Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: Safaga to Luxor

We docked in an industrial port in Sfaga, no getting off and wandering around. We have breakfast in our room, beautiful, quick and easy. We have to wait a while until the Egyptians have examined and stamped our passports.

All departing passengers gather in the Nautica Lounge – we are number 20, one of the last to go. We go through exit procedures (facial scan, Egyptian inspection) and discover we are on a small bus, a group of only eight people, for the next two days. We don’t know any of them, but we feel very fortunate to be with a very small group. We are happily surprised. We had thought we might be on a large bus with coughing and sneezing people and need to mask.

This is a very popular location. There are all kinds of trips going out, to various locations for various amounts of time. The buses are all lined up, and the immigration center we all have to go through is on the far left. 

Another happy surprise is that the weather is cool on the ship, and cool in the morning, cool enough to need a scarf. (This night, for dinner, I will need a sweater over my dress.) This is a happy surprise. I really hate being too hot.

We are on a two day trip, today and tomorrow with an overnight in Luxor.

Almost immediately, Merv, our guide, has us introduce ourselves. We are traveling with Steve and Becky from Austin, Dave and Patricia, from Toronto, and Tom and Deb from Vancouver. We have a long drive, through the stark mountain area of Egypt (!) and then along the luscious, fertile valley of the Nile, where I take almost all my photos. Steve and AdventureMan discover they have lived just miles from one another. All our fellow passengers are well-traveled. Becky has some mobility issues, but does a great job and never complains. 

When you think of Egypt, do you think of mountains? I never did. This first stretch we cover is full of desert and stark mountains, and I envision Moses, shepherding for his father-in-law and his encounter with the great I Am, in a bush that burned and was not consumed. I could imagine long treks with the sheep to find enough to eat, and long days to think about things.

My Arab friends always laughed when I would tell them their countries reminded me of growing up in Alaska, but there are wide open stretches that go on forever and harsh climates. In Alaska, you dress for the cold and stay inside through the worst of it; in the Middle East, you dress for the heat and stay inside for the worst of it, and you spend as much time as you can outdoors when temperatures are mild as you can. I am a big fan of dark skies and myriad stars, both Alaska and deserts provide food for my soul.

We make a stop at a rest stop along the way. We were supposed to travel in a caravan, with security, for our protection, but we were last to leave and our smaller bus did not have onboard facilities. It was really nice being able to get out and walk around, but it cost us in terms of convenience later on. Because we had lost our convoy, the police kept stopping us and questioning our credentials. They found us a curiosity. Finally, at one point, a police van led us several miles and vouched for our right of passage. It was an interesting experience. Our tour guide was relentlessly aggressive with the police, and rather than offending them, they were respectful to her.

Our tour guide was a formidable woman, one of the senior tour guides in Egypt. Her assignment with us was her second to last career assignment; she is retiring. What I loved about having her as a guide was that she was so knowledgeable. She filled us in on politics, social issues, and current events, as we drove a couple hours through the rural areas en route to Luxor.

My geographical knowledge of Egypt was slight. Now I feel really stupid. I had kind of thought the Red Sea and the Nile were somehow related, but the Nile is inland from the Red Sea. The micro-climates inland are lush and fertile.

You might see the donkey, but the reason I took this photo is that in our times living in Middle Eastern countries, we often saw rugs drying at service stations, especially those with car washes. The car washes get them nice and clean and have room to hang them so that they can dry. This is a nice, non-humid day, perfect for having carpets cleaned.

One of the things we learned is that Egypt has become more conservative with so many Egyptian men working as guest laborers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. Egyptian women were at one time freer and better educated and had more civil rights than now. Husbands and fathers returning from stricter countries enforced stricter standards on their daughters, wives, and family members. Interesting, hmmm?

Here is our friendly police escort below:

This is one of my favorite photos – these gourds, which are some kind of pumpkin or squash, are in season, and there are piles of them everywhere! I remember in Tunisia when pumpkins came into season, they were huge! In the market, you bought them by the slice, huge, thick, meaty pumpkins, one of the essential ingredients in couscous.

I remember in Qatar when the Queen found laundry hanging on balconies inelegant and banned it; had a law passed which forbid it. And yet – where were the apartment dwellers to dry their laundry? Laundry continued on the balconies, and I never heard of anyone arrested for it.

Look at this wall, made of recycled broken pots and clay.

There is a line behind the waiting man of little tuk-tuk taxis, many with curtains, with one driver in front and passengers in the back.

We go directly to the hotel once we get to Luxor, check-in, go to our rooms and clean up, then have lunch, which is an international buffet. That means mostly western food. Eating western food in the heart of Egypt was a surprising disappointment to me. I totally get it. Luxor is a huge destination, and Egypt needs the tourist currency. Hotels have to please a large number of people. We were yearning for a good felafel.

The truth is, I did not have high hopes for this part of my cruise. The last time we were in Egypt, we were staying with friends, in Cairo, and we had great adventures. We have actually been to Luxor and Karnak before, and I discovered that I did not like going down into tombs; to me, they are very musty and give me a claustrophobic feeling. I stay above ground and take photos.

I had no idea we would have such a great tour guide; she is a blessing, so full of information and opinions. I don’t always have to agree with her to like her. I respect her! I also had no idea we would be spending so much time traveling through villages where people live their normal lives, and I love it. I’m finding in general the tourist experience is restrictive; we are at the mercy of other people’s schedules, other people’s timing, and where other people find it expedient to take us.

This group is different. The people with whom we are traveling in this small group are all very respectful of being on time and not going missing – in fact, if anyone is guilty of going missing, it is me. I tend to wander off. I make it a point to keep Merv informed about where I will be and to always be on time for departures. She gives me latitude. She allows me to wander – here there and everywhere. 🙂

And, as random as life is, I am so thankful not to be too hot. I am having a great time. I got to go through the Suez Canal! I am going back to Wadi Rum! I am going to sail past Saudi Arabia, and Sudan, and Eritrea, and Djibouti, and Yemen en route to Oman! I am a happy woman!

February 4, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Biography, Bureaucracy, Civility, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, GoogleEarth, Living Conditions, Photos, Political Issues, Random Musings, Road Trips, Travel, Weather | , | Leave a comment

What’s The Point? The Suez Canal

I am starting this entry at the end. Those of you who have been reading Here, There and Everywhere all these years know that I am an unabashed Geography nerd. I love maps. I love navigating, and I am pretty good at it. The opportunity to go through the Suez Canal was irresistible.

Now I’m going back to leaving Haifa.

We had another day at sea en route to the entry to the Canal. Once again, at night we are both sneezing and congested.

The next morning, I feel great once I am upright again, cannot understand why I am so stuffed up at night. 

It is warm out on the water, considerably warmer than before. I am wearing a sleeveless dress with just a scarf against the breezes. Breakfast at the Terrace Restaurant out on the deck; I had a hard-boiled egg and bland sausages. There is nothing to see. Water water everywhere.

We came back to our room, changed and went up to the spa for almost an hour. Caught up on e-mail, caught up on some reading, watching the progress as he get closer to Port Said, the entry to the canal experience. 

I’ve stopped going to the lectures. I did not find them useful. I had loaded my Kindle (it’s on my computer) so I have lots of books.

I don’t know how it works for you, but I had thought I would have a lot of time to read in retirement, and I don’t. I still have a lot of my daily routine obligations, you know, like keeping the house picked up and the laundry done and groceries shopped for and put away, those kinds of things. It’s not like AdventureMan is just lying around eating bonbons, he is also busy. He has taken all those dreadful business phone-calls off my (military wife) plate, and I am pathetically grateful. He also handles most of the house maintenance and all of the yard dealings, he gets the cars serviced, he volunteers at a local elementary school, he is a true partner. so believe me, I am not complaining. I am telling you this so you will understand how much I love having time to read, and not having to think about life-maintenance details.

Just before my husband left to attend his lecture on Tutankhamun, the captain of the ship made an announcement that we will be getting to Port Said a little earlier than expected due to an ill passenger who will be taken off the ship for medical care. Oh yikes. One of my worst nightmares would be to be hospitalized in Egypt. Port authorities will come aboard for some vague reason, he just wanted to let us all know. Very interesting. I went up on deck and saw them lowering the platform where small boats might tie up, I am guessing to offload the passenger, but then nothing happened. Or it happened at a time I wasn’t watching for it to happen, maybe during dinner.

The Captain also said we will be entering a queue of ships and will enter the Suez Canal around 3:45 a.m.  It will take us about ten hours to transit the canal. 

It was a beautiful evening, but oh, the industrial smog that hung over Port Said created a firey sunset.

We are surrounded by cargo ships, so many ships I worry we might run into one another, all crowded together.

I had set my alarm for 3:47 am. but I didn’t even need it, I was so eager, I woke up at 3:30 am. Out on the balcony, I discovered we were moving, and the pilot boat came up and dropped off the Canal Pilot as I was watching.

Port Said oil refineries. We’re starting through the Canal.

I felt great, but I needed coffee. I dressed, went up to Horizons to get coffee, and there was coffee! There were not many people who thought this was worth getting out of bed for, but I didn’t want to miss a minute. I found a couple other early birds and we went up to the top deck.

There was a small group, and one man had a program, Vessel Finder, that showed exactly where we were as we entered and passed through the canal.

We spent hours watching as we made progress, one container ship in front of us about 300 meters, and one behind.

The sun came up and we could see flocks of birds, and see soldiers policing the eastern bank, the land that borders Israel.

Finally, around seven, I went down and joined up with my husband. We went to breakfast, then to the spa, and got two of the lounge chairs. We soaked, then we enjoyed a great view of both sides of the canal for another hour or so.

This little village was full of these structures; I think they are dove cotes, or maybe for pigeons.

This was a ferry taking people from one side of the canal to the other. The entire length of the canal, we only saw one bridge, but we did see military-style floating bridge equipment they could use in an emergency to get to the other side.

The boats ahead of us. These Egyptians did a really smart thing, building this canal, and they built it in record time. Now, there is so much traffic through the canal that they had to build a second parallel channel, and even so, the ships go south all at the same time, and then they go north all the same time. They are willing to pay a lot of money to go through the canal because it beats having to go all the way around Africa to get their goods and products from Europe to India or the Middle East. I read they only allow passenger ships in the winter months.

It was a long crossing. There are parts that are very bleak, and it’s almost like watching a loop, like the same scenery passing and passing . . . I love the novelty of this itinerary, and I also have to admit that ten hours is a lot like watching paint dry.

Nearing the Southern end of the canal we start seeing more small boat traffic.

And dredging equipment, a never-ending task.

It was interesting to me that there was no lecture or video information on our room screens on the enormous accomplishment of building the Suez Canal. There was no commentary from the Captain. Most of the passengers were gathered around the pool, or sequestered in their cabins. I thought it was a missed opportunity; we all could have learned so much.

As we exit, we see fish traps like we used to see in Kuwait

Around 3, we exited at Suez City and sped toward Sfaga, halting only to pick up the passengers who had been evacuated for medical care to Cairo. Imagine! They missed the crossing, but won’t have to miss any of the rest of the trip!

We sat on the balcony, watching cargo container ships and trying to calculate the load, counting, estimating, thousands and thousands of containers stacked on all kinds of boats, in all kinds of configurations. 

The sun sets as we leave the Suez Canal and chug down the Red Sea towards Safaga, where we will dock to go to Luxor, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings.

February 3, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Beauty, Geography / Maps, Photos, sunrise series, Sunsets, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Barcelona to Abu Dhabi: A Stop in Haifa

First, a little orientation. On the map above, in the upper left corner, you will see Acre, and just south of Acre you will see Haifa. At the bottom central, you will see Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Hebron and a short distance to the east of Jerusalem you will see Amman, Jordan, where we lived for two years several years ago.

Early, early in the morning, we make port in Haifa. It isn’t picturesque, the port, and we are instructed that every person on board has to make a face-to-face immigration visit even if they are planning to stay aboard.

Those of us on trips have to do it en route to our tour bus. It is bureaucratic and annoying. The lines are long. There are two other larger tour boats in town, an Azamara and a Costa (full of Italians) so there are a LOT of people processing, and there is also a lot of noise.

The lines more quickly, and we find our bus, which is fairly full, and . . . there is more coughing and sneezing. Some of us are masked. My forehead and upper cheeks feel a little tight, like some little allergen is bothering me.

The trip is to Acre, an old Crusader stronghold with a fascinating history, but we don’t get a lot of the history, but we do get a lot of the guide’s perspective on Israelis and Arabs and threats to Israel, and generalities about the medieval times.

He takes us first to a large souvenir shop with two meager restrooms, and lets us spend a long time there before even beginning our trip.

We spent our time wandering around – nearby – and taking photos. It was a waste of our time, and there was so much we could have seen.

He won’t tell us where we will meet, does not want us wandering off, and because we don’t know when and where we have to meet, we have to stay with the group, my least favorite thing. He may have known a lot about Acre and the Fort, but he failed to convey the significance of what we were seeing, and he failed to place events in their context. “This is the Knight’s Hall” he would say, and let us look at a barren room with a slide show.

We found a map to help us out – except that it was in Hebrew

When we left the fort, the guide led us to the Arab market, we had about an hour. We could hear the call to prayer. Everything was about to come to a halt and we were starving. AdventureMan found a really good – really busy – falafel stand. It took us about half an hour just to get the meal, but it was so worth it – lots of vegetables, pickled eggplants, onion, etc, and the falafel were fresh out of the pot for each sandwich. That, and being able to watch all the regular customers as they ordered take-out for their families, was a lot of fun, and the best part of this trip to Acre. 

I have visited Acre before. It is an old city, with a long history, back and forth. It was a sleepy old seaport, then a Crusader Citadel, then the site of a lengthy battle, which the Moslems won. A few Crusaders escaped alive through a secret hidden tunnel. I was so looking forward to visiting this site. I feel short-changed. If I had it to do over again, I would skip the Oceania tour and take the local ferry to Acre (Acre is a very short distance from Haifa) and we could wander at will (it is not a large location) and take the ferry back and see the things we want to see at our own pace.

When we got back on the bus, it was a hassle getting out of the lot, one couple was missing, and a lot more people were coughing. I couldn’t wait to get back to our quiet room on board. I also had allergies, or sinus, an almost-sore throat and I was just tired.

We considered ordering dinner in our room but decided it would be quicker to just run up to the Terrace buffet and grab something quick. We both had the asparagus salmon soup (not a lot of salmon) and I had a variety of vegetables – a pickled rolled up eggplant called involtini, a little mousse of sweet red pepper, some olives. 

We ate outside – we have a table we like a lot to the far right, shaded from the breeze. It was actually warmer eating outside than inside. I drank a lot of mint tea with lemon and honey for my throat and head. Moustafa, our Turkish waiter, told us about farming practices near Ephesus, where he is from, about yoghurt, and fat content, and wanted to know about the varying kinds of cattle in the US. We didn’t know a lot, he was asking really good questions. We love those kinds of conversations.

By the time we got back to the room, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

I slept poorly, my sinuses swollen, not able to breathe well, feeling like a cold was coming on, until some point I got up and went to the couch where I could sleep in a more vertical position. It worked. I could breathe again, and when I woke up, I was feeling pretty good.

January 26, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Hot drinks, Middle East, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea: We Need to Talk About Ashok

Those of you who know AdventureMan and I personally know that we are relentlessly self-reliant. With all our years of moving and living in a variety of countries, we have needed to be, but in truth, we are wired that way. You will laugh when I say I am uncomfortable even introducing this topic.

Our beautiful room comes with a butler.

It has been an awkward dance, but Ashok, our butler, is a pro at assessing people and working with their preferences. We don’t need a lot of service, and he has found ways to make himself useful to us anyway. Discovering I like Ginger Beer, he scoured the bars, alerted his contacts, and made sure our little refrigerator was well stocked with AdventureMan’s Coca Cola, and my Ginger Beer. He was always polite and pleasant.

The night we had decided to have dinner on the balcony after our day in Taormina and had saved parts of our sandwiches from lunch, we also found a generous tray of hors d’oeuvres waiting for us when we arrived late back to the ship. We had to admit, it was really nice, he had intuited well what we might like.

When we got tired of dressing for dinner and asked to have dinner in our room (part of the perks), he served us with elegance and grace, and made it so much fun that we indulged every few nights.

When AdventureMan wanted his laundry done professionally, Ashok made sure it came back very quickly.

In spite of our self-reliance, Ashok learned how to make himself invaluable to us. And, in truth, we really liked him, and loved our discussions with him. We were impressed with his resourcefulness, and his delight in making things happen. He seemed to delight in delighting us.

We are at sea for two days, en route from Messina to Haifa, Israel.

I was wide awake by five, so I got up quietly and dressed, grabbed my computer, found a cup of coffee at Barista’s, and headed up to Horizon’s, the forward observation lounge to check e-mails. Over 300 e-mails, horrors! I spent a while just deleting, then responding to the few requiring attention – requests from Air France for rating how I liked my flights, and a couple e-mails from friends. Most of the time, in this large lounge, it was just me and one or two others. I did get a nice photo of the sun coming up; it looks a lot like the day before.

When I headed back to our cabin, AdventureMan was just getting up, so we went together to breakfast where I am so delighted to find marinated herring and smoked salmon, two of my favorite things in the world. (It’s my Swedish blood talking.) AdventureMan finds herring abhorrent, and so does the Indonesian lady dishing it up; when I say a bright cheery “thank you!” her response was meant to be a smile, but it was a little twisted by disgust. I also had my virtuous oatmeal, with virtuous fresh blueberries – so much temptation, but my blood sugar is well within normal and I want to keep it there.

After breakfast I introduced AdventureMan to a new thrill – the spa pool at the front of the ship. It is just below the Horizons Lounge, and we had noticed that if you enter the pool by the stairs, you are visible to the people in the lounge. It doesn’t bother AdventureMan, but I figured out how to enter from the side, so as to remain unseen. The spa is very warm to hot, and can be made to bubble, so we had a wonderful twenty minutes in the hot tub in the fresh air, then we headed back to our room.

This early morning trip to the spa, having it all to ourselves, became another guilty pleasure. So lovely, so indulgent.

This quiet sea day, I napped a lot. I meant to read. I meant to update this journal. I napped. I don’t even feel guilty, it felt so good. 

Our cabin as all shades of grayish green, sea colors. The walls look almost gray, but there are streaks of green in the wall paper. The upholstered headboard is a very pale shade of sea-green. The furniture and pillows a little bit darker shade of green, and the two pashmina throws to keep us warm are almost an exact match to the furniture. It’s all very soothing.

There is a little “couch,” really more of a love-seat, where I can fall asleep very easily.

Space is smartly allocated so that there is plenty of closet space, with doors that open so you can see everything, and enough hangers. (Enough hangers! I didn’t have to ask for more!) There are enough drawers to stow things in neatly. The bathroom has two upper-side cupboards, and two lower cupboards with shelves, too. There is more cupboard space in the bathroom than we need; we can keep everything in cupboards, out of sight. (This is a first.)

The ship is very silent. We don’t hear the motors, or the anchors dropping or lifting. We feel little sways and jerks now and then. At one point the weather changed briefly, we had rain. At night the ship swayed enough to cause some to have problems with balance, but it wasn’t much. We can feel the boat rock side to side, just a little, now and then. It is like being a baby again, held against your Mama as she walks about, feeling safe and secure. I napped a lot.

Dinner this night at sea was an Italian Market special, and we ate once again in the casual restaurant but dressed up a little. As it was a little cold and windy, we ate inside instead of at our usual table on the back terrace. It was one of my favorite meals – grilled Italian vegetables (mostly eggplant and peppers) and a big bowl of an Italian kind of Bouillabaisse, a fish stew, and it was wonderful. 

In the restaurant, I could overhear a conversation I longed to join, two tables away, about Amor Towles and A Gentleman in Moscow. I tried to see who the people were, an assortment of six, but I am not sure I would recognize them again. Another woman, seated nearby, was very blonde with a bright red pashmina wrapped around her shoulders – I’ve always envied that drama, and know it isn’t really my style.

Even though I napped a lot during the day, I slept well this night for the first time since Barcelona.

We slept fairly well through the night, awakening around five but getting back to sleep again for another day at sea. Nice breakfast on the Terrace (my virtuous oatmeal, this time with fresh raspberries), followed by another early visit to the spa, where at that early hour, we have it all to ourselves. We were out in time to get ready for the Veteran’s Day/ Remembrance Day Ceremony at 9:15 in the Nautica Lounge. It was simple, short and sweet.

We were back at the Nautica Lounge just a short while later for another enrichment lecture on the Knights Hospitaler and Knights Templar, which helps put everything in context for our upcoming trip to Acre while we stop in Haifa. 

We nap and read through the quiet afternoon as we pass south of Crete and Greece, never seeing a speck of land. Tonight is dinner at Toscana, the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant; we have dinner reservations at seven. We know a waiter who works there, Buti, and he has been waiting for us to come see him. 

The problem, for us, is that by late afternoon we are already closing down. We’ve always been this way, but when we were younger, we really didn’t know it. We dress, I wear the one little black dress I have brought for special evenings, with a red scarf, my own toast to a little drama. When we get to Toscana, there is a line, the restaurant isn’t open yet so we go into the library. Shortly, the Jewish Shabbat began, and we left to give them privacy, got in the line, and very shortly got in and asked to be seated in Buti’s section.

Buti treated us like gold. We felt so special. When I ordered, he insisted I add a small dish of pasta, angel hair aglio oglio, and when he brought it, it was perfect. He also brought a small bowl of sambol oelek sauce, which I know from Kuwait and Qatar, spicy hot peppers in a little vinegar, absolutely divine. I also had Veal Marsala, and AdventureMan had a Caprese Salad and Linguini Cioppiono. Altogether, it was a lovely meal. All around us people were laughing and talking, a single man at the next table was reading Saul Bellow, and as nice as it all was, it was slowly elegant and we got restless. We skipped dessert, which is a really good thing, because my blood sugar was 123 the next day, which gave me a good wake-up call. 

I loved the sambol oelek, and I loved the angel hair pasta. It’s hard for me to be gracious after five at night. When we got home, we were exhausted. Everyone is so kind, wanting to make us feel so special, and I just feel tired and happy to be back in my room getting ready for bed.

January 25, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Civility, Cooking, Cultural, Customer Service, Education, Geography / Maps, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

AirTag Headed Up the Amazon

I know. I apologize. I promised you Barcelona to Abu Dhabi and I have yet to get my act in order. I haven’t reviewed my journal entries. I haven’t sorted through my photos. I admit it, I am too relaxed, too focused on the present moment. I intend to write about the trip and to take you with me. I am working my way through the to-do list that impedes my progress. The trip is my carrot, and I am having trouble getting to the carrot.

Meanwhile, my carefree little AirTag is having a ball. Toured the Caribbean, many islands, places I have never been. Yet. Now that my AirTag has been there, I am intrigued.

Today, oooh la la, my AirTag heads up the Amazon river!

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Geography / Maps, Travel | , | 3 Comments

The Great Sea Voyage: Barcelona to Abu Dhabi

So, my friends, I promised you a new trip, and I apologize for making you wait. We got back just in time to step back into our normal Pensacola routines and then to whirl into the celebrations of Christmas. I like to plan, I like to execute, and I like to give myself time to process. It’s time to begin.

We chose this trip three years ago. We loved the destinations, and we loved the idea of this journey, especially going through the Suez Canal. We love the idea of visiting new places, and we loved the opportunity to revisit some old favorites, especially Wadi Rum, in Jordan, where we lived in another life.

The trip itself took three weeks. We went early to Barcelona. I had been to Barcelona for an international quilt show years ago and loved it; I’ve been so eager for AdventureMan to experience the aliveness of Barcelona. We chose to go a few days early to enjoy the city.

We were traveling with Oceania, a line we haven’t sailed with before. People handle air reservations differently; we choose to let the cruise line set up the travel so that if there are changes (and in the last three years we saw lots of changes) the cruise line is ultimately responsible for getting us where we need to go.

It’s tough giving up our autonomy. This time, it was a struggle, and we finally paid extra for “custom” reservations when they kept offering us bizarre routes we didn’t want to take. At one point, we had reservations that were direct, and we liked, and then they changed, again, because of an airline time change, and we found the new ones unacceptable. At some point, we gave up. We accepted a bizarre routing and the fact that we were responsible for getting ourselves to Atlanta and back, not such a big deal, except for when things change. Right?

This is how we were routed to Barcelona: (Pensacola) – Atlanta – Detroit – Paris – Barcelona.

And here are the bags I took, except at the last minute I took everything out of the backpack and put it in a duffel, not much bigger but the space was more flexible.

We decided to go minimal and to carry everything with us. It caused a lot of agonizing, but in the end, I had everything I needed. It was enough. I think carry-on is a great idea, except it is such a hassle, I like the luxury of checking a bag and carrying a purse and a book. Having had bags go missing so many times in my life (they always caught up with us – eventually), we opted for this illusion of control.

Our first travel day was, in almost every way, a breeze. Our son picked us up on his way to work and dropped us at the airport, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast after an uneventful check-in. The flight schedule was eccentric, even convoluted, but every flight left on time and came in minutes early. Our last two flights of the day were with Air France and were delightful.

Getting to Barcelona took almost two days. We flew from Pensacola to Atlanta on our dime and picked up our cruise-related reservations in Atlanta. We checked in and had time for lunch at PF Changs. Out of Atlanta, we flew to Detroit – I’d never been to Detroit before. I had never seen a Great Lake in person. I was blown away by the vastness of Lake Erie and Lake Superior – so HUGE. I thought of Detroit and its terrible water problem and crumbling infrastructure, surrounded by water, and it seemed so infinitely sad. 

Our flight out of Detroit was an Air France flight – we love Air France. Once we board an Air France, the vacation begins – they take such good of their passengers. 

We had a late dinner on board; Air France does a really cool thing. They serve an appetizer course, an entree, a dessert, and drinks. They also have an express meal which is just the appetizer, bread (with French butter, better than butter I have had anywhere else), and desserts, and the dessert course features really tiny tastes. We chose the express, and then curled up and went to sleep.

I usually sleep badly on planes, but on this flight, it was all grown-ups and somehow it was mostly very quiet. I remember vaguely hearing a bell once when the air got a little turbulent, but it only awakened me slightly and I went back to sleep. My quick breakfast was yogurt and fruit and coffee, and boom, we were at Charles de Gaulle.

Big difference from prior times. While we love Air France, we always dreaded the bag drag through CdG. In years past, there were crowds pushing and snaking for hours, people pushing in line, people crying that they were going to miss their flight – it was a kind of purgatory for travelers. This time, however, it was streamlined, a piece of cake. We had a close connection, which we made with time to spare. 

On the flight to Barcelona, we had a snack meal, and AdventureMan had wine, I had coffee. I asked for more, and Sophia, our flight attendant said “Oh, you like my coffee?” and I said “yes!” because it was really good. Then AdventureMan said “And I really like this wine” and she brought him a small bottle of white wine to take with him, then turned to me and said “And which wine would you like? White? Red?” and I chose a red Bordeaux, the start of our cabin collection since we don’t buy the ships drink package, but pay as we go.

We found the Oceania representative waiting outside the immigration door, and very shortly, she had us taken to our hotel with Ingrid and Juanita, who had also been on our flight. We heard Ingrid speaking harshly to Juanita, and Ingrid caught our exchanged glance and said “Oh I’m just bossy. Juanita is 92 and I have to keep her organized.”

While Juanita was toting two large bags, she might have a hearing problem and might need Ingrid’s explanations and organizing. I was amazed at how strong Juanita was.

This is a longer trip than we usually take, with a variety of temperatures. I have a small carry-on suitcase and a small duffel. They were not stuffed. Our airports are huge, however, and when you have to tote two bags from gate to gate, even take trains or underground trams and still walk a long way, those bags can get heavy. I told AdventureMan that it is different when we go West and wear jeans and casual clothes all the time and no one cares, a cruise ship is a different situation. If our future is carry-on, we will need to go on shorter cruises.

The upside is you just whiz through customs – no waiting around at the baggage carousel. So I like the carry-on idea, I just don’t like the reality of toting bags.

The limousine driver was kind and helpful and gave us lots of good information on the way to our hotel, the Hotel Barcelona Almanac.

December 23, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Air France, Customer Service, Experiment, Family Issues, Geography / Maps, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Errant AirTag Nearing South America

I love that as I age, I am learning skills I never dreamed I would have – or want! And yet, I am glad I have learned to live with mystery, with contradictions, with ambiguity and ambivalence.

I don’t know how my AirTag left my “backpack,” which is really my duffle. I know it happened in Barcelona. Maybe I dropped it? The duffle was taken from my room with my carry-on and taken to the port where it went through inspection all on its own. It then appeared miraculously in my room aboard the Nautica. I say miraculously, because I never take anything for granted. Yes, it was supposed to show up in my room.

No, I am not so trusting as to believe it will. I’ve been without baggage too many times. So, I am just thankful when things happen as promised, and I have clothing and shoes for the trip.

I’m so glad that it really doesn’t matter to me that much that the AirTag didn’t make it with me. Its purpose is to keep track of my bag, and as long as I have the bag, the important things are covered.

What a shock it was when I was in Montreal, checking on my carry-on, which had become a checked bag in Abu Dhabi, and discovered my AirTag from the duffle is still reporting to me. It made me laugh. And now, trip over, back to the routine life of Pensacola and the unsettled month of December, it gives me a small thrill every day that I check for its location and find it in a new spot.

I am living vicariously. Although I am not in motion (nomad that I am), a part connected to me is heading off into the unknown.

The Grapevine, TX location is a mystery. I’m inclined to think it is an anomaly of some kind, but I have no clue, truly, as to why I would have a brief report it was there, and then, a short while later, it is back on the ship. The mystery continues.

December 14, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Geography / Maps, Technical Issue, Travel | | Leave a comment

My Backpack Visits The Great Meteor Seamount

My little Air Tag reminds me of my days in the State Department. A friend would talk of “singing for our supper,” by which he meant our obligation to be entertaining and have a story or two to tell so people would always be glad they invited us.

My Air Tag, emancipated as it became, is certainly entertaining me, and, I hope, you. Do you have any clue what The Great Meteor Seamount is? I assumed it was the site of a fallen meteor, and evidently a huge one. Wrong. It is a sea mountain, yes, but one discovered by people on a ship called Meteor. Here is more information for you, if you, like me, like to go down a rabbit hole or two.

This is from Wickipedia:

Great Meteor Seamount

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Great Meteor Seamount
Great Meteor Seamount at the southern edge of the Atlantis-Meteor Seamount Complex
Summit depth270 m (890 ft)
Height4,500 m (14,800 ft)
Summit area50×28 km² (1465 km²)[1]
Location
LocationNorth Atlantic Ocean, 1,000 km (620 mi) south of the Azores
Coordinates29°57′10.6″N 28°35′31.3″WCoordinates29°57′10.6″N 28°35′31.3″W
Geology
TypeGuyot
Volcanic arc/chainSeewarte Seamounts
History
Discovery date1938
Discovered byMeteor
Wikimedia | © OpenStreetMap

The Great Meteor Seamount, also called the Great Meteor Tablemount, is a guyot and the largest seamount in the North Atlantic with a volume of 24,000 km3 (5,800 cu mi). It is one of the Seewarte Seamounts, rooted on a large terrace located south of the Azores Plateau. The crust underlying Great Meteor has an age of 85 million years, deduced from the magnetic anomaly 34 (An34) at this location.[2]

The shallow and flat summit of the Great Meteor Seamount, ranging between 150 and 300 m (490 and 980 ft) below sea level, suggests that it may have emerged sometime in the past 30 million years.[3] It is covered by a 150 to 600 m (490 to 1,970 ft) thick layer of limestonepyroclastic rocks and bioclastic sandstones.[4] Dredged basalts from the top of the eastern and southeastern flanks of the seamount have been K–Ar dated 10.7 ± 0.5 and 16.3 ± 0.4 million years old, respectively.[5] The oldest sample has been 40Ar/39Ar dated at 17 ± 0.3 million years old.[6]

Two small seamounts exist just southwest of Great Meteor and are encircled by the −3800 m bathymetric line. These are the Closs Seamount, roughly oriented NNE-SSW, with its peak at 1,400 m (4,600 ft) depth and covering an area of approximately 390 km2 (150 sq mi), and the Little Meteor Seamount, located NNE of Closs, with over 960 km2 (370 sq mi) and a flat top 400 m (1,300 ft) below sea level.

The German research vessel Meteor discovered the tablemount between 1925 and 1927. It was given the name Great Meteor Bank, a designation still used in the official GEBCO gazetteer.

Formation[edit]

The New England hotspot formed the White Mountains 124 to 100 million years ago when the North American continent was directly overhead. As the continent drifted to the west, the hotspot gradually moved offshore. On a southeasterly course, the hotspot formed Bear Seamount, the oldest in the chain, about 100 to 103 million years ago. Over the course of millions of years, it continued creating the rest of the seamounts, eventually culminating in the Nashville Seamount about 83 million years ago. As the Atlantic Ocean continued to spread, the hotspot eventually traveled further east, forming the Great Meteor Seamount where it is found today.[7] Radiometric dating of basalt from the Great Meteor Seamount has given ages of about 11 and 16 million years old, with the bulk of the seamount possibly having formed about 22 million years ago.[8]

December 11, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Geography / Maps, Travel | | 1 Comment

Living Large off the Coast of Morocco

Although I am back in Pensacola, I get a thrill checking on the status of my missing Air Tag. Today we are off the coast of Morocco 🙂

December 8, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Geography / Maps, Morocco, Technical Issue | Leave a comment

My AirTag Has a Life of Its Own

For our recent trip, I bought four Apple AirTags and was amazed at how easy it was to use them. You just Google “How do I set up my Apple Air Tag?” and clear instructions appear. Some people have even done videos that show you exactly how to enable and disable your Air Tags.

So I set one up to be for my Carry-on, and another to use for my other carry-on, called Backpack, except that as I was packing I changed to a duffel, and didn’t change the name.

My duffel has four outside pockets and no inside pockets. I tucked the AirTag deep into one of the pockets and stopped thinking about it. Then it came time to leave our hotel and head for the ship, so I put both bags out to be transferred.

Since I pretty much always had them with me, I never bothered checking. Not until coming back, I checked one bag on our complicated route home, and when things got screwed up in Montreal, I checked my phone to find my CarryOn. It showed me exactly where it was, and it made the next flight with me.

But at the same time I was checking, I noticed an anomaly. My “backpack,” which was with me, was shown to be in the Gulf of Lion, close to Montpellier. How could this be? Sure enough, I have the duffel, but I do not have the AirTag. The AirTag is gone missing.

But someone has it.

Honestly, to me this is hilarious. First – I have all my baggage and its contents. That’s what matters. The only thing that is missing is the AirTag. Second – my AirTag is traveling, I am thinking on one of the Oceania ships, and I could probably find out which one if I wanted to spend the time finding out which ship is in what spot (there are apps, I have discovered, which can tell you – and show you – exactly where any ship is, how cool is that?) Meanwhile, every now and then I check to see where my old AirTag is now, and it is always in a different location. It’s kind of fun for me to see where it is.

Why would someone carry around someone else’s AirTag?

Yes, I am planning to tell you all about our trip. First, I have to get through the jet lag, get my life in order, get Christmas under control (ho ho ho), and process some of what I experienced. Narrative and photos coming soon. It was a GREAT adventure. 🙂

December 1, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Africa, Air France, Christmas, ExPat Life, Geography / Maps, iPhone, Technical Issue, Travel | , , | 2 Comments