Centenary World Cruise Day 9: Stonehenge!

“What happened to Day 8?” I hear you cry. Nothing. Nothing happened to Day 8 because nothing happened on Day 8. Let’s move on!

We made port in Southampton, and while the passengers from the last cruise left (good-bye to all those hacking coughers!) and the passengers for this next leg came on, we boarded a bus for Stonehenge.

On the way, we took a little detour through the New Forest, where “new,” in typical British style, means that it was planted 600 years ago. So much of the wooded areas reminded me powerfully of home, and I felt my first real wave of homesickness that didn’t involve my family.

As we crossed the Avon river, I learned that there are lots of rivers in England called Avon. Here’s why:
Foreigner: Hello! We’ve come to colonize your land! What’s the name of this river?
Native: I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Speak Celtic, for crying out loud!
Foreigner (speaking their own language more loudly and slowly with large hand gestures): THIS RIVER HERE…WHAT DO YOU CALL IT?
Native (with a dismissive look): It’s a river?
Foreigner: Then in recognition of your culture which I will do my best to obliterate along with much of your population, I will call it “River”!
“Avon” is the Celtic word for “river.”  

On to Stonehenge! The first time I saw the Mona Lisa, I was let down because it’s only about the size of a sheet of notebook paper. I prepared myself for Stonehenge to be similarly disappointing.

In the visitor’s center, I learned that “henge” doesn’t refer to the stones, but to the circle of ditch surrounding the stones. There are lots of other henges (Woodhenge is nearby), but all they have in common is that ditch. Next, I learned that the average height of the people who built is was just over four feet, which explains much about my mother and grandmother.

Lise reclining on a bed of woven wood
This is a bed made of something like woven willow branches. It’s every bit as uncomfortable as it looks.

We then went out to Stonehenge itself. It’s exactly as advertised, except for one thing: while the stones are every bit as tall as they look, they are much closer together than I was imagining. I thought there would be room for thirty or forty people within the remaining circle of stones, but it appears that there is room for more like 5-8.

My husband and me in a photo that just looks like we’re standing in front of a poster.

Stonehenge is on a hill in the middle of a vast plain, which means that the wind there can rip your hair off. It also rains a lot, leading to this particular bin.

The last thing I learned is that crows in England are incredibly vain, and also not well-off financially. Take this specimen. You can see, as it grooms itself, that its white roots are showing. Deduction tells us both that this crow dyes its feathers, and that it hasn’t done so recently, but desires to keep up appearances.

A truly shocking number of people (including us) had their backs to Stonehenge, one of the most famous monuments in the world, in order to take pictures of this bird.

Once back on board (where we discovered that, with the new crop of passengers, the average age of the population had shot up by 20 years), we were treated to the Imperial Military Band which, despite its pompous name and the fact that it was exclusively men, gave a very impressive concert. A lovely end to a lovely day.

Centenary World Cruise Day 3 – What I Forgot

Just before we left, I worried that I was going to forget something. One of the things I listed was a full set of professional water colors and an easel. At the time, I was joking – it was an example of something obviously unnecessary that was in my brain for no reason other than the fact that I worry about everything.

Turns out, there’s a daily watercolor class for which you may purchase materials. So it turns out I needn’t have worried.

And we have figured out what I forgot. Despite the fact that I have about a dozen receptacles into which one can put pills of any description, and despite the fact that I spent an entire evening putting my daily meds/vitamins into little packets so I would remember to take them, I utterly neglected to bring any kind of painkiller. This meant that while we were in New York and for the first two days on the ship, I had a whacking headache. See? Told you I’d forget something.

We’ve taken to hanging out in the lounge set aside for those doing the entire world cruise. It’s nice, because one can always find a table, there are conveniently-located outlets, and there is always tea and a variety of snacks. Except “snacks” here means “canapés.”

I had never before in my life eaten a single canapé, and now I find myself faced with them several times a day. Honestly, I’m not impressed. I’m sure that canapés handmade by the host of a dinner party eager to make a good impression on their guests are delicate and delicious. These are mass-produced, industrial canapés, and are therefore…well, let’s just say uninspiring. Although I will never say no to skewers of shrimp.

Centenary World Cruise Day 2 – Drama!

Today is our first full day at sea, and the drama began even before we left our stateroom. We were in the middle of breakfast when the captain came over the loudspeaker to tell us that there had been a medical emergency, and that someone was being evacuated by helicopter. We could leave our rooms, but we could not go out on the balconies or any of the outdoor areas until we were told otherwise. Almost immediately, we heard the sound of the helicopter.

I feel for whoever got evacuated, especially if they’re just starting out their journey. It turns out, this is not just the first leg of our cruise, it’s also the last leg of a cruise that left Southampton, sailed around the Caribbean, then came up to New York before heading back to Southampton. Our world cruise is, in fact, three separate cruises. Of the approximately 2700 people on board, only three hundred and forty five are doing the entire world cruise. So far, we haven’t met any of them, but from what I’ve heard, we’re the youngest by at least a decade. Not sure what that means, other than we’ll spend a lot of time talking loudly and slowly at World Cruise get-togethers (there are several scheduled), and helping people up from a seated position. Worse things could be true.

Also today, I made a couple of discoveries about our bathroom. The bathrooms on cruise ships are tiny – not a whole lot bigger than the bathroom on an airplane. But this one has, above the toilet paper holder, a sort of glass tray with what looks like finger marks impressed into one side, attached to the wall with a metal bracket. Right next to the door frame, there’s a triangle of metal that I realized has a hole in the side nearest the floor. It took me a bit to realize that these are, respectively, an ashtray and a bottle opener.

There are no other ashtrays or bottle openers in our room, which raises the question: Just what kind of party are they expecting people to have in their bathrooms, and do I have to say “cool” before coming in? We’re not allowed to smoke in our staterooms, but I guess they want to make sure that if people do smoke, they’re getting all they can out of it by hotboxing in the tiny, enclosed space. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll be making use of either of those things, unless I need a handy toiletside tray for holding my earrings, and a nice anchor to tie my balloons to.

My Big, Fat Geographical Ignorance

This morning, I got up at 3:30am so I could catch one plane to Dallas, then another to New York. It was still dark out as we took off from San Jose, but I couldn’t sleep on the plane. As we flew over some mountains, I looked out the window of the plane and realized it looked like the ocean floor. Peaks and valleys, tiny snatches of green, softened by a blurring layer of sand.

No, it’s not sand, you moron. It’s snow.

I realized this as I recalled the time I flew into Denver one winter night in 1997 and looked out the window as we landed. I thought that Denver must still be building their airport, because they hadn’t paved the runways – they were still rough dirt roads. Except that they weren’t. They were perfectly serviceable tarmac covered in snow.

Don’t blame me. I grew up in Phoenix.

The next time I opened the window shade, we were flying over farm land. But it didn’t look like the lovely farm land above, full of neat squares of different colors of green and brown. This farm land had neat squares, but in the middle of each one was a giant circle, like this is where all the aliens come to practice their crop circles. I have no idea what that’s about. Then again, what I don’t know about agriculture can (and does) fill an entire library.

As we touched down in New York at a little after 5pm, I pulled up the window shade and…it’s dark out. All the hours of sunlight have been spent either in an airport or on a plane.

At least that part of our trip’s done. Next stop – will our luggage be in our stateroom when we arrive? There’s still time to place your bets!

Future Perfect Tense

We leave in just under three days. I say “just under,” because at this point, the time until we leave can be comfortably counted in hours (about 68). I have made my packing lists, I have begun packing up things that I’ll take on the plane. Our clothes left two weeks ago. And yet, my own travel experience tells me that I will forget something. Nothing show-stopping, and nothing that cannot be purchased anywhere in the world, but still, when one has had more than 18 months to plan, forgetting anything is galling.

I was talking to my sister on the phone last night, and telling her about the fight in my OCD brain between trying to be as complete as possible in my listing and also trying to anticipate what I’m going to forget. Because I can’t shake the feeling that I will start unpacking things once we get into our stateroom and I will have forgotten something. (Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved title.) But how do you anticipate what you’re going to forget?

At this point, all the big things are accounted for, which leads me to speculate that the thing I’ll be kicking myself for is something I don’t currently have, but wish I had. That lip mask Sephora sent me a sample of that I’m really liking. A new hat of some description. A full set of professional watercolors and an easel. I have no idea, but there will be something. And then there is the part of my mind that says that because I’m worrying about little stuff, I’ll forget something big. Medication. My passport.

It’s like in fairy tales where the main character is told not to do a certain thing (look in a room, eat something, ask a question), and although they live their whole lives knowing about that proscription, circumstances conspire to force them into doing the very thing they were prohibited from doing, with disastrous consequence. My worrying about forgetting something will force my brain into such a spin that it will, in fact, cause me to forget something.

My only hope is to pack everything now, put on the clothes I plan to fly out in, and just stand by the door for the next two days and two nights until I leave, moving only to add things to my bags as I remember them.

Yeah. That’s a great idea. I think I’ll do that.


Time for Second Guessing!

I spent most of a day packing and re-packing my list of stuff, and felt pretty good about it. Smug, almost.

But even before I went to sleep that night, I was already second guessing every choice I had made. Should I have packed more than one black turtleneck? (Although seriously, who do I think I am – Steve Jobs?) Should I have packed those really cute cigarette pants with the roses? And did I pack those walking shoes I had bought specifically for this trip? The problem is that I packed on Sunday so that my husband could clutter up our bedroom with his packing on Monday so that the luggage could be picked up Tuesday.

After he was done with his packing Monday afternoon, my husband came down and announced “Wow, even after I packed a bunch of extra stuff, I’m still not even close to filling up my suitcase.”

Now I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, I am happy to fill that mouth with those cute cigarette pants, the walking shoes that I had not, in fact, packed, and a bunch of other stuff. We weighed our luggage, and what we just shipped is collectively 220 pounds of luggage, clothes, and sundry other stuff. And that’s just what we shipped. See those two little carry-on bags in the corner? Those are coming with us, along with our overnight bags.

Today, that luggage was carted off, and the next time we lay eyes on it, it will be in our stateroom aboard ship. Theoretically. Hopefully.

This is the part where someone says “What could go wrong?”

Switching Gears

Normally, I’m in this space talking about my whole weight loss thing and how that’s going, but it’s time to switch gears, because this next four and a half months is going to be all about the cruise I’m taking with my husband. “Holy shit!” I hear you cry! “A four and a half month cruise?!” To which I reply “Don’t be silly. We don’t leave for a couple of weeks, so the cruise itself will only be four months.”

And what happens first? PACKING. How do you even pack for four months? My first question was “Do they have some kind of enormous luggage storage rooms so that we have somewhere to store our steamer trunks and hatboxes and croquet mallets and stuff?” For months I looked for that info, and couldn’t find it anywhere. On cruises we’ve been on in the past, we just shoved all our luggage under the bed, but the longest cruise we’ve been on before now is 3 weeks. Fitting a couple of big suitcases under the bed is no sweat. But how do you find room for luggage for FOUR MONTHS?

Turns out, even on a trip of that length, all your suitcases have to fit in your room. Since we’re not members of the royal family, we have a normal stateroom, which will be about the size of a parking space. Okay, two parking spaces. We’re taking two really big suitcases, two smaller carry-ons, two overnight cases, and two enormous duffel bags. What’s going to end up happening will be a sort of turducken of luggage: the folded duffel bags will go into the overnight cases which will then go into one large suitcase, and the packing cubes will go into the carry-ons, which will go into the other big suitcase. Problem solved!

Well, that problem at least. Now that we know how we’re going to pack, the next question is what are we going to pack?

First, we had to do a little reality check. Yes, we’re leaving for four months, but do we have to pack four months’ worth of stuff? I mean, I don’t own 120 pairs of socks. Wait, bad example. (I really like socks.) But I sure as heck don’t own 120 pairs of underpants. We decided that three weeks’ worth of clothes would be the right amount.

Then I started laying out three weeks’ worth of clothes. Oh, and also a bathing suit. And pajamas. And don’t forget the formalwear. And shoes. Undershirts. Sweaters. During the trial run, I had all my clothes stacked up on the bed such that the bed was almost entirely obscured. (See picture left.)

I did a little research. I mean, that’s why we have the internet, right? So that we might learn from other people’s mistakes. And what I learned was that, whatever you initially took out of your closet, put half of it back. Every single article agreed that less is more, and if there was anything urgent you had forgotten, other places in the world will have them and gladly sell them to you.

So I put stuff back. When I finally started packing, I was a little disoriented that it seemed like…not a lot. Especially considering we’ll be going from England in January, through the equator, and into a southern hemisphere late fall, then back. We’re opting for the classic plan: layers. I’ve got undershirts, button-downs, trousers and all manner of socks. I even have hats (one for cold weather, one for warm), gloves, and a scarf. I plan to be a warm, happy onion.

The luggage service comes on Tuesday to pick up all our luggage and take it to the ship. This isn’t a service of the cruise line – this is something you have to arrange yourself. But for a couple of non-neurotypical people who aren’t exactly spring chickens, it’s worth the cost to not have to keep track of eight skillion pieces of luggage.

This gives us about 20 days to freak out about “Did we pack X?” “Should we bring Y?” “Did you pack Z? I needed it!” I can hardly wait!

Travel Day

I’m en route today from my mountain lair to another mountain lair – Salt Lake City, thence to Park City, Utah. The Pirate and I are heading to Sundance.

The thing I hate most about travel is that it never goes the way I think it will. I always think that I’ll be able to sit down on the plane and concentrate on getting some work done, but that never happens. I can’t concentrate with other people around me, and I always end up feeling self conscious, as though people are looking at me and thinking “Look at that woman, pretending to work.”

This is where introversion most bites me in the ass. Being an introvert means that I live inside my own head, and in my own head, I’m freaked out all the time about everything I ever do, say or think. Will I be able to make this left turn? Will my credit card be accepted? Will I be able to find a parking spot? Will I get into a grizzly accident? These are fair concerns, but I am always able to make the left turn, my credit card is always accepted, I always find parking, and I’ve never been in a grizzly accident. I have no basis for the worry, but worry I do.

So, I will get on the plane and worry that there will not be enough space to stow my stuff. Then I will worry that the person in front of me will put their seat back. It’s stupid worrying about that, because one should only worry if something is a possibility, not if that thing is a certainty. Then I’ll worry that, while I’m engaged in reading something that requires my close attention, my husband will hear or read something amusing that he’ll want to share with me. Then I’ll worry that the flight attendant will want to know what I want to drink, whether I want a mylar bag containing the battered remains of three tiny pretzels or whether I wish to give up my trash to her. Tomato juice, no, and please take it. Maybe I’ll make a sign and stick it in my ear where she’ll be able to read it.

It’s occurring to me that perhaps what I need to be a better traveler is gin. And that 9am in California is 5pm in London – a lovely time for gin.

Solving the World’s Problems

I’m in Baltimore right now, having spent 9 hours in transit from San Jose (the closest airport to my mountain lair). Here’s what I love best about travel: everyone approaches it a little differently. Some folks are infrequent travelers who dress up and act like the airport itself is an adventure. Some folks are more frequent travelers and so see the journey as secondary to the destination. For me, travel is stressful because it forces me into society where I may, at any moment, have to interact with strangers.

What would be the ultimate mode of transport? Of course, a private jet would be ultimate, but nowadays the sorts of people who are privileged enough to have such accommodations are vilified. To be sure, a private jet is hardly the most ecologically sound mode of travel. The amount of resources used to carry a single person to and from a destination are absolutely out of all proportion.

I might suggest, then, a mode of personal travel for the extravagantly rich that would be non-polluting, sufficiently opulent, and have the added benefit of solving the increasing problems of both unemployment and obesity. The Greeks had a ship called the trireme, which employed three rowers per oar to speed the ship through the waters. Let us imagine, then, a craft that combines the form of a trireme – a long bodied craft with men supplying motive power – with the mechanical advances of the steam engine – gears that convert the turbine-turning power of steam into the locomotive power supplied to the wheels.

I believe that the mechanics of locomotion would be easily adapted to the mechanics of rowing. A set of three cars – sleeping, baggage and dining – could certainly be pulled by 60 rowers (10 “oars” on each side of what would otherwise be the engine car). Using the existing rail system, if each rower were paid a fair wage, would likely be no more extravagant than the current cost of maintaining a private jet and crew. There would be no fuel costs, no need to maintain the expensive motor workings of an engine, no expensive insurance, since rail travel is less fraught with peril than air travel. To be sure, travel would not be quite as expedient between places, but is that so terrible? Modern life moves at a pace that I personally find unhealthy. People need time to relax, to ruminate, to reflect. Perhaps if travel were a bit less immediate and convenient, people would make more of an occasion of it. Perhaps they might dress up, perhaps they might be more conscious of their impression on their fellow travelers, and perhaps travel might be what it once was. And then, perhaps, they might leave me alone.

That Holiday Spirit

This Thanksgiving, the Pirate and I loaded the girls and my mother up into a borrowed VW microbus and made the drive from our house to Phoenix. We left after school on Tuesday, and drove for 13+ hours. With the time change, it was early morning when we arrived, and we were exhausted, but there were all the pre-Thanksgiving things (shopping, cooking) that needed doing.

We ended up going to bed at the normal time, despite having missed an entire night’s sleep, and then getting up early the next day in order to start the cooking (we did all the driving, but Mom did all the cooking). The girls stayed at my dad’s house, along with a whole bunch of other folks, having a fabulous time. So fabulous, in fact, that they didn’t want to come back to my mother’s house. They were too busy hanging out with other kids, chasing the dogs, doing all that other silly stuff. We drove home Saturday, another marathon trip delayed by horrible holiday traffic, and fell into bed at midnight on Saturday night.

Sunday, we got up to deal with the dishes we had left in the sink before we went on our trip. The cat gak where our cat haaked up a hairball all over the leather couch (pretty sure that’s a good reason for putting an animal down), the huge tumbleweeds of cat hair blowing around the floor, the laundry…I told the kid that she had to practice her viola and clean her room, and the kid yelled at me “I THOUGHT THE FIRST DAY BACK FROM VACATION WAS SUPPOSED TO BE RELAXING!”

Obviously, I have been falling down on my motherly duties. She has so much to learn. The holidays are not at all about relaxing. They’re about putting in face time with relatives you never see so that you can make awkward conversations and remind them of past embarrassing incidents. It’s about establishing the family pecking order as evidenced by who travels where (it’s a complicated algorithm involving whose kids are doing how well in school, who has how much time off from a job that earns them how much, who didn’t think they’d be able to make it but made it anyway, who actually cooked versus who stopped by the Safeway…) and why.

I’m halfway to solving this problem, though. The Pirate and I just bought a place in the city, and my mother will be moving in. EVERYONE will be coming out to see Grandma for the holidays, which means that I’ll never have to travel again.