Travel

Transatlantic Travel: a review of Cunard's Queen Mary 2 by Rachel Nordgren

Transatlantic Travel: a review of Cunard's Queen Mary 2
From personal experience, I now realise that staggering round a transatlantic liner in a dinner jacket with a martini is the normal, rational, reasonable way to cross the Atlantic. Heading for an airport and strapping yourself to a flimsy aluminium tube is an unfortunate and eccentric aberration.
— Mark Smith, from the travel blog The Man in Seat Sixty-One

Inevitably, one of the first questions a European asks us when they see us with Banjo is, “How did he do on the flight over here?” To which we respond, “Actually, we took a ship!”

I had read one too many horror stories about dogs in the cargo holds of planes, we knew it would be so much less stressful for Banjo (and for us), and traveling by ship with a dog ended up being just a few hundred dollars more expensive (we booked during a sale) than flying.

So we figured, why not?

Transatlantic travel by ship is, without a doubt in my mind, the classiest way to go between the States and Europe. There’s something quite elegant about setting sail aboard a majestic vessel, feeling the steady thrum of the massive engines as they propel you into the arms of a new adventure, watching the sky and sea steadily slip by day after day.

Embarking on a “crossing” feels thoroughly glamorous and sophisticated. Even if that sensation is merely the product of cultural nostalgia, years of clever marketing, and our collective tendency to romanticize the Titanic…spending seven days traversing the Atlantic aboard a 151,400 ton marvel of human engineering and ingenuity is still pretty damn cool.

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Before the advent of air travel in the 1950’s, a ship was the only way to get across the Atlantic Ocean. Which means that, for Hans and I, the journey from New York to Southampton felt like a sort of reverse-immigration. Our ancestors sailed into the New York harbor, and a couple hundred years later we were sailing out. We waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty and watched it fade into the distance, a mirrored reflection of how our forbearers came to the New World.

We were talking with a friend about air travel vs. ocean travel, and while flying is definitely faster (although we did switch time zones one at a time on the ship, helping to avoid the dreaded jet lag) and can be cheaper, it can also feel a bit, well, “abnormal.”

Don’t get me wrong, that can be pretty great. It is amazing that human innovation has advanced to the point that you can get almost anywhere on the globe in less than 24 hours. But traveling by boat allows for a bit of margin, a sense of breathing room that allows you to mentally process your journey at a more natural pace. I for one am looking forward to that processing time when we head back to the States at the end of the year.

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I ought to clarify something: the Queen Mary 2 is an ocean liner, not a cruise ship. The QM2’s hull is constructed with 40% more steel than a cruise ship, has four stabilizers that are each roughly the weight of the US Space Shuttle “Endeavor” (most ships only have two), and was designed with the strength and speed necessary to take on the North Atlantic.

She eats cruise ships for breakfast.

Also? On a transatlantic crossing, you’re not stopping off at lots of exotic locations like you might on a cruise. There are two ports of call: New York and Southampton. That’s it. Your exotic views include water, more water, occasionally some dolphins, and then for a change of scenery there’s some more water.

Personally, we loved it. Even though we sailed in November, the sea was mostly calm and we spent lots of time out on deck, albeit somewhat bundled up. In our modern age of constant connectivity, it was actually refreshing to feel so isolated for a week.

The Queen Mary 2 travels the same Southampton to New York route as the ocean liners of the gone-by golden age of transatlantic travel, and it also sails in the same “lanes” as massive cargo boats. While onboard, your range of visibility is only about 12-13 miles (which is basically nothing in the North Atlantic), so even though you can go days without seeing another ship, the reality is that you’re not totally stranded. The bridge, of course, can “see” for hundreds of miles around with their fancy-pants navigational instruments.

It is almost impossible to be bored on the QM2. There are fifteen restaurants and bars, 24/7 room service, five swimming pools and a smattering of hot tubs, a ballroom, a spa, a theatre, a gorgeous library, and the first planetarium at sea. There are theatre productions and musicals, insightful daily lectures, movie screenings, an art gallery, and a mini shopping mall. You can go to a class for just about everything: fitness, ballroom dancing, how to use Facebook, watercolor painting.

The great English entertainer, Beatrice Lillie, once asked a crew member aboard the original Queen Mary, "When does this place get there?” The ship truly does feel like a floating city. There’s even a glossy, bright red post box in one of the main atriums.

Even though we were staying in the lowest category of stateroom (an interior berth on one of the higher decks), our whole experience aboard the QM2 still felt luxurious. We ate like kings, dining on a scrumptious five-course dinner every night in the gleaming Britannia Restaurant whilst being serenaded by a harpist, utterly immaculate settings on the crisp white linen clad tables. High tea is served daily to the tune of a string quartet in the Queen’s ballroom, complete with enough polished silver and tiny delicacies to give the Ritz a run for its money.

Fun fact: the annual tea consumption aboard the QM2 would fill an Olympic size swimming pool.

As I was reading reviews about the Queen Mary 2, I came across two schools of thought. The majority of people raved about their experience, singing the praises of the ship, the food, the crew, the on-board activities. On the other hand, there were some folks who I could almost see looking down their noses at the rest of us through the Internet, complaining that “the whole thing has gone to the dogs since they let the riff-raff in.”

Here’s what I think: if you can find something to grumble about after crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2, you are likely either a massive jerk, or you are a crew member who has had to put up with the massive jerks with a smile on your face.

We have officially booked our return crossing from Southampton to New York for December 2018, and all three of us are really looking forward to it. Well, Banjo would be, except his concept of time is rather limited.

Find out more about Cunard's Queen Mary 2 right here.

Have you ever considered traveling by ship? Why or why not?

Image sources here and here.

#NomadicNordgrens May Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

#NomadicNordgrens May Travel Update

Hello, friends!

We're almost halfway through our nomadic journey (how crazy is that?!) and we're working hard to make the most of our time in Europe before our crossing back to the States in December aboard the QM2.

Banjo managed to scratch up his eye pretty badly whilst galavanting through the forests of Switzerland (as one does), and it was refusing to heal despite a couple vet visits and medications. The vet in Porlock did a minor surgery that seems to have worked, so the good news is that he's on the mend...although still in the cone of shame.

Psst! This month's update has an extra special section towards the end that you won't want to miss!

After leaving Wellingborough at the beginning of the month, we did our first return housesit! Lis and Carl invited us back to look after Oscar, and we were so excited to spend more time with them (and Lis's mum, Sheila!) and enjoy the gorgeousness that is the Cotswolds in Spring.

After leaving Ilmington, we made our way back down south to Porlock. We had a lovely evening with Karen, Graeme, and Graeme's mum Tess (we housesat for them in December), catching up and talking about travel adventures with dogs! Afterwards, we spent the better part of two weeks (our housesitting plans changed) being super grateful for the hospitality of the local parish rector, Bill, and his wife Daphne, whom we got to know in December. Hans "earned our keep" by doing lots of chores for Daphne!

Then, we journeyed north towards Scotland. We stopped for a night in Manchester to visit Rachel's dear friend Katherine and then made our way to Coatbridge, where we are now. We're watching a darling little 17-year-old Yorkie named Rosie, who sounds like a baby Teletubby when she coughs.

After our time in Scotland, we're looking forward to heading back to Wellingborough for the month of July to spend more time with Paul and Sarah, and their darling girl Poppy!

On to the photos!

1. Hans standing next to the purplest tree we've ever seen at Hidcote Garden near Ilmington
2. Getting ready for a walk with Oscar and Banjo
3. Banjo overlooking Porlock Bay
4. Dunster Castle, which sits atop a hill overlooking the Bristol Channel and Exmoor. Fun fact: a castle has existed here since Norman times!
5. Our beloved Porlock

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Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: seeing the difference between winter and spring in the Exmoor landscape and foliage as we walked down to the Weir for dinner at the Bottom Ship pub

Rachel's favorite: still not over the Royal Wedding...

Mutual favorite: enjoying the beauty of England in bloom, and spending lots of time with some of the kind and wonderful people we met earlier in our journey!

Best in Food

After returning from Spain, Lis and Carl treated us to a delectable dinner at their favorite Italian inspired restaurant in Chipping Camden, Huxley's. For appetizers, we enjoyed baked fondue, sun-dried tomatoes, tangy Tzatziki and pita, and our new favorite cheese, halloumi. Hans had a burger and fries because he was feeling a little homesick, and Rachel can't remember what she had because the conversation was so darn good. We topped the evening off with tiramisu and coffee, and even got a little Cotswold history lesson from Carl on the drive!


Special Wedding News!

We kept a little secret from all of you...when we were in Paris in March, Dean (Rachel's dad) proposed to Roxann! At the end of our bike tour and picnic, Hans, Leo, and Rachel conveniently "forgot to get dessert" and scampered off, leaving Dean and Roxann by the banks of the Seine. Apparently, Dean had some lovely things to say, Roxann said yes, a sparkly ring was pulled out, and a passing boat of tourists cheered! When we got back, Rachel had to peek over the embankment wall to make sure we wouldn't interrupt, and then the five of us celebrated with macarons and taking lots of pictures. They're getting married in June!

Congratulations, Dean and Roxann!!!

Oh, and Rachel went to the Royal Wedding.

Read more about her (amazing, beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime) experience right here. Special thanks to our Ilmington friends for keeping an eye out for Rachel on TV!


A Note From Banjo...

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Wut ded I doo 2 deseerv dis? Myhoomans keep laffin at mee and iss notfare cuz haff de tym i cant heer dembecuz oof dis stoopid lamp sheed koneting. Leetle kyds laff at mee 2 'nd deyask der mooms wut's rong wif mee. Nuthin's rong wif mee!! Iss myhoomans who r dee stoopid ones fur pooting dis dumb ting on mi face. Mehbee DEY shood ware kones oof shame. See how dey lik eet. Mi eyeewuz dooin jest fyne. I scratcheds eetevery dey cuz dat made eet feel better. Daffney wuz nise to mee 'nd she gavme lots oof coodles and shee deedn'tlaff at mee like SUM PEEPLE.


May felt full and blooming and blessed, and once again we’re just floored with gratitude. We are absolutely loving being back in the UK, and the more time we spend here, the more it feels like home.

Did you watch the Royal Wedding?

Dear Wide-Eyed Traveler... by Rachel Nordgren

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There were so many things I freaked out over before Hans and I left for this trip. Where would we go? What would happen if there was an accident? Did we have everything we needed? I googled "what happens if you're traveling and nuclear war breaks out" far more times than I care to admit.

Now that we've been on this nomadic adventure for nearly 6 months (!!!), there are a few things I'd like to tell that frantic girl back in Kansas. If you're about to embark on your own adventure, whether it's across the country or across the continent, I hope this letter can encourage you, too.


Dear Wide-Eyed Traveler…

You, my dear, are about to embark on the loveliest adventure.

You do not know where the road will lead, and oh! how very exciting a place that is. You feel the tension though…the lightness and the freedom and excitement on the one hand, the dazzle of spontaneity, yet also the fear of the unknown and the fragility of your frame of reference.

You feel caught in the middle sometimes, don’t you? That’s quite all right. You don’t have to have it all figured out the moment your feet depart the shores of that country you’ve called home. If you had it all figured out, what would be the purpose of the journey?

I’m just going to get this one out of the way: you’re going to over pack. Just embrace it, accept it, and give yourself grace as you lug your godforsaken luggage across the surface of the globe, cursing that extra pair of shoes with every ounce of fury you can muster.

You’re likely going to over pack your expectations and goals and preconceived notions as well.

Again, give yourself some grace.

You didn’t know what you needed when you set out, because you’ve never had this adventure before. You had never walked these streets or hunched your shoulders against that sort of icy wind or needed to haul all your possessions up those many flights of stairs. You’ve likely never had your prejudices and precious biases so blatantly laid before your eyes, and that’s all right. You’ve likely never needed to distill what you own into just what you can carry across a train platform.

It’s okay to let some things go, my dear.

Send it home, toss it in the bin, give it to someone else or let the breeze gently pry it from your fingers atop the windblown moors of the Exmoor coast.

You didn’t know what you didn’t know, and that’s okay.

Now, what are you going to hold on to? What is worth the space in your suitcase and your soul? What do you need to let go of in order to travel more freely, more lightly?

You’ll be surprised what you can live without.

The countries you visit will surprise you, too. If they don’t, you may as well go home, becasuse clearly your mind has more in common with a shriveled prune than a remarkable instrument of the human experience.

A waterfall of different languages and dialects will fall upon your ears, and your mind will grasp to comprehend meaning when the gap between what you hear and what you know stretches wide. Your mind will constantly be discovering…how the street signs look and what a zucchini is called and who’s who in the high places and the smell of the sea in that particular town.

Culture shock will chip away at you your darling norms and habits.

Your comfort zone has no border control.

It’s going to be FANTASTIC.

You’ll eat really well, too.

Oh, the food! Gird thy loins, oh traveler!

(And by that, of course, I mean make sure you pack a good pair of stretchy pants)

Eat macaroons in France and fish and chips in England and a bratwurst in a pretzel bun slathered with spicy mustard in Germany. You’ll eat a lot of rather normal food, too…not every meal will be totally remarkable…but the “normal” food of any given place can still be quite a feast if you turn down the lights and pour a couple glasses of ruby-red pinot and strike a match to set a candle or two aflame.

Flick on the radio and you may as well have lived here (or there) for twenty years.

More than almost anything, though? Stretch wide thine eyes.

May you get a crick in your neck from staring up at skyscrapers and cathedral ceilings and snow-dusted Alps. Dial open your pupils like a camera’s aperture and strive to let in all the light you can. Look closely. Notice the pattern of tiles and the grains of wood and the way the sun sparkles off the surface of this river vs. that one. Notice the fountains and the beggars and the stained glass and how they package apples at the grocery store. Pay attention to how your feet stumble on the cobblestones and can’t help but halt at the sight of glorious sunsets over a particular landmark.

And for goodness sakes, take lots of notes!

Feel the tension between all that you see and all that you want to see. Know thyself, my dear, and know when to nudge yourself along to the next thing and when to let the dust settle a bit. There will always be another thing on the list, one more place you could go or sight you could see. Don’t get so caught up in exploring that you trample over the beautiful experience right in front of your nose in an effort to fill your camera roll with one more set of snapshots.

(Drink plenty of water and get enough rest every night, too)

Remember, as Paul Theroux so wisely once said, "Travel is glamorous only in retrospect." When you’re slogging your way uphill in the rain because you miscalculated the bus timetable or trying to find cheese that doesn’t smell funny or attempting to work out the knots in your back that popped up after you spent 97 hours in the car, remember that not every day is going to look like it fell out of a bespoke travel magazine.

That’s perfectly fine. It’s what makes the gorgeous moments all the sweeter.

Finally, give yourself permission to travel imperfectly. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay. Above all else, be kind and respectful to yourself and the people you meet. If you do those two things, there’s not much else you can really mess up too badly.

Learn, and keep going.

See you out there!

Love,
A fellow nomad

#NomadicNordgrens April Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

#NomadicNordgrens April 2018 Travel Update

Thanks to Hans' mom, we were able to get in touch with the German relatives and spend some time with them in April. I mostly nodded and smiled and tried to remember the names of all the cousins, but I loved watching my husband get to uncover his heritage roots a bit. We'll be visiting his Swedish family later this summer!


Welcome back to our travel tales!

After our grand adventures in London and Paris during March with Dean and Roxann, we headed to Leer, Germany, where we stayed with Thilo, Hans' longtime friend and high school foreign exchange student. It was wonderful to spend time together! We celebrated Good Friday with him and his family before heading to Bielefeld (still in Germany) to meet relatives from Hans' mom's side of the family.

Our German relatives also gave us a warm welcome and showed us the old Bentemann farm as well as some significant towns and landmarks. We are so grateful for their hospitality, and for how much we learned about the Ostwestfalen-Lippe Region. We sort of felt like we were on a private tour with the best guides in Germany! Thank you so much to Annelie, Steven, Karin, Friederich, Ulrike, Elisabeth, Heinz, Karin, and Gustav for making us feel right at home.

The photo above was taken at Externsteine, a massive rock formation near Lippe in Germany. You can't really see any of the rocks in the picture because Banjo's furry face is in the way, so we suggest clicking on the link to check them out!

After Germany, we headed to Zürich, Switzerland for about two weeks to watch a lovely menagerie of animals for a couple named Julie and Eric. Fun fact: Eric is actually from Kansas! After Switzerland, we spent a day exploring Liechtenstein (the world's sixth smallest country!) before heading back to the UK, where we will be for the rest of the summer.

As always, we feel deeply thankful for everyone who has welcomed the three of us into their homes and lives during our travels. In today's crazy and often discordant world, we are grateful for the continual reminder that kindness knows no boundaries and there is much more that unites us as humans (and canines!) than divides us.

On to the photos!

1. The inscription on the Bentemann family home in Germany
2. The church in Hiden, Germany, where Hans' great-grandfather was baptized
3. Hans' German family!
4. Rachel cuddling with Ivy, one of Eric and Julie's dogs in Zürich
5. The Alps, being far more gorgeous than is socially acceptable

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Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: connecting with his German family and re-connecting with Thilo

Rachel's favorite: Rachel is starting to think this is a dumb and restrictive question, but if forced to choose she would probably say visiting the Sparrenburg Castle in Bielefeld

Mutual favorite: it's a tie between enjoying the sheer beauty of the Alps and seeing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London, where a live orchestra performed the music as the movie played

Best in Food

For Good Friday (technically still in March, but who's counting?), Hans' foreign exchange "parents," Udo and Dagmar, invited us to join them for a lovely family dinner. We enjoyed a simply delicious meal of salmon with a creamy filling, rice, and sauteed spinach all accompanied by a heavenly cream sauce and glasses of ice cold white wine. For dessert, chocolate...because duh, it's Germany. 

Hans' real German family made sure that we ate really well, too. We were treated to all sorts of traditional German dishes, like braided Easter bread, local meats and cheeses (including a hard cheese with peppercorns in it that Rachel adored), potato pancakes called "pickert," and of course, bratwurst! 


A Note From Banjo...

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Ma hoomans tell mee dat dis iss zee only paart oof da neewslitter dat peeple actoolly reed. Dat meens my hoomans kood chuk da rest of dis ting 'nd speend moor time pettin me orr gimme moor of da speshal treets dat dee niice peeple in Gerrmuny gaav us. I rode da train AND da toob in Lundun 'nd I wuz reely brave beecuz da toob soundeed lik eet wuz gooona eat me but I staid kalm 'nd karried oon. We arr bak in Engelund 'nd I lik it heer becooz der arr lotz of sheepz.

One of the biggest surprises in our travels has been how much community Hans and I have found abroad. When we started out, I mistakenly assumed that we'd get really lonely and sick of each other, because we would only have each other for company. While it's true that we spend basically all of our time together (and we do get annoyed with each other sometimes), we've also been pleasantly surprised by the relationships we've discovered and strengthened with other people we've met.

Have you ever visited extended family abroad? What was your experience like?

#NomadicNordgrens March Travel Update by Rachel Nordgren

#NomadicNordgrens March 2018 Travel Update

Hooray, Springtime is (almost!) here!

March was a bustling month! After leaving the farm in France, we dropped Banjo off with our friends Paul and Jenny in Le Vast (because taking a dog into England is rather a pain with paperwork, and we would only be there for a little over a week) and then crossed the channel. We housesat for a lovely woman named Lizzie near Petworth, and had the pleasure of watching her two darling dogs, cuddly cat, and a characterful French hen named Florence.

After leaving Petworth, we spent a night in London before picking up Dean (Rachel's father) and his girlfriend Roxann from the airport. They flew over for a whirlwind week with us...we covered London, Normandy, and Paris! It was so good to spend time with Dean and Roxann. We saw a lot, too! Some of our favorites were Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the Normandy beaches, and seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night!

(we also ate far more pastries than is dietarily advisable, and we regret nothing)

After they flew back to the USA, we headed North to Leer, Germany. In high school, Hans did a foreign exchange student program with a guy named Thilo from Germany. They’ve kept in touch all these years, and we spent a delightful week in Leer with him and his family. After that, we made our way to Bielefeld to visit some of Hans' extended family. We'll tell you more about them next month!

On to the photos!

1. Hans the Giant
2. Roxann, Rachel, Dean, and our guide Leo on our Parisian bike tour
3. Hans, Rachel, Dean, and Roxann by the Tower Bridge in London
4. During Dean and Roxann's time with us, Banjo got booted out of his normal spot in the car and had to squish at Rachel's feet...and was superbly disgruntled about it
5. The Golden State Coach at the Royal Mews in London

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Most Interesting Things We've Done or Seen

Hans' favorite: touring Utah, Omaha, and Gold beach with Dean

Rachel's favorite: basically all of London, but in particular going to a sung Eucharist service at Westminster Abbey and seeing the Crown Jewels (so sparkly!)

Mutual favorite: spending time with Dean and Roxann!

Best in Food

You guys. The French have food figured out. In Paris, we took a "Bike and Bite" tour with a phenomenal guy named Leo. We cycled around the central Arrondissements of Paris and gathered supplies for a (cold!) picnic by the Seine. We visited a fromagerie with hundreds of varieties of cheese, where Leo selected half a dozen types for our picnic and had us sample a bright blue confection with lavender flowers in it.

After that, we picked up charcuterie and baguettes before heading down to the banks of the Seine. It was a history lesson (Leo knows Paris like the back of his hand) and quintessentially Parisian picnic all wrapped into one!


A Note From Banjo...

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I h8 Deen. I had da hole bak of da car 2 myseelf untel he and Roxxann shewed up. I had to be squeeshed ento where my lady hooman puts hir pawz. HIR PAWZ. Iss not comfee down dere, u kno? Im not a cheewahwah. Iss all Deens fawlt. He deednt geev me any of his crisoonts eeder, 'nd he ate lik, a hooondred. I got 2 stay weef my freends Poul, Jeeny, May 'nd Alfee 'nd I got lotz of petz. Dey deednt make mee squeesh ento the pawz spot.

I still have feelings for that cheese shop in Paris, you guys. Take me back!! March was incredibly busy and fun, and we felt like tourists way more than we usually do. While we are generally in favor of slow travel that feels more rooted down to the places we are in, there is something to be said for the excitement of seeing as much as possible in one short week. I think there's space for both kinds of travel, and advantages and disadvantages to each. One thing is for sure, though...I definitely want to spend more time in Paris, preferably when it's warmer!

Have you been to Paris or London? What did you enjoy? Let's chat in the comments!