Jul. 12th, 2011

Saturday

Jul. 12th, 2011 06:50 am
tafeanorn: (Default)
Saturday, we’ll call it Saturday although the word doesn’t really have any meaning to us at the moment, was a disaster.  Not a major disaster -- no one hurt or left behind or stolen from or anything -- but a disaster in sanity and planning.

But, as I write this, maybe I’m exaggerating.  It wasn’t so bad (or at least it probably won’t seem so in hindsight a few days from now).  The bad things that happened were planned for (though a magnitude greater than I had planned for) and that plan was activated.  But I do feel very bad that my plan got us all is such a rotten situation.  But enough of beating around the bush, let’s get on to what actually happened.

We got on the plane shortly after my last post on Friday Seattle time about 1:00 pm.  There was a slight communication error or misunderstanding between the airline staff and many of the flyers, including us.  So we had to wait in a line and have our passports inspected again.  Not a problem, just a different line to stand in.

We got our seats and they were fine, right over the wing.  Cute toddler sitting behind us.  Geeky, tossled, unkempt-haired guy sitting next to me.  French woman a few seats back demanding to see the pilot because she had been pulled out of line and made to show her passport.  She eventually got the head steward and went on to bitch up a storm, her story changing every few minutes -- first she was flying on important business, then for pleasure, that she traveled to the US dozens of time each year, then once or twice a year. 

We got into the air on time and all three of us went promptly to sleep, Chris and I getting some help from a muscle relaxant.  Now, this had been our plan.  We’d been up early that morning -- at 2:30 am -- with just this in mind.  Our 1:40 pm takeoff landed at 8:00 am with a 10 hour flight time.  Don’t question the math, it’s the wonder of time zones.  So the plan was a good one -- be tired, sleep for ten hours (or eight or five or six depending on how well we were able to sleep).  Wake up at 7:00 in the morning ready to be on Europe time and sightsee away.

I put on my noise-dampening headphones and iPod with some nice relaxing music to drown out the noise of the teenaged girls soccer team that was flying to Denmark for a big game and went to sleep. 

The stewards bringing around the main meal were pretty loud and woke me up about an hour into my sleep, but I just kept my eyes closed and tried to tune it and get back to sleep -- until they shook my shoulder to wake me up!  They did the same to Chris and Becca.

WTF!?! Who ever heard of a flight attendant waking someone up for some bad food?  I admit that I don’t fly that much, but I often sleep on the plane and have never had this happen before.  I started getting mad and dwelling on that minor outrage and that was the end of sleep for me.  I tried to sleep for the next three hours, only to spend twenty or thirty minutes relaxing and trying to sleep and eventually drifting off, but then having some bit of noise wake me up ten or fifteen minutes later.  Or the guy next to me elbowing me in the ribs.  He did that a lot, as he fumbled around for manga in his bag.

And then the toddler woke up, and wanted to play with his Leapfrog. “T T T T T T T T T T T T T T T T” it said loudly in its slightly computerized voice as the kid pounded on the toy.  “Y Y Y Y Y  Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y  Y Y Y”
And then his mom would get mad at him and, in a whispered yell, tell him to shut up or stop that.  But that was the end of sleeping.  I woke up first (or more likely, gave up trying first) and watched an episode of _ Big Bang Theory_ on the personal video screen.  Then once the others admitted to being awake, we all watched the movie _Paul_.  So total sleep, 90 minutes, maybe 2 hours.

We landed in Amsterdam on time in the rain and we were all dead tired.  Becca was grumpy but Chris and I were coping pretty well.  We got through customs surprisingly fast and easy and got cash and a bite to eat at Burger King (yeah, I know, but the kid was grumpy and hungry).  That was at about 9:00 am.

We got our rental car, though as the younger guy looked up my reservation he turned to the other older fellow working there and said, “Did you see this reservation?” in a tone that I well recognized from U-Haul.  It was one of those, “Can you believe that the internet let someone make a stupid rental like this?” looks.

The care was an Opel Astra Wagon and was VERY nice.  Just enough room for our bags, built-in GPS and iPod support, cruise control, manual transmission.  Very fun and easy to drive.  If I was in the market for a new car, I think that is one that could stand a chance at replacing my beloved Saturn SW2.

We drove south into Belgium with the town of Leuven being our eventual destination, but with plans to stop in the Dutch town of den Bosch for lunch.  Driving was easy, especially with the help of Margaret, the name we gave to the female-voiced GPS in the car.  Even going through the tiny, poorly-labeled streets of medieval den Bosch, was relatively easy. 

Relatively being a great weasel-word.  It took extreme concentration and I really should have found a chart of European road signs and studied it a bit.  One Way signs were a lot harder to recognize than you’d think they should be, and I would not be surprised to find out we had gone the wrong way down a few.

Den Bosch was great to look at, but the excitement was starting to wear off and Becca had already crashed in the back seat of the car, so we decided to skip lunch.  The local museum was under construction and looked closed, and the open-air market, which was one of the highlights of the town in my mind, was not to be found.  We found a beautiful church in the neighboring town of Drust (?), that we happened upon by accident.

But the stress of the difficult driving was getting to both of us (though I wouldn’t admit it t the time) and we were coming down from the excitement high and so we decided to continue toward Leuven.

After some really gorgeous driving down some rural roads we got onto the freeway.  Despite Margaret and Google Maps both agreeing with each other, but seeming to disagree with the paper road map we’d bought, we made it to our hotel in Leuven right at 2:00 pm.  It was a stunning building but we were in no condition to appreciate it.  Luckily our room was ready, so we parked, unloaded and trucked our heavy bags up two flights of stairs to our room.

And collapsed.  That’s not a euphemism or an exaggeration.  We closed the shutters, turned off the lights, used the bathroom, and fell into the bed and slept.  At this point we were 27 hours with 2 hours of sleep or 51 hours with something like 6 or 7 hours of sleep.  I can’t remember the last time I was so tired.  Maybe never.

So we slept.  The girls slept better than I did.  One problem, at least in this situation, was that the room didn’t have a clock.  My watch’s battery had died while we were on the plane (bad luck that!).  The only other clocks we had were on our computers.

The first time I woke up I’m going to guess was around 6:00 pm.  I then passed in and out of consciousness, maybe waking every hour, until there was no more light coming through the window shutters, when I guessed it was about 10:00 pm.  I kept drifting in and out, but as the night went on, a headache of massive proportions was building.  I got feeling pretty down as the pain worsened and had a harder and harder time getting back to sleep.

I finally gave up and stumbled around in the dark and fished out my laptop.  3:30 am local time.  We’d been asleep for over 13 hours, although it had been a pretty restless one for me.  My headache was horrible, and I theorized it was because I hadn’t eaten in nearly 24 hours.  I tried to find a 24-hour grocery store online but had no luck. 

The girls woke up about then, and Christine had a stash of pretzels and ibuprophin and that helped a little. We turned on the TV and watched some American and British shows with subtitles.  I wrote the first four paragraphs of this entry before the sun rose and we started packing up and getting showers.

We talked.  We laughed.  We got online and saw pictures of our kitties that Kelsey had posted to Facebook.  Becca played City of Heroes on her laptop and we both helped her do a big trial.  That felt really good, and despite the headache that would not go away, it moved us forward from the misery of Saturday onto what would turn out to be a good Sunday.

Sunday

Jul. 12th, 2011 06:54 am
tafeanorn: (Default)
Sunday

We’ll say then, that Sunday started around 6:00 am.  Chris and I walked around the hotel, The Lodge Heverlee, just south of Leuven.  We walked across the street to Amstel (?) Castle, now part of the Catholic University of Leuven.  We took pictures.

There was some confusion over when breakfast was -- either at 7:00 or 8:00.  Problem, was, we needed to leave by 8:00 to get our car to Rotterdam by 11:00.  So, we were hoping it was at 7:00, but of course, it wasn’t until 8:00.  So we left, with the intention of doing a little sight-seeing in Leuven, getting some food and leaving town by 8:00.

We drove then to the Groot Begijnhof, a walled-off community of religious women in medieval times, now the residences of guest professors to the University and a UNESCO Heritage site.  I had lived in one of the most famous buildings of the Begijnhof in 1981-82 and the reason we had come to Leuven was so that I could show the town and the Begijnhof to Christine and Becca.

Becca was unimpressed.  She grumbled about the cobblestones.  She couldn’t believe that people left there bicycles out in front of their houses unlocked.  We tried to put the place into an historic perspective.  She was having none of it.  But I think, or maybe it is just that I _hope_, she appreciated something of the place.  Chris did, or at least said she did, and I appreciated that a lot.

We were only there for fifteen or twenty minutes.  Just enough time to walk five or six blocks, take a few pictures, tell a few stories.  My headache throbbed but even through it, it felt really good to show them that place.  That place that had been so scary and terrible and frustrating, and yet so wondrous and inspiring.  And then we were back in the car, listening to Becca’s iPod, trying and failing to find a place were we could get a bite to eat, and finally just giving up and programming Rotterdam into the GPS.

Margaret let us back on the freeway, and before long we came to rest stop that also had a restaurant.  That should be “restaurant.”  It had lees food than a small 7-11. We got some bread, a Belgian waffle, a cold, hard, salty sausage and coffee and it felt like a feast.  And between the food and the caffeine, my headache finally went away. 

The rest of the drive was fun, with us deciphering signs and graffiti, looking a beautiful scenery and getting passed like we were standing still while we were going 130.  Margaret led us to the cruise terminal in Rotterdam.  I dropped off Chris, Becca and our luggage, and then had her take me to the train station to return the rental car. 

I had one problem, and that was with re-fueling the car.  The gas cap cover had no finger hole to open it manually, so I looked for a release inside the car.  Looked all over couldn’t find one.  Went back outside and tried to pry open the cover.  No luck.  Pulled the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment and tried to make sense of it.  It was in Dutch, of course, but eventually found the page that talked about refueling, but there was no picture referencing a switch or a trick.  I went back out and tried to pry it open and in the process, pushed it and on its rebound, it opened.  Problem solved.  It just took ten minutes.

I walked a few blocks to the train station and hailed a cab back to the cruise terminal.  He took the scenic route, leading me down the river one bridge more than he needed to, so I only gave him a 50 cent tip.  I quickly met back up with Chris and Becca, and we were on board the ship in less than an hour.

We gave ourselves the tour of the ship, figuring out where everything was.  We got the tour of the spa, and bought a VIP membership.  We had lunch.  Our room was clean by 2:00 pm, so they let us in at that point.  All three of us zonked out on the beds, still in our clothes.  It was the best sleep I’d had in three days and it felt fabulous.  The only reason we woke up was for the safety drill at 4:00 pm.

After that we went up to the Crow’s Nest, the bar up on the highest level of the ship in the front.  We sat up there, drank mojitos and daquiris, and watched us pull out of Rotterdam through the oil refineries and industrial district.  It was the first time I’d had a mojito (it was the discounted drink of the day) and it was very good.  So good, that I wound up having three...

We stayed up there for quite a while until it was time to change for dinner at 8:00.  Chris & I both had prime rib, I had prosciuto as an appetizer, a very thin minestrone soup and then a brownie layer cake and cheese platter for desert.  Becca had a teen event at 9:00, so she left dinner early.  Chris went straight back to the room to go to bed after dinner, while I went to the casino in the hopes of playing poker.

A full table of poker players never turned up, so I didn’t play, but while I was waiting they had a raffle that I wound up winning for a bottle of champagne, a casino polo shirt and a baseball cap.  I was in bed around 11:15 and slept wonderfully.

Monday

Jul. 12th, 2011 09:36 pm
tafeanorn: (Default)
Monday

Monday was our first full day on the ship and it was _so_ easy just to fall back into habits of other cruises.  It’s almost like coming back home.  Everything is in the same place.  The schedule is the same.  The face are different, but the people -- the stewards and the housekeeping staff and the bartenders -- are the same, helpful, friendly folks that have been on every other cruise.

We got up at 7:00 am and were at breakfast a short time later.  Bacon, eggs (too runny), three different kinds of sausage, fried potatoes, and coffee.  And then to the spa by 8:00.  Chris had a massage appointment then, and since we had signed up for the VIP spa membership, I did that while she got hot stoned.

Now the thermal suite of the spa is something new for us.  I had been curious about it on our last cruise, but couldn’t quite justify the price, but the more I thought about the more I had wanted it last time, and so one this cruise I was determined to give it a try.

What is it?  First off it has a bunch of contoured, tiled beds facing a giant picture window looking out over the starboard side of the ship.  The contours of the bed fit the natural reclining shape of your body with your knees slightly elevated.  The tiles are heated from within, to just over body temperature, suffusing your body with an extremely relaxing heat.

Also in the room is a very warm, mineral water jaccuzi.  There is a special misting shower that sprays a cold, refreshing cloud of water to cool you off if you get overheated.  They play soothing new age music and there is ice-cold water to drink.

And it was fabulous.  So relaxing.  Nothing o do but lie there and relax, staring out at the North Sea rolling by, reading one of the Bernard Cornwell ‘Saxon’ novels.  Every so often taking a break to soak in the hot tub.  I spent 90 minutes doing that and then met back up with Chris.  We blogged a little and got our computers hooked up to the internet.

It was a sea day, meaning that there was no stopping in any ports, just continuing to sail from The Netherlands north toward Oslo.  The North Sea was very calm, with just the smallest ripples across its surface.  Hardly the dangerous, deadly, storm-ridden sea I picture.

At noon there was  Texas Hold ‘Em tournament that I went to, but there was still not enough people to play, so I still didn’t get any poker in.  I determined to try again at the 2:00 tournament.

We had lunch in the cafeteria, though we did it at the height of the lunch hour and had trouble finding a place to sit.  I had Swiss steak and potatoes, and a big slab of roast ham.

About this time, we met up with Becca, who was having a bit of a rough time.  While there are a bunch of kids on the cruise, there aren’t any other teens.  She had spent some time hanging out with the teen coordinator, just the two of them.  But she had also been working on  project of her  own.

Before we left, she had taken part in a YouTube music video challenge.  They supplied a song and then challenged people to submit homemade music videos for the song.  She wrangled together seven or eight of her friends and shot a video for it on the two days right before we left, on so she had spent Monday morning editing the video together.   She and her friends did a fabulous job and since the contest ends on the 19th, we’re going to have to figure out how to upload it over the next few days.  Once it’s posted, I supply links.
 
Much to my surprise, the 2:00 poker tournament did actually happen, though with only four of us.  I was the first one out, an unlucky break of a big hand and then I played a small pair too passively pre-flop.

Chris went to a gemstone and jewelry talk, and I went back to the room for a nap.  After the talk she joined me, and we slept until about 6:00.  We went up tot he Crow’s Nest for the drink of the day -- a Glacial Lemon Drop (a regular Lemon Drop with something blue added to it).

That night was a formal night, so we got dressed up and went to dinner.  Becca was feeling tired and uncomfortable in her formal wear, so she left dinner early.  That left Chris and I alone for much of dinner so we were able to have a really good talk about the what had worked and not worked the two days before and what we could have done differently.  We’re getting much better at having difficult talks like this and we able to have a very pleasant dinner despite the tricky subject of the conversation.

After dinner, Becca was already fast asleep, so Chris and I went to the Best of Broadway show in the big theater, which consisted of five or six Broadway and West End performers doing famous musical numbers.  That took us up to 11:00 pm, and so we back to the room and went to bed, because first thing in the morning we would be arriving in Oslo!

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