Hunter Valley and the Sunshine Coast

Day 41 Newcastle

Thursday, March 1, 2018

I once met a girl from Newcastle, Australia. Neither of us could walk at the time. She had a fractured femur and I was post-op after surgery on both feet. I’ve often wished we had kept in touch. The only thing she told me about Newcastle was that it is just up the road from Sydney. Knowing nothing more about the place than this, I signed up for ‘The Hunter Valley Experience,’ a tour of some of the best wineries in the region.

Newcastle was a little disappointing after the excitement of Sydney, but we soon left the town behind and reached pleasant countryside, with rolling slopes and greenery.  As we drove along the gently winding road within Hunter Valley, we saw one winery after another. Most of the wineries have been in the same family for generations. It reminded me of the vineyards in Auckland, where there are many small wineries, family-owned, the vines originally coming from Europe, the vintners developing them in the New World sunshine.

Here in Australia, Mount Pleasant Winery welcomed us into a large tasting room with plenty of chairs arranged in a crescent. We listened, we tasted, and we learned. Apparently, 2014 was the best year ever for Hunter Valley wines. We were offered the Family Collection wines initially, a little more expensive than I expected. The area is well-known for its Semillon, which they suggested was superior to Sauvignon Blanc. Their Tempranilla Touriga was interesting, but my favorite was the Rosehill Shiraz, offered at $50 per bottle. I prefer Shiraz to any other red wine, so I was delighted with this offering.

We were encouraged to cellar the Rosehill for 30 years for it to be at its most exquisitely delicious. None of us in the room had a life expectancy of 30 years but I suppose we could have bought some for our grand-children. I might have done so myself if I lived in Oz.

Next came Hunter Valley Resort which offered us the best-ever wine-tasting experience. Each wine was paired with delicious food so that we drank and nibbled and challenged our taste buds in a highly satisfying manner.

We began with bruschetta of pesto and tomato served with salt and sugar-cured ocean trout with snow pea leaves and sticky ginger dressing. This was accompanied by a crisp and flavorful Semillon.

Chardonnay accompanied a Caesar salad topped with prosciutto and shaved parmesan. This was followed by steaming platters of penne pasta with vine-ripened tomatoes and baby capers accompanied by a velvety Shiraz.  While we were still smacking our lips, we were presented with a roast beef salad with roasted vegetables and a mellow, full-bodied Merlot.

Just when we thought we were leaving, they brought us a selection of beers to taste, each guest receiving three miniature glasses of beer accompanied by crackers and cheese.  Some of the men happily drank my beer but I’m ashamed to say I sampled the cheese and crackers.

HV 1

By the time we reached Hope Estate, we were all very mellow. Again, we sampled Semillon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Shiraz. This time I drank only the Shiraz. I was saving myself for the visit to Hunter Valley Cheese – just kidding.

The cheese selection was interesting. This is how to put together your own wine and cheese party: a little fresh cheese, made from curd, similar to goat cheese, some Brie, a 5-year old cheddar (yes, really), and a stinky blue cheese, all accompanied by crackers and quince paste.

Serving cheese with quince or figs as an accompaniment has become extremely popular. At home I frequently serve cheese with apricot preserve, or pepper jelly or something a little spicy. I bought a selection of cheese toppings in this genre when I was in Nova Scotia a few years ago. They went down very well with my Fort Lauderdale friends.

Several people in our tour group, who were staying on for the remainder of the World Cruise, bought cheese and relish to take back to the ship. I suspect they were planning lots of cabin parties.

 

Day 43 – Farewell Queen Elizabeth – Hello Sunshine Coast

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Leaving the ship part-way through a World Cruise is always so sad, because so many people are staying on! I never want to leave but leave I must. Bags were packed last night and disappeared before midnight. I had said my goodbyes and now it was on to the next adventure, renting a car in Brisbane and driving up to Mooloolaba to visit my sister, seven years after our last day together when we drifted from coffee shop to café to restaurant on the Brisbane pier.

I rented a sturdy SUV at Brisbane’s international airport and headed north, following the signs for the Sunshine Coast. A friend had warned me that the highway would have a major fork and I should stay right for Mooloolaba even though it wasn’t featured on any signs.  I had made a hotel reservation over the internet and was worried I would have trouble finding it as Mooloolaba is a very popular area with scads of hotels. As I drove into town, scanning the signs, I stopped at a traffic light and there on my left, just around the corner was Pandanus, my destination, the name emblazoned high and clear on the façade. I found my way to the underground garage, left all my bags in the car and took the elevator to Reception.

Robert was on duty at Reception. He welcomed me by name, escorted me to my palatial accommodations, kindly moved my car to a more convenient space, and brought all my bags up to my suite. I dubbed him Prince Robert from that moment on.

IMG_7135

Five minutes later, the prince returned, but he was not alone. My sister, Sprightly, followed him into the apartment. Unbeknownst to me, Sprightly and her husband, Brightly, had booked into Pandanus in order to maximize our time together. Such a welcome surprise.

The town of Mooloolaba is absolutely delightful, with a row of vibrant cafes along the beachfront. On my previous visit, some fifteen years earlier, Sprightly, Brightly and I had enjoyed breakfast at a different café every morning and I was looking forward to more of the same. That first evening, the three of us dined at the Members Only Yacht Club where we ate fish so fresh I could smell the ocean.

 

Day 44 – Beachfront Cafes

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pandanus is not so much a hotel as a holiday rental building. The building is high-security with access only to the floor where you live. As a result, I couldn’t reach my sister and she could not reach me. Enter Prince Robert who gave each of us keys to both apartments, so we could come and go with ease between the third and eighth floors.

Sprightly and Brightly were at my door by 8 and we walked the 200 yards to the row of cafes with its enticing aroma of coffee mixed with the fragrance of bacon and eggs and the mouth-watering smell of freshly baked bread and pastries. We were greeted at Sprightly’s favorite café and shown to a table with a splendid view of the water. We breakfasted on coffee and yoghurt and oatmeal and fresh fruit and croissants. Yum! We wandered the shops, mentally chose a cafe for our dining pleasure later in the day, found an ATM so I could get some essential Aussie cash, and went back to Pandanus for a nap.

Well, Brightly may have napped but Sprightly and I went for a walk and drank a bottle of wine and consumed a sandwich and caught up on each other’s life.

 

Day 45 – Food, Food and more Food

Monday, March 5, 2018

We breakfasted at a different café this morning. I ordered pancakes with lemon and although they were good, I couldn’t help thinking of my lemon pancakes at The Original Pancake House at home in Fort Lauderdale, where the pancakes are like crepes, hot, thin and soft and smothered in sugar and lemon and so more-ish I want to go back again the next morning.  Brightly ordered his pancakes served with coulis and ice-cream and I was reminded of 1968 London’s Kentucky Pancake house where I loved their American pancakes served hot and decorated with peaches, cream and ice-cream. Oh, happy days.

As we strolled around the cafes, I noticed several places offering Thai foot massage, so I let Sprightly and Brightly go home for a nap and I enjoyed 60 minutes of pampered bliss.

Mooloolaba is a place to relax and eat and drink – and that’s all I wanted to do, spending time with Sprightly and sipping crisp, chilled wine in the sunshine. I was fascinated by the choice of food offered at these tiny restaurants, most of them open for breakfast and lunch but very few for dinner.  Avocado with eggs for breakfast, Moroccan chicken and couscous for lunch, or lamb tagine with an array of healthy vegetables, fabulous layer cakes like American mile-high carrot cakes or red velvet cake, but usually with an Aussie flair.

Day 46 – What happened to the Sun?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sprightly and Brightly drove me to one of their favorite hangouts, Sunshine Plaza. The Sunshine Coast did not live up to its name today as the skies poured down their wrath. We were inside the Plaza by then and sitting in Sprightly’s most-favored restaurant. It’s always nice to be welcomed by name and the staff were very effusive towards Sprightly. Clearly, she was a frequent habitue.

Today was my packing day, and I had to pare down, pare down. I reviewed the small print on my ticket to Auckland. Three checked bags were permissible – not so bad after all. I donated all the clothes I had failed to wear in the past 45 days, zipped up my suitcases and hoped for the best.

Prince Robert recommended Pier 33 for our farewell dinner. We went by taxi, so we could all enjoy a drink – drunk driving laws are very strict in Oz – so we gussied up a little and arrived on time for our 6 pm reservation.

I had hoped that we could sit outside, and enjoy the view of hundreds of small boats, speedboats, motor launches and the ubiquitous sailboats. The weather was not kind, and we perforce dined inside, enjoying Aussie wine and Aussie fish. Delish.

Day 47 – Locked In, Locked Out

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

My bags were loaded in my car before 6. I switched on the engine, released the brake and headed for the exit. An enormous metal gate blocked the exit. I was locked in! Pandanus security was such that during overnight hours, one needed a swipe card to exit the garage! I did not have one. I had left my hotel keys in a security deposit as requested and elevator access was now denied. I was beside myself. I strode the garage, hoping someone would leave and I could follow them out. Not a sound. I finally found a security notice with a phone number. I called. They answered. I explained my situation. They hawre unable to help. “Call Prince Robert,” I suggested. That they could do.

And then I heard a car start up.  Coming toward me. I ran toward the car and hailed it. I had met the driver in the elevator the previous day.

“May I follow you out?” I asked.

“Of course. I’ll wait for you.”

As I drove up the exit ramp, there was Prince Robert running toward me, disheveled, looking as if he had just jumped out of bed.

“So sorry,” he said. “I didn’t realize you were leaving this early. Are you going to miss the plane?”

“No problem,” I said. “Thanks for everything.”

No problem on the highway. No problem at the airport. No problem on the plane which landed safely in Auckland. I picked up another rental car and easily found my way to Dramatic’s home.

A huge wooden gate barred the entrance to her property. I was locked out!  Dramatic had installed a new security gate since my last visit.

“I’ll give you the code,” she had told me, but I was sure I wouldn’t need it as I was not arriving until late afternoon.

I parked the car on the street, prepared to wait patiently, when suddenly the gates opened. I ran up the steep driveway before they closed. Dramatic’s daughter, Alluring, had seen me and let me in.

“Bring the car right up,” she said. “There’s plenty of parking space right here.”

I drove up, parked next to Alluring’s SUV and walked into my own little house, right there in Dramatic’s back yard. Lucky me.

Next…  I Feel Like a Foodie

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

If It’s Sydney It’s Almost Over

Day 37 – Survive the Savage (Tasman) Sea

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Dramatic folded right into life on board as if born to it. Fifty years earlier, Dramatic planned to join me on the Angelina Lauro, sailing from Auckland to Southampton. Instead, her life took a different path and she went to France. But our friendship survived intact and I knew I could always count on her for a warm Kiwi welcome whenever I knocked on her door. Now we were room-mates again and it was an easy transition from total privacy to sharing a bathroom.

Yesterday’s sunshine was but a memory as we sailed across the Tasman Sea which is known for its stormy weather and savage seas. Grey skies, grey seas, grey moods. As evening approached, the greyness was replaced with dramatic color as guests gussied up in gowns of every hue: red, blue, coral, purple, with huge smiles and perfect teeth, the men in penguin suits with dashing bow ties and matching cummerbunds. We joined the throng at the Welcome Aboard party where, at the Captain’s prompting, all the guests sang Happy Birthday to Mr. Danza, who had missed his celebration when we crossed the date line. Perhaps that was the real reason for the party.

 

Day 38 – Another Day at Sea

Monday, February 26, 2018

My team won again at morning Trivia. I have collected about 20 stamps on my prize-card, so I joined the line for prize redemption at 5 pm.  It was my day to claim all the valuable prizes about which we had heard so much. They were much better than usual, and I received a Cunard travel alarm clock and three flash-drives.  Not a bad haul.

Tonight’s show was world-class! The Barricade Boys entertained us with non-stop music and drama, songs from Les Miz, Sinatra and the Jersey boys.  The audience was tapping its feet, smiling and humming along with the boys on stage. They had each performed professionally in Les Miz, from London to Broadway to the Road Show and the movie. We loved them.

 

Day 39 – If it’s Sydney, it’s Almost Over

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Any ship which sails into Sydney must arrive before the early morning commuter ferries start their daily schedule. Consequently, we sailed into the magnificent harbor in the dark and were docked at Circular Quay by the time I woke up. I pulled back the curtains and there was the opera house, splendid in the morning dawn.

sydney Opera

Finally, I was going to the Blue Mountains. The name alone had always intrigued me but even though I’ve been to Sydney many times, I never seemed to get there. Until today.

Our tour group boarded a modern bus and we drove out of Sydney, through the area known as The Rocks, over the Paramatta River, the Sydney Harbor Bridge a great arch in the sky to the South. We drove through urban sprawl for miles, until we were surrounded by trees and bushes and hills and sky. Our destination was Katoomba, in the heart of the Blue Mountains and home of the world’s steepest funicular railway.  The mountains appear to have a blue haze, or blue dusting, perhaps a trick of the light. Australians sometimes refer to the Blue Mountains as the Australian Grand Canyon because the mountains appear to soar straight up and down like the Grand Canyon, or the mountains in Milford Sound, or the cliffs in Hawaii. Here in Katoomba, the slopes are covered in greenery, apart from the Three Sisters Rocks.

Legend has it that an ancient father turned his daughters into rocks to protect them from a scavenging predator. When the danger passed, the father forgot the spell to turn them back into his beautiful, innocent daughters. The Three Sisters Rocks stand proud and soaring, looking over the canyon, still waiting for the magic moment when their lips will breathe once more, and they will love again.

blue m 3 sis

We stood in line to board the funicular. There is just one track, one train, bright red. The glass doors open like the winged doors of the DeLorean in Back to the Future. We boarded by row, and adjusted our seats, upright, for a full-on experience, or partially reclined for a safer feeling. The doors closed, we began to move, and it felt as if we were on a roller-coaster without the speed. The train went down-hill at an angle of 52 degrees. Try it for yourself. It is steep. It’s a long way from vertical, but it’s a long way from gentle.

At the bottom we walked through perhaps a kilometer of rain-forest, past the mine entrance, now disused of course, enjoying the lushness of the trees and bushes and ferns, hearing the call of the birds. We returned to our bus via cable car, all 40 of us in one glass-walled box, suspended hundreds of feet above the ground, with a splendid view of the Three Sisters as we ascended.

If I make a bucket list of places to which I would like to return, the Blue Mountains will be high on the list. A splendid day.

A Visit to the Home of My Heart

 

Day 31 – Another Day at Sea
Monday, February 19, 2018

Clocks went back another hour last night. I diligently changed the time on my i-Phone and fell into a dream-free sleep. I woke up early this morning and knew I would be awake for the day. I solved a sudoku puzzle then made a cup of tea. For the first time on Cunard, I have an electric kettle in my room. I absolutely love this privilege, being able to make my morning cuppa with boiling water. Samly, my room steward replenishes the tray daily, sweeteners, milk sachets, teabags and cookies. I prefer Earl Grey tea, so I bring a few teabags down from the Lido. I am one very happy cruiser.
I was showered and dressed for the day, up in the Lido for breakfast by a little after 8. I sipped a cup of fresh, hot coffee and read for a while, hoping Perfect would be along to join me. I realized I had a time problem when I noticed that the main buffet line on my side of the ship was not yet open. That’s when I discovered I had forgotten to change my watch. I had been up since 4:30, pushing myself on a mere four hours sleep. And it was now only 7 am and I was already at the table waiting for breakfast!

Does one ever get tired of parties? So far, no. The party this evening was hosted by the Cruise Sales Department, Andrea and Cristina. The highlight of the evening (apart from the complimentary drinks – the reason most people attend) is the announcement of Top Sailor. Perfect and Pretty were already seated at a ‘preferred’ table when I arrived. I was escorted to their table and told that my drink was waiting for me – ah, happiness. The P and P ladies were honored this evening for having sailed more than 2000 days on Cunard, but Trendy is just a little ahead of them – he does the full world cruise every year – and was awarded Top Sailor for this segment.

Trendy is well-known to hundreds of Cunard travelers who are members of his ‘Ducklings’ Club. Several years ago, Pretty observed Trendy and his group of friends, all going ashore, walking along the pier, one behind the other, following their leader.
“Like ducklings,” said Pretty, and the name stuck.

Since then, Trendy has persuaded hundreds of Cunard guests to join the Ducklings Club. I had to go through the initiation ceremony back in 2009. I was required to place a rubber ball between my knees, waddle across the floor and drop the ball into a small rubbish bin. I managed this task admirably but thank goodness I was wearing trousers. Captains and Commodores, Reverends and Rabbis, repeat cruisers and first-timers, all are welcome into the ducklings. They have a secret code which I am happy to divulge: if you see a fellow duckling, just say ‘quack-quack.’

Tonight, we dined with the Food and Beverage Manager, together with the Executive Chef. There were three couples besides ourselves and we had the most fun we’ve ever had at an officer’s table. Glen and Mark made us all feel welcome and the food was delicious. The gentleman on my left determined that I have a mathematical bent – I wish I had told him he was mistaken – and gave me the first of several puzzles to solve.
‘A young man falls in love with a princess and plucks up courage to ask the King for permission to marry her. The King sets a challenge (shades of Turandot). The King has 100 pearls, 50 black pearls and 50 white. The young man must divide these between two urns, and the princess must pull out just one pearl. If it’s white, she may marry the young man, but if she picks a black pearl, the young man must die. The young man thinks a moment, then accepts the challenge. How many pearls, of what color should he place in each urn to give the best chance of the princess choosing a white pearl?’ The answer is not 50 in each container. And the princess can’t see what color she is picking out of the urn. I solved the puzzle as dessert arrived; the presentation was so exquisite I captured it on film.

The evening was made complete with a fabulous show, a classically trained singer from New Zealand, Benjamin Makisi, who entertained us with a collection of the most famous arias and songs for tenors. His voice was strong, controlled, sensitive, bold. We loved him.

Day 32 – Lost Day – Crossing International Date Line
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Poor Mr. Danza. Today was his 90th birthday, and he missed it.

Day 33 – At Sea
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

We all missed yesterday. It did not exist. We crossed the International Date Line and jumped from Monday to Wednesday. Agile was most put out.
“I paid for 56 days, and Cunard has taken one away,” he complained. We assured him that he had been given back his 24 hours, one hour at a time, every time we put the clocks back before retiring for the night.

The International Date Line is on the 180-degree meridian although there is a dog leg to avoid going through a country or group of islands. Can you imagine it being Monday in New York but Tuesday in New Jersey? One of the best features on my i-Phone is that the World Clock tells me the time anywhere in the world. As a result, I never make the mistake of calling my family in New Zealand in the middle of the night.

Day 34 – At Sea
Thursday, February 22, 2018

The highlight of today was this evening’s show, a split bill program – Benjamin Makisi, the New Zealand tenor, and a second Kiwi performer, the Sandman.

The Sandman is extraordinary. He strode on stage, smiled at us, and walked to his sand-table, a tray of sand at table height. He waved his hands across it to begin, then created amazing art by sweeping his hands, his fingers, over the sand, caressing the grains and transforming them into pictures which were displayed on a huge screen center stage. He created some of the traditional shapes found in Maori carvings, the spiral, the koru; he drew lovers, the faces radiant with joy. He told stories, the man going off to war, his lover weeping, and the thrill of a safe homecoming.

Later, Radiant, Friendly, Super and I all enjoyed Italian dinner in the Lido. As I was leaving, I saw Makisi and the Sandman enjoying a late-night snack, so I had the opportunity to tell them how much I appreciated their performance. I just wish I knew how to say it in Maori.

Day 35 – Auckland, New Zealand – The Home of my Heart
Friday, February 23, 2018

Apart from the officers on the bridge, I was the first person up and about this morning, on deck at 5:15 am. It was still dark outside, but not too dark to see the outline of Rangitoto Island, an extinct volcano sitting right in the middle of Auckland’s Waikato harbor. Far in the distance, beyond the hills of Narrow Neck, I could see the lights at the top of Sky Tower, Auckland’s distinctive spire, with a revolving restaurant high above the modern skyscrapers.

AKL arrival

I could see the channel, clearly marked with red and green lights, through which we would approach our berth at Princes Wharf in the heart of the city. I remembered the first time I had sailed into Auckland, back in 1957, when the city was small, and the tallest building was probably the Town Hall on Queen Street, the main shopping thoroughfare.

AKL TownHall

By the time we were securely docked this morning, at the foot of Queen Street, Auckland commuters were pouring into the city, by train, by bus, by car or ferry from their homes on the North Shore, the harbor bridge glinting in the sunshine.

How should I spend my day? I would be returning to Auckland in a few days and would be meeting family and friends then, in a leisurely setting. My one-time room-mate, Dramatic, was joining me on board today and would be sailing with me to Brisbane, so I wanted to wait for her in the embarkation lounge. That left me a few hours to stroll up Queen Street and reflect on the changes in stores, community and culture.

Back in the fifties, there had been three department stores on Queen Street, John Court Ltd (JCL), Milne and Choyce, Smith and Caughey. Now, only Smith and Caughey remains. I wandered through the main floor, filled with high-end cosmetics. I could have been in any world-class department store, on New York’s 5th Avenue, or in London, Paris, Hong Kong, wherever savvy women like to shop. I rode the escalator and strolled through bed linens, kitchen-ware, fine china, finding all my favorites, Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Villeroy and Bosch, even Lenox. The selection was remarkable, but I saw a lot more tea-cups than I’ve ever seen in an American store.

Queen Street sports several souvenir shops, one or two with inexpensive knick-knacks, a dozen key-chains for $10 and the like. Many shops offer quality items made from New Zealand timbers such as rimu and kauri or jewelry featuring New Zealand jade (greenstone) or paua shell, similar to abalone but in gorgeous mottled hues of purple, green, and blue. I bought a shawl made from fine merino wool; it’s a pretty shade of turquoise with a traditional Maori motif.

As I gazed at a lapis and pearl necklace, I heard Pretty say, “Here’s Rosemary.” When the ship is in port, it’s not unusual to see other guests from the ship, but in fact, they were the only people I bumped into all day. That’s because Auckland has so much to offer, perhaps a day tour to Rotorua, the center of geo-thermal activity in the center of North Island. Or one might prefer to cross to the West Coast of Auckland to visit the black sand beaches of Muriwai and the gannet colony. One might enjoy the surf at Piha, or take the scenic drive through the Waitakeres, with its acres of native trees: rewa-rewa, kahikatea, puriri, kauri. The kauri is not unlike America’s redwood and sequoia trees, one of the largest, the giant of the forest, having a girth so vast that 22 men with outstretched arms just barely encircle it.

Dramatic arrived mid-afternoon, unpacked, settled in and was ready to enjoy a few days of pampered luxury, the first event being the Maori cultural show on board this evening. We sat together in the theater and watched with interest as the men performed the traditional haka, the Maori war dance which would frighten away enemies, but welcome friends. The women sang in harmony and performed the poi dance, the graceful dance in which they twirl pompoms at the end of short (six inches) or long (perhaps 20 inches) strings, above their heads, behind their backs, two in one hand, never tangling the strings, never bumping the balls. It takes years to perfect the skill, but girls learn almost from their cradles.

We sailed late that night, backing off our berth, swinging through a ninety degree turn, heading back out past Narrow neck, past Rangitoto, the cone-shaped island looking almost the same from any angle, out into the Hauraki Gulf and north along the coast. As always, I left a part of my heart behind.

Day 36 – Paihia, Bay of Islands – The Home of my Cousin
Saturday, February 24, 2018

Queen Elizabeth reached her anchorage by 9:00 this morning and we enjoyed a splendid view of our surroundings, Paihia and our tender landing on one side of the bay, Russell, a charming town, on the other. Small islands dotted the water, the sky was blue, the sun shone, and the day was smiling its blessing.

Bay 1

Just one year ago, I stayed with my cousin, Jeff, and his wife, Gaye, in their beautiful home quite close to Paihia. They had given me a splendid welcome, and taken me to Cape Reinga, the very tip of the North Island where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. We had driven along 90-Mile Beach, paddled in rivulets along the beach and watched people slide down the sand dunes. I had admired their 240 olive trees, sampled their own brand of olive oil, and pored over old family photos. Jeff came alone today as Gaye was playing tournament -level bowls. Not to be confused with the US game played at bowling alleys across suburban America, it is played on grass and is a very competitive sport.

In contrast, Jeff and I enjoyed a more restful day, a quick visit to the local craft market, then a glass of wine, some fresh fish and a traditional Kiwi dessert.

Half the ship was at the craft market, a shuttle bus taking guests from jetty to market and back. There were leather bracelets, and belts and bags, hand-made soaps, jewelry, t-shirts with NZ motifs, and the ‘thing’ I bought. I suppose it is a wind ornament, an optical illusion, a spiral with a propeller, which hangs from a tree, or a balcony. The wind blows, the propeller moves, the spiral rotates, and a magic ball appears to rise and fall. I ran into Pretty and Perfect. “It’s really easy to take home,” Pretty said. I reminded myself of the definition of souvenir – something we fall in love with when on vacation and wonder why on earth we bought it when we get it home. Nevertheless, I bought it.

Jeff took me for a short drive towards Waitangi, where the famous treaty was signed, in which the Maori tribes gave Queen Victoria’s government sole right to buy their lands in return for being recognized as British subjects. Considerable restitution has been paid to the Maori people for what many believe was unfair settlement with the tribes. We gazed out at the bay, to where Queen Elizabeth was resplendent in the sunlight, her orange tender boats going back and forth between ship and jetty. How I longed to stay in this beautiful place. Instead we ate lunch at the Paihia Hotel, dining al fresco under a shady canopy and catching up on family news, my daughter, his sons, our grandchildren, all living a far better life than we had ever had in England or Wales, the land of our birth.
I was sad to say goodbye to Jeff, but I know we’ll meet again next year – I’ve already made my booking.

Bay 2

 

 

 

Honolulu at Last

Day 18 – En Route to Hawaii

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Today is the first day of the new segment of this World Voyage. The question is, what does that mean for me? One thousand people got off yesterday, and a thousand different persons got on. I feel as if I don’t know a soul. I have different table-mates in the dining-room. The bridge director is new to the ship. And I was forced to create a new Wi-Fi username. I hope I can remember it.

Agreeable, the bridge lady for the last few weeks, is already missed. Although she worked alone, she taught two lessons every morning, made up pre-dealt hands with hand records for every afternoon game, awarded masterpoints to the daily winners, and did a terrific job.

Nobody knows who the new bridge directors are because they have not introduced themselves, have not welcomed anyone to bridge, did not hand out the cards until 2pm, and stopped the game at 3:45. We played only 12 boards and we bridge players are feeling peeved. Well, tomorrow is another day so let’s hope things improve.

My new dining companions are Radiant and Super. Radiant is from Sydney, Super from San Francisco. We are to have another guest join us, but she did not come to dinner this evening. Time will tell.

Both Radiant and Super are experienced Cunarders, both traveling alone and very self-sufficient. Radiant is a Chartered Accountant (CPA in American terms), newly retired and enjoying her freedom. Super is a navy man, tall, broad-shouldered, and something of a foodie. We found plenty to talk about and I think we will be quite compatible for this segment.

There are still more Brits and Aussies than Americans on board but after 40 years in America I notice British accents, not American voices. I have sometimes heard Americans complain that Cunard has a class system. I think it best to avoid discussion on this topic, but the class system doesn’t really bother me. American Airlines and other US carriers offer a first-class cabin on most flights. I think Amtrak Acela has first-class seats, so a differential exists even though we don’t call it a class system. In America, as everywhere else, money talks, and when it talks it usually means more comfortable accommodation, better service, linen napkins not paper, glass not plastic. A better tip often gets an American to the head of the queue. In England, the toff is likely to be at the head of the queue without having to tip.

On Queen Elizabeth, as on all Cunard ships, there is a wide choice of staterooms. The more one pays, the more spacious/more gracious the accommodation. Each stateroom is linked to a restaurant, the most expensive linked to the exclusive Queen’s Grill. The second level features the Princess Grill. These Grill guests enjoy a small private lounge and a private courtyard for relaxation, although they may choose to frequent the other public lounges. However, non-Grill guests do not have the option to use the private Grill space. If one chooses to sail on a different cruise line, there will also be a range of accommodation from which to choose. The more you pay, the more you get, but the only private place is your balcony.

As we sailed away from San Francisco today, we left the Continental Shelf, sailing into deep ocean, three miles of water beneath the hull. It’s a long way down. If a ‘plane fell from the sky, and no-one was there to see it fall, would it ever be found? I don’t want to think about disaster.

 

Day 19 – At Sea – Searching for Sunshine

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ferdinand Magellan, the famous Portuguese explorer, found the world’s largest ocean on a good day. Mar Pacifica, he named it, Pacific Sea, for its calm and tranquility. Those guests who came on board Queen Elizabeth in San Francisco hoping for Magellan seas and Pacific sunshine will have to wait a little longer.  The stretch of ocean between the California coast and the golden beaches of America’s most remote state, is notoriously unfriendly in the winter months. It’s time for ‘Sea Bands,’ those tiny elastic bracelets which target a pressure point at the wrist, or daily doses of Dramamine for those who are susceptible to motion sickness. Grey seas and cloudy skies are common. The open decks are frequently roped off to prevent guests from stepping out in gale force winds. White horses cap the waves, and a heavy swell gives a ‘rock and roll’ feel to even the most stable of ships.

Queen Elizabeth, like all modern cruise ships, was built with stabilizers, specifically designed to help vessels handle heavy seas. The Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, and the Tasman Sea are the most unfriendly bodies of water on our planet. “Getting one’s sea legs” means that one has overcome the discomfort associated with mal de mer, and has mastered the somewhat unusual gait of tilting one’s body against the ship’s roll, which essentially maintains one’s center of gravity in the same place. I got my sea legs sixty years ago, on my first voyage, halfway round the world.

On that trip, we made a very southerly crossing of the Pacific, south-west from the Panama Canal, towards Pitcairn Island and New Zealand. We saw sun every day on that voyage.

With the sun-worshippers confined to the indoor space today, Trivia was mobbed. Teams of six crowded the Golden Lion Pub. I managed to find six stools and placed them round a tiny table. I could have sold those stools six times over!

Internet connectivity was poor today. Hitherto we have hugged the coastline as we sailed from Florida through the Caribbean and up the coast of Central America. Now we are much further from the American continent and even our cable TV is not completely reliable. I tried to log on to the internet, using my phone, but then couldn’t log off properly.  This meant a visit to the computer consultant who resides in the Library on Deck 3.  He is adept at checking our logins, and can see instantly that although we were logged on, we were inactive. He gives immediate credit for the unused time and easily makes one happy again. I think he is one of the most popular officers on the ship.

 

Day 20 – At Sea – Where’s the Sun?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

We are still en route to Honolulu. I can’t believe how many people are complaining about the number of sea days. Why are they here if they don’t like ocean crossings? The Pacific Ocean is vast, covering 65 million square miles. This is 46% of the earth’s water surface. I write this because the information might be of use to anyone who plays trivia on ships. It’s just the type of question which might crop up. Our team lost the morning session but won this fternoon. It always feels good to win, and of course we are playing for Cunard’s valuable prizes – chuckle, chuckle.  We are told this every day and everybody moans the inevitable ‘heard it before’ groan. I will find out just how valuable the prizes are on Redemption day, about three weeks hence, the day before we get to Brisbane and my disembarkation day.

Even though we have not seen the sun today, I don’t mind, because I never go out in the sun. But the sun worshipers among us are growing despondent. However, there’s nothing a good cocktail can’t cure.

Agile hosted this evening, in the Commodore Club. Perfect, Pretty and I, were all glammed up in ‘resort very smart’ attire. The Commodore is a huge bar, high on Deck 10 with a 270-degree panorama spread before us. I remember we were there last year, on the Queen Victoria, the identical sister ship, when we saw the green flash, that moment as the sun sinks over the horizon when the sun turns green for a split second. It’s a rare phenomenon. On a day with no sunshine, there was no visible sun to sink, so no green flash tonight. However, we had delicious vodka cocktails, with our green in the glass, delicious lime cordial which makes the vodka sweet and sour and tangy all at the same time.

Day 21 – At Sea – Are we There Yet?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Pretty and I have dubbed an elderly guest ‘WineLady.’ She and her partner have been lunching daily at an adjacent table in the Lido. They summon a sommelier and order a bottle of white wine in an ice bucket together with a bottle of sparkling water. Pretty thought their behavior was sophisticated and very appealing, so today we copied their example and ordered a glass of my favorite New Zealand ‘Landmade’ sauvignon blanc. Crisp and cold with a citrusy note, it goes with everything on the lunch buffet.

I am all booked up to sail again next year. I vowed that this year would be my last long trip, but once I’m on the ship I never want to leave. Last year, quite by chance, I had a room with an over-sized balcony. The next-door room was a butler’s pantry with no outside space, so the outside space became mine. I loved having such a large balcony, so I booked that room for next year. I can’t reveal the room number but check the deck plan if you want to reserve the room for yourself.

Super has that over-sized balcony on this segment but so far has not discovered it. I have made him a happy man with this information and he is off to beg, borrow or steal a sun lounger to make his balcony happiness complete.

The ship’s doctor gave an interesting talk this morning. She spent a year in Antarctica, at the British research station, Halley, on the Brunt Ice shelf. She was the sole female and I think she married one of the men. Now she serves on ships while Hubby serves in Antarctica. I bet they spend their time off somewhere warm.

Day 22 – Honolulu at Last

Saturday, February 10, 2018

We sailed into Honolulu early this morning, distinctive Diamond Head clearly visible in the sunshine. The promontory is an extinct volcano with an enormous crater. Tour buses make their way into the crater every day, laden with tourists. I’ve been there a few times and I just wish I had been fit enough to climb to the crater rim.

I spent the day with Vibrant, otherwise known as Australian Vxx.  We have been on-board friends for several years and she has always been generous of spirit. We began with breakfast at 8 in the Lido and as soon as the ship was cleared we headed down the gangway to hail a taxi. I negotiated a flat rate of $50 per hour which I thought very good as it was the same price I paid back in 2011. I gave the driver my route plan and a schedule.  We immediately set off from the ship’s berth at Aloha Tower, turned two corners and arrived at the King Kamehameha statue opposite Iolani Palace.

King Kamehameha was a fearless warrior king who united the Hawaiian Islands and founded a dynasty. He died in 1810 but his grandson, Kamehameha III built the Iolani Palace, the only Royal Palace in the USA, which is now an American National Historic Landmark. The last Hawaiian queen, Lili’uokalani, died in 1893.

King K

From the palace, we drove up to Punchbowl, high on the hill. Anyone who remembers the old Jack Lord Hawaii 50 will remember the opening credits, and the stone girl with the almond eyes. On my first visit to Punchbowl several years ago, I almost shrieked with excitement when I saw the familiar icon.

Punchbowl is an extinct volcanic crater, its Hawaiian name meaning Hill of Sacrifice. It is certainly that, for it’s the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, the final resting place for hundreds of men and women who gave up their lives in the service of the US Armed Forces. I read a few of the brass plates, clearly visible in the freshly mown lawns. Brave young people, some a scant 18 years old, none of them more than 24, killed in their golden youth, hopefully never forgotten. Punchbowl is a place of peace and simplicity, with manicured lawns and enormous banyan trees spreading their branches. I urge you to visit Punchbowl, when you come to Hawaii, and take time to pause and reflect.

Punchbowl

At Pali Outlook, our next stop, we ran into the ship’s tour bus. We held on to our hats and our cameras as we jostled for a place at the lookout point, the lowland spread out before us, 1200 feet below, the ocean sparkling in the distance. We gazed down on the windward side of the island, feeling not just a breeze, more of a gale.  We laughed with exhileration, posed for pics and rushed back to our taxi feeling the chill of the gusting wind.

Pali Lookout

Then came the Valley of the Temples. This is one of the most spiritual places I have seen in all my travels, because several religions are represented in this vale of peace. Thousands of graves are here, Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Shinto, each place of worship standing proud, neighbor to other faiths in tolerance and harmony. We drove to the last shrine, the Buddhist Byodo-In Temple. Vibrant and I walked across the narrow bridge and enjoyed our first view of the temple, nestled in the shelter of towering mountains, a reflecting pool tranquil in the sunshine, golden koi swimming happily at play, while a pair of black swans glided serenely in their midst.

The temple doors stand wide open to permit entry, the fragrance of floral offerings delighting our senses. A bronze Buddha stands above the altar table, candles, silence, peace.

Temple 1

Taxi Kai waited patiently for us and then a fast drive along H1, the main motorway on Oahu, took us to the tourist mecca of Waikiki. Long ago my Kiwi friends, the PBs, told me how they stayed on Waikiki Beach en route between New Zealand and England. I followed their lead and began overnighting at the Outrigger Hotel whenever I flew from New Jersey to Auckland. Cherished Child and I took a MaiTai cruise there one year, and walked past the pink hotel, the Royal Hawaiian. Now I lunch under one of their pink umbrellas whenever my ship calls at Honolulu.

Vibrant and I walked out to the casual pink umbrella bar, sat at a beachside table and ordered refreshing, cool drinks. Mai Tai research was the order of the day, and one was not enough to form an opinion 😊   We could have sat there all day, drinking and nibbling on delicious food, greeting several fellow Cunarders who also popped in for lunch, and enjoying the spectacular views of Diamond Head.

Waikiki 1

All too soon it seemed we must swallow our last sip and make our way back to the ship for Sailaway.

Cabo San Lucas

Day 13 – Cabo San Lucas
Thursday, February 1, 2018
I was booked on an early tour today and scheduled to report to the theater at 8:15 am. Arranging the tour departure for 2000 guests is a major task and Cunard has it well orchestrated. Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo, is a tender port which requires an even smoother operation.
A tender is a small boat carried on a ship. After the Titanic disaster, ocean going vessels were required to carry sufficient lifeboats and life rafts for everyone on board. In the era of cruise ships, those lifeboats have been renamed tenders. Cunard’s tenders carry perhaps 75 or more guests between ship and jetty when the port has no dock large enough for a major vessel. In the event of an emergency, each tender can accommodate far more people.
The tour departure schedule is listed in the daily program and guests are urged to arrive with their companions, so they can all be assigned to the same tour bus. Guests check in with the tour office representative, show their ticket and get ‘stickered’ with the appropriate bus number. Now, they must wait until their group is called to the tender gate. Each guest must check out using his ship ID; an officer counts each guest using a mechanical hand-held counter. Thus, the tender is not overloaded. Deck hands monitor the boarding of the tender, keeping ship and tender closely aligned. Cunard now uses a mini-gangway to link ship and tender which virtually negates any chance of an accident. Current protocol requires that guests must be able to board the tender unassisted, even if they use a mobility assistive device such as a walker or wheelchair. Once on board the tender, guests must sit where directed. The short ride from the anchorage across the bay to the landing point is usually great fun and provides another opportunity to make new friends.
This morning, my tour group left on the eighth tender trip – there are usually about four tenders in operation at any one time. We had an uneventful trip across the water to the landing jetty, passing the famous El Arco de Cabo, a natural hole in the rock. We had a fish-eye view of the Ruby Princess, somewhat smaller than our own vessel.

Cabo 12.JPG
We found our tour bus, where our friendly guide welcomed us in excellent English. First stop was a glass-blowing factory. We watched a young man twirl an iron rod in the furnace and produce a lump of molten glass to which he added glass pebbles in a variety of hues. He rolled the mass on a slab, the molten glass absorbing the colors, then placed it back in the furnace. At 1800 degrees it blended and glowed and he rolled it more, forcing it into a cylinder, then a pear-shape. Back in the fire it went, in and out and roll and heat, in a cycle of heat and glow and roll and blow, until finally he slid the bulbous mass off the end of the twirling rod, fluted the edges and showed us – a salad bowl!
Our guide explained that young men from rural areas are trained in this factory, receiving a life-long skill and the wherewithal for a successful life. There were perhaps six eager, young men each working his own rod, in his own furnace, each producing wine glasses, salad bowls and other trinkets. Fragile objects are the hardest for world cruisers to take home in their luggage, so few glasses were acquired, but the memory lingers.
Rain fell as we drove along the Cabo coast, past fancy hotels and time shares, and vacation rentals. We didn’t care – we were safe and dry on our bus. We had no idea that the tender service was canceled, it being a little too dangerous to run tender operations in the inclement weather. Sail and snorkel tours were canceled, some guests making it to shore only to be told their tour was canceled. Now they had nowhere to go and they couldn’t even return to the ship.
Meanwhile, we strolled the streets of Cabo San Jose, under blue skies, visiting the church and viewing the art galleries. A few thirsty souls sampled coffee at a charming restaurant, and I somehow acquired a magnet and a postcard.

On our return trip, the rain a distant memory, we stopped at Belluna Resort, one of the superior hotels, and sampled the local beer. The view was mesmerizing: across the bay to the Rock Arch, Queen Elizabeth standing proud at anchor, dwarfing the Ruby Princess, tiny white waves breaking over the rocky terrain, the long stretch of golden sands a stone’s throw from where we sipped our coffee in the sunshine.

The last tender from shore returned to the ship at 5:30 and the Sail Away party began on the open deck with music from the onboard band, Synergy. I heard stories of canceled tours, and bumpy tender rides, and rain-sodden clothes. But no-one minded. We have nothing to complain about. We are sailing on a magnificent ship, with a stellar crew, sound seamanship, and if the Captain is not Canute, the British king who could command the waves, it doesn’t matter. We are having a wonderful time.
My voyage on Queen Elizabeth is divided into segments. Each segment I receive a few benefits: 8 hours of complimentary wi-fi (it goes very fast), invitations to cocktail parties with literally hundreds of guests, complimentary wine-tasting (unfortunately this clashes with bridge) and a complimentary dinner in one of the alternate dining venues. Pretty and Perfect are also recipients of these benefits (plus some extra treats) so we decided to dine at La Piazza this evening. This week the Lido is ‘buffet by day’ and intimate Italian trattoria once the sun sets. Pretty arranged that we sat at the most exclusive table in the room where we could imagine we were in Italia, mangia-ing antipasti, pasta delicioso and tiramisu. We had a wonderful evening and closed the restaurant down a little before midnight – we were not the last!
How can we top this wonderful day? Not even going to try.

Day 14 – Sea Day – En Route to San Francisco
Friday, February 2, 2018
When my husband, Frugal Fred, was alive, we traveled on several cruise ships. On one memorable cruise our welcome aboard lifeboat drill was held in the casino. That’s not precisely accurate. It would be more correct to say that our Muster Station or Lifeboat reporting location, was in the Casino. As we walked in, Frugal saw a slot machine sporting ‘777’ in the winning line! He made a beeline for it, sat down and made it his own. Of course, it wasn’t working while we were in port, but that evening, after a sail away party and an excellent dinner, Frugal went trotting back to that machine to try his luck. And the casino gods smiled on him. He put in twenty dollars and in five minutes received a $500 payout. I should change his name to Fortunate Fred! That was the first and last time I ever saw him in a casino.
Moi? It’s a little different. I like the poker machines – but not too much. I think in Australia they are often called ‘the pokies’. I learned to play the poker machines in Atlantic City, New Jersey, about 30 years ago. I don’t play much but I remember what I was taught.
Here on Queen Elizabeth, there is a small casino, with slot machines at the perimeter, and tables for blackjack and roulette running the length of the place between the pokies and the open space at the foot of the Grand Staircase. I’m not willing to risk my money at the tables, but I enjoy a flutter at the poker machine. My game of choice is Jacks or Better. In this game, you place your bet (minimum 25c, maximum $1.25), hit DEAL/DRAW. The game machine deals five cards, face-up. The skill lies in choosing what to hold. The more you hold, the fewer your chances of drawing the card(s) you need. It’s easy if you draw a pair of honor cards. Hold them both and you are sure to get your money back. If you draw a third matching card, your winnings increase. If you don’t have Jacks or better, you should hold any small pair and hope to get a third card of the same denomination. 3 x 7’s beats a pair of Aces, or two pairs. Then there’s a straight (5 in a row) or a flush (5 cards of the same suit), a straight flush (a sequence of 5 cards in the same suit) or the best hand of all, a Royal Flush (AKQJT in the same suit.) The winnings increase exponentially, so a Royal Flush on a maximum bet will pay out $1000.
I once saw a fellow win $23,000 playing Caribbean Stud Poker (a table game) on a cruise ship. He very quietly said, “I’ve got it. I did it.” His voice went up an octave and he thumped the table. “I’ve won.” And then the world went mad. Casino strong men arrived pushing a cart heavily laden with playing chips. The pit boss watched while the dealer counted out piles of $100 chips until the full amount was stacked in plain view. The winner was still reeling in shock. I think he ordered champagne for every player at his table.

Day 15 – Sea Day – En Route to San Francisco
Saturday, February 3, 2018
When I worked in Manhattan in the 70’s and 80’s, I had a wonderful secretary named Linda. She was born and bred in New York and she educated me in the American way of life. Once a year she and her husband would book a long weekend in the Catskills. For the uninitiated, the Catskills is a range of mountains conveniently close to New York City, but distant enough to be truly rural. There are dozens of resort hotels in the area, one of which formed the background for the fabulous movie, Dirty Dancing. Linda always referred to her Catskills trip as her ‘eating vacation.’ The nightly rate included all-you-can-eat meals at least three times a day.
A cruise ship is the same. It’s all-you-can-eat all the time.
A quick glance at the daily program tells me that I can start eating Continental Breakfast in the Lido at 5:00 am. Hot food, bacon, sausage, eggs cooked to order, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, are available starting at 6:30. The Lido is rather like Citibank – the Lido never sleeps. Lunch begins before breakfast is over. Then there is afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, cakes, scones with jam and cream. You can eat made-to-order pizza for lunch or dinner. The outdoor grill will serve you hot dogs or hamburgers with French fries and all the traditional American accompaniments. Dinner service begins at 6:00 and you can get a late-night snack until two in the morning.
Apart from the lido, there are formal meals in the main restaurant. And just in case you’re too lazy to take the elevator to the Lido, you can order from Room Service.
When do the chefs sleep? When do the bartenders, the waiters, the busboys and the dishwashers have time for their own meals? Furthermore, when do they have a chance to go to bed?
The ship’s galleys produce 12,000 meals every day. Just think of the number of plates and bowls and cups and saucers and glasses and silverware and linen napkins and tablecloths. Think of the salt and pepper servers that must be filled regularly. Think of the beverage machines dispensing orange juice, cranberry juice, iced tea, milk, coffee. Think of the number of teabags used every day – and the Brits drink a huge amount of tea. Think of all the little cakes, eclairs, buns, pain au chocolat, croissants, sausage rolls that appear on the buffet counter whenever we are hungry. Think of the varieties of cereal that are served, the variety of breads which are freshly-baked every day. Think of the delicate canapes that are served in the bars at cocktail time. Think about making beef wellington for 500 people while you’re busy making duck a l’orange for another 500 and lobster for another 500 plus a vegetarian dish for 100 or so, and a curry dish and a pasta dish, not to mention 5 appetizers, 2 soups and a choice of salads with at least 2 different dressings. It’s a chef’s nightmare or a foodie’s paradise.
It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think of the quantities of food consumed every day at sea. How do they manage food waste? How do they manage trash? Nothing can be disposed of in the ocean. These are the days of green – when everything must be disposed of in a way that does no harm. The eco-system of the ocean must not be disturbed. Wild-life in our oceans must be protected.
Those of us with keen eyes are watching the ocean – not to check on improper disposables, but searching for birds, for flying-fish, for dolphins, perhaps whales.
Today has been a day of seeing nothing except the ocean. However, beneath the waves lie unseen mountains, left from ancient volcanic action. These sea-mounts, as they are known, frequently have names and are shown on navigational charts. Apparently, we are passing the San Juan Seamount. This mountain grows from the sea-floor at a depth of 3300 meters and rises nearly 500 meters. Queen Elizbeth has a draft of some eight feet (this means eight feet of ship below the water line) so we’re not in any danger of clipping the top of the submerged mountain. It is well over a mile beneath us.
Master sailors learn to read navigational charts. They are quite complex charts showing landmass, currents, trenches. Cunard has long displayed the chart of the day so that guests can watch the daily progress. Typically, the navigator will draw a line from port t to port on the chart and then place a marker to indicate current position at noon each day. I find it fascinating to see the vast expanse of ocean, the chart showing depths of water, seamounts, tiny islands which most landlubbers have never heard of. Cunard frequently offers the chart at auction and bidding is always brisk. Last summer I was delighted when our Silversea ship offered the chart of our Alaska cruise. My grandson, 11-year- old Ben, expressed interest in owning the chart. We went to the auction, found front-row seats in the balcony and the bidding began. “Bid, Ben,” I said. He caught on quickly, raising his hand whenever I said, “Bid” and the entire auditorium went wild when Ben made the winning offer. The chart was amazing. It was the actual chart, our course carefully plotted from Sitka down to Vancouver, signed by the Captain with a photograph of the officers, photographs of Alaskan wildlife, Alaskan flowers, Alaskan birds. It cost me an arm and a leg to have it framed but I still consider it money well-spent. It’s a fabulous souvenir of a superb family vacation.
I can’t help wondering how much the Cunard charts will bring at auction this year. All proceeds are donated to the Prince’s Trust, a charity set up years ago by HRH Prince Charles. Hmmm. I wonder where the Silversea monies go.

 

Day 16 – San Francisco – Home of the Golden Gate Bridge
Sunday, February 4, 2018
As we drew closer to San Francisco there was a spirit of excitement all over the ship. We were all looking forward to land after several days at sea. Then we heard the news. Our arrival would be delayed owing to heavy winds in San Francisco Bay. It’s customary for an ocean-going vessel to pick up a local harbor-pilot prior to reaching the port, often in the early hours of the morning. Once on-board, the pilot is responsible for ensuring that the vessel moves through the approach channel, in deep water, and arrives safely. This morning it was too dangerous for the pilot to attempt to board Queen Elizabeth in the strong wind. Consequently, we were a little later than scheduled and we were just about to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge when I stepped on to my balcony at six.
The view was amazing. The harbor entrance is guarded on both sides by high hills which provide a marvelous vantage point from which to view the bridge but, from my balcony, I had the best view of all, the bridge arching in the distance, the distinctive color and shape an instant identifier.
Closer and closer we sailed, until I could see the traffic on the bridge, trucks and vans and cars, pedestrians, and then, as we moved slowly beneath the metal splendor, the majestic Queen Elizabeth presented any lurking cameraman with an iconic image. Into the harbor we went, past Alcatraz on the port side of the ship. I thought of the Birdman and made a mental note to watch the movie. I knew that Eloquent and Saucy, like many of the guests, would be touring the infamous prison later in the day. And then our ship turned towards the vibrant city of San Francisco, the hills, the cable cars, the Bay Bridge, and our berth, just a stone’s throw from the famous Fisherman’s Wharf where the seals play near the end of the pier.
We are overnighting in San Francisco and about 1000 people will leave the ship tomorrow, only to be replaced by 1000 people getting on. Since leaving Fort Lauderdale, we have visited Jamaica, Aruba, Guatemala and Mexico so San Francisco is our port of entry to the United States. I was prepared for significant delays in Immigration as the entire passenger population had to disembark the ship and meet face-to-face with the authorities. Global Entry was not available at the port but there was a ‘fast-path’ lane for US citizens which helped considerably.
Every on-board guest was given written instructions regarding immigration formalities. Guests would be summoned to the Royal Court Theater, deck by deck, starting with Deck 8 and working downwards. My home-away-from-home is on Deck 5, so I knew I would have a long wait. Even though we were docked before breakfast, I did not get off the ship until 12:30.
Heavenly, Macho, and their two little girls were waiting for me. Heavenly is part of my extended London family, now living in San Francisco. While I was waiting to present my passport for immigration inspection, they visited a nearby museum where the children had a fabulous time exploring the interactive exhibits. Heavenly et al live on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, so we piled into their car, drove along picturesque streets, past Fisherman’s Wharf and over the bridge, the great orange towers just fitting into the frame of my photo.
Heavenly’s home is in a community which was built on a former air force base. It was fascinating to see how the original barracks had been converted into apartments, aircraft hangars enjoying a renaissance as modern office space, a stolid cinder block rectangle reborn as a cheerful kid-friendly restaurant. We enjoyed Sunday brunch, catching up on family news and travel tales. It’s marvelous getting together with friends and family as one travels round the world on a long voyage. There is an old saying about a sailor “having a girl in every port.” In the modern era of World Cruises or Grand Voyages, passengers are like those old-time sailors, with a friend in every port along the way. For me, seeing friends beats jumping on the tour bus. I’ll take real people over statues every time.

Day 17 – San Francisco – A Walk in the Woods
Monday, February 5, 2018
Fifty years ago, in the Fiordland area of New Zealand, I donned a pair of hiking boots, hoisted a 40-pound backpack on my shoulders, and climbed the pass from the Matukituki Valley into the Dart – 6000 feet – before lunch. That afternoon, I walked/slid/careened down hundreds of feet of scree slopes, and waded through icy waters at the edge of a glacier. Today, with only a tiny bag to hold my cruise card and a little paper money, I was hoping I could safely navigate a stroll through Muir Woods, a National Monument and home to giant redwood trees.
I need not have worried. The trail was flat, most of the path was paved, and most important of all, it was impossible to get lost.
I had long wanted to see America’s giant trees, the redwood and the sequoia. This was my chance to see redwoods – and learn a little about their history. 150 million years ago, the Northern Hemisphere was covered in trees. As the climate changed, and time passed, the geographic area covered by redwoods shrank, until there remained a relatively small area, running down the coast of Oregon and California.
Redwoods grow to a height of nearly 400 feet, as much as 22 feet in diameter, and live up to 2000 years. Sequoias are a little shorter, but much bigger in girth. They can survive for more than 3000 years.
Back in the early 20th century, businessman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth, bought a tract of land to protect a stand of uncut redwood trees. When the deal was completed, they donated the forest to the federal government. In 1908 President Teddy Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to proclaim the area a national monument. Kent requested that the area be named in honor of the conservationist John Muir. Kent later served in government himself and introduced legislation creating the National Park Service.
Now known as Muir Woods, the forest is a short drive from San Francisco, up into the hills via a steep and twisty road. Once there, walking along the shady path under the canopy of the giant trees, one can forget that the outside world exists. We were given two hours to explore as we wished. I chose the 3-bridge loop, a one-mile route alongside Redwood Creek, a tiny stream with occasional ripples spreading outward from some unknown activity beneath the water, perhaps a tiny fish or possibly a salamander. There were giant trees, tall and broad, leafy, shady, burls of seeds which will one day produce new trees, the forest ever replenishing itself, standing strong against marauders.
Ferns, moss and sorrel thrive in the moist soil between the trees. In Cathedral Grove, a small stand of trees reaches to the heavens, their tippy-tops pointing towards the sky like spires. Even children felt the awe and grandeur and paused in silence. This walk was so peaceful that my heart stood still, so graceful that my feet wanted to dance a pas-de-deux with Nature, so spiritual that my soul rose and soared like a carefree butterfly. I must return.

 

Nuts

Day 9 – Sea Day – En Route to Guatemala

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Somehow, I was late for Trivia. This was a minor disaster as I lost my place on the team ☹ Jentle was very kind and said she would join me and start a new team.

“No, you stay with the team,” I told her. “It’s my own fault.  I stopped in at the library.” Cunard is well-known for the excellence of its on-board libraries. Here on Queen Elizabeth, the library is built on two decks with a gracious, spiral staircase linking the two levels. Downstairs, one can find the daily crossword and sudoku puzzles, plus the brain-teaser quiz of the day which cannot be answered without significant research from reference books. Upstairs, a reader can find a broad selection of classic and current fiction across multiple genres. I am a great fan of mystery, thriller and espionage. Most of my favorite authors are represented on-board and I have fun discovering British authors who are popular but new to me.

On the starboard side of the deck the bookshop does a brisk trade in children’s books, fancy greeting cards, bookmarks, and books about Cunard ships and Cunard history.

If all this isn’t enough, there is an unofficial book swap. I brought three paperbacks on board with me and there is a list of readers waiting for the books to be passed along. My books went first to Saucy who will disembark in San Francisco, then to Perfect who leaves in Sydney and finally to Naughty N who will be on board for the full World Cruise.  Naughty will pass the books on to someone else as soon as she is done with them. I’m reading books passed to me from Saucy, Perfect and Naughty, plus library books, so I have plenty to occupy my mind.

I made certain that I arrived in plenty of time for afternoon trivia and I was welcomed back to the inner circle. Trivia is one of the most popular events on the ship and each team has its cherished table in the pub, benches or stools pulled close. It’s a sad day when a usurping team gets to the pub first and ‘steals’ our table. It’s a bit like bridge. Players feel a sense of ownership of ‘their’ space and feel a little put out if they are forced to sit somewhere else. This has the effect of someone from the team showing up earlier and earlier to grab the table. The upside is that it’s easy to grab the attention of one of the bar waiters and order six glasses of iced water.

I have now received confirmation that my friend, Dramatic, will be joining me for the segment from Auckland to Brisbane. Back in 1968, Dramatic and I planned to sail together from New Zealand to England. Instead, Dramatic married Brilliant and they moved to France. It’s amazing that Dramatic and I will be cruising together fifty years after our original plan was deep-sixed. I took the 1968 trip anyway, sharing a cabin with two other friends and a stranger. My stateroom here on Queen Elizabeth is probably four times the size for half the people. Just as well, as I have more suitcases than I had back then.

Pretty, Perfect and I began our evening with cocktails in Café Corinthia. One of the waiters, a young Irishman, consistently delivers us the best gimlets – vodka over ice with lime juice cordial on the side so we can add our own and make it as tangy as we choose.  With our drinks, we are served crisp potato chips and a variety of canapes, different every evening. It’s a wonder we have sufficient appetite for dinner.

Every evening in the elegant Britannia Restaurant, we are offered a delicious meal: appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert, petit-fours and coffee. Crystallized ginger and gold-wrapped chocolates tempt us from a three-tier cake-stand by the exit. I content myself with three small courses at table, but I always help myself to some ginger as I leave. It’s an exquisite finishing touch.

 

Day 10 – Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala – Macadamia Heaven

Monday, January 29, 2018

In the age of the internet, one can access one’s voyage personalizer in the comfort of one’s home, long before boarding the ship. Consequently, I went on-line back in November and read about the Cunard excursions offered in Guatemala. One of the most interesting was the visit to Antigua, Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I did that trip back in 2009. I really enjoyed the tour, but it was several hours each way on a bus. Perhaps there would be something else. I read on. I discovered a tour to Lake Atitlan, also several hours each way, but the lake sounded beautiful and lunch would be included. I thought about the delicious lemony avocado I had enjoyed in Antigua. Perhaps there would be fresh avocado at the lake. I booked my ticket.

However, once onboard Elizabeth, Pretty and Perfect suggested I join them on a much shorter tour to the macadamia farm. Half the distance, back in time for lunch on board, and free time to browse the colorful stalls at the pier. Who could resist? I turned in my ticket and boarded the macadamia tour bus with P and P.

The ride was pleasant, the same road that ultimately leads to Antigua or the lake. In the distance, we saw the volcano smoking, a puff of white floating off the top of the peak.

 

We arrived at Valhalla Macadamia Farm where we learned more than we ever imagined about the life cycle of the macadamia nut. We saw trees with nuts at various stages in the growth cycle, so different from most crops where the entire harvest occurs once or perhaps twice a year. The local macadamia trees produce nuts all year round. The macadamia nut forms from the seed of the flower which dries on the tree. The clusters of tiny seeds, no bigger than a grain of rice, swell to the size of an orange pip, then kidney bean, to robin’s egg to chestnut. Only when they are almost as big as a kiwi fruit are they picked.

The nut, is thrown into an ancient machine which strips off the hard, outer husk, revealing the inner nut. This is then placed on a drying bed, a large table in the sun. From there, the nuts are sorted by size in a low-tech contraption, falling into sacks. They are then oven-roasted and ultimately shelled.

 

I always associated macadamia nuts with Hawaii. I don’t know if Valhalla Farm markets its nuts for eating, but they use the oil for cosmetic purposes. At the tiny shop on premises, we were shown the various creams and then each lady received a complimentary two-minute face massage. Pretty and I happened to be first in line.  Ahhh, bliss.

We finished our tour with a cup of coffee, accompanied by pancakes with macadamia butter and preserves. Naturally, we helped the economy by purchasing chocolate covered nuts as gifts for our tablemates, trivia teams and so on.

 

Back at the pier, we browsed the stalls laden with Guatemalan textiles. They are distinctive with their brilliant colors, interesting weaves and functional designs. We each bought something, perhaps more than one something. Such a fun day, with souvenirs to bring back the memories.

 

Day 11 – Sea Day – En Route to Baja California

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What, and where, exactly is Baja California? I thought we were going to Mexico!

If you look at a map of Central America, you will see that there is a long finger of land south of California, west of Mexico. This is the Baja California peninsula, but it belongs to Mexico. We are heading for the Mexican port of Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo. It’s an extremely popular vacation spot for Americans.

When I woke this morning, in the 4’s, the ship was rocking and rolling.  I turned the light off after checking the time and luckily fell asleep for a couple more hours. When I woke again, the wind was howling, whipping the ocean into powerful spray that reached my balcony some 40 to 50 feet above sea level. The sea was anything but level with 15-meter waves and wind gusts up to 80 mph across the decks, almost hurricane strength. Captain Hashmi chose a course that kept us as close to the coast as possible. The landmass provided some element of shelter and things calmed down a little.

When the waves are unkind, the only thing to do is look at the horizon.  Keeping eyes fixed on that distant, straight line certainly helps people cope. By evening, things were remarkably calm, and the theme of the day was The Show Must Go On.

Perfect and Pretty invited me to join them in their box at the Royal Court Theater this evening. As ‘top sailors’ they are invited every segment to enjoy a night at the theater, in a box, with complimentary champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries. I was humbled by their generosity and was delighted to accept. The show featured Dale Kristien, best-known for her role as Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera. The music was wonderful, the Queen Elizabeth Orchestra pulling out all the stops, and I was able to sing along in my head just as everyone else in the audience did. The champagne was perfectly chilled and effervescent; the strawberries were sweet and juicy and enticing.

This was a complimentary perk for top sailors, et moi, whereas other guests paid a premium for the same special treatment.  Who has it better than I?

 

 

Day 12 – En Route to Cabo San Lucas

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Every sea day we are offered stimulating lectures. Some are more popular than others. A few years ago, when I was teaching bridge on the maiden voyage of Queen Elizabeth, two extraordinary celebrity lecturers were on-board. The late P.D. James, renowned author of the Adam Dalgliesh murder mysteries, gave a fascinating talk one morning. Of course, I was teaching while she was lecturing so I finished my class and rushed from Card Room to Theater to hear as much as I could.

The other amazing celebrity was Sir David Frost. When I returned to England in 1968, he had three highly popular shows on British television. I had once shared an elevator with him when my British employers rented space in the same building as London Weekend Television. Now I had the chance to see him in person once again, and he did not disappoint. He told some vastly entertaining stories and I dined out on them for months.

Today, the prime lecture spot was filled by Captain Hashmi who took us on a virtual tour of the Navigational Bridge. There was Standing Room Only for his presentation in the theater, and a quick poll of attendees indicated that the session was fascinating. Throughout the ship, lunch conversation was dedicated to the wonders of modern ocean-going vessels, navigational aids, radar screens and the like. I have been fortunate enough to have visited the bridge of several ships, ss Captain Hobson in 1957, Celebrity Horizon in 1994, Celebrity Galaxy in 1997, QE2 in 2006, Silversea Silver Shadow in 2017. I wish I could remember details of that long ago visit to the Hobson’s bridge in 1957. I remember the engine room very well but that’s the only engine room of my acquaintance. If I were more tech savvy I might be able to discuss how things have changed over the years. But this I do know, QE2 had open-air wings on the bridge. I once enjoyed champagne and canapes there, sat in the Captain’s chair, wearing his cap, for a memorable photo op. I don’t think that happens very often these days. Now, a typical bridge has walls of glass for better visibility. Instrumentation is improving all the time. Communication is state-of-the-art. I feel confident that we are in good hands.

A tradition on Cunard ships, and most other cruise ships, is the Captain’s daily announcement. This usually includes the ship’s position, in degrees of latitude and longitude. We are told what this means in terms we can understand, for instance that we are 386 miles from the nearest inhabited island. The Captain will give a brief weather report, temperature, condition of the waves, wind-speed over the open decks and an indication of what we can expect over the next 24 hours. We usually learn how far we have sailed in the past 24 hours and how many miles are left until our next port-of-call. Many captains then add an anecdote of their choice. Captain Hashmi has been entertaining us with explanations of how common expressions came about. For example, he told a story about taking someone down a peg. In olden times, the most experienced seaman on a vessel was able to hoist his flag from the highest point on the mast. If a superior boarded the vessel, the flag would be lowered a peg or two so that the more important flag would prevail. I wonder if Captain Hashmi has a personal flag…If he does, it should be flying at the top of the pole.

 

Day 13 – Cabo San Lucas

Thursday, February 1, 2018

I was booked on an early tour today and scheduled to report to the theater at 8:15 am.  Arranging the tour departure for 2000 guests is a major task and Cunard has it well orchestrated. Cabo San Lucas, or Cabo, is a tender port which requires an even smoother operation.

A tender is a small boat carried on a ship. After the Titanic disaster, ocean going vessels were required to carry sufficient lifeboats and life rafts for everyone on board. In the era of cruise ships, those lifeboats have been renamed tenders. Cunard’s tenders carry perhaps 70 or more guests between ship and jetty when the port has no dock large enough for a major vessel. In the event of an emergency, each tender can accommodate far more people.

The tour departure schedule is listed in the daily program and guests are urged to arrive with their companions so they can all be assigned to the same tour bus. Guests check in with the tour office representative, show their ticket and get ‘stickered’ with the appropriate bus number. Now, they must wait until their group is called to the tender gate. Each guest must check out using his ship ID; an officer counts each guest using a mechanical hand-held counter. Thus, the tender is not overloaded. Deck hands monitor the boarding of the tender, keeping ship and tender closely aligned. Cunard now uses a mini-gangway to link ship and tender which virtually negates any chance of an accident. Current protocol requires that guests must be able to board the tender unassisted, even if they use a mobility assistive device such as a walker or wheelchair. Once on board the tender, guests must sit where directed. The short ride from the anchorage across the bay to the landing point is usually great fun and provides another opportunity to make new friends.

This morning, my tour group left on the eighth tender trip – there are usually about four tenders in operation at any one time. We had an uneventful trip across the water to the landing jetty, passing the famous El Arco de Cabo, a natural hole in the rock. We had a fish-eye view of the Ruby Princess, somewhat smaller than our own vessel.

 

We found our tour bus, where our friendly guide welcomed us in excellent English. First stop was a glass-blowing factory. We watched a young man twirl an iron rod in the furnace and produce a lump of molten glass to which he added glass pebbles in a variety of hues.  He rolled the mass on a slab, the molten glass absorbing the colors, then placed it back in the furnace. At 1800 degrees it blended and glowed and he rolled it more, forcing it into a cylinder, then a pear-shape. Back in the fire it went, in and out and roll and heat, in a cycle of heat and glow and roll and blow, until finally he slid the shape off the end of the twirling rod, fluted the edges and showed us – a salad bowl!

 

Our guide explained that young men from rural areas are trained in this factory, receiving a life-long skill and the wherewithal for a successful life. There were perhaps six eager, young men each working his own rod, in his own furnace, each producing wine glasses, salad bowls and other trinkets. Fragile objects are the hardest for world cruisers to take home in their luggage, so few glasses were acquired, but the memory lingers.

Rain fell as we drove along the Cabo coast, past fancy hotels and time shares, and vacation rentals. We didn’t care – we were safe and dry on our bus. We had no idea that the tender service was canceled, it being a little too dangerous to run tender operations in the inclement weather. Sail and snorkel tours were canceled, some guests making it to shore only to be told their tour was canceled. Now they had nowhere to go and they couldn’t even return to the ship.

Meanwhile, we strolled the streets of Cabo San Jose, under blue skies, visiting the church and viewing the art galleries. A few brave souls sampled coffee at a charming restaurant, and I somehow acquired a magnet and a postcard.

 

On our return trip, the rain a distant memory, we stopped at Belluna Resort, one of the superior hotels, and sampled the local beer. The view was mesmerizing: across the bay to the Rock Arch, Queen Elizabeth standing proud at anchor, dwarfing the Ruby Princess, tiny white waves breaking over the rocky terrain, the long stretch of golden sands a stone’s throw from where we sipped our coffee in the sunshine.

 

The last tender from shore returned to the ship at 5:30 and the Sail Away party began on the open deck with music from the onboard band, Synergy. I heard stories of canceled tours, and bumpy tender rides, and rain-sodden clothes. But no-one minded. We have nothing to complain about. We are sailing on a magnificent ship, with a stellar crew, sound seamanship, and if the Captain is not Canute, the British king who could command the waves, it doesn’t matter.  We are having a wonderful time.

My voyage on Queen Elizabeth is divided into segments. Each segment I receive a few benefits: 8 hours of complimentary wi-fi (it goes very fast), invitations to cocktail parties with literally hundreds of guests, complimentary wine-tasting (unfortunately this clashes with bridge) and a complimentary dinner in one of the alternate dining venues.  Pretty and Perfect are also recipients of these benefits (plus some extra treats) so we decided to dine at La Piazza this evening. This week the Lido is ‘buffet by day’ and intimate Italian trattoria once the sun sets. Pretty arranged that we sat at the most exclusive table in the room where we could imagine we were in Italia, mangia-ing antipasti, pasta delicioso and tiramisu. We had a wonderful evening and closed the restaurant down a little before midnight – we were not the last!

How can we top this wonderful day? Not even going to try.