Friday, December 17, 2010

Recollections: The Sea and me (part 3 of 3)

This will be the third and last part of my posts on the sea (please see last two posts.) In my last post I finished by saying that I thought that when I retired it was time to go on a sea voyage. So when I retired in January 2008 I started in earnest to look at cruise deals. I found one on the Golden Princess going from San Pedro, California, to what they called the “Mexican Riviera.” This was for a week with stops in Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas. We went and my husband loved the cruise even though he had many reservations initially.

Aboard the Golden Princess in April 2008 - Click on picture to enlarge

Very often we would be on deck and were the only ones there. You can really tailor a cruise to your taste – be with other people, be active, walk or read alone. We did not have to constantly open and close suitcases, look for a restaurant or worry about transportation. Everything was provided. My husband was ready for another cruise pretty quickly. Since this first cruise in April 2008 we have been on seven more. And hopefully there will be more cruises in the months or years ahead as I am always on a lookout for a good deal. It turns out that budget wise it is more economical to go cruising.

Vintage postcard entitled “Sailing” - 1906

When the ship stops in a port we can either go on a small excursion or more often just walk around by ourselves. I study the ports in advance so we can decide what we would like to do and see.

Looking at our ship from a distance

In November 2008 there was a much reduced “special” offered by Cunard for an eleven-day cruise to the Caribbean on the Queen Mary 2 (I think because it was right after Thanksgiving.) We drove to Fort Lauderdale in Florida on Thanksgiving Day and stayed overnight in a hotel which had a special internet rate. On board the QM2 reading on deck or in the library, which is in the bow, looking ahead to the sea with just a couple of people around, is one of the most peaceful and profound experience bookworms like us can have. The interior décor of the QM2 is quite luxurious resembling the Victorian age, with art works galore. The cuisine was superb. I liked the afternoon tea in the Queens Room with tables laid with white tablecloths, silver service and china. Sometime I’ll get my photos together and write a post on this great ship.

Aboard the Queen Mary 2 - click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture

The QM2 stopped in Curaçao, Netherland Antilles, and the islands of Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia, St Kitts, St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and also 3 days at sea – which for me were a real treat. I spent many weeks researching each port and found some local excursions, more reasonable than what was offered by the QM2. For example I had read that Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park in St. Kitts is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the best preserved historical fortifications in the Americas. I booked a trip there with a small local tour company. We were 6 people. Once at the fort we were left alone and told to meet back in 3 hours. The place was quasi deserted – no tourists. The tourists were shopping, on long excursions or buying assorted souvenirs far away from us. It was heavenly. My husband went to the top of the fort and I just walked around, all alone taking pictures. This was a day never to be forgotten. I’ll write a post on this someday. The sense of peace, of history all around me was extraordinary.

Brimstone Hill Fortress, St Kitts (built between 1690 and 1790) - click on collage then click again on each photo

Apart from the cruises we still manage little trips, like one to St Pierre et Miquelon, the not well-known French islands in North America, off the coast of Newfoundland (see my first post on this trip here where my heading picture is of the ferry.) We also took an old riverboat on the Savannah River last September and, on a trip to New York City, the ferry to Staten Island.

Staten Island Ferry in New York City and riverboat on Savannah River, Georgia

At the end of May 2009 we went to Alaska, first traveling on land and then back to Vancouver, Canada by sea on the ship the Island Princess. This was such a beautiful voyage. I wrote three posts about it so far (the first one is here on Anchorage, then here on Mount McKinley and the last one here on Denali National Park and will write several more. The Princess cruise line had sent me a special rate in early January 2009 which included the round trip by air to Alaska from Seattle, then 3 days in a lodge, going to Denali National Park, returning to the port by train then seven days down the coast. I could not have organized this trip for less, actually it would have cost quite a lot more.

on board the Island Princess in Alaska, June 2009

Coincidentally as I was looking at my pictures for this post, I found a photo that showed that while we were on the Island Princess we had passed the Norwegian Sun – the very ship we took last month to go to Central America.

Passing by the Norwegian Sun in Alaska, June 2009

During my research in early 2009 I had found out that the Norwegian Cruise Line had sold their “classic” (read “older”) ship "the Majesty" to Greece. This ship was making his last cruise out of Philadelphia in September. AirTran airlines had a special sale for flights from Atlanta to Philadelphia for about $118 each. This was an eleven-day cruise starting in September 2009 going to New England and the Maritimes of Canada. The ship stopped in St John, New Brunswick, in Sydney, Cape Breton Island, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in Portland, Maine plus 4 days at sea. The scenery was superb. Again, should I have organized such a trip on my own we would not have been able to afford it.

Aboard the Majesty in Canada, September 2009

Earlier when we had returned from our trip to Alaska I saw a great offer on the Web (for US citizens only.) We were going to France in the fall anyway and the MSC, an Italian cruise line, was offering a seven-day cruise on the Mediterranean. You could choose the port of departure. We took a train from Paris to Marseille in late October 2009 and boarded the Splendida two days later (so we could enjoy Marseille a bit.) The ship stopped in Barcelona, Spain, in Tunis, Tunisia, in Messina, Sicily, in Rome and Genoa, Italy before returning to Marseille. The ship was brand new having been "baptized" in July 2009. It was a very large ship but we were often quite alone. Many children were on the ship but one could not tell they were even there.

Aboard the Splendida off the cost of North Africa and postcard of the ship, November 2009

In January of 2010 our blogging friend from Norway, RennyBa, invited us to a “Blog Gathering.” We had enough frequent flyer miles on Delta to have one free round-trip fare and I found another one on sale on Air France (the same flight.) Being so early in the year I was able to book what is called "the most beautiful voyage" along the Norwegian Coast on the Hurtigruten Line. Their ship the Lofoten is also considered “classic” with no cinema, swimming pool and other luxuries but it is comfortable. The scenery is what is important. So last August 2010 we went on board the Lofoten in Kirkenes, a northern town close to Russia and north of the Arctic Circle (my first post on this voyage is here.) We stopped in dozen of little picturesque Norwegian ports loading, unloading merchandise and passengers. The Lofoten is not a cruise ship; it is a small cargo ship with passengers. There were about 6 US citizens only on board.

Aboard the Lofoten in Norway, August 2010 - click to enlarge pictures

Our seventh cruise ended less than a month ago. We drove to Cape Canaveral in Florida and boarded the Norwegian Sun, which we had seen on our Alaska trip last year. This was a seven-day voyage stopping in the island of Cozumel, Mexico, in Belize, in Guatemala, in Key West plus a couple of days at sea. To give you an idea this cruise, for a stateroom with view, was about $585 each, plus taxes of course, but that was less than $85 each a day for room, all meals, transportation, activities and entertainment. I search pretty hard for deals and usually find them on the Net at great discounts.

The Norwegian Sun, Cozumel Island, 15 November 2010

I am not sure where we will go next – I guess where there is a good offer and an interesting itinerary. I enjoy watching the sea but I also like to listen to the other passengers, sometimes. There was not a room really dedicated for reading on the Norwegian Sun so we went in one of the lounges where we could have a good view of the waves. Then a group of pious seniors from Indiana came in the lounge. They were a church group and started to talk about their religion on a loud speaker. My husband told me this is called “witnessing.” (This is something we did not hear on European cruise ships.) The Norwegian Sun had a large amount of passengers from Germany so much so that all the announcements were made first in English, then in German. Some of the German passengers asked a senior man from Texas sitting nearby why there were so many religious zealots in the US. We were not sure where the conversation would lead so we later moved to another part of the ship. It is rare that we cannot find a secluded area on a ship.

At sea on a deserted deck of the Norwegian Sun,14 November 2010

To conclude I’ll say that in a way I have had a privileged life. I do not mean financially, but I was able to do many of the things I cared about passionately, like being close to the sea and traveling. My mother told me when I was little that if there was something I really wished for I could always make it come true, and I did. So that this post won’t be too long again, as I write my posts in the future I’ll explain how I managed to go to … let me see now…51 countries and visited some of them many times each.

Painting by Alberto Beniscelli, Italian, 1870-1952

This is not boasting. I worked hard and had my priorities, which were my family, my profession then my interests. Here is an example – once a friend of mine working in the tourist industry asked me if I would be willing to do a job for her as a tour guide of sort, after work. It was to guide a group of French surgeons and doctors to the best Atlanta restaurants. They were here for a week attending a conference seminar. She said that they spoke very little English and wished to go to the top 5 Atlanta restaurants. I needed to select the restaurants, wear tasteful and elegant clothes, translate the menus, eat with them of course while talking about Atlanta’s history, and would be paid $100 per evening, then go home after the meals. ($100 in 1990 is about $200 now per GDP calculations.) So I did and it was much fun – intelligent conversation and good food! I had already a round trip ticket to Paris to see my mother. Delta working with Singapore Airlines was offering at the time a trip from Paris to Singapore with 2 free stops for $450. So I grabbed the offer and after visiting my mother went to Singapore and stopped in Jakarta, Indonesia (with a side trip to the island of Bali) and Bangkok, Thailand. Voila une méthode.

Painting by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky, Russian (Armenian originally named Aivazian) 1817-1900

Now we finance our trips with our Social Security and as long as we can depend on it, we’ll be able to travel. However I have been quite worried after listening to what the government is doing lately. I wrote to my representatives to tell them about my worries. The present cuts in payroll taxes will undermine the Social Security Trust Fund, please read about it in the AARP article here and in the National Committee to Preserve Social Security here. This is quite serious.

Clouds over the Sea, also by Ivan Aivazovsky, same as above

Now that we are retired my husband and I jump and go when we find great travel offers. We are getting on in age and we never know what the future holds. I always feel that we make our own decisions by our choices; we have control of our thoughts, our acts and consequently are masters of our lives, at least in the western world. When something does not work out, we must forget the problems and try something else to achieve the goals and get satisfaction. We just need to be true to ourselves. Why wait and have regrets? Before I left Paris I worked in a music publishing company that distributed the songs of Edith Piaf, the well known singer. I saw her several times singing “Je ne regrette rien.” (I regret nothing. ) My preferred lyrics might not contain the same words, but I don’t regret anything either.

Edith Piaf singing "Non, je ne regrette rien." circa 1960 and Marion Cotillard in the movie "La Vie en Rose" (on Piaf's life.)

Note: picture on top of this post is a beach on Cozumel Island, Mexico taken 15 November 2010


Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

I smiled when I read that your husband initially wasn't sure if he would like a cruise. My husband was exactly the same. It turned out it was the most relaxing time we'd had in years.

I'm drawn to the sea also and miss my little waterfront cottage on the Sea of Abaco. It is warm there right now. What was I thinking when we moved from the sea to the mountains? I'd give anything to be able to dip my toe into the warm turquoise water this moment.

Joyeux Noel to you and your family.

DJan said...

How fabulous! Now I know I might actually enjoy a cruise, although I've still not been on one. My friend Judy and I are planning to go this spring when the ships are transferred from the southern areas to Vancouver, BC. I loved this post, VB, and now I am excited to try a cruise!

Margaret said...

So fascinating and this has wetted my appetite for cruises. Hard to get away now with 6 kids - We travel all together in a minivan - not exactly relaxing but we toss out the bad memories (the girls complaining of their brother's stinky feet, etc...) and keep the good (all of us singing songs together). Can't wait to see in more detail the places you have been. Thank you for your posts and photos. :)

Bill said...

Such beautiful memories of the ocean. I never knew you could have such variety while cruising. Really enjoyed your perspective, it is much different than mine. Very nice, easy writing style. Thanks.

RennyBA's Terella said...

What a wonderful and readable post of sea round trip collections! Not only are you a true vagabond and collector, but also a great story teller!

I'm glad I could tempt you to come to Norway too and very happy and proud to have you on board at the Oslo Blog Gathering 2001. Your participation and positive spirit made it a success!

Diane said...

What amazing photos. I wish we could afford a cruise but even at special prices they are way beyond our pocket. South African pensions and the exchange rate are not a good idea!! BUT I agree with Edith Piaf I have no regrets. Diane

Kay Dennison said...

I sooooooooooo enjoy my visits here!!!!! I learn so much and your photos are glorious!!!!

Jeruen said...

Wow. You've traveled a lot, and it's just by sea! I'm impressed, and hopefully I get to travel as much as you have! I enjoyed reading your trilogy about the sea.

Pondside said...

I enjoyed both of these recent posts. We share an attitude, I think. I never thought I'd enjoy cruising, but a trip on a Russian river boat in 2006 changed me mind. Since then we've cruised around Cape Horn and over to Japan. Now I'm looking forward to two weeks in February from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

It is amazing and awesome how much you have traveled--especialy by boat in recent years--all over the world! And these cruises sound so very wonderful. I have never taken a cruise and it was always because I felt it would be a confinement of sorts...But you and your husband had such great times---You make it siund absolutely glorious....And that you have so many pictures to share...Such a treat, my dear! Thanks so much for the wonderful posts on your love of the Sea.

sablonneuse said...

Having just read your three posts on the sea I think I must have missed out on a great deal of pleasure by being scared of water.
Thanks for your interesting accounts and lovely photos.

Lonicera said...

What a lovely post - I've never thought about cruising much, but realise that I see them as busy times when you are relentlessly encouraged to join in everything under the sun that's going on. Like you, I would want quiet times and nobody around... and no people of whatever nationality forcing me to listen to their beliefs, or politics (or their conversations on mobile phones either). But I'm much encouraged by what you've written, and have already been chatting to John about it.
You made it all happen because you seized the opportunity when it presented itself. Most of us are too dithery to do this - and I must admit that on the very rare occasions when I've done this the results have surprised me.
The photos are sensational - I "biggified" them all, as you would say!

Rosaria Williams said...

This was such a treat for me to read. Do share how you research and book reasonably priced trips all over the world. I'm jealous.

lorilaire said...

Des vacances de rêves !
Chez-nous c'est neige et verglas pour le menu de Noël, mais cela met dans l'ambiance !
Gros bisous glacés et joyeux Noël !

Marguerite said...

A privileged life, indeed! What wonderful trips you have taken and those cruises all sound fabulous! I could live happily ever after on a cruise ship! As always, your photos and narrative are outstanding! Happy Holidays, cher! Cheers!

Ginnie Hart said...

Vagabonde, I am so totally mesmerized by you and your life. I think all of us are. We have so much to learn from you. I have a lot of your thrift in me and know that when Astrid is retired, we will find similar good deals all the time, especially if we're still living here in Europe. You are a total inspiration! I, too, love cruises and am eager to find a good deal on a river cruise here in Europe in the next year or two. Have you ever been on one, I wonder? The Norway mail cruise up the coast is still in the back of my mind from one of your previous posts!

I had tears in my eyes watching the Edith Piaf video. First of all, Marion Cotillard really deserved her Oscar for that of my favorite movies. Secondly, knowing this is "your song" will make me feel it all that much more special. I'll always now think of you when I hear Edith Piaf!

Ruth said...

I admire you more than I can say. You have grabbed your life by the horns and run with the bulls! :)

Every photo is beautiful. I especially am drawn to and love the first, the collage of Brimstone Hill (heaven!) and on board the Island Princess in Alaska. My son worked on cruise ships for more than two years until July this year, playing with a band. That was a nice way to do cruises, getting paid. :) I've heard there are many jobs on these ships, even writers-in-residence. Hmm.

I think your research for these trips must be almost as fun as the trips themselves. I find that anticipating something like this is very pleasurable. I am not nearly as in depth as you, but I have researched my trips to Paris and have found much better experiences as a result.

It's really remarkable the cost of your trips for all expenses covered, and so smart to find the excursions on your own, and enjoy solitude.

Whooopeeee is all I want to say, Yay for Vagabonde!

Dutchbaby said...

This is a wonderful post, Vagabonde. I love every one of the photos that you took from the decks and the vintage postcard "Sailing" is simply divine!

I too love cruises. I was fortunate enough to have worked as a cruise specialist back in the early 80's. Believe or not, I was considered part of the entertainment staff when I taught computer skills to the passengers. That was back when personal computers were considered a novelty. I still had my day job in the software business, but all my vacations were on cruise ships.

Vagabonde said...

My Carolina Kitchen - I saw your posts on the Sea of Abaco and can understand how you would miss it, but then again the mountains in North Carolina are so beautiful and they show the change of the seasons. Thanks for your good wishes - I hope you will have a great time during the holidays.

DJan – I know you will enjoy a cruise and if there is anything I can help you with, let me know. I am not that knowledgeable but I have some good Web sites on cruises.

Margaret Bednar – you need to take a cruise with MSC, the children can go free – in Europe at least, and they plan activities for them. Thanks for stopping by.

Vagabonde said...

Bill – welcome to my blog – it is always a pleasure to greet new blogging friends.

Vagabonde said...

RennyBa – our cruise down the Norwegian coast was one of the most beautiful experiences we had, then to finish the trip by meeting you and your wife and all the other bloggers was like icing on the cake. We had a wonderful time and you made it all happen.

Vagabonde said...

Food, Fun and Life in the Charentes, Kay Dennison, Lady of the Hills, sablonneuse, Rosaria, Marguerite – Thanks for visiting my blog and writing such lovely comments. You are always so generous with your comments – my posts are long I know so I appreciate your patience.

Linguist-in-waiting – I have not traveled to the 51 countries by sea, just some of them, but traveling by sea is my preferred way of transportation, then by plane, then by train and lastly by automobile as I am so scared on the road. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Pondside – so you are going from California to Florida on a cruise – I guess through the Panama Canal – that is on my list too. I’ll look forward to your post on this trip.

Lonicera – I think you will enjoy a cruise, but as a first time cruiser you need to educate yourself and do a lot of reading so you will be prepared – maybe go on a small cruise at first. You will like it. Thanks for commenting.

Vagabonde said...

Lorilaire – Pas encore de neige ici – j’aimerais bien en voir pour Noël. Merci pour le com et joyeux Noël aussi.

Ginny – I also would like to go on a river cruise, but since the ships are smaller, they are a lot more expensive. La Vie en Rose was a great movie – I enjoyed it so much, Edith Piaf would have been proud of Marion.

Ruth – Thanks so much for your kind comment. I do enjoy researching all my trips thoroughly – that is part of the total experience. Now that I have a blog I can relive my trips through my posts and have fun all over again. I am pleased that you enjoyed this post.

Elaine said...

I've enjoyed your series on the sea. It's wonderful that you have always found ways to follow your passion to be on the water. Your mother gave you very good advice all those years ago, and she also allowed you the freedom to explore the things you loved. You are fortunate too that your husband found he enjoyed traveling by cruise ship. We too have tried to do as much traveling as we can since we've retired. You never know how long you will be able to, and I would hate to look back on my life and say, "If only we had...." I would much rather have some beautiful memories, and I know I will say I am so glad we did!

Ruth said...

I see and take note of the Aivazovsky paintings now. I think I focused more on your photographs the first time I read!

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