Friday, March 25, 2011

A Voyage Fit for a Belle

I hate to fly.  I absolutely, unequivocally, categorically detest air travel.  My hatred of airplanes extends back past the horror of 9/11 and it has only grown more fervent with the dumbass airlines thinking that they can strand you on a tarmac for 48 hours without air, food or water and charge you for use of their Lilliputian and vile smelling lavatories all while practically robbing you for the “privilege” of flying with them in the first place.  God forbid you complain lest a platoon led by Donald Rumsfeld swoops in to cart you off to Guantanamo never to be seen again. 

It’s like being forced to smile during a colonoscopy.

I am also extremely claustrophobic and it is a recorded fact that I can do no more than 3 hours on one flight without crying, screaming, clawing at my neck for air, asking if could borrow one of those oxygen masks that allegedly drop from the ceiling or requesting a parachute so I can jump out and walk or swim the rest of the way to my intended destination.  

It’s kind of hard to juxtapose all of that with the fact that I love to go to the United Kingdom, dream of cruising down the Seine with my husband, want desperately to go to Venice before it sinks and can’t wait to visit Michelangelo’s masterpieces at the Vatican.

I guess that’s at least partially why I have always been fascinated with the idea of a trans-Atlantic cruise.  It harkens back to the time when folks didn’t have to do hops from Idaho to Tokyo and back in less than 48 hours.  The journey was as much a part of the experience as the destination.  Also, being the Type A+++ personality that I am, I was particularly fascinated at the thought of seven days at sea:  No internet, no phone, no TV.  Was it possible that a media junkie of the 21st Century could actually go cold turkey and not end up babbling to themselves and twitching uncontrollably? 

Additionally—at the risk of stating the obvious—a boat is the only other way to get to the UK from USA without flying.

Several years ago, I either saw or read about the Queen Mary 2 and its trans-Atlantic voyages.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure that it was possible in this day and age to catch a boat over to England unless one was willing to ride a freight ship and share space with oil drums and such.  It was exactly what I was looking for, so I mentioned it to my mother.

My mother is a die-hard travelling machine.  She doesn’t care where you are going and what you are going for:  She’s more than happy to come along for the ride.  You wouldn’t believe some of the places she’s voluntarily visited and, even though she does bring rather awful vacation luck with her, I wanted to go on the QM2 so bad that I didn’t care.  Yes, I was willing to risk The Poseidon Adventure meets Titanic.  Accordingly, we packed up and flew to New York (tolerable at an hour and a half) to catch a boat.

And what a boat it was.  That ship is immense!  Of course, one wouldn’t necessarily want to board a dingy with the intention of sailing across some seriously frigid portions of the Pond.  As a matter of fact, we were charted to sail directly over graveyard of the very, very dangerous to do with my mother on aboard. 

Leaving out of New York Harbor was cool.  It kind of gave a view of what immigrants saw when they came to America.  I must admit that I was completely underwhelmed by the Statue of Liberty.  The books and the movies make the statue seem huge as though it looms over the incoming vessels, welcoming the poor, tired and hungry, etc.  Yeah, if statues were allowed to have attitude, I’m thinking that Lady Liberty would have a serious Napoleonic Complex.

Our cabin was at least slightly bigger than an airplane seat and the bathroom smelled worlds better.  One thing is for certain:  I want the photographer who made our room look nice and spacious for all of those online photographs to come and get pictures of my house when the time comes to sell—it’ll look like we live in Versailles.

I can’t believe that I was worried about twiddling my thumbs and descending into insanity aboard the QM2.  The boat was a floating city.  There was a library, a movie theater and a casino.  There were some top notch stores and I made lots of new friends at the spa.  The food was...peculiar, but you’ll never hear me accusing the British of being good cooks.  Let’s just say that we didn’t starve to death and leave it at that. 

We walked the ship deck and enjoyed the surprisingly balmy breezes of the North Atlantic in May.  I think it was either day 3 or 4 that the seas got a little choppy.  I wasn’t bothered by it—the massive stabilizers on the boat were sufficient for me—but we had a number of older folks on board and their equilibrium was a little more sensitive so there was a lot of weaving and ducking going on in the halls with little or no booze to blame.

The most poignant moment of the journey occurred when we sailed over the remains of the Titanic.  I may be the only person left on the planet who has never seen James Cameron’s movie and I don’t care to.  The few clips that I have been unfortunate enough to catch confirm my feelings that it is mindless, fluffy pap with entirely too much artistic license.

That being said, I am familiar with the actual history of the Titanic and its terrible human tragedy.  You would be hard pressed to find someone more glued to the television than me when the wreckage was finally found.  When the QM2 passed over the wreckage at high noon on the fourth day of the voyage, a bell was rung and the entire ship went completely silent for one minute.  I can’t really describe the feeling that came over me on that day, but I am getting chill bumps right now just telling you about it.

So, yes, my voyage across the Atlantic was even more wonderful than I thought it would be.  It was more than fitting to house and haul two Southern Belles and we all know that’s a tall order.  Furthermore, I quickly came to the realization that boats are the only way to travel.  Period.  I am looking into establishing a waterway into Raleigh and any other inland cities that I frequently visit—ya’ll can come along for the ride.

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