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.