August 19, 2011 Dubrovnik, CroatiaIt was a pretty hot day today in Dubrovnik, so it is fortunate that the old walled city is full of narrow alleyways lined with cafes and shops to get away from the sun, and the crowding of the main thoroughfare through the area. However, while walking through the main thoroughfare, I was surprised at how often I heard live musicians playing, and not your typical street musicians. In particular I heard a trio of flute, violin, and guitar that was absolutely top notch. So much so that I actually spent $20 on a CD. Not that they were better than any professional CD I could order for under $10, but it is good to support live and independent musicians, so what the heck. It is my souvenir from Croatia.
I also ended up spending far too much money on a tram ride to the top of the hill overlooking greater Dubrovnik. I spent too much because I could have walked it in about 30 minutes if I knew the way up, which I didn't. And I wasn't dressed for it either, so I figured I may as well enjoy a little ride. At the top was the Imperial Fortress, built by Napoleon the first when the French briefly controlled things about 200 years ago. Of course, it saw action as recently as 16 years ago as Croatia was at war with Serbia from 91 to 95. Now, in the Imperial Fortress, there was a small war museum. It was certainly odd seeing full color images of buildings burning so recently, particularly in that I was just outside of those buildings an hour prior, enjoying some music and not worrying about being shelled or bombed. Unfortunately, even though it happened when I was in high school, I know very little about the conflict. I was probably paying attention to other things at the time! Thus, I can't really tell the difference between fact or nationalist propaganda in the museum, but until I read more I'm willing to give Croatia the benefit of the doubt. Pictures will be forthcoming if any turned out.
July 27, 2011 - Olden, NorwayI'm pretty exhausted today after climbing around 4000 feet. The first quarter of it or so was gravel road, so I pushed my bike up there, which probably drained me further, but it was worth it to be able to coast down for that last 1000 feet when my legs were already quite wobbly. I was glad to have a better map than usual...this one was a trail map that you had to buy in the information center, which I fortunately did last time I was here a month ago. Still, finding the trails isn't all that easy around here, and once I stopped a local Norwegian to ask him to confirm where I was at the moment, and he looked at my map and told me I was at the other end of the fjord, which was obviously incorrect. Fortunately, the map was pretty accurate and I found the trail with little difficulty. Staying on the trail was a bit more of a challenge thought. If I could scan the map in, I may write a "how-to" just in case anyone googles "hiking Olden" and needs better directions on getting up. But I suppose I won't.
A little less than 3000 feet up there are two little cabins where the shepherds live sometimes. Nobody was home unfortunately, except a lot of sheep, who all seemed irritated that I was invading their space. I'd scare them and they'd run further up the trail, only to be chased down by me again eventually. At the cabins, I had the option of going to a 3300 foot overlook, which was noted as a "marked trail" on the map, or a trail that went further into the mountains, and up to a 4500 foot peak, noted as an "unmarked map to be done with a guide" on the map. I'm not overly concerned with not having a guide, but I thought maybe it would be a better view to simply go to the overlook, and I wasn't disappointed. Olden is at the end of a canyon that leads 20 miles or so towards a glacier, following a river that is a series of finger-type lakes separated by swiftly flowing rapids. And from where I was, you could see the entire chain all the way to the glacier. I could even see the ship pretty much right below me.
It had made it there by noon, and had until 5:30, so I considered going for the 4500 high peak as well, which I could see from the cabins. I think I had seen a trail notated that way too, but I wasn't sure, and where I was at the moment hardly needed trails. It was all rocks and spongy mosses. I figured I'd just start scrambling up a bit to see how far I get which is of course never a great idea, because eventually I figured I'd just go up and around the peak and hope to run into the other trail. Eventually by 1:30 I figured I should turn around. I knew I could have kept going, but I wasn't actually sure I could get down without going back to the overlook, so I gave myself extra time. Getting down was tricky, and a few times I had to move horizontally to find better spots to descend. Finally, I heard the familiar clinking of the sheep's bells, so I figured they'd know the way down. I came upon them and eventually they'd had enough of me stalking and they ran...up instead of down. Fortunately, this didn't last and they started to descend, leading me a decent enough trail to follow back down to the cabins eventually. Most of the trails up here are only trails because the sheep say so anyway, so those were good enough.
As usual, I returned with plenty of time to spare, but it is better than the alternative I suppose. And I am pretty beat. I'm debating not doing another one tomorrow, and instead maybe renting a kayak or something.
Pictures will be forthcoming.
June 16, 2011 - Bergen, NorwayThere has been so much of Norway to see in a short time, I have been delinquent in writing until now, so I'll write about the last 3 ports under this heading. First, in June 14th I was back in Flamm, Norway, which I had been to only a year prior on the Symphony. I wish I had remembered that a bicycle goes strongly recommended here. There is a lot to see and it is probably the most stunning of all of the ports, but to get anywhere, you really need a bicycle. As it was, I didn't have one, and the only good hike started about 8 kilometers away. Since it was sprinkling rain on and off and since I didn't wish to rent a bicycle ashore (which would cost about $40 for the day), I decided to walk the 8 km just to see what it was like. The walk was along the shore of the fjord from the town of Flamm to a neighboring village on the coast, so either way it wasn't a waste of time. Along the way I can across a backpacker's tent and a young Swiss man firing up a small backpacker's stove. It is nice that one can simply pitch camp next to the road around here. There are campgrounds, but the Swiss man complained that there were too many people, in that there were people there I'm assuming. Also, I saw the campground, and the "campers" were in, well, large campers. So a backpacker's tent certainly would have seemed out of place.
After seeing the other village and returning, I decided to trek back up to a nearby waterfall I had seen a year ago. Along the way I ran into a couple of the stage hands and invited them along. It wasn't all that high up, but they smoke a bit too much and I was starting to wonder if taking them along was such a good idea. Fortunately, right when their spirits were lowest, we can upon the waterfall and they were very glad they made the effort.
The following day I was in Olden, Norway for the first time. Olden was equally stunning, or rather, it would have been if the mountain peaks weren't almost continuously shrouded in clouds and being sprinkled on by rain. Not wishing to repeat my mistakes from the previous day, I reserved a bicycle and used that to ride around and seek out trails. The information kiosk outside of the ship was manned by people selling tours...there weren't native to this area so they were of little help. I decided instead to ask locals on the street for advice. One older Norwegian gave me instructions and showed me on my crude map where to go. Basically, I followed a dirt road I'd estimate to an elevation of about 2000 feet when the road ended with a few presently unpopulated cottages and a few slightly annoyed cows. From here there was supposed to be a trail, and I may have actually been on it, but after a little creek, I lost the trail. Given that I wasn't yet above the timber line, and it was cloudy and foggy, I figured I probably shouldn't be getting lost up there, so I decided to return to the cottages, sit down for a bit of reading and playing of my penny-whistle (further annoying the cows) and then descended down.
A more local information kiosk finally opened and I spoke to someone in the know about the trails in the area. Turns out I was really close I guess, but somehow missed the trail. She told me I actually only had another hour to go or so, which annoys me that much more. Fortunately, I'll have another chance when I return in late July, this time armed with a much better map. Also, at that time of year there may be more locals up there in and around the cottages that could help me find the trail.
Finally, I have just left Bergen. Bergen is an odd place in that I've been there 4 times in my life now and each time nothing within the city looks familiar to me. Maybe I'm at a different dock each time. I don't know. I was debating simply chilling out and not working too hard on my 4th Norwegian port in a row, but finally the sun shone brightly this day so I decided to trek up to Seven Mountains (I believe it is called), which I had done on every previous visit to Bergen except my first, which was with the Gustavus Band in the middle of January. Actually, Seven Mountains would probably be really neat in the winter, and probably just as heavily used but by skiers instead of walkers and runners. I had all day at my disposal, so on the way I stopped for coffee at a place that played very good and interested music. And also charged $5 for a small espresso. Well, last I checked, the average per-capita income in Norway was over $70k, so I suppose they can all afford such prices.
After leaving the cafe I headed up the hill. Even though it takes over an hour to get to the top even at a good clip (which I was not alone in setting), I still saw quite a few people running to the top or returning. Actually, I think the crazies are the ones running back down. That has to be hard on the joints.
Anyway, the top was the one thing Bergen that was just how I remembered it, except that at this time the wind hadn't picked up at all and it was still sunny. So I found soft bed of grass and sat down to read a bit and take a nap, while I dried the sweat out of my shirt. I stayed up for a couple of hours before descending a different trail. Normally, with trails so well maintained and marked, I wouldn't fear about getting lost. But there so many trails around there that I had to at least keep my eye on the general direction I desired, which was the city center where the shuttle buses picked up passengers and crew alike. I normally have a strong dislike for shuttle buses, but at this time, worn as I am from 4 days of hiking, I was happy to sit down and ride the rest of the way. I certainly am sore today, and I think I'll take it easy for a couple of days. This should be made easier by the fact that I have at least 2 days off starting today, and possibly 3 days off. I guess this beats working for a living.
June 13, 2011 - Stavanger, Norway
I didn't plan on doing any hiking today. There aren't really any good mountains in walking or even biking distance to Stavanger, so I figured I'd just wander around and read a while and end up doing a little internet. But as I was leaving the port area I starting talking to a Stavanger resident who told me that this was the place to be for hiking if I just took this ferry and subsequent bus ride. Only 75 kroner round trip. So I decided to go back to the ship, dress and pack for a hike, and get out to find the ferry terminal.
Turns out it was 200 kroner round trip, which is a bit more than I really wanted to spend today ($33), but it was well worth it. The only other drawback was that apparently the whole of Norway thought the trip was well worth it. Advertised as 600 meters above sea level and a 4 hour round trip, I've never seen so many people on a hike like this before, particularly in the lower half of it. Old and young, thin and fat (yes, I saw two fat people lumbering up...I don't think they were Norwegian), being chased by dogs and carrying toddlers. I was concerned because if I were to make it back to the ship in time for rehearsal, I'd need to do the 4 hour trip in 3 hours. Turns out, by pushing it hard you can actually do it in 2! This was good as it gave me more time on the descent to take pictures. I actually took 20 more minutes on the descent than on the ascent.
The "summit", which isn't a summit of any sort since you actually approach it from above, is this odd flat rectangular plateau at the top of a straight drop 600 meters to the fjord below. I'm sure I've seen this place on youtube before...in fact it may have been a guy in one of those flying squirrel suits jumping off. At any rate, I don't have any overbearing fear of heights, but as I sat on the edge I felt particularly uneasy. Take those pictures and get me the **** out of here. The gusts of wind were sometimes so powerful that being blown off was actually a concern. I don't have any statistics on how often that happens, but for how much traffic this place gets, I'd be surprised if it hasn't.
I'll post pictures soon, but I think I'll be getting quite a few in the next few days, so I may hold off for a while yet.
June 3, 2011 - London, EnglandYesterday (the 3rd) I landed at Heathrow around noon, though with taxi, customs, and shuttle time I didn't actually get to my hotel until 2 pm. I noticed that I had a roommate in my hotel room who wasn't there, but I looked at the name tag on his saxophone and realized that it was John Phillips, the retired band director I've worked with twice on Crystal. So it nice to bump into him again.
I had to practice a little bit since I'm still out of shape from my time in Cambodia (which it turns out was probably not necessary...my first day on the ship here has me with a night off...great start!). John got back to the room 30 minutes later. We decided to go hit downtown London. Sadly, with all of the transportation to get there, we didn't even arrive in the middle of things until 5 pm. Thus, most things were either closed or closing. I wanted to go Churchill's war room, but they were closing at 6, and the last tour left at 5. Oh well. At least it stays light late here, so we walked around quite a bit, seeing things like the Parliamentary building, Big Ben, Downing street, and the Eye Of London (the Ferris Wheel), which had such a long line for admission that were it free, I still wouldn't have bothered. We ended up at St. Martin In The Fields, where they have nightly concerts. We bought a couple tickets to hear a string quartet play Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't completely jet lagged and uncomfortable from listening to a concert in an old church (it reminded me of the Old North Church in Boston). Still, it was a good performance and I was glad to have caught it. After that, we took the long trek back to the hotel where I promptly fell asleep.
Nothing to report yet on the ship. I haven't even unpacked. As soon as I dropped my stuff off, I ran off the ship to go hang out in Southampton (today, on the 4th). Have to get back soon for my first safety induction.
More to come.
May 21st, 2011 - Phnom Penh, CambodiaI've been slacking a bit on writing about what's been going on in the far east with me, but I suppose this 5 hour bus ride is a good time to write, particularly given the fact that our bus is still parked in the bus station. And for some reason they are blasting annoying Asian pop music throughout the entire bus. Time for the isolating headphones.
So, it's been a week since I touched down in Singapore. I think I have only now finally recovered from a pretty extreme jet lag. Singapore is 11 hours east of Minnesota, and Cambodia is a full 12 hours. I think I had a 72 hour stretch where I only slept about 4 hours, and a few days later I went another 48 hours with no sleep. Oddly, I seemed to function adequately.
The first thing I did was go with Bill to the casino and theater where he's performing in a Cirque du Soleil show. For some reason, I didn't know until I arrived in Singapore that another guy I knew from my brief circus tour was working in the band, again as the music director. He had no idea that I was coming to Singapore, so I really surprised him when he showed up for the sound check and I was sitting in his seat.
I watched their first show that day and it was pretty amazing. A lot of talented performers doing some pretty crazy stunts. The audience was not even half full however. I guess they aren't putting much effort into marketing the show, which is really too bad.
Subsequently, my three nights of playing at a local jazz club went very well, though also weren't all that well attended. I didn't really mind though.
The few days I had in Singapore I occupied either by walking around downtown (1 day) or mountain biking (another day). Mountain biking was pretty fun. There is a small island on the north of Singapore (just on the border with Malaysia) called Pulau Ubin. Local lore claims that it is haunted, given the beating it took from the Japanese in WWII. It has also been described as what Singapore was like 50-100 years ago. It certainly seemed pretty primitive. The biking was a lot of fun however. Perhaps a bit more dangerous than I should have been attempting, but, well, no broken bones.
The next day, Bill and I took direct flights from Singapore to Siem Reap, Cambodia. If there is a tourist city in Cambodia, this would have to be it. However, apart from the numerous young ex-pat tourists there and a two block street dedicated to tourist nightlife, the town had a very quaint and authentically Cambodian (if I understand what that means) feel too it. Hotels run as low as $12 and the guest houses are probably cheaper. Meals are $3 and the food is all very good. Most natives get from place to place on bicycles or little motor scooters. Traffic laws are optional. The first thing I noticed on the taxi from the airport to the hotel was that even though you drive on the right side of the road, when you are turning left you pull into the left lane and often times in the left shoulder. Everybody does this. It can make for a few uncomfortable games of chicken. Even though most people rode mopeds or bikes, there was the occasional toyota or even lexus. I saw some woman driving her lexus on the busy street while texting on her cell phone. She then took a left turn right into the left shoulder and oncoming traffic. No accident though. In fact, I surprisingly saw no accidents occur! (though I did see the aftermath of one accident on the bus to Phnom Penh...more below).
The reason that backpackers and tourists alike flock to Siem Reap is of course the Angkor ruins. Built between the 9th and 12th centuries, there are a surprisingly large number of ruins still very much intact. Many of these ruins are still actually being used for Buddhist activities. I didn't realize until I arrived that many of the temples were actually originally Hindu until the Buddhists took over. The events that lead up to this escape me, but I did manage to get a good deal on a detailed book on the history of the sites. Of course, Bill got a better deal on the same book from the next vendor.
We spent an entire day biking from one site to the next. At the end of the day, we decide to bike way out to something on the map that we thought was another site but instead was simply a little mountain...I'm guessing a volcano. It was quite a few miles out, and our bicycles were single gear. With baskets! So, by the time we got to the mountain, we knew that we wouldn't make it back before sundown as it was, so we turned around to head back to town. The ride out was worth it though, as it took us through small villages and rural Cambodia. Pretty much every home had a few kids who came out to cheer on the white guys biking past. And sometimes ask for a dollar (I think). But they were all pretty adorable.
Finally, even though Siem Reap was a very nice, quiet, and safe place to be for a while, we decided, based on a recommendation from an ex-pat named Tim who has lived in Cambodia for a few years, to book a bus ticket to the capitol of Phnom Penh. I started typing this on the bus, but as soon as the bus started moving, it was apparent that I had to stop. The roads were very bumpy, and combine that with the quality of the bus, well, it made for quite a ride. I was watching the road ahead for a little while, but given the chaos of oncoming traffic and the driver's driving, I figured it would be best to just sit back and hope for the best. They blasted a very odd Chinese (well, at least it was Asian) movie on a small TV in the front, which unfortunately was connected through large speakers throughout the bus. Another bit of excitement occurred when we noticed a large gathering of people on the side of a road. A small SUV had crashed, seemingly very recently, into a tree off of the road. It looked bad. The whole village had come out to look.
Nevertheless, 250 km and 6 hours later, we arrived in Phnom Penh unscathed for the most part. At first it looked like I was going to regret coming here. It is a large sprawled out city and most of it is pretty dirty. But in close to the river it is actually quite nice and almost modern. Almost. I have quite a nice hotel room where the staff seems to bend over backwards to make sure I'm taken care of. The food is all still very cheap. And the palace and the temples all look pretty amazing. Today, if Bill ever wakes up, we are going to go visit those, the National Museum, and certain sites from the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Pol Pot (which I know very little about, but I bought a book on out here).
Tomorrow, Bill flies back to Singapore. I've decided to take another bus further south to the port of Sihanoukville, which I guess is similar to Siem Reap in that it is pretty quiet. From there I'm going to book a ferry to Trat, Thailand, which I've also heard good things about. Finally, I'll make my way up to Bangkok and fly to Singapore on the 28th! Plans always subject to change however.
March 10th, 2011 - Auckland, New ZealandOut of Auckland, I took a ferry to a nearby volcanic island called Rongatoto. The island is only 600 years old. Its appearance from the sea is told of in the local aboriginal lore. Right off of the ferry, I made my way at a fast pace towards the crater rim. The ferry had about 50 people on it, including some noisy kids, I was motivated to get to the top before anyone else made it there. I started by running a bit of the way up, and then slowed to a fast walk when I had enough distance. I was therefore frustrated when about 3/4 of the way up, I heard footsteps getting closer behind me. A Canadian by the name of Tom had set a faster pace and earned the honor of being the first to the top that morning, but I didn't feel too bad when I learned that he is a very skilled mountain biker. Apparently he had placed 6th recently in the New Zealand national mountain bike race. I ended up hiking with Tom the first of the morning. We discovered some lava tubes. Neither of us had a flashlight on us, and it was pitch dark inside. I had to use the light on my camera and its flash to make my way in. I was in a tube that at one point I couldn't see any light in any direction, but upon further exploration saw a light at the end of the non-proverbial tunnel. The exit was only about 2 feet high, and crawling on volcanic rock is a bit uncomfortable, but I made it. Tom didn't even have a red light on his camera, so he went out the way we came in, and I had to call out to him to find the entrance again, where I had left my backpack.
I'm actually writing this on March 12th, the day after the massive quake struck Japan. Apparently, the tsunami passed through our ship at about 5:30 local time (which would be 10:30 central time on the 11th. Of course, in 2 km of water, it would take sensitive instruments to even detect its presence. The news is that our upcoming pacific port of Western Samoa has cancelled their tsunami warning and is expecting our arrival in 2 days as scheduled. I will have to live through March 12th twice this year, as I cross the date line again!
Edit: I'm also posting a movie of bird at the top of the hill in Tauranga. It had an unusual song so I got a movie of it. I have no idea what kind of bird it is, nor how common it is.
February 20th, 2011 - At Sea, South PacificToday I played cribbage with Simon Young, the Pitcairn resident we are transporting to New Caledonia. For what is worth, I lost the first two games (including a skunk) before I finally one a game. It seems his primary game is chess, but he plays a lot of different games, which I suppose is necessary when you live in such a remote place.
I did take the opportunity to pose a few questions of things that weren't necessarily addressed during his talk. Actually, the first thing I asked him is if he missed the island yet, and he said that he had missed the island half an hour after he left. This surprised me a bit. It is easy to miss home after you've been gone a while, but in my experience the thrill of going somewhere new or different lasts a bit longer than this. He said me misses his wife, the people, and just enjoying the isolation of the island.
That said, he doesn't seem to be distressed by the attention that the people on the ship give him. Numerous times during the games people would come up for a brief chat, and I certainly didn't mind the interruption, as I found myself sometimes lacking for the all the questions I had planned.
I knew that the island was running a deficit that the UK was covering. I thought maybe it would be impolite to ask what the size of it was, but he seems to be the sort of person that doesn't avoid direct questions and does give direct answers. He said that the deficit was about 2 million pounds. I was surprised to hear it was this much. That comes to about 35,000 pounds for every man, woman, and child. A quarter of this goes to the seasonal or temporary jobs given to outsiders, such as that of doctor, teacher, pastor, and policeman. I asked him if having outsiders do these jobs was required. I specifically asked about the teacher position, since at least the job of doctor was obviously not going to be filled by a qualified local resident. I actually hit on something here with him, since he was for a time the "cultural teacher". I guess for a few hours (per day or week, I am not sure) a local resident would fill this role, but it would not supplant the general education supplied by an outsider. Anyway, Simon at one time actually applied to be the main teacher. From speaking with him, he certainly seems qualified to fill the role. But his application was denied. The job must go to a non-resident.
What surprised me even more though, was the rejection didn't come from the British government. The request never got that far. It was actually the local council that denied it. It was denied because it is a paid position, and as such would have made him wealthy. One can imagine that any sort of class division on an island of 57 people could make things uncomfortable. The island functions best when the playing field is level I guess. It seems to me that this is probably a pretty pure form of communism on the island. Actually, this raises some more interesting questions that I will try to pose the next time I see him, which will be soon. At any rate, he said that yes, people have money, but don't really use it all that often. It isn't all that necessary.
He did talk a bit more about the water shortage. He said that "some people are suffering" with an emphasis that made me think it went a little beyond not having enough water to bathe. But, when part of the community is suffering the others do step up to help out.
I asked him about medical emergencies. These is a doctor on the island, so I asked if the doctor was equipped to perform surgeries such as an appendectomy. He said "nothing beyond life or death...otherwise a person would just catch the next available freighter". He said there were two emergencies to happen in recent years, but both actually involved visitors to the island, and the ship they were visiting from was anchored there, so they just got back on their ship. He mentioned more than once that accidents resulting in medical emergencies generally coincide with the times when visiting ships were interacting with the island in some way. I didn't get any example of an emergency that involved a local resident while no help was immediately available, but I think I'll press him further during our next cribbage game.
This game will probably occur in two days time. Tomorrow we are in Pago Pago, and then will have a few more sea days before Simon disembarks on New Caledonia.
February 18th, 2011 - Bora BoraFeb. 18, 2011 - Bora Bora I couldn't decide what to do for my return to Bora Bora. I was either going to rent a bike and circle the island, stopping to swim at various places, or I was going to climb Pahia again. Since I was able to get off of the ship early, I decided to go for it and climb Pahia. There was some new development since I was last here, so finding the trail was difficult, and at one point I really thought I'd just go rent a bike. But I knew I had time, so I looked a bit longer and finally stumbled onto it again.
I actually just wrote a description of how to find the trail. I don't really expect anyone to use it, but I was annoyed with myself for not leaving clearer instructions on how to find it. I figured I'd better remedy that this time.
Right now, my whole body feels on fire...combine all of the scratches with a bit of sunburn and I'm not very comfortable. And I had a hard time holding my trumpet up today for rehearsal because I'm just exhausted. Climbing it while it is slick with mud is much more difficult. Or maybe I'm just 5 years older.
Even though coming down took a full 30 minutes longer than going up, I made it in plenty of time to catch a tender back to the ship. Except for the fact that TWO of the tenders broke down, stranding all of us on land until they could get some lifeboats out to pick us up. So I had to sit around for a few extra hours, covered in mud and spider webs (maybe I didn't have any on me at the moment, but I did run into quite a few webs).
We are at sea for a few days now, which is fine with me as I need to recover a bit. Next port is Pago Pago...pronounced "Pango Pango"...I guess the original cartographer didn't have an "N" in his typeset. I don't know the whole story but this is actually close to the truth as far as I know. More on this later.
Also, more pictures later possibly.
February 14th, 2011 - Pitcairn IslandI knew it would be an interesting day when I learned that 45 people (virtually the entire population) from Pitcairn Island would be coming aboard the Aurora to sell their wares. Not long after we anchored about 1/4 mile off shore, a large boat (registered in Auckland) motored out of their boathouse loaded with all of the people.
Of course, with 2000 guests on board, it is difficult to get time to chat with anyone, but I did manage to speak to two people briefly. First, while waiting outside the theater (where they were setting up kiosks) for the doors to open, there was a local woman around 50 years of age waiting. I asked her what her name was...I couldn't understand it, but then she told me that she wasn't from the island originally, but New Zealand. She came to the island with her husband 5 years ago. Her husband is the pastor in the church. The church generally rotates pastors every two years from New Zealand and Australia, but they have liked it here, and so have been her for longer. Soon, she was shuffled off elsewhere and the doors opened.
I was one of the early people on stage to look at the goods. There was a huge tidal wave of people behind me, so I decided to make impulse and spur of the moment purchases, though I did ask two men behind the table about the wares, and I asked what their names were. The first man I asked replied with a grin "Steve. Steve Christian."
Now, I had read again the wikipedia entry on Pitcairn Island and thus knew that recently, in 2004, 7 men were convicted of some sort of sex crime, for which they served a couple of years in a jail and under house arrest, both on the island. One of those men was the mayor, none other than Steve Christian.
The man to Steve's left was another Christian whose name escapes me at the moment. However, they carved and polished some wooden marine animals that I decided to buy as souvenirs (most for people back home, though I don't know if I bought enough).
After I left the theater, I went back to the aft of the ship where more Pitcairners were selling things. I overheard a woman from Pitcairn who looked Polynesian but actually was from California. She moved there with her husband who was also not native. According to her husband Simon, they are the only two permanent residents not native to the island. Simon will be remaining on the ship until New Caledonia, and I hope to talk with him further, and maybe play a game of Cribbage. He was selling the one cribbage board they brought with, and he was surprised nobody had picked it up yet. Apparently, only two people on the whole island play, so I'm sure, if I can find him again, I'll be able to get a game in. Not surprisingly, I bought the board and a deck of cards. Both were pretty overpriced, but then again, maybe not, since it is hard to come by Pitcairn souvenirs.
December 21st, 2010 - Funchal, Madeira Island, PortugalWe arrived on Madeira last night at about 6:30 pm. On a whim earlier in the day, I used Orbitz to book a hotel room. I figured $40 was worth it to have a night of roommate snoring-free sleep. I failed to anticipate having a room right next to a club entrance, and no end of raucous occuring until at least 6:30 am. So I didn't sleep very much. Nor did I have internet in the room. So much for playing online computer games at night.
However, I made up for it today wandering around the streets of Funchal, culminating in coming across a gondola lift going from the sea up (I'm estimating) about 2000 feet. The views were pretty nice, and considering how windy it is here, the ride was exhilarating to say the least. After returning to sea level, I did some Christmas shopping (gifts will be late again this year!), and have now retired to a little cafe to catch up on some internet.
I'm looking ahead to 5 sea days before I arrive in Barbados. Now that it is confirmed that I am not extending my contract, I find myself somewhat impatient to get home. Still, I think I'll be able to tough it out through 5 days in the sunny Caribbean while everybody else is enduring a particularly snowy Minnesota winter. It's funny to hear all of the Brits exclaim how the entire country is at a standstill because of their few inches of snow. Of course, they don't have the infrastructure in place to deal with it since they can go for years without any sort of accumulation. Glad to hear I'm missing what hopefully will be the worst of it!
December 14th, 2010 - Gibralter, UKI wasn't planning on writing anything today, but this is too cool not to mention. My plan was (and still is, since I'm still in Gibralter as I write this) to do some internet. However, I was at a cafe and a middle aged man sat down across the table from me. It turns out that this guy is Survivor Man. Not the same guy from the TV show, but he may as well have been. He has spent 19 months walking from Whistler to Anchorage. He has spent 4 years in the Australian outback. The man should write a book. I found myself disappointed that I wasn't taking notes, so I will try to write as much from memory as I can.
His name is Tristan, and he's from Austria. I learned about his wilderness activities because he mentioned that he used to go to Hopkins, MN every now and then because he had a friend there he used to guide around the Austrian Alps. When I learned the extent of his survival experiences I was absolutely floored. Thinking about a 19 month hiking and camping trip is impressive even before I realized that he had to spend a winter in northern British Columbia and the yukon. To prevent frostbite, he would cover his face with boiled animal fat.
He could catch animals with snares, as well as with a crossbow or a spear. He also had a shotgun, but only used that for protection. This was necessary when a cougar happened upon his camp. He didn't want to have to kill such a beautiful animal, but it was obvious that it was either him or the cat, so I took the shot. Only a few days from a ranger station, he figured he'd better take the ears back to the station and report the killed cougar and accept the consequences. Turns out, the cougar had maimed a woman and her child recently, and he was awarded a $200 bounty.
Once he had trouble with a wolverine. Unlike most troublesome wildlife, the wolverine wasn't interested in his supplies, just him. It would only attack at night and he wouldn't be able to kill it, just fight it off until the next night. Finally, he camped in a cave and set a snare at the entrance. Previous attempts at snaring had failed because the wolverine always walked around it, but this time he caught it, and still had a hell of a time killing it.
On this trip he did have some dogs with him, which he preferred to human companionship. Coyotes also seemed to prefer these dogs to his supplies. The coyotes' plan was so cunning as to be almost unbelievable had he not seen it happen multiple times. The coyotes would hide behind rocks sounding a path and send a female in heat into the camp. The female would attract a male dog, who would follow the female out of camp along the path and then be ambushed by the other coyotes. Tristin actually saw the male coyotes with his binoculars setting up for the kill. He said it took his breath away to realize how cunning they were.
I asked him how much his pack weighed. He said often it was 60
He's now 45 years old. 7 years ago he finally settled down. He certainly feels the affects of age...he was rock climbing in recent years and slipped and fell, breaking a few leg bones. But he still can run 10 miles in the morning with no problem. I'd say that's pretty good for 45, or any age.
Well, it seems that I am going to extend my contract on this ship. I struggled with the decision for at least 10 days. I'm not at all keen on making this another 4 month contract. But the money, itinerary, and conditions on the ship are all ideal. And this way I will have enough money that I won't need to cruise again or even work much for a while. I'll put my time in now, and enjoy a Minnesota spring and summer.
The extension will be on what they are dubbing a "World Cruise". My extension only technically includes a single cruise, but that cruise is 3 months long. I won't even complete it. It doesn't actually go around the world, however. On January 9th, it will cross the Atlantic again, this time going to South America. I will be returning to many of the places I was in only a year ago, this time however, not including Antarctica. I will otherwise match the path of the Crystal Symphony a year ago until we reach Valparaiso. At this time we will turn west and cruise past Easter Island. Unfortunately, we won't land. But I'm sure we'll have views of the Maoi Statues.
After leaving Easter Island, I will return to Tahiti. We will only spend a single day in Papeete. After this, I'll move on to Bora Bora, where I plan on going back up the hill again. Next, we will go to Pago Pago (which I have yet to look up...I'm not sure where this is). Then, on to New Caledonia and then Australia. After Australia will be New Zealand, which I am very much looking forward too. Finally, we will make our way to Hawaii and then on March 24th we will sail under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, where I will board a short flight back to Minnesota, tan, and thousands of pounds richer (hopefully).
More to come!
December 12th, 2010 - Carthage, TunisOnce again, I had a surprisingly entertaining day due to events beyond the usual things on a tour of ancient ruins. It did revolve around a tour I escorted to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. In Carthage, most of the sites were from the Roman era, around 200 A.D. Most impressive of these sites were the Roman baths (estimated the 5 largest in the empire) and the Amphitheater, where gladiators fought and people were executed for show by way of lions or other hungry animals. The Amphitheater had cages with more modern bars on them which were used as recently as World War II by the Germans to house prisoners. In 1943, after the Germans were expelled from north Africa, Churchill gave a speech there.
One rather annoying aspect of this tour and many tours I go on is they rush you through these kinds of sites that I want to spend time at, and we get a bit too much time for shopping, which I could care less about...particularly because of my complete lack of funds. Also, to even get to the tourist shopping area, we had to walk a good 15 minutes (at old tourist walking pace) from the bus. It turns out that this part of the trip was pretty entertaining because we came across a group of school kids who were particularly interested in me because I was a relatively young American. They were very interested in teaching me how to say "hello" in Arabic. Phonetically, it is "Ahsalam" (spelled Assalaam). When I said it I got a rousing round of applause, though they were laughing at my accent. Apparently, a Minnesotan "Ah" sounds just as funny to local Tunisians as it does to the British.
Then they all tried to teach me their names. And proceeded to quiz me afterwards, which was a daunting effort on my part since it is hard to memorize 15 names on the fly when you are simply trying to phonetically recite what they told you. I remember "Haifa" because she was the first one to tell me her name, but I forget the rest. Apologies to them!
Tunisian children first learn Arabic and then French at a very young age. Then around the age of 9 or 10 they start to learn English. They weren't particularly fluent in English, but enough to get by. I tried my meager French as well, which they appreciated, but I couldn't understand it when they spoke French to me.
They were very curious about American music and culture, and swarmed me like I was a celebrity. I had recently purchased a watercolor print of a Tunisian landscape...I overpaid 3 euros for it (which was all I had on me). But I had all the kids sign it, some both in English and Arabic, so now it seems like a good souvenir. They asked me how much I paid for it. I lied "2 euros", and they demonstrated that one of the English words they are fluent with is "hustle". Yes, I know I paid too much, but that's ok.
Then they all wanted pictures with me, so even though I was running a little late to get back to the coach, I posed for a few cell-camera pictures with them. They wanted my facebook account name, but unfortunately, since I hardly ever use facebook, I couldn't recall that information for them.
All in all, it was a very good day! This is probably the extent of the writing I'll do for a while. Upcoming ports probably won't offer too many interesting activities. I'll be in Gibralter in a few days where I plan only on using the internet. The same goes for Southampton after that. Maderia may prove to be interesting though, but that won't be for at least another week.
December 9th, 2010 - Kusadasi, TurkeyYesterday I was in Rhodes, Greece. I took a 1 hour trolley ride through the medieval part of town and stopped briefly at some of the ancient sites, including the Temple of Apollo, which while it pails in comparison to sites in Athens, was still worthwhile to see. I also saw where the Colossus would have been had it not toppled some 1600 years ago. Apparently, the Oracle at Delphi advised not to rebuild it since it would be "the end of Rhodes". Probably good advice since the Colossus did take out a fair chunk of Rhodes the first time. Now there are simply two statues of deer where the legs used to be.
The real fun happened today however, in Turkey. After a crew drill that went far too long, I managed to get ashore by noon, planning on quickly nabbing a taxi and getting to Ephesus. I failed to read up on it at all, and as I write this I still have yet to read about it on wikipedia, so I didn't always know what I was looking at, except that it was spectacular. I had a hunch that I overpaid to get there and back, but even so, it was worth the trip out. These ruins were almost as spectacular as those in Pompeii, and in some respects were better. Highlights included both a small theater and a large amphitheater, and culminating with the Library of Celsus. Apparently, the apostle John preached in the amphitheater...I don't think he was particularly well received. At any rate, a few hundred years later the Pope and other Christians held a conclave in Ephesus to determine whether or not Christ was the son of God. Around this time the Church of Mary was built just a short walk beyond the gate to the city.
Most impressively preserved however was the front of the Library. It was 2 stories, though each story was probably over 30 feet tall, so the thing was pretty massive. Walking down the ancient street towards it, I met 2 people who were curious about where I was from. They were both originally from Kurdistan but now lived in California (one in San Francisco, one in Los Angeles). They thought San Francisco was too cold and were glad to be in more temperate weather. I always find that amusing. Granted, I thought the weather today was perfect.
Eventually I figured that I had made my taxi driver wait long enough and I rode back to Kusadasi. The whole adventure cost me all of the 50 Euros that I had borrowed on the ship, so I had nothing more to spend as I wandered through the markets in Kusadasi. People would try to sell me stuff, but it is pretty easy to say "no" when you have no money. Still, I wish I had purchased a backgammon board. There were some nice ones, and backgammon seems to be the game of choice in Turkey. There were street games being played all over the place.
As I was starting to return to the ship, a young man at a small outdoor restaurant tried to recruit me in for a meal. Again, not having any money I had to decline. However, he was insistent on giving me a cup of tea for free just to chat. My instinct is to not trust him, but what the heck, it is free, so I sat down. It turns out that I had nothing to worry about. He was curious to speak with an American and was simply a very nice person. Granted, he also wanted to buy my iphone from me, but didn't push the issue too much when it was clear that I wasn't selling.
He did however, also insist on bringing me something to eat. Normally I am a pretty picky eater, but I didn't want to be insulting, so I ate the...I'm not sure what it was. Maybe a gyro or a Turkish version of a burrito. It did have some sort of sauce on it that I wouldn't normally want to eat, but it really wasn't half bad. I had $5 US on me and I tried to give it to him but he was actually insulted and gave me the money back.
His name was Marshall, which doesn't sound particularly Turkish to me. Or Kurdish, since that is actually where he grew up. Actually, Kurdistan was gassed by Hussein only 2 years before he was born (1991). He retains a strong sense of his Kurdish heritage, being insistent that Kurds are different than Turks. I thought this was obvious, but then a friend of his, Romano, sat down who insisted that there was no difference. I think he may have just been trying to piss off his friend though. Marshall introduced Romano as a "gypsy", which I know enough to know is generally an insult. Romano pleasantly denied being a gypsy, but I guess was actually born in Italy to an Italian mother and a Turkish father. At any rate, Romano also wanted to see my iphone...he had a 3G one (mine is version 4). I told Marshall that if I ever come back, I'd bring my old iphone and come find him.
And this is definitely at the top of my list as a place I'd like to spend a good week at. Lots of great sights to see, and everything seemed very cheap. Or in the case of lunch today, totally free. Good day.
Decembrer 6th, 2010 - Cairo, EgyptI was expecting an eventful day today and I wasn't disappointed. It didn't help that I still couldn't sleep last night though. I finally managed to fall asleep around 4:30 am though my alarm was set for 6:40 am. It didn't matter though because I was up by 6 anyway. Hopefully, the fact that I have been up all day today will allow me to fall asleep so soundly after my last show that no amount of snoring will disturb me.
At any rate, this morning I boarded the tour bus as part of the crew tour. I expected there to be a lot of waiting in traffic, and it certainly started that way. One of the locals outside the bus decided to drop kick the core of some piece of fruit he had finished with, but he applied the worst drop kick in the history of Egypt and missed by more than a foot, pun intended. Then he looked right at me and saw that I saw him fumble it and he started laughing. I guess these Egyptians have good senses of humor.
Which is for the best, because talk about an ugly country. Sights and museums not withstanding, the trip out to Cairo from Port Said felt like we were constantly driving through landfill. Piles and piles of garbage everywhere, and where there was no garbage, just the same yellowish rock or sand. I'm sure most of the population has probably never laid eyes on a forest, or swam in a lake that doesn't have trash in it.
Our tour guide told us that the rule of the road is "there are no rules". So I guess the fact that we got tangled in a fender bender was about par for the course. Our bus driver had to slam on the breaks, but the bus behind us hit us. He didn't hit us hard, but hard enough to punch a hole in the rear window. So we had to wait around for about 20 minutes for a new bus. The fact that the new one came so quickly is probably testament to the fact that they expect to have to replace at least one bus in a convoy, so it was probably just waiting for the call.
Oh, and of convoys, the preferred method to transfer tourists into Cairo is by bus convoy. Safety in numbers. Also, each bus had an armed guard. I think somewhat recently a tour bus was gunned down, not by people with any anti-American or western sentiment (though that certainly exists), but by people that are looking to decimate the Egyptian economy. After all, after the Suez Canal, tourism is their next biggest source of income. The 3rd biggest is fossil fuels.
I met and chatted with the guard a bit. His name is Mohammed. He didn't speak a whole lot of English, but he was curious about where I was from and seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I had pulled out my iphone and was showing him on the globe where I was from and where we were going.
We had another close call in traffic as a truck carrying large cinder blocks dropped one of those blocks right in front of us. Fortunately, it pulverized when it hit the pavement, so all we hit were a few pieces. Caused quite a raucous though.
When we finally made it into Cairo, it is true that the Pyramids tower behind the city skyline. They weren't terribly overrun by tourists either...more so by the hustlers trying to sell things. Our tour guide made it clear that we should ignore them completely...even if you say "no thanks" you'll likely have a guy following you trying to sell stuff. Still, I think the tour guide had other motives in mind. She was to drop us off at approved shopping places later, no doubt for a commission.
I had time to walk around the 3 main pyramids in Cairo. At one point a guard told me I could go inside the roped off area and sit on the 2nd step of the pyramid for a picture, which I did. Then, as I was walking away, I overheard another guard yabbering at him in Arabic, no doubt chastising him for allowing someone to do what I did. But I tipped him, and I think he kept doing it afterwards anyway.
Fortunately, the trip back to the ship was uneventful. I'm certainly glad I made the trip, though I wish I had had time to visit some of the museums, or to buy a ticket to enter the pyramids. There is always next time though (but certainly not on a ship!).
September 17th - Halifax, Nova ScotiaWhile I thought I'd have time for stuff after my scheduled bike tour today, as it turned out that was the end of my day's activities in Halifax. However, I got rained on, sometimes heavily, throughout the excursion, so I was very happy to remain on the ship when I returned. Not that it was bad at all...it was actually a nice ride through a nature preserve outside of Halifax.
But the most bizarre things were happening today before the tour. First, on the way out to where we were to pick up our bikes, I see in the rough surf and heavy rain, someone actually surfing in the ocean. Then in the dirt parking lot that we started our bike trip from, there was a red car that kept speeding back and forth, swerving to hit as many puddles as possible. Finally, CTV arrived, announced themselves, and then asked me if Jimmy Buffet were here, because they had heard a rumor that he was. I briefly considered telling them that I was, in fact, Jimmy Buffet, but it didn't take long to realize the obvious gaping problems with that decision. Then they asked if I had seen anyone surfing...I guess Jimmy Buffet is an avid surfer. So I directed them back to where I had apparently actually seen Jimmy Buffet surfing in crappy Nova Scotia weather.
The rest of the trip wasn't nearly so eventful. I met and biked with the yoga instructor, and she has gone a long way in convining me I should go backpacking in Vietnam and Laos as a fun and cheap vacation, as well as a way to use my flight voucher. Sounds a bit out there, but I've had worse ideas in my life, so maybe it will be worth looking into.
It's good to be back in North America. Seeing all of the gas stations, Wendy's, Arby's, and malls on the bus ride today made me feel like I never left the continent. It is hard to believe I have only a little more than a month remaining on this contract.
September 13th - Nuuk, GreenlandI figured that I would be lucky just to walk around a little bit on Greenland, particularly with a late afternoon rehearsal and a morning crew drill involving a bomb threat. However, 2 days before we arrived in Nuuk, we were informed that the dock would be available to us. I'm surprised that such a place as Nuuk is equipped with a deep enough berth for a cruise ship, but I guess they must bet some big fishing boats in. In fact, I'm told that that is why cruise ships must always prepare for tendering...finishing ships get priority always.
So after our drill I was able to walk right off the ship. There were plenty of mountains to see, but all at a distance as to make it prohibitive given the time I had. So, while I started to walk towards them anyway, I figured that Greenland was as good a place as any to hitchhike. Eventually some guy named "Oovee" (I think) picked me up. He was on his way to work, oddly enough, in the I.T. sector, and was happy to give me a ride. I told him I was planning on going up a mountain. He said that the big one would take me too much time, and this was a warning I was willing to head since I wasn't sure how I was getting back to the ship. But there is a smaller one that doubles as a ski hill in the winter that he recommended. Turns out that at the base of this hill (hard to call it a mountain) was the Nuuk airport, where he said that busses come every so often to take me back to town.
I only allotted myself 90 minutes to go up since I still wasn't sure the bus would work out, and I got to the top in less than 60 minutes anyway. But it afforded a good view of what Oovee called the "new city", which I had originally mistaken for Nuuk when we docked (since you can't actually see Nuuk from the dock...it is hidden by a ridge). You can also see the Circus Lake as Oovee called it, though google maps calls it "Lake Nuuk". Oovee had never heard of Lake Nuke though, so I guess google needs updating.
After wandering around up top a bit and taking pictures, I started down a different way than I came up. The moss was very spongey but still dry...very easy on the knees. I made it back to the airport around 10 minutes to 1, which was good because the bus was to arrive at 1 pm. This I found out from 1 of only 2 people in the whole Nuuk airport. I think she doubled as ticket agent, TSA, the information desk, and cashier.
So while I had been in a hurry, it turned out that I still had hours to enjoy the city bus drive back and around Nuuk itself, where I left the bus and wandered the town a bit, eventually coming to a post office where I sent post cards (they won't arrive until Christmas) and also bought admission to a small museum that was pretty neat, but would have been more neat if I wasn't getting really hungry. So I found the shuttle bus back to the ship and called it a day.
Next stop, Halifax and then, finally, New York!
(I'll put pictures up soon...I'm waiting for some others' pictures from Iceland, and also until we get a bit further south as the internet is squirrelly up here.)
September 10th - Reykjavik, IcelandToday, along with John the sax player, Danny the DJ, and engaged dancers Sasha and Olga, I rented a car to drive to some of the geologic sites of Iceland somewhat close to Reykjavic.
Of course, the first task was getting off of the ship with a bottle of water, which proved surprisingly difficult. It's kind of a long story, but worth telling. Last night I went to the spa for a neck massage and they gave me a bottle of water. This isn't just any old bottle of water, but bottled water that measures up to the extreme heights of the Crystal standard. Or at least, that's how good I imagine it has to be, because security has made it a big issue that crew are not privileged enough to have these bottles in our cabin, or otherwise on our person, even though we can get them at the spa, when we escort tours, or go to the Bistro on the ship.
So the fact that I was carrying this amazingly high quality bottle of San Bernadetto natural spring water (which I suspect is just tap water, because after drinking it, I filled with the ship's filtered tap water and couldn't tell the difference) was cause enough for security to stop me on the way off the ship.
I tried to explain to them that I was given this at the spa -- that I had paid for it myself when I paid for the spa appointment. They went off to call the food and beverage department, and the crew officer, and the spa, to look into this. I normally would have just left the bottle and gotten on with my day, but John was still making arrangements to rent a car, so I thought I would amuse myself by seeing how this played out.
Eventually they came back with the conclusion that I must finish the water at the spa before leaving, which is obviously very silly, but this whole situation is silly. And it gets sillier.
As they were investigating my hydrocriminal activities, I decided to eliminate all liquid evidence of my sin and drink the bottle down. When the verdict was handed down, I submitted to the wisdom of the judge, put the bottle down on the table near the ship gangway, and proceeded to exit the ship. As I was leaving, I was stopped again. I cannot leave the bottle there, it is garbage and must go into the bin. Which was located...off of the ship.
So I was to take the bottle, leave the ship with it (which had been my sinister plan all along), and toss it in the garbage. However, since I was finally off of the ship and out of the good security officers' jurisdiction, I decided to keep my bottle in my bag. I think I'm going to keep it now, remove the label, and replace it with a new label that says "NON-San Bernadetto Water". Or maybe "Slightly Less Than Crystal Guest Standard Water". Just so they know I'm hydrating with lesser molecules.
But I digress. We successfully rented a tiny car for a price so exorbitant that it suggests that Iceland is trying to break out of bankruptcy through tourism alone. But split amongst 5, it wasn't too bad.
Our first stop was about 40 minutes out of Reykjavik, at a national park near Pingvellir. There we saw the meeting of the 2 continental shelves, and the fissures that were being created as a result. It made for good viewing, but for some reason I had to hurry to the water closet to pee.
Next we moved on to the famed geyser of Haukadalur. "Geyser" is one of the few words in the English language that comes from Icelandic. And from these geysers I could see why. I thought it put Old Faithful to shame, but maybe that was only because you were allowed to get much closer to them than you ever can in Yellowstone. People got wet, which surprisingly didn't scald them. I guess the flight of the water was enough to cool it down. I felt the water in one of the pools and sure enough it was close to boiling.
After that, we moved on to the Gellfoss waterfall, which pales in comparison to Niagara, but still pretty neat, and had a certain charm about it. Maybe because it wasn't so completely developed like Niagara.
Because Sasha and Olga had to return for a rehearsal, we sped back to the ship and bypassed a few other potential stops, but that was fine. It certainly seems like a place I'd like to return to sometime soon.
With my own water.
August 31st - Dublin, IrelandToday in Ireland, most of my time was spent escorting a guest tour: A Summer Drive Through Ireland's Countryside. I was a little worried that I'd be cooped up in a bus for 8 hours, but there were plenty of opportunities to walk around and see some neat stuff.
First stop was for morning coffee at the Glendalough Hotel in Wicklow county, which was conveniently next to some monastic ruins, some dating back to the 6th century, when Saint Kevin established the monestary. Two structures from the 11th century remained almost perfectly intact, due to the fact that they were small enough to have stone roofs.
Next to the monestary were two lakes that made for good picture taking, and then we took a little walk up to a waterfall (trickle...not a lot of rain here recently). I was a bit worried that the elderly guests wouldn't make it up to the waterfall, but slowly and steadily those who wanted to see it, got there.
After this, we headed to a different Inn for a lunch of chicken, potatoes, peas, and carrots. And being in Ireland for the first time, I had to order a Guinness with it.
Our final stop was to the Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, which has been the temporary lodging to many heads of state over the years, until the building burned in the 20s. Now it is restored, and the gardens are kept in immaculate condition with a view towards one of the Irish "mountains" they call the "sugar loaf". Actually, they have 2 sugar loafs, and they are both basically hills, but I'm told that the Irish like to call them mountains just the same. Either way, it also made for some good photo opportunities.
Having spent the whole day in the countryside meant I didn't see any of Dublin. However, that night after our early sets were done, we had time to go to town again, since the ship wasn't leaving until midnight. Ellert, Brandon, Anna, Zowie, and myself all went to a bar with live Irish music and had a very good time. They played lots of traditional Irish music, some Scottish, some John Denver. And I drank a bit too many Kilkennys. But I suppose it is something you should do in Ireland
Zowie convinced me to head out for some adventure tomorrow in Holyhead since, it being a small town, maybe there will be interesting things to do on our own.
September 1st - Holyhead, WalesEven though we had only 4 hours, there was a neat looking rocky hill on the waterfront, and it looked like a great place to climb up, so we set off to go find the way up. It wasn't particularly difficult as it seems to be a regular spot to hang out for the locals. Zowie thought it was too far away to get to in the time allotted, but I knew we'd get there with more than enough time, and we did. It probably wasn't even 1000 feet up, but we managed to get a 360 degree view of everything including the bay, a lighthouse, the countryside, and the city of Holyhead. We had so much time that we were able to hit another path to a point overlooking the cliffs above the ocean below. Still having time to burn, I sat down with a book while Zowie worked on a bracelet she was tieing (or making or whatever) and did that for about 15 minutes when some other acquaintances/friends from the ship found us. After we took a group photo, they went where we came from, and we went where they came from.
Everybody seemed to have a dog, nobody had the same breed of dog, and nobody had their dogs on leashes. Apparnetly, Wales is one big dog park. Or at least Holyhead. All in all, it was a very nice afternoon.
Tomorrow we cross back to Ireland again. Not sure what's in store for that, but I'm never sure about any port I've never been to.
The morning of the 27th in Edinburgh started with me escorting a tour to St. Andrews, a small community famous for having the oldest (or actually, one of the oldest) ever golf courses, which is one of the courses played on PGA type events. I'm not into golf, so I'm not sure how I got on this tour, but seeing St. Andrews was fun enough anyway. There were ruins of both a medieval castle and abbey that were fun to walk around in. Our guided tour went to the abbey for 15 minutes, but we had some time on our own a bit later, so I returned (instead of seeing the 17th hole bunker which I guess is a big deal). The castle was quite a bit smaller than Dover castle unsurprisingly, The neatest thing about this castle was, during a siege, the invaders tried to storm the castle by tunneling under the wall in an effort to collapse a castle wall. The defenders, seeing this, started digging their own tunnel to meet and defeat the invaders. After a couple of false starts, the defenders succeeded in connecting tunnels...I actually can't recall who won. But I did get to crawl through the tunnels, and I do almost mean that. The defender tunnel was only three feet high, so it was a bit cramped. After the tour, I returned to the ship (which is docked in Rosyth) and hopped on a shuttle which takes the 30 minute trip to Edinburgh. From the shuttle drop off, I could see immediately Edinburgh castle perched high on top of a rock in the middle of town, far more imposing than even Dover castle. I found my way up there and enjoyed touring the same types of things as in the Dover castle....it was even more touristy than the Dover castle, but certainly worth the price of admission, even though I guess I could have gotten a crew discount in both castles. I was going to go back to the ship to round up some people to come back and catch a comedy show or find a bar. Currently the Fringe Festival is going on, which means that the town is loaded with street performers and every venue has some sort of act going on. I needed a group of people because the last shuttle was to go back to the ship at 9:30, and a taxi could run me over $100. Fortunately, before I even got on the shuttle back to the ship, I saw Matt and Brandon and they had the night planned out for 2 comedy shows, and the 1 train that returned to Rosyth at 11:20. The first show we saw was an American guy..he was funny, though not excessively so. But the second show was a guy named Richard Herring, and he was hilarious. He had a rather irreverent show called "Christ On A Bike", where he, well, makes lots of jokes about the oddities in the biblical stories. He recited the first page of the Gospel of Matthew from memory...A begat B, B begat C, C begat D...and his brethren. Even though he had a joke about practically every name (such as Booz...who is named Booz, and why did Matthew feel the need to call him Booz of Rachag...were there really that many Booz's?), the funniest joke was that after listing the 100 generations that were to separate the prophesied savior from Abraham, he gets to to Joseph, being a descendent, and then says that he married Mary and she begat Jesus. The funniest part was, Matthew must have made a mistake because he defeats his whole argument by finally pointing out there that Jesus actually isn't descended from Mary at all since Joseph isn't his father. I guess you had to be there, but it was really funny. This morning is the 28th and I took the shuttle back into town. In fact, I'm typing right now in a little pub waiting for my fish and chips. I had planned on just shopping for stuff that won't break my bank, but I found a monument to Sir Walter Scott that was 200 feet high and you can go up to the top. What was really fun about this was that you climbed inside the stone structure via a spiral staircase that was so tight at times I had to take my backpack off, and call ahead to hope that nobody was coming down when I was going up. I got dizzy both going up and down. It did afford some nice views of the city. This is my last day in Scotland, so I did manage to buy 3 rather interesting looking varieties of Scotch, 2 of which I'll give to Dad and Ryan back home. I'll basically just guess what to give and what to keep...I have no idea what I'm looking at.
August 25th, 2010 - Dover, EnglandI am starting by catching up about the 25h when we were in Dover, as I had a pretty decent day there too. Dover has a castle/fortress sitting on top of the high point in the city, so I knew that would be a destination for me. After a morning jog, I set out by foot to make my way up to the top. 40 minutes and 15 pounds later, I was in the walled castle. The castle has had many alterations over the years. The oldest structure there actually dates back to the 2nd century AD. It is a Roman lighthouse, and part of it still stands. Right next to it is the only Saxon building still standing there...a chapel dating back to something like the year 1000. Many of the walls and some other structures date to the 12th-14th centuries, but throughout the years more and more walls and structures were added on. Even in the 20th century, a series of tunnels was dug from which Vice Admiral Ramsey directed numerous WWII operations, including the evacuation of Dunkirk. This is a fact that they let you know about every 5 minutes up there, but since it is actually pretty important, I'll forgive the repetition. After walking around the entire castle, I finished up with a guided (somewhat) tour of the tunnels. We still couldn't go off on our own and get lost in the tunnels (and they made it sound like we would actually get lost). The tour had a bit too much production...recordings of actors playing out WWII scenes, the lights would flicker as if under a German air attack. But after that, we did go into the actual rooms that Ramsey and his team used to plan operations, and saw the table map that they used to as well.
August 12, 2010 - St. Petersburg, RussiaToday I was assigned a rather interesting tour excursion that started with a canal boat tour of St. Petersburg and ended with the Church Of The Spilled Blood. The canal tour was scenic and interesting. Our tour guide obviously knew a tremendous amount about Russian history, but I couldn't always hear or understand her due to the headsets we had to use to listen in. Thus, probably the most interesting thing about the canal ride was this youngish Russian guy who would wave at us from a bridge and then run ahead to the next bridge and wave again. Pretty early on, I figured that he was doing this for tips at the end of the tour, but I'm wondering if in fact I should do this myself next St. Petersburg. Nobody pays me to run ever.
The Church Of The Spilled Blood was only completed in the early 20th century after 25 years of construction. It was built by Alexander III to commemorate the assassination of his father Alexander II. The architecture however is based on 15th to 16th century designs and was quite impressive, but on the structure and in the decoration on the outside. But it was more amazing on the inside, as practically each square inch of wall and domed ceiling was layered in tiny tiles depicting all sorts of sacred images. I can't imagine the work it must have taken. No wonder it took 25 years.
After the church, we finished with a whole hour at a grossly overpriced giftshop that tours all get funneled through. I slept on the bus for much of that time.
August 9, 2010 - Tallinn, EstoniaI finally signed up to escort another tour this day, and I received my first choice, that of the Soviet Prison Tour. I'm not sure why they call it that, because it was built as a fort in the mid 1800s, was converted to a prison after World War I, when Estonia was independent, and remained so until entering the Soviet Union after World War II.
We didn't get to see too much of it...it certainly wasn't like a tour of Alcatraz, nor walking around the prison on Devil's Island. Still, it was a fun time knowing that I wasn't a Soviet political prisoner and could actually leave at any time. I have no real details to give, except it sounds like they didn't treat prisoners very well, and the guides had some colorful ways of describing the details and I won't go into here.
July 25, 2010 - Bergen, NorwayParticularly given a pair of unnecessary morning trainings ("this is how you say 'hello' type ones) and a completely pointless production show rehearsal that put me in a bad mood, today was a perfect day to go off on my own. I have most recently been here 4 years ago, and I decided to go to the same place, which was up the hill behind the center of Bergen. It goes a little above the timber line, and last time I was there it seemed like it was a place that not many people go to.
Today being a Sunday and a sunny one at that, the way up top, and the top itself were relatively crawling with Norweigans. And that is to say that I'd bump into one every now and then, though I was able to find a rock to sit on for a while out of sight of everybody (and remember, there were no trees) where I could read for an hour. I couldn't really remember how to get up there, and for a good portion of the hike I'm sure I was taking a different route, but I did find the same area eventually. It was a good relaxing day away from everybody.
Thus ends our tour in Norway. It is too bad we are going to the Baltic again...I'd much prefer to repeat the cruise we were just on a few more times. But there will still be some neat things to see in the Baltic, and I still have the British Isles to look forward to. And the Atlantic crossing!
July 24, 2010 - Flam, NorwayOur reherasal was moved to 11 am...since it originally perfectly bisected our port time, any shift was a good shift as it afforded me a little more continuous port time. Thus, I was up early to simply scout out where it was I would be going, and by 12:30 I was out on the road. I wasn't sure who, if anyone was going to be going with me, and would have been perfectly happy going by myself. But Zowie alone came with me (after I made it clear to the other guys that I wouldn't be waiting for anyone).
We decided to walk up in the direction of a massive waterfall that was visible from town. First I suppose I should tell a little about Flam. I've never really seen a town like this...it was like Juneau, surrounded by towering walls of rock and trees, only with far fewer houses, all of an odd style that almost represented colonial America. Oh, and the huge waterfall in the distance, as if it didn't look enough like a painting from Wooden Bird yet.
It didn't seem to me that Flam could hold more than a couple hundred people, and on our way to a "trail" (actually a road), we passed through 2 other "towns" that were named on our map, but again, only had about 10-15 houses in each. The houses all had nice lawns and maintained gardens. It kind of renews a desire to get a job where I can work remotely 100% of the time...this would be an unbelievable place to live at least during the summer months.
The walk was uneventful...the road, which saw hardly any traffic, zigzagged up into the mountains and occasionally we'd leave the road to follow a trail that some goats may have left. And sometimes we ran into those goats, who would eventually pause in perfect unison to look at what the strange interlopers were up to. Eventually, without a summit, we turned around. This gave us time to climb up to the waterfall on our way back, which was worth turning around for.
Tomorrow is Bergen, and after that we are back to the Baltic runs. It is unfortunate that we only spent a single cruise doing Norway, and as neat as it was to go as north as we did, I find myself wishing that we had just stayed in the fjord towns the whole time. It seems to me though that Flam would be an excellent place to spend a good month of kayaking, climbing, biking, and camping. Maybe next summer, if I can save up enough money.
July 23, 2010 - Alesund, NorwayThis marks another day that is had rehearsals scattered thoughout the day. The first didn't hamper my port time, since we didn't arrive until 2 pm. But the second was right in the middle of port time, so I couldn't go as far as I would have liked, but that's ok because there were neat things to see close to the ship, and after rehearsal I returned for a run anyway.
I went out with a group today...more than half the band, and Zowie and Anna (the two junior activities people). Not liking large groups, I wasn't terribly thrilled, but they're good people, so as long as I keep them moving, I'm fine. And if they fall behind, that's fine too.
Someone in the group commented that this was like a little Rio De Janerio, and it really looked like that. A neat looking bay, surrounded by hills, and a big rock formation similar to Sugar Loaf in Rio. There was an observatory at the top of the rock so we all went up the steps to the top. It is a tourist favorite, but rightly so as it affords some pretty good views of the quaint town. There were trails leading away from the observatory however, so we took the trails (after I lit a fire under people's butts) to go see what was out there. Eventually, we found a little used trail into the woods that Brandon, Zowie, and I were compelled to follow but the rest were not, Anna (from Sweden) saying, of all things, "it's just the woods, what are you going to find there?" I think some people aren't happy unless there is a chance of a shoe store showing up.
Anyway, we made it back in plenty of time for the rehearsal, after which I took a run back to that location and found some more trails.
Tomorrow we have another rehearsal (during which I won't play a note and will probably just put my headphones on and listen to other things). I should have 6 hours after though, so maybe I'll be able to find something fun to do.
July 21, 2010 - Longyearbyen, Svalbard, NorwayI guess first I should write about the past few days, which first had me in Honnigsvag, Norway. On the map it appears that this is the northern most town in continental Norway and thus Europe. Nevertheless, it is still actually an island off the north coast of Norway. Regardless, it was really far north.
While we were docked all day, I had a rehearsal right in the middle of the day, so if there were any long adventures to go on, I wouldn't be able to do them. Fortunately, the big hill I saw in front of the town only took me 1.5 hours round trip to do, so I was back in time not only for rehearsal, but for lunch buffet too!
I ran into some guy from a different cruise ship (2 were actually docked). Actually, he ran into me. He was running up the hill behind me. At first I thought he was a local taking a daily run up the hill (which would be pretty hard core...it wasn't that far up, but it was a lot to run). But he was just in a hurry. Nice guy from New Zealand. He liked to talk about how he did that kind of thing a lot and he was very concerned about the possibility of me slipping. Meanwhile, it sounded like his lungs were going to explode.
I was glad to return to the ship when I did, because even though it was unusually sunny when I started the walk, the rain came right as I returned and it didn't really let up until we left.
Over the next two days, we cruised further north still in search of the "ice barrier". We passed all of Svalbard and went all the way to 80 degrees 35 minutes north. Finally we ran into ice. The funny thing was, compared not only to Antarctic ice, but to ice in the Alaskan fjords, it was pretty unremarkable. We turned around, but we could have gone straight into the ice for quite a ways before it became dangerous probably. Still, better safe than sorry at 80 degrees north. It was about 25 degrees F out, with frost collecting on open deck. Mark Merchant, the ventriloquist, commented to me that figured people could have just stayed at home and looked in the freezer. True, not very spectacular, but probably as far north as I'll ever make it.
Rehearsal was moved back to 11:30 am today, so I had about 4 hours to walk around Longyearbyen, a city founded in 1905 actually by an American, for the purpose of mining. I was able to get off the ship at 7:30. Zowie met me at the gangway for a walk into town (the shuttle didn't start moving passages the 750 meters into town until 9 am). We had heard that we were not advised/allowed to do any walking outside of town for danger of polar bears unless you were with a guide with a gun. While I had no doubt that polar bears were occasionally around, we decided to chance it a bit anyway. Seems to me I'd be able to see one from a good distance anyway, there was very little snow, nor food (except for myself of course). I also have a theory that, Longyearbyen's economy having been transformed from primarily mining to primarily tourism, rumors of the dangers of polar bears may be exaggerated to get people on the expensive tours.
And in the unlikely event that I become polar bear food, well, it'd be a spectacular exit.
At any rate, the only wild life we saw was the occasional flower, and a group of ship passangers who were appalled that we were up there wihtout a guide. On the way there, we found a trail going up the barren hill to an abandoned mine. No, I didn't explore an abandoned mine shaft...I'm not that stupid. But I did peak in one of the old rooms. There was old machinery buried in ice, and then another room with some old nude pictures seeminly from the 40s.
Leaving the mine, we kept up the valley (which was devoid of almost all vegetation or signs of life) towards the distant glacier that I could see toursists walking on. After passing the group that really looked concerned for our safety, we came upon what I thought was a scientific expedition...actually it was just some casual fossil seekers. This area is prime for old fossils, and they showed us their collection. One of the people actually let us take a pick of fossils to take with us, so instead of picking my usual rock, I have a fossil from Svalbard of an old leaf...probably from about 50 million years ago.
To make it back to the ship in time for my rehearsal, we had to run all the way back. Unfortunate, but I still did manage to make it only 1 minute late.
We are leaving any minute now to start the trip back south. More later.
July 16, 2010 - Trondheim, NorwayThere were no hikes to do in Trondheim...certainly none that wouldn't require a taxi ride, and none that were even in sight. Nevertheless, Trondheim was a nice little "town" of about 200,000 people.
The backup plan was to play frisbee, but I noticed early on during the walk from the pier that I thought I'd rather go off on my own. Since the other 2 people with me couldn't keep up, things just kind of worked out :)
I started with a cup of tea and a bit of reading, and then trekked around the town finding various things of interest, including a large old cathedral, a military museum, and the natural history museum. The military museum, while a very very short military history of Norway from 1000 A.D. to the present, was pretty interesting. They possessed weapons and gear from each area and a little factoid about certain moments in Norweigan history. There was a large exhibit about the Nazi occupation, and about Quisling's Nazification of Norway.
The natural history museum seemed geared towards children, so I didn't stay long. I also wanted to get back to the ship for a late lunch, and to rest, because I'm really sore after yesterday's activities. And I have a live show to do tonight, so I want to be rested.
This will likely be the last posting for a while as I will be without internet perhaps for the remainder of the cruise, as we go further and further north.
July 15, 2010 - Geiranger, NorwayThe annoying thing about this cruise, one of the only cruises this contract that really compelled me to sign, is to due rehearsal scheduling difficulties, I'll be rehearsing smack in the middle of most of out ports. Thus, finding good long hikes simply won't be possible.
However, today was an exception to that rule. In an departure from my normal procedure, I actaully recruited 3 other to wake up early and get off the ship as soon as possible (which unfortunately wasn't until 9:30). Dustin (sax), Gordon (piano) and Zowie (Junior Activities Director) all went with me to see how high we could climb up the what was a pretty spectacular Norweigen fjord. It looks a lot like Alaska, but something about it is different. Maybe the fjords are deeper, with higher walls. Or maybe the village was more quaint. I'm not really sure, but it was a pretty remarkable time.
The first segment took us up to 300 meters and a restaurant. At this point, Dustin and Gordon decided to go separate ways as they were having a hard time keeping up with the pace of Zowie and myself.
Zowie and I continued up to the next stop, which was a brilliant waterfall at about 550 meters. At this point we could have gone up to a farm type area, or pushed to a summit of 1420 meters. The only problem was we had to be back at the ship's tender by 3 pm. 5 and a half hours is pushing it to do a hike of such altitude, but we decided to really push it, and I must say I was surprised at Zowie's persistance and stamina. Of course, she's done this kind of thing before, and is only 23 years old, so maybe she should be surprised that I kept up with her. Before the last push, she asked me (the official time keeper) what our time was. I told her I didn't think we'd make it, so she hit the gas and I was on her heels.
After 3 hours of hard climbing we came to the summit...ok, in fairness, we were actually about 15 minutes away from the actual summit, but we were close enough as we finally had a fiew of the fjord from above. The cruise ship was almost directly beneath us, and as I sat there dangling my feet over the cliff I got a little too weirded out to stay there long. And I don't really have any problem with heights.
The trip down was harder, as it usually is for me. We actually ran some of it, which was hard not because I lacked energy or cardio strength, but just because going down really works the legs. Nevertheless, we walked up to the tender at exactly 2:59 pm.
I may be trying to look for something in Trondheim tomorrow...I should have time there too. It is only after that that time will be very limited. Hopefully 1 night of sleep will be enough to recover and do it again.
July 13, 2010 - Copenhagen, DenmarkI had a pretty long day today thanks to not having any show to do. I started off finding a little jazz cafe from which to do some internet browsing and listen to some music. Sadly, the cafe is going out of business in a week, primarily due to lackluster CD sales of late. The ship arrived a day after a 10 day jazz festival ended, so I just missed being able to see some great acts. Too bad!
Following coffee and internet I basically wandered around downtown Copenhagen. I had a map, but had no idea where the shuttle bus had dropped me off, so that added a bit to the excitement. I found an old astronomical observatory called the Rundetaarn, billed as the oldest fuctioning observatory in Europe, which is to say that even though there is no longer a large telescope underneath it's dome, people still go up there with small portable telescopes for fun. So it really isn't actually being used for anything but a tourist attraction, but it still afforded a good view of the city.
I later wandered through a couple of parks to find the Castle Rosenborg. King Christian IV build it in 1606-34 as a summer castle. For only 75 crowns ($12-$15) you could gain admission, for for another 20 crowns you could even be permitted to take pictures! What a deal. It was a pretty neat looking castle though...not a square inch was left undecorated by something.
In the evening, Ellert returned a day early to his bandmaster position and 9 of us planned to go to Vitoli, the local amusement park. Ellert has been friends with Hylnur for a long time, and since Hylnur was leaving just as Ellert was getting back, Hylnur was looking forward to spending time with Ellert. Sadly, due to bad planning and separate taxis, we became separated, and Hylnur, myself, and Matt went to the amusement park alone. I was kind of against going there from the start because it was really expensive to get in with full access to the rides (300 crowns), particularly when it was late, and there was lightening, so many of the rides were closed anyway. We opted for the 95 crown entrance fee, after which we could pay for individual rides. Ride tickets were 25 crowns each, and we only learned too that that any rate worth taking cost 3 of those tickets. Not the best deal.
Still, they had a big band playing in a gazebo that was good enough to rival any pro big band in Minneapolis. Nothing flashy, just a solid swinging band with great soloists. That made the cost of admission worth it, though it did little to comfort Hylnur.
The next leg of the trip is remote Norway. Hopefully our rehearsal schedule won't get in the way of port time, though if I know Crystal well, I'm sure that they will do their best to make sure that rehearsals interfere with port time as much as possible.
July 10, 2010 - Warnemunde, GermanyI suppose I should catch up on recent activities as well. A few days ago in St. Petersburg, Russia, I escorted a ship tour to The Hermitage. Actually, the most interesting aspect of the tour was probably the conversation I had with a Hawaiian gentleman named Daniel at lunch. He made a good living as a singer, then as a television host in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and China. He speaks 10 languages, and it turns out he's the cousin of Don Ho, of "Tiny Bubbles" fame.
The next day in Helsinki I basically used to go running with my Icelandic friend Leonard (it's actually something like Hylnard but he just goes by Leonard because people can pronounce that). After our run, I went back into town for some internet. So it wasn't a particularly eventful day.
Today brought a few interesting occurances in Warnemunde. There was a canal in the town that was hosting some sort of 20-man canoe races. People had pitched tents to watch the matches. The place was so crowded and tourist oriented, I thought it was like what Key West would look like if it were 800 years old. I ran into the lighting guy from the ship, so we wandered through all of the stands, including someone that was selling actual dentist tools pretty cheap. We eventually found a beach and I thought I was in Miami...the place was packed. I guess they have few days like today...sunny and close to 90 degrees. Manny (the lighting guy) watched my stuff while I took a swim. The water gave away that we weren't in the Caribbean, but it was no colder than any lake in Minnesota in the summer. And it wasn't particularly salty either.
Given that I had started the day with another run with Leonard, I'm kind of exhausted now, but I have a show to rehearse in 25 minutes. At least they scheduled it for 7 pm instead of the usual 12 noon rehearsal that breaks the day up.
We are going to one more port in Germany before moving to finish the cruise at Copenhagen, after which I will start one of the legs of the trip that I'm looking forward to: Northern Norway!
June 25, 2010 - Visby, Gotland, SwedenThis day brought me to the island of Gotland, to the municipality seat Visby. The town has that European combination of old to ancient buildings with newer buildings that still look old or ancient, with cobblestone streets that barely allow a car to fit through. I basically meandered may way around town going from site to site, first coming across some city walls which still surround the old city, and then finding purely by chance several examples of church and monestary ruins among the homes and shops of town.
Most of these buildings were built in the 1200s. However, the Danes invaded in 1361 and remained under their rule (more or less) for about 300 years. I was told that in the 1500s most of these churches, except for the Cathredral of Visby, were abandoned.
I didn't have a long time to stay on shore as I had a training to attend on the ship (that amounted to about 12 minutes). Upcoming is St. Petersburg, but I am not planning on going ashore due to the constraints applied by the local officials. $15 per day per person, plus, the shuttle bus (which is required...bikes not allowed) is ANOTHER $15. I'm not sure if that is round trip or not. Needless to say, I won't be going out on my own much, which is probably for the best anyway. I'll try to get on some of the guest tours however. I'll have plenty of opportunities to do so.
Oh, and happy birthday, mom! :)
June 23, 2010 - Oslo, NorwayNot only did I make it to the ship easily, but now I have a nice voucher for a flight elsewhere in the world (at least a good chunk of it paid). My taxi driver was waiting for me at the airport, and the 90 minute ride to Dover was interesting.
My driver looked asian (oriental) and his accent sound like an odd mix of British and some sort of Asian accept. I was surprised to find out that he was from Afghanistan. He has been in England now for about 12 years, but he has family back near Kabul. Interestingly, even though he was well old enough to remember the Soviet occupation, he says his part of where he lived saw no effect from it.
He told me he was Islam, and where he was from he was generally hated by the Pashtoons. I can't remember which brand of Islam he follows, but it didn't ring familiar to me. Maybe it was hard to understand with his accent. Anyway, given that the general stereotype of Muslims is that they are all fanatical, and didn't seem that way, I had to ask him how intently did he practice. For instance "do you pray 5 times a day"?
"I pray 3 times a day. That's why the Pashtoon don't approve".
He's married to a Christian Lithuianian. Neither of them have British citizenship, and neither of them seem to have an issue with the differing religions. Huh.
Today in Oslo, I've just walked around a bit. I'm ported in a different location than my last time hear 4 years ago, so I was unable to find the sculpture garden. Which is fine, because I've been there twice. I did find the Royal Palace, which had a nice lawn and assortment of duck ponds. Lacking sand beaches to tan on, the seem to flock here (though not in mass beach numbers). I couldn't tour the palace because I can't seem to find a money exchange, and they only take cash. Norwegian cash. One thing I've noticed is that, among the large number of people biking around here, I've yet to see one helmet. I wonder if the Freakenomics guy has done a chapter on bike helmets. I think people overreact on the whole helmet thing.
I think I'm going to head back to the ship for lunch. Maybe I'll come out again. I have nothing for a couple of hours, and then I have a busy night ahead of me.