Sunday, June 30, 2019

Adventuring! Reykjavik to London and beyond

When I planned this high school graduation trip with my granddaughter Kai, the core of it was a Rick Steves group tour called "London in 7 Days". I built the rest around that tour, which starts today at 3. Two days in Iceland, two days on our own in England. I knew the first four days would be the toughest for me; I'm a good planner, but I'm not much of an adventurer. I knew there would probably be hiccups, and there have been. Fortunately, Kai and I have complimentary strengths so we have managed. 

Here's what's happened:

1. We made it fine during the five-minute walk between our Airbnb in Reykjavik to the Radisson Blu Saga, our pickup point for the first bus (of two) to the airport. And the transfer to the actual airbus was smooth. Part of the reason was probably that we had done the same thing - in reverse - two days earlier when we arrived.

2. At the Reykavik airport, Kai took over, checking us in before I even saw where the self-check kiosks were. She has the nimble brain of a 19-years-old-next-week person, and the accompanying physical flexibility. She took over the process of holding my 17-pound pack while I slipped (well, that's a kind word; "struggled" is more accurate) into the straps. We found our way to the gate where we sat for an hour before a random comment by a passerby got us to our feet: "The gate has been changed from D21 to D15."  No announcement from the airline whatever. Oh, well.

3. Routine flight into Heathrow. Easy entrance through passport control. Feeling pretty good so far. And THEN! The ATM in the baggage claim area wouldn't accept either of our debit cards or my credit card. Kai converted her dollars into pounds (I hadn't brought any, for some embarrassing and stupid reason) and we headed for the subway (Picadilly line) into town. All went well until we couldn't find our way out of the Green Park station for half an hour. It's hot down there! And crowded! And two other subway lines cross there! And people push and shove instead of waiting their turn! By the time we got to the street we were both sweaty, and Kai was irritated and informed me she never wanted to go on the subway again. Through all of this, London was experiencing the hottest day of a record heat wave in Europe.

4. We needed some cash. I went out into the evening to find an ATM. The hotel concierge directed me to one about four blocks away - "right across the street from the Green Park station" - and I only needed to talk to two shop owners on the way for more specific directions before I found it. Money! I can do this thing!

5. In the hotel room, Kai found the a/c switch and figured out the lights. Biggest challenge: we couldn't charge our devices (two phones and two laptops) unless the light was on. Guess who slept with the lights on the first night? The second night went better because Kai unscrewed the bulbs. 

6. We had one too few outlet adapters. Well, I had one too few. Kai had two adapters, for her phone and her laptop. I had two also, but needed one more, for my CPAP machine. So I charged the laptop during the day and changed out the adapter for the CPAP at night. Fortunately, the tour bus for the next day's trip to Bath and Stonehenge. had a charger for the phone. I've since been advised by my friend Ed via email to bring along an American power strip so I only need one adapter. Of all the traveling I've done, how could I have not figured that out? Even Kai asked me that question. See, I am still learning even as an "elderly person"!

7. Bath: crowded and hot; missed the walking tour with our guide because Kai needed to buy some shades and I needed a hat; walked on our own instead; had a delicious vegetarian lunch and an ice cream cone. I'd been to Bath about 20 years ago. Kai seemed fine with looking at shops and people watching. I will say that, when spoken by a Brit, "Royal Crescent" can sound an awful lot like "Royal Prison". Kai and I have figured out how we best operate: I ask the questions and she understands the answers!

8. Stonehenge: smaller than I expected! Well organized to handle crowds, and respectful of the site. There were multiple large crows (rooks) on the ground and on the stones. I thought about how we don't know too much about Stonehenge because it was constructed before there was writing. But the crows might know; their ancestors were there and watched it all happen. Here's what I learned about the birds there:

Glad we went! This was my first two-ice-cream-cone days in a very long time.

Kai in her new shades. Oh, and Stonehenge!

9. In two hours we join our Rick Steves tour. From now on all the planning and decisions will be made by someone else. Kai and I, in our first four days together, have established a practical relationship that's kind of new for both of us. This trip is her gift from me, but it's really turning out to be a gift for both of us.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Bag Lady's Iceland thoughts

My granddaughter Kai and I have been in Iceland for two days. We leave tomorrow morning for London. Iceland Air has a stopover feature at no extra cost for international flights, so we took the two-night option.

Here are my thoughts about our trip so far:

1. I am learning the value of companionable silence. Maybe it's because I've been traveling recently with quiet people, or maybe because I've learned that things go better at home when I'm not chatting all the time, or maybe because I'm noticing that the Icelanders I've met have a quietness about them. It's light all the time here this time of the year. At 7 a.m. it's as quiet outside as it is at 3 a.m. I don't hear loud voices, or loud cars. I hadn't noticed this on my last trip to Iceland, in 2005, but I'm sure it was like that back then. It's probably me that's changed.

2. We're staying in an Airbnb out of the tourist areas. It's a second floor apartment, fairly simple and very comfortable. There's a Scandinavian tidiness about it, and our host, Eglo, has been warm and welcoming, but respectful of our privacy. After tonight we'll be spending the next nine nights at a hotel in central London, so this Airbnb is a treat. Yesterday afternoon we walked to a market for snacks, and to a Domino's for pizza. I have mixed feelings about American products in foreign countries. Familiar, yes. But maybe also intrusive.

3. So far the hardest part has been not enough 220 electrical adapters for the number of electrical devices Kai and I brought along. Truly a first world problem!

4. Yesterday we took a day trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, about a two-hour drive through rural Iceland. Our Airbnb hostess had recommended it, saying it's "Iceland in a nutshell." Our driver made five stops for exploring and one for lunch. Kai took off ahead of me, thorougly enjoying her independence. I watched out - buddy system, you know - but it was good to see her enjoying her solitude.

The weather was poor - lots of fog and rain - but still a beautiful drive. Twelve hours later we returned to the pickup point and walked home.

5. At this time of year there's no darkness at night. It feels like you're going to bed early, even if it's 10:30 and you wake up at 1:00 a.m. 

6. Sometimes a young person can check us in at the airport faster than I can.

7. Some banks are better than others about letting you use your debit or credit card when you're traveling. Even if the bank knows you're traveling, it still thinks you're doing fraudulent activity. Note: I'm not the one having this problem.

8.  When you are carrying your 18-pound suitcase on your back - because the wheeled ones you have are either too small to hold what you need to take, or too large to fit in carryon, and you'd have to pay $200 to check it for the entire trip - your back muscles don't complain too much, and your cranky hip doesn't complain at all!

9. Icelandic is an unnecessarily complex language. Even the tour guide said that!

10. Tourism is the number one industry in Iceland - greater even than fishing. When I was here 14 years ago, it was still a relatively out-of-the-way place to travel.

Onward to London!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Grandma hugs

I am a hugger. I almost always ask someone if they want a hug, and I honor their request. Usually, people say yes. I have one good friend and I know she's not a hugger, so when I see her I usually touch her shoulder and say, "Consider yourself hugged."

Last Tuesday I went to our regional mall. I had a couple of pieces of jewelry I wanted to have appraised: a rope of pearls my dad brought back from Japan in the 60s, a watch without a band that belonged to my grandmother, and a brooch with a gold locket that was also my grandmother's. I'd been referred to a jewelry store called Alana's, so that was my destination.

As it turned out, Alana's was going out of business. It was a small shop, and there were about 20 people crowded in there, plus a fellow with a large camera who might have been part of the media. I knew an appraisal was not going to be happening there. However, I needed a couple of items of makeup, which I usually buy in a little Nordstrom storefront in the mall. So I walked up there. I was assisted by a young woman, made up vividly but tastefully. As she helped me find the right blush for my older face, and eyebrow color to tame my wild gray brows, I told her about my upcoming trip to London with my granddaughter Kai (she's recently changed her name from Cory, for those of you who keep track of my grandchildren). Kai had requested that we go to London Pride, which has a parade the day our tour finishes up, and I had said yes.

The young woman said, "Oh, she's lucky to have you for a grandmother. I'm transgender, and my grandmother was the first person to call me Rosemary. Even when she had Alzheimers and was close to death, she remembered." She teared up talking about her recently deceased grandmother. I gave her a hug and she hugged me back. Then I gave her another hug and I said, "This one is from your grandmother." Then I left.

Then, last weekend, my husband Art and I flew to Spokane to spend a few days with our grandkids. The twins haven't seen me in a year, and since one of them will be traveling with me nine days from now, I thought we ought to re-familiarize ourselves with each other.

I said to Kai, "Do you have anything I can wear to show my support for Pride?" I was thinking a bracelet or hat or something. She went to Amazon right then and ordered me this shirt:

I hope I give a lot of hugs at Pride.

PS: I sold all three pieces of my jewelry at a store called "Not Just Antiques" for $12.