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Adventure getting to the Queen Mary ship in New York and days onboard, 2022

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Saturday, April 30 – The Queen Mary II

Our Granddaughter, Sara drove us to the airport playing the theme from the movie Titanic, as if we weren’t already nervous enough, and then when she dropped us off she hugged us more than usual saying “What if I never see you again?” I thought “We who are about to die salute you . . .”

She was still in her pajama bottoms with a sweatshirt hoodie top. Such attire is now common everywhere, but it reminded me of what trips to the airport were like when I was a child. Suits and ties for men and Sunday dresses for the ladies were de rigeur because Airports were really special then. Our whole family used to visit the Savannah airport periodically just to watch the planes take off and land, and we’d dream about flying somewhere, someday. Now it’s pajama bottoms and sweatshirts and no visiting the gate if you don’t have a ticket. Even at The Bluegrass “International” Airport at 11 in the morning.

At the bar we had our ‘settle-me-down’ wine and shared an appetizer of chicken tenders with bleu cheese and honey mustard dipping sauces. The chicken was coated with panko crumbs and the dipping sauces were surprisingly good. Lots of bleu cheese chunks and spicy honey mustard. Much better than I expected and a precursor to the epicurean delights in store for us.

Our flight wasn’t until 1pm so we had a long uneventful wait in the gate area. Uneventful, except for dropping a full pack of tic tacs who immediately scattered as far and wide as possible, and hid under as many chairs as they could reach before I could count to ten and shout “Here I come, ready or not!” So there we were on our hands and knees in the Bluegrass International Airport trying to round them all up. Then we dumped them all in the trash (that’s probably why they hid in the first place) and unbeknownst to us a nice young man wearing a UK Soccer sweatshirt went to a little hole-in-the-wall convenience store on the concourse and bought Georgia a replacement pack. How very nice of him. There are a nice crop of student athletes nowadays.

I noticed that he was wearing shorts and had tattooed a sentence of some sort around his thigh, partially hidden by his shorts. I have no idea what it said but it’s fun to speculate. What sentence would a handsome young man tattoo around his upper thigh? Hope it’s something he still feels comfortable with in 20 or 30 years. I remember that my dad had an old girlfriend’s name tattooed on his chest before he met my mom. When they met he took a knife and scraped the name away. At the beach the scars were still visible 40 years later. I suppose it’s easier to erase tattoos now with lasers but I doubt it’s painless. Me, I wondered if I should turn him in to the TSA. After all they kept warning us every few minutes “Do not accept any packages (or tic tacs?) from someone you do not know; report them to the nearest law enforcement officer immediately!” Had we obeyed I’m sure this miscreant would have been thrown under the jail. Exploding tic tacs? Oh the humanity! This kind of dastardly malicious kindness simply cannot be tolerated in today’s world. But happily for us, this would not be the last time that a “nice young man” looked out for us on this trip.

Our seats on the plane were just behind first class with wonderful leg-room and a few free Scotch-on-the-rocks. I guess because we were close to the special people onboard the plane some of their luster rubbed off on us.

The Charlotte airport was huge. Much bigger than we expected, and it did take at least 10 minutes to walk from the E Concourse to B. The flight from Charlotte to LaGuardia was on a huge plane though there were a few empty seats. Like the one next to Georgia. But I didn’t get a free scotch and I wasn’t going to pay 9$ for one either! So I had to fly “unsettled.” We called the Springhill Suites when we arrived and they sent a small bus for us. Another couple, Scott and Debbie were waiting as well. “You going on a boat tomorrow?” she asked. “Aye, Aye,” we said, so right away we met some other “Queen Maryites.”

Our room at the Springhill was nice, with its own little living-room area and two TVs. Hungry, we walked around our Queens neighborhood looking for supper. That was eye-opening. Thought we were in an Italian area so looked for a good pizza joint or Italian restaurant but the one we found had obviously changed hands and been turned into a little tienda market with a couple of cold cheese pizzas and lots of Mexican food. None of it looked as good as the canopy-covered taco-stand offerings we passed on the sidewalk. So we went back and got four little soft steak tacos with all the fixings. Yummy! but I’m really glad we ate the same thing. Our breath would have singed each other’s eyebrows otherwise. So then off to bed dreaming of the bounding main tomorrow.



Sunday, May 1

I woke up at 4:30 for my normal call of nature and couldn’t go back to sleep. It was already getting light outside. New York City is farther east than Lexington of course. I read the gossip-news on-line and did my Wordle and Quordle then fidgeted enough to wake up Georgia. Got a shower and fetched coffee from downstairs and had a breakfast of waffles, oatmeal, and a boiled egg. Might as well start training for our over-eating extravaganza. Saw Debbie and Scott. She said she’d seen photos of the Queen Mary docking, so knew it’d arrived in New York city. It hadn’t occurred to me that it might not be there. I guess it had to come from somewhere else too.

We had asked to be ferried to the ship from the Airport. That was supposed to happen at 11am. So we’d asked the hotel shuttle to carry us back to the airport at 10. Nervous Nelly that I am we actually caught the hotel shuttle at 9:30. Given what happened, we could have just waited until after lunch—or better yet we could have just started walking toward the docks in lower Manhattan pulling the suitcases behind us and gotten there sooner than we did on our various shuttles. The New York city-streets were full of bikes and joggers for the 5-boroughs bike race. We saw them clearly as we were inching along Interstate 878, or as we called it “The Queens Expressway Parking Lot.”

But I get ahead of myself.

As I said, we caught the hotel shuttle to the airport about 10 and arrived at the LaGuardia Welcome Center at 10:15. We saw two other Maryites there. We all had the same sort of luggage tag—supplied by Cunard so that our bags could be delivered directly to our rooms when we got on board. Is that cool or what? We started schmoozing and getting to know each other. Joellen and Ken were from Tupelo Mississippi. “Yes, indeed. It is a small world.” They were “Crossing” again, not cruising, which only “carnivalesque” boats do, to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary two years late. Ken seems to have Parkinson’s or some other degenerative disease. He said he’s retired from financing and investments but really misses his work. He loved his coworkers and his customers and misses the day-to-day interaction. He was not the only neurologically handicapped person we were going to see on the ship.

The time passed quickly and soon it was 11am. No shuttle. But now there were 15 or 20 of us waiting to board. The airport rep said that the shuttle was supposed to come sometime between 11 and 12, “there was some sort of bike race going on.” So we settled down and schmoozed some more. About 11:30 Georgia got worried and called Cunard. It took a while to get the agent to understand the issue. She said she would check, and after a long hold came back to say that the bus was on its way. We waited inside the terminal another 10-15 minutes then went out to the curb to await the imminent arrival of the shuttle bus.

After another 10 or 15 minutes, Georgia said she knew our names were supposed to be checked off some list or other, so went back in, leaving me outside with the bags in case they did this “checking-off” outside. We always cover all the bases, doncha know? After another 15 or 20 minutes neither of us got checked-off. Twelve o’clock came and went. No shuttle. But several more couples had arrived from somewhere. It was clear that our group now was not going to fit on the typical little 10-15 person shuttle-bus we were seeing. Afraid of being left, people started jockeying for a position close to the curb. More phone calls to Cunard from others in the group. The word was that the shuttle was on its way but some sort of bike race had the city streets snarled.

Twelve-thirty came and went. The Natives were definitely getting restless. One o’clock came and went. I know the telephone agents were sick of hearing from each of us individually. Oh, the rumors, oh the grumbles. There is no more naturally “entitled” group of people than elderly, rich, white, toutist-folk—Cunard’s target audience.

And then Halleluiah! At 1:20 a large blue bus arrived to load us up. Our poor eastern-european driver was left to load several tons of baggage all by himself. The amount of luggage our little entitled group brought was staggering. But, who cares? We were on the bus and on our way from Queens to lower Manhattan, about 3 miles away, at 1:30. Piece of cake!

Almost immediately we ran into trouble. Very slow traffic and many irritated drivers switching back and forth trying to find a lane that was moving faster than the one they were in. Even the shoulder was turned into another ‘lane.’ And as we crawled along we saw police cars forbidding anyone from driving along perfectly empty surface streets. In desperation cars were even backing down entrance ramps trying to get out of this log-jam. But the police cars stationed there stopped them, so the jam just got bigger. Nothing worked. No relief. We crawled along at the speed of a crippled man on a walker. Bike race. Hah. I Saw a kid peddling his little training-wheeled bike down the centerline of the empty street below two or three times faster than we were traveling.

And so the first hour passed on the bus. But that was ok. We had until 4pm to check in at the pier and now it was only 2pm. And then it was 3pm and we had only moved another half mile. We started passing the various cars who had run out of gas and were now blocking the (ho ho) expressway.

Just another 30 minutes or so and we’d make it onto the island of Manhattan. Then we would just need to get down close to the docks. But we were still crawling. Then miraculously the traffic started to clear. No one cheered for fear it would jinx us—but we heard that the race was over at 4pm and the traffic was starting to break up. In the distance we could just see the Queen towering regally over the surrounding warehouses—and then mirabile dictu, we were there beside her—4pm on the dot.
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Off the bus, the dock-workers said to leave the luggage—it would be delivered to our rooms, but lots of the people were now gun-shy. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” So they waited to grab their wheelie-bags and steamer trunks planning to drag them along like over-weight security blankets. Not me. I was glad to have someone else take charge of them.

In “Security” we were asked to show our boarding pass, our passport, our shot record, and our proof of a negative Covid test within the past 48 hours. And now, God knows how, our numbers seemed to have swelled again. Imagine one hundred or so elderly, infirm, technology-challenged, entitled tourists trying to find their electronic records: “It’s not my phone, sir. I don’t know where the PDF screenshot of your vaccination status is to be found.” “Excuse me, sir, NO! you can’t just skip this step!” And then we are ushered through the bag-check—very similar to all the bag-checks at all the airports of the world. Same x-ray machines; same befuddled travelers showing their passports and boarding passes again. Then shepherded through another slow-moving line snaking towards a counter with 8-10 agents. At 4:30 we had only made it about half-way to nirvana. At 5pm on the dot we made it to the head of the line and showed the agent our boarding pass, passport, shot record, and our proof of a negative Covid test within the past 48 hours yet again.

The agent then took our photo and compared it to the photo on our passport, then affixed the photo to our room key-card (that we would also use for all on-board purchases) and pointed us towards a mysterious nearby doorway. . . .



To be continued
 
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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Sunday, May 1 – continued

The doorway led down a short hallway then through other doorways and eventually up an inclined walkway that turned into the Queen’s gangplank. (I’ve always wanted to walk the gangplank!) The Purser at the ship’s doorway told us that our luggage and cabin key would be waiting for us outside our cabin door. We were in 5139, which meant deck (not floor) 5, cabin, not room 139. (Doncha’ love all this nautical terminology!) All the even-numbered cabins were on the starboard (right) side of the ship. We were in an odd cabin on the port (left) side. That was us—odd as always. (As an interesting aside: Didja’ know that the term “POSH,” comes from the ideal English sailing accommodations? “Port Out, Starboard Home?”)
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On the Queen Mary II, there were a total of 12 decks and 1600 passengers on board, just over half of a full complement of 2800 passengers, with more than a thousand crew, cooks, servers, and entertainers as well. Everywhere we went it seemed like we passengers were grossly out-numbered by staff. And most of the staff appeared to be immigrants. I’d say that most were from the Philippines, or India, or Africa, or Pakistan, though I caught a few Slavic, and German (or Nordic) accents as well. In any event, the service was truly impeccable. It made you feel like the Lord and Lady of the manor.

We were resting in our cabin at 5:30 getting ready for casting off at 6:30. Our room steward, ‘Jeanette,’ from the Philippines (?) welcomed us by name and told us to watch the safety video playing on our TV and report to our muster-station on deck 7 with our cabin key/identity card to fulfill our safety check requirement.

Our room (cabin) was wonderful! A large, comfortable king-size bed, small TV affixed to the wall, writing desk and chair, sofa with little coffee table; but best of all, with a small balcony, the same width as our cabin, probably 8 or 9 feet, and two deck chairs.
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The first thing I did was check out the balcony to see the watery sights and managed to lock myself out of our room. It was 50 or 60 feet down to the water and the steel walls between me and the balconies on either side discouraged any heroic adventures to save myself. So rapping gently, then louder, then pounding on the glass door I managed to get Georgia’s attention. She couldn’t open the door from the inside any more than I could from the outside. So she turned around to try to find ‘Jeanette.’ Rapping on the glass again I pointed out that I had both cabin keys in my possession so she needed to be careful leaving. She used a slipper to block the self-locking cabin door open while she ventured out. As you would expect, Jeanette had no problem at all unlocking the balcony door, rescuing me, and giving me that ‘Oh sure, sir, I completely understand how you locked yourself out there’ look. She then left and I tried the door again. Locked. It wouldn’t open. I found her in the hallway (passageway) and told her about the re-offending door. She gave me that same Oh sure sir look and assured me she would let maintenance know about the problem. I thought I should also mention to her that I couldn’t get my cabin door key/card to work consistently, nor could I get the toilet button to flush consistently either. It was like those “swoosh” toilets you find on airplanes. She gave me that same look, unlocked our door easily and “swooshed” the toilet twice for good measure. “Certainly sir, I understand completely.” That was how I dispelled in her the idea that I thought of myself as entitled. Instead, I gave her the idea that I was an idiot. Or I merely proved it.
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We’d been told that our supper reservations at The Britannia were at 8 pm. So we went out on deck exploring. We kept going up every time we found another ladder or stairway to climb. Around deck 11 we saw signs saying that “this area is reserved for Queen’s Deck passengers.” Figuring that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission we ignored the prohibitions and kept making our way up and towards the bow (front of the ship). It was all so smooth you could only tell we were underway by looking down and watching the water slip past, or by watching Lady Liberty “Lift her lamp beside the Golden Door.” As we glided by her the ship let off three enormous blasts in salute! Oh my goodness; it still gives me goose bumps to remember. They were so powerful you felt them more than heard them! The only thing that could top the thrill of this moment was to climb up on the railing at the bow and lean into the wind, but my sweetie thought that might not be a good idea. So I just settled for taking some nice photos of the impending sunset and the Manhattan skyline, then explored the ritzy area some more. It was pretty much the same as the other decks but with more sky.
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Starving to death we visited “The Golden Lion Pub” way down on deck 2. It was obvious that we were going to get a lot of exercise just hoofing up and down the stairs from 5 to 7 where we could go out on the promenade deck, and where our favorite cafeteria was located, and down to 2 and 3 where the theater and The Britannia restaurant was located. There were elevators, of course but the number of people allowed was restricted because of Covid and I still suffer from mild claustrophobia and prefer the stairs. So Georgia sometimes took the elevator if she could find an empty one, but I would just used the stairways. They were very elegant and there was nice artwork in all of them. There were four main stairways, A through D, located in the bow, amid ships, and the aft (doncha’ just love all this nautical terminology?)

Down in the Golden Lion we found a nice table next to a large window (larger than a ‘porthole’) and enjoyed our $11.50 wine and Johnny Walker on the rocks. At those prices we sipped. Looking for more benefits we asked for some bar snacks: they brought us ‘crisps’ nestled in a paper napkin artfully placed in a large martini glass. They sure looked like potato chips to me, but they were very welcome none-the-less. Hardly filling, but excellent for stimulating our already roaring hunger. Remember that we’d been expecting to arrive hours ago and have lunch.
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Faint with hunger we arrived a few minutes early for our 8pm dinner appointment, were seated, and handed our menu, detailing our choices of appetizer, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. We could have as much or as little as we wanted. Two entrees if we wanted. Three desserts even. Georgia had the breast of duck, with a smoked chicken appetizer and salad, with apple tart in custard sauce for dessert. I had the steak in pepper sauce, bean soup, and tiny shrimps in a salad, and lemon meringue tart for dessert. It sounds excessive, but the portions were moderate and we had a pleasant conversation with the couple seated at the next table. Sharla and Rick from D.C. who traveled up to “The City” on Amtrack on Saturday and stayed at a hotel near the Brooklyn Bridge. Their commute to the ship was moderately challenging. Their first Uber driver couldn’t get through the traffic snarl, but the second, living closer, had no problem and they then breezed to the boat with none of our pain.

After supper we discovered that our cell phones were not going to work out here on the ocean (where were those darn cell-towers when you needed them??) I guess everyone at home will just have to putter along without us for a week. If you think you’re indispensible, take an ocean voyage. Using the shipboard wifi we were able to send out emails to let people know we were alive and underway, and that they should look out for each other while we were gone.

What a day. Slept rather log-like.



Monday, May 2

Up early. It was really bright for 5am. We couldn’t figure out how to turn on our in-room coffeemaker and Georgia has a problem anyway trying to make coffee before she has had her coffee. Consequently it’s generally my morning job to fetch the caffeine. But this morning we were presented with a much more pressing problem. Cunard provides an onboard app that lets you keep tabs on your room charges. I thought I’d better look to see how much last evening’s drinks cost. That’s when I saw that at 2am someone had charged $80.50 on each of our cards! At 2am! I like to have died!

Down the stairs to deck 3 we went. There was a line of people at the Purser’s counter. Judging by the excited chatter we were not the only ones stunned at these very early morning charges. Then I overheard people far in front of us saying that the charges were for the gratuities we were expected to pay to the staff. But rather than charge us day by day, Cunard charged us for the entire voyage all at once. Whew! What a relief. So abandoning the line we headed for the stairs again and up to 7 for coffee at the “King’s buffet.” Georgia preferred the elegance of the Britannia restaurant where we ate last night, but the formality (Good Lord man, I can put a napkin on my own lap!) made me crazy. And why did the waiter have to keep adding and then taking away different eating utensils? A fork is a flippin’ fork fer cryin’ out loud. The relative informality of the “King’s Buffet” was much more to my liking. It was to become my favorite place to eat. I could just go foraging down the lines to see what looked good rather than trying to imagine from a menu what each dish was going to be like. On the buffet there was a wonderful selection of everything: fruits and cereals, breads and muffins and croissants, eggs (anyway you like them) and 5 or 6 kinds of sausages and breakfast meats. There was yogurt and bagels and cream cheese, jams and jellies, honey and juices from everything that could be juiced. I got musili; added nuts and seeds, topped it all with yogurt and an assortment of fresh and dried fruit. Georgia got little portions of everything they had on offer! I told the waiter we wanted cappuccino and floated back to our little table in a glassed-in alcove where we had a tremendous view of the early-morning joggers and walkers wheezing around the promenade deck with a rippling ocean as backdrop.

After breakfast we joined those self-same joggers and walkers and got blown around a good bit. It wasn’t as smooth out on the deck as it appeared to be from our breakfast table. So we cut the walk short and visited the ship’s library, located on deck 11 and tried to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the ship. We learned that even with four staircases it was almost impossible to get to our stateroom from any of them except C and when you’re on any of the other staircases you can only get to C by walking along decks 3 or 7. If you are a passenger, that is. The staff, of course, seemed to have secret passages. I know because I opened a door marked ‘private’ just to see what was there.

To be continued
 
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Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Monday, May 2 – continued

The ‘private’ doorway led to an un-carpeted stairway landing and strictly utilitarian metal stairs leading upwards and down into the depths of the ship. Like the underground tunnels at Disneyland this must be how the staff could move easily around the ship without having to worry about which particular stairway they were on and without running into guests. All of the guest rooms were located on the outer rings of each deck. That left most of the interior of the ship free for staff and supplies, plumbing and kitchens, and little things like the propulsion and electrical system for this whole little world.

At 2pm we had a late (delicious) lunch of snacky sorts of seafood and Italian veggies, but the star of the meal was the lemon mousse. It was smooth as silk and so light I swear it floated off my spoon. Then we took a lovely nap on the sundeck, which was on the aft promenade deck by one of the swimming pools. I’d brought my swimsuit in hopes of swimming but it was just too windy and cool. But the sun was perfect and they’d built low ‘walls’ around the perimeter of the sundeck to partially block the incessant wind. After all, we were traveling twenty-something knots on a light sea. There was a small contingent of hardy souls in the hot-tub yocking it up.

After our nap (and working on our tans) we took another walk to build up a little appetite for our 3:30 “Tea” on deck 2. We were, after all, in serious training for the WWEG, the “Wretched Excess Eating Games” and one needed to have a little appetite if one was not going to humiliate oneself in the competition.

At High Tea we were seated with Bryan and his mother, Gloria. Extensively traveled, he wanted to visit all seven continents. I asked him if he thought of Asia as a different continent from Europe. The question seemed to confuse him. Or perhaps he just thought it impertinent. I’m glad I didn’t ask about the status of Australia: continent or island? His mother was thrilled that he’d asked her to come along on this Crossing, (not a Cruise, remember?) He reminded me of one of the characters Don Knotts played on the old Steve Allen television show “What? Me nervous? Nope!” He couldn’t keep his hands still. Said he’d retired from computer work with the Air Force Reserve. He’d just visited Morocco recently. Wanted to visit India. Helped the Air Force withdraw from Afghanistan. I guess he has every right to be jumpy. There was a lady playing the harp and competing with the conversations gradually increasing in volume. I vividly remember the guard in the Sistine Chapel bellowing “Silencio!!” every few minutes to get the packed crowd to quiet down and respect that sacred space. I wouldn’t say her harp playing was sacred, but it was more than competent, and it must have been frustrating to know that you could play “Ninty-nine Bottles of Schnapps on the Wall” instead of “Clair de Lune” and no one would know the difference.

Gloria was pleasant but vague. I think she probably couldn’t have made the trip without Bryan’s help. When they got to Southampton, they were just turning around and sailing right back. Evidently there are quite a few people who do that—especially those with some level of neurological compromise. The ship, after all, makes a spectacular floating “old-folks home.” Wonderful meals, wonderful service, 24 hour medical care if you need it. Lots of nearby shops if you’re in the mood to buy, and not really more expensive than the exorbitant costs of elder-care establishments in the US. Plus you’ll never get completely lost walking around on an ocean liner.

At the “Tea,” the company was congenial but the scones & clotted cream and little sandwiches, and little bite-sized pastries were “meh.” The Twinings English Breakfast Tea was actually the best item. I haven’t had decent scones & clotted cream since we visited York in 2017. Georgia loved the little jars of Strawberry Jam though and liberated a couple of them.
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Afterwards we visited the Sotheby’s art gallery on board. They were offering a Salvador Dali print, lovely melting clock statue, and his Danseuse. There were also lovely little Picasso and Monet prints. All of them were in the $35,000 euro range. I would have loved to be able to afford any of them, if only I had a place ritzy enough to require that level of opulence. There was also a less expensive collection of contemporary paintings lining the walls. Not to compare with the stars you know, but nice. All for sale, of course.
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In the late afternoon we went back to the Golden Lion for another wine and Johnnie Walker, though tapping into my own senior moments I accidentally said “Jack Daniels,” and had to pretend that that was what I wanted all along—Uncle Tony Nemetz’s favorite libation, JD. I guess I’d been thinking about him.

A father/son duet played Irish and Scottish Jigs and Reels. The son told us how to recognize the difference. (I hope I remember this correctly) A Jig’s rhythm sounds like “Rashers and Sausages,” and the rhythm in a Reel sounds like “Bacon and Banger” or at least that’s what my Jack-Daniels-addled brain heard. He said that it was no wonder this style of music always made him hungry. They were very good together and held the audience in the palms of their hands.

We left a little early to walk to the ship’s theater to see a very high-energy song and dance troupe. Wore me out just watching them. The show was kicked off by the captain introducing himself and his senior staff. He then gave us the weather report in England for when we dock: “30C” (warm). People clapped: “Yeah, that’s 15 in the morning and 15 in the afternoon.” (laughter)

The principle female singers looked like sisters or mother/daughter and their voices blended beautifully. The “hoofers” were all young and extreeemely energetic. Broadway hopefuls, I’m sure. This gig is probably good endurance training. Given the audience it’s no wonder most of the music and dance would have fit perfectly on my grandmother’s favorite show, Lawrence Welk—with flashing laser lights and fog machines instead of bubbles. Once they started, the poor performers didn’t take a break for nearly an hour. I didn’t know whether to develop a sympathetic leg cramp or fall asleep. I chose the latter.

But woke up hungry and found a late-night place called the “King’s Galley,” where they had nice late-night-type food. We got a delicious cheese pizza with arugula and a beer. We saw that the captain and a couple of his senior officers there also, conferring in an out of the way spot. Afterwards, we headed back to our cabin for a goodnight cup of Twinings tea and one of those little chocolates they leave on our bed each evening. Nice day on the sea.
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Tuesday, May 3

Up early again and off to the buffet for breakfast, then off for a brisk walk around the deck, interrupting a safety drill for the crew. While they drilled I explored, and hung out in the library where I found a book recommended by Kirby and Maryellen: Peter Tremaine’s character, Sr. Fedelma; sort of a female version of Brother Cadfael. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I learned that the easiest way to get to the library is to take the glass “scenic elevator” from deck 7 promenade. The water is a gorgeous Grumacher Gray with hints of iceberg blue in the wake, and being on deck 11, the ride up to the library gives a glorious view. There are chairs by the large windows where you can sit and read and love the view of the water. The sky is threatening rain, but last night on his regular evening talk the captain said we are in a sweet spot between two storms. One in front of us and one behind. We should have pretty smooth sailing all the way to Southampton.

Two observations: In many respects the Queen Mary II is like a floating retirement home. The crew is young and vigorous, of course, especially the entertainers, but the passengers are almost all over 65, with most in their 70s (like us), or more. That’s when people might have the disposable income plus desire for travel, and if your health is relatively good, you like being in a ‘hotel’ that takes you places. For the most part the women are in better shape than their male partners, who frequently seem slack-jawed and frail. I guess women are at more risk during child-bearing age and men are more at risk the rest of their lives.

Second: It is very easy to get (temporarily) lost on board the ship. Four stairways look pretty much the same, ABCD, numbered starting at the bow. Those are the vertical passageways. The decks 1-12, numbered from the very bottom up provide the horizontal passageways. But not all decks are continuous or connected with all the stairways. They are frequently interrupted by bulkheads or rooms of one sort or another (like restaurants). Deck 7, where the outside promenade is located is the most useful shortcut for passengers. It connects with all the stairways and then you can head either up or down.

The more elderly and frail passengers seem to travel exclusively inside the ship, seldom or never venturing out on deck. You’ll often find them in one stairway or another pointing left (port) or right (starboard) in confusion and studying the map on the wall arguing about where they are, and where that is in relation to where they want to be. For them, deck 3, stairway C is apparently the central hub.
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We had lunch in the Britannia again. Fish sandwich and chicken Tagliatelle (with a hint of nutmeg). Dessert of rum-raisin ice cream and apple tart with cinnamon ice cream. At 2:30 we went to hear a classical guitarist named Tom Gamble. He was great. The songs were all unaccompanied and very peaceful. You could see the heads drooping all over the theater (including my own). It really was lovely and we will come listen again tomorrow. He remarked several times that he had CDs available.

After the concert another afternoon tea but this time in a different room. It was much larger, and therefore more quiet—or we were in a more out-of-the-way corner. Anyway, even the food tasted better to me. There was a chocolate covered chocolate mousse. It could have only been more chocolaty if it was served on a chocolate dish and eaten with a chocolate spoon. For supper we had room service, which was free (can you believe it?) and drank our little bottle of complementary champagne. Who knew that champagne was the recommended pairing with a pulled pork and black bean quesadilla? Georgia’s hamburger and fries weren’t quite so perfect (read ‘tough’) but even so we had plenty to eat and fell asleep easily.

I’ve noticed that’s easy to do on a ship.



To be continued
 
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Georgia & Zig

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Wednesday, May 4

Up early again. This time to go to the 8:30 Mass being held in the planetarium. According to the Covid rules the communion hosts could not be handled by the priest so after the prayer of Consecration we were each given a little package of Protestant communion grape juice with an unleavened-bread cracker on top. We only consumed the host and left the little ½ oz. cup of unconsecrated juice on the stage where the altar was located.

There had been a Mass the day before and Covid rules had forbidden people from receiving communion from the priest’s hands. Complaints were made, as you might expect, and Cunard delivered a compromise in the form of a box of communion supplies just this morning. The Franciscan priest, Father O’Neill was in his 70s or 80s, I suppose. He gave a nice homily on St. Francis’ battles with his father. I guess parents have always wanted to control their children’s lives—but Francis stripping off all his clothes in the courtroom and handing them back to his Father shows a real dramatic flair.

Afterwards we hurried to the library to print out the tags for our extra suitcase with all our ‘ship’ clothes to be returned to Lexington when we docked. It was a little challenging, owing to the need to open my email program, Copper.net, but we made it, then were off for our lunchtime walk then back to the room where we had a message from the good friend of an old friend. We arranged to meet at the chartroom lounge where we had been earlier this morning. It seemed like a nice place to sit and talk.

Melissa was very nice and brought her new friend, John, along with her. They met here on the ship and instantly bonded as the two youngsters of their singles group. She was retired from UGA’s veterinary school where she directed their continuing education program—helping vets stay current in their fields. She also decided that it was better to collect ‘experiences’ than ‘things’ and downsized dramatically. She’s on her way to England to meet up with her grown son who’s studying history in Rome. It’s his junior year. He’s been using the GI Bill to go to school while still in the military. They’ll head to London, then she’s going on to Ireland to join up with a Globus tour of Dublin to Galway and south around the Emerald Isle back to Dublin.

Our mutual friend was married to my dear fellow philosophy graduate student, Rodger, a badly wounded Vietnam vet. He’d lost most of both legs in a ‘friendly fire’ action his first month in-country. He would describe for me what it was like lying on the ground looking at your pant legs ‘over there’ with your legs still in them. And yet, when we first met, he told me that losing his legs was the best thing that ever happened to him. Before the service he was a 17 or 18-year old Golden Gloves champ: “I would have ended up a small-time thug in Memphis Tennessee” he said when both of us were pretty far into our cups. It sounds like his final years were hard though, self-medicating with alcohol. I know it must have been especially hard for our mutual friend, who had the additional responsibility of trying to mother Rodger’s son from his first marriage. His first wife had been a beloved teacher at the University and died a long lingering death from cancer. Their son revered her and found it hard, I’m sure, to accept a ‘new’ mother. And Rodger, I’m sure, was in constant pain and suffering from PTSD. The casualties of war often arise years after the conflict and sometimes involve family members as collateral damage.
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Georgia and I had supper at Britannia at 7:44. It was good as usual, but honestly the best part of the meal was the cheese and biscuits course with little dessert treats. The prime rib was tough. The shrimp and spinach with rice was bland. But the cheese was amazing.

Then back to our room.

Thursday, May 5

Wished our son Jason happy birthday using Facebook’s Messenger. Have no idea if he’ll get it, but I know he got the card we sent before we even left.

Went to the 8:30 Mass again, then to the library to email everyone. Father O’Neill told us the story “every Franciscan uses in at least one homily.” St. Francis was in the habit of hanging around the ‘newbies’ in his order. He told a group of them that he was heading into town to preach. Did any of them want to go along? They all did, of course, but he only chose one of them and off they went. A little way down the road they saw an old women sitting sadly on her stoop. “Are you ok sister?” “No, I’m not. My husband died some time ago and it still hurts me.” St. Francis went over and sat down with her for 30 minutes or so and just listened. “May I leave you with a blessing?” he asked. She said he could so he gave her a blessing and the two Franciscans went on their way again.

They saw a man trying to load a pile of sticks on the back of a donkey. The donkey wouldn’t stand still and the sticks kept falling off. So Francis stopped to help. When they got the donkey loaded Francis left the man with another blessing. Then they came across a group of boys playing some early version of soccer. They were spending more time squabbling than playing. “It looks like you need a referee,” said Francis, who stayed and refereed for an hour, then left the boys with a blessing and walked on with his novice. “When are we going to get to town to begin preaching?” asked the lad. “We preach the gospel constantly,” said Francis, “And sometimes we use words.”

And now this trip report will start to take on the character of Roz Chaz’s “Cat’s Diary,” “Ate, Slept, Walked, Played.” Over and over each day. We had our normal delicious breakfast, each with our favorite foods. Musili and yoghurt for me, Croissants and breakfast meats for Georgia, both washed down with steaming cups of Cappuccino. Then walking, and another visit to the library to look out on the sea. Then rambling inside and outside collecting wonderful snippets of dialogue: Woman in shrill, exasperated voice to her befuddled companion: “For heaven’s sake, Henry, take off your mask. TAKE OFF YOUR MASK!” They were out on the deck in the wind, you see.
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Couple on one of the 4 stairways: Woman: “Where are you going!?” Man, “This is the way we want to go.” Woman: “No, it’s not, that way goes to the front of the ship.” Man “That’s where we want to go.” Woman: “No it’s not! We want to go to the back of the ship!” Me, I have no idea where they wanted to go, but my money is on the stormy woman, rather than the partly cloudy man. He had that vacant expression you see around the ship frequently. Whereas the few ‘under 50’ guests we saw seem glued to their smart phones.

At the afternoon tea the pianist played Strauss’s Radetzy-Marsch as the waiters all marched in carrying their trays. Georgia was captivated! And we clapped along with the other patrons. During the tea he played lounge-lizard music, “Girl from Ipanema,” “Autumn Leaves,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” etc. etc. etc. All in a jaunty rhythm. My Dad would have loved it—it was right in his wheelhouse. He would have whistled along as he really was a remarkable whistler.
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After another delicious supper at Britannia, (“Yes, of course I need you to put the napkin in my lap. . .”)
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we met Melissa and John again in the chart room at 8:30. John is a returning Catholic, having spent much of his life as a Presbyterian. Our lives outside the church and then our years as Methodists provided for some interesting conversation as we all saw the different (and similar) trajectories of our lives. The jazz piano and string-base duo was good.
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The drinks were excellent, the company was even better, and the conversation topped it all. Such nice people. They are everywhere, aren’t they? If you just take the time to listen to each other’s story. The photos of his home were beautiful. He too plays piano, and has a gorgeous Steinway, a beautiful clock collection, and a little statue by Rodin.

As Chaz’s cat would say, “What a great day!”
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Friday, May 6

Father O’Neill told stories about St. Joseph of Cupertino today. As a boy he led a Marian procession and levitated while carrying the cross. He thought he was doing something wrong so ran home ashamed. The Franciscan brothers went looking for him and brought him back. He was known as the Dumb Ox because he wasn’t bright enough to become a Conventual Franciscan in the normal way. He pleaded with the brothers to just let him take care of the horses and clean out the stables. In all, the church recognized 71 separate acts of his levitation. In the most dramatic the head of the order had to order him, under his vow of obedience, to come back down to be interviewed by Pope Urban.

Several turns around the deck then a nice long perusal of a library book on masterpiece paintings through the centuries. Inspirational to see how many went unappreciated in their own lifetimes, yet persevered. How disheartening it must have been to stand alone believing in yourself. Maybe when I get home I could become more disciplined in my painting. If I’m lucky I should still have several more years of productive work.

Tea time was good. Nice warm scone. We’ll have to have a late supper. There was a string trio, Violin, viola, and cello. One of the pieces they played was the baritone solo I played in high-school for my beloved Ben Sinkus, The Flower Song from the opera, Carmen. I hope I can see him again someday in heaven. It brought back memories and made me wonder what my life would have been like if I’d followed music instead of breaking my head against Chemistry, Math, and Physics trying to live out my father’s ambition of being an engineer.

Having our afternoon Wine and Johnnie Walker I couldn’t help but overhear a twenty-something girl trying so hard to impress her blasé male companion. I think it would be awful to be a young woman swimming in the dating pool right now.



Saturday, May 7

No church this morning. The vigil Mass will be at 5:15. No breakfast either. I’m still full from last night’s supper. Georgia had lobster. I had goose breast. I think her lobster was better. The waitress cut it open for her. My goose was kind of tough. Not because it was overcooked but because it was a goose. The star of the meal though was the escargot appetizer we got. Lots of butter and garlic. Spectacular.

We are close to port. The ship has slowed down because there is much more traffic. We’ve seen small boats on the water and for the first time since leaving New York we’ve seen seagulls and even pieces of seaweed floating on the surface. The water is glassy smooth.

Lunch at the Golden Lion pub listening to the Bingo caller trying to drum up some enthusiasm: “O69, reads the same way upside down!” Tom Hanks was playing Mr. Rogers on the TV in French. I could only catch a few words. France in July is going to be tough. This evening we need to pack up all our stuff and put our cases in the hallway.

We’re definitely approaching England now. The weather is swinging wildly. One minute sunny, next minute we’re fog-horning our way through a cloud bank.

Father O’Neil, always surprising, led off his vigil homily by talking about one of his favorite movies (!?) Pretty Woman. That made us all sit up and take notice . . .

To be continued
 

Georgia & Zig

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Saturday, May 7 (continued)

At the vigil Mass Father O’Neill kept having to open more and more of the little “protestant” communion cups and wafers. He remarked that it’s always a good idea to book a room that looks crowded rather than a big room that looks empty. He also mentioned the Julia Roberts movie, Pretty Woman, where Richard Gere says to her “If you cry at your first opera you will love opera forever.” Then Father O’Neill said that he thought the same sort of thing happened in Broadway plays. The first play he ever saw was Camelot on Broadway in the early 60s, and it made such an impression on him. He identified so strongly with the minor character Tom of Warwick.

King Arthur has been betrayed by his wife and his best friend and is on his way to fight a hopeless fight. His young page, Tom of Warwick approaches the king with a wooden sword.

“What are you going to do with that?” the king asked.

“Fight for you, my lord.”

“And if you get hit in the chest?”

“Then I will die for you my lord.”

“No,” says Arthur. ”Kneel, Tom.”

“If the King tells you to kneel, you kneel,” said Father.

Then, taking Excalibur Arthur taps Tom on each shoulder and says “Rise up, Sir Tom of Warwick. I charge you with living. You are not to die in this battle but to go home and live out your life telling everyone you meet that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” Father O’Neill said “Don’t you know he lived out that charge? And if he did that for an earthly king how much more is due the King of Glory?

Father had tears in his eyes after that, and with a nervous laugh said that he “needed to calm himself down” before he could continue with the Mass. What an arresting homily. We Christians are all called to be another Tom of Warwick telling everyone we meet that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment where Heaven walked the Earth.

After the service we walked to the Chartroom again for our wine and Johnnie Walker, and to listen to the jazz duo one more time, then we headed to our room to finish packing. We put our bags out in the hallway for docking tomorrow. I’ve never seen such a big ship docked. I was looking forward to seeing how it was accomplished.



Sunday, May 8

I woke up again at 5:30 and went out on our balcony to look at the sights. We could see the marshes slipping past. We were in a river channel leading to the port of Southampton.
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I wanted to see the ship actually pulled up to the dock so headed for the bow. There I met Ken, a dapper slender man with just a hint of his original Irish brogue. The morning was chilly so he was holding his suit coat collar closed with one hand trying to keep his neck and ears out of the cold breeze. He and two friends had made the crossing together to celebrate their working for Cunard in the 1970s. He told me about making a crossing in the QE2 during a hurricane when the ship was being hit with 80-ft waves. “The ship was hogging and sagging.” ‘Sagging’ is when the peak of a wave was at either end of the ship, and ‘hogging’ is when there’s a peak amidships and both ends are unsupported. The hull of QE2 was steel so that wasn’t a problem but the superstructure was primarily aluminum and the flexing and crushing cracked the superstructure metal and caused windows to pop out. When the ship crashed down in the troughs it would throw people out of their bed. The extra anchor, stored on the forward deck, was thrown loose and crashed through the bulb extending from the bow below the waterline. The ship started taking on water. Not a lot, but filling up the forward paint lockers. The captain decided to put in at Boston instead of New York. The crew loved it—a new place to explore with a new tenderloin district. To repair the leak, the engineers flooded the aft ballast tanks to raise the bulb completely out of the water so that they could weld on a patch.

At the height of the storm one of the guests approached the Captain nervously to tell him he should call the Coast Guard and ask to be rescued. “Madam, if the Coast Guard was out here we would be rescuing them.”

Ken said there wasn’t a lot of food consumed on that particular crossing though there was a tremendous amount of rum consumed. After the voyage, the Boston newspapers wanted a spokesman to make some comment. There was one elderly “Lord HaHa” on board, noted for having a very young wife to prove he wasn’t gay. Ken said that he came out to the microphone to say “It was so rough I went airborne crossing my stateroom and my dear little wifey said “Boopsie, isn’t it rather early for you to be drunk already?”

Ken’s father had driven race cars in the early 1950s and had won a number of trophies. He was bringing them back to England to share with other family members. His brother had recently died in London of Covid and being only 18 months younger he realized that life was very fragile and temporary.

He’d seen on the internet that the actual Sunbeam his father had driven was auctioned off. He contacted the woman who’d bought it to see if she’d like to buy the trophy he’d won in that car for 300 pounds (about $400). She did, so he was delivering it to her in person.

As we passed a Norwegian Carnival (Party Cruise) boat Billy and Ken scoffed: “That ship’d never make it across the ocean in a storm!” There was a great big playground on top. “Can you see the QE2 with an amusement park on top of her?” they snorted. They were not impressed with the elaborate flowery decoration painted on the side either. “It looks like they parked it in a dark alley and the spray-paint ‘artistes’ got to it!” they said.
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Billy was from Glasgow and the two of them went on about how small the regional accent areas were. They had a sort of discussion (I couldn’t completely understand everything) comparing different accents from very small villages and areas. That lead to a discussion of local soccer team loyalties and how fierce they could be. “In the US fans of the different teams can sit next to each other and still cheer for their own side. That could never happen in Great Britain” they said.

Bill told me we should go to a game; not necessarily to watch the game so much as to watch the fans. “All that hostility during the game and then ‘poof,’ it’s switched off at the end—just like the violent protests I went to in Barcelona where the rioters had to have a permit and when the time was up they just quit and went home.” It’s a very different kind of rule-following than we have in the US.

Ken and I went up to the observation deck to watch the final docking using the forward and aft thrusters to actually ‘spin’ the ship into the dock without needing a tugboat. That brought the ship close enough to the dock for the deck hands to heave a ‘light line’ to the longshoremen on the dock, who then hauled the light line to pull a heavier line that then pulled huge ropes to serve as Spring lines and Dock lines. The ‘Dock’ lines hold the ship to the dock while the ‘Spring’ lines fore and aft keep the ship from moving back and forth along the dock. It was so much fun to hear the stories and have an expert tell me what was really going on.

Our time to disembark was 8:30 and it was effortless. The luggage from different decks was identified by different-colored tags. Easy-Peasy. We forwarded one piece back home and took the other two to the taxi rank. The first cabby we encountered didn’t want to deal with a credit card. Said his card reader wasn’t working (lie). I didn’t give the second cabby a chance to refuse us. When we got to the station he didn’t want euros or credit cards. I told him he’d have to choose one or the other. After a quick calculation he took euros and gave himself a generous exchange rate. Oh well. I didn’t have to buy ‘pounds.’

On the train from Southampton to London/Waterloo we made room for a couple of chubby girls standing in the aisle. Virtue, as they say, is its own punishment. The girl crowding me on the bench seat had the most annoying voice I’ve heard since Gilbert Gottfried. Half of what she said consisted of the word “like.” The content of her monologue (you couldn’t call it a dialogue—in a dialogue at least two people get to say something) it consisted of complaints and gossip about her co-workers and some poor sod named “Roger.” I never could be sure whether Roger was her son, her boyfriend, her husband, or her dog. But I do admire him. He must be really special for putting up with her. “I’m over, like, 35, but I’m not, like, 40. I’m like somewhere between, like, 35 and 40.” (Thanks for clearing that up.) “I’m a, like, nice person. I don’t, like, understand their attitude, like, they cut us off for, like, being loud. I didn’t think we were, like, that loud, but then I was, like, drunk.” (Can’t you just picture this scene at the bar?)

Thank the good Lord we arrived at Waterloo before I snapped. The situation was made even worse because she was sitting directly under a sign that said “Quiet Zone” and no one else was talking. Even worse was the fact that according to part of her filibuster she was an ex-pat American and working as a school teacher. Cringe!

In Waterloo, though, we encountered an angel. A young man, named Sami, who was working in customer service. We showed him our ticket for Southampton connecting with another train to Lille, traveling through that amazing English Channel Tunnel. The “Chunnel.” I had a friend once with the nickname “Chumley,” spelled Cholmondelly. She said that if the Brits had kept the United States, Niagara Falls would have been called “Niffles.” Anyway, Sami was a customer service rep and I asked him where we should catch this next train. He said that it was leaving from Kings Cross/St. Pancras. We needed to catch bus 59 at Euston station and walk 3 minutes to St Pancras.

Or maybe we were supposed to walk to meet the King at Euston station, Or perhaps we should look for St Pancras with King Eustace on bus 59? Something like that. He must have seen the look on my face and decided (like the nice young man at Bluegrass International Airport) that we were ‘customers’ who definitely needed his ‘service.’ God bless him. He said “Go and sit down over there, gesturing toward a bench on the concourse. I’ll be right out.” He then had to go talk with someone in a back office—probably a supervisor—“Wait here, I need to go check something out first . . .” So we sat. He was back in about 5 minutes and said, “Follow me.” Anywhere, I thought. He led us by a very roundabout way to a bus stop we never would have found on our own where he had us sit while he talked with the bus driver. He spoke quietly but I heard him say “This elderly couple . . .”

I loved it! The driver welcomed us onboard as if we were his grandparents and dropped us off a few minutes later at the Euston St. bus stop with strict instructions to take bus 91. No other bus. And get off at Kings Cross. “Bus 91!” “No other bus!” “Bus 91!” The screen beside the stop said bus 91 would arrive in 5 minutes. And it did. (Why can’t we have busses and signs like that?) But when it arrived the bus driver gave me to understand that the ticket I was proffering was not a bus ticket—but rather a tram or subway ticket. I told him what the other driver had said: “Bus 91! No other bus! Bus 91!” He shrugged. I shrugged. He shrugged again. We went and sat down. He shook his head and drove the bus away from the bus stop.

A very cute little dark-skinned girl sat across from us, smiled shyly at me, and waved a little wave. I smiled back and waggled my fingers at her. She waggled her fingers back at me. 4 years old is a magical age.

At Kings Cross/St. Pancras we found the international station and joined one queue after another. It was much like getting on a realllly big airline with thousands of other passengers. There was a baggage check, “Yessir you can leave your belt on,” Passport and shot-record check (2 of them in fact—one for leaving England and, for good measure, one for arriving in France 20 minutes later). And in between there was one long snaking queue with hundreds of people in surprisingly good moods. And then we were on the train and speeding toward that watery International Border . . .
 
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Pauline

Forums Admin
Continued in the France Trip Reports forum.

 

Pauline

Forums Admin
For the most part the women are in better shape than their male partners, who frequently seem slack-jawed and frail. I guess women are at more risk during child-bearing age and men are more at risk the rest of their lives.
I think it is because women tend to marry men older than they are. Steve is 8 years older than me (and not frail). I used to think that women kept healthier than men in older age but I’ve been reading a lot about auto-immune disease and it hits women much more than men. I blame our complicated hormone system.

The “Chunnel.” I had a friend once with the nickname “Chumley,” spelled Cholmondelly. She said that if the Brits had kept the United States, Niagara Falls would have been called “Niffles.”
Yes!

Great trip report! I love all the details! Looking forward the the next section.
 

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