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Random Ramblings on Crossings

Details, details, details

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RUSS_RAFF_crossing.jpegWhen you leave Brooklyn to cross the Atlantic, you have agreed to five days of your allotted seven which contain only 23 hours. Should you opt instead for departing Southampton for New York you earn five days of 25 hours in length. I strongly recommend the latter.

Sailing New York to Southampton aboard QM2, you board on Sunday at 12:30 or so, enjoy luncheon, and sail away at approximately 4:30. Monday is a “normal” sea day of 24 hours in length. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday however, the Captain—Chris Wells for this crossing—activates the ship’s public address system and reminds you that it was noon for but a split second; the ship’s clock sprang forward to 1:00pm. I don’t recommend it unless you are anxious for your life to speed by. At our age, that is the last thing we desire.6ff3a1d0-c4c1-11e8-8489-ebf1e3e56763.jpg

We think of ourselves as being younger than our years. All that business about 70 being the new 60, etc., is our mantra and belief. Looking around, we feel as though we are among the youngest aboard—or at least among the best preserved.

That is far from true, however. B4 was intrigued and inspired by Doris who is 96, travelling solo and happy as a clam to be doing so. She does it twice a year. We met Jack, 93 years old, also travelling solo. His plan upon arrival in Southampton is to make his way to London for four days (while QM2 sails onward two days to Hamburg and two days back to Southampton) and then re-board the ship to regain those lost hours en route back to his home in New York. Watch out; Jack is back in Londontown. Any of us would have a hard time keeping up with Jack or Doris, they were both awesome.

Having been aboard many ships from several lines, I am confident saying that Cunard offers a different feeling; it is more sophisticated and gentile and there is lots to do on board. Spending as much time as it does on open oceans, Cunard relies less on the port call’s beach or cathedral and more on lectures or classes or music or parties.

There are a plethora of places to sit and relax and read a book and many do exactly that. Most of them offer live background music and serve at the least drinks and canapes.

Were one to consider saving money, please know that on a crossing—certainly one in October—the balcony is a place to step out onto, note that the weather is not conducive to remaining and a place to step back inside from. A nice ocean view in Britannia Class might be just the ticket. The Britannia dining room is spectacular and the food there, we are repeatedly told, is quite good. Surely there is more to be seen there than in either the Princess Grill or Queens Grill. And, of course, it is a rule on ships that mid-ship accommodation on a low deck is the smoothest ride.

Most of the balcony accommodations on deck eight offer up a view of lifeboats and nothing much else. On deck nine, most balcony accommodations look immediately over the top of lifeboats. Only on deck ten would one say their balcony view is pristine. However, one should stop and think: other than the vast and unending ocean, there is nothing to see on a crossing once you’ve departed and until you’ve arrived.
We never even discussed using any of the pools, hot tubs or sports courts available to us with one exception. Spa rat B4 enjoyed the Canyon Ranch Spa’s post-massage water therapy pool and sauna immensely. Even with saunas there is wide selection between herbal, aromatic, Finnish, and regular.

As is true on many ships we become well acclimated to the vessel only when our journey nears its end. If one can, one ought to cruise for longer than one short week if only to master the ship, to know which way to turn down this corridor or that grand hallway or which stairway most efficiently speeds you to your dining venue or to the theatre or pub. Other lines do a better job with guiding signage whether it be carpet patterns to quickly help you know which way is fore and which is aft or color coding to let you know which side is port and which is starboard. And, once you’ve been on a ship where the Daily Program is available on multiple touch-screen flat-screens around the ship or, better still, via WiFi on your smart phone, you will forever be underserved by the old-fashioned printed version still in use on QM2.

Aboard QM2, it is optimally described as a floating party held not at Downton Abbey but on the mid-Atlantic. We would not be surprised if Lady Mary and the Dowager Countess should be ensconced at a neighboring table on the three formal nights we enjoyed. A major and significant difference would be that the staff aboard is more like affectionate family and not at all like servants. Familiarity is a welcomed difference between QM2 and the British class system we see on BBC America.

We were fortunate to have good (if not great) weather. The North Atlantic can be—and often is—an unforgiving place. Warned on Wednesday night that Thursday would be rough, B4 brought out and affixed a “seasick patch” but a southerly course adjustment took us to calmer waters. The patch was, thankfully, unnecessary. The sea water is 60 degrees and the air temperature a near match. The forward decks on 7, 11 and 14 are seldom closed due to high winds so walking—even if bundled a bit—is possible and popular. Temperatures were regularly around 60 degrees.

Deck seven promenade is populated by 175 lounge chairs in a soldierly formation, dressed and covered, on the port side and the same on the starboard side. The deck crew breaks out cushions on the sunny side and the deck chairs become a popular place to sit and read or nap. On the shady side they beckon but are refused. If it is raining—which it did only a couple of times and not for long—the entire deck remains unpopulated except for the diehard walkers who are discouraged by nothing short of gale winds. LoungeForTwoLetMeCheck.jpg

It is from there that, on Saturday around 2:30, I spotted, for the first time in a week, a bird. Checking the navigation map channel on the in-room telly, I see that we are soon to enter the English Channel. Too soon; too soon.

When the seas act up you are impacted less on QM2 than you would be on any other passenger ship with, perhaps, the exception of the mega-ships of Royal Caribbean—the ones that carry nearly 6,000 passengers each in a “double-wide” configuration. I would not want to be where we are aboard the Silversea Silver Shadow which rocked and rolled in much less rough water during our recent journey to Alaska. Being on the ocean in a true ocean liner is different; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Therefore, beware of the great deals to be had on “repositioning” cruises on smaller cruise ships. Your stomach might be repositioned along with the vessel. “Repositioning” refers to taking a ship from one part of the world to a different place fleeing off-season and seeking high-season. This is not to be confused with “World” cruises which Cunard happily offers which go everywhere, crossing oceans and seas to find port calls on multiple continents.

At these prices—in Queens grill—it is amazing that alcoholic beverages, laundry and WiFi are not included in the price of passage as they are on Silversea or other six-star lines. Really?Ocean4.JPGRainbow.JPG

Would we do this again? Yes; in a New York minute. But, we would do it Westbound rather than Eastbound so we could have an extra hour each day to relax. Or we might follow Jack’s plan of staying in London for a few days and then sailing back Westbound. Many people we have met are going all the way to Hamburg just to return the same way. We gave serious but momentary consideration to changing our plans and just keep sailing. All those days on the ship to refresh, reflect and rejoice in just how fortunate we are to be as we are, together, healthy and able to enjoy life as few can. We would use that extra hour or days to count our many unexpected blessings.

Who wants to come along?

Posted by paulej4 09:25 Archived in England Tagged queen mary 2 Comments (1)

Disembarkation

Bittersweet; like finishing a great book

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RUSS_RAFF_crossing.jpegChampagneCaps.jpgLeaving the ship at the end of a cruise—or in this case a crossing—is always bittersweet. It is also complicated. And, take note: the more you pay the earlier you are allowed to leave.

On QM2, a representative of British Immigration Service was aboard for the entire journey and guests were requested to pre-clear immigration and have their passports stamped during posted hours on most days during the voyage. Wonderfully convenient and a great idea, I would say. That means arrival is free of government involvement.

Bags are to be placed outside your stateroom door the night before arrival. On QM2 that is to be done between 6:00pm and midnight. Cunard provides new colored identification tags for this purpose. If you don’t want to pack dirty clothes, Cunard always seems to do a “laundry sale” a couple of days before the trip ends offering laundry for all you can cram into their bag for $40.00. For us, I simply went down to deck 8 and used the self-service laundry. It is free and usually busy. (there are six washer/dryers on deck 10 and a pair of them on deck 8; both launderettes are equipped with an iron and board)

After navigating the English Channel between England and France in the dead of night, the ship arrives at Southampton about 6:30am. large_SouthamptonInTheDark.JPG

Disembarkation is highly organized as follows:

TIME GUESTS LUGGAGE TAGS MEETING PLACE
8:00am Queens Grill Guests (Cabins types Q1-Q4) Light Blue 3 Tags Champagne Bar, deck 3
8:05am Queens Grill Guests (Cabins types Q5-Q7) Aqua 3 Tags Queens Grill Lounge, 7
8:05am Diamond Guests CWC Purple 4 Tags The Verandah, 8
Cunard Coach Transfers Royal Court Theatre
Group Transfers
8:45am Princess Grill Guests Deck 10 Tags Chart Room, 3
9:10am Deck 13 Deck 13 Tags Carinthia Lounge, 7
9:10am Deck 12 Deck 12 Tags Carinthia Lounge, 7
9:20am Deck 11 Deck 11 Tags Carinthia Lounge, 7
9:30am Deck 8 Deck 8 Tags Golden Lion Pub, 2
9:40am Deck 6 Deck 6 Tags Queens Room, 3
9:50am Deck 5 Deck 5 Tags Queens Room, 3
10:00am Decks 4-3-2 Deck 4-3-2 Tags Queens Room, 3

There is another option: Self-Help Disembarkation. “If you wish to disembark early prior to the main disembarkation and are able bodied and capable of carrying ALL of your own luggage, you can apply for Self-Help Disembarkation” and roll both yourself and your baggage off unassisted.

You must settle your on-board account (pay your bar and spa bills) by 11:00pm the night before arrival. If you presented a credit or debit card upon boarding, this is done automatically with the bill--usually much more than you realized or had expected--arriving in an envelope overnight. BritanniaStiarcase.jpgBritanniaWall.jpeg

Early breakfast is served in the Kings Court Buffet from 6:30 until 9:30 and in the Queens Grill, Princess Grill Britannia Club and Britannia Restaurant from 7:00 until 9:00; there is no room service. Note: I was in Kings Court to see if coffee was available at 6:00 and it was a busy place with people already having their breakfasts.

So, for B4 and me, the process is to set an alarm—something we have not done this week—and leave 9028, backpack in hand, for Queens Grill breakfast just before 7:00 to be ready to make our way a few steps to the Queens Grill Lounge at 8:00 to be escorted to the gangway deck at 8:05.

Once off the ship, we will locate our baggage which was whisked away last evening. Baggage is neatly arranged by luggage tag color on the pier. The problem is that one of our friends from the ship inadvertently took our large bag so we could not find it. Once he realized his mistake, he returned it, apologized and we were, thankfully, on our way out of that mayhem. Advice: Do Self-Help Disembarkation if possible. Trust me; do it.

We are shipping one large bag—almost 50 pounds—home so we must hand it off to “The Baggageman” from the Luggage Free company to whom I have pre-paid a rather large fee to return our evening clothes safely to Kansas City as we spend a few days not needing them in Ireland. He is hard to find because he stationed himself outside the building, away from everyone else who was meeting people with a sign with their name on it. BaggageMan.JPG

We roll our other two carry-on bags to the meeting place where Nick Young, our pre-arranged driver, awaits to speed us off for a tour of Stonehenge before returning us back to the Southampton airport for our 3:05 flight to Dublin. NickYoung.JPG

There awaits the beginning of the next chapter of our adventure.

Posted by paulej4 05:17 Archived in England Tagged queen mary 2 Comments (2)

Stonehenge

Rain, cold, wind; amazing

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Stonehenge BBC2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbrOLjkd8CA

Five thousand years ago. Think of that. Fifty centuries ago, human beings—if you rule out the theory that “the aliens did it”—took a supposed one thousand years to build this stone circle. For comparison purposes, the much grander Pyramids of Giza were, probably, under simultaneous construction by peoples who had no knowledge of each other’s existence.

Much of what was done here is still here, albeit modified over time, rebuilt by different waves of ancient peoples. Stonehenge1.JPG

Research indicates that Stonehenge consisted of 30 standing stones, “sarsens,” which encircled five huge stone arches arranged in a horseshoe shape—they probably didn’t refer to that shape in that way because I would imagine that this was created long before somebody got the idea to make shoes for horses.

Also on the site were two more circles made of smaller “bluestones.” One of those was inside the horseshoe and the other was inside the outer circle. Don’t forget the four “station stones” that were outside the central collection. To top it all off, there was—and it remains so today—a surrounding circular ditch and bank.

Nobody knows how they did it. These stones are just too big and too heavy. The largest of these stones come in at just under fifty thousand pounds. As with other amazing sites such as this one, there is no quarry nearby from which these stones could have been acquired. One source is twenty miles distant. However, the “bluestones” were sourced, we think from 140 miles away. These stones were all carved, a process which would have taken thousands of hours. But then, thousands of hours isn’t a lot when you ponder what has lasted thousands of years. Stonehenge2.JPG

We are here in October. It is not the best day because it is raining hard, it is quite windy and it is cold. And, it is crowded anyway. The best day to be here—if you don’t mind crowds of about 20,000 friends—is certainly June 21 (the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere). On that day and only on that day the sun rises over the “Heel Stone, a large “sarsen” which stands outside the main cluster. On September 21 (the shortest day of the year) the sun sets over the same stone. Are we looking at a calendar of sorts?

It is, and this is proven, a cemetery site. Approximately two-hundred bodies are buried here. We don’t know who they were or why the were given the honor—or suffered the indignity perhaps—of being interred here. If it were any more inclement, we might have been interred here as well.

Posted by paulej4 05:17 Archived in England Tagged stonehenge Comments (3)

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