Train Bench

Borg Queen Barbie?

My daughter loves these new Barbie dolls called "Fashionistas", and especially these ones called "Swappin' Styles", with interchangeable head-and-shoulders sections.

Very creepy. The first thing I thought of was the Borg Queen from "Star Trek: First Contact":


Ah, Venice!

This weekend the Journey was docked overnight in Venice. I had the opportunity to go out and explore the city on Saturday. Venice is not a big place, and apart from various bridges, it's completely flat, so it's pretty easy to see a LOT of it by walking. I spent the afternoon and part of the evening visiting many landmarks, including St. Mark's Square and the Rialto bridge. This morning, however, I set out on a mission to find a specific location: The "library" where Indiana Jones goes to look for clues regarding the whereabouts of the Holy Grail, in the movie "Indiana Jones and the last Crusade".

A google search revealed the name of the location - it's actually a church, Chiesa Di San Barnaba. I found it on a city map, did some walking, and there it was! It wasn't hard to find, actually - a block or so off the Grand Canal, on the other side of the canal from St. Mark's, and a bit to the northwest. I got turned around and was walking the wrong way on Calle D'Avogaria, but I figured it out (for maximum geek factor, I ended up using the compass in my iPhone 4 to confirm which direction I was heading).

I happened to take a picture from a point that appears to be almost exactly the same spot from which this shot from the movie was taken. There's Indy, Elsa and the elder Dr. Jones in the center, backs to the camera. Later in the film, after an underground (and underwater) adventure, Indy emerges from a manhole pretty much in the same spot. I looked and didn't see a round manhole like the one in the film, but I did see a square one in the vicinity. It's possible the round one was an existing feature back when the film was made in the 1980's, and has been changed since then, or else they built it specially for the film and then completely removed it.

As a bonus for my own adventure, the church itself has been converted to a museum - the show in current residence is an exhibition of about 60 models of Leonardo Da Vinci's various inventions from his Codex. As a souvenir, I bought a small enamel pin of Leonardo's iconic "Vitruvian Man."

Up until now, my only real reference for Venice has been its appearance in films. Until today, it wasn't a "real" place to me, it was a place of history and fantasy. It was good to connect those two worlds by finding a specific spot I recognized from one of my favorite movies.
Train Bench

Crossing The Atlantic Again

Hi Folks -

It's been a long time since my last update. Since the last update in December, we swung around the Caribbean a bit more, spent Christmas and New Years on the ship, went through the Panama Canal, visited various ports in Mexico, went to San Diego a few times, came back through the canal, and did four loops through the Caribbean. On April 4 (my birthday), we ended up in Miami for the last time. My sweetie came all the way down to visit me for the day, and we walked on Miami Beach a bit, did a tiny bit of shopping, and just generally enjoyed a few hours together. Then it was time to say goodbye, and board the Journey for our Atlantic crossing.

At the time of this writing, we're halfway across the Atlantic ocean, a couple thousand miles from home. Maybe it's that sense of distance that's prompted me to post again. And maybe it's also the sense that this adventure is soon drawing to a close. Four weeks from today, on May 8, I say goodbye to the Journey and make my way home.

I'm very ready to be back - I miss home, friends and family a lot. Tomorrow is Nina's 8th birthday, and I'll be calling her on the ship-to-shore phone to listen to her open the present I ordered for her from Amazon. It's been hard being so far away from her - 6 months is a huge chunk of an 8 year old's life. I feel like I've missed so much. We're going to spend a LOT of time together this summer.

So far, the cruise has been pretty good. The audiences on the back deck at the Windows Cafe have been great - it's like I have my own fan club. I have several couples that regularly come in to listen, request songs, and sing along.

On the 14th, we arrive at last in Gibraltar. I'm already looking forward to landfall. We did 7 consecutive sea days on the way over to the US, we're doing 9 (!) consecutive sea days from Miami to Gibraltar. We're already three hours ahead of the time at home, we'll advance another three by the time we get to the other side.

It's 2am our time, I better get some sleep, I'm playing a two hour set at noon on the pool deck.


Dominica and St. Lucia

Yesterday, I stayed on board at Roseau, Dominica for a little while, waiting to see if they'd gotten me an opthamologist appointment, but they weren't able to do so. I got off the ship and wandered around the port, looking for free wifi, but didn't come across any. The port was full of street vendors and souvenir shops, and the town was a little run down looking, clearly a pretty poor area. The island itself is supposed to have some amazing nature areas to visit, but I didn't get around to doing that. I was tired and it was very hot out, so I headed back to the ship. Not a whole lot else to note about that day.

Today were arrived in Castries, St. Lucia. I didn't get a chance to go ashore for a while, because we had a crew boat drill in the morning. We all assembled in our muster station with life jackets on, and then were directed to go out to the boat deck neat the lifeboats. Then, we did something we haven't yet done since I joined the ship - they loaded us into the boats. They did this on the side away from the dock, so the crew from the starboard side boats (my side) crossed over to the port side and joined the crew there. We climbed into the boats, shoulder to shoulder, and then we got lowered down to the water. The lifeboat capacity was 150, but we only ended up with 115 - that's all the available crew we had. Ordinarily, the lifeboats would each be 130 passengers and 20 crew, and the remaining crew would end up in the many life rafts on board. We drove the lifeboat around the harbor for a little bit, and eventually got to disembark at the platform usually used to load and unload the tender boats. When I got back to my cabin, there was a message to get up to the infirmary, so I hustled up there, and was told a taxi was waiting to take me to the opthamologist.

So, off we went - I got to ride through the streets of Castries, and I noted the expected Burger King (I see more of those than McDonalds!) and also KFC. We eventually arrived at Lens XPress, which had pretty much the only opthamologist in town. There I waited to see the doctor. It was interesting to see how low-tech things were - they wrote the appointments on notecards, rather than use some computer scheduling thing like everyone uses at home. I waited nearly an hour, watching the various locals picking up their glasses. The whole time, the TV appeared to be tuned to The Obituary Channel. Seriously - what they were watching was an endless series of obituaries, showing a picture, then a list of surviving family, and where the services would be held.

Eventually, I was called back to see Dr. Shah, a very nice Indian man, who checked me out and said he didn't see anything that required immediate attention, but that I should see a retina specialist at some point in the future. The taxi driver picked me up again, and we fought a bit of traffic getting back to the ship. We weren't that far away - driving back I saw the other side of the Holland America Noordam, which was docked across from us. The driver was late for another pickup, so at one of the last turns, I volunteered to walk the rest of the way back to the dock. I made my way back to the terminal, and walked around the complex of restaurants and gift shops there, purchasing only a couple of postcards before heading back to the ship for lunch.

Tomorrow: Antigua

Miami, St. John and St. Barth

We took on our new passengers in Miami on Dec. 11, and on that day I had to stay on board ship, so I ended up using much of the day to make a lot of phone calls.

After two sea days, we arrived in St. John on Dec 14. I went ashore with the intent of getting Nina some souvenirs and sending them home. Since it was a US territory, it was easy to do, since there was a US Post Office. I also had normal phone service (including internet). Nina had asked for a shell necklace, but I didn't see any in the various shops, so I got her a pink "Island Girl - St. John, USVI" T-shirt, and sent that out. Very soon after, however, I found shell necklaces in another shop, so it was time for another trip back to the Post Office. As I sat on a bench in the town square, drinking a Pepsi, I was struck by the surreality of the scene: A Christmas tree in the square on a very hot day, with various chickens wandering around, and an iguana on a nearby tree. Sounds like something from a very random dream.

In the evening, the "Rock The Boat" show was scheduled on the Pool Deck, and I was assigned to play on the stage before the show. I played from 6-8:30pm, and did my entire show standing up, the better to project a rock-n-roll vibe. It was great fun, and I was well received and got many compliments. One downside - I'd helped the AV Manager carry some gear to the stage, and afterwards I noticed a small blurry spot right in the center of vision in my left eye. My entire show, I was worrying about it - it was making it hard to read the song list on my computer screen, and I was a bit terrified that I was going blind. I resolved to see the doctor the next day.

This morning, we were in St. Barth once again, and the last time we were there, I noticed the "Yellow Submarine", which turned out to be a tour boat with underwater windows. It was 40 euros (not cheap) for an hour's excursion around the bay, but I decided to go on it. The boat does in fact look a lot like a submarine, and it is in fact yellow. As we climbed aboard, Beatles music was playing (coincidentally, I was wearing my Abbey Road Studios t-shirt). We sat on benches on the deck until we were under way, then we climbed down inside the "submarine". It reminded me of the old "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" ride in Disney World - We sat on small fold-down seats, next to rows of large underwater windows on the sides. Although the boat itself does not submerge, a great deal of it is below the waterline - sitting down, your head is about 2 feet below the surface. We drove slowly around the bay, seeing various fish, sharks, and sea turtles. We passed over a 15-year-old wreck of a fishing boat, lying on its side in 30 feet of water, and a popular spot for fish to congregate. We also saw a lot of volcanic rock underwater, with bits of coral and other sea life clinging to it.

When I got back to the ship, the Infirmary was closed for non-emergency visits, so I had to wait until after 4pm. By that time, the blurry spot had completely disappeared, but I did go see the doctor once they were open again. Although he didn't see anything obviously wrong, he said he'd get me an opthamologist appointment in one of our upcoming ports.

Next: Dominica

Sea Days

The first of our two sea days on the way to Miami was unremarkable. I was scheduled to play a set from noon-2pm on the Pool Deck, but the weather wasn't looking good, so we canned that, and I just played my usual 6-9:30pm show at the Windows Cafe. I spent the day working on backing tracks for some Beatles songs, for a show I'm planning (more on that later, as it takes shape). One special thing we did in the morning was the "waves" show we put on every cruise to introduce the crew and give the guests an opportunity to applaud our efforts. In the afternoon, I saw a landmass off the port side, and later determined it was the Dominican Republic.

Today, the weather was considerably better - I managed to play a two-hour set at the pool, and played most of it standing up, feeling a bit more energy as a result. It felt a lot more "rock and roll". Since it was too bright to see the computer screen, and (as usual) too windy for pages, I played the entire set from memory, and it was well-received. I did a two-hour set in the evening, without taking a break, since right about the time I was thinking about a break, people started coming in, so I kept playing. I finished a little after 8pm, and that was it for this cruise.

It's always a little hard to say goodbye after you've spent nearly two weeks with a bunch of people and have come to know them. I'll miss some of the new friends I made among the guests, but there are a couple who're going to keep in touch with me via email.

Tomorrow: Miami and a New Cruise

Virgin Gorda

I haven't looked it up, but my guess is the name of this British Virgin Island means "Fat Virgin" in Spanish. We docked out a ways (it was clearly pretty shallow near the island) and had a pretty long tender ride in the island, where we arrived at a yacht marina. There were many boats from all over (I saw ones from as far away as New Jersey and even California).

Once on the island, there wasn't a great deal right at the dock - unlike many ports, this one didn't drop us right into the center of a town or city. There were a few stores there, and I have to admit I was delighted to find so many familiar American goods there. I bought some of my favorite bath soap, for example, and some Chips Ahoy cookies. At St. Barth, I had bought some french-made M&M's, and they tasted a bit odd, like the chocolate you get in Easter bunnies, not like the usual darker M&Ms chocolate, so getting the real deal from the good old US of A was pretty exciting.

About 15 minutes' walk from the harbor, there's a beach and something called the Baths, which sounds pretty interesting (something to do with caves) and I'll be sure to check that out next time we're here, but this day I just wanted some free internet. The internet on the ship's been dodgy, and I'm spending too much on it anyway, so it was nice to get to sit down at the Bath and Turtle bar and restaurant and get free wi-fi for a while. On the way back out to the ship in the tender, we passed the "Yellow Submarine" - a special (yellow) boat with a rows of windows under the waterline for viewing the underwater scenery - I might check that out on another one of our visits as well.

Once back on board, I got ready for my first gig - there was something on my schedule called "Bingo Party", talking place in a very nice space, the Drawing Room, which is the ship's guest library and private party space. I had no idea what it was, but I went up there. While I was there waiting to see what was going to go on, James came by and sat down at the piano. We discussed the fact that today was the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination, and James proceeded to play "Imagine" on the piano, while I sang it. It was our small tribute to John, just for us two, and I got a little choked up. We miss you, John.

Eventually, the guests arrived, and it became clear what was going on. I was a prize! A couple had won a private party as a prize in a bingo game. They could invite another couple, and would be treated to champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries, along with a one-hour private concert from me. They were great people, and we had a lot of fun. And they gave me four of the strawberries!

After that, I played my usual gig in Windows Cafe (starting slightly later than usual) and had a fantastic crowd, including the folks I'd had dinner with last night, and the couple who'd "won me" in the bingo game. They even bought me a drink at the end of the evening (some really good rum on the rocks). I sat and chatted with Jackie the harpist and drank my drink, and then, thoroughly relaxed and very tired, I headed down for bed.

Tomorrow: Sea Day

St. Bart

I like calling it "St. Bart's" (Ay, Caramba!), which is how I've seen it written here and there, but officially, it's "St. Barth".

We were anchored at St. Barth for two days, but I stayed on board the first day, playing my usual show in the evening, and working on music stuff during the day. I wasn't too disappointed to stay on board, though, because the weather was a little iffy. It got pretty misty out for a while, but that turned out to be a good thing, because it set up the perfect conditions to make a spectacular rainbow. The sun was at our stern, and looking forward toward the island, there was an immense, extremely bright, double rainbow arcing over the bow of the ship. I've never seen anything like it.

On the second day, I was eager to get off the ship, but it was still drizzling out, so once I got ashore and walked around for a bit, I got tired of being damp and headed back. After eating lunch on the pool deck with some of the guests, I noticed it was brightening up, so I headed back over to the island. It turned into a pretty sunny afternoon, and I made my way over to Shell Beach, which turned out to be exactly what it sounds like - most of the beach was composed of small shells. Several of the crew were their, and had been swimming, but I wasn't really interested in going in the water - I just like the atmosphere. I picked up several pretty shells, and a few bits of coral, and walked up the beach a ways, enjoying watching and hearing the waves crashing against the rocks on the far end. I headed back for the ship as it started to turn to dusk.

Back on board, I went up to the Discovery Lounge to listen to Jackie, out harpist, play and sing. I'm usually playing at the same time, so I never get to see her perform, but tonight was my day off (my second since joining the ship - the first was on my second day!) I sat with some guests and listened, and they bought me a drink, and invited me to have dinner with them in the Discovery restaurant. We had a great conversation, and the food was excellent. It was nearly 10pm when we finally finished and went our separate ways. A pretty good day off, I'd say!

Tomorrow: Virgin Gorda

St. Kitts and Antigua

For St. Kitts yesterday, I was on "port manning", meaning I had to stay on the ship, so I spent the day working on music stuff, including starting on building a backing track for "Walk Don't Run," so I could play a surf instrumental as part of my set. I programmed a drum part and a bass part, and recorded a rhythm guitar part to play over. I debuted it in my show in the evening (and played it twice) and it was a big hit, so I decided to add a few more. All day, we had a really big ship, the "Explorer Of The Seas" next to us, towering over us (see my Facebook photos).

This morning, we were in St. John's, Antigua, and there was the Explorer Of The Seas again! I got off the ship, and walked into the town center right at the dock - it was a bit shabby, and sported lots of duty free shops, pretty much all watches, jewelry and liquor, nothing I was really interested in. Ah, but there was something I was interested in: Free Internet. I stopped at a small bar/cafe called "Cheers" and logged onto their free internet, and bought one of their featured drinks - The Antiguan Smile. That's rum, coconut rum, pineapple juice and grenadine. Quite yummy. I used the internet until it stopped working (some guests that happened by that I'd met previously joked that I'd "used it up"), so we went across the street to The Beehive, and their internet worked, but was very slow. I eventually had my fill of it, and headed back to the ship, where I played my usual evening set at Windows Cafe, playing "Walk Don't Run" again, and again getting a great audience reaction. Just before I began my set, I got treated to the amazing sight of the massive Explorer, silhouetted against the sunset, and all lit up, backing out of its berth and turning around slowly and majestically. As I began playing, it sailed off, and we soon followed. On to our next destination!

Tomorrow: St. Bart

Marigot, St. Martin

Got up bright and early this morning for breakfast and a shower, then headed up to the spa for a much-needed haircut. Susan did a great job making me look presentable again. Then I headed back down to get ready to go out - we were already at anchor way out in the bay at St. Martin.

The tender boats had to go quite a ways - definitely more than a mile. Once I got on shore at Marigot, I wasn't sure what I was going to do - I was completely plan-less. Then I found out they needed a crew escort for one of the excursions (someone to make sure we kept track of all the guests, and who can report back on the quality of the tour guide, etc), and I was game.

The excursion was the "St. Martin Mountaintop Downhill Rainforest Trek". There were eleven guests plus myself. We took a bus to Loterie Farm (a private nature preserve and historical site), and then were issued walking sticks and climbed on board an open-air "safari truck" for the ascent to St. Martin's highest point. The road was rutted and narrow, and we bounced around a lot, it was like an amusement park ride, really. When we reached the top, we took some pictures of the harbor below, and then started our 2km hike down through the forest. Along the way, Derry (our guide) told us about the history of the island, about how the slaves once gathered and processed sugar cane, and how much of the forest we were seeing had grown in since then, instead of the enormous expanses of sugar cane that once covered the mountainside. The hike was about two hours back down to where we had transferred to the safari truck. At that point we had some complimentary rum punch, and then the bus picked us up and took us back to the harbor.

Once back in downtown Marigot, I stopped at "le bar de la mer" for lunch. I don't know much french, but I figured that one out. I did say "merci" to the waitress, amounting to about 10% of the french words I know.

After lunch, I headed back to the ship. I had originally been scheduled to play out at the pool deck from 6-8:30pm, but at the last minute they decided (and I think it was a good idea) to try and get a caribbean steel drum band to play, so I ended up playing my usual spot. Since the pool deck activity was going on at the same time, I didn't have many listeners for a while, but I did end up with quite a few people out on the aft deck with me by the end. Dan Daly was performing a swing set with the Journey Orchestra from 8:30-9:30, so I went out and checked out part of his show, which was great. Then I grabbed some dinner, and headed down to my cabin for the evening.

As I type this (at about 11pm our time), I hear the anchors being reeled in. Soon, we'll be under way for our next port of call.

Next: St. Kitts