… after a series of fits and starts. You may recall that we were originally scheduled to board QE2 in New York on Sunday. After the Port of New York was closed QE2 was diverted to Boston, where buses would transfer those passengers who arrived in New York. We had originally planned on spending Friday and Saturday in New York, including dinner Saturday night at Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center, but changed our plans to arrive on Saturday.
While waiting for our train in Washington, we noticed that service actually terminated in Boston. When we also found that it cost only $15 extra we changed our reservation – the train voyage turned out to be an adventure in itself – and since there is also a Club Quarters in Boston we also changed that reservation. Fortunately I had brought my cell phone to be able to make these changes, although it's not one that will work overseas.
The next morning in Boston we called Cunard and were told that we would be boarding at 2:30. So we walked around the neighborhood to find a likely breakfast spot. Le Meridien Hotel had a sumptuous buffet, with a price to match, which we declined in favor of a small cafe's offerings. After all, it wouldn't be long before we'd have a surfeit of QE2's fine cuisine. After checking out of the hotel, we returned with our wheeled carry-on bags to Le Meridien, this time to the bar, and ordered a sparkling wine. We were the only customers and we soon got to know Eddie the bartender, a typically gregarious Bostonian, quite well.
In fact, after the first glass of Spanish bubbly, we realized that we were drinking French Champagne. Around 2, we bade him farewell, and took a taxi to the dock. After we finally passed scrutiny at the many police barricades, we found that because of a bomb threat to a cruise ship that was already in port, all following ships, including QE2, had also been delayed. It would be at least 6 PM before anyone would be boarding, and since there were no facilities in the dock area, we'd be better off going back to town.
So, without leaving the cab we returned to the Meridien and resumed our conversation, and Champagne sipping. Shortly after our arrival, the dining room staff announced that they were breaking down the brunch and we could help ourselves to whatever we wished, because they just throw out what's left. So we enjoyed a late brunch along with our Champagne and watched the bomb-sniffing dogs at work on TV. Eventually, the new claimed embarkation time neared and we paid our bill, $8.20, and prepared to leave. Eddie said he was about to go off duty and was going to visit his sister, who had a restaurant in the dock area, so he gave us a lift to the ship! His tip was exceedingly generous.
Of course, one doesn't just line up at the gangplank to board a cruise ship – our line began at the door of a huge warehouse, which would include security and all the check-in procedures through which we'd have to eventually pass. The building was massive enough that we couldn't even see if the ship had yet arrived. After waiting in line for a couple of hours, with no information about when we might eventually board, another door, wide enough to accommodate several semis was rolled up and we hurried in near the head of the line – it helps to travel light – got a five class upgrade, and went aboard at about 8:30.
It's not quite as impressive as it sounds; there are 21 classes on a crossing – around-the-world cruises have even more – but we did end up in the 11th class up, which in addition to providing a larger cabin allowed us to dine in the single-seating Caronia dining room. That is, we could arrive for dinner anytime between 6:30 and 9, whereas the Mauritania dining room has seatings at 6:15 and 8:30. Our neighbors in the next cabin were on one of the buses from New York; although they also arrived about 6, they were kept on the bus until registration opened. By that time, the line was long enough that they didn't get aboard until 10:30.
The ship is nearly full. Although many canceled, others who came over on it and had originally planned on spending some time on land, perhaps returning by air – as we are planning on doing in the opposite direction – decided to stay aboard and return. Still others booked it as the only sure method of getting to Europe within a reasonable amount of time. No doubt these are people who normally fly first class, since the least expensive last-minute, no-discount fare is $6,000 to $8,000.
We didn't sail until after midnight Sunday night. The timing was close – they can only enter and leave Boston harbor at high tide. Another few hours and we'd have been there another half day. Since the north Atlantic is relatively calm – although there have been a few periods when people weave as they walk – we're taking a great circle route that will get us to Southampton on Saturday morning, on schedule. In the meantime we're unwinding after the stress and uncertainties of the last week, while inordinately partaking of the frequent multi-course meals.
You've probably read about the woman who lives on QE2. In case you haven't, see the Washington Post article. To summarize, she and her husband had enjoyed many cruises aboard QE2; after he died – aboard QE2 – she realized that she could afford to sail aboard her wherever she goes. She is relatively frugal about it – she has an inside cabin and books discount fares. Various staff knew who she was but she was never around at the time for them to point her out. Amazingly, we learned at a reception for repeat travelers (we came back from Germany on QE2 ten years ago) that, with over 1,100 days aboard, she still doesn't hold the record even for passengers aboard that trip – they announced the name of a man who has over 1,300 days!
As we waited at the elevator to take us to the gangplank level we chatted with a white-haired woman about where one could get coffee before the restaurants opened – since we could transport our own luggage we were leaving as soon as the ship was cleared. She knew the schedule well, she said, and that's when learned that we had met QE2's permanent resident just as we were departing!
We've now been in London for several days and seem to have brought good weather – we've been told that it had been quite chilly lately. We've been to the Globe Theater; the Tate Modern Museum; and the London Eye, the huge Ferris Wheel providing an unconventional view of Big Ben. Built for the Millennium Celebration, it's been more successful than the pedestrian bridge across the Thames, which is still closed while damping mechanisms are installed to tame the wild gyrations resulting when several thousand people actually used it at the same time. Signs at each end are defensive about its design flaws, claiming that other bridges exhibit similar characteristics but that this fact hadn't been documented in the literature.
We've also and had some very good food – although admittedly it's been Indian and Italian, not British – meeting some fascinating people in the process, and have seen several plays. Everything but a few biggies are available at the half-price ticket booth. This time they included a long-running staple, "An Inspector Calls," some relatively new ones, "Stones in his Pockets" and "Art," a two-man show which we were fortunate to catch just before a change in the original cast of Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney, and a new one: "Peggy Sue got Married." [About which we later heard a particularly sad story: the lead had left a successful show to star in this one, but a precipitous drop in attendance after 9/11 led to the show being closed in eight weeks.]
Last night we were in the West End and saw police cordons set up around the movie theater that was premiering "Enigma." This morning's Daily Telegraph, which advertises itself as "Britain's best-selling quality daily" – that is, not one of the sleazy tabloids you hear about – had a six-paragraph article about it. The picture and first five paragraphs were about Mick Jagger, who was a co-producer, and his daughter Elizabeth, who came over on QE2 with us. The last paragraph mentioned that also attending were Tom Stoppard, who wrote the screenplay, the director – and Prince Charles.
Prices are pretty high here. The tendency is at first glance to think "That's not too bad," then to realize that the price is in pounds, not dollars, so it's really about 50% higher. We'll soon be off to Spain and Portugal, where the opposite will be the case.