The ships of war

If you love history and you love ships I can bet that whenever you go to a destination if you get the chance you will tour a ship – either modern or ancient.  If you go to England you must try to divert down to Portsmouth and do a tour of the HMS Victory – Nelson’s flagship.  This ship has been lovingly restored and gives a real feel for what life was like on board….



and where did the great Admiral lay his head at the end of the day?


Nelson’s made to measure cot hanging between the gun placements.

When touring the lower gun deck you can really just imagine being out there in battle and there is a place on the deck marking the spot where Nelson was wounded.


It was therefore with great anticipation that I was able to tour the USS Midway in San Diego accompanied by a veteran who had been on many missions on this very ship.  I was particularly interested because my father served in the Royal Navy and spent many months away from home when we were growing up.  It was always exciting when he came home slim and suntanned (sometimes we didn’t recognise him) with exotic gifts of Chinese pyjamas, Lebanese dolls and little Egyptian camel toys.

If you are in San Diego this is really worth a visit and I love the statue in front of the USS Midway depicting that famous Kiss of Peace.

Image result for us midway san diego

Our Veteran guide had some great stories to tell about life on board – some of which I could not repeat – but he had us laughing with his recollections.

Another interesting place I visited on a different trip in France was the ghostly WW2 submarine pen built by the Germans in Bordeaux..  This was a handy place to tuck away the subs while they replenished supplies and ammunition – well out of the way of the Allied forces.

Construction work on the bunker was only complete in mid 1944. It is estimated that up to 6,000 workers, mainly prisoners of war, worked relentlessly day and night in merciless conditions. While a popular urban myth suggests that some fell into the depths of the building’s foundations where they perished as the concrete slowly set around them (today most authorities do not believe that to be factually correct), it is true that many of the construction workers died in accidents, of exhaustion, or drowned. A solemn memorial has been erected in tribute to those who took part in the construction, and particularly to those who lost their lives

And of course I would be remiss not to mention the USS Arizona – a pilgrimage site for many who visit Honolulu.

During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, Arizona was bombed. After a bomb detonated in a powder magazine, the battleship exploded violently and sank, killing 1,177 officers and crewmen. Unlike many of the other ships sunk or damaged that day, Arizona was irreparably damaged by the force of the magazine explosion, though the Navy removed parts of the ship for reuse. The wreck still lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbour and the USS Arizona Memorial, dedicated on 30 May 1962 to all those who died during the attack, straddles the ship’s hull.

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I encourage you to visit these great ships whenever you have the chance.  Entrance fees and items on sale are generally for the benefit of veterans.


In a New York minute …

Or two we will be on our way. The Viking Star is about to depart the port of Manhattan.  I am excited to see what the experience will be sailing on Viking’s new baby.   A few years ago Viking River cruise asked their clients if they liked to cruise on ocean ships.   They said no. The reason was  that cruise ships today are too big or too old or there are too many additional amounts that you have to pay once you get on board.   Viking said we can fix that.  And so the Viking style ocean cruise ship was born. This 900 or so passenger ship is very inclusive. Wine and beer with lunch and dinner and an excursion in  every port of call.

So now we sit on the deck looking at the moon rising while we wait for the ship to depart.


So how fast is a New York minute?  Not very fast actually.  The traffic in Manhattan is terrible and I wonder how anybody ever thinks of driving a car here. Pity the poor taxi drivers.   Now there is a stress filled job.

In the meantime my job at least at the moment is totally free of stress.    The moon has just come up over the Manhattan skyline. It’s very romantic and special and I think I might just have a glass of wine.  It does go to show that things do change very quickly in this city so I guess that’s where they get the expression a New York minute.


Putting the wind up me

Is this an expression that Canadians understand?  Maybe those with British ancestry will understand.  Here’s a definition –

get/put the wind up somebody

(British & Australian informal)

to make someone feel anxious about their situation Say you’ll take him to court if he doesn’t pay up – that should putthe wind up him.
See also: get, up, wind
Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd ed. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006. Reproduced with permission.
And yes – hurricane season definitely puts the wind up me.  All those flights that have to be changed at the last-minute, cruises that have to be rerouted, beaches that are spoilt and yes inevitably vacations are spoilt too.
We all have this vision when we plan a vacation of perfect weather.  It’s what we dream about as we sit at our desks staring at our email with glassy eyes as we picture ourselves lying under an umbrella on the beach or sitting on the top deck of our river cruise sipping cold wine.

It doesn’t always work like that.  I did the Tulip river cruise out of Amsterdam a couple of years ago during the month of April.  I have never been sold cold in my life!  I ended up wearing thick tights with my yoga pant over the top and two woollen jerseys.  We are used to the cold weather in Alberta but the damp cold of the North Sea is another creature!

My first visit to Tahiti on board the beautiful Paul Gauguin was during a week of torrential rain.  Yes the rain was warm and it was tropical but it was torrential.
The important thing in situations of bad weather is that it might put a bit of a damper on your holiday but you are OK – you are safe.  Stop whining, sit back and have a martini.  Just watching Hurricane Matthew march across the Caribbean into Florida – seeing those streams of cars heading out of town on both sides of the motorway, watching people nail up shutters over their businesses – that’s something to complain about.
Many people worry about taking a cruise over hurricane season but think about it – unlike a hotel at least the cruise ship can move out of the way of the storm.  A cruise ship can also change its itinerary and location – a hotel can’t do that.  In fact a number of cruise ships have made changes to their itineraries in just the last couple of days because of Hurricane Matthew.
Mother Nature is indeed unpredictable and scary.  We know in the travel industry that going to the Caribbean or even Florida between June and November (hurricane season) is risky and that’s why prices for cruises and vacations over that time are correspondingly lower.  When hurricanes strike we know we are going to be on the phone with airlines changing flights where possible.  Thankfully most of the airlines are very accommodating and we have been able to change dates with no additional fare and no change fee.   And kudos to the airline staff who have been assisting with that.  Contrary to what we may hear they are just doing their jobs but sometimes ….

Don’t get your knickers in a knot

Yes I know air travel can test the patience of a saint but really – the incidents of air rage are on the rise according to an article in Travellers United – read for yourself –  Air rage is on the rise

So what is the answer – is the problem the alcohol that is consumed before and during the flight or is it the fact that seats are getting smaller and bums are getting bigger?  We hear all the fanfare from the airlines about dream liners coming on stream but when you sit down and check out the seating plan it really sucks!  Probably the worse configuration you can have on a plane is the 3 – 3 – 3.  That means for sure that on every single row in economy you have at least 3 unhappy people.  Those who get stuck in the middle seat.
Image result for stuck in the middle seat

Not much fun at all.

Only 23% of cases of air rage involved alcohol – the rest all seemed to involve physical aggression towards other passengers or crew or damage to the aircraft.  Yep – people can get pretty mad when they are cooped up on an aircraft –

Stop kicking the back of my seat


I told you I wanted another bag of pretzels dammit!

You can sympathise really if you just think of the things that make you mad on your way to work.  That guy who cuts in front of you or that stupid woman who doesn’t know how to merge.  But the difference is you are free!  You can give them the finger and drive to work muttering all the way and then regale your colleagues with the story over a Tim Horton’s coffee.

When you are stuck in a metal cylinder with this other person who is SO getting on your nerves there is no escape.  Add to that the frustration of being cramped up like a sardine in a can – no wonder.  But hang on – does this sort of thing happen to first class passengers?  Well no – of course not to the same degree – but an interesting statistic here.  Air rage amongst economy class passengers is way higher when they have to walk through the first class section.

We have all been there.  Finally you get on the plane after a long line up.  You are in row 39 and you walk past these people lolling around in their big seats, sipping on champagne.  Huh!  Finally you get to row 39 (and yes you are in the middle) and you think “What the hell????”  Unfortunately it sets the mood – so maybe airlines should think about boarding from the back and doing away with the middle seat.

I will add that to my wish list next time I get the long half of the wishbone!

Your passport could be wrong

Yes it could.  I must say that I honestly don’t understand how a passport can have a completely different name from what appears on your birth certificate.  Now before you jump down my throat … I am not talking about last names.  Yes, people get married and change their last name or even combine their maiden name with their spouse’s last name.  What amazes me are the number of people who don’t get the first part right on their passport.

Example – if you were born John Henry Smith and you apply for a  passport you can apply for a passport issued in the name of J. Henry Smith and then support your identity with your driver’s licence.  See extract from the application form –

passport application

So this means you can use your driver’s licence to support your identity – not your birth certificate.

I can’t tell you how many headaches this gives us travel agents.  Some airlines are really difficult to work with when it comes to name changes.  Some even insist that a completely new ticket is issued with the according penalties and cancellation charges.  Woe is you J. Henry Smith.

Then there is the problem of trying to get a passport after you have changed your name legally – yes really – read this story –

Laura Skywalker Matthews added the Jedi name “for a laugh” after joking with her friends about her love of the character from George Lucas’ seminal films.

But the stunt backfired when it took eight weeks for passport officials to refuse her application meaning she missed a summer holiday to Amsterdam.

The 29-year-old was told her signature of L Skywalker infringed a copyright despite it being accepted previously for her driving licence.

Miss Matthews said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous.

“They told me the issue was with my signature because L Skywalker is trademark.

“I have the same signature on my driving licence, bank cards and everything else.

“How can everybody else be happy with that signature, apart from the passport office?



My ship is bigger than your ship

I will be sailing on the inaugural cruise of Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas in November.  This is a MOTHER of a ship.  8000 human beings including guests and crew.  Wow!

It got me thinking about all the choices out there and what the differences are between cruising on a small ship of, say 300 guests, versus a big ship accommodating 5000 guests. I have cruised on big and small – some of the smaller ships like Paul Gauguin and Windstar with just 300 guests.  I have sailed on the in-betweeners like Celebrity, Azamara and Holland America and I have also sailed on the inaugural voyage of the Oasis of the Seas – sister ship to the Harmony.

So what to consider – do you go big or small.  (Go big or go home).

Big ships have more “stuff” – more restaurants, more entertainment, more choices.  For multi-generational families this might be a good thing.  The large ships are big enough to escape Cousin Maude or Uncle Henry on that family reunion.

Big ships have entertainment for all types – whether you want to sit in a quiet area and listen to some classical music or dance the night away.  The shows on the mega ships are world-class Broadway style and the kids’ entertainment is exceptional.   Children’s groups are divided according to age and with all the activities on board, a large cruise ship is especially ideal for those older teenagers as they can zipline, rock climb or learn to surf onboard.


So what about the small ships?
Well they don’t have climbing walls, mega Broadway shows or 22 restaurants but those features are not what small ship cruising people want.  Smaller ships are often more about the destination – so think of it as a floating boutique hotel taking you into hard to get to places and small ports.  Small ships will often have facilities such as a small marina at the back of the ship where you can go swimming or kayaking.  Oh the thrill of jumping off the back of the ship off the coast of Split, Croatia!  Fabulous!  I loved that!

Because small ships don’t have a host of singers, dancers, musicians and jugglers on board they will often bring on local entertainers and guest lecturers so the evenings are different and somewhat quieter.

For those who want a little bit of each, such as a wider choice of restaurants and some nightlife but still a touch of intimacy with smaller numbers, there are lots of choices.  New kid on the block Viking Ocean Cruises have launched their new ocean ship Viking Star hosting just 900 people.   As on their river cruises the Viking Star will offer complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner as well as speciality teas and coffees any time during the day.  I am looking forward to sailing with them next month.

So you see – there is a choice for everyone whether you prefer the BIG BIG ships or the eeny weeny ones.


I really don’t want to leave

I begged and pleaded but in the end they were very firm.  I had just spent an amazing week on Avalon River cruises and it was time to get off.  I tried every excuse under the sun

They wouldn’t accept any…. so I had to pack my bags and get off.

What a great vacation.  We flew into Amsterdam and had 3 nights in Leiden, a lovely little dormitory town filled with cobbled streets and canals.  While there we did a lot of sleeping (jet-lag) and went for some early morning runs (jet-lag).  We also had a wonderful private canal boat tour with beer, wine and snacks.  Now that’s the way.

Then on the train and into Paris for two nights.  Paris has had a bad rap lately and yes I did notice the heightened level of security which actually made me feel secure.   We must have walked 30 kms on the one day taking in the left bank, the Latin Quarter including a visit to Notre Dame to light a candle for my parents.  What a gorgeous church.

The river cruise on Avalon was exceptional and I loved my room – the new panorama style room with massive sliding doors.

But the best thing of all was the optional tour we took when back in Amsterdam from our cruise ship – a 20 km bike ride.  Now if you have been to Amsterdam you will know that everyone and his dog (literally) rides a bike.  In fact, the bike lanes are very crowded and the Dutch are proficient bike riders.  Ladies with skirts and high heels on their way to the office – really!

So here goes The Travel Lady – first of all I asked the cruise director to make sure they had bikes for short people.  At home here in Calgary I ride a kid’s dirt bike style – not that I want to become a stunt rider but one of our neighbours gave it away and I thought why not?  I have been dying to get into bike riding again.  After having taken a couple of good falls in Fish Creek Park I felt I was ready to go biking anywhere.

However, our cruise director on the Artistry II was no fool.  He gave us a lecture before we signed up for the bike tour.  “Now”, he said.  “You need to be sure you can actually ride a bike and spin classes don’t count.  In order to make sure there will be a short test ride along the canal in front of the ship.”   They are serious about this – in fact the City of Amsterdam even put together a rather funny video explaining to tourists the rules of the road –

Oh no!  Let’s not talk about pressure now.  You mean I have to get on a strange bike and ride in front of people.  Come on, Lesley, I said to myself.  You can do it.  Well it turns out that the Dutch bike was more of a town bike.  What some people would call a sit-up-and-beg bike compared to my squat lean-forward-and-grip bike.  I was a bit worried and very wobbly but somehow I passed the test and I am SO glad I did.  We cycled past the main train station and then took the ferry to the quieter Northern side of Amsterdam and spent a glorious few hours cycling past small villages, over wooden bridges, past sheep (which actually talked to us) and cows (one of which was woefully stuck in the small canal than ran adjacent to the field).  I have always thought that cows are some of the most intelligent creatures and this one’s mates were circled all around while she sat in the watery ditch up to her chest.  I could imagine them saying to her – “Come on Doris – how many times do you have to do this before you learn?”  And Doris would reply “Well I am not as bad as Bruce”