Thursday, December 27, 2012

Super Dave's the Man

It's been a while since I last wrote, and a fair amount has happened so I'm going to write a long-ish catch-up post.

We visited Cozumel and then took a day at sea to get back to Fort Lauderdale. In that time, we had a lot of fun. Or at least the bits I remember seemed to involve having quite a lot of fun.

There was, however, an unusual afternoon at the poker table. After a great dinner in the Italian restaurant with Walt and Terry, I had soldiered on and decided to play poker.  This was late at night and faithful readers will recall that I had rather recklessly purchased the All You Can Drink card at the beginning of the cruise.

Anyhow, the next day - our final one on the ship - I went down to play my last game of poker. The usual suspects were at the table and I knew there was more to the previous evening than I could quite recall. "How are you today?" asked one of the players, looking sceptical when I said I felt fine. That is always a clue to me that people suspect I have no right to feel OK.

I then asked the casino hostess about when she planned to get back to her family in Capetown. She smiled politely (as the job spec requires, I presume) and said, "Well, we discussed this last night, but the answer is the end of January." Oh, I said, perhaps I was a little over-served last night.

"That's one way to describe the fact that you were totally blitzed last night," said another player.

Experience has taught me there is only one way to deal with this situation. Plead ignorance and offer abject apologies.

"OK, " I said, "how obnoxious was I and who do I owe apologies to?"

Yet a third player piped up, "You weren't obnoxious at all. In fact you were quite entertaining, except for the fact that you kept winning all our money." This was quite startling to me since I only had a little bit more money in my pockets than I had started with when I checked that morning.

And then another player added his piece. "Yeah, you were pretty funny. In fact it's about the only time this trip that you've shown any personality. So I don't think you owe anyone any apologies."

So, weighing being funny versus usually having no personality, this kind of made me feel good, so I smiled and said, "That's good."

Smiled, that is, until Shaun, the dealer, said, "Well, except perhaps for the fact that you kept making fun of me all last night, calling me 'little' all the time." So, one apology and a little bit of winnings - who knew where the rest went, but I suspect one of the guys was deliberately not reminding me of how he beat me in a big hand late in the evening.

At long last we reached Fort Lauderdale, the official end of our Cruisin' and Boozin' with Friends Tour and flew north to Rochester on the 21st. Coming from warm, sunny Caribbean ports it was disconcerting to hear the pilot tell us that we were going to have a bumpy ride into Rochester which was bracing for its first major storm of this winter.

Frankly the flight wasn't all that bumpy but Rochester did in fact greet us with the beginnings of what would be a full-fledged snow storm throughout the next 12 hours. We had intended to drive to Rutland the next morning to spend the next few days with the family, but the New York Thruway had winter storm warnings, was covered with ice and snow for most of the stretch we would be on and had winds in excess of 55 mph.  When I then read on the TV news scroll that parts of the road were closed near us due to an accident, it was an easy decision to postpone the trip for a day.

Once there we had a great time. Dinner with my mother Sunday night and then a Christmas Eve day-long fest at my brother's house featuring more food than the cruise ship offered and starring not just my niece and nephew but the star of the day, 4-week old Brady John Kennedy. This bub made my mother a great-grandmother and is one cute little critter. I don't think there's anything better at a family get-together than a new member of the tribe for everyone to moon over.

After Christmas breakfast at my Mom's, we drove back to Pittsford NY to spend Christmas evening at Sandy and Dave's. It turned out to be the easiest and fastest trip possible on the Thruway. The road was dry, the traffic was light and there were no trucks on the road. Probably the best Christmas present possible.

Driving wasn't quite as easy yesterday as we had a Boxing Day extravaganza at Sand, Dave and Jordan's. Brunch at 11:30 was good breakfast food but the star was Peg. LK and Sandy's mom has been in recovery mode since she broke her leg several weeks ago, and this was her first trip out since then. We were also joined by Christopher, Sandy's son, who had flown in from the west coast and I think it made it very special for all of us to be sitting around the table together.

We all took a break in the afternoon and LK and I used the time to reinforce my loathing of shopping when stores are crowded. And believe me, Wegman's was very crowded with Pittsforders abandoning the holiday spirit and developing strategies that involved using shopping trolleys as tactical weapons.

Anyhow, we finished the shopping, went back to Peg's place for a couple of hours and then visited her for a few minutes before heading off to Sandy and Dave's for dinner. It was a short visit with Peg because the snow had already started falling heavily before we left and it was pretty obvious that the forecast for blizzard-level drops of 12 - 15 inches of snow were accurate.

Anyhow, weather be damned (not necessarily a sensible attitude), we landed at the Wiggs for a major feast. Nibblies that were enough to constitute a full meal on most nights --  clams casino, spring rolls, three kinds of cheese and an olive medley -- but, no, the question still remained: Yo, Sandy, what's for dinner? Well, the highlight of the evening was Sandy's Beef Wellington accompanied by my two current favorite veggies, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Yum. I had even wanted to show off my new found wine knowledge and had picked up a bottle of Chateau Phelan-Segur, the place we visited on our immersive wine tour in France, and the wine went really well with the beef. Yum again.

So much for the pleasant evening, it was time to get back to Peg's unit for good night's sleep. I think LK and I have lived in Oz so long we had forgotten that you could go indoors with a little snow on the ground and emerge 3 hours later with snow half way up your calf. Or, to use other words, as high as the bottom of your car.

Super Dave - you may remember him from previous posts here and here - hustled out ahead of me and swept the snow off my rental car and then backed another car out of the driveway so I could get out without doing thousands of dollars worth of damage. A snowplow went past as I was walking to the car, so it seemed that careful driving would get us home.

Even with the hard work Dave had done, I still had trouble getting out of the driveway as the car seemed to think that it should be surfing sideways instead of driving forward. Dave's advice - back up and just gun it till you get on the road. It worked.

Once on the road, it was relatively easy driving. Well, easy in part because there were no other idiots on the road. And in part because going about 15 miles per hour seemed to give me traction more than half the time.

It's been a very long time since I have driven in conditions like these, and I realized I had forgotten that it isn't nearly as much fun as it looks when they show it on Mythbusters. Of course, on Mythbusters they do it in controlled conditions. And, come to think of it, they almost always end up smashing the car and laughing about it. Best not to think of it at the time, I guess.

Well, despite the car repeatedly flashing a symbol that the tires were not getting traction we eventually got to the entrance to the development where Peg's unit is. And it hadn't been plowed.

And it was uphill.

And we couldn't make it.

If this weren't already a very long post, I would share some of the conversation LK and I had. Suffice it to say that faced with either a messy divorce or a messier criminal charge, I finally agreed that we should call Super Dave.

Sitting crossways in the road, unable to go back or forth, and fumbling to figure out where the four-way flasher button was, I was suddenly happy that no others were adventuring into the night. And not soon after we sent out the call for the Davemobile, headlights loomed through the darkness and swirling snow.

Before I knew it, Dave's big truck was on the hilly entrance and David was on his back in the road hitching the tow rope to my car. I felt as if I should have been the one doing that cold, wet task but I knew that 1) I had no idea what you would hook the rope to; 2) I had no idea how to hook the rope and 3) they would have only had to tow me as well once it was apparent there was no way to get me upright again in the slippery conditions.

Anyhow, let's ignore the details and just say that Super Dave and his faithful companion Christopher had hooked us and towed us then pushed us and even took the steering wheel from my incompetent hands to turn the wheels in the right direction. And they got us in the garage.

We stood gratefully behind the car waving at them as they rentered the DaveMobile and telling them how grateful we were when one of our heroes yelled out, "Don, you forgot to turn the car off."

By the time I had done that we could just see the dim red glow of the DaveMobile as it rode off into the night. But it is time for the world to know: Super Dave is the man!



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Albanian Dilemma 2: Daydream Belizer

Every trip teaches you something new. This one, for example, has taught me that I should never ever ever ever again buy the unlimited drinks package. Somewhat surprisingly, most people who meet me for the first time are not shocked to discover that moderation is not one of my key traits. Even more surprisingly, I guess, is that I am shocked when I realize that as well.

Which is a long way of saying that I am a bit jagged this morning. LK assures me that I had too much to drink last night. Not recalling much of last night, I cannot really argue with her. However, given how I feel right now, I think she may be telling the truth.

Everyone has a hangover cure, I guess. My favorite usually involves V8 juice and Absolut with tabasco sauce. Terry, the medical professional in our travelling group this week, is a firm believer that 2 aspirins and a valium does the trick. Mind you, the aspirins are probably not the key ingredient in that recipe. Anyhow, in the spirit of moderation I mentioned earlier, I will let you know the results of combining both of those cures. At its worst, I have a hunch I will be taking a nap just a few short hours after waking up.

No matter what, here we are in the harbor of Belize City and I have decided the 20-minute ride on the tender into port is not something my brain pan needs to cope with today. LK is fighting off what looks like her last cold of the year, so she isn't arguing about the decision and is opting for sunbathing by the pool.

This leads to another issue that LK and I have occasionally had to wrestle with. Namely, just what constitutes visiting a country.  We call it the Albanian Dilemma. On an earlier cruise our ship stopped at Sarabande Albania. Much like Belize City, this is not a place typically mistaken for a tourism mecca.

If I am not mistaken we decided not to take the tender into Albania for pretty much the same reason we are not taking it into Belize. As the 7 or 8 people who follow this blog would know, this is not the first morning in which I have awakened to a slow rolling pain in the back of my skull only to discover it only takes standing up to reach the front of my head.

As it turns out our decision to stay on the ship in Albania was probably a wise one albeit for different reasons than those we used to make up our sluggish minds. Our fellow passengers who did go ashore told us it was not very pretty, there was nothing to really see and the only interesting event was a full-fledged fistfight between two Albanians just as the tender landed at the port.

So here's the dilemma. Can we count Albania and Belize as countries we have visited in our unofficial attempt to mark most of the countries on the globe? LK tentatively votes yes;  I say who cares except us so of course you can.

But, as you can imagine there are other dedicated travellers who would consider us pikers. Of course, they are the sort I can drink under the table once the ship leaves port so how significant is their attitude?

Back to Mexico tomorrow. In the meantime, Belize looks like - well, actually, it's just a little too far away to tell you what it looks like. But I'm sure I will have fond memories of it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Endless Vacation

Greetings from Cartagena Colombia



It's been a foggy, rainy morning here in Panama and it seems a perfect time to get the monkey off my back and write another post.

OK, now it's a cloudy, humid morning a day later here in Costa Rica and it really seems like a perfect time to write a post.

It's hard to believe it's been a week since we left Cancun. We had a fantastic time with Jaki and Robert but there were a few moments on our last day when we thought we might be spending even more time with them. I went online to check whether our 2:25 flight to Miami was on time only to discover that American Airlines had changed their entire schedule since we had booked back in August.

The flight number we had tickets for had been moved to 6:30am and, needless to say, was well and truly out of Mexico by the time I discovered the change. There wasn't even a 2:25 flight any more, but there was one around 1:45. I tried to call the airline, but in this day and age they don't even want you to know their number. I rang our Australian travel agent and got a polite message urging me to call back Monday morning.

So, fingers crossed, we decided to go to the airport and take our chances. And, having learned our lessons well in our week in Mexico, we decided to play dumb. LK turned on her best charm offensive and with a look of utter confusion asked the man at the ticket counter if he could help us since our flight didn't appear to be on the board.

Turns out he was very helpful, typed a few entries into his system and gave us boarding passes for exit row seats with extra leg room. And he didn't even charge us for our extra bags. It was so easy and helpful LK even had time for some duty-free shopping before we headed to Florida.

We rented a car at Miami and drove the 20 or so miles north to Fort Lauderdale where we were boarding our ship in two days. Getting out of the airport was interesting as many of the rental car drivers decided the rules of the road didn't apply to them. One just slowed down to a crawl, obviously figuring he would eventually see a sign that might help him get where he was going. Another cut across several rows of traffic, although that was pretty safe given that everyone was already slowed down.

But the best happened at the exit to the car rental parking garage, where two cars had already managed to have a fender bender without even making it out of the airport. Fortunately the highway wasn't half as crazy as the rental car garage.

We went out to dinner Saturday night, somewhat dismayed to re-enter the real world where you had to actually pay for your food and grog. After dinner I decided to show LK a shortcut home that I recalled from when I lived in the area almst 30 years ago.

I tried to act as if I expected to be waiting for the drawbridge to go down as we crossed the canal, and did my best to imitate someone who knew where they were going as I searched in vain for another bridge to bring us back across the canal. I finally gave up and admitted I was lost and retraced our path. Well, not exactly because I did end up in a dead-end a little later, but eventually got us back to the hotel.

Walt and Terry flew in Sunday, we boarded on Monday and rejoined the world of all you can eat and drink. I think it's going to have to be a very long diet once we return to Oz.

A little bit about the cruise in the next post.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blah Blah Blah Blah Blog

I had a comment posted to yesterday's post  about our wanderings in Spain, Portugal and Switzerland before ending up here in Mexico.

It read "This does not mean, necessarily, letting down your guard and pouring your heart out about how much you love your grandmother. You have to find the right balance, and with practice you'll discover it. A good rule of thumb is: if you wouldn't say it in an email to a client, it shouldn't go up on your company's blog. " This was followed by a link to a site selling NFL jerseys.

Since the comment doesn't seem to have much with what I wrote, I am 99% sure it is probably spam. I can't be 100% sure, though, because I do have several friends who drink enough to frequently make rather astonishingly incoherent statements.

Regardless, this latest note remains just one more comment on my blogging - or in most cases lately - lack of blogging. It comes in all forms. LK periodically hits the toolbar link and gives me a disappointed look as she says, "You haven't blogged in a long time." When I explain that I will blog when I have something to say, she sniffs and tells me to stop whining, just suck it up and start typing.

Or as AB wrote, why should I be the only blogger in the world who doesn't write something because he has nothing to say?

My mother has more or less given up letting me know she is disappointed I'm not writing more often. Friends like Jon and Davy will make comments like "I looked at your blog the other day and see you haven't added anything," which makes me think I could have written 60 blogs in the past 2 months and they would only just be getting around to them now so it isn't all that important.

And there's the positive encouragement I always get from Judy, who drops a short note in the comments section when I re-enter the blogosphere. Carrots are nicer than sticks, I've learned from her.

But probably the most interesting recommendations I have received came from my friend Robert last night when he asked me why I wasn't blogging much any more. I explained to him that I tend to write when I'm travelling because there's new stuff to tell people about, but day in and day out at home it's hard to think of what's new to write. "How often do people want to read about me ironing the sheets and making the bed?" I asked.

Robert thought about it and then proposed a course of action that, quite honestly, I don't think I would have come up with on my own.

"Why don't you just write about vampires this week?" he said. "You know, tell a story about vampires. And then maybe next week you could switch gears and write a sports commentary about a game that never happened. Your readers would keep coming back to see what you were going to write about each time."

Now I don't know if this suggestion was in any way influenced by this resort's policy of all-inclusive food and drink (OK, the food wouldn't have much to do with it). And I don't know if my reaction was at all influenced by the rather large tumblers of vodka they served me at dinner.

But I have to tell you there was an eerie calm in the resort as we walked back to our room. You could hear something rustling in the trees just past our line of sight as the full moon made dark shadows stretch across the landscape. I could swear one of them moved ever so slightly more than the rest.

I tensely clutched the crucifix I had hung around my neck and patted my shirt pocket to make sure I still had the clove of garlic I had grabbed at the restaurant. Yet still I felt as if there was another presence in the corridor as we arrived at our room, but when I quickly turned around there was nothing to be seen. Only a slight scrabbling noise on the roof above us.

Anyhow, I started this post to let you know I've put up a bunch of pictures from our European cruise and you can see them here.  Next post I will tell you more about our time in Mexico (especially once the sun sets) and, weather permitting, the llama polo match I am hoping to catch later in the week.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Peripatetic Us


Me and the Puppy outside the Guggenheim

So let me see. Last post we were heading into Spain on the wine cruise, but today I am in Cancun Mexico two days after having a lovely (albeit chilly) evening walk along the river bank in Zurich Switzerland. It all sounds a bit odd, I suppose, but it does make sense.

The very best airfare we could get to take us where we wanted to go was an around-the-world fare from Swiss Air. To get anywhere in Europe, we had to fly to Zurich and then take a short flight to, in our case, London. Leaving England when the cruise ended we had to get back to Zurich and get on a flight to the US. In this instance, Miami. I'll get to the Cancun bit a little later but I want to finish up writing about the cruise stops first.

We had a fantastic two days in Bilbao Spain. Famous for the Guggenheim Museum there, it is also a classically lovely Spanish city. The Guggenheim is an amazing building by Frank Geary and deserves all the accolades it has received. Jeff Koons's "Puppy" was sitting outside the museum when we approached, which made it feel kind of homey since that sat outside the Sydney Museum of Modern Art a few years ago.

Inside, it's really not a very large museum with only three floors of exhibits and more open space than art works. Which, to this little philistine's taste, was OK. Their main permanent exhibit is by Claes Oldenburg and I told LK my conclusion after viewing his stuff was that he was the sort of person who made me stay away from art students when I was at university.

We were with our friends Peter and Coralie, and Peter and I were pretty much sure the naugahyde replicas of french fries and hamburgers were more pretension than art. LK seemed a lot more knowledgeable about what was going on with the stuff, but didn't seem to like it much. Coralie called it one of the great moments of her life. Given that the art world feels much the same, I don't think I can knock her for that.

The top floor had a temporary exhibit of 100 of Egon Schiele's sketches and paintings. This completes our art tour of the patron saints of Jason and Lora's cats, Klimt and Schiele, and also was far more interesting than the soft toilets and rubber sinks on the floor below. Although I have to add that it is a bit creepy to look at erotic paintings of nude, early-teen girls done by an adult man. But I guess that's art and at least it made more sense than leather french fries to me.

Seems we could walk far without finding a table and having a drink
After the museum we all agreed it was time for a drink and lunch. After lunch we agreed it was time for another drink until later that evening when we agreed it was time for a drink and dinner. But that's the kind of thing you do when you catch up with old friends you haven't seen for a couple of years. And it really was wonderful seeing Peter and Coralie.

They fit into that great category of people who accept that we are lazy, slack tarts who don't do enough to stay in touch but they are happy anyway to pick up the conversation where it was three years ago and just enjoy spending time together. And we did enjoy our time with them.


Love this night shot of LK and Peter from the hotel roof

The ship was leaving Bibao mid-afternoon the next day, but we somehow all managed to get up, drink a gallon of coffee and get together in the morning to take a drive up to Guernica. This town was levelled by Franco and his friend Hitler in the Spanish Civil War in the 30's - and I do mean leveled as the strafing destroyed almost everything in the city.

As a result of the destruction, there isn't much to see from a tourist point of view, but there is a museum devoted to telling the history of that atrocity and promoting peace. And there is a mosaic of Picasso's famous painting of the attack, which is probably the reason that the world still remembers the horrors of Guernica while collectively losing memories of most of the thousands of other atrocities that have bedeviled our world since then.
The mural in Guernica


Not a very cheery place to visit and a pretty somber way to end our time with Peter and Coralie, but it was good to do. Some times traipsing through the world has to include remembering the important things that have happened and not just checking out old buildings and beautiful landscapes.

From Bilbao we cruises to Porto, Portugal, home of - what else - port wine. It was a very windy day and we (OK, I) was a bit weary after a big night so we opted to take a tour of the city and area on a hop-on, hop-off bus. We neither hopped on nor off, though, but saw plenty of this beautiful city. I must say that Spain and Portugal have some of the world's most beautiful cities. And as LK points out, they both easily qualify as having some of the world's best-dressed people.
The beach by our ship before we left to go back to the UK
Two days at sea after leaving Porto and we arrived back at Southampton to temperatures a notch below freezing. Which was slightly warmer than it was in Zurich later that evening when we took a train into the city and walked along the river into the beautiful Old Town in search of a restaurant for dinner. I grew up in much colder temperatures than this, but I can officially certify that I don't want to grow old in much colder temperatures than this. Brrrrr!

The chill came off, however, when we found LK's restaurant of choice, Swiss Chuchi, which enabled us to live a cliche on our only night in Switzerland. That's right, 70's lovers, we had cheese fondue with enough bread to feed the proverbial army. It was every bit as good as melted cheese and bread can be (which is pretty good), and it warmed us up enough for a quick walk back to the train station and an early night in the hotel before our morning flight to Miami.

We had a longish layover before the flight to Cancun, and chose to walk outside to the terminal we needed to be at. There are few better sensations than going from cold to warm in less than 24 hours, as the temperature was more than 50F (10C) from the day before.

And now we are Mexico as the guests of our friends Robert and Jaki. Our Catching Up With Family and Friends Tour continues as we hop around the world, and it is every bit as good as we had hoped it would be when we left Tasmania.

Mexico report next time and, hopefully, pictures on Shutterfly in a day or two if the connection here is good enough to enable it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wine Cruise



Town center, Bordeaux


We have worked our way south from England, stopping in northeast France for two days, then two days in the Bordeaux wine region, two days in Bilbao, Spain and today we've landed at Vigo, still in Spain.

They call this an immersive wine cruise, but so far they've only served it in glasses and there isn't nearly enough in those to immerse yourself. To compensate we have done our best to drink as many of those glasses as we can.

Our first stop was Le Havre, which is a pretty dull port city. I am pretty sure even the City Elders realize this because the sign at the port brags that you are in Le Havre, gateway to Paris. Kind of like Hoboken bragging that it's close to New York.

This is the logical port to take some longish day trips to Normandy or Mount St Michel. We passed on both. I have been to many battlefields in my day, and have found myself completely unable to benefit from the experience. Where others see high ground and low ground and military advantage, I see hills and trees and beaches. My experience is almost always from reading the signs or books that go along with it. For that, it's not worth a long drive.

As for beautiful Mt St Michel, LK told me you had to walk about a mile from the parking area (which my London training made possible) but then you have to walk up about 300 steps - you know, like walking to the top of a 17-story building. Since LK didn't volunteer to carry me, I decided no old building is that beautiful.

So instead we walked around Le Havre, saw this amazing piece of architecture and realized that it ranked among the least attractive buildings we have ever seen. Its chief benefit seemed to be that it took your attention away from the rest of the city, which was very plain indeed. As our guide in Medoc the next day explained, "Le Havre was full of communists and they built it to look like East Germany."  Since this Frenchman's name was Boris, I took it that he knew what he was talking about.

Boris did give us a nice tour of the Medoc section of the Bordeaux wine region. We took three winery tours and discovered that all of them use big vats, oak barrels and machines that separate the stems of the grapes from "the berries", as they call them.

We also got to taste some beautiful red wine at these places, and unlike the Australian and American wineries, these folks weren't pitching to sell you some extra bottles. In fact, only one of them even had any you could buy since the other two used the traditional French system of selling their wine by the barrelsful to wine buyers who then did the bottling and marketing.

A great part of the day was meeting our new bff's, Dave and Beth. They are both optometrists (a flock of geese, a  herd of cows, a murder of crows, a spectacle of optometrists?) from North Carolina.  And they join a list of people who have made our travels so much more fun - Robert and Jaki, Wally and Judy, Tony and David - people who are interesting, make us laugh and always order another drink.




New bff's Dave and Beth at Chateau Phelan Segur

The four of us were on the same shuttle bus the next day to the city of Bordeaux and we ended up walking around the city together. The problem was that we had to return to the bus by 2:15 since the ship was departing that afternoon. Well, that wasn't really the problem. The problem was that almost everything worth seeing in Bordeaux didn't open until 2:00.

So we walked through the shopping district, skipped the river walk which would be lovely in the summer but was cold and windy on a gray November day, checked out a 13th century cathedral, and then gave up on trying to be good tourists and had some drinks at 11:30 until the restaurants opened at 12:30. By now you may be getting an inkling of why Dave and Beth are our new bff's.

To be fair, I am pretty sure Bordeaux would be a lovely place to visit in warm weather and without a tight deadline. And I should add that the restaurant we visited was lovely, and its sole English-speaking staffer wanted to be sure I wanted tripe for lunch making me realize that it has now been 47 years since I last studied French.

The next day brought us to Spain and a wonderful reunion with some long-time bff's. But this is long enough today. Bilbao and Vigo reports next time.

Also - as is typical this expensive and slow shipboard online system makes it impossible to upload photos. We will put them all up on Shutterfly when we are back on land.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The New Season Begins


Not Cherbourg. These are the umbrellas of Borough Market.

Welcome to Season Five of Fourth Quarter

(Deep Announcer Voice) "Previously on Fourth Quarter:"

Cut to DK on the floor after installing the TV. Close up of DK trying to figure out how to stand up from that position.
Cut to DK walking in the woods, iPod buds in his ears, looking completely lost, tripping over a tree root.
Cut to DK standing on one leg in front of the TV, with the Wii exercise trainer saying, "You are a little unsteady. That's not good for your back."
Cut to DK hurting his finger as he attempts to repair a toaster.
Cut to DK getting his hair cut and being somewhat surprised when the barber puts the mirror behind his head and he cannot see any hair there.
Cut to DK limping badly as he drags luggage through an Italian train station as LK says, "This isn't the stop for Venice."
Close-up of LK in Greenwich saying, "We've got to start walking more and get in shape."
Close-up of LK in Kingston saying, "We've got to start walking more and get in shape."

(Deep Announcer Voice) "And now, Season Five of Fourth Quarter."

----------

"Donald, we've got to start walking more and get in shape," LK said to me before we flew out of Hobart last weekend. I appreciate the theory. Like all older people, I have learned the benefit of walking - more stamina, better lung power, increased flexibility. And like most older people, I also have learned that the leg muscles ache more than when you were younger and they wait to have their greatest revenge when you're sound asleep - which also happens earlier than usual because you're so bloody tired from walking.

Nonetheless, as we begin another of our epic tours of the world, LK has approached this walking business with the relentless insistence of a drill sergeant. We are in London for a few days before getting on a wine immersion cruise (much more about that later).

On Day One, we needed to visit a shop to get some things we had left behind. Turns out the nearest one was 1.2 miles (almost 2 kM) away in Covent Garden. "We can walk there," she said. And she was right. London's pretty flat, the weather was cool enough to make it ideal for walking.

"You know we've got to walk more to get in shape before our tour," she added.

Into the season at Covent Garden

So we walked. I discovered that it is possible to raise a sweat in 50 degree weather and that even walking on flat land my legs can start aching. It was OK, though, and we forgot about all that pretty quickly when we discovered that the markets at Covent Garden were in full holiday swing. It was fun and ultimately tasty, as we couldn't resist taking some of this incredible paella they were making as we wandered by.

We had decided to grab a show at one of the nearby theatres and after wandering aimlessly, we finally bought a newspaper and checked out what was playing. We were in the mood for an oldie-but-goodie -- Phantom of the Opera -- and got excited to see that Spamalot had just re-opened the day before.

Finding a half-price ticket booth, we scored the quinella. Cheap seats to the 2:30 matinee of Phantom and cheap seats (only six rows back!) to the evening Spamalot.

"We can walk to the theatre," LK decided. Which was fine, except my left hip started aching, my right calf started cramping (the same muscle that I had torn during the Venice trip so I was a bit careful when I felt it twinging). So baby steps (or, more properly, old man steps) through Trafalgar Square to Her Majesty's Theatre for Phantom. It was fun to see it again, even if it seemed a bit like watching a movie you loved 20 years ago and finding it not quite the same as you recalled.

It was nearly 5 when Phantom ended and LK decided we had plenty of time to walk back to the hotel, now about 1 1/2 miles away. After showers we fortunately didn't have time to walk to the other theatre, so we took a taxi. Only to find out that the show started a half-hour later than the ticket stated. I could see LK fuming, thinking we could have walked and by God we should have because we need to get in shape.

Needless to say there was no option about taking a taxi back to the hotel. So after another half hour (in which we passed Big Ben for the third time that day), we got back and ordered room service. I can't say I took pleasure in the fact that LK complained that her feet hurt and that she feel asleep before room service was delivered. Well, I could say it, but if I did I would pay the price when she reads this.

Yesterday we decided to check out Borough Markets near London Bridge. Only 2 miles (3+kM) away our faithful Google map said. I assumed LK's sore feet meant we could take a taxi. She decided to wear different shoes and said we should walk, pointing out that we needed to get in shape.

The market was great, and the food in the stalls was way too tempting. In fact, it was so tempting that we decided we'd just do a nosh in our room for dinner. So we bought approximately enough pate and sausage and cheese and tapenade and hummus and fig jam and bread (sour dough and fruit) to feed the twenty people we could have invited to join us for the nosh. I believe we spent about as much as you would at a 5-star restaurant for dinner.

Anyhow, the best thing that has happened on this trip so far occurred as we were leaving. LK was proposing that we could take a slightly different 2-mile route back to the hotel and see more of the river when a fat blob of water landed on her head. And then another.

"Oooh, starting to rain," I said. "I don't think we want to get soaked this far from the hotel. Better grab a taxi."

She saw through me, of course, since she always sees through me. But she didn't argue when I flagged down a taxi.

"Looks like you're just going to beat the rain, " the driver said as we got in. He didn't realize but that comment guaranteed him a healthy tip.

Borough Market:

First stall - French cooks dishing up duck and foie gras



The healthy stuff we didn't buy
We were quite disappointed they didn't offer the $20 Meal Deal

Friday, August 3, 2012

Easy Riders

How easy was today?

We said good-bye to our new bff's Tony and David (for the fourth or fifth time), took a taxi to the Part-Dieu train station in Lyon, waited a while and then got on the 11am. Easy ride the whole way.

Got off on the second stop, the Charles de Gaulle Airport, and took the elevator up to the ground level. We were booked in the Sheraton Airport Hotel for our overnight. As we got off the elevator, LK pointed to a big sign saying "Sheraton" and there it was, just a few yards from where we were standing.

One of our little bags had ripped at the seams (probably my fault - can't imagine it has anything to do with LK stuffing every bag we own to bursting point) so we needed to find a shop to replace it. The concierge pointed across the lobby to a store just across the hall. Cheap duffel. Problem solved.

Staying here on points (frequent sleeper? for hotel programs) so it's all free. The room is big, the bed is bigger, and we're on our way home. We're even counting the hours until we get into the Very High Bed.

Singapore Air to Singapore then Melbourne tomorrow, overnight on Saturday since we will be too late to catch a connection and back in Hobie by noon Sunday.  I am sure it was a misprint on the web site that says the low temperature that day will be in the 30s.  (Fahrenheit, obviously)

I have uploaded our last batch of travel pix, but too tired to write captions. If you want to check them out, they're at the usual place: http://dklktravels.shutterfly.com/http://dklktravels.shutterfly.com/

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tiny Dancer



David and Tony in Avignon

The best holidays are those you take with the people you are close. The second best - and it's not too far off - are those where you make new friends. We have been lucky to have had both kinds in the past few years.

This trip we met Tony and David, two great guys whose only noticeable fault seems to be that they come from New Zealand. (OK, that's a cheap shot and I really should get over the whole Kiwi thing I have. Only, I jist kent seem to.)

There was a terrible moment prior to getting to know them. After all, being the only English speakers the four of us were going to be locked into one another for a full week. Not quite Best Friends Forever, but a week can seem like forever with the wrong people.

Fortunately, the fact of the matter is quite different. These guys are genuinely interesting and David in particular can ramp up the humour from zero to 60 in seconds. I guess that is one of the best benchmarks for new friends - how much do they make us laugh.

David has a show biz background, although he and Tony seem to make most of their livelihood by running a travel wholesaler. Nonetheless, being an extra in Peter Jackson's King Kong definitely qualifies you, even if it would have been more impressive to have had the makeup that went into Lord of the Rings.

Because of their travel business, these guys have done a massive number of river cruises (it's their company's specialization). The other night he told this story.

When river boats pull up to a dock and there is no more space, they park side by side and gangways are put down between the boats so passengers from the further boats walk through the other boats to get to land.

One of the effects of this is that you also end up with the windows of passenger rooms only a few feet from windows on the other ship. And not everyone seems to realize this proximity.

David was an a cruise, docked in this way, when he and several fellow passengers couldn't help but notice that a woman in her 70's was only a few feet away in her cabin. Clad only in her underwear, she must have had the music cranked up because she was rocking away in full view of those on the other ship who, needless to say, had little concern for privacy or modesty. I agree, how could you not watch?

At some point she sensed that there may be something on the other side of her window and bopped over to have a look out. But the glare of the lights meant that she couldn't see that there were several pairs of eyes staring right back at her. So back she went to the music.

After that illuminating lesson you would think LK and I would have learned, but yesterday afternoon as she came out of the shower wrapped in a towel (and therefore quite modest), I caught someone on the next boat looking down into our room before quickly drawing their curtains shut.

At least LK wasn't dancing.

Great ceiling in Papal Palace, Avignon
We are heading back to Lyon now and leaving the boat tomorrow. We had an interesting visit to Avignon, the city where the popes lived for about 70 years back in the 1300s. The papal palace remains, but it's empty and you really have to use your imagination to picture what it must have been like in its heyday.

We toured the Pont du Gard yesterday, the largest Roman aqueduct still standing. The bridge was built about 2,000 years ago and is still standing. Every time we see Roman artefacts, it is impressive to think that they could build such strong, massive structures that pass the test of time.

After the Pont du Gard we went to the city of Uzes, which was a nice stroll. It had a leaning tower that looked a lot like Pisa's and a very interesting castle. LK also found the shops interesting, especially once she learned that "Soldes" is the French word for "Sale". I myself was pleased to discover a shop selling macaroons with foie gras and truffles. That is just about decadent enough to keep me happy for a long time.

1st Century bridge and aqueduct, Pont du Gard
Last night we started to walk around Arles, where Vincent Van Gogh lived, but it was horribly hot (we're quite far south now) and most of the places to visit were closed by the time we docked. So back to the ship where the bar was open and the drinks were cold.

We both agree that it's time to head home. We've had a ball on this journey, but the Very High Bed looms (and I even ironed the sheets the morning we left so it would be perfect!). Paris tomorrow night, then Singapore Air south.



Nope, not Pisa. This tower is in Uzes

Monday, July 30, 2012

Up the Saone

A chalet in the Beaujolais region


It may have been the steak tartare in the outdoor cafe. Or perhaps the soft, very stinky cheese we had bought Sunday and were still eating Tuesday night. Or even, I suppose, the beautiful sausage with its white skin and dark red and white filling. It's even possible it had nothing to do with food but was just a bug left on a museum railing by someone who hadn't washed their hands.

When you feel really sick, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how you got that way, but in the end (and that pun is intended) it makes no difference.

I awoke the morning we had to go from Paris to Lyon with a bad tum and Stage 2 diarrhoea. Stage 2 is when the first Immodium has no impact at all. I try to avoid Stage 2 because, although it usually works, it often overdoes its job. Not only is the crack in the dam plugged, but it may be days before any of the water finds its way down the sluice.

All in all the trip to Lyon was about as easy as could be. Taxi to the station, porter to the train, sleep like the dead until just outside Lyon, drag the bags to a taxi, check in, sleep like the dead for four hours, go to dinner and marvel at what it feels like not to come close to finishing your plate and quickly back to the room and sleep like the dead for 10 hours.

I can add that LK was not up to par, either, but seemed to be at about 20 percent of my condition. The best news to report is that the next morning we both woke after our long sleeps and were miraculously restored. Maybe too soon to try coffee, but lunch loomed large and how are you going to have lunch in France without a glass of rose?

So, tums all better, we boarded the river cruiser in sweltering heat, ready to join the dozens of Americans who, we assumed, had flown in to tour the Beaujolais and Burgundy wine districts with us. That had been our expectation since we had booked through an American tour organizer and their web site talked all about the flights Americans would be taking to get to Lyon.

Apparently our tour company wasn't quite as successful as they may have hoped. Our first hint was when we were approached in the reception area by the maitre d' who asked if we were with the Gate1 tour. How perceptive of him, I thought, because we were. Right after that the man in charge of excursions asked if were with Gate1 and said we had to choose between two conflicting excursions on the last day of the cruise. I better started to understand what was going on when I looked on his screen and saw that LK and I were the only two listed from Gate1.

A few moments later she explained to me that she had already understood what was happening because of what the maitre d' had said.

I, of course, had nodded and pretended as if my hearing was perfect and even gave an answer to what I assumed his question was. The fact is he had told us that there were only two English speaking couples booked on the cruise and would we mind if the other couple joined us at our table in the dining room. I did not come close to guessing what he was asking and yet it did not stop me from immediately saying no to his request.


The 1,000-year-old Abbey at Cluny

I am sure he must have assumed I am the most anti-social, uncharitable man he had met in ages. Oh wait, the boat is full of Germans. Cancel that last thought.

Anyhow, that night in the dining room LK sorted out our apparent lack of hospitality and we were joined by what the maitre d' called "the other American couple". My ears, unnaturally sharp this time, heard Tony say, "We jist chicked in" and I knew we had met a couple of New Zealanders. Who, by the way, have turned out to be very interesting and entertaining and have definitely made the trip more enjoyable. Since the four of us are lumped together for every excursion and meal as the only four English speakers on the cruse, I hope they aren't too unhappy to be saddled with us, as well. We are all learning what it is to be a member of the minority.

The first few days of the tour involved going up the Saone River to Macon, where we toured the Beaujolais wine region, and Cluny, a fantastic medieval abbey that at one time was the largest church in the Catholic world. The next day we walked around Chalons sur Saone and then took a bus tour to Cormatin,  where we wandered around a castle built
Chalons-sur-Saone
during the reign of Louis XIII. The gardens have been re-created in that period's manner and they were especially beautiful.

Yesterday back to Lyon and we just had the wander around that we didn't take on Bad Tum Day. And today we have gone through a dozen locks on the Rhone River on our way to Avignon. We will spend the next few days in the Provence region here in the south of France where the weather is classic mid-summer Mediterranean. In other words, gorgeous.

The internet connection here is so bad I am not going to even try to upload pictures to Shutterfly. I will wait until Thursday night when we are back in Paris, overnighting before our flight home.
The gardens at Cormatin Castle

One final observation from this trip. After dinner Saturday night the bar was having a bit of a trivia quiz/ dance party (it is that kind of ship, we are discovering). We wandered in for a nightcap and stood somewhat dumbstruck as we watched seven or eight oder German couples cavorting on the dance floor, dancing to "Hava Nagila". They where loudly hummung the notes because they didn't know the words, of course, but they did seem to be having a grand time trying to replicate the Jewish folk dance. It's not the first time I have wished I understood German so I could figure out what they were saying.

Lyons from the Old Town

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Catching Up is Hard to Do

Well, technology got the better of me for a while, but now that we're in Paris at a lovely hotel with free WiFi it is difficult not to try to catch up on posting pictures and writing about our trip.  Actually, it is difficult. Trying to remember which waterfall was which from over 2 weeks ago would challenge a younger, more attentive person. (OK, more sober person)

So if some of the pictures have captions like "a waterfall" you will just have to bear it. Actually, about half of the pictures from Norway could have had that caption. After four days of fjords, it was pretty clear that the water melting at the top of the cliffs made for some pretty spectacular views down below.  Except, as one of the other people on the ship noted, you do start feeling you've seen enough waterfalls at this stage.

There were some great waterfalls in Iceland, too, but most of what made Iceland intriguing were the geothermal springs, geysers and cracks in the earth from earthquakes. Which, I guess, shows that I am more interested in hot water bubbling below the ground than cold water melting on top.

Rather than write a book-length post, some quick observations:

All of the places were lovely, but Iceland takes gold. It didn't hurt that the weather was spectacular the three days we were there.

Klaksvik in the Faroe Islands is a pretty, tiny harbor town in this remote chain of islands which is a self-governed territory of Denmark. If you think there wasn't much to do there as tourists, consider this: one of the tour excursions offered by the ship was a visit to a farm to see how it worked.

We took the EuroStar from London to Paris. That's the train that goes under the Channel and gets you from one city to another in about 2 hours. It was very comfortable and anything that keeps us out of airports and their security queues is a major plus.

The weather here in Paris has been fantastic since we got in Saturday. Cloudless skies with temperatures in the high 80s and breezes. It would be perfect if it weren't the height of tourist season so that today, for example, we had to stand in a line for more than 40 minutes to get into the Musee d'Orsay, our favorite museum in the city.  Who would have thought that many people want to see paintings by old dead guys!

Finally, when I say technology failed us, it did in a major way.  We had no Internet or mobile phone access for many days during the cruise. But even when we did our emails have been spotty at best. Linda has not been able to receive or send any mail from her hotmail account. And Microsoft support, which promises 24 hour response is now in its third day and still not back to her.

We know we've received only some of our mail and are pretty sure some of our mail hasn't got through. LK's is starting to look like a lost cause. So, if you've sent anything and haven't heard back send it to my account. If you don't know the address, leave a comment at the bottom of this blog.

Tomorrow we take the train to Lyon. And if you want to check our pictures, it is at the usual spot:  http://dklktravels.shutterfly.com

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cruising North: Reykjavik Iceland

Apparently long winter nights led to odd sports in Iceland

There is no better way to beat Hobart's winter weather, I suppose, than to travel to the Arctic Circle. We are sure to stop complaining about our weather after spending some summer days this far north.

Right now we are in Reykjavik, about 2 degrees south of the Arctic Circle, but tomorrow we will be in Akureyri and well and truly into the northernmost zone. Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and the locals seem quite proud of this as if to say their ancestors went higher up the globe before they stopped than anyone else's ancestors. Take your pride where you can, I guess.

Frankly, the weather for our tour yesterday was fabulous. The sun was brilliant and warm, the air probably heated up to the high 60s (high celsius teens) and even our guide told us how lucky we were to catch such a perfect day.

This is an amazing country to look at. Every turn in the road brings a new volcano into sight (not all active - but many). There are plenty of places to see the glaciers that cover more than 11% of the country in ice all year long and steaming geothermal pools dot the countryside. It's no coincidence that its volcano closed down European airspace for about 10 days when it erupted in 2010 or that its language gave the world "geyser".

Actually, its language also gave the world the word "berserk" and I suspect that has something to do with its winter days when the sun rises around 10:30, takes a quick look round and sets about 5 hours later.

Pretty sure the connection here won't like uploading too many pix, but will try for a few and put the rest up on Shutterfly once we are back on land.

That's the edge of the largest glacier in Iceland


Gullfoss Warterfalls


Strokker Geyser - about 100 feet up and every few minutes



In this area, the European and American tectonic plates meet



A magma wall at Pingvellir Plains

Saturday, July 7, 2012

On to Europe

And so we have left the US once again and are now in cold, rainy England waiting to board a ship this morning for a cruise to cold, sunny Iceland and Norway.

We squeezed in lots during our two weeks in America. After my Dad's service, I stayed at my mother's and helped her pack her kitchen in preparation for moving to a different apartment in the Maples, the senior living community she and my father lived in.

They had a two-bedroom apartment that sat at the end of the hallway - as far away from the entrance as possible. She doesn't need the second bedroom and has landed a new place that is the closest apartment to the entrance, which will help immensely since the walk is getting more and more difficult for her.

We bagged some stuff for the charity bins, converted several VHS tapes to DVDs and generally got things as close as we could until the move in the middle of this month.

The Dyer women at the reunion
LK was several hours to the west during this week with Peg. On Friday they joined Sandy, Dave and Jordan and drove several hours south and west to the family golf outing and reunion that is held every year.  

 Judging by the activity on Facebook, it was a grand event and Linda returned with several pictures of the event. You can check them out at our Shutterfly share site here.

I like the one to the left of Peg with Sandy and LK.  Peg looked so fantastic in her photos. It's hard to believe these were taken just three days before her 93rd birthday.

 While Linda was celebrating with her family, I was taking the Ethan Allen Express back to New York. My mother made double sure that I didn't miss this train, and I was there with 20 minutes to spare. 

It is such a comfortable ride - quiet, scenic, no security checks, no seatbelts and you end up right in the middle of Manhattan without a taxi ride. I walked the few blocks to the Port Authority, caught a bus to Freehold and was back at Walt and Terry's within 90 minutes.

LK flew back the next day and we spent the remainder of the week sitting by the pool coping with a heat wave, with temperatures soaring into the 90s (mid-30s celsius) each day. And now we are in England in the middle of its wettest summer in history with the high today not much warmer than we would have in Hobart if we had decided to spend the winter at home.

I know. It's England.

But the whole point of coming here is to get on the cruise ship, and we will be doing that in a couple of hours. We've looked forward to seeing Iceland and the Norwegian fjords for ages. Should be fun even if it is a bit cool this far north.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pockets and All

Red, my dad, died on St Patrick's Day, but we waited until June to have his funeral because so many friends and family members were not around in March. It turned out to be a good decision because there was a large turnout at the church with more than 100 friends, family, co-workers and even some of the people who helped care for him in his later years.

The pastor, Father Remi officiated. Remi is a short version of his name, and I think his parishioners call him that because they can't quite get their Vermont tongues round his full name - Remigius Bukuru Ntahondi. I suspect that for most of his 87 years Red never dreamed his funeral mass would be said by a priest from Tanzania. I also know that he really liked Father Remi, who visited him frequently. And based on his sermon it seemed pretty evident that Father Remi liked my father, as well. That alone says heaps about how much the world changed in my father's lifetime.

Funerals are sad affairs, of course, but I think having that much time between his passing and the service enabled most of us to be a lot less emotional than we would have been while we were still absorbing the loss. There were still plenty of tears, of course.

Aunt Nelly and Dad two years ago
My Aunt Nelly sat between me and my mother during the funeral, and almost as soon as she sat down she began sobbing. Now in her 90s, it must have been hard to farewell the last surviving sibling from the family of 4 boys and 5 girls.

But she's a Kennedy, and that means you couldn't keep her down for the whole day.

I delivered the eulogy, and in it I reminded everyone that one of my father's greatest loves was to make people laugh. I invited everyone to take a second to recall something he had said or done that made them chuckle, and I was not surprised to see so many smiles light up the faces of the people who had come to mourn my Dad.

It was at the reception that Aunt Nelly told me that when I said that, she had thought back to when Red was very young - probably third or fourth grade. As you would expect of a family of nine in Wallingford Vermont during the Great Depression, there was very little money to go around.

All of us kids were told in no  uncertain terms, Aunt Nelly explained, that we would get one cap, one coat and one pair of mittens for the winter so we had better not lose them if we wanted to stay warm. But one day young Red came home, crying his eyes out.

"Mom," he sobbed, showing his bare hands, "I've lost my mittens - pockets and all!!!"

My grandmother looked at him and quickly figured out what he meant. "Red," she said, "you go back to school right now. You're wearing somebody else's coat!"

And with that story from 80 years ago, we all had one more laugh with my Dad.

Monday, July 2, 2012

St Kevin of Thrifty

I spent the past week in Rutland with my Mom and am now back in Jersey with our friends, Walt and Terry, until we fly to the UK on the 5th.

There were certainly enough dramas getting to Rutland last Friday for my father's funeral service the next day.  We were booked on the Ethan Allen Express, the Amtrak train from New York to Rutland. It leaves Penn Station at 5:45, so we hopped on a bus from Freehold at 2:45 due into New York a little after 4 leaving plenty of time for a leisurely 10 minute walk to the train station.

Sounds like I left plenty of time in case of traffic jams, etc, doesn't it? Well, I didn't. Approaching the Lincoln Tunnel, traffic stopped dead and a battalion of buses lined up and began moving about 10 feet every few minutes. And then they stopped even moving ten feet forward for long gaps of time.

LK and I figured we were still sitting pretty with more than 90 minutes up our sleeves, but our sleeves were way too short. I've watched people's eyes glaze over as I describe all the details of our bus not moving much so I will cut this story very short. We exited the bus with less than 5 minutes to get to the train station. Not a chance of that, so Plan B went into effect.

We stumbled upon the Trailways ticketing office. I vaguely remembered that they served Albany so we went in to check. Turns out there was an express bus to Albany leaving in about half an hour, so we bought two tickets, made the easy decision that despite the obvious downside peeing in the bus station was still far more desirable than peeing on the bus, and headed to Albany.

From the bus station, we grabbed a cab to the airport to rent a car. There are about 6 car rental companies at the airport. Unfortunately there were no rental cars available at the airport. Remember, this is the capital city of New York State, and yet the airport was completely sold out of rental cars.

Hertz didn't have even No 1; Avis wouldn't try harder; didn't matter what my budget was with Budget; Dollar didn't want mine; National was national except for Albany; and Enterprise showed absolutely none.

So we were now only 2 hours away from Rutland but things weren't looking good for closing that gap.

Then the man from Hertz suggested I call Thrifty. They aren't located on the airport grounds, he explained, and maybe they hadn't run out of cars. Calling on their courtesy phone, I reached Kevin who quickly explained that they, too, had no cars available.

Starting to feel a tad desperate, I just as quickly explained that I understood this but could he possibly help me think of some other solution since I had to get to my father's funeral in the morning. Kevin put me on hold for a moment, came back and asked if I would be able to return a car the next afternoon if he rented one to me. Not a problem, Kevin, I said.

And so St Kevin of Thrifty enters our travel lore as one of the very good guys who took pity on us, helped us out and gave our potentially sad story a happy ending. So happy, in fact, that we arrived in Rutland only 40 minutes later than the train and with 3 minutes left to still buy a bottle of wine. Cue happy music and roll the credits.

Writing this reminds me that I intended to send Thrifty a note about what a great guy they have working for them. Of course, being me,  I have put it off for a week. So if I don't do it now, I probably never will. I am going to do it.

More about the time in Rutland tomorrow. 


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Long Haul

Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
etc etc etc etc

I am starting my 65th year today at Walt and Terry's house in New Jersey as LK and I do our best to recover from our flight here.

As we are discovering, it is getting trickier and much more challenging to use our frequent flyer points to get around the world. This time we were able to snatch flights on our favorite airline, Singapore Air, to get us back to the US. It required going out of our way and going northwest to get to Singapore before heading northeast to America.

But their service is so much better than we have been getting on other carriers that a few extra hours doesn't seem like a sacrifice at all. Besides, they also offer inexpensive layover packages with many Singapore hotels, so we stayed over and were able to have a fantastic evening with Mark, a friend from our work days who is now doing the tough job of trying to keep a computer publishing/internet/events business a few dollars ahead of the collapses being experienced in most other parts of the world. It will be a tough challenge, but he's a fantastic guy and has a better chance than most if  his Singapore business isn't wrecked by the collapsing fortunes of the Australian corporation that owns it.

So we had a big (really big) dinner with Mark on the night before we boarded our flight here. It's not always (in fact is almost never) a good idea to have a big night out before getting on a long-haul flight, but in this instance it didn't seem as if it would matter. And that is because, without even being aware of it at the time we secured our tickets, we had booked ourselves on the world's longest non-stop commercial flight.

At just short of 19 hours, the Singapore to Newark flight looked daunting, and the idea that we might sleep much of it away didn't seem like such a bad thing. LK and I are quite used to the long-haul flights lasting 13 or 14 hours, but those extra hours did mess around with our heads before we boarded.

It didn't help that we knew there were not many good movies making the airline play lists right now. Choosing between 21 Jump Street and John Carter was easy, I suppose, because John Carter really is as bad as everyone said (based on about 10 minutes of painful viewing). Young Adult was a very nice minor movie. But the only real entertainment came from the TV section where they had the first five episodes of the Walking Dead season 2, which hasn't aired on Oz yet.

(And yes, Jason, it is even better than Season 1. And definitely not one for Lora.)

So I spent my 19 hours of my birthday snoozing and watching zombies and thinking that with all this time I really should write a blog post since we are off on a very interesting seven-week trip. Of course, I couldn't be bothered actually writing it on the plane because - well, who knows why. But today it seems easy to be sitting in the warm New Jersey morning and getting this done.

Tomorrow we take the train to Rutland for my Dad's memorial service. After a week there I will return here for a couple of days and then we are off to London to begin a cruise to Iceland, the Faroe Island and Norway. Then the train to Paris for a few days and another train to Lyon to cruise the Rhone and Saone Rivers.

This is, you may have guessed, not a bad way to deal with winter in Tasmania.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Week of Lilyfixes

On the ride to school
We just returned from (mostly) sunny Queensland, and it was a great week. But then any week that includes Lily every day is bound to be great.

The World's Most Wonderful Girl is such a delight. And now that she is almost 10-years-old, she has moved into that super nice combination where she will have a real adult-level conversation, but still cuddle up to you and play a game on her iPad. Which, by the way, she uses so fast and fluidly and easily that it takes away any excuse an older person has for not figuring the stuff out.

I could, of course, write several thousand words about how fantastic our granddaughter is, but I somehow get the sense that this would be as much fun for you as, say, spending an hour locked in a room with Donald Trump.

So let it just be noted that this was an outstanding way to spend seven days. We picked Lily up from her school every day and even had a sleep-over one night when her mother, Rachael, was on call from the hospital. That night LK taught Lily how to make meatballs and sauce, and for some reason they were the best meatballs I have ever eaten. Oh, I'm sorry - have I slipped back into telling you how great Lily is? Didn't mean to.

Probably the only downside was that we had hoped to see our friend Jon who lives about an hour north in Brisbane, but because we were spending time with Lily every day we never had a chance to get up there. 

We had a nice enough place to stay - another one of LK's online treasures where she scouts out bargains. Whenever I do that, we seem to end up in places that charge extra if you want access to a bathroom. But this place was quite nice for a week.

Sure, it was a bit dated. I knew that because the speed dial on the phone listed the number for Ansett Airlines, which went bankrupt in 2001. And of course the bed was neither very high nor very soft. And the shower didn't feature a rainforest effect.

So, beyond a doubt a week with Lily was great but it was also great to be back home again. We missed the Very Very High Bed and the World's Best Shower. In fact, we like them so much that I think we will stay around here for another three weeks before heading off on another trip.

And finally, Happy Birthday, Mama. Bubba loves ya.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stagnant

Elizabeth Harrower is one of Australia's most celebrated writers,  or perhaps I should say "was" one of our top writers. Until this week I had never heard of her. That is because, after writing some highly praised and successful books 40 years ago, she just stopped writing.

There's an interesting interview with her in the Sydney Morning Herald here. The interviewer, Gay Alcorn, presses for an explanation of why Harrower stopped writing after such a successful start to her career, and the 84-year-old cannot or will not explain.

It's not as if she wasn't pushed to resume. She happily talks about people like Nobel Literature Prize winner Patrick White being quite insistent that she should put words on paper. She even shows Alcorn an inscription White wrote in one of his books reading,  ''To Elizabeth, luncher and diner extraordinaire. Sad you don't also WRITE.''

OK, everyone knows where this is going and everyone is thinking, "No, Don, you can't compare your not writing a blog post to a great novelist not writing anything for more than 40 years." True - unless you count that luncher and diner extraordinaire bit.

But it does seem to me that Harrower shows that even wonderfully talented people can go 200 miles-an-hour putting their thoughts and words on paper (or now on screens) and then simply stop. And if it happens to those with great talent, how much easier for the rest of us?

It's almost cold comfort to take a look at my RSL feed and see the blogs to which I have subscribed and how few of them are posting much any more. Chubby Hubby's great food blog is on hiatus; Daniel Negreanu's poker musings have dwindled to a few a year as he substitutes Twitter feeds for the long-form; our almost-neighbor Matthew Evans who does the TV show Gourmet Farmer has reduced his output to a once-a-month trickle. Hey, even cousin Joanne hardly ever bothers telling anyone what's for dinner any more.

I am quite sure all of them have been urged by fans and family and friends to get back to that keyboard and post some more. But none of my favorites seems to have checked out completely, like Elizabeth Harrower who, Alcorn reports, was asked to send some stories to a publication. She declined saying, ''[I] realised I just can't be bothered any more.''

But I think the days of my Dickens-like volumes of posts will only come sporadically and the occasional post is much more likely to be the norm. Still, it's nice to get encouraging comments like the one from Wally and Judy on the last post. It's even nice to have my bride get testy that I am not posting.

Even Sandy is making noises about how I need to do more. But then, she's in no position to talk. After being my favorite Words with Friends friend nearly every day for over a year, she hasn't made a play in more than a week. Maybe she's teaching me how disappointing it is to doubleclick on something you like and find there's not a single new thing there.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stained

Yesterday turned out to be not quite as I had hoped.

On a beautiful sunny autumn day, we drove about half an hour to a market that we had learned about from a roadside placard. While it was not a terrible market, it was certainly not a great one, either. There were very few stalls, undoubtedly reflecting their bravery (or foolishness) in going up against the huge Salamanca Market only ten minutes down the road and across the bridge.

And the stalls that were there featured pretty much nothing we were in the mood to buy - most were the sort of arts+crafts things we don't buy anyway; LK isn't shopping for inexpensive jewelry; we have no toddlers to buy cute, overpriced clothes for; and this eternal South Beach diet cannot quite find room to include toffee apples and macarons.

But choosing your Saturday activity from a roadside placard was always going to be a gamble, so it wasn't the market that made the day turn out to be not quite as I had hoped. Nope, it was the bright sunshine.

For when I got out of the car at the market, I looked down and saw that my standard-uniform hoodie was speckled with dots of tomato sauce. And that is when I made the strategic misstep of saying to my bride that I was surprised she didn't tell me I looked a mess before we left the house. Let's make that a major strategic misstep.

For at the point LK proceeded to review my look and decided I did indeed look like one of those clueless retirees who wander around with food stains on their sweat clothes. It was hard not to agree, of course, since I was precisely that.

She acknowledged that these spots were not the result of sloppy eating but sloppy cleaning up after eating. "I know where the stains would be if it was from eating," she said.  She then proceeded to expand the review by telling me that my beard was seriously lopsided, looking as if I hadn't shaved or trimmed the right side for weeks. I couldn't really argue since I had noticed the same thing yesterday but hoped it wouldn't be all that obvious. I was wrong.

By the end of our trip, she declared with full solemnity that henceforth she is reviewing my look before I leave the house. She noted that I change out of my house sweatpants and into chinos when I go out, and wondered how I could care enough to do that and not bother to see if I was stained, smeared, or otherwise disheveled.

Grasping for an answer, I told her there weren't enough mirrors in the house. She looked at me with an expression roughly translated as "Is that the best you can do?" and proceeded to list the large  number of mirrors in the house. I had to admit that what I really meant was that there weren't enough mirrors in the house that I used to see how I looked. In other words, I lost.

And so, strengthened even further by my strategic misstep LK later that day told me in no uncertain terms that it was just plain wrong that I haven't posted on this blog in more than a month. And that's why you are now reading this and I am wearing a clean hoodie and have trimmed my beard.

And somewhere in the distance I hear a whispery voice saying something about how my life has just changed significantly.

But at least I will look better.