Ship Shape

There comes a point in a cruise where I look at the menu and say,”I don’t want any of this.”  I will have zero courses tonight, thank you.  It’s easy to skip breakfast ( I do that 90% of the time) and pick at the buffet lunch, but dinner is another matter, since it is such a big part of the sociability of a cruise.

At my age, I just don’t need that many calories to maintain my body, even with moderate exercise, and it is so much easier to eat more than one needs than to lose weight by eating less than one needs, despite all the claims of magic diets.

I have been cruising for almost six years and have gained less than five pounds total. I think I am okay on My Year of Living Travelly so far, though I don’t have a scale. I have done this by having rules, and here are a few of them:

—No bread, except at dinner, and try to be reasonable about it then

—No desserts, except healthy ones, and the occasional exception for bread pudding or creme brûlée.  These are God’s gifts to the dessert tray and require indulgence

—No seconds—ever.  Enjoy the amount you took originally.  Period.

—Vegetables and proteins for lunch. Avoid starches.

—you don’t need to finish anything.  Have the amount you really want, then stop. You are an adult; you don’t need to clean your plate.

—pass on the little goodies at happy hour, and no afternoon snacking unless you missed lunch AND breakfast.

—have all the champagne you want!  As my late husband Jim used to say, “it’s a diet, not a sentence.”  Besides, champagne is lower in calories than just about any other alcoholic drink, and the glasses are smaller.  That’s  my rationalization and I’m sticking to it!

So what will it be tonight? Here’s a photo of the menu preview they leave in the room.


Carpaccio for starters I think, then either herb-seared shrimp, or, most likely, truffle-roasted chicken.  Note to self: pass on dessert.  It’s  not just about what I want today, it’s about how I want to feel tomorrow, next week and next month.  For me, that’s motivation enough to put down the fork.


Cruise Question Number One



Yesterday in Livorno one of those big cruise ships was docked near us. It wasn’t anywhere near the biggest—maybe 3-4000 guest capacity, but massive next to the 450-guest Seabourn Quest.  It had a water amusement thing on the top deck—a big slide and other such things, and I am sure it is utterly crammed with things to do inside.

Seeing those ships while onboard some of the smallest ones plying the world’s waters, I am always struck by the fact that despite the lack of loads of activities, I always feel so busy, even on days like today when I am not going out on an excursion.  On “my” ships,  there may be just one special activity going on at a time (they usually try to avoid competition), but it is almost always something I want to do.  And if not, that’s a good opening to go to the gym, or fall asleep by the pool.

Either way, inevitably the clock says there’s barely time to shower and dress for dinner.  Again!  How did that happen? It is the number one FAQ of my cruising life

For me, the pace is perfect.  Sometimes when I was younger, there was a lovely kind of exhaustion at the end of a fast-paced vacation, but that’s not what I want now.  I want the steady grin that comes from that zone where everything seems pretty close to perfect right then—and  I want to  stay in that zone as long as I can.  My life gives me so much opportunity for that, and I am truly blessed. Grinning here in Santa Margherita Ligure today, and hoping your life is putting a smile on your face too.




Cornwall, You Had Me at Hello

I am sitting in Barcelona now, thinking back about the experiences I just had in Cornwall. A couple of years back I met my hosts, Peter and Sue, on a cruise, and though we had wanted to meet up again,  it seemed as if we had just missed seeing each other (by days sometimes), as our paths failed to cross. When I had to change my travel plans so as not to overstay my tourist visa in Europe before I go home in July, a few days in England were in order.  Peter and Sue were home, and lo and behold, there I was, hanging out in their cottage.  Here it is.

But with Peter and Sue, time at home is what happens between everything else. Peter knows every nook and cranny of Cornwall, and a car ride with him turns into a history lesson and a highlights reel of the beauty of this region. Sue  and their dogs took me out on a two hour walk over the fields, beaches and clifftops, with the promise of excellent coffee at the end. Here we are, properly caffeinated.

Now normally after seven miles, one would think a non-strenuous afternoon would be in order, but not chez Sue and Peter.  Another walk took us to a place called the Hidden Hut, a modest—well, hut— overlooking a beach, where a local chef turns out four or five soups and all sorts of yummy desserts for anyone who knows where to look and doesn’t mind the short trek to get there.

is it time to rest yet?  Nope.  Home for a few minutes, then off to Caerhays castle, a favorite of Prince Charles,  to see the extensive gardens with  azaleas, rhododendrons, and other flowers in full bloom.

And throughout, the hospitality was extraordinary, not just from Sue, who fed me well and copiously, and Peter, who plied me with wine and excellent coffee, but from all the friends of theirs I met, and even a few waving and smiling strangers.

When I told Peter I had been to Cornwall before, and rattled off what I had seen, he said, “oh good!  Sue and I were worried you might want to go see those things.” Just as when people come to San Diego, if they really want to do the Top 5, that’s okay, but I’d really so much rather show them the hidden gems.  I had two days of those, and my heart is happy. Cornwall, I’m yours.





The Lisbon Transport


Travel can be dicey, and though people like to complain,  I think the airlines do a  good job of getting me where I want to go reasonably close to when I expected to get there, and reunite me with my bags in short order.  Yeah, not always, but most of the time.

Today started out great. Got to Newquay airport in Cornwall, then to London Gatwick, then to Barcelona with nothing more than the tiniest of hassles. Then, when I turned on my phone in Barcelona while waiting for my luggage, I found an email from the airline I am taking to Rome day after tomorrow, saying that they would be on strike and my flight was canceled. I also got an email from my friend Elsa, who is meeting me for this cruise, asking what we do now.

The good news is that I was in the airport we were leaving from and could just walk over to the airline  office and ask them what could be done. The bad news is that the two-day strike meant that the first flight they could offer was the day after the ship had left Rome. Oh dear, not good at all!

Anyway, since Elsa gets in at 4pm, I thought maybe we could get out before the strike started.  So now, we are booked for the last flight tomorrow night, before the strike, leaving at 10:15pm and getting into Rome around midnight. Poor Elsa is in for a grueling time getting to the fun, I fear.

The film Casablanca revolves around struggles to get onto the Lisbon transport and escape from Nazi-occupied Morocco. My overactive brain synapses started making  associations between the last climactic scenes where the plane takes off (but barely, before the nefarious forces of evil close in) and me trying to get to Rome before the airline strike.   I know the comparison is ridiculous, but I have had a little fun with it.

Ingrid Bergman’s character is named Ilsa. I’m going on the Rome transport with Elsa.  And I won’t regret it—not now, and not for the rest of my life.  Here’s looking at all of you, kids!



Leaving London


Tomorrow morning early, I will be leaving London for two days in Cornwall before heading out on my next cruise assignment, the second in My Year of Living Travelly.

It’s a good time to step back for a little self-evaluation. I have traveled alone a great deal, so no pats on the back for handling that, but I did note how far more comfortable I am going into a pub and ordering a pint, or going to a restaurant alone than I once was. That’s good!

I am also proud of myself for a doing few things that were outside my comfort zone.  I needed to get my roots and brows done, and instead of chickening our and doing it on the ship ($$$$$) I found a hair salon, made an appointment, and voila, it looks fine. I also made a quick stop into a nail salon offering brow services and  fifteen minutes I was back continuing my walk, all fixed up. Little steps towards a more confident, competent me.

I hopped on a train today and went out to see some friends I met on a cruise a few years back.  They live less than an hour out of London, and I got to see some countryside and real English life. I was thinking on the train back how easy that was, and how next time here I wouldn’t focus on “pick a park” ( though that was lovely too—my selfie from yesterday is included here) but rather on “pick a town.” Just push the zone out a little, every time.

But my biggest takeaway is that I really love this  I am very happy with my adventure.  A week from today I will be in Tuscany, with adventures in between now and then.  At the top of my self-evaluation, as always, is the realization of how very, very blessed I am.


Pick a Park

In my Year of Living Travelly, I have set the personal goal of still fitting in the same clothes after several hundred days at sea. I will be gone until July (four months away), and then in December I start five months in Asia. Whatever comes with me in my two suitcases is what I will have for the duration, so being indulgent about diet is not an option.

I have gained only two or three pounds in the nearly six years I have been cruising, and I attribute that to a set of rules I follow if not scrupulously, at least most of the time. That keeps me in the zone where a little dieting and a lot more exercise between cruises can get rid of that little bit of extra poundage that creeps on by the end of a cruise. I will tell you my rules in another post.

As for the exercise, in London I have been playing a game called “Pick a Park.” I either walk or take public transportation to a park and spend an hour or two walking around. After that I go out and explore the neighborhood a little, choosing a Tube stop at some distance that I have to walk to. So far I have walked Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Regents Park, for a total of seventeen miles in three days.

Regents Park is the best! I include one photo below. I don’t know how I managed to ignore it all these years. It was the first day since I left the Amazon that it was warm enough for just a tee shirt, and I really wish I had been wearing shorts rather than the long pants I was so desperate to get just two days ago.

I can’t imagine doing seventeen miles on the treadmill on the ship in three days. Hard to imagine doing it in a week! And I don’t even know how many hundreds of times I would have to walk around the ship’s jogging track to accomplish that (they are small ships), but I am pretty sure I would die of boredom first.

But for now, I don’t have to worry about that. Tomorrow, Green Park, aching legs or not. Nothing boring about that. And if I’m good, maybe I will treat myself to ice cream!


If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Next Month

I’m not sure I ever saw the movie “If This Is Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium,” but the idea is pretty clear from the title. I have a different take on it, though, as I struggle to keep straight everything I have lined up for the next few months. I am in London, using my time between cruises to finish some talks for Baltic ports in June and July. Next week, I head off for Barcelona, then Rome, then Barcelona again, then Marseille, then…..and so on.

Mind you, I am observing, not complaining (I am eternally grateful for my good travel fortune). Still, it is disorienting to have spent the morning studying up on one foreign city only to go outside and find myself in another. Yesterday, when I was meeting with the Seabourn lecturer coordinator, I felt at moments like the proverbial deer in the headlights as I struggled to remember what cruises I was booked on, and when and where.

It doesn’t help that I am juggling two cruise lines this year, and though I am not being secretive about it, it’s kind of bad form to start chatting accidentally about the wrong cruise line. Oops— not going to Copenhagen with you in June. Sorry!

It’s a nice problem to have, but it is frying some brain cells, for sure, here in Stockholm-on-Thames tonight.


This, Not That

Being disrupted from one’s routines, as happens with travel, can be a powerful reminder of facts—pleasant and unpleasant, weird and ordinary, significant and silly— about oneself.

At home in San Diego, I easily manage to skirt around many things I don’t like, the behavioral equivalent of taking back roads and alleyways when the roads are clogged. When traveling, that’s not so easy. Often I am lucky to figure out one way to do things, with no idea what the alternatives might be.

Take, for example, my experience today shopping in London. It has been so much colder than I thought it would be in mid-April (it is amazing how low the snow level was in the Alpes Maritimes outside Nice, and everyone is commenting on how it hasn’t warmed up). My plan to muddle through with clothes more suited for May and June isn’t working very well, so I decided to take a long walk this morning through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and end up at Selfridges to look for some long pants.

I had totally forgotten how much I really, truly hate large department stores. The sensory overload of perfumes and confetti colors, plus the nauseating hipness of the place—the very loud “in” music, the ridiculously over-cool fashions— it all just makes me want to scream.

For a minute I thought I might actually do that (scream) and I talked myself down the escalator and outside onto the street before I started babbling in tongues with tears streaming down my cheeks. Yes, it was that bad.

I decided that I was simply going to let my lower legs freeze rather than going in any more large stores, but luckily I did find one that was a little smaller and more downscale and managed to do a quick stealth raid, so I now have the long pants I need.

At home I just never go to those stores. That’s what online shopping and discount chains are for. Workarounds are a blessing I had most certainly taken for granted,

I am okay with not having morning coffee right away, as I do at home. I am okay with washing clothes less frequently. I don’t need as many bras as I think I do. There’s nothing I possess that I miss that much. I am not as attached to the news as I thought I was. Those things are as clear to me now as is the fact that if I do have to go out to get coffee, I am a walking zombie doing it—a fact I hadn’t noticed when I just had to make it from the bedroom to the kitchen. Note to Laurel—next time, brush your hair and check for makeup smudges.

I am very comfortable in my own skin, both at home and abroad. But it’s interesting to do a little examination of what’s inside that skin that I hadn’t noticed in a while, other than a couple of pounds of cruise aftermath!


Rainy, Rainy Arles…

Don MacLean’s beautiful song about Vincent Van Gogh, “Starry, Starry Night,” kept running through my head all day in Arles yesterday. Vincent made his home here for a while, trying so hard to figure out what people wanted of him, and how to lead a normal and typical enough life that people would just leave him alone.

Now, of course, people come here to adore him. Then, his was a life of quiet desperation better captured by gloom and rain than by the sun and glowing light that lured him (and us) here.

Unfortunately, I have to add the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh to the long list of places that have been closed when I came to see them. Here I am, disappointed, outside. However, I can also add to the even longer list of unexpected treasures I have chanced on. There was a photo exhibition by Christine Turnauer of faces of people from around the world that rivaled any I have ever seen, and another quirky one in an old mansion with ceiling plaster decorating the floor like snow. Took some photos of Turnauer’s work that I won’t post because I am not clear on intellectual property issues, but strongly recommend you look her up.

Once again, Plan A morphed into no plan at all, but “ca ne fait rien,” which is French (sort of) for just go with the flow.


Backpacking with Two Large Suitcases

I love almost everything about travel except the luggage. I always tell myself that I only have to lug the bags from curb to check in and back to curb, with slight iterations on the theme, and that makes it not too awful, since I have a system whereby I can handle it myself all at once.

Except for land travel.

Now I am in this zone where I don’t want to get into those packed suitcases and so I say, “oh, this will do for another day.” In this case, it has to do, as I wasn’t prepared for freezing rain in Provence with any degree of fashion sense, so I just pile on the layers anyway. That spot of the sweater sleeve? Another layer will hide it. A spot on the pants that I wouldn’t let pass on the ship is just fine today. And we haven’t even gotten to the grooming. Thank goodness for the chips of soap, and those sample size combined shampoo and conditioner of dubious provenance in the Air BnB. Works for me!

I will get the hang of this on My Year of Living Travelly. I already have been scoping out luggage storage at airports and other luggage services like Nannybag, and those will help a lot, as will a few tweaks of my packing system.

Notes to Laurel: Yes it is true that you think of doing laundry on the ship as the entry stage to hell, but that is because you have built it up in your mind. Bring enough for two weeks, max, period.

Just because you use almost everything you bring, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have brought much less. Just because travel clothes tend to be very light and don’t take up much room, you still don’t need so many. Just because you would like to have lots of choices, you aren’t home, so forget it. This applies to everything but earrings and necklaces, which must be applied liberally, as anyone who has traveled with me knows.

I have gotten better over the years, but still not anywhere good enough. One thing I know for sure—if people start giving me small change as they pass me in the street, I’d better open the suitcases!