Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Viking Sea Disembarcation

Somehow, we go to bed around 8:30 pm and actually sleep. At 0215 we get our wake-up call as requested, and, as ordered, a beautiful breakfast shows up with a cheerful room service waiter, and we have coffee, tea and croissants as we hurriedly dress. We are to be in the terminal by 0300.

We are there by 0245, us and just about everyone else in our timing – Viking seems to attract those sorts, people who show up where they are supposed to be at the time they are supposed to be there. We are astonished to learn that there was a group ahead of us, they are just finishing up, and yes, there are a few pieces of luggage not claimed, so I guess not quite everyone made it on time.

We identified our luggage, which had been picked up outside our rooms the night before, watched as it was loaded into our assigned bus, and drove for about an hour to the airport. At the airport, there were baggage carts waiting, and we were able to check in very quickly for our flight. We are amazed and delighted; Viking truly has this down to a science. That’s not easy with 900 people disembarking on the same day. Kudos to Viking, even the smallest details are thought through.

As we signed in to the lounge, I said “Kalimeri,” which means Good morning, and the lady said to me “You’re Greek!” and I said no, I am not, but I got that a lot in Greece, I must have a Greek look to me. In truth, there is no Southern Mediterranean blood in me; mostly Scandinavian, French and Irish, or so Ancestry.com tells me.

We depart as the sun rises:

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Everything is smooth until we get to Paris. We have to get to 2E, hall M. We know this drill; it’s the same as last year. “Oh no problem,” the “helper” tells us and hands us this paper with a map and directions:

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You know what? I’m a map reader. I am really good at it. I navigate. We look closely; this map is useless. We start looking for signs and asking as we go, and we go quickly until we find the inner circle of hell, which is the passport line. We have priority passes, so we head to the priority line, but there isn’t even a line, and the real priority line is only for French citizens.

There is one huge shoving, desperate mass of people, all nationalities (except French) and then we find a secondary priority line, and every wheelchair goes to the front, and desperate passengers afraid they are missing their flight go ahead, and those who think they have the right push through, pushing their way in front of others. We are feeling desperate, too, our flight is in a very short time, but we don’t think the scramble to get in front of others is worth the price you pay in karma points.

I will tell you honestly, I have seen similar lines. Laborers in Kuwait lined up to get processed for residence visas. Refugees, desperate to escape violence and poverty, and afraid the gates will close before they get through. It is truly humbling to be a part of this line. Bread lines in which food is running out.

There is no one keeping order. The line inches slowly forward. It is like the end of times, everyone looking after his or her own needs regardless of others. There is little kindness to be seen in this line.

This is shameful. It’s not like this is unexpected. CDG needs to man their passport stations with enough personnel to allow these lines to flow quickly. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a bureaucracy which takes pride in their work.

This is not new; the planes wait, they take off a little later. We make our flight. As much as we love flying Air France, this experience is enough to make us re-think traveling through Paris.

Atlanta is straightforward. Our luggage, by the grace of God, is with us. We fly into Pensacola, and our son is there to meet us and take us home. All is well that ends well.

November 18, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, France, Interconnected, Paris, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, sunrise series, Survival, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Play Station, Romeo and Juliet, ISIS, and Syrian Refugee Discussions

I belong to a group that I can only describe as “thoughtful” Christians; it’s a church-related study group, and as everywhere else in the US of A, people are discussing recent events in Paris, and the related issue of resettling Syrian (and not only Syrian) refugees in the United States.

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The same discussions are taking place on FaceBook. I’m inclined to think that those who are thinking lime me are measured, and thoughtful, and that those who disagree with me are overly emotional, even rabid, and that their attitudes might be Un-Christian as well as Un-American.

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I am not so blind as to not see that they may see the exact same thing, in reverse. It’s the times, and the issues.

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One very smart woman communicated something I haven’t heard anywhere else, that investigators believe these Paris murderers might have been communicating by creating a Play Station group, so you can message your group members, and your message disappears seconds later.

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One neuron sparks, synapses connect and the outline of a picture emerges. Of course. This plot was not that complex. My major focus would be on how they got the weapons, but other friends tell me that now weaponry can be had very inexpensively on the dark market in Europe.

But what has puzzled me, until now, was the kind of thinking that would put this scenario together, and I have concluded that we did. By our entertainment technology, we have taught them to strategize. We have trained them to think through scenarios, and to have branching options. We have taught them to join forces. We have taught them to work in teams. Some may have had some training to operate the weapons so accurately, but this was the equivalent of a canned hunt, shooting fish in a barrel. They had rapid fire weapons, and rooms full of people expecting no more than a pleasant night out. Before they knew what was happening, the event had come and gone.

They are young. The so called “master-mind” (I really don’t like that label; I don’t think this took masterful planning, and they did not accomplish their major goal, which was terrorizing the soccer game) escaped, but not for long. They calculatedly and callously used expendables to accomplish their mission. There was no escape planned for most; give them suicide belts. Give them death. Did they know that the one pulling the strings had no intention of dying with them? So why on earth didn’t they question this plan?

When you are playing games on a Play Station, and you lose, you get another life. Hey, just like jihad! They are young, death means little, and they are easily manipulated. A glorious death, if you don’t look too closely. As I was in water aerobics this morning, we danced along to an old ditty called “Just Like Romeo and Juliet” and I thought how appropriate it was to these times and circumstances – a tradition of hatred between two groups, two young people who cross the lines, and then, their death rather than the hard work of trying to make changes in the real world.

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Death isn’t romantic, and the God we share, the God of Father Abraham, hates the shedding of innocent blood, no matter by what name you call him. He tells us that only he knows the intentions of the human heart. When he chooses someone to do his work, it tends to be leaving this country and walking to another, leading a people out of slavery, bearing a child, or memorizing the words of an angel, not bombing, or shooting, or forcing others to worship in the way you believe everyone must worship.

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The one true God also tells us, all of us, that we are to love our neighbor, and that our neighbor is that naked, helpless, beaten man lying by the side of the road that the fastidious religious men crossed the street to avoid helping. We are to take him in, pay for his care at the inn, tend to his wounds, not for any hope of gain, but because it is the right thing to do, the decent thing to do, for our fellow human being, our neighbor.

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One final note, when we use the Statue of Liberty coming to the rescue of France, showing the colors of France, noting her origins in France to honor our own “Liberte” we most not fail to take note of the words at her base: Give me your tired, your poor; The huddled masses yearning to breathe free; The wretched refuse of your teeming shores; send these – the homeless, tempest tossed to me! I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

November 19, 2015 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Counter-terrorism, Crime, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Law and Order, Leadership, Values | , , , , , | 1 Comment