Thursday, December 20, 2007

Logbook: Vienna III -- "The Back Story"

Viennaiii1mapThis Logbook entry isn't so much about what has happened over the past three days as it is about the "back story" of what's been going on for the past three weeks. As I mentioned in a recent post, after almost nine months in Europe I am ready to start moving east again and travel by land is complicated at best and impossible at worst. As a result, I have been trying to arrange sea passage across the Med, down through the Suez Canal and across the Indian Ocean to Australia or New Zealand. Because there are no passenger ships traveling along that route -- or any easterly route -- at this time of year, I contacted a number of companies that specialize in booking passengers on freighters. You may or may not be aware that many freighters have a few cabins on board -- primarily for use by company personnel -- that are sometimes made available to the public.

After an exhausting amount of "back and forth" communication both by email and by phone with folks in the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand -- including all of the adjustments for time zones that had me up most of the night a few times -- the best I could come up with was a ship leaving the Med in late-January and arriving in Singapore mid-February. This was far from ideal because it would mean I would have to somehow get across Indonesia by some combination of buses and boats which, according to various sources, is pretty much a bummer. Then I'd have to get to Australia somehow and eventually on to New Zealand, both of which are a lot more complicated than you might expect. If it wasn't the only thing available I wouldn't have even considered it, but circumstances dictated that I say, "I'll take it."

Now, because freighters are not designed for common passengers, they do not have many of the features that typical cruise ships do such as elevators or doctors on board. Thus, the "qualifying" process for freighter travel is fairly rigorous and includes multiple disclaimers, a medical certificate verifying fitness, mandatory medical evacuation insurance and a slew of other paperwork. This kind of stuff really isn't my favorite, but I buckled down and ticked things off the list, each time having to print, fill out, sign and fax back the various forms with the help of my gracious hosts here at the Rothensteiner. Also, because I would be transiting the Suez Canal, a yellow fever vaccination is mandatory and mine just expired. So, one thing on my list was to find a local travel medicine clinic and get a shot. (This probably gives you a clue why I wanted to be in a major city like Vienna to make these arrangements!)

Just as all this paperwork was being finalized, I got a call late at night from Hamish in New Zealand who said that there had been a cancellation on a ship from the Med all the way to New Zealand. It would be departing on January 3rd and arriving in NZ about 34 days later. Did I want it? Well, of course I wanted it. But I already had the lousy Singapore deal in process with a company in the UK. What to do? Hamish graciously advised me to call the UK in the morning and tell them I wanted to change, etc. I did exactly as he suggested and was told that although there was a waiting list for that cabin, I already had "money on deposit" for the other sailing which could be applied and put me first in line. The only catch was that I'd have to fill out entirely different paperwork for a different shipping company and get an Australian visa. By the way, they said, the sailing date is in just a couple of weeks so I would only have a few days to get everything sorted out in time to meet the paperwork deadline. So, having spent a preposterous amount of time with the first round of paperwork before and during Jennifer's visit, I had just the past three days to do most of it all over again. Plus, of course, I had to go to the Australian embassy and get an actual visa in my passport because there is some question about whether the on-line visa would satisfy the requirement.

Viennaiii2rickmersThe bottom line is that I did it. Of course I did it. It's what I do on The Voyage. I figure things out and I make them work. Sometimes it's pretty straightforward, but other times it is not. This time has been "definitely not." But, I can report that on or about January 3rd I will be sailing from La Spezia, Italy and arriving somewhere in New Zealand in early-February, about 34 days later. The vessel pictured here is my ride and I have been advised that it is a "good ship." I have also been advised that I have a single cabin port side on E deck and depending on how high the containers are stacked I may or may not have a view out my porthole window. Besides that, I really don't know much except that I'm headed in the right direction on a pretty much perfect route. I'll fill you in on details as I find them out, but you now know as much as I do. Stay tuned!

With all these arrangements finally in place, I am ready to head out of Vienna after a really nice, productive visit. I have enjoyed reacquainting myself with this fabulous city, reconnecting with my good friend Matt and sharing a really great week with Jennifer. Tomorrow morning I will catch a train to Graz, Austria for a couple of days to briefly check out that city which is so highly recommended by so many folks. From there I'm going to make a hop to Ljubljana, Slovenia for a quick look around then continue on to Italy. I hope to stop in Venezia for a couple of days on my way to La Spezia, but I won't know for sure until I get the low down on final sailing schedule from the port agent next week. So, I've got a week or so of pretty fast moving ahead of me, then a month at sea with nothing to do except stare at the water... or maybe at a stack of containers! Color me happy, though, because not only am I back in motion headed east but I've got a long sea cruise ahead of me! Woohoo!

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