Review From The Cabin

On completing the AToZ Blogging Challenge on each of my 3 previous times, I told myself never to do it again. Posting daily 6 of 7 days  for the 4 weeks over the course of a month takes effort, lots of effort. But this year was different.

The Zuidersee (translates as southern sea) was an shallow arm of the North Sea segment of the Atlantic Ocean. The Zuidersee extended inland into the Netherlands. A major dam,  the Afsluitdjik, closed it off from the NorthSea forming a fresh water lake, the IJsselmmer.

In when we took our family tour of Europe, we arrived in Zagreb,capital of Croatia, by train from Venice, an experience never to be repeated. A story for another day.

I guess it is bending my rules a little, or totally, to have Xanadu represent the letter X. But when I searched for  geographical terms starting with X they were all in China and I had never visited any of them.  And yes it is true that I have never visited the archeological site of Xanadu. But for today’s post I decided to bend my rule, conflate my love of the poems of the Romantic poets, my interest in archeological sites and genetics and my love of travel, and have fun with this post.I have been to China- several times but never to Inner Mongolia.

Long before my passion for passion for ballroom dance-cruising became an integral part of  my travel plans,  wine regions with wine tasting was high on our travel list for my husband and me. 

Dance took me to Vienna in a cold wintry winter. I joined a group in a program called Waltz Week in Vienna. We had lessons in a studio about a ten minute walk from the Hotel we were staying. We went to three of the Viennese Balls in magnificent old Palaces, toured markets and indulged in coffee and pastries, a lots of good food.

Our Black Sea cruise stopped in four places on the Crimean Peninsula. First was Feodosyia, then Yalta, then Sevastopol, and last was Odessa before we cruised on to Bulgaria. Throughout history the peninsula has been invaded, occupied and fought over, and modern times are no different.

I have visited Turkey several times both on cruises and also land tours so there were many places I could write about but one of the highlight tours was a visit to Cappadocia in central Turkey to see the strange rock formations or ‘fairy chimneys.'

Cruising on the Baltic Sea, the Queen Elizabeth entered the Gulf of Finland to reach St, Petersburg at the far eastern end. With two nights there, we took a Neva River tour, saw a Russian Folklore Performance  and also toured  the Hermitage. 

 

 

 

After my Amazon Jungle adventure, and a week in Buenos Aeres, we dance-cruised on Costa Fortuna from Buenos Aeres to Rio de Janeiro. We stayed in a boutique hotel just across from the beach and took a long walk on the white sand beach that we could see from the rooftop pool.

Although I could have written Q is for Quebec, most of the times I have visited Quebec City or Montreal have been for medical conferences, so I thought instead, it is a good time to pay tribute to the ships on which I have had fun, dance-cruising round the world. 

 

 

At some time or another, anyone who cruises often will take a Panama Canal cruise. I was no exception though it took  me several years before the Panama Canal rose to the top of my bucket list. To ensure that good dancing was a key part of this cruise, I booked on Cunard’s Queen Victoria, sailing out of San Francisco and returning to Fort Lauderdale. Looking back I think I would prefer to leave from Florida and return to the west coast.

 

Our journey round the Black Sea was organized by Alumni Societies of several universities in Canada and the US. I learned about this voyage on the MV Aegean Odyssey from the University of British Columbia Alumni Group and met several other UBC alumni also along on this trip. As we cruised along the coastline of the Crimean Peninsula we  stopped at several ports, each with very different experiences.

My dance cruise to view the Northern Llghts in the Arctic Circle, was on Cunard’s majestic Queen Mary 2.  It was a great cruise, mostly along the coast of Norway, However it took place in August. 

Although I have dance-cruised throughout the Mediterranean, I decided to take another trip down nostaglia lane and feature a family Europe trip that began in Holland, continued with a cruise up the Rhine to Basle, followed by train rides to Venice, Zagreb and Athens.

Strictly speaking my visit to Cairo and my cruise of the Nile had nothing to do with my dancing. However on a Nile dinner cruise in Cairo, we were entertained by belly dancers.  And as well this trip was not in the last decade but actually was in 1997 when I was invited to speak at a conference in Beirut, and visited an ex-student and her family, in Cairo after the conference.

In 2002 I was invited to speak on laboratory testing in the newborn, at an International Congress in Kyoto, Japan. Driven around by a taxi driver/guide, impeccably dressed and wearing white gloves, I enjoyed the traditional ambience of the old capital city of Japan.

You’re doing whaaaat?  Was the general response when I said I was off on a Amazon Jungle riverboat cruise. Family and friends  know that I do best travelling in temperate, bug-free climates, staying in lodgings with a  comfortable bed, showers that have at least warmish water, and flush toilets. I’m not a squatter. 

I had lived in Vancouver for almost 20 years, watched cruise ships leaving from Canada Place to sail through the Inside Passage to Alaska, but had never considered making the trip. Dance changed my mind, when I saw a dance cruise advertised. It was on the Sapphire Princess and the ‘jewel” ships are my favorites of the Princess cruise line, so I signed up.

Although H could be for Hawaii, I decided to focus on Honolulu, as I have visited Honolulu on at least 5 occasions. My first visit to Honolulu was was probably forty years ago. Our family spent a week in Honolulu before going to Kona on the big island for a second week. 

In high school I was enthralled by the myths and legends of Ancient Greece.  Years later, enrolled as a mature studento in a Bachelor of Ars degree, I had the opportunity to read plays based on these legends for  my course on Greek and Roman literature.

I have actually visited French Polynesia twice on dance-cruises. The first time we cruised from Hawaii to Papette on the Ocean Princess. Two years later, I celebrated my recovery from spine surgery on a new Year Dance Cruise in the reverse direction from Tahiti to Honolulu.

A dance cruise round the British Isles was the first time I sailed aboard Cunard’s Queen Victoria. After an excellent week in London, seeing plays and indulging in some  fine dining, I made my way to Southampton to board the ship.

My dance cruise from Hong Kong to Dubai on Cunard’s QM 2 was memorable for many different reasons as you can read in my travelblogue. The first was me making a spntaneous , snap decision to join the cruise in Hong Kong, instead of  5 days later in Singapore. I‘m a cautious planner type so I was quite proud of myself for not fretting for days about the decision.

 

I grew in Cape Town, playing on the banks of  the Liesbeek river long before it was canalized. I remember clearly the view from my window looking across to  the shaded side of the iconic Table Mountain. I also remember the scolding of my irate mother, when we had set out to climb the mountain and descend by cable car. Unlucky for us, strong winds had closed the  tram down and so I stumbled and slid down the mountainside,  mostly on my backside, tearful and terrified… getting to our pickup point hours later than planned. That explains the irate mama. 

It reminded me of a ski trip to Lake Louise, years later, when, as a beginner skier, I inadvertently found myself at the top of a  Black Diamond run and thought I would rather freeze to death than ski down.

Cruising round the Baltic Sea had been on my bucket list for ages. The confluence of a cruise itinerary on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, that arrived back to Southampton in time for  a same-day departure of the  westbound Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary 2, prompted me to go for it. 

At this singular time in history when 7.8 billion humans on this planet are facing a common enemy, too tiny for us to even see, our weapons are hand washing, and social distancing and isolation.

My 2020 AtoZ Blog was originally going to be about genes, epigenetics and healthspan. But instead I found myself thinking about how, today, our world is connected rather than distanced. Travel is a modern day gift that introduces us to different cultures, different histories, different foods and different people. But this very gift that connects us globally has made us vulnerable to this pandemic.

Invigorated by 7 evenings of dance parties on the New Year Caribbean cruise, as we disembarked in Fort Lauderdale I was eagerly anticipating the South Florida dance experience that my friend had planned for the next week. Organizer-extraordinaire, she had us set for  dance classes or hosted dance parties every night. 

Apart from having fun, my goal for taking this 7 night New Year’s cruise was to start the new decade in the most fit,  healthy and relaxed state possible for me. I wanted to say serene but I don’t think for anyone who knows me that serenity would be a state of mind they could envisage for me. So relaxed instead of non stop go-go-going seemed an achievable mental objective.

As to the fit and healthy part, I have achieved my weight and % body fat targets through an LCHF/ ketogenic and intermittent fasting nutritional program combined with bioavailable multivitamin, mineral, trace element and phytonutrient supplements. My goal on this cruise was to maintain or lose weight but definitely not to add any pounds.

I wasn’t planning a dance cruise over the New Year time frame as I thought my foot would still be slowly healing from my toe fracture surgery in July. A quiet Dec 31 with my family seemed the most sensible plan. But when my friend called and said “ let’s dance in the New Year on a Caribbean cruise” the song from Cabaret popped into my mind and wouldn’t go away. After a few days of listening to myself belting out “what good is sitting alone in your room, come hear the music play” I figured the only way to change the refrain was to book the cruise. Sure enough it worked and instead my singing switched to "let me be a dancin' fool”. Quickstep anyone?

The Nieuw Statendam is an elegant ship and it's a pleasure to walk around and observe the design and the decor. She is the second in the new Pinnacle Class of Holland America cruise ships. The first was the Koningsdam. The Nieuw Statendam has been in service for about a year and the third ship the Ryndam is due to launch in 2021.

Five full days of dance camp at sea and with the exception of missing the first ten minutes of one rueda class ( attending the Mariners Club lunch), and some of the last salsa class (trying to find a photo) I have not missed a class. Clearly I have no problem with stamina but by the fifth hour that swollen toe  sure lets me know its time to take the weight off it. 

Going to a dance camp has been on my bucket list for a long time, but my life is so full that the right time has never come up. The idea of a dance camp was one of the reasons that I jumped at the chance to join this Pacific Adventures Dance Cruise. Five sea days as we crossed the Pacific with several classes each day.  A dance camp at sea - what could  be better?

Ten years ago when I first discovered dance cruising I went a bit crazy. Ballroom dancing is partner dancing, and as many dancers may agree, without a regular partner, opportunities for social dancing can be limited.

 I was casually surfing the web, looking for dance camps and other opportunities for dance, when  I came across Dancers at Sea, who were advertising a cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. With some trepidation I joined the group for this West Coast Cruise -Dancing and Wine, enjoyed dancing every night, made some new friends ... and was hooked on dance cruising.

Embarcation in Honolulu as efficient and fast. Since most passengers were continuing on from the previous leg of the cruise,  only about a quarter of the total guest complement were embacing.

In under 30  minutes I was inspecting my cabin, my suitcase was already delivered and I had met the two stewards responsible for my cabin. Unlike on all my previous verandah cabins on other ships there is a full bath. As I discovered the next morning the shower was hot with great water power and the water didn’t spray all over the floor!

As I revisited my stories from my travelblogue on Food and Wine Writing in Languedoc-Roussillon 2006 to compile them into book form, I realized that it ended abruptly with no explanation of where the Kindness of Strangers post came from

My phone rang as I was getting ready to go down for the early dinner seating in Britannia dining room. It was the Captain’s secretary inviting me to join the Captain's table for dinner at 8:30. Another new experience.  I thanked  her for the invitation and said I would be there.

Between unpacking and waiting for the Emergency Drill on embarkation day, I took a quick walk from D at the aft of the ship (my preferred location actually) to the A stairs. The Queen Mary is so long it is almost 300 steps. My fit-bit loves this life on board. She sends me congratulatory messages when I reach 10,000 steps and then tells me I am an overachiever when I am 6,000 steps over that. Guess I should re-define my goals.

This transatlantic leg of my Southampton-Baltics-New York dance cruise is the first time I am cruising as a solo traveller. All my previous dance cruises have been part of a group of dancers or with a dance partner. So when readers of my travelblogues have emailed me to ask how the onboard dancing is for people traveling alone, I have not really been able to answer from personal experience.

Intermingled sequence dance with ballroom to recorded music, and dancing to the big band sound of the Queens Room  orchestra

This post is specially for all my friends at Dale Neale Dance in  White Rock where we are getting sequence dance going to complement the American smooth, rhythm, ballroom, Latin and club dances that Dale teaches.

What makes the three Cunard Queen ships so especially  enticing to dancers, is the combination  of excellent venues for dancing, great dance music every night, and the fact that, unlike some other cruise lines,  the entertainment stuff  don’t waste the dance spaces by hosting activities like bingo and trivia games in the dance locations. 
With two nights in Southampton, prior to boarding the MS Queen Elizabeth, I wondered if there was anywhere to go dancing on the Saturday night before embarkation. A little bit of detective work (thank you Google), led me to a website listing dances in various areas in the UK. By sheer luck, on that Saturday night  there was a dance party in Eastleigh, about a 20 minute cab ride away from our Southampton hotel.
This was my first time flying into Gatwick Airport, though I vividly remember in 2006, spending an uncomfortable time kneeling with my suitcase open on the floor  at the check-in counter, trying to lighten my carry-on. It was  just after one of those crazies had done something to put the skies on alert, and there were new restrictions on carry-on size introduced after I had already left on my travels.

It’s been two years since I sat with the Future Cruise agent on Cunard’s fabulous Queen Mary 2, figuring out that I could follow a Baltic Cruise on the Queen Elizabeth with a westbound Transatlantic cruise on the Queen Mary 2, that would get me back to New York. And today we’re off to the UK to board the ship.

Excellent as the food is in the regular dining rooms on the Princess cruise ships, I like to enjoy at least one meal in the alternate dining venues. I was curious about the concept of shared dining as advertised in the SHARE restaurant on the Ruby Princess, but as it turned out the sharing bit seems to have gone by the wayside. The tables were separate and we were seated at a table for two. The alternate form of dining in this case is a 6 course menu created by Chef Curtis Stone  - with a choice of 2 or 3 dishes per course, one of which is a vegetarian option.

As Executive Chef on the Ruby Princess, Chef Amadeo is responsible for 260 personnel, of whom 200 are cooks, who prepare 16,000 dishes every day. No- that is not a typo! Think 3000 guests, over 1000 staff, and at least 3 meals a day. An early riser, chef makes his rounds of the many food venues around the ships before meeting with the 29 chefs who supervise the various kitchens, including his Chef de Cuisine and 5 Sous chefs. They review dishes and meal services from the day before to get feedback and hear of any issues, and then review the menus for the current day. Chef Amadeo graciously agreed to take time from his busy schedule to chat briefly with me.

My last cruise on a jewel Princess, the Sapphire Princess, was four years ago and the Ruby Princess was refurbished in 2015, so my first instinct once I had found my cabin was to check out the Promenade deck and see whether the dance venues were as I remembered them.

The Queen’s Baton Relay is a lead up to the Commonwealth Games in which a baton is carried round the world to arrive at the Opening Ceremony of the Games. Each baton is uniquely crafted and carries a message from the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth. The relay begins at Buckingham Palace in London when the Queen hands the baton to the first runner. At the Opening Ceremonies the Baton is handed back to the Queen or her representative, who reads the message. On this journey to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Queensland, Australia, the Baton will visit 70 commonwealth countries before arriving at the Gold Coast for the Games, 4 to 15 April, 2018.

One objective of our New York Week with Kids was to introduce them as many different cuisines as possible. Balanika was our choice for Balkan/Mediterranean cuisine and it proved to be an excellent choice.