Saturday, September 20, 2008

St. George's Dream Part Nine - Canada is Killing My Tan

At the moment I am sitting in my room, while the ship sits outside of Bar Harbour, Maine. It's late in the afternoon, and the last tender is bringing back the pax for one more night at sea before they acquiesce to the real world on Sunday. Then, we pick up our last group of pax for our Canada and Maine run, and then it's five more weeks of Bermuda... and I say thank God, because Canada is killing my tan.

Actually, this run is probably the least... how do I say this without biting the hand that feeds me... this run is... boring. There, I said it. The port cities, with the exception of Halifax I suppose, do not offer a whole hell of a lot to the visiting pax. Of course, there are tons of things to do outside the cities, but if you're like me and just want to kick around town... well you'll be kicking yourself for wanting to do so. Still, I try and find things to do... let's look back on the past two weeks and see what I can dig up.

I'll start with our first port of call, St. John's, New Brunswick. This is the place that has the dramatic change in tides at the Bay of Fundy, as well as that reversing waterfall I was telling y'all about. I have plans to go see that next week, so what have I done there to bide my time until I get to witness water flowing upstream? Here are some pictures...

Here's a church.... They have churches there.

Here's a spider... They have churches and spiders.

And, it looks like they have enormous meat sandwiches.

I have taken three pictures in St. John's over two weeks. But I didn't tell you that we couldn't get in this week. As we were coming up the coast from Boston, one of those hurricanes, Ike I believe (and I would know more about it if CNN wasn't such as pain in the ass to watch), was causing some weather up in the Bay of Fundy. Reports came in that they were experiencing winds up to 50 knots... I don't know what that means in mph, but since they closed the port to all traffic coming in or going out, let's just assume that it was windy. So, because of that, we did not make it in this week, otherwise I might have more pictures of arachnids and fantastic lunch bargains.

Next stop, Halifax... What pictures do I have... let's see...

Hitched a ride on a tour with Fede into Mahone Bay... Mahone Bay is best known for this picture, proving that they have a least three churches.

Here is a picture of pumpkins on a roof. Oh, those kooky Canadians!

A self portrait of a man enjoying some maple walnut ice cream.

Taken back in Halifax. It's true... Canada loves their moose... mooses... moosi... whatever.

Okay, that was great... Next stop Sydney. You remember Sydney... That's where they got that great big damn fiddle. This port is my least favorite out of all of these least favorite ports. Last week I went out and got a haircut. Really... Imagine going on vacation...

“Hey, so what did ya do on your fantastic trip up north to Canada?”

“I got a haircut.”

“Oh, really... well, that's... nice.”

When I was in the chair I asked my stylist (I couldn't find a barber shop... ) what there was to do in this town. “There are some great bars” she replies. I mention to her that I work on the cruise ship, and that we are gone by night fall. “During the day?” she asks aloud... she ponders... “Huh... nothing really... have you seen the fiddle?”

I've mentioned it last time, but it's worth repeating. The town of Sydney is not there for visiting tourists. It exists only because people live there. The people at the post office needed to eat, so they built a grocery store. The people that stock cans on the shelf needed a way to get to work, so they put in a gas station. The pump attendant needed his hair cut... you get where this is going. Anyway, like the other ports, taking a tour is ideal, but a walk around the city will yield you nothing... unless you like cruising second hand stores in exotic locations. Did I take any pictures? Hmm...

Well, last week Victor, Peter, and I fed some ducks. Say what you will, but it beats saying you got a haircut.

I had no idea that I have spent my rife going to unricensed, amateur Chinese restaurants. I feer so cheated.

I get the feeling that the people who live here don't like visitors.

Do you ever see something and feel like mimicking it? Well, take this store for example. It's called, if you believe the sign, the “Bargain Bargain Bargain Bargain The Bargain Shop.” Wait, I got that wrong... it's called the “BARGAIN! BARGAIN! BARGAIN! BARGAIN! THE BARGAIN! SHOP” Well, with a name like that, we all felt like jumping in the air to celebrate the savings! Jumpers are, from left to right, Emma, Lyndsey, Christy, Megan, myself, and Victor. Incidentally Victor, who did the editing of this picture, decided that my attention to the bargain essence deserved extra attention. Can't say I blame him.

This was the only picture I took in Sydney during our third Canada/Maine cruise. It was especially cold that day. Earlier we had a great big boat drill, complete with ISPS (I don't know what it stands for, but people come on board and ask us questions about safety and stuff... I stay in my room) and a Code Bravo exercise. Us blue cards had the choice of getting off early, before the drill started, or waiting until after it was over. Judging by what you've seen above, you can guess what we did. Plus, it was really cold that day! I walked around for an hour, and feeling like fresh air is overrated, I walked back to the ship.

Finally, let's take a look at Bar Harbour, Maine. Despite the tendering (and immigration for the pax), this can be a nice port. They call open tendering (which means you don't need a numbered ticket to get off... and also means crew can get off) around 10:30 AM. With the last crew tender leaving at 3:30 PM, we still get a fair amount of time off here. The past two weeks have found me at a breakfast place, enjoying healthy amounts of blueberry pancakes (Maine exports most of the world's supply of blueberries) and other breakfast delights. After that, I pull out the cell phone and make some phone calls as I wander aimlessly amongst a main street built with tourists in mind. Let's see what I have here...

Here's a car, parked by some wood.

Cadillac mountain, looming over the city of Bar Harbour.

The Dream, anchored out in the fog, waiting to get back to warmer weather.

That's it for the ports... Each one unique... each one robbing me of my precious bronze Bermudian pigmentation. Next time you hear from me, I'll be setting that straight.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola (taking in the sites of Halifax)

Monday, September 08, 2008

St. George's Dream Part Eight - Smart Ass Canadians and Their Plaques

At the moment I am sitting in my room. It's about 8:15 in the evening and outside my twin port holes the sun is setting behind the hills of St. John, New Brunswick. Hold on a second... New Brunswick??? What the hell am I doing in Canada? Losing my dark Bermudian tan, that's for damn sure. We've reached the part in our itinerary where we're taking a short leave of absence from Bermuda and instead making four trips up to Canada. Do I miss the endless trips to the beach, swimming in the cool blue water, and falling asleep on the warm sand of St. George? You bet I do... But hey, it's a nice change of pace after four straight months of beaches and rum swizzles. Besides, Canada has a ton of micro breweries. Seriously... besides hockey, it's what they do.

But I am getting way, way ahead of myself... Lots of great stuff happened during our 16th Bermudian cruise! First off, here's a picture I bet you'd never expect to see here...

That's right... that's my skull and brain and stuff. Why do I have a picture of that? Actually, I have over a hundred. To make a long story short, I've been having trouble with my left ear for a little over a year now. Basically my estatian tube (that's the part that's behind your ear drum inside your noggin) has decided to take a break from its duties. What it usually does is regulate pressure, but now my left ear feels like I am in an airplane... constantly. Lemme tell ya, it's awesome! As a result the stuffiness in my left ear takes the edge off of my hearing on that side.

Since we get provided health care through NCL, I've made a couple of visits to the ENT specialist in Bermuda (yep, there's just one). He set me up with an MRI to make sure it wasn't anything nasty like a tumor pushing against the tube from the outside. Ever had a MRI before? If not, do the following... First lay on your back. Now hold a piece of paper about six to eight inches from your eyes. Lay there, with the paper six to eight inches away from your eyes for about forty five minutes while making loud and annoying pops and clicks... Tada!!! Now you've experienced medical torture. For an added bonus, dig up and old pair of airline earphones... the kind that hang around your neck and have two tubes with small holes to be inserted in your ear. Lay them just outside your ear, and pipe in MICHAEL BOLTON butchering a bunch of old jazz standards with a healthy dose of static.

The good news is there's no tumor. The bad news is listening to Michael Bolton through official Pan America earphones causes tumors. Anyway, there's proof that I don't spend every day relaxing at the beach... plus, for all of you that claim I don't have a brain, I do... I may not use it, but I have it... just in case.

Also, on the way back from the MRI my taxi driver made a little small talk as we reached the Dream. He says “you don't have a lot of balconies on your ship.” I agree and he continues, saying “when I cruise, I like to have a balcony. That way if I want to stand naked and look around, I can do so. Yep, I'd cause some trouble.” Of course, it almost goes without saying that this man was no prize. Anyway, I agree with him, saying that if I had a balcony, I'd probably cause trouble as well (and I'll admit, it'd be of the peeing off of it variety). Then the taxi driver looks at me through his rear view mirror and asks “Are you gay?” Ah, it's like I'm wearing a shirt that encourages random comments like that. I reply no and he answers simply “good.” He drops me off and that was that. Dinner and a show...

That night we trekked out to St. Catherine's beach, built a small fire, and roasted some weenies and marshmallows. Why we had waited this long to do this is beyond me, but we did it. The wind can get a little chilly at night, so the fire came in handy. Here's some pictures from that night.

Here are Emma, Megan, Lyndsey, and Victor roasting some marshmallows...

Christy and Victor, staying warm.

Other than that, it was pretty much your standard week of shows, mixed in with a good helping of going to the beach.

Now then, let's talk about our itinerary for September. Here's where we go and when:

SUNDAY Boston, Mass






SATURDAY Bar Harbor, Maine

The major differences around here, besides the obvious, are the median age of the passengers, the lack of children, and sea nights seven nights a week. As with these types of cruises (Canada and Alaska), they tend to attract the more seasoned vacationer. Besides, have you ever heard of a wild Spring Break party coming to you live from Halifax? Me either.

Plus, since we attract more retirees and less families, there are no more stinkin' kids running around the place. I guess I'm starting to get old, but for cryin' out loud! A usual cruise in Bermuda (during the summer months) would see us carrying over two hundred kids. Since we have very little facility to keep them, and since most of the parents see the ENTIRE SHIP as a day care center, they run wild like hundreds of five foot bulls. Of course, I can't complain about the act of pushing every button in the elevator, as I have a tarnished and illustrious past of similar criminal acts.

Finally, another big difference around here is the number of pax. On average we carried a little over two thousand pax to Bermuda... Our first Canadian cruise saw seventeen hundred, and this one (our second) has fifteen hundred.

So, what are the ports like? Let's take a look...

First up, St. John, New Brunswick. Like all the ports we visit on our trip, the city of St. John is old. I went on a walking tour of the city, and found that nothing about it is really that interesting, save for a fire that tore through the place a long time ago. Still, it is a very scenic place to walk around. There's also the well known Bay of Fundy near by, where there's some sort of reversing waterfall there. You see, St. John has a very dramatic change in tides. Take a look at the Dream when we got there and later in the afternoon...

Of course, I haven't seen this phenomenon yet, so when I get a chance to visit the Bay of Fundy, I'll let y'all know. In the meantime, here are some other pictures from the area.

Check out this dude's sweater...

Looks like the sign thinks I'm a good squeezer.

Finally, never say that the fine people of St. John aren't resourceful... They apparently like to eat seaweed, or at least claim to in order to sell it to the hapless tourists while they point and snicker. They call it “dulse,” and they liken the preparation of it to beef jerky, saying it naturally air cures itself with the salt from the ocean that has been infused into it while it sat underwater. Eating it is supposedly good for digestion, your colon (something else you'd thought you never see here... the word “colon”) and cankers. Huh...

The man explaining this to us gives myself and Peter (other male singer... Steven's replacement) a sample. After a chew I say that it tastes fishy, to which the man replies “well, actually dulse and fish taste oceany.” What a smug little smart assy Canadian. Who here has ever said while chewing on a piece of fish that it tastes oceany. Jeez... I bought a bag.

After a relaxing day at sea, we hit Halifax, Nova Scotia (which stands for New Scotland... see, I retain information... sometimes.) My tour that day took me out to Peggy's Cove, which is known for a lighthouse. Here's a picture of it.

I know, I know... it's pretty damn exciting. But check out the warning label on the lighthouse...

You know they're serious when they put the warning sign on a plaque... Still, do the “careless sightseers” deserve a smart ass plaque bossing them around? I think the guy who sold me the dulse has a side business making smart ass signs and plaques.

Anyway, the lighthouse at Peggy's cove has a commonality with many of the lighthouses around the world in that they are located at land's end, and often times flanked by crashing waves. With that in mind, when you look at the picture of the lighthouse above, and see it sitting out amongst the rocks... and when I tell you that the small village that it sits on the outside of is... well... away from the lighthouse... When you take that all into consideration, what would you assume is put in the bottom floor of the lighthouse? Would you believe a post office? No kidding. For some reason I didn't take a picture, but there is a fully functioning post office in the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove. Talk about convenient. Looks like the lighthouse can't back up it's smart ass plaque. Smart thinking, Peggy's Cove Lighthouse... smart thinking.

When I returned from Peggy's Cove, I got a sticker on my shirt and got on one of those “hop on hop off” buses. For those of you who followed my perilous trip through Paris last Fall, you can better damn believe that I paid extra special close attention to what line I was getting on. Once on the bus, I stopped a nice garden, the Halifax Citadel (a big fortress sitting atop Halifax), and finally at some micro brew place for a beer. But, the best picture of the day has to be this one...

This picture was taken in the Halifax cruise ship port building. Like many like minded cities, the port building was full of last minute souvenir opportunities. We all know what the usual suspects are when you visit a place... mostly the name of the city printed on damn near everything you can think of. Now blow up the picture and tell me if anything looks out of place. Go ahead, I'll wait...

See anything strange? Like a large wicker basket full of maxi pads? I didn't check, but if they have “Halifax” printed on them, I'm bringing one back for each of you.

Next up is Sydney, probably the most forgettable of the ports we visit in this little run. The city itself reminds me of downtown Waco... and no, I don't mean a bunch of Branch Dividians... seriously, that happened so long ago, and it wasn't even in Waco, so give it a rest... really. If you want to make jokes about Waco's residents, try Ted Nugent... he actually lives there, and within city limits. No, it reminded me of downtown Waco in that it was mostly second hand stores. The rest of it was made up of businesses that support the local population, not the visiting pax. Still, ports like this have better things to do outside city limits, and again, I took a tour.

The Louisbourg Fortress sits outside Sydney in the town of the same name. The history of this place sees it changing hands between England and France several times. Finally, when England had it last, they decided to blow it up, so no one can play in it ever again. Skip ahead to the 1930s. Some bored Canadians were walking through the field that at one time held the proud fort. One turns to the other and says “Hey, you wanna build the fort back to the way it was?” to which the other replies “only if we build the surrounding town and fill it with people playing the inhabitants and livestock and stuff.”

What became of that is a long process of rebuilding the fortress brick by brick and part of the village next to it. Something like four streets of buildings and houses, a full fifth of what used to stand there. It's pretty impressive that they did all this from sketches and surviving blueprints. You can stroll into the buildings and watch a lady hand sew lace, and then visit the next room and watch her husband make a broth with the vegetables grown in the garden outside. Pretty interesting place. Here are some more pictures.

Here we are, hard at work rebuilding the fortress.

The actual town that sits outside the fortress area pretty much exists because of the fort, with every business from hotels to a miniature golf course taking its name from the fortress. Imagine if all that existed during the fort's time period... The French would have thought twice about invading a fort that shared its name with an ice cream parlor.

I had worked up quite an appetite from my tour, so when I got back to Sydney, I sought out some local flavor, and ended up having fried haddock in a school bus.

Speaking of local flavor... Look at what they got in Sydney!

A great big fiddle! Now that's local color. Here it is from my room.

That's why they started puttin' windows on cruise ships, friends.

Finally, the last stop on our tour of the North is Bar Harbor, Maine. Unfortunately, Bar Harbor can't accommodate a cruise ship dock, so we have to tender in. Tendering, in case you forgot (as I would like to) is basically taking a boat from your ship to land and back. It takes a little time for all the pax to get off the ship, and they are organized onto the tender by a numbered tender ticket, which from what I understand is gotten at the reception desk. So, passengers aren't too happy having to wait to get off, but it's the reality of the situation.

But wait, there's more! Not only do the pax get to experience a line to get off the ship, but they also get to wait in line for immigration! Hot dog! You see, when a cruise ship leaves America, goes to a foreign port, and returns to America, they have to yank out their passports so they can prove they are who they claim they are. Usually this takes place when they return home from the cruise, like Bermuda back to Boston. But in this case, we hit Maine after Canada, but a day before we end our cruise in Boston.

So, here's how a Saturday in Maine works for our pax on The Dream. At 7:30 AM we anchor in Bar Harbor and the immigration dudes come on. Then immigration starts right away (uh huh...), and every passenger has to go through it. Once the pax are cleared they can begin the process of tendering in. A line gives way to another line... what does all this remind me of? Oh yeah, that's right... the airport... Something everyone looks forward to.

Anchored outside our ship is a Royal Caribbean ship. They also have to tender into Maine, but get this... Some smarty pants at RCCL got the bright idea to leave their American embarkation port, hit Maine first, then go to Canada. That way they don't have to go through immigration until they get back to America to disembark. Shoot, must be lots of edumacated college folks workin' at the big city Royal Caribbean I betcha.

Good news is Bar Harbor's worth the wait. Once on shore, I hopped on a bus for yet another tour. This one took me into Acadia National Park, over to Thunder Hole, and up Cadillac mountain. It was really foggy that day, so the panoramic views of Bar Harbor below were imagined by all of us at the top. Boy, I bet it was somethin'! Still, our tour guide was actually quite knowledgeable about the area (and I forget everything he said), and sounded just like Tom Bodet, the guy in all those Motel 6 commercials on the radio. It was a fun game I played, where after this guy said something, I'd say “we'll leave the light on for ya.” Scroll back up to look at my brain... I swear I have one. Here are some pictures from that tour, and from Bar Harbor during that foggy morning...

Taken at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park.

Once we made it back down Cadillac (named after the family, from where I forget, but I can tell you that the Cadillac family crest matches that of the car, so there.) we hooked around the corner to visit an old house at a college campus... ahh... and after that we went to a lobster museum. It was actually fairly interesting. Part of the experience was a lecture given by a real life lobster fisherman... lobsterman... you get the idea...

So, he sits there, holding up real live lobsters, showing us how to put the rubber bands on their claws... what a real Maine lobster is, and how it can come from other states and Canada. People in attendance were full of questions, mostly regarding the proper selection of lobsters at the store and cooking techniques. One question concerned alternate cooking methods. The man, probably in his late sixties and well seasoned in everything lobster, said that you can grill them, but it'd be difficult to keep them on the grate. So, he said he consulted a cookbook, which instructed him to take a metal stick and jab it in the suckers eye and rattle it around its skull 'till it be dead. The lobsterman admitted to not going through with it, and claims that lobsters don't have brains so they can't feel the boiling water. The metal stick however... well that's just cruel!

After that it was back onto the ship, and back to Boston, capping off one of four Canadian cruises. As far as the shows go... well, you know. Actually, something cool did happen. I was sitting in the audience for the second Jane Powell show. She's probably the best cabaret artist NCL has... singing jazz, blues, funk, R & B, and soul better than no other. So, I'm sitting there watching her show, and she's talking to me from the stage, as she usually does when she sees me in the house. Next thing I know she's asking me on stage to sing “Georgia On My Mind” with her. Now, I've always wanted to sing with her, but this was very unexpected. We hadn't even talked about it! Still, I wasn't going to pass it up, so I went off stage, grabbed my mic, and sung through with her, trading versus and soulin' out... I wish I had my camera there to record it, but trust me, it was really, really good. Plus, she plugged my Sammy show, and the next day I had a three quarter house with lots of energy (usually my 5:15 pm time slot does not attract so many people, but I'll take what I can get). Twas a very, very good time indeed!

And I think that'll sew it up for me. It's one in the morning, and we've just finished our 10:45 PM show of Country Gold. Never a dull moment around here.

Keep on Livin' The Dream,

Michael Lamendola (sailing out of Bermuda for the 16th time)