This morning I was cleaning out some old notebooks and I found a travel journal I started during my 2013 Contiki trip to Europe. This was the trip that I added Monaco and Liechtenstein to my list of travelled countries.
Day 1 – London
Great flight. Heathrow went quite quickly. I thought that I had food poisoning on the flight as I was very gassy.
Then I went to the Royal National dropped off my bags and then explored the city walked across Westminster Bridge seen the London Eye and Parliament. Then went to Canada Water to pick up a few items at the mall.
Went back to the hotel & checked into my room. Then I met my roommate Probin from Regina, SK. Went to see Westminster and Buckingham Palace. Then back to the Royal National for the meetup and drinks at London Pub.
Looking back I don’t have many posts outlining my early international trips this was my 2010 trip to New York City.
This trip starts like any other trip a random bus ride to Montreal to see the Canadiens in their playoffs bid in Montreal. However, it took a bit of a turn. I instead ended up going to the Forum cinema and catching a movie and then went to PearlVision to fix my glasses that broke. It had been a very long bus ride to Montreal overnight on the Acadian Lines bus. Feeling down from the long trip that I only took because I sold people I was going to the game that I had no way of getting tickets to, and no booked hotel in Montreal I had a “great idea”. I was going to take the bus to New York City and then take the Greyhound up to Bangor and catch the Acadian Lines service home.
After a day in Montreal, I went to the old bus station and got my tickets. I was really tired and quickly after leaving fell asleep on the bus. Only to be woken by the overzealous US Border Service Officer getting on the bus with his hat and telling the bus that we were to go inside, not to talk on phones, not to take phones, form a line and answer questions. The crowd shuffled out of the bus and into the office. Inside it was not too out of the ordinary and most everyone made it back to the bus and on the way back to New York City. I dozed off again.
As we stopped in Albany NY the bus became more full and there was this black man that sat beside me and had a really bad and strong-smelling deodorant who really had me nervous and I remained awake until arriving at the Port Authority bus terminal. From here I got onto an NYC subway train E to Canal Street. From here I walked to the construction site at the World Trade Center site and had breakfast at Burger King, at 6 am.
I then ventured around the construction site and made it to the coast of the Hudson and followed the river looking for my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. The funny story is I was going the wrong way and ended up near the old Pier 48 before changing direction and ending up at Battery Park. It was a hazy day and was a spectacular sight when I saw it but was more infatuated with “The Eyes” public artwork. After looking at the size of the line to go over to the island, I decided to walk up Broadway.
One of the things that I didn’t expect was how narrow Wall Street was, and the at the Bull was not actually on Wall Street. I also was fascinated by all the plaques for all the different reasons they celebrated with ticker-tape parades. I actually wonder if confetti was actually a thing pre-ticker tape.
From there I followed Broadway up to Bleeker St then took the B train up to 86th street as I was excused and journeyed into Central Park and to was as glorious as I hoped it would be. I found a grassy knoll and rested and got about an hour sleep and then continued south to see the park.
By this time it was late afternoon and I found the Ghostbusters Spook Central building and Columbus Circle and made my way down Broadway buying nuts and oranges from a street vendor. I got to see the outside of Ed Sullivan theatre and Times Square.
Times Square was really interesting and packed with people. I remember going to TGIFridays for dinner and then really stopped exploring and spent several hours in Times Square. ABC was having the Lost series finale by chance that night so I joined the hoards of fans and watched my only ever episode of Lost with captions on a side of a building. To be honest, I’m not really sure what happened on the show but will never forget sitting on the street.
After I explored some of the streets and then caught the 11 pm bus to Bangor. It was rather uneventful and even switching busses in Boston was uneventful. Where this story gets interesting was crossing the border. I was held in this room while the two border agents were certain I was bringing something back on my netbook. They even went through all my emails and started asking me about all the drugs mentioned in my spam folder. It seemed like it was forever and my biggest fear was that the bus was going to leave me there.
As it turned out I had an Apple sticker on my Windows 7 netbook and they thought it was a Mac. I eventually returned to the bus and returned home.
As I had been to this port before, it was no big hurry to get off the ship. When I did there was the typical Caribbean band and warm welcomes. It was sun and rain periods and humid, so even though it was not the greatest, it was not that bad either. When I made it to the main street, I considered trying to find a bus to the other side of the harbour and instead just kept walking.
The island looked familiar but very different from last time. Which due to two hurricanes, was not surprising. Many of the buildings had rooves that were replaced with blue tarps or red metal roofing. Then there were the chickens, no why in the world have I ever seen more chickens than I did in Charlotte Amalie, and the ear-piercing bellow of all the roosters.
Along Veterans Drive, there is a lot of construction work to improve and build a multi-million dollar project to build a veterans memorial causeway that will look incredible, especially to visitors. The sight of which is just following the Extreme Tsunami Risk Zone. It is a real shame given the number of hurricane destruction on the islands, and neighbouring Puerto Rico, that so much money is being spent on this project.
About two kilometres later I made it to Emancipation Garden where I grabbed some water to drink and rest before continuing on to my goal for the day Blackbeard’s Castle. I actually changed my mind As I looked up the steep hill and I was totally exhausted and it was too sunny and warm, so I just stayed in the square for an hour. Getting a taxi back turned out to an ordeal as most of the taxis only wanted to go to the beach or to the cruise terminal. I wanted to go to K-Mart, which I eventually found someone that would take me. I really didn’t want to walk back.
As I entered, the store was much more rundown than the last time I was there, there wasn’t what I was looking for there so I grabbed water and walked back to the ship.
I ended up going to the buffet and then various events that were going on. I ended up getting really drunk that night and had a really late night.
The next morning, I was really hungover and went to the buffet for breakfast and then my stomach felt really bad, like explosive bad. The washroom by the buffet was closed for cleaning and I really had to go, so I went to my room. And guess what happened, my keycard wasn’t working! I go to the stairwell and call customer service, and what do they say, come to customer service. Down the elevator, across the ship, I make it and they replace my card. I then go back across the ship and up the elevator, back to the room, swipe, swipe, swipe, Nothing!!!! I go back to the phone, call again and they send security. As I wait, I start doing the Prarie Dog Dance, in the worst pain ever! The guy finally arrives and opens the door with a key and replaced the dead battery, and reprogrammed the lock. Then I finally used the toilet, even though the prairie dog had partially freed itself by that point. I then showered again and grabbed my sunscreen and headed back up to deck 18 to escape and relax.
This morning, I was pumped and excited, I work up stupid early so that I could emerge for breakfast and grab some amazing, red sky in morning, photos of the island as the sun peaked over the horizon.
For this morning, I wanted to be ready to go early and quickly plate loaded from the buffet. I then returned to my cabin to shower and prepare the day bag with everything I needed, camera, phone, tripod, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and wallet. I really had no plans at all what to do and I had no US cash on me so the vague plan was to get off the ship, find wifi and catch-up, post some pictures to make those at home jealous, and find a bank. Today I arrived at the port of Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands.
I got off the ship and it was a nice close walk to the Tortola cruise village. It was actually quite obvious that the cruise village was a fake example of stereotypical island life and all the usual shopping. I sat on a bench in front of Diamonds International and got on the wifi there. It was pretty good wifi, all my Facebook feed was filled with people talking about a major blizzard. I felt bad of course so I posted this picture.
Then I left the cruise terminal area and came across the CIBC First Caribbean Bank and took out $40USD. I then went to a local shop and picked up a tiny ornament. One of the first things I noticed was that the island was filled with random chickens everywhere.
As I returned to the terminal, I negotiated to take a safari type truck tour of the Island. It was beautiful, although it was mainly a lot of what life was like on the island, and “This is where X used to be”. One of the memorable moments was when we were approaching the wall with the mural of the island’s history, one van going in the other direction got caught on our truck and we were wedged for a while as the only place for the other van to go was over the cliff.
One attraction that is still around on the island is on the far end of the island where there were an amazing rum distillery and a huge and popular beach.
After the tour, I was exhausted and went back to the ship and found a sun chair on Deck 18.
Okay, the Epic titles and making reference to epic things may be getting old at this point but trust me there will be more and they will be epically cliche. Upon boarding the ship, it was luck time so I headed to the buffet as usual and sampled a bit of everything. Apparently, the buffet on the first two days of a trip makes up about half of all food waste for the entire week-long voyage.
The food was pretty good. Nothing outstanding from most buffets in most ships and restaurants. I was also disappointed that Washie-Washie was not as happy-happy as my last trip. This may seem like complaining, but it is not. The Norwegian Epic is very good, and far superior to not travelling in the first place.
After lunch, I grabbed a drink and explored around the ship until it was time to meet up with the Solo Coordinator at the meetup in the solo lounge. The solo lounge on the Epic was really good and better than the Getaway. It had an espresso machine and was amazing coffee. From this meeting, I went to dinner and then called it a night.
The next day I did a lot of relaxing, and whiskey and rum sampling. After dinner, I went to the whiskey bar for a Jack Daniels tasting but was convinced by the bartender that an hour later the Scottish Macallan tasting was more worth the money and had a better quality pairing. So I decided to stay at the bar and socialize for the hour.
The tasting was an incredible experience to learn more about the whiskey notes. (Despite being a certified Jameson Irish Whisky taster) Most people at the tasting and the head bartender seemed to be making flavours up. Anyway, after the tasting, we were told of a Martini tasting. This seemed like a great idea.
At the tasting, there were 3 gin-based and 3 vodka-based martinis to taste. The younger woman sitting across from me with her mother was not enjoying at all the non-fruity and classic martinis. From the collection, the one that stood out was the Cucumber Martini. It became my friend many times that voyage. The only downside was it was hard to walk around the ship with a martini glass. The glass is just not the best at countering let’s blame it on the ocean swells.
Then it was time for dinner. It was good even if it wasn’t memorable. After dinner was spent between the martini and whiskey bar. Followed by the highlight of the night. The dancing king and queen competition at the Bliss night club. To be honest, with my bad ankle dancing is not the best idea, but there were so few people dancing that I started off the dancing and then sat for a drink. Then come competition time I was dancing back up to the bar and was spotted and selected as the dancing king! From this, I won a bottle of wine. Since I had the drink package, I spotted a couple in the back corner on a date night and gave away the bottle.
I then called it a night and went to bed.
The next morning was not the greatest as it was about 11 am before I emerged and it was a window that finding food on the ship was hard. I went to the mini-buffet and found a quiet place on deck 18 to catch some sun. Which left me burnt for the week. The rest of that day was a blur of activity and fun. I knew I didn’t want it to be a “big night”, as the next day I was off to check the only new county off my list, the British Virgin Islands.
Following the subway ride, I ended up on good old St. Andrew Station in Downtown Toronto on a Just above freezing evening. I was a bit hungry so as I wandered Downtown I was looking for somewhere no but ended up going to Hooters on John St.. The meal was good I had the Steak Spice Quesadilla and it was really good. There was a hockey game on so, I enjoyed the meal and a beer, game, and people watching until about 1 am. After that, I left and continued to wander down John to Queen West and then stopped at the McDonald’s at Spadina.
Since I had time to kill, I stayed at the McDonald’s for just over an hour to charge my phone and people watch with a coffee and a muffin. This area in the daytime is high class, in the evening it is just high. I sat up on the second floor and there was a guy at the end of the booths that kept being woken up by security, it looked like he was very impaired. Then going in and out of the washroom was an uncomfortable assortment of people. Prior to leaving I needed the washroom and there was a guy on the toilet shooting needles. I went to get out of the place but at the top of the stairs, there was another gentleman smoking his meth pipe indoors.
I was so relieved to get out of that place and catch the streetcar to connect with the airport night bus. However, that would not be the end. As I was waiting for the streetcar, wouldn’t you know what happened next? There were paramedics called to pull someone out of the McDonald’s and I highly doubt it was an allergy or choking.
Upon reaching the airport, I picked up my bag from storage and checked in for my flight and quite easily cleared security and the US Border clearance went very quickly, although there were a lot of people panicked for catching a much earlier flight than mine. There is something that, tends to consider Toronto Pearson as the baseline of good airports. Terminal 1 is an excellent and totally makes sense layout, and the D-E-F layout of the gates just works for me.
Due to my medical situation, over the past two years, I have gained a lot of weight and now need to ask for the extender belt when on a plane. I find it hilarious that in an effort to be “respectful” the Air Canada staff try to secretly hand off the belt. Everyone on the plane knows the belt doesn’t fit me, it is not a secret.
I found it surprising how short the flight was from Toronto (YYZ) to Orlando (MCO), it was just a tad longer than Saint John (YSJ) to Toronto (YYZ).
Many airports focus a lot more on the departure passengers over the arrivals. Orlando International is by far a huge exception. The airport consists of 4 terminals linked by automated light rail to the hub. The first thing that happens as you leave the plane is the announcements to where to go and what belt the luggage will be on. Usually, you are left to following signs and screens.
Once at the main terminal it has everything you possibly would need and is not as unreasonable as other airports. From the luggage area, it is filled with handlers to get people started on their vacation experience so that it starts as soon as you arrive. Disney parks, Disney Cruise, and other cruise lines have the logistics down to a science and make it perfectly effortless,
It is a really beautiful drive to Port Canaveral, there is something about Florida that makes it very unique like you are on safari, and the approaching winter light gives a different world experience.
When we arrived at the cruise port we received the “tip the driver and port people” speech and alighted the bus to wait in a 15-minute long line to get inside to check into the ship. The process was pretty effortless and was much like any other cruise.