Now It’s For Real

Posted September 30, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising

Tags: ,

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Although I’ve been on board for a week, the real journey begins here. Today all the rest of the long-haul cruisers boarded, and the day-trippers, those who were sailing just from Vancouver to Los Angeles, got off the ship

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after we pulled into the Port of Long Beach by the dawn’s early light. And I am here to tell you that the Port of Long Beach is unbelievably enormous. It’s the second-busiest port in the U.S., right after the Port of Los Angeles, to which it’s adjacent. The shuttle bus that took us into town from the ship was driving for at least 10 minutes before we finally saw the last of cranes and shipping containers.

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Fortunately, once in town, the City of Long Beach provides great and free public transportation to the most-visited sights, and also into downtown so that last-minute drug store and bank visits are relatively easy. Although it was a shocking 84° here today, which made me glad that we’ll be heading back north in just a couple of hours.

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I whiled away some of the time in port visiting the aquarium. I’m a sucker for jellies, and they had a lot of beauties. Normally I would pick a couple of favorite shots, but I love all of these. There just can’t be too many jellies for me.

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There were also rays, with their sweet, smiley faces,

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penguins, and a ton of little kids, it being Sunday. All in all I would say that I’ve been really spoiled by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I found that while there were really nice displays here, there seemed to be more cute sea-life merchandise for sale than actual marine animals on view.

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I also took a spin through the Queen Mary, just because it’s here. I was curious to see how cruising has changed since she was built, but it was a pretty chaotic experience. She tries to be a hotel and a museum all at once, and I had a hard time figuring out how to visit her sensibly.

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Of course the gift shop was open and easy to find, which is kind of the theme of the day, and it was tempting to buy a tiara, but somehow I resisted.

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In her day passengers dressed for travel. We current-day voyagers are a more ragtag assortment, although I did just see a lady in a tweed skirt and pearls attending the emergency muster drill.

They take those drills seriously, and go through every single cabin to make sure that no one is trying to avoid the drill. The penalty for hiding in your cabin: being put off the ship immediately, which is okay with me, since I wouldn’t want to be in a lifeboat with someone who cared so little for safety.

And now, we have five long days at sea, sailing up the Pacific for 2419 nautical miles to Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Yesterday afternoon I was glued to my balcony, binoculars in hand, captivated by a frolic of dolphins right alongside, with whale spouts in profusion in the background. They were heading north, and now we will be too, hoping to see them again.

 

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Home No More

Posted September 29, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising

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San Francisco, where I was born and partly raised. It always feels familiar, but in a dream-like way, because I’ve been gone so long. I was determined to recapture some of that “welcome home” feeling, so there I was, out on the bow before sunrise, snapping what should have been lovely pictures, as we sailed very slowly in under the Golden Gate bridge and deck stewards offered hot coffee and pastry.

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Alas, my new camera and I do not yet have a secure working relationship, and thus it was that there were no misty morning shots, because there turned out to have been no card in the camera. That made me unspeakably grumpy, until my wonderful cabin steward Yoga saved the day by sharing this shot that he took in the bright afternoon sunlight, when he had a little break and managed to get off the ship and be a tourist for a couple of hours.

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Still, San Francisco looks its best wrapped in its special silvery light,

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and the pelicans and gulls were out in search of breakfast. When I think of it, my personal breakfast of poached eggs on a bed of crab meat was probably not too different than their own.

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To save me from eternal grumpiness my dear friends Tom and Nancy drove up from Santa Cruz for hugs, lunch, and a series of hilarious conversations. The last time we met here was in 2009, or was it 2010? We ate near the Ferry Building, or did we go there for coffee, or did we go there at all? Was that the time they gave me the lovely pin I wore in their honor, or did they even remember ever having given it to me? And that’s how it went all day, proving, in case of any lingering doubt, that none of our memories are as crystalline as they once were. But what might have been a discouraging descent into a breakdown on memory lane turned into a running gag. I have no doubt that when next we meet we’ll be hashing over yesterday’s visit – did we actually visit Room and Board so they could pick out a bookcase, or was it Pottery Barn? Did we end up at the Mediterranean restaurant for lunch, or the Peruvian?

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The vagaries of memory are quite stunning at our age, and I could no more find my way around this town I once called home than back our 778 foot long ship out of her cozy berth at midnight.

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For midnight it was when we pulled away from the dock. Normally I’m asleep long before the witching hour, but I felt compelled to redeem my morning’s pathetic performance by taking another crack at bridge-snapping. First up, the new-to-me LED spectacle of the Bay Bridge.

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And yes, the sky was that color, so strong is the reflected light from the area surrounding my no-longer home.

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The Golden Gate at night is still pretty spectacular, and I was glad to have waited to see it in its nocturnal glory, a fitting farewell to a day filled with paradoxes, contrasts, and unexpected surprises both good and bad.

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And now we’re sailing down the coast to Los Angeles under brilliant blue skies and sparkling seas.

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Whales were alongside us at breakfast, and though we mostly saw only spouts I’m hoping for better sightings as we continue to follow their path of migration, so similar to our own.

The End Of An Ordeal

Posted September 26, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising

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When I told you here that I had crossed the bat off my list, I was being excessively optimistic. In reality, that bat had rabies, poor little Minou had to be quarantined for 45 days, and I had to have a series of rabies shots, the last of which I finally had today, hurray! At least now they’re given in the arm and no longer in the abdomen.

So now we are docked in Astoria, and I can stop feeling like a pincushion, hopefully for many months to come.

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Astoria sits on the Oregon side of the mouth of the Columbia River, and this bridge is an astounding 4.1 miles long. That’s Washington you can glimpse at the other end of the span.

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I decided to walk from the ship into town, which Google informed me would be a mile and a half. Not having been walking much since my foot injury a couple of months ago, it felt like much, much more. Fortunately Astoria has this beautiful Riverwalk pathway.

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Many mariners have lost their lives amidst all this beauty. The Columbia River Bar is a notoriously perilous marine hazard, known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, because over 2000 large ships have been sunk there over the past two centuries.

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Dark past notwithstanding, Astoria’s Liberty Theatre was built in 1925 and is home to this beautiful chandelier.

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Strange as it may seem, I was in search of a Bosnian lunch. I’d never had Bosnian food, and the Drina Daisy is right downtown. It was nice, spit-roasted lamb with some pickled vegetables. Not mind-blowing, but satisfying and interesting. With it the owner suggested a glass of Blatina, a grape grown in Herzegovina.  At first it was too soft, with almost no perceptible tannins. But, as so often happens, being paired with the food from its region brought it to life, and the salty, spiced lamb turned it into a very pleasant glass.

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If I could have caught the trolley back to the boat I would have, but it runs very infrequently and I just kept trundling along (better than limping but not really striding), scrounging views of beauty all along the way. The tide had risen when I got back to the ship, so after my three and some mile walk the gangway now stood at about a 55° angle. Talk about a heart-sinking sight.

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Heights scaled and weary, I made it back to my cabin, which currently faces a lumber yard that has an odd beauty all its own.

Tomorrow we will be at sea all day, on our way to San Francisco, and I have to confess to being ready for a rest. We’ve had beautiful weather and smooth sailing so far, and I’m hoping that continues. See you in a couple of days, and fair winds to you in the meanwhile.

And So It Begins

Posted September 24, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising

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Yesterday, with a lot of help from my kids, I finally got myself, my luggage, and my three cases of wine on board the Holland America Amsterdam. Here’s the view from my balcony when I took a break from the exhausting work of unpacking three months’ worth of stuff.

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And here’s what it looked like when I finally gave up on packing for the night and watched as we sailed slowly north, destination Victoria.

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After a fitful sleep – bed unfamiliar, various aches from the rigors of hauling approximately two tons of stuff around – I awoke just as we headed into Victoria.

Victoria is a lovely town, and I’ve been here several times, so today I switched it up a bit by going on a winery tour of the Cowichan Valley. With just one fellow passenger and a friendly and knowledgeable guide, we visited the Cherry Point, Blue Grouse, Unsworth, and Enrico wineries. I tend to love British Columbia wines, and today I tasted a lot of really nice ones. Because I’ll be writing about them for Great Northwest Wines I don’t want to give too much away here, but I will say that there were many surprises along the way,

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not the least of which was watching sparkling wine being bottled under pressure at 2° C., a process I’d never even heard of before.

The biggest surprise, actually, was how much effort folks at all the wineries put into showing me around and having me taste far beyond the usual range of tasting room offerings, once they heard that I would be doing an article. I’ll put a link to the story I write about them, and you can be sure that it will be a nice one.

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Here’s our last stop of the day, and you can see why anyone might contemplate giving up whatever else they hold dear and relocating posthaste to the Cowichan Valley.

I had fully intended to head back into town for dinner and a walkabout after dropping off my inevitable wine purchases at the ship (because really, is three cases enough?) but no. The lure of relaxing in my cleaned-up and unpacked cabin was strong, and I succumbed.

And I finally got to meet my cabin stewards, Yoga and Bagus, who both seem charming. Until this afternoon our relationship had consisted of my leaving notes to the general effect of “please take this out of my cabin, and this, and these!” until it’s pared down to a manageable amount of pillows, no hint of fruit or chocolate or space-hogging wooden coat hangers, and all of the suitcases are stashed away.

And now they’re the people most responsible for my comfort and contentment over the next few months, and I’m happy to report that I think they’re going to do an excellent job of it.

Tomorrow will be another wine tour, this time in the Fraser Valley, after we dock in Vancouver. I’m so glad that one of the most important life lessons I learned in wine school is this: When in doubt, spit, don’t swallow. Really comes in handy at a time like this.

 

Shinrin-Yoku…..Forest Bathing

Posted September 22, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

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Today, to celebrate my last day living on terra firma for the next quarter-year, my little family and I went forest bathing at the spectacular Bloedel Reserve.

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Parts of our time there were silly,

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parts were Zen,

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most was green,

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but there were occasional splashes of color.

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I was doing a trial of my new pocket camera, purchased especially for this trip,

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and I would judge that it acquitted itself very well.

And now, I feel prepared to be uprooted

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and set off for parts unknown. Beauty is everywhere, and I aim to see it all.

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Half At Sea

Posted September 21, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: Cruising

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Today I’m beginning to slip my bonds. I’m still a land-based operation, but my thoughts are already adrift. I don’t feel mired in the mud, like the boat next door, but I’m definitely in that halfway dream place between here and gone.

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My bags are packed and have been transported to who-knows-where. A cheerful blond FedEx guy came and took them away, but he didn’t know where they would live until being put on the ship. All I know is that they are supposed to be waiting for me when I board, which is now just two days away.

I have three cases of wine packed up to take on board with me, but getting them on board is worrying me a bit. I’m fervently hoping that I won’t have to drag them onto the ship all by myself. Just as I’m hoping not to have to drink them all by myself. Nothing would please me more than to find new friends on board with whom to share them.

If you’re planning to follow my trip, you should know that the first part of the itinerary is going to be decidedly peculiar. For about 10 days it will consist of a kind of demented sailing up and down and up again along the west coast, before finally getting serious and heading west. Victoria, Vancouver, Astoria, San Francisco, Los Angeles, then Dutch Harbor, Alaska and Petropavlovsk. Next stop, Japan. Take a look at the map. See what I mean?

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I think all that backing and forthing will be most interesting when it comes to the weather. I expect to be bundling up and shedding my warm layers with some regularity during those 10 days, but as a denizen of the Pacific Northwest, such a prospect doesn’t faze me. Besides it’s autumn, notoriously fickle weather is to be expected. And on our first stops I’m going to do wine tours of the Fraser and Cowichan valleys, which strikes me as a particularly auspicious beginning to it all.

The Internet situation on the ship has been improved since the last time I cruised, so I’m hoping that French Letters will have a relatively easy time telling you all about it. See you at sea!

Cross Bat Off My List

Posted September 10, 2018 by Abra Bennett
Categories: French Letters Visits America

Tags: ,

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Now that I’m just a week away from leaving home and kitties until after Christmas, friends are asking me how I’m progressing with my To-Do lists. So far today I have been able to cross off:

* Order yen and yuan
* Vote
* Drop off bat
*Convince T-Mobile and Verizon to settle my bill

Of course, that last item took the longest, over a week, actually.  But really, it’s too exasperating to talk about.

The bat is what I really want to tell you about, that, and the advantages of living in a small town.

Yesterday Minou brought a creature in the house. I went to see what the batting-something-around sound was, and thought I saw a small bird. When I picked it up to rescue it, it turned into a bat. Quite a large bat, actually, considering how small and frail it had looked with its wings folded.

Now normally, of course, I would never pick up a live bat, so I was kind of freaked out. And since a bat that Minou could catch in broad daylight, a bat who couldn’t fly, a bat I’d touched bare-handed, all added up to potentially bad bat news, I confined the poor thing to a tupperware and waited for the health department to open this morning.

The bat expired overnight, even though I’d carefully punched breathing holes in the lid of the container. I’m not even sure why I did that, since obviously the lab was going to need a dead bat. So this morning I took an extremely dead bat into the County Health folks, who remarked that it was the second one to be brought in this morning, and it was only 10:00. Now I’m waiting for them to test the bat for rabies, and really hoping that a series of four rabies shots is not in my future. Apparently you get them in your arm now, no longer in the abdomen, so that’s something.

Then, bat-disposal accomplished, I went a couple of blocks over to the Elections office to cast my mid-term vote. And guess what? I was the first person in my county to cast her ballot! In fact, they printed it out just for me, since on election day I’ll be at sea, somewhere between Hong Kong and Vietnam. I would imagine that going to that extreme to help me vote is a small-town thing, although I’d like to think that every county would make such an effort to help out a determined voter.

Having contributed my drop in the ballot box to the Blue Wave, I went another couple of blocks over to the bank that can get me Japanese yen and Chinese yuan overnight, with no service fee.

Maybe events could have unfolded like this in a large city, almost certainly so. But it took me under an hour to accomplish all that, and most of the time was spent waiting for my ballot to be printed. We don’t have everything here in Walla Walla, but within a five-block radius we can have a bat analyzed for rabies, a ballot personally printed, and receive foreign currency overnight.

Now if only we had some alternative to Verizon and T-Mobile and spending hours fidgeting on hold only to be transferred to yet another person for the gazillionth time, this town would be just about perfect.