Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 16, Istanbul (last full day)

8:56 a.m. I've never had soup for breakfast before. I went down to the restaurant serving breakfast (there are two other restaurants in the hotel), and, among the huge assortment of buffet items offered, noticed a soup tureen. Opening the lid, I asked one of the white-uniformed attendants behind the table what was in it. She did not know and had to consult with two other attendants before one came over, took a small sample, and announced it was “vegetable.” He did not specify which one, and there was no way of telling, but I took a small bowl just because I enjoy unbridled adventure. It was quite good, but I never did find out what it was.

I was joined by a very nice Englishwoman named Jean who I had seen often on the Odyssey, but never met officially. She, like so many of the others on this tour, is very worldly, having lived in Milan, Indonesia, Munich, and all around the world...all of which she related casually and not in an attempt to impress: it's just the way things were. I've noticed that travelers seem to be place-droppers, mentioning time spent in Mali or Hong Kong, or having lived in Cairo or Marrakech, or their last trip on the Mekong or the Galapagos. Heady stuff for a midwestern, middle-class kid from Rockford, Illinois.

I think, as soon as I've charged my camera battery, I'll go out to explore a bit. There is supposedly a promenade avenue nearby, and a park was mentioned on the way, which I believe is the park currently causing so much stir over the city's plans to bulldoze it to put up a shopping mall.

12:45 Just returned from a walk to the Promenade...a wide commercial street with very limited traffic. I did pass through what I'd thought was the contested park. Heavy police presence. However, there is another another park nearly adjacent to the Promenade, and I suspect that might be the one. There is a large government building a corner across from the park which is totally barricaded and cordoned off with more police (many of them with assault weapons drawn). I got a few pictures approaching it, but when I tried to get a few more on the way back I was ordered not to take photos.

And I have determined (I am not the quickest on the uptake) the causes for much of my complaints about my age on this trip. It is, I realized...for I will do anything rather than face the fact that it is age: it's a combination of the heat, the interminable walking therein and, a far more major factor than I'd considered before, is the necessity to force my head up high enough to see what's in front of me. It is truly physically exhausting.

And now to go to one of the restaurants and see if they have any appetizers (the poolside restaurant is out for that reason).

2:08 It is so very rare for me to actually enjoy food that when it happens, it's memorable. Such was the case just now. My lunch...your “appetizer”...consisted of thin-sliced smoked salmon with horseradish sauce, and an Efes dark beer. My poor mouth won't tolerate anything spicy, but horseradish is somehow totally exempt. It's hot going down, but not painfully so. At any rate, I'm very happy to have remember what a pleasure eating can be.

6:04 Back from a 2 ½ hour boat cruise of the Bosphorus, up almost to the Black Sea. Unbelievable wealth represented by the homes overlooking the waterway. Guide said average home prices on the Asian side (in case you didn't know, Europe is on one side of the Bosphorus, and Asia on the other) run around $5 million! Spent much of the trip with Fabian, the very nice young (well, he's 30, and that's really, really young) Swiss man traveling with his sister.

10:15 Ready for bed. Will watch BBC news for a while, then call it a night. Had a wonderful seafood crepe for dinner tonight. I was only able to eat 1/3 of it, but I wish I could have had a doggie bag. To really enjoy eating is, as I've said, something akin to a miracle for me..and to have two meals I truly enjoyed in one day! Oh, if it could only continue!

And tomorrow at 11:00 I catch a bus for the airport, and the U.S.

So long, Europe. It's been fun.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 15, Istanbul, 07-18-13

7:55 a.m. Sitting in the Ambassador Lounge (I'm the only one so far) awaiting 8:15 transfer to the hotel. Suitcase carried away during the night. Closed my cabin door for the last time, and here I am. Got my passport back. Had a minimal breakfast (yogurt and two bites of a muffin) with three of the Englishmen I've come to know. They're heading for home this morning. No sign of Tom or Mike yet.

And so it (or this part of it) ends. Always dislike endings. They leave me with an odd sense of...loss?

Since our hotel rooms won't be available until at least noon, we'll be taking a bus tour of Istanbul, which will be nice, though I do wish trying to take photos through a bus window were easier, and that I could move from one side to the other without problem or having to try to shoot past someone across the aisle. More people coming in, now. Here's Mike, so I'll close for the moment.

10:09 a.m. Sitting in the garden of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Within 200 feet of me are gold and jewels which, cashed in, could easily buy Texas with perhaps Oklahoma tossed in. No photos allowed, of course, in the display rooms.

Afternoon. Checked into the hotel—the Hyatt Regency--around 1:30. By far the nicest hotel I've stayed at. Was absolutely delighted to find that it is located one block from the Istanbul Hilton...the same place from which I had stolen a liqueur glass in 1956. Full circle, anyone? I walked down later to get a photo of it, but the street on which the Hyatt Regency fronts is the back of the Hilton, and I was too tired to walk around the long block in the heat to get a photo of the front.

Had lunch—well, they had a limited menu which did not include any appetizer-type items, so I just had a beer—by the beautiful pool, and wished I had the body to be able to take advantage of it. I do not, and even if I had a bathing suit along, would not want to frighten the children or startle the horses. We were accompanied by a very sweet cat, who could not get enough attention.

Mike was on a tour of the Grand Bazaar, which I passed on in favor of having the opportunity to just relax for a bit. I remember it from 1956 as being a gigantic ant farm with side alleys leading to other side alleys endlessly. I would not be surprised to read a story of someone who had finally found their way out of the place after several years.

Went to dinner alone, ordered a bowl of cream of asparagus soup and an appetizer of marinated local seafood, which was enough for three meals. Most interesting, and including a number of pieces of an unidentified species which was really delicious. There were also four skewers of three olives wrapped in small strips of fish, and several strips of one unidentified fish a large piece of yet another. The bill, including a beer and bottle of water, was 50+ Turkish lira...about $25-plus. (Entrees ran between 50 and 80 lira.)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lemnos, the Stop that Wasn't, Day 14, 07-17-13

7:48 a.m. Usually we wake up in our next port...this morning we're still at sea, though there is an island off to the left. The ship rocked a lot last night, which I enjoyed, and the seas are still a little rough. Apparently there is some problem with getting into Lemnos, though I have no idea what it might be. Getting sailors into and out of liberty boats in choppy seas isn't a problem...getting a bunch of middle-to-old-age civilians into a tender is. Well, we'll see what happens.

This morning for breakfast I decided to have bacon and eggs. I love bacon; always have. However, whenever I eat any “solid” foods, as I chew, most of it goes between my cheek and gums and is almost impossible to dislodge, since my tongue can't just scoop it out as yours can. Nor can I move small particles to the front of my mouth with my tongue and “Ptttt!” it out. Having almost no physical control over my mouth and tongue is a real bitch. (Mentioned, yet again, not as a bid for sympathy but as a strong reminder to you to be infinitely grateful for the totally unnoticed little things you can do.)

Our last day aboard. I've enjoyed it and seeing the places we've been, but it has all been overshadowed, I fear, by the awareness of my increasing and totally unacceptable. If hating/resenting/regretting something intensely could change it, I would once again be...hell, I'd settle for 50!

Since we'll be in Istanbul in the morning, that means we'll be passing through the Dardanelles sometime during the night while we're sleeping. One of my fondest memories of my first time through the Dardanelles was of its being a moonless night and, while not being able to see much, there was the almost palpable smell of...green. (Which leads to another thing I'd really not noticed this time but commented on during my first trip to Europe: the absence of wooden buildings. I can't recall seeing a single one this trip.

8:26 Lemnos is out. Water too rough to safely load and unload tenders. They'll be showing the movie Topkapi...a movie from the 50s or 60s about a jewel heist in Istanbul. (Istanbul...get the connection?)
However, looking out the windows of the observation deck, we do not appear to be moving. If we've anchored I didn't hear it drop. Perhaps we're just going to sit here for the same length of time as we would have been in Lemnos, to keep to the time schedule.

So this means no internet until Istanbul, and I bought 2 more hours of extra internet service than I'm going to be able to use.

Some people just walked by on the outside the windows wearing sweaters, which were flapping wildly in the wind.

8:35 Internet! I've got internet! Just tried it on a whim and....

Adrian, one of the Englishmen I've gotten to know, stopped by and we talked for nearly an hour. I turned the internet off to save time.

10:30 Returned to my cabin, which is close to water level. Spray from waves hitting the hull fly by my little porthole. It is downright chilly in here, and I'm sitting on the bed in my robe, propped up by the pillows, all but shivering.

1:03 Just returned from lunch. We've just entered the narrow stretch of water leading to the even narrower Dardanelles—so narrow that shipping is strictly controlled and ships are accompanied by pilot boats. So glad we're going through during daylight, though! I think I'll spend the afternoon in the Observation Lounge, since it's too windy-cold to spend much time on deck. I brought a light jacket, and will take it with me.

1:21 Tried to get out to the deck to take a few photos but with the wind and the jiggling of the ship, I doubt any will turn out.

1:52 Entering the Dardanelles. Sit down, type, get up to go outside for a photo, sit down, type...
(We'll be passing Gallipoli, of WWI fame/notoriety)

5:45 Please tell me how I do it. Please. I decided to organize my photos and cannot find any of the photos I took in Taormina. Nowhere. I somehow deleted them. All of them! And they are not in my trash bin, where they would be retrievable. Since I use iPhoto, I can only pray that it has a retrievable trash bin as well. I know they have a “Move to trash” but I don't dare click on it for fear it will think I want to move whatever photos I'm looking at to trash. Oh, Lord, but I am hopeless!

Note: Photos of the entire journey can be seen on my Facebook page.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Izmir/Ephasus, Day 13, 07-16-13

Europe 2013 Journal
Day 13, Izmir/Ephesus 07-16-13

Didn't sleep all that well last night; I suppose anticipatory cogitations over the end of the cruise. But when I did wake up, at 5:57 a.m., we were docked at Izmir, a very modern, skyscrapered city. We had a choice of a half-day at the ancient city of Ephesus and a half-day tour of Izmir, or a full day at equally ancient Pergamon. I opted for the two half days.

Ephesus is an hour and a half drive from Izmir. It at one time had a population of 300,000 people and was located directly on the Mediterranean. Today, it is nearly five miles inland and has a population of 0, if you don't count the several thousand cats and kittens roaming about. There are a few impressive buildings, primary among them being the library and the amphitheater, all of which I gather have been reconstructed. Otherwise the area, like Mycenea, is one huge jigsaw puzzle box of broken columns, tumbled walls, and...stones. Only 20 percent of the city has been excavated thus far, and they obviously are trying to figure out a way to put all the pieces back together to reconstruct more of the city.

And it was hot. Very hot. Turkey will not let you leave the ship without a special pass, which you must give back when you return. When I pulled mine—which I'd been carrying in my neck pouch (the best way to carry cash and passport while traveling)—out to hand back, the bottom half was so wet it tore nearly in half. I do not sweat as a matter of principle, so I have no idea how I got so wet.

And once again I was aware of problems with my equilibrium, which I've never had before. I blame it on the heat.

I opted not to go on the Izmir tour for any one of several reasons: 1) the heat, 2) the prospect of a great deal more walking (or, in my case, staggering), or 3) having just spent another 12 Euros for another 4 hours of internet time, I wanted to use them.

Turkey, by the way, is not on the Euro, though nearly everywhere accepts them...and dollars, too. I'm going to be going home with around 50 euros ($60-plus), since I can't see that I'll need many.

A few more facts about Turkey. It was part of the Ottoman Empire until the first quarter of the 20th century, a muslim-ruled country. Kamal (sp?) Attaturk took over the county in the 1920s (I would look this up on line if I could get on line easily, which I can't). Anyway, he turned Turkey into a secular nation and even changed the language to use Roman letters rather than Arabic.

Mykonos, Day 12, 07-15-13

Europe 2013 Journal
Day 12, Mykonos, Greece, 07-15-13

8:04 a.m. Having lost all practical idea of time...no idea what day it is, how much longer before the journey ends, etc....I am sitting on a deck chair staring out at the Mediterranean, a couple islands to either side of me, and the small forms of boats and ships moving to and fro intent upon their own purposes. Just finished breakfast and will go ashore in a while. I must look Mykonos up on a map to get an idea of its relative proximity to the mainland of Greece, etc.

We dropped anchor shortly before seven, and my first impression of Mykonos was of white. All the buildings are white; a stark contrast to Italian coastal towns which are a jumble of bright colors. Will probably try to find Tom and Mike to see about going ashore with them, but to be honest, I'd just as soon go by myself for no other reason that I can go where I choose, stop or not stop at my whim. Interesting the insights into ones self that come along. I am definitely a loner, I think, though for reasons too complex to try to sort out like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

I did ask Adrien and George at breakfast about the remainder of our itinerary, and apparently tomorrow we enter Turkish jurisdiction, which has some unusual rules. One must surrender one's passport and pay a fee to enter the country and I have heard but have no way of knowing that they can deny entry to anyone known to be gay. Well, I shall simply keep my rainbow flag in my suitcase.

Went ashore around 9:30 after waiting for Tom and Mike for half an hour. Shuttle dropped us off probably 2 miles from town, but a shuttle bus took us much closer and we walked from there. I must say, Mykonos is truly one of the most beautiful cities I've ever visited. As I said, every single building in the city is painted white, with blue windows and doors (though there were a few red doors seen). The streets are extremely narrow, with the side streets no more than 8 feet across. They wind and bend and blend so that you're constantly seeing new things. There are innumerable chapels one enters through open blue doors in the single wall that is the street. And the city is marvelously clean. You see people out in front of their shops or homes (it's often hard to tell which is which) with brooms and mops. Even the streets are painted in lattices of white.

Because it is something of a Mecca for the very wealthy (some of the yachts in the harbor are mind-numbing) there are very expensive shops mixed with tourist-oriented businesses. Lots and lots of souvenier shops selling the usual gee-gaws. Mike never met a souvenier shop he didn't love, and insists in going into every single one of them. Tom and I finally wandered off to go find the famous windmills which are a symbol for the island. Other than the one I saw in Rhodes while in service, they are the only ones I know of outside of Holland. Five of them sit atop a hill overlooking the city. They are white, of course, and I doubt they are functional, but symbols don't have to be functional.

Tom and I wandered up and down the narrow streets until we parted ways and I headed back for the ship, which proved an adventure in itself. Though the city is a maze of narrow streets—interestingly, I did not consider even the narrowest of them to be alleys—I knew that if I followed the downward sloping streets and kept to the left, I would eventually find the waterfront, which I did. I stopped to have a glass of tonic, then continued. I wasn't sure how frequently the shuttle bus ran (the cruise line hired it just for use by the ship). But I headed to where it had dropped us off. Absolutely no one else was there when I arrived, and I waited around until I got impatient (maybe five minutes) and, seeing the ship in the distance, decided to walk. Not the best of ideas. So I started walking, following the road which had no sidewalks. I walked toward incoming traffic, staying as close to the side—which was at times the edge of a drop off—as I could. The ship got closer and I thought “the landing should be right around that next bend.” Upon reaching the bend and seeing that no, that wasn't it, I chose the next bend. And the next. And the next. Up hills. Down hills. Around corners. Finally got to the area I recognized as the general docking area but had no idea which dock the boat shuttle came into. Walked and walked some more, trying to find it. Asked a couple people who spoke no English. Finally, finally found it and returned to the ship. I don't think I'd care to do it again.

4:35 Just went and bought another 4 hours of internet time which I hope will last me until Istanbul.

5:34 And we're off to Lemnos. I went outside to see them raising one of the transport boats out of the water and raise it into its davits. Interesting!

7:01 Strange. Just attended a meeting on leaving the ship. We must put our luggage in the hall by midnight the evening before we leave, and take anything we need for the morning with us when we leave the ship. Not practical. I'm not about to walk around with my toothbrush and toothpaste and liquid multi-vitamin and aspirin and hairbrush and...with nothing to put them in!

I've enjoyed the cruise, and the staff has been great, but there have been a couple of things they should have done to avoid confusion...such as putting a notice at the bus pick-up point in Mykonos verifying it was indeed where the bus would be (again, I was the only person in the place and, prone to confusion as I am, had doubts that that was where I really should be) and the times the bus would be coming. After waiting 10 minutes, I decided to walk back to the ship. It couldn't be that far, could it? Yes, it could. And was. I walked. And walked. And walked along the road paralleling the sea. Up hills and down hills, with no sidewalks and sheer drop-offs to my left. I would round a bend expecting to see the ship and it would not be there. So I'd assume it had to be around the next bend. It wasn't. Or the next. It wasn't.

Finally I saw the ship and walked toward it. I watched for the tender alongside it to head to shore, and knew I could follow it to where it went. Partly right. When I got to the docking area, I found that there were a mass of docks with small boats lining all of them and bigger boats in the way, and....I asked several people if they had any idea where cruise ship tenders came in, and none of them spoke English.

At last I found it, and returned to the ship, not a little tuckered from the walk.

We left Mykonos around six. I'd love to go back!

Tom and Mike like to go to dinner between 7:30 and 8. I prefer to go between 7 and 7:15, but I'll wait for them. Ah, the sacrifices one makes for one's friends.

Roughest seas we've encountered, lots of people weaving around trying to find their sea legs. Waves splashing loudly against the hull—which I notice, being at the far forward part of the ship and just above the waterline.

I've noticed that when someone leaves fingerprints on the glass doors between the inside and outside sections of the Terrace Cafe, one of the staff immediately comes and wipes the doors clean. Class.
And there was a casually dressed bigwig from the cruise line aboard, to whom everyone paid subtle deference, but the crew would have been just as attentive were he not there.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Europe 2013, Day 11, Athens, 07-14-13

 7:20 a.m. Up at 6 to find we'd docked silently at Piraeus, Athens' port. I was last here in May of 1956—a mere 57 years ago, though then we anchored off shore since there were no docks large enough to accommodate us.

Meeting in fifteen minutes for the Athens tour. I'm going to try to get a picture of the same fallen pillare on which Lloyd and I sat for our photo.

Supposed to be 93 in Athens today though, other than the heat, we've been quite lucky. No rain. As a matter of fact, I've been very lucky on all my Europe trips, with the exception of the three solid days of rain while in Amsterdam. You know, I talk about these places and know I've been there, but it still doesn't quite compute. I hear people talk of their travels to exotic spots and am in something akin to awe...yet when it comes to my own travels, there is an odd sort of disconnect I don't quite understand.

Well, time to head to the Ambassador Lounge and the new day's adventures.

Bus to Acropolis. We got there quite early and, while we thereby escaped some of the heat later in the day, there were a lot of people already there. Much reconstruction going on, and I'm really curious to know just how much reconstrution there will be. I personally would like to see it put back to its original condition, but that's unlikely to happen.

I looked in vain for the fallen piller I remember so fondly, but the area where I remember its being is now covered with construction materials. Perhaps it's been restored to it's original position. Still the Acropolis is pretty much the way I remembered it...though with a lot more people than I remember.

Leaving the Acropolis, during which time I experienced a couple more minor losses of equilibrium, we walked (the temperatures had risen considerable) six blocks or so to the new Athens Archaeological Museum devoted entirely to the Acropolis and one of the most modern in the world. When they were looking for a place to construct it in a city several thousand years old, there obviously weren't many. So they chose a large excavation site and built the museum over it, incorporating glass floors on the main floor so you can look right down into the excavations. Fascinating and brilliant. No photos allowed on the main floor, but okay in the rest of the museum (no flash, of course).

Returned to the ship where I found a note slipped under my door saying that because the island of Delos is indeed an archeological site run by the Museum Union (who knew there was a museum union), which is currently on strike against the government, Delos is closed. I had mentioned that we were to spend half a day on Delos and half a day on Santorini. Wrong again. We aren't going to Santorini, we're going to Mykanos. I was really looking forward to Santorini from the beautiful pictures I've seen from there. Mykanos has windmills. And we will be spending the entire day there. Oh, well.

Today is the 13th, which means the trip is nearly over. Mykanos tomorrow, then one more stop (Izmir?) before Istanbul, where we leave the ship. Why does time go so much faster looking backward on it than it does looking forward to it? I only have 50 minutes of internet time left to me, so will try to stretch it out...though ten minutes is wasted every time I try to get on line.

I'll survive.

Interesting note about the ship: it is only half full. Just 168 passengers...fewer than were on the Viking Prestige, which was less than half the size of the Aegean Odyssey. No idea why (the economy?). But Voyages to Antiquity has only one ship, and I'm sure they're hurting.

Another pleasant dinner. Tom and Mike weren't there when I arrived, so I was joined by Adrian, Dave (another one of the looking-for-detergent crew) and a very, very English older gentleman whose name I do not know. Like everyone else on the ship, they have been everywhere several times and had a lot of interesting stories.

I do think I've eaten more on this trip than I have in more than a month at home. It's the ready availability of small amounts of many things, and I thank God for the tapas. And I'm not used to 2-hour dinners. Ah, how the other half lives!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Europe 2013, Day 10, Mycenea (07-13-13)

I wonder if my parents, while taking care of a five year old boy with a badly broken leg in a 14-foot trailer in Gary, Indiana, could possibly have imagined that one day that boy would be standing in the tomb of Agamemnon, but stand I did this morning, and walked the ruins of ancient Mycenea. Ruins do tend to be ruins after awhile, but there is a vast difference between the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, where so much is intact they give the almost palpable sense of being alive, and of real people walking the streets. Ruins such as Mycenea tend to be coldly devoid of the sense of life.

Mycenea was primarily interesting as the place where so many people we have all read about—Iphigeni, Orestes, Electra—actually lived, and where the Agamemnon and his brother Atreus planted the seeds of the Trojan War. Today Mycenea is little more than a jumble of rocks, with a few walls and...as with Agamemnon's tomb...odd, buried “beehive” crypts built on the same principle as igloos. There is a modern museum which houses many artifacts from the citadel—interestingly, all of them relatively small (I saw no life-size or larger statuary). But it is another case of sensory overload. Far too many things to see to be able to have the time to look at and contemplate. Rather like the endless stream of facts and figures with which cathedral guides deluge the tourists.
I have noticibly aged on this tour. Seriously. I am experiencing a slight problem maintaining my balance and in the heat stagger a lot. I report this with the detachment of a scientist observing a lab rat.

I am currently downloading the photos from Herculaneum to Facebook and it is taking forever. I will undoubtedly have to buy more internet time if it continues at the download time average of one hour per city. It has taken 20 minutes to upload 6 photos, and there are about 90 to go. (Have I been known to use the word “Frustrating” before?)

The ship issued the status of extra charges incurred thus far. Mine total 49 euros...$70? But, hey, it's only money, right?

I discovered, after scouring Palermo for laundry soap, that the ship has a small store just off the duty free gift shop, which sells such things. Ah, well, it was fun looking.

In addition to photographing my every meal, I've also taken to photographing the menu which stands on an easel outside the aft dining room—sorry, the “Terrace Cafe”—so I'll remember what I had. Lunch today was cream of leek soup and a slice of breaded and deep fried eggplant.

Spent more than 2 hours uploading Herculaneum photos to Facebook, only to have them come up with no captions, which of course sends me into total fury and sense of frustration so powerful it is impossible to adequately describe. And of course it all, and always, boils down to an equally indescribable self loathing for being such an absolute failure at things others do with such ease.

Once again, I think I'll simply not even try to post photos until I get home. (Plus, at the rate of 2 hours+ of internet time for each posting....).

Another very pleasant evening on the aft deck. I am not accustomed to 2 hour dinners (actually, I'm not accustomed to dinners at all. I am so happy that they serve tapas, since it is the ideal amount for me—and sometimes more than I eat, even so. Tonight I had a cream of fresh herb soup, two bite-sized mashed potato balls, a turkey/onion/bell pepper tapas, a wedge of gurier cheese and a vanilla whipped cream mousse. And a beer. And coffee. A huge amount of food for me. Tom and Mike and I were joined by an Englishman—Perry, a retired teacher—part of the group of five which helped me find laundry detergent in Palermo. His wife died three months ago, and his grown children insisted he come on the cruise.

Another Englishman (as I said, there are a large number of English aboard), Adrian, whom I've mentioned before, spends five months a year traveling and goes to India regularly. While I have no idea where these people get their money, they all seem to have been just about everywhere several times. It must be nice.

And I understand that we will be stopping at both Delos and Santorini (of white-buildings-with-bright-blue-domes-and-roofs fame)—half day each. Delos is apparently an archaeological site, and no one who does not live there is allowed to stay on the island overnight. In fact, the island “closes” at three p.m. and everyone must be off the island by then. Interesting. I'll find out more later.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Europe, 2013, Day 9 (07-12-13) At Sea

Europe 2013 Journal
Day 9, At Sea, Friday, July 12

9:24 a.m. Up at 6:15, showered, dressed, went to breakfast at 7, only to realize that we have crossed into a new time zone and it was officially only 6. Oh, well. I was one of the very first to arrive when the restaurant did open. Sitting at a table near the aft railing, looking back at the ship's wake, I waxed philosophical (as you may have noticed I am occasionally wont to do) and thought of my life being very much similar. I go through life looking at the past and seeing it receding further and further. I really should spend more time on the bow of life, watching for what lies ahead.

With only one exception (when I had to charge the camera's battery) I've taken a photo of every meal I've had aboard. This morning was...a raspberry crepe, yogurt, smoked salmon with cream cheese and onion slice, orange juice, coffee, and my 350-calorie packet of nutritional supplement. I didn't eat it all, of course, but it was nice to sample.

Came back to my cabin and washed out a pair of pants. The shorts and socks I washed day before yesterday are still damp. (“You wash your clothes in your cabin? How very lower middle class of you,” I can imagine a lot of people saying. To which I reply: “Live with it.”)

The entire day at sea, and I'll spend a lot of it on the observation deck trying to make some sense of this mess that is my computer files. I have so many photos the most recent are difficult to move through easily. I don't have my backup drive here, and while I assume I can just delete most of them without losing them on backup, I don't want to take the chance.

11:41 Did I say somehting earlier about best laid plans? Well, just came up to the observation deck to work on the computer, and it is like someone has grabbed you by the shoulders and shaken you, gently but consistently, non-stop. Jiggle-jiggle-jiggle-jiggle-jiggle. I think I'll head to a lower deck.

11:50 Now on the Promenade Deck, sitting in a deck chair looking out over the Mediterranean. Me! Sitting on a deck chair on the prominade deck! Will wonders never cease? Lovely day, very light haze but not a cloud in the sky. Passed a large cruise ship just as I was leaving the Observation Deck, but at the moment there is nothing but horizon.

12:44...not. Dorien, sophisticated man of the world that he is, did not bother to tell Roger that the one hour time change is tonight, not last night, and that it is therefore now 11:44, not 12:54. Ah, well.

2:06 (or will be tomorrow at this time). Just back from lunch. They always have a separate buffet table on the back dining deck...it's where they serve the tapas at dinner...and today they were featuring a panoply of various cheeses, bread, and crackers. I had camembert, asiago, and stilton, together with a half-bowl of cream of chicken soup. The bar waitress came around and asked if I wanted a beer...she always remembers that I like Guiness, and I had forgotten that beer (though not Guiness) is free only at dinner. I had a Heinekin for 3.94 euros...around $5. Everything aboard is charged to your room and paid for when you check out.

Being gay is not all of who I am, but it influences nearly everything I do or think. Some cute crew and staff aboard—head waiter Danya, a Ukranian, Rolly, a Philippino...and married...waiter, etc., and I think I told you about that very nice 30-year-old (looks younger) Swiss young man, Fabian, traveling with his sister. The fact that I am old enough to be their grandfather or great-grandfather, and that there is no possible way they could be expected to have any physical attraction to me, that does not stop me from being attracted to them. At times I suspect I bear an unhealthy emotional kinship to the protagonist in “A Death in Venice.”

4:10...okay, so I'm stuck in tomorrow's time. Went to the Promenade Deck to sit on a desk chair (well, they're really more like a chaise lounge) and stare out at the ocean, trying to count the waves. To imagine all the waves in all the oceans and seas of the world since the beginning of time...have there been more of them than there are grains of sand? Who knows? And would all the grains of sand multiplied by all the waves in the sea come anywhere close to the number of stars in the sky? I'd like to know, but doubt I will.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Taormina, Day 8, 07-11-13

Europe 2013 Journal
Day 8, Taormina, 07-11-13
The ship dropped anchor off Nexos—Taormina, Sicily's port—at exactly 6:21 a.m. How do I know the exact time? Ships do not drop anchor quietly. It was just as well, since I had to be ready to go ashore at 7:40 to catch the bus for Taormina.

Taormina is a very pretty little town high in the mountains overlooking the sea. It has one main street, a couple pleasant squares. The streets are of course narrow, and only local residents are allowed to drive on those wide enough to be driven on. Even so, they have to move slowly and wait for people to get out of their way. The town's main claim to fame, other than its beauty and that of its spectacular views, is its amphitheater. It's not called a Roman amphitheater because the Greeks, Romans, Moors, and a few other conquering groups all redid the original several times. It is still in regular use after a couple thousand years, and today is popular with big-name performers. Pavorati and many music celebrities have performed there.

There was an afternoon tour to Mt. Etna, but it was “optional,” meaning it cost 55 euros...around $70. Since I've done nothing but run around for the last couple of days, and gotten nothing done about journals and photo captioning and emails, I thought I'd get a lot done and post it all this afternoon. Silly me.

4:30 They say that if you think you are crazy, it's proof you're not. I find that comforting, because otherwise I would have serious doubts. Internet on this ship is, truly, driving me to apoplexy. I am currently in a state of total self-loathing and fury over my utter inability to do things anyone else on the planet with the I.Q. of a stewed tomato should be able to do without batting an eye. I am apparently the only one on this ship who is having such problems with the internet connections. It takes me several tries to get on line at all, and when I do I cannot use my primary browser. When I try to post photos to Facebook I am told I must download a program I already have. If I could cry, I would...seriously.

6:59 We have just left Taormina and I began hearing odd heavy-splashing sounds. It then dawned on me that I am very near the bow of the ship and what I am hearing is the ship plowing through the waves! I've not heard it before when we've been at sea...perhaps the seas are just more rough than they've been. Really kind of fun.

Dinner is always pleasant even though I eat almost nothing. Tonight, however, rather than having tapas, I ordered shrimp from the ala carte menu. Five nice-sized shrimp, broccoli, and rice. A beer, of course, followed by coffee and dessert—a nice cream cake and slice of cheese. Mike and Tom, of course had just about everything on the menu and then some. Sigh.

Tomorrow is a full day at sea (with, of course, no internet).

Apparently the seas have calmed a bit because I no longer hear the “boom-shudder-boom” of the bow plowing through the waves.

I'll write later, of course. When you might get to read it, I haven't a clue.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Palermo, Day 2 (07-10-13)

Europe Journal, 2013
Day 7, Palermo Wednesday, 07-10-13

7:51 a.m. One of the difficulties of writing a journal on a cruise such as this is finding the time to actually write it. Up around 6:30, to the shower, to breakfast at a little after 7, back to the cabin at 7:45, and I have less than 20 minutes before leaving on the first of two tours. The second is a repeat of yesterday's aborted visit to the interior of the island.

On the way yesterday, one of the ship's staff (one accompanies every bus for every tour) was an attractive young man of some unaccented-English speaking country, though I'm sure not American, who sat just in front of and across the aisle from me. The poor kid was apparently tired—all the staff serve in several different roles, started dozing off and he absolutely could not keep awake. His head would lean forward and he'd suddenly jerk and sit up straight. Five seconds later it would lower again. He began to tilt toward the aisle, catching himself before toppling over, sit up straight for five seconds and repeat the process.

Ok, 8:00 and I'd best go “muster” for the bus...remembering to take the radio with which we can hear the tour guide at our destination. I'll be back.

12:47 Returned from first tour (more on it later) shortly after 12:00. Rushed to cabin to start recharging one of my camera batteries—thank God I brought a spare—for the time we have until the next tour (less than 1 hour). Hurried to lunch and, for the first time since arriving in Rome, did not take a photo of a meal. Next tour probably over around 4:30 or 5. Ship sails for Athens at 6. Time I'll have to try to get on line and send this....0. We'll be at sea—and out of internet range—all day tomorrow. I'll pretend I'm online and probably send a lot of stuff which will suddenly gush into your FB mailbox in one fell swoop (or, as I like to call it, one swell foop).

And now it is time to head for the assembly point. Anyone who takes a vacation to rest and relax should stay away from ocean cruises.

The first tour was to Monreale, not far from Palermo. Highlight was...surprise...a church reflecting the various cultures which held sway for varying periods in the island's history. This one is noted for its use of gold mosaics, and we were treated—as is often the case—to an information overload. I've can't help but feel that to visit so many churches and cathedrals, each with their own stories of various saints and religious history, that I'm listening to a long commercial for Catholicism

(Later) The second tour was quite a way inland to Segesta, of which only an amphitheater and temple remain. But what a magnificent sight! The city around it is long gone, but the temple sits on one hill and the amphitheater atop another nearby, much higher and with incredible views. I don't think the photos can do them justice. The amphitheater could seat 5,000.

The temple is one of the best preserved in the Italy. Behind it is the quarry from which were taken most of the stones to build it.

It amazes me how so many ancient towns were built on high hills. I wonder how the people managed to get up and down them in the days before the automobile. I suppose they were put there partly to deter invading armies, since the climb would exhaust them before they got close, and give people in the town time to escape in the other direction if they wished.

Back to the ship with about forty-five minutes (certainly not enough time to try to do much on the internet) before dinner.

A word about shipboard dining. There are two full restaurants aboard. One formal and one casual. I've never set foot in the formal and have no intention of doing so. I eat (if what I do can be considered eating) in the buffet-style restaurant at the stern, where you can eat either inside or outside. When you have gone through the line, a waiter carries your food to the table you wish (I always join Tom and Mike on the open deck, where each table seats from two-to-four people.

At the aft end of the interior seating area is a desert table, loaded with goodies to make the arteries harden just looking at them (though they do also serve a variety of cheeses to go with them). Outside, there is another bar, and in the center of the area is a large table which serves tapas (on which I subsist on) and an assortment of other choices. If you wish, you can, once seated, order food from a menu of the buffet and it will be brought to you. Wine and beer are free, though specialty beers (like Guiness, which I like) are 3.50 euros (about $5).

So, enough for the moment.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Palermo, Day 1

Europe Journal 2013
Day 6, 07-09-13

Were colleges to offer diplomas for frustration, I would surely have earned 6 PhDs by now. Before leaving Sorrento, I went to the Observation Deck, which is wi-fi accessible, and tried to get on line. And tried. And tried. Other people had no problem at all, but I could not do it. I took my laptop to the reception desk to see if they might suggest something. The woman behind the desk did exactly what I had done 22 times, and...voila! I was on line. Knowing not to push my luck, I carried my desktop into the Internet Room, no more than 50 steps away, sat down and the “Log In” page instantly popped up. Tried another 15 times. Back to the reception desk. She again did exactly what I had done 42 times now, and got immediately back on. “Don't close the lid on your computer,” she suggested. “That will disconnect the wi-fi.” So I carried the open laptop awkwardly back to the Internet Room and sat down. The “Log In” window appeared. I gave up.

I am strongly considering not even bothering trying to keep current on postings to facebook and my own sites. I am utterly, totally, completely overwhelmed with taking pictures, going through them to weed out a (very) few I don't want, captioning them, posting them and then having them appear with no captions. Not to mention my frustrations with the infuriatingly sporadic internet service.It's driving me bonkers. Because I since I'm supposedly on vacation, maybe I should concentrate just a bit on the vacation. Sorry...I really planned to post a blog and the current day's photos on the same day. But please keep checking, just in case.

Ok, today: bus at 9:00 for Palermo's cathedral, which has been both a church and a mosque...I don't think it was a synagog, but the rulers of Palermo were amazingly tolerant and there are Jewish elements and influences throughout the structure. Nice photos if you ever get a chance to see them. As we were entering the cathedral, a church lay employee came to the door urging us to “Hurry. Hurry in. Faster.” It turns out they were expecting some sort of protest or demonstration in the area of the church and they did not want to risk any of the protestors getting inside. But they'd reopened the doors by the time we left, so I guess it was all for naught.

We next went to a cloister a couple of blocks away which, having been a convent, was all but bare of ornamentation, but which, like the cathedral, had strong Moorish elements, mainly in the pointed arches.

Back to the ship for lunch...which for me was ½ a bowl of cucumber soup and two bites of a I'm-sure-it-was-delicious vegetable casserole—to me, tragically, it was like everything else I eat: “Eh!”

Every night the room steward puts a piece of chocolate on the guest's pillow. I'd been saving them, and decided to have one just before going to assemble for the 2:15 tour deep into the interior to see the ruins of a temple and amphitheater. Bad idea (the piece of chocolate, that is). Chocolate does not melt in my mouth. I had no water to wash it down. As a result, when it came time to board the bus, I opened my mouth and chocolate drool spilled out all over my shirt. I can think of better ways to make a spectacle of myself. You have no idea how humiliating it is. Everyone was, of course, very solicitous, which didn't do much to alleviate the embarrassment. I managed to wash most of it off, but need to wash the shirt.

Anyway, on to the bus and off for the temple. Were ¾ of the way there when the bus was told to turn around and return to Palermo...lightning from a storm in the area last night had triggered a large fire closing the roads to the site. So back to Palermo.

Several passengers wanted to get off in downtown Palermo to look around, and I wanted to find a store selling laundry detergent to avoid paying the ship $2 each for a pair of socks. Tom, Mike, I, two Englishmen and an Australian got off the bus and they all volunteered to help me find a store. Easier said than done, but after much walking around and asking several times (none of us spoke enough Italian to make ourselves understood) we finally found one, and I got a bottle of detergent much larger than I need, but was glad to have it.

One of the Englishmen, Adrian...one of the very few names I've learned on this trip...had heard of a church he wanted to try to find, and the Australian said he thought he knew where it was, so they decided to go look for it. I myself, after taking a picture of our merry little band, and headed back for the ship. (“Just turn left and keep going. It will take you right to the port” was the advice the guide on the bus had given everyone for finding their way back.

So I headed in that direction and, sure enough, I found the port. However, what the guide had forgotten to mention was that the port is surrounded by iron fencing, with apparently only one unlocked gateway. She did not tell us where that gate might be, and I walked back and forth along the road paralleling the port for a good 25 minutes (even stopping to ask a policeman who spoke no English and seemed more than a little perturbed at being accosted). Finally found it, but not before having to hail a security guard who needed ID before he'd let me in.

Returned to the ship. I do not sweat, but my clothes were damp...apparently from a heavy fog I did not see.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

07-08-13: To Herculaneum

I apologize for the sporadic posting of these blogs chronicling my current adventures. I'd intended for them to go much more smoothly and seamlessly than they've gone. But we shall live.

Europe 2013 Journal
Day 5 07-08-13 – Herculaneum

7:46 a.m. Just back from breakfast. It's going to be another very warm—read “hot” I fear—day. Had a devil of a time getting to sleep last night. No reason, but it seemed like it took hours. Up at 6:00 or so. Nice shower—speaking of the facilities, not the pleasure derived therefrom.

The efficiency and friendliness of the staff continues to amaze me, though sometimes, especially for me who is extra-alert to being treated differently because of my age, getting close to overly attentive. (I mean, I'm quite capable of seating myself and spreading the napkin over my lap.) There are four—count 'em, four—food service areas for breakfast, each with a different “theme” (full buffet of mostly hot foods and a separate table of rolls/cereals, etc. inside; a bar where they will fry eggs to order and a table of yogurts and cold items on the deck.

Today is Herculaneum, which I'm really looking forward to. Again, I do hope it isn't wall to wall people. I've always found it interesting that, during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. (August 14, as I recall), Pompeii was destroyed by ash whereas Herculaneum, being slightly closer to Vesuvius, was buried by lava.

Having run out of short-sleeve shirts, I'll try washing them this afternoon.

5:37 p.m. At sea, headed for Palermo, Sicily. Just went to the observation deck to take a few photos and see we are out of sight of land. No wi-fi. I can see working around that minor inconvenience will take some adjusting to.

Went, as promised, to wash out a few short-sleeve shirts, discovered I'd lost the laundry detergent. Will try to pick some up in Palermo.

I have never felt, reacted, or been treated “older” as I have been on this trip. People are constantly treating me as though I were a hundred and four, offering to help me get up (!!), to apparently steady me, etc. I dropped my camera on the bus, and the young lady in the seat across the aisle got up and said “Let me get that for you.” I got it myself something. Very kind of her, and them all, but, really! Tom is a natural talker, and very open with everyone. As usual I have almost nothing to say and just sit there like a doorstop.

One observation on Italian roadways: the government's “Keep Italy Beautiful” program (if they had one) has been a dismal failure. There is more trash strewn along any given mile of any Italian road than the average American garbage dump.

Oh, and I also saw a girl waiting to buy an entry ticket to Herculaneum who was wearing sandals and bright off-red toenail polish. However she had no toenail on the “little piggy” toe of either foot. Just thought I'd pass that on.

The trip to Herculaneum was fun. Much, much smaller than Pompeii (not only in population...6,000 as opposed to 20,000...but in area). Much—probably most—of it still lies buried beneath the modern city and cannot be excavated unless they tear down the buildings now there. Unlike Pompeii, which was buried under 30 feet of heavy ash which crushed the buildings, Herculaneum was destroyed by a mud flow, which by its nature swallowed the buildings rather than crushing them. Thus many are in far better condition than those in Pompeii.

When the eruption began, in 79 A.D. the people fled to the waterfront, hoping to be rescued by boat. The commander of the Roman fleet, in fact, was on an island 20 miles away and, seeing the eruption, immediately set out for Herculaneum. The people of the city took refuge in a large warehouse at the water's edge, where they suffocated in the toxic fumes from the mountain. 400 bodies were discovered inside the warehouse, and many of them are still there. The fleet never made it, either, most perishing in the same black cloud.


I was surprised to learn, on checking my Navy letters, that I've never been to Palermo...only Augusta and Catania. The mind plays strange tricks.

Tom assumed the ship had 220 electrical system. It does not, and he forgot his converter, so I leant him mine, which I hope he returns at dinner.

8:50 We ate dinner on the open deck at the stern of the ship and watched the sun go down over the Mediterranean. Truly lovely and I thought of how many millions of people would love being in my shoes. I am, despite my constant bitching, blessed.

I've talked before of my ghost, Robert, who shows up every now and then. I like Robert, but he loves to play very subtle little tricks. Two days ago, I lost one of my hearing aids (they cost $4800 for the pair), and was not a happy camper. Beside my bed is a dresser, on top of which I keep a box of kleenex and, when I'm not using it, my computer. Returning from dinner, I went to the dresser and my computer. Moving the computer, there was my hearing aid. It had not been there before dinner. It had not been there for two days. But now it was there. Thank you, Robert.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Europe Journal 2013: To Pompeii

7:44 a.m. Waiting to board the shuttle boat to shore, then to Pompeii. Excited to see it once more. Tomorrow is Herculaneum, to which I have never been but always wanted to go.

This is turning into a very expensive trip. Somehow, somewhere yesterday I lost one of my hearing aids (my hearing was shot, I suspect, by the roar of passing el trains in front of my apartment). At any rate, it will be a mere $2,400 to replace it ($4,800 for the pair).

Life aboard ship goes on apace...I'm discovering new parts I'd not seen before.

Again, the staff is amazing. I think I mentioned they won't even let you carry your food from the buffet to your table...always pulling out your chair for you, spreading your napkin on your lap when you first sit down, etc. And this is not the main dining room, where I gather dress shirts and jackets are de rigeur.

Tried to upload yesterday's photos to FB last night, at sea. I had transferred 40 of 73 when the internet went dead. They say that happens often. Good to know...now. And because I could not log out, I may have used all 12 hours of the minutes I bought.

Well, time to go. More later.

Two things: 1) Never come to Europe in July (or, I am told, August). 2) This will be my last “Tour” of Europe. Temps hovering around 90, everyone on vacation. Pompeii had twice as many people roaming its streets today as it did when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. I've often said I dislike organized tours because of the herd mentality (“Move here, move there, everyone gather around,” etc.) Our guide did not walk...he strode. Rapidly. If I took my eyes off of him for five seconds, literally, he had disappeared into the crowd and I had no idea where the hell he had gone. We all have little radios and earphones so I could hear him say “We'll turn left here,” which didn't really help much since I had no idea which “left” he referred to. I got seriously separated from the group at least three times. Twice, by luck, I managed to see someone from our group off in the far distance and hurried to catch up. Once I joined another group from the ship until one of the ship's staff shepherding our group came and found me. I took the tour to see Pompeii, not to constantly having to wonder where everyone else had gone. We did see one beautiful villa, of which I got many photos—though while I was taking them was one of the times I got separated.

And did I mention the heat? It reminded me of arriving in Budapest in 90+ temps after not having slept for 30+ hours and trying to take a walk around the city while waiting for my cabin to be ready.

As I said in my last post, I so sincerely resent having to make concessions to age, and I am increasingly doing so.

Back to the ship around 1:20 in time for lunch. I had a bowl of chicken consume with bean sprouts and a tiny sliver of a very nice pecan crème pie. Tom and Mike each visited the serving table three times, consuming...I am serious when I say it...more food in one sitting than I eat in a week or more. I envy them, but cannot comprehend how they can do it—how anyone can do it.

I'm now going to go see if I have any internet minutes left or if my inability to log off ate up every one of them. If so, I'd hesitate to spend another 28 euros for another “twelve hours” of minutes. If I can get on line I'll send this off and maybe add an addendum later.

Tomorrow, as I mentioned, is Herculaneum and I pray for far fewer people and a slower guide.

Sunday, 6:13 p.m. Called Mike and Tom about dinner. We agreed to meet in our usual (the more casual of the two main) restaurant at 7:30, and I decided to go to one of the bars for a Bloody Mary, which I'd not had in years since alcohol burns the hell out of my mouth. The bartender (tendress?) is a beautiful Philippine woman, with two equally beautiful waitresses in formal Philippine-style dress. I had asked the bartender/dress my first day aboard if she could make a Bloody Mary without tabasco, and she said yes. So when I came up to the bar, she said, “Bloody Mary?” Talk about a good memory!

I took a seat and one of the waitresses brought my drink and a plate of tapas...small, 50-cent piece-size mini open face sandwiches; one with cheese and half a grape, one with smoked salmon, one with Italian salami, and one I did not recognize. She then brought me a bowl of potato chips. So I effectively had my dinner before I even went to meet Mike and Tom. I had asked also for a glass of water, to cut the burn of the alcohol. Of course they had no idea of why I was taking one small sip of Bloody Mary and washing it down with water. She brought me two straws, which was very kind and attentive of her, but which I found just a tad embarrassing. Did I look like I needed a straw to drink a Bloody Mary?

“I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear my trousers rolled.”


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Europe Journal, Continued

Europe Journal 2013

08:44 a.m. Now using Rome time. Because my room is still frigid despite having assumedly turned the a/c off. I'd reported the situation to the front desk before dinner last night and was told they'd have someone come up and check it out. And did they? Silly person, you! So I went to bed wearing the hooded terrycloth robe the hotel provides its guests. Still uncomfortably cold. Woke up around 2, went to the closet for the other robe and used it as an additional blanket. That did it, and I slept until after 7.
I don't think I'll be returning to the Ciccerone (Hotel) any time soon. Staff not rude, but cursory. Obviously the majority of their business is group tours, so they don't really have to worry too much about possible repeat guests.

Checking out around 11 for the ship.

Have I mentioned recently just how much I hate reality, and just how much I resent losing to it at every turn? It has absolutely no control over my mind, but in anything physical, I can't compete. Still, I refuse to face the fact that an almost-80-year-old body simply cannot do the things or react in the way a 20-year-old body can. It is unfair and ungrateful of me to be resentful of it; it's been so good to me all these years and still does the best it can. I think I mainly feel sad for it, like watching a dear friend weaken and fade away and not being able to do anything to help. I noticed it yesterday in the walking involved in the tour. 20-year-old me wouldn't have batted an eye. (The heat of course doesn't help the situation.)

10:25 All checked out, (they came for my luggage at around 10 heading God knows where). Bus for ship leaves at 12. I took a walk down to the Parliament (?) building two blocks away and took a few photos. Tom and Mike left earlier to walk to the Spanish Steps, about half an hour away. I could/probably should have gone, but....

I'm keeping a close eye on remaining battery power when not plugged into the charger, and it seems to be draining a bit more quickly today than yesterday.

12:03 Waiting for bus to ship. Just talking with a nice couple from Melbourne...quite a few Australians around. So glad Tom and Mike are here...I'd hate the idea of being the only gay aboard ship, as I was (except for the ship's purser) as I was on the Viking cruise. I am of course having difficulty making myself understood...especially with Italians who do not speak fluent English. Frustrating, to say the least.

4:17 Aboard ship, settled in...more or less...took a wandering tour of the ship, had “lunch” with Tom and Mike. Favorably impressed. Took several photos which I will share sometime later. The crew is 3/4+ Philippine, some Indonesian, and a handful of Europeans—extremely, extremely friendly; “Sir” in every sentence. At the buffet lunch a huge assortment of food. You go through the line, get what you want, and a waiter carries it to your table. Another, seeing you're nearly finished, comes by with a dessert plate. Coffee/water refills? You never have to ask. The head chef stops by to welcome you.

Bought a block of 12 hours of internet service for 28 euros ($39.00?), and am going to have to work out a system. I did bring a memory stick, but I'll try to write everything just on the computer and then send it all on line, keeping what I actually do on line to a minimum. This will be a problem with email and FB, of course since the only way I can read and respond to it...unless I can remember who said what and type it on my computer later (yeah, like that'll work)...is on line.

Lifeboat drill at 5:00, but I think we leave port around now.

Oh, my cabin. Really nice, but I'm on a lower deck and the only window I have is a porthole sunk about 3' into the outer wall. Learned how to control the a/c first thing.

I suspect my postings will be rather sporadic until I can work out a system.

Let the games begin!


Saturday, July 06, 2013

Europe Journal 2013, Part 1

8:00 a.m. Travel day. Awake at 5:00 (I hate that!...it means another 30 hours of no sleep), up at 5:30. Changed the cat litter so my friend Gary won't have to do it for awhile. Had what I laughingly call "breakfast," watched the news. Now into the shower and...Plan to leave here around 10. #76 bus to the Blue Line at Logan Square, then to O'Hare and the check-in fun that undoubtedly awaits there.

9:22 Many of my FB friends...Anthony Bidulka, Kage Alan, Alan Chin, etc. spend a good deal of time flitting casually around the globe. They catch international flights as regularly and casually as most of us catch city busses. They, however, are not two people. I am. And interestingly, though it is usually my Dorien side that most resembles a small boy, but when it comes to travel, I fear it is Roger who has the upper hand. 

Will be checking Chicago's BusTracker system soon to see which #76 bus arrives closest to 10:00. I'm ready. Meet you at the bus stop.

12:02 Thank God for Clear...a portable internet connector! Just arrived at Gate 21C for my 1:05 flight to Newark. Everything went as smoothly as it is possible for it to go given the various paranoias involved in air travel. Should grab a cup of coffee (I brought along a couple packets of my 350-calorie nutritional supplement. Weighed myself before I left the apartment. 147. I'll weigh again when I get home. Expect to lose about 10 pounds.

I don't know if my Clear will work in Newark but we shall see. Later, all.

2:15 Not sure I'll make the connection to Rome or not. Plane held on ground for a long time. Rome flight leaves at 5:15 (boards at 4:45). It is now 3:19 NY time and we just left Chicago. Ah, the thrill! Stay tuned.

2:26 Captain just announced we'll be landing at 5:15...just in time for me to wave bye-bye to the departing Rome flight! Well, this is the stuff of which adventures are made. (Sigh)

5:38 Well, I told you it would be an adventure, and... Left Chicago at 1:15. Well, the plane left the boarding dock at 1:15. We took off around 2:00. We were to land in Newark at 4:40 or thereabouts. My connecting flight to Rome was at 5:15. We landed in Newark at 5:30, just in time, as I predicted, to sniff the exhaust from the departed Rome flight. Went to United's Customer Service counter, to see when I could get another flight to Rome, and to ask where my luggage might be/end up.

Apparently I've led an exemplary life of late, for they put me on a plane headed for Amsterdam, which was boarding as we spoke. I was assured my luggage would make the flight as well. I'll then catch a KLM to Rome, arriving at 11:30 a.m. Rome time...only about 4 hours later than I would have. I will be very careful not to repeat the last KLM fiasco in Amsterdam where they sent me to the wrong gate and I didn't find out about it until 10 minutes before the flight left...from the other end of the airport (Amsterdam has a BIG airport. I made it just as they were closing the doors).

Anyway, we're on our way. Seated across the aisle from not one but two screaming babies with very powerful lungs.

Stay tuned.

9:03 p.m. (seems like 3 a.m.) 200 passengers trying to sleep. 1 screaming baby. 200 passengers wake up. I've never had this experience with babies on a plane before. I've been blessed. (Did I mention it seems very much like 3 a.m.?) Sigh.

11:26 Chicago time, 6:36 Amsterdam time. This whole leg of the journey reminds me strongly of the night I spent in the Milan railroad terminal after missing my Nice-Venice train connection. It is not a memory I cherish. Must try to conserve my computer battery power. I have no connectors, no chargers...all in my suitcase. If my luggage did not get put on this plane and is not in Rome I shall be in deep doo-doo. Well, you will know just by reading a paragraph or two more. For me, as I write this, it's all a mystery. Fun, I guess, if you have a strange idea of fun.

8:11 Amsterdam. Checked main KLM arrival/departure board. They said one thing, my ticket says another. Decided to go with the ticket. Ended up at the same gate I had to race from the far end of the airport to get to just as the plane to Budapest's doors were closing. I have no idea if this the actual gate, and frankly I would not trust KLM any further than I can throw them. Nobody else seems to be here... Not a good sign. Of course no one from KLM anywhere in sight. Going to check now.

10:17. Yep, I had it right. Now winging toward Rome, 40 minutes late—there's been an awful lot of “late” on this trip. Will find out when I arrive if I have a toothbrush and cables and chargers and a change of clothes or not. Got up at 5:30 Wednesday morning, and it's now 3:20 a.m. Thursday Chicago time. I haven't been up 24 hours yet, but it seems a lot longer, and I'm getting a tad tired. Will post something at some point later today one way or the other. If my luggage isn't there, I don't know when I'll be able to post because my computer's battery can't last forever. Well, positive thoughts...positive thoughts!

Having arrived in Rome at around noon, via Amsterdam (read on...it gets better) I went to the baggage area to pick up my luggage. I stood there for one hour. Finally, strongly suspecting it had never made it out of Newark (included in story), I went to the Customer Service desk, where I stood in line for another hour, finally getting to the desk and spending yet another 45 minutes before finally determining that yes, my luggage had made it out of Newark, but it was still in Amsterdam.

So here I am, with only the clothes on my back, literally--though the airline promises to deliver my luggage to the hotel "tonight or maybe in the morning." And so I also have a computer and camera with no way of recharging them

Stay tuned.