary crop around here is oil seed which is the main ingredient for margarine and is a personal favorite of the large colorful pheasants which are plentiful here and, no doubt as a consequence of their diet, are quite plump. One of the major forms of entertainment here is a plowing contest – they have plowing matches to see who can make the most beautiful furrows. We assume the event is much more sedate than the American farm favorite – the tractor pull.

As we drove up to Salisbury Plain, the ground had more chalk than clay content and vegetation became more sparse due to the shallow layer of soil, but the countryside still has that quintessential “England” feel with grazing sheep and newly arrived lambs. The area is also dotted with what the British call “water meadows”, (which Americans would call wetlands), where we saw scores of wild swans, nesting herons, and other water birds. Fences along the roads are made of “rubble” (small stones or pieces of masonry mixed with mortar) and have “hats” of tile or thatch to keep water out so the fence’s structure is not compromised.  We also drove through an area called Woodford Valley with its 3 villages of Lower, Middle and Upper Woodford with still more thatched roof storybook houses. Despite the folksy feel of the villages, they aren’t home to the working class any longer. It seems the rich and famous have been taken by the country charm in these and many have established manor type homes here. Our guide pointed out the singer Sting’s modest 10,000 square foot country house along our route.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Our first stop was Stonehenge, which is perhaps the most famous prehistoric site in the world. The approach from the southeast rises steadily to the Salisbury Plain where you see the circle of stones, which are impressive, yet smaller than we had imagined. It was built over a 3,000 year period. circa 3000 to 1000 BC and was completed in stages. The circle is composed of trilithons, which are comprised of two large standing monoliths topped by a lintel stone, of which only a few are still standing. It was used as a Neolithic Observatory, an ancient calendar of sorts, and on the summer solstice, the sun shines straight through the circle onto the central Heel Stone. It is believed that Druids would come here to celebrate the Summer Solstice, and they also used it to tell the seasons by the sun’s position on the stones and thus could tell, for example that it was time to plant crops. If Stonehenge were totally intact, each month, the sun would shine through a different arch of stone. It is interesting to note that the builders of Stonehenge were far ahead of the so called civilized societies of Greece and Rome, who were about two months short, in figuring out the calendar. The Romans finally fixed the problem by adding the months of July and August (named after there own Julius and Augustus Caesar). There are also a number of mounds surrounding Stonehenge which are believed to be burial sites of kings (or whatever they called their leaders back then).

It has been established that the smaller (but still huge) “Blue” stones came from 240 miles away in Wales and researchers are still trying to figure out how they transported them here. They think they may have floated them on some sort of raft or boat on the Irish Sea, around to the English Channel and then up a river (long since dry), which is a long, hard way to haul rock, especially when you have perfectly good rock almost next door. The other stones, even more gigantic, came from only 19 miles away in Marlborough. No one really knows why they did what they did since there are no written records of Stonehenge. It gets the “stone” in its name from the stones of course, and there is a circular ditch and bank around it which was called a “henge” in Old English. Scientists have found evidence that around 2600 BC a wooden structure once stood in the circle. (I.E. post holes have been found although the wood is long gone).  From 2500 to 1500 BC the stone monument was constructed, arranged and rearranged over almost 1,000 years, perhaps to fine tune the calendar.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

We also saw Old Sarum, perched on a hill near Salisbury, but we did not have time to visit. Old Sarum was a prehistoric Iron Age camp that existed around 1100 A.D. It was believed to be abandoned due to a lack of water and the residents moved to present day Salisbury, then called New Sarum in 1220 A.D. Archaeologists have found relics of Celtic, Roman, Norman and Saxon occupation and there was also a monastery here. According to local lore, the local bishop and the military had an ongoing battle over who was going to rule the community.  Legend has it that the bishop fired an arrow into the air to determine where to build a cathedral. If the legend were true, the bishop must have had a powerful bow and a powerful arm since it would have to have landed 3 miles away from Old Sarum to hit the ground where the cathedral now stands. And coincidentally, it just happened to land on property belonging to the bishop which the church had purchase from him to start building.

The Cloisters at Salisbury Cathedral

The Cloisters at Salisbury Cathedral

We proceeded to the town of Salisbury which has the best preserved medieval city walls in England, as well as the tallest spire in England at 404 feet. Salisbury was built as a planned community which was highly unusual in those days. There is a town center and a 13th Century Norman style cathedral built from 1220-1258, surrounded by the “close”, which is comprised of walls used for defense in olden days when the churches proved to be one of the best places to plunder. Sunday services were being held (now Church of England versus Catholic) so we did not go inside, but we did walk through the grounds and the beautiful cloister. There are also many of the half timbered houses here, but no thatched roofs due to fire regulations. We also noticed several antique clocks which only had one hand. Our guide explained that people only needed to know the hour in the old days, and that minutes were not that important. This worked well until railroads and railroad schedules came into being and more precision was needed, and thus clockmakers added the “little” hand for minutes.

 

A Tlittle Medieval Fun at the Festival of St. George

A Tlittle Medieval Fun at the Festival of St. George

We happened to arrive on St. George’s Day which was a holiday in Salisbury (St George being the patron saint of England) in the midst of a festival. We bought roast pork sandwiches at the festival and enjoyed re-enactments of medieval battles and street scenes, mummers acting out plays, and a Maypole with little girls in blue and pink dancing. There were lots of things for children including a Punch and Judy show and rides on a fat pony. The pony man also had a friendly donkey who liked the carrots but not the brownies I fed him, so I let him have all the carrots while I finished up the brownie.

 

Maypole Dancers at the Fesitival of St. George

Maypole Dancers at the Fesitival of St. George

In mid-afternoon, our bus took us back to the docks to our new ship, the Queen Mary 2 and we noticed with a bit a nostalgia that the QE2, our home for 103 days, had left her berth to go to Germany for her two week face lift. We love her, but would agree she’s due for a make-over. We sincerely hope the changes are only cosmetic because the service, the atmosphere, and the sense of tradition are keys to the experience. And so for the next 5 days, we’ll be experiencing a new “queen” and are eager to see how she compares.

 

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dateline: North Atlantic Ocean

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) +1, 48.50 degrees North, 10.52 degrees West, 150 miles south of Fastnet Rock, Ireland, 402 Miles southwest of Southampton, England

 

Starting the Crossing from England

Starting the Crossing from England

Today is our first of 5 sea days to reach New York and our first full day aboard the fabulous Queen Mary 2. We had a great meal last night in our dining room (not as small or as exclusive as QE2, but still very nice) and gawked at the overall splendor of it all, but mostly we saved exploration of the ship for today.  At 7:00 a.m. this morning we passed the Isles of Scilly and the lighthouse at Bishop’s Rock, and we are still close enough to land to see many sea birds. Seas are moderate (at least for a ship this big) with 15 foot swells and it is grey and overcast. It’s only 55 degrees on deck and the wind is blowing pretty hard, so this doesn’t bode well for lounging on the open decks. We will set our clocks back one hour every night to get to Eastern Daylight Savings Time on Saturday. As we circled the world, we kept gaining hours as we moved steadily west from until we crossed the International Dateline where we lost a whole day, giving back the hours we’d gained, plus 17 more. Then we gradually took them back one time zone at a time as we continued our westward journey.

Heading West for the Crossing

Heading West for the Crossing

The QM2 is built on a grand scale with the latest and most elegant of everything imaginable. The whole ship is like an art gallery with museum quality original sculptures, oil paintings and watercolors in all the public areas and gallery quality prints in the staterooms. There is a multi-story foyer/atrium called the Grand Lobby with two sweeping, curving grand staircases – sort of like Titanic’s (hopefully it will never suffer the same fate) and glass elevators. There are several multi-story rooms on board including the Brittania Restaurant, the Royal Court Theater and a planetarium called Illuminations. The 10 restaurants serve excellent food and way too much of it, and there are a total of 14 bars scattered around the ship. One of the 10 is a 5 star restaurant called Todd English, named for the master chef by the same name, where you can have a special dinner. We have reservations there for Thursday night. There is an area called Kings Court which is similar to a food court, but with much better food. You have your choice daily of Chinese (Gary ate this every single day for lunch), Italian, New York style Deli with a grill for burgers and “dogs” or a Carvery with meat, veggies, etc. They frequently have different themes here. For example, one day they had a banana split bar where you can orchestrate the building of your dessert, and on another day they had a creperie with made to order crepes for lunch or dessert. These “themed desserts” are in addition to an assortment of regular desserts that are there just sitting there begging to be taken into your body and stored as fat.

Our New Spacious Quarters

Our New Spacious Quarters

Our stateroom was very bright airy and quite spacious and there is the latest of everything such as Internet access from our in-room TV, movies on demand, a balcony with chairs where we would sit and read and sip wine, or maybe have a room service breakfast if it were warmer, sunnier and less windy. In designing the ship, the architects seemed to have maximized viewing from the ship with huge windows in all common areas, particularly in the front and back.  It is very easy to get around as well – much more so than the QE2, despite being much larger. One of our favorite observation posts was a large plate glass window    behind the bridge where you can see the activity of the crew “on watch”. It was here we saw the statistics for this voyage: 2,381 Passengers, 1,266 crew, for a total of 3,647. On the QE2 there were approximately 1,600 passengers, with approximately 1,200 crew members. The QM2 is much more efficient than the QE2, old girl that she is, and thus is able serve more passengers with roughly the same number of crew members.

As on the QE2, the whistle is sounded and Captain Bernard Warner makes an announcement at noon which includes our current position. And yes, this captain also likes the occasional anecdote so we were treated to more nautical trivia and thus learned about 8 bells. This tradition goes back the days when bells were used to denote time since no one but the very wealthy could afford time pieces.  In the olden days ship’s crews were assigned four hour watches and time was kept with an hour glass (half hour actually and they called it a sand glass) and someone was assigned to turn the glass every half hour and sound the appropriate bell. One bell would be sounded the first half hour of the watch, two bells the first hour, three bells the first hour and half and so forth up to eight bells, which was the end of the watch. The end of the watch occurred at noon, 4:00 p.m., 8 p.m. and midnight and thus those four times would be indicated by 8 bells. I guess they would assume that hearing 8 bells, no one would confuse noon with 4:00 p.m., but I would think that would depend on how much grog was consumed prior to the watch.  This would be accompanied by a cry of “8 bells and all is well” by the head of the watch. On New Years Eve, however, the bell would be rung 16 times at midnight, 8 times by the oldest person on ship, followed by 8 times by the youngest, giving rise to the phrases, “Ringing out the Old Year” and “Ringing in the New Year”.

We had heard the onboard golf simulator is a lot of fun, so we went up for a short orientation and to “play a round”. We only had time for 12 holes in two hours, but it should be noted that I birdied No. 8 at the Banff Springs course yesterday (almost unheard of for me in real golf). We later attended a really interesting enrichment lecture on the Deep Oceans by a noted oceanographer, Susan Humphris (one of a series of 4). The Enrichment Lectures on board are sponsored by Oxford University and are typically very good – entertaining as well as informative. We also took in one of the planetarium shows, which are as good as any we’ve seen. The planetarium also has seats that recline so it’s ideal for a mid-afternoon snooze as well.

 

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dateline: North Atlantic Ocean

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) -1, 46.26 degrees North, 25.15 degrees West, 500 miles from the Azores, 720 miles west of Cape Yubi, Spain, 1,005 miles from Southampton, 2,180 miles to New York

 

This is our second of 5 sea days and we have moved off the continental shelf of Europe and are cruising in water over 6,000 feet deep. We will be crossing the mid-Atlantic ridge in the next 24 hours where all the underwater volcanoes are, and which we will learn more about today in our second enrichment lecture.

A Grey Day at Sea

A Grey Day at Sea

Today was still overcast with heavy fog in the morning. Although everything on the water’s surface (including other ships and icebergs) can be spotted on radar, the foghorn (a.k.a. ship’s whistle) is sounded every two minutes just as a backup measure. The rolling of the ship and the dense fog, punctuated by the long, deep notes of the foghorn, created a nostalgic mood and made it easy to envision what Atlantic Crossings must have been like in years gone by. The ships forward whistles can be heard for over 10 miles and include one which is from the original Queen Mary. This afternoon the swells (long rolling waves that do not break) increased in frequency and height and consequently the ship began to pitch quite bit and it was announced that that today’s planetarium show was cancelled. They use a large suspended convex screen that is actually lowered over the audience, which they certainly don’t want to start swaying with the wave action and perhaps crash down on some unsuspecting passengers.

Today’s wisdom from the captain involved the origin of the term “the brig”. Offenders who commit serious crimes on board such as murder and attempted mutiny are sent to the brig to await trial. The term “brig” came about in the days of Lord Nelson when the offenders would be taken off the ship on which they served and put on board a small, fast sailing ship called a brigantine for transport to the nearest British authority for prosecution.  The term was shortened to “brig” and has come to refer to on board jails on all ships once brigantines were no longer used.

We had so much fun playing golf yesterday, we decided to play another round today, this time at Arnold Palmer’s home course, Latrobe Country Club, Pennsylvania.  It is amazingly realistic – sort of virtual reality without the strange headgear. The way it works is you select your course from a list of 51 world famous courses including Pinehurst, Valderrama, St. Andrews and Pebble Beach. The “course” is set up with a screen backdrop like the ones golf shops have so you can “test drive” – no pun intended – their golf clubs. You select the course you want to play, the tee boxes you want to use and enter each player’s name on a touch screen. Then the first hole is projected onto the screen (birds chirping, hot air balloons drifting overhead, frogs croaking – the works) and the players tee off. If you dribble one off the tee, you will see your ball bloop along the fairway and the computer will indicate your yardage (or footage if it was a really bad

Number 4 at Latrobe

Number 4 at Latrobe

one) based on speed, trajectory, spin, etc. The Latrobe course has a gallery watching the action, and I did notice they don’t seem to duck and scatter if you hit into them, so maybe they’ll remedy this on the next software release. If you hit a real screamer, you will see your ball soar above the fairway and bounce along. If you hit into the trees you may hear a loud thunk if it hits a tree trunk or you may see leaves and twigs fall as you blast through the foliage. You will hear and see a splash if you land in a water hazard or sometimes a spray of sand if you really bury one in the trap. The computer will tell you where you landed, how far your ball traveled in the air and on the ground and how far you are from the pin. If you landed in the fairway, you place your ball on the fairway “grass”, select the appropriate club for the distance, and hit your next shot when the computer tells you it’s your turn. If you are in the sand, you place your ball on a simulated sand carpet (looks like shag to me) or if you are in the rough, you place your ball in a deep pile carpet. If in water, the computer virtually positions your ball in a drop zone and you hit (virtually of course) from there. The computer will also tell you slope on the fairways and will show any “breaks” on the green.  There are a few benefits here, in addition to this cyber caddying, that you don’t have in regular golf – you can take all the mulligans you want, the computer usually doesn’t catch “whiffs” (although if you get too close to a sensor with a practice swing, it may give you an extra stroke by mistake) and anything within 9 feet of the hole is considered a “gimme” so the computer adds one stroke to your score and you don’t have to putt.  All this fun can be had for only $40 per hour (minute for minute about the same price as bingo with almost the same chance of getting any of cash back: bingo = slim, golf  = none).

We also went to the second lecture in our Oxford Series given Dr. Humphris, who works at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Her specialty is the Deep Oceans, although I have to admit the chairs were so comfortable I did experiment with Deep Sleep for a few minutes. This evening we returned to our dining room for another wonderful meal. We had steak and lobsters (I use the plural because the waiters decided ours were too small and gave us two apiece). Our two waiters, Zoltan and Lazlo are from Hungary and Macedonia, respectively, and both seem very interested in seeing to it that we bulk up for the long days at sea ahead of us.

 

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dateline: North Atlantic Ocean

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) -2, 44.24 degrees North, 39.19 degrees West, 600 Miles east of Newfoundland, just south of the Grand Banks, 1,605 miles from Southampton, 1,565 miles to New York

 

At Sea on the North Atlantic

At Sea on the North Atlantic

This is the third of 5 sea days and at noon today we are only a few nautical miles to be over half way through this leg of the voyage. The water depth here is 5,400 feet, with the exception of the Milne Seamounts, which are still far enough down that ships don’t worry about them. We are just off the Grand Banks fishing grounds where much of the drama for the book and movie, The Perfect Storm, unfolded. This is the area where the Andrea Gail disappeared while sword fishing in October of 1991. Today was far from stormy and if fact was  quite sunny out, but it’s still too brisk to enjoy being on deck.

We decided after hitting way too many trees at Latrobe yesterday, we would play an Arizona course today so we chose Troon. Unfortunately, they have these big saguaro cacti that will knock a ball off course just as effectively as an oak, and they have these giant boulders that will send your ball back at you about twice as fast as if left you club head, so we didn’t exactly master the course.  We also attended another planetarium show and the continuation of the lecture series on the Deep Seas (a.k.a. Deep Z’s for me).

We considered taking advantage of the Canyon Ranch Spa which is on board and is absolutely fabulous, but Gary’s haircut was as close as we came. It seems like we were just too busy. The ship also has a top of the line gym that spans the width of the ship and there are big windows to look out of as you slog along on the treadmills. We didn’t do much slogging personally (in fact we did none), but we did watch others slogging and figured we burned a few calories from that.  The library is at the front of the ship so you can browse the shelves, use the internet, read or just sit and watch where you’re going. There is a lounge called the Commodore Club just above the library where you can have a cocktail with the same view. Since we were heading west, this became our favorite place to watch the sunset with a good glass (or two) of wine and sometimes a cribbage game. There were a number of really elegant shops on board (Hermes, Chopard, H. Stern, Escada to name a few) and the casino was probably twice as large as the QE2 and had a lot more action (i.e. people sitting in the seats at the blackjack table were actually playing cards, not just dozing). They have several swimming pools on board, but the one that is indoors with the retracting roof was the only one with any swimmers, and given our locale and the time of year, this was probably a good thing. There was a bar there with tropical drinks and a great band that played there every day– a really versatile group – that did everything from Jimmy Buffet to Boot Scootin’ Boogie.

The demographics on board the QM2 were much different from the QE2 in terms of age and eccentricity. The QM2 passengers tended to be much younger and much more normal, and consequently provided little in the way of journal material. However, we did observe over the course of several days several really strange hair-dos that were noteworthy.  There were many with the now common shaved head or the spiky gel laden hair and we hardly gave them a second glance, but some hairdos were so over the top, they must be noted. We saw:

A Boobless (relatively so) Dolly Parton (the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas years) It was real big and real yellow (a shade of blonde not found in nature) with lots of curls and waves cascading down her back and around her face. We were hard pressed to believe this was all her hair and we speculated that if she went out on deck, significant hair loss would ensue.

The Shakespeare – This man looked remarkably like the portraits of William S. himself, minus the big collars. His taste ran more to T-shirts and aloha shirts, but from the neck up he had the long hair on the sides, smooth pate on top and beatific smile of the famous bard himself.

The Mullet – this guy was a dead ringer for Billy Ray Cyrus back in the days when he came out with Achy Breaky Heart. Well, maybe not a dead ringer when you saw him in broad daylight (as opposed to cocktail lounge daylight), but he definitely could have been Billy Ray’s pudgy older brother who could use a shave. Any way, his hair was short on the sides, and long and flowing in the back with little waves. I’ll be he sings Billy Ray’s songs in the shower.

The Man-Barbie with a Comb-over. (Call him Over the Hill Barbie)  This man had a Barbie style pony tail (worn high on the back of his head), but had seriously receding hair in the front and so he grew the sides long for a comb-over. When he went out on deck the comb-over would snap around in the wind like Zorro’s whip so you didn’t want to get too close or you could lose an eye.

We attended a cocktail reception this evening for World Cruise Passengers. At the cocktail reception a couple was recognized for their 27th World Cruise on Cunard and one passenger  (who had to do a two week stint on the QM2 while QE2 is in dry dock) was recognized for her 180th voyage on Cunard. We did take a moment to check out a nightclub called G32, which was QM2’s shipyard designation before she was named, but they didn’t crank up the music till well after 10:00 so we decided to toddle off to bed instead of dancing the night away.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dateline:  North Atlantic Ocean

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) -3, 42.00 degrees North, 52.29 degrees West, 289 miles south east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. 970 miles to New York. 2,207 miles from Southampton

 

Today was our fourth of 5 sea days and it was rainy, foggy and quite chilly outside for most of the morning. Water depth here is approximately 9,000 feet. It grew windy later in the day which lifted the fog, but further lowered the temperature. At 7:30 this morning we passed 17 miles north of the wreck of the Titanic. The Titanic was also sailing these waters in April, but in 1912, the planet wasn’t nearly as warm as it is now, so the icebergs strayed further south back then. West bound ships have sailed this route for centuries to avoid the Gulf Stream, which at this point is flowing east at 2-3 knots. The east bound ships seek out the Gulf Stream further south from our position for an added boost of speed.

Today’s nautical trivia from the captain explains where we get the expression “first rate”, meaning the absolute best. In the olden days ships of the Royal Navy were classified based on the number of cannon they carried on board. A ship which had 100 guns or more was classed as first rate, one with 90 to 99 was called second rate, and one with 64 to 89 was third rate, and so on until you reached sixth rate, which was a ship with fewer than 20. Ships with no guns aboard, and thus considered unimportant by the Royal Navy, were classified as “not rated”.

We had a fairly quiet day today with a lot of catching up on journal-writing, seeing the daily planetarium show, taking in our Deep Seas lecture and, of course eating large quantities of food. This appears to be an appropriate place to note a few facts about the QM2. (I can’t describe her as first rate since we don’t have the requisite number of guns on board, especially since passengers have to go through metal detectors to board). QM2 was built in St. Nazaire France at a cost over $800 million and was christened and officially launched in January of 2004. By contrast the QE2 was a bargain at $69 million, with another $169 million in the QE2 retrofit. The overall length is 1,132 feet (vs. QE2 at 963ft.) and the width is 148 feet (vs.QE2 at 105 feet) which means she’s 133 feet too long and 40 feet too wide for the Panama Canal.  Gross tonnage for the QM2 is close to 149,000 tons, whereas the QE2 is a skinny 70,000 tons. The QM2 is also 40 feet higher than her older smaller sister.

Spare Props Stowed on the Bow

Spare Props Stowed on the Bow

Instead of conventional propellers with long shafts to the engine, The QM2’s 4 propellers are driven by pods comprised of electric motors which are similar in design to outboard motors, only they each weigh more than a 747 and together create approximately 150,000 hp. Two of the pods are located forward of the other two and away from the centerline of the ship and are fixed into position to provide only forward and astern (backwards) propulsion. The other two are fully rotational through 360 degrees and provide both propulsion and steering which allows the QM2 to operate without a rudder. The ship also has 3 bow thrusters (15,000 hp each) and is usually able to dock without tugs, unlike her older sister QE2 who has to be pulled and pushed into and out of port.  QM2 ran aground in Fort Lauderdale in January of 2006. One of the rotating pods of the ship was damaged as the ship left the harbor when whoever was steering cut a corner too short and ran one of the pods into the submerged part of the breakwater. We never heard whether it was the harbor pilot or one of the ship’s officers, but either way we figure that would be a person now looking for work in the shipping industry. The propeller was removed and the ship continues to operate on 3 pods until going into dry dock in Hamburg, Germany for full repairs after our cruise and the return trip from New York to Southampton. The loss of the one pod for our crossing reduced our top speed from 32 to 28 knots.

QM2 also has a Dynamic Positioning System (DPS) which can automatically control the positioning of the ship to within a few meters. Using various inputs from sensors which detect wind, heading, GPS speed, etc., the DPS builds a model to predict what combination of bow thrusters and pods will be required to maintain a specified position or heading. The crew can use the DPS to adjust position in 1 meter increments. There is of course a manual control (joystick) which allows the officers to maneuver ahead, astern and laterally while keeping the bow on a set heading. The ship is always manually steered in ports, in heavy traffic, in storms and in foggy weather.

A View of the Bridge on the QM@

A View of the Bridge on the QM@

The bridge also has totally enclosed “wings” that jut out from the ship which allow the officers an unobstructed view of the sides of the ship. It also has a Plexiglas floor which allows them to see directly beneath them. Pods and bow thrusters can also be controlled from these wings and there are also electronic chart and radar displays. The ship uses a Kelvin Hughes Manta System which includes computerized charts, radars and the computer safety system which monitors things such as water tight doors, fire screen doors and alarms and ventilation. The QE2 still has paper charts (1,800 of them), but on the QM2 that information is stored on 11 CD ROM’s with only a few paper charts for a few critical areas not covered on CD. Updates to charts are issued on new CD’s, so there’s no time spent on manual updates. QM2 has 5 radar scanners and 4 radar processors. Of the 5 scanners, four rotate within their designated arc and are located on the main mast to cover everything straight ahead and to the sides, while the 5th scanner on the sterns scans everything the other 4 may miss behind the ship, thereby providing 360 degree coverage. The 5th scanner is only used in port or near land as a rule since there aren’t many vessels on the open sea who can overtake QM2 from behind (except perhaps her skinny sister, QE2). The radar processors can track 40 targets simultaneously and are constantly calculating closest point of approach, at what point paths will cross, collision avoidance options and so forth. Despite this latest and greatest technology, a lookout with binoculars is still the primary means of locating targets at night and all forward facing lights are doused to ensure his or her night vision is not affected. The QM 2 also has two fiber optic gyro compasses which are not affected by magnetic fields on the ship and on land masses around the world to provide “true north” readings, as well as a magnetic compass to know where magnetic north is. It’s interesting to note that ship’s crew still takes bearings on the sun and stars to check up on the computers. Because the QM2 needs 1.7 miles to stop and has a turning radius of .8 of a mile, the QM2 typically passes other ships at no closer than one mile.

A Special Dinner at Todd English

A Special Dinner at Todd English

Tonight we dined at the gourmet restaurant on board called Todd English, with a beautiful view of the sea, sky and churning wake behind us. Like the ambiance, the food was excellent, but the desert, the chocolate soufflé with hot fudge bubbling up from the inside like a miniature volcano on a small lake of raspberry sauce was the best desert in recent memory. I should be glad I can’t replicate it or I’d be shopping for the next size up within a month. Both of us suspect we’re only a cupcake or two away from that next size up dilemma now.

 

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dateline: North Atlantic Ocean

Position at Noon Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) -4, 41.34 degrees North, 65.44 degrees West, 210 miles east of Cape Cod, MA, 130 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. 375 miles to New York, NY. 2,830 miles from Southampton, England

 

Today is our last of 5 sea days. Depth at noon is approximately 3,600 feet, but around 2:00 p.m. we crossed onto the much shallower, Georges Bank (another famous fishing ground for New Englanders) at a depth of 150 feet. It is still quite chilly, only 50 degrees on deck, with a fairly strong wind.

Today we learned where the phrase “in a pickle” comes from. When Lord Nelson died he was far from home and refrigeration was unheard of, so his crew put him in a pickle barrel (pickles removed we assume), thinking he would keep better in the vinegar. Those who inquired as to the whereabouts of  Lord Nelson who were not aware of his demise would be told “he’s in a pickle barrel”  which of course was not a very favorable situation – and this was later shortened to “In a pickle” and came to mean in a difficult situation.

We took some time to reflect here at the end of our journey and concluded that part of the magic of this trip around the world has been traveling on the Cunard Line.  QM2 still has to earn her place in history, but her predecessors have such a rich tapestry of the past and so many memorable traditions. To coin the phrase of some unknown ad agency copywriter, Cunard ships are “a combination of elegant service mixed with bare knuckle war efforts”. Both of the original Queens, Mary and Elizabeth, played major roles in transporting American GI’s to Europe during WWII, hauling approximately 15,000 troops per trip. At the end of the war, they continued their service in bringing troops home, as well as delivering war brides and war orphans to the US. In the early 1970’s the QE2 took a break from transporting the “glitterati” back and forth across the Atlantic and instead took British soldiers to the Falkland War. Before the “Queens”, their predecessors also played a role in WWI, including the Lusitania which was sunk by a German U Boat in 1915 off the coast of Kinsale, Ireland. Because this was at the beginning of hostilities, the Lusitania never carried troops, but her sister ships, including the Mauretania, certainly did.

We were busy packing today, but still took time for our daily favorites – the lecture series and the planetariums, and of course our 3 meals that we have come to expect as our birthright.  We did take a few minutes to come up with these vital statistics:

We visited 40 ports of call in 26 countries, 3 oceans, 11+ seas and gulfs, 5 continents, and 1 subcontinent (India). Total distance traveled by sea is variable depending on method of measurement. We traveled 43,739 nautical miles according to the rhumb line calculations. You may recall that this is the actual course of the ship with distances calculated waypoint to waypoint. We traveled 40,603 statute miles as calculated by Gary’s GPS, but this is as the crow flies and as the satellite beams and is not actual miles traveled. To figure actual statute miles traveled, you must do a calculation which my brain is way too full of other stuff to do at present, but if you must calculate, you should  start with this information: 1 statute mile = 1.15 nautical miles or 1,852 meters. We also flew 1,404 air miles round trip to NY from Atlanta, according to GPS and Delta Airlines. Here are few other journal-worthy statistics:

Amount spent on bar tab $4,144. This was mostly wine in modest quantities – it was just really good wine that’s all.

Pounds gained – approximately 5 apiece. We’re still in the same clothes, but certain midriff area buttons are in danger of being launched into space by ever expanding girth.

Books read – 33 books by Carolyn, 8 books by Gary.

Additional suitcases purchased – 2, both well over 70 pounds, full of treasures and dirty clothes.

Laundry Bill – $958. – a lot of money, but still less than our insurance deductible if we had been injured in a launderette brawl.

Photos taken – way up in the thousands. Photos kept – still in the thousands, but a significantly lower number

Number of bingo games played by Gary = 36 @ $20 each. Number of games won by Gary =4 (at $50 each  – not a good ROI, but he had fun)

Harley Stores visited – 6, although 2 were closed and Gary could only press his nose against the window. We are also able to confirm there is a McDonalds in every port, but only a select few had a “McDrive through.

We also took a moment at sunset today, one of our favorite times of day to open a bottle of champagne and reflect on our favorite ports, places and experiences. Our favorite place is too hard a question so we first tackled it from the other end – i.e. identifying those ports we feel it is not necessary to revisit. Surprisingly only 3 came to mind and even those have exceptions – Exmouth, Australia and Safaga, Egypt ( unless scuba diving, and Salalah, Oman (unless the sultan invites us to his palace for brunch). As for the highlights, we tried for the Top Ten, but had to go with the Top 30. Here they are grouped geographically, but not in any particular order of preference:

Australia:

Sydney Bridge Climb

Cuddling Koalas in Sydney

Sailing into Sydney Harbor

Pacific:

Exploring New Zealand North Island countryside

Driving around Oahu revisiting our old haunts

Albatross watching in the Southern latitudes

Sailboat ride to Beqa, Fiji

Asia:

Elephant Riding in Thailand

Sea Kayaking in Thailand

Hong Kong Harbor

Lunch at the Geisha House in Kyoto, Japan

Lunch at Raffles in Singapore

Shopping at the Markets in Hong Kong

Riding a Trishaw in oldtown Penang, Malaysia

Indian Ocean:

Taj Mahal

Elephants at the Orphanage at Pinnawela, Sri Lanka

Exploring Mumbai, India by taxi

North America:

Sailing out of New York Harbor

Reception with the Baroness – Acapulco, Mexico

Transiting the Panama Canal

Middle East:

Reception and Dinner at the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel, Dubai

Tea at the Burj al Arab Hotel, Dubai

Europe:

Wine Tour  with the Count at Monte Giove Vineyards, Italy

Sintra, Portugal

Delphi, Greece

Africa:

Seeing the Pyramids (again), Giza, Egypt

Transiting the Suez Canal

Cruising the Straits  of Gibraltar

Diving in the Red Sea

On Board:

Blowing the ship’s whistle

Soaking up the ambiance of the QE2

Celebrating a Lovely Cruise

Celebrating a Lovely Cruise

We did have one other memorable moment today while packing and sipping our last bottle of champagne in our cabin. I had a recording on my PC of Jimmy Buffet singing “It’s Been a Lovely Cruise” so I cranked up the volume and we danced to commemorate our fabulous adventure. We followed up with a second dance to Willie Nelson singing “Georgia on My Mind” to get our heads right for going home.

 

 

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dateline: New York, NY

Latitude at New York, 40.45 degrees North,  Longitude 74.0  degrees West

Passenger Ship Terminal, Pier 12, Brooklyn, New York, NY

 

This morning in the wee hours we reached the approaches to New York Harbor  making our way to the Passenger Ship Terminal at Pier 12 in Brooklyn. I can’t really describe how it looked because I was sleeping, but I suspect it was mostly dark with perhaps dim light reflected in the clouds on the horizonabove the city.We passedAmbrose Light (a light house) at 3:00 a.m.while we were still slumbering, but we did drag ourselves out of bed to see our passage under the Verranzano Narrows Bridge. This event occurred at 4:15 a.m. and I am happy to report we had 10 feet to spare, per the captain. We passed the Statue of Liberty to our port at 4:45, welcoming us home and looking beautiful, just as she did 108 days ago when we left her there. We proceeded to the new berth for Cunard, now in Brooklyn, versus the historic Hudson River terminal, from which we departed on January 9. As we backed into the Buttermilk Channel, we enjoyed seeing the Manhattan skyline from our stateroom on the starboard side.We docked at the new Brooklyn Passenger Terminal at 6:00 a.m. and left the ship shortly after 8:00 and went to Immigration and then customs. At Customs we had to find our bags among the literally thousands there, but we were successful fairly early on.  We had made arrangements to ship 2 suitcases home via DHL, so we sent those on their way and had our porter take the others to the airport shuttle. The shuttle took an interesting route to LaGuardia, via Manhattan (don’t know what was up with that since La Guardia, like Brooklyn, is on Long Island,) but we still managed to catch our flight home. Home looked good, really good, but still our travel appetites are far from sated.

A quote from St. Augustine seems appropriate for the conclusion of this journey and to this travelogue. It goes like this:  “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”. While we’ve read more than a few pages from the “book”, maybe even a few chapters, we know there is still so much more reading to do, and so we continue dream and hope for many adventures still to come.