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We signed up for “City Tour and Christianborg Palace” I like tours because it is someone else’s job to figure out how to get me places. I dislike tours because someone else dictates how long I stay in those places. They even give us big stickers, like I’ve seen done for young school children on field trips. The sticker says MSC 13, but the unspoken meaning of the sticker is: if lost, please return this person to MSC tour bus number 13. Or maybe just back to the MSC ship. Sometimes I like hearing all the trivia and history that the tour guide shares. Other times I find that being with a group and listening to a lecture interferes with me experiencing the places themselves.

Our tour had two quick photo stops at the Little Mermaid statue and a gothic church. Both places were heavily populated by tourists. The Little Mermaid is fascinating because you can get a picture like this one, where it looks like she is solitarily over looking the harbor.

But the reality of seeing here is more like this.

I was fine with it because I had no desire to emotionally connect with the statue. But if I really wanted a moment alone with her, I think I’d have to come after dark or some other time when the tour busses have all headed back to their ships.

I would have liked to spend more time with the gothic church and bridge next to a canal. That was a place where I could have sat and absorbed the surroundings, but we only had five minutes to snap some quick pictures.

Outside the Christianborg palace we had half an hour, fifteen minutes of which were a lecture. I wandered over to the walkway by the harbor. Howard and I don’t take the sorts of tourist pictures you’d expect. Howard gets up close to things and captures textures. I get up close because I notice (and am delighted by) small details like the moss growing between cobble stones.

Or the fact that the “bricks” in the entrance to the reception hall were actually made of wood.

Or this wooden flooring that I loved.

And this chest of drawers that I would love to take home.

Howard and I noticed a hot dog vendor on the harbor walk, but she didn’t take cards and didn’t have change for euros. This was quite sad because my sister (who lived in Germany for years) told me to make sure we got a Dutch hot dog while in Copenhagen.

The frustration of no hot dog combined with stuffy rooms and over stimulation meant that Howard and I were starting to be cranky with the portion of the tour which was an hour long look at the formal reception halls of Christianborg Palace. We ditched the tour group and walked on ahead. This was wise because I found I enjoyed seeing the lavish rooms more when they were quiet and I could think my own thoughts. We exited the building and had half an hour before we were due back at the bus. Down the road we could see what looked to be shops, so we went questing for a hot dog. We found a vendor and the trip got way better.

“Hot dog” does not correctly convey this food to an American audience. What we got was a foot long, narrower than an American hot dog, with a flavor that was much yummier and more nuanced. A bratwurst is closer, but still not the same flavor. One of the hot dogs had been wrapped in a thin layer of bacon. They were placed in buns that had a physical resemblance to the buns seen in the states, but a better bread flavor. Then the hot dog was buried under ketchup, a tangy Dijon-ish mustard, crispy-oniony things, and several sweet dill pickles sliced paper thin. I can see why my sister suggested it.

We sat outside in the quiet and watched tour groups and locals going about their day. Then we re-joined the group at our bus and returned to the ship. On the way home I wished that the guide would have just let me watch out the window in silence, but that wasn’t her job. Instead she pointed out buildings of interest, spouted historical details, and praised her city. While I continued to snap pictures of things she didn’t point out, but which pleased me.

Such as this sign, because I’m really glad that slotsplads is a real word even though I don’t know for sure what it means

Or this red post box that made me think of the little red mail boxes in the Zelda games.

Or the roof of the terminal building we had to pass through to get back on the ship because it had moss growing on the roof. On purpose.

Walking around, I could see that this was definitely the world of Hans Christian Andersen. Once again, landscape shapes the culture and stories.

Under the Bridge

It was a small paragraph in the daily bulletin that is delivered to the cabins. “Around 23:30 we will pass under the famous bridge of Oster-Renden that has a total length of 9 miles and is the longest bridge in Europe, it connects the two Danish islands of Selandia and Fionia.” I paused and re-read, yes it said under. I’m on a ship that is twenty stories tall and we were going to pass under a bridge. Howard and I agreed that this was something we wanted to be on deck to see. A couple of friends accompanied us at the right time and we went to the highest open deck. The bridge was already visible in the distance. It looked like many other bridges I’d seen with towers and suspension cables swooping down to the surface where cars moved across.

But as our ship drew closer I began to realize this bridge was far larger than others I’ve seen. Then I turned and realized that the span of the bridge was visible on both sides of the ship.

It got larger and larger. There was a target on the side of the bridge, which was apparently what the pilot was to aim for.

Then the underside of the bridge was above us. It soared over where we stood, appearing to be mere feet above the highest lights of the ship.

Some how our brains couldn’t parse what we were seeing, because no bridge should be large enough for a twenty story building to sail underneath it, yet there we were. In less than a minute it passed over head. The lights from our ship illuminated the under side.

And then it was receding behind us.

My words here don’t do justice to the awe-inspiring sight. Even the pictures are woefully inadequate. We all vocalized in amazement. As soon it was receding, Howard needed to get off the top deck because the combination of visuals had triggered an attack of vertigo. So we went downstairs, very glad we’d taken the time to go and see.

Note: We went back under the following night, and it was every bit as impressive.

Boarding the Ship and First Day Aboard

I’ve gone on two cruises before, both were on Royal Caribbean. On those, they funneled us through lines, made us fill out papers, took our pictures, then handed us a sea pass. On MSC the sea passes are in the rooms for us to find when we arrive. There are other small differences which made the first day a little bewildering and overwhelming. On the first day, the ship feels like a maze. I don’t yet know how to get from one end to the other. It will only take a day or two to sort out, but the first day is always long. The difference that is going to have the biggest impact on me is that MSC has a much stricter limit on data usage even for the highest levels of internet access. I’m not going to be able to blog as I go the way I did earlier, which makes me sad. I was enjoying that process quite a bit. I may still be able to blog words. In fact this post is a test to see how much data is used when I upload a blog post full of words.

This isn’t a particularly good picture of the ship. I took it through the window of a shuttle bus and it was raining. But it was the only real view I got of the ship before boarding. Perhaps there will be better photography opportunities later.
Right off my stateroom balcony was a view of the German Naval Yard, which I found interesting because there was a ship docked there.

One of the nice things about being part of a large conference group who are all wearing badges, we can identify each other in the crowds and help each other get oriented to the ship. It was from a fellow staff member that I learned where to find the little maps of the ship. Then I was able to walk both of the through decks to orient myself. On a cruise ship there are only a couple of decks where it is possible to walk from the front of the ship to the back of the ship. Most of the decks don’t go all the way through without obstruction. And sometimes the routes are … odd. For example: the dining room where we eat dinner is on deck 6. However the only way to get to it is to use the aft elevators or stairs. This means that if you’re in the fore, you have to use deck 5, 7, or 14 to transit to the aft of the ship and then use elevators or stairs to get to the dining room. Once I learn where things are, it isn’t a problem, but on the first day it is confusing.

Once the ship leaves port, the feeling of being misplaced/confused/lost subsides a bit. I’m not sure why that is, but somehow being under way changes the feeling. And then we have our first writing class of the trip and having all of the writers gathered together is even more reassuring. Today was the first day when part of my brain started freaking out because I’m so far away from my home. Being with the other writers sets that aside and gives me new thoughts to think. Of course the down side is that when I go to bed, my brain keeps thinking them, which is how I end up awake at 2:18 am wondering how things are going at home and writing up the rest of a scattered blog post. I’m afraid I won’t be editing these travel posts as carefully as I try to do usually. I feel fortunate to find brain to write them at all.

The Ship of Little Internet

We have an internet package on the ship, but it has a strictly limited MB ration. I may be able to continue to blog words, but no pictures. I possibly won’t be able to do many words either, in which case, I’ll still write things up, hopefully to post when I return to the world of internet. We’ll see.

Hotel, Jet Lag, and the Discovery of Stroopwafels

Today was spent at the Atlantic hotel in Kiel. There were staff meetings, registration, and orientation as we got the last pieces in place for the conference portions of the cruise. We’ have a good crowd:

In this photo Howard, Mary, and Dan are all pointing to Kenna, who is our queen of assistants and whose standard answer is “I can do that.”

One of the things that made me really happy was seeing attendee’s faces light up when they saw other attendees. These are people who may live half a world away from each other, but they are friends because of these Writing Excuses cruises. I love to be a part of the organization crew who made that possible.

I’m not suffering too badly from jet lag, though a noon nap was necessary today. Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have finished acclimating. I’m drinking lots of water and making sure I’m exposed to natural light as much as possible.

Today was also the day I first ate a stroopwafel. It will not be the last because, though they are treats from the Netherlands, Amazon in the US appears to sell them. A stroopwafel is a wafer cookie with two waffle layers and a gooey syrup filling. The whole thing is coated with cinnamon and sugar. It was delicious to eat and just as fun to say.

Tomorrow we board the ship. I’ll leave you with this little crocodile who was hanging out on our hotel sink.

He’s also featured on the do not disturb sign and some other hotel literature. His stomach says Qrogl, and I seem to remember my sister’s German-raised children loving a cartoon crocodile with that name. So, from Germany Qrogl says hello and hopes you will wash your hands thoroughly.

Kiel on Day Two of the Trip

Reading German road signs, menus, etc is making me silly happy. It is fun to recognize a word in the middle and figure out the rest. Sometimes the word I recognize is in the middle of a sentence, other times it is in the middle of a word. It is like the world around me is filled with clever word puzzles and the only clues I have are decades old education I have to dredge from memory. (and google. Sometimes I google.) It has been interesting to travel with Howard here in Germany where I have familiarity with the local language and he doesn’t. When we’re in a romance based country (All the prior international travel has been to places where he was more expert than I was.) He’s asking questions and I’m surprised at how many I’m able to answer. I carry a fair amount of remembered vocabulary, more than I’d expected. On the other hand, I’m afraid I have now taught Howard enough German that he has wortrauchenfruede (Word smushing joy.)

As usual, it is a comfort to me when I open up my computer to discover that my usual internet haunts are the same whether I’m accessing them from Utah or Germany. However even online little things come to my attention. This morning I was on facebook and noticed that the little notification globe looked different somehow. Then I realized that the globe is centering Germany rather than the US. And it made me happy, because of course it does that.

A similar moment came when I heard the sound of emergency vehicles outside my window and they had the siren sound which I’ve heard before in movies, but which isn’t the same siren used in the states. I hear the noise and a piece of my brain laughs at me because I’m surprised to hear that sound outside of a movie.

The flight from Paris was uneventful. I even got a glimpse of the Eiffel tower. I promise that in the middle of this photo, lost in the haze is a tiny Eiffel tower. I was able to see it, but my camera has insufficent resolution to differentiate the haze.

It was a tiny, terrible view of so significant a landmark, but it made me so happy to get to glimpse the structure at all. I didn’t think I would get to.

On the shuttle bus from Hamburg to Kiel I had ninety minutes to watch out the window while German landscape passed by. I’ve seen forests and fields in the US, but not usually in so close proximity. Old growth forest surrounded most of the fields and the forest itself has a different feel than the forests I’ve been in on either East or West coast of the US. I realized that I was staring at the forest that was the origin of many European fairytales. The forests I saw made sense out of those tales of deep, magical woods full of peril. I spent some time thinking about how landscape changes the cultures that grow up in them. I didn’t have brain to get much further than that thought though. Jet lag muddled most of the thoughts.

Related note: staff meetings when all the staff are jet lagged become rambly and amusing affairs.

Our hotel is lovely. I have a view of the port outside my window.

Tomorrow morning my ship will dock there and I’ll get on board. Today is full of jet lag recovery and pre-cruise organization and orientation. The students have already begun to gather.

36 Hours (of No Sleeping) Later

I have achieved hotel with bed, wifi, and the correct amperage of power for my devices. Soon I will go to sleep and hope to wake in the morning with my body convinced that this schedule shifted by eight hours is okay.

First Travel Stop Charles DeGaul Airport, Paris

The first day of this trip involves 18 hours of travel which crossed a night during which I got maybe thirty minutes of sleep. In theory the staying up will allow me to fall asleep at an appropriate local time. We’ll see if biorhythms cooperate. In Charles De Gaul airport Howard and I found this little sushi place that has a conveyor to bring food around.

I knew these places existed, and it was charming to sit at one. The actual food was underwhelming, which shouldn’t be surprising for what is essentially a sushi cafeteria. I’m glad we stopped anyway.

The airport also had a piano sitting in an open area, which apparently exists so that travelers can sit down to play. When we first walked by a woman was playing and singing opera, apparently just to pass the time while waiting for her plane. The airport also had a complete lack of TV screens broadcasting news, which is a common feature of American airports. I wish more airports would do pianos instead of TV screens. Piano is much nicer than endless rounds of talking heads discussing the American healthcare system to no avail.

Plane for Hamburg boards in fifteen minutes.


The day before travel is a strange mix of urgent tasks and waiting. I’ve already wrapped up most of my work that I needed to get done before the trip. I don’t want to start anything that I’d have to put on hold for ten days, so I end up spending time idling. The suitcase is packed, but still open for when I remember one more thing to put into it. The people staying home have all been briefed on proper house maintinence (like taking out the trash and doing the dishes.) I’ve handed over permissions and medical cards for the minors in the house. And both Howard and I have written up notes about how to manage if we don’t return on schedule.

That last item takes up a pretty big emotional footprint. I found myself writing pages of instructions for the shipping that is left to do. I showed my adult kids where all the important documents and emergency resources are. I wrote up notes on accounts, bills, passwords, and procedures. One thing that is of great comfort to me is that our family is surrounded by an extensive net of relatives and friends, all of whom would jump to help my kids sort things out should that become necessary. It reminds me, yet again, that I need to contact an estate lawyer and get some paperwork that is more official than my notes. Put that on the calendar for October.

For now, it is time to do the last few tasks that need to be done before we leave.

Traveling to Europe

Day after tomorrow my calendar has an appointment named “flight to Paris.” I’m not actually going to stay in Paris long, just touch down long enough to clear customs and get on another plane. Yet part of my brain sings “I’m going to Paris.”

I first dreamed of a trip to Europe when I was sixteen years old. I’d heard of some summer-long teen ambassador program which pitched itself as a hugely educational connection between teens from other countries. I dragged my dad with me to a meeting, where he worried about supervision and I was discouraged by the hefty price tag. Life intervened, I didn’t have the resources to come up with that money, so I didn’t go. (Though I did get to do a week-long school trip to Washington DC a year later for a much smaller price tag and supervised by people who were familiar to us.)

I next made plans to go to Europe as a sophomore in college. There were semester abroad programs. I researched and intended to take out a loan to go. Ultimately I chose fiscal responsibility over an exciting trip. Which turned out to be a good thing because shortly after that I met Howard. We got engaged during the semester I would have been gone.

My third moment when Europe seemed possible was brief. Howard and I were discussing plans for our honeymoon. He pointed out that he had enough money for us to pick Europe if we wanted. Except I knew that money needed to carry through the rest of my schooling. It was the fund we planned to use to allow Howard to pursue a creative career instead of being tied to a job. We chose the long-haul dream over the fantastic trip. We picked the dream of family and stability over travel. At the moment of that decision, I knew I might be giving up Europe forever. I knew that we wanted kids and that having kids limited travel options. I knew that my life was changing, but I chose to set aside the idea of seeing Europe.

Fast forward twenty three years from those decisions made so long ago that they might as well have been made by another person. I don’t regret them. Yet somehow the musician I married turned into a cartoonist. And this small podcast he was invited to join got bigger than anyone expected. And then the podcast started hosting retreats and paying for instructors to come. And then one of those retreats was planned as a cruise tour of the Baltic sea. So instead of me making Europe happen out of determination and force of will, it has come to me of it’s own accord. And it has come in a way that I can afford without jeopardizing and of my longer-term, more-important dreams.

I get to fly to Paris, then Hamburg. I get to shuttle to Kiel where I’ll board a ship that stops in Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), and St. Petersburg (Russia). Then I fly home, touching down briefly to change planes in Amsterdam. At the end of ten days I’ll have added seven countries to the “places I’ve been” list. I’ll get to see their art, hear their languages, and tour both a viking ship and a Russian cold war submarine. I’m going to fill my head with new experiences, and then I get to return home to all my favorite dreams.

Excited isn’t quit the right word for how I feel about this trip. I’m too calm inside for “excited.” I feel anticipation, peace, curiosity, anxiety, and happiness. I get to go with the flow of a trip with scheduled travel and guided tours. For ten days I don’t have to be in charge of everything, I get to be a passenger. I get to make choices based on my feelings of the moment instead of the requirements of my responsibilities. And I get to be on a ship. I’m surprised at how much I long to be on a ship again.

Tomorrow is the day of last minute preparations, Wednesday I depart.