Knights Impact exploratory trip day 5: Cultural excursion—5 January 2017

I spent the morning today in Amber Cove working on the program documentation and inflicting my Spanish on innocent Dominicans who deserve better. One drawback of this type of travel is that it isn’t an immersive language experience unless you go out of your way to make it more immersive. But I figured out that if I told the Dominican employees at Amber Cove (and elsewhere) that I was practicing my Spanish, they would help me by speaking Spanish to me, slowing down, and also seeing when I didn’t understand and going back to English. As always, people are grateful when we make even a small effort to speak their language. Today I learned how to say “I am learning” (Estoy aprendida) and I learned what rum that isn’t white is called: dorado (golden). I figured café (brown) couldn’t possibly be right! I also learned the word for “ice cubes” but I have forgotten it. Luckily I rarely use ice cubes, so no great loss. Most of all I am proud of myself for successfully asking “Do you have an espresso machine?” which is an important inquiry to be able to make. Tienes una maquina de espresso? (Note to self: learn how to type the upside-down question mark before a sentence and learn what it is called.)

My afternoon today was the “Caribbean Culture” excursion, a visit to a few important sites in Puerto Plata with a guide who taught us some basic cultural and historical information along the way. We began in the town square, which features some Victorian architecture, a cathedral, and statues of two heroes from Dominican history, Juan Pablo Duarte and General Gregorio Luperon. Facing the square is the bright-yellow Neoclassical-style town hall featuring the arms of the city. On the coat of arms appear an F and a Y for Ferdinand and Isabella, a reference to this island’s history as a Spanish colony.

The gazebo in the town square

The gazebo in the town square

The city hall

The city hall

The square from across the street

The square from across the street

The cathedral, San Felipe, is of course vastly different from the elaborate stone edifices seen in Europe but it fits the architecture of the square and the reality of the climate. Our guide mentioned that the cathedral was restored and improved most recently in 2010, including the addition of air conditioning for Sundays when everyone comes to Mass. Today, a Thursday, the A/C was off and the windows and doors were wide open. I did not get to follow my usual practice of lighting a candle at the Sacred Heart shrine (I am not Catholic but I have cultivated a habit of doing this when I visit cathedrals) because this cathedral did not have candles available in exchange for donations. BYOC: Bring Your Own Candle. I will know for next time and proceed accordingly.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Sacred Heart altar

Sacred Heart altar

Leaving the square we crossed the street to a vendor’s cart; he had fresh coconuts, a machete, and straws and we all got to have fresh coconut water. That was a minor revelation to me: I have had packaged coconut water a few times and don’t care for it because it always tastes, well, packaged. This coconut water had a very mild taste that combined sweetness and a sort of vegetable freshness. I enjoyed it and am convinced that it helped keep me from getting dehydrated during the tour.

Intimidatingly large!

Intimidatingly large!

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Cutting open fresh coconuts

Next step: souvenirs! We visited a large souvenir shop that was about 1/3 jewelry made from amber and larimar. The DR produces a lot of amber and they are very proud of their amber production. We learned that real amber will float in saltwater whereas fake amber will sink. Good to know, right? Larimar is a blue stone that is apparently found only in the DR. I had never heard of it but had noticed it even in the gift shops here on the ship. It is pale blue to deep aqua blue veined with white and the story goes that the person who discovered it named it for his daughter’s name plus “mar” for the sea. To me it really does look like some of the colors I saw in the water as the ship was sailing along.

With souvenirs in hand we went on to Fort San Felipe. The fort is on the coast and was built in the 16th century to protect the entrance to the city and its sugar refineries. It was also used in the 19th century as a jail and Juan Pablo Duarte was imprisoned there at one time. I was struck by how broadly similar the construction was to that of William the Conqueror’s castle in Normandy and Cahir Castle in Ireland, though those structures are not really close chronologically. Maybe there are only so many ways to build a fort if you’re a European? One room inside the fort held a series of placards announcing “firsts” in the Americas that belong to the Dominican Republic: first cities to be awarded a coat of arms, first book written in Castilian, first university. One could argue that those firsts are problematic as they all belong to the country’s Spanish colonial background, but it’s clear that the country is proud of them.

Fort San Felipe

Fort San Felipe

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking toward the ocean

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

Atop the fort looking back toward the hills

The final stop was a fascinating place called Mares that houses a restaurant, art gallery, gift shop, and a small botanical garden growing beautiful orchids. After a few days’ exposure to more disadvantaged areas it was interesting to see that there is more economic diversity in Puerto Plata than I realized—the area around Mares is more residential and established, with paved streets and larger houses. And after a warm day and a fair amount of walking and looking, it was nice to spend some time in this unexpected oasis. We had fresh fruit and chips with fresh salsa between photographing the orchids and chatting with the artist whose work was on display. It was a pleasant way to end the day.

Inside the botanical garden

Inside the botanical garden

Our route back to Amber Cove took us along a 7-kilometer stretch of beach and past a statue of Neptune that stands on a small island offshore. It also took us through a gas station and past a tire shop because our bus had a tire that was leaking air. Not to worry, though: we got back with no problem in time to have dinner and talk about our adventures. Tomorrow the ship sails at noon and I can’t believe this adventure is nearly over.

One final note: today I tore one of my contact lenses as I was cleaning them! In thirty years wearing lenses this is only the second time I’ve torn a lens. Because I never tear lenses and I was only going to be gone a week, I did not bring an extra pair. To my chagrin I am stuck wearing my battered 8-year-old glasses for the rest of the trip. Be prepared, dear readers! Bring the extra lenses!

Don't let this happen to you!

Don’t let this happen to you!

Travel tips #2: the return flight from Europe

[written on board DL0029 LHR –> ATL, 18 Feb. 2016]

The best and worst thing about the flight back from Europe is that it takes place in a permanent afternoon. You take off in the afternoon and somehow (i.e., flying west) it is still afternoon when you land. And yet, the return flight takes at least an hour longer because it goes against the jet stream. So the length of the flight is tiresome: I can’t deny it. It’s also not as neatly timed as the “overnight” flight to Europe that proceeds through departure, dinner, bedtime, and breakfast. Today I left Heathrow at 12:30 p.m. and will land in Atlanta at about 5:30 p.m. having flown for about 9 hours.  If you think that’s weird, on some Asian routes that cross the date line, it’s possible to arrive before you left!

I don’t have such a good system for managing the return flight but here are my best tips so far:
— Some people will tell you to try not to sleep at all. I’d say don’t sleep through the whole flight, but don’t worry about passing the time by taking a couple of naps, especially at the beginning of the flight when it’s early morning at your destination. I’m planning to stay awake through the last couple hours of this flight and the shuttle ride home, then go to bed at my usual time.
— 9 hours is 4 movies plus your naps, or 2 movies, naps, and a book. Bring a book. (I’m an English professor; did you think I wasn’t going to say “Bring a book”?) Get a non-U.S. newspaper from your departure point or from the flight attendant. It also makes a good souvenir.
— Don’t drink alcohol; do drink water. Some airlines offer it around regularly. Drink all they give you. Some will leave the water & soft drinks out for passengers to help themselves. Help yourself. I also drink a lot of coffee on these flights. The dry air gives me a slight headache but water, coffee, and Tylenol keep it at bay. 
— Eastbound beauty tips continue to apply. Moisturizer & lip balm till about an hour before landing, then clean face & do makeup. Brush your teeth whenever they start to feel unsavory. It’s refreshing and gives you something to do.
— Been thinking about this one since I wrote my last post, and I’ve decided: on long flights in general, wear comfortable shoes and then don’t take them off. Your feet will swell so it’s good to have shoes you can loosen, but I have had it happen that I’ve taken off my shoes & barely gotten them back on! 

All in all, the return flight is a tougher flying experience but an easier arrival experience. You’re coming home to a familiar environment and hopefully you can ease back into your regular life rather than hitting the ground running as we do on trips. 

Finally, to all you Fitbit wearers out there, sorry. You’re not getting your 10,000 steps today.

Francophile Turns Anglophile: Rage, Rage Against the Transatlantic Flight

The Francophile writes today from the opposite side of the Channel: Northampton University in the UK. I am here in my capacity as Director of International Programs to start the process of building study abroad, student exchange, and faculty exchange opportunities between NU students and MGA students. After leaving Atlanta at 8:00 EST last night, I arrived at Heathrow at 9:00 GMT this morning. Obviously I’m a little jet-lagged but trying to follow my own best advice: coffee up, power through, no naps! This trip is special for me as it’s the first time I’ve traveled on university business rather than leading students or going to a conference. I’m on my own–which is fine, solo travel doesn’t bother me*–and since I didn’t know exactly what awaited me at the destination, I wanted to arrive looking and feeling a little better than I sometimes do after crossing the Atlantic. During the last hour of the flight (which seems to last a week) I started thinking about making a list of tips & tricks for flying to Europe and avoiding the sensation of having crawled there on one’s face. Students sometimes ask me about the flight–how to avoid being scared/nervous/crippled by jet lag–so here are my best ideas based on very recent experience (i.e., I got off the plane only about 5 hours ago).

  • A 7- to 8-hour transatlantic flight has a rhythm to it almost like the flight attendants are following a script. You’ll be more comfortable if you know what’s coming:
    1. Boarding: take your seat, stow your carry-on(s), get out things you’re going to use so that you’re not constantly rooting around in your bag. If your flight isn’t full, claim two or three seats (if you can) to stretch out and sleep or at least avoid “manspreading” by your seatmates.**
    2. Snacks & drinks: as soon as the flight crosses the 10,000 foot threshhold, the flight attendants will give everybody hot towels to wipe their hands with (even though these are paper towels, not real ones, it’s pleasant), then serve a drink and a snack such as pretzels or peanuts. Alcoholic drinks are usually free of charge on international flights but I hew to the wisdom of avoiding alcohol when flying. It’s too dehydrating and the altitude may cause the alcohol to affect you differently.
    3. Meal service: This item is part 3 of the script but it actually requires you to take action before the day of your flight. Here goes: Order a specialty meal. I became a vegetarian in October so I ordered a vegetarian meal. The conventional wisdom seems to be true: the specialized meals are better than the standard ones. Equally important, they distribute the specialized meals first, so you never have to be the last person waiting to be served dinner as the meal cart starts waaaaaay at the other end of the plane. (If you’ve changed seats per #1 above, just make sure the flight attendant can find you to give you your meal.)
    4. Sleepy time: After dinner is cleared away, the flight attendants will turn down the cabin lights and everyone will (hopefully) settle in for a few hours’ sleep. Resist the urge to watch 3 movies in a row. If you can manage to sleep from the moment the lights go down to the moment they’re turned back on again for the morning snack, you’ll get 4-5 hours of rest and feel, frankly, a LOT sharper than I do right now. (I slept about 2.5 hours and I feel pleasant but not very smart.)
    5. Morning snack: About 90 minutes before landing, the lights come on and the attendants serve a snack/light breakfast along with coffee/tea/juice. You’re almost there!
  • To make the most of the experience outlined above:
    • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you’re awake, you should be drinking some water. 8 ounces per hour is a good guideline that I’ve heard.
    • Use the earplugs and eye mask the airline (hopefully) provides, or bring your own. The sensory deprivation aids sleep.
    • Women and other wearers of cosmetics, watch some YouTube videos of “in-flight beauty routines” and create your own system. On this flight I took my make-up off once the plane was in the air, put on moisturizer, kept reapplying lip balm & hand cream, and then did fresh makeup before landing. (Michelle Phan does about 15 more steps than that.) The passport control staff can’t possibly care but it at least makes me feel better to know I’m not entering a foreign country looking like a smudgy greaseball.
    • Forget what time it is at home. No need to think about that unless you’re calling home. Reset your watch or phone to the time at your destination.
    • Corollary to the above: when the lights come on near the end of the flight, it’s morning whether you like it or not. Get ready to tough it out and…
    • NO NAPS. This rule is my most powerful anti-jet-lag trick. I didn’t sleep in the cab on the way here from Heathrow; I’m definitely not going to lie down this afternoon. If I go to bed around 8:00 tonight I will sleep like a rock and wake up on UK time tomorrow with very little trouble. 

So those are my best transatlantic flight survival tips. Tune in next time to learn more about Northampton U., my new friends/colleagues here, and maybe some Ways to Tell You’re In England.

*Except that I miss Daniel!
**If you are a man and you don’t know what “manspreading” is, hie thee to the nearest Google. Women will thank you.