Monday, October 08, 2007

The European Dream Part Five - Eiffel Tower or Bust

So, where in the world am I now? Well, presently I am sitting in my room, good ol’ 5269, which is all the way aft on the starboard side… Well, almost all the way aft, for outside my door is the end of the hall where there is another door with a yellow sign on it that reads “HIGH VOLTAGE.“ I suppose on the other side of my wall is a bunch of stuff which requires a dangerous amount of voltage… Me? I usually run off one of those little watch batteries. Below me there should be a passenger cabin, I think. Above me is the Mooring Deck, the place where they tie out to the pier and winch the ropes in, taking out the slack. While I have never seen this happen, I can usually hear and feel it when we dock in the mornings and… uh… undock in the evenings. Yes, it can be sort of loud, but it’s nothing like having a room all the way forward, where your neighbor is the anchor.

It didn’t happen to me, but way back when I was working on the Silver Cloud our adage team had fought and held out for a passenger cabin. Well, they finally got what they wanted, and it was nice… huge marble bathroom, big bed, sitting area with a wet bar… cushy indeed. However, right outside their big bay window was the anchor. One day I was in their room going over show videos… again… when the anchor started to raise. Each link shook the cabin like a little earthquake, and the noise was comparable to having an apartment with a tarmac view. I would have felt sorry for them, but they were pecker heads… Moving on…

As far as the big picture is concerned, The Dream is somewhere between Spain and Italy. Yesterday we visited the island of Gibraltar, which you know from all those Prudential Life Insurance commercials. Our magical mystery tour of the Med started us at Dover… Yes, I know, not very Med like, but it was where we picked up our passengers. This time around the weather was just plain nasty. Started out having coffee with Tracey and Villam, and from there took a look around the city by foot. The impending rain forced me to stay close to town, and after discovering a cemetery (personally I mean… I am sure others have seen it too, otherwise all the head stones with the markers would be really mysterious) I returned to the Prince Albert Pub, where I did the usual checking of E mail and drinking of ale...
After one sea day, we made it to our first port, La Havre. This is the port that is the gateway to Paris, and it was… but Paris, as I would come to discover, is like a woman… fickle and difficult to figure out (although, after rereading the last statement, I can say that women, as a whole, smell better). Not that it was all Paris’ fault… Let’s start at the beginning…

Our team of potential Parisians include Richard and Josette (our Magic duo), their daughter and her boy friend, Ted (Comedian), Lorraine (singer), and myself. Only Lorraine had been to Paris before, the rest of us merely hopeful of seeing the Eiffel Tower, eating a croissant, and drinking some wine. At 7 AM we met at the gangway Midship. They had just set it up and were waiting for clearance from the port authority. A couple of minutes and we were off the ship, politely shoving the pax out of the way to get the first taxi. As we made strides down the pier Richard said to the group “Eiffel Tower or Bust!“ Those words were to echo in my head for the rest of the day… eerily and foreboding… Next stop, the train station.

Larrisa knew enough French to get us our tickets. So we got round trip tickets for the seven of us, including a “26 and younger” ticket for myself… heh heh… stupid French. Since I was not allowed into the “cockpit” of the train (seriously, I can’t think of what you would call it) we made it to Paris on time, after two and a half hours.
Our next stop was to go to Starbucks. Yes, I know, but I was with a group. After that we headed out to the “hop on, hop off” bus that takes you around the city to all the touristy destinations. Well, we didn’t quite know where we were going… We finally found the place after another forty-five minutes of searching… All the while the grey and windy French sky swung like a pendulum… misting on us, then raining… back and forth. Got our tickets for the bus. The next bus pulled up and we got on… And that’s when the day took a dive.

Now, in the real world you don’t get on a random bus and expect it to guess where you want to go. There are lines and numbers and stuff. Huh, wouldn’t you know it… that rule also applies to the touristy buses. I started to wonder just where the Hell we were when we passed by the Moulin Rouge, followed by a bunch of sex shops. While French bread sounds nice, a French tickler wasn’t what I had in mind. So, I take a look at the map… for the first time.

From the hop on, hop off HQ the green line goes south west towards all the good stuff… Eiffel Tower, The Louve, Arc De Triumph… the things you think of when you say “Paris.” We had gotten on the yellow line, which took us NORTH EAST towards The Moulin Rouge, and a bunch of random avenues and buildings to which we said things like “look, an old building… I wonder what it’s for… well, let me get a picture of it.” So, I inform the group that we’re headed in the wrong direction. Soon after we get off the bus at our next destination... The Hard Rock Cafe.

Now, I can understand wanting to stop in for a bit, grab a T Shirt and get back on the bus. But due in part to some shopping, and also in part to some waiting for the next bus, we spent forty-five minutes there… Forty-five minutes… Forty-five minutes… And the words rang into my head… “Eiffel Tower or Bust.” Here’s a look of my temporary prison from the inside.

Tensions started to run a little high at this point. Finally, a bus arrived, and after taking the proverbial reigns, I informed the group of our next move. Here I am, the guy who prizes the compass in his car above all, telling the group how to get to the Eiffel tower. It involved getting off the bus, walking down some streets with our complimentary hop on hop off bus guide map (which was not truly meant for street navigation), and over to a green line bus stop somewhere over there (and then I would point to a street which I prayed was the right one).

Well, turns out my finger had the right idea, and we arrived in this square with a great big ol’ ferris wheel on one side, some other older buildings all around us, and the Arc di Triumph around the corner. After about 10 minutes our bus arrived, and I noticed that in the window, in the lower left hand corner, noticeable if you were looking for it, was a green square... Eiffel Tower or Bust...
Oh, and these buses were double-decker, with a convertible second level for picture taking, sun soaking, and general Oohing and Aaahing. The rain, by the way, is even less thrilling at speeds above thirty miles an hour. The wind also becomes far less impressive. But I was in Paris dammit, and I refused to take pictures from inside a dirty bus window. So, the rain came down, the wind attacked from the front, and the seven of us bravely Oohed, Aahed, and Clicked our way down the large road to the Arc Di Triumph. I would tell you something about it, but there was no tour guide on the bus… And still, even if there was, by now you should know better than to expect anything of knowledgeable substance out of me. Tell ya what, I’ll make something up real quick.

The Arc di Triumph was built by a bunch of Mexicans posing as French… It’s real name is “El Arco Del Triumph.”

After circling around it, our bus turned down another busy street, giving us a view of the Eiffel Tower looming over the trees and buildings. With my creative planning, I bought us about an hour at the Tower before having to get back on the bus to head over to the train station. As we passed by more Parisian buildings of a nondescript historical nature, the Tower got bigger and bigger… I thought I was wetting myself with anticipation, then I realized its just the rain coming down in buckets. Paris was putting up its last front to stop us from getting to the Tower. But I ran to the front of the bus, standing on the seats yelling “Come on Paris, show me what you got!” Then, as if the weather in France studied English in school in order to become well rounded, or for some sort of international business degree, backed down. The bus circled around the Tower, then dropped us off. Eiffel Tower or Bust? More like Americans 1, Parisians 0... Take that Frenchies.

For the next hour we walked up to the Tower, taking pictures… then walking up the hill to a building with a nice vantage point, taking more pictures. Richard and Josette took a video of him doing card tricks with the Eiffel Tower in the background… to be added to his growing montage of exotic locations. Unfortunately we did not have the time to go up the tower, but at least we made it to the tower… and believe me there were a couple of times when I wasn’t so sure. All right, enough talk, picture time…

Look! I´m eating a crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower! Sweet...

After the Tower we made it back to the bus stop, getting on the right bus, which took us to the general vicinity of the train station. After asking several people to help us (Lorraine, anyway) we finally made it back to the station, tickets in hand, a mere five minutes before the scheduled departure. And we sat down, cold and soggy, and took the trip back to La Havre. Upon arrival we decided to walk around town to find a place to eat. What we didn’t realize is that Paris must have gotten really pissed off at us and called La Havre to complain. La Havre, either a close friend of Paris or just someone who does what Paris says out of fear, ripped open the sky and poured rain on us… but not right away… No, it waited until we were at our farthest point from the ship, and when there was not a single taxi in sight.

Paris was sending us a fond goodbye through its friend La Havre… and down the road we went, getting drenched to the bone, and never once eating any French bread or drinking any French wine. Eventually we made it back to the ship… my camera was the only casualty. Somewhere during that long walk back in the rain, a rouge drop of water infiltrated the black metal casing of my Nikon. While it still takes pictures, it now needs a little coaxing… The timer doesn’t work, and I can’t use the left button. Plus, as a form of insomnia, it will now turn itself off and on at will. So, when I’m not using it, the battery has to come out. For now we are still a team, but it will have to visit the vet when I get back. As for you Paris, you haven’t seen the last of me… Damn you.

Then there was a sea day. Now, normally I wouldn’t mention a sea day because it usually involves me doing the routine things no one would really want to know about… rehearsing, eating, working out… On this particular sea day however, I happen to have a story. We had just finished another fruitful rehearsal of Rock This Town (Oh, did I mention I actually have a job on this ship?) and we were milling about the theatre. Tracey and I were walking down the starboard side aisle which leads us aft and towards our cabins… When all of a sudden…

An older gentleman cuts in front of Tracey, who was walking in front of me. Now, lately this has been no surprise, as many of us have no shortage of stories concerning passengers who see us as either invisible or with a giant target on our chest. So, he cuts in front of her, no big deal… There was about three feet or so separating him from her as he continued to walk aft… and then it happened. Like a rumble of thunder ripping through the air he let loose the most tremendous… wait for it… fart I have heard in some time. It was loud, long, and yes… juicy. Immediately Tracey ducked into the next section of chairs, me following quickly behind, both laughing hysterically… me because a guy just farted on Tracey, and Tracey because she had no other way to emote the pure nausea of the situation (and also because it was, after all, juicy).

We sat down, crying from laughter for a good minute or two. The man, either too oblivious to notice or from lack of interest, moseyed on down the aisle. After a couple of minutes Tracey and I picked ourselves up and started our walk, this time on the port side aisle, aft once again. We had reached the back of the theatre, and just as we were about to leave, our sound technician Ivan said “So, you got farted on eh?” He was definitely not close enough to hear it, but could ascertain the event from our actions. Over the next few nights the story was told to our friends with little additions like “If he didn’t have pants on, I would have been sprayed!“ “I could actually see his pants baffle in the wind!” and “It was definitely juicy.“ Moral of the story: Ship life includes getting farted on… it’s a fact of life around here. Don’t believe me? Go back a reread some of my earlier blogs… This is a documented fact.

Okay, back to the Med… Our next stop was La Coruna, Spain. Like many other ports in Spain I have visited, it was composed of winding old streets flanked by four and five story balconies, colonial style lights, cobblestones… all fighting against the progress of Burger King and McDonalds. The Dream’s pier was right outside the city, so after a quick walk, you were in the middle of it all. I started my day with my fellow Texans, Sam and Michael, and the three of us followed our noses through the early Sunday morning streets. Spain doesn’t get up until noon on a Sunday, and so many of the streets, stores, and squares we visited were empty.

Part of the city is pretty slim, and we walked from one shore to the other.

With no agenda planned out, we decided to walk towards the slender sky piercing obelisk. When we got closer, we realized it was made of some sort of opaque material… maybe a leaded glass or heavy plastic. What was it there for? What did it symbolize? Beats me… here’s a picture.

From there we walked back into town, and I left Mike and Sam, making my way to the other side of town, towards the old lighthouse. Named something like “Hercules,” it was built in the second century A.D., and restored in the eighteenth century. So, it’s pretty damn old, and the restoration is also pretty damn old… it’s a pretty damn old lighthouse… Damn. For whatever reason I was not compelled to go up the damn old lighthouse, but I did take several pictures of the damn old lighthouse. So, here are some damn pictures.

From there I took the scenic route back to the ship, stopping once to take a picture of the fattest statue I have ever seen. Could it be because of the neighboring ice cream truck? Only the statue and truck know for sure…

The next day we arrived at Leixoes, Portugal (with a squiggly over the O… again, no squiggly keys here… I drew one on my screen however, which in retrospect I realize was a dumb thing to do). Ask ten people how to pronounce the name of this port, and you’ll get ten answers. However, since I have no degree in Phonetics, lets just agree to disagree. Essentially this port is a gateway to the meat and potatoes city next door called, appropriately, La Porte. A train system linked the neighboring cities, and while the train is convenient, the ticket system was not.

The funny thing about this picture is that it was taken after all of the following happened. Where I took the picture there was an identical ticket machine. When I arrived there was a line of about thirty pax all in line at the machine in the picture, with a uniformed attendant helping them out. There was no one at the other machine, so I went to use it. After a couple of minutes I realized it was broken. Fine, I’ll just get in line.

So I do, and I wait for ten minutes, watching the trains go by. The line was moving slow because each ticket had to be printed and paid for separately… Have seven people in your group? Well, then we must push buttons and insert money seven times… Finally I get up to the guy. “Quiero una boleta para La Porte.” Did I care that the Portuguese don’t speak much Spanish? Nope. Well, he asked me if I had coins. “No” I said, hoping that a Spanish “No” was the same as a Portuguese “No.” It was, but unfortunately what that meant was my Euro bills were of no use to me, or the machine, which was only semi-broken in comparison to the one across the tracks. So, he points to a magazine stand. Great… I get out of line and ask a guy who has probably been asked by a hundred other people for change. I know this because after he moaned in Portuguese, he gave me my change and closed his window. If anyone needed a magazine or change after that, they had no one to blame but me.

Now freshly armed with five golden one dollar Euro coins, I get back in line… again… Then Andre and Francine (our ballroom couple) show up. They are going to La Porte too, and rather than have them go through the almost half hour I have just experienced, I warned them of the delinquent ticket machine, the other ticket machine that doesn’t apply itself enough, and the great Euro coin debacle. Fortunately, I had enough change for them and we, after waiting in line again, got our tickets. Kicker is did anyone actually check our passes once on board? Hell no. At this point, I was looking for grey clouds, because Paris could be behind all of this.

Fortunately, that was the worst of the day. After a short train ride, we made it into La Porte, and we were greeted with a cool breeze and sunshine. La Porte is a busier city, but has still retained all of its historical charm. We walked around the city, stopping at a train station famous for its painted tiles, a church, and a nice view point of the city. Here are people’s exhibit’s A-D.

An Imperial McDonalds? Peculiar… After experiencing La Porte we hopped back on the train, and stopped a little before our original train station in order to have a nice walk through town, and enjoying some espresso and a pastry. And that’s about it! It took longer to describe the process of getting there than it did to describe… there. So, there you go.

Once on board I was a little hungry so I ducked into the Sports Bar, our suspiciously ambiguous sports themed buffet… I have been threatening for years to take some pictures of the “sports figures” we have hanging on the wall in there… Anyway, I get a plate and grab some food in the line, and then head over to our carving station, where tonight they were carving up some ham and making some fresh pasta.

I get some pasta, and I am about to reach for the spoon to add some Parmesan cheese to my plate when an older gentleman reaches in beside me and grabs the spoon. As if it the following happened in slow motion, I see his eyes move towards a small container that the carver uses to place the fatty pieces of ham not fit for human consumption. The spoon moves towards the fat… and I hear myself say, to no one in particular, but loud enough for anyone around me to hear, “Don’t use the cheese spoon for the ham.”

As if he was a deaf defiant child he shovels some pig fat onto his plate. Now I watch his eyes shift back to the cheese… Come on… I say, once again to no one in particular “Don’t put the spoon back in the cheese.” Plink… the spoon, now freshly covered in pig grease lands back in the freshly grated cheese. I felt the wind blow out of my sails as I shake my head and look at my pasta, now destined to forever be without cheese. Sigh...

Finally, in this installment, I will briefly mention Lisbon, Portugal. I have been here a couple of times before, when I worked on The Silver Cloud. During that time I saw all the historical stuff like the Columbus monument, the monument commemorating human flight, the nautical museum, the carriage museum… I have pictures, but not here. This time around I hung out with Federico, a great buddy of mine from my Spring contract here on The Dream. Just arriving from Argentina, he is the assistant shore-ex manager who took some of us on a exclusive crew tour in Belize last Spring. Today, a lot of shore-ex folks and I went out to do a little shopping. We hopped on a bus, made it to a shopping mall, had lunch, fooled around the general area, and went back to the ship. Nothing exciting… at all!

However, Lisbon does have that statue of Christ that can also be found in Rio. As we sailed away, I got some great pictures.

And that’s about it for this installment. While I have just been to Gibraltar, I will save that for the next installment. Tomorrow… Rome.

Keep On Livin’ The Dream.

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola (Taking in the Eiffel Tower)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael,
    I've been to A Coruna (insert squigly mark aka tilde over the "n") with a couchsurfing buddy, but I don't think I saw what you saw there. Cool blog and pictures, though. I'm leaving Waco this weekend to head back to LA. I'll probably just miss you again. Hope all's well, Rachel