Monday, August 31, 2015

A day on our own in Prague

We arrived here two days before our tour group meets up to make sure we've recovered from jet lag before we have to listen to instructions from our guide. So today we wandered in Old Town Prague. I thought we were going to explore the Jewish Quarter, but when we saw the ticket line and the hourlong wait, we decided to walk around town instead. We made our way to the Vitava River, which runs through Prague. We found some shade under a tree (heat wave - high of 91 today) and watched the boats.

Art loves using maps to figure out where we are and where we're going. He got us to a gelato shop a few blocks from our hotel. If you had a late breakfast and it's time for a light lunch, gelato is a good choice! I was too busy indulging to take a picture of my coffee gelato.

Three hours later we took another walk and found a delightful Italian restaurant. Dinner? Fabulous tomato soup and a goat cheese and strawberry salad to share.

Here in Prague, there are little restaurants on just about every block in Old Town. If you go for a walk - even a short one - you'll find something to eat. The ground floors of the buildings are commercial establishments and the upper ones are lodging. What a walkable city!

In addition to being the map reader, Art is the keeper of the money. He's currently carrying dollars, euros and Czech korunas. A koruna is worth about an American nickel and Art has both coins and currency and he appears to know what he is doing when he is paying - doesn't have to translate (20 to 1). He says he doesn't have to worry about it. He just pays them what they want! When we leave the Czech Republic on Wednesday he will exchange the remaining korunas for euros - the currency used in Poland, the next country we'll visit.

I note with satisfaction that tap water is safe to drink here - on our last three international forays (Turkey 2009, Ecuador 2012 and Kenya 2013), that wasn't the case. Love it!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Getting to Prague

Our travel day was surprisingly easy. Our friend Lillian gave us a ride to the airport. Check in and security were a breeze. The British Airways flight left on time at 2:00 p.m. We ate dinner within an hour and breakfast about six hours later. At London Heathrow we were loaded into buses rather than ascending a jetway; apparently all the gates were full of other planes at Terminal 5. Walked down a hall at Terminal 5, descended a flight of stairs and were loaded onto another bus for Terminal 3. For all the departures, the gate assignment isn't announced until 20 minutes before boarding, so passengers wait in a retail/restaurant area. What a good revenue-generating idea!

The flight to Prague took about an hour and a half. Green countryside with rolling hills and scattered villages with red tile roofs on the houses. The taxi drive to our hotel in Old Town Prague took 20 minutes. A beautiful drive into the city, very clean.

Here's Hastal Hotel, our home for the first four nights. It's a Rick Steves recommendation and where our group will meet up in two days.

We unpacked and took a two-hour nap, then roused ourselves for a walk to find dinner. Lots of sidewalk cafes with varying types of food. We ended up at a Czech place. We asked for water and it arrived in a carafe with two empty glasses and one filled with ice! A first for us.

I ordered pork and Art's choice was beef goulash and dumplings. We split our orders and shared.

I heard several languages being spoken around me, none recognizable. Fortunately, the servers all spoke English. I learned my first Czech word: thank you is Dekuji (dyeh-kwee). Our server grinned when I finally got it right. I'll put it on a post-it note and carry it around with me. A little effort goes a long way with words, I've found.

Here we are at dinner, not even looking too jet lagged. 

We have managed to stay up until 8:30 (it's now 11:30 a.m. in Seattle, where we live).  Except for our two-hour nap this afternoon, we've been awake for 27 hours.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Seattle to Prague next Friday!

I'm finally excited about our upcoming trip - a Rick Steves tour called "The Best of Eastern Europe in 16 Days". It replaced the canceled Danube cruise planned for last April. We were reimbursed by our travel insurance company and the refund just about paid for the tour we're taking now. That's a good thing!

Here's what I did today in trip planning that ramped up my excitement:
  • Put the hotels we'll be staying at in my computer's calendar for each night.
  • Based on the tour schedule, put laundry days in the calendar. For this trip, we won't be washing clothes in the sink as we sometimes do when we're doing a lot of traveling from place to place. I confirmed that each of the four hotels we're staying multiple nights has laundry service, and we are going to use them. Every three or four days means that's all the clothes we need to pack. More expensive, but less hassle.
  • Confirmed that the Prague hotel where our group meets two days after our arrival has airport pickup service. Again, we're going to take the easy way from airport to hotel rather than making our way via public transportation, which would be cheaper. We'll be quite tired by the time we leave the airport in Prague - it will be 5 a.m. by then in Seattle - and probably won't be doing our clearest thinking. If all we have to look for is someone holding a sign that says "Myers", we're more likely to reach our destination without getting lost or getting testy with each other.
  • Finally read the itinerary! I see we're spending about nine days in various cities in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Croatia, but that several nights are in rural areas. I also note that we have numerous afternoons and evenings free to explore on our own. It will be easier to pace ourselves that way.
  • Figured out how to get to the Munich airport from the train station we arrive at from Bled. And found the self-guided walking tour of Munich recommended in the Rick Steves book on Germany. Current plans are to stay the night before we leave in a hotel near the airport, but we may opt for something closer in - if we aren't "all Europed out" by then and just wanting to take a nap on the last afternoon before we go to the airport the next morning.
  • Downloaded a German-English phrasebook/translation app for the last 24 hours we'll be on our own.
  • Downloaded Rick Steves' Eastern Europe guidebook to my Kindle so I can read it on the plane between Seattle and Heathrow.
  • Delegated the money handling and money changing to Art. I notice there's a baggie with euros on the kitchen counter. He must have brought them home from Italy in 2010. 
  • Confirmed that my sister Alyx will care for Larisa, our Designer Cat, and that my brother-in-law Virgil will take us to the airport.
I think we'll be ready!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

We've got chickens!

Just over 20 years ago we got a potbellied piglet. We named him Bud and he lived for nearly 19 years. People thought we were a little odd to have a pig for a pet but pigs are hypoallergenic and Art is allergic to everything and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Bud was smart and we mostly enjoyed him for all of his long life.

We thought about getting a few chickens too - in our small town (actually a northern Seattle suburb) you can have eight chickens - but we travel a lot and are gone for four months in the winter. Every now and then we'd feed and water and collect eggs for our next door neighbors Jennie and Jason. We thought it was fun but it was an every-day kind of thing and a responsibility.

Last year my sister Alyx and her husband Virgil moved to Washington from Alaska. They live in their RV in our back yard. And Alyx has always wanted chickens. A month or so ago I got the idea that we could tear down the kids' play structure we've had for over 20 years, and put up a chicken area in its place. I told Art about my idea and he went outside and looked at the play structure and stood there and thought about it for a while. A few days later he texted our grandson Kyle and asked if he'd to earn some money. Of course Kyle said yes - he's 15 and can always use the cash - and Kyle came over for two or three days and he and Art dismantled the play structure. Ladders and floors and roof trusses and a slide and two swings and a ship's steering wheel came down and lay all over the rear section of our side yard.

Then Kyle came over again and helped Art as he repurposed all the wood from the play structure and created a two-story chicken condo. And then Kyle had enough money so he wasn't available, and then Virgil came out and he and Art added doors and fencing.

Then Alyx and her friend Linda went to Portage Bay Grange in Seattle and brought home six pullets (3-month-old egg layers to be) and straw and wood chips and containers for food and water.

The ladies have been here for a week. They have been named Marge, Shyla, Rhoda, Winnie, Mamba and Mary Jane. They have grown. They eat more than the man at the Grange said they would. They have figured out how to get in and out of their coop. They are grand entertainment.

Alyx the Chicken Farmer has her own opinions. You can read about them here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My week in Muskoka, Ontario

My friend Judy and her husband Ken - we met three winters ago in Tucson - live in a "cottage" on a river a couple of hours north of Toronto. I always thought cottage meant small and cute. This place is large and gorgeous.

Judy has a wonderful sense of style, and I am sadly lacking. She's built somewhat like me, so I'd asked before I got here if she'd help me find a few tops I could take to Eastern Europe later this month. She said, "I'm always up for shopping." So, on four days of the week, we went to a Muskoka-area town to eat lunch and then shop. We visited Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville. All delightful places. They kind of remind me of mid-coast Maine, where Art and I have traveled half a dozen times in the last ten years. And in each town I tried on clothes. Which, ordinarily, I hate. I'm about 50 pounds overweight and I always end up unhappy with how I look. But Judy found styles like those she wears and what I tried on looked quite good.

When we got home, Judy shortened two shirts, made me a shirt from a scarf (!), and cut off the sleeves of one item to make it into a long, open, sleeveless vest. The other two pieces were good as is. Plus, I bought a scarf that remains a scarf. I'll wear them all with the black capris I hang around in all summer.

Judy knows the fun places to eat lunch. Usually they're on the water, on one of the Muskoka lakes.

She's also a creative soul. I'd never seen her "people" until this week.

My favorite part of the week, though, has been the talking. Judy and I have talked. And talked. Whether a back and forth banter, or long stretches of a talker and a listener, it has been fabulous.  I think we've talked at least five hours each day, maybe more. Judy's husband Ken says I'm easy to have around, so that's good. And I'm sure Art is relieved I'm getting all this conversation out of my system, so I can return home in a tranquil state of mind.

I fly home late tomorrow afternoon, rested and relaxed and grateful for my time here in Muskoka.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Getting to Toronto

It seemed easy. Air Canada has two nonstops a day from Seattle to Toronto. One leaves at 7:30 a.m. and arrives at 3:05 p.m. The other leaves at 11:30 a.m. and arrives at 7:05 p.m. I consulted with my friend Judy who'd be picking me up. She said the earlier flight would be better because she could pick me up before rush hour. So I made my reservations. On Expedia. Two one-way flights came out cheaper than a round trip via the Air Canada site. $600. I hate to pay that much for a four-hour flight, but I'd rather do that than save money by making one or two stops.

I usually travel on Alaska Airlines, and I get notified by email AND text if there's going to be a flight delay. I guess I forgot this trip might be different. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and we left the house at 5:30 a.m. At that hour the drive is 35 minutes from door to airport departure dropoff. My husband Art pulled away from the Air Canada terminal. I checked in via kiosk, which checked my passport and printed me a ticket. Boarding time said 12:00. I figured there was something wrong with the computer program. When I looked at the departures board, though, the time was the same. Flight 540 to Toronto, scheduled to depart at 7:30 a.m., was "delayed until 12:30 p.m."

I called Art. No answer. I texted. No response. I hoped he would turn around right away and come get me so I could go home for a few hours instead of hanging out at the airport. He did call - 45 minutes later, when he got home. Too late. By then rush hour traffic was in full force in both directions. I would be waiting for five hours.

Security was easy via TSA-Pre. I ate breakfast at Anthony's and checked the departure board again. Two flights to Toronto by now - 11:30 a.m. leaving on time, and the delayed flight at 12:30 p.m. I left the secured area, waited in line at the Air Canada desk for 20 minutes to see if I could get on the earlier flight. Nope. Completely sold out. I went through security again, found a seat at gate A-7, and waited four more hours. Picked up all my stuff (carry-on bag, backpack with computer, and CPAP) went to buy a mocha, came back for another half hour.

At 12:15 p.m. the gate agents started talking to the gathered passengers. "The plane is undergoing maintenance. The crew is here. As soon as the plane arrives at the gate we will begin the boarding process."

at 1:00 p.m. the plane arrived at the gate. "We are issuing meal vouchers for passengers on the delayed flight to Toronto. Please come to the ticket counter for your voucher. I gathered my gear and stood in line for my voucher. "It's for $10. You can use it here in the terminal or on the plane, but we've been told there's limited food available for sale on the aircraft. We'll begin boarding in ten minutes so you probably have time." I trekked to the food court and bought a chicken salad sandwich and a spinach salad. Boarding began. I was in Zone 4, the last to board. Found my seat, stashed my carryon and CPAP, slid my backpack under my seat.

The captain spoke to the passengers. "Thank you for your patience. The reason this flight was delayed is that the airplane broke yesterday. We needed a part and it didn't arrive until this morning. As soon as we're ready to depart, the jetway will be retracted and we'll be on our way."

Ten minutes later the captain spoke to the passengers again. "Thank you again for your patience. Unfortunately, the ground crew is unable to detach the jetway from the aircraft. We will let you know when that has happened."

Fifteen minutes later: "We are having to have the jetway manually detached. It will require a different kind of air compressor [thingy] to start our engines. This should not take too long."

I texted my friend Judy and told her I'd text her again when we landed so she'd know when to pick me up at Terminal 1. Then I turned off my phone.

We pulled away from the gate at 1:30 - six hours late. The flight was uneventful. The plane had about 32 rows, two seats on each side. Not as big as the 737s Alaska uses. And the seats were comfortable enough. Flight time was just under four hours. As the plane's wheels touched down in Toronto, I turned on my phone to text Judy, and realized to my consternation that I had no service. I was in Canada now and I don't have international coverage. I cast about in my mind for a way to reach Judy. I decided when I got through Customs I'd open my laptop, log onto Facebook and ask an online friend to text her and let her know where I was.

That's what I did. My old friend HeeSun Gerhardt (college roommate for two years) was online. I told her what I needed and she, being a good sport, sent Judy my message. Five minutes later I emerged from Terminal 1 and Judy was there to meet me. Thank you, HeeSun!

When I travel, the journey starts in my driveway. I never know what will happen. I'd say half the time it's an ordinary, unmemorable trip to our destination airport. It's the other half of the time, though, that I remember.

I do have a voucher of apology from Air Canada for a flight discount. I have to pick it up online within 90 days and use it to fly within 13 months. Maybe this is the year for the Maritimes?

Monday, August 3, 2015

What a compliment! Looking back at my blog

I've been writing this blog since January 2010 - five and a half years. I started it at the suggestion of a friend. I hadn't retired yet, and I was afraid I'd become a bag lady. My friend suggested I write about it as an antidote to my fear. Now here I am writing as a discipline and as a reminder of my life and as a correspondence with online friends.

Last week's blog post got a comment that was so complimentary I wondered if someone I know was teasing me:
Just wanted to know that I recently found your blog and I love it. I went back to January 2010 and read them up to the present. I love all of the adventures that you and Art are having. I read your entries regarding your 2003 schooner trip and I think that my spouse and I might do it. It sounds like so much fun. We have done one Road Scholar trip a couple of years ago and enjoyed it very much. I can't believe how many trips that you have taken. I need to get on the ball and your blog inspires me to do it. Love how you are giving back. Can't wait for your next post.
The commenter, "Dreamer," just joined blogger in July and I am the only blog they follow. What an honor that they took the time to read my posts.

Each year I've ordered a soft copy of my blog, so I have a written record, and I read a year's worth every once in a while. Prompted by "Dreamer" I pulled out the soft copy for 2010. I was six months from retirement and scared but excited. I had some goals. Uncertainties. Wonderings. Reading those pages brought the time back and I saw it in front of myself again, the memories fresh as yesterday. And reading that volume made me realize how much has happened between that first post and this one, my 448th. I'm a mediator now; Art and I have taken 40 trips within the US and internationally; we've helped build houses for Habitat for Humanity; Road Scholar produced a two-minute video clip about me; I've organized annual weekends for six fellow bloggers; we've found a winter residence in Tucson; I've saved a life with CPR; I've found a faith community; we've got a family community on our property after years as an empty nester. I still weigh too much, still keep a to-do list in spite of my better judgment, still spend too much on mochas. As far as I can tell, I'm the same person I was in January 2010. Just older, with a second cataract being removed in September! I think we all have multiple events happening over time, but unless we write about them, they may get lost in the memory.

One thing I'm especially grateful for is that keeping this blog has allowed me to identify and refine my values. At present, they are spirituality, health, community, curiosity, and purpose. I find that if I look at my life as I go along, I'm more content if life is mostly aligned with those values, in that order. At the moment I'm a little hazy on purpose. I wrote last week that I've been bored. Most of things I'm doing are not new and a few are getting a little stale. I'm encouraged, though, that the hazy one is number five on my list rather than number one. And not because I moved it to the end!

In two days I'm flying to Toronto, being picked up by a friend who lives a couple hours north of there. Judy was my neighbor in Tucson for a couple of years. She and her husband Ken sold their place but we are continuing friends. I get the giggles with Judy. We gossip. When my husband Art had a cardiac arrest last year, Judy was an expert I texted for the first 48 hours. I asked last month if I could come for a three-day visit. Judy suggested a week. I said, "Isn't that too long?" She said, "Why? Are you  planning on being annoying? Bring a good book because you'll be sitting on the dock reading it." How lucky am I to be able to take this unscheduled trip?