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Cruising Queen Mary II 11 -18 August : Transatlantic leg

Day 8 – Southampton: The Queen Mary 2 was docked when I got to the Britannia dining room at 7:45 for my breakfast. Seated solo, I jotted in the journal; the early start was because the dining room would close at 8. On my way down the stairs, the queue at Immigration Control (for those staying on board) was longer than I expected. I heard from the servers that the crossing would not be at capacity.

Waiting until after my oatmeal, banana and coffee turned out to be a wise choice, as I was the only one at the Immigration desk when I climbed up a deck. I returned to the cabin to await the announcement that we could go ashore. I read until the phone conversation next door got so loud as to drive me out – first time they’d been loud! I went down and was able to walk off, through the departing passengers, and onto the bus shuttling folks into the city center.

Once in town (where I’d done an overnight the previous October), I headed first into the Post Office to send my detax letter to Rome (the chap was off on break, his colleague unsure when he’d return) and then next door to W&H where I determined that I could mail the letter and exchange some funds. And I didn’t need a postage stamp, as the teller stated that we were in Europe. [Yes, that’s a surprise, as most British that I spoke with said they weren’t European.] As I didn’t expect to need Swiss francs any longer, I changed the two 50CHF notes into sterling, getting £77, which wasn’t a great rate.

There is a huge shopping mall in Southampton downtown, and I headed there, looking for the facilities. The ground floor WCs were closed, requiring stairs or escalators up two levels to tend to that need. I scoped out storefront windows as I strolled, as well as the eateries, but nothing appealed.

Out and into Primark (as I really still didn’t have any goals or needs) and wound up with skivvies, socks and t-shirts. Next door was Poundland, a sort of Woolworth’s, where I picked up nibbles and chocolate bars for about £10. With nothing else to do, and given that the ship’s Programme had very little scheduled onboard, I still headed back to the shuttle pick-up point for the bus back. Supposedly every half hour on the quarter hour, with a growing crowd I was there for 45 minutes. It seems that there had been a fire or emergency on the pier, with the authorities blocking the route until it was contained.

Back on board at a quarter past one, I dropped my purchases and camera – I’d taken 2 photos in the mall. The dining rooms were closed, so I headed to the buffet. Selecting several Thai dishes and some vegetables, I watched the port activities out the window, before a couple from Astoria (Queens, NY) joined me. We chatted a bit, and I learned she was using a wheel chair as she has MS. They hadn’t been off the ship in England.

Snagging a bowl with soft ice cream in a bowl, I headed out on deck and plunked down in a chaise lounge. And promptly managed to dump it into my lap. Once I’d emptied the bowl (yes, I ate most of it) and finished emails, I headed down to the cabin and, using shampoo, washed the chocolate stain out of my shorts. Then I headed to deck 1 and the pursers, where I checked my account. I was at about $400, with $200 being the “service charge”, $85 for the bottle of CdP at dinner, and the rest my gin or whiskey drinks. I resolved to drink more Glenmorangie, as the G&Ts were pricey. Then I headed to the lounge where I wrote in the journal and then did more trip report in the Chromebook. Tea and the Solo gathering were not scheduled.

Dinner seating continued with table 313; Susan returned, and we were joined by two couples. The married American couple (Nick & ?) didn’t return to the table for dinner for the rest of the crossing, and the two women friends (Marie & Jo) from Liverpool joined us sporadically. I chose the asparagus velouté to start and the paillard of beef (drowning in glaze) for a main. The three single women headed to the entertainment (soul singer Audley Anderson,) while I retired to my cabin.

Day 9 – at sea: After breakfast of oatmeal, up to deck 7 and a late arrival at the solo’s coffee, where I ran into a fellow passenger from the HAL Rotterdam crossing! Then I headed to the Illuminations Theatre for the Insights lecture. There were five lecturers aboard, with topics ranging from Crime, Professional Tennis, the U.S. Presidency, Astronomy through Nelson Mandela. Sessions were 45 minutes long, and 3 were scheduled most days. Photography is forbidden in the auditorium. The first morning talk was by Diane James, a book writer whose talk “Agatha Christie – Queen of Crime” included photos to accompany a biography, as well as talk about the prolific mystery write’s oeuvre. I skipped the tennis pro’s talk, and headed up to the track to put in 5 laps walking about deck 7.

The midday talk by retired journalist Ken Walsh was titled “Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes”. As a White House correspondent, he had had opportunities to fly aboard it with multiple presidents. He accompanied his talk with numerous photos from inside the aircrafts, filling the speech with cute anecdotes.

Afterwards, I headed to the Britannia dining room for a late lunch, getting seated with 3 couples and another solo. Two of the couples were from Princeton (NJ) where I had gone to high school, so we were comparing landmarks. The third couple were from north of Dundee, so I got to reflect back on my 2019 trip there. My lunch was roasted red beets with smoked beet hummus, followed by beer-battered catch of the day; desserts were sticky toffee pudding and mango, coconut and ginger fool.

When I got to the Queen’s Room for tea, my favorite location in the corner had been snagged, so I moved down a bit and joined a couple from near Canterbury. It went famously, with my jaunts exploring in Kent getting shared. Towards the end, a woman joined us: she had been waiting on a friend and finally gave up. She had broken her wrist in a fall in London, and was returning to near Charlotte, but on the South Carolina side of the Catawba River. The couple left, and the friend appeared, triggering a discussion of missed connections. She also joined the group at the afternoon solo gathering, where about 20 showed up. I sat with a woman from Herefordshire, before Jeff, a younger American who’s been traveling since March joined us. I was in shorts, so Natasha chased me out of the Champagne Bar as being underdressed, so I headed to the cabin where I began writing up my day in Padua.

Dressy attire was the order of the evening, with a theme of Black & White. I donned the dark blue suit and a gray shirt, and headed down to the table. Just the four solos, the newly assigned sommelier started with some annoying efforts. Both Susan and I missed Jay, who’d been excellent in that role the prior week.

My trio of starters were the sweet onion and goat’s cheese tart, the roasted cauliflower soup, and the bulgur wheat salad with pomegranate. Filet of beef Wellington for the main was superb. And Susan and I continued our dessert routine with just the stilton. Afterwards, all four of us headed fore to the Royal Theatre for the singers and dancers, who provided a Spanish-themed show.

Day 10 – at sea: Gaining an hour back overnight was superb, leaving me rested and ready for the day. Oatmeal to start, and then I headed to the lecture series. Dr Dan Wilkins is a Stanford-based astrophysicist, whose talk “Our Place in the Universe” included numerous splendid photographs of stars, nebulae, galaxies while talking about the recent developments in deep space astronomy.

Six dancers from the English National Ballet were aboard and their morning class was open for viewing. Seating was restricted to the Royal Theater balcony, and I managed to grab a seat with a nice angle and no obstructions. As I was amoung those arriving early, we watched the three men and three women warm up before beginning class at the barre with the director. At about two-thirds of the time alloted, the barres were removed and floor exercises began.

There are no notes on lunch or what I did in the early afternoon. I’d booked the Champagne Tasting session at 3pm, so I was in the lounge for Natasha’s presentation.

There were 5 tastes of Laurent-Perrier. The first, Ultra Brut, is “naturale”, where the 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot meunier grapes had been fermented to wine and then aged in the bottle; the sparkling wine had not had a dosage – the addition of sugar – so was extra dry. We tasted with a fig and chevre tidbit. The second, La Cuvée, is non-vintage, a blend of 50% chardonnay, and 25% each of pinot meunier and pinot noir and was served with foie gras. The seven-year-old Brut Millésimé followed, marketed as rare and exceptional, from the best vintages. It was served with a scallop. For the fourth taste, the Cuvée Rosé, where the wine had been allowed skin contact with the pinot grapes for 46 to 72 hours to give it color. It was paired with tuna sushi. Our final taste was the Harmony, a demi-sec offering. It has a higher dosage addition of sugar, and was paired with the dessert.

Again, no notes on the solo group gathering or dinner, but I see from my few pictures that I had the warm asparagus to start, and stilton for after dinner. I did note we were 4.

Day 11 – at sea: After breakfast of poached eggs and corned beef hash, I headed up to the track and did 2 miles at a brisk pace, dodging and weaving around the shuffling couples on their constitutional. As the talks began at 11 with the tennis pro, I had time to kill and grabbed the Chromebook and journal to write. I found a quiet spot near the Future Cruises desk and wrote for about 90 minutes. My first Insight talk was by Ken Walsh who spoke on “Celebrity-in-Chief: America’s Presidents and the Cult of Stardom”. He contrasted the showboating of some of them to the recalcitrance of others. I learned that Nixon was shy, Clinton had a very different public versus private set of faces. The second talk I attended was almost immediately following, so I skipped lunch to hear Dan Wilkins’ “Reaching for the Heavens: The space age has revolutionized the study of astronomy”. With the advent of bigger and better telescopes scanning the full electromagnetic spectrum, plus the Hubble and James Webb launches, discoveries seem to happen frequently.

Hungry, I went down to tea and sat with a couple from Michigan. Plenty of tea and lots of sandwiches, cakes and a couple of scones left me sated. I was still carrying my Chromebook and journal, so I headed to the Champagne Lounge to write until the solo group slowly populated, getting a whiskey to sip. The French woman from Paris and I left to go and queue for the English National Ballet performance, and we met two of her older women friends (also French), so the four of us found good seats in the balcony. The program was six pas de deux clips, varying from classical with bits of Tchaikovsky’s second act of Swan Lake and third act from Sleeping Beauty by the more regal pair; showcase bravura selections from the Minkus Don Quixote and Adam’s Le Corsair by the graceful pair; and the shorter, quirky pair did a modern duet Cha Cha and Tiara to music of Cugat, and Asafyev’s Flames of Paris. No interval, and completed in an hour. The three French women took off for their cabins, and I headed to my cabin to drop my stuff and dress in smart attire.

As we had extra empty seats at the table, I had suggested that the French ladies join us. The maître hemmed-and-hawed a bit, and then allowed them to eat with the four regulars. Golden beetroot and granny Smith apple salad, broccoli and stilton soup and duck a l’orange for my meal, followed by stilton with grapes, apricots and walnuts.

Day 12 – at sea: After getting cool oatmeal for breakfast, I headed to the purser’s desk with a pair of questions. The customs issue was simple, but my request for a copy of the ballet program took time: they had passed a program for the four of us the evening prior, and since we were all solo, only one of us got a copy. I did manage to get one, but the staff begrudgingly turned it over.

The Insights talks began with the Mandela bodyguard, which I skipped. Dan Wilkins returned with his third talk: “Born from the Stars”, which he illustrated the birth of the universe with photos of distant galaxies by the Hubble and James Webb telescopes. Diane Janes spoke on “Arsenic and Old Lies”, citing numerous poisoning crimes, some not fatal, using arsenic, reflecting on how detection had advanced. I sat with an Indian woman, who recommended that I add the temples in India to my obsession for cathedrals.

From the Illuminations theater I headed aft to the Britannia for lunch. My meal consisted of the cauliflower and cheddar soup, a pasta with tomato sauce, and a piece of multi-layered cake.

Quwwn Mary II Champagne Tea

For a change to my daily program, I allowed Natasha to talk me into a champagne tea, where I had my own pot of oolong tea, the Naturale bubbly and a caddy with savory/sweet/scone offerings. Thirty-four had subscribed to this pricy hour, with fifteen in attendance. In the future, I won’t return for this event. [Cost was $55, a second glass of bubbly $20. One pot of tea, about a cup and a half. Probably due to the low showing, we were placed too far apart to converse between tables.]

The Queen Mary 2 has laundry rooms on each floor, with at least those on decks 4 and 5 in totally different locations. A fire incident (smoke) had happened the day before on my deck, so I took my single load up to 5. There was a free machine, soap sheets, clear instructions (and no charge!) While I waited, two dryers were emptied, so I moved my damp, now clean clothes into one. When the cycle completed, I was alone in the room, so I folded them all before returning to the cabin. I noted that one polo shirt that I’d picked up in 2019 while in Wrexham had a grease stain which didn’t disappear, so I planned to wear and then toss. I read, completing a book on the reader, and then took a nap, skipping the solo group.

Dinner was just the four again. Turkish style salad to start, followed by the saddle of lamb, red current and rosemary farce. For dessert, a warm chocolate brownie pudding, and then the stilton. The show in the Royal Theater was Broadway Rocks again, so I just headed back to the cabin to start a new book before retiring.

Day 13 – at sea: Having established somewhat of a routine, this was a rather mellow day for me. Breakfast of oatmeal at a table for 6, good conversation. Only one Insight talk, by Ken Walsh “Escapes from the White House: Presidential homes, retreats and hideaways”, where he told stories starting with Roosevelt heading to Warm Springs, Truman to Key West. Reagan was happiest if on a horse at his ranch.

When I got to lunch, we were nine, and I made no notes but the pictures: goat cheese tart, chilled Korean barbecue beef roll, and spicy crab cake to start; spaghetti carbonara as the main course and strawberry panna cotta to conclude. Until tea in the Queens Room I was writing, when a couple: Katrina and Darren from Stevenage joining me. Only 5 lines in the journal, and no dinner photos.

String trio entertain in Queens Room at tea
String trio entertain in Queens Room at tea

Day 14 – at sea: After breakfast, I headed to Illuminations for the two talks that were scheduled. Dan Wilkins talked on “Supermassive Black Holes: Monsters Lurking in the Hearts of the Galaxies”, with more great photos. Diane Janes took an interesting approach with “A Good Year for Murder”, where she trolled through the 1931 records and highlighted about a dozen murders, noting which had been resolved, and which were essentially still open. At noon I was finally in the atrium at the right time, where a junior officer rang eight bells, which was followed by the daily announcement from the rather verbose captain giving us location and conditions at sea.

Down to lunch where I started with Buffalo chicken wings, continued with Cunard black ale and beef pie, to conclude with banana and dark chocolate crémeux. I read until tea. At tea I joined two women hailing from Paris, but one was Persian, the other Japanese. The room was packed, as it was the last for this leg of the crossing: the ship would turn around to head back to Southampton after some of us debarked. After tea I headed to my cabin and began packing, taking a break to join the last get together of the solo group. We even got a photo of those who were on time.

A portion of the solo/single traveler's group
A portion of the solo/single traveler's group

Returning to get more packing organized, I got some more reading in until I left for dinner. (I was pretty much tapped out on trip report writing those last few days.)

Spiffed up, I walked down the stairs to the dining room and we four had a pleasant final dinner. My appetizers were the frogs’ legs Provençale, followed by butternut squash soup. Roast chicken with lemon thyme was my main, instead of the prime rib that the other 3 got. No picture, but I’d guess I had the chocolate marquise as well as stilton, and finished off my second bottle of Portuguese wine. I had tips for the waiter and his assistant, and for the prior week’s sommelier. I tracked down my cabin steward and handed him an envelope as well. My bag went out into the hall for collection and I read a bit before turning in.

Day 15 – Brooklyn: I was up at 6:30 and down for oatmeal before 7, as the dining room would close early. The table sat 8, but only two women had joined me. The captain came on over the PA to let us know that there had been a delay in the arrival of the pilot, which resulted in a late start to letting folks off the ship. Customs and Immigration turned out to be a face scan match to the passport. Easy to find the bag, I was soon heading to Island #3 to board the bus (“ship excursion”) to LaGuardia.

Departing the Queen Mary II at the Brooklyn pier
Departing the Queen Mary II at the Brooklyn pier

By 9 I was on the bus and we were dropped at the airport in 30 minutes. I opted to check my bags outside, saving the madness that was going on inside the terminal. The luggage handler even printed my boarding passes, so I was ready to take the escalators to TSA. Shoes had to come off, and with my titanium implants (and paper cash and a cloth hanky,) I triggered a pat down. (Yes, I know that titanium isn’t supposed to trigger the scanners.)

At the Delta first class lounge I was denied access (despite having first class tickets, but I didn’t have the associated American Express card, which I’d misplaced.) So I spent 3 hours in the terminal waiting area, processing email, reading, observing people. Half an hour prior to boarding, I used the facilities and checked out the food options - $10 for a hot dog, no thank you! After another 30-minute delay, we boarded and my seatmate had filled the overhead with his two large bags. I spoke up and he had to move one to his feet so my small roller was above.

Delayed in push back, I was concerned for my connection in Atlanta. The attendant assured me there would be no problem, and began dropping miniatures of Dewars on my tray as she offered bagged snacks. The change in Atlanta went smoothly, as I never even had the chance to sit down before boarding the commuter to Sarasota. My big bag had made the connection, so I was soon out in the sweltering humidity of Florida awaiting Nancy, my driver. She pulled up within 5 minutes, and we were soon heading south on I-75. She stopped at the Publix so I could do some minor provisioning, and dropped me at home. I unpacked, although my house looked like a tornado had hit, as stuff was everywhere.

Slowly I managed to find and then begin opening my four-plus months of mail. Biggest surprise was that my autorenewal of my Geico auto insurance had failed (it probably got turned off when I switched off the collision while I was away.) Once I got that restarted, I found that the car battery had died, so called AAA and a service truck came and I got a new one. I slowly began moving my potted plants back to my yard, reestablishing connections to neighbors.

As the days advanced, I found I was sleeping better in my own bed – there had been 58 beds over the course of the 138-day trip. There were about 50 chocolate bars that I’d mailed home, about a yard square when laid out. I actually lost 10 pounds. My trip report is about 110K words, and there are 21K photographs. The lost camera and cell phone have stayed lost. The cathedral count for the trip is 165(?), although a handful are retakes from the first volume of Cathedrals to the Glory of God. (I still need to proof Volume II, before I start III.) The report is getting posted in segments to my blog, with pictures, but my web guy added a few new steps to the process, so it takes a bit longer, and I have to go back and “fix” older postings. And I’m already beginning my plans for future adventures.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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