The Big Trip, Part 15

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Confined to Quarters on the QM 2

A call to the medical center brought a young woman carrying a large red backpack. She took my temperature, my blood pressure, and measured my heart rate. Then, she gave me an injection that knocked me out for hours. Even after waking, I was so groggy I could hardly stand. All I wanted to do was sleep more. Late in the evening Kay ordered some chicken broth for me from room service.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Our stateroom on the QM 2

I’m feeling somewhat more normal and hungry enough to order oatmeal, a bagel, and some hot tea. As Kay had been restricted to the stateroom for four days, she was able to offer advice about the best things to order from room service and how to find the listings for the day’s TV offerings.

Today Kay was released from quarantine. She went ashore with Marilyn and John, who has recovered and been released. Today’s port of call is Castries, St Lucia, another island I’m fated not to see on this cruise.

For those of us confined to quarters, two-person teams come into our stateroom twice a day to sanitize it. They wipe surfaces with a Virox solution they carry in buckets. They change our towels, empty our trash receptacles, and provide us with fresh glassware. Once a day they change our sheets and pillowcases while we sit idly by getting in their way. We get our meals from room service. The ship even does our laundry for us at no charge, a nice benefit.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

St Maarten

Kay and I went ashore with John and Marilyn into the town of Phillipsberg, St Maarten. Judging by the number of other giant cruise ships surrounding ours, this island must be one of the most popular.

San Maarten

It certainly looks a lot different than St Kitts, my only point of comparison. Where our first impression of that island was of dirt and decrepitude, Phillipsberg looked fresh and new. In fact, the first square we entered at the end of the long, concrete pier put me in mind of a Disney resort. The buildings surrounding us looked unnaturally clean and colorful, like the set of a TV sitcom.

San Maarten

There is, in fact, very little indigenous character to this place and the character that exists is that of a shopping center. I’m coming to think that these ports of call are little more than open-air shopping malls with agreeable weather and lovely scenery. What distinguishes shopping here from our home countries are the prices. Everything is duty-and tax-free.

While the ladies shopped, John and I found a shady table, ordered bottles of Carib, and had some interesting conversation. My friend told me tales about his early life that I don’t believe I had ever heard.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

St Thomas

St Thomas – Magens Bay Beach

Last night I declared that today I would go to the beach and, as there were no volunteers to accompany me, I would go alone. My destination was Magens Bay, ranked highly among the world’s best beaches. It is a great beach. However, getting there was not pleasant. Taxis on St Thomas take the form of open jitneys that seat up to twelve persons across three bench seats. The dispatchers that marshaled and loaded the vehicles were loud and brusque, and once on the road our driver thrilled/terrified us with the speed he took the steep hills and curves getting to the north side of the island. I sat next to a frightened psychotherapist from Toronto who has treated traumatized victims of automobile accidents. His work has made him especially sensitive to how frequently accidents occur and the damage they cause.

Magens Bay Beach

On the beach I installed myself on a chaise lounge facing the water and took stock of my surroundings. In front of me was a beautiful bay with green hills on either side. As Magens is on the north side of the island, the morning sun was behind me. I was sheltered further by some broad, leafy trees. The white sand was very fine and clean as was the crystal clear water. I sat for a long time with my book on my lap watching the passing show in front of me. I took special delight in the pelicans and frigate birds as they dove for fish among the bathers just off shore. Later, when I left my chaise and went into the water, I saw that I was standing among schools of hundreds of tiny fish, and that these were what the birds were feeding on. Magens Beach is safe and well maintained. When an occasional paddleboat would stray beyond the buoys into the swimmers’ zone, lifeguards dressed in red uniforms would warn it off. I was as contented here as I’ve ever been on any beach and could have stayed all day except that I wanted to see a bit of Charlotte Amalie, the island’s principal town.

I’m happy I did because Charlotte Amalie’s architectural significance is far greater than that of the other island towns I’ve seen on this cruise.

Danes colonized St Thomas and ruled the island until the United States bought it from Denmark in 1917. The Danish heritage is visible in street names like Forts Straede and Ny Gade that I passed on my walk.

Charlotte Amalie

Almost all of the colonial-era buildings lining both sides of the downtown’s main street have two storeys. A few have balconies with ornate iron railings. These days, the stores at street level are all jewelry shops, and there are dozens of them. The doors and street-level windows all along the street have rounded heads. Either because it was Sunday or because the shoppers from the cruise ships had disappeared, by late afternoon all these shops were closed and barred with heavy steel padlocked to thick, wooden doors. In Charlotte Amalie there are no vitrines visible after closing hours, which gives its main street a forbidding aspect.

Charlotte Amalie’s 99 Steps

After a late lunch of four tasty squares of salted flat bread topped with melted mozzarella, tomatoes, and garlic, I continued my walk, taking in a couple of venerable churches, the governor’s mansion, an old colonial hotel, and an historic flight of stairs known as the 99 Steps.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Sargasso Sea

On this final day of the year, we are once again on the high seas, heading north toward New York. From our breakfast table we gazed out at dark clouds and whitecaps. Walking around the promenade deck, we were alternately pushed and buffeted by a strong wind.

The Queen Mary 2 is not a cruise ship per se. She’s the only remaining ocean liner in the world, and as such is remarkably stable in today’s choppy sea.

The entertainment highlight of the day was a dance extravaganza entitled Apassionata. The male and female dancers from several countries, but especially from Ukraine, were brilliant as they performed a wide repertoire to the music of The Royal Court Theatre Orchestra. The troupe changed costumes multiple times in keeping with the numbers and choreography. My favorite moments were the swing dancing to the music of Benny Goodman’s Sing, Sing, Sing and the amazing acrobatics of the Cossack dancing by the Ukrainian men. Apassionata put everyone in a celebratory mood for the last few hours of 2012.

On our dining table we found cardboard hats and noisemakers. Because of the din that erupted from time to time during dinner, we all expressed regret that the latter hadn’t been distributed after the meal. Our dinner and the fellowship the six of us enjoyed around the table was the climax of our evening. We had all retired before the stroke of midnight.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

At Sea En Route to New York

Our penultimate evening meal was notable for its acknowledgements. A ‘chef’s parade” had twenty-four of the ship’s chefs, wearing their toques, march through the restaurant single file as the entertainment director introduced them by name, nationality, and specialty. Our irrepressible server, Szabrina from Hungary, acknowledged us as patrons while we gave her kudos for taking such good care of us. When one eats at the same table each evening for nearly two weeks, a server’s astute recommendations and excellent service are a blessing.

We love the moment when we turn off the lights in our stateroom each night. We’re going to miss the comfort of this wonderful bed.