North Sea Photo Finish

by Bob Sparrow

First of all on this Monday morning, Happy Birthday to my co-writer, good friend and sister, Suzanne!  Like a good wine, you’re getting better with age, Sis.

Now that I’m not paying 95 cents/minute to access WiF, I decided to extend Suzanne’s writing vacation another week with what I believe are some of our more interesting photos from the trip – hope you think so too.  I might add that I’m thankful that the trip ended when it did, I was on my last belt notch!

The itinerary: The cruise embarked from Hamburg, Germany and we got off in Edinburgh prior to the ship returning to Hamburg.

A rare moment in Bergen, Norway when all six of us were upright on our Segways.

That one sunny day in Norway when the ship’s pools were use.

 

While cruising out of Reykjavik to Akureyri, Iceland through the Arctic Circle this photograph was taken at sunset. What makes it so unusual is that it was a little past midnight!

About 4 hours after that beautiful sunset was this beautiful sunrise

Double rainbow coming down hole #18 at the Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland

That’s me having a glass of wine and smoking a Cuban cigar in the backyard at our VRBO in St. Andrews with all my friends.  Yes, that’s a bunker – there were plastic golf balls and sand wedges available to practice how frustrating it is to get out of a St. Andrews sand trap.

The last supper together with all 10 in our group.  A pleasure to travel once again with John & Mary Bellham and to meet their friends Steen and Sue, and a really special thank you to Jack & JJ and John & Judy for being such GREAT travel partners.

Thank you to all our blog readers for joining us and hope you’re looking forward to the next adventure, wherever that takes us.

 

No. Sea Cruise

by Bob Sparrow

Hamburg water statue in Alster Lake

The title seems to infer that there is no sea cruise – there is! The title is simply my way of trying to label our trip of cruising both the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea.  By the time you get this blog, we will have embarked from Hamburg, Germany, leaving all the local Hamburgers behind and will be adrift somewhere in the North Sea on a 12-day cruise aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, Jade. It’s actually a 14-day cruise, but they’re throwing us off early – more about that later. What I can tell you now is that I’ve never been to any of the destinations we’re visiting, so Wi-Fi willing you’ll join us as we discover some new places.

The ‘we’ on this trip, joining Linda and me, is the same as our Baltic Sea Cruise gang (where you could always find a ‘john’), Jack & JJ Budd, John & Judy VanBoxmeer, John’s  sister and brother-in-law from Canada, John & Mary Billham, plus friends of theirs, Steen & Sue also from Canada (I believe Steen is Canadian for John).  Why so many Canadians?  Just in case we get called ‘Ugly Americans’ we can all say were from Canada, eh?

Getting to Hamburg, Germany

Our trip over started ignominiously with a European air traffic controllers strike, so our original flight to Europe was cancelled along with our up-graded seats, so we ended up in ‘steerage’.  The good news is that after 27 hours of airplanes and airports we did eventually get to Hamburg, so either the strike was settled or the pilot landed by

Jack, JJ, me, Linda, John & Judy prior to Copenhagen Segway ride in 2015

the seat of his pants. The bad news is that my luggage went to Dubai and our golf clubs went to Kuala Lumpur or at least somewhere other than Hamburg.  As of this writing I’m wearing the same shirt I started out with two days ago, no wonder no one wanted to sit with me at dinner!  Hamburg has been in the news lately as the recent meeting/protesting place for this year’s G20 Summit. All the leaders and protestors have since left the city, but the Putin-Trump “I Got You Elected Comrade” t-shirts were still available in the gift shops.  We only had one evening in Hamburg to scarf down some schnitzel and German beer, which we did as we were pretty sure we weren’t going to get much to eat or drink on the cruise.

The Ship and Her Measurements

Many of our blog readers are big cruise enthusiasts, so I don’t have to go into a great deal of detail about the Jade, but I will anyway . . .

  • 93,558 gross ton; I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds like a lot

    The ‘Jade’

  • 965 feet in length – over 3 football fields long, and while there is no football field on board (I don’t think!) there are tennis, basketball and volleyball courts. (May not get to all of those)
  • Passengers: 2,402 of our closest friends
  • 1,037 crew member (most of them will be down in the hold peddling to make the ship go faster)
  • Library (I may not find it)
  • Gym (I may not find this either)
  • On board chapel (where I will be praying that I don’t burst during the cruise from eating and drinking too much)

Dining opportunities

  • 2 Main Dining Rooms plus, O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill, Cagney’s Steak House, Jasmine Garden – Asian, La Cucina – Italian, Le Bistro – French, Brazilian Steak House, Sushi & Teppanyaki (What, no fusion Thai food?!!)

They know how that salt air can make one very thirsty, so they’ve made it so you’re never too many steps away from staying hydrated.

Adult Beverage Opportunities

  • Atrium Bar, Bliss Lounge, Jade Club, Magnum’s Champagne & Wine Bar, Malting’s Beer & Whiskey Bar, Mixers Martini and Cocktail Bar, Sake Bar, Spinnaker Lounge, Sugarcane Mojito Bar, The Great Outdoors Bar, The Pit Stop, Topsiders Bar & Grill (Makes me thirsty just listing them!)

On Sunday we headed north out of Hamburg, which is pretty much the only direction you can go on a boat out of Hamburg, to our next port of call.  This is the maiden voyage of the Jade after spending the last six months in dry dock getting a total ‘face lift’ .  Wait a minute, isn’t ‘maiden voyage’ the same words they used to describe the Titanic’s historic journey?  I hope I don’t hear Celine Dion singing ‘The Heart Will Go On’ as we board. Thank goodness for global warming, the iceberg’s aren’t as big as they use to be!

It will be an adventure; welcome aboard, we hope you’re not on a diet and we hope you enjoy the journey. Thanks for joining us!

 

 

 

Baltic Cruizin’ – Epilogue and ‘Don’t & Dos’ of a Baltic Cruise

by Bob Sparrow

Home at last after 13 fun-filled days – OK, maybe only 11 were fun-filled; the getting there and coming home weren’t that filled with fun. But the fun included traveling with three most enjoyable couples (Billhams, Budds and VanBoxmeers),

Mary

John & Mary at Peterhof, Russia

 

Jack & JJ

Jack & JJ in Tallinn, Estonia

Judy

John & Judy in Copenhagen

visiting six very interesting and diverse countries, ‘sneaking’ into Russia, cruising on a great ship with so many restaurants that we couldn’t get to them all, imbibing on the ‘Unlimited Drink Package’ and of course, meeting up with our former Finish au pair, Mira in Helsinki.

no photos

Photo of the ‘No Photos’ sign at Russian customs

We enjoyed such a variety of experiences, from our two pre-cruise days in Copenhagen, to the sobering experience of visiting a concentration camp in Germany, to the antiquity of Tallinn, Estonia, to the historical grandeur of St. Petersburg and the pristine waterfront cities of Helsinki and Stockholm.

But if you’re planning a Baltic cruise in the near future, I’ve asked my travel mates to help me put together a list of ‘Don’t and Dos’ to help make your trip more enjoyable. Here you go . . .

 

Don’t:   Bring your workout clothes

Do:      Buy and bring clothes a couple of sizes larger; you’re going to gain weight

cannon

Me getting an up-close look at a cannon in Finland

Don’t:   Go to the public WC (Water Closet)(bathroom) in Estonia  – it cost me 2 Euros          Do:        Go in Stockholm, it’s free (if you can hold it that long)

Don’t:   Expect the Russians to understand anything you say

Do:      Understand that they started learning English in the first grade; they just don’t want to give you the satisfaction of knowing that they learned our language. Yes, the old Cold War is heating up.

Don’t:   Fret over what you should drink next or what it will cost

Do:      Get the ‘Unlimited Drink Package’ and try everything

Don’t:   Get Tatiana, the Alla Tour guide, for St. Petersburg, she walks and talks too fast

Do:      Get Slava, who took our friends the Houstons and Despies to the top vodka bars in St. Petersburg

Don’t:   Be an ugly American

Do:      When you’re going to do something rude or stupid, say your ‘outs’ and ‘abouts’ funny and tell them you’re from Canada

Mira Dana

Mira and Dana circa 1985

Finally, a couple of THANK YOUS . . .

Thanks to Suzanne for editing and putting photos in my blogs. Because she was in Nipomo and away from her computer, she had to use her iPad to laboriously insert photos into my blogs; I thus limited the blogs to one picture, which is why I’ve included some more here.

Thanks to Louise at Alla Tours, who, when I was apoplectic about getting my passport Russian-ready, made multiple calls and ultimately assured me that I was good to go.

I really love to travel AND I really love getting home, albeit with a pocket full of change in rubles, krona and Euros. Oh well, great ball markers for golf.

Hope you enjoyed the trip.

 

 

 

Barnstorming the Baltic

Calke

Suzanne ‘into’ her chocolate cake

(Editor’s Aside: Suzanne & Alan, Jack & Sharon and Linda and I were all on the ‘Central Coast’ last weekend. California’s Central Coast is known for producing a lot of wine, and last weekend we were known for drinking much of it. The occasion? Suzanne’s birthday! I’ll let her tell you which one, although I can tell you that the old Beatle lyric, ‘Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?’ has become moot. But I’m here to say, she hasn’t lost a step, although after last weekend there may be a few brain cells missing.)

by Bob Sparrow

Norwegian Cruise Line Star

Norwegian Cruise Line  – Star

After being released from the Betty Ford detox program after Tahoe and sweeping out my underwear, it was time to ready myself for another ‘road trip’. This time the ‘road’ is a bit salty, or at least brackish – the Baltic Sea, more accurately the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea.  No, I won’t be hiking it, but rather enjoying the trip from the deck of the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Star. Linda and I have never been to any of these destinations, so we’re looking forward to checking off these countries from our ‘Visit Every Country in the World’ list. Just kidding about the list – it doesn’t include Iraq, North Korea or Syria.

Our travel companions for this excursion include Jack & JJ Budd (previous travel companions to Ireland, South Africa and Charleston/Savannah), John & Judy VanBoxmeer (Ireland and Charleston/Savannah) and new additions from Canada, John’s sister Mary and her husband, John. I guess it’s always good to have two Johns on board. Come to think of it I guess we actually have three Johns, since Jack’s name is really John. Can you ever really have too many Johns? I’ll let you know in about three weeks!

Copenhagen

Copenhagen

We will all meet up in Copenhagen; some will get there via ‘1st Class’, some via ‘Business Class’ and then there’s Linda and me, in . . . ‘No Class’. On the leg from Chicago to Brussels I believe we have to serve coffee, make one trash pick up and prior to landing, remind passengers to return their tray tables to their fully upright and locked position; but those chores will give us some relief from our two middle seats in the rear that don’t recline.

Once in Copenhagen, we will have a couple of days to see that fair city, which we will do in part on Segways, a vehicle that the group practiced on recently in Newport Beach – the injuries should be fully healed by the time we get there. We also plan on sampling and rating ‘Beers of the Baltic’, ideally not while we’re still riding the Segways. We’ll start with some of Denmark’s most popular beers, Carlsberg and Tuborg, but we hope to get into some of their more interesting beers such as their top-rated, Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel; say that three times fast . . . after you’ve had a few.

Baltic Ports-of-Call

Baltic Ports-of-Call

After departing Copenhagen, our first port-of-call is in Warnemunde, Germany, where we will take a train to a Concentration Camp in Berlin, which is not known for serving beer, but somewhere along the way we’d like to try Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, a beer that is said to have a smoky flavor that tastes like beef jerky or leather – yeah, that’s what I looking for, a beer I can get my teeth into. Next stop is Estonia’s capitol, Tallinn, a city and country that has had a long history of German and Soviet domination. Then it’s time to move on to the happier countries. Oops! Our next port is St. Petersburg, Russia, that is if Mr. Putin has not annexed anything before then or declared war on someone. If we mysteriously disappear on this trip, this would be the first place I’d look for us.

Our final two ports are the Scandinavian cities of Helsinki and Stockholm, before we return to Copenhagen, where we will undoubtably spend time trying to find all the items we left there the previous week.

I know our ship will have ‘connectivity’, but the frequency of my blog submissions may be determined by just how much they’ll be charging me to use their precious cyber space. I’m sure I’ll figure out a way to ‘bring you along’ on this adventure. We look forward to you joining us.

The Fate of B-17 ‘Break A Leg’ – December 13, 1943

by Bob Sparrow

B-17 flack    The sky was full of Messerschmitts and he’d been hit – multiple times. Billows of smoke were pouring out of both cowlings on the right wing; the steady hum from the four, 1,200 horsepower engines had turned to sputters and chokes. He struggled to level the plane, which was losing altitude. It was pure chaos in the rear of ‘Break A Leg’, his B-17 Flying Fortress, named for the good luck term that actors use before going on stage to perform – he needed some good luck now! The waist gunner had been hit and was slumped over his .50 caliber machine gun; the ball turret gunner laid in a pool of his own blood at the bottom of the turret. He struggled to steady the plane as best he could given the severe damage done to his right leg, which had been hit by shrapnel.  He turned and yelled for the remaining crew members to take off their flack jackets, put on their chutes and get the hell out of the airplane – “Now!” He literally had to hank his co-pilot out of his seat and ordered him to organize the evacuation of the surviving crew members.

He grimaced in pain as he tried to head the aircraft south towards friendly territory. The co-pilot asked about the condition of the pilot’s blood-soaked right leg as he looked at his shredded flight suit pant leg. The pilot said, “Get moving – that’s an order”. The co-pilot hesitated, took a last look at him, said, “Yes sir” and ducked through the hatch out of the cockpit. The rear of plane was in flames as the tail gunner crawled out from his battle position, dazed and bleeding. B-17The chin turret hatch swung opened and the gunner pulled himself onto the main deck, dirty and sweaty, but unharmed. Yelling above the cacophony of the deafening noise engulfing the plane, the co-pilot orchestrated the evacuation of the crew.

The cockpit was filling with smoke as visibility diminished, but an eerie calm came over the pilot, in spite of his dire situation. His mind flashed back over the last few days. Earlier that morning he had taken off from his base outside of London on a mission to bomb industrial sites in southern Germany. It was to be his last bombing mission before he was scheduled to rotate back to the States for Christmas. He had spoken on the phone to his wife and twin girls just two days earlier and could not wait to get home to see them.

He was disoriented and weak from loss of blood, but struggled to turn the plane southward towards Switzerland. planefireAs he tried to clear his head and orient himself in hopes of finding an open landing area, his plane crashed into a snow-covered hillside and exploded into a ball of fire.

That story came from my eerie experience during a visit last month to the March Field Air Museum in Riverside, CA, as I sat in the pilot’s seat of a B-17 and simultaneously felt a chill and that déjà vu feeling, like I’d been there . . . many times before. That’s when the above story played like a movie in my mind. I’ve never been a big fan of reincarnation, but that experience gave me pause. I was born on Dec. 14, 1943 . . . with a broken right leg.

DSC01737

I’m back!

 

 

Come Together

Headlines: How do you misplace 20,000 missiles?

Libya had stock piled 20,000 missiles

That no one’s been able to find.

Perhaps they reflect Gadhafi’s old program

Of leaving no missile behind.

Money: Good Cop, Bad Cop

Europe’s top two economies were looking for methods

Of securing their banks and their borders.

The French, wine in hand, simply said, “S’il vous plait”,

While the Germans said, “Here are your orders!”

Sports: Jimmy Johnson Not Getting Anywhere

Here’s a shout out to NASCAR and the Kansas Cup race

Won by Johnson, but we can’t understand

 How he drove all those hours; did 300 laps

And ended right where he began.

Life: He’s Got a Ticket to Bride

Paul McCartney got married last weekend

He and Nancy Shevell became one.

At his age we hope he’s not singing

A song like Here Comes the Son.

We do the writing, you get the credit

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