Westminster Parliament

Conversation with political tragic husband went something like this:

“What do you want to see in London?”
“I want to do a tour of the Houses of Parliament, and other touristy stuff.”

And ‘stuff’… So. First thing we hit this morning is a tour of house of Westminster Parliament.  I hadn’t actually in before – obviously had been past Big Ben (currently under an inordinate amount of scaffolding) many times and taken photos of the famous building, but it never occurred to me to actually want to go IN.  😀

That’s Big Ben – you’ll just have to take my word for it…

It was a very interesting tour actually and wandering through the houses of Parliament was treated with far more reverence and than your average cathedral visit these days – no photography, quiet library-style voices all round and please do not touch pretty much anything.  It was just like how touring churches and cathedrals used to be back in the good ol’ days.
Our tour took us through Westminster Hall, then in through St Stephen’s Cathedral to the Central Hall, down the Peer’s Corridor and around through the State Officers’ Court to the Chancellor’s Court and the Monarchs Entrance.  We then went to the Royal Gallery where the Queen gets dressed in her Robes of State, to the Royal Court where she opens every Parliament, before making our way into the House of Lords then doubling back through to see the House of Commons.

The Palace is very elaborately decorated as you can imagine, with the House of Lords being doubly impressive with lots of large frescos, elaborate ceilings, royal portraits, red leather, fancy damask wallpaper, gilding and heraldic display everywhere, making for a dramatic comparison with the stone, oak panelling and deep forest green leather of the House of Commons.  The tour was very interesting – I learned that at 92, the Queen has only just started coming up the elevator to enter the Royal Gallery and up until now she has climbed the well worn 32 marble steps on her own.  We also learned that each time the monarch is required to open parliament a senior member from the opposition of the day is required to attend Buckingham Palace and is effectively held hostage until the Queen’s safe return (a throw back tradition to days when the relationships between Crown and Parliament were not quite so congenial… yes, we are looking at you, Charles I).  I did however know about the treasonous gunpowder plot, but was unaware that every time since that occasion that the the monarch is going to be entering Westminster, the Sergeant at Arms has his men search the cellars for any potential reattempts to blow up the Queen.

Forgive my jaunty angles… *cough, cough*

We had made our way to our 9am tour in the very quiet streets of London only to spill out afterwards into what felt like a cross between Times Square and Tiananmen Square with equal numbers of loud and pushy American and Chinese tourists. (Q: why do Chinese tourists favour matching fluorescent yellow t-shirts?  Have they not yet figured out that every other Chinese tour group is also dressing their pax in bright yellow too, thus making each Chinese tour group blend into the three other Chinese tour groups right beside them?  It’s a puzzlement.)  So our plan to make our way to Westminster Abbey next (with it’s one hour queue of yellow shirts waiting to enter) was quickly dumped in favour of heading towards the British Museum.

Whereupon we were greeted by an equal number of yellow shirts.  Oh well, in we went.

I have visited the British Museum several times before and had many many wonderful hours of quiet contemplation wandering the halls of antiquity there – marvelling at the beautiful objects on display, wondering about the people who made these amazing items, and pondering the ethics of the museum keeping these things that perhaps should be repatriated (if they can be kept safe)… today, well, today was not one of those visits.

It was a mad house.  Mr K wanted to see the highlights of the Museum’s collection, as you do, and of course, so did everyone else in the place, so we did what I would call the 50c tour and then got the hell out of there.  It was noisy and noisome – and the Museum didn’t help this by having some sort of performance art thing on in the Great Hall that was blaring on loudspeakers at a volume that you could still hear it in the rooms of the Waddell Collection. People were pushing and shoving to see things and literally pressing their noses up against display cases.  It was not pleasant at all… we may go back later in the week for a decent look, if time permits, as it is just around the corner from our hotel but this, this was not visiting the British Museum.

Yes…  :/  Tring tiles – simply fabulous!
After this we head back to the hotel for a few hours work to prepare for meetings next week before heading out to an amazing dinner at Cosmoba which is a very tiny family run Italian restaurant that has been operating in London since the 60s.  The food was amazing, the staff were fabulous, the wine was plentiful and the conversation was diverting – as I knew it would be.  🙂  We had a wonderful night with Steph and her Beloved, and Paul and his lovely lady, Jo and it is always great to catch up with friends when you travel.  Thanks for making time to hang out with us, beautiful people <3

I stumbled home way more pissy than I had anticipated being, and slept the not-so-righteous sleep of the ever so slightly tipsy and still horridly jet lagged!

Tomorrow – Hampton Court Palace!

London, I’m back.

People often ask me if I am excited about my upcoming trip and I always find myself replying, “Not really.”  Which is both true and untrue at the same time.  ‘Yes’, I am always anticipating the adventures to come, but ‘No’, I don’t usually allow myself to get excited about anything until the long haul flights are done and dusted.  They wreak havoc with my back pain, meaning that a flight to London is more likely to be preceded by anxiety rather than excitement.  C’est la vie… it is what it is.

Our flight this trip was no worse nor any better than ones we have taken in the past.  We flew Cathay Pacific and had a stop over in Hong Kong.  The first leg to Hong Kong was pretty much an empty plane – I swear nearly every passenger was laying down asleep for the 9 hr flight. Oddly, with so many passengers laying down it was interesting to see how many chose to lay down with their feet towards the window and their heads towards the aisle, where you’d think there’s a greater risk of being knocked about… weirdos. The second,12 hr, leg from Hong Kong to London was the complete opposite and packed to the gills – YUK!  Never mind, I got through it thanks to modern pharmaceuticals and a determination not to think on the pain too much.

Arrived in London safe and sound, but did have a massive delay coming through border processing – we must have stood in line for little over an hour, which in itself would still be problematic for my stupid back, but after 20+ hours in transit was my very own private customs hell for the duration.  Honestly, the Disneyesque rope system does nothing to encourage the orderly movement of the hordes of Chinese tourists that filed off about four plans that landed when ours did.  It was barely controlled chaos with border guards using GOOGLE TRANSLATE to ask people questions.  FFS, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Then it was onto the tube and heading into town to find out hotel all of which landed us here and getting cleaned up about 2 hours later than anticipated.  We have chosen to stay at the St Giles Hotel just off Tottenham Court Road in Camden this trip, seemed like a nice central spot and they have plenty of business facilities (which is going to come in handy as the week progresses).  There’s heaps and heaps of construction going on around here – footpaths being repaved, parts of the tube being renovated and some buildings appear to be being replaced, so the area doesn’t have its usual charm and instead seems a over busy space of too many people navigating too many obstacles to get anywhere.

Finally showered up and changed we head out to find a pub for a quick bite for dinner and found ourselves at the Jack Horner tucking into fish and chips and bangers and mash with a pint before coming back to the hotel and doing everything we could to stay awake until after 10pm.

Not a bad first day, all the plans executed, all the transfers achieved, nothing of any note experienced but we made it safe and sound.

When Words With Friends is Words With Strangers

So I quite enjoy a game of Scrabble every now and then… only most people I know won’t play with me anymore.  No idea why.  Enter Words With Friends on my iPhone.

I quite like to play, but every time I go away and find myself with limited internet, I end up forfeiting a bunch of games from them timing out, and you have to start from scratch when you get home again.  Which I have fallen out of the habit of doing because I tend to look at it, and think ‘I’ll just forfeit when I go away again anyway.’  Long story short, I recently updated my app and noticed some changes, and started playing again because I’m not going away for a few months.

The new version of the app, though, has made it quite ten times easier for people to start games with randoms on the Internet and unfortunately it seems that there are plenty of guys who appear to be primarily playing to basically try to meet women… who’d’ve thought? Within the space of a week, I’ve had about half a dozen guys hitting on me via online Scrabble.  :/

It started off innocuously enough, a few ‘Hi, how are you?’, ‘Where are you from?’, ‘Are you married?’, ‘Is that really you?’, type messages from guys who started games with me, and then this guy turned up:

My, who’s that handsome devil in the seriously impressive uniform?, Richard !!,,   Anyway, Lt. General Richard !!,, invited me to play a game with me and it was going fine. He was playing some obscure words that I’d never seen before which is rare but always great fun – I like a meaty game – and then about three moves in I get this:

Ummm… Do I have to answer this?  Is it rude to just ignore that and just play my next move?  Do we really have to make chit-chat to have a game of Scrabble?  Why is this unsolicited compliment making me uncomfortable?  Seriously, do we really have to talk at all?  :/

I left it for a few hours, but wanted to follow the game through so I eventually answered him and over the next day or so the conversation went along pleasantly enough…

Which was an honest enquiry.. how does someone at his rank on a peacekeeping mission in Syria have times for things like playing word games with strangers on the Internet? My curiosity however, was met with open hostility.  Whereupon the conversation, with no warning whatsoever, spiralled downhill rather rapidly… Errr… whoa there Nellie!?  That seems kinda special.  😮
Now I’m not one for being ordered to do anything, and especially not from a total stranger on the Internet. But curiosity kills the whatsamadoover and all that… And I was going to leave it there – but at this point I was pretty convinced that this wasn’t Lt. General Richard!!,, but rather more likely, a fucking boorish stockbroker named Ralph living in his Mom’s basement somewhere.

With minimal effort (a single Google Image search and a response within microseconds) the photo of this very smartly Lt General in the US military with the name, Richard CLARKE (Yes Dick, the name badge is quite legible in the photo) was not exactly hard to find, and according to the profile that Ralph probably stole the photo from, he’s a Director for Strategic Plans and Policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff!   IE:  someone you would very likely imagine is way too busy to be playing stupid word games with strangers.

So I decided to throw an extra volley across the bow…

Predictably, Dick didn’t respond and ended the game…
What a shame.  He was winning too.  :/

The Long Transit Home

Depending on how you look at it, it took us 37.5 hours or nearly six days to return home from Antarctica.

This morning we breakfasted and then disembarked the ship.  It was hard to say goodbye to some of these amazing people knowing we may never meet again.  They had shared their enthusiasm and passion with us for all things Antarctic and many of them had a huge impact on our enjoyment of this trip.  Travelling with such an intimate team has been amazing, I particularly enjoyed the staff joining us for dinner in the main Dining Room each night, you had an opportunity to really get to know them and really dive into what makes them come back each year to bring visitors to this remote part of the world.

We exited the gangway for the last time and the entire Expedition Team were lined up to wish us goodbye. Some of these guys we had only met superficially, but the zodiac guides who marvelled at the whales with us, Woody who was there to greet us on every landing site, and several of the others whom you just connected with – well it was hard to say ‘goodbye’. Ema is an amazing young woman – I really hope we meet again one day. I found we had so much in common.  Come to Australia, Ema!  <3 Weirdly, we were giving Woody hugs nearly every other day – he kept us informed and shared his seemingly boundless passion for Antarctica with us, and I was always wanting to hug him to thank him for sharing with us. Thankfully hugging the passengers isn’t against company policy. Trish and Annie. Ema crouching down to be as short as a Cross Girl.  😛 

And then – we were back at the End of the World in Ushuaia.
We found our hotel and dumped our luggage there and went for a wander about the town.  Aunty Mary and Lyn went on a tourist tram that runs around the city, while Trish and I went shopping looking for some things for the kids – but only after catching up with everyone on the free hotel wifi first of course!

Had a chat with yale, ‘Where are you now?’ he asked… shared my location for shits and giggles and it looked like this <–  God I love the Internet!

We pottered around town looking at souvenirs and mountain equipment shops until lunchtime, grabbed a small bite to eat (which in South America, always seems to mean empanadas) where we ran into – you guessed it, loads of people from the ship – before heading back to the hotel to check in properly and find our rooms.  We stayed at the Hotel Albatross which is down near the waterfront. Unfortunately, though, our rooms had even less views than last time!  C’est la vie, it’s only for one night and we spent the afternoon relaxing and finishing Trisha’s bottle of limoncello.  🙂

 

We opted for dinner at the ‘other most recommended’ restaurant in Ushuaia, La Estancia Parilla for some Argentinian BBQ – because they haven’t been feeding us enough on the ship, right?  No, not really… but I have grown rather fond of the chimichurri so off we went.
OMG – forgot about the portion sizes.  Between that and some language barrier issues, we ordered way too much food. Oh, and guess what?  We ran into more people from the ship at this restaurant too… who’d’ve thought? With full bellies and a few vinos under our belts, we wandered back down to the Hotel Albatross for our last night in South America.  Tomorrow the Dread Transit starts in earnest.

Woke up nice and early – dammit, and finalised our packing.  Argentina Aerolineas only allows 15kgs in their checked luggage and I got slugged on the way down and I was likely going to get slugged on the way back, but the others were doing their best to distribute their weight between their backpacks and their suitcase so we didn’t all incur a fee.  We breakfasted at the hotel and then checked out at 10:15am – yeah, that was as late a check out as they were willing to give us.  Thankfully they have a few lovely lounge areas where we could wait until about 11ish before we could call cabs and head to the airport.

Got to the airport without incident and almost immediately we were running into staff and other passengers from the ship – particularly Louise and Jessica (of the Toowoomba Coincidence) who seemed to follow us all the way home.  Anyway, the ‘Hurry Up and Wait’ of international travel had well and truly started and we took our first three-hour flight back to Buenos Aires.  No hidden stop-over this time so it seemed rather quick in comparison to the way down.  Oh and we even had a really happy and chatty check-in guy at the airport who didn’t charge me excess baggage. *wipes away a tear*  What a nice guy!  Oh and gotta love Argentina Aerolineas btw – your in-flight meal is a sickly sweet muesli bar thing, and there is no milk for your tea, only Coffee Mate (blergh!)…  But we were on our way.

As it happened, we had a short three-hour flight, whereupon we arrived in Buenos Aires Domestic Airport which is right in the middle of the city just about, and then we were stuck with an eight hour wait before we were scheduled to fly from EZE, Buenos Aires International (Who booked this shitty transit? Oh wait, that was me).  So we had been busy hatching plans before we went ‘Internet Dark’ on how to avoid spending what seemed like an interminably long time hanging around either one airport or the other, and we had decided upon asking Jorge if we could take him out to dinner!  Jorge was the driver that Ceri had recommended to run us to the airport when we left BA, so we had contacted him and said “Can we please book for you pick us up at the BA Domestic airport, and take us somewhere for dinner somewhere local before dropping us to the International?  If you are free, we would love for you to join us for dinner, and Ceri and his wife too if they are available.”  Yeah, it was a little cheeky, but we had plenty to gain (dinner at a local restaurant with a charming Argentinan!) and nothing to lose by asking how he felt about the plan.  😀  Jorge replied almost immediately saying it would be his pleasure, and what sort of food would we like?  😛  Score!

Here are Jorge’s contact details if you need a driver in Buenos Aires… 

I had told a few people on the ship about our transit plans to get home and they were quite impressed – Bernadette (from Holland) in particular, literally pouted and said, “I want to travel with you!”  She too had some horrid long airport layovers to deal with also.  And yes, you’re damn right we’ve done this before!  😉

Anyway, everything went to plan, Jorge met us at AEP Domestic and took us to a – you guessed it, an Argentinian BBQ place!  😀  I have no idea where in Buenos Aires this place is, but the food was fabulous and our hostess, Marinas was wonderfully welcoming.  Because we were there so early (Argentinians are rather continental with their dining hours) we pretty much had the restaurant to ourselves, and thanks to Jorge – we didn’t even have to take our bags out of the car – Marinas had blocked off a space right out front of the restaurant in readiness to give Jorge somewhere to park.

We had an incredible platter of BBQ’d meats – lamb, beef, chorizo, black pudding, and something that may have been offal or donkey (not sure).  Some wine, fresh bread and a token bit of salad and we were very happily recovered from our airline muesli bars indeed.  🙂  Sadly, dinner came to an end, and Jorge took us to EZE International airport to await our long-haul flight.  We checked in, and ran into Jessica and Louise, again.  Then found somewhere comfy to wait for our flight which was just after midnight.  The flight is much as these things always are, with extra bonus horrible thanks to the prat in front of me who reclined his seat within minutes of getting into the air, and of course, I’m still coughing from the end of the flu thing I have.  Thankfully though, we were able to wave away the horrible airline food as we had been stuffed full of wonderful BBQ meats and chimichurri goodness.

A movie or two later, and I thought I’d have a look at the live flight map (this is a big frequent traveller no-no, and should never be done – it makes the flight seem even longer than it is, if that is at all humanly possible).  But I did and discovered this:
We were headed right back to Ushuaia!  If there were direct flights we could have knocked six hours flying time off the trip!  Arggh!  We had heard that the first flight to land at Ushuaia’s international airport was from Melbourne and had come directly over the Antarctic continent – but they don’t do that route anymore – not enough call for it.  Nothing to be done but to sit back and take all the drugs.I managed to get some sleep on the plane, but won’t be admitting to how much of what medications it took to achieve that.  And eventually we arrived in Auckland.  There we had another three-hour layover (‘Hi, Jessica and Lousie, oh and Mark too) before we were to board to Brisbane.  Unfortunately, our flight was delayed by nearly an hour.  Fortunately (or perhaps miraculously) they seemed to make up most of that time in the air somehow – I’m not asking questions on that one.


We arrived somewhat bedraggled and overtired and cramped and sore in Brisbane at 10:40am on a Sunday morning and all I wanted to do was collapse in a heap.  But, you know, can’t do that – you need to get on local time as quickly as possible.  All up our transit time was roughly 37.5 hours door (in Ushuaia) to door (in Brisbane)… but then as we were going through Customs at Brisbane airport, I mentioned this to Louise, and she said, ‘Well, actually, we left our travel destination, Antarctica, six days ago, so really, it’s taken us six days to get home.”  Eww… thanks for that, Louise!  🙂

 

So home again, home again jiggety jig… until the next adventure.  <3

 

Quark Antarctica Expedition – What to Expect

When I was researching trips to Antarctica, I found some of the more nitty gritty practical stuff that I really I wanted to know, seemed conspicuously absent from the travel brochures. If I wanted to know any of the little things, I had to direct my questions to the Peregrine ‘polar experts’ and I didn’t want to be continuously bothering them with too many queries about what they might perceive are insignificant details. So I thought I would compile some info here, so I could remember it and also in case anyone searching is looking for a ‘Quark Antarctica Frequently Asked Questions’ type thing. We travelled on the Ocean Diamond in March of 2018, obviously different ships will have different amenities – these notes are based on our experiences on that ship.  If you’d like to read the ‘day to day’ activities of our trip, you can click HERE and find my travel diary of how our journey South of the Antarctic Circle went, and then just click ‘next’ to see each day.

Cabin
We didn’t get a cabin allocation until about two weeks before we were due to leave. This is an unusual experience for me as when we cruise, we usually choose our own cabin – but since we booked through a travel agent, we didn’t seem to have that option. When we finally got out ‘boarding passes’ there was a cabin number written on the travel documents, though it was in tiny print and you had to hunt for it.

Our cabin was really well appointed and quite comfortable for two. We had a larger than usual room with plenty of space to store our things. The beds are neither too soft nor too hard, so I’m a happy camper who prefers a firm mattress – of course, the rocking of the ship really helps you sleep, so the mattress is not as important as onshore stays.

There is a TV in the room which runs some documentary films and seems to have a movie channel, playing an excellent selection of favourite films, but we have been on board a week and I can’t find anything resembling a TV guide, so it’s a bit of a crap shoot if you want to plan an hour or so to relax and watch a movie. We were able to copy a movie off my laptop onto a USB and watch it through the DVD player, so that was useful.

The only issue we seem to have had with our accommodations is the air conditioning – when we got here the room was a stuffy 24C and we had to call in the AC guy to come and turn it down for us. As we were getting ready for bed, we told him we wanted it around 19C (which is a good sleeping temperature) assuming we would be able to adjust it using the thermostat for a warmer temperature in the daytime. But he seems to have set it at around 17C in here, and the thermostat isn’t working, so if we want to be warmer during the day we need to call him back every morning, and again to cool it down every night.

 

Quark Clothing – Parka and Boots

One of the first things the staff did for us was to outfit us with our Expedition parkas, which have been specially designed by Quark for Quark passengers for Antarctic and Arctic Expeditions.   They are big and bulky, with loads of pockets to hold your excess things, but they are super warm and I have found myself wearingly only a thin merino thermal layer, a long-sleeved t-shirt layer and the parka. No need for a jumper or polar fleece layer at all. Aside from being a butt-ugly bright banana yellow, they are an excellent item of clothing and have obviously evolved from years of feedback and from passengers being unprepared for the conditions here.

Over the top of all this, you will find yourself wearing your PFD (personal floatation device) every day when you are off the ship. You must wear it on the zodiacs and you will find yourself wearing it while walking around on land because wearing it is easier than carrying it. It’s a fairly slim design as life jackets go, but it’s fairly heavy and rather bulky on the back of your neck and chest. You end up walking everywhere feeling like the Michelin Man.

The Muck Boots that are lent to passengers to use while they are on their expedition are also another very sturdy and solid piece of equipment that is absolutely essential.   There is a major downside to the boots being provided on the ship though… they’re men’s boots. All of them. So ladies are being given whatever size is appropriate for their feet. In my case, I wear a ladies size AU 6 (or EU36-37) and in a men’s boot – say in Dr Marten boots – I wear a men’s size 4. Only problem is, women’s legs tend to be far more shapely than shoes made for men’s legs – men’s size 4 boot is effectively made for a ten year old boy with chicken legs. So I had to go a size up and wear a size 5, and even that was far too tight in the calves that I had to fold the boots down, rendering them less useful as waterproof boots when getting in and out of the zodiacs at landing sites. After the first day though, it rapidly became apparent that the size 5 boots, even with the height of them folded down on themselves was no good – as it was still so tight around my upper ankle that it was cutting off the circulation in my foot and starting to bruise my shin! So I had to go back and get a men’s size 6 boot. I am still wearing them folded down and even with two pairs of sole inserts in each boot, I feel like I am clambouring about in clown shoes. My feet are slipping about all over the place inside my boots and I have been ever so slighting twisting my knees every day – not good. I’ve also had to be extra careful on the rocks and ice when ashore to make sure I don’t lose my footing in these boots that are two sizes too big – they’re quite the trip hazard. So if you know you have a tiny foot and muscular calves… I’d seriously consider trying to bring your own good quality insulated waterproof boots from home. They might be expensive and may never get used much again in the future, but the stability and sureness underfoot would be worth it.

 

Food
The food has been amazing on board, with a wonderful variety and plenty of it!

An enormous buffet breakfast is served at approximately 0730-0830 in the main dining room and there are plenty of options from various breads, cereals, cold meats, smoked salmon, cheeses, eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, baked beans, a couple of omelette stations, tea, coffee, juices, yoghurts – the whole shebang.

Lunch is again served buffet style between 1230 and 1330 (depending on how morning land and zodiac excursions have gone). There is usually a pasta or stir-fry stations, plenty of salads and cold meats, and hot dishes that vary every day which usually include some grilled fish, and some sort of casserole option with vegetables, rice or pasta to compliment. Soups are also available at lunch, with breads, and desserts also on offer. There is a daily a la carte sandwich, hamburgers and other things available on request and the dining team do their best to help provide options for people with dietary requirements. There is also a new refreshing non-alcoholic punch to try every day.

Dinner is served in the main dining room starting from 1900-1930 after the evening debrief/recap. Dinner is a four course table service menu with appetizers and salads, a soup course (usually a choice of two soups), a main meal course (usually a fish, beef/pork option and a chicken option) followed by a desserts (usually a specialty dessert, an ice cream sundae type option, a cheese platter or a selection of fruits). Dinner is served with complimentary red or white wine – often sauvignon blanc or cabernet blends from Argentina to Italy to New Zealand. For those that don’t favour wine, beer and soft drinks and juices are also available. We are used to a cup of tea or coffee being served at the end of a meal, but for that, we needed to go to the Club to make our own.

Seating in the dining room is strictly first-come first-served, there is no reserved seating and no allocated table numbers. One of the best aspects of dining on the ship is that members of the Expedition Team will come and join a different table for dinner each night – a more interesting and well-travelled and sociable bunch you will never find.  So our dinner conversations have all been very lively and inspiring.

Internet
I could find ZERO information on Internet availability or cost prior to actually getting on the ship – even the Expedition staff who briefed us in Ushuaia were cagey about the accessibility once onboard, which is a bit shit or I would have told my family not to expect to hear from me at all for the next 14 days.

Further to that, there is considerable pressure from the Expedition Team who will encourage you to ‘disconnect’ and discover this amazing place as the first explorers would have – without the ability to connect back to The Real World™. Additionally, your fellow passengers will also loudly and proudly exclaim on the first day or so that they are going to completely disconnect for the duration as well, so there is considerable peer pressure to leave the Internet alone too.   Given that the Internet on the ship completely sucks balls, in both speed and expense, as well as actual availability – there doesn’t appear to be many people actually using it.

There are three packages available:

  • USD$35 Webmail Package : they will set you up a text only email address for use while you are on the ship.
  • USD$60 Package: Internet access of 60MB of data. Untimed but limited by data usage.
  • USD$100 Package: Internet access of 200MB of data. Untimed but limited by data usage.

None of these packages are suitable for blogging or sending lots of pictures back home but still, they might be all fine and dandy if you were 100% confident that you have NOTHING running in the background of your smartphone or iPad or laptop that was going to be refreshing or downloading or synching stuff while you were carefully trying not to use your data. It would be all too easy to jump online to chat a bit via WhatsAp or Messenger and then check your limit and find out it’s been all chewed up by something you didn’t know was running. I have decided not to buy an internet package but I have a feeling I am going to really regret that by the time we are on the Drake Passage on the homeward stretch.

 

Photo Journal
The on-board photographer who is here to give you hints and tips on how to best capture your Antarctic experience also sets up a couple of laptops on the ship and encourages passengers to share photographs. These photographs will be available to all of us at the end of the trip.

What often seems to happen with wildlife photography and when we are out in the zodiacs in particular, is that half the people on the small boats will have a great view of a particularly exciting wildlife moment and the other half of us will end up with a row of yellow jackets, or someone else’s camera protruding into our shot, or just a blurry mess as you spin around onto your knees to allow others to see. So we all get to view these amazing things, but only about half of us have the good fortune to capture those special moments of a whale breaching or of a leopard seal hurling it’s catch – so the photo journal is a really good idea and many people will participate in sharing their images. So long as you are not a professional photographer planning on making a commercial enterprise out of your photographs, I would strongly encourage people to share their best shots so we can all come away with beautiful images of our shared experiences regardless of where your seat is on the zodiac that day.

The images get compiled and are made available to passengers via a Quark website where you can go to download them once you are home. Worth noting is that the downloadable images will be in a slightly lower resolution than that which was provided by your fellow passengers. Also worth noting – once you put your images into the Photo Journal you are basically giving them to Quark; to potentially use in their advertising brochures and online web presence.  While the Photo Journal is a great resource for the passengers and is a fantastic idea for sharing your best pictures with your fellow travellers, Quark are very happily collecting amazing images for free – which doesn’t bother me, but maybe a concern for some.

Laundry
Halfway through our journey, a ‘special’ for an entire bag of laundry for USD$30 was offered to us, which we took full advantage of. The laundry bag is very generously sized if you wanted to wash jumpers or polar fleece items. The laundry list was amusing – there are pantyhose and stockings listed on the items that you may want laundered, and we couldn’t help but wonder who on earth is coming down here with pantyhose and ladies shoes!

Had we known this laundry offer would come around about mid-trip, we could probably have gotten away with a one week pack instead of packing enough clothing for two weeks – having said that nearly everyone here is wearing the same things to shore every day, and the same things to dinner every night, so it is not like a traditional cruise in that respect! Walking pants or even track pants in the dining room are passable attire.

Giftshop
There is a gift shop onboard that carries a limited range of Antarctic souvenirs, but they do have a good range of warm clothing if you find you don’t have enough layers or need a second beanie or something. I have noticed though that most of the items seem to circulate through a discount table or rack at some point – this could be because we are at the end of the season and they are trying to get rid of stock, or it could just be the way the gift shop always runs… but I’d avoid paying full price on any of the clothing items for the first few days and wait to see if any discount tables appear. The store manager also appears to have considerable discretion to discount items too.

As it happens, there is often an opportunity to send postcards from one from one of the stations along the Peninsula here. Now I haven’t sent postcards home for years, but we are in Antarctica and I’m kinda curious how long it will take, so why not? We were given about 30 minutes warning before going ashore that we would be able to send postcards at that day’s landing, so as you can imagine everyone was scrambling for the gift shop to pick up some cards – which unfortunately had heaps of cards with images of South Georgia and the Falklands and the Southern Oceans, but not many that actually had images of Antarctica or that said, ‘Antarctica’. So I’d advise getting i early and buying some postcards that say ‘Antarctica’ if you are planning on trying to send some home for fun – or better yet, pick some up in Ushuaia on spec.

Things I’m really glad I brought with me…
Merino neck warmer – I bought a cosy neck warmer at a ski shop in Whistler for about $30. So far it has proved a great investment on the zodiac cruising as you can pull it up over your face and to cover your ears when it’s cold, and it’s a lot easier to wrestle with than a scarf.

Toe warmers – we happened to pick up bulk bags of toe warmers when we were in Canada in January, and they were $9.99 for a pack of 16 pairs of toe warmers… here on board and in Ushuaia (and indeed back home in Brisbane) they are selling for about $3.00 a pair. So bulk toe warmers from Amazon or something is not a bad plan, they’re good and they really help when you are sitting still in the zodiacs for what can seem like quite a long time if you are cold. They are also useful to put in your mittens or pockets – or even attach them to electronic devices if the batteries don’t like extreme cold.

Laptop – every day we are out on the zodiacs and every day I’ve been worried about dropping my camera overboard. I have it tied to my wrist with a lanyard, so it’s unlikely, but I’m sure it happens to someone. Anyway, I’m glad I brought my laptop as I’ve been backing up my photos after every excursion – so if the camera goes over, I’ll only lose a handful of pictures, not the lot. Also, I’ve been able to write this blog even though I’m offline… which is good or I’d be so far behind I’d never catch up.

Teabags – weird as it sounds, English Breakfast tea is often thin on the ground. It’s popular as all giddy-up so it gets used up quickly and on ships sometimes seems to run out. The weird orange, chamomile, or apple cinnamon flavoured teas will still be around for the whole trip but good old English Breakfast tea bags will disappear. So I always pack a little bag – back up tea bags, raw sugar, hot chocolate sachets, chai lattes and even mushroom cup-a-soups. They don’t weigh much but can make life more pleasant – which probably says a lot about the type of traveller I am 😉

Things I wish I had brought with me…
A travel mug – there is no tea or coffee in our rooms and no room service, so to get a cuppa we need to go down to the tea and coffee station on Deck 4 and then carry it up four small flights of stairs to Deck 6. Not such a big deal, except when the ship is rocking or if there are plenty of people about. A covered travel mug would have been a good addition to my pack.

A crazy/unusual hat – even a bandana would do. It is apparently a tradition to hold an alfresco dining evening at some point throughout the expedition (weather permitting) and everyone is encouraged to wear a crazy hat. Come to think of it every cruise I’ve been on has a ‘mad hatters’ lunch or afternoon tea or something, so I probably should have been all over this one.  Instead, passengers were encouraged to get resourceful and create a fun and crazy hat from found objects around the ship. Mind you, you never seem to have a lot of spare time, so making some piece of creative headgear is not so easy.

A USB stick – I usually travel with one, but for some reason, I forgot to bring one on this trip. I mentioned earlier, the Photo Journal where people can share images they are happy to have disseminated to all passengers… if there is any particular photo you absolutely love in the ‘Photo of the Day’ or you hear people talking about someone or other’s great leopard seal feeding pic, you can copy it from the laptops during the trip to get the high-resolution version, rather than wait for the resized downloadable content. A USB is also useful to share bulk pictures or videos directly with other people you meet on the ship.

Chocolate – the Expedition Staff usually only have a few hours in town during turn around days and they tend to use that time to find free wifi spots to catch up with family and friends.  It turns out that one of the only food staples that they tend to run out of is chocolate. So if you’d like to make immediate friends with the expedition staff – bring lots of chocolate to bribe your way into their good books.  😉

Things I should have left behind…
Snacks – we brought a few snack foods on board, including cheese and crackers, because we know that the cheese and crackers thing isn’t really an Argentinian thing or an America thing for that matter. Many times I have walked into American supermarkets looking for the makings of a decent cheese plate, and found the options are severely limited. You just can’t find good charcuterie, pates, dips, and fancy cheeses in regular supermarkets the way you can in Australia. So we brought some of these sorts of snacks on board.   What we hadn’t counted on was, Gunter – our Austrian Executive Chef on board, who has the cheese and crackers and savoury snacks thing absolutely nailed down… an entire wheel of Roquefort stationed at every buffet meal; happy thought indeed.

Walking poles – One of our party brought a walking pole with her as she has long-term knee problems, and we were anticipating crossing rocky and icy terrain when ashore.  Quark provides walking poles at every landing site, so you can use theirs and not have to worry about bringing yours and putting it through the biosecurity cleaning processes.

If you happen to be reading this because you’ve stumbled on it while searching about doing a Quark Expedition and you have any questions that I might be able to provide insight on – just ask in the comments and I will do my best to answer.