My blog went off the rails. For those who aren’t friends with me on Facebook, I had a few days to pull together solo classical, jazz, Broadway, and pop repertoire necessary as solo pianist for three weeks. It was also an amazing experience. On the first day in Singapore – even before promotion, playing solo sets – I ended up in a news magazine video on the BBC playing Pick Yourself Up (just having some fun, who knew?).
- Dubai – saw the aquarium in the Dubai Mall, the Berg Khalifa, and rode the Dubai Metro (all over, accidentally getting into the Gold Car, the Women’s Only Car, returning by taxi).
- Aqaba – my first wander, found some inexpensive Chivas to keep sore throats, colds, and insomnia away.
- Port Said, Suez and the Suez Canal – enjoyed watching the cliffs of the Suez Canal whilst I was performing at lunch in the pub – had to pinch myself.
- Limassol – walked for miles by myself, went into three Orthodox churches during Sunday services, ended up in an open-air bistro with shipmates, had a much-needed meal and Irish Coffee.
- Sorrento – as we couldn’t even tender at Naples, we went to Sorrento instead. One of my favorite spots so far. Sat on top of the cliff overlooking the port, sipping iced cappuccinos and eating tiramisu. The narrow streets and the laid-back vibe makes this a must-return.
- Civitavecchia and Rome – I figured out the train schedule, my bandmates and I ran to catch the direct train to Rome. Our alto saxophonist took us on a grand tour of St. Peter’s Square, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona (the gods had great glutes), the Trevi Fountain, the Ponte Sant’Angelo, and a lovely prix fixe luncheon with wine. I had to leave early and missed the ruins, hailing my first cab, buying my return train ticket in Italian, and hailing a second (over-priced) cab to return in time for my set. An empowering and defining set of experiences.
- Barcelona – my roommate had lived in Barcelona and spoke fluent Spanish. Saw the Gothic and Raval quarters after arriving in La Barceloneta (where the Columbus statue welcomes you), the Barcelona Cathedral, many wonderfully small streets. My roommate, Alain, bought me horchata, a refreshing cold drink made from nuts (ladled from its refrigerated storage). Replaced my USB 3.0 cable for about $5 USD (would have been $40 at home). A rainy day, I slipped on the smooth stones outside the Museum of Contemporary Art (a skateboarder’s paradise) and came up limping. Hailed a cab, went back to the ship. Caught a cold and laid low, missing Cadiz, sadly (I’ll be back there, though).
Reaching Southampton on May 10, I (and my luggage) and my Japanese interpreter friend were whisked by car to the Queen Elizabeth. As my Bermudan Seaman’s Book had yet to arrive, I had to repeat my initial three inductions (training seminars), a small price to pay. I was now the pianist for the Queen’s Room Orchestra for ballroom dancing every night. This was the most fun that I’ve ever had in a professional ensemble. All of the group got along famously and we had a great time on the bandstand. As pianist, I would lead our trio for party functions and other gigs when the combined horns of both ensembles gigged. It was an absolute blast. Ports included:
- Hamburg – Walked the city, had some great beer, saw some cathedrals, sat by the canals, bought low-calorie snacks (bring your grocery bag, else pay for one).
- Copenhagen – Dined by the canal, had a lovely smoked salmon sandwich. Incredibly expensive. Stopped at a McDonald’s to get a chicken sandwich and small sundae, over $8 USD. Expensive free WiFi, ouch.
- Stockholm – Out for a walk, went by the canals, had a San Pellegrino or two on a very hot day. Ended up in a lovely park with free Wifi and lounged on green grass.
- Tallinn – What a lovely old city! Went out by myself, found a McDonald’s for WiFi in the middle of the old city with its parapets and florist on the street. Spent time in the park and the mall. Exhausted, but enjoyed the diversion. Saw that they had a weekly family archery contest – knew that my youngest son would enjoy that.
- St. Petersburg – Without my Seaman’s Book, I had to stay on the ship, so was assigned In Port Manning for these two days. Got some great pictures from the ship as we passed Cotswold Island and Fort Brisbane – this included a submarine escort. Great sail-away photos.
- Kiel – Would have been a great place to visit, but it was Whit Monday, a federal holiday. My plans to purchase clothing and a Bluetooth keyboard were scuttled. Saw a great old church with a monument to Carl Loewe, the Schubert of North Germany.
- Skagen – Denmark is overpriced. Skagen, the northernmost city in Denmark, smelled of fish. Bad. All of the buildings in the village were of the same color, roofing, and construction. I was waiting for Rod Serling to walk through one of the walls onto the cookie-cutter streets. This was a favorite place of Hans Christian Andersen, but I suspect the city center has been resurrected somehow to its current state. Whilst there may have been much to see further out, a nap was in order.
- Southampton – I didn’t know there was a shuttle – there is always a crew shuttle there to take you to the city center. Ran into my friend Andrew, the leader of the Queen’s Room Orchestra on the Queen Mary 2. Found a great little barbershop and got my hair cut. Could almost get into UK rack sizes (not right now, added back 15 of the 30 pounds that I lost on the ship – Yolanda is making ice cream, cookies, and crème brulee). Bought alcohol at the request of those with In Port Manning. Found the shuttle and caught a ride back.
- Palma – Had a lovely early lunch. Went with my friend, Leo, to the casino and doubled my money at blackjack (betting there is completely electronic – who knew?). Beer and snacks to follow. Not much sightseeing, but a great day at the office.
- Athens – Took a taxi from the port at Piraeus, as there was a transportation strike that ended at mid-morning. Went to the ruins of the Acropolis, climbed the wall (a mistake, it felt like it was walking and the rocks were worn by two millennia), looked around. Didn’t go into the Acropolis, too much of a climb and too steep at 30 euros. Had a milk shake, bought shirts for my sons and a scarf for Yolanda. More to do there another time.
- Heraklion – Skipped Santorini, but hopped off at Heraklion to get a real-deal fresh-shaved gyro at the behest of Leo. Awesome. Kicked back a couple of beers and people-watched. No casino to speak of. Skipped Katakolon, as we were not granted crew leave. Another time.
- Cagliari – Had great pizza and beer, walked all over the port. Not much sight-seeing, home stretch.
- Gibraltar – Leo and I stopped at an Irish pub for an early beer, saw the casino (which was hardly open in the morning), and had a great burger and beer on the street. Not enough time to see the monkeys or the Rock.
- Returning to Southampton, I and another were driven by van to Gatwick. Picked up a tin of shortbreads for Yolanda, stuffed them into my carry-on bag, and returned to Burlington just after midnight. TSA at JFK in New York was the most unfriendly experience of the entire trip. I’ll be more prepared for the sensory assault and degrading treatment next trip – disheartening.
I’ll be headed back to Southampton in a few days. I’m still far from myself, with the sudden passing of my mother on the 23rd, but am doing what needs to be done. That, my summer, my family, and my practice regimen, will be the stuff of future posts. Coming up:
- August 10 – November 14 (Transatlantic crossings, Cadiz, Venice and other Italian ports, Croatia, the islands of Spain and Portugal)
- January 10 – March 5 (Southampton, through the Suez, to Singapore, China, South Korea, and Hong Kong – a swim at Phuket again, hopefully)
- April 3 – May 21 (Brisbane, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, over two weeks in Japan and Busan, Alaska, and Vancouver)
I will miss Yolanda and the children terribly, yet there will be adventures and much work on my technique and repertoire. More to come.