Thursday, May 06 - Oslo, Norway
Friday, May 07- day at sea
Saturday, May 08 - Normandy (Paris), France
Sunday, May 09 - Cherbourg, France
Monday, May 10 - Dublin, Ireland
Tuesday, May 11 - day at sea
Wednesday, May 12 - Edinburgh, Scotland
Thursday, May 13 - Loch Ness, Scotland
Friday, May 14 - day at sea
Saturday, May 15 - Oslo, Norway
A Quick Recap of the
Written by Rick Archer
Everyone assumes that Rick and Marla have seen it
all. Nothing could be further from the truth. On these
destination cruises, every place we go is completely new to us.
Think about it... that's why Marla chooses these places - she wants
to see them herself!
In 2008, Marla took
our group to the Eastern Mediterranean. In 2009, we
visited the Western Mediterranean. So for 2010, Marla
decided it was time to go see Northern Europe. Marla
noticed this amazing trip that left out of Oslo, Norway, and
made a circle around England.... without actually stopping
in England (Marla promised me we would return to
England another day).
first port of call took us to Paris, the fabulous City of
Lights. Since this was the first time Marla and Rick
had ever been to Paris, neither of us was quite prepared for
the overall magnificence of this legendary city. The
Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Seine River, the Grand Palace,
the Tuilleries Gardens, the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, and so many
other famous landmarks were all within easy walking
distance. So we spent the afternoon gazing at all the
statues, landmarks and beauty of this great city. Besides
its obvious natural beauty, Paris exudes wealth and
sophistication. In every direction we looked, there was
something magnificent to go inspect. Yes, seeing was great,
but oh so superficial. This was Paris on fast-forward.
We wanted to hit the Pause button and slow down time.
No such luck. As usual, too much to see, not enough time. Definitely
a return trip is called for!
second stop was at Cherbourg, a deep-water port that was
vital to the Allies in World War II as the place to begin
the invasion of Europe on the way to Berlin.
Unfortunately, Cherbourg was too well-defended by the Nazis,
so the Allies landed instead on the nearby beaches of Normandy about
30 miles away. We took a bus that stopped first at
Omaha Beach, the location of the fiercest fighting on D-Day.
Here we visited the cemetery and saw moving video clips of
D-Day at a museum on the site. Rick can only speak for
himself, but the tears flowed non-stop at all the evidence of
great bravery and great sacrifice.
visited Sainte-Mère-Église, a nearby town that
played a big role in D-Day. The town's main claim to
fame is that it played a significant part in the World War
II Normandy landings. This village stood right in the
middle of route N13, a major road which the Germans would
have most likely used on any significant counterattack on
the troops landing on Utah and Omaha Beaches. That
counterattack could not be allowed to happen. So in the
early morning of D-Day, 6 June 1944, huge numbers of paratroopers
occupied the town, encountering stiff resistance in the
chance, the town had been the target of an aerial attack
earlier in the evening. A stray incendiary bomb had set fire
to a house east of the town square. The church bell
was rung to alert the town of the emergency and townspeople
turned out in large numbers to form a bucket brigade
supervised by members of the German garrison. Now at 1 am,
the town square was well-lit and filled with German soldiers
and villagers trying to put out the fire just as two battalions
were dropped in error directly over the village. The
Nazis were astonished to see thousands of men descending upon
them in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately, this made the paratroopers easy targets.
Many men died before they even hit the ground. One wounded
paratrooper had the bad luck-good luck misfortune of getting
his parachute caught on the steeple of the village church in
Ste-Mère-Église. This left him hanging helplessly from
its roof-top forced to witness the carnage. Meanwhile, the
wounded paratrooper hung there limply for two hours,
pretending to be dead. This saved his life.
We all marveled at this story as we snapped photographs of
the church where it happened. Today there is a
parachute attached to a life-size dummy dressed in paratroop attire
hanging permanently from the same church steeple in the local square.
This hanging paratrooper memorial was quite effective. It served as a
vivid reminder to us all that many men
died on D-Day in this very spot making Ste-Mère-Église one
first French towns to be liberated.
Upon the return to the trip, the mood of our group was
somber. This had been a very moving day for many of
us. That night at dinner, we could not stop talking
about our experiences this day and what they meant to us.
Personally, I am glad I had my group of friends to share my
thoughts with. Otherwise it would have taken me a long
time to snap out of my sadness.
After a day at sea, our
third stop was in lovely Dublin, Ireland. Our group
went every which way possible, some to see the Guinness
brewery, some to see the old churches. Marla and Rick
wanted to see the Irish countryside, but first we got a look
at Dublin. It was amusing to see all the brightly
colored doors. Dublin is full of old row houses that
look identical. The only thing that allows you tell
them apart are the different door colors. Our tour
guide said this was an important feature. After a long
evening in the local pubs, the wives wanted to be sure their
husbands could find the right door to stumble into.
After Dublin, our bus
trip took us through Wild Wicklow. What a perfect
description. The countryside is far from tame. We definitely got what we wanted....
vast green pastures lined with yellow-flowered gorse hedges, rolling hills,
deep crevasses, large mountains in the distance, and
forests. Ireland is famous for its lush, green
countryside. It's all true. This trip definitely delivered as promised.
Such magnificent scenery! Plus we got to see an
ancient cathedral and we even had time to take a long nature
walk in the nearby forest complete with lake, swans, and
As we departed the
monastery, Wendy Weston screamed in dismay. She had
left her wallet back at the retreat. Or had she?
Robert Goins hopped up to help her with the search.
The entire group got on their hands and knees to see if the
wallet had fallen on the floor. Nope. It was
nowhere in sight.
Only half the people on
our bus were with the SSQQ group. I expected the other
half would conclude this was Wendy's problem and tough luck,
but to my delight, they all agreed to turn the bus around
and head back even though this would delay our trip at least
20 minutes. Good for them!
Amazingly, just as the
bus began to turn around, something in the way the bus
turned revealed to Wendy that her wallet was stuck in the
seat next to the wall. Aha! We didn't have to
turn around after all. We all cheered.
As the perfect conclusion to a perfect day, we stopped at O'Neills
Pub back in Dublin for a deeply satisfying pint of Guinness
beer. If Wendy hadn't found her wallet, this exquisite
moment might have been lost.
What amazing luck!
if you are lucky to be Irish, you are lucky
enough. Today we found out why this is
true. Our visit to Dublin was a real
next day we
sailed around the coast of the United Kingdom. This
gave us the chance to view the
many rocky and quite rugged isles just off the coast of England.
Sharon and Bill Shaw spent the afternoon teaching Marla and
Rick how to play a card game called Casino. Let me
paint a picture - four friends are playing cards on this
beautiful ship. We sat in a comfortable lounge
complete with card table and a picture window that allowed
us to appreciate the isles as they rolled by. We are
sipping wine, eating pizza and french fries, and laughing
the day away together... and all the while there is
spectacular scenery rolling past our eyes like a continuous
wallpaper. Except it's the real thing, folks.
Life can be very good in moments like this.
course, even in Paradise, there is the
occasional reality to deal with. Since
Marla and Rick were rookies, we paired up
with Sharon and Bill. We soon discover
Sharon is the master of Casino.
Whoever plays with Sharon wins.
Whoever plays with Bill loses. Bill is
really getting down on himself. As his
losing streak mounts, I suggest Bill play
with his wife. That should solve the
To our amazement, Marla gets hot... she
turns out to be a born card shark... now
Bill loses two more in a row! Bill is
muttering under his breath. It must be
the Curse of the Scots, he says. Bill
is proud of his Scottish descent, so much so
that in preparation for this trip he studied
Scottish history. Now he admits he is
very troubled about visiting his homeland
knowing how much suffering took place there
under English tyranny. That might
explain why his concentration has suffered.
to Bill mutter about Braveheart and other
historic atrocities, I don't dare point out
that I am of English descent. Instead
I offer to play with him against the
confident and talented women. I say
that his losing streak is ridiculous and
that I would be honored to try to help him
snap out of it. Bill shakes his
head in disgust. He eyes me carefully.
Something is bothering him. Suddenly,
Bill puts me on the spot and asks me if
'Archer' is an English name. It sounds
English to him. Now that he thinks
about it, 'Richard' sounds kind of English
too. Hmm. 'Richard Archer'.
Isn't that an English name?
No, I lie, all of
my forefathers were from Switzerland, you know,
William Tell, Bill Archer, etc. Bill eyes me
with suspicion, but finally agrees to accept me as
his partner even though he is convinced he will
never win with me.
triumph. The losing streak is over. Bill
can hold his head high again. Life is no
longer grim. Now Bill is able to finally
appreciate the beauty of the British Isles as his
homeland calls to him.
Our next stop was at Edinburgh, Scotland.
I discover Bill was right about one thing - the
Scots do not like the English. Our tour guide
spends half the bus trip talking about all the
rotten things the English did to the Scottish.
I softly whisper to Marla that for the rest of the
day, I am Swiss.
What a lovely city! Highlights of the day including a
visit to the imposing Edinburgh Castle complete with more
history lessons on all the evil things England did to
Scotland. We concluded our morning with a
leisurely walk through the lovely garden park below.
When Marla spots an ice cream stand nearby, she
makes a beeline. Soon Marla is moaning with
pleasure. This is the BEST ice cream cone
Meanwhile the clean-cut
teenager who runs the ice cream stand is smiling too. I have
no idea how much these pence coins are even worth. All
I knew is that I couldn't wait to get rid of the loose
change in my pocket. I must have had twenty coins in
there! I placed all the coins on the counter and
realized I had no idea what this money was worth. So I
asked him if he was an honest lad. Surprised, he
nodded that he was. So I told him to take the correct
amount. There weren't many coins left. With a
smile, I made him rich giving the rest to him as a tip.
Now I know why they call that stuff 'pounds'. I was
immediately ten pounds lighter. Marla was happy. I was
happy. And that kid was definitely happy. He
probably owns that ice cream stand now thanks to me.
final adventure took us to Loch Ness in search of the
elusive monster. No luck. Nessie decided to take the day
off despite a concerted 30 minute vigil on the banks of Loch
Ness conducted by Rick and Marla complete with camera at the
ready. The good news was that the Scottish countryside
is just as beautiful and lush as the Irish countryside.
Nature lovers could not have asked for prettier scenery.
Even the dark gray clouds and cold mist were perfect for the
occasion.... the gloomy day made the awesome moors even moor
Our final day at sea was
marked by our third dance lesson of the trip. We
had three days at sea so we had three dance classes.
As always, we covered Foxtrot on the day of Formal Night.
Foxtrot and Swing Dancing are the two most useful dances on
a cruise. Sure enough, thanks in part to the Foxtrot
lesson, our group was the center of
attention at the Captain's Reception that night. The
only problem was the stormy North Sea had the boat rocking
and rolling... but not to the music. Rick and Marla
would often start a pattern at one end of the floor only to
finish it at the other end thanks to a sudden shift in the
Swing Dancing was quite
an adventure. There was a lot of swaying out on that
dance floor. Those rough seas created some interesting
romantic possibilities. A lot of women suddenly found
themselves in men's arms... not necessarily their original
dance partner either. I am embarrassed to say
that Robert and I ended up in each other's arms.
Fortunately he leads very well.
same-foot Waltz class on the second dance workshop was so
popular that we did a follow-up lesson for our third lesson
as well. The only problem was that we were forced to
rely on the ship's two portable sound systems.... neither of which
worked at all. Next time we will bring our own
equipment even if it means lugging it through airports.
Once we were back in Oslo, Marla and Rick decided to stick
around for another day to visit the amazing Vigeland
Sculptures at Frogner Park. You will just have to see
these statues to believe them. As a hint, the people
in these sculptures are
all naked and some of the 'positions' are quite suggestive.
I realize the Scandinavians are supposed to be open-minded
about these sort of things, but I blushed. I later
learned these famous sculptures are considered quite
controversial. Now I see why.
Later on Marla and Rick saw the Viking Museum and the Holocaust
Museum. We finished off a great day with a long walk home.
As I wrote in our
previous Newsletter, the
trip was not without problems (you can read this story at
Thanks the ash cloud
problems caused by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland,
our entire group had serious headaches both getting to Oslo
and getting back home. No one was delayed, but there
were some enough close calls to make people think more
seriously about travel insurance for the next trip.
other headache was a terrible outbreak of Norovirus on board
the ship. There were 300 reported cases of this
stomach virus and easily 200 more unreported cases....
including Marla. Norovirus is sometimes called "the
cruise ship virus" because enclosed populations on a cruise
ship are prime targets. Our ship's crew scrubbed the
ship down thoroughly throughout the trip, but never could
quite seem to get rid of it. About 20% of our group
either got the virus or had virus-like symptoms. The
good news - although the virus is unpleasant, it is
typically gone in a day. No one's trip was ruined.
some reason, everyone in our group more or less went their
separate ways at each port. Other than the trip to
Omaha Beach, there were no big group outings. No one
seemed to care that we didn't stick together. Unlike
the two trips to the Mediterranean area, we didn't have any
gypsies, tramps and thieves to contend with. My guess
is that everyone felt so safe there was no real need to band
together. Thanks to the high number of Europeans who
spoke English, none of us ever felt lost or threatened in
any way. It was a very comfortable trip.
always, there was romance on this trip... none of which Rick
is allowed to
talk about. Apparently there was a forbidden nature to
at least some of the romance. Let's just say that Springtime in Paris
definitely had its desired effect on a couple people.
beauty of a group cruise is that you can be alone with a
loved one or spend time with the group. Either way is
fine. No one begrudges you your privacy. If you want
to go your separate way, no problem. On the other
hand, if you
feel lonely, it's your own fault! In the SSQQ group, there
is always someone to tag along with.
This trip was no exception. Over two-thirds of our group
were returning guests from previous cruises. Many of our guests
have made close friends within the group. The rest
already knew each other from dance classes. Sometimes
it isn't that easy to find another person who has the free
time or the extra money on hand to take a lengthy trip.
The nice thing about the SSQQ Cruise Trips is that people
who are single and not involved with anyone at the moment
can join the group and feel right at home.
Furthermore, when you
travel alone or with just one other person, you often get
seated with a bunch of strangers. Not us. Dinner
always feels like a family affair. The favorite part of
the day for all of us was dinner time. Dinner was the
everyone reported back all the different things they had
seen and done that day. Conversations were animated and usually
lasted well after the meal was over.
frequent topic of conversation is where we wanted to go
next. We talked of Carnival in Brazil, a trip to the
Baltic Sea and Russia, or maybe a trip directly to England
rather than around it. We even had a couple of
ambitious people who suggested a trip to the South Pacific,
Australia and New Zealand.... all far-flung places that were
unimaginable in the early years of our Travel group. You
can feel the confidence building.
Now after three straight trips to Europe, our group is
beginning to feel like we can go anywhere! The
whole world is out there for more adventures.
Volcanoes and viruses aside, Oslo 2010 was a wonderful trip.
What a great chance to see four new countries in one shot!
This experience was a real privilege.
In the next couple
months, I will write more complete stories about each place
However, until I have the
time to give a more detailed account of each stop, as
always, there is something I have to say....
Thank you, Marla. You
have organized yet another wonderful trip. Your work
is a gift to me and to all of us.