The Trip of a Lifetime – or Lost at Sea
I write to you from my desk on a luxury ocean cruise ship on the North Sea. A year ago in March we booked a tour of Norway, Denmark and The Netherlands. You know of my obsession with Viking legends, so this was a dream to be fulfilled at last. As the days before departure finally reached 60, I think the countdown ticked away every day. The website for the cruise line said 58 more days to go, 57 more days to go before your trip, etc., etc., until we were starting to think of packing our luggage.
We had to perform all of the COVID protocol. Neither one of us had ever contracted the virus in the two years before. We each had two vaccinations and two booster shots. The Monday before our Wednesday departure, we went to a testing facility in Georgetown for the saliva swab test. Nervously, we waited for about an hour. We were sent an email. We passed! On our way at last!
We drove to Washington, D.C., the day before so we could stay all night at an airport hotel. Not only was my husband unfamiliar with the roads, including the I-495 Beltway around Washington, but also we could leave our car at the hotel for up to three weeks and take the hotel shuttle to the airport the next day.
We were flying over on SAS to Copenhagen. Shockingly, nobody seemed COVID curious at the airport. The mask mandate had just been lifted by a federal judge the day before we left. We boarded the airplane without anyone even asking to see our PCR negative test results! I expected blonde stewardesses with long braids, but the friendly brunettes were very helpful. We flew all night and landed successfully in Copenhagen, then had several hours to wait for our next short flight to Bergen, Norway. Finally, as we left the airport terminal for our bus ride to the ship, we were greeted by a huge sign attached to a sheer cliff of rock that said "Bergen?" in large yellow letters.
Cruise workers swarmed around shepherding us to our bus to a heavenly maritime vacation. Our luggage was to be taken care of for us and placed at our stateroom door. We were herded up a gangplank to the looming ship – our very first ocean cruise! Everything was TSA inspected. They asked, "Any watches?" "You want watches?" I exclaimed, to their immense amusement. "I'm wearing three!” And I do wear three at a time. I know, some people have called me eccentric.
Then came the vials that mimic spittoons to test us for COVID, to be provided every morning – a rude awakening. Believe me, this becomes a Kafkaesque ritual from science fiction that can make you or break you. We made it to our stateroom and had only one of our four suitcases waiting at our door. I went berserk, because I love to dress up, and also my medications for a couple of weeks had been placed in my carry-on, which the worker bees had whisked away.
After running to the cargo hold, I was told that the baggage of the 750 passengers had to be run through TSA inspection, and our three missing bags had been “misappropriated." They found them later, but meanwhile, I was in a sweat. After that, everything seemed to be paradise. We enjoyed an elegant dinner with spectacular views. Waiters, ever eager to please, fussed over us. We were paraded by elegant room after room, with some staircases that mimicked giant fish bones with pale-green, frosted-ice steps. A view of a beautiful sunset from the bow window of an upstairs lounge was accented by a long, flickering fireplace and fur throw rugs. An icy martini in my hand completed the perfection all around us.
Two talented young girls played classical cello and violin every evening, including the haunting theme song to “Schindler's List,” which I requested. We took three shore excursions, the first one to scenic Flam, Norway, a small, charming village on a fjord that offered homemade goat cheese. One excursion was to Stavenger, Norway, where we sat in the village center at the end of the harbor and watched Hummelesque children toddle by, and one excursion took us to Kristiansand, but because it was Sunday, the famous Fish Market was closed.
I was finally becoming so relaxed and free from the worries of the world, and tired from walking that Sunday afternoon, we lay down for a nap. I had chosen my wardrobe for dinner, a real orchestration – Eskimo boots, a Nordic top, my favorite neon-green glasses waiting on the nightstand – when the phone rang.
When I picked it up, a mysterious voice said, "Stay in your room; you may not leave your room. A medical person will be knocking on your door." "What?!" I exclaimed. He would say no more. The COVID Curse – I knew it! After all four vaccinations, I thought we were safe. I went into a fit, but Jeff, as usual, said, "Stay calm, it may not be that." Sure!
A little later there was a knock on our door. A creature in a spacesuit awaited us, all in white with a giant beekeeper-style hat and the face covered by a plastic shield. "You must come with me now, Mr. Seemans. Gather your necessities quickly." "What?!" I screamed. Jeff threw his things together as best as he could, blew me a kiss, and was headed down the hallway, past horrified fellow passengers out for a bit of fun, as the second spacesuited alien walking behind him sprayed disinfectant from a huge canister gun!
I fell on my bed and wept, feeling more alone than I have ever felt in my life. He was taken to a quarantine area on a lower deck with 20 other poor souls from the 750 who boarded. He cannot leave that room and I cannot see him until he tests negative for five days, or after 10 days when, hopefully, we can leave this luxurious Ghost Ship and go home.
I have not tested positive “yet" (don’t jinx myself), but I have to stay in my room for three days. If I test positive after that, my own 10-day torture cycle begins. Jeff barely has any symptoms at all beyond a common cold. We've missed two more port stops, Oslo, Norway, and Skagen, Denmark, I think. I have lost track of time. Seeing, from my window, passengers leaving on buses for day trips and returning with bags of souvenirs. Hearing their itinerary on a public address system, I plug my ears. No one will come near us! We are treated like lepers. I must admit I have become Joan Crawford-like in temperament. This is not funny anymore!
Jeff finally talked to some other detainees on either side of his small balcony. One couple has been there for 17 days, the other neighbor of his, an infectious disease nurse, has been there in quarantine from Day 1 when five crew members came to her dinner table and asked her to leave. If you've ever read Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" about the camaraderie in a tuberculosis ward, you will get the drift of what Jeff was going through.
They are still there because passengers can either elect to stay onboard the ship, or go to a hotel. We would stay in separate rooms if he is positive and I am negative. We had chosen and paid for a three-day extension in Amsterdam, but that was totally eradicated. We would have to go to another hotel selected by the cruise line for the contagious, in separate buses since, so far, I am negative and have a separate room from Jeff, who cannot leave his room until he completes his 10 days. What's the point? No fun! They have reported us to the CDC, so escape is not possible. Stopped at the border! We can leave at the next port after Jeff's 10-day confinement, so we have chosen this route and will stay on our Captive Boat.
Months ago, Jeff had planned a day and a romantic dinner at the Rijksmuseum. Gone! A visit to the Van Gogh Museum – evaporated like the tears that ran down my cheeks. Every day, the cautious maid who knocks on my door asks, "Did you have a good day?" Joan Crawford banged it shut after saying, "NO!" But I suppose I must learn to be nice or it will become worse. Damn the defiant!
I had packed my suitcases right after Jeff was taken. I thought of going with him, but unusual caution ruled my mind. The suitcases surrounded me like Stonehenge, a barrier from this melancholy existence with luxury food, anything you want, anytime, brought to you from the outside world on a tray. I have always said, “No Takeout Ever,” but now it is the only lifeline thrown to me. The suitcases stand as a symbol of future flight, like the bags of a Bedouin.
I just ordered two dips of vanilla sorbet with two cones placed on top like the horns on a Viking helmet as I watch another tray being whisked in and out of my room. This time it was the boy from Uzbekistan who breezed in. He forgot the cones. Oh, well, fuming over trivialities is gone. I had been peeved by the disappearance of my lipliner yesterday, but that seems minuscule now.
Hooray! A call from the ship's nurse – I tested negative for three consecutive days! I'm cut loose! I don't know how to react to humanity after being in the Gulag Archipelago for four days. I walk through the sea of humanity downstairs, feeling foggy and somewhat antisocial. They ask me, "Nice trip?" and when I say no, and tell them the truth with much waving of the arms, some are sympathetic and some back away. Some trust my explanation that I am CDC certified.
We're staying on until Jeff's 10-day quarantine is over. A new batch of passengers in the hundreds is coming onboard tomorrow. I was warned to be careful. "New germs from airports and airlines will be in the air" when they arrive, I’m told. Their sales philosophy seems to be, "Bring in the schools of passenger fish, and catch the unlucky ones in the COVID net. They're really, really unhappy in the galley below, but we feed them well and maybe they'll stay at the bottom of the tank for a while.” Who will get struck by the COVID lightning bolt?
Some good news – at least I have remained negative for the whole trip in spite of mingling. Jeff can come out of his "seaside rest home" (or Arrest Home) after his 10 days and we can at last return home to "Our Beloved Delaware!" A lifeboat at last in the form of an international airplane. Finally, an exciting panorama presents itself to Jeff from the jet's window, a view of the snowy, mountainous tip of Greenland for several breathtaking minutes!