People: Joan

Joan, outside the 10th floor Observation Lounge
Joan.  How do I describe Joan.

Let me say right off that I have not officially met Joan, although I’ve spoken on the phone.  Joan was on Denis and Fran’s trivia team, so we had heard about Joan through them.  She apparently knows very little, but would insist that her team’s answers were wrong despite never offering a correct one.  If they submitted it anyway and it was wrong, she glared at them with “I told you so” in her eyes.  But more often than not she bullied them into tossing the correct answer and substituting a loser.

Sometimes, in the early morning, George and I go up to the 10thFloor Observation Lounge to watch us sail into port, something we both enjoy.  The crew sets-up coffee and pastry, and people generally quietly come in and enjoy a gentle sunrise over the calm sea.  It’s a lovely way to ease into the day.  One morning the silence never came: Joan was in residence.  Sitting alone, she would pick someone out across the room to talk at, in full voice and in a very high octave.  Unfortunately, it was not that pitch that only bats can hear, but it was close.  And loud.  Most people cleared out, as we eventually did, but not before being treated to a monolog regarding her fish allergies and all of the physical ailments that maligned her every time she ate seafood.  She boasted that she had spent much of the night on the toilet due to her consumption of salmon and, unprompted, explained that despite continued gastronomic unpleasantness she would continue to eat it because she loves it so much.  STFU. Just STFU.

We avoid her at all costs.

This is why I was surprised one morning when, in the middle of my morning ablutions, the phone rang.  I reached out from the shower stall, dripping wet, and answered it with a polite “Good morning”.  The conversation went something like this:

Caller:  Is this Mr. George Graham?

(At this point, with those five little words, I knew it was she.)

Me: No.

Joan (confused): Is this George Graham’s cabin?

Me: Yes.

Joan (even more confused): May I speak with George Graham?

Me: I’m afraid he’s not in, may I take a message?

Joan: Oh. I saw in the directory that George Graham lives in New York City, so I thought I would give a call.  Does Mr. Graham work in the Fashion Business?

Me: No.

Joan: Oh. I knew someone named George Graham who lived in New York City, he was in the men’s fashion business, and when I saw in the directory a George Graham in New York City I thought it might be the George Graham I knew in the fashion business.

Me: No.  He wears clothes but doesn’t make them.

Joan:  Oh.  Because when I lived in New York City there was a George Graham who was our go-to guy for men’s accessories.  No matter what you needed in men’s fashion accessories he would have it, and if he didn’t have it he would find it.  He was on 49th Street and 7thAvenue.  If you needed cuff links, buttons, buckles, just about anything he would have it.  So this is not that George Graham?

Me: No.

Joan:  Oh.

Me: Sorry to disappoint, but good luck in your search.

<awkward silence>

Me: Goodbye and have a nice day.

Joan: Thank you.

<click>

We don’t go to the lounge to see the sunrise anymore.

Geelong and Kangaroo Island

Seabourn Sojourn with Pelicans in foreground

Otway Fly Tree Top Walk
We had signed up for an 8-hour tour in Geelong, billed as a tour of the Ocean Road and a tree-top walk in a nature preserve.  Also promised was the opportunity to buy a gourmet lunch, which we’ve learned basically means “a ham sandwich” in Australia.  Several stops were planned en route.  What they neglected to mention was that the bus-ride was three hours in each direction, the stops were simply public restrooms, the hike was unescorted and the lunch was more like a high-school cafeteria—complete with hair-nets.

It was a nice change of pace to see some of the interior, but I doubt we would have booked this tour if we knew there would only be an hour and a half in Otway Park.  Our visit was supposed to be longer, but Geelong is one of those stops that anchors offshore and you have to take a tender in, and the tender operations were fairly disorganized, so the tour was an hour late leaving.  They had to shorten our time in the park to keep the ship on schedule.  Not the best excursion, but a pleasant day regardless.

The next day we anchored off Kangaroo Island.  Again we signed up for an all-day tour, but this one was truly terrific.

The first stop was a protected beach that is home to the Sea Lions.  There were hundreds of Sea Lions there; in the dunes, on the beach, and playing in the water.  I have two clips of the absolute cutest Sea Lion pup, ever. (After an hour I was finally able to upload one to my Facebook page, but I’m having trouble posting video here on the blog.  You may have to wait until I can post them from home, wherever that ends up being!)

The rangers let us go down on the beach to get close, but not too close, to the Sea Lions.  They were everywhere.  Pups and Mama’s were walking together.  The occasional baby would be crying for his milk.  One pup was playing with the sea gulls—chasing them and delighting when they would fly away.  Others were frolicking in the water, enjoying a beautiful summer’s day.  We had to rip ourselves away.

We drove for a while, making our way to another cove where the Black Seals live.  It was a bit of a drive, and our tour guide had a microphone.  Why do people with a microphone insist on using it even if they have nothing to say?  He also had the annoying affectation of lifting his voice at the end of each sentence, so every utterance sounded like a question.  Something like: “Now we’re heading west?  We’re going to visit the Black Seals?  They live on a diet of fish?”  Yada yada yada. 

Don’t get me wrong, when he had something to say he was interesting and knowledgeable. But the rest of the time, when there could have been lovely silences while we took in the scenery, he either repeated what he already said a few times or he babbled on about nothing.  At one point he was describing some of the more intricate plots of “The Simpsons”.  After an awkward silence, he would add “It was a really funny episode if you saw it”.  I passed the time by fantasizing that the driver would swerve to avoid colliding with an errant marsupial and, in the process, either break the sound system or take out his larynx. 

We could not get as close to the Seals as we did the Sea Lions, but they were too much fun to watch.  They were very playful, and you could see them sunning themselves, swimming together, doing headstands, body surfing on the waves, or sliding down the moss-covered slopes on their bellies like teenagers showing off at a water park.

After a lunch break we drove to see some rock formations which were very interesting, but not as much fun as the animals.  To the park’s credit, though, they did have a chart detailing animal footprints and corresponding poo configurations so recent visitors could be identified.  We opted to focus on the rocks.

 

Our final leg was a protected park which is home to hundreds of Koala Bears, relocated here to safeguard them from extinction.  The aroma from the eucalyptus trees was heady and the Koalas, while hard to spot, are certainly in residence.  An added bonus: None of them bit me.  They are, indeed, adorable.  There are hundreds of Kangaroos as well, and, for an added treat, a Wallaby came by to spy on us from the bushes.

A much better day on Kangaroo Island than we experienced in Geelong, but all the days are great on this trip and we are thankful for each and every one of them.

Swatting at Flies

Melbourne has flies, lots of them.  They don’t bite, but they fly all around your head, landing in your hair, your face, in your ears.  It’s constant.  They are so prevalent that the locals don’t even bother to swat them away.  It is maddening. 

Our day in Melbourne began with a trip to the Modern Art Museum which had some very interesting installations, including a clean, silent stark-white chamber and, as you settled in to contemplate what the room might mean–a noise like an 18-wheeler abruptly bears down on you and blinding flashes of light suddenly come out of nowhere.  Scared the ever living crap out of me.  No wonder the closest most people get to art is to buy the painting that matches the couch.  My heart is still pounding.

Denis and Fran had suggested a couple of restaurants.  The first was called CODA and while we were trying to find it (it was down a hidden side alley—easy to miss) a nice looking young man followed us for a while. He clearly had mental health issues.  He was obviously well taken care of, very clean and well groomed, but it was a little unsettling to hear the running commentary he was providing for whatever voices were in his head.  He did not seem dangerous, so we let him be, but after about 10 minutes I simply turned to him and said “I think it’s time for you to follow someone else for a while.”  So he did, twirling away like a dancer. 

Lunch was great.  We ate at the bar and chatted up the bartender, and then we took a walk through the park, swatting our heads like our hair was on fire.  The flies didn’t seem to notice.  We wanted to make a dinner reservation at another restaurant, the Builders Arms Hotel.  It was a bit off the beaten path—I think we found the East Village of Melbourne.  It was great getting into a real neighborhood, where the shops were interesting and the natives heavily tattooed. 

We found our restaurant and made a reservation for four.  Stan and Linda had indicated that they wanted to join us, although Linda had stated earlier that she likes restaurants with lovely china and white linen tablecloths, so we were unsure if they would actually join us.  The restaurant was very stark and modern, with a fire pit out back, but it was not the vision Linda had painted, so we reserved for four and promised to call if the number changed. 

The ship had arranged for a show at a theater in Melbourne.  Under a theater, actually.  One of those unexpected gems that most cities have hidden away.  It was unclear what the show would be, turns out the first half was an animal expert who brought several native species for us to meet, detailing the intricacies of each one.  It was fascinating and, when he was done, he brought several of the animals out for the audience to hold or touch.

If you know me, you know I LOVE this kind of thing, so I was right up there.  First was the Koala Bear.  The young lady forgot to tell me not to reach my hand next to his head, so he bit me!  Nothing hard, leaf chewer that he is, he was just teaching me a lesson.  George was at the helm of the camera, but only managed two pictures; one very blurry and another with a look of panic imprinted on my face.  You mightsee the blurry one someday, but apparently my reaction to an animal attempting to consume me is to recoil my face so my double chin becomes two to the power of nine.  Not a good look for me.  (note: I subsequently relented and the moment of impact is pictured above–do not judge)

Next was a baby kangaroo and I have never seen anything so adorable in my life, with the possible exception of Amelia in her Pocahontas dress.  So sweet—with eyes like saucers–plus she kept her teeth to herself.  I just wanted to steal her.

To recover from all this cuteness, I headed for the dingo (“a dingo ate my baby!”), immediately followed by a huge snake.

 
Me wearing a Boa
 
 
 
Natasha and a miscellaneous reptile

The second half of the show was billed as an aboriginal dance troupe, but it was just a dad and his two sons with some war paint on.  Dad was half aboriginal and half Scottish, and actually showed us that his didgeridoo was a fake—he had inserted a PVC pipe with holes in it to produce the right sound.

Linda and Stan are troopers.  They joined us for dinner, taking public transportation both ways, and we had a delightful time.  The food was both delicious and expensive, but it was worth every cent to be in such a great place where the locals were celebrating and carrying on.

Next stops:  Geelong and Kangaroo Island – stay tuned!

People: Tom

I get a lot of requests to write some more about the characters on the ship.  I thought I might give it a go.  What could go wrong?

One of my favorites is a guy named Tom.  Tom is 99 ½ years old.  He always mentions the half, like a little kid.  I guess if you make it to 99, the halves start to count again.

Tom is as sharp as they come.  He’s funny, bright, kind and he has some great stories.  And happy.  Always happy.
He claims to have a Gin and Tonic every day at 11:30 in the morning, and he has another drink every evening.  Sure enough, we see him at the lounge if we get there around six.  He has one drink and he’s done.

Tom goes everywhere.  When the boat pulls into port, he takes his portable walker and makes sure he’s one of the first off the boat.  He walks every day.  If we’re at sea, he does laps around the deck. He takes every Chef’s shopping tour.  Nothing stops this guy—he’s the most popular guy on the boat.  Once, we were coming back to the ship and he and I made our way toward the escalator.  Port staff were running towards him, saying he needs to take the elevator.  But Tom gets around pretty easily and he was annoyed.  “No, I’ll be fine” he said, while making a bee-line for the escalator.  The port workers simply assumed he couldn’t hear them, so one grabbed Tom’s arm and repeated the request a little louder—but I pried him off and played like I was his grandson. I said with a smile “he’s with me, and he’ll be fine” while, with one fluid motion, Tom folded his walker and stepped onto the stairs, grinning from ear to ear and adding a little wink as he left the staff in his dust.

He plays the old man to the hilt.  The first thing he tells you is his age.  Next, he tells you his driver’s license expires in 2020.  He waits to be asked the secret to being so sharp at 99, and he always says “great sex and great booze”.  This is Tom’s 16thworld cruise, and I’m sure he’ll be doing one next year.  I don’t know how old his wife is.  She’s not here.  She fell and broke a hip right before they were supposed to leave, so he went without her!  I just hope he picked her up off the floor first.

And he likes the ladies.  Every Sunday at eight in the morning, he hosts a breakfast with a table full of the lovelies.  Husbands don’t seem to be invited.  And the champagne just flows and flows.  He charms them all and has them giggling like school girls.  I think the Sunday brunch crowd will thin out after Perth, though, that’s when we’re picking up his “lady friend”. 

At 99 ½, you can do what you want.

Immortal in Eden and a Weekday at Burnie



Eden Harbor
Not much happens in Eden, a former whaling town that is trying to build up its tourism.  Last year they had a record 21 cruise ships pull in, that’s almost two ships a month.  The day we were there, for the first time ever, they had two cruise ships in on the same day.  It was front page news.  The Mayor was quoted as saying “a lot of the passengers will want to return and spend some time in Eden.”  I love her optimism.

There is nothing here.  We were told that the thing to do was to have oysters, but the restaurant ran out a half an hour after opening.  The owner told me she was “shucking as fast as I could, until I ran out.”  Make your own jokes.

We walked around for a bit and George got his haircut.  After a visit to the local whaling museum (which was surprisingly verygood) we had done all there is to do and returned to the ship, but not before wasting some of our 15 minutes of fame:  See the breaking story of George’s haircut here.  I’d like to believe it was a slow news day, but it wasn’t.

 

Burnie, in Tasmania, is also a small town. So small that the mayor greeted the cruise passengers at the dock wearing his ceremonial mayoral drag, shaking each guest’s hand and thanking them for visiting. 
 
A shuttle took us into “town”, and after a pricy coffee and scone we decided to get out of Dodge, so we took a local bus to the next village, the town of Penguin.  We had asked about public transportation earlier in the day, but we were told that there was none, that our only hope to get to Penguin would be to hire a taxi for $60 an hour, but when we were walking down the street–and I literally mean THE street–we saw a bus stop headed for Penguin.  So we took the bus.  $6 round trip.

One of the locals helped us out.  She was waiting for the bus, too, and decided to take us under her wing, getting us on and off the bus with much patter in between.  She was very sweet, but her accent was very thick and she had no teeth, so understanding her was impossible.  We grinned and nodded a lot.  At the city gates, Penguin announces itself with a statue of a cartoon-like penguin and, as this is a one-bus-stop-town, I’m not convinced we needed her to get all excited and ring the bell for us, but it made her happy and, besides, she was very kind and provided some local color.

The bus’ return to Burnie was about an hour later and, after the obligatory Fire Department picture, we made our return.  The bus driver remembered us and jokingly instructed us not to tell anyone about Penguin, lest they be overrun by tourists. 
 
Pretty in Penguin

 
I think they sell Dirt Devils

Soaring over Sydney



Sailing into Sydney
We just finished two days in Sydney, and we are ready to collapse.  Sydney is a wonderful, clean, vibrant city that is great for eating, walking and shopping.  Everyone seems so fit and full of vigor.  Except for us.  We’re exhausted.

It’s all because the ship suggested that we rise at 5:30 AM and go to the 10thfloor observation deck to experience our arrival into Sydney.  I’m glad we did, it was spectacular. 



Sunrise over Sydney Opera
The sun was not yet up, but there was a distinct glow in the sky.  As we glided along, the scenery became more and more spectacular.  We passed the North Head and South Head and we could see fishing boats heading out toward the sea.



Visitor on our balcony
Sydney does not slowly come into view.  Instead, as the ship makes a wide turn just past a huge land mass, it just appears, like Oz.  But without the flying monkeys.  It’s just suddenly there, and you sail toward it quietly while the sun rises behind you.  The iconic opera house grows and grows until it looms over you. It was magic—worth the early rise.
Sticking to our routine we had a workout, followed by a quick shower and light breakfast.  I was on a tight schedule because I was going on a shopping trip with the chef.  This one was great, only about ten passengers signed up.  We went to a very busy wholesale fish and produce market, jam packed with people shouting orders, yelling for customers or for the stock boys to wrap something up or replenish the stock.  The place was alive!

The chef took a good look around, stopping at various stalls and conversing with the staff.   I was able to pick up what he looks for in seafood, particularly salmon.  Everything was expensive, some things were CRAZY expensive.  Like a pound of cherries for $50.  I don’t think they were in the Chef’s budget, and the seller would not budge one cent.

They have a shellfish that they call “bugs”, it’s a whole crustacean but it looks kind of like a flattened lobster tail.  Chef says they are delicious, but one shopper told me they were very hard to clean.  He found the manager, a Chinese immigrant who swore she knew him despite the fact he had never been there before.  He settled on some sushi grade salmon and tuna, smoked eel, a huge whole fish (it wasn’t a tuna, but it was that size—sorry I can’t remember the name of it) and some bugs.  It was fun, although (again) I would have negotiated harder. 

I know, I haven’t said anything bitchy yet, so let me tell you about one guy on the tour who was all over the chef, stuck to him like glue and, because the market was so crowded, no one else could get in to hear the chef, let alone partake in conversation. 

Even before we got to the market, I already didn’t like him.  When we boarded the bus to go to the market, the chef told the story of his once having to go through customs and the agent pulled him out of the line right away.  She asked him what he did, and he said he was a chef.  She asked him if he had a wife, and he said no.  She asked if he had a boyfriend, and he said no.  She said she didn’t believe him.  She asked him personal questions for 20 minutes and then said “OK, here’s my number, give me call”.  Everyone had a chuckle, but this jerk from the tour said “Really, she asked if you had a boyfriend?  I can’t believe that” in a tone I didn’t like—so you know me: “It’s a perfectly legitimate question” I said in a clear, steady voice.  Idiot.  That was not the point of the story.  He then ironically spent the rest of the tour up the chef’s ass.  That is until his wife finally pulled him aside and told him to give the others a chance, so he sulked until we got back on the bus.

Many of our friends departed the ship in Sydney, so it was a bittersweet port.  Brian and Pat, Steve and Jane, Fran and Denis, Lee and Richard all got off the ship, as did a host of others.  I think about 130 people disembarked and almost an equal number got on. 

We had made arrangements to meet Denis and Fran at their hotel to experience the view, and then we took a quick cab ride to meet Richard and Lee.  Richard had organized a 20-minute seaplane ride over the city and up the coast to a place called Palm Beach.  The seaplane was met by a boat to ferry us ashore to a terrific restaurant, Barrenjoey House.

It was fantastic.

I cannot put into words how beautiful the flight to and from Palm Beach was.  We saw they city, our ship, the opera house, the coast, the islands, the homes, the beaches and it was flawless.  No one wanted to miss a moment, so no one uttered a word. 

 

 

 

 

 
 

The restaurant setting was idyllic.  There were three tables in the back, each with about 12 young gorgeous women in short dresses laughing and having an extremely grand time—it must have been a bridal shower (called a “hen party” in these parts).  They added a vibrancy that was infectious.  We were seated right at the front of the restaurant, overlooking the beach through a huge expanse of open windows.  The weather was perfect, neither hot nor cold, and no humidity.  After a wonderful lunch and two bottles of wine, we made our way back to the dock for the trip back to Sydney.

We got to our room about ten to six, but we weren’t done yet as we were again meeting Denis and Fran, along with another recently disembarked couple from the ship, Caroline and Dwight.  Denis had read about a Japanese-modern restaurant, the Ocean Room, where the chef doesn’t know what his buyer is going to bring him each day from the market, so he cannot plan in advance.  Denis and Fran were staying in Sydney for the sole purpose of eating there.

Of course we were still stuffed from lunch, so we had planned to order light.  To our horror, Denis ordered the eight course tasting menu for everyone, plus an extra course of sashimi.  Each course was a gastronomic achievement—the kind of food you read about.  Tastes would explode in your mouth, unfolding in rapid succession.  We were so full, but it was impossible not to try the next course.  We were praying the food would stop coming, but it didn’t.  Three hours in, just when you thought “get me a bucket”, we were done. 

The restaurant was right next to the ship, in fact the restaurant had sent Denis a message warning him that “a large ship will be blocking the restaurant’s view tonight”, so staggering back home was just a short walk.  As we made our way into the room we noticed a gift card on our table, reading “with the compliments of the chef”.  The Chef had sent everyone that went on the shopping trip a small tray of sashimi made from the morning’s purchases, which we couldn’t even look at it.  We passed out instead.

The next morning, Sunday, we took the ferry to Manly, a beautiful beach community less than a half hour away.  It was a perfect beach day, so we decided to go and return early to stay ahead of the crowds. 

It was absolutely stunning.  When we got off the ferry we walked through a few block of very nice stores.  Not high-end and not cheesy either—a perfect mall for an ocean-town.  We walked along the beach and meandered along the trail, which eventually led to a small cove where people were learning to scuba dive.  We hiked a bit, over the top of a large hill to see the ocean on the other side.  We were still tired from the previous day’s marathon, but we didn’t mind the walk.

Australians are fit bunch; everyone seemed to be in terrific shape.  People enjoy their water sports here which makes sense because everywhere you go there is a beach.  You can’t turn a corner without a view of the water.  Sydney is breathtaking. 

 
 
We returned to the ship for lunch, then walked around the city some more.  George bought me a polo shirt from our new favorite store Rodd and Gunn, and we looked into some more shops to marvel at the prices.  George took me into a store that designs their own fabrics, then they produced only four garments from them—one in each size.  I loved it, but since the jackets started around $1,800, we made our exit empty-handed.

As you can tell, Sydney was fabulous and we can’t wait to return. 

 

 

Shopping and Sheering

Chef Cockburn at the market
 
After another full sea day, we arrived in Wellington the first thing on Monday morning.  We hit the gym early as we had a full day planned.

The first event was “Shopping with the Chef”.  Every now and again they invite a small group to join the chef on a shopping expedition.  Most of the food comes in bulk: A container meets the ship at a predetermined port and the provisions are loaded into storage.  But sometimes they need to supplement their larders with some local items.  Today the Chef needed  fresh fruit, fish and cheese.

The bus driver took us to a bulk store.  Not the open air market that the Chef and I were hoping for, but a very large store that sold both retail and wholesale.  The Chef demonstrated what he looks for when he shops, and then he picks out what he needs before striking a deal with the owner or manager. 

It was a lot of fun for me, but most of the passengers lost interest pretty quickly, which left just a hand full of us to interact with the Chef.  He searched for fruit that the thought looked good, and when he did he just grabbed one and bit into it.  You could tell by the look on his face if the fruit was worthy.  He made a note of what he wanted and had his assistant keep a list.  He then spied some Gluten-Free bread, which he decided he needed, before we made our way to the seafood department.

He was not very happy with the fish.  With a wide-eyed store employee in a hairnet looking on, he pointed out everything wrong with the fish.  From cloudy eyes to a fishy smell, it was clear that fresh fish would not be on the menu anytime soon.

The cheese room was the next stop.  The aroma from the room was intoxicating, but once the chef learned the prices (almost all the cheese is imported) he cut his order back to a single wheel of blue cheese.  One of the most prevalent brands in the case was “Whitestone”, which I though was pretty funny.

 
 
The Chef could use some lessons in bargaining.  It must be hard to haggle with a bunch of passengers watching your every move, but he really just asked the prices and then hesitated.  While hesitating is a bargaining technic, if it is not working you need to move toward asking for a lower price, but the Chef never took that next step.  I was dying to step in and get them down a bit, but chose to bite my tongue instead.

 

In the afternoon there was a special tour for the “World Cruisers”—a trip to a “Lodge” to see them sheer a sheep.  I was ambivalent, but it was actually an amazing afternoon.

They picked us up by bus and drove about an hour and fifteen minutes along the coast, which was just spectacular.  We came to a gate in the road which signified the private land for the farm.  They allow people to enjoy the coast by foot or by bicycle, but no cars, so many locals were hiking, biking, swimming and snorkeling.  The driver explained that the ranch was a working one, but they supplemented their income with special events, weddings and such.  The driver explained that the owners do not allow private cars on the property, so everyone must arrive by bus.  His bus.  And only his bus.  I figure he must be a cousin or something.  The bride, however, usually gets helicoptered in.  I’m sure the noise drowns out “here comes the bride” but, given enough hairspray, I’ll bet it makes for a pretty dramatic entrance.

While we ascended toward the ranch, some of his herd decided to block the road, staring blankly at the beeping bus while enjoying a chew.  As we made our way to the top the views became more and more remarkable.  We were herded into the house for some sandwiches, cookies, and a welcome chat in a converted barn which was fitted with an enormous fireplace and decorated with chandeliers.

 
A sheep was brought in, kicking a bit and trying to make a run for it, and the sheerer flipped the poor thing over and held her between his legs.  Once he started sheering the sheep kind of relaxed while she settled in for a haircut.  My theory is that, from the sheep’s point for view, there are only two reasons they would be captured by the farm staff, and once they realize it’s just a hairstyling they lay back and relax in relief.

They repeated the procedure with another terrified animal and within moments she went from Crystal Gayle to Sinead O’Conner, again going limp once she realized it was the barber and not the butcher.  It was amazing how quickly they sheer them—we were told a good sheerer could clip 400 sheep a day.

We went outside to again gaze in awe at the incredible views, and this time we were treated to a demonstration of the sheep dogs.  There are two types, the one that herds the sheep toward you, and one that chases them away from you.  The first one is the one you think of as a sheep-dog, a spaniel with a little whippet mixed in.  She silently herds the flock, running around the back edges and nudging any stragglers back toward the group.  The other dog has an enormous, gravely bark.  Not as terrifying as Leona Helmsleysinging God Bless America, but still pretty commanding.  This dog’s job is to push the flock into the field, and he does this by flanking their sides, barking loudly, and generally scaring the shit out of them.  They gave several demonstrations of herding the sheep one way and then pushing them back—the sheep had no idea what the hell was going on—running back and forth with the dogs at their heels.  Poor things.  (I took some video but can’t post with the ships slow internet, I’ll post the videos when I get back.)

The handlers signal to the dogs with calls and whistles.  The dogs are so well trained that no matter what is happening they turn right, left, sit or return on command.  Very smart, very well trained.  I never get that dog.  I get the ones who, at any given command, roll their eyes like a teenager before doing exactly what they want.

The final part of the trip was a wine lecture (fairly basic, I could have taught it) and some delicious homemade snacks—including jars of their own homemade honey.

As you look at the pictures, please remember to look in the background at the view. 

 

Stiff

“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you. ”
Mary Roach, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers    
 
I’ve mentioned before that the ship has Guest Lecturers onboard from time to time; each gets a free ride in exchange for a lecture or two in their field of expertise.  And it’s not just the lecturers; there is a Rabbi, a Priest, a couple that teaches Bridge, a Mahjong expert, and a lady who teaches Arts and Crafts.  It’s like summer camp for the 1%.  The lecturers come and go, but the rest are getting a four-month luxury cruise to work an hour or two each day.  Seems like a sweet deal—maybe I can teach accounting, or perhaps that trick I can do with my tongue. 

The higher-end lecturers get paid, like the no-show Tony Mendez.  On the ship now is Dennis Conner, a paid guest lecturer.  He’s the bloke who won and lost America’s Cup several times.  He was quite famous in the 80’s.  Cover of Time, expensive watch ads in glossy magazines—that sort of thing.

It might surprise you that I don’t follow Yacht Racing, so when I saw him around the ship I didn’t really place him, but he seemed familiar.  He looks terrible, his eyes are bloodshot and he’s a mouth-breather.  And he’s huge.  He looks like he swallowed John Belushi.

This morning I went to breakfast by myself—I was between the gym and an exercise class, so I wanted to grab something quick.  I sat at one of the communal tables and, boom, Dennis Conner joined me. 

I have to say he is the most boring person I ever had to eat with.  I’ve known doorknobs with more to say.  All he could talk about was boats and weather.  I wasn’t trying to change the subject, mind you, but from time to time he would look at me like I should say something.  So I told him the longest year of my life was the year we had a boat.  He looked at me and blinked.  I said I had learned that boating was not for me and he just stared.  He showed me his iPad app that produced the wind speed of any location on earth and, after tapping at it a bit he asked if I could see America on the map.  Well, yes, there was an outline of my homeland, including the boarders of every state, so despite the fact that “United States of America” wasn’t written across it, I pretty much got it right away.  Geez…I’m on the second place Team Trivia team for God’s sake.  Anyway, I gushed and gooed over how clever he was to have such an app and he looked pleased with himself.  I wished I had something shinny to distract him, like a pinwheel or some Christmas tinsel from 1965, but all I could do was to order a coffee to go and slip out under pretense of having a hair appointment. 

I decided, since we are now BFFs, to go to his lecture, billed as a Q and A, but seemed to be a monolog about the history of America’s cup–commencing with his first involvement and concluding with his last.  He did not wax eloquently about fighting the good fight on the open seas, no tales of tying himself to the mast during a gale, no words of wisdom of life lessons learned.  It was, instead, a time-line with a full-accounting of how much was needed to build each boat and hold each race, interspersed with some details of the legal documents and contracts that formed the race.  A cadaver would have been more interesting.

Half Nelson

Our next port was Nelson, New Zealand.  There is not much here other than a sweet little old-west style town with covered sidewalks and lots of sunshine.  We had no plan other than to wander around the town and buy a pink shirt.
I’ll explain, and of course it has to do with our Trivia Team:  One question we were asked was “What color does the lead rider wear in Italy’s version of the Tour de France, the Giro d’Itilia.”  One team member, Brian from Scotland, immediately came up with Pink.  A few agreed, but Steve, from England, vehemently disagreed.  “Pinks a bit too feminine for the Italians” was his argument.  I had to point out the Brian was, at the moment, wearing pink, as was Stan.  We all had a good laugh, but Steve insisted on blue and, well, his wrong answer was the one we submitted.  The answer, of course, was pink.  As we had planned on having a Trivia Team dinner, we conspired to all wear pink and present Steve with a pink shirt.  To purchase that shirt was our mission in Nelson.
Unfortunately, while searching, we found a really great men’s store called Rodd and Gunn.  The most phallic name for a store, ever.   They had some really great things and, although no pink shirts, we did manage to buy a few things for ourselves.  We eventually found a pink shirt in another store.

Flowers in the Queens Garden

 


Fine People of Nelson Waving Goodbye
 
Nelson does not get a lot of cruise ships, so both local newspapers ran a story on our docking in their fair city.  The locals were very friendly and happy to have some visitors.  We walked the full gamut of the twon and, after a stroll in the park, we settled in for a local beer before returning to the ship.



There is a Japanese couple on our floor, and I tried to speak a little Nihon-go with them.  I guess they appreciated it because they invited us to a sail-away cocktail party in their suite.  They have one of the grandest suites on the ship.  They live in Tokyo and Miami, and they do the World Cruise every year.  I don’t know what business he is in, but she manufactures kid’s toys, the little trinkets you find in every Konbiniin Japan.  It was a small group, mostly the people from Miami, including the “A” gays on the ship.

 

I’ll explain: There are two guys on the ship, nice looking, always dressed to the nines.  We noticed them our first night on the ship—they sit at a table on the main aisle at dinner and various guests and staff stop by and pay homage.  They get the same table every night. The staff sets that table, and only that table, with black napkins while the other 300 seats are set with white.  They had (or were given) bobble-heads of themselves that they take everywhere they go, including on shore excursions.  They brought their bobble-heads to the Japanese cocktail party, each complete with a kingly crown.  We refer to them as Zigfried and Roy.  I have to say they are very charming and very nice.  They are getting off in Sydney in two days, so we are hoping to acquire their table and assume our rightful place as the superior gays on the ship.

The cocktail party was lovely, and I spoke with our hosts a bit in Japanese until I quickly exhausted my vocabulary. 

As we pulled out of Nelson, many of the locals had come to the harbor to wave us off.  It was very sweet.

The final event of the day was to meet with our Trivia Team for cocktails and dinner.  We arrived at our appointed time, each of us wearing a pink shirt.  Steve and Jane arrived (we hadn’t told his wife, we didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag) and they did not notice we were all wearing the same color.  We looked like a Mary Kay convention.  After some polite banter and round of cocktails they still had not noticed and I wasn’t sure how to bring it up, so I started asking trivia questions.  “Fill in the blank: It’s a shirt-maker whose first name is Thomas” and the whole group, catching on, shouted “Pink”.  No recognition from Steve or Jane.  “She a singer, blond hair”…”Pink!”.  “A two-word phrase that starts with TICKELED”…”PINK!”.  We looked at Steve expectantly.  “I think you’ve gone a bit daft” he said in that English understated manner.  “What color does the lead cyclist wear in the Giro d’Itilia?”…”PINK!” they cried in unison, while Steve sat bewildered.

Giving up, I finally asked if he noticed we were all wearing pink shirts, and his draw dropped as I presented him with his own pink shirt.  He was pleased as punch and smiled from ear to ear as he changed his shirt.

We set out to dinner for our Trivia Team dinner—it was a great day all around.
 
Standing: Pat, Steve, George, Jane, Me, Linda, Stan
Seated: Carolyn, Joe, and Brian

Kiwi Salad

Auckland

Auckland
After 5 days at sea we were ready to get off the ship in Auckland.  We pulled in around 8 AM on a crystal clear morning.  Auckland looked so freshly scrubbed and welcoming, we happy set foot on her.
Tom and George



Waiheke
We had contacted Tom Maguire, an old friend–really an old friend of George’s who I only had met once or twice and neither of us had seen for at least 25 years.  The last time we spoke with him was on 9/11 when he called to make sure we were alright.  We thought he was living in Australia but, as luck would have it, he recently returned to New Zealand.  He met us at the dock and we went for coffee at a local shop.  He and George caught up on old times until a plan was hatched to meet a friend of Tom’s and then head over to a small island named Waiheke for lunch and a look around.  We met up with his friend Andre and headed for the ferry.  A short time later we landed on this beautiful island.  Tom rented a car and we drove to the adorable town for a light-bite and a quick look around.  We then drove around and the scenery was breath-taking.  After driving for a bit more, Andre took a turn off the paved road and onto the dirt and we rambled along until we came to our lunch spot.  The Italian restaurant was set in a perfectvineyard.  The views were outstanding.  We sat there sipping local wine and eating delicious Italian food.  It could not have been more perfect.    

 
We were sad to have to return to the ship, the day had been flawless.  Even the ferry back held a treat: We shared a table with a nice young man who had a winery on the island called Destiny Bay, which sounds more like a Harlequin Romance title than a wine.  Regardless, he was interesting and engaging.

Tauranga

We took a hike up the small mountain in our next port, Rauratanga.  It was just outside the port and we really wanted to get out and do something physically challenging.  We made the right choice; it was slightly difficult but certainly doable.  It took about an hour and a half.  Every time I turned a corner the view just got more and more dramatic.  These pictures to not do it justice, not even close:

 
 
 

Tauranga is a summer community and, well, this is their summer, so the place was hopping!  This is a spot we would like to return to, it is immaculate and the beaches are unspoiled, white sandy beaches that stretch out for miles.  We walked around town but returned to the ship for lunch.

I went back into town and got a haircut.  We walked until we saw the barber’s pole, then we slipped inside the empty shop.  A serious looking woman swooped out from behind a red curtain and looked at us like we just landed from Mars.  There was a couch on one side of the cavernous plain-box of a room, strewn with newspapers, and two barbers chairs parked on the opposing side.  When I suggested I came in for a haircut, she plopped me in a chair and laid the tools of her trade before her as she fitted me in that plastic sheet that they always snap a little too tight around your neck.  You know that sheet; it provides the perfect platform for your newly shorn hair to slide down and coat your shoes in clippings.  She worked in absolute silence which, at some point, she must have decided was weird—so she explained the latest Rugby scandal in excruciating detail while I tried to keep from passing out from what had now become a tourniquet around my neck.  I couldn’t even protest her insistent use of the pruning shears—the one implement I had requested that she not use.  It makes my hair frizz.  I have standards.

 

High Seas

The rocky seas I posted about last time were nothing compared to last night.  Earlier in the evening the Captain made his usual announcement, but this time it was broadcast everywhere on the ship, including the staterooms and bathrooms, so we knew something was afoot.  He explained that we were headed toward some strong winds and rough seas; we should remove items from our balcony and secure any loose items in the room.  He expected conditions to change sometime during the night and last throughout the next day (today).

We met Tom and Ron for cocktails, another gay couple we met earlier in the cruise.   They are very nice.  Of course, I can never remember which is Tom and which is Ron, so I don’t really call them anything.  If you mumble a bit then they don’t really hear so it doesn’t really matter.  Luckily they both have one syllable names with a long “O” sound.  The one I thinkis Ron is very charming and very funny, and the one that is Tom by default is very, very serious.  He really only perks up when he thinks homosexuals are being oppressed.  No matter what story you begin to tell he surmises that the end of the story has to something to do with some homophobic slight, large or small.

Despite (or perhaps due to) the Captains announcement, everyone was very upbeat and a little excited—the mood was very festive, actually.  Gallows humor, perhaps?  Everyone was talking about the rough weather ahead—patches and acupressure wristbands were worn, barf bags placed within a nightstands reach, and Dramamine was dropped like LSD at Woodstock.   

In the middle of the night the wind hit with a vengeance, and the door to our balcony produced a shrill noise.  If the foursome on Mount Rushmore got a collective nose-whistle it could not be as bad as this. The ship began to roll about and we both woke up and just laid there.  It was hard to sleep—one second you felt like you were going to levitate, the next like you were going to land on the floor.  If I had a bowl of pea soup I could have recreated The Exorcist.  At one point, while I was in one of those states when you’re not quite asleep yet not quite awake, the door-whistling abruptly stopped.  I sat upright in bed and realized that the veranda door had flown open, and our curtains were flying out the door and into the air.  I worked my way over, holding onto the furniture, pulled the drapes back in and muscled the door closed.  I turned the lock and was almost thrown on the couch.  George continued to lightly snore in the background while I caught my breath.  That boy can sleep through anything.

Getting around the ship in these conditions is a little tricky—you need one hand free at all times to hold onto the railings which, I never noticed before, are actually everywhere.  Carrying liquids is a challenge, but we are able to get around well enough.  We made it to Breakfast, Trivia and Lunch so far without incident.  I’m sitting here watching the horizon rise and fall and marveling that, apparently, neither of us gets sea sick. 

Some days you just get lucky.