Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Loose Change

July 9th, 2014 1 comment

One of the interesting things that happens when you live outside the US is accumulating multiple countries worth of spare change. Admittedly it is not as bad now as it was 20-30 years ago. Prior to the EU, every last country had its own currency which obviously included coinage. Now it is just the UK (and Scotland, we can’t forget Scotland which insists on printing its own Pound Notes) of the major countries which don’t play.

There are several other EU countries which have their own but frankly the merchants are more than willing to take Euros. Scandinavia is uses various Kroner (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) but Finland has been on the Euro since the start.

The reason I started down this line? Cleaning which involves picking up loose change.

Now it would be sensible to expect that we would have some US coinage given how often one of us travels to the US. Euros – well we live in the EU. Swiss Francs because George is there three days a week on those weeks where he can’t find a reason to be else where.

Then you have to remember that I have traveled to the UK and Norway more than once in the last year. And Australia last fall along with New Zealand and various stops in Canada. I pretty much avoided changing money in South America.

All told, I think I have a couple of kilos of mixed coins. I’m going to try and sort it out into spendable and not-spendable. The first category are those coins where I can physically use them (Euros for candy bars), US swapped for real money at the credit union, Swiss back in George’s pocket or back pack. I’ll use whatever pence and pounds I can find when I fly to London for WorldCon in Aug. I can probably even find Canadians and Aussies on my next cruise and send their coinage back with them (or see option below).

But there are coins for which there is no hope. I am even hesitant to drop them in one of the airplane donation envelopes. After all – DM have been out of circulation for over a decade; ditto with the French Franc.  Then there are the dinar, shekels, hwan.  I need to ask Terry what they do with weird coins. Especially since it might make up a good third of what we have on hand….

Categories: home, Travel Tags:

Star Alliance Lounge

June 28th, 2014 No comments

And, in spite of the best effort of traffic, weather and obnoxious passengers I have made it to Heathrow T1, check-in and the lounge.

The weather was lovely this morning in Southampton – at least when I got off the ship and strolled over to the NationalExpress Station. As it turns out, there were several ships in port today – one of the Princess Line, one of the Queens, the Indy and perhaps an entry from Carnival/P&O/other. In any case, the terminal was packed and all the seats sold out on coaches early than the one I booked. Eliminating completely my chance to get out a few hours earlier than planned.

As I waited till my 1130 departure, the temperature started to drop. The clouds rolling in hinted of winds, wetness and an unpleasant cruise out of port of those who are boarding today. Finally, the bus rolled in and taught one of those fun life lessons in two movements – a) if you get on the bus early you get to pick a seat. With full bus when traveling alone you don’t get to pick your seatmate. b) first on means luggage gets unloaded last.

Enough said. I figured since the trip took almost 3 hours worth of extremely frustrating travel made dangerous by wind, rain and stupid drivers. Did I mention road construction? Mental note to self – carry luggage off ship as it is worth it in order to make an earlier bus. I really don’t like arriving at an airport with less than two hours till flight time. Not with check-in and the excitement of security still to go.

Since I am obviously on line you may correctly assume that I safely managed all gates and arrived at a safe and secure location that has both electric outlets and free Wifi.

Flight in a short while, then sleep on the plane and just a train left to catch on the far end. You may be then astonished to learn that I am off the seas for over 60 days….

Categories: Travel Tags:


June 22nd, 2014 No comments

If you want to visit Toulon from a cruise ship, you find that docking is actually  at La Seyne sur Mer.  A bit out of town, there isn’t a whole lot in the area except for ships, beaches and a bike rental. Since this isn’t a port I have visited before, I elected to take the Ferry at 0830. There weren’t all that many of us headed out that early. I think most people assumed that since it is Sunday, there was going to be absolutely nothing open before lunch.

A new port for me. It is lovely to find I had a couple of hours to explore the city without being overrun by either locals or tourists managing to walk into my frame just as I click the shutter.



the town shield imbedded in the sidewalk

the town shield imbedded in the sidewalk

I don't know that Athena's owl really appreciates the pidgeons

I don’t know that Athena’s owl really appreciates the pidgeons

overlooking the market square

overlooking the market square

Toulon has the history of long being a major French Naval Base.Which means the usual ancillary services.

The Port Hotel

The Port Hotel

where I think the ladies

where I think the ladies

spent time with the naval "gentlemen"

spent time with the naval “gentlemen”

today's services are a bit more obvious

today’s services are a bit more obvious



It is still home to ships, training and the Maritime Museum (which opens at 1000).

Model of the Charles de Gaul

Model of the Charles de Gaul

Amazing detail

Amazing detail

and wooden sculptures of major French Naval Figures

and wooden sculptures of major French Naval Figures




Oh, and the cherries were terrific!

A kilo from the Sunday Market

A kilo from the Sunday Market

Categories: Travel Tags:

Street Markets

June 21st, 2014 No comments

Most of the time, when I think of Livorno it is either as the gateway to Pisa & Florence or as the unofficial R&R military location in Italy. For years the Army clinic at Livorno was a one doc affair tasked with primarily an occupational health mission and incidentally supporting the few military and families that were stationed there. For administrative purposes, it fell to Vicenza for command and control.

Today, I wasn’t thinking of any of that as I wound my way through various streets. The port authorities, not being any fools, charge for the shuttle bus service to town. It isn’t that town is not walkable, but as a working port there are safety considerations. Most ports provide this service to at least the front gate without charge (although I think the cost is buried into the docking fees charged the cruise ships). But here in Livorno? Why not get 5 E from each passenger? It isn’t a lot – not enough to really upset anyone or make them question why but should pay for the salaries of the drivers and cost of fuel for the thousand or so using the service.

Where was I? Oh, yes – it is Saturday and Market Day. Not only are there fish, fruit and butcher stands but there are breads and cheese and flowers. Then walk on to find the clothing, linens, shoes and kitchen wares sections. There are also stands for buttons, yarn, notions and fabrics. Walking around for a few hours was relaxing and interesting.


What I didn’t find since I didn’t walk far enough were major stores other than H&M and Zara. I didn’t find any decent size sports stores; I didn’t find any additions to my fussball jersey collection, especially not home or away World Cup Italy. So I sent my postcards off since the tobacco stand on the corner near the bus stop had both cards and stamps. No pick up on the weekends, but I can live with that.

A quiet time was had late afternoon back on the ship!

Categories: Travel Tags:

Ships in the harbor

June 20th, 2014 No comments


Ships in a the Harbor

Most of the time, toursts are only familiar with Civitavecchia as the port associated with Rome. Never mind that it is about as much Rome as Southampton is London or Le Harve is Paris. Thought that counts and nearest ocean port is the hook for cruise ships. All of the great cities were port towns once in their history when ships were small and locating at the interchange of river and sea was both smart and good for commerce Today, those of us hooked on cruising only think of the inconvenience to us and not the current reality of commercial logistics and shipping. In real world terms, most goods move between continents by ship. Major harbors are a necessity.

Having both cruises out of “Rome” before and arriving in Civitavecchia the night before a cruise or three, I at least somewhat familiar with the town. I know how to get from the train station to my favorite hotel. From the train station to the port. The location of the post office and the Saturday morning market. How to find both shops and wifi. That might have been why I ignored all the offered tours & travels today in favor of ship watchings.

This harbor is primarily one that supports container ships. The cruise ships that dock are served by customs officials in tents, baggage handlers and port buses to prevent idiots walking somewhere dangerous. What I hadn’t realized was that it is also a major embarkation point for travelers and goods for Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and Barcelona. I don’t know why it surprised me – traveling by ferry would make sense both for trucks and vacationers. Being able to move a fair amount of goods along with one’s self and personal transport is often a smart thing.

the sign of a ferry

the sign of a ferry

So I watched the Queen Elizabeth, the newest of Cunard’s three ships board her passengers for a seven day cruise to Venice. (Ok, so I looked it up. I couldn’t find a cruise starting on the 20th, but there is one listed for the ship starting on the 27th in Venice….)

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth

There was the Barcelona bound ferry with rear doors large enough for the biggest 18 wheeler.

Fast Ferry

Fast Ferry


and the MSC Lirica which I don’t remember as being quite as old or small as she appeared. But then, I haven’t been on her for three years and the perspective from deck 3 there is much different than a 9th deck balcony on the Independence.

MSC Lirica

MSC Lirica

There are also the container ships and tugs all of which I enjoyed from my bird’s eye view.

the tug

the tug

Categories: Travel Tags:

Another Kilo of Cherries

June 19th, 2014 No comments

We sailed into the Ajaccio, Corsica harbor this morning to sunshine and blue skies.

The rest of the harbor

The rest of the harbor



I seem to remember the weather was just as nice three years ago when, along with 3/4 offspring, our ship stopped here on a 7-day Mediterranean cruise. We were on the MSC Lirica for the simple reason that we could embark in Majorca. Both the dates and location were important since I had timed the cruise to coordinate with George’s office’s annual Ausflug which just happened to be in Majorca that year. It started the day after the cruise ended, and thus the reason for dates, location and ship. I had only looked at Costa and MSC having been on both lines several times without problems. The only cruise I had taken to this point on Royal was the disaster the previous year on the Brilliance and NCL didn’t have a ship that offered Majorca as embarkation point (hello? Someone else is paying the airfare, why wouldn’t I want that advantage?) (the 25 June 2011 post is here 

dwarfing the sailing vessels

dwarfing the sailing vessels


Anyway, Corsica. I spent the day hiking around the city. There were a lot more tourist type shops than I remember from the last time. Of course, the plethora of English Speakers off this ship didn’t really help. Taking care of the postcards early on, I decided just to walk up a few hills to see what I could see.


for the pizza oven

for the pizza oven

the same park as last time

the same park as last time

and cheeriness

and cheeriness

Besides several lovely gardens, mopeds and motorcycles where ever their riders felt like leaving them,

si, si

si, si

The Front Side of the Government Complex

The Front Side of the Government Complex


I found (on the way out through the pedestrian security gate) that I had managed to walk through the regional government headquarters complex.

Once again I didn’t manage to get to the Palace Fesh- not just because in typical French fashion the opening days and hours are fixed (never mind having a few thousand tourists who just might add money to your coffers) but the last major exhibit closed on the 12th…

when open, includes Napoleon Exhibits

when open, includes Napoleon Exhibits

The occasional shop (postcards up front), local markets and the outside of several museums were all fair game.  After enjoying the scents from the spice vendor



I bought a kilo of cherries to eat on the way back to the ship. Since I paid only a Euro more than three years ago I figured it was actually a good deal, completely refusing to calculate the inflation (in double digits).


The England vs Uruguay match just ended. Not a lot of happy campers here.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Hazy Straits

June 17th, 2014 No comments
that red arrow? Africa

that red arrow? Africa

It wasn’t exactly clear and shining when we pulled in this morning. Admittedly part of the blur could have been my eyes from getting to sleep rather late and waking even later.

Last night's sun set

Last night’s sunset

Heading off the ship this morning I was greeted by the lovely display of antique vehicles from the old days when England didn’t compromise. Back when it didn’t matter than the rest of the continent was driving on the right with left hand drive cars.

the Auto Club's exhibit

the Auto Club’s exhibit

from back when they had right had drive here

from back when they had right had drive here

But now this territory, due to the realities of the amount of traffic between it and Spain drives the same was as the rest of Europe. True, there are still the occasional imported right hand drive car, but the vast majority of cars, buses and trucks can easily drive across Spain.

the city

the city

I hiked into town past all of the statues which seem to occupy street locations, roundabouts and centre squares.

as new as 2004

as new as 2004

What was surprising to me is that among all the stores, there were really none that had decent sports equipment or running shoes or soccer jerseys. Except for the two Gibraltar Teams…. Perhaps sport isn’t important here, but you would think that perhaps England World Cup Jersey’s might sell? And it was not that they were sold out, it was rather that they had never been ordered. Promptly at 1600 we pulled back from the pier and set sail for the next stop on our adventure. As we swung around, it was possible to see the entire Strait. From my starboard side balcony, the European Promontory was easily visible. Less so the African Side of the Straits. Given the amount of haze, you need both a good imagination and clicking on the pix for a larger version to have a chance of actually seeing more that imagining.

the Straits

the Straits

Africa Side

Africa Side

Shawl Update

all but the top border

all but the top border

Categories: Travel Tags:

D 4 ; P 0

June 16th, 2014 No comments
I only have the away jersey

I only have the away jersey

I didn’t feel lonely at all, sitting in the On Air pub to watch Germany vs Portugal. At first there were only about five of us sitting there watching the first half of the game. Then the ice show let out with the usual intelligent folks who get partway across a lounge then stop to watch the big screen completely oblivious to the fact that their rather large size bodies are blocking the view of, oh say, about seven people behind them.

I had my knitting, my no-beer (the bar tender got it this morning just in case I came back for the next games) and a front row seat. Now, normally I don’t like sitting right up front with my back to the room. But I made an exception. Sitting up front gave me more light for knitting and placed me about as close to the viewing screens as was polite without getting my glasses smudged. You are aware that I don’t exactly have 20/20 vision even with my trifocals?

The game was fun, watching the crowd was a blast and even started feeling sorry for Portugal…

Meanwhile, Maus & Angel are watching in NYC

they have the real jerseys

they have the real jerseys

And Dani headed to the park for the later US-Ghana game

But I am not really sure how well you can see the screen ...

But I am not really sure how well you can see the screen …

(thanks to the two girls for sending me pix)

The Eldest was in Germany where I am sure it got a bit insane ad George was in the New York location where there was no live coverage.

Oh and College Guy? He was hanging out at SFO waiting to see if he was going to get bumped from a flight. He did volunteer (later flight to Munich, connector to Frankfurt and $800 for his pocket – why not volunteer….)

By the time it was close to midnight, I was just too tired to head down to a pub for the game…


one wing complete and 16 rows short of the second wing

one wing complete and 16 rows short of the second wing

Categories: Travel Tags:

Watching the World Cup

June 15th, 2014 No comments
location is everything

location is everything

It seems, unlike last fall in Australia, that RCI doesn’t have a difficulty recognizing that passengers just might be interested in The World Cup. I mention last fall because the Melbourne Cup wasn’t even on the Radiance’s horizon. Admittedly racing and fuss ball are completely different sport but still. When you are sailing out of Australia it might behove the Cruise Director’s Staff to take note of local/regional main sporting events, celebrations and holidays.

Back to Fussball (aka soccer for the North Americans). However, let us not be completely naive, there is an opportunity for Royal to make money. The previous day’s games are broadcast on Chanel 41 so that anyone who missed them can catch up.

the perfect set up for watching reruns

the perfect set up for watching reruns

Today’s games? Available to you on multiple screens only in specific locations around the ship. Locations where you might just be interested in purchasing some refreshments to improve your viewing pleasure.

My personal favorite

My personal favorite

for when I am hanging out in the CL or DL and have access to the coffee machine. The choices for the World Cup are more limited: the outdoor screen by the Pool Deck for a couple of the games – otherwise a couple of the bars when it is dim, loud and beer is on tap. The choices do not include the DL (Diamond Lounge) on Deck 14 where I could hit happy hour between 1700-2030.

The problem with the pubs is the lighting… can’t easily knit where I don’t have enough light. I did discover while watching Switzerland squeak by Ecuador that the Indy’s new policy of allowing 3 drinks per evening during normal club hours meant getting my Sprite Zero without charge while sitting at the bar in On Air.

Starting another shawl

The shawl is a Cheryl Oberle pattern which starts with a central section, then adds a couple of wings. Written for sport weight yarn… but I don’t have much of that so the blue is an Opal yarn I found in the back of a closet, the multi-color is from my Crazy Zauberball stash. Both are sock weight.

the latest project

the latest project

Categories: Knitting, Travel Tags:

All the way to Italy

June 14th, 2014 No comments

The long way around. Yes, I am back on the Indie where I am going to visit a few of my favorite locations and otherwise knit and finish up the last of the courses I have underway.






Sat Jun 14 London (Southampton), England 4:30pm
Sun Jun 15 At Sea
Mon Jun 16 At Sea
Tue Jun 17 Gibraltar, UK Territory 10:00am 4:00pm
Wed Jun 18 At Sea
Thu Jun 19 Ajaccio, Corsica, France 9:00am 6:00pm
Fri Jun 20 Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 7:00am 7:00pm
Sat Jun 21 Florence / Pisa (Livorno), Italy 7:00am 7:00pm
Sun Jun 22 Toulon, France 8:30am 5:00pm
Mon Jun 23 At Sea
Tue Jun 24 Cadiz, Spain 9:00am 5:00pm
Wed Jun 25 Lisbon, Portugal 8:00am 4:30pm
Thu Jun 26 Vigo, Spain 9:30am 3:00pm
Fri Jun 27 At Sea
Sat Jun 28 London (Southampton), England 5:30am

And I am not saying I did it on purpose, but I will miss the office trip again this year. Since it is back in Mallorca, there are much worse things to skip.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Terminal B – Lufthansa Lounge

June 13th, 2014 No comments

As you might not be surprised – I am sitting at my computer in the Lufthansa Lounge at Frankfurt. It just happens to be in Terminal B this time rather than Z. But then I am headed to Heathrow and the UK flights seem to cluster around just a few gates. Since it is also not in Schengen, I had to go through Passkontrole this morning as well.  I received the usual strange look as the agent slides my passport, looks at the screen and then pages & pages & pages till he finds a place to stamp. Unlike the US, Germans like to stamp passports. I could write a whole essay on what countries do and don’t bother to stamp passports….

Where was I? Oh yes, drinking a latte or three after taking the early train to the airport. Since the Air-Rail terminal was open, I just dropped off my suitcase and had a nice stroll from there directly to security which could have been much worse considering everything.  The lounge is lovely and not terribly crowded. Unlike United, they offer a fairly wide range of edibles and drinkables without hidden charges.

Since I have my shiny new Miles & More card, I decided to check on my mileage.  Why was I not surprised to find that I still have not received credit for either my flight home in Feb from Calgary or my flight to Buenos Aires? Looks like I am going to have to spend hours going through papers, boxes and hard drives till I find copies of everything. I need those miles….  It is not like I haven’t supplied the etix, the booking number … the emails… but I haven’t given them baggage tags or boarding passes yet. Being a packrat might just be paying off.

Categories: Travel Tags:


June 10th, 2014 No comments

Once upon a time children didn’t fly in business class and the Bundesbahn was always on time.

Ok, now that I am done living in fairy land I will deal with the realities of today. The young lady in the row ahead of me was an angel for all but 15 minutes of the entire flight. The train, on the other hand – there is little on can do about that. A detour into the Lufthansa Arrival Lounge in Terminal B let me email George about what train I was going to be on since he had volunteered to pick me up in Mannheim. There was also plenty of time to get to the platform as our luggage did not exactly arrive promptly. I do understand; any plane with 500+ passengers is going to have a lot of luggage..

The train – ah yes. I arrived with 10 minutes to spare on Track 5 only to find that my train was running 55 minutes late. I was so not in the mood. As I stood there reading the sign slowly and carefully to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I hear an announcement. Arriving on my platform is a different train, bound for Karlsruhe and Basel but stopping in Mannheim. It is running 30 minutes late. Do I care that I had made a seat reservation? Not at all.

The upshot is that I arrived in Mannheim 1 minute before my original scheduled arrival time. I had barely made the meeting point before George pulled up. Luckily he had not bothered to check for train delays….

Categories: Travel Tags:

Going home

June 9th, 2014 No comments

The United Club in the International Terminal of SFO is sad when compared to any of its partnership airlines. They offer coffee, tea, sodas, cheese&crackers, cookies and carrots. Consider me not impressed, but then it should be obvious that cost cutting does have occasional and obvious effects on customer services.

I am headed home on a Lufthansa flight this afternoon to arrive midday tomorrow. I am traveling once again with just my backpack and suitcase. Anything extra stayed in the US and nothing I picked up was heavy or large enough to make a difference. Plus, the dear husband tarted me to business class so I might even be able to get a bit of sleep on this flight.

So, have iPad fully charged, books to read and knitting. What could be better? Why a 14 day cruise home….

Categories: Travel Tags:

San Francisco

June 7th, 2014 No comments

So anyway, I wound up with a whole day free and a courtesy shuttle to Union square. It seemed the thing todo – walk over to the Embarcadero, hike up to Pier 39 and just enjoy the weather. Since I brought only a small camera instead of the heavy ones, I wasn’t even on a photo hunt.

There were crowds, street musicians and beggars. The Farmer’s Market was in full swing along with dozens of artisans under tents with bright coloured wares just inviting a look. Restraining myself, I window shopped only the earrings. Prints and pottery are just too hard to haul home especially with having to plan for shipping household good in the next couple of months.

It was late afternoon when I caught the bus back, electing not to wait for what was going to be the extremely overcrowded last shuttle.

I started another version on the December Scarf and finished listening to Charming by Elliot James. It is a lovely quirky urban fantasy that doesn’t have sparkly vampires.

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June 6th, 2014 2 comments

There were a number of construction zones on my drive. There was also a serious accident on northbound I-5 less than 10 miles from the 580 junction that cost over 90 minutes of time. Of course, that is nothing compared to the cost of the flattened RV, smashed car and possessions strewn over the highway enough to cause the entire highway to be forced down to one lane which had to drive single file on a slant in the median to get by. I couldn’t find the accident listed late tonight so perhaps there were only survivors. There is a good reason why there is a speed limit for cars towing trailers, especially in posted high wind areas.

I try to obey the driving rules and avoid too much speeding especially at the current price of fuel. I had a number of idiots pass me at significant speeds at various points. None was more irritating than a black sedan moving so fast I couldn’t even catch its license plate even he almost ran the car ahead of me off the road when they didn’t clear the left lane fast enough.

I was contemplating the usual – where is the highway patrol when you need them as I was exiting the construction zone. My answer was right there in a crisp uniform at the side of the road. With the idiot driver who had recklessly passed me. Thank you CHP!

From there it was a matter of passing the accident mentioned above, signing in and unloading College Guy’s stuff (along with some cookbooks for the Eldest) into the storage unit. I made the hotel without problems, went to Cottage Yarns in South San Francisco, and returned the rental car.

Successful day, that.

Categories: Travel Tags:

It looks the same

June 5th, 2014 7 comments

I hit the road this morning after swapping out rental cars, checking out, and having Noah load the van with all of his stuff.

The first part of the trip went smoothly, if not so stupefyingly boring that I had to play with the radio to keep focused. Then there was the accident on I10W which was in the final stages of being cleaned up. I must assume that most of the looky-loos hadn’t ever seen anyone with a broom before. Otherwise how can one explain a three mile stau?

After hitting road construction and another hour lost to laboriously slow traffic where my only entertainment was watching the couple in the car ahead of me. He was driving while she was all over him, less subtle than a cat in heat. After 30 minutes, I changed lanes and took myself out of range.

The landscape ranged from desert to high desert punctuated by the occasional rest stop (closed). Liking the google directions better than my GPS, I bailed off the interstate to take CA62 toward 29 Palms with the plan of then picking up 347 to Barstow where I could pick up I15 followed by CA 58. Actually you don’t care about the roads and directions – except probably for Brad & Cheré who were stationed at FT Irwin a couple of decades ago.

But while I was going on with all of my two lane cross country driving one of those blinding flashes of the obvious hit me. This is desert, high desert to be sure, but desert none the less. 29 Palms is in the desert. No wonder all the Marines & supporting Navy staff rotating from there through the various camps in Kuwait didn’t think anything of the environment. After all, it was just like home only a bit hotter.

Admittedly, the roads here are better and the chances of IEDs are less, bit there is no lack of trashed, abandoned vehicles along some of the roads. Add in a few camels….. Anyway, my drive across a couple hundred miles of roads had me thinking back a decade or more to temperatures that would make today’s 42*C (~108F) seem like a balmy spring day. It is nice to be driving a civilian vehicle. To not be wearing battle rattle and absent people shooting at me is a definite plus.

Spending 15 months in the deserts of Kuwait was one thing. Living in this type of area as a choice? A bit too barren for my tastes.

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Hot and Dry

June 3rd, 2014 No comments

Did I mention that AZ is not exactly my favorite place in the world?

I briefly toyed with the idea of the Desert Botanical Gardens. In fact, I got as far as the parking lot and started looking around

most of it looked like this

most of it looked like this


and when you got closer, it didn't look any friendlier

and when you got closer, it didn’t look any friendlier

I reconsidered and got back in the car. I remember hanging out in Kuwait and hiking when it was well over 40*C because I had to get from one end of the camp to the other for a meeting.

I want to voluntarily go out and look at cactus and scrub because?????

Categories: Travel Tags:

Three Degrees

May 31st, 2014 No comments

Breakfast with College Guy and errands took up a significant chunk of the day. Which goes absolutely nowhere in explains why I took a detour to Jessica Knits.

While standing at the counter I overheard the two lovely women speaking about a friend on an educational ship in the Baltic. I looked up and asked if that would be the U of VA’s “semester at sea” ship? Startled, they said yes as a matter of fact. I then hazarded a guess that their friend had boarded the ship in Hamburg. yes again. I then told them they should ask their friend if she had met Mac (from the Independence TA) and if so say hi for me.

I met Mac, who teaches/taught Spanish in real life because he was brave/foolish enough to join Roy, Dave, myself and whomever else wanted an insane conversation early mornings in the Diamond Lounge. Good guy and able to hold his own which was actually pretty impressive considering. He was leaving the ship in Southampton to fly Hamburg. Six weeks on another ship, huh.

Anyway. No good dead should go unpunished. For that matter, this is only two degrees of separation after all. If I had gotten Mac’s email, I would include him on this post. Ah, well.

And I replaced the knitting needle I lost along the journey so all is goo.

Categories: Travel Tags:

On Star

May 30th, 2014 No comments

As you probably have figured out, I have not exactly been doing a lot of driving in the last year what with all the cruising and all. Didn’t stop me from taking the hotel shuttle back to the airport, the transfer bus to the Car Rentals and picking up a rent-a-beast.

The first try was this cute little Fiat that reminded me of the Eldest’s car. This one however instead of having a trunk had one of those back spaces with a cover. Said cover did not wish to cooperate which is what led me to the red Chevy Sonic.

I don’t know what led me to drop the keys in the trunk. Tiredness? Carelessness? Or just not thinking about the fact that the car doors were closed. Hello? We have a station wagon. Anyway, as I turned and closed the trunk a little voice in my head was screaming OH Sh!!!!

Keys, backpack and wallet were safely in the trunk.

What seemed like a lifetime later after talking to Emergency Road Services I noticed this little red light flashing up on the front on the dashboard. You mean a blue button? Asks the patient guy at the other end. Nope little red blinking light. He goes away for a while. Your car may have On Star.

I am back on hold.

He comes back. Wait a minute he says. Click! In front of my eyes the door locks pop up. Instead of paying hugely to have someone come out and open the car, there is a small service fee.

While I am grateful for the speed and service, I have this remaining residual of discomfort. I think I would have been much happier had I not know than the rental car company can track me. That by remote my car can be locked or unlocked. It is why I will never, ever own a car that can be remotely piloted.

I am willing to be responsible for the consequences of my actions, even when they leave me in the uncomfortable position of having to recover from a bit of incredibly stupid behaviour. But Big Brother (or Little Brother either – go read Cory Doctorov), is not my idea of a good world.

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Second verse, same as the first

May 29th, 2014 No comments

Only it wasn’t.

There were no issues with the taxi on the way to the train station. The train went exactly where it was supposed to and dropped me at the Frankfurt airport without delays or detours. Checking was a breeze and security wasn’t even much of a hassle even allowing for the woman in front of me who spoke perfectly clear German but still couldn’t manage to follow directions. I mean really! Who would have thought that security actually expected her to take out all her cosmetics and put them in a bag where just anyone could see them?

I had plenty of time and didn’t even care that the line had come to a standstill. Me with electronics, leather zippered jacket and sandals was probably a welcome relief. All they warned to see was my knitting needles.

Flight was fine made even better by the fact that I had no one sitting next to me. Immigration at SFO was the worst that I have seen there. Took a couple of hours by the time I had collected my luggage. Checking in with Southwest Airlines, I spent the rest of my waiting time in the USO.

By the time I got to Phoenix is was so wiped that falling into the hotel bed was a welcome relief. No free wifi or breakfast. Blah.

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Just what I needed

May 27th, 2014 No comments

For whatever reason, my most recent software update of WordPress did not go as planned. It looks like I can reach the site from a mobile device but not from my more normal web interface. And it is not that I just don’t love using a virtual keyboard ….

Today was simply organizing, packing once again and laundry. Nothing terribly exciting, I didn’t even leave the house!

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Memorial Day

May 26th, 2014 No comments

It is a good day in to be home; to stay home. Not that it makes a difference in Germany bit still. I don’t many service members who appreciate hearing “thanks for your service.” Maybe it means something to those who served in Viet Nam and were reviled for their wearing of the uniform , willing or not.

But for most of those who have served since the advent of the volunteer force, it was something we chose to do for a variety of reasons. Those reasons are our own and frankly being thanked for them is uncomfortable to embarrassing.

I find that it acknowledges a separation between those of us who have served in the various armed forces and those who have not. That thanks is an acknowledgement on their part that they have not done their share as a citizen of their country, a fact that I don’t really want to know.

It is not keeping the world safe for democracy, a phrase that fortunately lost both meaning and worth with the end of the Cold War. The US is not the arbiter of what is right/good in the world. Instead it is one of a number of constructional democracies that appeals to immigrants as offering a better way of life than what they are leaving at home. But 911 save the world it is not the role should it be taking.

Much better for those walking and working in the US to thank those in their communities contributing to their local quality of life on a daily basis: the police, firefighters, teachers, first responders. Thank those who do for others on a daily basis.

It is not that I regret my 30+ years in uniform; taking care for those putting themselves in harms’ sway or occasionally finding myself joining them at one of those fun and special locations. It is rather that I neither want nor expect thanks from those who have not been there. And those that were? We acknowledged each other at the time.

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Its been more than 40 years

May 25th, 2014 No comments

Reflections happen every once in a while. Sometimes deliberately and other times triggered off by a simple event, object or gesture. So it was for me this morning while sitting in the Star Alliance Lounge at Heathrow T1. I have been here before.  In fact, I distinctly remember being here for hours while waiting for a flight. Plugged into power and catching up for hours. I can’t find a post about it (searched Heathrow, Lufthansa and Riesling for the lovely wine that captured my attention six hours into the wait – after 1700 as well) but I can even remember where I was sitting.

However, it wasn’t any of that which caught my attention. Rather it was hunting down the women’s restroom.  There are two restrooms clearly marked in the Lounge; one men’s and one women’s. But I can remember when this simply wasn’t the case. This is allegedly a business class lounge which used to mean business travelers since no one who didn’t have a company paying the high tariff for the seat would travel in business. Especially not if you are from Minnesota – it wouldn’t seem like a sensible use of funds. Except for one time during my college/professional school/residency years on the rare times I flew – it was cattle car. Once, for whatever reason having to do with exhaustion, a kind check-in agent and a strike of fate, I wound up with a free upgrade. It also might have had to do with being well dressed and traveling alone. In any case, I was directed toward the lounge. There were no women’s restrooms; business travelers are men, right?

Seemed to be just the way of the world in the early 1970s. I can remember being on a surgical rotation at one of the U of MN affiliated hospitals. The surgeon I was with sent me off to change so I could scrub in on his cases that day. There were three changing rooms: Doctors, Nurses, Orderlies. Female med students, who it turned out were a rarity at this hospital for excellent reasons, don’t fall into any of those categories. When I failed to show up in the expected five minutes, one of the orderlies came to find me. Why wasn’t I changed? Where? The nurses had already told me that their changing room was for nurses (note the lack of male nurses in that time frame. And the fact that nurses are assumed to be female. It is 2014, and most of the time we still caveat nurse with “male” for the 20-35% of the professional who aren’t female. The assumption is not quite so obvious that doctors are male only due to the overwhelming numbers of young women entering med school in the last 10 years).  Said orderly thought the whole thing was funny, explained that the place had a reputation which is why they almost never had women rotating through there on surgical clerkships and found me “the closet.”

That is right – a closet. Not the nurses changing room with lockers, not the orderlies with one of the guys standing guard at the door. And certainly not the doctor’s changing room where the male med students were more than welcome to change. Today? I would have just let the chips fall where they may and used the doctor’s lounge but I was not at all willing to rock the boat back then.

When asked why I was late I explained about the changing rooms. The surgeon was astonished. Obviously this was not something that had occurred to him as an issue. I suggested that if he could not get this resolved that I could change preceptorships so as to go to other hospitals. How would I do that? Talk to Mamma Pearl (Assistant Dean of Students) about this hospital not being “ready” to have female med students……

Fast forward to 2014. There are men’s and women’s changing rooms, restrooms, locker rooms (unless of course you are a Dutch military deployed camp. Then it is uni-sex with locks on all doors, stalls and showers. Everyone is an adult, everyone gets privacy).

In most shopping centers there are family restrooms. There are set-ups to change diapers which didn’t exist when mine were young. Some of the airport lounges even have a “child room” which I think is de facto recognition that whether or not you want small children in the executive lounges adults are going to keep brining them. The goal then is to keep them separate enough from the rest of the travelers that no one gets hurt…

Drifting around from topic to topic I guess. But I have managed to get caught up on all of my audiobook downloads, two novels I hadn’t gotten around to finishing and some nice munchies courtesy of Star Alliance.  Their timetable download turns out to be a PC app but booking a round the world flight is easy and relatively cheap compared to a couple of round trip FRA-SFO round trips.

Who knew?

Wonder if finding clean bathrooms and changing rooms is going to continue to improve?


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Lights on the coast

May 24th, 2014 No comments

It is the last day of the cruise and we are heading from Stavanger back to Southampton. It is not hard to identify that we are still in the North Sea as there are the occasional oil rig sprouting like weird mushrooms scattered along our route.

It was obvious shortly after dark which occurred quite bit earlier than the first few landfalls that we were off the coast of some place civilised if you count clusters of lights as representative. Nowhere near international waters and freighters all around us as a matter of fact.

I am packed with bags set out. Departing the ship early, a group of us have booked transport to Heathrow. I even managed to check in on line having saved my free internet minutes till the end. I will be home tomorrow. Imagine that!

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More rain -Stavanger

May 23rd, 2014 1 comment

It feels like the low lying grey clouds have been following me south at least during the day when I contemplate hiking on land. So today is our last port – Stavanger – and the rain had already started to leak from the skies by the time we docked.

The good thing is that I had not gotten motivated enough to put together a climbing group for Pulpit Rock. The downside is that once again I haven’t had the opportunity to risk my neck in pursuit of really cool photos.

Ah well. Instead I walked around with jacket zipped and umbrella in hand feeling not at all fools to be staying dry in the light rain.

I found the Husfliden and a full copy of my missing knitting mag. The price was extremely reasonable especially for Norway. Postcards are sent and the main shopping mall has high speed free wifi so all my apps are now updated. I am pulling Coursera lectures on my iPad while I hunt and peck this note from my phone.

Tomorrow is packing and sleeping. I arrive back I’m Germany on Sunday this time with clear entries stamped from the UK.


Oh – did I mention that there seems to be plenty of rainless light about 2230 streaming in through the balcony?


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May 22nd, 2014 No comments

Wrong, I will be the first to admit it. Not the 400 steps that I remembered to Fjellstua but 418. The steps are safe and handrails sturdy at the key points. The scenery is breathtaking and the tourists amazing. To a man the guys are dressed sensibly with functional shoes. Not so the women; flip-flops and six inches heels?

Coming back down the hill I made a detour to the Husfliden, found I had left my wallet back on ship. Since the return trip looked to be worthwhile I also swapped my vest for a warmer jacket. If I had bothered to think, an umbrella would also have been smart.

(See! foreshadowing!)

I found postcards, the museum and the Salvation army charity shop but no fridge magnets. And yes to the Gudbrandsdalsost.

Then it started to rain with me hiking around in my good leather jacket. Unfortunately it seemed like most of the other passengers had the same idea. I just really wish some of them would be a bit more careful with their umbrellas or consider that the rule about taking cameras/phones out if their pockets includes them. A fact that would be much appreciated by the queue standing shivering in the rain.

But the photos are from before the rain. The city features a lot of wonderful Art Deco plus a fair bit of quirkiness.







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May 21st, 2014 1 comment

We sailed up mor beautiful fjords early this morning on our way to Olden. The main reason for this stop; jumping off point for various glacier tours. Having both done a few of these before as well as flown over more than my share to and from Bødo back when I was fortunate enough to do winter NATO exercises… Yes seriously, as visiting military they were a lot of fun and the Nords have absolutely great winter field gear.

Where was I ? Oh yes, not mucking about on the bus or glaciers (Kjenndalen. Briksdalen) in the rain. Unfortunately, it also means that I missed out on the chance to ride in the Troll Cars. If anyone in the group comes up with good pictures I will share.

Meanwhile, the ship appears huge. The river is ice cold which is not a surprise considering it is glacier run off. And hiking is at ones own risk.





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May 20th, 2014 No comments

After cruising extremely slowly back up Sognefjord and down the Aurlands Fjord early this morning we arrived before most of the herd was interested in stampeding off the ship.

Since I was here last year off the Eclipse and had a wonderful time on the railway I had decided to keep this year lower key. ( read cheap ) Nestled into the end of the fjord, sunrise might be at ~0430 but in reality it doesn’t get above the mountain range till after 1030.

In between is obviously the time to hike along the eastern side on the thoughtfully provided pedestrian/bike way. Smart move that considering that trucks on the main road were blasting along before being swallowed by tunnels clearly marked as off limits for those not motorized.

I hiked as far as the paved section lasted. At this point I was about 1/2 way to Aurland. It was obvious the: follow the graveled switchback road up the mountain past several ewes and their young ( twins, triplets and what looked to be the guilty ram based on the offspring’s coloration ) private houses. Near the top was a hiking sign to Vikland. 2 km. easy peasy.

Similar to last night, I went a reasonable way up the mountain on a goat trail befor common sense kicked in. I am hiking by myself. If I fall, there is a serious challenge. Just not willing to be in the situation where I have to text or email someone in another country for rescue.

So I strolled back at a reasonable pace dodging the day walkers now out in full force. The souvenir shops are packed with a variety of goods : sweaters to junk. I sent off postcards and will send this off.

Adding the photos here






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Fjords to Skjolden

May 19th, 2014 No comments

We headed into the Fjords at a reasonable time this morning. Actually, I think we were in range if Bergen ~0300 since my phone cheerfully announced that I was back in range of communications that didn’t involve a high cost low speed ship moderated system. Our pilot came on board around 0930 just as the winds came up. Not being completely without common sense, I retreated to my cabin where I could enjoy the scenery without either being cold or a victim of the fresh breeze.

I could wait to post this until after our port call of the day. But I am not doing any tours, we arrive about 1600 and to a town of ~500 on a market day. I am thinking the stop is for the trip up this particular fjord with all day scenery and to avoid overnight charges in either Åleslund or Olden.




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And to the Fjords

May 17th, 2014 1 comment

Unlike about 700 of my closest friends, I didn’t stay on the Legend to do Norway for 8 nights. It would have been the smart thing to do, except for the fact that I really wanted to do another TA. So figuring out where and what, I went ahead and extended the TA for another 8 days. Not in as fancy a cabin by any means, altho I was able to get better after final payment when the price dropped.

Anyway – it is still the Indie.

The route is this




Sat May 17 London (Southampton), England 4:30pm
Sun May 18 At Sea
Mon May 19 Skjolden, Norway 4:00pm 11:59pm
Tue May 20 Flam, Norway 7:00am 5:00pm
Wed May 21 Olden, Norway 8:00am 5:00pm
Thu May 22 Alesund, Norway 8:00am 4:00pm
Fri May 23 Stavanger, Norway 9:00am 6:00pm
Sat May 24 At Sea
Sun May 25 London (Southampton), England 5:30am

There is something about Troll Cars in Olden and I really want to climb Pulpit Rock this time in Stavanger….

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May 16th, 2014 No comments


Not that I don’t have anything to do. No, I can edit documents, complete another on-line course, pack (switching cabins) or knit. Since none of those options seemed anymore interesting than another I chose to first attend the back-to-back cruisers meeting (there are ~140 of us staying on for the next 8 nights of Norway. Well, boarding day, two sea days and five ports). The information was about what I expected. We can get off the ship, if changing cabins, pack up most of your stuff and your cabin attendant will move it. And, oh by the way, the tours we offered? They are cancelled since enough people didn’t want them. We will offer you lunch instead…..


Back to the cabin, since Knit, Needle & Hook was preempted first by the B2B meeting and secondly by the Kid’s Talent Show.


After seeing a friend on the last cruise drag out the same piece of paper on which she tracks her cruises as she had last fall complete now with notations layered on notations and covered with stickies, I decided that since I had paid for Numbers, I might as well use it. It took no time to set up a simple sheet with a few useful columns and enter upcoming cruises.


Then I decided that a bit more information might be useful so that it would all be in one place. You know, little items like cabin numbers, payment due dates and cost. Then I decided that it might be good to have the complete dates of the cruise, not just the start date. Just so I could avoid booking several things at the same time. Not that I would do anything so foolish. No, no way would I have the Rhapsody booked from Singapore to Istanbul via Dubai at the same time as the Legend making its way through the Panama Canal as the Star going from Los Angeles to Copenhagen. No, wouldn’t do anything like that at all. I just have cruises on hold to transfer to other cruises at first opportunity. My story and I am sticking to it.


By the third round of opening PDFs, I think I had all the information included and a few formulas set up so that I know how much I am spending (answer, not as much as I thought) and how many points I will have with various loyalty programs (a few more than I thought).


Now if I could just get excited about leaving my lovely and cheaper posh cabin for one nowhere near as nice and just as expensive…….

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