Not-Walking Antarctica

 

 

 

For ethical reasons, perhaps we shouldn’t have gone. For financial reasons we chose to go the cheap way, by cruise ship. For companionship, we went together, even though it was Bruce’s idea, completely his idea, his idea from the beginning and thoroughly his idea to go in the first place. His reasoning went something like this: having already put our feet onto the earth in six continents, we should visit the seventh. We’ve done other faulty things for less well-thought reasons before. And so, for adventuring reasons, we did go.

Here’s the story (and remember, this was entirely Bruce’s idea):

We settle in to the massive ship, and I am torn about being here. Is it comforting that we have so much protection from the elements and the rough seas? The ship is completely full, and over-run with older people carrying large amounts of camera equipment, Audubon guides and Sir David Attenborough’s audio books. I learn that there is a naturalist who will be making presentations as we get closer to Antarctica.

Before we go to sleep the first night, there is a grumble in the atmosphere of the ship: A slightly unsettled blip in the inter-personal current. I think it is just me getting used to this place, just me getting my sea legs.

The next morning, long after the time when I could jump ship and swim to shore, we get a revised itinerary. It will take us longer than anticipated to get to our destinations, so our first stop, at Ushuaia, Argentina will be shortened. There is a vague explanation that is mumbled around the ship – an engine is not working quite right. And we are heading to one of the most turbulent oceans on the planet.

The stop in Ushuaia is even more brief than expected, due to weather or winds or engine trouble. Once back on the seas, we are told that it will take us longer than expected to reach Antarctica, due to weather or winds or engine trouble. We entertain ourselves with visits to the naturalist’s programs. Each one is entertaining and so crowded people are sitting in the aisles. What else is a ship full to do?

Passengers begin to emerge who know a thing or two about oceans and engines. I hear people complain about ship-shape upkeep and the seriousness of less-than-perfect engine function in the middle of a rough sea.

We do make it to the shores of Antarctica.

The continent itself is thrilling. Ice, snow, rock and ocean. Completely gray and white, with a bit of astounding turquoise when a piece of sunshine hits the two-story ice just right. Overwhelming in a black and white movie style, Antarctica spews its coldness into view. It seems to me a world apart from everything I know. It is unthinkable that I am here.

As we leave the continent, it is announced that we won’t be able to make our next stop, Elephant Islands. Bad weather, landing conditions, faulty engines.
That night, it is announced that we won’t be able to stop at The Falkland Islands. The next morning, we learn we won’t make the last stop in our itinerary, Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

During one lunchtime, Bruce – the one who wanted to be here – and I step into the buffet, and walk right into a security guard. Security guard? It’s not like he announces himself, but just by standing where he is standing and looking like he does, I know that’s what he is.

Then I notice that the buffet’s seating area is packed shoulder-to shoulder with passengers, and the multi-lingual speech is getting louder and louder. The windows are fogged up with the charged emotion that did not come from lunch’s sliced roast beef sandwiches. People are speaking in animation and high-emotion. I am uncomfortable and Bruce is nearly laughing. He asks the security guard what is going on while I sink into the background, losing my appetite.

It seems a joining of forces is occurring – the Argentine passengers and the larger tour groups (from the Philippines and from China) – have come together to sign petitions of formal complaints about the condition of the ship and the restructuring of the voyage’s schedule. They think this mechanical problem was foreseen and that we all have been defrauded and that King Penguins will be lost in the fray if we passengers don’t receive some recompense for having lost the opportunity of a lifetime.

I don’t know where to look for fault – the cruise line for skipping 3 out of 4 planned stops and running a huge ship on a faulty engine, the passengers for being as selfish as I didn’t want to be in booking this trip, or Bruce, whose idea it was in the first place.

We make it back to Buenos Aires, a safe place in any comparison, and nothing ever comes of anything. The petitions signed by every passenger (probably twice by most), the formal complaints to the governments and the companies involved, the simple violations of the rules of civility in promising one thing and delivering something quite different – nothing ever happens. It remains just one more life experience. Sometimes we just don’t get what we expect, but we do get something.

I got a continent I would never have seen by myself, and a never-ending story to recap time and again with the partner and love of my life. It was, after all, all his fault.

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Kiki’s Blog

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Home

My, my. You, my blogging friends, have been busy. I am just now beginning to sort through your wonderful posts, which have packed my reading list to over-flowing. Thank you for being such great and entertaining writers.

I am happily home for the moment, but my friend Kiki is out traveling. She just started a great blog that I would like to share with you.

Fun, adventure, laughter – what a great combination. Way to go, Kiki.

http://peekatkeek.wordpress.com/

Walking Oslo, Norway

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Some of you may remember that I, a girl born and raised in California, spent a year in Ukraine. It is a lovely country with wonderful people, but it is cold in winter, and winter is very long. It’s the kind of cold that Californians like me simply do not understand and seldom can tolerate. I certainly had my fill of cold after one year and was quite happy to go home.  And now, I visit Oslo.

It is often cold in Oslo, and was during our visit. One thing that surprised me about this city was the abundance of nude statues. I’d heard of the very famous ones in The Vigeland Park.

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Circle of friends
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The Monolith

But others were in evidence all around the city. Every time I saw a nude statue, I thought, “Burrr. Someone put a coat on them. A scarf. Mittens. A cap with ear flaps.”

There is something about cold climates that make me very one-minded. I was glad to see the many sights of Oslo. The downtown square is beautiful and the walk to the park is invigorating. There are nice places to shop. I bought fleece-lined slippers.

There are many lovely neighborhoods,

and walking streets to enjoy, as long as you have the proper outer wear.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that as happy as I was to be in Oslo, I was just a bit happier when we left.

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This is me in Oslo. Do you see the ear muffs? I wore triple layers everywhere. The hood went right back over my head after the photo. Next up, St. Petersburg.

The passage to Oslo, Norway

img_3414So, all I did on this part of the journey was walk around the ship.

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But what a beautiful walk it was.

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Many ships were tagging along, as ours was following others ahead. A popular route into Oslo, no doubt.

I spent hours on the deck, as the ship slowly passed the sheltered bays and the isolated towns.

Buildings along the seaway varied from quite old to colorful to ultra-modern.

Some towns were accessible only by water craft. Others were linked to Oslo by a long winding highway. On a busy trip with a packed itinerary, it was pleasant to just sit and watch the peacefulness pass by.

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Next up, Oslo Norway. Put your coat on now.

 

Walking Copenhagen, Denmark

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Not Copenhagen

You’ll simply have to take my word for it. I visited, twice. I walked and enjoyed. But what memories I have will stay in my head, for the phone that captured the memories crashed and shattered.

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Also Not Copenhagen

What happens when the things you plan for don’t happen? If you are lucky enough to have only a broken phone with lost photos, you rejoice and travel on. For now, I would like to refer you to Anita’s wonderful post on Copenhagen. If you haven’t yet read it, you should!

A Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat: Cruising the Canals of Copenhagen

Walking Berlin, Germany

I don’t even recall the name of the port where we docked. It was near enough to Berlin to take a bus to a train to a bus to the center of the city. Berlin was a place I couldn’t miss, regardless how much time it took to get there from the cruise ship. So much of the world history that happened in my life -or just before- happened in Berlin.

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I remember my aunt, stationed in Germany with the US army before reunification, talking about the divide between east and west Berlin. Today, we are welcomed to the city as a whole. Here, Berliner Fernsehturm, the television tower in what was the eastern section of the city.

The fraternal twin cities of Berlin East and West walked right out of my history book and challenged me to come and take a look. I wasn’t prepared for the view. I don’t know quite what I expected. But what I found was remarkable: a city with a vibrant atmosphere, unafraid of taking on its past, marking its history with informative sites.

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I remember seeing this speech, by President Reagan, on the television news, never thinking I would stand next to the plaque that commemorates it on a street in Berlin.

Berlin seemed to allow history to speak its own story; enormous passion and complete misery shown in the words of the people who experienced it. We spent a large portion of our visit walking the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Berlin Wall Memorial reading the experiences from letters, newspaper accounts and business and personal documents retrieved and photocopied. First-person detail can be the most moving and the most frightening. Both were presented.

The city also seemed to be briskly taking on the future. I left with a respect for the people of Berlin, and a wish that we would all acknowledge our past, have hope for the future, then get on with things, the way they seem to be doing.

There is something about standing on a spot of history. My words are weak in describing that feeling, a blessed benefit of being able to travel. Thank you, Berlin.

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Checkpoint Charlie and McDonald’s – certainly not what I expected 🙂     Next up – Copenhagen.

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…

Walking Brugge, Belgium Without Regrets

Brugge is the perfect Medieval European town says the travel literature. The streets are not to be missed. The buildings are remarkable. The shops are a buyers paradise. I suppose all that is true. Unfortunately, we passed through Blankenberge first, and saw a glimpse of something I really did want to see that day. Blankenberge seemed to me to be where Europeans go for fun, Brugge where all the rest of us congregate. Neither was a disappointment, but Blankenberge called to me as I passed through.

 

IMG_3332The port where our cruise ship anchored was not an easy walk-off location, so we took a bus to the town center of Blankenberge. Through the rain, we ran to the train station, bought our tickets to Brugge and waited. It was during the waiting that I noticed some of what Blankenberge had to offer. The rain passed quickly and I noticed modern shopping streets, clean walkways, sea-side fun, a pretty town center. But we had already bought our tickets, so when the train to Brugge came along, we got on.

A short ride later, we stopped at the wonderful train station of Brugge. I wanted to take my time here, but the medieval Brugge with its travel brochure appeal lay ahead. We followed the crowds. Once inside the tangle of cobbled pavement, a waffle aroma wound around the entire street and convinced me to try this delicacy: a Belgium waffle in Belgium. It was the best part of my visit to Brugge. Sweet, crisp and – oh-that fragrant whiff.

Fabric shops, trinket stores, all the things tourists expect were there. It was all delightful, and a bit fairy-landish, like a caricature of the medieval town it really is.

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delightful

It was delightful, and we even got a bit lost – something that always makes a place more memorable. Most importantly, we walked. Soon enough, we walked back to the train station, where I had just enough time to explore a bit before the return trip to Blankenberge. For many Californians, transit stations are a bit of a curiosity, and ones that are built underground are even more so. There is so much life in these beautiful underbellies – out of sight, almost secret. I found excellent coffee underground at the back entrance. I window-shopped regular neighborhood storefronts and wondered at the rates of all those currencies at the exchange. I heard a sudden rain storm from above, and felt the good fortune of being dry. Then we stepped on to the train back to Blankenberge.

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We walked up the broad shopping avenue, passing the many fine clothing stores and stopping in at the neighborhood market. I looked at all the manner of coffee there was to purchase, at the pastries, the cleaning supplies, the style of the shopping baskets. We walked the entire distance to the seaside and then walked along a magnificent shoreline. Nearly deserted in early May, it was the perfect setting for simply viewing a lovely coastline and appreciating the elegant design of a boardwalk. Sometimes it’s not what you planned to do that becomes memorable, but what you do without the planning. I walked back to the train station glad that Brugge, a perfectly fine stop along the way, wasn’t all there was to my visit there.

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From Brugge (and Blankenberge) to Rotterdam, The Netherlands next stop

Walking Cherbourg, France

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Cherbourg, France

Old town, new town, harbour, shopping mall. Everything in Cherbourg, France had one thing in common: charm. We walked right off the ship and found it everywhere.

Sometimes visits just work out. There are so many things that can work against a short stop along the way: weather can be unpredictable, moods can swing, travel ills can cause discomfort. But this day in Cherbourg, all the magic worked.

True to my travel style, I had done little research. I was asked by my history-buff friends: would we be visiting the sites of the Battle of Normandy? set foot on Omaha Beach? tour the medieval compounds? But, in a short morning and afternoon visit, I would have to spend 3 hours on a bus to get to those historical places. These are the compromises of travel, right? In this port, I had the opportunity to just step off the ship and walk. I took it.

We wound right around the harbour area, heading toward the darkened roofline of the medieval section of town.  Buildings defined the different areas: sparkling white stone and clean windows lined the harbour. Sharp-angled rooflines, so greyed that I was certain the soot from last century still lay upon the tiles, called to us to walk farther into the town and further back into this area’s past. History lay all around me. I listened for and heard the beautiful whirr of the French language.

 

The charm of the old town, with its twisting streets – narrow and lined with tall buildings – pulled us into the maze and immediately lost us. The only thing to do was to pick a direction and continue, relishing in the adventure of being lost in a safe place. Along the way, we strolled through a beautiful garden, the product of centuries of careful planning and tending. We strayed up a dead-end alleyway, then retraced our steps to find ourselves suddenly un-lost and at the door of the ancient sea-side church Basilique Sainte-Trinite. From this vantage, I looked back to the harbour, and once again found my bearings. We headed back into the old town, searching for the fountain, wandering along and enjoying the flow of other tourists and many residents.

The charm of the alleyways called my attention. Such a variety of narrow spits of passageways. Alleys were everywhere, laid out to connect walkers to different areas of town. Even in the residential sections, the narrow but open-topped tunnels cut a route from here to there. I couldn’t follow them all, but wanted to.

Through the neighborhoods we walked, and there we found residential charm. Attached to the apartment complexes were small plots of garden land, with pint-sized potting sheds sitting on each section. What would these city farmers plant in their gardens? As I walked, I saw rowcrops of vegetables, and many, many flowers. But mostly, I saw green. Green everything: grass, budding trees, leafing flowers and bushes.  We walked up the hills to the larger houses and back down into town, wanting to stretch our legs and our time.

Our return trip took us again through the old town.  A cafe owner was attending to patrons sitting at his sidewalk tables. He answered a remark by one of the customers. I didn’t hear the question, but the answer charmed me as much as the town itself had. “Stay as long as you want, we love your company.”

And that’s how I left our short visit to Cherbourg: relishing the welcome and feeling like I wanted to come back, explore the small inviting pathways, listen longer to the language, and enjoy the hospitality.

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Next stop, Brugge, Belgium

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…