Cruises, Then and Now

The old Nieuw Amsterdam. Source: Public Domain,

[Author’s Note:  This post got completely garbled when I tried to transmit it to the server using the terrible shipboard internet service in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  If you tried to read it before and gave up, convinced I had downed a few too many Bloody Marys, you might want to give it another shot.]

As I write this I am in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just east of Hawaii, heading home on the final leg of a cruise on the Star Princess, 5 days from landfall. I am not an expert on cruising, as I found out during dinner conversations with other passengers, who casually admitted that this was their 20th cruise. Nevertheless I have bookended my life with cruises, starting out when I was a child, and ending up in my retirement. In between was work, and no time for chunks of vacation taking up more than a week of my time. But I do have fond albeit remote memories of those old ships and cruises, and would like to compare and contrast that era with today.

Back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, I traveled transatlantically or cruised in the Carribean on the Homeric, the Nieuw Amsterdam, the Rotterdam, and the Queen Elizabeth II. The Nieuw Amsterdam was the ship I went on the most, going on two Carribean cruises in the 1960s and a transatlantic crossing around 1970, just before it was retired from service. It was a vessel built in the 1930s and is typical of the design of the older ships. Staterooms were below, with portholes, not balconies. The public areas of the ship were on the superstructure: the Promenade Deck, Sun Deck, Lido Deck, and the like. The dining room was located in the middle of the ship, without windows, at the center of gravity to minimize rocking and presumably broken plates. Over the dining area a string quartet played on a little balcony. The ship had a gray and white hull, with two yellow, green and white striped stacks. It was a beautiful ship–seaworthy and sleek in design, unlike the topheavy behemoths of today.

In the public areas were shops, lounges, a movie theater, and a dance floor. There was no continuous buffet as is de rigeur on current ships. Nevertheless there were little buffets around the ship and no lack of food. There was no lack of activities, sports, and entertainment. In what would be considered an environmental horror today, I remember my father driving golf balls off the deck of the ship in a competition to see who had the best golf swing.

There was an open deck on which you could circumnavigate the ship and get fresh air, and a similar deck below, the Promenade Deck, on which you could do the same while protected from the wind and cold by windows. On this deck were pingpong tables and places to sit and play card or board games. I remember on my first cruise circa 1960 all the crew and sailors were Dutch (this was the Holland-America line), but even by 5 years later the economics of cheap labor had replaced them with crew from Thailand and Indonesia. Today the crew stem mostly from the Philippines and Eastern Europe, though the officers on this particular ship are Italian for some reason.

In contrast to the sleek ships of yesteryear, today’s ships are squat and topheavy with row after row of balconies. I like having a balcony (I am sitting on it now, watching the waves go by), but the result is an ugly ship. Life on the modern cruise ship is centered around the buffet, which operates non-stop and is always filled with people. Eating, drinking, and more eating and drinking seem to be the major activities on board. Because of the design of the ship, there is no deck that you can walk all the way around in the open air, without climbing up and down stairways. There is no Promenade Deck in the traditional sense. However, despite these changes over the years, the ocean is still the same, magnificent and mysterious. It has a vast calming influence and makes it all worth while.

Of the different modern cruise lines I have been on, Princess, Royal Carribean, Celebrity, and Cunard, only Cunard makes an attempt to uphold the sailing traditions of old. My experience is based on their ship the Queen Mary 2 (QM2), on which I have made several transatlantic crossings since retiring. The ship has clean lines and a better design. There are balcony decks, but there is also a deck around which you can walk in a continuous circle in the open. The ship has a large, beautiful library with comfortable chairs that face windows overlooking the sea. The ship I am on now, the Star Princess, has a puny library with just a handful of books. The QM2 has a tasteful decor, with less kitsch than usual. Overall it feels more like a real ship than a floating hotel, or floating buffet.

Make no mistake, I’m not complaining (too much)! Being gently rocked by the silvery Pacific Ocean and listening to the white noise of the waves is akin to Paradise. So enough of this! Back to the buffet!


Somewhere in the Middle of the Atlantic Ocean

Just a brief post today (internet service is poor and expensiveIMG_0008). Right now I am 3 days out from New York City, nearly halfway to Southamptom, England, on the majestic Queen Mary 2. This is the view out my cabin balcony. The ocean is shrouded with fog. We are moving along at 23 knots, slower than the liners of old that made the crossing in 5 days — a concession to fuel economy and an attempt to keep the ship as stable as possible in the rough waters. Surprisingly, the outside air temperature has been warm in the high 60s. It is windy, but comfortable out on deck with just a light jacket on despite the date being January 6th.

The 7 day crossing allows adequate time to stop and contemplate the wonder of this world of ours, tucked away in a spiral arm of one of billions of galaxies. There is so much water here on our planet! It is hard to appreciate unless you spend days on a ship crossing an ocean. Of course not many people have time to spend a week on ship, especially hard-working Americans. By the time you arrive at your destination, your week of vacation is over, and you’d have to fly back. Indeed most of the travelers on the ship are British, of retirement age, or both. Ship travel is actually a bargain, considering what you get. It is like eating in a fine restaurant 3 times a day, staying in a fancy hotel for a week, and traveling to Europe all for just a little more than a plane ride. Yes you can do it for less than a thousand dollars a person. But time is money and one thing people don’t have much of these days is free time for themselves.  So instead we have to suffer being crammed into ever-shrinking space in airplanes.

The ocean is ever-changing and yet always seems to remain the same. Now that we are beyond the continental shelf, it is miles deep. There is a vast unknown world out there. It is an awesome and fearful sight. It reminds me of how weak and small we are compared with the power of nature. One can’t help but admire and wonder at the pluck and certainly foolhardiness of those who first crossed it in their fragile wooden boats.

Early this morning we crossed close to the site where the Titanic went down, over a hundred years ago, perpetual reminder of how we are never as smart or clever as we think we are.

Books Computers & Software Travel

Tips for an Extended Stay In Europe

IMG_20140615_103318243_HDRMy wife and I are heading back to Europe again for an extended stay.  A year ago we did the same thing, moving to Paris right after we both retired from our medical careers.  We are planning another 6 month stay.  Prior to this second visit, I was able to think about the things that we did right and the things we did wrong on the first visit. Here’s some of the lessons learned:

  • Staying more than 3 months in France. This requires a visa (in the UK you can stay for 6 months without a visa). Or, you need to be or be married to a European Union citizen.  If you are married to an EU citizen, as I am, you can apply for a Carte de Séjour, which is what I did last time. Be warned: it is much easier to get a visa!  If you go the Carte de Séjour route, you must bring your birth certificates, marriage license, financial records, must open a bank account in France and show you have a steady income, must get all your documents in English translated into French by a state-approved translator, and must be prepared to struggle with the French bureaucracy. Only the persistent persevere. I was able to complete the process, but I don’t recommend it unless your are planning permanent residency in France and have no other option.  Fortunately it will be easier for me this time.  Due to a recent change in British law, I was able to obtain UK citizenship via my mother’s being a UK citizen when I was born (prior to the recent change in the law, you could only claim citizenship through your father, believe it or not!). So I don’t need a visa and can stay in Europe as long as I want through my new UK citizenship.
  • Packing. Last time my wife and I took two moderately sized suitcases each and our carry-on bags with us. This time we are down to one suitcase each. We ruthlessly cut down on what we are bringing. In France nearly everyone dresses in black or gray clothes, so no point in bringing any other colored items. Except for our dictionaries and this essential book we are not bringing any physical books. They are just too bulky and heavy. As much as I love real books, this is one situation where eBooks are essential.  Last time I brought stuff I didn’t wear or use at all. Not this time.
  • Electronics. In order to continue writing posts and developing apps in Europe, I need my electronic gear! When I first came over last year, I was worried that I couldn’t get by with just my laptop with its 15″ screen, as opposed to my big screen system at home. As I have already discussed this is not a big deal anymore and I am totally comfortable doing all my computer work on my Mac Book Pro. Since I do Android and Apple app development, I need at least one device of each for app testing. I have my Android phone (Motorola Droid Maxx) and an Apple iPad Mini 2. I called Verizon about unlocking the phone and apparently all their 4G phones are unlocked by default (an interesting tidbit I hadn’t known). When I get to France I will take out the sim card (it is removed by pulling out the volume control) and get a French sim card. Cell phone data and phone minutes are very cheap and easy to buy as needed in France. Never use your US phone service in Europe, even something like Verizon’s International Plan. It is crucial to turn off your service when you leave the country, or you might be stuck with huge data fees. With all the data syncing that phones do in the background, you can easily run up hundreds of dollars of fees in a few minutes. Fortunately, at least with Verizon and AT&T, it is possible to put your contract on hold while you are abroad. You pay a minimal fee ($5-10 per month), are able to restore service when you return to the States, and as already mentioned, get to use the same phone in Europe with a European sim card. Note that the phone needs to have GSM capabilities which most modern phones have, and may need to be unlocked by the cellular provider — call them to do this. The only disadvantage to suspending or pausing your service is that the contract period is extended by however many months you suspend service, and your eligibility for a phone upgrade may also be delayed.
  • Pausing other services. Services like cable, satellite, internet, phone, trash pickup and so forth should also be paused. This is easy to do online or by calling each company. Again the monthly cost is low while these services are paused, and it is easy to resume service once you return. Mail delivery is a special case. For a brief trip you can have the Post Office hold your mail, but for a trip lasting months this is not possible. We use a mail forwarding service (US Global Mail) that can sort and scan the mail we get, with the option to open and scan or forward what we want to us. It is important to try to go paperless with all your utilities and services, so that you minimize the physical mail you receive, as it costs money to forward mail to France.
  • Health insurance. It is necessary to carry Health Insurance abroad. We use GeoBlue. It is relatively inexpensive but requires you maintain a Health plan in the US as well. We are working on getting health insurance in Europe which would be cheaper, but you can only qualify for this if you are European citizens.
  • Internet. I should mention that the internet service in France is very good, especially compared to the disgracefully slow service I get living just outside of Denver. Free internet at cafés and restaurants is somewhat less available than in the US. Usually you have to ask for a sign-on code to use this. There are some public hotspots in parks, though this is not as widely available as I would like.  TV and internet phones come with residential internet service, and the internet phones are handy for calling back home for free.

So these are some of the tricks we’ve learned from our last extended stay in France. I’ll be happy to answer any questions either here or on Twitter (@manndmd).

Computers & Software Music Travel

EP Studios Status Report

Return to Paris
Return to Paris

I’ve been a bit lax on the social media front recently.  In fact, there are some days that I forget that there is such a thing as social media — that is, if it were not for my phone’s frequent pinging and buzzing to remind me of its existence.  Truth is, I’ve been busy with other matters.

My wife and I just finished moving the contents of our condo in Louisville, Kentucky (a.k.a. EP Studios, Eastern Headquarters) back to Colorado.  This was a major undertaking.  We were in Louisville over the Thanksgiving holiday, but had to spend our 4 day stay packing up our stuff in boxes.  We then had to drive back to Colorado in time to beat the moving truck.  We have been unpacking since then, with only a few boxes left to go.  Sadly, there was no time during this hectic visit to Louisville to visit my old friends there.  We’ll be back though, as my son and 3 grandchildren live there.

We’ll be returning to the European Headquarters of EP Studios in Paris, France for another 6 month stint in January.  There are a host of projects that I will be working on there, in between classes at Alliance Française, visits to art galleries, and glasses of wine.  I have a backlog of blog topics that I need to write about.  Probably fewer of these posts will be on medical topics, for reasons I have already explicated.  As I get further into my retirement, I feel less like a doctor and more like a human being (sorry, just a joke!  Hopefully a false dichotomy!).  On the programming front, I will be updating the EP Coding app with the new 2015 CPT codes.  I have already updated both my medical apps to use Android’s new Material Design theme.  I am also working on a simulator app based on Edward E. Smith’s Lensman books.   There are also a number of hush-hush top secret projects in their early stages here at EP Studios.

Gigliola Cinquetti and composer Domenico Modugno in 1966
Gigliola Cinquetti and composer Domenico Modugno in 1966

On the writing front, I have not been completely non-productive (I believe a legal use of a double negative, or maybe French is corrupting my English).  Here is a post I wrote for the Chicago Schlager Music Review on singer Gigliola Cinquetti.  If you don’t know what Schlager means, it is German pop music.  It’s one of my interests though admittedly not a very well known musical genre in America.  It’s big in Germany and the Chicago Schlager Music Review is a great introduction to this type of music.

As any regular reader of my blog knows, I like posting on non-medical topics and will continue to do so.

Happy Holidays!


Paris Update #2

We are starting our third week in Paris.  Here’s a quick update.

The little alley we live on.
The little alley we live on.


Continued cold and rainy.  No snow.  Apparently not as cold as back in the US.  Maybe the Gulf Stream protects us from Polar Vortices.


We went to two museums this weekend.  The Museé des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts) is housed in an old abbey.  It is full of old scientific instruments, old cars and trains, steam engines, and so on.  The main reason I wanted to see it was because it is an important location in the book Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco (you may be more familiar with his book The Name of the Rose, which was made into a movie with Sean Connery).  The pendulum in question hangs from the dome of the abbey, and is pretty cool, especially if you have read the book.  The other museum we went to today was the Centre Pompidou, which is a modern art museum.   It is an extremely out-of-place looking building that looks like a conglomeration of hamster tubes.  Inside there is all the weirdness of modern art.  I have been there before and it is a fun place to walk around.  There is a small church down our street where there are regular concerts and we are going to one one Monday.  Paris is not a huge city, and a lot of our entertainment just consists of walking around and exploring.

Centre Pompidou
Centre Pompidou


We try not to eat out too much except on the weekends.   Since I am a vegetarian we have to be a little selective in our restaurants.  This weekend we went to dinner at a Tibetan restaurant and Pakistani restaurant.  Basically any kind of food you want is here.  There is even an American restaurant called Breakfast in America that serves things like pancakes and hamburgers (including a veggie burger).  I am also getting addicted to Mars bars, unfortunately.


If you read the prior post, one of the things I need over here to stay more than 3 months is a Carte de Séjour which is a residence card.  When we went the first week to the Préfecture de Police there was a very nice lady there who told us what we needed for the card.  When we went back we did not get to see the same lady.  Instead, we ran into a woman who can only be compared to the Hound of Cerberus, the three-headed guard at the gates of Hades.  This woman was not going let me get my card — not on her watch.  She even tore up the instructions the other nice lady had given me.  Now we have to get our marriage certificate translated into French by an official French translator here in Paris (we had already gotten it translated and the translation notarized in America, but that was not good enough for this harpy), and we had to get original bank statements showing we were not destitute, not just the printouts from the Internet that we brought with us.  And, we had to cut down the biggest tree in the forest — with a herring.  Actually that last is from Monty Python, but you catch my drift.  Anyway, to escape this bureaucratic nightmare, we have hired a lawyer who specializes in this stuff, and hopefully we will get this done soon.

Look at those shoes.  They scream American!!
Look at those shoes. They scream American!!


I doubt anyone cares, but our Internet service here is fine, except for a persistent problem with our Android phones losing connectivity with the Wifi router.  I thought I had the problem fixed by making some changes in the router, but each time the phones work for a while and then the access point becomes “Saved, and secured” but not “Connected.”  Basically any changes I make to the router reset it, so it looks like the problem is fixed, but then eventually the problem develops again.  It never happens with the Apple stuff I have, or, curiously, with my Nexus 7, which obviously is also Android.  I am convinced this is just a problem with the router, and I’m debating getting another wireless access point.  After all, I am going to be here 6 months so it would be nice if everything worked.  By the way, Netflix and Hulu are both blocked in France.  YouTube works fine, and I can download movies with Google Play and with iTunes.  But it seems odd that Netflix and Hulu are missing out on the market here.

What Am I Doing Here?

Good question.  I am feeling a little less isolated because I am understanding the language a little better, and understanding how thing works here better too.  Gretchen is taking her advanced French courses every weekday morning, and I am starting a French course too (I think the name of the course translates into something like “French for complete morons”).  I am also working on my coding app for EP.  More on this soon in a future post.

For now, Au Revoir!

Language Travel

Paris Update

Eiffel Tower, January 19, 2014
Eiffel Tower, January 19, 2014

We’ve been in Paris (France, not Kentucky) a week now.  We have moved into the apartment that will be our living space for the next six months.   Gretchen and I have spent the week settling in, figuring out where to shop for food, how to get around the city, how to work the washing machine, and other essential tasks.   She has started her classes at Alliance Français, and I have been walking around trying to look inconspicuous, hoping no one will ask me a question in French that I can’t answer (which would be pretty much any question).  Here are some of my initial observations.


Not too different from Louisville, Kentucky in the winter.  Some cloudy days, some clear, some rainy.  No snow so far.  Temperatures in the 40s and 50s mostly.  Nothing too extreme.


Scarfs are de rigueur.  So we each bought one.  I already knew the French wear dark clothing from prior trips, so that’s what I wear too, though my white-gray sneakers are a pretty good give-away that I am not French.  Women wear dark tights and short skirts (yes, I do notice these things), or pants tight enough that they might as well be tights.  No one appears to be overweight and if they are they are probably Americans.  People walk around and avoid eye contact, quite unlike the casual friendliness of Kentucky and the US South.  When we were in New York City people there also did not greet each other, so this is hardly a unique European characteristic.

Living Space

We moved into our apartment, which went well.  It is small, though everything is smaller here than in America.  The kitchen and bathroom are slightly bigger than a phone booth (if anyone remembers phone booths these days).  There is a living room and a bedroom.  Anything bigger would have been too expensive.  Living in Paris isn’t cheap and we need to keep costs down.


We attempted to complete two major tasks our first week.  One was to start up a local bank account.  This would allow us to wire money from the US to the local bank and avoid a lot of charges involved in using a credit or debit card abroad.  We went to a bank and found we had to make an appointment to start an account.  We came back for the appointment and spent about and hour and a half filling out paperwork to start the account.  Thank goodness Gretchen is fluent with French, as the people in the bank spoke almost no English.  Gretchen has dual citizenship (American and Italian).  Having a European Union passport allows her to do a lot that would be difficult for a US citizen.  Anyway, after much filling out of forms the bank account was settled.  The second task was to get me a Carte de Séjour.  This is basically a residency card that allows me to stay in France over 3 months.  Gretchen with her EU citizenship can stay as long as she wants in any European country.  The husband of a non-French EU citizen (it is actually harder if your wife is French, but that’s another story) can also stay in France without a visa as long as he produces proof of marriage to the Préfecture de Police.  Well no one, including the French, seemed to know exactly where to go to get this done.  After being misdirected to 3 different wrong places (and putting about 20K steps on my FitBit) we finally reached the right place.  We then took a number and, after waiting, went in only to find we didn’t have all the documents with us we needed.  So we will try again tomorrow.


We brought a lot of electronics with us, including our two Android cell phones, two Apple iPods, an iPad, my Nexus 7 tablet, and two Apple laptops.  Our apartment has phone, TV and Internet service all through a DSL modem (not a cable modem).  The router is a “DartyBox” with IP address  Of course the web interface is all in French, but using Chrome to translate works fairly well.  The reason I tried to fool with the router was that not all our devices can connect to the WiFi interface.  Specifically there are no problems with the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, the 5th generation iPod Touch, and the Nexus 7.  Unfortunately both Android phones (including a Droid Maxx with Android 4.4 “Kit-Kat”), and the older generation iPod won’t keep the connection (We haven’t even tried the iPad, which is first generation).  Resetting the router allows these devices to connect, but eventually they disconnect.  The Android phone label the SSID as “Saved and Secured.”  But not “Connected” unfortunately.  Some fruitless googling and examining the router setup failed to achieve an answer.  I have never had this problem before and I think it is probably the French router doesn’t play well with some of our American devices.  I could buy a different router, but there is no guarantee it would work.  I guess I should be satisfied that at least some of our devices work.  The Internet speed clocks to about 15 Mbps, not bad.


As Dorothy said, we’re not in Kansas anymore.  I hope with future posts to share more of what I discover in the “City of Lights.”  Stay tuned.