Wednesday, June 26, 2013


OK, time to catch up. I will do the trip in reverse -- mostly because I have a lot better chance of remembering what we did today and yesterday than the last day I blogged. Also, since there's so much we've done since the last post, I will be mercifully brief on the parts I can recall. Kind of a plus-sized tweet for each. 

(And if this catches on, I may go down in social networking history as the father of the Chubby Tweet.)

We are in Lugano Switzerland right now. Beautiful Alpine lake and up-market resort area. The best part was getting here. The train ride through the Swiss Alps was spectacular. We took some photos out the train window, and if they are any good I will put them up on our Shutterfly travel site.

The reason I am not so sure they are any good is that they were taken with my mobile phone. The brand new, top-rated camera we bought for this trip won't take a charge, so it is relegated to dead weight in the luggage until we can find a camera store. My hunch is we won't recover it until we're home in a little more than week.

Before Lugano, we were in Strasbourg, in the Alsatian region of eastern France. It's a charming, old town that proves that ordinary buildings can acquire a fair deal of charm if we let them get old enough and that cobblestones aren't very helpful when you have those new 4-wheeled suitcases.

The food in Strasbourg was a standout. I won't go into detail since I know at least one vegan who reads this occasionally, but let's just say it was politically incorrect food both days. And yummy. Tres yummy, in fact.

Before our trip, our friend Davo had said something about Strasbourg having an unpleasant history. Fortunately, he told us this in February and by June we had only the vaguest of recollections that there might be a dark side to this lovely town. Since I can verify that ignorance really is bliss, I urged Google Girl not to find out what that was. As a result, we had one of the most fun days of this entire trip in the section known as Petite-France, along with a couple of bottles of lovely rose.

Before Strasbourg, we had been in Cologne for a couple of days. More than 80% of Cologne was destroyed by the Allies in World War II. Apparently not for any significant strategic reason but as an early version of Shock and Awe. History, politics and ethics aside, from a tourism point of view there isn't a whole lot to see when a city has been razed less than 70 years ago.

The cathedral is still standing somehow, and like so many old churches, it is big and impressive and gothic. And, unfortunately, like so many old churches. I do think that once you've seen your first 150 or so European churches, these buildings aren't going to knock your socks off.

The people of Cologne have done a pretty good job of rebuilding the shopping district of their city, and it was a lovely stroll from the main train station (next to the cathedral) to our hotel about a mile away. Well, it was a pedestrian mall for the most part, so it was lovely in that we didn't have to worry about getting run over. And I suppose the stores were interesting to someone in our travelling party -- although LK insists shopping is no longer the turnon it used to be for her. And based on her meagre pickings this trip, I'd have to say she's on the level.

Before Cologne, we spent two nights in Amsterdam. Actually it seemed like 3 or 4 nights because when we arrived on the red-eye from Washington we were so tired that we paid extra to get a room right away. We then crashed and slept about 8 hours, woke up, had a quick shower, staggered out for dinner nearby, drank a little more wine than usual and then went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for another 8 or 9 hours.

This was first major clue I've had that perhaps I'm not as young and energetic as I thought I was.

We'd been in Amsterdam before, but in the winter. This time, the city was out in force in the long summer days. Thousands upon thousands of people riding bicycles filled the streets. And since I never quite got used to treating the bike lane as a lethal zone, that means hundreds upon hundreds of people riding bicycles almost hit me. I think I got the hang of it all just as we were leaving.

We took a long walk our second day, passing dozens of stores selling marijuana seeds and more than a few buildings with windows filled with women. I guess if you're going to legalize just about everything people do, you have to expect these things. Or maybe I should say if you're not going to make it criminal for people to do what they do. In either case, it also says a lot about my age that I was more impressed with all the bicycle riders than anything else.

Getting to Amsterdam had been easy. Well, easy in the way that only LK and I can make it.

We had a 10:15 am flight from Newark New Jersey airport to Washington to connect to the Amsterdam flight. We had been staying with Walt and Terry, and the airport is only about an hour from their house. 

So we left at 6am. That's mostly because our friend Ed, who commutes daily to New York, said that the trip could take a couple of extra hours if there was any traffic problem on the Turnpike. LK and I operate under a policy that we'd rather sit at the airport waiting for a plane than sit in a traffic jam hoping we make it to the airport.

So, of course, we were checked in and waiting for the plane with something like 2 1/2 hours to go. 

When they issued our boarding pass, they told us which gate to go to and off we went. It was when there was about  10 minutes left before the flight was due to leave that I noticed there was no one else in the area. Checking the screen, they had changed the gate.

So having 150 minutes to catch the flight, we now were likely to miss it unless we hot-footed it several gates away and got lucky enough that it hadn't left yet.

When we're talking about me, by the way, hot-footing is a phrase usually mentioned in a sentence that also incldes the phrase "the near occasion of death". Anyhow, the plane was boarded, but hadn't left, they let us on and - oh, that's right. Since I"m telling the story in reverse you already know that we made it to Amsterdam.

Before Walt and Terry's, we had done the  Family Tour -- in reverse order, my mother's and Linda's mother and sister. There had been some health issues with both but it was good to see my Mom back in her own place and out of the hospital. Peg, Linda's mother, was still in the nursing home recovering from yet another operation on her leg. She hasn't bounced back all the way yet, but I made her promise that she and I would go for a long walk the next time I visited. 

In the meantime, I owe some serious emails to about 8 or 9 people. Now that I've got this out of my system, maybe tomorrow I can start on them. 

Or maybe the day after. After all, tomorrow we drive to Lake Como.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

You Say Tomato

We're in Pittsford NY right now, visiting LK's family. We are staying at Peg's place, but Chez Mom seems quite empty since Peg is in a skilled nursing facility undergoing rehab. She had come home in January after breaking her leg, but had to go back in a few weeks ago when they discovered a staph infection was surviving on the metal plate they had put in her leg. Now it's back to eight weeks where she cannot put any weight on her leg while they hope the bone mends once the infection clears up.

She's doing well, all things considered, but it must be frustrating to be otherwise OK and have this happen. Nonetheless, she is chatting, joking, playing games and watching Judge Judy - which, come to think of it, is not all that different from what she was like when we visited in the past.

We actually hit the trifecta with mothers. My Mom ended up in the hospital for several days as they fought an infection and swelling in her lower legs. The good news is she went back home several days ago and is sounding sronger and better when we talk. We will be there Tuesday, and the visit couldn't come at a better time.

I mentioned the trifecta, and that's because we stopped off at Walt and Terry's in New Jersey for a couple of nights on our drive north. Walt's Mom was in a rehab center, as well, having had a mild stroke. Fortunately, it seems to have done no serious damage and, Anna being Anna, we have heard she is driving the staff there crazy because they aren't taking her to rehab often enough. You have to love that hardy Teutonic stock.

On the non-Mother front, we are finding ourselves more and more Aussie-fied on our trips back here. LK, in particular, uses Australian vocabulary with her American accent. This has the effect of totally confusing people - or at least those who are actually listening, which is not a given here.

Some times it's just the use of a word that means one thing here and another in Oz.  Jumper, for example. In Oz, it's a sweater. In the US it's a woman's dress-like garment without sleeves and usually worn with a shirt or such. A lot of Catholic schools prefer them for uniforms - or at least did in the Dark Ages when I was attending.

So my bride will say, "Donald, it's a little chilly. Do you want to wear a jumper?"  And our American friends will arch their eyebrows, picturing me doing my best drag queen impression.

Most of them understand going to the loo, but they do start to get lost if LK talks about a wee in the loo. Which isn't the same as pissed, which means drunk in Oz and annoyed in America.

Probably the best example happened the other day. We went to a local sub shop for Italian subs. (Fortunately, thanks to Subway being all over Australia most of the dinky-di's know what that means.)

Here, it wasn't so much that LK faced a vocabulary issue as a pronunciation challenge. When asked what she wanted on her sub, she chose to-mah-toes. Since most Americans know the song that goes, "You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to," that one was understood even if it did make her seem a bit like Fraser and his definitely-not-gay brother Niles.

It was when she asked the sub guy what herbs were included, that she encountered that "What planet are you from?" look. For, of course, LK pronounced the H. Americans don't. Which is a little odd when you consider that the Yanks have, in this one instance alone, opted to do their best Liza Doolittle impression.

I quietly said "erbs" to the sub guy, and he nodded, obviously grateful that she had brought along a translator. He proceeded to tell her which (h)erbs were in the sandwich. 

LK then asked him, "What about oregano?"  Only, she now calls it or-e-GONE-oh. I could see the sub guy was wondering why she was asking about a state in the western US, so I said to him oh-REG-a-no. 

"Ah!" I could see him thinking.

LK appeared to be thinking "Oi!"

With my lazy posting habits, I've managed to miss my mother's birthday and Jason and Lora's anniversary. So belated good wishes to them. More fun with Sandy, Dave and Jordan tonight then some deadly serious packing on Monday before we head out

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Country Roads

We have left the South, driving through Florida, Georgia, both Carolinas, Virginia, a little bit of Maryland, Delaware and now in New Jersey. We had a great day in St Augustine and a fantastic couple of days in Charleston.

St Augustine is famous for its age - that picture is apparently of the oldest intersection in the US (and that is without taking my age into account)  - and the Old Town is full of wonderful shops. Well, wonderful if you like t-shirts and flipflops. Ever vigilant, though, LK spotted a bargain and we partook of the 2-for-1 sale of "Bacon Bloody Marys". These start with your basic vodka and tomato juice, added the usual enhancements (perhaps a tad heavy on the consomme) and then squeezed lunch into the glass, with a celery stick, a nice wedge of tomato, a good-sized piece of pickled okra and a green olive filled with feta. And, oh yes, a huge piece of bacon. These salads in a glass turned out to be so good that we converted the deal to a 4-for-2 sale and then walked along the waterfront back to our B&B.

 From St Augustine, we ended up in Charleston and spent several days looking at beautiful old buildings, a massive open market, gorgeous parks and fountains and, yes, lots of restaurants. Four different kinds of barbecue ribs, chicken etouffe, oyster po-boys, fried green tomatoes, a yellow spicy gazpacho, mussels, hush puppies and other treats I have forgotten. Let's just say that by the night I ordered grilled swordfish and broccoli, I felt that I was violating some secret eating code of the South. Looking around, I was pretty sure I was the only person in this very busy place that was making believe they were on the South Beach Diet.

From Charleston we headed to Myrtle Beach to spend the weekend with our new friends, Beth and Dave, One of the stranger things LK has noticed is that we have not really made any close friends where we live but manage to find people on cruise ships who are happy to let us mooch off them as we travel through their cities.

In Dave and Beth's case, they live about 4 hours away, but have a condo in Myrtle Beach and it was at the end of the wine cruise in November that they asked us to stay with them for the weekend we were passing by. It was a lovely place, overlooking the beach and close to anything you would want. 

This turned out to be the weekend that bikers gather in Myrtle Beach, and we saw the tell-tale packs of what appeared to be mostly weekend warriors heading down the highway as we entered. But having once stumbled into Deadwood on the weekend of the Sturges rally, I can tell you with absolute certainty that this didn't hold a candle to that gathering. 

There are tales to be told from our time in Myrtle Beach, but I will save those for another day. For now, I will just catch up on the journey. On Sunday we drove about six hours to Norfolk Virginia, and stopped just short of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. And for those who don't know, that is exactly what it is - a bridge, then a tunnel, then a bridge again, then a tunnel, then a bridge again - and in the middle when you think you're back on land again, you are on some man-made islands.

A remarkable achievement - and it was even more remarkable in that there wasn't all that much traffic on a late May Monday and we never had to slow down or sit in a traffic jam. 

As we neared the state line we pulled into one of the numerous stands selling Virginia hams, bacon and sausage, and bough ham, bacon and sausage. Hey - if they're selling, I'm buying.  Besides, staying for the umpteenth time with our dear friends Walt and Terry, it seemed like bringing coals to Newcastle to show up with a bottle or two of wine, so it was a special pleasure to be able to arrive and say, "Walter, we have brought you a ham and sausages!"

You may notice that we didn't tell him about the bacon. Let's just say, we have our own intentions with that purchase, and they have something to do with the jar of pickled okra we bought at the Charleston marlket.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One Liners

In Las Vegas we bought a SIM card for our phone so we could make domestic calls without paying a bomb.  The plan was pretty straightforward - for $2 a day we got unlimited voice and text calls within the US. Sure we had to shell out $40 bucks for the card, but compared to paying through our Australian provider it was a bargain.

It stopped looking like a bargain four days later when I checked the account and saw that we had used up $47 of our $50, not the $8 I expected. A quick stop at the T-mobile web site confirmed my worst fears. This phone company made it very, very hard for you to find a phone number to call them and discuss your problem.

Eventually LK did what any sensible person would do and googled it and the number popped up. Problem solved. Well, not quite.

When I got through to the customer support rep, I was asked the password for my account. "I wasn't given one and there is none on the contract I am looking at," I told him. Then I guessed that if I had in fact set a password, it would have been the one I use for e-mail.

"Nope," he said.

I tried my birthday. "Nope."

Then he offered a hint. "It's kind of like the first four digits on the keyboard," he said. I could virtually hear him winking over the phone.

"How about 1-2-3-4," I suggested and was told we could now review my account.

"You deposited $50 four days ago," he told me, sounding suspiciously like me when I had told him a few seconds earlier that I had deposited $50 four days ago.

"But then you changed your plan from $2 a day to pay-as-you-go," he told me, "and your new balance is $6.45."

"But I didn't change my plan," I told him. "In fact, I went out of my way to make sure I got unlimited calling for $2 a day."

He, of course, insisted that I had changed my plan. Ever the quick thinker, I said to him, "You may have noticed that I had no friggin' idea what the password for this account was. Would it have been possible to change my plan not knowing the password?"

It was a challenging question, I know, but ultimately he conceded that it was not possible to change the plan without knowing the password. He asked to put me on hold while he spoke with his manager.

Just as an aside, I wonder if it is incompetence, lack of concern or a deliberate attempt to drive customers over the edge, but why is it whenever a phone company puts you on hold you listen to music that is muffled and full of static? Anyhow, back to the main story, when my new bff returned he said he had tried to convince his manager that they should restore my $50 deposit and put me back on the $2 a day plan I had signed up for.  That is, honor their contract with me.

"Unfortunately," he added, "my manager would have been willing to do this but when you change plans you only have 48 hours to change back, and this has now been 4 days."

"But I didn't change plans," I started to say but immediately realized that once you start repeating your arguments to the same person who has already heard them two or three times before, you have lost the game of customer service roulette.

I changed tack. "Well, I think I am going to have to speak to your manager. Not to insult anyone, but it's pretty obvious they have a few screws loose and I would like to try to tighten them."

I was put on hold again. But rather than have you metaphorically listen to the slightly off-station music, I think it would be better to tell you how proud I was of myself. Let's face it, as one liners go that's a pretty good one. And I didn't have to pause, didn't think of it four hours later, didn't even skip a beat. Nope, it was a good one-liner and, best of all, it served its purpose. When my friend came on the line again, he told me that his manager had agreed to restore my deposit and put me on the $2 a day plan.

Not all one-liners work as well, of course. Take, for example, when LK and I drove from the west coast of Florida to St Augustine in the northeast. We were only an exit or two away from our destination when the "Last Rest Stop for 40 Miles" sign showed up.

To be honest, in my 20's I wouldn't have even done a mental check on the state of my bladder. Nowadays, though, I have learned that it is far, far better to go before you really have to than to be stuck in a construction line when you cannot wait another minute. So we pulled into the rest stop.

LK didn't need to go so stayed at the car as I climbed out. Climbed isn't really the word. Slid? Hobbled? Fell? Something like that. Regrettably my knees had forgotten how to ben while walking and my first few dozen steps were taken very slowly, not altogether different from what Boris Karloff was like playing Frankenstein if he took a couple of valium before shooting the scene.

However, never underestimate the restorative power of a good pee. By the time I left the men's room, I was walking more or less normally. OK, it wasn't all that fast, but I can't remember the last time I did walk all that fast. Which is, of course, one of the other reasons I now stop before the urge to pee hits me.

As I got back into the car, LK was laughing. Not a ltitle giggle, either. Nope, a great big guffaw, the sort of laugh that makes you feel as if you have done something absolutely outrageous.

"Oh, I'm not laughing at you," she said. Which made me feel a little bit better. But then she paused. "Well, maybe a little bit at you but mostly at the other men here." Which made me feel a little bit worse.

She then pointed to the various men walking around this Florida highway rest stop. As you would expect, most were senior citizens. Almost to a man, they were walking slowly, with stiff legs, limps and halting progress.

"As I sat here," LK said, "all I could think of was that I was at the Rest Stop for the Walking Dead." And then she started guffawing some more.

I saw the humor - even if it was a bit on the mean side - but told her I felt I had walked into the men's room like that but had exited more or less normally.

"Oh no," she said. "You were definitely doing the zombie walk in, but you got back to the car so fast I wasn't even aware you were out."

That made me feel better, but I told her the whole thing wasn't very nice.

"I've had to  be nice for more than a month. I'm entitled to not be nice in the privacy of our car," she said. "And besides, that's a pretty funny one-liner I came up with. This really does look like the Rest Stop for the Walking Dead."

I had to agree, but in my heart I knew that there's one liners that get your phone service restored and then there's one-liners that get you laughing. I still don't know which I prefer.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dear Diary

Monday morning was always going to be the true test of how well the ship could organize itself and its passengers. Because of some long-time maritime law, non-American cruise ships are not permitted to leave and arrive at American ports without stopping at a foreign port.

The ship was full of the sort of people that cable news calls "experts,"  people who present themselves as knowing a lot and make things up when confronted with something they don't actually know. So we had theories swirling around that the law had to do with everything from preventing Chinese ships from going up and down the California coast using cheap labor to undercut American ships, to laws regulating that the onboard casino could not operate unless they docked at a foreign port. Mind you, these were the same people who had stated categorically that we would not be allowed to dock in Honolulu because a couple dozen of our passengers had the norovirus.

Whatever the reason, one thing was certain. The second leg of our trans-Pacific journey had originated the American state of Hawaii (you know, where Obama moved shortly after being born in Kenya - at least if you believe Donald Trump). And our cruise was terminating in Ensenada, Mexico - where lots of people who work in America should be deported back to, again thanks to the Donald for that idea.

From Ensenada, almost all the passengers were being given a free bus ride to San Diego Airport, about 80 miles north and, oh yes, on the other side of the US Immigration Border Control. Given the absolute horror of the disorganization and massive queues in Maui and Honolulu, we were all facing our most extreme nightmares about getting several thousand people onto buses early in the morning. And then getting that bus past US Immigration only two weeks after the Boston attacks.

It was a charm.  How the ship could have done such a good job here and such a lousy job at the beginning of the trip remains a mystery, but some magic happened on the way to North America. All our luggage was stored early on one of the 6-dozen buses and then the compartment was sealed so bags didn't need to be checked by Immigration when we crossed.  We were all told which bus to be on and when to show up, and the lines were short and the wait was sweet. (OK, there's always a couple of 75+-year-olds who try to cut in front of everyone, but since this wasn't the last of the bagels and lox at the buffet but a bus waiting for everyone to get on, it hardly mattered.

The cruise line had even paid for US Immigration to have 50 extra people work the buses to check passports and declaration slips. Too easy all around.

From San Diego we rented a car and drove across the desert to Las Vegas. The drive is easy since there are no turns in the road for about 200 miles and if you can stay awake you tend to have no problems.

Vegas itself, of course, is the same as it ever was. It remains a place where the big gamblers can lose massive amounts of money (some guy named Sheldon Adelsen lost over $100 million in just one day last November).  But of course, the grease that keeps all those neon wheels rolling are the smaller amounts that the little punters put on the tables and in the machines. We did our best to help the city continue its recovery from the Global Financial Crisis.

Thursday we hopped on a plane (actually, LK just got on as normal. It was me who was hopping because my knees seemed to be suffering from temporary cartilege loss.) Connecting in Houston, we landed at Tampa Airport that night. I could write about how we had to wait more than half an hour to get the car from Hertz that we had booked more than two months ago, but that sounds too much like complaining.

So let's just say we checked into one of the world's all-time great b&bs in Dunedin that night and had the absolute pleasure the next day of catching up with my sons, Ben and Tom and Ben's partner Jennifer and her two kids.

Last night Jennifer pulled school fair duty and couldn't join us but we went to eat at a very good Italian restaurant not far from where we are staying. Tom is a good friend of the chef, having worked together in the past. The chef came to our table, we were told not to order starters or desserts and then were fed just about every starter on the menu until we were begging them not to bring more food. (OK, that last bit is a lie. We would have kept eating whatever was set in front of us.)  We had artichokes, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes, truffled buffalo mozzarella, baby octopus, fried octopus tentacles (there were only 6 on the plate, and I have no idea what happened to the other 2). There were stuffed peppers and 1 or 2 other things that I have erased from my memory because I had to use the available oxygen just to have enough energy to chew.

And rememeber, those were the starters before we were served huge portions for our main courses. Dessert (again unordered) was more moderate. Everyone had a parfait glass full of strawberries with whipped cream on top. Oh, yes, and the family-style, full dinner plate of tiramisu. But that doesn't count because it was light and we all agreed that no matter how much you ate you could always have a bite or two of that.

This morning the lovely man who cooks the breakfasts here (and they, too, are massive and superb) came over after we were done to ask Linda what he had to do so she would finish her meal. I guess he thought she didn't like the 3-cheese omelette with sauteed onions, arugula and asparagus with a huge bowl of fruit, toast, homemade yoghurt topped with nuts and berries, fresh-squeezed orange juice and coffee.

She told him she loved the food but she just needed smaller portions.

Strangely enough, he didn't have any concerns about me leaving food on the plate.

In a little while we are going over to Ben and Jennifer's for a barbecue.

Fortunately, we are passing quite a few malls and stores on the way. I figure when you're my shape already, no one is going to notice if you go up a pants-size or two anyway.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Lines to Remember

What a mess we had on the ship at the end of our first leg from Sydney to Hawaii. For all the good times in the lead-up, the last two days have made most of us angry and annoyed.

It started yesterday when we landed at Lahaina in Maui. Because this was the first port of entry to the US, everyone aboard the ship had to be cleared through US Immigration. Government officials (especially sequestered federal folks) + Hawaii was an easy equation to solve: they didn;t show up on time and when they did, only one person showed up to process more than 3000 people.

All of which would be annoying but not much more except the ship's staff completely fell apart when dealing with thie delay. Rather than making a quick announcement that people should ignore the times they were told tor eport and wait for further announcements, they did what all bad customer service people do. Nothing.

So when we reported at our time of 8am, we found a line of people queing from one end of the ship to the other (and it's a very long ship). Oh, and then the line snaked around and continued back in the direction from which it started.

After standing around for several minutes, we finally got an announcement that the immigration officials weren't aboard yet and people should not remain in line since A) there was no reason to do so and B) the congestion was creating safety issues. So of course most of the old people remained in line.

LK and I took the opportunity to sneak down for a coffee and were halfway through when a new announcement came that it was indeed OK to now get in line because the officials had finally arrived.

This time we were even further away from our final destination.

And then it kept getting worse. The line would move a few feet and then stop for ten minutes. And then stop some more. You have to remember that one of the reasons LK and I like cruising is because so many of our fellow passengers make us feel young again. There was a line of hundreds of older people struggling with bad knees and hips and just general fatigue trying to stand in the line for what amounted to more than 2 hours. Not nice.

We had booked ourselves into a 10am whale watching boat ride and had given up on that idea as the clock ticked towards 11 when the excursion people came walking up the line telling people who had 10am excursions to follow them. Which led us to the front of this massive queue where they told us to just cut in front of the people who had been waiting hours. They then abandoned us without giving the other passengers any explanation, making us fearful that we now faced several options - being crushed by the people ten abreast trying to fit through a double door, stabbed in the back by the people who saw us cutting in front of them or being trampled as our knees finally gave out under the pressure of having to stand in line so long.

That nothing happened is testament to how tired the people behind us were.

And we finally got on the tender that took us to the dock where the whale watch boat was still waiting to take us out. And that part was great as we did see some big splashes several hundred yards away and dozens of spinner dolphins about two feet away. The dolphins swarmed our boat and sayed with us for a while. They are one of only two types of dolphins that do a 360 spin in the air when they jump out of the water, which is very cool to watch.

And although the whales were a bit distant during the boat ride, we had a spectacular display later that night when back on the ship as three or four whales which were quite close to us started jumping out of the water and generally causing all of us to ooh and aah for a good half hour.

There was some speculation that the captain had paid people to dress in whale suits just so the passengers would forget about the mess in the morning. It would hardly have been enough.

The next morning we arrived in Honolulu, ready to disembark and spend some time in this beautiful city. I would like to tell you all went smoothly, but then I would have to skip the part about how the gangplank did not fit the dock and the crew had to saw part of it off to enable people to use it. Or the fact that passengers with early flights home had to wait a long time to get off the ship because there were problems offloading the baggage (not an issue with us, of course, since we were staying on. Or perhaps I should say not an issue with us for another 12 days)

When we finally left the ship with our friend Pat, another person staying aboard all the way to Ensenada, we had planned to grab a taxi and pop into Waikiki. Which was an option if we were willing to stand in a line for cabs that looked like it could take more than hour. After yesterday's immigration mess, I suppose only standing in line for an hour sounds easy, but really it was like a dagger in our calves.

Fortunately, a perky young woman spotted that we had no luggage with us and  offered us a free return shuttle to Waikiki. All we had to do was agree to watch a 20-minute presentation on Maui Diver jewellery. Done deal. And if you would like to know about the discover of black coral in the early 50's, just drop me an e-mail.

I am pretty sure we were having our second margarita at Jimmy Buffett's before we would ever have reached the end of the taxi queue, so it was a fair trade. And then we met friends we had made on the ship to have some lunch. Because 19 days at sea with the same people is never long enough to really say everything you want to.

When we finally returned to the ship, our friend Pat - who is a seasoned traveller - knew that we didn't need to wait in lines to get our new room passes and get aboard. Which was very, very good because the lines to register were --- well, they looked pretty similar to something we had seen yesterday in Lahaina.

In fact I overheard a very angry man berating one of the staff, saying he and his wife had been waiting for more than 2 hours, they were still a long ways from getting aboard, they had had no lunch (and obviously no margaritas) and there was no one telling them a blessed thing.

The three of us who had been on the earlier leg of the cruise knew the reason. The ship had had an outbreak of norovirus, qualifying it officially as The Ship of Stools. It was undergoing a top-to-bottom sanitization before anyone could come aboard. It also had to be inspected by the CDC, and given the sequestration I wondered how promptly their (short) staff showed up.

As we listened to this new passenger's tirade, I commented that he was starting his cruise pretty much the way most of the people had left it this morning.

Pat asked, "Yeah, and given how happy he is already do you think we should tell him the ship has had an outbreak of norovirus?"

I offered that since he already had the shits with them, there was nothing to be gained.

And then - because we were returning passengers - we got to walk past everyone in line and cut in at the front and go aboard.

This time, I definitely didn't look around and, yes, I walked a little faster than normal.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trophy Life

One of the many benefits of cruising with this line is that they reward you for being on the ship when it does something more or less significant.

The reward, mind you, is not particularly lucrative. In fact it is nothing more than a pre-printed sheet of light brown paper with your name filled in announcing that, in yesterday's case, we had crossed the equator and the international date line. I wouldn't necessarily consider it suitable for framing, but obsessive scrapbookers would find a page for it I am sure.

Since LK and I have crossed the equator and the international date line many dozens of times, this feat wasn't particularly exciting to us. Nowhere near as nice as the sheet of paper we got last year telling us we had crossed the Arctic Circle. Or the year before allowing us to prove to one and all that we indeed had gone through the Panama Canal.

Nonetheless I'm not complaining. For one thing, I am pretty sure that many aboard this ship - either through age, alcohol, or a complete inability to understand the PA announcements of our Greek capatain - may not have known we were crossing the equator yesterday. It would have been hard to miss the dateline, since we had two Saturdays aboard last weekend, which is a fairly unique way to have a four-day weekend.

These aren't the only mementoes they give. On an earlier cruise I won a trophy for beating the captain and some crewmen in a poker game. I've since seen duplicates given on other ships to winners of blackjack and slot machine tournaments. The trophies are about 3-inches high and made of genuine metal alloy on a plastic base. I am pretty sure someone at cruise line headquarters cleaned out the warehouse of one of those dollar stores that went bankrupt. But the casino hosts keep insisting it is the thought that counts, which I had learned was what the recipient was supposed to claim, not the giver.

And then there's the verbal accolades. On our wine cruise last November, I was told by more than a few staff members that I was surely the top person when it came to getting best  value for their Unlimited Drinks Package purchase. I may not have worn it as a badge of honor, but I was just a little proud to be recognized as a leader in my field.

In the meantime, we are still two days from land. The long time at sea is having the curious effect of turning all of us into super-mellow, mushy-brained lazy folks as we all seem to have embraced having nothing to do with a passion. But of course, there is plenty to do - trivia quizzes, history lectures, casino games, fitness classes, cocktail hour, art appreciation seminars.  There's so much to do I've only done every other one. I'll leave you to figure out which ones.

Hawaii in two days, then more ocean on the way to North America. We're slowly getting there.