Cruising to fifty, part two: Frodo and the immovable bus

This is the second part of a series of blogs about the cruise the Wife and I went on last October.You can read part one here.

A quick set up:

I turned 50 on October 6, 2012. My wife surprised me about three weeks before, during a particular low spot in my life with a piece of paper. “Happy birthday,” she said. I opened the paper and quickly scanned it.

“We’re going on a cruise?” I said, and my mind kind of shut down with happiness after that. In fact, it wasn’t until several minutes later, as I was refolding the paper, that I saw the word “Greece” and just about shit. This is the story of what happened on that trip, taken almost exclusively from the diary I kept along the way.

Have mercy
Been waitin’ on the bus all day

ZZ Top

October 6 – My birthday!

I turned fifty over the Atlantic, but didn’t notice it until a couple of hours later. Could be I was tired. Could be I was old. Either way, I’d crossed that threshold.

The flight landed twenty minutes early and for the first time, I stepped on European land. Not that I had time to think about it. I think we’re spoiled in Canada and the U.S. when we walk off the plane and straight into the terminal. In Venice, we walked down a flight of stairs, stood on the tarmac and a crazed transport driver came by and did his best to make us puke, or at least drop us all to our knees on the ten minute drive from plane to terminal. Sharp turns with no warning, rapid acceleration and rapid stops were the order of the day.

We managed to hold down our nasty airline food and, once in the airport, desperately look for a washroom. I was quite happy I was male at this time, as I was able to simply walk in, find a free urinal, and do what I needed to do, which was to pee in my first European urinal. You’re a peein’ indeed! My wife, on the other hand, lined up for a solid twenty minutes. We both survived, then got our baggage, then we assembled to wait for our transport to the ship. If I’d known exactly how exasperating it was going to be, I would have hired a taxi. Ah well, hindsight’s 20/20, right?

So the first endurance test was to wait within the terminal. We had to wait until all the Transat travelers arrived. No biggie. The plan was to hop on the bus and get delivered to our various floating holiday accomodations, the Divina, the Jade, and ours, the Splendour of the Seas.

It wasn’t a horrible wait. We’d landed by noon local time, got our luggage by 12:30, and by 1:00, a short, balding, slightly anxious, hobbit-like driver walked us from the terminal to the bus with his hand raised to shoulder height–this from a guy barely scraping 5’3″–as though that hand could be followed through all of Middle Earth to the depths of Mordor.

Ten-ish minutes later, we were at the bus and we separated our luggage out depending on which ship we were headed to. A second group showed up, all headed for the Divina. We were all told to wait outside the bus. It was about ridiculously hot outside, but one of the other passengers described the bus as being “about 900 degrees” so we figured outside was better. Twenty minutes later, our hobbit driver started up the bus and the air conditioning and loaded us on. We were left with the impression we would leave shortly and, after eight hours in a cramped seat on the plane, here we were again, stuffed into a seat with no legroom. Meanwhile, Frodo was out chatting up another bus driver and sweating profusely.

Soon, a couple more groups showed up, stowed their luggage and got on the bus. It’s probably important to note at this point that this bus could likely seat about 70 people. I mention this because that first group I mentioned? The ones going to the Divina? There were eight of them, four couples. They obviously felt a deep, abiding love for each other and very much looked forward to spending a week with each other at sea, because when they got on the bus, they each claimed a section of two seats for themselves. Yes…sixteen seats for eight people. Four couples. Or, should I say, eight ignorant assholes. The other groups that got on the bus kind of gave them all the stink eye, then moved toward the back of the bus.

Anyway, it’s now about 1:45, almost two hours since we’ve landed, when Frodo finally climbs aboard and puts it into gear. Yay! I think, prematurely. We drive out of the parking lot, down a short laneway and get out to what looks like a main thoroughfare–a total distance of maybe a quarter-mile. Frodo then says, “Sorry!” and some other stuff in Italian that we couldn’t catch, then pulled a U-turn and we headed right back to the dreaded parking lot. He parked us in the exact same spot and leapt from the bus and ran back to the terminal.

Several minutes later, sweating worse now, he showed back up with more people and luggage.  He’d stow their luggage, direct them on the bus, grab a little fanny pack from the driver’s cockpit, say something about dropping off tickets, then scoot back to the terminal. Ten minutes later, he’d show up again.

With more travelers and luggage. Which would start the whole cycle all over again. Stow, direct, fanny pack, tickets, scoot, ten minutes.

Every time he came back, there was a feeling of anticipation, of woo-hoo, we’re on our way! Each time we saw more travelers, that feeling would deflate again. This went on for five full trips to and from the terminal for Frodo. By now, it was just getting old.

A solid hour after he’d left the parking lot, then returned, somewhere around 3:00, we’ve now been in Venice a total of three hours and seen nothing but an airport, a parking lot, a bus and a tantalizing glimpse of what lay beyond. We finally left the parking lot again, the bus packed to the gills and the ignorant assholes finally having to give up their individual sections and sit with each other.

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Our first real glimpse of Venice from the bus.

On the way into Venice

On the way into Venice

Our first glimpse of our ship

Our first glimpse of our ship

Fifteen minutes later, we were at our boat. We’d waited almost two and a half hours for a fifteen minute trip. Goddamn.

Anyway, the Royal Caribbean staff were all young, attractive and friendly and we were welcomed with big smiles. From their welcome, we then walked down a long, covered gangway and then…then we were on our ship. And it was beautiful.

The ship from the gangway

We found our way to our room and it actually had a birthday greeting right on the door. Karen let me open the door and I found the room decorated with birthday s

tuff. Holy crap! In all the fuss with Frodo, I’d forgotten it was still actually my birthday.

By now, it was about 3:30 local time, or about 9:30 am by what my internal clock was telling me. We’d been up for about 28 straight hours. We were tired and hungry.

We headed down to the solarium–a beautiful area, by the way–and had an excellent carved roast beef sandwich and it was nice to just sit in a comfortable chair with legroom  and look out at Venice sprawled in front of us.


At 4:30 (29 hours and counting), everyone had to attend muster–gathering beneath our designated lifeboat (ours was #10) and were taught, in English, Italian, German and Spanish, how to put on a lifejacket. It was interestingly refreshing to not get the instructions in French, as we would have in Canada.

We took a couple of pictures then went back to the cabin for a nap. Okay, I went back for a nap.

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I’d just laid down when Karen dragged me back out–twice–to look at interesting things. The launch of the ship out of port and Venice sliding by.

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I should say, it’s always been a dream of mine to go to Venice. And here it was. I wanted to enjoy it. I truly did. But 30 hours awake and 4500 miles of travel by plane, bus and ship had done their work. I fell on the bed and died.

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I woke up at 6:30. Karen had been too excited to sleep, so she’d taken pictures and unpacked. I’d slept through it all.

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It was time for dinner, so I clambered into the teeny, tiny shower and scrubbed off the exhaustion of the past day and a half, got dressed and we headed down for dinner. I had an excellent dinner of pork medallions, mashed potatoes and mushrooms in a ragout sauce with a Caesar salad. Dessert was Strawberry Povlova…which was crazy good.

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We took a brief walk around the ship, then came back to the cabin and we both fell down in exhaustion.

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And that’s how I turned fifty years old. A little rough in spots, but overall, it turned out fantastic. Story of my life!

Mediterrean Cruise - October 2012 124-2Tomorrow was going to be a better day.

See part three here.


Naming the Monster

The Boy came downstairs to my office the other night. “Dad, I need your help,” says the Boy. “I’ve got some homework and I know I should be able to do this, but I’m kinda brainfarting.”

Yeah, been there. I figured it was going to be something to do with either his Math homework or Science. He’s good at both, but there’s times when he needs a little clarification. That’s cool, I’m still good with Grade 9 Math even after all these years. I can factor with the best of them.

And Science, well, I’m actually much better with the broad subjects now, I understand them better. Hell, I was even able to talk intelligently about quantum microchips for computers last week.

So, I figure I’m okay.

“So what’s the problem, dude?” I ask the Boy.

“I’ve got this homework assignment and…well…” He’s struggling, I can see that clearly.

“Which subject?” I ask, figuring, take your pick son, I’m good with either choice.

“French,” he says.


“French?” I ask. I can’t believe he’s even taken a trip down the stairs for a question pertaining to the French language. I kind of have a mutant ability that allows me to completely fracture and destroy that language. I mean, seriously, a language that separates everything into male or female? Completely messes me up.

So I give him a look.

“No no no,” he says. “It’s something you should be able to help with.”

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll bite. What is it?”

That’s when he unfurls a page with a very cool looking…monster of some sort. Hand drawn by him. Kid’s got some serious skills when it comes to Art. Which screws me up. I’m looking at a drawing. French? No, he must mean Art.

“You mean Art, right?”



“So I drew this,” the Boy says. “But I have to come up with a name for it. A good monster name…and I can’t think of anything.”

Of course, as soon as he says that, all naming creativity leaves my brain.

Kind of like a fart.

“Um…” I say, oh so eloquently.

“Yeah,” he says. “See what I mean?”

So we toss around a couple of ideas. I throw out “Angaar, the Giant Celery Stalk that Walked Like a Man”. He seems a little taken with “Angaar” which I meant solely as a joke to get the gears grinding. So I have to work fast.

I google “monster name generator” in desperation. Damned if there isn’t a few to choose from. But we quickly found out they all suck.

Jaguar Regulator. Violet Tome Brood. These are monster names?

Many asked for your name and then randomly generated an answer. We tried my name. Star Hoarde the Dark. We tried the Boy’s. Rust Widow the Wretched. We tried Richard Simmons’. Corpse Shifter the Terror…are they serious? These were…I don’t know, not exciting. Not monsterish enough. The best name had something to do with snot. Snotrot the Unyielding or something.

Okay, Plan B.

Who created some of the most fearsome monsters of all time? Why, H.P. Lovecraft of course. Cthulhu. Shub-Niggurath. Yog Sothoth. Nug. Hastur the Unspeakable. A ton of them, all fearsome as heck. And they SOUND like monsters! Yay, Lovecraft!

But, sadly, the Boy liked none of them.

I was now fresh out of Plan B’s. Or Plan Any Other Letter.

So, in desperation, I just googled “monster names” and started going through the answers. In one case, someone had put on one of those ask forums, “I need a cool name for a monster for a story I have. What do you suggest?”

There was a host of answers. Most lame, some dumb. Valtor, Valek, Damien, Davile, Scorne, Drone, Karma, Requia, Clawwser, Dracondevil. And then, at the end, one wag had suggested Keith.

That was kind of funny. I kept surfing. I kept reading.

The Boy kept saying, “Keith. That’s funny.”

I guffawed and continued searching.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m kinda diggin’ Keith.”

“Really,” I say. I kind of giggle. The absurdity of a fearsome, eyeless, multi-legged beast from the depths of…well the depths of the Boy’s mind. This nasty killing machine with the horrible, bowel-loosening name of…Keith.

“It’s growing on you, isn’t it?” he says. I can hear the smirk in his voice.

And, in the end, I can’t deny it.

“Yeah,” I say. “It works in some wierd way.”

“Good enough,” says the Boy, grabbing the drawing from the desk and heading out of my office. “Keith it is. Thanks, Dad!”

Behold, the awesome, knee-trembling terror of Keith, the monster.

My work here is done.