Heading across the Pond

April 16th, 2014 1 comment
the Legend of the Seas

the Legend of the Seas

You knew it was just a matter of time. I have spent entirely too long in the US in the past month and not enough time on long journeys. Ok, I will acknowledge that it probably isn’t a month, it is only since the 30th of March when the Infinity docked but still – a long journey with seven sea days in a row is just what I have in mind.

The route

The route

And so it goes

ITINERARY

DAY DATE PORT ARRIVE   DEPART
Wed Apr 16 Fort Lauderdale, FL 4:30pm
Thu Apr 17 At Sea
Fri Apr 18 At Sea
Sat Apr 19 At Sea
Sun Apr 20 At Sea
Mon Apr 21 At Sea
Tue Apr 22 At Sea
Wed Apr 23 Ponta Delgada, Portugal 8:00am 3:00pm
Thu Apr 24 At Sea
Fri Apr 25 At Sea
Sat Apr 26 Cork (Cobh), Ireland 9:00am 6:00pm
Sun Apr 27 At Sea
Mon Apr 28 Paris (Le Havre), France 7:00am 9:00pm
Tue Apr 29 Brussels, Belgium 10:00am 6:00pm
Wed Apr 30 Amsterdam, Holland 8:00am 5:00pm
Thu May 1 At Sea
Fri May 2 Copenhagen, Denmark 7:00am

From there I fly home. Germany home that is.

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Second Night Seder

April 15th, 2014 No comments

and no, I did not attend a seder last night at the start of Pesach. It fell into the “too hard to do” box. When I was here in Miami last week, I ran a search for community seders. After eliminating all those affiliated with Chabad (we checked that box in 1981 in Charleston on our way to Germany for the first time. More than three hours into the Seder at 2200 and we still had not gotten to the meal. Not a fun time with a 2 1/2 year old) there were actually few options that were in striking distance of where I am staying. Public transportation is not exactly easy to work in Miami. Either I was no tin the right location or the synagogue wasn’t reachable

So anyway, right on the front of the webpage for Temple Beth Or was the information about their community seder to include that it was a vegetarian/fish potluck.

Now, I do potlucks. Have for years in various military communities. Only time it doesn’t work is if someone decides to be more Orthodox than thou. Those games I don’t play. I received a prompt reply from the admin office that I was more than welcome to join them and the fact that I was in a hotel didn’t present a problem, even offered a ride.

Arriving early enough, I was able to help with a bit of the set up -

setting up

setting up

Once everyone arrived I didn’t attempt to take any pictures but it was somewhere around 45 participants. Other than one family, it was pretty much baby boomers with a few of their parents generation. It is an interesting, educated and well traveled group who quietly and without fanfare watch out for each other. That includes pushing chairs, giving way to walkers and making sure that someone gets a helping of their favorite food. The Haggadah on the other hand? You can become so PC that the words stumble in your mouth (?Family Eclectic? or some other such non-sense).

But there was plenty to eat, more than enough Manischewitz wine (it was BOKW) and Kedem grape juice to give everyone heart burn.

deserts, the best part, right?

deserts, the best part, right?

It felt like community – our original military one in Heidelberg, the Seders I spent in Bosnia, Kuwait, Afghanistan where being there was more important than what you knew or your shul or town or family.

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Miami – take 4

April 14th, 2014 No comments
view of the man made lake from the hotel

view of the man made lake from the hotel

Yep, back in Miami this morning.

Ship docked without problems and I caught the shuttle to the airport followed by the hotel shuttle back to the Airport Hilton. Third stay this month. I would want more of a frequent visitor recognition, but to tell you the truth, I am perfectly happy with the comfortable back lounge area complete with tables, electrical outlets and internet access.

Of course, if I could figure out where I tucked the cookies and nut mix packages from my ship’s gift basket I might be a bit happier, but can’t have everything

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Back to the Bahamas

April 13th, 2014 No comments

Originally, I wasn’t even going to get off the ship.

Docking at Nassau at least it wasn’t too crowded – the other two ships in port were the Norwegian Sky

NCL Sky as seen in my new app

NCL Sky as seen in my new app

 

and the Carnival Liberty.  But there is always the temptation of free wifi (altho slower than dirt) in the terminal) and the entertainment of listening to the announcement exhorting the Carnival folks to get back to their ship. It seems like that particular crew was heavy on the party and light on time sense. Even though the ships threaten to leave people behind, I get the feeling that missing more than 50 passengers would not be considered a good thing.

So I did email, played with my new “toons” app on the phone (see pix above) and just relaxed after managing to send out another round of post cards.

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I should get off the ship?

April 12th, 2014 No comments

Admittedly, the water looked beautiful -

don't you just love the color

don’t you just love the color

and I had just about decided to head to shore when I met some people coming back. Inspite of using commercial tenders apparently the process was still a pain. Further, the water was a bit on the cold side.

Now, I have my own snorkel gear and a skin suit, but left the wetsuit at home. I’m not much for cool-cold water, I start shivering too fast.

Executing an about face, I went back to the cabin, grabbed reading material (iPad) and decided I could enjoy multiple locations around the ship now that they were child free. I did mention that most of the passengers were both first time cruisers and if not 20s-30s party animals then burdened with small children?

No clue why we left so early since it is no distance at all to the Bahamas except that I think they wanted to get their money out of formal night. So here it is – the whole trip captured on one screen

the whole trip, short

the whole trip, short

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Majestic?

April 11th, 2014 No comments

This short frolic and detour was scheduled way back in the dark days of winter. It had been meant as a time filler and planned long before I had planned on Phoenix and San Francisco. In fact, I scheduled back in the day when I thought I was attending a meeting in Capetown at the beginning of April.

The Majesty is the oldest ship in Royal’s fleet. She alternates 3 day weekends with 4 day Mon-Fri trips to the close in Caribbean. From what I have gathered off Cruise Critic, it is a combination party cruise and first time cruisers.  I will probably be the odd one out, traveling only with backpack and a small duffle bag. After all, exactly how much stuff do you really need for three days?

Majesty of the Seas

Majesty of the Seas

Cruise to nowhere

Cruise to nowhere

 

ITINERARY

DAY DATE PORT ARRIVE   DEPART
Fri Apr 11 Miami, FL 4:30pm
Sat Apr 12 Coco Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 5:00pm
Sun Apr 13 Nassau, Bahamas 8:00am 5:00pm
Mon Apr 14 Miami, FL 7:00am
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Miami – take 3

April 10th, 2014 No comments

After an interesting breakfast meeting near the CalTrain terminal SoMo (South of Market, SF) George dropped me off at the airport with only minor detours. From there it was spend the day between United Lounges and United Flights.

The internet worked in the lounge, it was flaky on the flight but I really didn’t see the point. Houston this time turned out to be a non-problem. My flight came in early at E8 and my departure gate was next door at E9. Even better, my follow on flight was an on time departure and early arrival.

So here I am, just after midnight, and back in Miami for the third time in less than two weeks and willing to admit that I am a bit tired!

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River Beds

April 6th, 2014 No comments

After a somewhat late start on my part, I got the guy, we ran a couple of errands. Then what to do? Put parks into the GPS and decided to head north toward one of the River Reserves. The particular name starts with M and is run by the Nature Conservatory. As I am on one of Hiltons computers, rather than my own – I don’t have search capabilites. The machine is limited to one (1) window open at a time. On the way up HWY 101 Loop, the HOV late was solid motorcycles, miles and miles there of. After being passed by two highway patrol with flashing blue lights also on bikes I didn’t think much about it till all traffic came to a complete stop. All four lanes at a standstill, the police directed all the riders across traffic to the exit. Off they went, down, under and came back up heading south on 101…..Once I realized what was happening, I was 1/2 a mile from their exit when this happened. Counting bikes, I saw over 200 pass us and I figure this was well under half of them.

Once they were clear, it was no time at all to be on our way. Reaching the reserve, I hiked all the trails to include the overlook. Noah didn’t get quite that far. He read the sign about rattle snakes and was watching. So he saw them and got pictures. I was oblivous, but it must have been ok.

We stopped at this fancy golf community and expensive home place in Surprise, AZ on the way back (Desert Springs Golf Course). Had supper at Angela’s. Fabulous food at extremely reasonable prices (including refills on sodas during happy hour included).

Dropped the guy back at his place, drove toward the aiport, filled the car with gas, returned it, took the shuttle to the airport. Waiting almost an hour for the hotel shuttle (intermittant at night and he drove right by me x2) and am finally back at the hotel

written on the computer system with the software set to one window only i.e. version ancient.

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Bike city!

April 5th, 2014 No comments

Apparently without even asking me – this week was scheduled as Bike Week. Bikes being in this case the motorized kind. As in hundreds and hundreds of them all over the city and filling up all the hotels and motels. Given the obvious size and expense of many of the bikes it should not have suprised me to see them in the Hilton, Fairmont and Marriott parking lots as well as Sleep Inn, Comfort Inn and La Quinta (for the dog lovers). I noticed them on the road, but the impact became apparent when Noah and I attempted to find breakfast. We lucked out at the Original Pancake House where they even made traditional Dutch baked pancakes. A large group of bikers was leaving just as we arrived so we were seated. By the time we were heading out the line was out the door.

The day was simply spent running errands. College guy is an easy keeper – shoes and a couple of shirts and he is a happy camper. We had late lunch, early dinner at PF Changs and I dropped him off.

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so get off already!

April 4th, 2014 2 comments

The only thing more awesome than watching someone board an airplane carrying what appear to be their entire life’s possessions is watching them attempt to get back off. The good thing about having a seat in the back of the plane is that the seats are not popular. They don’t cost extra like the seats closer to the front. Think about it for a minute – on American Airlines you can pay $35-49 to sit in the front of the coach section with maybe 2 more inches of room. Or you can pay $25 to check a bag much larger than a roller board and weighing up to 23kg. Think about it for a minute…..

So there I am in row 24 of which I am the only resident. I was able to stretch out and sleep for part of the direct flight from MIA to PHX which is an excellent use of the more than five hour flight with 25 minutes added for headwind delays. There is no point in rushing, not with more than 130 people between me and the exit. Unlike boarding time, they are all attempting to cram into the narrow isle at the same time leaving absolutely no room for luggage. Didn’t see to stop any of them as they opened overhead compartments and rained contents down on their unsuspecting neighbors. I would have taken a picture but there were just too many people blocking the passage. They are jammed up to the point where no one can move. Gridlock in the isles and their surrounding passengers starting to get restless.

Me? With about 1/2 the plane empty I slung on my backpack and was able to head up the isle straight away without falling over anyone or anything. Collecting my suitcase (checking is cheaper than the more expensive seat, remember?) I caught the rental shuttle and picked up a car. Now if I could just figure out why the directions sent me the long way through the airport on my way to 202E.

To top off the long trip (after midnight now) I found the hotel/resort with ease. The room is beautiful, Keurig machine, fancy bathroom and high speed wifi. Too bad that the name didn’t clue in the person who made the reservation for me. Love him dearly but the place just happens to be a casino. Full of young and happy drunks staying in the hotel and up at all hours…… But my coffee cup is more than 1/2 full of decaf so I am good!

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Just me and the Internet

April 3rd, 2014 No comments

And it was a quiet day here at the Airport Hilton in Miami. I spent a bit of time at the pool. The rest of my time was spent on-line. I had correspondence, some on-line MOCC’s through Coursera which had proved impossible to keep up with while on ships. And then there are software updates.

I am not sure who the bright person at Apple was who thought that a 5.xxx GIG! download was a good idea. Not an option to have a DvD sent, but they have heard of memory sticks, right? Like GraphicAudio now uses to distribute their audioworks?

Anyway – alive, well not panicking and much better rested!

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If I only spoke Spanish

April 2nd, 2014 6 comments

There is not a doubt in my mind that if you want to get a job in the Miami area – at least in the service or retail industry – you have to be able to speak both Spanish and English with the first being perhaps more important than the second. Where this seems to bother a lot of people, I can just shrug my shoulders. I spend enough of my time in parts of the world where English is not the dominant language that it actually seems natural that I don’t understand everyone around me. The young man at the Dolphin Mall information desk ….

Wait a minute – I am getting ahead of myself. The internet here works. Perhaps not blazing fast but certainly faster than any ship or airport where I have been. I am not paying for it, which suits me just fine. Breakfast was certainly lovely this morning with oatmeal, fresh fruits and a made to order omelet. When I finally got myself organized I discovered that there was a shuttle bus to the Dolphin Mall. For a very cheap price I could have entertainment till the last bus back at 2145. Even better, although not a full store, there is a small Apple shop there. I did mention that the charger for my MacAir died? No? The covering over the skinny cable at the box cracked open and frayed the wires underneath. At least there certainly was the appearance of wires without coating when I peaked in the now present gap. This occurred when the battery was at 19% so to say I was not thrilled would be quite accurate.

So bus to the Mall. Wander around a ton of stores carrying clothes for which I have absolutely no use or interest. Shoes that look like torture devices plus jewelry, cosmetics, electronics. I found the OneClick and easily purchased my new power box. Check off task one. For task 2 – turns out the Mall has free Wifi. Both Sports Authority and the BassProShop carry Columbia sportswear. Third up was underwear. Sorry, but since I am not home today it was important to replace what I tossed when leaving the Infinity.

Then there was just the fun of walking around, watching the people. When talking to the various sales people I just started smiling and saying “English speaker here, sorry.” I met immigrants from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Columbia, Mexico and Brazil. Yes, the young man at the info desk said that there was more use for his Portuguese than you would think. This Mall is within reasonable distance to the Miami Airport. They get a lot of tourists from South America.

I caught the 1845 shuttle back to the hotel in a much better mood than yesterday. The driver saw me sitting on the bench reading and came to get me. He has been in the US now 17 years from Jamaica and has added Spanish as well as English to his skills.

What can I say? Perhaps I should work at my German, then go on and learn more than the minimal few words of Spanish that I have?

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not fooling, not at all

April 1st, 2014 7 comments

I vaguely remember an announcement about Rocky Mount somewhere close to midnight and completely slept through North and South Carolina. I might have slept longer but for my phone. It was my dentist’s office, about the appointment that I was missing. Oops – I explained that I was still in the US due to Lufthansa having messed up my flights. Apologized profusely saying that I thought my husband or daughter had called on Monday to explain. No problems – she could cancel the next two days as well and I should rebook when I was back in country.   Since I was awake, it seemed like a good time to try out my private shower and get coffee.

Recommendation – unless you are desperate, I wouldn’t bother to try to shower in this tiny space but being clean and a change of clothes helped almost as much as those first two cups of coffee. Feeling rather proud of my self for having figured out that I would need to reorganize prior to checking in my suitcases since I hadn’t packed a carryon to cover a night on the train.   Since my ticket included all meals, it seemed sensible to eat breakfast. The fritatta on the menu turns out to be a breakfast burrito on this run so I settled for fruit, oatmeal, yogurt and even more coffee. I sat across from a upstate NY CSX engineer on his way to Orlando  to help is his daughter relocate to Tucson for graduate school. He gets to drive the U-Haul. His wife, wheelchair bound with MS isn’t along for the trip. He is taking the train back to Albany after the drive.   Without wifi on the train I finally figured out that the only way to check email or look for a hotel tonight would be to get off at a long stop and use Amtrak Connect at participating stations. Of which there are none in Florida or at least not in Jacksonville or Orlando.

The train pretty much empties out in Orlando, Land of the Mouse leaving only a few of us traveling on to Miami. Each stop after that seems to have a few more getting off than on with the most departing at Winter Haven (aka Legoland).  All boarding ceased once we hit West Palm Beach as there is no point in having passenger competition between Amtrak and TriRail. In truth there is no competition which made for some extremely short stops. But since they were frequent stops the speed of the train drastically slowed down as it took us almost two hours to cover the last 60 miles of track   And add to my travel tally of the year 1389 miles on Amtrak. I check -  not possible to go from Miami to Phoenix on the train without taking 4 days, backtracking to Washington DC and then changing trains in Chicago. If I’d been anything other than walking sound asleep I could have checked out the changeability of my Friday flight while at JFK and potentially skipped Miami completely.

It is only a couple of blocks to TriRail and a short wait for a southbound train followed by bus to the airport. Then my “luck” strikes again. The ticket George purchased is through US Airways but operated by American Airlines for Friday. USAirways has gone home. AA can’t look up the reservation. The Military Hospitality Suite is closed about an hour early due work on an alarm system.   I give up. I have no clue about my outbound flight and no hotel booked. The  Hilton shuttle is the first one on my list of possibles that shows up. The brilliant Stephanie at the desk has a room, in fact I can stay for three days if I need to. I have a voucher for a beverage & breakfast in the morning and a code for the Internet.   The room is lovely and I am contemplating a soak in the tub. So I am in Miami with a dead charger for my laptop but a functioning iPad, iPhone (on wifi). Life is looking better!

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and the Drama continues

March 31st, 2014 1 comment

And the drama continues:

 

The remainder of 30 March:

 

There were more flight delays. Did I mention that my flight @ 1726 was first delayed by two hours, then canceled? That the cancelation was too late to make the 1810 flight to JFK? That, by the time the wonderful woman at the Lounge service counter managed to find me an alternative, the only option was Newark at 2150? Or the slight fact that the inbound for that fight was delayed so that instead of taking off on time we didn’t load the plane till 2300? Or that the saga continued with being stuck on “green hold” which apparently means being loaded, on the runway verge and engines powered down while the NYC area airports sorted themselves out due to all the changes, delays and weather?

 

The end result is that I didn’t land till 0059 followed by a wait of about 45 minutes in which the baggage dude kept saying my luggage would be up at any minute. I finally ignored him to check with the woman manning the lost baggage computer. No, my luggage wasn’t lost – it had taken my original flight to JFK! Now, the lovely woman in the United Lounge had called the baggage room and personally spoken to the chief there. He had assured us he would retag for the correct flight. Obviously it didn’t happen which I suspect was because my luggage was already on the way. But since my original flight didn’t go, it must have made the 1810….

 

My story doesn’t end, but I need to insert a side light. While waiting at the counter in the lounge I met a retired Air Force guy who was on his way to South Africa. His connection was out of JFK at 1000 the following morning. Meanwhile, for some strange reason, one of his bags had gone to Montreal from Denver. It had been located, but they couldn’t promise him it would be routed to JFK s in time. He was contemplating waiting for it at Dulles, then driving to JFK. Now, in good weather that is not a pleasant drive, in the sleet between DC and NYC I just shudder to think.

 

Upshot of it all, his bag got back to DC and he was booked on the Newark flight. (Remember, I didn’t know about my wandering luggage at this point). Maus had managed to find a car service to pick me up at the airport and drop me at my hotel near JFK. It was not inexpensive, but the alternative was to forgo completely any sleep, forfeit my prepaid hotel and just take the shuttle to JFK in the morning. About this time, I noted an email from Lufthansa: They were very sorry, but my 4 April flight to Miami was cancelled. Looking through Star Alliance, there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to get back to the US on the 4th in time to make my 1900 connection to Phoenix. Didn’t matter how I looked at it – it was just not possible, at all.

 

Just what I needed, right? It is about 0130 at Newark, terminal 1, United baggage claim area – 31 March 2014.

 

So now you have me standing in Newark without luggage. You have Dick (the retired AF guy with his luggage) whose hotel is also over near JFK. And the car hire who wants to be called. After 15 minutes on hold using Dick’s phone since I am not interested in making a long distance 800 call on my phone – they first deny that I have a reservation and then question the whole thing since there was “no record of what kind of car I wanted.” Hello? I don’t care what kind of car – I just want my luggage and some sleep. After a bunch of arguing (prepaid – can I have a refund? Oh, we have found it……) the dispatcher (3rd one) says 30 minutes for the car. Car 34 as a matter of fact. I almost lose it. I mention there are now two of us. Oh, but the reservation is for one. Right, I said but it is not like you guys answer the phone – attempts to call you back multiple times failed. Want to give me a refund? No, car on its way.

 

The reason for the refund is that there are several drivers standing around meeting flights that have been cancelled. Given a refund, we could have been out of there almost immediately with a driver who would have been delighted for the fare.

 

Car 34 shows up. He doesn’t want to deviate – he doesn’t want to make more than one stop. He wants to go home, we are his last fare and he is over his shift. Fine – just take us to JFK. From there Dick waves, catches a cab to his hotel where he might get 5 hours before heading back to catch his flight. I go to the baggage office. It is closed. There is only one handler at this time of night and he is currently running the carousel for a just arrived flight. About 30 minutes later he finishes and opens the office. Handing over the claim tags (and one of the few times in my life I actually have not lost them) I am invited to the back and easily identify my luggage which has been there for hours. It made the 1810 flight to JFK…..

 

I stagger out to the cab stand and catch a cab to my hotel which thank goodness has not given away my room. It is now 0345 in the morning. Lufthansa’s phone lines are busy. I fall face first onto the bed just barely remembering to set an alarm. Two hours later I am up, blearily taking a shower and attempting a caffeine revival. After looking at public transportation options to Ft Hamilton, I look out the window. Sleet and snow. The front desk finds a car service for me and assures me that my luggage will be there when I return.

 

The traffic is horrible and it takes almost an hour to drive  the 17 miles. Building 114 is not that hard to find and I sit down to await Maus. Txt from her says that the subway has issues and the R is not stopping at her station. She manages to arrive just before 0900. Since this is an ID card office with appointments, I don’t think they really appreciate people missing their time slot. As it turns out, it took only five minutes. (She is a student now over 21, needed proof of school, grad date to get a new card plus my signature. The form I did in KTown was deemed “not to have the magic words in the correct formulation.”) After searching for a quiet place to call Lufthansa again we wound up next door at the Health Clinic. It is manned by one SFC and is scheduled to close. But he kindly let me use a phone to reach Lufthansa. Busy, in the queue, disconnected – wash, rinse, repeat. 30 minutes of this nonsense and I was increasingly stupid with fatigue if that was even possible.

 

Hiking toward the subway, Miriam suggested that rather than spend 2 hours getting back to the hotel we find a car service. Asking at a Deli – they pointed out a building not three away. Walk to blue door, enter. Classic stereotype of a dispatcher with computer screen, headset, teased hair and gum. No problems – she can have a driver in a couple of minutes and names a price. Cheaper than my ride in. Can he make two stops, one to pick up my luggage and the second to drop me at JFK? Sure – $10 more. Definitely cheaper than ride in plus cab fare to airport. I go for it.

 

No worries – I am at the Lufthansa ticket counter at 1100 follow shortly by half a dozen others. The counter opens at 1200. The lovely woman running it shows up at 1120, puts up all the stanchions , signs and tells us it is ok to line up. She reappears in uniform and opens up early.  To my surprise she is able to deal with both reservations as my flight out today is the second 1/2 of my Feb inbound and 4 April is the front half with the return in Oct. After checking out all the options including British Airways through London she confirms that I can’t make my follow on connection. She reschedules the Friday flight to May (catching my Independence OTS eastern bound TA) and today’s flight (which is overbooked) for early Oct (which will let me return from the Legend OTS TA and Canadian frolic).

 

It is now 1215 and I am beyond exhausted. I have nothing to do and nowhere to be till Friday. I also have neither a US phone nor internet access. I attempt to think. I would pay for internet if I had something to do with it. Or phone if I had someone to call. It is at this point that I discover that almost all the US phone numbers I need are in the Verizon phone. The one that disappeared into the chaos of our Heidelberg house and hasn’t been seen for months. An attempt to search my hard drive nets only one phone number for Brad & Chere. I get the answering machine. I can’t find any for Carmen or Don & Kim Bosco.

 

My choices are now to fly somewhere at huge expense (one way ticket) or stay in NYC (which still leaves the get to Florida by Friday issue) or figure out an alternative. Needing more time, I decide to take the Port Authority bus into the city. Oh, Penn Station. Right! At 1355 I buy an Amtrak ticket to Miami complete with sleeper. Plane + hotel in NYC + meals = about the same price the train and solves several problems all at the same time. The only other alternative which would have been rental car would not be either safe or sane. Being too tired to drive means a start tomorrow (hotel bill for tonight) plus 1-2 nights on the road plus gas and no way to relax. By 1410 I have dropped off my luggage and am drinking tea and munching a muffin in the 1st Class Lounge (who knew that lounge access comes with that particular ticket). Our escort to the train arrived shortly before 1500 and I was in my solo compartment and asleep before we rolled out of the station at 1515.

 

I was marginally awake at the next couple of stops. Enough to take a couple of pictures before zoning out again. Room service for dinner at 1700 and I went out for the count. No wifi on this train, although it might be possible to pick it up in a couple of stations with scheduled longer stops.

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I don’t love United

March 30th, 2014 No comments

No, not me. Not at all. After paying a decent fare to get to NYC today, my connecting flight out of IAD was just cancelled. Not immediately after I arrived here. Oh, no, that would have been way too easy. Instead the flight was first delayed by more than two hours then cancelled about five minutes too late for me to switch to any of the flights that were boarding.

It was also too late for me to try to wrangle a deal with Lufthansa to just go home from here tonight. Five minutes again too late.

The next three flights to NYC out are all booked. Totally and completely sold out, all classes leaving me booked on the only option which unfortunately goes into Newark.

Thrill of a life time and my apologies to anyone who happens to call NJ home, but my hotel is booked for JFK and I have to be in Brooklyn at Ft Hamilton about 0745 in the morning. I don’t see myself getting much sleep.

Of course, at this point I could get there just as fast on Amtrak, but that would involve getting into the city to catch the train. By the time I managed to do that, the end time would be about the same.

And, to top it off, United happily rebooked me for tomorrow night at the same time. Hello? I am planning on being on LH401 bound for home.

Deep sigh here. The nice woman at the United counter here in the lounge managed to get me rebooked and will be checking the other flights for me. I would go over to Terminal A where the other flights depart, but there is no lounge there.

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Almost to Miami

March 29th, 2014 No comments

I haven’t really fallen off the edge of the earth. In fact, I can’t even see it from here. Closest that I realistically could call was Cuba off the port side about 1700 this afternoon.

So – lets see – the highlight of the day was having lunch at the Bistro with Cheré and Brad. To insure that the last of my onboard credit was up we spent the late afternoon eating crepes. I will not own up to how many crepes we ate all together but Brad didn’t really hold up his end having indulged in soup … Otherwise, I finally broke down and finished packing. This involved sort of sorting and some tossing. Mostly trying to get organized so that I have what I need for cold weather clothes on top, the dirty things in a bag and the Miami/cruise stuff on one side so that I can swap it out more easily when I get home.

I have to admit, 42 days on this ship felt like a lot longer than 56 on the Radiance. It might have been the difference between the types of ports or I can just point a finger toward the ship.

In any case, it is bus to the airport, then a long day with United before reaching my hotel at JFK tomorrow evening.

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I could pack

March 28th, 2014 No comments

Day at sea in which one could pack, if I had been so inclined which I wasn’t so was otherwise spent going to a few lectures and/or reading

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Cartagena is for the birds

March 27th, 2014 2 comments

Getting off the ship in Cartagena, I was once again faced with the inexplicable behavior or birders. I guess collecting a life list of birds seen is no stranger than a list of ports visited, countries invaded. Or fridge magnets, post cards, keychains or t-shirts. But what really counts> it used to be that saying what/where/when was enough. Seen the bird, record the data and move on to the next target.

Apparently the rules have changed. You have to have a picture of the bird. Your picture, not someone else’s no matter how lousy you are with the camera. I guess it is to prove the point since integrity is no longer being allowed. But what of birds in captivity? Do birds in an aviary or zoo count? And if birds in cages count, why not those in the various natural history museums? Or is the line drawn at “in the wild” or at simply alive? Not much argument about species of bird at least for those stuffed and mounted.

The reason for all this muttering has to do with the aviary at the port expanding since the last time I was here. Then it was peacocks, black swans and flamingos (all of which are more than colorful and worth seeing in their own right). But now there are several species of parrots, several hawks and other unhappy birds in cages with jesses. It was a challenge to even be able to walk through the area once the ship had really started unloading due to the people and cameras.

Photos are fun, but seeing what appeared to be a brown pelican near the river seemed to be more interesting to me. Him, the pigeons and various small varieties of the song bird family were out and about without human supervision.

I don’t think birds in cages count, but hey what do I know? There are people who believe the various performing groups that entertain arriving ships are actually representative of the current local population ……

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now, where is it?

March 24th, 2014 1 comment

After going slightly insane this morning in an attempt to locate a memory stick I decided it was time to get a bit organized. It is not that anything really could get away from me as there is a limited number of places in which I can put something. But there are two cupboards in the desk, a couple of night stands, suitcases, backpack, camera case, closet, drawers…. Anyway, you get the idea.  Just as I had everything scattered out all over the place comes the knock on the door. Laundry. Probably a good idea since that was 24 more items to get organized.

 

So the papers are all in one place, the electronics in another and the knitting all in a third. Which goes to explain why I finally found a thumb drive in a case tucked in the bottom of my carry-one camera backpack. Not just the last place I looked, but the last place to look….

 

Lectures this morning: another on the Panama Canal which featured the geography from the Pacific to the Atlantic which made me totally confused since he had the Pacific on the right side of the slide and the Atlantic on the left. Never mind the canal which lets you travel from the Atlantic on the east to the Pacific on the west actually is more north/south. When we transited the last time it was from the Atlantic through to San Diego.  The lecture also covered the actual mechanics of the locks (include the double gates on the first lock at either end to seriously decrease the chances of an idiot (or sabotage) helping the inner sea become one with an ocean. Draining out one of the inner lakes would not just be an ecological disaster but would result in all the in-transit ocean going vessels being stranded in the mud. Since neither 40 days and nights of rain or them instantly turning into arks happily stranded on a mountain top, such an event would simple become an incredibly expensive nightmare.

 

After all those happy thoughts, it was much more fun to watch the next lecturer entertain us with dolphins.

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Manta, Ecuador

March 23rd, 2014 No comments

 

I think I finally have the secret of avoiding the constant harassment from taxi drivers looking to score a fare. Remember what I said about all the one way streets that seem to be the norm in South American cities?  Well, if you walk with purpose facing the flow of traffic the cabs, even in Manta will ignore you. I checked it out on five different streets. Walk with traffic and all the roaming cabbies slow down and honk.  Walk facing them, which is opposite the direction in which they are traveling? They figure you are not looking for a ride and keep on going. Voila! Instant peace.

 

Speaking of cab drivers, I don’t see how they make money. Fuel is obviously expensive and cruising around looking for fares has to be burning up more than what it costs to run. But who am I to question the obvious local wisdom which says that the next huge fare is just around the next corner should you be the lucky one to get there first.

 

Meanwhile, I hiked up to the new shopping center and wandered around. Walking dozens of the local streets, the architecture seemed much the same as the Chilean and Argentinian port towns which we have seen. Square buildings, one to three stories and the occasional balcony along with a fair share of graffiti.

 

Didn’t get a chance to hit the usual location for tourist Wifi since it seems that the COL doesn’t keep his server up, much less dish up chicken, fish or empenadas on a Sunday.  The local Cultural Museum was free and featured a number of local artists. What was even more amazing is that their conference center, although not open, had a small route that was up and not password protected. I very carefully hung out on the first level and hid my phone whenever anyone happened to come by since the signal wasn’t all that strong. It did let me check email, pull a couple of books to my kindle app and WhatsApp with what ever family members were up and about.

 

I headed back to the ship fairly early since it was both warm and extremely humid. And wouldn’t you know it – the same people who had been complaining about the cold early in the trip while they stood in line to get back on the ship. It was much more entertaining to watch the fishing vessels being unloaded. Obviously fishing is a major industry which operates the week around. Net after net of fish were being brought up from the vessel’s hold and unloaded into waiting containers prepositioned on flatbeds. Watching fog come off of the net I realised that this was no small undertaking since the fish were between four and five feet long and stiff as boards. Flash frozen obviously as one of the workers posed for the cameras with a fish almost as tall as he was.

 

 

 

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Canal ahead

March 22nd, 2014 No comments

Seems we are lucky this time around. The lecturer on the Panama Canal, in addition to knowing his subject, has a good sense of humor and a decent slide set. Probably doesn’t hurt that he, Emilie Baladi, just happens to be an engineer. I had wondered during the presentations I heard back in 2012, why the canal operation was turned over to railroad CEOs when taken over by the US. Explained, it was obvious. This is 1905. There are no trucks. There are no major roads across the US. All major hauling of goods for long distance was either by ship or by rail. The canal was to shorten the sea journey by thousands of miles. To do so required effectively digging a large ditch. Huge ditch as a matter of fact. All that dirt had to go somewhere. 

 

No trucks. So everything removed was going to have to be hauled out by rail. And tracks laid, extended, relocated over and over. Hence the railroad men. And who else in the United States had the experience of digging out beds, putting down rails, blasting out passes …. but the railroad?

 

I think last time we also skipped over the fact that for the first two years of the US attempt to build the canal it got no where due to disease, accidents and the same plan as the French. Turns out you just can’t do a sea level canal through the middle of the country when there is a small issue of lakes being at a higher elevation than sea level. After the decision was finally made to create locks progress was finally made.  Along with mosquito control and decent housing for the workers.

 

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A tale of Lima

March 21st, 2014 No comments

21 March 2014 – A Tale of Lima, Peru

 

Oh – before I forget – when cutting and pasting for the 17th I managed to include the photo of Dani but not the explanation of why you were getting the picture of her at mile 8. (which mostly consisted of the fact that the finish line one was at too much of a distance to really see her).

 

Back to the current topic!

 

Originally I was going to do a “Lima on your own” which was simply a bus ride to town and back with about five hours in which to wander around. After talking to a couple of my buds it sounded a lot more fun to take the bus to one of the Inka Markets and look at stuff for about 90 minutes figuring we could either find wifi or spend the time fondling alpaca scarves, shawls and ponchos. Also included were some highlights of downtown on the way to the market and a suburb or three on the way back.

 

Getting on the bus, our guide informed us that our tour might be a bit disrupted due to a planned protest in a major downtown square.  (Please remember that I spent a lot of years in the military. I don’t do or go near demonstrations. I have seen all too many turn ugly and I don’t see the point of putting myself at risk while being an inadvertent bystander). Believe it or not, we drove right past the square (solid with people, all of whom were wearing hard hats along with lots and lots of flags) and drove around a number of streets.

 

About 45 minutes into the drive, we came to standstill. The street down which our tour had been planned was now blocked off. Police dressed for the worst at the barricade. Our tour guide suggests that we all get out and walk to see the next section. The bus would go around and we would meet up with it at the other side (which obviously meant crossing the line of march….).

 

Now, passengers on the tour had picked it for the shopping and the fact that there was no walking involved. Ages 60s-80s. Like Lemmings, all but a few of us got off the bus. Did I mention that I am not stupid, don’t want to be in crowds and don’t speak the language. Plus, having already been subjected to crushing crowds and individuals attempting to lift off my possessions I just didn’t feel like playing. Bus driver is a nice guy and he safely gets us around all of this mess and to the pick up point. Meanwhile, several of the group have gotten separated from the rest which now involves several stops to gather everyone up.

 

At this point, the sensible thing would have been to get out of there. Right?

 

Not our brilliant tour guide who wants to “stay on the path”  Said path takes us across the line of march which means we are at a total standstill for over 30 minutes while the police hold everyone in place till all the miners have cleared the intersection two stoplights ahead.

 

I did mention the helmets, riot-shields, weapons didn’t I?

 

End result is that by the time we finally reached the suburbs (which could have been literally anywhere Spanish speaking complete with name brand stores and Starbucks, we only had 20 minutes of our allotted 1 hour 20 for shopping. I wanted postcards. I also found some yarn (=$2.50/ball? why not, it is such a pretty blue).

 

Back on the ship, that evening I attempted to talk to the Shore Excursion desk about the risks of that tour. Got an argument back!  Effectively saying since nothing happened, it was safe. No good answer to why they believed the tour guide thought it was safe or why we were upset about losing the portion of the tour for which we had signed up. Argh. Chere and I finally told them if they couldn’t figure it out to go and talk to their own security personnel about the risks of taking elderly passengers out for a hike in the middle of a miners protest. I don’t actually expect and answer or a refund. I am just hoping that someone will think before putting people at risk. Nothing happened – good. But if that protest had turned at all violent it could have had major repercussions for all of us.

 

 

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Arica, Chile

March 19th, 2014 1 comment

The footpath to the pro entry over looking Arica reminds me of the snake path climbing Masada. Hairpins back and forth and visible from above at all times. In this case he way up starts at a shrine to the virgin open 0900-1700. I started this note partway to the summit. Allegedly so that my thought would not leave for the ocean with the sea breeze. More realistically to give myself a break from the climb. Other than the stairs on the ship, all of the exercise I have been doing has been on level, either without significant resistance or elevation and I feel it is catching up to me

The sun is beating down and it is only just after nine. The view from above is good. Not only is the ship and working port clearly in view but the town is laid out clearly. From colonial buildings to modern there is quite a variety. It is obviously a working city with a definite center shopping district complete with sidewalk vendors and a pedestrian zone.

I quickly checked out the military museum which was small. The maritime museum off the old quarter was essentially a collection of shells along with a couple of mounted sea creatures ( no mermaids or other fantasy critters).

On a side street I found an open air market with an exhibit on the town history from the Franciscan Monks through pirates to modern day told in paintings and new paper displays. The ” no photos here” sign was pretty clear so I behaved myself. Continuing to wander, I wound up spending a number of hours while buying nothing. Internet, extremely slow was available in a couple of cafés while the Internet cafes had neither drops nor wifi. All of which obviously make updating you or anyone else a real challenge.

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Chilean Towns

March 18th, 2014 No comments

Sunday there were two Aalparasios. There was the port town at Sunday rest with homeless dogs and men sleeping piled in dirty rags along building that have been long closed. There was a bustling vegetable market feature fresh produce, watermelons being prominent. A few buildings sported traces of their former glory, but mostly it was cement accented with grilled windows and barred doors.

Then there was the old city, seen through the eyes of some friends who did a walking tour. Featured were gloried of the past. The city had been modern and and rapidly expanding at the turn of 1900. There were docks, chandleries, hotel supporting the sux months of sailing around the Horn. The future was bright. A hotel stands today that was built in 1913.

But it never opened. Almost from one day to the next growth was stopped and the future was gone. In 1914 the Panama Canal was opened. Eliminating the risk of months at sea, dangers of ice flows and speeding goods.

So when we talk of the new canal being opened one should not think of greatness and speed of cheap goods from china being delivered sooner without also acknowledging e unforeseen consequences on many lives in multiple countries.

La Serena was similar in that it was a working port town. You could hike from the ship through the fish market + local artisans market which featured a lot of locally made handicrafts of various skill levels and almost nothing from China. Postcards and magnets weren’t options, but lots of things from string, shells, copper colored wire and alpaca were on offer.

I hike along a major street under construction along the port front stopping to watch the sea lions. Not a zoo location you understand but just a bunch out for a free lunch of heads and guts from the fish market. Like most port towns situated in a bowl shaped inlet the streets climb the hill with the upper part being mostly accessible on foot by stairs that zig-zag back and forth. The main street served both pedestrians and traffic. Like most of the other South American towns we have visited, all the streets were one way which helped a bit.

I looked in various stores, found several that featured yarns and sewing supplies. One woman (she with her Spanish and my with hand signs) told me that all the yarns for sale were acrylic, mostly novelty yarns. No one wants anything fine but the grandmothers who crochet. The younger women don’t buy either wool or alpaca so she had neither.

I had a delightful time just walking around and looking at buildings that obviously dated from the turn of the last century when wooden doors were common and signs handpainted. Many of the merchants had commissioned murals on their outer back and side walls. Apparently the best way to avoid the graffiti!

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And the Champ

March 17th, 2014 2 comments

pictures to follow from crossing the finish line.

photo 2

Dani once again proved that with training and determination you can mange just about anything including coming in about 20 minutes sooner than the estimated time she provided the race organisers.

 

Alex and his family were there to cheer her on and help celebrate.  He is doing well post reconstructive surgery and now just (!) has to get throughout the next courses of chemo.

 

Thank you so much for your support and I will keep you posted on how they are doing

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and back to the US

March 16th, 2014 2 comments
the route

the route

still on the Infinity

 

Day 1 Sun, Mar 16 Valparaiso, Chile / 8:00 PM
Day 2 Mon, Mar 17 La Serena (Coquimbo), Chile / Docked 9:00 AM 4:00 PM
Day 3 Tue, Mar 18 At Sea
Day 4 Wed, Mar 19 Arica, Chile / Docked 7:00 AM 7:00 PM
Day 5 Thu, Mar 20 At Sea
Day 6 Fri, Mar 21 Lima,Peru / Docked 7:00 AM 5:30 PM
Day 7 Sat, Mar 22 At Sea
Day 8 Sun, Mar 23 Manta, Ecuador / Docked 8:00 AM 5:30 PM
Day 9 Mon, Mar 24 At Sea
Day 10 Tue, Mar 25 Panama Canal (Cruising) / Cruising 6:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 10 Tue, Mar 25 Colon, Panama / Docked 6:00 PM 10:00 PM
Day 11 Wed, Mar 26 At Sea
Day 12 Thu, Mar 27 Cartagena, Colombia / Docked 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Day 13 Fri, Mar 28 At Sea
Day 14 Sat, Mar 29 At Sea
Day 15 Sun, Mar 30 Miami, Florida / 7:00 AM

where I have a flight out that day, first to NY then back to Germany

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New York 1/2 Marathon

March 15th, 2014 No comments

15 March 2014 – Just a reminder

 

For those who missed it the first time around or just stopped to think a moment, then kept on going (and my thanks to those who made a pledge).

This is probably only time I will ever mention something about fundraising. Considering all the charitable foundations in the world, it is hard to say that any are less deserving that others. So it comes down to the personal – what matters to you, affects you, your family, your friends.

In the case of tomorrow – which is the New York City 1/2 Marathon – it is Daniela (Ms Soprano, Ms Journalist, Daughter #2) who is running to raise money. It is not like she has a real love of running or sees herself as doing something for the world. This is personal. As part of Fred’s Team – her pledges go to Cancer Research.

Why?  Alex, her boy friend and all around good person was diagnosed with osteosarcoma this past fall. Osteosarcoma is primarily a disease of young people, mostly teenagers with a few in their 20s. So far he has undergone surgery, chemo therapy, reconstructive surgery and has more chemo in his future (through to next fall).  He was back in New York finishing his last year of university after having spent a year in Chicago as part of TeachAmerica.  He had not planned obviously on spending this year primarily being a patient of Sloan Kettering or needing hats to replace the hair he no longer has.

The donation link is here, please consider pledging even a small amount if you can (and thank you to those who already have or are supporting others also running tomorrow).

 

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Not Packing

March 15th, 2014 No comments

No not me. About 1/2 the ship is engaging in the usual “where is it, what do you mean I have to pay for it ….” and all the other complaints that come to the fore the day before a cruise leg ends. The reason that I saw about 1/2 the ship is that there are still a bit under 200 of us left from the 16th Feb boarding in Buenos Aires. Add to this over 700 who joined the cruise 2 March with the intentions of staying till Miami and you can understand why it is not the whole ship going insane.

 

Since there are so many of us Back-2-Back there are effectively no freebies being offered. On some cruises there have been luncheons, or trips or just a nice get together. This time the information briefing was held in the theater (see comment above about 1/2 the ship) and I completely forgot to go (again). Since Brad and Cheré attended I could easily pump them for information. Key? Chilean authorities want the ship to go to zero balance. Minimum time they want the ship clear is from 0945-1200. Santiago is not next door. None of the tours are all that cheap so I haven’t decided what I will want to do tomorrow other than wander around, find museums, internet and caffee con leche.

 

Which means, with any luck besides dealing with some files, on-line course work and correspondence I just might get a change to upload a few dozen photos. One can hope but don’t hold your breath!

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Smug is not a good look

March 14th, 2014 1 comment

There I was, walking back toward the ship congratulating myself on the wisdom of having spent money on a good umbrella which I have been using for the the cruise rather than a one time easy purchase of a cab ride back whenever. Of course, if I had taken the cab at that port I would have been earlier back to the ship and missed a lovely lunch so there is nothing in getting early that would have been a benefit. (There is also the fact that the ship has provided umbrellas, but why should reality get in the way of my mood?)

 

Leaving the restaurant, I had not gone more than a few blocks when the rain started again. Taking out my umbrella and stripping off the cover I popped it open. Walking along I managed to stay dry while those around me were ducking, cursing and running to avoid getting soaked.  As the rain stopped, I figured it was time to put the umbrella away. At which point it promptly turned inside out, showering me with accumulated water and refusing to fold back down.

 

So much for being cocksure prior to arriving bak at the ship.

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Chilean Fjords

March 13th, 2014 No comments

Cruising through the Chilean Fjords, at least in the area where we were is not the same as (pick one – Norway, New Zealand, Alaska, Canada ..). I am sure that it you actually entered the Fjords the similarities would be greater.  But we cruised along between islands making it spectacular in a completely different way. You could see mountains off in the distance, but they were not looming over your head. In some areas you could see what were probably ice fields, but again – you were not sailing along in a sea filled with ice chunks that seem small till you realize that something appearing the same size as a VW bug from Deck 12 is probably bigger than a shoe box.

 

Peering up channels as we passed by it was hard to guess what was mainland and what was making up part of the arpelligo (spelling). Many of the land masses could have as easily been islands as not. We saw more than our share of seals/sea lions poking up their heads as we disturbed their fishing grounds with our passage.

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Straits of Magellan

March 12th, 2014 No comments

Simple cruising – mostly knowing we were traversing historical waters because all the details speakers kept providing us. I don’t think I have any particular increased sensitivity to political, immigration or human rights issues but I still bristle at all the comments about “settling” the area, establishing towns and otherwise populating the area. The next sentence, of course, is something about the tribes that were there when the European settlers were brought in.

 

So all I can do is assume that the same values applied in Patagonia as in the rest of the New World: no area was considered settled unless it housed European immigrants. No one native to that area would have been seen as having rights, property or any say in land, animal or fish usage. Certainly no one of the early [European] explorers would have cared a whit of local opinions about establishing whaling, towns, deforestation or the tastiness of captured prisoners. Rumors about which could be easily used to keep criminals in line and mutinies down to the irreducible minimum. Considering how harsh the environment is in summer, I can’t imagine it would have been all that fun in winter, just adding to the challenges.

 

So we sailed through the fog today, occasionally spotting islands, marine life and more than a few obnoxious fellow passengers.

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