The Lounge Experience

My last trip was most notable for the time spent in airports between flights.  First I had 12 hours at JFK and then 6 hours in AMS.  So, two days to get there! I was looking forward to seeing the new AMEX lounge in New York but unfortunately it was behind schedule by months and not opened as promised. Luckily I had a back-up with my Delta Lounge access.

    

Two of their best features include the Asanda Spa and their new food and beverages.  I love that I can spend miles instead of dollars.  I upgraded from the free wine offering and had a 50 minute massage!  All with miles.  I also had time to read a book, nap, shower and do a couple of miles walking through all the terminals.  Some airports actually have a movie theater (Singapore, Minneapolis, Hong Kong).

In Amsterdam my Delta pass failed and I was not admitted to a lounge so a plan B was needed.  As both my flight from San Diego to New York and the one from New York to Amsterdam were red-eyes, sleep was much-needed. I discovered YotelAir.  Their cabins rent by the hour, include fast internet, coffee or tea, a bed and a shower.  It cost about the same as access to a paid lounge.  So I opted for sleep instead of liquor!

On my return through AMS I was able to get access to the KLM lounge even as they were remodeling.  What an incredible experience they are offering…both one for those who are okay with normal and one for those opting for the primo treatment (fee attached). These extras include a restaurant, sky bar with premium drinks, nap compartments and a wine and cheese bar. These lounges are destinations in themselves!

 

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Cyprus Off-Season

When I was in Lebanon a few years ago I was surprised how close I was to Cyprus.  Had I  done my research I would have visited at that time.  As I love Mediterranean food and climate I decided to add it to my list of new countries this year.  Again, my research failed me as I knew it was off-season but did not expect snow!

  

  

I booked 5 nights in Larnaca giving me 4 days to explore the island.  Using miles I stayed at a delightful hotel called the Ciao Stelio featuring comfortable rooms and a great restaurant with access to a huge gym.

  

 

Unfortunately some of my planned excursions were not available due to limited spaces during the off-season.  I was able to secure a spot on the “discovery of the island” tour, a 10 hour journey with an English-speaking guide.  Interestingly I was the only one of 60 who spoke English as my native tongue even though the majority of tourists are from one of 3  countries: Britain, Russia or Israel.

Upon my safe return home I read that a serial killer who had targeted foreign women was apprehended while I was there. Whew!

watching facebook posts from friend in the Maldives while freezing my ass i snow

 

 

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Our Expedition Followed Early Exploration

Before my trip, Swoop Travel suggested I read “South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition” and I followed that up by watching  PBS’s “Chasing Shackleton”.  I wasn’t sure if I should be frightened or excited to sail those waters!  The desire to explore this White Continent was shared by men of many nations as they raced to the South Pole. In 1961 the Antarctica Treaty System created an agreement between many countries (12 at that time) preserving this land as peaceful, cooperative among nations, and as a scientific research area.

The names of the Straits, the Islands, the Coves, the Seas all honored those who came before.  History and Geography were daily lessons offered to those on board my ship.

Crossing the formidable Drake Passage was not as daunting as it could have been.  In fact, the pilot called it a 2 out of 10.  Pushing my limits by going to the gym, attempting both yoga and treadmill running, left me without “sea-legs” and an unpleasant  first 24 hours.

Because of the good weather we were able to make our first stop late on the second day, Aitcho, allowing me to surround myself with penguins and get a first whiff of their unmistakable stench.

We then passed by Iceberg A57A before entering Antarctic Sound where we attempted to reach the Weddell Sea, the coldest ocean in the world.  Unfortunately ice floes and icebergs blocked out entrance but it was fascinating to hear the crunching sounds of the ship attempting passage. Instead we visited Kinnes Cove and Gourdin Island where we added the Adelie penguins to the Chinstrap and Gentoo we had already seen.

Linblad Cove and Mikkelsen Harbour were the landings the next day. Linblad was named after the conservationist who led the first tour cruise to Antarctica in 1966.

We visited the Vernadsky Station, a working  research base for the Ukrainians. Most of the inhabitants were there for the summers only but there were those who stayed all year-long during the dark winters and actually created many of the souvenirs they sold in their gift shop!

 

Paradise Bay was where we encountered the friendly Minke whale, the small avalanche, and amazing icebergs close up. This site along with Neko Harbour is certainly one of the most scenic areas on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Deception Island is the caldera of an active volcano and one of the safest harbors. It is now both a tourist destination as well as a scientific outpost.  It has a very narrow entrance with a big rock only 8 feet below the water in the middle of the channel.

On the last afternoon we sailed by Cape Horn where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Our seas were calm unlike many days when the strong winds, strong currents and large waves can make this very treacherous especially for yachts and other smaller vessels.

The Le Boreal safely delivered all 208 passengers safely back to port.  Of these, eleven were naturalists with ranging areas of expertise. We had a few more women than men, probably because this was one of the few cruise ships that offered a “no supplement” for singles.  Over half were from France with US citizens claiming 48 of the spots, the Australians followed with 18 and the remaining were from 15 other countries!

 

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Frivolity amid the Frozen Continent

The whales, the seals and the penguins all provided fun and endless fascination. I could have spent every minute of my ten-day stint in Antarctica watching them.

The continuous chatter of the penguins to the growling seals made me laugh.  I even chuckled when the daring baby penguin approached me and bit my boot!

Perhaps their antics inspired me to enjoy my lighthearted side. One day after climbing a hill to get the best panoramic view I sat down and slid to the bottom, loving every moment except for the complaints coming from those who had to jump aside.  Another day when a French cohort was singing to himself in the zodiac I encouraged him to join me in singing “Frere Jacques”. Unfortunately due to my singing voice I might have been the only one having a great time!

I asked about the polar plunge and was told due to health risks this ship no longer participated so I had to substitute the pool!

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Nature’s Finest Art Gallery

A friend asked me what my number one takeaway from Antarctica was….took me a day or so before recognizing that the pristine beauty and the overwhelming silence was clearly a moving master piece!

  

Some of these photos are mine but the best ones were purchased from the ship’s photographer or given me by one of my new friends, Judy Smyth.

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Finally the 7th Continent!!!!

It has long been a dream but obstacles stood in the way.  As a single woman travelling alone cruise ships “per person based on double occupancy” pricing was one of those.  Another concern was 10 days on a ship.  And I was somewhat worried about meeting like-minded people with whom I could share meals and free time.

 

I have always tried to book my own trips but found this one to be somewhat difficult as this was my first ocean cruise.  After reading many reviews I decided to find an agent who could answer all my questions.  Luckily I happened upon Loli, from Swoop Adventures who has been to Antarctica many times.  After listening to my concerns she found two possibilities and had me consider the pros and cons of each.

  

The French ship, Le Boreal, from the Ponant Line was my choice and a wise one at that.  I had no complaints with the cabin, the food, the wine, the experts, the pilot, the new friendships or the amazing service.  What a wonderful adventure.  Future posts will detail the landings, the friendships, the knowledge, and the beauty.

 

 

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Anticipating Antarctica

I leave a week from tomorrow! My seventh continent has awaited my arrival for years and the excitement is almost overwhelming. I am nervous that there will be a delay in my flights, a government shutdown or an onset of some dreadful illness; but I’m also dreaming of the whales, penguins, albatross, a cabin of my own, French food and wine!

   

I packed a week ago already, determined to get everything into carry-on luggage just in case the airline decided to lose my bag like they did the last time I was in Argentina. I can’t wait! Ushuaia, Drake Passage, Port Lockroy, Port Charcot, Neko Harbour, Weddell Sea and Deception Island here I come.

 

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