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Ft. Lauderdale to Copenhagen
May 1, to May 15, 2005
Kenneth G. Ramey
The flight from San Francisco left at 10:20 P.M. My wife and I drove from Paso Robles to EL RANCHO MOTEL in Millbrae where we arranged to spend the night on our return trip with the understanding we could leave the car there for two weeks, free.
The Motel Transport took us to the airport.
Check in was a breeze. Of course we were early, but we also were the only ones in line at check-in. Darlene asked for and was given bulkhead tickets that allows for more leg room for me. I am 6'3" tall, 76 years old, and in the process of geriatric decay. My wife is 65, as agile as a cat besides being just 5'6" tall with a body of a college coed. She fared better than I. She even was allowed to spend some time in the cockpit before we took off, and had she a camera would have had her picture taken.
We flew DELTA to ATLANTA, and from there connected to Ft. Lauderdale to be met by Princess-representatives. I hate red-eye flights, especially requiring connections. I cannot sleep because of my size, and the time drags. Darlene tried every possible position before she finally settled on the floor between the seats and the bulkhead robbing me of a place comfortably to put my feet. But then, what are "god-damned jewels for?"
The transfer to Ft. Lauderdale was made without a problem. We gathered our luggage, loaded it on a cart, and pushed it to a 'Chile's' where we could keep and eye on it while we had a modest meal. Then we returned to where we were to wait for the bus that was delayed because the Coast Guard was checking out the ship. Our wait was longer than expected. Lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll. Security at the ship was tight, but we were up-graded to an outside cabin with a balcony that pleased my wife. We were one deck below the LIDO where there is always an abundance of food, and conveniently located near a laundry room, but also above the screws. It worked out well.
With rare exceptions, ships sail precisely on time. The STAR slipped her lines on schedule and wended her way to the Atlantic through a narrow canal. Sunbathers waved as we slipped silently by close enough to communicate. We veered NNW, and must have dropped the pilot somewhere on the briny before heading for the Azores some 5000 miles away. Yes, ours was to be a Trans-Atlantic crossing before we visited the Azores, Southampton, England; LeHavre, France; Rotterdam, Holland; Oslo, Norway, and end our voyage in Copenhagen, Denmark. We'd sail a circle-route at about 22.5 knots.
It was a cruise the sort of which appealed to me. I expected to relax after our ordeal of dealing with lack of sleep, etc. The accommodations were adequate if not elegant. The bunks were big enough for Darlene, but a bit shy for me. We had plenty of closet space and a safe. The bathroom was smaller than I would have liked, but OK. I found I could shower by simply doing a pirouette in the enclosure. Our cabin Steward was wonderful; another homesick Filipino with two more months to go before he would be home. He put three balloons and a HAPPY ANNIVERSARY sign on our cabin door. Nice guy.
My favorite ship was the ROYAL PRINCESS--at 45,000 tons with comfort and room for everything. The Star was 109,000.tons with a library as large as a postage stamp. Four decks were solid cabins, and I didn't bother to check them out. Still, the ship had its amenities, and the crew was wonderful as always. Service was as expected, and the food good. Our table companions were well chosen. Weather was superb except for two days of rough seas, but only a few drops of rain in London to add to the atmosphere. Every other port was sunny.
Except that is, at the Azores. There the seas were so rough the port was closed, but a single ray of sunshine gave us a glimpse of the greenery of the scenery. I expected the seas would be rough from there to Southampton, but such was not the case. For two nights before the Azores I was tossed unmercifully in my bunk as if someone was shaking me by the shoulders; the rest of the cruise was on more gentle seas. Our cabin location over the screws may have added to the rough ride as the ship snaked roughly from side to side in swells that rose to as much as 20'. The stabilizers prevented any roll, however.
Once aboard, my legs gave out when we hustled down seven flights of stairs to our muster station. Darlene helped me through the lifejacket drill that except for her would have been chaos. The baggage had been delivered to the cabin of first choice before we had been upgraded, and we had to make do for almost two days. Finally, Darlene checked the first assigned cabin, found the luggage, and had our steward deliver it to out new digs. We had no luggage problem at all after that.
We slept in mornings, and went to breakfast on the Lido, one deck up, and helped ourselves cafeteria-style to whatever we wanted. I always took some bacon, and two sausages, two fried eggs over medium, and two pieces of banana-nut bread. Darlene would get my coffee using half hot water and the other half coffee, leaving room for plenty of milk. I never tired of it. Darlene eats like a bird, perhaps some cold cereal and a cup of tea. The greatest challenge was finding a table, but Darlene seemed always up to it. Having eaten late, we seldom ate more than two meals a day with perhaps a slice of pizza to tie us over, or another modest trip to the Lido for pieces of cake and cartons of milk.
The STAR had three formal nights, and on two of them Darlene and I were treated as special because of our anniversary that was on May 2. They came with a wee chocolate cake and a mixed rendition of Happy Birthday and/or Anniversary. Who cared? The second time we kissed the cheek of the waitress who would not be convinced that we had already gone through this once before - on our real anniversary - and that was that; all very nice. We lose about an hour a day cruising east at between 21.5 and 23.5 knots. May 3rd we are five hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time. Sea depth according to the bridge was 12000 to 14000 feet. Temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees F. at this latitude.We passed a sailboat going in our direction seven miles to starboard, and put it hull down in five minutes.
May 3rd was another perfect day, and we were 25 miles north of Bermuda, but the Island was not to be seen. The horizon ahead portended heavier weather ahead, and for the next two days we endured swells of up to twenty feet coming from the starboard tangent, the cause, I suspect, of the bumps we experienced when one hit the side of the ship too frequently for comfort. The Atlantic had come alive. It caused us to skip
Punto Delgada. That was the end of our discomfort. It was smooth sailing from there on.
After the first formal dinner, Darlene went to the theatre production, and I went to our cabin. Rest seems to be helping my legs improve. I walked more easily today. I turned in early, and didn't hear her come in. However, because we went to afternoon tea, and I drank caffeinated tea, I woke frequently all night long, and sensed - more than I knew - that I had to endure another of those persistent and forgettable dreams that annoy, but never amount to a nightmare. They just pick up where they leave off. C'est le vie.
Arrived for breakfast at 9:30 and discovered that tables were easy to come by. I guess we are not the only ones to sleep late. Then we visited the BRIDGE; an enjoyable treat. Afterward, Darlene did her thing, and I took a nap. She was out when I awoke, so I took a walk down the corridor to see where our original cabin was. At that point the smell of nicotine was very strong. I quit smoking more than 35 years ago, and can't stand the smell of a burning cigarette. It was not a problem in our new quarters. I also checked out the launderette, and discovered it took a dollar to do a wash, and as much to dry a load of clothes; certainly worth the convenience.
From Punto Delgada we sailed east to clear the island, then NNE toward the English Channel. As we passed the mouth of the Bay of Biscay that separates France from Spain and is known for its roughness the sea was calm, and so it remained for the rest of the cruise. We docked in Southampton the morning of the 9th. Half the cruise was behind us. I had crossed the Atlantic. Weather looks fine; blue skies with just a few small clouds. The harbor was lovely, like a river with branches that can handle any number of ships of all sizes. The terrain appears generally level with considerable tree cover. I could imagine why the colonists took to the East Coast of America.
Our tour to London begins about 12:30 P.M. We sail for LeHavre, France at 10:00 P.M., set the clock ahead another hour, and be ready for our tour to Rouen by 7:30 A.M. The landscape is not unfamiliar. Farmland looks much alike wherever it is. The exception is the Netherlands that is more level and married to the sea, what with its canals and all, and less tillable land, at least that we were able to see. Oslo reminded me of the San Francisco Oakland Bay Area with hills overlooking the bay. And, as it turned out, the temperature there was the highest - 67 degrees F - of any of the ports we visited.
London is quite a city! Very compact in its center but with a girth of 46 miles including the suburbs. The Thames surprised me too. It is more than 240 miles long, but is still tidal as far as into the city of London. Most everything of consequence is on its banks, or near 60 miles from its mouth. London's scale was every bit as grand as I expected, but compressed into a remarkably functional and fascinating core where each block seems to expose one prominent ornament after another. I was much taken by the architectural beauty, but discovered that all the places we visited were equally as attractive, and unique, often going back eight hundred years or more.
City streets are narrower compared to our boulevards, and I wondered at the skill of the bus drivers who took them all in stride. We got just a peak of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace that, had it not been for the guide, I never would have known. It seemed so much less ostentatious than when seen in pictures. I could see now why it was that the Royal Family waited at the gate to fall in behind the cortege of the funeral of Princess Diana, and walked to the cathedral where the service was conducted.
Space is at a premium, and is reflected by the architecture that squeezes buildings together into slender structures of four or more stories. Even the attics are used, and the chimney pots so prevalent above all reminded us of Mary Poppins. Businessmen all were well groomed, and each carried his brief case that caused us to wonder if they were for real, or for lunch. Our last stop in London was at the Tower of London of ancient vintage. It was not as imposing as one might think, but it surely was adequate for its intended purpose, with narrow windows and surrounded by a moat. Then it was through the rush hour of traffic, with its many motorcycles and bikes, till we reached the highway that led to the port.
In LeHavre we passed on the tour to Paris in favor of Rouen. We had lost an hour when we crossed the channel, and the tour time was 7:30 A.M. It was a short night. We followed the river Seine as far as Rouen ('roo-an' in French) where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. Country architecture differed slightly from that in England, and steeples let us know where farm villages took the place of individual farmhouses. Crops, however, were essentially the same, with great patches of yellow where, when harvested, the product would be Canola oil, described as a substitute for motor fuel.
Rouen is an ancient city with an abundance of antiquity; narrow streets, many churches, distinctive architecture, and a cathedral of considerable fame. By contrast, shops, cafes, residents; all possessed qualities of modernity beneath the façade of the past. It was the only town in which a driver expressed any anger at me as a pedestrian. I thought he had stopped to let me pass. C'est le vie. As in England, and all of the ports we visited, buildings were built to completely occupy an entire block four or five stories high. Some of these had magnificent toppings. Advertising was modern in the extreme, using beautiful models immodestly dressed just across the street from the Rouen cathedral.
The cathedral was under repair. Centuries of pollution had taken its toll on the stone carvings of the exterior, many of which had been removed and placed inside to protect them from further decay. The interior of the sanctuary was a wonder unto itself; vaulted ceiling, side sanctuaries, stained glass windows that go back centuries and lend a light to the whole that truly is enough to inspire even those who, as am I, an agnostic. I loved it. Suffice it to say the day was well spent roaming the byways of Rouen. And we even located a restroom we could use without cost near the market.
Except for several remaining older districts whose character reflected that of other cities we visited, Rotterdam is exceedingly modern. The STAR was moored at the foot of a most unusual bridge of rare beauty. It is named the Erasmusbrug, and nicknamed the swan. Erasmus was the Humanist Cleric whose religious philosophy produced the egg, it is said, that was hatched by Martin Luther and contributed to the Reformation, and Counter Reformation. Our tour crossed the bridge where we were introduced to both new areas and some of the old, including the church from which English Protestants or Puritans boarded the Mayflower to sail to the New World. It was located next to one of the canals that led to the port and out to sea. The Puritans may have been surprised, as were we, to learn that Holland had legalized prostitution, according to the tour guide.
Next we boarded a boat for a quick tour of the harbor, a trip hardly worth mentioning, except that Darlene got a great picture of some water traffic beautifully framed by the under-curve of a bridge and the rail of our conveyance. We docked in front of the STAR, and re-boarded it. Shortly a tugboat pulled us from the dock, stern first, for a distance of more than a mile into an inlet from which the STAR could proceed under its own power with a pilot down the channel to the North Sea.
Towards the English Channel shipping increased. The waters of Rotterdam were the busiest of all. I never saw so many craft, on which families lived, making way in limited space, mostly pushing barges, each with an automobile lashed to the wheelhouse for land transportation when needed. Ocean traffic increased on our way to Oslo, Norway, but with an ocean of difference so far as space was concerned. Our ride was comfortable over moderate seas, and by the morning of May 13th we docked in Oslo in a reasonably sized bay, and found two other cruise ships already berthed. Oslo, as I said, reminded me of the Oakland, San Francisco Bay area with its hills overlooking the bay, sans the bridges of course, and on a much smaller scale. The city was quite American by all appearances.
Oslo is a more open city, the buildings not so tall, and generally separated, so that the tour was less baffling. Moreover, the weather was superb. Seeing us off at the pier that afternoon was a troupe of men who charmed us with chanties of the sea done with gusto and good humor; passengers were delighted.
At 3:00 P.M. we thrusted our way from the dock at the same time as two other Cruise lines began their egress from this delightful land. We sailed single file down the fjord many miles to the open sea where each chose its way to wherever it was headed. One happened to be a past ship of the Princess line (the CROWN PRINCESS) renamed the Cera/BLU. We crossed the Kragerrak, the sound between Norway and Denmark, and disembarked in Copenhagen early in the morning with barely a memory to savor before being hurried to the airport. There we checked our baggage through to San Francisco, hopped aboard the commuter to Munich where we caught our Lufthansa Flight of twelve non-stop hours home.
We departed the gate precisely on time, and landed in San Francisco accordingly, after having been fed two meals (I elected to eat just one, but shared some of the second with Darlene). Takeoff was at 3:40 P. M., and landing in San Francisco at 6:20 P.M. the same day having passed through nine time zones, daylight all the way. The plane was full carrying 372 people, including passengers and crew. We gathered our luggage and were picked up by the Motel Transport and delivered to our room for the night in front of which our car had been parked. The next day drove home to Paso Robles with only a cracked windshield to mar an otherwise memorable occasion.