Monthly Archives: May 2009

Pea Soup Fog – Lisbon, Portugal

The fog horn sounds every two minutes as we glide through the thick of it. I am nestled into a cushy lounge chair in the 11th floor panoramic Viking Crown, undoubted ably the best view from the ship. There is nothing but murky whiteness for as far as the eye can (or shall we say CAN‘T) see. The heavy mist wafts up over the deserted pool deck two floors below and it’s like we are floating through the clouds. The long low blast from the horn vibrates my chair and rattles my glass of water dangerously close to the edge of the table.

We are enroute from Spain to England now and it seems we have encountered the infamous pea soup fog. The captain announced yesterday that we would have to charge past France at full speed all day if we were going to keep to schedule. It is pretty obvious we are going to be late as we creep cautiously through the low visibility of the English Channel.

It appears to be Saturday according to my laptop but then it also says it is 4:33am which clearly, it is not. I don’t even know which time zone we are in anymore but my guess is that it is closer to noon. I have lost all sense of time and somewhat my sense of space. Luckily, my sense of direction is still spot on as I needed it to navigate the confusing streets in small town Spain.

After Funchal, we hit Lisbon, Portugal (which I some how can’t seem to stop calling Libson) but I wasn’t too taken by it. I suppose I can’t really give it a fair appraisal as I barely left the ship.

I spent just an hour on shore walking around the pier and under the cable bridge. It was chilly out and I had started feeling a little under the weather. It seemed it would be a trek to get anywhere half decent and I really didn’t want to jump on the 15 Euro double decker tour bus. I decided to save my energy for the upcoming ports in Spain.

Grateful for caution.

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Malos Aires – Vigo, Spain

Slept in again and didn’t get into Vigo until well after noon. I had gone up to they gym for the morning exercise class at 8am but was told it and all other classed were cancelled for the day. A little disheartened I crawled back into my bed to sleep off the disappointment. Without Shawn there to inspire and push me, I really could get up the gumption. I decided I would walk up a storm in town instead.

As I wandered up and down the crooked streets noticing that most of the stores were shut. I frowned at my own negligence to remember that here they observe siesta. As I glanced at the hours of operation pasted on the window, most were indeed closed from 130-430pm, exactly the time allotment I had left for myself. I guessed it wasn’t too bad of a situation as I really wasn’t there to shop anyway. Still, I like to have the option.

I proceeded to go on my merry little way snapping photos of statues here and buildings there. It was a little annoying to have to manuver around the trash heaps piled up on every block. Some were taller than me and boy did they stink! They say that scent memory recall is extremely powerful and I had a vague recollection of a stench very familiar.

I observed the countless piles of doggie doo-doo carelessly left behind on the sidewalks. Last time I had turn on my turd-alert I was living in Argentina. I began noticing that the signage, the locals, the architecture, and even the flora struck a chord very close to home. I realized that this port city of almost 300,000 was reminiscent of Buenos Aires in so many ways.

I swallowed my sentimentality and trudged up the steeply inclined cobblestone streets trying to stay present. It was slightly difficult not to allow myself to be flashed back to my life back in South America several years ago.

Drunk with nostalgia, I got lost on Av Camelias. I ambled up Gran Via and past Praza de Espana into El Castro. This fortress is surrounded by a lush peaceful park filled with hundreds of kinds of trees and flowers. After stopping briefly to take in the stunning view of the bay where our ship was docked, I hurried back down through the steep snaky roads to get back on board.

Throughout the day, I had stopped in every little fruit stand and supermarket I could find to look for cherimoyas. Only one store had three and they were almost rotten, bruised beyond edibility. I had almost given up on finding my delicacy until the very last minute when I discovered one very perfect cherimoya just waiting for me. Yum.

Grateful for nostalgia.

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Hike to the Lighthouse – La Coruna, Spain

The morning we docked in La Coruna, Spain I made sure to wake up early. I popped out of bed and peered through the drapes to see that the sun wasn’t even up yet. Haha! I beat the sun for once. I ran into some friends at breakfast and we all planned to spend the day together hiking to the lighthouse.

The air was brisk as we set out but the sun was beaming down from a clear blue sky. We ended up walking the perimeter of the town. On the way we past many interesting structures including an odd but futuristic looking control tower, a miniature version of Stonehedge, and monument of Hercules. We also took time out to play in the playground and meditate on sea wall as the waves crashed majestically below creating rock pools.

There were many runners, cyclists, and other fitness enthusiasts taking advantage of the summary weather. I noticed the Galician city is quite geared towards exercise with trails and tracks throughout. They even have a free bike program! Along with the trolley, it kind of reminded me a bit of San Francisco. I thought it would be pretty easy to stay in shape here.

When we finally made it to the Tower of Hercules Lighthouse, I was a slightly disappointed to see the entire thing covered in scaffolding. We decided to climb the 242 steps anyway if only to see the view from up top. It was quite picturesque with the rugged coastline jutting out into the sea. Along with the interesting mix of architecture, numerous fishing spots, and the beaches spotted through the city, I imagined that this would be a charming place to live. I noticed that there were quite a few places for rent and was a bit surprised when I found myself actually considering it for a second.

Grateful for active lifestyles.

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Questioning Rule Guidelines

After dragging myself to the gym and performing my fitness ritual alone once again, I started to wonder about Shawn. Something was fishy and it wasn’t the smoked salmon. The word was that he was sick. Sick enough to quarantine him for days?

Overnight, they introduced hand disinfectant stations all over the ship. We were not just encouraged but it was demanded that we use them. Then a small army of cleaners with facemasks and gloves came through to deep clean of the facilities.

The gym was pretty dead as they provided no replacement so there were no classes or even a staff presence. Already a couple people had been hurt falling off machines and such. We thought it was irresponsible to just yank someone and not provide a substitute. A few of us gabbed between sets speculating what had happened to our beloved trainer from Australia. He has a lot of charisma and is big heart shines through his gruff commands to “work harder!” There was clearly something missing and it wasn’t just the music.

I admit, it was trying to get myself to go workout when there wasn’t anyone else to be accountable to. Over the next few days, people frequented the gym less and less. The few diehards left finally conspired to get to the bottom of the mystery of the missing fitness dude.

I made it my mission to do some serious detective work. Everyone loves a good mystery, if not scandal. After talking to many crew and passengers, I had narrowed it down to three possible theories.

1. Shawn has the Swine Flu. It just so happened that the Royal Caribbean issued a public warning to all passengers the morning Shawn went missing. The looming health crisis blasting all over the news and on notices all over the ship was putting a lot of people in fear mode. If anyone would contract it, it would be someone who would have had close physical contact with an infected. Someone like a fitness instructor.

2. Shawn burnt out and was taking time off. He had been conducting more than five classes a day and he was privately training the crew too. We all noticed he had developed a bit of a cough and was losing his voice. This was the story most crew recited when asked and seemed most likely.

3. Shawn got fired. There was a rumor that someone had seen him being escorted off the ship. If this is the case, it would lead into a whole world of new questions. Because it all happened so suddenly and those who should know seemed to be uncomfortable with any questioning, this seemed like a viable option.

Finally, one of the dancers spilled the beans and told me that the talented yet stubborn young Shawn had been forced to “resign”. He had in fact been escorted off the ship back in Spain as per Steiner‘s policy. Apparently, he had been pushing the boundaries for some time and some small protocol mishap had broken the camels back.

Working on a cruise ship seems not to be for everyone. I toyed with the idea for a while but the strict regimented routine would probably kill me. Surely it would stifle my creative growth. It seems there is not a lot of room to move, literally and figuratively. Why would I live in a self-imposed zoo?

There are those personality types that have trouble conforming and make it habit to question things. I was brought up to be one of those people. I have learned that things are not always as they seem. It feels strange for me to “fit in” as I never have. I used to contest authority as a habit but being in a constant state of struggle is exhausting. These days I choose my battles.

Sometimes, my natural instinct contradicts the norm or what is expected. I had a nightmare once that I was close to death and one moment revealed the nature of all my regrets. It was the worst feeling to think I had lived my whole life according to someone else‘s guidebook. I don’t think I could live with myself if I went against my gut and just followed blindly.

Still, there are some laws that make sense but then there are many that are outdated or just plain ridiculous. If there was a red light in the middle of nowhere and yours was the only car in sight, would you stop?

I guess there are three kinds of people in this world. Those who obey. Those who use their brains. And those who stop briefly until they realize how silly it is. Once they get past the initial fear of being “caught”, they creep through the light and spend the next five minutes questioning their morals.

Although I am never glad to hear of another’s misfortune, sometimes I can see its for the best. I was glad to hear that Shawn had left the ship. He has the type of character that will inspire many and his gift seems wasted in such a limited environment. The whole situation struck a uncomfortably familiar chord with me and I remember occurrences from my life in which I could relate. I suppose these examples are good motivation for me to make sure that I never fall back into that default pattern again.

Grateful for defying programming.

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Shipmate Changeover – Harwich, England

I felt sadness mixed with a tinge of smugness the night before all others were to depart. It was the end of a two week journey for most who were debarking in Harwich, England. Luckily, I had the foresight to book the extra four days up through Amsterdam into Oslo. It was nice not to have to get off as I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet, as one never is at the end of a holiday.

It was hard to say goodbye to tablemates Tom and Lois who were great company. I had become quite fond of them and their mannerisms. By the end of two weeks, I realized I knew a lot about them, their kids, and their views on life. Plus they were able to track down a cherimoya which gives them extra points.

Our games group got together one last time and played Balderdash into the wee hours of the night. After several laughs, we hugged and promised to keep in touch. I was amused at how attached I had let myself get to these people.

The next morning, I slept right through the announcements which would corral everyone off the ship. I sleepily wandered to breakfast, then moved my room as they had directed. The crew were all in turnover mode rushing about to ready the ship for the next batch of cruisers. I overheard the cruise director congratulating the staff on the trans-atlantic passage. He gave informational stats and offer snippets of encourgement for the next segment. Evidently, the ship would be primarily Brits so I readied myself for the accents.

I spent the day taking advantage of the barren gym which I could pretend was all my own. I thought about climbing the rock wall again but no one was there to spot me. I snacked a bit which I discovered the newly renovated Windjammer finally open. This is the casual buffet area which had been closed for the last two weeks. It was a nice change to have somewhere new to explore.

I continued my adventure to one of the upper decks to sneak into some of the suites and balconies. I wanted to see what I was missing and if it seemed worth it. Standing outside in the bitter cold of England, I realized that it would be pretty much useless to have a balcony if you were on an itinerary which was too cold to appreciate it. This next leg would be one of those. Already it was chilly for me and we were only going more Northernly.

I wrapped myself up in my big wool sweater that makes me look like a polar bear of sorts and hunkered down. While I read in the lounge, I noticed the steady trickle of shiny new cruisers curiously making their way onboard. I wondered if I would connect with any of them in the short but sweet four days I had left on this part of my journey.

Grateful for emptiness.

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Amsterdon’t get run over – Amsterdam, Holland

Monday morning we docked in Amsterdam and I was relatively eager to get out and explore. I still felt my energy lagging but I was able to gather myself up before noon. I was pleased that the ship was a 10 minute walk to Central Station which was in close proximity to everything else.

It took a little while for me to pull back up to speed with my dodging techniques. Two trams, three bikes, and several cars later, I remembered that this was the city that tries to runneth me over. Oh yes…it’s Frogger time once again.

Dam Square was filled with police and fence barricades rather than street performers and buskers so it wasn’t very interesting. I found out that they were setting up for the queen to come and present flowers for the remembrance day later that evening. I sat under the clock watching people feed the aggressive pigeons which would perch right on their outstretched arms.

Next I wandered up and down the way into the fairy store which I discovered years ago. It was still just as magical and mystical as I remembered it. Little trolls and elves peeked out from behind the trunk of the giant tree. Whimsical giant orbs hovered over my head while I perused the collection of jewels and gems for sale.

I strolled down the flower market and peeked my head into a few souvenir stores. Nothing really caught my eyes except the wall full of clog shaped slippers in every color of the rainbow. I was given an orange pair of these from a Dutch friend in Canada. Somehow that made them more special.

Grateful for traffic alerts.

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Responsibility of Freedom – Amsterdam, Holland

In the late afternoon, I decided to head to the Anne Frank House. The line up only lasted a few minutes which left me plenty of time to go through it. I had been here before years ago in 2002 but for some reason, now it was different. I didn’t get the same heavy feeling as it seemed to be more touristy, more forced. Perhaps this type of experience will only have that strong shocking effect in the initial go-round.

Similar to last time, I thoroughly enjoyed the interactive Free2Choose exhibit at the end. The provocative questions were designed to illicit strong feelings on controversial issues such as right to privacy, discrimination, freedom of speech, and other ethical hotspots.

On the way back through town, I passed by a few of the infamous red lit windows Amsterdam is known for. Slightly uncomfortable I quickened my pace as I stole a glance at who was for sale. I made eye contact for just a second as a blond forty-something shot me an gentle yet inquisitive smile. With her shoulder length bob and freshly made up facade, I couldn’t shake the knowing that this was someones daughter, sister and perhaps (most likely) someones mother parading around as flesh for rent. I smiled back mustering up as much compassion as I could offer with my limited understanding of prostitution. Long after I looked away, her solicitous eyes burned in my mind.

There was something dreadfully unnatural about these women and the air around them reeked of slavery. Many of the scantily clad bodies appeared to be self medicating in one form or another. Some took the effort to smile seductively and even made it look like they were having fun, dancing and laughing. But you could see that if they didn’t get the response they wanted their face flipped to something more sordid.

I wondered what it would be like to be shut up in a small dark box. Both Anne Frank and the red light district sellers evoked powerful yet confusing feelings with regard to freedom and human rights. I suppose I just don’t perceive much respect or positive healthy feelings when it comes to the sex trade. The wind picked up as I scampered back to the ship for dinner and ended up staying in for the night.

Grateful for contradictions.

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Firespinning in Oslo, Norway

It was so cold in Norway, I did what ever I could to warm up. Haven’t spun fire in a really long time but it was nice to remember why I loved it so much. Thanks for the push Kat!

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