My Cruise Around Norway
I have one word for Norway: stunning. It’s as if an ocean was dumped into the Colorado Rockies. That’s just about what happened: over the millennia, rivers and glaciers cut canyons through the mountains until the canyons reached the sea, and then the ocean came pouring in, filling the canyons, creating the fjords. Fellow travelers compared Norway to Alaska and the south island of New Zealand.
I have been touring Norway’s fjords and towns for about three weeks. I’ve had difficulty finding a “hook” for my travelogue; how many different ways can I say “spectacular”? So as not to delay my report any longer, I’ll just review my itinerary one town at a time, to give you a general idea of what I found in Norway.
We left Amsterdam on June 9 and spent a day at sea before arriving in Alesund, Norway. Alesund is a small town, about the size of St. Michaels, Maryland; Floyd, Virginia; or downtown Golden, Colorado. Like most of the port towns we visited, Alesund sits at the foot of a mountain on a deep river. A canal bisects the town. At the turn of the 20th century, a fire destroyed most of the town. The town was rebuilt in Art-Nuveau style architecture. The mixture of Art-Nuveau and the subsequent styles of Art-Deco and Modern give the town a very distinctive look against the green backdrop of the mountainside. It was Sunday, so virtually all the shops in town were closed. The number of mountaineering and boat supply shops seemed disproportionate to the size of the town. To support so many stores of this type, everyone in Norway must ski, climb, or sail. No wonder Norwegians do so well at Winter Olympics. Norway has a state religion, and the church/state dictates that shops are closed on Sunday. Tourist-related businesses are open, though. Tour busses were running and the tourist shops were ready to take our Kronors for Viking and Troll memorabilia. Trolls are hot items in Norway.
We left Alesund that evening and headed north for the Arctic Circle. I had visions of vast expanses of ice, polar bears, and icebergs. My preconception was wrong. We actually cruised the northern coast of Norway, which lies within the Arctic Circle. Rather than ice and polar bears, what I saw was huge rock cliffs rising straight up out of the sea, some snow-topped and poking through the cloud cover. I was reminded of the movies Princess Bride and/or King Kong: the Cliffs of Insanity or ominous Kong Island. There were no trees or bushes on these mountains; just a green “peach fuzz” vegetation climbing up the side. Into some of the rock cliff faces were cut large concentric circles, to delineate the borders of the Arctic Circle. The temperature was a cozy 45 degrees.
The next morning found us in Tromso, Norway. Tromso is about the size of Mt. Airy, NC, or Easton, MD. Tromso is an industrial town that is either in decline or recovery; I don’t know which. Since the shops were open, I learned that food in Norway is expensive. One crew member paid 1400 Kronors (about $14) for a footlong hotdog and a coke. Another crew member paid 200 Kronors ($20) for a Big Mac meal, supersized. Since food is free and plentiful on the ship, I had lunch back on the ship.
The Century continued on to the northernmost seaport in the world: Honningsvag, Norway. The scenery was still fantastic, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would consider Honningsvag a tourist stop. After a while, even the scenery gets commonplace. Imagine touring a garden where the guide says: “here’s a beautiful red rose here; and here’s a beautiful red rose here; and here’s a beautiful red rose here”, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I love the beauty of nature, but I am also interested in history and how people adapt and survive in their surroundings. In that regard, I found nothing compelling in Honningsvag. However, I do have bragging rights that I have been to the northernmost seaport in the world.
We turned south, and after another day at sea, arrived in Molde, Norway. If Estes Park, Colorado had a “drive-up” marine terminal, it would look just like Molde. It’s high in the mountains; a nice, clean, well-laid-out town with a variety of shops and clearly in good economic health. Molde hosts an annual International Jazz Festival, and on my second trip to Molde the festival was in full swing (no pun intended). There were several stages set up, streets were closed off, and vendor booths filled the streets. On every other street corner, one-man-bands and duos were busking for donations. Most of the buskers were folk acts, playing American blues and folk music. My favorite buskers were a father/daughter (grandfather/granddaughter?) act. He was a gray-bearded old hippie with a British accent, and she was a raven-haired, olive-skinned 10 year old that could harmonize with anything the old man could sing. They performed the only version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” that has ever given me goosebumps.
Continuing south, the ship moved into what has to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet: Geiranger Fjord. Sailing up the channel, we passed the Seven Sisters waterfalls: seven falls cascading down the mountainside from the snow-topped peaks. Surely, snowmelt cannot account for this much water; there has to be a glacier melting on the other side of these cliffs. Above, you’ll see a photo of the ship anchored in Geiranger Fjord. The photo does not begin to communicate the grandeur of this place. To give you an idea of scale, remember that the ship is the length of 3 football fields and 12 stories high. The “boxes” you see on the inside hill are hotels and homes.
Our next stop was Olden. The town of Olden sits on the banks of another fjord, and it, too is spectacular. The economy of Olden is supported entirely by tourism: there are campgrounds, hotels, and B & B’s spread across the mountainside. The campgrounds were filled with senior citizens in RV’s and young families in tents. I was reminded of camping with Jill and the boys, but unlike my family camping trips, there were no mosquitoes. And it wasn’t raining.
The last stop on the itinerary was Bergen, Norway. Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway; it is about the size of Roanoke, Virginia. The city looks very much like a small Copenhagen, Denmark. Bergen has everything one would expect to see in a much larger city: museums, a theatre, an opera house, parks, and shopping. I thoroughly enjoyed Bergen.
One more day at sea and I was back in Amsterdam. In retrospect, I marveled at how the environment of Norway and Scandinavia had produced such a hearty and seaworthy people. The terrain was not conducive to farming, and fishing was “iced-out” much of the year. No wonder the Vikings found it necessary to take to the seas in search of food and trade (or pillage). My ancestry can be traced back to Viking roots: the Men of the North travelled into Scotland and Ireland, and in France became the Normans (North Men) that under William the Conqueror ruled England. My family tree, Scots, Irish, Swedes, and English can all be traced back to Norway. I wonder if any of my ancestors lived in Geiranger Fjord?
If you’re an American traveling to a foreign country, one thing that you should not do is to look like a tourist. That is unless you want to be targeted by criminals out to take advantage of tourists or to get sucked into tourist traps. If you want to keep it safe, blend with the crowd and don’t act like you’re not from here. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Don’t wear athletic shoes
Tennis shoes and sneakers scream American. You don’t have to wear footwear that are extremely uncomfortable just to avoid the athletic shoes. Just don’t wear anything that’s designed for exercise or else, people would know right away that you’re a tourist. In most-countries, open-toed sandals are the safest bet even in areas that are urbanized. You can also go for sneakers that are dark in color and doesn’t have loud logos or designs.
Wear accessories like the locals
Go to a local store and buy accessories that you see the locals are wearing. For example, if in your vacation destination, everyone’s wearing a hat then you should also wear one. It would be smart to research regarding this matter so you know what you should wear during your vacation.
Don’t wear American brands
There’s nothing wrong with wearing Nike, Gap, or any other American brand while you’re abroad. But as much as possible, stay away from shirts that have a massive logo or name of the brand. Also, don’t wear clothes that have slogans that are very American such as What Happens in Vegas, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, and so on. You get the drift. Even tourist shirts are not ideal either. For example, if you’re visiting Paris, if you’re going to wear an Eiffel Tower souvenir shirt, this would be a sign signal that you’re a tourist since tourists don’t really wear their own souvenir shirts.
Avoid hanging your camera around your neck
This is annoying even in your local country. Hanging your camera around your neck and shooting while you’re walking in the streets is a big no-no. Unless you want to get mugged or kidnapped, it’s best that you confine your photo taking in tourist spots areas where there are also other tourists taking a lot of photos. Keep your camera inside a normal looking bag. Don’t carry around a camera bag. Put the camera bag inside a backpack.
Never look at your map in public
This is a common mistake that many tourists make. You should never do this. Before you leave the hotel, study your map in advance. If you do need to consult the map while you’re outside, look for a store or any other place that’s more private. You can also choose maps that are pre-folded so they can easily be read.
Now that you know the tips on how not to look like a tourist during your vacation, the next thing you need to do is to prepare for the trip. One of the things that you need to organize for the vacation is the international travel insurance such as the international health insurance.
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Article Source: [http://EzineArticles.com/?How-Not-To-Look-Like-A-Tourist-During-Your-Trip-Abroad&id=6538524] How Not To Look Like A Tourist During Your Trip Abroad
O.K., I have to admit: when I saw Tallinn, Estonia on our ships’ itinerary, I figured it for a fuel stop. Why would anyone want to go to Estonia? And, where is Estonia? I pictured large Baltic women with headscarves and moustaches carrying baskets and screaming at their husbands.
That vision couldn’t be further from the truth. Tallinn, Estonia is one of the most delightful places I have ever been, and the only place on this cruise to which I would make a special return trip. I’d love to spend a week here. For a good look at Old Europe, Google images of Tallinn, Estonia.
Tallinn is a wonderful mixture of old and new. The “Old Town” is surrounded by a thoroughly modern, clean, and accessible city. Estonia has been an independent nation only since the breakup of the USSR, and they have clearly made an effort to invest in infrastructure and tourism.
The cruise terminal is relatively new, although the port of Tallinn is not. The port of Tallinn was established in A.D. 1154 on the Gulf of Finland. Estonia was ruled by Denmark and Sweden before being conquered by Russia’s Peter the Great. The location of the port made it a rich trading center during the middle ages.
The Old Town is surrounded by the walls of Toompea Castle. The streets and sidewalks are a mixture of cobblestones and
cut stones. The streets are narrow, and vehicular traffic is limited. Steep red roofs, “A” style, conical, and onion dome, provide continuity to the skyline. Between the cobblestones and the red roofs are buildings that despite being hundreds of years old, look like they were newly built for Busch Gardens’ Old World Amusement Park.
In the center of Old Town is a large market area. A stage had been set up, and an all-girl choir from a local school was performing. Some were in traditional costumes, others not. They sang like angels. Seriously, their music gave me goose bumps. That doesn’t happen often to this musical snob.
When the concert ended, I wandered through the shops. Amber is big in this part of the world, and the artisans turn out some remarkable work. The shops were full of amber: Lampshades, jewelry, tall ships, even a violin (decorative, of course) all made of amber were for sale.
An interesting tourist “trap” was a museum dedicated to medieval torture devices. I didn’t go in, but I found the promotional display simultaneously intriguing and repulsive. What kind of person could willingly inflict such pain on another human being? Thank goodness we are more civilized than that. Wait…is that a waterboard? As I turned the corner, I was face-to face with the museums doorman, dressed as a headsman, complete with hood and axe. I can see why such a sight would strike fear into the heart of a condemned man. Fortunately, I was not a condemned man. Besides, he was only intimidating from the knees up. Below the knees, the bluejeans and Nikes with day-glow shoestrings ruined the overall effect.
Leaving Old Town, I crossed a lovely park toward a tall building that was attracting a lot of people: the shopping mall. What a contrast to Old Town! Visually, it was as if I had time-travelled from the Middle Ages to 2009. The mall was just like American malls: three levels of mostly franchised stores. There were names I recognized: Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, The Body Shop; and names I didn’t recognize that were in a language I didn’t know. One shop that seemed to have great potential was called Wayne’s Coffee. As I found everywhere else in Northern Europe, there are American-themed restaurants. In this mall, it was the Amarillo Restaurant, decorated with Texas flair. The menu, however, failed to live up to the atmosphere on the walls. In spite of the Texas theme, the daily specials were Salmon Soup with Spicy Bread, and Ham and Mushroom Pasta. What, no steaks? Sam Houston is turning over in his grave.
The Estonian people were very friendly, and are very “Scandinavian” looking. One particularly nice fellow in the park outside the mall gave me a book I could not read and spoke to me enthusiastically in a language I could not understand. I think his name was Harry Krishna or something like that.
I’ve now been to Tallinn three times, and enjoyed it every time. And, not once have I seen a large mustachioed Baltic woman yelling at her husband.
Walking down the Creek Street boardwalk in Ketchikan I am terrified.
At yesterday’s Port Travel Preview, I learned that in Alaska, it is illegal to push a live moose from a moving airplane. What I want to know is this: have enough moose actually been pushed from airplanes that they had to enact a law to prevent it? The sky here is filled with float planes because there are only two ways out of Ketchikan: sea or air. There is a float plane landing or taking off about every ten minutes. How many of these planes are carrying moose bombs? Is there a law against pushing a dead moose from an airplane, or just a live moose? And, how does one get a moose into an airplane in the first place?
I am distracted from these deep thoughts by the activity in Ketchikan Creek. The creek is thick with salmon, and the surface of the water is churning. If I was fast enough, I could reach into the creek and grab a fish. It’s no wonder Ketchikan is called “The Salmon Capital of the World”; the fish are so abundant this time of year that they could be scooped up with a net.
Tradition in Ketchikan is that both salmon and seaman go up Creek Street to spawn. I suppose I’m a seaman (at least that’s what my seamans book says) but I’m not here to spawn. I’m here to breathe fresh air, get some exercise, and see some new sights. Historically, Creek Street housed Ketchikans “Red Light District”. The district operated without substantial interference from the authorities until the 1950′s. The last of the operating brothels, Dolly’s House, has been restored and is open to tourists (just for looking, though).
Like other Alaskan towns along the Inside Passage, Ketchikan is wedged between a mountain and the sea. It is built along a steep hillside, and right into the water on pilings. It rains here a lot. According to a downtown sign, Ketchikan gets over 160 inches of precipitation annually. The rain can come quickly. When I got off the ship today, the sun was shining, so I didn’t bring an umbrella. Within an hour, it was pouring. I ducked into a bookstore to ride out the rain. I should have paid attention when I was told that this area is called “Alaska’s Rainforest”.
The cruise ship quays in Ketchikan are substantial enough to accommodate several cruise ships. Today, there are two Holland America and one Princess ship tied up at the docks. The passengers, sheltered by their umbrellas, pour out of the ships and into downtown Ketchikan. As in other port towns, the sidewalks and the shops are full. Spanning the street in the center of town is a sign that reads “Welcome to Alaska’s First City: Ketchikan, the Salmon Capital of the World”. There are so many visitors in town that the city hires crossing guards to work 12 hours a day during “the season” from May through the end of September. Most of the guards appear to be college-age men and women, and they take their jobs seriously. Cars and buses follow the guards’ directions as if the guards had badges and guns. Downtown Ketchikan is a pleasant place. The streets are clean and the buildings are well kept. It’s clear that there is money here.
My weekly ritual in Ketchikan includes a “run” to Wal-Mart to buy office supplies and sundries for the coming week. Wal-Mart provides a free shuttle for the four mile trip from downtown. The ride to Wal-Mart shows a different side of Ketchikan. Once outside the “tourist” area, everything becomes more rugged: the terrain, the buildings, and the people. Lots are overgrown and untended; buildings are in need of paint and repair; the people have a “hard” look about them. It’s clear that not everyone in Ketchikan gets a share of the “tourist pie”.
With my Wal-Mart supplies in hand, I board the shuttle and make my way back to the ship. It’s raining again when I get back to town. I promise myself that the next time I’m in Ketchikan I will carry an umbrella, even if the sun is shining. At the same instant I make that promise, I wonder if an umbrella affords any protection from falling moose.
I went to Hans Christian Andersen’s house today. He wasn’t home. No fairy tales for me. Hans lived on a canal in Copenhagen, Denmark. His house is a flat-fronted, three story row house, faced with plaster and painted yellow. The surrounding canals were lined by restaurants with outdoor tables, each branch canal filled with tour boats.
I also walked by the Queen’s Palace. Her house is bigger than Han’s. She wasn’t home, either. I guess I should have phoned ahead.
I’ve been to the major Baltic seaports three times now, and I’d say that Copenhagen is my favorite “large” city (my favorite small city is Tallinn, Estonia; more about that in a future post).
I like to wander in a new city. I don’t like tour busses; they move too fast for me to notice the small things that define a city and its’ people. Take bicycles, for example. Like most Scandinavian cities, bicycles are a common form of transportation in Copenhagen. There are dedicated, paved bike lanes bordering the streets, and lots of bicycle parking on the sidewalks.
What I noticed in Copenhagen was that the parked bikes were not locked. In Washington DC and Baltimore, an unlocked bike would be stolen within 10 minutes. Growing up near a big city, we always locked everything: houses, cars, sheds, bikes. Were all the bikes in Copenhagen unlocked? I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I walked zigzag up and across 10 blocks, counting bicycles. I stopped counting at 200. I had found one locked bicycle.
Do people in Copenhagen not steal bikes? Why? What cultural mechanism prevents bicycle theft? Is everyone honest? Does everyone own a bike? Is bike theft, like horse theft in the American Old West, a “hanging offense”? I suspect that Copenhagen has its’ share of thieves and misfits, but I found the bicycle issue curious.
Walking a few more blocks, I came to Kings Park. Kings Park is a large, well-landscaped park surrounded by a Royal Residence. The park was filled with people enjoying the sunshine and clear skies. I could have been in an American park; folks were playing with their dogs and children, throwing Frisbees and playing hacky-sack. A group of eight teenage girls were sitting cross-legged together, conversing enthusiastically. Not with each other, mind you: they were all on cell phones.
At the opposite side of the park, I noticed an Art Museum across the street. I left the park to explore the museum. I was disappointed. The featured artist, according to his posted bio, was a thirty-something Scandinavian artist who expressed himself through angry black-and-white photos, drawings, and political statements. If one of the goals of art is to elicit an emotional response, the artist succeeded: I wanted to smack him. Note to the artist: have you ever fought in a war, made a payroll, paid a mortgage or raised kids? No? Then go get a job, and keep your anti-American political opinions to yourself. If I want black-and-white photos and fear-mongering, I’ll read a big-city newspaper.
As it was approaching lunch time, I decided to search for some “local” food. What’s “local” to Denmark? Do I know any Danish foods? Let’s see…how about cheese Danish? Are cheese Danish actually Danish? Is it likely that I will find a food vendor that sells cheese Danish? Just because a food is named for a region, does that mean the local food vendors will sell it? If I was in Brussels, Belgium, could I expect to find a Brussels Sprouts concessionaire or a Belgian waffle cart? Would Bologna, Italy specialize in Baloney sandwiches? Not likely. I decided to settle for a Chorizo sausage on a roll.
Eventually, I got back onto the shuttle bus and headed back to the ship. On the way out of Copenhagen, the driver took a different route out of town. There was still a lot of the city to see, but busses just go to fast to get a good look.
I arrived in Stockholm today. I knew I was in Stockholm because, when I got on the shuttle bus, “Dancing Queen” by ABBA was playing on the radio. Again. Just like it was on my first two trips to Stockholm. One hears the music of ABBA in the shops and on the streets. It’s everywhere. In Sweden, disco still rules. What’s this national obsession with ABBA? Yes, they were disco mega-stars and have a show on Broadway. O.K.; “she was a Dancing Queen”. I get it. That was the ‘80’s. Enough already.
The ships’ shuttle bus dropped us off in front of the National Museum, so I paid the admission (100 Kronors=$10 or so) and went in. Guess what music was playing at the ticket booth? You got it: ABBA.
The museum has done an impressive job of displaying their paintings, sculptures, porcelains, and antiques. Intensity, angle, and type of light are crucial in displaying art properly: light affects how color and form are perceived. The National got it right. Bravo!
Stockholm is a wonderful city. It is situated on the Baltic Sea, at the point where Lake Malaren meets the Baltic. It’s a beautiful cruise into the port; the shoreline reminds me of the Chesapeake Bays’ northern Maryland shoreline. Stockholm itself is situated on about 20 islands. The skyline is punctuated by glass and dark stone buildings, red-washed houses, onion domes, painted roofs, curved gables, and persimmon-based cathedrals and spires. If I were a student of architecture, I could spend a month in Stockholm sorting out all the architectural influences.
Today (June 6) is Sweden’s National Day, and the center of the city was as crowded as Washington, DC’s National Mall on the 4th of July or New York’s Times Square on New Years’ Eve: filled with people, entertainment, patriotic activities, and food concessionaires. There was a central stage with two large video screens on each side and a massive sound system operated by three technicians. The setup was impressive, but the music was not. The musical acts consisted of a series of folksingers giving tepid performances to a disinterested audience. No wonder ABBA is still popular: one could die from boredom listening to this music.
I tried to imagine what sort of music would get the crowd’s attention and liven things up. What this crowd needed was a jolt of Bluegrass: The Lonesome River Band from Meadows of Dan, VA playing “Whoop and Ride”, with Sammy Shelors’ banjo licks bouncing off the façade of the Royal Palace. That would wake everyone up.
I wandered to the Royal Palace just in time to miss the changing of the guard. Tours of the palace are free on National Day, so I thought I’d see how Swedish Royalty lives. They live royally. It’s amazing how much wealth one can accumulate when one commands a large army.
As I walked out of the palace, all eyes were looking upward. The sky was filled with blue and yellow balloons, and a parade had started. The soldiers’ uniforms were crisp, the marching bands were in step, and the Drum Majors were prancing like thoroughbred horses. In that moment, I found hope for Swedish music: the marching bands were NOT playing ABBA.
20 weeks (so far) of living on cruise ships hardly qualifies me as an expert on shipboard life; some of my co-workers have worked on ships for decades. Nevertheless, here are my observations about shipboard living.
A cruise ship has been called a floating hotel, but that doesn’t begin to tell the story. It’s more like a floating city: it has an onboard sewage processing plant, water purification plant (salt water into drinkable water) recycling center, electrical generators, medical facilities, a library, and more. My third and current ship, Holland America’s Zuiderdam, is 10 stories tall and the length of three football fields. It has a staff and crew of around 900 and carries about 2000 passengers. My first ship, the Carnival Freedom, was even bigger. It had a staff of 1200 and housed 2600 passengers.
There are 2 primary departments aboard a cruise ship: Marine Crew and Hotel Staff. Within each department there are ranks and associated privileges.
The head of the Marine crew (and everything else on board) is the Captain, a.k.a. Master of the Vessel. The mariners are quasi-military in organization, and function much like the Navy. They keep the ship safely afloat and guide it to its destinations. Second in command is the Staff Captain, whose primary responsibilities are ship security and employee discipline.
The head of the Hotel Staff is the Hotel Director. All functions you would expect to see in a first-rate hotel come under the direction of the Hotel Director, including the ships “revenue partners”: the gift shops, jewelry store, cosmetics store, Botox, Acupuncture, photo studio, spa services, shore excursions, and art gallery/auction. There is even an onboard “Port Shopping Ambassador” who will gladly tell you which port shops offer the best deals and where you should shop. Of course, all these recommended shops pay an advertising fee to be included. Cruise ships are a revenue machine. Why else would they sell cruise packages for $300 per person? On a 7 day cruise, the ship generates over a million dollars over and above the price of the cruise tickets.
Rank & Privilege
The management ranks of both departments are designated by stripes on the uniform sleeves: one or two stripes designate a department supervisor; three stripes are middle management; four + stripes are the top managers. Staff movements on the ship are limited by rank. If one has no stripes, one cannot be seen in public areas unless ones duties require it. (Lower decks are crew areas, and there are crew elevators and hallways that parallel the public areas). Some poor blokes in the engine room hardly see the light of day. Art Auctioneers have 3-stripe privileges and full access to public areas. I don’t wear a “uniform”, per-se. Days, I am to dress in “smart casual”, which for me usually means a polo shirt and chinos. After 6 pm I have to be in either a suit or a tuxedo, depending on the ship and whether or not it is “formal night”.
Now to get to the important part: eating & drinking. Staff and crew are provided with room & board. Where one eats depends upon ones rank. There is a staff mess, crew mess, officers’ mess, and Indonesian mess. Yes, the Indonesians get their own mess. I was in the Indonesian mess once, and I am glad they separate the Indonesian food from food that I am expected to eat. Maybe what turned me off was the fish head stew; I usually throw away the fish heads before cooking. Maybe fish head stew is delicious, but I wouldn’t know whether to eat the eyeballs or spit them out. I haven’t eaten in the crew mess, so I can’t comment on the food. The food in the officers’ mess and staff mess are the same, but there are tablecloths on the officers’ tables. I have become friends with many of the officers and eat in the officers’ mess from time to time.
When I eat in a mess hall, I prefer to eat in the staff mess. The staff mess is where all the musicians and entertainers eat, and we all get along famously. The ships’ production show is titled “Liverpool Knights” and features British Invasion rock music from the ‘60s. Most of the cast members had never heard the original recordings of the music they are performing. When I mentioned that I had seen the Beatles live and that my band opened onstage for several of the “Invasion” groups, I became the “elder statesman” of the group. They were impressed that I actually played music in the pre-digital-sampling age, and they were astonished that records were recorded without continual overdubbing and re-mixes.
About 1/3 of the Lido deck is taken up by food buffets, and the rest by swimming pools and lounges. There are buffets available all day long with food choices to satisfy international guests: North & South American, European, Asian. I prefer to eat at the buffets, and take most of my meals there. Passengers can choose from the buffets or several specialty restaurants. Where and when passengers eat depends upon the price they paid for their ticket. There are a half-dozen bars onboard for the passengers, plus a crew bar in the crew area. I imbibe at the officers bar, the “O.B.”.
Most crew and staff live in crew cabins. Crew cabins are two persons to a room, bunk beds, two small closets, a shower & toilet, a desk, TV and DVD player. Three stripes and above get private cabins. On my first ship, I got a private cabin. On my second ship, I was surprised to find they had bunked me in crew quarters with our young Indian Art Steward. Had we been in Ft. Lauderdale, I would have walked off the ship; but since I was in Amsterdam and would have to deal with the immigration authorities, I stayed. “Jumping ship” is serious business. I was transferred to another ship before the promise of a private cabin “as soon as one becomes available” could be realized. I am currently quite comfortable in private officers quarters on the Zuiderdam.
Cabin rules: No alcohol is to be kept in the room. Some say this means I can’t have alcohol in my room. Semanticist that I am, I say it means just what it says: that I can’t KEEP alcohol in my room. So, when I have alcohol, I make sure to drink it right away.
Nothing that generates heat may be kept in the cabin. No candles or open flames; no hair dryers (not a problem for me) no heating pads and no clothing irons. The clothing iron rule presented a problem on the Century: their laundry facilities were woefully inadequate. For a crew /staff of 860, there were 6 washers, 6 dryers, and one iron/ironing board. While I was there, two of the washers and three of the dryers were broken. You can imagine the gridlock in the laundry room. The first time I used the facility, I was up until 3AM doing my laundry. I have since learned to pay to have my shirts laundered and do the rest of it early in the morning on embarkation day, when the hotel staff is busy getting passengers on & off, the entertainers are still in bed, and crew with time off are all running errands on shore. The last time I did my laundry on the Century, I was the only one there. It was blissful. On the Zuiderdam, my cabin is near the officers’ laundry. I have easy access to the facility and it is more than adequate.
Telephone and internet are all controlled by the ships’ communication contractor. Like everything else on the ship, communication is a profit center. Internet grosses over $100,000/week at a charge to the passengers of 65c/minute. The charge to the crew varies between 9c & 12c/minute, depending upon which pre-paid plans are purchased. Last cruise, I overheard a distraught father complaining about his internet bill: his daughter had spent over $3,000 while logged onto Facebook. My cell phone rate is about $2.45/minute (Verizon). The ship offers pre-paid phone cards to crew members at a rate of about 45c/minute. Internet telephony is blocked, except for me: my former Indian roommate was smart enough to figure out a work-around and nice enough to share the details with me. Now I can call home from the ship at my internet rate of 9c/minute.
So, that’s the basics of my life onboard. I’ll be glad to entertain questions if I’ve missed something.
Winning a Caribbean cruise would be better than winning the lottery. Not that I wouldn’t like to win the lottery; I would. Sometimes I daydream about winning. The dreams usually start with fixing up the house and end with travelling around the world.
But I’ll never win the lottery, because I don’t play the lottery. And, rumor has it that I have to play in order to win. I just hate spending money on a lottery ticket when the odds are overwhelming that I won’t win. Since I’ve already seen a fair amount of the world without winning the lottery, I guess I’ll just spend my two bucks on a Starbucks instead of a lottery ticket.
The odds are against my winning a Caribbean cruise as well, but I don’t have to spend any money to enter the Cruise Sweepstakes. I don’t even have to buy anything to qualify for entry; all I have to do is fill out the entry form. So, I filled out the entry form. Once. The contest rules say that I can fill out an entry form every day until Dec 31, 2011. But, once is good enough for me. I’m either lucky or I’m not.
The sweepstakes cruise is a Royal Caribbean cruise for four. The contest doesn’t specify which Caribbean itinerary is up for grabs: East, West, or South. But, if it’s free, who cares? I’ve taken the Eastern and Western tours, and enjoyed them both. I would be nice to go as a passenger instead of a ship employee.
The sweepstakes is sponsored by Frigo Cheese Heads. I have no idea what that is. I suspect that it’s some kind of food aimed at four-year-olds. At least, that’s what it seemed like when I visited their website frigocheeseheads.com. There was lots of flash graphics and a cute little man made out of cheese who leapt from a refrigerator. Not a Nutritional Information link to be seen anywhere on the site. But, it’s sure nice of them to sponsor this sweepstakes. Thanks, Frigo.
Since the cruise is for four people, if I win I will probably go with my wife and our two adult sons (if they can get off from work). If you enter and win, who will you take? You can find the sweepstakes details at https://www.frigocheeseheadscruise.com/Public/Age.aspx .
I struck out on the post office; as it turns out, May 21 is a religious holiday in Holland, and all the government offices and many of the shops were closed. I walked a half-mile from the Cruise Passenger Terminal to the Central Train Station, where I found a shop that sold postage stamps but not shampoo. I asked the clerk where I could find a mailbox, and was directed outside through the opposite side of the station.
Once upstairs and outside, I found not only the mailboxes but a city bustling with activity. I decided to explore. About 6 blocks away from the train station, I discovered an area about 20 square blocks in size that was cut into sections by canals and lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. There were no “franchised” restaurants or shops here. No TGI Fridays, no Gap, no Banana Republic. Most of the shops were closed. I was disappointed that I couldn’t explore their goods; I was intrigued by their window displays.
I turned a corner and found myself in the Chinatown section of Amsterdam. There was a tea shop that not only sold tea, but would perform tea rituals for their guests; an Acupuncturist who offered foot massages to the weary; and a Chinese import shop. At the end of the block was what appeared to be a very large Buddhist Temple. As I walked toward the Temple, I looked down an alley and saw an area by a canal that was bustling with activity, so I turned toward the commotion.
At the end of the alley I turned left at a place called The Sailors Bar. The bar was very busy, even at 10am on a religious holiday. From the bar wafted the distinct odor of marijuana. At the same moment, I heard someone knocking on the glass next to me. I turned to see, inside the display window, a woman wearing only lingerie who motioned for me to come in. WOW! Live underwear models! Who knew? Certainly not me. I looked down the street on each side of the canal to see similar displays lining the canal. Each window contained one or more mostly-naked women, all beckoning passers-by to come in for a closer look. Some men went in, alone or in groups. The women varied in age, size, and race. They waved and smiled. I smiled back. In fact, I couldn’t quit grinning. The incongruity of me being in such a place struck me as profoundly amusing. I walked around with a stupid grin on my face. One rather large Asian woman wearing too much makeup opened a door and said to me: Trickee? Trickee? Who? Me? Tricky? I may be a smooth talker, but I’m not the least bit tricky. “No thanks”, I said.
I found my way back to Central Station, thoroughly entertained but still without shampoo. As I entered the station, I saw a cosmetics store that I hadn’t noticed on my way out. And what a fine selection of shampoo they had! Let’s see; do I need “Extra Volumizing”? No; I don’t think it could volumize enough to do me any good. I guess this shop is too upscale for Head & Shoulders. They had a shampoo for bald, hairy European men, however ; it was called “Back & Shoulders”. I skipped that one, too. Finally, I settled on a small tube of Nivea; and there was nothing tricky about it.
Contributed by Laurie L. Harley
The weather in Florida makes it a top vacation choice for many people. With summer highs in the low 90s and winter highs in the low 70s, Florida is a vacation paradise.
Yet if you research the best Florida vacation destinations, you will continually run into that D-word. You know… Disney. There is nothing wrong with a Disney vacation, but sometimes you want something a little more… grown-up. That’s when you consider a yacht charter, and South Florida is a hot spot for motor and sailing yachts cruising across the blue waters. And on a yacht charter, there are no mice allowed – Mickey Mouse or otherwise.
South Florida is home to many popular beach cities, such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Key Largo. Miami is more than just a tropical paradise, although it definitely is that. The city is an international destination where chic fashion is developed and celebrities are seen dining, shopping, and clubbing. Fort Lauderdale, otherwise known as the Venice of America, offers plenty of attractions including parks, museums, the beach, and of course, the water. And Key Largo, made famous in a song by Bertie Higgins, is at the top of the Florida Keys chain of islands. The city boasts numerous natural wonders, thrill water rides, and a myriad of art galleries.
The best way to enjoy all of these cities and the attractions they offer is to book a yacht charter in South Florida. A week-long itinerary will allow you to explore the coast, go fishing, and sunbathe.
You will be able to enjoy the five-star restaurants of South Florida or for more privacy, relax on the yacht and be served by the crew’s skilled chef. With a yacht charter, you will be able to discuss the cuisine choices prior to your trip, so you’ll be sure that the chef knows that you’re lactose intolerant and your son refuses to eat onions.
If your children are begging you to go to Disney World, you can still fit that yacht charter into your vacation. Enjoy some time with the kids in the Most Magical Place on Earth and then schedule a day charter on a yacht. These eight-hour mini-vacations are great for fishing trips, sight-seeing, or just relaxing and feeling the rocking of the waves.
Any way you look at it, a South Florida yacht charter is the perfect choice for those interested in vacationing in the warm waters of Florida’s Atlantic Ocean. And you can be assured that there are no mice on board.
Laurie Harley writes for Worldwide Boat yacht charter specialist, an independent booking agency for luxury yacht charters around the world. Worldwide Boat represents the world’s finest luxury yachts and offers clients an exceptional charter experience in premiere charter destinations.
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