Looking back, aboard the Queen Mary 2

by Betsy Herbert

Posted: 05/14/15 Santa Cruz Sentinel

by Betsy Herbert

As the Queen Mary 2 left the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal earlier this week, it was 82 degrees and sunny. I was one of 2,429 passengers onboard, sipping champagne and enjoying this iconic departure from New York City. We cruised past the Statue of Liberty and out to sea, bound for Southampton, England, due to arrive May 17.

The QM2 is a huge vessel, designed and built specifically for trans-Atlantic crossings. She is equipped with the world’s first four-pod ship propulsion system, as well as a power plant capable of producing enough electricity to serve a city of 250,000 people.

This morning, as we cruised past Nantucket, a thick fog surrounded us and the ship decks were all sopping wet. What a perfect opportunity to stay inside my stateroom and write about my travel experiences of the last month.

Looking back on my trip so far, I left Santa Cruz on April 10 heading north to visit friends in Oregon. On April 25, I arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, intending to take the train across Canada to Toronto and onward to New York City, where I would board the QM2.

Vancouver is a glorious city, edged by mountains, blessed with a beautiful skyline and harbor, and numerous gardens and parks.

 Fireworks at dusk from my hotel window in Vancouver.

Fireworks at dusk from my hotel window in Vancouver.

 Above: A view of Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island

Above: A view of Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island

Like San Francisco, Vancouver is undergoing a massive development boom. Cranes loom across the city, and the torn-up streets make getting around a challenge. Also like San Francisco, real estate prices are sky-rocketing.

On April 28, I boarded VIA Canadian rail in Vancouver for an overnight trip to Jasper National Park, which lies in the middle of the Canadian Rockies, near the Continental Divide.

Above: Jasper, Alberta train station in the Canadian Rockies

I had booked a bed and breakfast in Jasper intending to stay for three days to explore the park. Late that night, though, I received the news that my younger brother had just passed away, losing his long and painful battle with lymphoma.

I immediately set about changing my travel plans. Instead of taking the train across Canada and to New York City, I would fly back to San Jose from Edmonton International Airport in Alberta to be with my family, then fly from San Francisco to New York City in time to board the QM2.

The five-hour shuttle bus ride from Jasper to Edmonton revealed pronounced changes in scenery from the wild and rugged Canadian Rockies to the flatlands of Edmonton. The forests along the highway had been reduced almost entirely to crowded plots of young spindly trees, which are routinely hacked down and ground up for paper pulp. These tree farms resembled lawns on steroids, rather than wild forest ecosystems.

Above: Spindly forests used to supply paper pulp, along highway to Edmonton

Edmonton is both the capital of Alberta and the staging area for large-scale oil sands projects in the region. Oil derricks and giant electricity transmission towers dominate the landscape around Edmonton, a major supplier of fossil fuel energy to the rest of Canada. A big red sign on the highway identifies it as a designated “Dangerous Goods Route.”

Above: Oil derricks dot the landscape all around Edmonton

I boarded my plane in Edmonton on the afternoon of May 1. After 14 hours in buses, planes and airports, I arrived in San Jose later that night. For the next week, family matters, including a celebration of my late brother’s life, pushed my travel plans and writing to the back burner.

I’m reminded that traveling is not so much a vacation as it is living on the road. You make your plans as best you can, but there’s no telling what will happen next. That’s why I bought travel insurance, and why I highly recommend it for anyone traveling.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. She can be contacted through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.