Yes, I just turned 70. Seventy years old!
My wife, the Beautiful AP, told me to choose any trip I wanted as a 70th birthday present and I decided on a cruise that would start in Copenhagen and go to Norway, Shetland Islands, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and finish in Southampton, England.
I love cruising. My wife doesn’t. Despite my love for it, I found this particular cruise somewhat irritating and, at times, anger-provoking.
First off, you might think that at 70, I would be one of the oldest on this ship. Not so. Passengers went from somewhat young to middle to my age to the truly elderly; meaning those who had trouble walking, or breathing, or thinking, or figuring out where they were at any given time. These folks dominated the cruise and some suffered all of the aforementioned maladies.
And fat! There were more fat people (myself included) on the ship than slim ones. Some even made me look slim.
Many of the passengers were grumpy too. Okay, my nickname is Grumpy Grandpa, but I am aware of my surroundings and can find my way from point A to point B.
When AP and I signed up for a three-hour walking tour of Reykjavik, the day was a downpour of rain. Still, we wanted to go on the walking tour. What’s a little water? We paid $$$$ for the tour.
We had done a couple of hours seeing the city the day before on our own and we wanted the full experience of this small capital. Walking in the rain, the shine or the in-between was fine with us. We could dry off on the ship.
We were the first on the minibus. We joked with the tour guide about the fact that it might just be the two of us on the tour.
Then the other 14 people arrived, seven of them so decrepit that they had a hard time walking on the pier from the ship to the minibus. They had to be helped onto the bus! I’m 70, okay; and I have nothing against old people. But for God’s sake, if you can’t walk, why the hell would you sign up for a three-hour walking tour?
Three women of the seven decrepits immediately proclaimed that they assumed we would stay on the bus and make this a bus tour. Their proclamation sounded more like a demand. The tour guide said she would mostly do that.
I looked at AP and she looked at me. We paid $$$$ to sit in a minibus on a walking tour?
On the tour we did get out of the bus a few times. At one point we toured a sculpture garden, which was a beautiful place even in the pouring rain. One of the three complainers seemed to get lost, right in the middle of the garden, and went round and round in a circle—not a big circle, a little one, maybe a dozen feet in diameter. She was lost; in the garden and in her mind; in her eyes I could see the eyes my mother and father and father-in-law had when they were struck with Alzheimer’s.
I helped her by taking her arm and guiding her out of the garden to the minibus.
On the ship was an old guy, ever clad in a bathrobe, wandering around, not knowing what deck he was on or where his room was. Members of the crew kindly escorted him back to his room. He was lucky he didn’t fall off the ship. What was the purpose of putting this poor soul on a ship sailing the often rough seas of the North Atlantic?
The Back Story
Let me back up. We left Kennedy Airport on July 4th. We were travelling first class as I like to. This irritates the Beautiful AP since she thinks it is not worth the money. She has no problem telling everyone in first class that she prefers coach. So much for me being a big shot.
When we went to the boarding area we met a couple, Mr. Foister and Ms. Mute, who immediately struck up a conversation; well, Mr. Foister did. He couldn’t stop talking. His wife, Ms. Mute, looked the other way.
“Why don’t we have dinner the next two nights in Copenhagen since we are all going to be there? It’s great that we’re staying at the same hotel. We can share a taxi too. This is going to be some trip.”
Then Mr. Foister started making plans for us on the cruise. “You know there is a big art contingent on the cruise. We collect art. You should come see us analyze the art works….” He was verbally off and running. His wife frowned and ignored him. AP and I made no commitments, which was easy because there was no opportunity for us to say anything.
Throughout the plane ride Mr. Foister hung out with the crew and knocked back one drink after another. When AP tried slipping by him to go to the lavatory, he started up again about all the things we could do together in Copenhagen and on the ship. She told him we were meeting friends and that she likes to keep her options open.
AP returned from the lavatory and whispered, “We have our trip planned. He’s foisting himself on us.”
“How do you want to handle this?”
“I guess we’ll just try to avoid them,” she said.
“No, do you really want to skulk around the ship trying to avoid them? It’s a small ship. What about Jerry and Tres? Do you think they want to spend time with Foister and Mute?”
“So what can we do?” she asked.
“I’m going to tell him right out that we have our own plans,” I said. “Then we don’t have to skulk around. That will end it.”
The Beautiful AP argued with me about this and I pretended she won the argument. (This is my new tactic and one I recommend to husbands everywhere.)
As we left the plane, AP went to the bathroom and Mr. Foister came up to me. “Hey, so let’s get that cab to the Marriott together.”
“We’re not hanging out with you,” I said. “We are getting our own cab. We have our own plans for this trip.”
Since he was still somewhat drunk, he staggered back and his face had that drunken questioning look. “Uh, ah, uh.”
“You understand, right?”
He understood. And that was what I had up my sleeve when I let AP think she won the argument. We did see Mr. Foister and Ms. Mute a couple of times on the ship but it was no big deal. Mr. Foister always seemed to be latched on to someone—a different someone every time I saw him.
“You were right,” AP finally said to me.
I love hearing that!
Copen-HAY-gen or Copen-HOG-en?
Recall that old commercial “Certs is a breath mint. No, Certs is a candy mint.” Then an announcer’s voice would say, “Stop, stop, you’re both right!” Well, how you pronounce Copenhagen can be either one of the above.
Copenhagen is a city of canals and we took a wonderful canal tour. You had to be careful because some of the bridges are so low that even people my height (5’6”) have to duck or lose their heads and what a mess that would be.
The Beautiful AP climbed all 400 steps of the Church of Our Saviour’s staircase that spirals round and round the outside of the building. While she did that climb, I sat in the churchyard fast asleep. Neither of us had slept on the plane ride over here and I was flat out exhausted. Oh, and we couldn’t get into our hotel room until four o’clock that afternoon.
The highlight of the trip occurred the next day; our personal three-hour tour hosted by Stuart. We hired him through the tour group Viator and he was well worth the price.
When he met us, the Beautiful AP asked, “How’s your English?”
He laughed, “Pretty good. I’m American.”
The man was in fact funny, delightful, and knowledgeable; he’s lived in 24 countries. The three hours flew by as we learned about the kings (Christian, Frederick, Christian, Frederick…) and some queens, and armies and wars. I never knew that as the Nazis ordered the Danes to hand their Jews over, the Danes clandestinely ushered their Jewish citizenry safely out of the country. There is a building built by Israel acknowledging this amazing achievement.
With Stuart, we discussed many current-day issues including immigration and how Denmark is handling the settlement of Muslim refugees. The Danish government integrates them into society throughout the country, thereby avoiding enclaves like we see in countries such as England, France and Germany.
If you do visit Copenhagen, you might want to tour with Stuart. You also might want to eat at two fabulous restaurants, Amass and Restaurant Kanalen. And ride a bicycle. The young, the old, the moms, the pops, and the kids zoom hither and thither through the streets on bikes.
AP and I would definitely visit this city again.
Azamara Journey is a small ship that carries some 600 passengers and about four hundred crew. This small ship was set to tackle the sometimes rough waves of the North Atlantic Ocean and at times it was damn rough.
This was the 32nd cruise for our travelling companions, Jerry “Stickman” and his lovely wife, the Sainted Tres. It was our fourth.
We had great rooms, right at the bow of the ship, with wide vistas and we figured we’d spend many a late afternoon relaxing on our connected balconies, indulging in wine and conversation. Not to happen. With the exception of a couple of days (make that hours!), the weather was too cold, too cloudy, too rainy, too windy and the seas too choppy to sit outside, so we scurried to a lovely inside destination called the Living Room.
The very first day we were “at sea” and we would be “at sea” five of the 12 days we were on the ship. This became monotonous—and also put me in a frame of mind that almost caused me to punch out another passenger, maybe two; something I hadn’t done in over 50 years since my boxing days.
The ship had two gourmet restaurants, one Italian and one a steak house, one general restaurant, a buffet and smaller food service places scattered throughout. You do not go hungry on a cruise. Most passengers gain weight. Not AP, of course. She always took the stairs and hit the gym all but one day.
Our first tour was Mount Dalsnibba in Norway. We would take a bus up the two winding roads leading to the two peaks of the mountain range. I hadn’t really read the blurb about this tour as I simply got us on every tour Tres and Jerry had signed up for. Big mistake on my part.
The first ride up the first mountain was harrowing, with hairpin turns and a very narrow road on which our LARGE bus had to travel. What kind of maniac would want to take such a tour? Oh, right, Jerry “Stickman” who has jumped out of planes 450 times! This was his nutty idea and I just signed us up for it because he was on it – next time I’ll read the blurb.
We made it up to Eagle’s Bend Viewpoint and actually saw a brown eagle, and, yes, the view was amazing but it could not calm down the terror that had welled in me as with each turn. Then what goes up must (damnit!) go down.
I asked our tour guide, “Is the next mountain road just as bad?”
She smiled serenely, “No, you did the hard part already. The next one is easy.”
Arrrggghhh! She lied! It was far, far worse; far, far longer; far, far narrower and far, far more harrowing. In fact, from my seat on the bus I saw no road, just drops that were hundreds (millions) of feet deep.
Oh, sure, the scenery was spectacular. But screw the damn scenery! I could die on this road or, rather, off this road if the bus had a flat tire or the driver sneezed or a slight wind blew against the side of the bus. We would plummet down and down and down. No survivors, I’m sure.
Around and around on the mountain road we snaked at speeds that seemed a hundred miles an hour. I was sweating by the time we got to the top of a snow-covered mountain!
“That lake over there, the big one, has no life in it. Not fish or plants. It cannot harbor any life at all,” said the guide. Great we were looking at a dead lake, as in d-e-a-d.
I don’t care how beautiful the scenery was; I knew one thing – I had to get back on the bus and make an even more treacherous journey down the mountain side. Then I saw them; bicyclists pumping their bike’s pedals going up the damn mountain. What the hell was wrong with these people?
I did try to look at the scenery and feel its beauty because it was so beautiful, but the horror of the past and the upcoming return trip just didn’t allow me to enjoy it. My mind just kept repeating to me, “We’re gonna die! We’re gonna die!”
One woman came up to me. “I can see you are afraid of heights.” She was trying to be comforting.
“I’m afraid of death,” I said flatly.
The guide announced we were to now get on the bus for the return trip, the death trip, down that mountain road. How could they even call that sliver of concrete a “road”?
I took my seat, put on my seatbelt, kissed AP. “Uhm, that was a nice kiss,” she said.
“Goodbye my love,” I said. “We’ve had a great run, you and I.”
“Scobe, just close your eyes and don’t look down. This will end shortly.”
“Yes,” I said dramatically. “In the blink of an eye.”
She smiled and gave me a kiss on the forehead.
I closed my eyes and prayed, which is hard to do when you’re an atheist.
Dear God please don’t let me die. I’ve got too much to live for. Please don’t let a leaf hit the bus and knock it over the edge and down into the valley. God, take pity on me and on all the other people on this bus. Jesus, if God is too busy to bother, or he’s pissed off at the things I’ve said about religion and religious people, maybe you could just make sure the bus makes it down the mountain safely. Or if you are busy maybe Mary can come on over and keep the bus on the road, after all I am a son and Mary is a mother. My prayers are sincere. If there are any Norse gods hanging around please save us. Thor, you could save us. Please keep me alive. Really, I’ve been a good man. I haven’t hurt anyone, even those who have hurt me. Please, God, I want to live!
“Open your eyes,” said AP.
“Are we falling off the mountain?”
“No, we are down now,” she said.
I opened my eyes. The bus had stopped. I hadn’t even noticed that.
“We’re alive! We’re alive!”
Now I could be an atheist again.
There is a great mystery show you can get on Netflix titled Shetland. That will give you an amazing view of these islands and the surrounding sea. Again, this was a bus trip with the slowest people seated up front and struggling to get out of the bus, holding everyone back.
“We have 15 minutes at this stop. Please everyone return at 12:15,” said the guide.
At 12:10 we managed to finally get off the bus. We got to see an argument between a mother and son as the mother wanted to walk and the son wanted to push her in the wheelchair. Walk? Walk uphill on a gravel road? Mom could barely stand.
Once released from the bus, the Beautiful AP and I zipped up the gravel road, zipped back down, and waited to get on the bus as mother and son slowly made their way back up the three steps. They never went to the top of the hill. Indeed, they never left the door of the bus.
We visited the Scalloway Museum and learned about the Shetland Bus. During World War II, the Shetlanders, Norwegian fisherman and Allied forces courageously ferried a vast array of armaments to the Resistance in Norway and smuggled out 350 people who would have been murdered in Hitler’s Holocaust.
There was a small castle next to the museum and AP characteristically went to climb up it.
I was sitting outside the museum. Near to me was a table filled with middle-aged and older men, a couple of guides and bus drivers. It was then when we saw She. Yes, She was there.
She appeared in her tight, low-cut, black and white striped dress, holding her cell phone up, taking selfies. The men watched her as She lifted her dress high over her knees (click! click!) or bent low in front of them so they could see her rather ample breasts dangling inside her dress (click! click!) or then bend over so they could see her wiggle her perfect butt in her perfect dress just a few yards from their faces.
Men are hard wired and a delicious dame wiggling, bending, posing and hiking up her dress in front of them just riveted their attention.. Finally, She jumped up onto a low stone wall, lifted her skirt almost all the way, and clicked! clicked! more selfies. I was riveted too – by her narcissism. I brought AP over to watch this.
Back at the ship we saw She sunning herself. One of her boobs fell out of her skimpy swimsuit as She turned over in her lounge chair. She slowly put her breast back into her bathing suit after fondling it a little bit. Many eyes bugged out at that. We didn’t see She after that as the waters got rough and the days were cold, wet and unsettled.
Akureyri Iceland and Planet Fart
This was an interesting trip for one reason—I got to see and smell the largest fart in the world! Okay, not exactly. First we were taken to the extremely disappointing waterfall of the gods where Iceland’s religion supposedly germinated. (Note: AP enjoyed the waterfalls.) We drove through the hillside to see amazing lava fields from volcanic eruptions past and present. The monstrous lava boulders and landscapes were indeed interesting.
Then we arrived at Planet Fart. We could smell this new planet from a mile or so away. “What the hell is that?” people asked. People scrunched their faces and looked around the bus to see who had cut a monstrous fart. The consensus was the old guy with the hearing aid in the front seat.
We parked and nothing looked Earthlike. The hills were shades of brown from almost off-white to doo-doo dark, in confusing streaks. There was no life on those hills either; there was no life anywhere near us. All around were bubbling lava or mud pits causing that awful stench. Steam rose from many of these pits. This was fart-land pure and simple.
Even AP, who finds fart humor completely unfunny, laughed at my fart jokes in this locale.
Days at Sea and I Lose It
We had to endure five days when we were “at sea.” The ship offers all sorts of activities on sea days. Jerry “Stickman,” the Sainted Tres, the Beautiful AP and I enjoy trivia, although we are not very good at it. But it was fun and something to do as the waves swelled and the ship lurched.
There were all sorts of trivia contests: modern music, modern love songs, iconic places on earth; fast food symbols; movie themes; sports stars; airplane symbols and the like. You could have a maximum of six members on your team.
I had taken a nap on the first day at sea. AP came back to the room. “I can’t believe it,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
“Believe what?” I said.
“I was playing trivia with my group and this other group challenged every answer we gave. And we were right. It was two older guys and a woman.”
“There are shitheads everywhere,” I said in a comforting voice.
“That woman tried to tell us that MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City are one and the same. Can you believe that? She tried to get the host to disqualify my answer. I told her I have been to both and they are different museums.”
Fortunately, the host ruled AP’s answer as correct.
That afternoon we all decided to play the battle of the sexes. The women made up one group, maybe a dozen of them, and a dozen of the men made up the other group.
As we entered the room AP nudged me and whispered, “There are the men.” I looked over at the two men. One looked scornful and the other resembled a mouse. Both men were ignoring everyone else.
Jerry and I sat down.
AP and Tres went over to the women. AP nodded to me to tell me the MoMA woman was on her team. The woman looked like a wicked witch ready to devour a small child.
So the game began. I had to do a charade cataloging four things. I did five because I mistakenly acted out the label for our group: Men. I finished a single second behind my wife the Beautiful AP who did the required four. Scornmale looked at me with scorn and Mouseman shook his head as if to say, “That guy [meaning me] is an idiot.”
The game kept going back and forth, each side answering trivia questions. Mouseman, Scornmale or MoMA challenged whatever answer they could.
Finally, the women were given this question “How many movies has Rocky appeared in?” The women conferred. “Five,” said MoMA.
“Sorry, that is wrong,” said the host. MoMA then argued but the host said, “I stand by my decision.” He was right that MoMA was wrong.
Then we got to answer that question. I yelled out “seven!” and quickly listed all the movies where Rocky appeared.
“Sorry, no. Rocky is in the title of only six,” said the host.
“You didn’t ask what movies had Rocky in the title,” I said.
“My decision is final,” said the host.
“You didn’t ask the titles of the movies,” I pleaded. I looked at my fellow teammates. “He didn’t ask the titles of the movies.”
“You were not supposed to shout out!” yelled Scornmale at me.
“You lost that round for us and we only tied the game,” said Mouseman.
“But I am right,” I said.
“You caused us not to win this game,” said Scornmale.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I am sorry but the host is wrong. At least we tied.”
“We would have won this game if you hadn’t shouted out,” said Mouseman.
“Look, I am sorry,” I said. “I just knew the answer.”
“And we only tied,” said Scornmale. Mouseman rolled his beady eyes.
My last words at this battle of the sexes were “I’m sorry. Really, I am.” The two men ignored me and left the room.
I found out sometime later that in trivia these three folks were undefeated.
We played trivia some more. Yes, their team consistently won. Scornmale, Mouseman and MoMA sat haughtily through every game.
Finally, the moment came. This particular trivia contest had only two teams: us versus them. Us this time did not have Jerry and Tres; they were elsewhere. AP and I were with Barbara and her husband Ray (two great passengers) versus the three of them with another snooty person added to their team.
“Using the letter ‘O’ name something with a tail.”
Our team agreed, “Ostrich!” I said it again. “Ostrich!”
“Team left wins!” said the host.
“Wait a minute! Wait just a minute!” said Scornmale. “Ostriches don’t have tails.”
“Yes, they do,” I said. “They have tail feathers, thus a tail.”
“They do not have tail feathers. They do not have tails,” shouted Mouseman.
“Team left wins unless you can show that ostriches do not have tails,” said the host.
MoMA said, “This is ridiculous! Birds don’t have tails!”
“Yes, they do, and we win,” I said.
There was more mumbling from them. Scornmale stood up and pointed his finger. “I challenge this decision!”
Mouseman shouted, “Okay, wise guy, do chickens have tails? Huh? Do chickens have tails?”
“I am not talking about chickens,” I said. “The ostrich is the bird we are talking about.”
“Oh, yeah,” yelled Mouseman. “Answer my question. Do chickens have tails? Come on, do chickens have tails?” These guys were really heated. I was getting heated too.
“He’s afraid to answer my question!” yelled Mouseman. “You see, he’s afraid to answer my question about chickens!”
“We aren’t talking about chickens,” I repeated.
“I think that question should be thrown out because he won’t answer my question about chickens,” said Mouseman. Scornmale and MoMA were vigorously nodding their heads.
“Team left wins,” said the host.
“I object! Do chickens have tails? He can’t answer the question!” yelled Mouseman. “He can’t answer a simple question!”
That was it; that was it. I was 20 years old again. “Why don’t you shut your fucking mouth?”
I was ready. If Mouseman stood up I would walk over to him and knock him out. I was happy to also clobber Scornmale and even MoMA. What the hell? Seriously, what the hell?
MoMA turned to me and gave me her “look” which probably worked on young children she was about to devour, but I just gave her my look back and she turned her head.
I immediately realized I should never have said what I said to them, but it was too late. I wasn’t going to apologize but I also wasn’t going to hit anyone as I hadn’t hit anyone since my last fight 50 years ago. Well, maybe I had, but that is another story for another time.
Team Chicken, as I now thought of them, went back to their rooms and looked up if ostriches and chickens had tails. Wonder of wonders, they do have tails and, thus, so much for their objections to my answer.
My teams beat them two more times at trivia; still they were the best on the ship. But they were not undefeated, an accomplishment of which I was proud.
Do you see what days at sea reduced us to? Do you see why AP doesn’t like cruises?
Our last stop was the Faroe Islands where AP and I went in search of the puffins. That is a separate article (coming soon) in Bird Scobe.
The last day on the ship AP and I were heading towards the elevators to depart. And there were Foister and Mute standing next to Mouseman and MoMa and Scornmale in front of the elevators. Looking at them I realized this trip could have been worse than it actually was.
After the cruise, AP and I spent time in England, specifically to see Windsor Castle. It was a great tour, especially St. George’s Chapel.
Upon arriving home we started discussing future trips. It’s no surprise that AP hasn’t proposed any cruises.
[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from Amazon.com, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]