Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Air France: The Journey Begins

AdventureMan and I have developed a philosophy – how we get there matters. Truly, it didn’t matter so much when we were a lot younger. The government sent us where it wanted us to be; Germany, Tunisia, Jordan, Germany . . . well, you get the idea. You didn’t even get to make your own reservations and choose your own seats, it was all done for you. It could have been awful, but most of the flights were not so full then, seats were wider, aisles were wider, and . . . we were younger. We never really minded, not even the long long flights with a 2 year old active child. On our way to Tunis we were on the same flight with friends who had twin 1 year old babies and a 5 year old. We all survived.

Now, we have a six hour limit to what we will fly in economy. I had thought we could be comfortable enough in economy going to Hawaii, and I was very very wrong. Never again. So now we cough up a little extra and go business class, and, when we can, we go Air France.

Air France is a partner with Delta and with KLM, but Air France is nicer. The planes feel cleaner, and the flight crews are, well, French. Charming and attentive. The food is pretty good. We get on in Atlanta, eat a nice meal and sleep our way to Paris. And that’s how this trip started. Easy. Happy.

When we got to Paris, and were about to board our flight, the gate attendant frowned. “This part of your trip has been cancelled,” she informed us. “Your bags have been taken off the flight.”

This is not a happy surprise.

But this is also not our first rodeo.

“Nothing has changed,” we explain calmly, “We are booked all the way to Venice.”

“I see that,” she responded, “and I don’t know what happened, but I can fix it for you. Just give me a few minutes.”

A few minutes turned into a lot of minutes, as the plane was boarded, all the passengers but us, and we stood calmly waiting for her to fix it. She handed us tickets, same seats we had originally been assigned.

“Are our bags on board?” I asked.

“Not yet,” she replied, “but they are tracking them down and will get them on the plane.”

A half an hour later, when they closed the door to the flight, I asked the attendant to check to make sure our bags had made it. She came back and affirmed “all bags are now on board.”

The really good news: when we got to Venice, people were waiting to greet us and take us to the hotel. The bad news: our bags were not on board, and it took AdventureMan about an hour of getting a number here, waiting there, going over to talk to this person, and then than person, just to fill out the paperwork.

More good news – because we have had this happen a time or two in all our travels, we have all our electronics, toiletries, medications and two days of clothing with us, including our walking shoes. We are not happy, but we can survive. The water taxi takes us to the Molino Stuckey Hotel, where as he registers, AdventureMan upgrades quietly to a room on the executive floor with a view of Venice. As we walk in our room, we could be griping, but the room is beautiful, and this is our view:

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What’s a little missing baggage with a view like that?

We fall into bed and sleep for about an hour, then we get up to take a walk and have some dinner. There is a church I want to visit, within walking distance. It is chilly, and by the grace of God, I have a pair of jeans and a sweater with me, and my walking shoes. We head down to Redentore, The Church of the Redeemer, built to thank God for sparing Venice from the plague. It is simply beautiful, and we sit inside and let the peace soak into our bodies and spirits.

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The hotel is on Giudecca, a large island across the laguna from St. Mark’s. We love this location, and the residential nature of the island. As we explore, there is beauty everywhere.

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Along a side canal, we find a boat building shop, with workers putting together new gondolas:

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We are exhilarated. We had thought we would be exhausted, but we have done 10,000 steps and way more than 10 sets of stairs. We are in Venice, where the light and the water work together to thrill our heart in a new way every time we look. Here is something special for you; the sun going down in Venice:

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It was supposed to be raining. This is late October, and there are signs of rain, but there is no rain.

Dinner is at a small local restaurant, and it is divine. Is it divine, or does it just taste divine because it is our first night in Venice and we are a little jet lagged and maybe a little delirious? At Duo Mori we can eat overlooking the water, watch the vaporettos come and go, and dive into some Venetian specialties, a mixed appetizer plate with all kinds of fish and fish pates, followed by plates of spaghetti with clams and mussels, washed down by a carafe of wine. Service is slow. It’s fine with us. We are happy just to be here.
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The meal is delicious, and on top of that, we have been watching how the vaporetto passengers use their magnetized tickets to open the gate to get to the vaporetto they want. Tomorrow will be a new day, and we have all-day vaporetto tickets which will take us all the places we want to go.

 

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We walk happily back to the hotel, fall into bed. About half an hour later, dumb with sleepiness, there is a knock at the door, and our bags have arrived in Venice to meet up with us. All is well.

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November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Hotels, KLM, Quality of Life Issues, Travel, Values, Venice, Weather | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Customer Service; the Good and the Ugly

We are not rich people. You might look at the places we go and the places we stay and think that we are more comfortable than we are. We learned a secret a long time ago, and that secret is to live UNDER your income. We live under what we can afford, we pay our bills in full, and we pay attention to small leaks that can add up to big financial leakages over time.

First, the ugly. Today I checked my KLM Flying Blue mileage, and they only gave me 25% of the miles I earned flying from Pensacola to Johannesburg and back. That should have been a huge number, but 25% of that number is very very low. I did some exploration on KLM and learned it has to do with a lot of factors, including type of ticket you buy.

To me, that’s just sleazy customer service. A person who buys a ticket should get the full mileage. If you want to give bonuses for higher levels, then do so, but give me the miles I earn, don’t swindle me with a fraction of the miles I flew. It leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I don’t think Delta is all that much better, but I may switch my frequent flyer program to them because now I am flying Delta more often. I had thought because they were all “Sky Team Partners” that the miles were all the same, but I was wrong. And try booking an award ticket on one of the partners – they have wires and mirrors and a series of hoops to jump through, and you get to the end and the answer is not only “No” but then they have the gall to ask “Can I help you with anything else?”

I promise you, I am very polite, but when they ask that, I tell them “You didn’t even help me with what I asked help for!”

Here is the good. I paid as many bills as I could before I left, including some significant travel costs associated with the Grand Canyon / Mesa Verde Trip , but when I got home, I found a letter from the credit card service company, with the check my bank sent, saying that there wasn’t enough account information on the check to credit it. I could see the last five numbers of my account on the check, which I believe many banks are doing to help protect client privacy and exposure to identity theft, so I sent the check back with the account number and today I called and complained, and especially that they had charged me an interest charge, when I had paid the bill in full, they just hadn’t credited it to my account.

They credited the interest charge immediately, no argument. They were pleasant and helpful, and I felt like they were on my side. In a time when banks are not our friends, I had a positive feeling toward our card provider.

I smile when I hear AdventureMan in his office, talking with medical claims people – when we had a recent vaccination, a very expensive one, I was re-imbursed and he was not. He is taking on the bureaucracy, slowly and patiently, to make sure he gets that money back. He is also seeing what can be done about getting re-imbursed for our yellow fever immunizations. It takes a lot of patience and persistence, and it pays off. We laugh that we are becoming those old farts who have enough time to make those phone calls.

Little drops of water . . . and paying attention. Battling bureaucracy, trying to make the most of opportunities . . . that’s how we manage our lush lifestyle.

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Aging, Bureaucracy, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, KLM, Living Conditions, Random Musings, Travel | 2 Comments

For Our Convenience

For our convenience, KLM has introduced a new ‘simplified’ baggage policy:

Joining their Flying Blue Elite program is free. It only makes sense, join up and get that extra bag at no charge, at least not in the Europe / Middle East countries.

As little respect as I have for KLM customer service – most of their people manning the transit desks in Amsterdam specialize in saying ‘no’ with a sneer – they are EXCELLENT for traveling with pets. If you are traveling business class or if you have a gold card that gets you into the lounges, you can shower between flights and have a decent cup of coffee. It’s worth the trouble to get the card.

April 5, 2010 Posted by | KLM, Middle East, Random Musings, Travel | 2 Comments

KLM Customer Service – I’m Impressed

There are days when my phone doesn’t ring at all. I’m not a big phone person, sometimes my friends are out of town, there can be a hundred reasons my phone doesn’t ring including the fact that not a lot of people have my phone number.

So when my phone rang this afternoon, I was surprised, but a few people know I am back in town and I wondered who it could be.

KLM said the little phone screen. KLM calling me? Did I lose something and I don’t even know it?

“This is Mr. SoAndSo with KLM Customer Service, we are calling to ask how was your flight?”

(HOLY SMOKES!)

He also asked if I had any criticisms or suggestions. . . Soliciting customer feedback . . . amazing.

Actually, the KLM part of the flight was magnificent. I got on the plane and slept almost all the way to Qatar, I was so exhausted. I don’t even remember anything, but I was really really really glad no one woke me to ask if I wanted a meal or anything. For me, that is a really good flight.

I am still so blown away that they called and asked.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, KLM, Qatar | 7 Comments

Sweet Amsterdam

I used to hate the layover in Amsterdam. I used to sit in the lounge, trying to stay awake so I wouldn’t miss my next flight. Then – I learned about the showers.

You have to scramble to be one of the first to sign up. As it was, I had to wait about an hour, but I still had plenty of time. I love getting all clean between the long flights. It’s not like I am a clean freak, but when I travel, I am just so aware of my exposure to germs from all over the world – the thousands of people who have sat in this same seat, the people who have touched this doorknob, just after sneezing, the people who are coughing and not covering their mouths – I just feel so vulnerable.

And even better – after sitting is fairly close circumstances with total strangers for hours (I am not so friendly when I am traveling) I relish having one small room all to myself, quiet, privacy, just some time alone. It makes all the difference in the world, to me.

KLM seems to be updating their lounges; the new showers are really nice, modern, clean clean clean and cool – they used to be moist, steamy, HOT. I used to feel sweatier after leaving the shower than before, but now – ah! fresh!

Look! Even a hair dryer!

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I totally love these showerheads, they are called something like tropical rainfall or something, but they use less water and make it sprinkle all over – I love them!

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My only complaint is a small one, and maybe more perceived than real. The women working with KLM are always so nice and jokey and friendly with all the men, and with women, they seem to have an attitude like “why are you here?” and give the men special treatment. It’s not totally across the board; I have had one or two people who knocked themselves out to help me over the years, but for the most part, they are falling all over themselves to serve the men, and they are barely dutiful when they take care of their women guests.

I also hate it that, leaving Doha, they fly into Dammam and then wait there in that creepy, barren airport for over an hour. Just when I need to be getting my prime sleep, you have to sit in an upright seat for landing, and then again for take-off. Once you take off from Dammam, it is relatively peaceful, but I just hate that stopover.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Hygiene, KLM, Mating Behavior, Travel | 10 Comments

End of August Sunrise

No, no, it’s no trouble at all to be up for the sunrise, in fact, I have been up for hours. Yes, jet lagging. I thought I had dodged that bullet, but when I awoke, feeling GREAT, thinking it was morning, and checked my clock . . . it was only 2:30. 2:30 ay – em.

I’ve got all the laundry done, dishes washed, I’m all unpacked, and I think I am going to need to go back to bed soon.

I was just thinking, for Kuwaitis coming back, there won’t be a jet lag issue – with Ramadan starting almost immediately, nights and days get turned upside down anyway.

My flight in was a hoot – probably 80% families, Kuwaiti and Omani. Most of the kids were between 8 months and 2 1/2 years, but amazingly well behaved. The flight was packed. Packed. Not a single empty seat. I am guessing this was the big influx trying to get back before school starts and Ramadan starts – double whammy.

Fortunately, KLM seemed to have stocked a lot of kid’s meals, they didn’t mind the toddlers in the aisles, and the flight was relatively quiet – astonishingly so, considering all the kids on board. I have never seen a flight with so many children. The Pre-boarding of the families alone took about 45 minutes. Unaccompanied people like me were stuck in here and there where there was an empty seat.

The poor families; many had hoped for an empty seat next to them, and had to hold the babies and toddler the entire flight. There was a baby in my seat when I boarded, but the parents quickly picked her up and we had a good time chatting during our time together; we even all slept when the baby did. The baby coughed and sneezed on my meal, but I don’t seem to be suffering any ill effects. 🙂

I’m happy to be back in Kuwait. I’ve grown to love Ramadan, and I am looking forward with great anticipation to those magical days when the temperatures begin to drop once again and we can spend time outdoors.

August 30, 2008 Posted by | Community, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Health Issues, KLM, Kuwait, Living Conditions, sunrise series | 10 Comments

Travel Mercies

Every morning, before we leave the house, my husband and I pray together. We give thanks for all the blessings we receive, we pray for people and their needs, we pray for God to guide us in every thing we do, great and small.

Before a recent trip, we prayed for travel mercies. Most of these trips are long, endurance tests really. About the best I can do is to bury myself in a book or magazine or puzzle.

I remember when travel used to be fun. I remember when there were ladies lounges on board, and even bars (not that I ever hung out in bars). I remember the thrill of adventure.

Praying for travel mercies helps me to see blessings when they appear. And this last trip, they did appear. Every line I entered, I ended up at the front, or almost. I was able to shower in Amsterdam, and to be the first one, so (I’m a little compulsive here) the bathroom had been thoroughly cleaned overnight and I worried less about foot fungus and other invisible threats to my well-being.)

I had one very funny travel mercy – this has to be the hand of God.

It was what I call a high testosterone flight – mostly men, heading back home for a few weeks before coming back to Kuwait, or Iraq. When I found my seat, the buy behind me had his foot up on my armrest, at the very back of the armrest. The truth is, it doesn’t bother me, it is not the part of the armrest I use, but when I sat down, I smelled the most awful odor. . . sweaty feet.

In one book about life in the Gulf, I read that it is wise to wear sandals so that your feet can breathe, that wearing closed shoes makes your feet sweat. I can tell you, it isn’t just the Gulf – any hot climate, even cold climates, and track / tennis shoes will cause smelly feet. Hot weather just accelerates the process and accentuates the results.

What to do? It’s a full flight, and I don’t want an angry, insulted man behind me kicking my seat all night because I had the audacity to mention his smelly feet were invading my nostrils. If I keep my head turned away, I can bear it, but the flight is getting longer and longer with the thought of having to bear smelly feet all the way. This was a first for me.

I had a plan. As soon as the plane would take off, I would cover the guys foot with my blanket, and hope that would take care of the odor. I was just waiting for the right time.

Instead, I heard him complain to the flight attendant that his head set wasn’t working. The flight attendant brought him another head set, and that didn’t work. When the third one didn’t work – he changed his seat! Woooo HOOOOOOO, how is that for a travel mercy? I slept like a baby.

May 15, 2008 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Health Issues, Hygiene, KLM, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Spiritual, Travel | | 10 Comments

Travel Mercies

My trip back to Kuwait started off badly – an hour and a half on a rainy, occasionally flooded interstate highway, crawling along between cars and big trucks. When, occasionally, the traffic got moving, I was beset by water cascading off these big huge trucks barrelling along – and at the same time, when you need to switch lanes, these big truckers are the ones who are going to let you in.

Check-in was a breeze – and I got a surprise. I wasn’t on my normal flight out of Amsterdam. I was on a much earlier flight. As usual, I sat in a secluded spot in the terminal and made my farewell calls. When friends and family wish me safe travels, I always ask them to keep me in prayer, for safe travels and for travel mercies. Travel mercies are blessings you haven’t even though of, but God knows, and can bless you in marvellous and amazing ways when you ask for travel mercies. He gives you protection – and more. He gives you travel BLESSINGS, if you have the eyes to see.

Unfortunately, my flight was delayed out of Seattle, and I had to RACE for this next flight, but made it – al hamdullah – and had an uneventful flight home.

Arriving at 5:30 p.m. is a whole different world from arriving at 10:30 p.m. Especially if you have been able to grab some sleep on the flight in, you have energy and time! Instead of arriving home feeling like something the cat dragged in, you arrive home feeling leisurely! Thanks be to God! What a travel mercy!

And thanks to all my friends and family keeping me wrapped in prayer. Your prayers were answered, bountifully! Thanks be to God!

Good friends cared for the Qatteri Cat while I was gone. When I walked in the door, there was no neurotic, needy Qatteri Cat. His coat didn’t have any knots in it (a sign he has been depressed and not doing his grooming.) No, he was friendly and balanced. I could see he had been well cared for, and a part of me is even a little jealous! I can see by QC’s behavior that they spent time with him; I know he really likes these people. Another Thanks be to God, a no-guilt return, the Qatteri Cat looks GOOD. Thanks be to God for all of you who prayed me safely home, and Thanks be to God for the sweet people who cared for QC.

December 6, 2007 Posted by | Community, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, KLM, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Relationships, Seattle | 13 Comments

Mr. Plopper

The plane was filling up fast, but so far, so good – the seat next to me is empty! I can tell that the cabin crew is getting ready to fly – they have started closing up all the bins. I’m afraid to even hope that I will have the serenity of an extra seat, the space, the silence – it’s a very long flight.

“I was hoping this seat would be free!” says a long, tall man who has just plopped himself into the empty seat next to me. I didn’t pay for that seat, it isn’t MY seat, but neither am I feeling particularly friendly to this very tall man who sat himself down so emphatically next to me, and then FLUFFED himself up so that he is everywhere!

His shoes are over on my side, so while he is busy shaking his paper noisily (more fluffing) I quickly scoot them back on his side with my feet. He is leaning over into my seat and OUR SHOULDERS ARE TOUCHING and he isn’t apologizing or moving back away or anything, I guess I have lived in Kuwait for too long but this is a STRANGE MAN and his shoulder is over the arm rest touching my shoulder!

Just in the nick of time, I discover I have one of those slipping-back seats, where you put it in the old “full upright position for take-off” but it won’t stay there, it keeps slipping back, although not too far; the seats don’t seem to be able to go back farther than five inches or so, even when broken. Anyway, for the next ten hours, every time that shoulder encroaches back into my space I hit the button that brings the seat back up with a jolt, hitting his shoulder and reminding him to keep to his own seat.

All this is done without raising my eyes from my book.

This man desperately wants my attention. He has discovered his shoes, back under his own feet, and he gives a deep, disturbed sigh. You can kind of tell that this guy arranges the universe to suit himself, and he is not used to being crossed.

He leans across me and shuts the window shade and says “I am going to be using my laptop and this creates a glare,” and I lean over and open it back up about three inches and say “and I am using it for reading, so we will have to compromise.”

He says “you can use the light” and I reply “and you can turn your laptop” and I give him a huge, insincere smile, the kind with your mouth closed and sort of tight. I am sending a strong strong message – don’t screw with me, buddy. I can’t keep you from sitting here, but you are not going to encroach on ME.

I ignore his deep sighs, which continue every time I press that button to hit his encroaching arm.

I ignore whatever it is on his laptop. I think I am supposed to look and understand that he is an important man, but here it is – I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. You can sit in that seat; I can’t stop you, but I don’t have to interact with you and I don’t have to share my space with you.

It’s a great book. Ken Follet’s new book, the follow up to Pillars of the Earth, called World Without End.

When I finish my book, I sleep for a couple hours so I arrive in Seattle rested enough to pick up my rental car and drive through Seattle. In Kuwait, KLM was kind enough to put big PRIORITY tags on my bags, which, we all know, means “take these bags off the plane last of all” so it took me a while to get through the airport.

It is, once again, L’heure bleu a la Seattle. It may be four in the afternoon, but it is raining and dark, and traffic is slow enough on the interstate heading north that I can even take (very carefully, of course) a couple shots to share with you the thrill of coming into Seattle in November:

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Kinda different from L’heure blue in Kuwait, hmmmm? 😉

November 19, 2007 Posted by | Biography, Books, ExPat Life, KLM, Spiritual, Travel | 12 Comments

Packaging

Dont ya just love it when someone goes to a little extra trouble to delight you?

I have a routine when I get to Amsterdam, my half way point. After all those hours of flying, I love having a shower. I love having the small room all to myself, quiet, to get all clean, to brush my teeth, fix my frowzy-airplane hair, apply a little fresh makeup. I don’t usually get a lot of sleep on my first flight – could it be that last strong cup of coffee I eat before getting on the plane? 😉

And then I wait the endless hours for my flight to Kuwait, trying not to nod off, because the overburdened lounge staff at KLM don’t do flight announcements, and I am so afraid I will fall deeply asleep and miss my plane. All around me are sleeping people – many on their way to Accra, Entebbe, Mumbai . . . and a few familiar faces heading back to Kuwait. Whoda thunk, this early in August, so many people would be returning?

I get restless. I don’t like the lounge food, it has a stale feel to it, and is mostly processed unidentifiable meat slices and hardening cheese, so I head down for the sushi bar. It’s purely psychological, but I believe the miso soup hardens my immune system against airplane-air-germs, so I almost always have a cup of soup and a small tray of sushi, something cooked or vegetable so I won’t offend whoever is sitting next to me on the way back to Kuwait.

And, because the sushi bar was packed, I got it all to go and found a quiet place in Concourse D to sit and eat. And look what I found!

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Now YOU tell me – isn’t that adorable?

Normally soy sauce comes in one of those nasty plastic or aluminum packets that you have to tear off an end. This – in a tiny little fish with a plastic screw-off cap – this gave me a moment’s grin in the middle of the limbo of airport transitions. And I thought of you, and how you might enjoy it along with me.

I’m sure it costs them more than a plastic packet. I love it that the top screws off, that the shape is a fish, I love the whole concept.

“It’s just soy-sauce”, you might say, shaking your head in mild disgust at how easily amused I am.

Yes, it is just soy sauce. And packaging matters.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Blogging, Cross Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, KLM, Public Art, Travel | 6 Comments