Searching for the Vikings

Tuesday, August 8 - Day 7: At Sea

We slept late this morning and woke up to a rolling ship and when we looked outside we saw… fog.  For some reason, the Captain has not called for the foghorn, perhaps because you only need that to warn other ships of your presence, and he knows that nobody else would ever be out here. We are somewhere between Labrador and Greenland, probably not on one of the major shipping lanes. Strangely, I seem to be getting used to the gentle, or maybe not so gentle, rocking of the ship. Yesterday afternoon and evening it was very noticeable and a little unsettling. It didn’t really make me feel ill, just funny. Today, although it seems to be moving about the same amount when I think about it, much of the time I don’t really notice it. Is that what they call “getting your sea legs”?

(… time… oh what the heck, it’s later than it was before …)

We had a very busy morning and afternoon. You would think, this being a sea day, that it would have been mostly chilling out and napping and resting and other strenuous activities like that, but it wasn’t. First, of course, we had breakfast, and then went to an “Ask the Captain” Q&A session. I hate these things. The “general public” is allowed to ask questions of the Captain. If you want my opinion, a majority of the “general public” are idiots. They ask stupid questions or they preface each question with a description of their life history, or they ramble and waste everybody’s time before getting to the point, or they ask the Captain about things that he has nothing to do with, like complaining about the heat in their cabin or the steak they had last night.

The other thing I don’t like is that frequently the person doing the Q&A, in this case the ship’s Captain, is not really experienced at public speaking, and is hard to understand, or answers the questions using professional jargon, or is just uncomfortable in front of an audience. In the case of ship’s Captains, I can’t blame them. It isn’t really part of their job. The Captain of the ship is not there to meet and greet people and invite them to the Captain’s table where he carries on polite conversation, even if that’s what the cruise line wants you think. The Captain is there, mainly, to make sure we don’t die at sea. I would really prefer it if he concentrates on that.

But Donnie wanted to go, so I joined her, nice husband that I am. I was pleasantly surprised. Our Captain, Hans Mateboer, was Dutch, as are most of the senior crew and staff. The poor, hard working hospitality staff are mostly Indonesian. He is only a couple of years younger than we are, and was a pretty good speaker, had a sense of humor, and answered every question quite well and to the point. For a change, the audience questions were reasonable, not stupid, not rambling and some were good questions. Well, ok, one guy complained that the sound during the shows was too loud. The Cruise Director, who was on the stage with the Captain fielded that one.

We learned some very interesting things about how ships operate, about anchor chains and navigating through ice. In fact, his discussion about the latter was very revealing. It showed how knowledgeable and important ship’s Captain’s are. It also was a little scary. Unfortunately, he is retiring and is leaving the ship in Rotterdam, which is the halfway point of our cruise.

Right after that session, we went to a lecture by the ship’s “Location Guide," Barbara, about the next two ports: Qaqortoq, Greenland and Reykjavik, Iceland. Nobody, including the Captain and the Location Guide knows how to pronounce Qaqortoq. Neither do we. On previous cruises, on different cruise lines, the Location Guide lectures were thinly disguised sales pitches for the cruise line’s excursion packages and shops and restaurants that had worked out marketing deals with the cruise line. This one wasn’t. Barbara was a reasonably good speaker and gave us a lot of interesting information about the history and culture of the ports and what to see and do with no emphasis on anything that made money for the cruise line.

Immediately after that we stayed where we were for another lecture, this time by the former geology teacher, Jim McParland again. It was about Fjords. Mostly, it was a geology lesson. It was interesting most of the time, and the pictures of fjords were nice. Let’s hope we get to see them.

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention two very pertinent facts. One: It’s still foggy outside. It has been foggy for almost the last 24 hours. Two: The Captain mentioned during his Q&A session this morning that Prince Christian Sound, which is one of the most scenic areas we are supposed to cruise through, was blocked by ice on the ship’s previous cruise a couple of weeks ago and so the ship had to change its itinerary and avoid it entirely, and that his latest information is that the entrance is not currently blocked by ice, but the exit might be. So maybe we’ll see Greenland, and maybe we won’t. Even if we get into Qaqortoq, or Prince Christian Sound, they might be completely hidden by fog. Ah, the good, old Kravitz Curse at work.

Oh, and the Captain explained why there’s no foghorn even though we are surrounded by fog. It’s up to his discretion whether to use it, and he said it isn’t really necessary if there are no ships nearby, as I had guessed. He said the icebergs rarely sound their foghorns in response.

Immediately after the two lectures, we went to the main dining room for afternoon high tea. We sat with a nice couple from Washington State and we all enjoyed tea, scones, small sandwiches and pastries and nice conversation. They weren’t crazy at all, even if they were four-star Mariners.

So, we have been totally occupied from 9:30 this morning until 4:30 this afternoon. It has been very enjoyable. Tonight is the first “Gala” night. This is Holland America’s new name for what they used to called “Formal” night. They used to require anyone eating in the main dining rooms on Formal night be dressed formally: tuxedo or suit and tie for men, dresses for women. Now they have relaxed that to “Dressy Casual” whatever that means.

Donnie agonized for days before the trip trying to decide whether or not we should bring “Dressy Casual” clothes or just eat in the buffet on the Gala nights. There are supposed to be five such nights on this cruise. She finally decided that yes, we would bring “Dressy Casual” clothes, which is why we have two large, overstuffed suitcases and two smaller ones, along with Donnie’s backpack and my camera bag. I had to bring a suit, and a sport jacket, and a pair of dress pants, and six ties and dress shoes. She’s still waffling about whether we’re really going to use the “Dressy Casual” clothes. Women.

(… time silently and stealthily made it’s inscrutable way from one hour to a later one…)

After catching up on our individual efforts to obtain Nobel Prizes in literature, we began the laborious process of dressing for dinner. Perhaps, after this hint, you have guessed that Donnie has decided that we are going to dress for the Gala Night dinner. We went down to the dining room about 8:00 and tonight Donnie didn’t want to share a table, so we had a table to ourselves. I suspect she was wary of the possibility of running into more crazy people. The Gala Night dinner has a fancier menu and we had wine with dinner which was quite good. Last night I was very disappointed in the main course I had, however I will say that in the dining room, the soups and appetizers have been very good. Tonight’s dinner was good all around. Our waiter was very friendly and attentive and even had a sense of humor.

After dinner, we walked around the ship a bit, and then sat listening to a classical music duo on violin and piano: two young, attractive, blond, Russian ladies who the Holland America Line Marketing Department had decided to call “Adagio”. The classical quartet that were on our previous cruise were four young, attractive woman, not all blond, but from Ukraine. This seems strange to me. Why would young talented, attractive women from oppressive countries with few job opportunities want to travel the world, eat three good meals a day, work maybe two or three hours a day, get paid, and possibly meet attractive, young ship’s officers ? Isn’t that strange?

While we were sitting and listening to “Adagio," a man and his wife walked in to the room and sat down. This is not unusual. What was unusual was his garb. Most men tonight were wearing suit jackets. A few were in tuxedos. Many had ties, some just collared shirts. I didn’t wear the suit that Donnie asked me to bring, but I did wear a sport jacket, a collared shirt, casual slacks and a bow tie. (Just before our last cruise, I learned to tie a bow tie. How? Youtube.) The man that walked into the classical performance was wearing some kind of uniform, but it looked nothing like anything I had seen before. It was mostly black, with gold epaulettes, and gold braid in elaborate patterns on the sleeves and on his chest and the jacket hem and down the outsides of his legs. His chest was covered in medals. He was way too old to be part of the crew, and his uniform was way too elaborate.

He reminded me of a very old comedy sketch from a very old TV show called “Your Show of Shows” which was a comedy/variety show in the 1950s when TV was new and so was I. “Your Show of Shows” starred Sid Caesar, one of the great comedians of all time and a bunch of other comedians who all did parts in the sketches that were very funny. In this one I was reminded of, Sid Caesar was doing one of his famous “shticks” where he would be pretending to speak in a foreign language but was, in reality, speaking gobbledegook that sounded like the language. He could do fake Italian, fake French, fake German, etc. In this one he was doing German.

He was in a hotel room, and his manservant or butler was dressing him in a uniform. He would give an order in fake German, something like “putten onen der sockens” in a very stern and commanding voice, and his man, played by the hysterically funny Howie Morris, another one of the greatest comedians ever, would go get a pair of socks and help him into them while replying  “der sockens issen putten onen”. This continued as various parts of the uniform, including a sword and military officer’s hat were added. Howie would make occasional mistakes and be reprimanded by Sid. You were supposed to get the impression that this high-ranking, precise, imperious German officer was being dressed for some important occasion. Then, after he was completely dressed, Sid walked out of the room and you then saw him walk out of the front door of what appeared to be a fancy hotel in a big city and he just stood there by the door and looked impressive. Then a person walked up, and Sid opened the door and accepted a tip. He was the doorman . All right, so it isn’t so funny written down. When you saw it, it was hysterical. Trust me. (I’m not remembering it from when I was a wee lad. I saw it in a compilation movie called “Ten From Your Show of Shows” many years later. It’s great. Try to see it.)

His elaborate uniform was what popped into my head when I saw the man tonight. I suspect he was either a military man, or a member of some elite organization, maybe the Grand Order of Pretzel Benders, probably from some European country, possibly the Netherlands. There are quite a few Dutch people on board, not just the crew but a lot of passengers. We found out that the previous cruise for this ship started in Rotterdam and went to some of the same places we are going, but in the reverse order, and then ended in Boston, sort of a shorter version of this half of our cruise, in reverse. Anyway, it appears that a number of Dutch people took that cruise, and then stayed on board and are taking this half of the “Voyage of the Vikings” to go home.

And now, an update on the weather… Fog. It has now been foggy since yesterday around 5:00 PM. It is now about 10:30 PM. I make that almost 30 hours of fog. I have this premonition that we either won’t be going to Qaqortoq tomorrow, or if we do, we won’t actually be able to see it. I envision us wandering the town, unable to see anything and unable to take any pictures at all. The “Kravitz Curse” is getting bigger, and more powerful. Beware! You thought Global Warming was something to worry about.