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The Contess and the Queens – Birgitta Walsh
Birgitta Walsh

The Contess and the Queens

The Contessa and the Queens

Birgitta had  along history of loving the Queens: the Royal kind and the Maritime kind. She was a student of the History of European Royal Families and knew more than any of us ever appreciated about them. The current rulers and those of countries where they no longer ruled but are thought of as pretended challengers to the throne. Waiting, hoping that their people will someday demand their return to the throne. Their fortunes and fame are often the source of news stories in the European press. She read every word. She loved and never forgot the stories.

The second group of Queens are the Cunard liners that travel the worlds oceans in a class of their own. Cunard attempts to maintain a level of service they refer to as White Star Service. They promise that your experience aboard any Cunard vessel will be Legendary, Elegant and Memorable. We were frequent travelers on Cunard ships. Those we sailed on included the Cunard Countess, the Queen Elizabeth 2, the Queen Victoria, the new Queen Elizabeth and the newest, biggest and most beautiful the Queen Mary 2 with its Art Deco interior design that transports us back into the past in elegant style. Every trip an adventure of its own. Birgitta loved every minute on these beautiful ships and made the most of all of out voyages.

Living in recent years in Israel, Switzerland and Spain (1984-1991) we had an annual home leave and sometimes a company paid home trip for Christmas. Our favorite was to take the QE2 on its last transatlantic repositioning trip usually around the 14th day of December from Southampton to NYC and occasionally on to Fort Lauderdale. We usually had a few days in London prior to the sailing. London dressed in all its finery for Christmas was a mass of people there by the bus load from all over the country to shop and see the decorations. The pedestrian traffic on Oxford Street was so large that there was one way traffic: not the cars, the people. One direction on one side of the road and the other direction on the opposite side, directed by Bobbies. At the end of our first year in Israel we arrived at Heathrow from Tel Aviv and upon seeing the first Christmas tree my love broke down and cried. Israel as you can imagine had absolutely no sign of Christmas. Being a Swede, Christmas always had a special meaning for Birgitta.The light show on Oxford Street after dark was a marvel to behold and it was worth braving the cold and the crowds to see. London was so impressive we returned each year for our cruise to the US.

The ship was normally only half full. The crossing often rough. On the first of these voyages Birgitta became seasick on day 1 and missed dinner. She went down to the dispensary, saw a doctor and got a shot and was well in time for the midnight buffet. Every trip after that she immediately went and got a shot and was fine for the entire voyage. She loved to dance and dancing was a severe challenge with the rough seas. She loved to describe to anyone who would listen the affect of the rolling dance floor on our not so great dance routines. The explanation always given with a fast shuffle to the left or right completely out of step with the music. She loved the pomp and circumstance of the waiters as they delivered the delicious three course meals, wines and the fineness of the cuisine.The entertainment was always first class. We never missed a performance. In the days she would go off to play her favorite card game Bridge and greatly enjoyed meeting the new people on each voyage. On two occasions we were able to fly the Concorde Supersonic aircraft on our return flights back to Europe.  She reveled in the first class service they provided and the atmosphere they created before and during the flights High living at it’s finest.

One year while living in Germany (1976) we took the whole family on home leave and a tour of the Caribbean. Flying to Barbados spending four days at an all inclusive resort then seven days on the Cunard Countess touring the beautiful islands and returning to the resort for another three days. Our four children loved it, they roamed free and only had to be available for dinner and bed time.

Another year (1978) we, all six, returned to Europe on the QE2. One thing stands out in my memory and that was Maria’s dog “invisible”. While we were touring NYC preparing for the voyage we saw a man on the street selling a long solid wire covered as a dog leash with a dog collar attached shaped like there was a dog in it. (No dog.) You have to imagine Maria and the family boarding the ship walking through the crowd with her new  dog. It was amazing how she responded to people who saw her and commented. She very formally introduced them to “invisible”. She was cute enough and young enough so everyone played along and after her initial embarrassment Birgitta joined in the fun. It was great theater. All of our four daughters could write stories about these family voyages. I invite them too. Their viewpoint and memories would be enlightening.

On a visit to Atlanta we visited a liquor store. One employee a long time Cunard employee was known for his knowledge of fine wines. A skill he learned sailing with Cunard. We spent time talking to him and getting advice on how to best utilize our time on the ships. He described a place on the then new Queen Mary 2 where there was an engraving of Homer Simpson of American TV fame and challenged us to find it. I, of course, immediately forgot his challenge. Later when we were on the QM2 Birigtta came and took me by the arm and said come I want to show you something. She had found Homer Simpson. It was on one of the extremely large metal murals that decorate the corridors of the ship it was about 2 inches square, faded and very hard to see evenafter she pointed it out. I couldn’t believe she remembered and had found it. I asked how and she answered she was not sure she was just looking at the murals and it jumped out at her. “I was looking and there it was right in front of me.” I would have looked a long time I can tell you. On our next visit to Atlanta we found the gentleman and she proudly announced “I found it.” He gave her a bottle of wine. There is a list in our Florida home of people Birgitta met and befriended on each of our trips. She was truly a people person and had a listening skill that always attracted everyone. Most of the friends we made during our marriage were the result of her efforts and oncethey became friends she never forgot one of them and never lost contact: what a wonderful skill. She loved to tell stories and most of our friends had heard them before. I recall stoping her once and saying they heard that story only to be chastised by the friends who told me to “be quiet we love to hear Birgitta’s stories.” It was her they loved not the stories. But true friends will always listen.

We made one trip on each Victoria and the new Queen Elizabeth andlater several trips on the Queen Mary 2 one for 41 days around South America where we visited several ranches on our stopovers. The food and entertainment were breathtaking. The fine architecture of the old buildings in the cities we visited had an old world charm and reflected the relative peace and tranquility of life in South America when compared to the cities of Europe, we were so familiar with, so often damaged by war. Birgitta enjoyed every minute of these trips her inquisitive mind forever asking questions was a challenge to our guides.

As I write this I am on the QM2 again on my way alone to the US from Europe after my trip to New Zealand described earlier.

December 19, 2014 12:44 hours

North 44 degrees 13.3 lat, East 042 degrees 16.0 long. Temperature 63F 17C. Wind force 5. Ocean depth 4820 meters. (15,813 Ft.)  Position: on the Newfoundland Basin. Day 4 of our crossing. I moved to the aft ofthe ship on deck 6 and saying a short prayer put a portion Birgitta’s ashes over the stern into the churning beautiful blue/green water. Scattered by the wind the ashes joined the ocean to start another everlasting voyage. One of her favorite Queens, the fabulous Queen Mary 2, had delivered my Contessa to a place she dearly loved, the Atlantic Ocean with all of its beauty and mystery. What a perfect match they are.

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