Queen Elizabeth 2 - Northern Delights
This review is written by Amy Blume.

January 2004 I waved goodbye to Queen Elizabeth 2 and wondered if I would ever see her again.  Rumors of her imminent retirement in the face of Queen Mary 2's recent arrival were spinning wildly through my brain and I had to admit that I cried as she sailed into the distance of the breakwater as I had when I was a child seeing her leave for the first time.  The story, as told to me by my father, was that I was four years old and we had gone down that morning, had gotten a press pass from the LA Times where my father worked, and gone on board.  I barely remember being aboard her, except for standing on deck and the oblong windows.  What I do remember is the sun shining on her hull and funnel as she turned into the slip and I fell in love.  We spent the day onboard and left in time to go have dinner at The Princess Louise (a retired circa 1929 steam liner that had been converted to a restaurant).  We watched QE2 pull out of the slip and raced her to Land's End.  When she sailed by we waved and she started to sail away.  She blasted us with that lonesome whistle and so it is reported, I cried.  I turned to my father and told him: "Make her come back."  Though as an adult I try not to say it out loud, I nearly always think it.  And so rather than regret it, even though I really couldn't afford it, I booked it.

Flash forward to May 22nd 2004.

We landed at Heathrow and had to wait around a little for the Cunard people to have our bus ready to take us to Southampton and the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal where the
QE2 and other Cunard ships usually dock when they are in their home port.  My first sight of the QE2 was her stately stack flickering between the brick buildings of Southampton's dockside neighborhoods.  As the bus pulled up we grabbed our carry-on baggage and saw the large hangar-type building that was the port dwarfed by the looming lines of the Grande Dame Herself!  We went through the process of waiting in line to check in and they took our picture and gave us these neat little picture IDs to use getting on and off the ship, which is now one of my most treasured souvenirs.  Then it was up an escalator, get your picture taken as you walk past the "Welcome aboard the QE2" wreath (they never miss an opportunity to sell you your own image!), and down the gangplank to the ship!

As you board, you are whisked away by a member of the crew who asks for your cabin number and takes you down to your stateroom, telling you all the way how to best get to your cabin.  Our stateroom was in a prime location for getting to all areas of the ship right by "E" stairway.  "E for Everywhere," the cute blond in uniform reminds us as she gets us ever closer to our room 4151.  Now let me digress that knowing your room number is like knowing your driver's license number or your social security number - learn it - you will need it all of the time.  So with a smile and a "let us know if you need absolutely anything," the cute little English girl leaves us to our own devices.  Karla, my sister, Jason, my boyfriend, and I, had originally booked this trip without her boyfriend who was in a different stateroom, so we had three beds in our little room, making it a tiny bit cramped.  But this mattered not at all to me, as the extra bed was a perfect place for reading by the light of our little porthole when Jason was napping.  To me every little thing was charming on this, my dream ship, from the giant screws that held the portholes closed to the abundance of handrails in the shower!  You never realized how
wonderful it is to have a handrail or two until you have tried to take a shower while the
QE2 is running at 24 knots, plowing through the choppy waters of the North Sea!  Our room was perfect for me, and we had our little bottle of champagne on ice waiting for us as well as a neat little safe to put our valuables in that closed and opened by use of your credit card.  However, we were in our room for only a few minutes that I realized felt like I could be in any hotel and I had not really arrived yet.  I wanted to be on deck and I had to be on deck when we left - no and, ifs or buts!  So we scrambled to find Justin's room (Karla's boyfriend) and ran up those oddly square double staircase E with the hideous pink and red carpet.
We ran out on the boat deck and it was suddenly real.  We explored boat deck and quarterdeck, trying to find a spot that we liked, but the view from the back of the ship wasn't really what we wanted. At the back of the ship, the rail is a little far from the edge because of the rafts and other devices that are stored in the areas accessible only to members of the staff.  So instead we ran down the portside of the ship until we reached the stairs that led to the front of the ship and when we stopped, we realized we were already moving! We look down to see a whole bunch of folks down on the quay watching us leave and I started to choke up because I was used to being one of them - the left behind waving as the ship moved away. Just as I was having these thoughts the QE2 blew her whistle!  Now, heard from a distance of say, half a mile (like we usually hear it from as we watch the QE2 sail away from Land's End here in Los Angeles) the horn is a single haunting farewell blown into the darkness as the twinkling lights of her aft float even farther away.  It is downright mournful!  But here on the inlet that is the port of Southampton, it is a beautiful spring day and it is warm for England with just a few puffy clouds and most importantly it is the middle of the day, so after the first blast comes two more!  It is a celebration!  The QE2 is leaving home but will return in seven days and it is a party!  Folks from fifteen different countries are lounging on the decks, lining the handrails and drinking their champagne - all well on their way to the first buzz of the trip, and everyone is smiling!  At that moment there is world peace on that ship for its passengers and they are loving it!  I am loving it, and I am on this boat leaving harbor and I am the one waving from up here and it is beautiful, even though the tears are filling my eyes.  I made it.  I was sailing on the QE2!  Now in truth, it did not matter to me in the least where were were going to.  Our voyage was a seven day cruise and it was starting at Southampton and going to Oslo in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark and Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  Our first night would take us through the English Channel to the North Sea and a full day traveling at an average of 20-24 knots until we reached the Fjords of Norway at five in the morning on the third day.

The first night was the least formal of the dining to be had on our voyage, the passengers not expected to be at their best after a long hard day of traveling.  We made our way back down to our rooms after having spent a good while on deck watching England slip away to either side of the ship.  The dining room we were assigned was the Caronia Restarant, and we all dressed up a little and managed to find our way through this strange little city, up the stairs to the quarter deck.  The Caronia restaurant is forward on the quarter deck.  It has large bay windows that look out over the oceans of the world so no matter where you are sitting you have a beautiful view and can see all the way across to the other side of the ship.  The place is decorated in white with dark woods and among the tables of various sizes there are waiters stations which buzz with activity at all times.  This was the first time we were introduced to our waiter Vladimir.  Vladimir and Romana became a running fixture on our trip, and I hope that fortune favors them wherever they go.  Vlad, as we called him amongst ourselves, was a six foot plus Russian with rosy cheeks.  A big man, he began the trip treating us very formally but then as he got to know
us relaxed and shared a few laughs with us.  The nost notable thing about him was that he said please for everything.  I mean, he takes your empty plate away he says Please, you are being served dressing on your salad, every spoonful has a please.  It was funny but charming.  We began saying please with a Russian accent instead of "Cheese" whenever we were taking a picture.  Romana was a sweet Rumanian girl with medium length blonde hair.  She was always kind of shy and nervous but the kind of person you knew could explode into giggles if given the right provocation.  We weren't surprised as we left port in Amsterdam to see a really good looking young man hanging onto her as they stood looking out over the water from the prow of the ship.

The food deserves mentioning, in that it was nice to be waited on and served good quality food in abundance.  I am a fan of the many-course-meal and whatever you do, make sure you order a lot of courses because the portions are small.  I think the only thing that kept up from getting really fat on the trip was the portions are small.  But you can try so many things and than makes you feel very satisified.  Besides, if you don't eat a huge amount at dinner, there is always room service 24-7, the midnight buffet in the Lido, not to mention you can have two breakfasts, lunch and Tea Every day on top of that!  I almost forgot my favorite thing about Vlad, he immediately realized we liked iced tea and had a pitcher ready for us at every meal.  Isn't he sweet?  The only part of the dining experience I didn't like was the wine steward.  It's my trip I will drink or not drink if I want to, and I don't need a bitchy woman looking down her nose at me because I don't want to spend an extra $100 on a bottle of wine - especially when I prefer beer!  Anyway, you will never go hungry on the
QE2.  We heard a man quoted as saying that taking the Transatlantic cruise on the QE2 is not so much sailing across great oceans but
eating your way across them!

The rooms on board are like a nice hotel but the sneaky maid service is always in your room trying to make it nice for you.  When we got in from dinner, not only had all of our luggage been delivered, but also we were provided these neat yummy plush terry cloth bath robes and a little bottle of welcoming champagne.  The maids even would put your bathroom supplies away into the cabinet above the sink so you had all the comforts of home.  We went to bed finally after running around the ship a little.  I've said it before and I will say it again.  Being on the ship is a great vacation and I can't wait to get back to her, but she is so beautiful on the outside, that I almost love seeing her as you go on and off her the best.  You forget what a graceful creature she is while you are running around on the decks or in the comforting womb of her cabins.

When we set sail you couldn't feel the movement of the ship at all, but that night we were wakened by the swaying from port to starboard, or left to right, that was our welcome to the North Sea.  I never expected there  to be so much movement on a ship of that size but boy was I wrong.  The oceans of the world are big places with big forces moving them around and the QE2 is a big toy boat burrowing its way through them.  The movement was like a lot like being in a huge hammock, and after we all got used to it, it became comforting, and I never slept so well in years as I slept on my little bed in the heart of my big ship.

So I need to tell you about a day at sea.  I have to say that if I were to go on another trip tomorrow I wouldn't care where I go because I really enjoyed my time on the ship.  Going to see the different cities was fun and everything but I really wanted to relax more on the ship than anything else.  I would have liked to get up every day as we did when we were at sea and go out on deck to greet the morning.  Maybe sit with Jason in the Pavilion, which is just below the Lido Restaurant at the back of the ship on one deck.  If you are familiar with the ship, this is the area with the giant windows with no roof by the pool and Jacuzzis.  I spent a lot of time by the Jacuzzis without ever going into them or the pool, but I digress.  The mornings were quiet and lovely - if a little cold outside with the constant wind that had a ship going at least 20 knots always has flowing across her bow.  We would eat a little something really early while everyone else was asleep - a little continental breakfast.  And just enjoy the feeling like we were one of maybe ten people on the ship.  Most of the folks stay up late on the QE2 but we wanted to sleep a lot and just couldn't manage a night later than midnight the whole trip.  A walk around the boat deck was also in order as many times a day as I could convince anyone to go with me, and usually Jason was my victim
.  The icy winds of the North Sea greeted you as you walked forward on the boat deck that led to a set of stairs on either side of the ship.  The only place that you can see straight forward is right under the Bridge - which is technically on the sun deck I think.  If you stand at the rail beware - you will be buffeted and bruised and frozen if you stand there more than a few minutes.  But boy it is worth it to really be aware of the great Queen plowing her way through the oceans of the world.  She is small enough for the oceans to still toss her around a bit, but you feel confident she can take it all.  It seems silly to talk about but the feeling you get in your chest is anything but silly.  You are on an adventure!  By around eight o'clock everyone is up, and Jason and I would meet Karla and Justin up near the Lido in a set of comfy leather lounge chairs that are just to the port side of the restaurant. From there you can look out the very sixties oblong windows at the water rushing by the ship.  Karla and Justin are absolutely crazy about eating at the Lido.  It is the buffet on the ship that features informal dining.  In other words there are many waiters and waitresses to get your drink but not the formality of the Caronia or I am sure the other restaurants.  For breakfast they had everything you could imagine from the very English sausage to the traditional beans to go with your eggs.  Every kind of muffin, every kind of waffle, pancake etc. is available and you can have oatmeak or cereal if you want it.  We had breakfast in the Caronia once on our trip and I thought it was lots of fun to have the gourmet breakfast of eggs benedict etc. but Karla and Justin just weren't comfortable in the Caronia so much and loved the buffet.  In truth, the Caronia took too long for most mornings and you really want to jump up and start your day when we are in port so who has time for it?

After breakfast more walking and perhaps shopping are in order on the ship.  The QE2 has a little shopping mall on the boat deck near the aft of the ship, which opens up into the sports area.  The shops are mostly expensive; there is a Harrods there, which didn't really interest me, though if your dress didn't make it there were plenty of choices of formal wear to be purchased.  If you ever make a last minute trip on the QE2 you really don't need anything but money.  Cameras, gowns, toothbrushes, and tuxes as well as sportswear with the Cunard logo emblazoned on the breast - it is all there for your convenience.  I was most interested in the QE2 souvenir shop and of course the bookstore where I spent way too much money but couldn't care less.  I could have spent a thousand dollars in that bookstore they had so many wonderful books about cruise ships and ocean liners that I didn't know what to buy first.  Then it was about lunchtime and we went to either the Caronia to visit with Vlad and Romana, or we went to the Lido.  A nap was almost always in order after lunch or at least a constitutional around the boat deck.  I want to take a cruise in the summer someplace where it is warm so I can lounge on the deck and just enjoy the ride.  After lunch was tea and then more relaxing - there are lots of movies to watch on your little tv in your room, or there is reading to be done.  If you can't entertain yourself, there are programs going on all day: exercise classes, educational talks in the theatre about tomorrows locales, all kinds of things including let's not forget, Gambling in the casino!  We did this once or twice and I think we gambled between the three of us (Justin was not interested in the casino) maybe $40.  Yes strangely enough on this very British ship the denomination was the dollar, I assume because she is now owned by Carnival who are an American based brand.  Tea was a little disappointing because the food was just okay, but the company was wonderful.  Jason and I had the most pleasant visit with a British couple who wanted to know all about us and had a whole conversation about Wales, where we were to go later in the trip.  They were so cute and I think that we enjoyed seeing them around the ship.  We would make friends with two older couples in this way while we were on the ship.  After tea we had to start thinking about dinner.  The days when you are at sea on the ship are always the formal nights.  I got to shower in the QE2's rather strange bathroom.  You have seen fewer things to hold onto on an airplane bathroom than in this shower!  The water pressure was a little funny, but the water was a good
temperature and it was fun to get into the comfy terry-cloth robes that they gave you and watch some TV while you dried off to start doing your hair and getting dressed for dinner.  Perhaps the biggest expense I think they try and trick you into on the ship is buying the photos.  They lose no opportunity to take a picture of you and try and sell it to you for a fortune!  It is kind of a pain to get all dressed up and have to take the elevator instead of the stairs because you can't walk well enough in your high-heels when the ship is rocking to and fro, but I am secretly (or not so secretly) a romantic and I loved to see Jason dressed up in his new suit and to get all prettied up myself.  Anyway, dinner at sea in formal attire was nice, but the boys couldn't wait to get out of their suits and we changed right after dinner and started running about the ship again.  One formal night we went and had drinks in the Golden Lion pub.  They had a small but adequate selection of draft beers and jason and I are into that sort of thing.  We had a few more drinks then wandered some more.  We did a little gmabling, but weren't into spending the big bucks so we used up our $40 on the slot machines, we left, having had fun, but not surprised by our lack of luck!

Another thing we had lots of fun doing was a Karla and Jason and Amy Ping Pong Tournament!  The ping pong table was up near the Chart Room and was supposed to be only active between breakfast and dinner, but one day they forgot to take the paddles in and we had a midnight ping pong tournament all by ourselves.  It was lots of fun and the table kept trying to fold up on us!  I should have had my camera, because if you have never seen drunken ping pong at sea, you really are missing something.  Most nights there was also a midnight buffet in the Lido, but mostly we were too tired especially in days we were in dock and we went to bed early.

So now about the Locales we visited.  We visited three cities while we were on the QE2: Oslo, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.  I will keep this section brief as anyone who wants to go through the pictures with me is welcome but the purpose of this is to be a summary of my trip to help me remember it when I am old and gray, not to be a travelog for these cities.  Out story in Oslo begins at five in the morning, believe it or not.  I heard that the Fjords of Norway were breaktaking and that we should try to see them, so Jason and I got up to have a little continental breakfast in the Pavilion and do our morning visit to the boat decks to see the sites.  The Fjords were green as you would expect.  It was fun going down these long narrows as if the ship were some kind of little tour boat going through local waters.  We got to see a lot of Norwegian countryside, and in the frigid morning we were reminded of why we didn't live there.  It was spring and the place had just comfortable weather.  I did not want to be there in the winter when the sun was up for only a few hours that far north and they needed all the insulation of many foot thick walls and grass on their roofs and dark colored paint to gather the meager heat of the sun.  Oslo was the most fun to pull into dock.  Oslo was beautiful and clean.  It was amazing that the QE2 was so safe there as she pulled right up to a street.  Locals and tourists alike could wander over to her and see how huge she was up close.  There is a castle right by the water that we pulled up beneath, so you gelt as though the boat had pulled directly into the city like it was a big hotel instead of being set off from the city in a port like she was in Los Angeles or was in Amsterdam.  I could easily go back and spend a week in Oslo.

The Norwegians are open, artistically inclined people.  The most notable thing we saw while we were there (beside the very cool black and red houses with grass growing on their roofs) was an incredible sculpture called Vigeland Park.

You go through the gates and walk this long grassy entrance until you reach this neat bridge that have hundreds of statues on or around it.  The statues all represent different aspects or moments of time in a human's lifetime.  There are babies and children, teenager and adults, lovers and husbands and wives and then of course older people and death.  There is a fountain which has four massive men who bear the weight of the fountain on their shoulders to different degrees - much like in real life people bear responsibility at different levels - and then all around it from birth to death there are trees that have within them figures representing the stages of life.  It is a very moving place and you wonder why Europe seems to be so much more full of art and culture than the United States is.  There is so much more beauty in the things around Europeans, and they are expected to stop and look and take their time.  While we rush around everywhere without a second to spare for even the natural beauty around us.  The back end of the park is a monolith made of people who again represent this cycle of life.  It is fantastic to behold.  You can't almost comprehend how many perfectly carved figures are in this rather phallic, giant obelisk that reaches the sky.  It is surrounded by tier after tier of statues in the same style that circle it in a pattern of figures.  This row are all family units, that one are all mothers, the other is fathers and sons, etc.  The figures are larger than life by three or four times and the whole place puts you in awe, not only of the art itself but of life in general.  You really get a sense of how valuable what we have in just our existence is in the long view of time.  But I digress.  You finally exit the park and this area of the monolith by these wonderful gates that have figures in them, watching all of the people as they flood in and out with a sense of wonder.  Oslo was a good day and I hope I get to spend more time there sometime.

The next place we visited was Copenhagen.  I got up early as usual to walk outside and see us come into port.  The approach to Copenhagen was not as cool as Oslo was, so I spent most of the time inside because it was very cold out on deck.  We met Karla and Justin for breakfast and watched the ship slow to a crawl in the middle of the water.  We could see land and all kinds of modern windmills that were out in the ocean generating power for the city.  We had another bus tour scheduled for that day, and we were walking around after breakfast to the theatre where all of the tours met before disembarking. That was when we noticed that they were dropping something from above us and they were the lifeboats!  Apparently the last time the QE2 was in dock at Copenhagen they had run aground, regardless of the fact that the harbor was supposed to be deep enough to accommodate her.  They had been lucky and there was no damage, but of course the Captain didn't want a repeat performance, and he was doing the equivalent of taking soundings or using radar I suppose, as we came into port.  This is why we had been moving at such a crawl for an hour or more that morning.  The Captain had stopped outside of the breakwater even, because he only had six feet of clearance beneath the ship!  So instead of just waiting for the people on shore to send out boats, he dropped one of the little docks that the ship carries
on its stern behind the lifeboats and started dropping the little boats all over the ship!  And we got to watch them do it from the inside and it was marvelous!  Even better though was when they were all ready for the passengers to disembark and we were told to go down to five deck.  When we got there and through the line, we were treated with a view of the choppy water from only a few feet up and a little dinky-seeming lifeboat bobbing wildly on the surface of the water against the little dock that was hanging from the side of the ship.  As it became my turn, and I was among the first of our group to step off onto the little platform, a wave of nervousness hit me.  How could I step down onto that wildy swaying little boat!?!  But alas, it was a simple matter of putting yourself in the hands of the crew.  They stood to either side of the doorway to the little lifeboat and braced you as you were handed down easily to the people in the little boat.  And that was when you looked up and saw the TOWERING Queen rising above you in the water.  Standing alone and still in comparison to that little dinky boat.  Her side loomed like a long wall of some giant building incongrously rising out of the dark choppy waters.  You
could see her lovely lines as they rose out of the drink, to almost above you as she broadened out in the upper decks.  It was fantastic, and as they pulled us away all loaded in, and I was sitting in the back of the lifeboat looking back at her, I had one of those perfect moments that you have seldom seen in a lifetime.  At that moment this trip was worth every cent and nothing will ever be able to convince me otherwise.  We pulled away from the Ship and she was so beautiful.  The water was choppy, so we were thrown around and splashed on a bit.  This particular lifeboat had covered areas, and most of the people including Jason and Karla and Justin, were huddling in the protective cover as if they were going to get blown overboard by the quaking of the miniscule vessel.  Actually to my mind it was not that small.  It could have held thirty people comfortably, and I was Very Happy sitting at the back of it, rocking around and getting splashed and watching the wake make a line back to the beautiful silhouette of MY SHIP.  Anyway, the trip took thirty minutes to get to shore, and we pulled up to a little dock that was very industrial, not unlike the ports here in San Pedro.  They took us into a big room that had
bathroom areas and water and some chairs to rest in, but we were scheduled to go on a tour of the city and after a quick potty break we ran out to our bus for our tour of Copenhagen.  The first thing we were taken to see was the famous Mermaid.  She apparently has the face of a famous ballerine for whom she was designed to honor, but at that time it was considered unseemly to pose for an artist so that the body of the mermain is the artist's wife.  We were horrified to learn that this rather small and locally important statue that is close enough to get onto the rock with and take a picture has had a rough history.  Apparently her head has been cut off several times (she is rather soft copper) and then recently she was blown up!  Someone put a bomb beneath the rock which she sits and blew the whole thing up!  Thankfully the mold the artist used to make her had been saved, and so they can keep re-producing this famous icon of the city as many times as is necessary.

Copenhagen itself was a really nice city.  It had a feel and size much closer to that of Los Angeles than most other cities I have been to.  They had a neat Royal Palace that was very modern feeling in comparison with the English Royal Palace.  There are guards but no gate, you can just walk up and look at the apartment like structures.  The people have an abiding love for their monarchy and you can see why when you look at the pictures of them.  They actually look like a happy family that is fond of each other, imagine that.  There had apparently been a royal wedding recently and the couple was moving into the city much to the joy of the populace.  It was a fun place, but the real fun started when we got off the bus and made our way into the tourist/mall area for lunch.  After much deliberation, we found a cute little pub that served us one of our most memorable meals on the trip.  For all the fanciness and European charm of the service on the ship, I suppose we are proven to be base Americans.  We had steaks and French fries with some perfect tasty salad greens on the side and several Carlsberg beers that were so fresh and wonderful that we probably had more than we should have.  That little place has a special spot in all of our hearts and as we did some souvenir shopping before we went to board the little shuttle bus back to the dock, I had to take a picture of it, because I was so content.  After a while we were tired though, so we went back to the shuttle and to the little quay to get on the QE2.  The room was half full now, and the ship had sent a couple of southeast Asian boys over with some hot cider and hot chicken broth and water for the folks waiting to re-board the ship.  It was fairly overcast and had been cool all day, but I don't remember being cold except a little bit on the way back across the water.  I was a little disappointed when we made it to the front of the line to find they had acquired larger vessels to ferry us back to the Queen.  I would not get a chance to take a picture of the lifeboats floating around in the choppy water.  The boat we boarded was a larger perhaps professional fishing boat size, I imagine, capable of carrying maybe one hundred and fifty people or so.  The trip back was made quickly, and once again I found myself on the outside on the front of the boat, as I wanted to take pictures of the Queen.  Jason was brave enough to join me and he had some fun teasing me that if I fell over he was going to toss me this huge orange buoy that was sitting alongside of the boat.

The Queen was a beautiful site to see, and I went up on deck to watch her sail.  This time we had the tape recorder ready to go, but we were standing at the rear of the ship and you can't hear the whistle hardly at all back there!  What a tragedy!  So we swore that we would be ready to get it on our last attempt when we sailed out of Amsterdam.

The next day was a day at sea, and we amused ourselves during the day as usual, except that there was a very painful trip to the laundry that took freaking hours to do.  This would have to be one of my major complaints about the ship was that they expect you to use their laundry service and such which is an added expense.  The free facility was hardly adequate for the numbers of people who wanted to do their own laundry and then half the machines were broken.  Interestingly enough, most of the people who were trying to do their own laundry were American and Canadian.  Perhaps the British know better than to try to do their own laundry on a cruise.  But we had a nice restful day, the sway of the ship lulling us into pleasant naps while we watched television.  I would have liked to swim, but it was too cold, so I settled for actually resting on my vacation instead.
 The locks of Amsterdam were fairly disappointing on the way in.  I got up early, but the view wasn't all that great.  We pulled up to a giant industrial port that was totally modern except that it was completely empty.  And I mean deserted end-of-the-world kind of empty.  We had the usual breakfast routine and went down to the theatre to catch our group and went down to five deck to disembark.

Amsterdam was a mixed bag.  We got to see the Rijksmuseum, which had many famous artists and paintings like Rembrandt and his ilk, but it was under construction like a lot of the good parts of the city and we didn't get a great impression of it.  The great bicycle parking garage was a hoot and the waterways could be quite beautiful, but the tour left us in an unfortunate neighborhood near the red-light district that put us in a bad mood.  We wandered into the red-light district a bit but all there was ere sad, used-up looking women and dark, dangerous looking hashish bars ot cafes that turned us off.  The tourist shops were like traps in Hollywood, full of junk and uninteresting stuff.  We had a below average slice of pizza and we were just sort of blah after a while.  There was a Heineken factory that I would have been interested to go see but we had gotten into a bad mood, and I would just assume to be on the Ship relaxing as I had been up for hours.  Karla and Justin wanted to stay though, so we split up and Jason and I went "home" to the ship and ended up having a great time before dinner having a couple of beers and talking to this South African bar tender who told us all kinds of great gossip about life on board the ship for the crew.  It was great, and I am glad we had that visit with him.  His stories were great and involved fifty-cent beers and packs of cigarettes and parties late into the night.  You got the impression, that if you were a single person that wanted to take a couple of years to work hard and make a fortune so you could build a house somewhere in the world or open a business like the internet cafe that our bartender was talking about, that it was a great way to do it.  Karla and Justin got back a couple of hours later, and told us that they had run into Vlad on the bus and that he was so sad because he wanted to go into town during the afternoon, but that his tables had been late so all he had time to do was go in the bus a couple of times to get a look at the town.  This was so sad, and he asked her that if we could come early he would get to go out and have fun, so we got all dressed up and ran to the Caronia to eat as early as possible and I swear he nearly cried.  We took up a collection around the table and came up with some cash to give them to spend and Vlad and Romana looked really happy as we left them for the night.  Anyway, that was fun and we had a few drinks and played maybe $20 at the casino and checked our email at the little computer on two deck.  I was a little sad because we would leave the next afternoon to go to Southampton and the end of our voyage and I did not want to leave the ship. We rested more the next day and did not go back to the city.  Instead we had a really casual breakfast and did a little shopping until it was time to set sail.  Then Karla, Jason and I went above decks to the
bow of the ship (or as far forward as the normal folk can go.)  We saw an awesome show!  The tugboats came and pulled us away from the harbor.  One of them was having trouble and a black cloud came boiling out at the side of the ship.  We finally got moving and then Karla got her first recording!  THREE DEAFENING BLOWS on the ship's whislte resounded out of the mast, making me jump halfway out of my skin.  We got turned around the corner of the harbor and then we were under our own power for the long trek towards the locks.  There were people lined up all along the green banks of the waterway.  Where were were roads there were cars honking their horns and flashing their lights at the beautiful ship.
 One road seemed to dead end into the water and start again on the other side.  It was something to see an underwater tunnel from the water!  The Captain was horn happy, and as the tug boats blew us a tribute of water geysers from their spouts and a rainbow even appeared to us from one of them.  It was a fun journey to leave Amsterdam, because it took so long to weave our way through the waterways and the lock (of which I took many pictures) until we finally broke away out into the sea and beautiful tan beaches and crystalline water rushed out beside the ship as she gained speed and regained the oceanic waters that are her home.

It was a beautiful day and beautiful moment.  I was a little sad as the day came to a close.  I knew that Southampton awaited us not more than a day away and I would soon have to leave my ship.  Jason and I spent the evening out after dinner taking random pictures of her halls and rooms, some of which are included on the next page.
We had packed our bags and instead of using the tags and leaving them outside our doors to be taken in the morning, we decided to do "Self Help" and carry our own luggage down from the ship.  We had a quick breakfast in the Lido and ran down with our luggage.  We exited the ship in perhaps the first twenty to do so.  I thought I would be really sad.  I expected that I would be grieving that I had to leave. But when you have finally done something that you have been waiting and wanting to do for twenty years it is hard to be sad.  I told her I would see her in January, and I did.  As I came over the bridge in Los Angeles on January 17th 2005, I saw her steaming at dock.  Her proud decks alight and glowing happily in the misty orange light of San Pedro, I knew that I had been there on-board and hopefully would again.  I knew that I would never regret not sailing on her, and that was worth more than it cost me could ever be.  From now on, when I wave at her from Land's End, I can say see you soon, and not fear that I will never set foot on her decks.

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© Amy Blume 22nd-29th May 2004 & 5th August 2006
Not to be reproduced without permission