Pictures Added

Note: I’ve added pictures to the posts that were lacking them while I was on the ship of little internet. The Fjords at Dawn post in particular was rewritten and expanded.

Now I just need to write up Stockholm, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg (which might even get multiple posts because of the nature of the tour I took.)

Traveling Home

Hamburg airport wins the prize for Most Convoluted Check-in Process. Our group had to go to stand in line at four different counters in order to successfully acquire boarding passes and hand off luggage. A detailed account is below for people who like details.

I’d expected my trip home to be solitary and introspective. Instead I traveled with friends from the hotel to the airport and on the first flight. Then I made a new friend on the transatlantic flight. I’d expected to spend that flight writing or watching a bazillion movies. Instead I ended up seated next to a fellow geek and we talked most of the trip home. Then we hung out together through customs and had dinner before parting for our separate flights. It was unique in my traveling experiences to collect a friend I’m likely to keep beyond the length of that trip.

By the time I reached the Salt Lake airport I wasn’t capable of doing more than shambling toward baggage claim and my shuttle pick up. The shuttle bus driver was a truly kind and thoughtful person. He was also non-stop chatty, but fortunately there were other passengers who were able to give him answers. Because my brain was so tired he might as well have been speaking Russian, or German, or Finnish, or any of the other foreign languages that my brain learned to filter out during my trip.

Then I was home where I swapped stories with my kids before collapsing into bed.

Details of Hamburg Airport:

Counter 1: I started at a self check-in kiosk. There were four of them, but only one was functioning. This meant we had to stand in line waiting for a group of fifteen young men to check into their flight and print their boarding passes. Then I took my bags to drop them off. My travelling companions were both re-directed to the full service kiosk which was around a corner and several hundred feet away. The luggage drop off was also an automated kiosk with an attendant nearby. The first bag went relatively smoothly, though the attendant had to call out instructions when she thought I wasn’t doing things properly. The second bag was the large case for the writing excuses recording gear. The attendant brusquely told me I had to take it to the full service kiosk. So I walked to join my friends in a new line.

Counter 2: We were in line with a dozen other people and there was no one at any of the desks. The front of the line was two young women with three small children, two car seats, and several very large bags. They informed us that they’d been in line when the people at the counter had abruptly closed up shop and left them standing there un-checked-in with small children to attempt to entertain. An inquiry to the self-checking bag attendant netted the information that the posts would be opened two hours before the flight. They opened at least fifteen minutes later than that. However when they did show, they immediately observed that one of my traveling companions was riding a scooter and in need of disability services. Our group was whisked to the front of the line, much to the frustration of others who felt like they shouldn’t have been shunted aside. Fortunately their frustration was aimed at the attendant, not at us. Also fortunately the other attendant immediately took the two women and their children to help them. When It was my turn at the counter she put a tag on the box of gear and informed me I had to take it to oversize luggage drop off and then, because it was a second bag, I had to go to an additional counter to pay the fee for the extra bag.

Counter 3: The line for oversize baggage was about six people deep. My travel friend was also lugging a case of gear, so we decided to divide and conquer. She went to go pay for the bags while I stood in line to get them onto the plane. Naturally the machinery ground to a complete halt just as I reached the front of the line. The workers spoke to each other in rapid German and their body language seemed to indicate that we were all waiting on some sort of a mechanical failure or pause. But then they took the bags without trouble, so that was good.

Counter 4: Paying for bags was still happening when I reached that counter. For some reason it took two attendants eight minutes of scowling at the screen, conversing in German, and typing to manage to charge our credit card and then hand us receipts. We made a brief stop back at counter 2, where the attendant there double checked the work of the counter 4 attendants.

The party split up with half in the hands of disability services who whisked them through back ways to the airplane. The rest of us went through regular security. When we arrived at our gate, there were zero chairs. This was not that all the chairs were taken, it was that they did not exist. Wide open space, not a chair to be seen. Fortunately the airplane had saved us some seats and the Amsterdam airport was a much more pleasant experience.

Back in Kiel

We successfully exited the ship. This process is a fairly long one of gather then wait, walk then wait, ride shuttle then wait. I will say that I’m really a fan of how European countries handle customs. About all we had to do was get a stamp in the passport and pick up our luggage, no long customs lines like the ones I expect when I get to the states.

Our hotel room was not ready when we arrived, so Howard and I enjoyed lobby con with many of the other instructors and attendees. It was very enjoyable to sit and talk with no action items looming. The late afternoon was filled with ninety minutes of cruise post-mortem. This is a meeting with all the staff where we discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what we plan to do differently next year. The meeting always runs long because we’re all tired and we’re still unpacking our experiences. Additionally, the fatigue makes us unfocused.

Group dinner always follows staff meeting. And then it was time for bed.

In the morning Howard will board a train bound for a tour of four castles. I will board a shuttle to an airport and a flight which will take me home. I type those words, but outside my window is still the water where the cruise ships pull up. I’m surrounded by things German. My brain still has so much to process and there isn’t quite space for me to unfold the home thoughts yet. Additionally, I’d love to get blog posts written for the remainder of the cruise days before I’m fully out of cruise head space. Perhaps tomorrow during my two layovers. One week at home then I meet Howard in Indianapolis for GenCon.

For now, I’ll enjoy my last hours of being in Germany. I think one of the biggest gains is that the thought of foreign travel is far less intimidating than it was before. I have no idea when I’ll get to do it again, but that is okay. I got to have this trip and it was lovely.

Days Begin to Blend Together

The days are beginning to pile on top of each other. I’ve just finished the day where I wandered in Tallinn Estonia, but when I went to write my thoughts about it, I discovered an unfinished draft about fjords at dawn. In between the fjords and Tallinn was an excursion into Stockholm and a bunch of behind-the-scenes management of, not crises exactly, but of people in need of emotional support and attention. This is expected when you bring a hundred introverted writer people, put them in situations where they need to socialize, where they are learning new things that make them doubt their capabilities, and where they are so eager to not miss out on anything that they neglect to take time to recharge, eat, and sleep.

I want to write each set of thoughts when they are fresh, but events are happening fast with little space in between. I scheduled time for writing today, but was tackled by a nap instead. Disorientation from the unexpected nap and from the fact that we changed time zones last night combined to make me miss the group photo. I’m still frustrated with myself for that. St. Petersburg is tomorrow and that will be another set of experiences, pictures, and thoughts to process.

Fjords at Dawn

The Stockholm Fjords do not look as I expected. To me the word fjord conjures images from Norway where mountains plunge directly into the sea. These are more gentle. They are rocky islands covered in trees, with an occasional structure or light house.

It was profoundly peaceful watching them slide by while a chill wind lifted my hair. I tried to capture the experience of seeing an island and watching it pass with this photo set.

Wind in the hair was lovely until one lock kept landing in my field of view, so I contained it with a headband. I also added some layers of clothing against the chill. Then I sat on my balcony and watched the fjords in solitude. I think a few of my neighbors were also awake, but none of us disturbed the other.

After a long, quiet time, the sun rose to cast rosy light on things I passed.

I really wanted to have one of these houses on islands with a boat dock in the back garden.

But I am reliably informed that these little towns are regularly buried in ice during the winter, which would be much less pleasant. Perhaps there are rentals.

These fjords are a distinctly different navigational experience than the deltas which form and shift around the US. Using deltas is a constant fight to keep channels clear from accumulating silt. These passages are rock, not dirt and sand. The path way through them is narrow for a ship as large as ours. The way was marked with green cones that reminded me of traffic cones, which is exactly what they were.

We entered the fjords at 3:30 am and navigated slowly until we reached port at 8:30am. Five hours making our way between islands.

Once the sun was fully above the horizon, there began to be an accompanying flock of seagulls. They hovered near the balconies hoping that people would toss them food and also to coast on the wind of the ship’s passage.

This meant I had lots of opportunity to photograph seagulls in flight. From both above,

and below

Then we pulled into port and the visit to Stockholm began.

Sea Day

It is 2am and sleep currently eludes me, so I am writing my report of the day with only the sunrise and a bright star for company.

The star is probably a planet, I’ll be able to look up which one when I have a better internet connection. And yes, I am so far north that sunrise is at 2am. The last fading light of the day is visible at 11:30pm. On the horizon I see lights from two other ships. One is definitely another cruise ship. The other may be a freighter. Between me and that horizon is water gently reflecting that early light with the tops of the waves and looking black where the light doesn’t touch. I feel the motion of those waves and the vibration of the ocean. It is a gentle rocking that I don’t notice unless I’m paying attention. I like the feel of it, and watching the water flow by is deeply peaceful. This moment was part of what I longed for: water, peace, rocking, and solitude. Though I didn’t need it to occur at 2 am when I am supposed to be sleeping.

The day just past was a sea day, which meant more classes and teaching because no one exited the ship. I have to consult my devices to confirm that it was Monday. It is so easy to lose track when I’m detached from my usual life patterns. This ship does not have the days of the week helpfully printed on the floors of the elevators. I miss that. I miss other things about the prior ships as well. This one has some questionable furniture choices. These chairs were obviously chosen for appearance not comfort.

And I’m not even sure what to say about these. I think that the silver loop is supposed to be used as a back to lean on. It doesn’t quite work.

There are many lovely things about this ship, one of the things that I prefer is the way our venues are clumped together in close proximity to my room. Every place I need to go is aft. I haven’t been to the fore of the ship since the first day. Which is good because the pathways between fore and aft still feel more convoluted than necessary.

Sea day was the day I taught my family class, which went well. I’m glad of that. I was worried before the class because I was unfocused at breakfast time. In the evening we had our formal night & costume party. I had a beautiful flowing dress that had some unfortunate design flaws which I did not realize until the third hour of wearing it when it began to be significantly uncomfortable. I ended up leaving the dinner table to go change. Fortunately the flaws are things I can likely correct before I wear the dress again and I have a different dress I can wear for the second formal night.

In a few hours we’ll make port in Stockholm. I have tickets to a tour, but right now I think I might skip it and stay on the ship. I think I need an introvert day where I re-center myself rather than filling my head with even more new input. There is a part of my brain that says I should go, I may never be in Sweden again. This is true, but if I my effort not to miss everything pushes me into exhaustion and overload, I will enjoy everything less. It is better to simply wave at Sweden from the ship and recharge for further adventures than to end up in a crying heap who just wants to run home and hide. I miss home and my familiar things. And I love being here away from my usual responsibilities. Both of those feelings co-exist without needing to fight for primacy.

Sun rise is gradual. It is 3am now and the sky is only marginally lighter. The band of red is thicker than it was and the planet is higher in the sky. I’ve attempted photographs, but the quality is poor with my cell phone camera.

I would pull out the better camera, but it beeps every time I push a button and I don’t want to wake Howard. He managed to find sleep and I don’t want to disturb him. According to the navigation notes that are placed on our bed each evening, the sun will rise above the horizon at around 4:20 am. Around 3:30am we are supposed to enter the Stockholm Fjord which the paper says have spectacular landscapes. At this point I’ll probably stay up to see them. I can sleep later since I’m skipping the tour and will have all day available to me. We’ll go back through the Fjord again in the evening, which is likely when most people will watch the landscape.

For now, I’m going to post this and wait for the Fjord.


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.

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.