"" Writer's Wanderings

Friday, March 27, 2015

World Cruise - The Green Flash

Fact or fiction? Bob claims to have seen it twice. I think I saw it once but when you stare at the setting sun it’s hard to tell if it’s really a flash or just your retinas reacting from the light. I looked it up once and posted about it but there came an interesting article in our ship’s daily newspaper that I couldn’t help but share with you.

It has to do with the spectrum of colors around the sun. As the rays hit our atmosphere they are slowed, bent and refracted. The lower the sun the greater the thickness of air light must pass through before reaching the eye of the observer. The dispersion of light is greatest at sunrise and sunset.

As the sun disappears, the colors of the spectrum disappear one by one. The red rays are the first to go. (Red is also the first color you lose as you dive deeper in the ocean.) The red rays sink, the orange and yellow are absorbed and the blue and violet are scattered away. The color least affected is green and that is what we see for an instant just as the sun disappears.

Now what we found really interesting is that the slower the sun sets, the longer the green flash lasts. As you move closer to the poles, the sun takes longer to set and at some times of the year barely sets before rising again. In Norway midsummer’s green flash can last as long as fourteen minutes, seven as it sets and seven as it rises again immediately (the midnight sun).

The best spot to see the green flash is where there is a sharp horizon and the sky is free of haze. So a desert, or on mountains or over water would be best. Hey! Wish us luck. We’d like to see it again at least once while we’re here on the sea.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

World Cruise - Walking On Water

I had some fun when my Map My Walk app was working correctly on my phone. The first few weeks it seemed to work well and I was able to post some of our walks. One of them confused some of you out there and I got all sorts of questions like, “Were you swimming?” and “Can you walk on water?” Well, no I wasn’t swimming with my phone but in a sense I was walking on water—with the help of the ship of course.

Each day that we are at sea I try to get some exercise by walking around our Promenade Deck. We joke that it is our veranda since we have a room without a balcony that actually looks out onto the Promenade Deck. It is .293 miles if you make one lap around the ship. So, three laps is about a mile and four laps assure me of getting at least a mile in. I try to judge time rather than distance though since some days are harder to walk than others.

The tough days are when we have rough seas. There are even times when the doors have a rope stretched across them warning that it is safer to stay in. The wind can get pretty strong, especially when you round the front of the ship. We’ve all gotten used to holding onto hats and sunglasses as we make the turn.

The other thing to keep in mind is that one side of the ship is going to be cool and the other, should the sun be shining, hot or at least warm. Then there’s the sea spray when the ship is moving through choppy waters. It has this way of blowing up the side of the ship and then over the railing to make the deck wet and freshen you up with a salty mist.

I do have to admire the marathoner who is training on board. I think she uses the gym on the days that the deck is closed because of wind. Don’t know how she manages to do that though since it’s in the front of the ship, top deck, and dips up and down a lot more.

There is an arrow to show the direction of the walkers and joggers for the day. I remember that it used to change each day when we cruised on the Serenity before. I guess the crew got tired of the jokesters who kept turning it to point up or down instead of left or right. It is now permanently set to point to the left. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

World Cruise - The Half Way Point

Somewhere between Adelaide and Albany we passed the halfway mark in days: 54 done, 54 to go, and a few days later we passed the half-distance mark. I’ve tried reflecting on this whole world cruise idea and deciding if I would do it again. I know. We have a long way to go yet but you see just a week ago or so Crystal executives came on board the ship to introduce the new world cruise itinerary. . .for 2018! The intervening years are already set and probably near sold out. There was plenty of incentive to book while on board for 2018 and we were getting first crack at it.

I had already determined that if we were to do a long cruise like this again I was going to need a balcony. I truly need a place to retreat and the room without a balcony feels too confining for too long. I guess that’s one thing that I don’t like about this cruise. The noise. Not a lot of noise. Just constant noise. There is the noise of the ship which becomes just white noise after a while unless there’s a change like when the captain kicks it up a notch and starts another generator to gain some speed.

But then there is the noise of people. There are always people about and always talking. I’m just not enough of a social butterfly, I guess. But I digress. Back to deciding about 2018. There were several itineraries to choose from including two where you jumped from one ship to the other. They ranged in length from 96 to 129 days. We decided to price one out and chose one ship for 112 days. When the total rang up it was more than twice what we’d paid for this one! “We’ll think about it,” we told the consultant.

That got me back to thinking about whether I like this long world cruise idea. I have to say there are days when it’s heavenly and then there are days when I really miss being home. I miss my recliner most of all I think. Some days I even miss our evenings of watching Big Bang Theory reruns although we have had a couple of nights where we have watched a movie in our room. TV mainly consists of CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc., a movie channel, and destination films or reruns of the lectures from the morning and afternoon sessions which have been weighty with politics and world government and financial predictions.

I do enjoy the personal services though. Bed made and turned down. Meals cooked and served. Someone who will get me a beverage before the show starts in the evening. And there are the friends we’ve made who don’t make demands on me—well, except to try to get me involved with a few activities. Thankfully they seem to understand my need to go off on my own and write or read. (I have conceded to a couple of World Cruise Olympic events—more later).

Perhaps the most disappointing is the expectations put upon me by the “dress code,” written and unwritten. It was a point of major discussion when there was an open forum one afternoon. No jeans was the cry! The executive pointed out that some people purchase $400 jeans and would like to wear them in the dining room since they are acceptable designer clothing in other venues on shore. I don’t expect to wear jeans in the dining room for dinner. I don’t own a $400 pair anyway.

The blessing in all of this has been the table mates that we were paired with. There’s no pressure. We enjoy each other’s company so much we even go together on tours on occasion and have determined to spend one night each segment in a specialty restaurant together where we can actually hear each other talk above the din in the dining room.

So, would I do this again? The jury is still out. After all, there’s 40+ more days to go and we’re getting to the part of the world I’ve never seen before. Our safari is just around the corner!

Meanwhile we have six sea days between Perth and Mauritius Island, our next port. The staff has organized a World Cruise Olympics with such events as chess, solitaire, basketball throws, paddle tennis, sudoku, walking, swimming laps (when the pool is full) and many more. Something there for everyone. Medals will be handed out for each event and we've all received T shirts for participation.

And I managed to turn another year older a week ago. My St. Patrick's Day birthday started with an Aussie leprechaun (Ian Cooper) fiddling his way through the dining room at breakfast. He appeared here and there throughout the day and was a big part of The Lord of the Dance show put on by the entertainment staff. What amazing performances of dance, song, and fiddling. Of course dinner was corned beef and I had a special chocolate cake with chocolate icing. It was a great day!

Monday, March 23, 2015

World Cruise - Fremantle and Perth

The sail-in to Fremantle was fun to watch. The swells that had been a mere 10 feet (after the 20 footers that seemed calm) began to subside as we neared protected waters. The mouth of the Swan River was in front of me as I sat perched in the Palm Court at the front of the ship, Deck 12. The sun was shining. The temps were in the seventies and were expected to get up to the lower nineties by afternoon. Our day and a half in the Fremantle-Perth area was expected to be hot but dry—at least until our departure time.

The question we had asked ourselves was “what should we do?” We’d spent a week here in 2010 and pretty much explored the two cities and the surrounding area by car. The final plan of attack was to spend the first afternoon shopping for some things we needed that we wouldn’t have a chance to look for again until Capetown several weeks away. Then we had a choice between taking a Swan River cruise or going to Rottnest Island for the second day.

Old salt store at Rottnest
Rottnest Island won out since the only river cruise we could find was from Fremantle to Perth and we weren’t enamored with the idea of spending time in another city environment and in our recollection, we had missed the island the first time. We went to the Rottnest Ferry office at The Market not far from our ship and booked our tickets for the next day. Then we crossed the train tracks that separated the dock area from downtown Fremantle and walked into town to begin our shopping.

Besides a couple of toiletries, I needed to find a hat—the kind with a wide brim and a strap for my chin so if the wind blew on our safari, I wouldn’t lose it to the jungle. I had packed my old Aussie hat. I’m sure I did. But when we went through all the suitcases under the bed a third time, it still didn’t show up. It took quite a while to find one which surprised me. When I bought the original in Australia, I’d had scores to choose from. I finally settled on one that was certainly not going to make a fashion statement concurrent with the level accepted on board ship but then I was taking it into the jungle.

We wound up our afternoon sitting at the National Hotel’s sidewalk tables with a beverage talking to an Aussie who was curious about where we were from and who filled us in on the weather. I thought for a short time he had some elixir to sell us since he kept mentioning a Dr. Freo. Turns out Dr. Freo was the nickname for the afternoon breeze that always kicked up some relief for the heat. I’m not sure what else might have been lost in translation.

The next morning we arrived at our departure point for the ferry to Rottnest and began our day of adventure. It started with déjà vu. “You know, Bob, I remember a ferry like this once before that had a TV with local broadcasts on it. Where was it?”

“Maybe Sydney?”


Our trip over to Rottnest was about a half hour on smooth seas. Once there, we had to wait a bit for the tour bus that we had booked for a trip around the island “in air conditioned comfort.” There were bicycles all over the place as you could also rent a bike or take a boat ride around the island. We opted out of any more boats with six sea days ahead of us and Bob won’t get on a bike any more.

The bus was comfortable and the gal that did our commentary was full of Aussie humor. She kept talking about the “crockers.” Had we seen any “crockers?” At our lighthouse stop, I finally asked her to spell crockers. Turns out she was saying “quokkas.” Hard to say in any language.

The quokkas are small marsupials that are kind of a cross between a wallaby and the potoroo that we saw in Adelaide. They looked enough like large rats to the Dutch who first landed there that they named the island Rottnest—Rats Island.

The bus slowed and stopped for us to see a couple quokkas along side the road where some kids were feeding them.  “You know, Bob, I seem to remember an animal like that from before. I think I have a picture of one on the porch of a gift shop.”

“Uh huh.”

We passed a beach and Bob said, “You know, Karen, that looks familiar to me.”

Soon our tour was over and we headed off to find some lunch. I pulled up short as we passed by a gift shop with a porch. “Bob! That’s the gift shop where I took the picture!”

We’d been here before. Five years ago. I have the picture to prove it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

World Cruise - Medical Emergencies at Sea

Twice within three days, we had a medical emergency. The first occurred on our sea day between Melbourne and Adelaide. We were in that really rough period with oceans swells between 10 and 20 feet at times. That morning the bells that chime on the PA system sounded to let us know there was an announcement coming. Bob and I were about to head for the dining room and breakfast and we stopped to listen.

The captain came on and said that we had a medical emergency that required evacuation from the ship. He cautioned that in about forty minutes we would be making a turn and the waves would be coming from a different direction. “Please use handrails and caution as we need to turn to go closer to a port on shore.”

We sat in the dining room as the turn was made and it wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. Finished with breakfast, we went up to Deck 12’s Palm Court to get a view of where we were headed. There actually was a port, a very small port that we had not seen on our drive a few years ago from Adelaide to Melbourne.

From our vantage point we watched the ship head to calmer waters and a coast guard boat come out to meet us. At first we thought they would be taking the passenger but it turned out that they had medical personnel on board who hopped aboard one of our tenders when it was lowered to the water. We suspect the patient was already in the tender as it was lowered.

All the time this was going on, a pod of dolphins were playing around the Coast Guard boat. It was surreal. We watched the tender head for shore and about forty-five minutes later, it came back and we were on our way again. The patient was on his way to a hospital in Melbourne where we heard later he was doing much better.

On the way from Adelaide to Albany we had two sea days. Sometime in the afternoon, Bob suddenly noticed that the ship was heading away from the sun instead of into it. Sure enough, an announcement came that we had another medical emergency. (We found out later that this time an 84 year old lady was having a heart attack or stroke.) We were literally miles from nowhere at this point. Where were they going?

The answer came while we were in the dining room. While we still couldn’t see a shore line clearly we noticed a helicopter circling the ship which was now in some calmer waters where it was less windy. There was no chance to watch but what we heard was that a basket was lowered and the lady was taken by helicopter ashore—possibly to an airfield to be flown by the flying doctors that Australia is so famous for.

The  turned once again and picked up speed to make up for lost time. The captain put pedal to the medal—all five generators were reportedly fired up and we were doing something like 21 knots which I believe is about 24 land mph. Eventually we heard that the lady was doing better too. Her husband got off the ship when it docked in Albany a day later.

There is a stretch of Indian Ocean where there is nothing we can see from Perth to the first small islands where we stop. We kind of wonder what would happen if we have an emergency then. I hope we don’t find out.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

World Cruise - Albany, Australia

Just when you think you’ve seen all Australia could possibly have to offer, you find another spot begging for exploration. Albany is that spot. We had never been in the Southwest corner of Australia—at least not this far into it. The coast line is absolutely fantastic. Rugged cliffs mix with serene sandy beaches where the surf leaves its foamy footprint.

I fell in love the moment we entered the harbor. Little islands of green dotted the harbor entrance as the sun lazily made its morning climb. We had an early excursion and were on the road by 8:45 AM. Looking out across the bay was a bit like déjà vu. The way the sun shone silvery through the early morning haze was much like the scenes from the New Zealand sounds.
We had been told a week prior that the excursion would not include the wind farm as promised because of road construction but we were delighted to hear that we were on our way there. They must have made progress or else felt safe in letting us travel over the area of road that was mostly red dirt now. If it had rained, I think the wind farm would have stayed canceled.

We’ve been to windfarms before so that wasn’t as attractive to us as the lookouts along the trail that ran in between the softly whispering giants. Not a lot of wind this day but a welcome gentle breeze. The sun had pretty much burned off the morning haze and now we could see it shimmering off blue and turquoise waters below us.

Our guide told us that there was the chance of seeing some skinks (lizards) and perhaps other critters—maybe even a python that seem to have taken up residence. Lizards, okay. Snakes, no. I watched my step. We made it back to the bus without any encounters.

Next stop, Stony Hill. It lived up to its name. It was a huge hill of stone that had been lifted by shifting plates in the earth. No danger of volcanoes here, our guide said, just earthquakes. Again it was a fantastic lookout point with no lizards and thankfully no snakes.

We did have a question of ours answered by a sign in the Torndirrup National Park. The unusual flowers we’d seen on some trees are called banksia. When I first saw a bloom, I thought someone had stuck a corn cop on the tree. The sign said something about honey but I’ll have to do a little more research on that one. That’s the other great thing about revisiting places at different times of the year. You see things blooming or in different stages in a life cycle. We’d never seen the banksia before.
A bit ahead of schedule, our bus driver took it slower as we passed by several fields where we could see kangaroos in the distance under the shade of a tree. One even got up and hopped a bit to the delight of many on the bus.

We criss-crossed the town and drove up to the ANZAC memorial on the top of the far hill on the other side of town. The memorial was in honor of those who fought in WWI from Australia and New Zealand. The original monument was in Port Said, Egypt, but in 1956 during the Suez crisis, a crowd attacked the monument and tore it down. The pieces were sent to Australia and an artist created a new statue based on the original. It was decided to place the monument in Albany since it was the port where the corps left and those remaining returned.

Again, the views from the top were great. And I happened upon a plant I recognized. I’ve never seen it growing naturally. I knew it from my days as a florist. The plant is called kangaroo paws or at least that is the name I knew it by. It’s always fun to find flowers I used back then growing in the places we visit.

One more stop, unscheduled but since we’d not taken as much time as allotted, the bus driver treated us to a stop at an old fort that must have been part of the fortification of the area during the great wars since there were bunkers built into the hillside and several examples of huge artillery. We walked off the beaten path a bit to take a side trail that showed example of defensive equipment and bunkers and happened upon a skink, two actually. When we got closer, we saw the second. No pythons though. Whew!

A quick ride through town and we were back at the ship. There was still time to take a shuttle into town (a ten minute ride) but we decided to try the pizza out on board ship now that we’d found it. Oh, there I go talking about food again. It was great pizza and after a little nap, I was ready to take up my spot on the back of the Lido Deck and do a little writing before our ship headed out into the open water again.

We bid goodbye to Albany. Well, not really goodbye but more like “See ya’ again sometime!”

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