Heat waves, wildfires, covid, nothing could keep us from Europe! I know I definitely took a 4 month hiatus from this blog, but do you know how many fantasy books I've read?! I'm back and here's the low down on Strange Escapes at Sea!
*I travel a lot. I *USED TO* travel a lot before the pandemic. Full passports in the drawer, accessories, shoe bags, plane pillow, carryons, collapsible duffles, you name it. I was always goin', man. It was life. We booked with Strange Escapes last November, talked with friends who'd be there too, and planned endlessly. Finally, it was TIME. We got the fuck outta Dodge as my dad says, and it was DOPE!*
It's been months, I realize, and for the most part I've been chugging along but for two weeks out of July, Ryan and I went on a cruise. A CRUISE. In a pandemic, (still, kinda). Listen, we masked up and separated ourselves from human beings as much as possible for 2 weeks before we left, to ensure we tested negative to get on that giant boat. 4100 passengers, (and it seemed pretty full to us) is a lot of people, and the thing about cruises is that you get to port, let thousands of people off the ship, and whatever they breathe in while they're out in the world comes back to the ship. We noticed the same thing our fellow travelers did: the planet's human population has like, 80% stopped masking and that's true of every port city and country we visited. So we did what we could for ourselves, (and thanks to kind weirdos we beat headaches and Ryan's "landsickness" 🤢 ), but we're pretty sure we heard the hallmarks of illness traveling through the ranks of our group and passengers around us by the end of the week. We all knew the risks, we took them. We all enjoyed being around each other. We have Kleenex and Advil.
The cruise was on Royal Caribbean, the Anthem of the Seas. I've been on 7 previous cruises and this was the biggest damn ship I've ever been on. The spaces and waiting and amount of humans and their cabins outweighed a bit of the joy of vacationing, but we had a fantastic room to spend time in, beautiful cities, and spooky friends to experience it all with. The boat was so much to explore we got lost for the first two days here and there. Finding the framed artwork in the halls that leads to your cabin is actually a secret cruise skill. A partially obstructed balcony will fetch you a better price on one of those style rooms than an open one, and we took advantage of that. Also - fresh air.
Well, kinda fresh. We'd sailed to western Europe, France and Spain, just a week or so after the wildfires started in their driest areas. The smoke was visible from the boat, and smellable as well. That was just an unfortunate aspect of sailing to those locations in the heat of July on a warming planet. But! The planetary adversity aside, we had a fantastic time. Strange Escapes by Amy Bruni is the trip within a trip we chose to take this year for "the big one" - a vacation we hadn't been able to take in 2020 to England, turned into this instead as the event was advertised last November. Joining the lineup was Amy and of course Adam Berry, Greg and Dana Newkirk and Aaron Sagers.
Unfortunate circumstances kept Cindy Kaza and John Tenney from the trip, but I guarantee they were missed tremendously. We ended up meeting Amanda Paulson (Pretty Fn Spooky) and spent a good chunk of our week and a half overseas being weird creators in Europe together. Finally! A West Coaster and us East Coasters met up together, and in England for the first time, which is nuts.
Our first and most memorable stop was actually England. We landed in Heathrow and taxi'd over to central London before catching our train to Southampton. It was Ryan's first foray out of the country proper, since our Bahamas trip in 2018. The joy of leaving the US is always epic and wonderful but to do so within the circumstances we are now is such a balancing act. We just got engaged and wanted to celebrate, the planet's on fire though, it's hotter than it ever should be, but also we're on a cruise ship with weird friends...mental scales staying in check to stay the course and remain present and enjoy the surroundings.
The Magical Mystery Tour took our group out to Salisbury and Marlborough, two towns famous for quaintness and also the ancient sites of Stonehenge and the Avebury Stone Circle. This was a 30 year return trip for me, and I was able to send my mom a recreation video of myself standing in the same location as I did when I was 8 years old! Then on to the ancient and mysterious Avebury Stone Circle and the Red Lion Inn, a haunted pub said to still contain the body of an unfortunate woman who drowned down the old well. Ghosts apparently abound at this location, and Ryan bought himself a half pint and a story at the bar.
The ship left Southampton (where the Titanic left, ha), and sailed to France first for a stop in Bordeaux and Saint Emilion where we tasted fantastic wine, way too early in the morning. Sucking down dry wine and 100 degree temperatures makes one very grateful for the air conditioning on the tour bus. Like most cruises, the ship docked at one city, and sometimes we had some longer drives into the countryside to see the area and get to the destination town or attraction. The downside is the amount of time riding around, but again - that AC was vital to all our existences while July played a hard hand to Europe.
Two vintages and an hour tour of the winery's method, growing, harvesting and fermenting processes was a lovely way to start the continental portion of our travel. Unlike my dark and brooding external pallet of black, I wore yellow, dresses, and the thinnest materials I could pack so I could BREATHE through the smoke and heat...while being a little tipsy. This was fine. It's fine. We lived, right? 😏 🍷 ☀️
From there to Bilbao and A Coruña, Spain for a major switch in temperatures (I think that and the smoke is where my stuffy nose came from), and more incredible sights and ancient locations. The first and oldest working lighthouse in the world, the Costa da Morte (DEATH COAST), and the wonderful scenery of the rocky, deadly coast of Spain. The cruise offered an endless supply of food and dining options, and we even had Johnny Rocket's on the pool deck between excursions and lectures from the paranormal speakers.
I'm going to throw a pile of photos on the end of this in a semi-chronological order because the reality is, there's so much that happened in a single week and a half it's nearly unreal to try to unpack it all. I'm sorry, unpack. I had to.
Toward the end of the trip, our last stop was Paris. Years ago, the first time I was in France, I chose an excursion to Normandy to see the WWII beaches and battlements with my dad instead of going into the city with my mom and some friends we were traveling with. I'm grateful I chose the history the first time, and took this opportunity to see Paris and the Eiffel Tower with Ryan for the first time together. Sappy! True!
We got to run around the center of the city with Amanda as well, and the three of us managed gorgeous photos and an exquisitely plated, delicious and authentic meal on a side street with the tower in view. Ideal doesn't even begin to describe it. We got Ryan to try ceviche (seh-VEE-chee/chay) for the first time as well, and all things considered with his Midwest pallet, he did admirably. Amanda finished it, we shared the most decadent chocolate mousse we'd all ever eaten, and ran back to the bus for more of that cold air, and the CATACOMBS.
Can we just stop and sit with the surreality of this space for a minute? Steps and steps, spiraling down, opening into an immediately dark, wet passage cut and stacked from the bedrock. Tan, finger-worn stone with cutouts, hollows filled in, and iron grates blocking former passages open into a wider corridor with lower ceilings. The bones are endlessly stacked, perfectly arranged, and brittle in many places. They stack nearly to the ceiling, and we were told the empty spaces above may be due to decades of pilfering and moving the bones. Like a macabre mural, the walls curve and arch and open into more passages. All the pathwaas are unique and all of them stare back from scores of empty eye sockets, artfully arranged. But all are filled, filled with human remains. What a stroll, indeed.
In a whirlwind of debarkation the next morning, an idling in Southampton's creepy beautiful cemetery, a train to London Waterloo station, a new hotel, and the Tower of London, we finally met up with Mark Bonar and Lorien Jones, of Dead Cold Paranormal and The Ghost Voice at the Hung Drawn and Quartered pub. In yet another moment of utter unreality, we were with, in person, two paranormal pals we love and admire and have been friends with through screens and apps for years!
I ate the finest fish and chips my body had ingested for years, (I did my due food diligence on this trip and enjoyed my favorites as a former student and foreign resident of the UK), and we then walked down to Whitechapel for a pint at The Ten Bells - Jack the Ripper's former stomping grounds. Leave it to Ryan to realize the mirrors and tile wall murals were likely in the presence of Jack himself when his deeds were playing out, and he snapped an epic #hauntedmirrorselfieclub photo for our pal, The Ghoul Guide, Courtney Eastman.
*I was able to talk with friends back home thanks to the *pricey* internet and international plan on my phone and it was fun to have them on the trip with me, so to speak.*
With another whirlwind of flight adjustments, arriving at Heathrow at 4:45am by insane taxi ride, we somehow glared at the check-in agents hard enough or pleaded with them pitifully enough to land on a British Airways flight direct to JFK airport and our waiting car. And we got in 5 hours earlier! So, Saturday afternoon we rolled back up the driveway in my Subaru, worn, jet-lagged, parched and floating off the memories of the previous 13 days.