Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The People Were the Best

This is the last post about our cruise, I promise, and it's a long one. There's no knitting content, so if you're sick to death of hearing about our Caribbean experience, just move along. There should be some knitting content tomorrow.

Everyone we met was interesting, and we really lucked out with our table assignment for dinner. There was a a couple from England (Trevor and Sarah) and a family from Australia (Peter, Marion, and their sons Martin, 19, and Nick, 16).

I was delighted when Marion sat next to me the first night because my favorite TV show, bar none, is an Australian series called McCleod's Daughters. (It's no longer available in the States. We order each new season when it's released on DVD.) I was a tad disappointed to learn that Marion doesn't watch MD, but I soon got over it.

It turns out Marion and Peter are environmental scientists. They’ve lived in some exotic places (i.e. Jakarta) and have taken some adventurous vacations. Next year Peter plans to take a motorcycle tour of northern India with his mates, and then meet up with Marion in Nepal for a 3 week backpacking trip to Base Camp on Everest, complete with guide and Sherpas.

Trevor and Sarah have traveled extensively (Marion had great fun challenging Trevor about his carbon footprint because he prefers to fly first class), and they own homes in several countries. They bought Sarah’s engagement ring in Singapore. Before the cruise, they arrived in Florida early to take advantage of the weak US dollar. Sarah was happy because she loaded up on “trainers” (athletic shoes) at JC Penney.

Top row: Peter, Trevor, Nick, and Marion
Bottom: Dave, me, and Sarah
Missing that evening: Martin

Everything you’ve heard about the level of service on cruise ships is true on the Radiance of the Sea. One evening I left my knitting on the bed (it was made) and came back to find that Francis, our cabin attendant, had gently moved it to the love seat – not a stitch had been dropped. In its place was an animal made from twisted towels. We found a different animal every night.

On occasion, Francis helped himself to Dave’s sun glasses to enhance his work.

Our waiter at dinner was Malakey (pronounced Male-a-key), and he’s from India. I’m lactose intolerant and have other dietary restrictions, but Malakey made it his personal mission to see that I ate well every night. By the end of the cruise, Peter was asking to have whatever I was having sight-unseen, and Trevor suggested I work on perfecting my Queen of England waive because I was so spoiled. If I could have taken one person home with me after the cruise, it would have been Malakey, no question.

Among the musicians onboard was an amazing duo from the Phillipines called Rosario Strings. The electric violinist explained that missionaries introduced him to the violin when he was 11 and gave him lessons for 2 years. When the missionaries moved on, his family couldn’t afford lessons or an instrument, so he didn’t get to play again until he borrowed a violin from a friend when he was 23. Now he earns his living as a professional musician (he’s incredibly talented) and his two sons study violin in NYC – one of them at Julliard.

On St. Martin we met a cabdriver who was born on Curacao and had been a cop on Aruba before coming to St. Martin for a 2 week vacation 18 years ago. He never left. He speaks 5 languages and is especially proud of a younger brother who works for a shipbuilder and speaks 10 languages. The cabdriver shared some surprising insights about the Natalee Holloway disappearance. He said it’s not uncommon for people to “disappear” in the Caribbean only to reappear later, and he believes Natalee will turn up alive eventually. That attitude probably explains why the Aruban authorities did such a half-assed investigation. I believe Natalee Holloway is dead, but for her parents’ sake I hope the cabdriver is right.

To my surprise I didn’t meet a single self-identified knitter. In fact, over the 8 day cruise, only one person even commented on my knitting. It felt like the Twilight Zone. When people asked, we told them we were from Ohio. When they asked what we do for fun in Ohio, we were hard-pressed to come up with an interesting answer. I confess that I wimped out and did not say “I knit.” When compared to motor cycle tours across northern India, backpacking on Everest, and shopping in Singapore, knitting sounded lame somehow – even to me.

Monday, December 24, 2007

If You're Celebrating...

Have a merry Christmas! If you're not, enjoy the break. Happy knitting.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Series of Unfortunate Events

To recap, I returned from a weeklong Caribbean cruise on Sunday. I came back more relaxed than I can ever remember being as an adult. It was heaven. I went back to work on Tuesday determined to stay relaxed as long as possible, but I've been tested.

On Monday I discovered my car wouldn't start. The battery was dead. I used Dave's SUV to run errands. When I stopped for gas I tried to run my credit card through the reader at the gas pump, but it cracked and almost split into 2 pieces. I believe the card cracked from the cold. Nancy suggested it might be due to fatigue from over use.

This morning I discovered my hair dryer was dead. I tried multiple outlets to no avail. I briefly considered calling in sick because this was going to be a bad hair day, but I carried on.


This afternoon Fran assured me that bad things come in threes, and my streak was over.

Then my son called to tell me he'd spilled hot chocolate on my library book.

He said it was drying, and assured me I'd definitely be able to finish reading it, but the library was going to want to replace it.

I'm still determined to maintain a state of calm and relaxation for as long as possible. It's time to go to my happy place and focus on the positive.

1. None of these events were catastrophies. Every one of them were merely minor annoyances. While it sucks to spend money on car repairs instead of fun stuff - especially at this time of year - I'm grateful that this doesn't create a financial hardship.

2. My sons are home for part of their winter breaks. Brian studied abroad this semester, and I haven't seen him since the end of August. It is such a joy to spend time with both of them.

3. I just got home from a fabulous cruise.

Vacation memories are a pleasant distraction, so let me tell you about St. Martin. Half the island is a French colony. The other half is part of the Netherland Antillies. The French spell the name of the island: St. Martin. The Dutch spell it: St. Martaan. There are other differences, including the languages children are required to learn in school. Each side of the island has it's own cell phone system, and they are not compatible. I'm not kidding. Cabbies have to carry 2 cell phones - 1 for each side. On one side of the island the electrical current is 220, on the other side it's 110. Seriously. People who live on the French side pay signicantly higher taxes, but residents can't just pick up and move to the other country. Thankfully, the Dutch and the French signed a treaty several centuries ago whereby residents and guests can travel freely across the border. The only way you know you've passed from one country to the other is the quality of the roads. The roads are much better on the French side of the island.

In spite of all of that complexity, St. Martin was the most beautiful of the islands we visited. In the morning we took an art tour and visited 5 artists in their homes/studios. In the afternoon, we took a taxi from the Dutch harbor to Marigot, the French capital. Somehow we did not take photos of many of the sweeping views. Sorry about that. You'll just have to take my word for it that St. Martin has beautiful beaches and sensational views.

However, since we are sailors, we did get the obligatory harbor shot...

and another harbor shot, closer up.

This is a shot of downtown Marigot near the flea market next to the ocean. Note the fort on top of the hill. Every island we visited had a fort. Wars have been fought over these islands.

Here is another street shot of Marigot. The streets are really narrow, and four wheel all terrain vehicles are a common means of transportation there.

By now you must be getting sick of vacation pictures. Don't worry. St. Martin was the last island we visited. However, I'm saving the best part of the trip for last. In my next post I'll tell you about the people we met.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Without Further Ado

I'm really tired tonight, so you get Antigua without much commentary.

Of all of the places we visited, Antigua felt the most like a third world country. There were small cars and what looked like miniature minivans everywhere. Everyone drove like maniacs - including our tour driver. He even gave himself a scare at one point.

Tourism is just about the only industry. The shopping district is right off the piers.

Until the mid 1900s there was some sugarcane production. The structure at the end of this lane is a remnant of the last sugar mill on the island.

There were mountains and cliffs with wonderful vistas. This is one of the harbors.

A view from the cliffs.

A sailboat underway. I don't think I could ever tire of the views in the Caribbean.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pleasant Distractions at Sea

Teresa wants to know what knitting I did during the cruise. My knitting A.D.D. continues. I brought 2 skeins of Socks That Rock and started a Chevron Scarf (top left), 2 skeins of Cherry Tree Hill Super Sock - in turquois and red and started a Japanese Vines scarf (middle), and a skein of Dream in Color in the yummy Lagoon colorway (top right) - a birthday gift from T (Thanks T!) - and started a pair of socks. You can see how far I got with each project. Pitiful, huh?

I also brought the almost finished tank top knit with Callista in the Desert Rose colorway. We flew down to Ft. Lauderdale the day before we sailed and spent the night in a hotel. That evening I crocheted the edging, wove in the ends, and pressed the edging. I felt really virtuous when I finished the tank in time for the cruise.

Then I got distracted.

This is a harbor on St. Thomas.

Some impressive yachts were docked right next to the Radiance. Check out the helicopters on the boat at the bottom of the photo and the boat at the top. On the bottom boat there's also a sailboat on the side deck, a small power boat on the top deck and another small power boat on the bow. Wow.

We had signed up to go for a sail on a catamaran to another island and do some snorkeling, but the excursion was canceled because the seas were too rough. So we did a little shopping and then took a tour of the island.

Our last stop was at Sapphire Beach - far and away the most beautiful beach I've ever seen.

We left our swimsuits on the ship, but I just had to wade in.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Week at Sea

Sorry about the long silence. Dave and I were away on a cruise of the eastern Caribbean. We got home late last night. (Dave asked me not to mention much about the trip before we left for security reasons.)

There's much to show and tell, so I'll have to share our adventure over several posts. This was my first cruise, and it was quite an experience.

We sailed with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines on Radiance of the Seas. The boat was spectacular. There were 2,000 guests and about 800 staff onboard.

That's me clowning around in Deck 12. (Notice I'm wearing the teal tank top made with Callista.) Behind me is the outside pool on Deck 11. It was windy, rainy, and cool that day so no one was in the pool, but it was crowded most of the time. A band played island music every day, and some people danced at poolside when the spirit moved them. There was also an indoor pool in a windowed area on Deck 11 called the Solarium. I spent a fair amount of time in there knitting and watching the ocean go by.

We had a day at sea, and then our first stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico.

That's Dave on Deck 12 with San Juan harbor behind him.

Dave disembarked and used the opportunity to photograph me standing on our balcony. (I'm just above the "R" in Radiance.)

Dave was standing on the pier when he took that shot. Our cabin was on Deck 7. From our balcony we could see the bridge where the captain steers the ship. We could also follow the ship's progress on the TV in our cabin - which provided live video from a camera on the bridge overlooking the bow alternating with a map of our progress through the Caribbean and GPS readings. Since Dave is a pilot he loves maps, readings, and instrumentation. When he was happy with the ship's progress he could stand on the balcony and give Captain Mal a thumbs up. I'm sure that made Captain Mal's day.

The weather was gray and rainy for the first few days.

In San Juan we did a little sightseeing then got rained on, so we came back to the ship and warmed up in the Schooner Bar with some Irish coffees.

That night there was a big storm. The ship was tossed about in the waves. It crashed loudly and shuddered all night. I was really thankful that we were on a big cruise ship. There's no way our little 23 foot sailboat could have withstood a storm like that. The next morning Captain Mal announced that we'd ridden through tropical depression Olga. He'd tried to avoid her, but she'd taken an unexpected turn and we were caught. Later we learned that over 20 people in Puerto Rico were killed by the storm. Although it was a rough ride, the captain assured us that we were never in any danger.

To my surprise I found I really liked the ship's motion. When we take the Odyssey out on the lake the motion of the boat on the waves relaxes me, and this was no different. We were lucky, though. Dave and I had a touch of queasiness the first day but no other sea sickness after that. A number of passengers wore sea sickness patches, and some people got pretty sick. At dinner we learned that one man was so sea sick after the first 3 days that he begged the captain to have him airlifted home. (The Radiance has a small helipad on the bow.) The spa staff gave him an accupuncture treatment to see if that would help. I never heard whether it worked or not, but no one was airlifted off the boat during the cruise.

The weather and the scenery improved after that. We had a lot of fun, but I'll tell you more about that tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sick Day

Yesterday I stayed home from work with a headache that made my eyeballs hurt. It turned out to be a good day to stay home because it was REALLY COLD, and we got several inches of snow.

I hate it when I take a sick day, and I'm too sick to do anything. No laundry got done. No errands were run. No bills got paid. Late in the afternoon there was a little knitting - just enough to finish the back of another tank. It's on the blocking board now. I still don't have time or energy for photos, so you're going to have to use your imagination.

Last night I was able to summon the energy to haul out the swift and ball winder. The new Dream In Color Smooshie (Blue Lagoon colorway) and the Socks That Rock (Lapis and Fire on the Mountain colorways) are now in cakes. My energy was depleted after that. You'll have to use your imagination again. Pics someday. I promise. There wasn't even energy for knitting after that.

Today is a new day. I'm off to work. Dave's been out of town on business, and he's coming home today. The sun is out. Things are looking up.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime (I Hope)

Today is Tuesday, right? Just checkin'. This is another crunch week, and I've been forced to make some hard choices.

Workouts? Not this week. And I was doing so well, too. Up until yesterday, I'd stuck to my vow of 45 minutes a day on the LifeCycle. That's just not going to happen this week. It's not going to happen next week, either.

As you can see blogging's taken a major hit, too. Photos? Forget about them. For now anyway. I might as well apologize right up front because there's going to be little if any blogging for the next 2 weeks.

I've learned a few more hard lessons this week. Under the heading of "Ridiculous Expectations" I can now add the following:

1. It's ridiculous to prepare for the holidays and prepare for a vacation at the same time. Right now I'm so busy I haven't even had time to make lists. I need to make lists of gifts to buy, lists of toiletries needed, lists of what to pack, lists of arrangements to make for while we're away, lists of lists...

2. I know I mentioned this in my last post, but it's ridiculous to plan to knit a tank top, block it, seam it, and finish it the week before a vacation.

3. It's ridiculous to have to wear a bathing suit between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Talk about poor planning.

All I can say is the Carribean better be sublime.