Monthly Archives: February 2015

Baths at sea

Woke up at 7am when room service began rapping at the door. We thought because the clocks went back last night, that we should order breakfast early. I was too tired and groggy to enjoy the egg white omelette so I spooned the yogurt into my mouth before crawling back into bed. We watched a show about Supermarkets on the TV while we cuddled in bed, then finally readied ourselves for our two hour gym session.

After the gym, I took a bath (yes, a bathtub on a cruise ship is a very luxurious thing) while Michael tried to shave. He discovered that the outlet in our bathroom was non functioning so he wandered out into the cabin to trim his beard. One complain is that so many cruiseships have one outlet in a cabin. One. Not even a double outlet but one single outlet. It’s not very efficient and I wonder who planned out the electrical. Clearly not anyone living in the 21 century. We had thought about bringing a power bar onboard and now I wish we would have.

After lunch, we went to the library once again. I guess the two hour work outs are having an impact because we were both very tired. We played a little bit of Yahtzee and Apples to Apples while the maintenance man fixed the air conditioning in the room. We decided to take a little nap before dinner, but the nap lasted longer than we expected. We were an hour late for our reservation so we decided to skip dinner in the main dining room in favor of the buffet upstairs. The food is generally the same but the presentation is not. I had swai fish, asparagus and a big salad.

Its becoming our habit to peruse the shops after dinner. Since nothing ever changes except the “Scent of the Day”, we usually end up playing in the fragrance section. Today the actual tester had gone missing so we tested a few other flavors. We joked around and got silly all the while listening to the lounge singer crooning his version of Stings “Fields of Gold”. I love that song. After we were properly scented, perhaps a little too much, we continued on to the theater for the show. I was a little self conscious that the people sitting near us would be offended by our enthusiasm in the perfume shop…but then I remembered the mean age on the ship. If they could smell it, it would be competing with their own over perfumed selves. Why do old people always bathe in perfume?

The theater was very small and more like a lounge with a stage. I found it quite quaint and personal. Tonights act was a comedian so I steeled myself for the pain. I generally do not find comedians very funny. Majority of them resort to simple minded potty humor or illicit nervous laughter with the shock value of xxx jokes. It’s rare to find a true talented comic who can find the fine line between tasteful and trashy, edgy and offensive, and sarcastic and cruel. I always give a chance though. One.

The guy came on stage and started out with a bunch of impressions. He was not half bad at it, if only I knew half the people he was impersonating. The ones I did know, he nailed. His Jack Nicholson was spot on and as Tom Jones was creepily accurate slithering around the ladies in the front row. He made fun of a few different locales but stayed away from the Canadians. Wise choice, since majority of the crowd seemed to be from the Great White North. It’s hard to offend us Canucks, we are tough. But I think its easy to hurt our feelings, even if we don’t show it and the older generations are softer still. He made a lot of old people jokes and the crowd loved it.

We skipped the opening of the Tiki Bar which was happening up on the lido deck. They were offering free jello shots with every drink…no one needs to see a pile of 80 year olds hopped up on jello shots. We borrowed a movie, Zodiac, from the movie library and retired to our cabin. The movie was creepy especially because it was based on a true story. But I really enjoyed watching the sets and the scenery as it took place in the Bay Area. I loved that I could recognize half the locations it was shot because I had been there and in some cases, lived down the street. I tried to put the disturbing movie out of my mind as I fell asleep, so I wouldn’t have bad dreams.

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Valentine’s Day in the Pacific Ocean

Today we woke up at around 830 and made our way up to the Lei making class on the Lido deck. A perfect Valentines Day activity. There were about 10 tables with individual piles of purple orchids in front of each chair. I claimed an couple of chairs at an empty table near the back. Michael went to the buffet to get some breakfast (aka bacon) and coffee so we would have some fuel for the gym later. HAL seems to have brought onboard some Hawaiian locals to teach us the culture of the South Pacific. From learning to Hula to playing the Ukelele to history lectures, the attempt to educate us happens several times a day.

I have tried to make leis before but it turns out it is much easier with the proper tools. The long 8 inch needle skewered the tender flower and I pulled them down the long thread, one by one. Then I got brazen and started doing 3 or 4 at a time. In the end, I think I must have threaded 40 flowers onto my lei. I was very proud of it and decided to make another one, since there were several unclaimed piles. No use in wasting the precious flowers, and I had a feeling there would be someone who I could give it to later. Lei making is actually a real profession and to get a job doing it, you must be able to make 60 leis an hour. Thats one a minute. Thats about quadruple the time it took me. I guess I will keep my day job. Michael and I lei’d each other and then kissed, which is the tradition.

From the lido deck, Michael went to the room to drop off our crafts, and I headed up to the gym to start my workout. I was pleased to see the nearly empty room, and had my pick of any of the dozen treadmills. On other longer cruises I have been on, there have been serious issues in the gym. Gym rats can be quite temperamental when someone is messing with their routine. I remember my 40 day cruise to Asia years ago and having to fight every day for a machine, no matter what time of day it was. If you went so much as one minute past your allotted 20 minute allowance, there was a line of anxious cardio freaks boring holes into your back with their evil stare. So, it was quite a relief to see that this cruise would be much more chillaxed. I hopped on my machine, set up my Macbook Air and interval trained while catching up on my favorite cooking shows. Michael showed up a few minutes later and did his routine. It was a good morning.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch in the dining room, where the staff was busy decorating with hundreds of red balloons for the special day. We got lucky with a table for two by the window and were able to watch the frothy, hypnotic wake trail behind the ship. I was particularly pleased with my salad which is one thing a lot of cruise lines drop the ball on. HAL seems to take special care, adding juicy bits like pecans, avocados, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese. I had my perfectly baked tilapia on top of my fresh greens for a perfect light lunch.

We ended up switching rooms with our neighbors and I took the opportunity to gift the extra lei we made to the young lady. She was excited and touched so it made the move a little less tedious. After the “movement”, we decided to head up to the library which is quickly becoming one of our favorite spaces.The Explorer Lounge is one of the most inviting libraries I have encountered on any cruise ship. It’s very well laid out and has quite a large selection of books, board games, and magazines. There are tons of leather couches, comfy chairs and computer terminals. People are playing cards, puzzling over jigsaws, constructing emails to their grandkids, perusing the bookshelves, and even sleeping. There is a nice low murmur of people chatting littered with hearty laughter, with the occasional snoring added for good measure. It’s a very laid back vibe. Smack dab in the middle is a coffee shop serving specialty coffee. If it weren’t for the faint binging and ringing of the slot machines in the casino down the hall, it would be perfect.  We plopped down in a couple of Herman Miller chairs facing the large picture windows looking out into the calm Pacific ocean. I found Michael an Anthony Bourdin (his hero) book to read and I was able to catch up on my writing.

We had a little nap then readied ourselves for our first formal night. Michael wore a tux and I wore a long skirt with a long flowy top. On the way into the Rotterdam restaurant, all the ladies were given roses, of every different color of the rainbow. Mine was coral colored with pink edged petals. It matched my skirt perfectly. We enjoyed a tasty romantic valentines dinner before taking a stroll through the ship. I found a cute purse covered in elegant shells, that was on clearance for $15 (less than half price) in one of the shops. Michael noticed that it was precisely the one I have been lusting after on every other cruise we have been on. (almost every cruise ship, no matter the line, carry almost all the same stock in the shops) I never let myself buy it because it is not a need, but a want, and always overpriced. But today it was underpriced AND it matched my outfit, so there was no question it should be mine. Plus, my iPhone fit snugly inside like a bug in a rug. Bonus!

We headed back to the cabin and while I was perusing the list of a thousand DVD’s for borrowing, I learned that Michael has never watched Gladiator. I called the front desk and it happened to be in. I know it’s not really a romantic movie but it certainly is a classic for me. I was happy to share it with him and though I have seen it before, several times, I was surprised how well it kept my attention. The TVs onboard are not the newest or best quality so many of the gory fight scenes were quite dark and hard to see. Probably for the best. I can’t stomach violence on the best of days. Overall, it was a fun and romantic Valentines Day at sea.

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Boarding the Statendam

I woke up to the swoosh of 747’s over my head and remembered where I was. I got excited and scrambled over to the balcony to look up. I have to say, it never gets old. As I gazed over the bay, I saw that our ship had come in. There just 10 blocks away sat the Holland America Statendam, waiting for us to board. She is a smaller, older ship but I know better. Gone are the days when I wanted on the biggest and newest ships on the sea. They are cold and sterile to me now. After taking the sister ship of the Love Boat a few years on a trip to India, I was hooked. There is a a romantic charm and nostalgia that comes with the first generation of cruise ships. It cannot be recreated when you have thousands of passengers onboard and everything is automated.

Michael made us a coffee and we set about repacking what I had strewn around the room. I had been neglecting my nails for months and still had remnants of chipped polish from 3 months ago clinging on. I decided now was a good time for a mani-pedi. Michael joined me as we made our way to the local nail shop. All went well except for the massive cut the young lady made in my finger when filing absentmindedly. I guess you get what you pay for with the cheap nail places. Lena’s only charges $12 for a manicure, but next time I will shell out the extra $3 and go somewhere more professional.

We got our bags and took a cab down to the pier where we checked in and boarded the Statendam. We looked at each other and didn’t have to say a word, when we realized that we were at least 30 years younger than the typical cruiser on this voyage. We knew that would happen but it’s always a bit of a shock when you are actually in it. The ship was well maintained and looked like I had imagined. We dropped our backpacks in our cabin, then wandered up to the lunch buffet. We tasted fish, chicken, and pork ribs as well as some creamy spinach and cheesy cauliflower. Michael was famished having skipped breakfast, so he devoured his plate, then some of mine.

As we were finishing up, I got a call from Flywheel who apologized profusely for the despicable treatment we had from the taxi drivers they sent us. Ben assured me they had already removed the one shady driver who tried to scam us from their database. I was impressed to hear back from them and doubly impressed that they not only took action but in such a timely manner. Ben thanked me for my detailed and honest letter of what had happened and gave us some Flywheel credits to use in the future. It’s nice when companies have customer service agents who understand accountability.

We explored the ship and then were called to the mandatory Muster drill. Luckily our station was outside on the deck, which made it much more enjoyable in the warm rays of the sun. After the drill, we had a slight hiccup with our room and had to sort that out with the front desk. It seems that there were many hiccups and the supervisor was overwhelmed. She decided to disconnect and shut down, so speaking with her was quite a task. There was no one to escalate to and nothing was getting solved. She had become curt and ornery and I was already out of patience for it. It was clear nothing was going anywhere, so we decided to leave it until another time.

It took until halfway through dinner that I recovered from her verbal abuse. With a little gentle coaxing from Michael, finally I was able to finish my meal, and smile. I helped that the servers were especially sweet and attentive, even if they did bring Michael the wrong entree. He stayed positive and saw it as a plus, two entrees, yay! Most of all, he loved the coffee. In fact, even as I sit here and type this he is going on about how great the coffee is in the dining room, compared to the buffet area.

After dinner, we showered and tucked into bed where we finished watching the Imitation Game, which was a great show BTW. I was a long day and I had no problem falling asleep to the rocking of the ship.

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Snow to Sun

I went to bed too late and woke up too early. After getting into SFO at 5pm, BARTing home to Alameda, sorting through 3 months of mail, we decided to head to Park street to grab a bite to eat. There was nothing in our fridge so it was either that or order in. In hindsight, we should have ordered in. We have a months worth of packing to do before bed and travel days are hard enough. Travel nights are worse. After some way too spicy Mexican food, we padded back to the house to begin our effort.

I was too tired to be smart and efficient about it, so I am sure I overpacked. Well, I threw stuff in a pile for Michael to Tetris in our big pink hard sided luggage. The luggage that United baggage handlers manhandled, cracking the sides and losing several feet off them. The handle will never be the same either. I normally would never bother complaining, since my experience with airline customer service agents has never been a positive one. But we trudged over to ask, just to see. To my surprise they were very receptive. They also said that had it been domestic, there is nothing they could do. But when your stuff is damaged on an international flight, they have options, such as fixing the broken pieces. They made a report and now we will wait until they email us. Most of all, it was just nice being acknowledged and heard.

So when we thought we had it all done, we both fell into bed for the short 5 hour nap before we caught a Flywheel to the airport. I was groggy and too exhausted to fight, so when I saw that the driver’s meter was already past $4.30 as we got in the car, I didn’t say anything. He was pleasant enough and chattered on about his upcoming trip to the mountains. At the end of the ride, he seemed to forgot to turn off the ride charge so it kept charging us. When I was standing in the security line, I finally called the guy and he said he was having trouble with his phone. In the end, the fare was double what it should have been. He told me to contact Flywheel to rectify the problem. Ugh. Not a great day to start the day.

I waited at the boarding area while Michael went to fetch some coffees. He was hungry so I caved and let him get the overpriced $10 subpar breakfast burrito. He purposely went out of his way to get Peet’s which is more local than the Starbucks looming in front of our gate. We were proud of ourselves for not getting on that wagon until our first sip of Peet’s. No joke, it was so bad I almost spit it out. Three minutes later, I barely made it to the restroom. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Dizzy and 10 lbs lighter, I made it back to Michael just as he handed the boarding pass to the staff for scanning. We both left our barely touched coffees by the trash before getting on the plane. It was a rough morning to say the least.

Southwest doesn’t assign seats so we were lucky to get to sit together. I really needed to be able to sprawl all over Michael. A couple hours later, we landed in San Diego. It was sunny and warm, which lifted my mood instantly. We opted to try Flywheel again on this end, especially since they had a $10 off your ride promotion running this weekend. Well, the first attempt failed when the airport traffic police aggressively accosted our would-be driver, threatening him and us with tickets and fines if we went through with the ride. Apparently Flywheel is not allowed at the San Diego airport. Uber is. I guess they have paid the 2 million dollar fee to be allowed. We walked down the terminal where the traffic police were not, and tried again. This time it worked. Kinda.

Our Flywheel driver decided to take us on the very scenic tour, despite our protests, and ended up charging us more than $15 more than the ride should have been. Then he tried to convince us to pay him in cash because his app wouldn’t charge us as it was broken. I could see he was lying because it was still charging us as he spoke! It was heartbreaking to realize as we were being ripped off, that there was nothing we could do about it. Since these companies already have your credit card in the system, and you get automatically charged, you can’t argue the fare. Not without hours of emails, tweets and Facebook complaints. Which is how I spent my morning in San Diego. I wasn’t going to hold my breath though, but I had to try. I absolutely hate being taken advantage of by smarmy tact drivers. And twice in one day? I was seething.

As we rocked up to our Airbnb house, we were both overwhelmed with how close the plane was that flew over us. The house is directly under the flight path and you can see right up into the bottom of the plane. I could see a rock stuck in the planes tires, it was that close. It reminded me of Airport beach on St. Maarten. Michael and I were excited, as we are both nerds for this kind of thing. As we were walking up the steps, the next plane plowed by practically scraping our heads. It was awesome.

Our Airbnb host, Michael, was so very friendly and kind. He showed us around and let us store our stuff since we were there hours before checkin time. He gave us the house tour and we were in awe of the love and care he has put into the property. It truly is a labour of love and we were in one of the best rooms. Our second floor Blue Room had a view of the city, the harbor and the planes were now even closer as they flew down. We had a fireplace and our own private balcony. Life was looking up!

We made our way down to the waterfront and walked along absorbing the sun. My whole demeanor changed and suddenly, it was easier to breathe. The atmosphere in San Diego is very relaxed and I could actually feel the stress melting away. We found our way to the famous Fish Market, where we had our lunch. The place is gorgeous in dark wood decorated very tastefully. We slurped up some fresh salty oysters, had a delicious plate of sashimi and shared a light flakey fish entree. The sushi master, Teiji, came over and gifted us with a sample of his favorite fish. It was a very sweet gesture and we were impressed with his generosity and deep knowledge about all things fishy.

We walked along the waterfront and then had a coffee break at Lion Cafe. My feet were very sore by this point, as it has been a while since I have worn sandals. We decided to hit the mall that was close by to hunt for an alternate summer shoe. We tried on a lot of different styles in several different stores, even getting a digital foot analysis done. In the end, we both ended up with a new pair of Reef sandals. And I found some funky new knee high socks in every color of the neon rainbow. Their bright vivid hues matched my mood.

Next, we hit CVS to pick up some sunscreen which is not my normal way. But 30 days in the South Pacific, I don’t want to take a chance. After much deliberation and smelling of all the different offerings, we settled on a bottle of sport spray 30 SPF. We also picked up a travel size jar of Noxema, just in case the burn does happen. Noxema is my favorite after burn care and works wonders at healing sore skin. I was getting tired so we made our way back in the direction of home, when we stumbled upon a place called Spike Africa’s. They had really good happy hour specials so we decided to dive in for a snack. Michael seems to always be hungry and if he doesn’t get some food, he had the tendency to become hangry. After chowing down on some more fresh oysters, fish taco, calamari and delectable mussels, we gambled on the free Yelp dessert. When you check in here, you get a free dessert but I don’t put a lot of hope in a butterscotch pudding. Really? Who has pudding for dessert in a restaurant? Well, I was so very wrong. My one bite turned into a lovefest with the creamy sweet pudding topped with thick warm caramel balanced with just the right amount of sea salt flecks. I was high off the yumminess of it. We thanked our server Bryan who was ever so gracious, and continued our trek home.

After some more walking, Michael started complaining about how heavy the bags were. I decided to give up my old sandals that were no longer needed to a homeless girl sitting on the curb. She was really thankful especially since she was pregnant, she informed me. It felt nice to be able to give someone a break. We stumbled up on a local mexican dive where Michael picked up his supper from. It was super cheap and quite busy, so I guessed it was going to be yummy. Even though, I decided not to get my own, and only have a few bites of his giant chimichanga. I wish I had gotten my own. When we tucked into it back at home, it was clear I had made a big mistake. Taco Rey is some of the best mexican I have had in a long time, maybe ever. I vowed to head there in the AM for breakfast burritos. We ended the night lounging in the big jazuzzi tub and watching the Imitation Game. I felt asleep exhausted but happy.

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Winter in Canada = Check!

Sitting on a plane from Edmonton to San Francisco. I don’t know why but no matter how much I fly, I always get a little nervous. But it’s usually much worse on the way to a trip than from a trip. I suppose when I’m coming home, there is less to look forward to. It’s like, “Well, if the plane crashes, at least I had my fun.” Yeah, I know it’s morbid. Then I think about how I am tempting fate but saying, “Hey its ok if I die”….I suppose the only way to battle the “end-of-the-trip death acceptance” attitude is never letting the trip end. So that seems to be my way…

We had a great few months in Edmonton, and I got to see my family and some of my friends. The weather was quite warm for the peak of winter so once again, we got lucky. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely got our share of blizzards…but January was so unseasonably warm, it was hard to get a jacket on Michael. I got to spend a lot of time with my parents and Michael was so kind to help my Dad with some home renovations. It was amusing to watch him taking “suggestions” from my Dad on how exactly it should be done…he has the patience of a saint. In the end, the two of them had bonded and my mom was thrilled to finally have her new ceiling in her kitchen. I was upset that they didn’t have even one functioning smoke alarm in the whole house, so after we got them three and installed them, I was able to relax. It’s really important to take care of your parents when they get older…sometimes they spent so much of their energy taking care of you growing up, that they are tired and need a little help. It’s such an honor to be able to drive them to doctors appointments, especially when I know how hard it is for my Dad to ask for help…now I know where I get it from.

I am over the moon to be able to set my parents up with an iPad. My dad is nuts about word searches and luring him in free word search apps was my sneaky way of getting him over his fear of electronics. I showed him how easy it was to play with the colorful and shiny touch screen and he was hooked. The “computer” has been one major source of separation between my mom and dad. She is well versed in the inter webs and he is not. I imagine he feels a little left out and intimidated by it all but now he seems to be warming up. He is very old school but it appears we have found a way to draw him in to the 21 century.

All my friends are becoming parents lately, but I am happy not to be bringing new life into the world. I am grateful to have my parents to parent. Some people don’t have that, and I know that when the day comes that they are not around anymore, I won’t have any regrets. Like a hungry squirrel forging acorns for winter, I am gathering up and storing a ton of memories with them now so that in the future, I won’t miss them so much. Well, I hope that’s how it works.

Suddenly, the plane got cold. Man, that is one thing I am really looking forward to is not having snow. I like snow to look at but I just can’t stand the cold. I did get out skiing this trip, which was something I haven’t done in decades. I surprised myself with my skills and only fell down once. But that once was enough. It was extra fun because we wore our giraffe and bear onesies. In fact we wore those onesies as often as we could. Because inevitably some random would yell appreciative comments out of passing cars. It was a great way to cheer people in the otherwise cold long dark nights.

We spent my birthday at Fantasyland hotel in the Roman Room, which was way more fun than I ever expected. I think this is a must do for anyone who has the chance. They usually have  great sales around the holidays so we took advantage of that. I was expecting it to be really corny but it was very luxurious, with marble columns, giant jacuzzi and mirrors everywhere, even on the ceiling. Perhaps my favorite was the round bed enclosed in gossamer curtains. We spent a good hour planning how we could get a round bed in our dream house. And important on a birthday are balloons. The candle, I can take it or leave it, along with the sugar bomb cake…but the balloons I must have. I got a few holographic silver stars and one happy face that bobbed around behind me as we wandered around every corner of West Edmonton Mall.

I had planned to go to the gym a lot when I was home but we only got there once, because I got quite sick. For a good month I just couldn’t kick the cold/flu. I was pretty miserable and drank way more neocitrin than any sane human should. But I was able to heal and afterwards, even (very reluctantly) went to the doc for a full check up. She said all was well, so I can stop feeding any hypochondriacal monster that may be lurking inside.

So now we head back to San Francisco but only for one night. We have to pack our bags for a very exciting trip to Hawaii, Tahiti, Bora Bora, the Maquesas, and a few that I’d never heard of, like Nuka Hiva and Kirabati (Fanning Island). It was highly discounted so it was an offer we really couldn’t refuse, especially since we both haven’t been to French Polynesia. It’s the kind of place I have never thought about going, mostly because it seems very uneconomical. It is extremely expensive to get there and once there, accommodations are insanely steep. This is where you find those little grass huts built over turquoise clear water. They are generally upwards of $1000 a night. At that price, we would have to fly in, stay one night, then fly out the next day. It just never made any sense. BUT going on a cruise ship and island hopping, while we can stay overnight on the ship, that made sense. We will visit an island so tiny that one big tidal wave would wash it all away. Exciting!

And a couple days ago, I happened upon an opportunity that was also, too good to pass up. We had discussed getting to AfrikaBurn this year, and a few months ago, even filled out the volunteer applications. We all but gave up on that when suddenly, a FREE cruise came our way. It just happened to start in Cape Town and ended in London. It seems a lot of people had canceled because of the fear of Ebola in West Africa, which happened to be where a few of our ports are.. I was happy to jump on board and was overjoyed to finally be able to share one of my very favorite countries with Michael. He casually mentioned how cool it would be if AfrikaBurn happened around then, and guess what? It starts one week before we board the ship. The timing could not be better. When I checked into flights, I was able to secure a steal of a deal, on a one way ticket from SFO to Johannessburg for less than $700. The routing is awesome too as we only have one change in the States before the 16 hour flight all the way there. We will be able our air miles to get back from Europe at the end so this trip is turning out to be a real gift. I love it when a plan works out!

So tonight we have to pack and tomorrow AM we leave for San Diego, where we will AirBnb it before boarding for our month on the Pacific seas.

Grateful for going to places I thought I never would.

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