Talk about receiving the royal treatment! The QE2 is a majestic and beautiful ship, despite the fact they put us (40 of us) in steerage (I mean 3rd class). All it really meant was that we couldn't eat in the first class restaurant or sit in their lounges (which there only were two first class ones, and they were mighty small). See if you got up early enough or stayed out late (that is past 11pm, since all the evening entertainment lasted until 11pm) you could walk amongst where the first class people would later dwell during the day.
Well, my adventure started in Washington, DC, when I attended a reception with His Exellency The British Ambassador, Sir Robin Renwick and his wife, Lady Renwick. They live in a large mansion attached to the Embassy. They did not serve dinner, only wine and lots of interesting looking hors d euvers. Actually they were quite good. The Ambassador was charming. He went to Jesus College so he talked to me for over an hour (I'm at Jesus). Quite fascinating. There were other former Marshall Scholars in attendance as well as members of the interviewing committees from the five sites across the nation. I ran into two which were on the Mid-Atlantic committee. Then we had a special guest, a former Marshall Scholar. He gave a speech about life at a University in England. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is his name. Sir Renwick personally introduced him to me. He is a striking man and quite dynamic in speech and demeanor. It was delightful. My feet were killing me at the end of the eve!
The next day, we took a bus ride up to NYC. It was not quite that bad except for the fact that I got not a wink of sleep, having being brought into a conversation with the bus driver Leon Jones. He was a delightful fellow, but he just would not stop talking! I guess it was a preventative measure against falling asleep on the NJ Turnpike (oh, how well I know that ride!). We arrived in NYC and attended a recpetion at the residence of the British Consulate General Sir Hunter and his wife Lady Hunter. Their place was quite small in comparison with the Ambassador's residence, and more crowded. Primarily there were several Marshall Scholars from years past. The 40 of us new scholars felt out of place. And the food was not as good! :) That eve we listened to several speeches about the history and success of the scholarship and the current 40th anniversary celebration of the scholarship program (that's why we got to go on the QE2!). It was quite delightful to listen to all their speeches. Once again my feet were killing me! At these receptions one just stands around and talks for hours!
Afterwards a group of us decided to go to the revolving Mariott restaurant on 47th and Broadway. We had hoped to see the QE2 docked at the Cunard pier, but it has been a bit foggy. The weather those past two days in DC and NYC were just precursors of the legendary English weather! We had a nice time.
The next morning was our embarkment. We took a bus to the Cunard pier (my parents and sister were there to see me off!). And then we boarded. We were paired for the cabins. My roomate was a delightful woman to attend Sussex to study ecology. And the rest of the group was an interesting mix of backgrounds and ideals! Vernita (my roomie) and I had a cabin on 4 deck, deep in the bowels of the ship. It was a small cabin, no windows. Some people got windows. Those cabins were even smaller! The 40 of us were scattered between 4 deck and 5 deck. Upper, Quarter, and Boat decks had the restaurants, casinos, bars, dance floors, etc... One deck houses first class passengers as well as parts of the upper and quarter decks. Two and Three decks house second class passengers. Four and Five decks house steerage or third class passengers. Crew are scattered about Six and Seven decks (under the water, quite!). There are almost as many crew as passengers.
The crew was composed primarily of British citizens, but it was a mixture of many countries throughout the world that I noticed. Very handsome waiters! And very beautiful women running the spas and gyms! All food was inclusive but drinks other than tea, coffee, iced tea, and tap water were not. The boat operated on a cashless system. Before boarding we all got these cards with which we would use to buy drinks, souveniers (they had tons of shops on boards) and extras (like the spa and certain sporting activities). These cards were connected to a credit card of ours. So it was quite easy to ring up a debt on your credit card, especially if you got hooked on the casino.
Each day I worked out in the gym which was on the 7th deck. I never had been in a high tech gym before and had the greatest of fun handling the stair steppers, treadmills and bicycles. You could even race a friend or two on the bicycles, they (the bicycles not the friends) having been hooked up to a TV mointor with a variety of race track programs. They had both an indoor and an outdoor pool, both being filled with sea water (saved on the pure water allowance, because it is a law that the pools be drained at embarkment and disembarkment and certain weather conditions). The indoor one was quite interesting, it was totally enclosed. And when the ship hit some 20+ feet swells, you saw (literally) WAVES in the pool. I just observed. I was glad that I didn't try the outdoor pool because other scholars did and got nastily sick (sore throats and the like!). Well, the pool was out on the back deck and winds would easily reach 65 mph! I tried to jog everyday out on the decks. It was exhiliarating, but quite cold! The winds were quite fierce during the voyage. I did enjoy the smell of the sea air. And looking out on pure water in all directions is a site I shan't forget!
I got up every morning to see the sunrise but each morning it was terribly foggy. So it was disappointing, but I got to hear the fog horns emanating from the colossal QE2. That was quite melodious! It was awfully quite cold as well in the mornings before the sunrise. I yearned to see any stars at night but each night the clouds came in the way! Yeah, that was quite disappointing. Plus they kept the lights on the decks blaring all night long (for safety reasons of course) which left little area for some proper star gazing. Looking out on the sea at nighttime was quite strange. You couldn't see anything really...no horizon, no lights. It was as if you took it all on faith that you were actually on the ocean and not just some optical illusion. It was both scary and comforting to look out on utter blackness.
Now, our restaurant, which catered to the second and third class passengers had the most wonderful food I have ever tasted! We had buffets at both breakfast and lunch (with also the choice of a menu at those meals!) and a wonderful 7 course meal at dinner. They had wonderful soups, and I learned all about using the proper forks and knives for the different meals! :) I even had this thing called a sorbet (which is really a sherbert) but it supposed to clean the palate before the main entree. And their desserts were heavenly! One could easily put on the weight!
I however ate moderately because I felt strange all the time. It was quite a weird experience. Why anyone would pay thousands of dollars to feel weird for a few days is beyond me! :) I only got sick one day and that was during a fierce storm in the Atlantic (the ferry up in the Baltic (I believe) sank that day due to a connecting storm pattern) when we hit 25 foot swells and winds on deck reaching 70mph. Otherwise I felt alright. It just took a matter of time to get used to the rocking. Ironically, when I started to enjoy it, it was time to disembark.
The majority of the people on board were 60 years + old. In fact, one passenger died during the voyage, something we were told happens quite regulary on the QE2 transatlantic voyages. I do hope the QE2 personnel gave the spouse of the deceased a free phone call back to the US or to England to let the family know of the terrible news (a phone call from ship to shore cost $12.50 a minute!).
They had lots of nightime entertainment--dancing, music, concerts, movies. But everything on board stopped around 11pm each night (except for the disco on board (to cater to younger people such as us 40) which stayed open til 2am). I am an early sleeper, so I usually hit the pillow round midnight. The other scholars would stay out in the pool and outdoor jacuzzi til sunrise (they also got nasty colds!!). I must say one thing, I slept extremely well. The rocking of the Atlantic just rocked one peacefully to sleep!
The evenings I listened to their swing bands, danced a bit (the other scholars were taking free ballroom dance lessons held on board during the day), or watched movies. The seats in the movie theatre were quite comfty and constantly vibrated. It was like getting a double treat--a massage and a movie!
It was certainly an experience. I did not partake in a lot they had to offer because there was so much to do. What I enjoyed best was getting to know the other 39 scholars. We all have gone our separate ways and I miss them.
We arrived in Southampton on 29 September. I got up extremely early to get my first glimpse at the English countryside. It was foggy (as usual) but beautiful! We passed by the Needles and the Isle of Wite. Gorgeous! Devonshire was beautiful from a distance. Southampton was quaint, but one surely saw how it was a shipping town. The QE2 was to leave again for NYC 3 hours after docking at Southampton (that's because it cost $250,000 just to have the QE2 dock there for three hours!). We had to wait a long while to disembark, for they went by decks. We gathered up our luggage and were shuttled by bus to London (a good 1.5 hour drive). We entered the bus on the left side!!! It was like living in a mirror, seeing the driver on the right and driving on the left hand side of the road!
There was to be a reception in London for us, but it had been cancelled because we got in a bit late. I was glad because we all were exhausted. And we all suffered from slight "land sickness," having gotten used to the boat, steady land seemed to rock back and forth. I didn't get to see much of London but it is only a 50 minute train ride from Cambridge, so I hope to visit soon and see some of the Marshall Scholars studying there.
We stayed over in a rather old hotel with the most uncomfortable bed in which I have ever slept. Eight of us were going to Cambridge. Early the next day we departed. It had been a long journey, but filled with mighty fun!
Next...impressions of Cambridge and the Astronomy Department....