In the Summer our island succumbs to the heat. Our little nation holds the dubious record for having the most expensive electricity in the world, or so I’ve heard. Where other islands resist the heat… More
Today I woke up in Malaga. I know this because the Cruise Director told me. This is what cruising around feels like, as any cruiser will tell you, you have no idea what day of the week it is but you know where you are in the world. If you’re cruising for a few days or a few months the feeling is the same. Stepping up the gangway and onto the ship, you leave all day-to-day concerns behind… quite literally. Out in the ‘real world’ there are worries that drift away the moment you step onboard. Here are some of my favorite things to ‘let go’ of when I’m cruising.
1) Let go of Time. As mentioned above, days of the week and all adherence to time can be left in your wake. Who cares? If you’ve signed up for a tour, the tour escort will figure out the details of overcoming museum entries or when you need to be where. All I care about, if I’m leaving the ship on a solo foray, is what time I need to be back onboard. That’s it. And when the ship is sailing around and I’m safely on deck, the world is my oyster. Feeding times happen when they do, my body generally reminds me when it’s the next time to imbibe something. Otherwise, I’m quite content letting the hours pass me by, along with the scenery.
2) Let get of Impatience for things to happen. There’s no commute. I know I’ve been onboard for awhile, because the other day I started becoming impatient waiting for an elevator for all of two minutes. Then I calmed myself by remembering it was ‘rush hour’. That time of the day when tours are gathering, breakfasts are finished and the crew have finished their morning meetings and there’s a shift change. Imagine! I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to handle driving to work and waiting at a traffic light ever again.
3) Let go of what to wear. That’s a strange way to start a sentence… I’m not advising you to ‘let go’ of clothing completely, it’s not that kind of a ship! But what I am writing is that you’ve packed what you’ve packed and you’ll just need to make it work. There’s an amazing feeling of calm that comes over you when you realize that your wardrobe is in a comfortable rotation, and today… yes it’s time to put on the navy blouse again. Also, to all the new guests onboard… this shirt is new… glorious! (Btw… remind me to write the next blog about fashion onboard and what to pack… this is critical so you can cruise worry free and fashionably).
4) Let go of what people think. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just share the best bits of yourself without ever having to share ‘everything’. That’s the beauty of cruising conversation. Everyone is on this amazing experience together, so there’s never a lack of chit chat if you’re interested… but also you don’t have to say a word either. Anything you offer will be warmly received… and if not you won’t be running into that cold fish at your local post office or the bakery every week. No sir. At the end of the cruise you’ll go your own way. BUT there’s every possibility that you’ll engage in titillating (a bit worrying that the word titillating took me four tries to conquer… I may have ‘let go’ of my basic writing skills!) conversation.
5) Let go of Responsibility. Responsibility for yourself is quite limited onboard. Probably the most important thing to remember is your emergency route… but even during an emergency crew will help to guide you. There’s nowhere else in the world where you can abscond from as much adult responsibility as on a cruise ship. The Captain drives you around, the crew feed you, the staff entertain you… really you basically turn up in one of your pre-packed outfits and you’re all set. Imagine any other vacation where this happens… or any other point in your life… no, you can’t. (Unless you’ve checked yourself into a psychiatric ward perhaps… but even then surely there are programs one must attend and stricter dietary requirements.)
Cruising is the way to go. On a ‘normal’ vacation you have to keep track of things like keys to your room or directions around the city. You’ll spend most of your day juggling a takeaway coffee cup, your google maps, and the steering wheel. Disastrous. What I’m proposing with cruising… it’s magical! Imagine a world where you misplace your key and someone helps you. You’re thirsty and there are an assortment of included beverages instantly available. You won’t spend your days comparing restaurant reviews on yelp, or figuring out where to go based on distance in miles. No. Just book your trip, pack your suitcase, walk up that gangway and leave your worries behind. Before you know it, you’ll be hooked!
The newest Viking Cruise ship, Jupiter, is where I’ve been living for the past few months…. a place to call home. I’m so familiar with this environment now that I can well and truly write that there’s a lot to love about Viking. Of course, I am biased! A hundred percent… and keep in mind that I’ve lived on other ships in other capacities and maybe loved them just as much at the time. But romance is a fickle beast… and at the moment, my heart is with this particular Norwegian family of guests and crew. How could it not be?!
Because most luxury liners are enviable… I thought it might be helpful for me to highlight what little things make Viking special.
The bathroom floor is heated… yes, that’s right… each morning the warmth radiates through my little toes and wakes me gracefully. Perfect. Also, the shower pressure is amazing!
While I’m on the subject… the public restrooms here have birdsong. Yes. All day… I imagine all night? Birds happily chirp along while you visit the facilities, as though you’re taking respite in an alpine forest. This is a wonderful idea. It makes me happy, calms me… but also there are certain positive technical aspects to creating a melodic background in the loo. Just writing…
On to other things…
Berries are always available for breakfast. No need to ask, they are right there. You can order turkey bacon as well… I don’t eat pork so this is a once in a week treat that I look forward to. Also, there’s a special Scandinavian coffee bean that is brewed and served in one of the lounges each morning with a fabulous view.
There’s sushi every night, and pizza, and stir fry, and ice cream… on top of the ever-changing array of delicacies. Sometimes it’s nice knowing there are the simple things available too.
Books are not restricted to a library. They are everywhere. Different areas offer assorted genres, so you might be on your way to breakfast when you spot your next reading adventure!
Water is flowing… drinking water. You can help yourself at various areas to a refreshing drink… still or sparkling.
A retractable dome covers the pool area. This means that no outdoor events are weather dependent! Dancing, dining, or late night movies feel daring under the stars.
There’s a special voice box headset that you wear on tour, so that even if you get stuck in the back you know what the guide is saying! Simple. Clever.
Like most beautiful ships there’s a lot of artwork, but here you can take your own art tour and hear about each piece using your voice box headset.
There are throw blankets everywhere. Ships are cold. Blankets make it feel like home… I’ve never seen so many people happily dozing off.
HGTV! This is new… as part of the live tv stream they have my favorite channel! I can not say no to a Fixer-Upper episode… or all of them… and while I’m floating around I can plan some new additions to make to our island abode… even better. (There must be space for one more pillow… hmmm). Perfect.
Maybe this list seems a bit bizarre, most certainly I’ll have forgotten things. But off the top of my head, these are the little things that make a big difference when cruising with Viking.
The crew are amazing of course (I warned you completely biased)… but most crew are amazing, right? Definitely.
All I know is that I feel so blessed each morning I wake up to experience life onboard, and can’t wait for each upcoming adventure!
Airbnb has taken over our little island of Montserrat, and I’m completely in on it. I was skeptical at first… still am a bit… but so far so good? Our island is unique, as each place is. But we don’t have any major chain hotels. And most people come to the island and rent a villa. Now, guests to the Emerald Isle can also rent a room or an apartment.
When we renovated our home, we really didn’t plan on renting out any part of it. But once our apartment was completed we realized that it just made sense to say yes to the idea. We decorated it for our friends and family, but at the end of the day I figured it was worth a try putting it online.
For those of you who haven’t gone through the steps of signing up through airbnb, it’s very easy. Each part feels manageable… and before you know it you’ve spent several hours putting together your profile etc. Once it was all set up I started getting nervous. What if no one liked it? What if I’d just put our beautiful baby (yes, still writing about an apartment) out there and no one wanted to visit? I waited and waited and just when I’d almost forgotten I’d signed us up… ‘ping’! An alert came through, Sea Dreams Boutique Apartment had its first guest!
Now when you have friends or family come to stay, you put out nice things and make sure it’s comfortable but if they need anything they just holler and it’s fixed. But hosting a guest that you’ve never met before is much more intimidating. And on an island where you can’t be guaranteed you’ll find any basics anywhere at anytime… I was in a fluster. I wanted everything to be perfect for my baby’s first date (yes, still writing about an apartment). It took all hands on deck to ensure that everything was just so, and I almost didn’t want to hand over the keys when the time came. It was perfect.
Our first guest was perfect too! Friendly, and clean and even wrote a good review and loved the place! And that review led to more bookings… and fingers crossed long may it continue. With each booking new issues arose. Things that only arise on an island…. like the power outs and providing flashlights… or trying to arrange dinner bookings when all the restaurants are closed… or flying ants that swarm the lights. You know, island life. All the things we take for granted. But when you have guests you just want it all to go smoothly. But all of our guests took it as part of the charm of island life.
My favorite part about hosting is the money. No one ever says that, but it’s obvious isn’t it? I mean you’re not going to let strangers into your life for free? Well, unless you’re writing a blog that potential strangers could read I suppose…. hmmm… you know what I’m trying to convey. So the money. It’s not much but it’s enough to keep things running and cover costs (and have some change to buy new cushions or finish projects in the garden… I’m hoping).
My next favorite part is seeing the island through the eyes of people coming here for the first time. And being able to share with them the things I find special about this place, and hearing about their experiences. It really has made me fall in love with some aspects all over again. The friendliness of the islanders is always mentioned, and how quirky a place Montserrat is, and the hiking trails that lead you all the way up through jungle to mountains that offer views of the sea on all sides. A reminder to always appreciate what is right in front of you.
When we say we live in Montserrat, we encounter a variety of responses. The most common of these is confusion. Even the most worldly traveler can easily miss our little piece of paradise here. Some people say, ‘It’s French isn’t it?’, or ‘Isn’t that near Barcelona?’, or ‘Oh, yes… it’s Irish? The local people there have red hair don’t they?’. And all of these suppositions, are kinda sorta right. But even if I were to say, ‘Yes, at one point the island was owned briefly by the French but it’s British… and it was named Montserrat by Colombus because it means ‘serrated mountain’ in Spanish which is the same as the monastery near Barcelona, and Irish were left on the island… but no one I’ve met who’s from Montserrat looks Irish in the least.’ All of this still doesn’t answer the question of ‘Where the h*ll is Montserrat?’.
It’s in the Caribbean. It’s small (10 miles by 7 miles… and half of that is in the exclusion zone- I’ll get to that later). It’s part of the West Indies… the Lesser Antilles… Leeward islands and is a British Overseas Territory. You need to go through the island of Antigua to get to Montserrat… either via ferry or eight-seater plane. There are no traffic lights, no chain stores or chain restaurants, no large hotels. People wave at you as you drive along. The grocery store gets its vegetables in on a Wednesday… if the container gets in… this is entirely weather dependent. There are five thousand people… give or take.
Although we moved here (hubby, dogs and cat) only a few years ago, I’ve known the island for much longer. I first came here as a child in the 80s and even went to school here. So Montserrat is part of my story. A vibrant, lively place. I remember it before. Here, on Montserrat, there’s a before and after.
In 1995 the Soufriere Volcano became active. Some people lost their lives, and half of the island was slowly covered in ash… including the historical town of Plymouth. For the next ten years it felt as though Montserrat may be lost forever. I was here, but only as a visitor for a few months at a time. The hearts of Montserratians are strong and proud, and even though they may have been forced from their homes and blanketed with grey ash… they persevered. Some people refused to leave. Some had to. Some have returned.
During the volcanic activity, I was on the edge of it only. And even that was enough… enough to feel the frustration. When the ash fell, the world turned dark. The Caribbean air still hot, the powdery substance crept through any opening to make all surfaces dusty… it cloyed at each breath.
In 2016 I came back here. Each day, each week, month, year that the volcano is quiet… we are all grateful. And we feel so blessed to be a part of this community. This little island that refused to give up. Each person a survivor.
And now the possibilities seem endless. The island, always a wonderfully welcoming place, is entirely its own. A step back in time. Eco-tourism is slowly happening. The reef here is unique as a result of the volcano, so too the trails, and day trips into the ‘buried city’. But the thing that really sets Montserrat apart from the rest of the Caribbean is the people who reside here. The people here have the time.
Getting to and from the island can feel a bit daring. Bad weather can set a flight back hours or days. Due to the nature of working on a ship, my hubby and I often travel quite frequently, so the trip to Montserrat is not always easy. I was idly complaining about this one day to a local man. His response was perfect, “It’s not easy to get to heaven… but when you make it… why leave!”.
That’s Montserrat. Come and stay, we have the time.
The Caribbean Sea dips in and out of your view as you make your way across the island to our little spot near the beach. The sounds of the waves crash in the distance.
Everything here is vivid and alive. Colors painted across the canvas of the mountains. The roads narrow and secretive, only ever showing you glimpses of what you know is around you. A jungle arches its way across the path. Donkeys bray and goats bleet, mangoes fall like leaves when the season is right.
Here is where we found our paradise. The one we want to share with others. A place where people smile and wave, even though you’ve never met. Grins like sunshine. Stop and stay awhile. Pull up a chair, surely we must have people in common the smiles say. And they mean it.
‘The way the Caribbean used to be’, the way Montserrat is.
There’s no rush. We have the time.
Coastal blues, and calming greys are the pallet for the apartment. A place we invite you to share with us. Come rest awhile. Sit on your private balcony and wait for the sun to set, and the tree frogs to chirp.
The island is a special place, in a world where so much is changing…. come and stop moving for a moment… just be.
So, let me start by writing that when we found the house of our dreams… it wasn’t quite the house of our dreams. The structure was good. There were a few termites to contend with, which required a trough of poison to be set around the house. The pipes were fine… but had been compressed under the floor over the years so that there was no guarantee of sufficient water flow. The windows probably would have been okay… but with the increasing chance of hurricanes in the Caribbean it just seemed prudent to get rid of the tinted glass and opt for louvered metal.
Visually the place was beige. But when you entered the property and the sea was right there… everything was forgotten.
But where to start with the renovation? Surely, it wouldn’t take much. We just wanted to replace the floor tile, paint the ceiling, and the walls, new bathrooms, new kitchen… and then those built-in closets have to go… which means… a new wall for a walk-in-closet?
And so it began. My hubby and I onboard a ship would gleefully open an email to see what progress had been made over a few months. I never imagined I could be so happy about tile arriving, and then the correct grout arriving, and the tiler being available…. and thinset? What? We needed thinset? It’s not on island? What the h*ll is thinset?! You get the idea.
But because it took so long, each piece felt like a victory. I was so used to wanting something, earning the money, then getting that thing. Done. And on to the next ‘thing’. But here, on the island, each detail is treasured. I look at a pendant light and I know where it was ordered and how long it took to arrive and go through customs and import taxes… only to be broken… and to have to go through the whole process again. But it’s taught me patience, and it’s definitely made me appreciate our home that we’ve created.
It’s also a process that makes you a part of something bigger than yourself. We were able to take the time to watch the local craftsmen and women at work. They became just as involved in the project as we did at some points. Their interest in the outcome was inspiring. From tilers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and masons to seamstresses and of course our amazing property manager. It took a community to raise our house into a home.
There are many tales of woe… a shower pipe that leaked three times into the mason’s work causing endless grief etc…. but all’s well that end’s well. A house is a living breathing thing when it becomes a home.
When we left our ‘place’ in New Zealand, a spot that we really had turned into exactly what we wanted, the local real estate agent said something to me that I’ll never forget, “When the ‘things’ are gone, it’s just a shell”. And she was so right. The day I left, it was empty. Nothing but a structure again.
And now, here we are, we’ve breathed life into our new shell. Much like the hermit crabs that scramble atop the rocks of the beach, I have no doubt that in time we’ll see another shell that looks a little more to our liking. But for now, this one’s just right. And it doesn’t matter about the material things… it’s all about the love you fill it with… but don’t you just love those cushions!?