Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Queen Elizabeth's world tour includes Long Beach visit to her auntie

Queen Elizabeth's pool is spacious and inviting, but understated in its artful touches. 
A stunning marquetry panel invites inspection as one enters Cunard' Queen Elizabeth.


Glittering chandeliers, beautiful wood,marble and tapestries adorn Queen Elizabeth's ballroom.

WHEN THE QE2 retired,  I was one sad girl.  I'd crossed the Atlantic eight times on her, cruised the Norwegian fjords on her, interviewed celebrities on her.  I have cherished, romantic memories of dancing in her hallowed ballroom with both of my late husbands.  The latest Queen Elizabeth is the third to bear the royal name -- christened by Her Majesty The Queen in October of 2010. We recently stepped aboard her to revive old memories and create new ones.
Though Cunard considers her Queen Mary its flag ship and the closest in design to the old-fashioned liners, Queen Elizabeth bears many of the familiar "liner" touches.
From its world class floating library (more than 6,000 books from which to choose), to her legendary "Queen's Grill" service, to elegant commissioned artwork and private boxes in the theater, the Queen offers contemporary luxury with a nod to the past for its 2,000-plus passengers.
Artist Arnold Schwartzman poses by one of two beautiful art deco
murals he created in the grand lobby of the Queen Elizabeth.
"UNDERSTATEMENT" best describes the major difference between other large ships and Queen Elizabeth.  You won't see glitz, flash and color. You will see dark polished wood, muted light, chandeliers, marble, classy artwork reminiscent of the Orient Express rail days, paintings and panels commissioned by Cunard using award winning artists.
OLD-FASHIONED glamour is the byword on QE. Art Deco inspired design invites comparison to the original Cunard queens -- Elizabeth and Mary, the first of which perished in a fire, the latter much revered and often visited in Long Beach. QM welcomed her "niece"  earlier this month, the reason for our invitation to tour Queen Elizabeth.
WITH QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 docked in Dubai now -- future unknown -- and the original QE gone, I invoked the cruise muse on a recent tour of the third QE, known simply as Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth's lounges and quiet spaces recall long-ago liner travel.
This "queenly" ship in 2015 recalls cruising of 75 years ago, when travelers packed steamer trunks and dressed in black tie for dinner, strolling the promenade deck with a pause for sherry or a cognac.
There's a "prom" on Queen Elizabeth, and old-fashioned deck chairs with blankets nearby, to take the chill off a bracing Atlantic crossing.
MOST of today's cruise ships -- emphasis of "cruise" -- are not intended to be "liners,"  although the distinction has blurred.

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Queen Mary's amiable Commodore Everette Hoard explained that grand liners were built for speed, durability and all-weather crossings, while today's cruise ships make specific circuits of "vacation" spots, often starting and finishing in the same location.
Cunard's three queens still cross the Atlantic regularly, as did their ancestors.
Queen Elizabeth's captain posed aboard Queen Mary.
His ship is behind him and his colleague.
Like the liners of old, today's Cunard queens accentuate elegance with the class and dignity of yore. You'll find harp music rather than a rollicking disco, and string quartets in the subdued public areas, not high-tech nightclubs catering to all-night partying. No poolside belly-flop contests, but a romantic dinner under a chandelier with five-star service from a white-gloved waiter.
IF YOU don't care to don black tie, you can dine in one of the casual restaurants, but our Cunard tour guide emphasized that Elizabeth's passengers want glamour and dress-up. They like ballroom dancing, lawn bowls and afternoon tea, thank you.
A bronze of Queen Elizabeth is among memorabilia on QE.
Although Cunard is American-owned, you'll feel close to the United Kingdom as you order your hamper from Fortnum and Mason, stroll Harris Tweed for sale and enjoy a cocktail in the sunlit Garden Lounge inspired by the famous glass houses of London't Kew Gardens.
ELEGANT MARBLE -- cream and chocolate -- blends with polished wood in public spaces. Beauty awaits at every turn -- in intricate wooden marquetry and maritime themed paintings. Happily, Cunard is a seafaring packrat. The framed memorabilia delights: a Christmas card from Queen Elizabeth II in a glass case, a solid silver model of QE2 made by the famed London jeweller Asprey, the bell salvaged from the first Queen Elizabeth.
The kakapo of New Zealand is up next.
COMING UP: New Zealand's birds are a wondrous lot. From the gorgeous green kakapo, a flightless parrot, to the kotuku, a sleek white heron, we'll take you to both islands, from Milford Sound to the southern tip, for birds of a Kiwi feather. Visit us here at www.whereiscookie on Wednesdays for travel, cruising, adventure, and nature-driven trips. Check out www.lilianslastdance on weekends for the arts, with features on theater, books and our new novel, "Lilian's Last Dance." Remember always to explore, learn and live!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Two Cunard Queens meet, take a bow in Long Beach


Cunard's majestic Queen Elizabeth sailed into Long Beach Harbor and spent the day, next to the venerable Queen Mary.


The Queen Mary has been retired from the seas since 1967
but still draws a million and one-half visitors annually.


IT WAS A GLORIOUS meeting!  Two queens -- one elderly, the other a fairly new kid on the royal block -- were side by side for a day in the harbor at Long Beach, California. It was a Cunard family reunion with a cast of thousands -- dignitaries and local ship lovers.
The 80-year old Queen Mary -- stationed in Long Beach, Calif., greeted her much younger niece with fireworks, live music, speeches, champagne and tours of both queens.
THE JOYFUL occasion marked the opening of an extraordinary ship's model museum aboard Queen Mary, and the launch of an ambitious museum project to be housed in Queen Mary's former engine rooms and adjacent spaces.
Dignitaries at the ribbon cutting of Queen Mary's Ship
Model Gallery included Richard Meadows, left, CTC and
Cunard president, and Bernadette Grenne, Britain's deputy
consul general to Los Angeles. Commodore Everette Hoard
of the Queen Mary, is far right. A major museum is planned.
QUEEN MARY, built in 1935 and considered the grandest ocean liner ever designed at her 1936 launch, has a noble history and is still much loved. She's been anchored in Long Beach since 1967 when she retired from the seas and Long Beach bought her. Every decade or so, another Cunard vessel does a "sail by," giving a "floating salute" while passing, but not actually pulling into shore. This time -- a first in history -- a modern Cunard liner docked next to the Queen Mary and spent the day.
QUEEN ELIZABETH, launched in 2010paid her respects while on a world tour, allowing her passengers to disembark and tour Queen Mary.  In turn, a few lucky writers and photographers staying in Queen Mary's hotel -- were invited to tour Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth sailed out of Long Beach Harbor with a glorious fireworks
display, bagpipe serenade, a jazz band, cocktails and speeches. Queen Mary
Commodore Hoard toasted her and his vessel with "Long Live the Queens."
The royal visit honored the Queen Mary's remarkable service as a World War II troopship, a makeover which endeared her to the western world and helped the Allies win the war. Many of England's best known personalities -- from Sir Winston Churchill to Noel Coward --  traveled on Queen Mary, along with American luminaries -- Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Loretta Young and many other celebrities.
IN MODERN times, Cunard's Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth sail the seas under the Cunard banner continuing the "grand voyage" tradition, exploring islands, exotic countries and world capitals, reminding travelers old and young of the grand days of ocean liner luxury and crossings that offered the best of everything.
Commodore Everette Hoard greeted Cookie, Keller and
 thousands of others to celebrate Cunard's 175th year and
Queen Mary's impressive Model Gallery with a spectacular
Queen Mary model crafted from a single mahogany log.
When two "queens" meet on the water, it's always a grand occasion, especially when they'll both be docked. Long Beach rolled out the red carpet and the Queen Mary offered free admission, an offer thousands of locals took advantage of.

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SO WE AROSE  at 4:30 a.m. -- in complete dark and thick fog -- to bundle up, grab coffees and head for the deck to listen for Queen Elizabeth's horn.
Queen Mary's gregarious commodore, Everette Hoard, was up at 2 a.m. to join the pilot boat in welcoming the Queen Elizabeth into the harbor.  He was the true star of the day-long show, greeting Queen Elizabeth brass and welcoming her world-cruise guests aboard "his" Queen Mary.  In turn, the Queen Elizabeth's captain came aboard to admire the model gallery and welcomed a few to tour the visiting vessel. Hoard officiated at an elaborate sail-out salute to Queen Elizabeth, from a vantage point on his beloved Queen Mary.

A grand stairway on the Queen Elizabeth features an elaborate wood marquetry panel.
UP NEXT: Come aboard with us for an afternoon on the renowned Queen Elizabeth.  The Cunard ship offers beautiful woodwork, elegant tapestries, traditional English tea, an inviting pool, and an array of stylish salons, dining rooms and a grand theater space.  All the detail makes this Cunard liner world famous. Look for travel, cruising, hotel and adventure stories as we explore the world Wednesdays at www.whereiscookie. For theater, movies and literature features, www.lilianslastdance 
updates you on the arts as well as tours and readings for our
new novel, "Lilian's Last Dance," soon out on paperback. Remember to explore, learn and live!
Carpe diem! That's the word.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What makes the Langham a great hotel? Head to Melbourne to find out


View at dusk from our Langham bedroom yields the splendid Yarra River, train station, cathedral and Federation Square.  
Stately St. Paul's Cathedral and lively Federation Square
make a fascinating, well integrated pair in Melbourne. 


YOU MIGHT not remember that you asked your waiter for a cup of mint tea, to point you calmly toward dream land before you hit the sack.
Perhaps you don't recall that you put a sprinkle of cinnamon on your morning cappuccino.

Beautiful teas and sweets are part
of the presentation at Melbourne's
legendary Langham Hotel.
But a good waiter watches, remembers!
If you enjoy your white wine with a single ice cube, you'll get that!
If you like your slippers by the bed, or nightie on the pillow, the housekeeper will make it happen.  The staff in a fine hotel knows these things and offers service with gracious ease. Superb service comes with training, practice and cultivation of "people skills." The Langham folks like what they do.
 THE LANGHAM personnel of Melbourne, Australia, knew and remembered our names, greeted us with sincerity and smiles, and went beyond the call to make our stay a highlight of a seven-week trip.
Federation Square, affectionately known as "The Fed," is a lively, dramatic
centerpiece of Melbourne life, and a fascinating place to spend time.
Our memorable visit to the much heralded Langham proved that splendid service is alive and flourishing Down Under. The Melbourne landmark is a shining star in a distinguished international hotel group, ranked a top hotel worldwide.  It distinguishes itself from the moment one enters the lobby.
We enjoyed a refreshing cocktail as we completed registration then were shown to our beautifully appointed room and champagne. We toasted vistas inside and out.
MELBOURNE'S Yarra River and the impressive Melbourne skyline were bathed in a coral and blue sunset from the Langham's prime location. We loved being
A lovely Langham bedroom -- with fine
 art, plants and a river view. 
a stone's throw from the city's cutting edge art scene, and its beautiful Federation Square. "The Fed" is a progressive mixed-

use development on three "prime space" hectares, with two well loved public spaces and a huge screen for broadcasting sports and cultural events. We enjoyed a boys' choir
The Langham, with its distinctive golden "L" symbol, awash in evening lights.
concert, broadcast from the nearby arts center. Tourists and locals alike relaxed on comfy lawn chairs as the emcee asked, "Can you hear us there at The Fed?" (Cheers, bravos, applause.)
Sweet treats -- the Langham club lounge
offers breakfast fruits, afternoon pastries.
DURING OUR five "Langham Camelot days," as we dubbed our stay, we watched life unfold at Federation Square, took several short cruises on the Yarra and strolled Flinders Street, Swanston Street and St. Kilda Road, all well known arteries in Melbourne's central business district.
A 1997 architectural competition resulted in construction of "Fed Square," now known throughout the southern hemisphere for its grace, boldness and multitude of uses -- shops, bars, restaurants, meeting place, concert hall.
The iconic Flinders Street Station, opened in 1909, with its golden facade and arched entrance, is a work of art.  Bold, modern "Fed" Square, originally controversial, now stands proudly across from St. Paul's Cathedral: Square and church happy, integrated.
WHAT A TREAT to return to the Langham, with its lovely lights and welcoming "L" -- plus vintage pink auto out front, emphasizing the Langham's penchant for pastels.
The hotel is a sanctuary nestled on Melbourne's stylish Southbank Promenade. From dining at Melba -- named after the famed Melbourne-born opera diva -- to cocktails at Aria Lounge, the Langham oozes artful style.  We didn't sample the fitness center, nor Chuan Spa. But friends from Germany and Japan reported the hotel's holistic wellness sanctuary's massage and facials use traditional Chinese medicine principles.
We did try the Langham's 15-meter indoor pool -- when we weren't frolicking lively Melbourne's streets or luxuriating in our river-view room!

MORE COMING: Train travel in Australia and New Zealand is an art. We continue the whereiscookie travel and cruise tradition each Wednesday. Look for the arts and literature on weekends at www.lilianslastdance.com. Remember to explore, learn and live!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Maori people welcome travelers with art, stories, beautiful landscape


Okains Bay encourages families to live there, providing cheap lodging
in exchange for children learning the Maori language.
We left historic Akaroa, founded in 1840 by the French, for a 50-mile plus drive.  We were met by a group of school children who welcomed us with song and dance.  Some of us tried temporary tattoos, and the Maori tongue greeting.

THE MAORI people we met during our New Zealand idyll were sensitive, welcoming, smart and funny.  We felt at home.
"I'm hungry," our guide said on the return to our ship after a long day. When she commented again that she'd love a cookie, I pulled one from my satchel, an extra from morning tea.
This young man was the student leader who welcomed us.
"Yum.  That hits the spot," she said, setting her microphone on her lap to munch for a moment.
OUR TIME with the Maori included the trip with Denise, to her family's village near Napier (previous blog), and a day at another, more remote Maori village, Okains Bay, whose nearest town is Akaroa.
Here, the Maori people are cultivating non-Maori people to their town.  They offer cottages with modest rentals to families with children who agree to enroll their young in the village school there. With that proviso, the children learn the language, customs, history and music of the Maori, assuring the preservation of the culture.
Early settlers lived fairly elaborately,
even in remote New Zealand villages. 
The Maori were world class fishermen as Okains Museum notes.
AKAROA'S HARBOR is one of the prettiest in New Zealand, and attracts French visitors because of its preservation of the French language and its "French feel" in the bistros, shops and outdoor markets. Many signs are in French, and the food and wine are French. As we climbed a mountain past gorges and farm land, we left the coast behind.  Approaching the village, we saw signs of both bygone Colonial life and Maori culture.

Okains Bay School preserves Maori culture.

WE WERE greeted at the village by a young man and soon we heard songs from younger children. Adults offered homemade pastries, then we were ushered into the astonishing Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum, with its carved war canoes, tapestries and entire rooms preserved with trappings of the early settlers' lives. The history in this museum is known internationally -- with fine marine and fishing exhibits and world class bird life displays, beautifully documented.

Dunedin's train station is the second most photographed
building in the Southern Hemisphere (the first is
the famed Sydney Opera House, featured in earlier blogs.)
NEXT UP:  Look to our new blog, www.lilianslastdance.com
for theater and book features, keying off the upcoming paperback publication of our novel "Lilian's Last Dance." www.whereiscookie.com continues its look at international travel and adventure, with a ride on New Zealand and Australia's classy trains and a visit to New Zealand's famous Dunedin Train Station. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us at www.whereiscookie.com

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Two days with Maori people: treasured time in a cultural bubble

Expressive hands of a Maori elder welcome visitors and enhance a story in a village on a Waimaramamaori.com tour.
Our guide, Denise, ponders a question in a pensive
and reflective moment before a musical show. 



THE MAORI people are a proud and noble race, descending from warriors, farmers, healers, astronomers and explorers.  
The people go back as far as known New Zealand history.  In fact, the first settlers of New Zealand were the Polynesian forebears of today's proud Maori people.
No one is certain where they came from or precisely when they arrived.  Some think they originated on the Cook Islands, others think Tahiti or the Marquesas.
Denise and her cousin, and now a nephew, above, lead
demonstrations and illustrate Maori games for tourists.
The tattoo is an art
for the Maori people.
Eels are cultivated as a
crop in the Maori culture.
TODAY'S Maori carry on the cultural traditions of music, family loyalty, crafts and gardening.  Group singing and dancing, or "kapa haka," has real power. The gentle people can sound fierce in their chants, but soft as singers of the lullaby in their Polynesian sounding story-songs.
IN VISITS to two separate villages, we felt a closeness to the people we hadn't expected in just brief forays into their lives. 
Young Maori students learn the art of music
and dancing from the generations before.
Their elaborately carved war canoes are respected globally. Their artful tattoos are passed on through generations, telling vivid stories of family, loss and accomplishment.
Our two brief days with the Maori are treasured memories, highlights of our New Zealand time.
The hours with these families -- generous hosts, good cooks, with wry humor and musical talent -- will stay with us forever.
OUR FIRST guide, Denise, exhibited a warm humor and sly wit that we found typical of the Maori people.
Dressed in a beautiful fur robe -- which some day will go to the next world with a revered ancestor -- Denise told us of her people's evolution, and the most devastating thing the Europeans brought to an ancient culture.
"The musket," said Denise, "changed everything."
For while Europeans brought pigs, potatoes and other welcome critters and crops, they also brought unwelcome muskets and disease.
After a presentation which earned school credit, Maori students say farewell 
to their guests with a handshake followed by forehead and nose touching.
 More than 20,000 Maori were killed during the explorations and whaling excursions of the English and French explorers from 1769 to 1840. The "Musket Wars" and disease killed more than 20 per cent of the Maori population. But things are looking up for this ancient culture.

 NEXT UP at www.whereiscookie: Cookie gets a New Zealand tattoo, visits a world class Maori museum and a Maori village and language station.  She and friends learn to say hello and good-bye with her forehead and nose. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at www.whereiscookie.com