Posted tagged ‘Cruising’

Cross Bat Off My List

September 10, 2018


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.




Soaking Up The Land

August 25, 2018

Today I had the doors open all day, for the first time in months. The temperatures had plummeted into the 70s, which to me is paradise. And tonight I could sit outside for dinner, and linger long afterwards, for the first time in weeks, The smoke has finally dissipated, and left us with Moderate air quality, and I swear, I’ll take it, even though it’s not classified as Good.

And tonight I lay in the grass and looked at the sky, awash in the sweet fragrance of alyssum. Evidently it’s been far too long since I did that, since Minou circled me restlessly, mewing gently and rubbing himself against my outstretched extremities. A starfish on land, I was.

But soon, in less than a month, I’ll be at sea. At sea for three months, surrounded by oceans and the lands that abut them. Traveling in the company of 1300 strangers, all people who’d presumably rather be at sea than on land. So what could possibly go wrong?

Really, I expect all to go, forgive me, swimmingly. By then I will have eaten all the garden vegetables I can, and will leave the rest to my house sitter. I don’t know whether she cooks, but I hope so, because there will be approximately 400 padron pepper for her to deal with. When I planted them I forget what late producers they are.

As much as I enjoy my current life, I am looking forward to being cast adrift, waking each morning not knowing what the day will hold. Aside from a couple of weeks on the island and a week in France, I’ve been tethered here for the past three years. For me, that’s a long time.

A part of me is yearning to fly free. Another part of me, the part that’s older and on this journey alone, is scared shitless.

I have just one more month to prepare for this adventure. Yesterday my dining room looked like a shoe bomb had gone off. A dozen pairs of shoes (thank you Zappo’s) were spread over my dining table, and spilling onto the floor. I’m in search of the shoes in which I can walk comfortably all day, a task complicated by the fact that I have enormous feet, and a recent foot injury. Only certain shoes will do, and holy moly are they had to find. Today I managed to get seven pairs returned, but I have to confess, a few more pairs are on the way. No vanity is involved, I assure you. All of them are in the “ugly as sin” category.

But then, I ask myself, why in the world should I care? There’s not a person in the world that gives a fig how I look. And I’m going to be in places I’ve always wanted to see (China! Japan! Australia! and other wonderful Asian and South Pacific countries as well).That’s what counts, that I get to go there.

Here’s what I can’t let count, even when it’s hard: Leaving Minou and Toby for three months with a person they don’t know. Not making anything with the prodigious plum crop my tree will be dropping soon. Trading the nostalgic scent of flowers for the aphrodisiac scent of salt air. Leaving the people I am used to seeing on the regular for people I’ve never seen in my life.

Trading land for sea, that’s the dilemma. It’s the thing that keeps me wondering whether I’ll stay here or return to the island. I love my home here, and am having a good life. But the sea is in my blood, and it tugs at me every day. Maybe I’ll get that out of my system after floating in its aqueous embrace for the next quarter of a year. Or maybe I’ll learn that I can’t live without it a moment longer.

So in a month I’m setting sail, hoping that time and the sea will tell me where my future lies, and will show me how far I’ve come.

Glaciers In The Mist

October 2, 2012

I find glaciers endlessly fascinating, and I hope you do too. The six hours we spent in Glacier Bay National Park thrilled me to the core, that core being swaddled in fleece pants topped with corduroy pants, wool socks and boots, fleece jacket, waterproof jacket, my iconic red Icelandic wool hat, and gloves. Yes, glaciers are cold, and I was determined not to turn as blue as they are while standing out on the bow for hours as we cruised. I’ll let the ice speak for itself, and you’ll see what I mean.

Some people on board saw a humpback whale in the bay, but I saw only this flock of birds

and this pair of harbor seals, looking cozy and comfy on their icy perch.

We didn’t see any actual calving of the glaciers, but the gorgeous Margerie Glacier, which is is nearly a mile wide and about 13 miles long, obliged us with some impressive ice falls, accompanied by loud cracking, thunderous rumbling,

gigantic splashing,

and leaving mounds of frozen debris in the water.

Glaciers push a lot of dirt around as they advance and recede,

and glacial moraine marked the fallen ice, making it look dirty in an interesting way,

and chunks both small

and large floated everywhere near the feet of the glaciers.

As we began to make our way back out of Glacier Bay the sun broke through, and waterfalls were running freely.

The sun made the ice glow even more impossibly blue,

and revealed the turning colors of autumn. This was the last good weather we were to see on our cruise, but it more than made up for the rest of the trip.

Glacier Bay is a magical place, and a vanishing place, as climate change causes the glaciers to recede. Go while you can.

North To Alaska

September 26, 2012

We sailed out of Seattle under a cloudless sky, giving us (oh how false) hopes of a sunny voyage northwards. The sea was smooth and expectations were high: off to Alaska for the first time, Shel planning to bag his 50th lifetime state, and me, I wanted to see the truly wild places that I knew lay far north of where I’d been on our continent.

As we lounged on our balconies, drinking rosé in the warm sun, I said, prophetically “We’d better enjoy this bliss while we have it, this may be the last time we see the sun this week.”

So when I awoke the next morning to this fabulous and fleeting sight, I rejoiced in the serendipity that had left the camera within a quick millisecond’s reach of the door, and immortalized the morning sun somewhere off the Queen Charlotte islands. Four minutes later the moment had passed, and the sun has eluded us ever since.

Pulling into Juneau under a bright but cloudy sky, Eric remarked that it looks like a frontier town, which it does, because it is. We bypassed the endless array of tourist shops and headed for the lovely but rapidly receding Mendenhall Glacier.

I should also mention that we bypassed one of the most typical Alaskan means of transportation. Juneau can only be reached by boat or plane, as no roads come here because the city is surrounded by ice fields.

You can get quite close to Mendenhall glacier by bus and on foot, although to walk on the glacier itself you have to arrive by helicopter. Helicopters being on my personal No Fly list, we contented ourselves with the views from the visitors’ center.

Leaving the glacier we headed out to look for humpback whales,

but first we came across this eagle defending his salmon lunch from a variety of other hungry shore birds.

Everyone was out for salmon, and these sea lions seemed especially vicious in their pursuit of the plentiful fish. The sea lions followed the whales, and sea gulls followed the sea lions, often swooping down and ripping bits of salmon right out of their sharp-toothed mouths.

But we were there for the whales, and happily, the whales were there for us. Lots of whales,

really big whales. I wish we’d been in that little boat, although it might have been a bit scary, seeing that huge tail within a simple flick of capsizing the whole shebang.

Although they’re enormous, weighing in at 40-50 tons each, and about 50 feet long, I think the humpbacks have a friendly, engaging look to them.

This one even waved goodbye to us as we headed back to Juneau, on our way to Glacier Bay. Sweet, eh?

Down To The Sea In Ships

September 19, 2012

Being out on the water for five weeks, we naturally saw a lot of boats, ships, and every sort of sea-going vessel. Some, like these little Norwegian beauties, look too fragile to venture far from home. Yet, like their Viking ancestor boats, they were build to withstand the sea.

Here, for the maritime-minded among you, is an assortment of shiply delights.

At the other end of the scale from those little shells are this enormous and frame-filling Icelandic Coast Guard ship

and this bulbous and high-riding Norwegian fishing boat, docked next to our ship, the Maasdam.

While we were in Reykjavik there were French tourists everywhere, who came from this huge cruise ship, the MSC Lirica,

and the harbor was undergoing a big dredging operation to make room for her, and for us.

We saw Norwegian fjord ferries,

Dutch hydrofoil ferries,

and a Newfoundlandic (is that even a word?) harbor ferry.

The canal from Amsterdam to the sea was chock-a-block with every sort of vessel, many of them truly gigantic.

My favorites, though, were the brave little boats, this one Norwegian

this one Greenlandic. There’s something heart-stopping about putting your life in the embrace of a tiny boat and the mighty sea, an experience that we only got vicariously while cruising.

Wishing all mariners fair winds and a following sea, and now, in just a few days, we’re off to take the season’s last cruise to Alaska.

No Newfie Jokes, Please

September 17, 2012

Or else! Returning you to the end of our voyage, we stopped in Saint John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, which is a lovely little spot and historically important, not only for its Viking heritage.

It’s a wonderfully sheltered harbor, colorful and peaceful, and it’s not that long since the first cruise ships started putting in here.

The town put on a heart-warming welcome for us, greeting our ship with a little band playing traditional Newfie music, as well as several people with their Newfoundland and Labrador dogs. I think even the mayor came to welcome the ship, although we didn’t see him. We were very happy to see the Newfie dogs, though, as they are one of the most huggable breeds ever and we were really missing animals by the end of the trip.

St. John’s is famous for its “jellybean” row houses, which make the streets cheerful and gay,

a good thing since they get a lot of very severe winter weather and a little cheer and gaiety must help to keep morale high.

St. John’s is rightfully proud of being the spot where, high atop Signal Hill, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio transmission in 1901. It was only the letter S, dot dot dot, in the Morse code he must have strained to hear, but those were the dots that changed the world as we know it, and he received a Nobel prize in physics for his invention.

The view down from Signal Hill is pretty spiffy too.

The town also has a lovely monument to peace, and a stunning museum called The Rooms, where we were lucky enough to see the gut-wrenching David Blackwood exhibit. Look him up here, if, like us, you’ve never heard of him before. He captures the history of Newfoundland in an absolutely unforgettable way.

St. John’s also has a district composed almost entirely of Irish pubs, of which I can recommend O’Reilly’s for quite decent food and good live music, but there are also a variety of ethnic foods, including Canadian. Newfoundland only joined Canada in 1949, so if you’re not a native Newfie, you’re still considered to be “from away.” Their cuisine has a couple of unique facets, including Screech, the local rum with a fearsome reputation that I found to be quite drinkable, and seal flipper pie, that even I, a person who ate rotten shark in Iceland, shunned like the devil.

Overall we found Newfoundland to be beautiful, friendly, and welcoming, and even though we’re from away, I hope to go back.

Qaqordoq – Say What?

August 27, 2012

We finally made landfall in Greenland, and on my birthday, to make it all the more amazing. Plus, I get to say that I spent my birthday in a place that even I can’t pronounce correctly (listen here for the real sound of the Greenlandic language, much less guttural than all those q’s make you think).

Although Qaqordoq is the largest town in southern Greenland, with a population of about 3,000, it’s kept its small town ways. We were greeted , as we neared town, by these fisherman with fish to sell, nevermind that we were five stories up from their boat and many thousands of miles from our kitchens.

A minke whale also followed us into the harbor, but was playing pretty coy.

There’s no pier, so we had to anchor out and tender in, always an ordeal,

although we cheered up when we saw their very well-stocked souvenir shop, which included things like green seal-fur mukluks and the super-soft and beautiful but hideously expensive scarves woven from musk ox hair. And when I say expensive, I mean that I saw a beautiful one and took it over to Shel and said that it would make a great birthday present at $50. He hastily pointed out that I’d made a fundamental currency translation error, and the scarf was actually $500.

The look of the town reflects the fact that Greenland, like Iceland and the Faroes, has no native trees, so all the houses are built of corrugated sheet metal imported mainly from Denmark.

The street names are Danish too. Here’s Vatican street.

Downtown Qaqordoq boasts what we were told is Greenland’s only fountain.

We went into the one small supermarket, looking for whale blubber, seal steaks, and the like. Instead we found Carte d’Or ice cream, the brand we buy in France, as well as Ben and Jerry’s

and Starbucks, labeled in English.

We heard singing from the church right next to the supermarket and stuck our heads in, to find a very sparsely-attended mass in progress. Later we learned that at least some of the attendees were cruise passengers from our ship.

There were lots of pretty examples of Native art scattered around the town,

and we did see these two young women in bright Native dress, although it wasn’t clear to me whether that was in honor of our visit, or a daily occurrence.

Even the town’s huge oil tanks were painted with a Native motif.

We only had a few hours in town, and as we sailed away from Greenland we were treated to more icebergs, making this definitely one or my most unusual birthdays ever!

Icebergs in Paradise

August 24, 2012

One of the remotest places, and possibly the most beautiful place on Earth: Prince Christian Sound. I’ll scarcely say a word, I’ll just let you discover it as we did. Except: 60% of these shots were taken by Shel, 40% by me (but who’s counting?). It was a once in a lifetime experience for both of us. If you ever get a chance to go there: do!

See what I mean?

Return To Iceland

August 21, 2012

Our first pass at Iceland took us to Reykjavik, then bad weather forced us to miss our planned visit to Djupivogur. This time, on our return from the Faroe Islands, we were able to stop at Seydisfjördur and Akureyri, in the east and north.

The east of Iceland looks dramatically different. We didn’t spend any time in Seydisfjördur itself, but headed directly towards the Borgafjördur Estuary.

There we stopped at the tiny town of Bakkagerdi

which is in a stunning setting, although the town itself doesn’t have a lot to offer but scenery. We had to drive for hours to get there, and arrived rather bus-worn and grumpy.

Shel and I resorted to taking pictures of each other, something we don’t often do,

and in fact he took many of the beautifully atmospheric shots I’m going to show you.

Like the one of this cool house, the only one of its kind that we saw in Iceland, with not only a green roof but green sides as well. I wanted to move right in.

This was a more typical look, beautiful in quite a different way.

At nearby Hafnarholmi we saw puffins galore, and since this was what we had come for, we quit grumbling about the several hour trip through deserted countryside and fell in love with the little birds, as so many have before us. There’s just something about a puffin. They’re much smaller than I’d imagined, but twice as cute.

Next we sailed around to the north of Iceland, to pretty Akureyri, which is a real town. Here again we didn’t spend much time in town, but instead headed out to visit farms in the gorgeous surrounding countryside.

This was the most beautiful part of Iceland that we saw, gentle and verdant.

First we visited an amazing dairy farm, where the 100 Icelandic cows are cared for entirely by robots.  Well, one person oversees it all, but all the work is robotic.

The cows are milked four times a day, although they often ask to be milked more frequently. Every cow has a chip with all her vital information, and the robot milker will not milk her more frequently than at six hour intervals, no matter how many times she presents herself for milking. The chip also contains specifications like the size and location of each cow’s teats, her milk production, and so on. Before milking the robot cleans the teats, and the cows munch placidly all the while. There’s even a robot to clean the floors, a sort of Poop Roomba, and as you can see the cow’s feet are quite clean.

Lest you think that cows would not enjoy such a life, I have to admit that these were the calmest and most contented-seeming cows I have ever seen, despite their robo-care and the fact that they live entirely indoors.

Next we visited a little farm with an attached ice cream shop, where I got to try freshly-made skyr, and the others had a bowl of exotic ice creams made from the farmer’s milk. Flavors like sorrel, and beer, for example, that seemed very cutting edge for a little creamery out in the country, and which were pronounced to be excellent.

We also visited a very old farmstead, now being restored as a little museum to show how farmers lived in the past,

and there we were offered a delicious snack of home-smoked lamb, home made paté with rhubarb jam and dark bread, and the exquisitely creamy Icelandic blue cheese.

We were more or less ready to move right in and stay a while, but as always happens when cruising, you only get a day to see things, no matter how wonderful. I’m ready to go back to Iceland, though. It’s a fascinating country, compellingly different from anywhere else I’ve been.

Back in Akureyri, while I did a little shopping before we sailed, Shel caught these two young musicians performing on the street, proving that some things are universal, and that girls will be girls, no matter where they live.

Journey, Death, Journey

August 19, 2012

After leaving the Faroe Islands we continued on our fantasy voyage, following the route of the Vikings to Prince Christian Sound, to Greenland, Iceland again, back to Newfoundland, and I’ll tell you all about that soon. But first, reality intervenes. One thing about cruising, so obvious that you scarcely think about it, is that you are on a ship, out at sea, and sometimes you can’t get off, no matter how you try.

During that voyage we began to hear that Shel’s Mom was ill, then very ill, then deathly ill, all in the space of two weeks. When we got the news that made us really want to rush to Atlanta we were off the coast of Newfoundland with no way off the boat except a quick dive into freezing water. Ship to shore radio was barely functional. email was excruciatingly slow. Those 20 knots per hour, a nice clip for a contented cruiser, dragged on and on for us, and Shel’s Mom left the planet before we could go ashore.

It’s what she wanted, to go quickly and mostly without pain. She also didn’t want us to see her “like that.”  Always coiffed and properly dressed, with bright red lips and shiny fingernails, red-haired in her youth like so many of the Vikings, right up until her death earlier this week at the age of 87 she was a fiercely Southern lady. And she was also the last of our parents to walk this earth, so that we’re now the oldest generation in our family, a sobering thought.

So welcome to Valhalla, Margaret. I know you believed in Heaven and drank only the occasional glass of Chardonnay, with an ice cube, but I’d rather think of you among the Valkyries, chalice raised, wolf guarding the door, surrounded by the brave souls who crossed that dark sea before you, and who died as sure of themselves as you always were. There was only ever one like you, and now there are none.