Monday, May 21, 2018

Vicissitudes, or now I see why people cruise

May 21, 2018, in our lovely basement studio in Bergen.  In my head, we are now landing in Stockholm.  Alas, on paper, we don’t fly out until tonight.  I looked at it for months, I thought I saw it, but clearly I didn’t.  So we are thankful to our host Matias, who is letting us camp in our room until late p..m. When we will drag our luggage downhill, onto the train, off the train, into the airport where we have to check in ourselves and luggage and probably pay overage.  We will get to Stockholm at 10:25, find the luggage, drag it to the bus, and probably arrive at our stop between 11 and midnight, where, we hope, our hostess Catarina will be waiting.  Today, after I have not been able to book tickets to Kardla, Estonia until I find out from our hostess which of the two stations I’m going to, I gave upon my new blog host, managed to find this one, and at least can catch up a bit.
   We have been gone over five weeks, and so far except for sore knees, sore back and sore tempers, are OK.  I think we both vow we will never again attempt such a hard trip, but we are determined to prevail.  The first part was so nice and easy, two weeks including visits with Garrett and Nancy in North Carolina, Sulae and Eli in South Carolina, dinner with granddaughter Alyssa in Orlando, and visit with Paul and Luann Sicard in Pembroke Pines, Florida.  They delivered us to the large floating womb that is the Holland-American ships Zuiderdam, where we had 18 days of being pampered, fed, entertained, etc.  I enjoyed it more than I expected, as we made new friends, bonding over daily Trivia games, and there were AA meetings daily.  We had coffee in our cabin, swam, attended various talks by ships personnel and others.  I was lucky to ask for a get a tour behind the scenes, on my assertion of being a writer researching a book - naturally, a mystery on the high seas.  Got to see how the big ship runs - amazing!  Then at our table, the future book became something of a group project, with everyone contributing places to put bodies, plot twists, etc., to the accompaniement of a lot of laughter.  We enjoyed stops in Bermuda, two in the Azores, and then a wonderful day in Southampton with Jax and Jeff from Brent.  We were lucky to have glorious weather and enjoyed sitting in their beautiful yard after touring.  Cherbourg was a nice day walking around the old city and eating baguette sandwiches and pastries from a local patisserie.  Also loved Bruges, which we toured with new friends Peggy and Kurt, from Washington State.  Amsterdam was busy, but interesting, and also
hot!  Except for an interesting incident in Horta, Azores, where the ATM ate may card and I had to retrieve it inside from a nice lady who told me it was now probably blocked, the cruise was pretty much all no-stress.  After some email kerfluffle, I heard from HSBC that they had no record of the card being blocked!  On the other hand, I have yet to see an HSBC ATM.  So am paying $10 a whack for cash from Capitol 1.  And glad to get it!
  Harsh reality set in upon our arrival in Copenhagen.  Formerly mellow fellow cruisers pushed and shoved us to get to the luggage.  We shoved back and got on the bus to the central train station, where they dumped us curbside with no words about where said station might be.  Luckily, the Tourist info was right across the street.  I got over there, picked up our Copenhagen cards (worth the $), and got very good directions to our Air BnB, which we could walk if we wanted to drag our bags a kilometer.  We said no (ironic in later circumstances) and took a cab, $18 for a kilometer.  Our hostess was waiting and helped us drag the bags up the first of what looks to be thousands of stairs.  We left them their, found the bus back down to the central train station, a straight shot, and found the train for Rosvilde, where the Viking Museum is.  Detained, we asked blond kids for directions and these descendants of Vikings pointed us in the right direction.  About a mile to the shoreside park and installation.  Feasted on Viking sandwiches - ham, cheese, cabbage, etc.  The ships and accompanying display are great.  Found bus back to station.
   One interesting aspect of this trip is that we have no functioning phone.  We have to do everything via email, including connecting with our hosts, or in this case, with my friend Janie, who was in Copenhagen for one day.  This is challenging, as there is not always wifi (or WeeFee as they call it in Cherbourg) where one is standing.  Got a message from Jane that she was in her hotel, despite her last message that she was arriving the next day.  By the time we got back to Central Station, my phone was dying, I’d forgotten the portable charger, and we were a bit overcome by it all.  Along comes a pretty girl with a story and a phone charger and it took us a couple of minutes to realize that she could steal our lives - retrieved my phone, alerted Sulae, who is my stateside crisis manager, a job I’m sure she could do without, and went in search of Jane’s hotel, where we found her and friend Martha relaxing in the patio.  We joined them and later had Danish food next door - it was great to connect.
   Since then, we’ve been to Ystad, Sweden, Oslo Norway, and are now in Bergen a little longer than we expected.  I need to take Gary out of the basement for a while, think we’ll go look at the stave church.  Now that I’ve abandoned my new blog as untraceable, although I’m paying for it, I can catch up here now and then.  Hopefully with pictures next time.  Meantime, if you don’t have Facebook, look at your friends’.  Lots of picures there! And love to all.
Trying post # 4 from the Deep South, home of Sea Food galore.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Last-Minute Jitters, Traveler's Tummy Pre-Traveling, Will We Ever Get Out of Here?  Or, Maybe I'm Too Old for This?  Too Late.  We Leave Tuesday, Dead or Alive.

I know, almost don't need to write any more, the long whiny title pretty much sums up the current moment.  First, the good news:  the visas actually came through, we got train tickets to Saint Petersburg and plane tickets out.  And, the book launch went quite well, considering the many other events taking place that day.  Many good friends from writing and other groups managed to get by between events or on their way to the march.  Gary was able to help me set up before he went off to two memorials.  Pat Davidman was a wonderful helper all day long, charmed visitors, took money and keep me going.  I have had many people request book delivery after the event, also, so thanks to all.  Now I am abandoning my 'baby' and going off on another adventure.

Mostly packed, still trying to be sure I can access docs I need by mailing them to myself so I can get from those servers.  I'm taking an Ipad which 1)I know not much about but 2)I'm pretty sure doesn't have much doc storage and 3) if it does I don't know how to use it.  Have it all on a thumb drive but then need a computer to access.  I'm booked until about mid-June.  At that point, we're on the Curonian Spit in Lithuania, at a beach town.  I need my references (or, it would be much easier if I have them) for booking as we go along.We will be going generally south and east.  I want to see Budapest, Bucharest, the mouth of the Danube, and some Romanian castles, not necessarily in that order.  And we fly out of Bucharest to Istanbul July 20 to pick up our tour, assuming it's still going.  So after mid-June, it will be sort of exciting!

At this point, I have had a nasty case of tummy upset for f a few weeks.  I thought it was stress, finally went to Urgent Care, tests aren't back yet.  Now I'm hoping it's not a serious condition, since I'm leaving Tuesday as long as I can walk or be pushed to the plane!  Feeling a little better today but with a stiff neck, so now I'm contemplating a whole panoply of other possible conditions.  Meanwhile slapping myself around to keep working.  I think in a way I have old people's syndrome - self-doubt, which is not a usual condition for me about travel (other things, of course).  This is our longest trip to date, and I've been more obsessive than usual, although Gary would say that's impossible.  The good thing is that after I set foot on the first plane out of here, I usually just figure, That's it! and stop thinking I can affect any outcomes.  So at 5:36 a.m. Tuesday, look for a Bitmoji indicating relief.

We have, I think, managed to cram clothes, medicines both Rx. and OTC, electronics, hats for warm ears and hats for hot sun, shoes for rain, shine or dancing, scarves to perk up outfits we are sick of, laundry and office supplies, a mani-pedi kitand more into two rolling bags and a carry-on satchel.  The suitcases aren't even overweight, although the satchel is skimming the limit.  That's because I have Notebook 1, containing all active tickets and resos, all Scandinavia information, and the general itineraries, lists of cards/banking info, etc. in it, along with all of our meds, which is an annoyingly  major component of elder ventures.  As we use the stuff up, the bag gets lighter.  Yay.  Just remember not to shop, Lani.  Ah yes, we also have host  gifts for about 30 people crammed into the nooks and crannies of luggage.  One wonderful thing about technology is that I am bringing lots of books - on my Ipad.  We even have a Big Book on Kindle, so I can hold a meeting if one of us gets snarky.

Getting our farewell meals and calls, which is nice. Marian took me to La Casita and gave me a Morro Bay tee, so I won't forget where I'm from!  We're going to Gary's sister Mona's tomorrow for a belated 'Easter' family gathering.  We're looking forward to seeing (son) Garrett and Nancy,  (daughter)  Sulae and Eli, granddaughter Alyssa, and friends Paul and LuAnn Sicard in the south.  And to meeting new friends and travel consultants along our way.   T
o all who are staying here or traveling elsewhere, au revoir from the mad doctors.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Panic, With a Soupcon of Terror

March 13: Panic With a Soupcon of Terror, or, Skip Russia Unless You Have a Year to Get Visas
So it's about twenty-eight days out, I'm feeling as though we might actually be mostly ready when we depart, so I'm taking a little rest, and the phone rings.  It's the visa people in Washington DC:  the letter of 'invitation' from our St. Petersburg hotel, which took weeks and weeks to get, has Gary's name misspelled.  They need another letter or we won't get visas.  Gary says, "Skip St. Petersburg."  I'm thinking the same.  Who needs this?  I've looked at so many pictures it's almost as though we've been there already.  Why can't the Russians use their good hackers to write these 'invitation' letters - those just mean you've paid good American dollars to a Russian entity. I'm betting the hackers spell  correctly!   I called Olja the (travel) agent and she's going to call Russia and implore them to email a correct letter immediately.  If that doesn't work, we'll just go right from Helsinki to Tallinn and onwards. The trick is, the visa people have our passports.  The entire process has been fraught, and I asked for help at the very beginning of the planning process, last year.!  Meanwhile, this morning we impulsively jumped on a great Intrepid trip around Turkey in July, for two weeks.  Turkey requires a visa - from the looks of it, you can apply, pay, and get it on line in a day or so.  I'm going to do that before I pay for the whole tour.  And I'll never see Brazil or any other visa-requiring country.  Too much drama, I'm too old for that!
  Meanwhile, in a fit of "I am woman, hear me overcommit," I'm doing a book launch for my mystery novel, ABSENCE IS NO ALIBI, on March 24.  I picked that date before the latest school massacre, so I can only march with the gun-control people in spirit.  I'm also encouraging local marchers to stop by on their way there or back for cookies and punch or coffee.  Need to borrow some tablecloths and drink dispensers (thanks Larry and Lindsay) and set up the place an hour early - using the community room here at Daisy Hill, which makes it all a bit easier.  And today I sent out community event notices and I've posted some flyers and that's it.  Not trying to start an entire geriatric literary career, since I have no more books written and we're moving anyway - just doing my bit for this title.  Wasn't planning to be quite so stressed, but by March 24, who knows, we might have visas.  Or another route.
   We are all set to roll from here to visit kids and friends on the East Coast, and thence via the good ship Zuiderdam to Copenhagen, by way of Bermuda, two Azores islands, Cherbourg, Southampton, Zebrugge, and Amsterdam.  Only booked a couple of shore excursions, since most of them feature whale and dolphin watching, which we happily do here at home.  We'll go ashore in Bermuda and walk and bus around the area.  We have Antonio the cab drive on Horta (Azores) and will stick to the port town on San Miguel.  Hop-on/hop-off bus in Amsterdam, and local bus to Bruges from Zeebruggen.
   Meanwhile, scrambling around to get all the meds we will need for the six months we're away.  This included an exciting one-day trip to and from Tijuana for Gary, and I have a last minute order to submit March 31.  Thank heavens we don't take more meds than we do!  I've brought the suitcases inside and am eyeing them  May substitute another carry-on for the carry-all.  And I'm going to bed with Melatonin again, after a brief calm period!  My friend Marian says I could do these trips for people for money.  Not a chance.  I think this is our last one like this.  Next time we'll rent a villa and do day trips!  WOrking on Servas, Air BnB, Housecarers, etc. for the rest of the travel time, but we will be a bit less structured so we can change our route en route if we are overcome with an "oh you crazy hippie kids" moment!  All for now!  Open to commnets, suggestions, etc., but please be kind.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Planners guilt? Oh yeah, I got that!

                        GETTING READY IS THE WORST...AND THE BEST
57 days and counting.  Today's chore:  set up blog.  Check. 
 Yesterday's chore:  set up bank account with a bank which has many many ATMs in Europe.
Check.  Sort of.  I have an email which says they are reviewing my application.  If/when it is approved, I can spend the greater (not the better) part of a day linking it to our other bank accounts so that when we are contemplating Vlad the Impaler's castle and bad deeds, we can do so secure in the knowledge that our monthly stipend will have migrated electronically to the bank with the ATMs.  That's the plan.  You know what they say about God and plans.  We can but try.
 I feel overwhelmed and simultaneously guilty for being overwhelmed by such a first-world problem -- planning an long trip -- in the third-to-nintieth-world atmosphere we currently inhabit.  We do plan to look out for volunteer opportunities  along our path, but most European countries are in themselves pretty well off.   There are, of course, plenty of refugee camps, etc. which we will try to visit if it's helpful to them.  And we're fortunate that we can attend AA meetings and get local information about where we might be helpful.
Meanwhile I'm dreaming about trains that leave us behind, hosts who leave without warning, visas which don't get back to us until after we are supposed to sail away, etc.  
And yet, and yet...there's that slight frisson of anticipation:  in two months we'll be staying with our kids in the Carolinas, in three months we'll be on the high seas....
About that.  Gary was in the Navy and it left him with an aversion to salt water so strong that every time I coerce him into taking me kayaking on the wild waves of Morro Bay, he grumbles all the way there, across said waves, and all the way home.   But when I asked him about the three-week relocation cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Copenhagen, he said yes.  I'm envisioning long days of walking the deck, reading, eating, walking, eating, maybe swimming if it's warm, reading, and so on.  Not sure what he's envisioning, but I hope it's not grumbling all the way there!  As far as I know, neither of us gets seasick, although the last Atlantic crossing I did, in 1963, I recall that one of my favorite features on the Leonard da Vinci was wine for breakfast.  We did do an Alaska cruise in 2006 without mishaps of the puking variety, so I'm hopeful.
We will stop at several places on our sea journey, the first being Bermuda, then a couple of islands in the Azores, then Southampton, Cherbourg, Zeebrugge, Amsterdam.  Of course the cruise company is offering/pushing shore excursions, but we are, as usual, making our own idiosyncratic way.  We're lucky to have friends living near Southampton, with whom we'll spend that day.  In Amsterdam, we're doing the hop-on/hop-off bus, a favorite of mine in all cities; Gary has never been there and it's a good way to get an overview.  We have a local taxi tour on one island in the Azores and will take the bus to Bruges from Zeebrugge.  For the rest, it's wing it.  Our first day in Copenhagen, my friend from the 4th grade Janie will be there also, and we'll get together - what a treat!
So far I have two Air Bnb's for Copenhagen and Ystad, Sweden, and two nights with a Servas host in Stockholm.  Lots of letters out to Servas hosts (Servas is an international peace organization which links travelers with hosts.  We are listed as hosts but I think Los Osos is a bit off the beaten track.)
So other than my bank card which expires while I'm gone, along with my driver's license, there's the budget, the preparation of bills/instructions/etc. for our home/car caretaker, and the all-important decisions on what to wear for our trip, which will include very cold and very hot weather and a long time to get tired of whatever we bring.  Of course, in the end it boils down to:  passports and visas, money and credit cards, warm coats, electronic devices and....RX MEDICINES!  More and more as we get older and older.  And arthritis cream.
Please feel free to send us your best travel advice!  Even if we've heard it before, it's reassuring to hear that others think as we do!
More anon.....