Little Citizens of the World


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Third time’s the charm, right?

We are headed back to Ireland in April!  Our plan has always been to stay long term, but little glitches here and there have kept us from realizing our dream.  This time, however, I am hopeful that with a little extra paper work and several international phone calls we will be successful in our wild pursuit of Irish living.

We will be cruising, as always, but on a new line this time.  This time, we will be taking a Princess cruise.  As you may have read in my past posts, we absolutely LOVE Holland America Line, but they don’t get us close enough to the British Isles.  We have taken Queen Mary in the past and experienced the worst cruising possible, as you may also have read.  So although they are the most convenient to us, it’s not going to happen.

I am really excited to see what Princess cruising is like, but also apprehensive, as  I like to know what to expect ahead of time.  (Seriously, I Google Street Map my way through a new area before I go there, so I feel more familiar with it when I get there!)   I think I’m just a little wary due to our problems with Queen Mary II.

We’ll be staying in Cork City, our favourite place in the world, and we’re already planning all the places we’ll be visiting as soon as we get there.  The kids want to go to Fitzgerald Park and the city library, I can’t wait to go to the The Natural Foods Bakery (oh my gosh, their spelt hummous sandwiches!!) and Waterstones bookstore. And of course, we are desperate to see all of our friends again!

The previous two times we’ve been to Ireland, we’ve arrived in late summer/early autumn, and been back in the States by Christmas.  This time we get to spend spring and summer there!  I’m really looking forward to being there in different seasons, although the temperature in spring and summer is not much different than that of autumn!!

So we are planning and planning, I know it’s still 8 months away, but we have so much to do to get our house ready for rental season next summer.  Because we just bought our house, there are a lot of things we have to do immediately, rather than as needed, like we would do if we were staying in our home long term.  We’ve had to spend quite a bit at the garden center, so the yard will look nice come next spring.  I also have to consider having irrigation put in.  That’s not an expense I was anticipating.  Right now, we are going through a heat wave and everything is so dry.  Most of my neighbours have given up on watering their yards, which are now as brown and crunchy as overdone chocolate chip cookies.  Because I’ve got new plantings, I have to water everyday, early in the morning and after the sun goes down.  My sprinkler is on close to 8 hours a day.  I don’t want to know what my water bill is going to look like.

We have the last of our furniture being delivered early next week and, hopefully, that will be the end of big purchases for a while.  I’m hoping to spend most of September and October going through boxes in the basement, many of them have been packed up since before our Australia trip in 2012!

So that’s what’s happening in our lives right now, it’s all go as usual!

If any of you have taken a Princess cruise, I’d love to hear about it.  Leave a comment, or a link to your blog post!  In the meantime, enjoy some photos from the garden today!

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The Butterfly Weed for the Monarchs is forming tall seed pods.

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Bees are incredibly difficult to photograph, they’re all over the place.  Busy bees indeed!

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I love my wild roses

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One of three resident bunnies that have been feasting on our new plantings.

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The Holly berries are starting to turn!!!

 

 

 

 

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Queen Mary II Rant

I didn’t want to go there, I really didn’t, but I need to.  We had taken Queen Mary once before when we went to Ireland the first time.  I didn’t write about how awful it was, because I didn’t want the negativity on my blog.  Unfortunately, as we have now had the experience a second time, I think it needs to be said.

When we went over to Ireland the first time, we left New York on the trans Atlantic crossing to Southampton, UK.  It took 7 days.  On two separate occasions, staff members were not only rude, but condescending to me.  The food choices were so limited, the kids ate dinner rolls almost exclusively for the whole crossing.  Seriously.  One night while they were in the kids club (which they enjoyed immensely) I was actually crying in my room because I hated how they were always saying they were hungry and nothing tasted good.  Oh, and there was hair in the shower drain, not one or two, a lot!  I don’t think the shower had been cleaned.  I wanted to gag.

After that, I swore I’d never take that ship again.  Fast forward to our second trip to Ireland, and we were faced with flying home, overstaying our visa, or taking Queen Mary again.  I don’t fly.  I would never overstay a visa.  Reluctantly, I booked QM II and hoped it was just a bad crossing and this would be better.

WAITING FOR COACH TRANSFER: We were told to meet at Kings Cross Station London, by the arrival gates for our coach transfer to Southampton.  I arrived 2 hours early, because I have anxiety about missing connections, and dragged my kiddos all over that station asking everyone and their mother where the arrival gates were, no one knew.  When I finally found a security guard, he pointed to two silver doors that only opened from the outside.  There was no sign, there were no people waiting, there was nothing there except two solid metal doors between the many shops.  I was in a quiet panic as the meeting time approached and there was still no sign of anyone or anything that said Cunard.  Finally, as I returned to the plain doors for a third time, after running a few more loops through the station, with the kids and 6 bags, hoping to find someone, there was one couple standing there looking slightly out of place.  I asked if they were waiting for a coach by any chance and they were!  Hurrah!  At least I wouldn’t miss it alone.  About 10 minutes after the very strict (according to the email) meeting time, a woman showed up with a Cunard clip board.  We were then led to a cafe to await the coach.  Now, just so you don’t think it was just me being neurotic about the time, the couple waiting with me made several phone calls to Cunard trying to figure out if we were in the right place.  There should have been a sign.  Just a single sheet of paper taped to the door that said Cunard would have been fine.  So not very well planned out.  Seriously, why couldn’t we have all just met in the cafe????

UPON BOARDING:  For some reason, they decided to take fancy photos within 10 feet of walking onboard, thus holding up the line.  I didn’t want photos, I just wanted to get to my room.  I said ‘no, thank you’ to the photography staff and asked if they could tell me what deck I could find our cabin on.  I was abruptly pushed aside by photography staff so they could take photos of the next people in line (money over service).  No one answered my question.  I was actually standing there with tons of staff standing all around being completely ignored.  I went over to the nearest staff member and gave him my room number, he said we were lucky, as our cabin was on deck four, and that this was deck four.  We were not on deck four, we were on deck three.

We found our way to our cabin and I put in my key card.  Red light.  It didn’t work.  Now please keep in mind, I am not wealthy, I don’t have a driver to take me door to door, I don’t have a butler to carry our 6 bags, I don’t have a nanny to keep an eye on the kids, I have me.  So with the key not working, I’m getting a little frazzled.  I see a housekeeper further down the hall and explain my situation.  She doesn’t have a master key and can’t open the door (she turned out to be our housekeeper so I don’t know why her key card wouldn’t work)  I asked if she could please find someone to open the door for us.  She said unfortunately, we would have to go to the main desk and get a new key made up.  This is where I couldn’t take it anymore.  I said there was no way I was dragging all 6 of our bags and my two kids back through the chaos of new passengers boarding to get a new key that should have been working in the first place.  She said she would try to find someone.  15 minutes later, she returned with someone and they opened our door.  Finally.

No one was rude this time around, in fact, everyone was very, very nice.  It was Sky’s birthday and they were able to get a cake done up for her and they sang Happy Birthday that night at dinner.  She truly enjoyed it.  The dining room staff were wonderful.

THE LIDO: The food options were still the same.  I can’t understand it.  Let me give you an example of the one and only salad bar, there’s a bowl of lettuce (not a very big bowl, something you might use for a dinner party of 8 -10 guests) then 3 very small bowls with different sides, say onion, tomatoes and olives and your option of two dressings, vinaigrette, or raspberry vinaigrette.  This is just ridiculous.  Even I barely ate anything on this crossing.  So again, rolls were the main dish.   They do have a small kids menu, and the kids tried to eat the fish fingers but didn’t like them and the same with plain old cheeseburgers, they were gross, like something you’d get at a fast food place.

I did order room service one day when Sky was not well, and it was very good.  The room service menu was small, but far exceeded the Lido, so I ended up ordering lunch in every day.  There were no real options for the kids though.  They ate a lot of apples, french fries and, again, dinner rolls.

We also ordered breakfast in our rooms due to the lido being extremely busy in the morning, limited seating and the kids desire to get to Kids Zone on time.  Every day they got something wrong.  It became almost funny, the kids would ask, ” what did they mess up today?”  It was unacceptable.  I know I sound like a snob, but I’m absolutely not, and I’m telling you, this was so bad!  The kids toast and bagels arrived cold, every time!  Sometimes they brought sugar for my tea, sometimes they didn’t.  Fruit plate?  Yeah right!  Here’s a slice of melon and 3 strawberries.  I ordered orange juice for the kids every morning.  Sometimes it came, sometimes it didn’t.

THE KIDS ZONE:  This is where the kids hang out most of the day.  The ladies there are absolutely amazing!  I can’t say enough good things about them, they are wonderful.  The girls loved going there and were very sad to leave at the end of the week.  Truly, they were the one sliver of sunshine, and I am grateful to them.  Five stars and then some to Kids Zone.

OUR ROOM: There was more excitement when I moved the nightstand to push the two twin beds together the first night.  They ask you before you get on if you prefer two twins or a king, it doesn’t matter.  I had chosen twins, but Sparrow wanted to be closer (Sky was on the fold out couch).  So I moved the nightstand out from between the two beds and pushed Sparrows bed over.  I then tripped over a platform sandal that had been under her bed.  There was also a t-shirt.  I was pretty disgusted that no one had bothered to clean under the bed and kicked them both back under with the toe of my shoe.  I then moved Sparrows nightstand over so I could put the other nightstand (that I had moved from between the beds) beside it.  There was the other sandal.  Gross.  The rooms hadn’t been properly cleaned and checked over.

It wasn’t too long after that Sky dropped a tiny stuffed animal down between the mattress and side of the fold out couch.  When I half folded it up, so I could get the little toy, there were used wads of tissues, used ear plugs, and candy wrappers all underneath.  If I could have tossed the little stuffed toy in the trash, I would have done immediately.  I felt sick to my stomach.

THE HALLWAYS:  They stunk of cigarette smoke and the maids carts fill the entire length of the halls ALL DAY.  If you were a wheelchair user, you’d have to flag a housekeeper down (good luck finding one) and ask them to move each one, and the vacuums so you could get in/out of your hallway and to the lifts.  Depending on where your room is, this could be as many as 6+ carts.

The final straw that sunk the Queen Mary II for us was within 3 days, Sky had a few bumps on her hands that she said itched.  They were tiny and I didn’t think much of it, so said the typical mom thing, “try not to itch them, and they’ll go away.”  They didn’t, and she had a few more show up during the week.  The morning after we arrived home, her arms were covered with rows of tiny bumps that itched terribly.  Two days after arriving home, I had about 20 itchy bumps on my hands and forearms too.  Yes, bed bugs.  This put me over the edge.  I will never, EVER take the Queen Mary II again.  I had to throw away all of my luggage, put all the stuffed animals in a bag in the freezer and hope beyond hope that they hadn’t come with us off the ship.  Luckily, they had not and within a few days, the bumps were gone.

That is my rant on Queen Mary II.  I wish it weren’t like that.  I wish it had been a wonderful experience like we have always had on Holland America, but it was not.  The fact that you pay just as much for a 7 day crossing on Cunard, with no shore days, that you would pay on a 20+ day crossing on Holland America, with many shore days, is just insane.  You are truly paying for a name only.

I was so disgusted with this ship, I didn’t even bother to take pictures.  I was just too put off , I hardly left the room.  The next time we take a cruise, it will be with Holland America, and I’ll take tons of photos so you can see how absolutely amazing their ships are.

Thanks for listening.


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Amsterdam

So close to Ireland right now, I can almost smell it.  …Or maybe that’s the weed :/

So Amsterdam.  Not a fan.

I don’t know, maybe it was the stress of the impending journey, but I didn’t really like Amsterdam.  It was packed, I mean PACKED with people.  You could barely walk down the street it was so jammed with pedestrians.  The architecture is extraordinary, and we took the canal boats all around so we could see the gorgeous construction.  The kids enjoyed the canal boats, but they didn’t like the busyness.

If you plan on going to the Van Gogh museum or Anne Frank house, book your tickets online in advance.  We couldn’t get into either, the lines were insane.  The Anne Frank house had a 5.5 hour wait when we walked by.  Yikes!

This is an over night stop that ends this crossing, so we get off tomorrow and make our way to Ireland

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The architecture is amazing

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Train station

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Canal boat water taxi


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Bergen, Norway

I keep forgetting that my version of a big city is very different from the European version.  I think LA or New York, but European cities are much older, much more artistic in their architecture and, for the most part, don’t have massively tall skyscrapers blotting out the landscape.

I have heard of Bergen before, I knew it was a big city, but it’s sort of not.  I mean it’s a major metropolitan European city, but it’s got a small town local charm that I adore.

It was a little windy and 57F when we got off the ship, There’s a bit of a walk from the cruise terminal to the waterfront, but it’s enjoyable.  The shops along the water are very old and no more than 3 stories high.  There are lots of shops and restaurants too.  We walked around a bit, stopping at almost every souvenir shop we passed by, and were back onboard for a late lunch in the lido.  It’s a very pleasant waterfront with lots to see and do.  We didn’t have any shore excursions, so we enjoyed the stroll and headed back.

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Waterfront shopping and resaurants

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This was taken from behind the waterfront shops

 


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Alesund, Norway

It was a great day in Alesund!  It was a little overcast, but not too bad.  We had a splendid little walk all over the waterfront and around the many corners.  It was absolutely spotless, I have to say, I was really impressed with the complete lack of litter or even cigarette butts anywhere.  Every once in a while, it would start to sprinkle, but it held off and we were able to enjoy the pretty potted flowers that decorated the town.

Norway has a very strong folklore history and they still hold true to it today.  You can’t go anywhere in Norway without seeing trolls.  There are trolls everywhere, Christmas ornaments, refrigerator magnets, dolls, miniatures, giant statues, and books upon books upon books.  I love it!  There’s a lot to be said for fairy tales, and we are loving these fuzzy little guys.

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Geiranger, Norway

This is a tender port (life boats to shore).  We entered the fjord very early this morning, approximately 6:30am, but we’ve had so many time changes, it feels so much earlier than that.  We’ve actually had two 1 hour time changes in two days, so yeah.  So I did get up and have a look out the window around 7am, but there was no way I was heading out on deck.

Luckily, this is a very, very tiny little stop, so we were able to get a tender at 11:45am and, although it was sprinkling down rain pretty steadily, we had a nice walk round.  My pictures simply can’t do justice to the immensity of the walls of this incredible fjord.  They are so unbelievably tall, and the waterfalls look like they’re coming down in slow motion, they’re so high up.  Because we didn’t have a shore excursion, we just did the souvenir shops that are right at the dock, of course.  We did stop into a small grocery shop and low and behold…..SMARTIES!!!!  They don’t have Smarties in the US.  Well, not the same kind they have in Europe.  American Smarties are those little tart things you get at Halloween.  European Smarties are like M&M’s, but as Hershey is not big in Europe, they have their own brand.  Personally, I prefer M&M’s, but the girls LOVE Smarties.

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SMARTIES!!!!!!!

For anyone who may have thought that Norway wasn’t a place for gourmet cuisine, check out this squeeze tube bacon we found!  Now with 50% more bacon!!

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Yum!

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That orange boat is a tender coming back, while we’re going out.

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It’s so much more amazing in real life.

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We are standing at the end of the fjord.

Later that day, the girls enjoyed a snack while watching the crew oil the lifeboat cables.

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Almost Djupivogur, Iceland

We were supposed to stop in Djupivogur today, but as it’s a tender port, and the weather is not very good, the captain has announced that we’ll be skipping it and carrying on to Geiranger, Norway.  He says that the tenders won’t be able to dock as it’s to rocky by shore, and that there’s not enough for the ships anchor to hold on to, to keep the ship steady while passengers are getting on and off lifeboats from the ships platform.  Apparently, there’s going to be some very bad weather coming up towards Iceland, so it’s better that we get going and try to keep ahead of it.

I had to get Sky from Club HAL tonight, she just wasn’t feeling it.  It’s so much rockier at the top of the ship anyway, than down where we are.  When I went up to get her, the ship tracking channel said we were having winds of 50kts.  They’re supposed to decrease as the night goes on.  Fingers crossed.

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It’s not very clear, but this is the channel you can watch 24/7 that gives the ships position, temperature, wind speed, etc.  It’s very helpful.