Saturday, December 28, 2013

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Titanic, the long journey home

I am really sorry to have inflicted these memories on you all, but no one else will listen to me.  Evidently, no one really wants to hear of your own grand adventure.  The other day I broke down and said more than ten words about the trip and was met with silence on the phone.  I said, "Hello, are you there?"   I heard my oldest friend in the world scramble to pick up the phone, which, bored to tears, she evidently had placed on the counter.  I can forgive her because we've known each other since our parents met right after the flood.

Besides, I do exactly the same to her when she begins to tell me about her grandchildren.

So, here we are at the third part of the tale - the cruise home from Italy aboard the Celebrity cruise ship the Constellation.  We had a great state room, mainly because we lied and said we needed handicapped access - that gave us about ten extra feet in the room, plus we had a balcony, which would have been terribly romantic if we weren't already sick as dogs.

For the first few days we just stayed in the room, sneezing, coughing, ordering room service.  It was pretty nice, actually.  We were warm, finally, and it wasn't raining - of course, the rain had stopped in Italy and it was sunny and beautiful.  When we finally did start to venture out we tried to stay away from other passengers to keep from infecting anyone, and the cruise line had a crew member posted every five feet with hand sanitizer - they take this stuff very serious.  Infections can steamroll through a ship and we were all stuck together for the next fifteen days.

We missed the first port, Florence.  I was so sick I didn't care.  I just wanted cough syrup and hot coffee.  Now I'm thinking - when will I ever return there?  I don't want to fly again, that experience was horrible.  The planes are packing more and more passengers in there and first class to Europe is not ever going to happen unless we win lotto.  So, we missed Florence.  And 'The David' with the removable fig leaf.

Next port was Cartagena, Spain.

A beautiful city...and raining, of course.

Next was Agadir, Morocco

 These pictures look a whole lot nicer than the actual city is.  I was afraid of the people, the women covered up to their eyeballs, the scary men with their Hollywood terrorist five o'clock shadow.  It's a dump, and it's a scary dump.

This is where the shuttle bus dropped us off, at the far end of this decaying parking lot, or whatever it was, with no clue where to go or what was safe.  We found out later that you are forbidden to take photos of the mosques.  Luckily I had no interest in them.  Can't explain to you the smell of this place either - like something was rotting in the distance.

Immediately off the bus we were all surrounded by scary looking men who wanted us to believe they were taxi drivers.  Ha!  We lowered our eyes and walked swiftly away.  Then a guy caught up with Rich and I, said he was a cook with another cruise ship and on his way to a very special place to buy exotic spices and he badgered us to go with him.  We never ran so fast in our lives, ended up in a poor area with a Suk (?) they call it, a shopping district.

Found out later that there was a beautiful Suk about two miles away, and there was a five star resort area a few blocks in the other direction.  Who knew?  Why the cruise line shuttle bus dumped us here is a mystery - unless it was our punishment for not purchasing a more expensive tour.  We'll never know.

God, I hated Agadir.  I was upset at first that Casablanca had been taken off the itinerary and replaced with this - then I heard Casablanca is NOT like the movie.  It's like this.

Next port was Gran Caneria in the Canary Islands.

We both liked Gran Caneria - they were having a festival and a run with their dogs.  The streets were crowed with people and canines.  The trouble with going to exotic places with palm trees and flowers all over is that  we live in Florida.  That's pretty much the same as where we live already. 

That was it for the ports - now we had the seven days on the Atlantic to sail home and every night they added an hour as we passed through the time zones.  It seemed endless, never have I been so bored in my life.  Besides that, the food was awful.  Maybe it was the colds, but it was not the feeding frenzy I had hoped for.  Best thing about the cruise was our captain - Captain Tasos something or other.  A very charming young man, his first captaincy, his first crossing as a captain and he was only 32.

 Captain Tasos

 This is a passenger/crew game.  Six crew members against about twelve passengers - it was fun to watch, and it was the day before we landed in Miami.  I was in a good mood by then.

 The buffet on the ship.  Actually, there wasn't much of a selection.  There was sushi and a lot of middle eastern dishes, neither of which we were fond of, and the smell of curry was overwhelming.

 Two days before we landed and we finally were well enough to walk on the deck a little.

And so we bid fond farewell to our transatlantic adventure.  I hated the food, I hated the people on the boat and I still have the cough.  But you know what, we're going across again in July 2014 on the Queen Mary and returning by sea as well.

I never learn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Plaines, Trains and Automobiles Part Deux...and Matthew Macfadyen

Next stop - Paris

We hated leaving London but it was time to move on to Paris so we caught the train that runs beneath the English Channel to arrive in Paris.  Amazing.

Paris was the only place where we had trouble with our taxi.  Not with the driver, but with this odd little man that came up to us and led us to an empty taxi outside the terminal.  He wouldn't back out of the car once we were in.  He kept saying he loved Americans and God Bless America and there is nothing like Americans...until we gave him a tip.  Then he left.

I don't have many pictures of Paris.  By the time we got into our room, which was very tiny and on the fourth floor, all I was concerned about was getting my husband warm (it was beginning to get very cold outside now) and having him rest.  Rich's colds almost always morph into pneumonia and I knew what we were in for.  That was when I ran outside in the rain looking for a place to buy him food, or at least a cup of coffee. (I rambled on about that in Part One)

Forget Paris, we'll have to go back someday.  All we saw of the city was the Eiffel Tower and Montparnasse which we saw from our freezing Hop On Hop Off bus, the one where we only hopped on since we were too cold to hop off.

The only thing of note that happened in Paris was a fire alarm that went off late in the afternoon.  Rich had finally warmed up and was crawling into bed so we got him dressed once again and walked the four flights downstairs, terrified that the place was on fire.  The lady at the desk said it was a fire drill and we should ignore it.  I didn't slap her but it was a thought.

The next evening we caught a sleeper train to Rome. It was raining and cold.  We arrived at the station a few hours early hoping that there would be a warm place to wait.  There wasn't.  I sat Rich down in the information office and dared anyone to kick him out, then I went to get food for us and to see when the train would be leaving.  Finally, after several hours, we were able to board, with one small problem.  Our suitcase would not fit down the incredibly narrow passage to our compartment.  Rich struggled mightily with that monster of a bag I brought; he had to turn it sideways to squeeze it through the passage.  Also, there was no where to store luggage except in your room so we put it on the floor and rested our feet on them.

Once we were on our way I realized there was no heat in the train  (the food car was even worse than our room).  It was freezing and Rich was getting sicker.  I crawled up to the third bunk and brought down all the covers I could find, even stole a cover from a cabinet in the hall, and we huddled together all night like that, colder than I have been in years, and trying to sleep sitting up, since no one came to turn down the bed.
We rolled into Rome eighteen hours later (and three hours past when we were supposed to).


It was raining and bitter cold.

All right, at some point someone has to be saying WHAT DID YOU EXPECT when you travel in November.  Remember, we live in Florida.  We think it's chilly at 60 degrees.

Our hotel was lovely - the St. Anna - and just a block from Vatican Square.  The crowds there were unbelievable, all of us standing in the rain to go through a metal detector before we could enter St. Peter's - and the line never lessened, it was continuous all day, rain or shine.

Really St. Peters was all we saw of Rome too.  Richie was getting much worse and I felt very guilty dragging him to see this.  Luckily he was too out of it to fight me.

That was it.  After our second day in Rome we grabbed a shuttle car to Civitivecchia, where we would board our fabulous fifteen day cruise home.  As you can guess, nothing there was as we planned it either.

And, it was raining...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (The Vacation From Hell)...and Matthew Macfadyen

We are back.  Twenty three days of travel, fifteen crossing the Atlantic, we visited three continents, five countries, alienated people in three cities, and discovered no restaurant in Europe can make just a plain pot of coffee.  Picture this - we are in Paris.  My husband is passed out in our room, suffering from the bronchitis that would follow him doggedly from Gatwick Airport to Port Everglades - it is dark out, cold, raining, there are NO fast food restaurants within the immediate vicinity (no wonder Europeans are thinner than Americans) and no restaurant in our revoltingly expensive hotel, the one that boasts a view of the Eiffel Tower... if you press your cheek up to the top glass and twist your head around like Linda Blair from the Exorcist...But I digress.

Anyway.  I found a little bakery a few blocks away and purchased the only thing I could pronounce - croissants, and a cup of coffee.  The unsmiling clerk and her friend set about to bag my croissant and then took about a half hour to make a cup of coffee for me.  When she handed it to me I asked if they had milk.  You would have thought I asked if they had sausage rolls.

"Milk?  Milk?"  The two women looked at each other.  "Milk?"  Finally the clerk narrowed her already terrifying gaze saying quite ominously, " au lait?"

I remembered that term from many grey poupon commercials!  "Yes!  I mean au lait.'

She threw up her hands and shook her head...or was it the other way round?  Anyway, a lot of grunting and noise ensued.  The entire cup had to be refurbished or something, milk needed to be steamed and frothy, microwaves were involved...I don't know.  It seemed like a lot of nonsense for a cup of coffee if you ask me.  I just wanted to get some food into my husband so he could take his pill and get something hot for him to drink, and this puny little cup was taking forever.  I think I'll send France a Mr. Coffee machine, now that I'm home and safe from Madame Guillotine's wrath.  

I'm digressing again, aren't I? 

All righty.  Let's start with the best part of the whole trip.  London...

 That's my Richie's grey head on the right...

Still not certain what this place is, but the guards were there...

Westminster Abbey had thousands of little crosses for fallen soldiers everywhere - a very moving sight for Memorial Day...

We loved our first stop, London, the food was great, the people incredibly friendly, the flight a nightmare (modern day steerage).  We saw Westminster Abbey, the Tower, Buckingham Palace (Her Majesty was NOT in residence.  Evidently my note to her went askew...) We went to Covent Garden, which I loved, 
and saw a play there starring my favorite Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen.   

Somehow I got my camera to work long enough to film something.  Can't slow it down though...I think you can see the London Eye there for a second.

 Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards.

These are the guards coming to the Palace.   They played "Goldfinger" after the changing of the guard.  I'm sure the band played other, more suitable music for the occasion, but I only remember those first notes of  "Goldfinger."  Gave me goosebumps to be at the Palace, in London, and hearing the greatest James Bond theme ever written...   

The crowds were just beginning to collect on the Queen Victoria monument acrossfrom the Palace Gates...

That's Trafalgar Square in the background - Lord Nelson's statue way in the back - we stayed at the Grand Trafalgar Hotel - really lovely.

Next up will be the train ride on the Siberian Express, Roma and then the ship coming back home.  I found out I am definitely not a "cruise" person...