Saturday, November 26, 2022

Reflections on the cruise and on traveling with friends

Often when I travel I don't realize what the high points were until I've been talking about the trip after I get home. I've been back for several weeks now, and this is what I've been thinking about.

1. In years past I've been skeptical about cruising. A decade or two ago, I experienced a couple of large-ship cruises and didn't much enjoy the casinos, or the entertainment, or the glitz, or the people everywhere, eating and drinking all the time. Recently I've been on three small ship cruises (to Greenland in 2019, an ocean cruise this summer from Barcelona to Tudbury, UK, and a river cruise last month from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam. I like the small ship cruising now and expect I'll do more of it.

2. I will be having my left knee replaced next spring. I went on the cruise anyway. My knee will hurt whether I'm walking around in a city or walking in my yard. I might as well be out there, learning and experiencing new things. I took a cane and a pair of trekking poles. I used the cane on the ship and the trekking poles on the excursions. People were thoughtful and kind to me as they offered a hand as I got off the bus, or held my poles so I could take a picture. The guides respected my slower pace and offered opportunities for me and the group to rest while they talked about the places we were visiting. 

3. Wheelchair assist is a fabulous and humanitarian option in airports. There's no charge for an airline employee to take me through security to a gate, or from one gate to another in a big airport like Denver or Munich or Amsterdam or Atlanta, or from a gate through customs. We used elevators rather than walkways or escalators. My travel companion walked alongside me. I always offered to tip my attendant; sometimes they said yes and thank you, and sometimes they said no, tipping wasn't allowed. I had some good conversations with these people who made my airport transit so much more doable.

4. I've done lots of independent travel, but now that I'm older and have less stamina I'm quite content to be part of a group - especially a small group - where the tour company takes care of all the details, including the flight arrangements. I sign up, they tell me how I'm going to get there, I make a change if it's necessary (a six-hour layover deserves a change), I show up at the airport. At the end of the tour, I'm taken to the airport to return home, and I'm picked up at my home airport by a family member. 

5. My mother once said, "I like tours where all I have to do is get on the bus and get off the bus." At that time I thought she was a passive traveler, not wanting to get out there and explore. Maybe even a little bit entitled and lazy. Now, though, I'm at the age she was when she said that, I get it. My quote would be, "See #4 above!"

6. I've taken over 90 trips of three days or more since I quit my job in 2010. The vast majority of them were with my husband Art. When a destination looks interesting to me, I always invite him first. For the last few years, though, he's been more of a homebody, so I've traveled with friends. Art is fine with that. 

7. I took three trips with a friend who always insisted on separate rooms. That worked fine for short trips to Toronto and Las Vegas, but when we decided to take a cruise to Greenland, I said, "I can't afford to go unless we share a room." She said, "Okay, but I'm pretty sure this will be the last trip we take together." And she was right! Our habits and idiosyncrasies weren't a good match, and the friendship actually cooled after that.

8. I traveled twice with a friend I'd known for several years. Neither trip was a cruise. We traveled well together to Churchill, Manitoba and to New York City. She is a high energy, curious person like me, and we had good adventures, both spontaneous and planned. Laughter is always a good thing - and we still laugh about the futon that broke when she sat on it in our NYC AirBnb.

9. My most recent trip, another cruise, went well also. My friend and I discussed our habits ahead of time: are you a night or a morning person, when do you take a shower, are you tidy or casual in a small room, are we okay to keep individual schedules and join up when we want to? This friend is easygoing, curious and patient. We had a grand time together.



10. This year was the first time I took two cruises within three months of each other. One had been planned for a year, and the other came up closer to the travel date but was too good a deal to pass up. Both were excellent experiences. I'm ready to stay home now for a year or so. By then I'll have a new knee, and hopefully I'll leave my my trekking poles at home.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

What? Another cruise?

 Back in April, my friend Shelley got an email from Viking advertising a sale to celebrate their 25th anniversary. She texted a few of us: "A weeklong river cruise on the Rhine, from Basel to Amsterdam, for $2200 INCLUDING AIRFARE." But we had three days to decide. One friend was having back surgery, so she was a no. Another said she needed more time to think about it. But I said yes. It was really too good a deal to pass up. So Shelley and I decided to go together. We added a few things, of course - travel insurance and a two-day post-trip extension to Amsterdam and the Hague.


I knew I wouldn't be as mobile as I wanted to be. My new hip from last year was fine, but my left knee needed to be replaced. Still, I thought I'd be okay to go. If a day's tour looked too active for me, I could stay on the boat. I'd pack a cane and a pair of trekking poles.

On October 21, my husband Art and I flew from Seattle to Tucson to our winter place. The next day, Shelley and I flew to Basel, Switzerland via Denver and Munich.

We boarded a very cool longship, the Viking Hlin.   

https://www.vikingrivercruises.com/ships/longships/viking-hlin.html

Here's what we saw:

Breisach is in the Black Forest. This mountain range was named by the Romans because the densely packed conifer trees found in the area are very dark green. A beautiful drive that day, with a stop at Furtwangen to look at cuckoo clocks and glassblowers. When I got home, I ordered a wall clock from their online store. I'd wanted to first check with my son James, who has a great eye, to make sure the clock would be a good addition to our Washington apartment, and with my husband Art, just because!






 


Strasbourg
is a city in Alsace, in northeastern France. Historically, Alsace has alternated between German and French control for centuries, and reflects a mixture of those cultures. We had an excellent guide for our tour, but I had forgotten to charge my radio-guided device, so I couldn't hear her. I stayed as close to her as I could, but I know I missed a lot.



Speyer is a city of 50,000 people, one of the oldest German cities. Our guide was born and raised there and loves his city. The cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage Centre; the foundation stone was laid in 1030. 


We made a quick stop in Rudesheim, Germany during the afternoon. Shelley and I ventured out to a shopping area and bought identical "made-in-Italy" blouses for a great price.  Then on to Koblenz, where I met up with my friend Nasar; we met when I was a volunteer at the refugee camp in Oinofyta, Greece, where he and his family lived for over a year. They are in Germany now.


Cologne gave me the opportunity to walk two miles with a guide. It's the biggest city we'd visited so far. Our walk took us to the Old Town, where the Christmas Market has been held in some form for centuries. On the way to the cathedral we stopped at the metal statues of Tunnes and Schal, fictional characters invented by Johann Christophe Winter, the owner of a puppet theatre in the 19th century. The good natured but dim Tunnes is constantly being taken for a ride by the cunning and crafty Schal. It's a good place for a photo; if you touch the hand of Schal, you may have good luck.


Kinderdijk is a World Heritage site; the old windmills have since been replaced by electric pumps to remove the water from fields below sea level. Rather than a long walk, we boarded a vintage barge to the old windmills, where the millers and their families lived.










And, in a two-day extension after we disembarked:

Amsterdam is a low-lying city of about 90 islands and 1500 bridges. It's got a population of about 880,000 people. After a canal tour - including passing the Anne Frank house -  our small tour group of six left from Rijksmuseum (the national museum of the Netherlands) to explore. 



The other four wanted to shop; Shelley and I decided to go to the Holocaust Memorial. We looked at a map and started walking.


It took a while because (1) I had to stop and rest my knee every few blocks and (2) we had to keep a very close eye on the hundreds of bicyclists and (3) Shelley needed to use a restroom, and the only way we could do that was to order a coffee or snack at a sidewalk cafe. 

The Memorial is only two years old and contains the names of all Dutch Jews who died in the Holocaust. Each of the 102,000 bricks displays the first and last name, date of birth and age at death of a victim. 



We found the taxi stand after some hunting around and rejoined our group at the museum. We were then driven to The Hague (Den Haag), about an hour away.

The Hague is a smaller city, with a population of 700,000. It's the seat of government for the Netherlands and the permanent home of the UN International Court of Justice. 


We covered a lot of steps here too. Our group walking tour in the morning was especially pretty; sometimes we were shuffling through fallen autumn leaves.





In the afternoon we took the public tram to the sea, where Shelley looked for a restroom and we ate lunch.



The last two days of the trip were the only ones where we explored on our own. It helped to have our guide make suggestions. It was fun to "figure it out" rather than following someone holding a paddle saying "Viking".

We were ready to go home after nine days in Europe. We loved the experience and were impressed by the attitude of Europeans toward their homelands. Still, we were glad when our final flight touched down in Tucson and our husbands were waiting just outside for us.


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Running my errands

Last Friday I ran seven errands for the first time in years. I've gotten into the habit of shopping online for just about everything. And my husband Art does the grocery shopping. And I have a bad knee so I'm not inclined to be out and about.

But Friday! Quite satisfying, and a reminder that getting out there can almost be a fun adventure.

Stop #1: Michaels. Art's father and aunt bought a house on Samish Island, Washington, at the mouth of the Samish River, at about the time Art graduated from high school. The place was a gathering spot for decades of siblings and cousins and other family. We've got a matted and framed print of the place. I don't remember where I found the print, but we had it on a wall when we lived upstairs. I found a good spot for it in our downstairs apartment, but the double mat had gotten wet, so I had it redone at Michael's, to honor Art's great memories of family times. Yesterday I picked up the newly-matted print. It looks pretty good.



Stop #2: PetSmart. Larisa the Designer Cat went to the groomer for a teddy bear cut, but when she came out she had a lion cut - nearly shaved. The groomer said she had fleas so he'd had to cut her fur shorter. He sold us a flea cream to be applied once a month. The next day, Art went to PetSmart and bought a $70 flea collar. When I read the instructions I realized the collar did about the same thing as the cream, so if Larisa wore the collar she'd get too much of the medication. So I returned the collar.

Stop #3: Kaiser Permanente Lynnwood Medical Center. Last week I had an MRI for a soft tissue issue on my foot. It will need to be treated, but we're leaving for Tucson next week, so the work will have to be done at Banner Health in Arizona, which has a contract with Kaiser for snowbirds. I asked my doc if they could send the results to Banner, but they said I'd have to come in and sign an authorization for my medical records to be released. So I stopped by and found out how to get the process started.

Stop #4: UPS. I've been doing a lot of buying this summer, mostly clothes for me and Art. Of course I've been doing returning also. Walk into UPS, drop the package on the counter, get the receipt, walk out. Starbucks is two doors down, and a great shoe store is right next door, Massage Envy right next door on the other side. Almost every time I go into UPS I go straight to my car. Almost every time.

Stop #5: Dry cleaners. One pair of new pants is about five inches too long, and the lady who usually alters my clothes has grandchildren visiting. The dry cleaner costs more, but I'm leaving for Tucson in a week and need the pants to be done before then. I drew the curtain around the tiny changing area and wrestled with the shorts I took off and the pants I put on - it's a wrestle because I have a bad knee, so I have to lean against a wall to get the changing job done. Pants got measured and pinned up and it was back into the changing cubicle.

Stop #6: Grocery store. But not for groceries. They have the closest ATM machine to our house, and I needed the cash to give to my son Russell. He lives in Eugene, Oregon, but is taking the train tomorrow to our house, where he'll pick up our Honda Accord and drive it to Tucson for us, loaded with most of our stuff and two e-bikes. I have done the drive in three days with a friend, but that would leave Art to go through the Seattle airport with Larisa in a crate. Neither of us has any desire to drive for three days with a cat. She would hide under the bed in the motel room. It's easier to pay someone to drive for us and for us to fly. 

Stop #7: Gas station. Russell needs a full tank to start his drive. I didn't look at the price of the gas. There's nothing I can do about the cost, so I don't allow myself to get annoyed by it.

I remember, when I had kids at home and a full-time job, and even after everyone was grown and gone and I was retired up until the Before Times ended, running errands was a frequent necessity and mostly a nuisance. But Friday, as I emerged from my recliner and set aside my laptop to grab my keys, purse, cat collar, unwanted clothes and too-long pants, it was almost a treat to be out and about again.





Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Summer gratitudes

I'm an optimist by nature. There's a metallic "grateful" piece hanging on one wall of our small place in Tucson. To me, "gratitude" is a more distanced word than "grateful". I like the immediacy of "grateful". It's happening in the present, not in some vague, general place.

I've got lots to be grateful for from just this summer:

In late June and early July we flew to Barcelona to board the Aegean Odyssey, a small ship leased by Road Scholar, for a 14-day cruise. We saw three new countries: Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. 

We caught covid, we think, during the four hours we spent at Heathrow airport in London. The symptoms showed up three days after we got home. We got prescriptions for paxlovid. We felt like we had very sneezy, runny-nose colds for a few days. Then we got well. Very glad it was this summer, with omicron, rather than two years ago, with maybe a ventilator.

On our way home from the Seattle airport, I left my passport in the Uber driver's car. The driver lost the passport, so I got a new one. It arrived in three and a half weeks - quite a bit sooner than the five to seven weeks the Expedited option had indicated would be the required wait time.

I walked once a week with my friend Gail, three or four or five times around a park in her neighborhood. Usually I used my trekking poles, old friends for hiking through the years, and now to take some stress off my cranky knee. Those times with Gail have been a gift.

My son James is our upstairs tenant. He comes down most afternoons to tell me about his day. His remodeling business is thriving. He's also very good about doing the handyman things for us. He's always accompanied by his Aussie, Augie, who eats the cat food nearly every time he comes into our apartment. Augie waits until none of us are watching, then enjoys his snack if we've forgotten to put the cat food bowl on the sink. I love the dog - someone else's dog is the very best kind. 

I bought a new e-bike. It's smaller than my three-year-old one, so I can get on without having to stand on the curb. I've only ridden it once since I got it last month, because it's very hilly in our Brier neighborhood and I'm a little scared of it. I'll do a lot of practicing in Tucson this winter, where it's flat.

We hung up three bird feeders and one for the hummingbirds. They're right outside my sliding glass door and I can see them from my recliner. We also have a terra cotta birdbath on the deck railing, and a little fountain on the deck. The birds love it. So do the squirrels! So far we haven't found a way to keep them from getting at the feeders - they jump down from the overhanging branches or shimmy up the poles. 

We replaced the many buttercups in the side yard with a garden area and wood chips so the place won't look so wild. Earlier in the summer we ate our fill of strawberries and raspberries. A convention of birds ate every blueberry on our three bushes in one day. We know we share our property with the critters. Some of the grapes are ripening up, but we had so much rain early in the summer that the crop won't be as plentiful. 

Today is my birthday. My friend Gail organized a lunch at a beach restaurant and the five of us enjoyed a two-hour visit. For dessert we ordered two peach cobblers and five spoons. It's been years since I've celebrated a birthday, and it was a great treat for me.

I think summer is ending in a day or two. It's been a good one.

Monday, August 22, 2022

In search of my passport

On July 8 we returned from our European vacation. Our plane landed in Seattle at 5:50 p.m. Too much rush hour freeway congestion to ask any of our adult kids to battle the traffic to pick us up - most of them live north of Seattle, and the airport is just south - so we called for a Lyft. 

Hassan picked us up three minutes later. Northbound traffic on the interstate was heavy, and Hassan was an assertive driver. At one point the brake lights of the car six feet ahead went on. Hassan braked sharply, just avoiding a rear-end collision. My pink passport cover (bought because it had a slot for my passport and other slots for my covid vaccine documents) and my daypack slid to the floor in the back seat. Hassan apologized for the sudden braking and reduced his speed very slightly for the remaining half hour to our house.

I said my passport cover ended up on the floor. When we went through security at the international arrivals terminal, the agent removed my passport from its slot in the cover and returned it to me, loose. I slid the passport into the cover, but didn't put it back in the slot. Then I forgot about it.

When we got to our house it was dark outside. I retrieved my daypack and the passport cover from the floor, extracted my luggage from the trunk, and thanked Hassan. He drove off and we hauled our luggage inside.

We unpacked the next morning, and that was when I realized my passport was missing. Art made his usual comment when I lose something: "Where did you last see it?" Then I remembered I last saw it when we went through security at the airport.

So I logged into Lyft, and one of the questions was, "Did you leave something in your ride?" I said my passport might be in the car. Within half an hour I got a call from Hassan. "I have your passport."

We agreed that the next time he had a fare to the north end of Seattle, Hassan would let me know and I would meet him there and retrieve my passport. The next week he sent me a voice message about "Edmonds" (two towns over), but there was so much road noise in the recording I couldn't understand him.  A week later I called and he agreed he would come to our house the next Monday to return the passport.

Monday came and went. The following Friday I texted Hassan. He said, "I am very sorry. I couldn't meet you on Monday because I had to go to Canada for my uncle's funeral. Before I left I moved your passport from my car to my house. I can't remember where I put your passport. So you will have to get a new one. I will pay for it."

Oh, shoot! Ordinarily I'd be okay with that, but I'm scheduled to leave for Europe on October 21, and I know even expedited passports take five to seven weeks to process. 

So, that same day I filled out the "lost or stolen passport" form on the State Department travel site. Then I started looking for an in-person appointment (required for a new passport). I entered my zip code, for agencies within 20 miles of me. "No appointments available." Fifty miles - same. All of Washington State. One in Spokane (eastern Washington) on August 26, one in Ellensburg (central Washington) in ten days. I reserved appointments for both places, just in case.

Three days later I tried again, looking for a cancellation. And there it was. Lake Forest Park - the next town to the south of mine - the following day at noon!

The appointment was quick and easy. And the place was right next door to a bike shop where I'd been interested in looking at a particular e-bike. They were closed that day, but the owner was there and he let me in. Lucky! (I bought the ebike three days later).

I went home and cancelled the Spokane and Ellensburg passport appointments. And I sent a text to Hassan: "I will pay. I was the one who left the passport in your car." He responded, "Thank you! I had expenses for my uncle's funeral, and I still have more. God bless you!"

Five to seven weeks after my appointment on August 8 is September 12 to September 26. Here's hoping the times are accurate. I read that if I am traveling in less than two weeks, I should call a special emergency number. So I have that call scheduled for October 7.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Lessons learned from our trip to Europe


We've been home for three weeks, so I've had time to reflect on our 16-day cruise in Europe. Except for travel back and forth between our apartment in Washington and our trailer in Tucson, it's the first trip we've taken since the Before Times.

As usual, I learned a bunch.

1. If you have a monthly travel budget, but you haven't done any traveling for two years, you have enough to splurge on business class plane tickets. You might have trouble figuring out how to get into your middle business class seat for the first time if you don't have very good visual/spacial intelligence; you block the aisle for a whole minute until you figure it out. The seat feels like being in a space pod. You can recline until you're lying down, and you can sleep. If you sleep for three hours in your business class seat, you don't have much fatigue and jet lag when you arrive in Barcelona.

2. It's a good idea to arrive at a tour's starting point a day early. When we went to Paris years ago, we arrived late in the afternoon of the start of the tour. I slept  through the entire bus ride of "Paris at Night". Since then, we arrive a day early when we're going on a tour.

3. If you have been learning Spanish on Duolingo for two months, you can have a conversation with the Barcelona taxi driver that you almost understand. Even if you're both limited in the other person's language, it can be done. Even if you both laugh from time to time.

4. You're glad you signed up for a "relaxed" group tour. You remember times in the past when you've walked several miles without a problem. And maybe it will happen again in the future. But if you have a bad knee, you're grateful to be with a group that takes it a little easier.

5. When you are watching out for your husband, who is still recovering from a weeklong hospital stay for sepsis that resulted in physical deconditioning, you sometimes don't give your full attention to lectures and other activities. But you knew this trip would be like that, so it's okay. You would both rather have this adventure than stay at home.

6. You have a comfortable cabin on the small ship, but you come to realize that you would rather be disembarking every day than spending every other day at sea. It's unavoidable if the places you're visiting are hundreds of miles from each other, but you decide next time you'll try river cruising.

7. Wine is free at dinner, and most of your shipmates enjoy that. You, however, don't drink, so when the conversations get louder, you usually excuse yourself and go back to your cabin. 

8. Walking around on a ship is good physical therapy, especially if you use the stairs instead of the elevator and if you leave your cane in your cabin sometimes. Since we've been home, I only use my cane when I'm walking a distance; in the house, and running errands, I don't. I'm stronger now for the ship experience.

9. All the ports of call were beautiful, whether in a city or in the countryside. Barcelona, Tangiers, Porto, Bilbao, Medoc, Saint Malo, Cherbourg, and Tilbury. 

10. Art had wheelchair assistance in the airports. Especially at Heathrow, we would have gotten hopelessly lost and might well have missed our flights, except for the assistance, which was magnificent. The distances were good exercise for me and possible for Art.

11. The hardest part of the trip for me was being without wifi. How embarrassing.

12. In our group, eight people tested positive for covid at some point onboard, and they were confined to their cabins until they had a negative test. We were lucky. We didn't test positive until the first week after we got home!


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Ports of call, Part 2 - France


We disembarked at Le Verdon-sur-Mer (Medoc, France) and drove an hour and a half or so through wine country. Art and I don't drink, so I wasn't much interested in this field trip, but I'm glad we went. The ride was beautiful, with miles and miles of fields of ripening grapes.



Many years ago, I went to a winery in Napa, California as part of a road trip. We did some wine tasting (I drank back then) and I found a rose I really liked, which I bought for years. The wine cellar was like a basement. Today's wine cellar had a different look.





Our local guide commented that most of the wineries were family owned for multiple generations. The young woman in the photo above is the fourth generation in the family-owned winery. These days, one of the children will run the business, another will do the marketing, and another will be responsible for the crop. 

**********

Our next port of call was Saint Malo in France and a 90-minute bus ride to Mont Saint Michel. The photos I'd seen of the old fortress had always made the place look like an island.



But it turns out there's a tidal bore there, second largest in the world after the Bay of Fundy. In the space of a few hours, this monument temporarily becomes an island amid high tides. The tide was low during our visit.


Of the 11 people in our group not shown in this photo, eight were quarantined in their cabins and three had remained in Saint Malo to explore the town.

There's an abbey on the crest of the island and a village full of tourists and tourist shops on the lower levels. Art and I bought ice cream cones and then found stone benches set into the walls to people watch. It looked as busy as Disneyland. I've been told that if you find lodging for an overnight stay, it's really beautiful when the day trippers leave and the stars come out.

After our return to the ship for lunch, we had an option in the afternoon to explore Saint Malo. I wish I'd had enough energy to go out again. At the suggestion of the cruise program, Art and I were reading "All the Light We Cannot See," by Anthony Doerr, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story is about a blind French girl (Marie-Laure) and a German boy (Werner) whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Part of the story takes place in Saint Malo, and the book details many of the streets and features there in describing how the blind teenager, Marie Laure, gets around. I would love to have found the house at #4 rue Vauborel.

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From the port at Cherbourg, France, a bus took our group to Omaha Beach, which was one of the five landing beaches on D-Day (June 6, 1944).  I expected this day to be a trip highlight for me. Our visits to My Lai in Vietnam in 2006, and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in 2015, had been similar memorable times. I grew up in a military family, but actual war hadn't been talked about much. These destinations, for me, are markers of horror, of what humans can do to each other, whether they are looked at as heroes or monsters. For some reason, I need to see these places.






And the American Cemetery. One of our group had an uncle buried here.



The Aegean Odyssey left Cherbourg for our final leg across the English Channel, to the port of Tilbury on the River Thames. It's London's major port. We disembarked the next morning, boarding a bus for Heathrow Airport and our travels home.