Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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

First Stop: Messina and Taormina

We had a surprise, learning our Taormina on Your Own tour will not be leaving until 1:55, but we sailed right into the heart of Messina, past the beautiful Christ blessing ships at the entrance to the harbor.

I’m such a kid, I love watching the pilot boats arrive to escort us into port.

The early tours depart.

We have a quiet breakfast out on the Terrace and learn that not everyone is getting off the ship; some people are staying aboard. It boggles my mind. This is an amazing itinerary, it’s why we chose the trip. How can you stay on the ship?

I am beginning to find my way through the buffet. I can have oatmeal – AND smoked salmon. Much to AdventureMan’s disgust, I can also have pickled herring. The Swedish part of my heritage goes deep.

The Norwegian Star is about five times the size of the Oceania Nautica!

Once the early tours are gone, there are no problems walking off the ship, so we decided to go into Mesina to see the church with the horological clock, the biggest in the world. Exiting the tourist terminal, there were many people offering taxi rides, but they were not overly aggressive, and we were able to escape quickly. We crossed the street with a Sikh and his wife who very agreeably told us we needed to be more aggressive and to “think like Italians.” They were very kind. 

The church was mere minutes from the ship; we could see the ship many times through the streets to the waterfront.

At the church, there were few people, hucksters selling cheap souvenirs and Indian-made shawls, and two open Hop On Hop Off kinds of buses. We asked about one, and it had a 45 minute tour for 10 Euro, so we bought tickets and five minutes later along came a bus. It was almost full, but there was one seat, and, as it turned out, I was on the good side for taking lots of photos. 

Behind me was a woman who said “Quick! Look up! There is a great photo” so I looked up and it was.

She and her husband were New Zealanders, newlyweds, who had intended to take a cruise for their honeymoon when COVID struck. They decided when COVID ended to take their trip, but in the three years, added several other loops onto the trip, and it ended up being three months full of adventure. They were having a wonderful time; they were on the Norwegian Star, parked with the Nautica on the waterfront.

There were all kinds of Messina tours on offer.

I love this view; you can see how close Sicily is to the mainland of Italy. There is a ferry that goes back and forth; it is common to live on one side and work on the other.

Lots of representations of Poseidon/Zeus, God of the Sea

Just before exiting, we saw a very old church with wonderful stonework, so we decided to take a look. The church was partially built into the old Greco-Roman wall around Messina, squat and sturdy.

AdventureMan said “Look, we can go in!” and I said no, but he kept saying he thought we needed to go inside so I agreed. Great call, AdventureMan.

Annunziata dei Catalani Church

Oh, what I would have missed if I had not gone in! It was a very old church, and in the back was a handmade Messina-specific creche, with all kinds of villagers convincingly portrayed. It was one of the most elaborate creches I have ever seen, and I was thoroughly enchanted.

The church is thought to be the oldest church in Messina, with Arabic influences in the stonework, probably it was once a church, then a mosque, and is now a church again. Entrance is free – there is a small box for donations.

As we walked back to the ship, we learned we were supposed to have photo ID with us. I had my driver’s license (our passports were on board the ship) but AdventureMan had nothing. Then, suddenly, he realized he had photos of his passport page and other ID, which he showed the customs police, and it sufficed. There were others who had nothing, and it was a big problem for them to get through the Border Guards and back aboard.

There was also a woman just catching up with the Nautica. Her husband, and the bags, were stuck at the immigration shack. She and a bag were trying to get on board. She was very tired and very annoyed. “Worst start of a cruise EVER” she told us. It turns out there were twenty couples from England in the same situation, some of whom didn’t catch up until we got to Haifa. 

We had been disappointed to be leaving so late for Taormina, but it turned out to be a really good thing. We really like exploring on our own, and had a wonderful time exploring Messina, and meeting people from other cruises, other countries, and other ways of life. We loved the funny little Hop On Hop Off bus and its one-hour circular route allowed us to see Messina and get back to the ship in time for our tour to Taormina.

We had a quick lunch at Waves, the outdoor grill. We had the panini, and it was a lot, so we saved half our sandwiches so we could just eat in our room at the end of a long day without needing to order from room service.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, Italy, Living Conditions, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

At Sea On U.S. Election Day

It is wonderful to be at sea in the turmoil of this year’s election. No one is talking about it onboard. What a relief.

We are told there are passengers from 39 nations on board, and crew from more nations. The entire day, we hear not a word about the American election.

The demographic is very much our age group. If anything, we are younger than most. Hard to say, but we see some very old but still adventuresome travelers, which gives us hope for our own future travels.

We were wide awake before seven. I got up and went to get some coffee. We can have it delivered to the room, but on these relaxed days at sea, we don’t like to commit to a time and it is just as easy to go get my own cup at the dedicated coffee bar. Actually, coffee is available in many places on the ship, and the smell of coffee early in the morning wafts everywhere.

We had decided to try The Grand Dining Room for breakfast, wanting to be less formal in a very formal environment.

The waiters are all white-jacketed and very pleasant. The menu is lovely – the tastiest item was smoked salmon with cream and capers and white onion, a great way to start the day. AdventureMan shared with me. The fruit platters were large enough for two; I cut most of mine into small pieces to stir into my virtuous oatmeal. Don’t you think smoked salmon is virtuous too? I think I prefer virtuous tasty smoked salmon to virtuous oatmeal. 

I am not complaining. I eat oatmeal every day at home. As a diabetic, it is great for keeping my blood sugar levels down. The Nautica had really nice oatmeal. And oatmeal just pales in comparison to all the lovely choices available for breakfast, all the beautiful pastries, croissants, breakfast breads, all the lovely foods with a lot of fats and sugars. Yes, even on a cruise, I pay attention. I will try not to whine again.

After breakfast, I grabbed some of my hotter weather clothes to iron – the compression bags puts some serious wrinkles into linen clothing.

The laundry room is much smaller than it appears on the ship map, but the iron was hot and efficient, and there were other passengers doing small loads of washing and drying. It is handy that it is all free. There is a laundry on board, and although we have laundry service I prefer doing my own laundry. We have a line in the shower where we can hang items we have hand laundered in the sink, and we found little detergent slips on Amazon that are very compact and efficient for hand laundry.

Then we walked the walking track, windy, invigorating; we have a lovely sunny day, warm enough but sometimes the wind was so strong it blew me into AdventureMan. I am happy we packed some of our cool-weather gear; when we are at sea, it can be windy and chilly. We checked out the gym, where AdventureMan found mats available for stretching as I look eagerly at the outside spa overlooking the bow of the ship. Heaven!

Back in the room, AdventureMan naps as we wait for the eleven o-clock enrichment lecture on the Origins of the First Crusade, in preparation for our time in Sicily and Israel. I am excited we will be going to Acre, the old Crusader stronghold, the day we arrive there.

 The lecture was well attended, probably four hundred or so passengers.

And then off we went to lunch at The Terrace restaurant.

We have found a table we love; sheltered by a small wall but still with a good view out over the aft of the ship. The Terrace is the ship’s buffet restaurant, except that it is not like a buffet where you dish up your own portions. There are very pleasant wait-staff every few feet who put food on your plate. You can say “a very small portion, please” or “could I have a little more of that?” and they will give you exactly what you wish. Don’t you love having choices?

It all feels so indulgent.

After lunch, I read while AdventureMan attended an afternoon lecture on How Man Learned to Navigate by the Stars, which he said turns out to be very complicated. Here is the truth, I will admit it, I needed a nap. I am not yet fully adapted to the time change. The little couch is a perfect size for me, and there is a soft sea-green throw I can cover up with and I am out like a light.

Dinner this night is at the Polo Grill, and, sadly, while these reservations are greatly coveted, by dinner time I don’t care. I don’t much want to dress up; I wish they would just deliver the dinner to the room, but this is part of the Oceania experience and so we dress and go up for dinner. The code is “country-club casual.” There are many interpretations of what that might mean. Here is ours.

I had a shrimp cocktail, tomato salad, and lobster, AdventureMan had the Lobster Bisque, Fois Gras en Croute, and the lobster, and we split a Creme Brûlée. The Creme Brûlée was very good.

It is a lovely kind of evening, and we enjoyed ourselves because we do this so rarely. The night is sweet and warm, the moon is full, and we can’t resist a lap or two around the walking track before we go to sleep.

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Diet / Weight Loss, Eating Out, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

We Sail Away on Oceania’s Nautica

AdventureMan made a good call. It feels like forever since we have gotten up without an alarm, and had time to take time. We got up, dressed, made sure our bags to be picked up and transported to the Nautica were ready to go, and headed down to breakfast. At a nearby table, I spotted two men who had also sat near us the day before. I noticed them because they were kind to each other, and seemed to have really good conversations. Sometimes you just have a feeling.

Our 10:45 departure actually took place at close to 11. We had been ushered to a separate lounge downstairs, as other cruisers – maybe from other ships, too – were all sitting in the lobby and there were no seats. We got to the bus and and Alan and Ed, whom we had seen at breakfast, were sitting behind us. We had a nice chat – they are long-time Oceania cruisers. About our age, they have been many places, including Swaziland, and are on the ship all the way to South Africa, more than 30 days. They also both use the same camera I am using. It was a fun conversation, and we ended up running into them often, and always had good visits.

The boarding process was smooth and unhurried We checked in to our muster station, which was the Nautica’s main lounge.

We decided to find a shady spot by the pool while we waited for our staterooms to be ready.

They called our level around 12:30 and I got a nice surprise when we got to our suite – it is larger than I expected. It has more storage than I expected. It has larger closets and more hangers than I expected The bathroom, while small, has a lot of storage.

It has lovely shades of sea green, a dining room table with two comfy chairs, a small couch with coffee table, and a comfy, firm bed with good linens. The balcony is large, with comfy reclining wicker furniture. 

You probably wonder why I am showing you these details. Everyone had different priorities, and this will be a long trip. We put a little extra money into a larger room so we would be able to move around without annoying each other. We know we will be spending a lot of time in this room. So to enter, and to find that it is lovely and spacious matters to us. We can breathe in this room.

We put away clothes and make ourselves at home, then go for lunch at Waves, a casual restaurant near the pool where I had salmon – not that great – and AdventureMan had an ahi tuna sandwich, which he said was pretty good. My salmon was overcooked and dry.

We explored, then headed back to the cabin for some quiet time around four. 

The library had all the newest best sellers and great travel and reference books about the places we would see.

These signs below are everywhere. At first, it can be hard knowing which way is foreward and which is aft, and whether you are on port or starboard, but the signs keep you informed. One of the crewmembers told us when we come off the stairs to look for the telephone; our cabin is on that side.

Below is Bhuti, one of the first people we met on board. He would always go out of his way to make sure we had the things we liked, including an Indonesian sauce called Sambol. He treated us like honored guests. I think the staff must have entered information in computers everyone could check, information about the passengers, because everywhere we went, people knew what we liked. It was actually kind of fun to be taken care of so hospitably.

As we left the cabin, we met Miguel, our next-door neighbor. Miguel and Maria are very quiet. They had only a day in Barcelona but had hired a private guide who took them everywhere. Miguel’s face lit up as he told us about their adventures during that day. We learned also that they met when they were sixteen, and married in their early twenties, and you could see, after all these years, how devoted they were to one another. Whenever we met up, we would have great conversations. It’s amazing to me that the people we liked the best on the trip were people we met at the very beginning. Running into them and having these animated discussions made the ship feel like a village.

The ship was due to depart at 6:00, so we went out to the highest deck to watch.

Finally, we decided to go eat, at the Terraces restaurant, where we found a seat out on the aft terrace, lovely, uncrowded, warm, and not windy, and we could watch Barcelona recede into the distance as we sailed away. The ship had left while we were in transition to the restaurant and we didn’t even feel it. 

We wanted to eat light; we are both still getting used to the time change, so I looked for the pumpkin soup and finally asked a server who was standing by a big black cauldron – full of pumpkin soup. There was a platter of paella, too, so I had a small amount of that. Sitting outside watching the lights of Barcelona grow smaller in the warm evening with the full moon was delightful. 

After dinner we came back to the cabin and I figured out how to work the internet. We can only use one electronic device at a time. I meant to update this journal but found nearly 400 emails I needed to delete and eleven to which I needed to respond. Meanwhile, AdventureMan, exhausted, fell asleep, so I decided to read for a while until I was sleepy – I’m having trouble getting to sleep. It will get better.

The ship is amazingly quiet. We don’t hear the engines. We didn’t even know when the ship pulled away from the dock, it was so smooth. The ship doesn’t rock, at least not much. The corridors are quiet. The dining rooms are full of people, but conversations are quiet. There are no children on this ship. It looks to me like we are right at the median of the age on board. There are much older folk, and then there are some in their fifties. There are a few with mobility issues.

January 18, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Food, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Restaurant, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | , | Leave a comment

Barcelona, A Breast Cancer Run, and Sagrada Familia

I slept lightly but slept from 10 p.m. to 7:45 a.m., so good enough. We keep expecting jet lag to kick in, but I think we are so busy we are sleeping well at night from sheer exhaustion. We took our time getting ready and headed down to breakfast. What a surprise! Different, but beautiful and tasty and plentiful. I had a little cereal, some thinly sliced ham and sausage, and an espresso, then another. AdventureMan had bread and sausages, with some delicious jam and four fresh orange juices. The room was full of cruisers, some from Princess, so I don’t know who will be cruising with us.

From our room after breakfast, we could see hundreds of pink t-shirted women running. I know this race! Where else do thousands of women race in bright pink T-shirts in October and November? It’s a huge run against breast cancer, and it goes on and on. Streets are closed.

Where we thought we would catch the HopOn HopOff bus is closed off. We have to walk a short distance to the next stop, but we don’t care. This is lovely, and wonderful! They were still running when we went to Plaza Cataluña and we had to cross them going to the plaza, then come back from the place because the buses had to be caught elsewhere.

When we got to the bus, I didn’t have a mask and had to go back to the hotel to pick one up. When we got back to the bus, it was perfect timing, we got a great seat up on top.

We got to Sagrada Familia just in time for our 10:30 tickets. I was surprised we had to go through security like airplane security.

(There are many places you can buy your tickets in advance. We bought our Hop On Hop Off tickets and our Sagrada Familia tickets directly from the operators. Sagrada Familia has a very nice website: https://sagradafamilia.org/en/)

Sagrada Familia was beautiful; beautiful lines, like a stone forest holding up the ceiling. The stained glass windows were stunning. The colors were like Matisse, but without images. We just basked in their loveliness. There wasn’t a huge crowd, and it was quiet and respectful. I can’t imagine what it might be like in high season. 

It is a gorgeous Sunday morning, and these people have the most amazing location, just across from Sagrada Familia. What a lovely place to have your Sunday morning coffee and newspaper.

I love the beauty of the statuary, and – look at the frame! It looks like giant teeth!

This has to be a metaphor for the abundance of the Earth . . .

Look how tenderly this (King?) holds this precious baby

It is an artist’s gift, I believe, to use earthly materials to express the inexpressible and barely attainable. Gaudi combines earthliness and Godly tenderness and compassion in a remarkable and awe-inspiring way.

AdventureMan was not wild about visiting Sagrada Familia when there are so many great places to visit in Barcelona. He went to please me. He was WOWED. He still talks about this visit with awe. Best visit ever!

January 14, 2023 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Building, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

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

Adieu, Émile

As we stood outside in the back of the house, looking at the little courtyard and the terraces, my daughter-in-law said “We call this the cat crossing. We don’t know where they all come from, but there are always cats crossing.”

Soon we had one who came regularly, a cat like we have never had before. He was young and scrawny (we’ve had young, scrawny cats before) and his left eye was opaque. He showed up faithfully around the time we fed our indoor cats, looking for a meal, thus Émile. We bought separate bowls, and kept him – and his comrades – fed. Even when we travel, our housekeeper/ cat sitter would make sure he never went hungry.

The only way we knew he might like us was that when he heard our voices, he would come hang out. We were never able to get closer than 3 feet away from him, and even 3 feet made him goosey. We would thrill when he would spend a day or two up in his niche, a safe little place surrounded on all sides. Late in the day, he would wander away until meal time the next morning.

Emile with a fresh white squirrel

He was, like most cats, a ferocious hunter, and was proud to show off his latest squirrel or bird; what cat doesn’t love a fresh hot meal?

But one day, about two months ago, he started looking a little peaky. The last time I saw him, he was having trouble with a back leg. He disappeared.

Cats do that – outdoor cats. When they are unwell, they go somewhere. Sometimes they get better. We’ve had cats come back before, but I don’t think Emile will be back. The other cats have disappeared, too. There may be some kind of a cat virus going around, or, God forbid, someone may be poisoning them.

We would have liked to provide for Emile, to take him to a vet, get him immunized, get him checked out. We would have liked to give him affection. We would have liked for him to trust us.

And a part of me, thinking like a feral cat, imagines that none of that was of any interest to Emile. He seemed happy with the life he had, free, with a free-range menu supplemented by these strange two-legged beings who put out offerings for him on a regular basis. We sort of knew that this would be the way it ended, that he would ghost us in the end.

Being pragmatic, knowing the probability of this particular kind of ending, doesn’t make it any better. We’re still sad he is gone, and thankful for the time we had him in our lives.

July 24, 2022 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Living off My Fat: Adaptation

It probably all started growing up in Alaska, where my mother would measure us in July to order our snowsuits as soon as the new catalogs came out. We lived where ships didn’t come in the winter, so supplies for the winter needed to be ordered – and received – before the ships could no longer navigate the channel.

Then came our life in Germany, where we lived by what my sister called “Commissary rules.” Her one word of advice as a newlywed leaving Germany, while I was staying, was “When you see something in the Commissary or PX you think you MIGHT need, buy it.” Definitely a no-regrets philosophy.

When we were sent to live in Tunisia, in the late 1970’s, we were instructed to take everything we might need for the next two years. Some things – chocolate chips – we learned to live without. We adapted to new foods, new ways of doing things. One of the great treats was the fresh, gorgeous, silky olive oil; I would take my jar to the little olive oil vendor at the nearby souk and he would weigh my jar, fill it, subtract the weight of the jar and charge me for the oil, which made everything taste French.

I did have a two-year supply of shoes for a growing toddler, also clothing for him in graduated sizes, and two years of age-appropriate books I could pull out of the closet. We were able to mail-order through the embassy pouch, and my mother was able to mail me little extras. One year, when I was running the Christmas bazaar, she was able to find red and green Christmas fabrics in July, at a discount, and mail them to us for our crafting. It was such a luxury!

In Qatar, I was always bringing back duffels with quilting rulers and rotary cutters for my quilting friends. In Kuwait, it was books for my book club and American sugar for a friend who liked to bake. Kuwait had sugar, but more coarse, and American sugar melts more quickly for a finer result. Who knew?

There are items from the past I still have in abundance – dental floss, women’s underwear, shoes – and staples I buy but no longer use in the quantities I once did because we no longer live a life where we entertain a lot nor prepare for unexpected people on temporary duty who need a meal and an exchange of currency. I am trying to bring down my supplies of artichoke hearts and pimentos, beans and rice, canned tomatoes, chutney, Tupperware and hand soap.

My Little Free Library, one of the best birthday gifts ever, helps me keep my books from overflowing.

We are happy, these days, to be living with less. We are still caught by surprise by rolls of baking parchment we are still using from Kuwait, dental floss leftover from our years in Tunis and an excess of Christmas decorations we still need to pare down. We try to go easy on ourselves. “Ah,” we sigh, “it’s a process.” God grant that we live long enough to use up all those supplies we bought “just in case.”

July 5, 2022 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Christmas, Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Germany, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Shopping, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel, Tunisia | Leave a comment

Ignoring the Law

I still get ads and info from Qatar sources. Living in Doha was such a vivid experience; experiencing the life of a country going from a sleepy little village to a mecca of skyscrapers was an astounding experience.

Qatar was full of contradictions, and the treatment of domestic workers, all imported from mostly Asian countries, was abysmal. While some few families treated their servants well, most did not. Contracts were not honored. Few had any time-off, most were on call 24 hours a day.

So this new law from the Ministry of Labor is . . . interesting. I find myself cynically wondering if this legislation will have any impact on how Qataris treat their servants, or if it is just national window dressing?

Not to be hitting unfairly on Qatar, it brings to mind the Florida Sunshine Laws. Florida passed some truly progressive laws suggesting that citizens of Florida had a right to know what their elected officials were doing, and how they made their decisions. I know – amazing stuff, even in a democracy. Florida took a lot of pride in those laws, and for many years, those laws were, to a great extent, observed and enforced.

Fast forward to Florida in the times of COVID and there is not a mention of the Florida Sunshine Laws. Some of the Sunshine Laws have been amended, to protect Law Enforcement and court officials. Most of the Sunshine Laws are now just ignored.

How does this manifest? How about the governor telling the Health Department not to publish health statistics, and telling them not to count people from out-of-state who come here and catch COVID. How about not allowing them to collect all the statistics, just every other week? How about not publishing the transmission rate on a daily or even weekly basis?

How about concealing how Universities recruit and select college presidents?

Publishing laws that look good on paper is one thing. Writing the laws so that they have teeth, and can be enforced, is another. Having a police force on the city and county level which will enforce laws as written is another. Having courts that will support the enforcement of the laws as written is another.

Having an independent legislature is another critical factor, we have to ask if the intention is for them to represent our will as citizens or if they exist to rubber-stamp gubernatorial stage-craft?

One of my friends at church mentioned yesterday that the state of Florida now has a holiday, Juneteenth, the explanation for which is not legally allowed to be taught in Florida schools, where any acknowledgment of the history and damages of enslavement might make young white school children uncomfortable.

When people behave badly towards one another, whether in Qatar or in the USA, maybe feeling uncomfortable is appropriate.

June 20, 2022 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, fraud, Law and Order, Leadership, Political Issues, Qatar, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues | Leave a comment

Back in Kuwait

No, No don’t get excited. It’s a metaphor.

When I lived in Kuwait, I would tell my friends it was a lot like living in Alaska, and I loved the look on their faces. Then I would explain – in Alaska, people wait eagerly for good weather, and when it comes, they can’t get enough of it. We are outdoor people.

For much of the year, Alaskans are trapped inside, and have to be good at finding things to do to keep themselves from going crazy.

In Pensacola, as it was in Kuwait, the temperatures are very hot. Kuwait was mostly very dry, and had sandstorms, unlike Pensacola, but shared having a long coastline, and heat with humidity in the summers.

So now, as in Kuwait, I am up early, to get to the pool and swim my laps, so lovely and cool. If I need to grocery shop, I try to shop on the way home, so as not to have to venture out again as the day heats up. I get home, and tend to the Little Free Library while it is still in the shade. Most of the rest of the day I spend inside, except for picking up grandchildren at their camps.

It is a great time to do some quilting. I am just about to start when Ragnar, my helper, comes in to join me. (Also, AdventureMan is outside weed-eating and edging, which is of endless amusement and torment to Ragnar, who forgets he was once a feral, outdoor cat, and was lucky to survive.)

I do a couple more things to set up, hoping Ragnar will take the hint and move off to find something more interesting. He doesn’t. In the end, I have to lift him (lovingly) and place him in another room on a blanket we call Blue Mama, because Ragnar particularly loves sleeping on this blanket.

He doesn’t come back, and I spend the morning “back in Kuwait,” enjoying my confinement by working with fabrics and colors I love, patterns I would never wear but enjoy the challenge of working them into quilts.

June 16, 2022 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Cultural, ExPat Life, Florida, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Weather, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment