Searching for the Vikings

Saturday, August 5 - Day 4: Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada

Today we pulled in to Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s mostly cloudy so far this morning, but not cold and not foggy . Here we are in Canada. Donnie and I love Canada. The people are very nice, it’s a pretty country, and the politicians seem almost sane, for politicians. However, so far on this trip, every Canadian we have talked to, whenever we mentioned that we are from New York, has told us how the “Toronto Something-or-Others” team is much better than the “New York Whatever's” team, usually followed by “Go Toronto Something-or-Others!” I have therefore concluded that Canadians are nice, but weird. This is different from most Americans who aren’t always nice, but are very weird. You can probably tell from the last paragraph that I am not a sports fan, especially not a hockey fan. They were talking about hockey, weren’t they?

The view of Sydney from the ship is not impressive, but when we go ashore soon, we’ll see. Since this is the “Voyage of The Vikings” and we are in Canada, Nova Scotia to be exact, we’ll assume that some Vikings landed here. Archeologically it’s usually hard to tell. As somebody said in a lecture yesterday, the Vikings weren’t big on written, or even spoken historical records. It is believed that almost all of their conversations consisted of grunting, slashing, and stabbing. Most of what we know about them came from the people they raped and/or pillaged, so that might explain why they have a reputation as rapists and/or pillagers.

The only real way to know if the Vikings landed somewhere is if you find some rock with carved Norse Runes. If you do, and it gets translated as “I, Lars The Flatulent, came here in the forty-seventh year of the Century of the Fruit-bat and discovered many rocks and lichens that reminded me of home. Damn! I hate rocks and lichens. Where are the white sand beaches and the palm trees and the almost-naked young ladies that Gunnar the Recruiter promised us?” then you know that either the Vikings landed there, or some early twentieth century Rune Stone forger wanted to get some cash from the local University Professor of Gullible Archeology.

Anyway, I’m writing this about 8:00 in the morning while Donnie gets ready to go ashore. We’re not sure what we’ll find in Sydney, except for the much publicized very huge statue of a fiddle on the dock, probably surrounded by cruise passengers taking pictures of each other standing in front of the very huge statue of a fiddle. Let’s hope that there is more of interest in Sydney than the very huge statue of a fiddle. Just to be sure I have some image of Sydney to put in this opus, I will probably take a picture of the very huge statue of a fiddle. I will not, however, ask Donnie to pose in front of it. Since I have just mentioned the very huge statue of a fiddle four times in this paragraph, I will now refrain from mentioning it again. Oops, I just did. Now I’m up to five.

(…some time has again passed, in its inimitable and totally irreversible way…)

We’re back from Sydney. Just to make everything absolutely accurate, the place is Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Yesterday, we were told that each one of these four sub-divisions of the Earth’s surface has its own flag.  Now we have that out of the way, I will admit that yes, I did take a picture of the very huge statue of a fiddle thing on the dock. As we got off the boat and walked to the Cruise terminal building there was a man dressed in a kilt playing the bagpipes. It didn’t surprise me in the least. Nova Scotia means New Scotland in Latin. Why the Scot’s settlers in Canada were speaking Latin I cannot explain.

Donnie had memorized the map of Sydney. She is very good at things like that, but in this case it wasn’t too hard, Sydney being 8 blocks by 3 blocks in size. We walked to the old area and saw two old churches and two old houses. I’m sorry to say that I was not too impressed. As I said earlier, we have been to many, many places and I have seen a heck-of-a-lot of old houses and old churches, including some that have been continuously occupied for eleven centuries. Sorry, Sydney, you’re not in that league. So we walked around some more and went to a small craft fair which had nothing we wanted to buy. As I was talking to some woman from the ship, (almost everybody in the town was from the ship), she said that there was some kind of street fair nearby and that the main street was blocked to traffic for a few blocks for the fair, so we decided to head in the direction she mentioned to take a look.

Now I have to pause a moment in my narrative for a disclaimer: I have no prejudices or complaints or dislikes when it comes to Gay people.They can live their lifestyle and I can live mine, and we can both get along in peace and harmony, so the following statements are not to be construed as anti-gay in any way.

First some historical background: One year, a few years ago, we were showing some of Donnie’s cousins, who are from France, the sights of New York and took them to the Empire State Building. Coincidentally, the day we went into Manhattan was the day of the New York Gay Pride Parade. Fine. Good. As I said, I have no problem with that, except the crowds in midtown and the blocked streets and the resulting difficulties getting around made our visit a little more difficult than otherwise, but things like that happen all the time.

Sometime later that year, Donnie and I were visiting Scandinavia, and when we were in Stockholm, Sweden what did we run into but their Gay Pride Parade. Ok, another coincidence. Then, a few years later, when we were in Amsterdam, Holland, the whole city was jammed with people, most of them dressed in a very unusual way, and there was a parade of extravagantly decorated boats going down one of the main canals, with even more weirdly dressed people in them, That’s right, another Gay Pride Parade. Coincidence again? Really?

Then, later in the same year, we were visiting some Canadian cities and had just arrived in Ottawa, and as we walked from our Hotel to get a map from the tourist information office nearby, what did we run into? I’ll bet you guessed it by now, another Gay Pride Parade. Coincidence? Uh Huh. Right.

So, finally to get to the point, (I’ll bet you have guessed where I’m going here). What was the “street fair” in Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada?  Everybody say it together, THE GAY PRIDE PARADE. Coincidence? I think not. I’ll admit to some normal, everyday paranoia, but something really sinister is going on here, I’m absolutely certain of that.

We didn’t actually hang around to see the Gay Pride Parade because we had one overarching priority… Donnie absolutely, positively had to find free WIFI. Emails to the family had to be sent. Blogs had to be updated. Everybody on the ship knew of two places in Sydney to get free WIFI. During our peregrinations we came upon one of them, the Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Tim Horton’s.

For those of you who are incredibly naive or merely sadly uninformed, just think of Tim Horton’s as the Dunkin' Donuts of Canada . So we went in. It had a long line and every seat was taken. Also, every person inside was either of a “certain age," or looked surprisingly Asian. (The staff of the M.S. Rotterdam is almost entirely from Indonesia. The passengers are almost entirely of a “certain age” ). We skipped the Tim Horton’s. I was more disappointed than Donnie. I wanted to try some Timbits. (Dunkin’ Munchkins. Donut Holes. Little spheres of Donut).

Later after walking back in the direction of the ship, not hard to do, as it towered over the town and was visible from almost everywhere, we went to the other, well-known source of free WIFI: the cruise terminal building at the pier. This building has some souvenir stores, a coffee shop, another, larger craft fair and a good sized room with lots of tables and chairs. The latter room was full of people. Can you guess what they were doing? Yes, you are good guessers. They were staring at screens: iPhones, Android phones, iPads, fake iPads, laptops, you name it. We had found the free WIFI.

Donnie sat down in one of the two remaining chairs and started some serious and intensive emailing and I, magnanimous husband that I am, offered to go back to the ship and get her laptop, which I did. Ok, so I had an ulterior motive. I didn’t want to just sit there while she composed and sent emails to half the population of the planet. When I got back from the ship with her laptop, I helped her upload her blog posts that she had been writing for the past few days and had been unable to upload to the lack of an internet connection. Yes, for those of you who know her well, she was beginning to twitch a little. Internet withdrawal is not pretty. After she finished uploading, editing, correcting, and fine tuning her three days of blog posts, and my eyes were starting to glaze over, she shut down her laptop and said she had only one more email to write.

We finally made it back to the ship, had a late lunch, and are now in our cabin writing more pearls of wisdom for you fine people. Sydney was not a tourist’s dream of incredible sights, but it was a pleasant little town, and the Canadians we spoke to were, as are all Canadians we have ever met, very nice and very friendly people. Later we found out that the Gay Pride Parade was supposed to be a good, enjoyable parade and that the Labrador Ladies Roller Derby teams were out in force for the parade (this is true, I didn’t make it up). I’m sorry I missed that.

(…a small amount of time passes, more quickly than a large amount of time…)

So after writing our respective accounts of the day’s activities, we went up to the top deck to watch the ship leave Sydney, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. I’m afraid it was not the most impressive sail away view I have seen, and I’ve only been on three cruises. Anyway, we bid a fond farewell to Sydney, Cape Breton Island, etc., etc., which was even fonder since we did it from the Crow’s nest bar, which is a very nice, comfortable lounge and bar at the very top of the ship way in front (Oh, all right, topside, forward), with lots of windows looking out over the bow. Some of the fondness of the farewell came from the large drinks we were drinking at the time.

We planned on sipping our drinks and hanging out in the very comfy chairs for a while, but the waiter came over after a while and told us, very politely, that there was a private party in the lounge in half an hour and we would have to leave before then, and that it would be Ok to take our drinks with us. In normal human-speak… “get out”. So, Donnie took her Mojito, I had already finished my rum, pineapple juice and other stuff cocktail, and we went briefly back to our room to drop off our cameras and since Donnie was too embarrassed to be seen carrying a large tumbler of alcoholic beverage around, she poured it into her travel mug, a sly move, and we went down to the very comfortable library to continue writing up the day.

The ship appears empty again, so I’m starting to believe Donnie’s theory that almost everybody on this ship eats in the Main Dining Room at the first seating which is 5:30, even if they had signed up for “any time dining”. I’m not sure about her theory that immediately after their early dinner they go right to bed. We plan, one of these days, to go down to the Main Dining Room at 5:25 and see how long the lines are. We never eat as early as 5:30. I’m still digesting lunch at 5:30 .

Around 8:00 we went to dinner in the Main Dining Room. It wasn’t crowded and we only had to wait a minute or two to be seated. They ask you if you want to sit alone at a table for two, or if you want to share a larger table with others. We had tried sharing on our previous cruises and found that it was interesting to talk to the other cruise guests, so we opted for sharing again.

Tonight there were two other “couples” at our table, a man and his wife, “snowbirds," who migrate between New Jersey and Florida, and two men, cruise buddies as they call themselves, originally from North Carolina, and now one lives in Tampa and one in Fort Lauderdale. After talking to them, we really felt like cruise novices. I forget how many cruises the man and his wife said they had been on, but it was a large number. The man from Tampa told us he has been cruising for over 180 days, and his cruise “buddy” has been cruising for over 200 days, this year alone. What? Was he serious? Also, the 200-days-this-year guy, Dan, said that this is his tenth “Voyage of the Vikings”. Yikes!

We also learned from our table-mates that on this cruise there are 400 five-star Mariners, that’s people with over 500 days of cruising accrued on Holland America, and 500 four-star Mariners, people with over 200 days on Holland America. Holy Moly! That’s 900 out of a total of 1400 passengers. We now have accrued a whopping 4 cruise days on Holland America. If you also take into account the three-star Mariners and the two-star Mariners, Donnie and I may be the only non-Mariners on the cruise. Frightening.

Other than the fact that the people at dinner were serious cruise-a-holics, they seemed like very normal people. For example, the guy from Tampa told us about his four pet skunks, of which his favorite was Rosie, who went to bed with him and watched TV with him, and who was developing similar mannerisms to his, and how he was going to leave all his money in his will to Rosie the skunk until his lawyer discouraged him. See, perfectly normal people. Oh, and he also described his neighbors, who used to cruise with him and his friend a lot, until they got eleven dogs. Perfectly normal. See, lots of interesting conversations when you share a table at dinner. The food was pretty good too.