Thursday, June 30, 2016

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: Oh, Yeah, Cancer

So how's travel with cancer been this time, you ask. Thanks for askin'.

All things considered, it seems that the only continuing side effect with Lonsurf is fatigue -- or, as I call it, exhaustion. I'd like to blame it on the EYO, but I can't really. He's not actually moving that fast, and I couldn't keep up with my grandmother at this point (and for most of the time I knew her she was living with two knee replacements).

You know it's bad when you have to take time to rest between flights of stairs, but that's the shape I'm in now. If you saw a me just moving around but couldn't see that I was myself, you'd swear you were watching an eighty-year-old man. The required afternoon naps don't help mitigate that imagery much.

Maybe after the next trip I'll finally start taking that ritalin my PA wants me to try. She tells me a third of patients find it increases their energy levels. Whatever.

In any case, aside from that, this round of travels with cancer hasn't been too bad. Food tastes mostly normal. My guts have been mostly normal (for me, anyway). And the mass of pills has mostly stayed packed away. At this point, I can't really ask for much better than that. 

And in a week I'll see my oncologist and see where he thinks I am on the expiration curve. That'll be interesting.

But first, I've got two days left in Copenhagen, and tomorrow the EYO really earns his trip. Tomorrow, we go to the art museums...

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: Hostel Minions

I think I'm going to have to add staying at the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel to my long list of poor decisions. The EYO is unimpressed by the lack of a TV, the niece unimpressed by the size of the bathroom, and while it's in a great part of town, there are just way too many twenty-year-olds roaming the building and drinking outside the windows -- the first floor is a bar -- for my tastes. But it's a place to sleep, if not much else...

The ladder Dave's on goes to the niece's bunk above mine.
The door handle goes to the bathroom.
The niece is in the entry, and her elbows are pretty much the full extent of
the available space in all directions.

The view of the EYO's bed from mine.
There's about fourteen inches between them.

The bathroom. Dave's on the sink, the toilet is under
the silver switches on the wall behind him, and, yes, that's
the shower head on the ceiling.
So far, we've been opting to use the shared facilities
down the hall to shower.

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: Kastellet, or Parenting Is for the Birds

This afternoon we walked through Copenhagen's Kastellet, which is a star-shaped defense grounds surrounded by a moat near the entry to their harbor that operates as this sort of park/military practice area combo (i.e., you can walk across it, but there are a lot of rules posted). It's also near the Little Mermaid statue, which is why we were there.

As we were walking over one of the bridges we noticed a family of swans, which seemed pretty appropriate given you can't go thirty minutes here without someone mentioning The Ugly Duckling. I have to saw though, the swan family seemed pretty reminiscent of a lot of folks we saw on the cruise: one adult (I assumed it was mom) kept trying to reign her offspring in, the offspring kept swimming away, and the other adult (I assumed it was dad) kept trying to commit suicide by holding his head under the water. 

Okay, maybe that wasn't what he was doing, but after twelve days on a Disney cruise you can perhaps understand the thinking...

Now about that mermaid statue. I guess Disney really did alter the story. If this statue is any indication, the original version really is not a very happy story, as this is one sad looking mermaid...

Now Gefjun, on the other hand (who sits at the other end of the park on top of a very large fountain), Gefjun is a goddess who is ready to kick ass and take names...

Not much of a mother, though. The story, as we were told it, was that in the guise of a mortal woman she was promised ownership of as much land as she could plow in a day, so she turned her four sons into bulls and used them to drag the plow. 

And that, plus some military buildings and a church, is pretty much what there is to see at Kastellet.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: I See Dead People... the Danish National Museum. We're talking the full range of dead people: actual dead people; reproduction dead people; things that aren't dead people but are intended to look like dead people; instruments for memorializing and commemorating dead people; many (many) instruments for turning live people into dead people. 

Admittedly, it could just be my mood, but we're talking a lot of dead people at the Danish National Museum. Oh yeah, and the work product of one of the most optimistic artists I think I've every seen. 

But it is a very nice museum. Well laid out. Lots to see. Free entry. Free lockers to store your bags. A nice little cafe/bar. And since we had to kill a few hours before we could get into our room in Copenhagen and the museum was right next door, it seemed a good place to stop. 

So here you go, courtesy of the Danish National Museum, dead people -- and that optimistic artist's sculpture (was I wrong?)...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The GCW Tour, the Frozen It's a Small World -- But Not That Small

Our final dinner on the cruise ended with a "parade of flags." The waitstaff carried the flags of the sixty countries that are represented by the crew and staff of the boat around the dining room while "It's a Small World" played in the background.

Well, kinda...

It's been sort of interesting talking with the staff and watching how the nationalities break out around the boat. Let's just say, it's not a random distribution.

We did learn the staff are -- no surprise -- on contract. There's apparently a single point of contact for Disney Cruises in each country, and that agent coordinates all the hiring from that one country. The contracts are for six months, and when the contract ends the staff member will go home for six to eight weeks. Assuming they like the work and are wanted back, they'll then sign on for another six months and go around again. I didn't ask about wages, but they must good enough to keep the staff coming back. Most of the folks I talked to had been with Disney Cruises for somewhere in the neighborhood of five years, so there's gotta be something leading folks to sign up for repeated contracts.

One thing I have to give them: no fake names -- at least none that I saw. The staff name tags all identify both name and country of origin, and I saw no "Mary"s or "Fred"s from the countries of Southeast Asia or Africa. But I saw a ton of names from the countries in those regions, and elsewhere, that I wouldn't be able to pronounce without a ton of direction and practice.  

So props to Disney for not whitewashing their culturally diverse workforce at the most basic of levels. 

But I can't say they've reached the promised land just yet. It was hard not to notice, for example, that while the name tags on the waitstaff predominantly identified their countries of origin as the Philippines, Indonesia, with a few Indians and South Americans thrown in for good measure, when you went to the Oceaneer's Club and other designated kid areas, the staff there all seemed to be Americans and Canadians. 

Someone with a better brain than I will have to tell me if this is overall a swing toward, or away, from justice, but I do sort of wish there was a bit more diversity within the specific areas of the boat, as well as across the entire operation. 

Maybe eventually.

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: Final Thoughts on the Disney Cruise

Today's our last day on the Disney Magic. Tomorrow morning we land in Copenhagen and disembark for the last time. Happily, the weather's gotten warm enough that the EYO got to try out some of the water features before the opportunity passed him by...

And now that I've completed my first Disney cruise, I can provide some commentary...

It's an impressive operation. We'll land in Copenhagen tomorrow, with clearance to disembark expected to come at about 7:30 am. Everyone's expected to be off the boat by 9:15, and at 11:30 they'll start boarding for the next cruise (the reverse path of the one we were just on). 

I should've been smart enough to figure this out ahead of time, but it appears Disney cruising is primarily part of Disney's time share operation. Ads for vacation packages run constantly on the first few TV channels, and there's a "vacation desk" at the main entrance. Also, it seems that Disney sells magnetic decorations you can put on your stateroom door, many of which are designed to commemorate the number of times one's been on a Disney cruise. The highest number I saw was thirty.

Someday when I have more time I'll have to do some reading on Walt. I'm curious to know how much of the current Walt Disney Company was in place when he died. (My guess is a very small percentage.) Aside from cruises and time shares and whatnot, just turning on the TV onboard is striking. With the exception of the BBC and a sports channel, as far as I can tell every channel is broadcasting Disney created content -- and it's all different (if frequently repeated). They've come a long way from a guy with a mouse.

But they need to hire a better librarian. From the vast quantities of Disney content available, what they choose to broadcast (repeatedly) is actually sort of odd. It's too old to be stuff that kids who are kids fell in love with, but too new to be the stuff that most of their parents remember. As the niece noted, these were her childhood movies, but she's too young to be parenting kids who can travel. Now I'm generally too old to be the parent of appropriately aged children, and the niece is too young, so in terms of targeting typical parents you'd think Disney would be choosing movies released between those generations. Not so much.

And while I'm on the subject, regardless of the fact that I'm too old, you'd think that with thirty channels to fill they could devote just one to all those live action movies Disney released in the sixties and seventies --The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Robinson Crusoe, USN, Gus. I loved those movies. 

And speaking of Disney movies, I didn't notice until I saw a whole run of them one after another, but have you ever noticed that the female leads from all the B-grade animated features of the last ten or so years sound like Jennifer Lopez? 

Ok, back to cruising.

I'd recommend a Disney cruise if you've got kids under eighteen, but absent that, I can't say I'd rush back into this. The people I know who do this sort of thing regularly report abundant adult-oriented activities. I can't say the same for the Disney cruise. The EYO had a lot to keep him busy, the niece not so much. (I'm not a joiner, so i don't count regardless.)

That said, I don't know that I'd recommend the subarctic Disney cruise again. The Disney Magic really does seem to have been designed to float in warmer waters.

Finally, there's the question of food, since cruise people always want to talk about the food. I'd say the quality distributed across a curve, but more of an inchwormy sort of curve than a bell curve. This is to say, there were some very, very good meals, and some pretty bad meals, but those were actually few and far between. Most of the food was just kind of average.

But I got to see Iceland, Norway and, tomorrow, Denmark. And the EYO reports that he had a good time and would do it again. So that's all that matters. 

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: Norway, Part Two

On our second day in Norway we moved on to Stavanger. It's not quite as snazzy as Bergen, but it's still awfully nice -- especially the section called Gamle Stavanger (i.e., Old Stavanger).

Gamle Stavanger is 173 little white houses that were built on the waterfront in the 1800s after a) the previous working class section of Stavanger burned down,* and b) someone figured out that there was a world-wide market for salted herring, and so needed workers to process the fish and pack them into barrels. The herring industry lasted for about eighty years, at which point it was replaced by the sardine industry which lasted for about sixty more. Apparently, packing sardines was a family affair: the men washed and smoked the fish, the kids decapitated them, and the women packed them into cans. The sardine market pretty much died out in the seventies, but Gamle Stavanger is protected by the city as a historical landmark. The homes are privately owned, but the owners aren't allowed to change them.

Beyond the old neighborhood, Stavanger is Norway's fourth largest city, and while it was built on fishing, at this point it's the petroleum center of Norway as most of the companies responsible for pumping the oil out of the North Sea are headquartered in Stavanger. There's also the Petroleum Museum, which we peeked inside but didn't tour as none of us were especially interested.

But we did see a few of the tourist sites...

These swords commemorate the unification of Norway under a single king. At the time, Norway was a collection of smaller kingdoms, and one of those small kings wanted to marry one of the local princesses who was holding out for the leader of a big nation. So he spent a decade conquering his competitors and unifying the country, at which point she agreed to marry him. 

We also saw the "iron age farm," that sits on the university campus. Parts of it were restored back in the seventies so folks could see what it was like to live in Norway a thousand years ago. I can saw pretty confidently that I'm glad I wasn't living in Norway a thousand years ago...

It wasn't an official part of the tour, but we did learn two unusual facts. First, Al Gore seems to have small feet. Around the port are bronze castings of various Nobel winners' feet, including Al's. Second, it would seem English is the universal language for coffee house cliches. Unlike most countries I've visited, signs in Norway seem to be printed only in Norwegian -- except for these words of wisdom from one of the coffee shops we passed (but for the record, I disagree with their assessment)...

Finally, here are some other random sights from Stavanger...

Monday, June 27, 2016

The GCW Tour, the Frozen Cruise: Norway, Part One

Our first stop in Norway was Bergen. We had a couple of hours to walk around on our own, and then we took an excursion to see some of the highlights. We also learned a few things like...

Bergen's a lot like Seattle, but if the mountains outside Seattle had been picked up and dropped at the water's edge.

Bergen has mostly German roots because a thousand or so years ago the English came to the area and brought the plague along with them. As a result of that, the Norwegians were dead and the English weren't terribly welcome, so that left plenty of room for the Germans to come in and take over the fishing industry.

The old part of the city, Bryggen, has a number of notable features. First, there's not much of it left because big chunks of the city keep burning down. Lots of very closely built wooden buildings makes fire a big problem. As a result of that, they eventually prohibited any of the buildings in the area from having chimneys. All the cooking was done in communal kitchens in a completely separate section of the neighborhood. Additionally, it was all built on landfill right at the water's edge -- and historical protections now prohibit any major changes -- so the angles on the buildings are anything but straight. (This also explains the wood streets, as you needed something to keep from stepping into the wet landfill.) They keep restoring the buildings as the wood rots out from under them, but they can't really stop the ground from settling after they've completed construction.

Sixty percent of Norway's income comes from oil and natural gas pumped out of the North Sea, but very little of that stays in Norway. Electricity is generated hydro-electrically, and so houses are heated with electricity or wood. Similarly, the government subsidizes electric cars so that 25% of cars on the road are electric. They also charge tolls to drive cars in to the city -- which are cheaper for electric cars -- as a way to incentivize the use of public transport.

And in the category of things I learned (way, way, way) too late for it to make a difference, it seems university education in Norway is free, and most classes are taught in English. As a result, a significant portion of the students at the University of Bergen are foreigners. 

I can certainly see why they'd come. At least in the summer, it's a terrific spot...