Oh, Say – Can You Sea?

Day 22:

We’ve joined the Guest Choir on the ship, and today is the day before our performance. Every leg of the trip, a new choir forms, practices for a few days/weeks, then gives a performance in the Grand Lobby. So, our performance is tomorrow, and the choir directors have decided that today was the right time to introduce a new song.

It was also Burns Night. The ballroom had a large selection of malts on offer, and the Scottish officers of the crew gave all the traditional readings/speeches/toasts. It was great fun, but I can see why there weren’t very many Americans. If you’ve never heard or read it before, spoken Scots can be hard to follow, and the crew doing the readings had some impressive accents. Afterward, there was the traditional singing of “Auld Lang Syne,” where everyone held hands. That always kind of chokes me up.

Day 23:

And today, the performance of the choir. We had one last rehearsal at 11am, with the performance to follow at 3pm. The only guidance we were given for clothes was “black and white,” and the men’s section leader said he’d be wearing his tux.

When we came down at 2:45pm, nearly all the men were wearing tuxes (including the Pirate), and all the women were wearing lovely dresses or slacks. We got to stand there for 10 minutes, getting more and more nervous as the crowd coming to see us swelled in size. The Grand Lobby is a big circular area on Deck 2, with curved staircases running up each side to Deck 3. The choir stood on Deck 2 opposite the staircases, so we had an excellent view of the crowd forming on the stairs and around the upper rail of the atrium.

We were told that this is the largest Guest Choir they’ve ever had – about 80 people total. We joked that, if the choir continues to grow, everyone on the ship would be singing, and the audience would consist of 3 maintenance guys and a customs official.

As often happens, the actual performance sounded better than any of our rehearsals — for the rest of the evening, we were celebrities. It seemed like much of the staff and a lot of the passengers saw the performance, and everyone congratulated us on doing such a good job.

Day24:

Absolutely nothing happened today. I took a nap to celebrate.

Day 25:

Today is the Pirate’s birthday. Most of the day was very low-key, which was a good thing. I overheard someone else talking about how this was now the longest amount of time he’d ever been on a cruise, and I realize it was the same for me. The longest cruise I’d been on before now was three weeks, and we’ve passed that.

Dinner was Indian food at the schmancy restaurant, and it didn’t disappoint. While the appetizers and mains were excellent, the desserts were confusing. There were three tiny desserts – a carrot halvah, something that looked like crème patissiere on a tiny rectangle of toast, and something that tasted like the kind of mousse one makes by combining pudding and whipped cream (in this case, banana pudding), except this had vermicelli in it. Because who doesn’t love surprise pasta, right?

Centenary World Cruise Day 21: Egypt (Part 2)

I’ve mentioned that many monuments and famous sights are a letdown — smaller, less colorful, less impressive than their hype would suggest. The sights we saw in Egypt were an incredible exception. If anything, they were larger and more impressive than I could ever have given them credit for.

Tombs outside Valley of the Kings – just a few of the incredible number of tombs in the area

We started at the Valley of Kings. Our guide, who was not allowed to enter the tombs with us, talked a lot about what we’d see. The most interesting thing was that she talked about the Egyptian visions of an afterlife where one will be judged according to their good and bad deeds. Christians believe the same thing, but the Christian God is omniscient, and therefore knows even before you die, all the things you’ve done.

This is all propaganda telling why Ramses IV should get into heaven

Egyptian gods are less efficient. Much of the writing on the tomb walls was a long list of all the entombed person’s good deeds, which was supposed to persuade the relevant gods that the person was worthy. Like Christians, Egyptians believed in a day of judgement when all the dead will be called to account, and that nobody knew when that day might come. Egyptians didn’t believe in reincarnation – they believed in resurrection. They preserved all the bodily bits because after judgement, worthies would be re-installed into their earthly bodies and allowed to live again for eternity. I’ll be honest, that sounds like kind of a crummy deal to me. If I’m going to spend eternity in a fleshly body, I’d like one a little younger, healthier, and better-looking.

Another fascinating thing was the amount of ancient graffiti, left by people as early as the first Greeks to come to Egypt. I’ve read about ancient graffiti in other sites, and it’s apparently very much the same as graffiti nowadays – “Bobacles was here,” “Joeacles is a jerk,” “For a good time, call Shirlyacles.” Tourists are only allowed to venture a few yards into each tomb, as most of them are still being excavated.

Onto Karnak Temple, which was awe-inspiring. First, we drove by Luxor Temple, about a mile away. Most of it has been lost, but what remains is still impressive. Monumental, in every sense of the word – built to the glory of kings that styled themselves as gods, on a scale that would ensure that no one would ever doubt their significance.

Leading away from Luxor Temple toward Karnak Temple is an avenue of small-ish sphinxes (maybe 5 feet tall, including their pedestals) that originally stretched the entire distance, but much of which was destroyed to make room for more modern development. I was surprised to learn that most Egyptian antiquities didn’t have any kind of meaningful governmental protection until the 1960s or 70s.

Karnak Temple is an experience that comes in waves. First, there’s a pair of 30-ish foot towers, each stone several tons, and all fitted together perfectly. The towers were built without any kind of mortar, and the stones were cut before they were put into place, meaning that everything had to be precisely calculated and measured prior to being placed – perhaps the saying “measure twice, cut once” originated with the Egyptians? Outside the temple wall was another wall of slightly more modern Roman origin – built hundreds of years after the temple, but in much worse repair.

On the left, the original wall of Karnak Temple, and on the right, a Roman wall built hundreds of years later. They just don’t build them like they used to.

Inside the first towers was a courtyard with ram-headed statues lining either side, and 15-foot statues of Ramses II. Actually, the theme of the entire temple was “Ramses II is the most amazing guy ever,” even though much of it was built during his father’s reign. Apparently, Ramses II had a tendency to carve his name into statues of his predecessors, and carve them deeply enough that they couldn’t be carved over, which led to him being known as “the thief of history.”

The Pirate and me in front of two of the zillion ram’s head statues, each with a little guy in front of it. They seemed to say “This is my tiny guy. There are many like him, but this one is mine.”

After another pair of towers is an extraordinary area that used to be two rows of 30-foot columns with two rows of 20-foot columns on each side. The two rows of shorter columns originally supported a roof, which has been lost, and there are the remains of stone-framed windows on top of them. The tops of the shorter columns resemble closed flower buds, and the tops of the larger columns resemble open flowers, highlighting the centrality of the sun to Egyptian spiritual life. Back when it was entire, the side arcades would have been sheltered from the sun and heat, but the central arcade would have been flooded with sunlight, highlighting the friezes carved on the columns. Standing in the middle of it, I felt the same sort of smallness and humility in the face of grandeur that I felt in Sagrada Familia, which similarly uses themes of organic life and light to express appreciation for the sacred.

But incised into every surface of that inner colonnade was writing that extolled the virtues and triumphs of Ramses II – lists of tribes he’d conquered, friezes showing him acting as high priest (one of the king’s responsibilities) in various ceremonies, friezes highlighting his godly lineage. The inside was covered in religious imagery, but the outside was covered in friezes showing him in his military aspect. Scenes of him in battle, slaying his enemies; scenes of him leading captives back to Karnak to be sacrificed; scenes of his enemies begging for mercy and making offerings to him. One entire wall is covered with a peace treaty between Ramses II and the Hittites.

I left the temple knowing that I’d need some time to process all that I’d seen. I want to go back, just to spend a lot more time understanding what I saw.

Centenary World Cruise Day 21: Egypt (Part 1)

Today, we traveled by bus from Safaga to the Valley of Kings. Because we were up at dark o’clock, I had hoped to catch some sleep on the 3 ½ hour bus ride, but that wasn’t going to happen. Our guide wanted to give us a very full picture of Egyptian history, culture, and politics, and since she would not be able to enter the tombs at the Valley of Kings with us, she wanted to talk about what we’d see inside the tombs.

We went through Qena and Luxor, and I was surprised by the lack of infrastructure. There are canals that channel the Nile out to water the small-scale agriculture that looked like about half of it was commercial, and the other half the household gardens of the people who lived there.

Other than the main road we were on, there were very few paved roads. While there were a few private cars, most people were on motorcycles, donkey carts, or bicycles. In fact, donkey carts were about half the traffic.

About two-thirds of the houses were concrete blocks or bricks, but a third were mud bricks with porches shaded with what looked like chaff from sugar cane, which is the largest commercial crop in the area. A lot of the houses looked as though they had been built as one-story structures, then later they added a second story while still living on the first floor, and then later added another floor. In the picture below, you can see rebar sticking up from the roof where they will add another floor. About half the concrete structures were like that.

The banks of the canal were full of garbage in a way that made it clear that it was the main method of waste disposal. I was surprised that I didn’t see a single large shop of any kind on the way there. I saw the kind of tiny stalls that sold a little of everything, but no large shops offering clothing, pharmaceuticals, hardware, or anything else one might expect to see in such a large population center. Mosques are the tallest buildings in the landscape. The minarets of these mosques can be seen from anywhere in the town, and all had loudspeakers on them.

On the way back, the town looked entirely different. It was dark by the time we drove back through Qena, although it was only about 6pm. Now the road seemed to be lined with small shops and restaurants. There were lots of people in the streets shopping, talking, walking home or waiting or a bus. The neighborhoods we’d seen during the day that had no paved roads also seemed to be largely without electricity, with one notable exception: the tall tower on every mosque bore several rings of bright-green neon. In neighborhoods with many mosques, it looked almost like Las Vegas.

I’ll post about Valley of Kings and Karnak Temple separately.

Centenary World Cruise Days 18-20: Oh, I Sea

Day 18:

The weather is getting warmer as we go further south and east. We’re in the southeastern part of the Mediterranean, and tomorrow we’ll get to Port Said, where we’ll wait for clearance through the Suez Canal.

Thus far, the coffee bars and lounges have been completely full of people, but today they were relatively empty because everyone is out on deck enjoying the warmer weather. But let’s be clear: when I say “warmer,” I mean that the high was 72 degrees. I’m still wearing sweaters and drinking hot tea at every opportunity, but the British folks are all in their shorts, getting some sun on their blinding white knees.

The other nice thing is that, after the turbulence of the Bay of Biscay, the water has been completely calm and lovely. Standing on the deck and looking at the water feels almost the same as standing on the shore of a river and watching the water flow past. I can’t feel any motion on the ship at all – but I guarantee you that at the next port, I’m going to get off the boat and be all unsteady on land.

Day 19:

Today, we did our pirate drill. Yesterday, I went by the library and asked if they had old newspapers, because I wanted to fold myself up a nice pirate hat for the drill. They didn’t. For the drill, everyone with an outside-facing cabin had to go into the corridor and wait while the stewards counted us. Since we knew the drill was going to be at 10am, I took the wise precaution of making sure my phone was fully charged and I had a hot cup of tea so I could sit in the corridor, sipping my tea and playing a stupid game. Everyone in the corridor speculated about the likelihood of even seeing a pirate ship, and I think it’s unlikely. Why go after a bunch of over-80s when they could go after any of the skillion of container ships laden with consumer goods?

Later, I ran into a woman I knew and asked her how the drill went for her. She has an inside stateroom, and she said that she just got to hang out in her room. She expressed regret that on this trip, we will not have a complement of hunky NATO guards like they had the last time she’d done this run. Now I feel cheated.

Day 20:

Today we were transiting the Suez Canal. The Pirate opened the door to our balcony, made a face, and shut it again. That part of the canal is apparently where cabbage goes to die.

Transiting the Panama Canal takes about 6 hours, and there are lots of ships going both ways, since a lot of it is very wide. Suez, on the other hand, is extremely narrow. Ships travel in a single long line going each way (there are two separate channels) with no locks to change the water level. Transit time through Suez is 12 hours.

As the day progressed, most people were out on the decks checking out the canal banks. When I travel, I always map the landscape to similar landscapes back home. A lot of the Suez Canal looks like Bakersfield. Or maybe Riverside. Hanging off the side of the railing was a warning to stay at least 50 feet from the ship. It struck me as funny, because about 50’ from our ship, the water was so shallow that any ship trying to pull around us would have to have wheels.

Because we traveled in a long line of other ships, we could see the ones in front and behind. It turns out that the ship behind us was the largest container ship in the world, with 19.5 thousand containers aboard. It looked like a Borg cube.

Centenary World Cruise Day 17: Heraklion

Today, we landed in Heraklion, the capital of Crete (which is part of Greece). We had booked a tour of Knossos, the site of Minoan ruins. It was one of the port adventures the Pirate chose, because he’s a history-loving nerd – one of his many, many admirable qualities. Here’s the biggest surprise: Heraklion is a decent-sized, spread-out city, and the ruins of Minos are only 15 minutes by bus from the cruise terminal.

Cool dog on a roof

The ruins are huge, and are the basis for the legend of the labyrinth. It was the seat of both government and religion, so it had apartments, storage rooms, classrooms, toilets (which always came in pairs – as the guide described it “one for when you only have to spend a short time, and one for when you have to spend a long time”). The whole complex was enormous, multi-purpose, and had been destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt more than once. The main religious symbol of the time was a double-headed axe – it’s incised on the stone all over the place. The word “labyrinth” means “house of the double-headed axe,” but the intricacy of the palace complex meant that it became synonymous with “maze.”

Here’s the best thing we learned. There were no valuables, skeletons, weapons, etc. found in the ruins, even though they had been destroyed by earthquake. One would expect that people taken by surprise by a huge earthquake would have been crushed in houses built largely of stone.

But the Minoans kept pets. You know how a lot of people say that dogs and cats act differently before an earthquake? I don’t know about that (ours certainly don’t), but the Minoans kept snakes. They were apparently all over the palace, because people fed them and coddled and spoiled them. When the snakes disappeared, though, people knew an earthquake was coming and were able to get themselves and their valuables to safety. As a result, the snake motif is all over the island!

Centenary World Cruise Days 13-16: Sea, Sea, Señor

Day 13:

There’s a book I love: Johannes Cabal and The Fear Institute. It takes place in the Dream Lands popularized by Cthulhu mythos authors. There’s a scene where Cabal and his entourage are in a pub trying to find a ship that will take them to a certain island. They meet the owners of the Black Galley, one of whom promised them every luxury, while the other one employed the only four human words he knew: “We has deck quoits!”

When looking at the brochures for this trip, deck quoits was prominent among the onboard entertainment options. On this ship, it’s like a cross between horseshoes and shuffleboard. Like horseshoes, it involves tossing a round object at a target (in this case, a series of concentric circles). Like shuffleboard, your score is all about how many you can get in various parts of the circles. There are some hilarious risks, like your quoit (it’s just a circle of rope about a hand span in diameter) rolling across the deck and disappearing down the stairs to the next deck. Or striking a passerby. Or knocking your own quoit out of a high-scoring ring with another quoit. While I still have hopes that I will come home the undisputed deck quoits champion of the greater Bonny Doon area, I think I still have a way to go.

Day 14:

A couple of days ago, there was a guy in the bar who, in the middle of a lovely piece by the string trio, whistled loudly and yelled for a waiter, evidently upset that his second bottle of wine hadn’t been promptly forthcoming. His wife looked mortified, and the man then loudly defended himself, saying that he wasn’t sorry because there was no other way to get the attention of the waitstaff (because the notion of getting up off your comfy chair and approaching one of the two waiters near the bar is out of the question, right?) and that he wasn’t the one in the wrong.

Not very long afterward, he was just as vociferously apologizing to everyone and loudly telling the string trio how much he liked them. Sadly, it was too late. His wife looked furious, and everyone in the bar was staring daggers at him.

Who knows what happened between him and his wife once they got back to their room, but although I’ve seen him a couple of times since, and she has not been with him. I have the feeling he’s going to be apologizing and sucking up to the servers and performers for as long as he remains on the ship. It’s the very first instance of unsavory behavior I’ve seen from any of the passengers.

Day 15:

Another day at sea. Boredom is beginning to set in.

To stave off boredom, I joined an improv class, taught by a crew member who has been a drama coach for several inprov groups who regularly perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was great fun because it gave me a chance to be silly and move around without feeling self-conscious or getting weird looks. I mean, I do it regularly anyway, but I do get weird looks.

The Pirate and I also joined the Guest Choir. We missed the first couple of rehearsals, but we knew all the songs, so it wasn’t hard. The choir will perform just before we get to Dubai, which is the end of the current leg of this trip.

This evening was the masquerade gala, and we dressed up and donned our fancy masks for the captain’s cocktail party, a tradition for World Cruises. We joined another couple at a table and got to talking about our upcoming shore excursion to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. The busloads of passengers will have an armed escort, and we have a list of dos and don’ts that’s a little daunting. I wasn’t sure whether I was more concerned about that, or about the 3 ½ hour bus ride each way.

But that news paled in comparison to the captain’s telling us that, once we get through the Suez canal, we’re going to “race through the Red Sea,” because there are pirates. The ship will be dark at night, and we’ll be going full-tilt. To lighten the mood, he told us we won’t have any armed guards on board, because they’ll be giving all passengers bags of potatoes to throw at anyone trying to board the ship.

I’m completely comforted.

Day 16:

There are a few skills one needs to cultivate if one is going to be at sea on a large ship for an extended period. First, the ability to communicate clearly. The second day we were on the ship, we had split up in the morning and agreed to meet at the buffet. The problem is that it’s the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. It has one entrance on each side of the ship, and stretches for about a quarter of its length. I had gotten there early and snagged a table, then spent half an hour looking around and waiting for the Pirate to show up. He had also shown up early, and after waiting outside one entrance for a while, went looking for me. But in a crowd of 300-400 other passengers having lunch, he missed me. We’ve had four or five similar incidents, and every time, we both just chalk it up to “we need to be much more specific in future.”  

One also needs to get comfortable being assertive with servers. When I say “assertive,” I don’t mean abusive. The places on the ship that serve coffee and tea are also places that people gather just to hang out, so the wait staff are looking out for people hailing them rather than approaching each table and asking if they need something. It took me 3-4 days to realize that if I just sat at a table looking thirsty, nothing happened. The trick is to make direct eye contact with the server, then give a slight nod. Getting the servers to remember what I want, because I order the same thing every time, apparently takes much longer.

The last is smiling while making inane small talk with people on the elevators, sharing a table at the coffee bar, in the hot tub, or at dinner. “Are you here for the whole world voyage?” “Did you go into port today?” “Have you seen any of the lectures?” or the old stand-by “I love your shoes!” all work wonders. The only place you can reliably be alone is in your own stateroom, and right now it’s just too cold to sit out on the balcony and work.

Centenary World Cruise Day 12: Lisbon

We docked in Lisbon today. The Pirate and I have been to Lisbon before, so this time we decided not to go on any of the tours offered by the cruise line. Instead, we got one of those red bus tours available at pretty much every large city in the world. This time, we got to see parts of the city we hadn’t seen before, including the tile decorations that Lisbon is famous for. This is an underpass on a major street.

There’s an election coming up, so there are billboards for all the candidates, all of which have the candidate’s face about 12 feet tall, and then smaller pictures of the other candidates off in a corner with red Xs through them. I personally predict that the guy pictured here will not win, because who’s going to vote for a man who can’t even commit to whether or not he wants a beard?

The tour talked about every large building we passed – who built it, when, and why. Lisbon has museums for everything: not just art and history, but cars, electricity, stories, and beer. This museum has a claim to fame that I was sad I couldn’t check into.

I was surprised that we passed a building that was 3 blocks long on each side, and the guide said NOTHING. Turns out, it’s a prison, conveniently located right in town! But I know nothing else about it, because they’re keeping it a secret. Like, the worst-kept secret EVER.

Lisbon also has plenty of these round-topped trees. I am 90% sure that this is what happens when you let broccoli grow uncontrolled.

And lastly, here we are at the uphill end of Edward VII Park. Way in the distance, you can see the water where our ship is docked, and the Pirate and I had a lovely time walking the couple of miles back to our ship.

Centenary World Cruise Days 10/11: More at Sea

Day 10:

Another day at sea. We’re in the Bay of Biscay, which is apparently notorious for stormy seas. We’ve had gale-force winds, and swells of nearly 20 feet. Just before we landed in Southampton, I was looking out my window one morning and saw a fishing boat. At that point, naïve traveler that I was way back then, I thought the sea was rough. From my vantage point, it looked as though the fishing boat would be entirely submerged, then pop up again. I watched in horror, waiting for the inevitable time when they would disappear and not pop back up, but it didn’t come. I had to take myself aside and tell myself that these fishermen knew what they were doing – they’d likely done this before. Like, zillions of times. And even if it was their very first time out, and none of them knew anything about piloting a boat, what was I going to do? Jump in and pull them out of the water, boat and all? The revelation today is that the day that happened was relatively calm compared to what we have now.

Here’s a cultural difference I wasn’t prepared for: in America, if you go to a buffet, most of the meat dishes will be beef. Maybe some chicken, but mostly beef. Here, it’s all pork. I counted yesterday, and of the entire lunch buffet, there were a round dozen pork dishes, four chicken dishes, and four fish dishes. No beef at all. At breakfast there are pork sausages, both American and English bacon, black pudding made from pork blood, and often ham.

The Pirate thinks it’s because in America, we have lots of open land for grazing cattle. Pigs don’t need wide-open spaces (although I’m sure they would appreciate them). The problem is that ever since I saw the movie Snatch, all I can think about is the bad guy saying “They can eat a 200-pound man in about 8 minutes. So, beware of any man who owns a pig farm.”

We did see a fascinating lecture by Fatima Bhutto about the rise of non-Western pop culture. I loved hearing about how other countries (she covered India, Turkey, and Korea) are becoming larger exporters of pop culture than America. I’m tired of seeing movies either about my own culture, or about what people from my culture believe life is like for people not from my culture.

Day 11:

Today is Friday the 13th. Surprisingly, I’ve heard nothing about it. But just because that doesn’t seem to be a thing with this lot doesn’t mean they’re not superstitious or imaginative in the way that makes people freak out.

Down the corridor from us is an air vent that has some kind of leak. There’s a constant sound of howling wind that occasionally turns into banshee wails. The other day, a woman was passing us in the corridor just as I was observing to my husband that the room we were just passing was haunted. The woman said “pardon?” And I said “I think that room is haunted.” She made some uncomfortable kind of noise and hurried off. My husband berated me for scaring her, but given the fact that this person is older than I am, I don’t feel particularly bad about it. What would be cool, though, is suddenly hearing a rumor going around about The Ghost of 12006.

Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ship was haunted. At around 11pm, the captain came over the loudspeaker saying “Medical team, report to the Golden Lion” (the onboard pub). Five minutes later, the order was repeated. Someone had collapsed in the bar, and apparently, they couldn’t be revived. While that sounds (and is) horrifying and tragic, it shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the average age on this cruise appears to be approximately 147. So…not unreasonable to think that the poor people who have died while in this ship are spending their entire afterlife on one lovely cruise after another.

Centenary World Cruise – Days 4-7: Life at Sea

Day 4

Like everyone else, I spend a lot of time staring out the windows at the ocean (or “the sea,” as everyone here calls it, despite the fact that it is the north Atlantic, which is absolutely an ocean, as I learned in 3rd grade geography). There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed on every cruise I’ve been on: as I stare out at the water, my eye is always caught by movement just outside my direct line of sight. Thinking it might be a whale or some dolphins or a mermaid or some aliens or at least a large sea bird, I swivel my eyes, only to realize it’s a wave. And while staring at this disappointing wave, I again see some exciting motion just to the side and turn to see…another disappointing wave. Repeat until I have a crashing headache and need a cup of tea.

My constant view

Today, though, there were actual whales. Unlike the whales I’ve seen off the coast of Mexico, these don’t surface, blow kisses (in the form of an enormous spray of water and whale snot), wave their tails in a flirting manner, and then slowly dive, making sure each of their vertebrae gets a good sunning in the process. These whales surfaced, exhaled, and went right back into the depths, where I can only assume it’s a lot less chilly than it is up top.

I spent the morning walking around every deck of the ship, trying to orient myself. It was educational, and I now feel (slightly) more confident as I go from one place to another. About half of the 13 decks of the ship are devoted mostly or entirely to staterooms, and while making my way from one end of the ship to the other, I discovered a whole world of people who wanted to walk laps, but didn’t care for the arctic weather outside, and so do circuits of the floors of staterooms. And because of the pitching and yawing of the ship, they veer from one side of the corridor to the other like they’re on a roller coaster. Which is kind of true. As I was making my way down one passage, one of these ladies said “We’re on a mission, aren’t we?” And now I’m really hoping there’s some kind of exciting spy ring operating on this ship. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Day 5

We’re just over halfway across the north Atlantic. A thousand miles away from us, there is what the captain keeps referring to as “a complex weather system,” and even though it’s nowhere near us, it’s causing turbulence in the ocean that we’re feeling here as an increase in the kind of waves that make the ship shudder a little when it hits the bottom of them. It started last night and I admit I lay awake freaking out about it, but then I realized that the captain hadn’t come over the loudspeakers to say anything like “We’re experiencing rough seas, stay in your staterooms.” I looked out the window and the sea didn’t look any more turbulent than it had any other day, so I decided that if the captain wasn’t worried about it, I wouldn’t be. When we woke up this morning, the Pirate said he was very excited about it because it was like sleeping in a gently swaying hammock.

This morning as the ship continued rocking enough to make walking difficult, I was in the gym on an elliptical (mostly because they have handles to hang onto) and had a good laugh watching a man trying to weigh himself. I’m sure that his weight was something like 142…168….137…..180….150…..

At dinner, we finally met the people who have the table next to us. They’re from the Isle of Wight, which is right across the water from Southampton, where we’ll be docking – they’re practically home! Apparently, they go on cruises all the time (they listed five they’re taking this year alone, not counting this one). I said hello to the couple three tables over, whom we met in the elevator once when I had gotten us lost (again), and to whom I said “I could get lost inside this elevator!” I saw our neighbor a few cabins down and we laughed about how first impressions can be misleading (he’d met some folks at a singles’ get-together and the one he thought would be nice and kind and understanding turned out to be an intolerant cow, and the one who seemed surly and taciturn turned out to be a lovely person). I’m sad, because all these people are leaving the ship in Southampton, and I’ll have to make new friends all over again. It’s like being a kid who moves around a lot and ends up at a new school every year. Only I can drink.

Day 6

Today was a day of learning. We went to the 10:00 church service, which is billed as the “traditional maritime service.” Our choices were that, or the Catholic service held at 8:00, and I just wasn’t up to facing God at 8:00am. The 10:00 service was conducted by the captain, and the sermon was about the clergy on board the Titanic, both of whom died because they stayed behind to minister to the spiritual needs of those who didn’t make it into a lifeboat. A few things I didn’t know about the Titanic:

  • The crew had been warned seven separate times by ships going the other way about the dangerous ice ahead, and didn’t just ignore the warnings, they told at least one of the other ships to “shut up.”
  • The Titanic had been billed as “unsinkable,” so many passengers refused to board the lifeboats when they were originally told the ship was sinking because they didn’t believe it.
  • Many lifeboats were lowered with less than half their capacity, and by the time the holdouts accepted the fact that the ship was sinking (once the bow had gone under), it was too late – the lifeboats were gone.
  • It took the Titanic two hours to sink, which would have been plenty of time to get everyone to the lifeboats, had they only gone.

After the church service, we went to a lecture on the rivalry between airliners and ocean liners, and how advances in each spurred advances in the other as people wanted to travel across the ocean both quickly and comfortably. I would like to say I learned a lot in that lecture, but the lecturer was awful – there was no narrative line to his lecture, and it was interspersed with things like slides of his childhood home and elementary school (okay, so I did learn where this guy went to elementary school).

And after that, a lecture about the Tudor dynasty from a woman whose book on the subject, “Tudors By the Numbers” is forthcoming in a couple of months. She was a great speaker – knowledgeable and entertaining and really passionate about her subject. A lot of the whole Tudor dynasty saga is familiar to me, and I thought I’d like to read her book, but then I realized that there is so much of world history of which I am utterly ignorant, so I’d rather read that first (if anyone would like to suggest a good English-language history of anyplace that is not North America, Great Britain, or Western Europe, I’d love to hear about it).

Years ago, my husband and I had looked at some cruises offered by National Geographic, whose main attraction was a regular series of lectures on various subjects appropriate to the location. We both said it would be great to go on such a cruise where we could relax and learn new things. Our younger child, then about 12, said that it sounded like her worst nightmare. And here we are.

Day 7

We’ll be hitting Southampton day after tomorrow, so in preparation, all those who are going on were given COVID tests. I guess those people getting off in Southampton can just take COVID with them. Those people testing negative could go on about their day. I have no idea what would happen to anyone who tested positive. Maybe they’d be booted out in England?

Last night, I ended up staying in and resting up. I believe it might be partly due to the fact that, of the seven days we’ve been on the ship, we’ve had a time change on 5 of them. Our days have only 23 hours. We’ll get it back on the way home, of course, but that does me no good now.

Today was very quiet, except for the most hilarious thing that’s happened to me in a very long time. I decided that after a lie-in and a nice breakfast in bed, I would toddle over to the hot tub and have a nice soak. I spent three quarters of an hour in the hot tub chatting with a woman who is also doing the full world cruise. Once I was good and pruney, I got out and walked carefully over to my deck chair. When walking on this ship (especially on wet surfaces), I tend to walk very upright and smoothly, so that if I slip, I can catch myself. Once in my deck chair, I decided I needed an extra towel, so I got up again and made my slow way over to the pile of towels and back to my deck chair. I was sitting comfortably, reading a good book and sipping a glass of water when a man who looked to be my age stopped by and said “Excuse me, but are you a professional model? You have a lovely walk.”

I was gobsmacked. That is the WORST, most trite, tired, cheesy line I’ve ever heard. I don’t think I would have fallen for it even when I was in my very-gullible 20s, but now that I’m in my late 50s, you’d have to work a whole lot harder than that. I merely said “thank you,” and went back to my book. The man shrugged his shoulders and walked off, presumably to try his idiotic line on someone else. Now I’m spinning up scenarios in my mind where this guy has scraped together the cash to take a luxury cruise in the hopes of finding a rich widow to attach himself to. Well, good luck to him. If that’s his plan, he’s going to have to think up a much better line.

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!