Sight-seeing in St. John’s—a hospital ER?

St. Clare’s Hospital – a beautiful day in St John’s, Newfoundland

St. John’s (make sure you note the “s”, we were told by a local; St. John is in New Brunswick; St. John’s is in Newfoundland) gave us a new, unexpected experience—a tour of the local emergency room!  My decade-old acid stomach issue gave rise to some gastric bleeding. Terrified that I would bleed to death on the ship during the next two sea days, or the sea days after that, the ship’s doctor insisted I see a GI specialist for some tests before continuing on with the cruise. 

Imagine our fear that we would end our cruise in St. John’s!  After just 5 days!  Of this are adventures made.  I also understand the ship doctor’s fear.  The ship has no blood (except possible willing passenger volunteers), no anesthesist, no CAT scan, no surgery, or sterile equipment for surgery—all the stuff we take for granted.  The ship doctor told of a Hawaii-CA cruise he served on in which a patient was slowly dying of internal hemorrhage with one day of the cruise behind them and two in front.  Too far away for coast guard and helicopters (it looks so easy in the movies!).  Ultimately all 4000 passengers on that cruise had to return to Hawaii and they were on board for 2 extra days, etc etc.  He insisted I be seen by the GI specialist in St. John’s.

Of course, it was Sunday (of course), and the ship was only in port from 8 to 5.  Everyone told us that the ER rooms in Canada were even worse than the ones in the US.  It didn’t seem probable that this could work out well.

We were wrong.  The hospital staff rushed us right into an examining area, and we had seen the ER doctor by 10:00am.  She asked the GI specialist to give up his Sunday activities and show up with his staff to do his evaluation. He took some pictures of my stomach, pronounced me stable and we traveled back to the ship, returning about 2:30pm.  The ship’s doctor and the nurse met us in deep embrace and tears of joy, as did the Concierge who needed to make it legal for us to stay if we needed.  Things we learned:

  • “Disembarkation” is distressingly normal.  Another passenger had been disembarked in Halifax. Given the age and morbidity of the passengers (warfarin and diabetes in particular), we shouldn’t be surprised. The possibility of disembarkation is never a part of those glossy brochures, but it should be part of planning.

There are many places you don’t want to be disembarked.  Honduras was high on the Ship Doc’s list. Greenland could be another. 

  • Before we left, our Resident Care Department provided us each with a 2-page summary of our health history, including medications. Having that with us saved hours of time! Both the ship’s doctor and the hospital wanted the list of medications and the history, and both just copied the summary we provided. Quick and easy! We will try to always have these when traveling!
  • The nurses at the hospital were very amused each time they brought us a payment authorization form: “We never do that in Canada.  No one pays, except in taxes.  We’ll send you the bill; it will arrive in your mail.” Except for that, registration was simple name, address and phone number.  We never even showed a charge card or a passport. What is wrong with our country?  So far behind! 
  • The language in Newfoundland is a derivative of English/Scottish and ? with a lovely brogue and lyrical cadence. The nurses spoke North American English, but readily understood the patients around us who spoke “newfy” We could barely understand the cab drivers.   

Wednesday, a ship leaving Boston with us was hit in the fog by a fishing boat. The cruise ship was bigger and is fine. The Titanic’s graveyard in nearby. Our ship has added a crew of “Iceberg Pilots” to the Bridge. It’s 52 degrees outside, though there is sun filtering through the mist. Life is short and filled with risks. We are glad to be here.

Halifax in the rain and mist

Halifax…our view.

Three years ago, we were lucky enough to take a fantastic trip to Halifax, staying right on the harbor, seeing a fantastic feminist local play about Catherine Parr (Henry VIII’s last wife), visiting the favorite tourist sites of the Citadel and the Titanic cemetery and Peggy’s Cove (beloved of photographers). We felt no need to see those again, so skipped the ship’s excursions, opting for a leisurely walk around the harbor. Cold rain and mist dampened our enthusiasm. Bob is hoping to get a photo of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse fully lit, and I’ll share it if he does….

Meanwhile, we are learning tidbits on the ship:

  • According to the young woman who cut my hair for three times the price I usually pay, most of the crew is from India. Some are from Thailand, young folk earnestly sending money home. Most are working a 9-month contract with no days off, typically 12 or more hours each day. At the end of the 9-months, they are flown home for a 2-month vacation unless they are extended. The dreaded extensions, especially in this labor climate aren’t really optional. Sadly, none of the newer crew were allowed off in NYC for fears that they would “abscond” and become undocumented workers in the US. Friends had jobs waiting for them…
  • Ship’s time is weird. Last night we moved clocks an hour ahead. Tonight it’s another 30 minutes ahead. Go figure.
  • The Titanic Cemetery was interesting when we arrived and departed Halifax by car. Not so much when we’re on the way to Iceberg Country. The citizens here are justifiably proud of the care they gave survivors and deceased. The graves are laid out in the shape of a boat keel.

Tomorrow is “sea day.” Following is St. John, Newfoundland. Again, we may (or not) just walk around.

If it’s Bar Harbor, it must be Thursday

The last views of New York were from our aft-facing cabin, looking backward at the harbor. These are the required photos: Statue of Liberty from the ship, the tug boat, and the absolutely gorgeous skyline on a beautiful day.

Home for the next 6 weeks–before luggage arrived. Rumpled, because we couldn’t wait to try out the bed. Notice the two “complimentary” masks. Hint.

As we traveled to Boston, we unpacked, explored, and met the cabin stewards. Sweetly, they agreed to move one of the pool lounges to our deck so that I could pretend I was in my chair at home. Bob has been photographing (and making friends doing so, of course), and I have endeavored (mostly unsuccessfully to figure out the internet. Bottom line: we will leave our phones in the safe, as they are completely unusable except when in a US or Canadian city. And the Internet is iffy or not at all. So, no texts, calls, etc. Maybe we can read email via Internet, but don’t be surprised if we don’t answer.

Boston, where everything started (historically) greeted us most warmly in the persons of our daughter and her family (sans Joshua, who is in camp). Soleil crafted a lizard, whom we named Liz. Liz will travel with us, though it may get much too cold for her soon. We hadn’t meet their two cats before, and one was particularly photogenic. Greeted with flowers and FIVE pies, and love and hugs…can’t get that on any tour.

Back on board, we now know how to find food, flavors and friends. My chair is ready, the phones are off, and Canada and LOTS of sea days are coming up…..

New York, New York

Buoyed by the best wishes of our Kendal community, escorted like royalty by Richard who even took the picture, aided by caring Red Caps on both ends of the journey — one of whom even conveyed our luggage to the hotel itself– we have arrived in this diverse, bustling, unique and crowded city for a quick overnight. The hotel, Marriott Fairfield Midtown, features an outdoor roof lounge with great views where Bob took multiple photos, and I just enjoyed the warm breeze. In a few minutes, Uber will take us to the ship….

Why are we taking this trip?

Just look at all that we’ll miss…….

My husband reminded me this morning, with great anticipation, that we are just one week away from embarking on our 46-day cruise.  At the time, I was in the midst of thinking of all that we would miss, and listing all the reasons that taking a cruise right now doesn’t seem like a good idea:

  1. COVID.  We have been self-isolating for weeks now to avoid “failing” the mandatory COVID test we will take online in 5 days.  A positive test means no trip; the fact that the requirement will be discontinued in just 12 days doesn’t matter.  The fact that CDC just retracted all its COVID cruise rules doesn’t matter.  We could catch COVID from a shipmate, an excursion, or ?.  A positive COVID test on the ship would mean at least 5 days of quarantine in our cabins, missing whatever ports we might be in at the moment or worse, actually becoming ill enough to require medical care.
  2. Uncertainty.  Passengers who just returned from a 180-day cruise reported that, of the 100+ ports on their schedule, they had docked at only 21. COVID, wind, weather, mechanical problems, storms….
  3. Other passengers. Our rather elderly and sedate ship isn’t likely to have brawls similar to those of other lines, but tempers are short anytime politics, or masks, or even vaccinations are the topic of conversation. We absolutely loved the passengers we met on our first cruises, but the topic of abortion aborted a dinner on the last cruise we took, and it may not yet be safe to return.
  4. Lack of comfort.  Our self-quarantine has been comfortable; internet is ample for both of us to work online simultaneously.  Not so on the ship; one device at a time, and limited internet. Nothing will ever be as comfortable as my recliner, with the everchanging meadow view. And we have a community we enjoy. 

And so, I said to him, WHY are we doing this?

  1. Moments of joy.  Joy is often unexpected. In Manaus, we were treated to an absolutely incredible music/dance program. Breath-taking. It was our last day in Brazil; we were tired and ready to go home, and thought of not attending.  It was joyous, and unforgettable. 
  2. Ocean.  My father was a sailor; he took miles of film footage of nothing but water. The beauty and smell of the ocean, the sibilance of the waves, the constantly changing bands of color where water meets sky, the sense that the ocean is our ancestral home.  Restful and restorative and invigorating all at once.
  3. Cultural Insight.  Yes, I know that we are traveling in a bubble, not eating local food, not sleeping in local homes and not staying long, but sometimes a single experience will shed bright light on a totally different set of values.  In a Polynesian outdoor airport lit by a single fluorescent fixture, a little girl wandered among impatient adults waiting for a very late flight. The local residents radiated joy whenever she approached them, respectfully aglow when she offered her toy to share. Their interactions and those of construction workers who stopped work for a word with a curious child showed me how a culture in love with its young behaves; later, I would watch as Americans desperately tried to avoid sitting near a child on the long flight home. I simply had never realized how much our culture abhors children.
  4. Opportunity.  Like many, we traveled when our nest emptied and career pressures subsided.  For the past three years, there has been no travel, and human lives are short.  There really is no time like the present.

Besides, we’re in a heat wave, and going to the Arctic….

Cruising the Internet as a First Step in Cruise Planning

It’s been more than a decade since we traveled. Since that time, internet offerings add insights and details to help our anticipation and planning:

The website Cruise Critics offers Boards organized by cruise line and ship on which you can ask questions, listen to the stories of others, and discover your travel mates. Of course, Cruise Critic sells cruises and you ‘ll be exposed to their sales pitches.

Travel insurance is an indispensable quagmire. COVID resulted in multiple cancellations. Some cruise guests ended up stranded because they tested positive and couldn’t enter the country from which they were scheduled to depart. Long ago, when we were younger and more resilient and our trips were shorter, we traveled without insurance. No more. Lots of sites will help you sift through the various policies, and rate those offered by the cruise lines. None of them will save you money, as insurance rates are fixed. In our research, we used a website offered by AARP.

Facebook has numerous groups dedicated to cruising. For our Oceania cruise, we selected an Oceania Cruise group. There are many, many more.

You should also check out travel blogs and YouTubes made by others during their travels. Lots of us enjoy sharing our journey. Some share great pictures, some share travel tips, some are just plain fun. Use your search engine to search for a blog by destination or cruise line. Enjoy!

Tempting Travel…Itinerary

Perfect timing for a cruise brochure to attract our interest: end of the pandemic, itching to travel, no desire for an airplane trip, not sure of our abilities to handle lots of walking or physical exertion. Reasons enough to sign on for this trip, departing and returning to New York City, a short train ride from our home.

Our marriage has always been strongest when we are making plans together. After three years of little to plan for, we are loving watching videos of the ports, the ship (Insignia on Oceania) and selecting excursions. My husband is a photographer whose friends have visited and photographed many of these locations; he has long been envious. I will be ending a very long two years of serving as president (first year as president-elect) at our senior community and need to get away. How perfect: planning together, activity to keep my husband very happy, and time enough to distance myself from community