Sunday, 4 December 2011

Nose at the Window

Wyona made some perfect cruise bookings.  The cruise companies changed itineraries, gave her minimal compensation and we were left with an insane return flight schedule to Canada.  Instead of going London – Calgary, the sensible thing to do, we are going London – Berlin – Barcelona – Frankfurt – Calgary.  There is some sunshine lining every cloud.  Because of the change in schedule, I have seen Berlin – not on my itinerary, but there it was before me today -- grey and I didn't get out of the airport -- but my passport is stamped, "Berlin".   

As well, my nose was pressed to the airplane window for the 15 minutes while we flew over the Mediterranean along the coast of Spain.  The blue of the ocean was cut by the curve of the land, and then the deep violet of the mountains behind were set off by the pink clouds in the sunset.  I was shaking my head, not believing I was seeing such beauty.

We tried to have supper at the hotel tonight, but true to Spanish custom, the dining room doesn’t open until 8:30 pm – far too late for us to begin a meal.  While we were talking to the maitre de, he drew his elastic barrier that runs between 2 silver poles in front of us, as though we were going to bolt and get into his dining room ahead of time.  Wyona, Greg and I took a vote and decided to have a genuine German sausage breakfast in Frankfurt tomorrow, instead and to call our foray into Wyona’s candy stash, supper.  At first, we thought we would walk into the community tonight and find a restaurant, but he clerk at the hotel desk reminded us it is Sunday today – only downtown Barcelona stores are open.  As well, this week are two holidays – one on Tuesday and one on Thursday.  So, he said, most people have taken off Monday, Wednesday and Friday and are just making a week of it.

I am looking forward to the German breakfast.  This morning I had English mustard when I went with Wyona and Greg to the Star Alliance Lounge in the airport.  I thought I was adding regular French’s Mustard to my plane, but at the first taste of it, and after I had recovered from that choking pungent taste, more akin to a eating mustard plaster than to tasting Canadian home-style mustard, I decided to give a new look to breakfast possibilities – thus the journey of looking foward to a German breakfast tomorrow.  Ah, the sweet cleansing of the sinuses for today.

I am hoping for another eating surprise tomorrow.


Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Captain's Lunch

“How did they get in without an invitation?”

That was Greg’s question tonight. 

The three of us received an invitation to the captain’s lunch – meant for pinnacle, diamond plus, diamond and platinum members.  A payoff for returning patrons.  Lucky for me, I have reached one of those categories because I tag along with Wyona and Greg and get to have my name put on invitations with theirs.

Before this first event for me, they would go off to hear the Captain talk – everyone in the room with a glass of champagne in their hands, or off to the Captain’s brunch or hors oeuvres with the Captain. Now this invitation had my name on it as well, and said in a kind way, in order to be admitted, the card had to be shown at the door. 

And yes, we were checked at the door.  When I went in, about five steps ahead of Greg and Wyona, instead of offering me that sanitizing cloth that everyone has to rub on their hands before they go in to the dining room, the one the woman was holding one in her hand, instead of putting it in mine, she held it behind her back and she asked me, “How could I help you today?” 

Now I had dressed up for the occasion (was smart casual) and my name was on that invitation. I had on my new cameo, the one I have been practising wearing, the one I wanted one ever since I was a child.  Older women would wear ones in the late 1940’s, ones that I would admire and in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, even 50’s, I would go by Birks and looking longing at samples in the windows, wondering when my time (enough $$$) would come to get one. 

When I was with Mary in Pompeii, I bought one and have taken to the practise of wearing it, since I have so many decades that I missed wearing one in and must make up for it to get the cost per wearing down.  Even that piece of jewellery was ready and on for the Captain’s specialty lunch.

“I am here for the Captain’s lunch,” I explained.  “My invitation is with them,” I answered pointing to Wyona and Greg.  The sanitizing cloth came immediately to my hand, along with a lovely welcome, though the invitation was securitized as they passed it to the gatekeeper on their side of the isle.

We were seated and soon another couple joined us in the MacBeth dining room.   

“How many cruises have you been on,” said Wyona and when they answered this was their first one, the rest of us handled the news with aplomb, not missing a beat but as Greg said, how did they get in --and asking them how they were enjoying it, would they take another and where were they from, what shows they had enjoyed onboard ... to which the answer was they were from Lutton and after the shows, the bars are so full they can’t find a place to get a drink. That is about it for how much conversation they offered. Greg worked hard for the rest of the meal, keeping the dialogue going, but he couldn’t get any information from them...about the man’s work, their family, what else they liked to do. 

We had seen someone turned away from the dining room the night before, miffed and loudly arguing with the person who had denied them entrance, but every Cruise Compass reminds people of appropriate attire: bare feet, shorts, tank tops and t-shirts are not permitted in the dining room.  This couple, however, made it passed the gatekeepers and the couple were wearing shorts and t-shirts and without a captain’s invitation, unlike me, dressed to the nines and still stopped. 

Events like these take a lot of time for the three of us try to figure out how that just happened.  Did they make it through because they were so old no one stopped them? Perhaps they are so deaf they didn’t hear someone telling them to stop which is Greg’s guess.  A good guess given they only nodded and smiled at him all dinner when he tried to get conversation going?   

Or did they accidently take their place in this dining room, since it is their usual assigned one for evening sitting and they just missed knowing which meal they were going to and came to lunch instead of supper?   

Who knows, but the whole incident makes the three of us burst out laughing when we talk about it.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Sea Day

People laugh when I say that sea days are so busy that I don’t have time to eat.  Wyona and Greg don’t have time for it, either.  There is a destination lecture, a bridge lecture, a dance class, a lecture on historical events around the port we will be entering.  Then if I take a mile walk around the deck before all of this happens, and try to get to the evening entertaining – well, those days are exhausting. 

The Bridge Lectures are attended by the same group of people – the others meet again in the afternoon to practise their skills with duplicate bridge on each other. But Wyona and Greg go off to dance lessons instead. If Wyona does go to play, and Greg goes to dance alone, she ends up getting the high board points, but she claims the stress of having to do so well wears her out for the rest of the day. She comes back to the room, throws herself on the bed, and gives me strict instructions.  Vehemently she says, “Don’t ever let me go up there and play bridge again”.  Not believing I have that power, I have no idea what tools I am going to use to stop her.

Still, I am enjoying learning about the rule of 20, the rule of 15, the rule of 11 and the instructions on the four rules of what to lead should you get to play the first card.  “The gods of bridge will punish you if you don’t memorize these four leads,” the instructor said, looking up to the heavens. “And I mean it.  You will be punished.”

This threat scares me more than it scares Wyona.

- Arta

Naples, a Second View

The tune to which we sing, the ants go marching one by one, is the tune of the rally song that we heard from the unemployed, marching by us in a public protest.  We were trying to get back to the ship before it left, and while we didn’t want to retrace the path that had led us to the wholesalers street for the sale of scarves, that ended being the best way, when Wyona stopped a passerby to enquire, first, do you speak English, and then, which is the best way back to the port.

We parted with Greg earlier.  He went left to explore the older buildings of Napoli.  We went right to explore local markets.  Greg has a good sense of mapping each town we enter, and he set us off on a main street.  I am slower these days for two reasons.  When the city is new, there is so much more for me to be aware of: the right way to cross a street, the weave of the pavement, in the case of Naples, the disintegrating buildings, the laundry hung from balconies, the dry dusty smell of construction as wheel barrows are loaded with sand in the middle of the sidewalk, and pushed into the foyer of buildings that have been gutted and are being refurbished from the ground up.  The local pastries were layers of phyllo, loaded with fruit or creams or even meat fillings.  The median price point of the confections hovered at about one euro, the price at which I want to try buy five and take just one bite of each.

Wyona had passed by a street market where she bought a beautiful watch when we were in Naples with Mary.  Now we were back, and looking again for that market, but stopping along the way to inspect the goods that were out on the streets and to get a sense of what prices people were paying.  Ten euro someone asked for a scarf that we had bought elsewhere for five euro – and with that we passed on, but couldn’t find the street market.  Finally we saw people closing up their stalls and followed them, which was the right thing to do, for they led us to the wholesaler.

The Bangladesh retailer spoke only his own language and Italian.  My English and Wyona’s French were no good to him, but a friend of the retailer with limited English was hanging out in the shop and he translated for us – all scarves were 5 Euro, the right price.  We began to pick out new patterns we wanted to buy.  We asked the friend, “How old are you?”

“Thirty-four,” he answered.

“How old is the shopkeeper?”, we continued.

“Twenty-three,” he said.

“A mere baby,” we said.  We had watched him when some Italian customers came in.  “All Bangladesh are good.  All British and Canadian are good.  All Italians steal,” they told us in broken English

Wyona laughed.  “No, there are good people and bad people everywhere.”

“No,” said the young shopkeeper.  “I have to keep my eyes on the Italians when they come in for they will shoplift from me.  I had to keep my eye on both of the customers for they come in together, for one tries to distract me and the other puts stuff in their shirt pocket,” and he pantomimes how that is done for us. 

“You mean like this,” Wyona says, and she tucks some jewellery in her pocket, holding her pocket way out so he is sure to see, and making him laugh.  I ask myself the question, how does she keep doing this and never ending up in jail.

“And how old are you?” the guy with some English asked.

“Sixty-seven and she is the old one at seventy-one,” said Wyona, pointing at me.

“Jesus Christ!”  

I don't think the shop keeper was really swearing.  But the English swear words from his mouth rang between the shop walls expressing utter amazement at what he was seeing -- the two of us shopping as though we were 20 year olds.  Maybe it is a sign that Wyona and I should work at fitting the usual stereotypes, which we aren't read to do yet.

I expressed some anxiety about food this morning.  For two mornings in a row, I have been ready to eat breakfast, just at the 45 minute space during which the four large dining rooms are closed because they are getting ready to serve their lunch menu. The three boats have been different – but none of the other two every close the dinning

Bravo, bravo, brave, said three times.  That is what the captain says to begin and end the noon hour drills that occur for the staff.   I have seen cooks in their white hats, and plumbers in their blue jump suits going to their assigned stations when I have been on the ship at noon and this happens.

The passengers have their first and only drill immediately after coming on board and before the ship debarks.  We all go to our assigned stations without our life jackets, to get a feel for what we would do in an actual emergency. 

As well, I have watched them take lower the lifeboats and do obligatory drills with them.  Further, we used some of them to taxi us in from the boat to the port entrance when we were in Croatia.  But today ... things were different.  

... dummy on floor, successfully raised out of water with a big hook ...
“What is that out in the water, Greg?”, I asked.  “A boat?  It looks like a body, which isn’t making me feel all that good?”  We watched for a little longer, and the object floated closer to us – a dummy, floating in the water.  Then we heard the staff emergency drill begin with Bravo, bravo, brave and watched a lifeboat lowering into the water.  “This is what a balcony is for,” I thought, “to get to watch procedural drills that I never imagined I would see.”  

The dummy kept floating to the east.  The life boat began to speed to the west.  

Passengers from all of the balconies began to wave, yell, whistle and shout, “No, not that way.  Over here!  The dummy is over here.  You are going the wrong way,” all of us imagining now that we were that dummy floating in the water and that the lifeboat was headed away instead of toward us. 

The orange boat circled back around and someone with a long stick that ended  with a sharp hook reached out to bring in the dummy – it looked to me like if I didn’t die from drowning, I might die from infection  from that stick scraping against my body in the rescue.  The exercise ended when the captain cried out again, “Bravo, bravo, bravo.”  

I am not all that sure that the crew should have been congratulated in that way today, given that it took all of us in the balconies to help them find the dummy in the water.  And it never did get CPR -- which I am sure it needed!


Loading a Ship with Food at Civitavecchia, Italy

When the thrusters on the boat had quieted down this morning, and I was finally awake, I slipped out in the dark of the balcony to see what the port looked like.  Below me was a white van, the back of it already open and a dog was tied up to a fence nearby.  A local food vendor, I thought, getting the back and side of his van ready for a local snack to entice the first passengers who would disembark before they had breakfast onboard.  

I left and went up to deck 12, the walking track, and did my first mile and half of the week, since I haven’t been feeling that well this whole trip.  Five laps are a mile.  I walked eight and then checked out the hot tub, which I haven’t done yet either, finding out how to get a towel and which tubs were the jacuzzis and which, just hot tubs.  I had to sort out where the showers were, where to put my clothes – all of that--  kind of hard work for a newbie.  I picked up some fruit on the way past the restaurant to bring back to our new home away from home, and I wondered if I would run into Greg and Wyona before they left for Rome.  She was in the room and we chatted for a while, until I finally asked why Greg was taking so long in the shower. 

“He has gone into Rome without me.  I am just going to make my way to Civitavecchia on the shuttle for a few hours.  Want to come?”
... the police dog tied to the fence ...

Now this would be my first outing since in London.  I thought we would get out of the room faster, but Wyona had been leaning over the balcony as well this morning, longer than I and with a brighter mind.  She had figured out that the white van I had spotted earlier had nothing to do with food at all, but was really a police van; the dog, one that sniffs for drugs.  

By now I, too, had noticed that the 18 wheelers that were lined up by the ship, sometimes six deep, had to be unloaded and each palette sniffed by the dog.  

The policeman would slit the plastic wrapping with a knife.  The dog would run around the palette sniffing through the cut in the plastic, and when the policeman was satisfied with the cargo, he would slap a sticker on the unsplit side of the palette and another forklift would move it to the cargo doors of the ship.

...18 wheelers, fork lifts, ...
... lugs of food to split and check for contraband ...
... police dogs ...
... fork lifts at the 18 wheelers ...
... forklifts after the 18 wheelers ...
... fork lifts inside the ship ...
... passengers on deck 4, also watching ...
I have never seen so much food moved.  

I had to do the math again, since this was our first major loading of food since we left London.  

Three meals a day for passengers and crew – 3,800 passengers and 1,385 crew. 

No one was working harder than the policeman except maybe the dog.  Together they were at work with every load until 5:30 pm when the last 18-wheeler drove away.

This is the second time on this trip when Wyona and I have been near Rome on a Sunday, -- the day that the shops are closed down.  Three travel hours is a long way to go for the tourist sites, when we already spent 7 days, 12 hours a day at them last year.  A little shopping might have taken us there – but the Italians love their Sundays and close their smaller shop doors. And it is those smaller shop doors we like to enter.

The same is true of the street vendors in Civitavecchia, but the walk through these streets was only a 20 minute shuttle away.  Wyona and I strolled by old city walls, moseyed up the deserted main street, made our way up and down the aisles of an old five and dime store that held the cheapest line of every product possible, and where we could not find one thing to buy.  Oh, she ran into some baby-sized clothes pins, only good for a doll house and I saw a Pinocchio key chain, but both of us asked, “Do you really need either of these things?”
The best thing to be said about the store is that I watched a nanny with a crying five year old in her arms, bring her charge into that shop, put her on the floor and let her play with the merchandise in the shelves, which made the child stop crying.  Probably not that good for the merchant, but what a way to tend a baby!

Wyona and I had done a cost analysis on the gelato we wanted to buy in Rome.  Had we gone with Greg, who did take the trip, and made our way to our favourite gelato store by the Termini Metro Station, the cost of the gelato would have had to include the 2-way price of the three hour train ticket to go in and out of Rome, more than we wanted to pay for a cone – even if we have declared it Italy’s best gelato restaurant.  This idea of what the Rome gelato would have really cost us, freed us to stop at every gelato shop along the way in Civitavecchia, no matter what they charged, which was still cheaper than any touristic shop we might have stopped in, had we been in Rome.  I tried lemon and cherry but I am staying with pistachio as the most divine flavour. Wyona was looking for Amarino, of which there was none, but she tried a large scoop of darkest purple grape flavour I have ever seen.  About half way through the cone she stopped me on the street to show me that every small mouthful ended with ten to fifteen tiny seeds on her tongue which she had to get rid of.
“Aren’t you supposed to swallow those,” Greg asked her later.  I think the answer is, if you are running your tongue over the smoothness of the gelato, you are going to have a collection of them in your mouth whether you choose to swallow them or not.

The beach was full of families at play on the sand. Multiples of children were riding the two pink merry-go-rounds or getting their pictures taken by the two-story figure of a marine kissing a nurse.  There were no street merchants as far as we could see down the beach so we walked north along the deserted main street.  I lagged behind Wyona, studying the ironwork on the balconies and watching the different configurations of families out for an afternoon stroll.  We window shopped, paused by a store showing a set of men’s underwear decorated as though he was going to a formal tux  and this would be all he was wearing.  I was wondering, is this purely Italian or a gimmick to get some crazy spender into the store.
On the return to the ship, the same deserted street we had first seen along the beach was now full of vendors – the ones who display their goods on a large sheet on the ground. To describe this scene more fully for just a minute, the sheet is about three feet by four feet, and the four corners of the sheet can be easily gathered together, the rolled goods can now be put the vendors arm so that he can stroll past the police down the street.

So here were the vendors out now – about a street length and a half of them.  No one was shopping or looking at their stuff.  Wyona and I have a lot of experience with this next act.  If one or the other of us takes a closer look at the scarves – a look really in earnest, having the vendors take them out of the plastic packages for us, other women gather around us.
“We have enough scarves already,” said one of two women, gathering in very close to us, and somewhat dissing us.  “Same with us, enough scarves for a lifetime, but that is not stopping us from buying these today,” said Wyona. 

“The same with us,” laughed the other woman.  “We are scarfaholics, as well.  Our kids don’t want us to buy anything for them, not scarves, not anything, but they tell us to buy ourselves into oblivion.  So we aren’t buying these for anyone – just for ourselves.”

“Are you on the cruise ship, as well,”  I asked, continuing, “what was the price they were selling these murano glass necklaces in the jewellery shop on board?  Did you notice?”
“They are a lot cheaper here on the street,” said the one woman, identifying herself now as coming from the Italian Costa Cruise Line, not the boat we are travelling on.

We laugh and walk on, leaving 10 women now, all of whom have stopped and asked us (instead of the merchant) if the prices were good.  The women were now surrounding that merchant, all of them scarves in their hands, and no longer wondering if they should buy, but ... how many they should buy.  That was too much scarf activity around a sheet laid out on the ground for us. 

We strolled on.

“Wyona, when we stop at the next merchant let us make him an offer.  Ask him how large a discount he will give us on the scarves we buy, if we bring a crowd of women in for him.  It seems all we have to do is examine a few of the patterns carefully, throw a some nice coloured wraps over our arms like we are going to buy them, and soon we get squeezed out of our front line positions and have to move on.”

But none of the above is what I wanted to tell you when I started typing this.
As we were strolling back down the same avenue, this time, looking at the Murano Glass instead of the scarves – all pieces being sold at 2 euros a piece (or 3 for 5), we saw the lay-your-sheet-on-the-ground vendors packing up to go, all at exactly the same moment.
“Police?”, we ask the man in whose wares we are examining.  “No, we just close down at 3 pm.”

“Wyona, we have just been told a lie,” I whispered to her. “Vendors just don’t close up when it is 3 pm and they are surrounded with customers.  Ask the next merchant the same question -- what is going on.”

“OK,” he said. “The police only allow us to come out between 1 and 3.  Then we have to go home.  We can’t come out in the morning.   We can come back until 8 pm.”

All I could think of is that the cruise ships would all be gone by 8 pm.  A weird way for the police to patrol the streets. 

Anything goes during the community nap time ... something every tourist should know.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Cadiz, Spain

I saw the Cathedral from the top of the ship this morning as I was taking my walk.  I couldn’t see any clear path that lead to it – only a maize of streets.  How hard can it be to find something that high, I thought as I was walking the deck.  But as soon as Wyona, Greg and I got on the cobbled streets, the Cathedral disappeared from our view.  We walked through narrow streets, enjoying the wrought iron balconies, the tiled walls of the the plazas and the marble under our feet and searching for a way through the streets to the church.

The entrance fee was three euros for Spanish pensioners, and five euros for all others except those in groups for whom the price dropped to three Euros again.  “Do you want to form a group and get in a little cheaper?” asked Wyona to people behind us who were also looking at the entrance fee. 

And that is how we made our way into the cathedral for 3 euros where we spent a quiet Friday afternoon trying to see what it is about the neo-classical style of the 19th century that is definitely Spanish. The old stone out of which the church is built is porous and  disintegrating.  The ceiling is falling into the nave of the church.  A fine net is strung from one end of the church to the other to keep that ceiling from falling on the worshipers and the travellors as well. I was trying to figure out what about the design of the church was definitely Spanish – a square border, the corners of which all had squares in them, but which were definitely offset and not symmetrical, for example. 

The church also houses the tomb of Manuel de Falla, which is why there was a portrait of a musician, obvious because of the notation manuscripts around him in the painting.  “Falla?” said Greg.  “Does anyone know this musician?”

“Fie-ya,” I could hear the announcer on CBC saying.  But then I couldn’t remember if I should pair him up with the Firebird Suite or with something else.  Where, oh, where is the internet when I need it.  The same thing happened at lunch today.  We had brandied lattice cups that held lemon perrot.  I could identify the waffle-latticed cups but not the lemon perrot it held – this sharp delicious lemon flavoured confection, but what about it means perrot?  I will probably even have forgotten the question by the time I get back to my blessed internet.  I had no idea how many times a day I go to it to find out the answer to some question, which no longer burns in me when I have discovered the answer.

Greg left us to explore Cadiz on his own.  Ever since Italy he has been looking for a lemon pastry that escaped him there.  Wyona and I like to travel down the narrow old streets.  I had gone to the destination lecture about Cadiz and looked at the Port Explorer, published by the ship.  I had gone to sleep in the lecture, but I didn’t know if I was out for just a few seconds or for much longer.  I did remember enough that I could identify the 17th century stone walls, a spotted the Coastal Walking Path, located on the Atlantic side of Cadiz, and when we passed the Spanish Plaza, I could hear the words of the lecturer – “Every Spanish town has a main plaza.”  Wyona and I stood for a long time looking at the monuments, celebrating liberal assembly.  Burned into my brain was the man on the square who stood holding a long banner onto which these words were written:  all I want is what others have – a democracy to live in.  Living in one,  how often do I forget that others don’t have that.

Passenger watching.  That is what we do a lot of.  When I was first boarding I saw an old couple, dressed absolutely fit to kill.  Beautifully tailored cothes and I one point when I looked at the clothes carefully, it seemed he garments were hanging on skeletons.  Wyona saw the same couple often – they must be Celebrity Pinnacle Passengers, for they are always early to the theatre and get the reserved seats for people who have travelled with the line often, and always impeccably dressd – she with a lovely hat and matching coat; he with a tailored evening coat and a beautiful scarf at his neck.  Tehy are so old that the two hardly have any meat left on their bones.  I have no idea how they got their luggage on board for they look too fragile to even carry themselves along.”  Wyona pointed the woman out to me one night in a show.  There is a box of seats especially reserved for Platinum members (people who have cruised for over 80 days are diamond plus members and the platinums are above that).  This time the woman was wearing a sequined sparkling cap to die for, one like women wore in the days of the flappers.  The third time we saw them was at an elevator around lunchtime.  The woman had a hat on again, a beautiful rhinestone piece on its headband is what I was admiring.  The elevator came.  I saw someone gently take her shoulders, turn them 180 degrees and say softly in her ear, “The elevator is this way, dear.”  And then push her gently forward.  Then her husband, again in a lovely suit with a silk scarf at his neck, slowly tugged on her hand and she took tiny steps, barely staying upright, into the elevator. 

That is how long I want to cruise.  All the way until I don’t know which way to the elevator, though I still want to be able to put on a beautiful silk dress and hat to look good for that journey to the elevator.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Barcelona, Spain

If we are in Barcelona, then it is time for us to do our wash at a Laundromat.  I woke thinking about Wyona and Greg, the washer man and woman, wondering if they would be pickpocketed, for if past history is a predictor of the present, one or both of them will be targets today.  She was first pick-pocketed in Manilla in the 1970’s when she had all of the money for their paycheck for the month in her purse. She had split it into two parts:  money for their bills and money for their groceries.  When she went to pay for her groceries at the till, the one side of her purse had been emptied. 

Wyona had her purse stolen in the USA when she was with Geraldine and they were having an ice cream cone.  That time they got her passport as well. 

Then she had her money stolen in Paris when she and I were travelling on that beautiful new subway there.  Greg had his wallet targeted twice in Barcelona.  Wyona hears him yelling and he is surrounded by people who are looking at him as though he is crazy, but at least he still has his wallet when they leave.  That is the way the pickpockets went after Doral in the China in the ‘70’s.  Wyona claims the method is to surround the victim, get them separated from their friends, make it so they can’t move and then go for the money. 

Remember the time when the pickpockets were after Wyona at Oxford Square. I called out to her they kicked me.  The black and blue bruise on my shins reminded me of that for several months afterward.  In Las Palmas, the lace and fabric merchant Wyona was visiting reminded them several times – take care with your wallet on the streets.  Hard on the merchants when the thieves get to your money before you can pull it out to make purchases with them.

I had acute bronchitis when I got to London.  A trip to the clinic got me some medication and I had to make the call – stay there or keep travelling. I thought I could get well as quickly on a boat as in a bed. I have pretty well quarantined myself to the room until the last two days.  What is unlike me is ... no morning walks on the deck, no early bird exercise, and I am right off of my food.  This is a major disaster, given here are only 8 more days of cruising with unlimited everything.  For example,

Wyona and I were alone at dinner.  Greg had not returned from Mallorca and we couldn’t decide which dessert was the best on the menu.  Idot, the head waiter, was suggesting bread pudding.  Too much bread, thought I.  Edin, the assistant waiter, said that the chocolate cake would be best and that we could up the ante on it by asking for double chocolate sauce and some white sauce on the side.  He got into the act because he has to ask us every night if we want coffee.  I told him that if one of the 3 of us asks for coffee, that event will be about as much of a miracle as he will ever see in a lifetime.  We just aren’t going to be saying yes to that beverage.  Still he has to ask, so we try to get in some other conversation with him so we don’t looks so unpleasant with our abrupt no, no, and no.  And that is how we got in conversation with him about the dessert, having no previous idea that the customer could fiddle with the dessert, as in double the sauce, or add an extra scoop of ice cream, please. The peach poached in brandy with crème analgise looked good to me.  The orange sherbet promised heightened citrus flavour but Wyona and I were too full to have anything jump out at us. And the idea that we could say, no dessert tonight is absolutely foreign to us.  So the waiters brought it all.  I have to learn how to poach peaches at the lake and make them into that dessert. So stunning! I searched out the assistant waiter so that we could take back an extra poached peach to the cabin for Greg.  I am helping Wyona take care of Greg, as you can see.  Not that he can't gather enough cookies on his own.

Woodhaven Park

The walk from Rebecca’s house to the underground is all downhill. To make things even easier than that, Wyona and I have downsized our luggage since the first cruise, but remember we left for 59 days – which is a lot of luggage to get into 2 suitcases.  And we are in every kind of weather – London winter and the heat of the November Mediterranean. The major downsizing occurred when trying to leave Barcelona last time.  You can check on-line if you have extra baggage and it costs $50 for that second piece. Since we didn’t do that, we were going to be charged by the pound for that suitcase:  $300. No matter how Wyona tried to negotiate, the price was firm.  We took our luggage close to a garbage can and began to divest ourselves of anything that seemed superfluous:  pocket-sized hand lotions, back-up shoes in case our first pair of walking shoes got wet, previous papers reminding us of where we had been.  And if the items were heavy and small they went to our handbags.  Wyona, who is good at estimating weight, said she was sure her handbag weighed 35 pounds at that point, but they don’t weigh those.  Then back we went to pay for the extra suitcase which was now down to $158 – a lesson learned.  The agent had to give just one last warning to her, saying, your carrying ons are also the wrong size.  In Europe we have smaller restrictions and we don’t honour the North American Standards, he said.  Suitably chastised we will make sure neither of those mistakes happen again.  Too costly.    

This is our first time on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. Thirty-eight hundred people were trying to get on the ship at the same time, which is doable if the boat’s computers have not gone down.  If so, then there is a two block line-up outside of the terminal, after which there is a line that snakes for 18 columns back and forth before it turns a corner and that that crowd of people is out of sight.  No end to it.  The serpenting row leads you past the same people, line after line, until you know them well: which ones are carrying their formal clothes over their arms so as not to have them wrinkled, which couples have dressed to the nines just for the getting onboard experience, and which groups have come, either as family or friends.  And I saw one hideous scarf so many times that it began to look beautiful to me.  Greg says that the British are good at cuing, that they line up and then are jocular as they wait for their turn at the final counter.  He is right.  They make their standard jokes with each other. I keep falling behind in the cue.  I do not know how I can get 4 people behind in less than a few seconds.  At one point Wyona lifted barrier, told me to duck under and said, please, try to keep up with us.  I will take any chance to get into the race again, so I ducked under the barricade.  But it wasn’t long before someone was pushing past me again. “Please,” I said, to her, “Go ahead, your group must have passed you.”

“Oh, no,” she said, “my group is way back there,” pointing over her shoulder and behind her back. “But I was ahead of you.”  And then a frosty silence.  She must have seen me slip under one of the tapes.

“Be my guest,” I said, “I am slipping back and having trouble keeping up with my sister and brother-in-law who are ahead of me.  If you can find a way to make it to the front of the line, I am going to be your helper, for just keeping up with my group isn’t working for me.”

The line that snaked in one room, then requeued into one long line, ever longer, in the next room. I don’t know how those other old people stood on their feet for 2 ½ hours.  I looked pretty young in comparison to some of them.  One couple we fashionably dressed, not a wrinkle on their clothes, but I said to Wyona, those two over there are going to be nothing more than skeletons if this line takes any longer.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Wicked, the Sequel

Did the author of The Wizard of Oz, have the plot of wicked in mind when he wrote his book, Alex asked after the performance.  Wyona explained to him, probably not.  Rebecca said later that Derrida and Foucalt might disagree.  In this instance, I am putting my money on Wyona -- not because she is right, but because that is the answer that I understand best.

Our seats were good -- a restricted view on the side, but we were in the stalls on row L, which was sweet.  When I saw Wyona come in before the performance, taking a chair in the middle of the stalls, I went over to spend the last 5 minutes  before the curtain went up, talking to her.  An usher asked, "Are all of you together, for if you are, I can find you better seats so you can all sit together. 

 "Actually, this is not my seat at all," said Wyona.  "See the large man over there.  He is in my seat.  I gave it to him, for he is 3 seats over and cannot possibly fit into the one he has purchased."

"I will get you all together in good seats," he said.

We ended up in the centre of the stalls with 3 empty rows in front of us.  How is that for having an absolutely unrestricted  view of the stage.

I spent a lot of time looking at the costuming again, catching lines that were thrown away on me before, but now added depth to the play, watching the singing and dancing skills of the new Elphaba and Glinda.  I saw the best scarecrow/empty head-ed prince ever.  His legs were still weak and wobbly when he played out his final scene and walked into the wood.  Fantastic, especially after watching the equally amazing performance of the scarecrow in the original version the day before.

The boys needed a debriefing at the intermission, having just seen Andrew Lloyd Webber's production of the The Wizard of Oz.  Who is good?  Who is bad?  Who is only pretending to be good, but is bad?  Who is bad but pretending to be good? Will evil triumph over good?

Theatre at its best!

Saturday, 22 October 2011


Istanbul --  “To the city”

“These are historic waters we are sailing through,” said Greg as he gazed from the balcony, onto the Aegean Sea.  He was waiting for Wyona to get her shoes on so that they could go to their dancing lessons – today is the rumba.  Wyona had bubble bathed all morning. “Whenever am I going to have a bubble bath in a balcony suite on a boat, again,” she said to us as Greg and I hurried off to the destination lecture entitled Istanbul, not Constantinople.  I met the lecturer while standing in the specialty omelette line-up for breakfast.  “I enjoyed your lecture two days ago.  My brother-in-law and I were saying how we had wished your lecture had been longer when you talked about Corfu.” 

“It is difficult”, he said, “since I am only allowed 35 minutes of presentation time.  I submitted two lectures and the people on board choose the second one, so I have plenty of material.  But the problem on board is just that there are not enough rooms to run all of the programs people want.” 

The people who gathered around the lecturer post-presentation had questions to ask and answers to share.  Most agreed that the best source of information for a traveller is Rick Steven’s Guide to Istanbul, one man there having read 100 pages of it in another Rick Stevens book.  Greg and he went on to chat about good books to read about the history of the Golden Horn.  The lecture had covered the etymology of the name Istanbul, the best reading on it being that in Turkish it sounds a bit like “to the big city”, which would make sense given the rural roots of the people who  finally ended up living in the city.

That was the historic destination lecture.  Later in the morning and better attended was the shopping lecture, highlighting the way to purchase Turkish leather coats (lightweight for their cold winters of 70 degrees Fahrenheit), rugs, coffee (better at waking people up than Red Bull), apple tea, Turkish delight candy (created for a Sultan with a sweet tooth but no way to eat hard candy) and tourist paraphernalia, all decorated with the sign of the evil eye.  I am going to a market with 4009 shops and 16 entrances and exits, hoping I can buy at least one pashmina, a wool scarf that is so fine it will pass through the circle of a wedding ring.

I took my early morning walk.  The sun rose from behind the distant horizon and lifted its face over the right over the water in the time it took me to only walk one length of the boat. I will be that sun rose in less than to minutes.

We had been promised a stormy sea with high winds today.  I wanted to beat the turbulence and the water on the deck by getting up early.  The wind had already beat me to the deck. I had to lean forward to stand upright.  A few chairs slipped across the deck in front of me.  Some of the backs on the deck chairs banged forward. I casually wondered if I shouldn’t have brought a whistle with me, in case I was blown overboard.  Soon I was thinking of wearing a life jacket in case no one noticed I was gone for a few days. 

Wyona and I came back from the Turkish Grand Market without buying anything ... a sad comment on the shopping energy Wyona and I had. Oh, that is not to say that we didn’t find a beautiful red silk scarf, wider than the usual scarves, but when we went back to get it, we couldn’t find that shop again.  That is what is wrong with shopping in a place where there are 4009 shops.  Not that there are that many kinds of shops – there was leather (coats, purses, shoes), gold, diamonds, silver, ceramics and the usual tourist paraphernalia (the evil eye on key chains, ash trays).

We sat down to eat.  What are the chances that someone you had eaten breakfast with would be at the table with  you – but there they were, Frank and Joan on the side of me, and on the side of Greg, a couple that he calls his chicks.  They were fabulous – older women on their first crew and full of lots of interesting chatter. The dinner companions are always interesting because they have had as many adventures in the market as we have had.


Corfu, Greece

We walked through the square, through the local church, stopped to take pictures at a typical square surrounded by dining establishments, and then we walked through the streets of markets, looking at the precious gems, the gold, the shawls, the wooden salad tongs and the toys. I tried on a one-armed black shawl, well worth the price of 40 euros and though, “If I only wear this to the Ward Christmas Party, it will be well worth the price.” When I walked away and left it in the shop, Wyona asked, “What happened there.”

“The handsome Greek clerk insisted on helping me with shawl. I knew I could do it alone, but he was insistent, I slipped the sleeve on and then went to wrap the rest of the shawl wrapped around me. But he stood a little too close to me. And when I had the sleeve on, he took his hand and smoothed out the rest of the material on the left side of my body and around my hip, giving me a massage along the way that was just a tidge too familiar. Am I imagining this, I thought. But no, he wrapped the other side of the scarf through my midriff and over my shoulder the same way. All that went through my mind was – I am used to getting a massage like this for free. It is not going to help him sell me this scarf this way, even though I really want it I am going to leave it here.” So I scarified and and went away empty handed. “You should have told him, You would have bought it, without the familiarity.” ” said Wyona when I told her. “I know. I know. But I am not quick enough and besides, I am on holidays and so I will find that scarf somewhere else on this trip.

At a Venetian Well

“Go that way, if you want to see a real local sight,” a local said to me as I was waiting outside of a grocery store for Greg and Wyona who needed some cool refreshment. The Donair Shop had offered her a coke for 2 ½ Euros. Too expensive. In the grocery store it was only one euro. So with a Fanta Orange her hand, we climbed some stairs to an empty courtyard where the well was a two step platform of white marble and inscribed 1693. I wondered how many families had drawn their water there.

A bougainvillaea tree was splayed against one of the apartment walls. A grape vine rose two stories and then branched its vines out over the windows. A woman sat on a balcony hanging her laundry out over the street. School boys came running by, empty handed, hiding in the niches of the wells so they could scare the girls whom they knew would be coming after them. The girls walked by, shrugging their shoulders with disdain at the silliness of the boys who were trying to attract their attention. Their mothers all followed behind them in a few minutes, backpacks over their shoulders. “Did you notice,” said Wyona, “things are the same all over the world. The girls all carried their own back packs and the mothers were carrying the backpacks of the boys, one of them having 3 sets of shoulder straps slung over her shoulder.”

So nice to see down so many streets in Corfu.


The Disgruntled Table Mates

Pre-planning works when there are three people and eight suitcases to move out of the hotel, down La Rambla and onto the Blue Tourist Bus. That was about the last thing we planned as we went to bed last night. Greg noted that our walk turned many heads – we hope other tourists who were wondering how they were going to make the same trip. And in fact, one couple stopped our progress for no reason other than to ask, “Are you going cruising?” and “Why are you getting to the ship so early. You know you can’t board until 2 pm.” But we had this special knowledge: table changes are done first thing at 11:30 a.m. So our journey to the boat was easy and we were left with only one last item to plan. Wyona has wanted a window seat for the dining room experience and the only way was to get to the Dining Room right at 11:30 am and ask for that change to be made. The waiter led us to our middle table which gave us a great view of the staircase, in the middle of which sits a Grand piano and a small stage for dinner performances. Still the desire for a window view prevailed, since sitting for a formal dinner with a window view and at the same time having the ship leaves ports seemed like an attainable dream. Wyona and Greg made the desired switch ... while I watched the luggage and had lunch. 

“Are you the three Canadians we were told would be at this table,” the first people we sat with asked. “Yes, “ said Wyona, we asked for a table change. “So did we,” said Marilyn and Ron. We are here with our relatives, and the four of us don’t want to talk to each other over every meal. Fine. The next couple who sat down said, “Are you the Canadians we were told would be at this table.” 

“Whoops,”said Wyona. “Did you ask for a table seating change?” “Yes,” said Barbara. “What is this,” asked Wyona. “Is everyone at this table disgruntled? Is that what they do? Put all of the complainers at the same table?”

And so the evening of conversation began – all of us ready to discover who our dinner companions would be – Barbara and Sam from Maryland (where apparently the 600,000 who live in that State have no right to vote for their president). Politics is usually a topic we leave for the last day of the tour, but at the disgruntled patrons table, anything can happen.


Sunday, 9 October 2011

Barcelona, Spain

Greg and I flew through Frankfurt and landed in Barcelona.

Wyona is the one with travel status, which lets her take everyone (that is the two of us) travelling on the same ticket with her, into the elite lounges.

People sit on leather chairs and do their email, snacking their way through healthy vegetables and finishing off with cookies.

I tried to use the airport email to lure Rebecca onto the trip with us.  I was unsuccessful.

I have asked three other people ahead of her to accompany us in the fourth spot.  I was unsuccesful in each attempt.

Small wooden tables for patrons
"Nice to travel with Greg, eh," said Wyona. "He brings all of the right equipment." 

She is right. He carries the bags, has brought the electronic adaptors, brings the travel maps, and is sucessful in intervening when Wyona's luggage falls off of her trolley as she is driving it done the moving elscalator

Greg and I left Wyona sleeping in Quatre Naciones and we went out to discover Barcelona on our own, walking down to the pier, on the tree-lined boulevard of La Rambla.

We peered in small restaurants, waiting for their 9 pm customers. 

Greg studied the knives in a speciality shop.  We walked down the flea market at the harbour's edge.

Greg was looking for old lanterns that he loves.
Clams waiting to be cooked

He has an eye for architectural detail.  He would point out small alleys where there were 30 foot walkways, or where you could see the spire of an old church.

I am the one who has a passion for the beauty of the claims in this restaurant window.

Greg was drawn to the pastry windows -- and we both agreed, if Wyona had been with us, she would have purchased at least 2 of every kind.

"When I look in these windows, I am reminded again, of why MacDonalds doesn't cut it for me at home." 

Pastries we didn't buy
Greg has always loved churches.

On our walk we stopped first at a small church, and then at the big cathedral, where a service was going on.

As well, on the way home, we stopped at another church,in this one the lesson was led by different people and a guitar was initiating a musical call and response from the congregation.

If I am walking with Greg and there is a any sign of a church, he says, "Let's go in and take a peek."

If there is music going on that makes it even better for me.
... a stained glass window, high in a dark church corner ...

We saw gothic arches, Roman spires and steeples being refurbished.

We walked through the courtyard of the church that houses geese in one of its 

When Wyona is tired, Greg goes out to explore cities on his own.

The top of a celebratory wagon
Since Greg is a history buff, he can come up with the answers to my questions: 
  • who was Garibaldi? (a politician who united one part of Europe)
  • what is the difference between a ship and a boat? (a ship has at least 3 masts)
  • what is the modern day word for gypsies? (Roma is what the Canadian government calls them Roma)
I am already having fun.

I do have some residual guilt about taking this indepth tour of the Mediterranean. Wyona tells me we are only doing it once which does not make me feel better.  It is 9 pm at night, 26 above, the streets are alive with excitement -- and this is my last time here?  Wahh! to that.