We could have flown to the Netherlands, in retrospect. It would have been much easier than traveling by land via bus, boat, taxi, and on foot. But I don’t live for what’s easy. I live for what makes the best story later on.
The idea of traveling solely by land seemed romantic and fun at first, but it was pretty gritty in practice. It took us over 50 hours on buses, 5+ cities, and almost 3 weeks to make the trip. For most of that time, we were “budget” travelers. Which basically means weird bus seats with gum stuck to them, unusual airbnbs (does this guy know his roommates are renting his room out?) and begging for couch space from friends around the world. But for one glorious week, we went all out. We lived in luxury on the world’s last true ocean liner. We rubbed elbows with the upper class, wore fancy clothes, ate fancy things, drank fancy drinks. And by the end of it, we were quite glad to go back to the real world.
Our itinerary for the entire trip, start to finish:
Canada – Watertown, NY: car, 2 hours.
Watertown, NY – Toledo, OH: bus, 27 hours
Toledo, OH – NYC: bus, 22 hours
NYC – Southampton, UK: the Queen Mary 2, 7 days
Southampton, UK – London, UK: bus, 2 hours
London, UK – Groningen, the Netherlands: bus – 17 hours
So yeah, that’s 68 hours on a bus, not 50. My bad.
Obviously, the QM2 is the most notable part of this trip. Most of you know what the interior of a bus looks like and you probably don’t want me to describe all 68 hours of it. So:
We boarded the unconventional way: on foot. I completely missed the memo and didn’t realize that we were supposed to take a taxi to the embarkation point. We rode the subway until it ended and then walked about three kilometers of industrial and commercial piers until we finally found the little terminal, where everyone else was gracefully climbing out of sleek black taxis and private limousines. The baggage guy took our heavy things while we gratefully basked in the AC, our clothes close to soaked in sweat. Not our most inspiring entry.
Boarding took about ten minutes, including passport checks and a brief health inspection. We were shuttled off to our room, where we showered and changed and found a bottle of cold champagne awaiting us. We flopped on the bed, feeling like real grownups (ha), popped the cork and immediately got a little drunk. Dehydration. Oops. Five minutes aboard the Queen Mary 2 and already having way too much fun.
We were on deck with everyone else as the ship gracefully eased away from the docks and slid into the channel. The effects of the champagne disappeared as the Statue of Liberty passed on our right. I was overcome by the feeling that this was a deeply meaningful moment, but I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly. I thought about how my ancestors had probably made this trip in reverse and how they must have felt when they first saw the skyline I was now seeing. Did they feel like I did? Excited, a little scared, nervous about the future, sad to have left but excited to soon arrive? Before I could wrap my mind around what I was feeling, we were under the bridge and heading out to sea.
The Queen Mary 2 is breathtaking. Everything on-board is perfect, elegant, luxurious, and carefully designed. The food is spectacular. The wait staff are incredible at their jobs. There are swimming pools, spas, restaurants, clubs, casinos, theaters, game rooms, and more to be explored. The library was my personal favorite. It was situated right at the front of the ship, looking out over the open water ahead. I sat in a cubby there or out on the deck in front and read for hours. I read a book on bees, then a book on gardens, and then a book on astrophysics. I haven’t had so much time to read… ever. I didn’t miss internet connectivity at all.
We didn’t actually take that many pictures. There was no real reason to carry electronics, so I didn’t bother. Besides, I would have ended up with a hundred pictures of me reading, swimming, and eating. That’s pretty much all I did until we disembarked. In the evenings, we would dress up and go to dinner or watch a show. We saw a magician, Tina Brown (a feminist editor person), dancers, comedians, musicians, and even an astrophysicist.
Moral of the story: the Queen Mary 2 is amazing, the ship and the experience were well worth it.
However… We got sick of the other passengers pretty quickly.
Crossing on the Queen Mary 2 is like walking into a modern-day Downton Abbey. Most of the other passengers were snobby, wealthy, quite vocally liberal (which is fine, except when it’s the opener to every single conversation), and – worst of all – extremely nasty to the wait staff. It was as if everyone else was living in a completely different world. Maybe they were. The men we talked to were extremely self-absorbed and anti-women. The women we talked to were completely quiet unless the men weren’t around. Towards the end of the trip, I was starting to have problems with this. You know me, I’m vocal, I have opinions, I like to talk to people. But in every conversation, men were talking over me to engage with my boyfriend. If I tried to join, my opinions would be instantly and blatantly shot down. But if a man then brought up my exact opinion in his own words, he would be taken seriously. Ugh. Will was invited into conversations. It was repeatedly assumed that Will was the one with the university degree, the opinions, the future in business, whereas I was “probably into art or something.” Hilarious, because it’s actually the opposite for us. Add to it the fact that everyone was competing for the “Most Life Achievements” and “Biggest Salary” awards and we were fed up by day four.
So, long story short, it was a wonderful ship and getting to cross the Atlantic was a first for me. I had the time of my life. But there is a dark underbelly to the tradition that stood out. Maybe I’ll write about it more later.
More about the QM2 to come! We did a galley tour, which deserves a mention!