Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Cruise Ship”

Light Hearts and Heavy Metal (Los Altos Town Crier March 2016)

Nervosa2

I am at the Caravan Lounge in San Jose, the darkest, smallest public space I have ever visited.  I am surrounded by black T-shirts, black denim jeans, and black leather jackets. A singer at the other end of the bar is screaming over the noise of two extremely amplified electric guitars and a snare drum set.  I have earplugs in my ears, but the vibration of the base guitar is still rattling my breastbone and echoing in my shoulder-blades.  I am wearing black slacks and a black T-shirt emblazoned with two skeletons, one of which is stabbing the other.  My sister M is standing next to me wearing the same shirt.  She turns to me with a wide grin and mouths above the din, “Isn’t this great?”

I am here basically because my sister’s husband was brought up in Brazil. When M heard that a trio of Brazilian women musicians needed a place to stay while they recorded their next album, M and her husband  volunteered their spare bedrooms, expecting perhaps a nice string trio.  Instead they got Nervosa, an up-and-coming Brazilian thrash metal band. thumbs_nervosa-4

They had a fine time.  M and her husband B introduced the band to zydecko, bluegrass, and some of the African artists they had learned about in the Peace Corps.  The Brazilians loved “listening to vinyl.” They danced to the new music, played foosball, and cooked dinner for M and B one night. 

Then Nervosa suddenly and unexpectedly got an invite to participate in “70000 Tons of Metal” a four day Caribbean cruise featuring performances by sixty (!!) heavy metal rock bands from all over. They dashed off to Florida leaving a lot of loose ends behind them, including two large crates of T-shirts and CD’s that ended up loaded into my husband’s car for transport to Nervosa’s first California gig after the cruise, in San Jose.

Which leads me to the Caravan Lounge.  My husband was fairly beside himself at the thought of two unescorted women at a dive bar full of black-clad metal-heads.  He hinted darkly of various forms of disaster lurking as we wandered around the mean streets  of San Jose in the depths of night. He insisted that I call several times during the evening to confirm we had not yet been assaulted.  In fact, the streets of San Jose on a rainy Wednesday night are not so much mean as they are empty, and the only approach made to us was by a sad-faced lady outside the Greyhound bus terminal begging for bus fare.

At the Caravan Lounge we introduced ourselves as Nervosa groupies, showing off our T-shirts.  It was early, but the security guard found the girl with the cash box; she took our money and fitted us each  with a plastic  bracelet decorated with skulls.  As we walked off to find dinner M overheard the ticket seller saying to the security guard, “Aren’t they cute!”20160217_222824crop

 20160217_221004cropApparently silver hair at a heavy metal concert is irresistible.  No less than three different groups of black-clad, pierced concert-goers approached us to ask “Can we have our picture taken with you?”  We were turning from the last set of admirers when Pitchu appeared beside us and invited us backstage.  Behind the shelter of a cinderblock wall and a steel door we were able to remove our earplugs and enjoy watching Pitchu practicing her drumming on the steel locker, Prika in lotus position on a crate checking notices from the previous gig, and Fernanda applying the makeup which transformed her from a clear-skinned smiling All-Brazilian Girl to a wild-eyed punk rocker. 20160217_224756crop

The place is packed.  We stand in the wings as Nervosa comes on stage to wild applause.  Thrash metal seems to require having long hair and waving it wildly – one young man near us has a shaved head with a top-knot of long blonde hair which he whips around and around at the risk of dislocating his neck. Another fellow waves a Brazilian flag to the beat of the drums. Two burly security guards keep the pulsing crowd at bay while somehow seeming to dance to the rhythm also. Almost everyone is smiling.

My sister and I are smiling too. Our real lives are just outside the door, and we will re-enter them as soon as we step outside and put on our brightly colored raincoats, but for this moment we are visiting another planet, where everyone wears costumes and it is always Halloween.

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From Russia with Mom – Postscript

My 4-year-old grandson was admiring the scarf I bought for his father in Finland (lots of cute cartoon reindeer)  His comments:

“Grandma went all around the world on a boat!”

[Pause]

“She was paddling really fast!”

From Russia with Love – Day 6 – St. Petersberg finale

[Note: I was reviewing my notes, and discovered I had skipped our last day in St. Petersburg – sorry for time warp!]

Today started early : Alarm at 7:30 AM for bus departure at 9 to take us for our Hermitage tour.

Mom agreed  to use a  wheelchair reluctantly but very glad of it by the time the two hour tour was over .  We had access to the elevators instead of the stairs, got preferential deference from the 30-odd Japanese tourists who were grouped on our bus – they were charmed by my Shibuya jacket and   my three sentences of Japanese.  They beckoned us to the front of the crowd for each of the picture stops, insisted we get ahead in the loo for access to the handicapped stall – It is good to be a dowager.  I got all the privileges as the designated pusher.

I didn’t have my camera at the Hermitage, but Duke Zoran – entertainer on the cruise ship – took many pix, including the Return of the Prodigal Son, which was one of my favorites also (parental love, sibling rivaly).  Other faves: Raphael’s amazing ceiling frescoes of God creating the Heavens and the Earth (so sweeping and dynamic – conveys a real sense of the Power that created all we know), Titian’s “Danae” (an orgasm in progress – makes Rembrandt’s painting of the same subject a few rooms later look positively prudish) – and a bunch of Pisarro’s and Picasso’s that we had to zoom by as our time was running out.

The Monet’s and Degas’s were B level, the Gauguins were more interesting to me than those at the Louvre.  It was all a bit overwhelming – especially in the context of the incredibly ornate, marble-columned, gilt chandeliered, parquetry-floored Winter Palace and Hermitage rooms.  Oh yeah, there were some da Vinci’s and Fra Lippo Lippi – just more than you could stop to take in.

Back at the boat, we had our first served lunch rather than the buffet – delicious salad, beautifully served – irresistible desserts. Back in our spacious suite, Mom napped while  I struggled to send a simple email – it seems Hotmail is technically challenged in exotic locales.

So I vented my frustration with a brisk walk along the English Embankment.  Oh, how good it felt to walk at rated speed after several days of accommodating Mom’s tentative pace!  I stormed along, found my tension easing, and was able to come up with some alternative communication strategies (Facebook!  Mom’s gmail account!).

The Engllish Embankment where we were docked was easy distance from St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the big civic park which also houses the iconic statue of Peter the Great commissioned by Catherine.  I saw children somersaulting in the park, saw an intrepid 5-year-old scaling the Thunderstone and then sliding down as if it were playground equipment. (It does have potential as a slide – see photo from rear above.) There were brides and grooms canoodling in the grass for photographers and relatives; I used my odd rubles in the W.C.; I struck up some conversations… a fine liberation!

5:00: Lifeboat drill.  An example of “First  tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them”.  We lined up in our orange life vests at our muster stations and received our safety instructions (if you see someone fall overboard, throw a life preserver and holler “Man overboard!”  If you see a fire, push the red fire alarm button nearest you and holler “Fire!”)

6PM – we launch from the dock. Slowly, slowly, we edge away from the pier, turn end for end, sail out past the mothballed submarine, the tall ship used for training Russian naval cadets, the container port.  We can see rain sweeping up over St. Petersburg behind us, but we are just ahead of it.  West to Finland!

Dinner at “Il Terrazo” – the Terrace café reconfigured as a semi-luxe Italian restaurant.  there were some glitches with the menu, but what we ended up with was just what Mom wanted (spaghetti with meat sauce- most basic and authenic) ; we both enjoyed the eggplant wrapped around fresh tomato and cheese;  my “osso bucco” was really veal shank, not ox tail, but it was ok. And that will end our “gourmet” dinners for the cruise – the really swank restaurant was booked to overflow the afternoon of the first day, so we don’t have to deal with it.

We are skimming along the Bay of Finland under clearing skies at 9:20 PM – seems like 6PM at home.  Mom is wrapped in a terry robe under a comforter and about to be gone;  I am enjoying my journal but not thinking about stretching to anything more serious – I guess this is vacation.

From Russia With Mom – Day 11 – Rostock Harbor/ Warnemunde

We arrive at port about 6AM with a tremendous grinding and bustle of engines.  From Rostock it is possible to train to Berlin, wander that city, then return by train – 6 hours round trip to wander for three.  Mom and I opt for the local bus tour of Warnemunde instead, as we have both visited Berlin, albeit decades ago.  It is a beautiful day, about 70 F. out, I can see the tram passing, see people wandering along the promenade, but  Mom doesn’t want to go out until the scheduled outing to make sure her feeling of chill and digestive unease is past – not un-anticipated, but a bit frustrating.  I resolve to go for a long bike ride when I get home.

Finally the bus ride/ walking tour – we are in the bus with the South American Contingent – only one other couple speaks English as a first language.  The guide, Irene, a sweet young thing with  wispy voice , has a hard time keeping control.

Fun: a fountain with a bunch of naked figures, in which a number of equally naked young children dance.

A Lutheran church which coopted a Catholic church in full ornate mode – somehow they adjusted, by not insisting on restoring the historic stained glass windows which were destroyed in the war.

It is stunning to realize that we are in EAST Germany – the gray side of the Berlin Wall when I last toured as a student.  Instead of the Stalinist blocks which I had seen before, we see sunny plazas, brightly-dressed people, frolicking children,  flowers – and McDonald’s and TJ Maxx.  Some Stalinist statuary remains, but mostly on a sunny day that past does not show.

After the tour, which ended up covering quite a bit of cobble-stoned pavement, Mom decided to recuperate, and I bolted for the gangplank to do a little unguided exploring.  Of course there was a souvenir mart close to the cruise ship docks, and evidently there had been some sort of civic sand sculpture competition quite recently. The theme seemed to require some reference to Warnemunde’s history;  the themes ranged from serious to sensuous. (see below).

Warnemunde city fathers

From Russia with Mom – Musing on Cruising

After only three days on the boat we are learning about the culture of cruising.  Life is divided between the Boat and the Bus –  cruising from port to port, followed by  at least one bus tour at each stop.  As a companion/escort for the oldest person on the boat, my goal is :Don’t be last to board the bus.  This is not easy.

In Stockholm we kept no-one waiting as we left the boat, nor after the Vasa Museum.

But we were the last on the bus after visiting the Stockholm City hall where they hold the Nobel Prize banquet each December 10.  Here is what the guide (a charming Swedish Carol Channing type)  said in her Swedish accent:  “When you exit the souvenir shop go through the arch on the left there will be your bus waiting.”

We were not the only ones who heard: “When you exit the souvenir shop, go through the arch.  On the left there will be your bus waiting.”

She meant :” When you exit the souvenir shop, go through the arch on the left.  There will be your bus waiting.”

The issue – there were two arches – one IN FRONT of the exit, as well as a much less prominent arch in the dark on the left when you exit.   So we got lost (along with Christine and Mark from Pennsylvania, bless their hearts) and were retrieved twenty minutes later by the assistant guide who was supposed to be bearing up the rear to make sure all laggards were accounted for, but somehow lost track of us. Bah!

Doing the bus tour each day feels like being part of a canned travelogue in a bubble, but I can’t leave Mom on her own, so I have abandoned the bike tours which were going to be my  variety.  The lap of luxury is still a lap – we are used to being a bit more active.

Back on the boat, at a cocktail party for first-timers we met two other sets of mother/daughter voyagers.  The 89 year old said to Mom –” so sorry to hear you have beaten me by two years – I’m not the oldest on the boat!”

Mom rapped back instantly “I’m sorry too!”  General laughter.

Mom at lunch: “There’s a statue over there – it’s a copy of something that is very familiar;  I think it’s Rodin;, can you name it?”  I look, see no statue.  “I don’t recognize a statue,” I say to her.  She gets up, goes closer to see.  The waiter mimes anxiously, as she wanders toward the deserted corner, “Is she all right?”  I mime “It’s ok.”  Mom looks about in the corner, returns .  “It was a pile of dirty napkins.  That’s AWFUL!”

There are a lot of groups, but we are not part of any.  Even the mothers-and-daughters have other family members they are with, and no invitations to join them are forthcoming  So we are spending a lot of time together.  I have much more understanding of the handicaps Mom is living with – and more admiration for the way she gallantly overlooks and surmounts them.

It is what it is.  Her eyesight and hearing seem to go in and out – she can spot a sign out of the corner of her eye “Did that say ‘teleferique’?” No, it was “telegraf” – pretty close;  and then mistake a pile of napkins for a statue by Rodin.  She can rap right back in conversation, and then not be able to hear me across the table. Meanwhile, I am learning to go at a slower pace, to listen, to think ahead, to appreciate the small comforts of a cozy robe, a sunny balcony, a reclining chair.

Tips on travel with the Oldest Old – Part III – Cruising

Failing strength, advancing years, and weakening eyesight may not dull the wanderlust in the heart of the traveler – what alternatives are available to ease the travel experience for the itchy-footed elderly?  There are many  – the cost often varying in direct proportion to the level of ease and convenience provided.  Careful shopping and the assistance of a good travel agent can help.

One of the most popular alternatives for an elderly traveler is the boat cruise.  The advantages are immediately clear:

Having a boat as home base  eliminates the bother and confusion of packing and repacking, saving energy for the important business of sight-seeing and socializing.   Every night spent in the same bedroom eliminates the possibility of something critical being left behind.

Home away from home

Having the same bedroom layout, dining room access, and elevator access each day is a great help to a visually or mobility-impaired traveler. If the goal is to relax, eliminating the tension of getting to know a new “home base” is a big plus.

The ratio of personnel to guests is usually high on a cruise ship, ensuring there will be plenty of assistance available as needed, either for embarking and disembarking or for planning and enabling excursions along the cruise route.

Being on a cruise ship allows the scenery to come to the traveler.  One elderly friend of mine enjoys cruise after cruise on the same ship.  He has become friends with the crew, enjoys the amenities on board, observes the constantly changing scene at the ports of call  and in between, but never leaves the boat.

Caveat:

Cruises can be pricey;  look for discounts at the edges of the season.  We were able to book a seven-day cruise on a 6-star cruise line at a very considerable discount in the spring of 2012 during the European economic crisis and just after the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground .  If your times a bit flexible, you may luck out. A travel agent can be very helpful in sniffing out the best deals.

Cruises do depend for success  on smooth water,  good weather, and capable crews.  There are storms on the Baltic, hurricanes in the Caribbean.  There is no calm-water guarantee, and no way to pull over to the shoulder of the sea until the roughness goes away.  And those pictures of the Costa Concordia are not reassuring.

Cruises can be cliquish.  Use the Social Director or equivalent to match you with other unattached pairs if you are not part of a family or tour group .Mom and I were hoping to connect with some other couples and singles during the cruise, to lighten the dependence on each other, but it didn’t happen natuarally.   When toward the end of our cruise we mentioned our wish to  the Cruise Social Director, he swept us into a group of other unattached pairs and we had a wonderful evening – we should have done this right away.

Helpful Hints:

If you are on a cruise where there are “deluxe” dining areas, rush to sign up for these the instant you arrive on the boat – we never made it to the top-of-the-line restaurant on our boat because it was completely booked by the time we arrived just an hour past the earliest boarding time. Fortunately, the other restaurant choices were delectable – no worries.

The buffet is good if you are in a hurry to eat in order to be on time for some activity; otherwise don’t waste your calories here if there is a full-service restaurant available. After our first day on the boat we never served our own lunch again.

From Russia with Mom – Day 7 – Helsinki

I awake at 6:30 (fortunately we get an hour back as we journey westward toward Copenhagen) and catch a glimpse of Finland’s World Heritage site Suomenlinna skimming by the railing – an old fort, a tower, and then we are at the port and docking.  We have a bus tour of the city scheduled;  we endeavor to be ready on time, but Mom has misplaced the key card which she needs to get on and off the boat and by the time we get to the bus they have been waiting pretty patiently for almost 15 minutes.  But everyone is very nice to a smiling nonagenarian and her escort.

Helsinki is a small city of only about 600,000 people, so the bus drives in circles to spend the time required to justify the cost of the expedition.  We see the Senate Square, the Parliament Building, pass the National Museum twice before going inside, park several blocks from the Church of the Rock and walk a few blocks.  Helsinki is all about the architecture –the gleaming white Lutheran cathedral which gives the  White City of the Baltic its nickname,  the red brick Russian Orthodox church on an opposing hill, and the eco-modern architecture of the Church of the Rock (so called because it is built into a hill so as not to disturb the neighborhood sight lines.

We end at an outdoor café by the harbor for Finnish snacks: rye flatbread with smoked reindeer and mustard; Karelli Pie – a sort of cheese pastry with diced hard-boiled egg on top, then we browse the adjacent food and craft open-air market.  After lunch Mom opts again for a nap and I go storming off up the hill to Marimekko, drawn irresistibly by the SALE 40% sign I had spotted earlier. I admire Finnish design in all its maifestations, purchase a few gifts, and amble down the warm sunny tree-lined streets full of mimes, street musicians, outdoor diners – it is like Paris without the horns and humidity.  I step into a shop to price their postcards, step out again without buying and the day is transformed.  It is pouring rain – I mean a real gully-washer – gutters overflowing, street flooded, rain-spouts fountaining… everyone is laughing at being so caught by surprise.

Luckier than some, I am wearing my nearly-waterproof windbreaker (only because it had a nice pocket for the camera) so I raise the hood, cover my purse with the Marimekko bag, and make a dash for the boat.  Fortunately I am not very far from the harbor, and there are a couple of covered arcades to shelter in.  I make it through the customs center and wait on the porch looking at the ship with a couple of other soggy but smiling passengers until a helpful and vigilant sprite from the ship spots us and comes over with a couple of huge umbrellas – so of course the deluge stops as suddenly as it began.

Tonight is Formal Night and the Captain’s Cocktail Party, so I shed my wet clothes and we dress for the occation, then go for tea in the Panorama lounge.  As we linger over our finger sandwiches, cookies, and mini-pastries, a couple scurries in from the outside promenade-  it is pouring rain again.   We retreat to our room to watch the lightning and the rain bouncing off the balcony railing.

This first evening shows off the crew:  first the cocktail party and introductions, then a full restaurant where we shared our table gregariously, then  a Musical Extravaganza –  an all-white Motown show, complete with feather boas and choreographed dance moves – I was remembering seeing the Temptations in Las Vegas years back. I talked with “Duke” , the tenor, afterward;  he said the group were somewhat limited in their dancing due to the movement of the boat. I thought “yeah, right” but now that I am typing in the quiet of my cabin I am aware of the shifting basis of the boat world I am on.

[Note: Turns out Duke Zoran has written his own blog posts about this trip – Check it out!]

Tomorrow: Stockholm and the Swedes!

To Russia with Mom: Day Five : Safely aboard The Cruise Ship

At the boat – Silversea Cruises Silver Whisper – a different world.  A trio of beige-shirted porters materialized as soon as our driver had unloaded our three suitcases – I had put the Silversea tags on before leaving the hotel.  Whish!  A wheelchair appeared and Mom was enthroned. Poof!  Our luggage had disappeared, to reappear magically in our suite after our lung. Kowabunga! We were through customs, checked into our rooms, and sitting down for lunch in the Panorama Lounge. We had been “welcome aboard”ed so many times our heads were spinning.

Settling in on the ship

Maybe that is what prompted Mom’s  bout with indigestion after lunch.  Or maybe it was the rich dinner last night, skimpy breakfast this AM, dessert-first lunch today – who knows.    She skipped the “Introduction to Helsinki” Lecture, rested, and was able to put down a ridiculous meal of strip steak, Potatos William, asparagus, plus petits fours and some berry shortcake in the evening– nothing I could say in favor of a simple meal would dissuade her.

I treated myself to a martini to celebrate our arrival on the ship, and must  say it did lead to a certain feeling of exaltation afterward – the ship is beautiful, strung with lights, and from the Observation Deck on the 10th level you can see the spire of Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral at the Admiralty, plus several other gilded domes, brilliant in the last light despite sweeps of rain falling from storm clouds all around the horizon.

Mom in bed, me at the computer, I heard bangs outside – looked up – the skies had cleared, sunset was happening – and so were fireworks across the bridge just off shore from the Admiralty – tried to take pix but could not judge digital camera’s hang time. After first spate finished, heard another barrage starting from another bridge further down the river – all spires and rooftops gleaming with the fresh rain and setting sun – too wonderful!

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