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.

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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

Dubrovnik: The Best Day of our Trip as We Walk the Walls

You know how you build expectations? From the time I started reading about Dubrovnik, I was excited. For one thing, some scenes from Game of Thrones are filmed there, and we are great fans.  Even more, there is a great hike; Dubrovnik has restored and created a wall all around the old city which you can hike. It isn’t for the faint-hearted; it starts with about 60 stair straight up. Once up, there are more stairs, FitBit told me we did 30 sets of stairs on the wall. There were ascents and descents, some a little challenging.  A friend who had done it before told me to be sure I had shoes with a good grip because the stones could be really slick. Even on a beautiful sunny day, there were a couple slick places, so I cannot imagine what it would be like to hike it in damp or rainy conditions.

But we had perfect weather, sunny and warm, but not hot, even a little chilly in the shade. We were also the only ship in town, a rare occurrence in Dubrovnik.

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LOL, no, that is not our ship, but I loved this old looking ship. It isn’t really old, and I imagine it is an events location, a party ship, but I loved it.

 

We took the panoramic tour, but dropped off once we got to the Pile gate at the entrance to old Dubrovnik. The first entry to the walls is just inside the gate, to the left, with good signage.

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About halfway up the double sets of stairs taking people up to the wall, I stepped aside, yes, to catch my breath because there are a LOT of people struggling up these steep stairs, but also to take a documentary photo:

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When you get to the top, the views are spectacular.

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I had read that the best strategy was to head uphill, first, get the worst over with, but as we started left, we saw this sign:

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So aarrgh! We had to turn the easy way first. Never mind. Each step introduced a new and spectacular sight.

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We sighted the Dubrovnik harbor from the walls, and decided when we finished our walk that we would have lunch there, if we could find a good place.

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Once we finished our hike, we explored the back streets in Dubrovnik, zig-sagging our way to the port:

 

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November 1st is coming soon; the flower markets are doing gang-busters business as Dubrovnik citizens buy flowers to remember their dead on All Saint’s Day.

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As we enter the port, we spot a restaurant where crowds of people are sitting in the sun, the Konoba Locanda Peskarija, eating cauldrons of mussels, big huge pots of mussels steamed in a simple wine broth, just the way we love them. We find a seat; we already know what we will order. As we wait, a wedding party arrives to have their photos taken in the port.

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A beautiful Dubrovnik salad to share:

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And a heaping cauldron of mussels, so many mussels we couldn’t eat the all! It was served with a basket of wonderful crusty bread to sop up the wine broth.

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We couldn’t be happier.

As we leave, we run into our friends from the ship at the restaurant next door; they have made an art purchase they are celebrating. We always have great chats with this couple.

We wander around a little longer, avoiding, as much as possible, the beautiful wide street down the center of old Dubrovnik until the very end:

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We head to the old gate once more, and just outside the gate is a shuttle, waiting to take us back to the Viking Sea. It doesn’t get any easier.

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Tonight we have dinner in the World Cafe. We have discovered that the food is the same as in the restaurant, but here we can deal directly with the chef and servers, and have exactly what we want in the small quantities we prefer. We have found a very quiet table, no one seated in our laps, and we can have our own quiet and private conversations, dine at our own pace; this isn’t what we thought we would prefer when planning our trip, but it seems to suit us well.

November 16, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, Exercise, ExPat Life, Fitness / FitBit, Food, Travel, Weather | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mamson’s for Afternoon Tea

It’s late in the afternoon, and we are back on board. We don’t want to nap; we are trying to get on local time, which keeps changing, put the clocks ahead an hour here and back an hour here. We love the Explorer’s Lounge, so we head up there for “tea”. They have lovely not-too-sweet pastries at Mamsen’s that we adore.

 

More of the Explorer’s Lounge:

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Our tea:

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Our location:

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Back to the room for sunset on our way to Dubrovnik!

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This night we checked the menus for all the restaurants and decided to try one called: The Restaurant. They seemed to have some really nice choices. No reservations. So we headed up around seven, and were seated. Other people sitting close; one party of seven having a good old time, and very loud. I can’t even remember what we ordered. Once again, no control over how much was coming, no control over timing. When we said we wanted to split a creme brûlée, the waitress brought us each one, and said “I know you really want to have your own.”

No. No, we didn’t. We don’t like waste, and we love good tastes, but we like them in moderation. Clatter and clanging of the dishes and flatware, too much noise, too little privacy and we don’t even get our say over dessert. One time in this restaurant was enough.

We walked off the creme brûlée – no, we didn’t eat the whole thing, but the evening is so lovely and we love the walks around the decks.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Customer Service, Food, Restaurant, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Viking Sea First Port: Koper, Slovenia, “Koper is a Very Small Town”

AdventureMan looks out our sliding glass door and says “We’re already here! I can see Koper from here!” We’ve signed up for a tour, and we aren’t scheduled to meet for an hour or more, so we head for breakfast, find a quiet, sunny table near the stern and then get ready to head into town.

 

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We haven’t found a lot of information on Koper, Slovenia. It wasn’t on our original itinerary. Actually, the whole reason we signed up for this tour was because it ended in Istanbul, in a country we love and have visited several times. Months after we booked, the itinerary changed, after the coup and bombings in Turkey. Probably a good bet, our better instincts tell us, but all the same, we are sorely disappointed to miss out on Istanbul. Our first trip to Istanbul was in 1975, and we were enchanted. It influenced later choices. We still hope to be able to visit again.

But Viking needed to come up with some other options, and Koper was one of them.

One thing Viking does really, really well is destinations. They give you a lot of background, and I love the way they group us. First to sign up get the earlier tours. As you get off the ship, they give you a group number, and they warn you that if you want to tour with friends, make sure that group shows up together. It is a very efficient system – once a group is formed, off they go.

So off we went.

We should have caught on a little sooner, but we didn’t. The guide was charming, but we stayed by the ship for about 15 minutes as she told us a little about Slovenia, and then we spent 10 minutes by an olive tree while she told us how very small Koper is, and how small Slovenia is, and how Slovenia looks like a chicken. Then we walked past a very old church, not much information, then we walked to a school where Italian children attended and she told us a little more about how small Koper is and how small Slovenia is.

Have I mentioned before that AdventureMan and I are not very good at being herded?

By this point, AdventureMan and I are trying to figure out how to make a get-away. We let the group go ahead, and peel off down a small little alley (Koper is very small.) We find some delightful sights; Koper reminds us of a very small village we loved in Germany, Neuleiningen). We walked a little and found ourselves on the other side of the peninsula, and walked back to the big town square. (Koper is very small.)

 

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There are some quaint sights in Koper, which is a lot like Germany thirty years ago.

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The town square

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We are back on the ship by lunch time – Koper really is a very small town. We head for the spa, and have a wonderful time soaking and enjoying the sauna, the cold tub, the churning big pool and the hot tub, the snow room, and again, the sauna. Soooooo relaxing.

The sun goes down.

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This is our night to eat at The Chef’s Table. We figure it is a little dressier, but we figure wrong, people on this ship are not dressing. That is fine with us. But once again, we are seated very close to other people, so close we can hear every word of their conversation, and, if we talk in normal voices, they can hear every word of our conversation. Portion sizes are small, which we don’t mind, but maybe a little precious, which we do mind. Like a tiny thimble full of very icy pieces of raspberry. Sorry, I don’t get it. In addition, there was once again the clattering and clanking and the talking among people serving and the odd spacing of the courses and sorry, get me out of here. It was noisy, it was not relaxed. Not special, for us.

Once we finish, we take a walk around the ship, lots of decks, then back to the cabin to listen to the waves slosh against the ship as we head for Zadar.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Food, Restaurant, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

All Aboard the Viking Sea

Up at dawn after a wonderful night’s sleep – we have to have our bags in the hallway by 5 a.m. for pick up and taking to the ship.

Venice at dawn:

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We decide to go to the big buffet today, and, while the buffet is lavish, the dining hall is crowded and noisy, and service is slow and confused. We are nostalgic for our breakfast the day before, quiet, serene, plentiful if not lavish, enough. We could make our own cafe mochas. We go back to our room and debate whether we have time for another vaporetto ride before the shuttle to the ship, and decide we probably don’t, but we do have time for one last wonderful walk. This hotel is in a great location for uncrowded walking.

By 10:30, there is a large crowd waiting, and we are lined up to go aboard the shuttle to the ship. It is a short trip, then we are offloaded and we walk about a quarter of a mile to the processing terminal. I mention this because we don’t really enjoy being a part of a herd, and because people considering travel on the Viking sea cruises need to know about the walking involved, especially if they have mobility issues.

There is a demographic who is on these cruises. No children. These are “destination” cruises, and while they have entertainment on board, entertainment is not a big draw, nor do they bother with casinos. They are destination rich, and enrichment lecture rich. They have a gorgeous spa, and nice fitness room, plus a jogging track on deck 2 and a fitness deck on deck 8. But many people in my demographic begin to have mobility issues, some use canes, some are in wheel chairs, and they struggle with these aspects of the trip, the herding, the walking, even though it is a short distance.

Another snaking line and then we are photographed and given ship cards as we process. Our bags go through screening, and then we enter the ship, to wait in one of the lovely ship spaces to be able to go to our cabin. It isn’t a long wait, but I am stewing a little. We are wasting time! We are in Venice! We don’t have to stand in line; we could come later and process in! We have a quick lunch and head to our cabin.

Our cabin is lovely. We took a “penthouse” because to us, the cabin matters. Philosophies differ, many people choose small cabins, or cabins closer to the fine restaurants because they don’t intend to spend much time in their cabins. We are less social. We like the destinations, we like the spa, and we take our meals in the restaurants, and we spend time in our cabin. We love having our own “veranda” and we like having enough room to lounge around and not bump into one another. This pretty much fits our needs.

 

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One thing we loved is that it is sparkling clean. We also love that there is fresh water waiting for us, and it is refilled every night. Viking excels in these small, but important touches. Notice that there is room for two people to pass each other between the bed and the storage units.

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Lots of places where you can charge up your phones, iPads, computers, camera batteries, etc., and the outlets accept a variety of plugs, and the outlets are plentiful.

 

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A double closet, in the hall way so it doesn’t inconvenience a person sleeping in a bed or the other person who might need to get into the closet while the other person is sleeping. Small matter? It matters! There is also a safe behind one of the drawer units, and up top, an in room individual coffee maker. I never used it because coffee was available everywhere on board, and you could drink it in lovely areas.

One person on Cruise Critic criticized that the coffee was bland and never felt caffeinated. I didn’t find the coffee bland, but I also wondered about the caffeination. But a little less caffein is probably not such a bad thing for me 🙂

 

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Storage under the flat screen TV with two sets of three drawers each, and two great shelves for shoes., under which is a longer drawer.

 

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Another of those small things that matter. We had bedside lamps, and we also had these more focused individual bed lights so that one could read while the other slept. Lovely touch. When I didn’t have enough hangers, Fernando, one of our cabin stewards, quickly brought me more; he and Dina made us feel like treasured guests, and every wish was fulfilled with a smile.

 

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More drawers on the right, and a pull out drawer / refrigerator on the left. Contains champagne, which we didn’t drink, and whatever beverages we wanted – we are so boring, we had a little beer, a little wine and mostly coke and ginger ale. Never touched the hard stuff.

I neglected to take a photo of the bathroom, which was beautiful, all beautiful surfaces and glass, with drawers and shelves to hold all the things you keep handy in bathrooms, and lovely toiletries so we didn’t need to bring any hair shampoo, conditioner, soap, shower caps, or even a hair dryer. While some mornings were chilly, the floors in the bathroom were heated, oh what sweet luxury. The towels were oversized and thick, and the bathrobes ample and warm. Some people wore their bathrobes to the spa, one man even showed up at the fire drill in his bathrobe!

 

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Our veranda. We loved being able to sit or stand outside as we entered or departed a port, but it is hardly private. There are people just like us with verandas on either side, so you can’t help but overhear one another’s conversations. We are sort of private people, so we rarely talked while on the veranda, or even if the door to the veranda was open.

 

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Storage, TV, water . . . we loved that there was a bridge camera, and that the TV also showed the time. It was a huge relief NOT to watch TV, with the utterly vicious election going on.

We had booked ahead, having heard about the super restaurants on board. We ate dinner the first night in Manfredi’s, an Italian food restaurant. The food was really, really good. In the bread basket the table was this very unusual bread, just a thin thin sheet, sort of like peanut brittle, only savory, with slices of garlic baked into it. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was delicious.

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The food was delicious. And we never went there again. We cancelled our second reservation. The food was wonderful, but too much. We had no control over how much would come. The tables were very close together, and some the people spoke very loudly. The staff was attentive and helpful, but there was also a lot of loud inter-staff co-ordination, a lot of clatter as they picked up dishes, and clanking as flatware and tableware were picked up together. It was noisy, and not private, not elegant dining. The staff sent in orders by cell phone, and to do that effectively, you have to be paying attention. It wasn’t working for us. The food is delicious, but I can’t even remember what we ate.

We explored the ship, and unpacked and fell into bed. At some point, I felt a slight bump, and could sense movement, so I went to the veranda – and we were leaving Venice. I opened the door, which squeaked, and wakened AdventureMan, who joined me, and we sat whispering to one another, watching the lovely sight of slumbering Venice at night drift by. We know that we had extraordinary luck; Venice in late October can be really rainy. We would take that chance. We would go back again in a heartbeat.

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Leaving Venice

 

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Italy, Safety, Travel, Venice | , , , , | Leave a comment