From 36,000 feet

Picture 001 At the risk of seeming horribly provincial, I just can’t resist making a post from the sky.sitting here with my laptop open, crammed into a seat so tightly that I can’t get the lid all the way up.  I’m on a Delta flight and I have a wireless connection.  Amazing.  Of course, I can’t turn my phone on, but I can post to my blog?  Ah well, no laughing allowed here.  This is a photo of me taken with my webcam on the laptop.  Of course, there is an adorable girl sitting next to me who will NOT be quiet for even a minute.  I’m hiding behind earplugs while she flirts with the cute guy next to her.  This may seem like a completely irrelevant post, but really, for most of us, isn’t technology shifting and changing exponentially?  Blogging from the air.  I think someone else recently did this as well, Jeanne, I believe, on her way to Tucson.  Now if we could just figure out how to get the computer all the way open so we can see the screen and type at the same time when the person in front of us has their seat reclined.  Too funny!

Off to Miami for our cruise January 3 and 4

Since I currently live in California, Mo and I planned our flights from San Francisco, flying to Miami to embark, returning to San Diego for our final port, then flying back to San Francisco. The South San Francisco Travelodge has a park, stay, and fly package that is a great deal for these kinds of trips. With a stay on either end of the trip included, and parking for the entire time we are away, the cost is much less than even the economy lots at the airport. The shuttle is free both ways as well. Our room was warm, roomy and comfortable. Especially with the cold, wet fog of San Francisco, we were happy to be cozied up in a decent place. Arriving in South San Francisco early in the day gave us some time to do some shopping, enjoying lunch and wine at the Maceroni Grill. Later in the evening we drove down to the wharf and had a great dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I had to try the key lime pie, in preparation for our upcoming trip to the Florida Keys in March.

Our flight was scheduled for 11 pm so we went to the airport to wait. The red-eye flight was uneventful on American Airlines, and we had great seats again, on the 2 seats per row side of the airplane. I slept well and the flight went quickly. Morning in Miami was cool and sunny, and getting to the pier was uneventful, but the boarding of the Celebrity Constellation was really slow. With all the extra security due to the Christmas Day bomber, it took much longer to clear the incoming ship for immigration. The lines were long and the wait was more than a couple of hours. Very tiresome. We hoped this wasn’t setting the bar for the rest of our first Celebrity cruise!

Finally on board, we settled into our cabin. It was very roomy and comfortable, with a large bathroom and shower, the biggest yet in our experience. We decided to explore the ship and with only 11 decks, it seemed very small. For a moment, we wondered how it might be to have to spend 14 days on this smaller ship. This was my first cruise longer than 7 days, although Mo managed a 21 day cruise to China several years ago.

Our first evening in the dining room wasn’t especially memorable. Although we requested a private table for two, we were seated with two other people, an obnoxious woman and her husband who never stopped talking and carrying on a very negative conversation throughout the entire meal. However, after dinner we enjoyed the entertainment at the very lovely Celebrity Theater We explored the ship some more after the show and began to adjust to the size. It certainly didn’t take long to find our way around.

On Monday morning we arranged for a room service breakfast, served right on time, but decided we didn’t need to try that again. The food was very boring, with tasteless bacon and sausage and dry toast. Ugh. Since it was a sea day and we were exhausted from our previous travels, we snuggled back under the covers and slept in until 10 AM. The skies were cloudy and gray and I just watched the sea slide by my window for a long time. Amazingly, I wasn’t the least bit seasick and found myself really enjoying the gentle movement of the ship. When we got up we checked out the shops and computer lab. Sadly, my ACER Netbook refused to boot up, so all my plans for photo management and blog writing during the cruise were nipped in the bud.

Later we enjoyed a truly delightful lunch at the Seaside Buffet, eating by the main pool area. After checking out the spa on the 11th deck, we settled in to play cards in the game room, had a snack at the Kove Patisserie, played some bingo in the afternoon, went to the Casino, had a drink in the Rendezvous Bar, and again explored the top decks of the ship. Sounds like a typical cruise trip, doesn’t it!

The evening was formal, and again dinner was impressive. We insisted on our requested table for two, and after some confusion we settled in to a table in a narrow part of the dining room near the galley. Although not a perfect location, we never again had our dinner spoiled by irritating table mates. I especially enjoyed the many courses offered at dinner, with an amazing beef capriccio appetizer, cold fruit soup, spinach salad, sea bass, and cherries jubilee. Off to the theater for another Broadway type production with great music to end our first full sea day.

Flying to Istanbul

5pm west coast time, but at the moment I am somewhere over the Atlantic ocean with Iceland to the north. Who knows what time it is, doesn’t it all become irrevelant when you are flying at 629 miles per hour, at 37000 feet and the outside temperature is -58 degrees?? Funny.

Travel. Great word. Brings to mind all sorts of things like adventurous journeys to amazing places I have never been. Brings to mind journeys in the MoHo, stories I hear about Mo’s travels to so many places in the world, travel. What I always want to do. Road trips. Far places. Exotic countries. One thing, however, is that you do have to get there. Which usually means flying. Travel equals flying. For many very long hours in very small spaces with a whole lot of people.

I used to love to fly. Flying was once a great thrill to me, but after a lot of years of traveling for my government job it has become a bit less dramatic to get in a big metal cylinder and zoom up to 37 thousand feet or so. I have always loved the window seats, I guess it’s the map maker in me, I love to watch the landscapes, the patterns, see how the soil patterns show up on the ground beneath me, identify the peaks and ranges and rivers. It’s a bit sad that I am beginning to think that yeah, maybe an aisle seat isn’t so bad after all. How many times can you fly over the US, trying to see through the pervasive high level pollution and still be thrilled by what is below. Well, maybe a few more times, but I still won’t let myself be completely disappointed by the aisle seats.

We left Jamestown yesterday afternoon for the 3 hour drive to san Francisco, this time staying at the Travelodge in SSF for their great park and fly special. The room wasn’t bad at all, a place to sleep and bathe and get ready for the next day. Dinner at the Hungry Hunter, good food, good wine, and to sleep by 8 for the 3am alarm call. Shuttle at 4. Plenty of time. OK where are we going? Carefully reading our itinerary, we see “international” terminal 3. Mo thinks maybe it should be domestic since we are going to Chicago first, but we rethink perhaps our luggage needs to depart in some sort of international way. Shuttle drops us off, through those doors, he says, and in we go to the emptiest airport I have ever experienced. One tired maintenance worker pushing a cart around, an asian man sleeping on the chairs, and row after row of empty counters. United Airlines international check-in, not a soul. Counters say they open at 7am. Our plane leaves a 6. Hmmm. Must be some kind of mistake, we think, both of us seriously uncomfortable but not sure what else to do. Finally someone says, the counters are supposed to open at 5, and then I spied a pilot and cornered him. In very, very patient, very condescending tones, he asks me, “so what city do you think you are in right now? What city are you going to? You need to go to the domestic counters.” “But our papers say international” I say, trying to stay calm. He says, you are getting a bit late for your baggage, go down those stairs, down to the next terminal, and find the domestic counter.

Off we go, feeling a bit panicky, and a bit frustrated, and after a bit of time, we manage to find the domestic counter, with lines, and helpful people who don’t understand why we are late. We try to check our luggage, and then trying to make sure that it is checked through to Istanbul, the airline person, says, no, it’s just going to franfurt. What?? Panic getting a bit stronger now. She says, “follow me here, we will get this done for you.” Counter person, with a hmph, says you are running a bit late here for the baggage cutoff. Do you have one or two pieces. Just one. Wait Mo has one, is that me with one or me with two? Moana? Oops, I left my ticket back on that last counter. OK we are running now, trying to find the gate and get through the security lines. Sure enough, someone very slow in front of us, someone very large with a lot of stuff and a leg in a brace, he says go in front of me, so Mo goes ahead. Oops, can’t carry your passport folder through the machine, quick drop it in the bin. Whew. Through the xrays. Uhoh. Where is Mo’s passport??? It’s fallen out of the bin and is now caught in the rollers. Hmmm. Where? The rollers???!!! The security person lifts off the rollers, retrieves the passport, Mo tries to get her shoes on, Sue tries to get on shoes while picking up the laptop, and omigosh, where IS that gate anyway. Now we are running, almost running through the airport, looking like all those people I see running through airports and think hmmm, how could they not have planned more carefully. We find the gate. Coffee? Breakfast? Not today. The plane is loaded. We are flushed and rushed and yes, we are on the plane. Whew! What a way to start a trip.

After that very wild start, we had a lovely flight, smooth and on time. Amazing. It was a great time of day to be leaving SF with enough light to see everything but enough darkness for the lights to be twinkling. The bridges were lovely, the pink morning light illuminated everything like magic. In spite of the fact that my hair and clothes were drenched from the run, it was beautiful.

The rest of the day has been fairly simple. Plenty of time in Chicago for a salad and a beer, back on the 777 again, just a couple of seats ahead of our previous flight, this time in the middle aisle, but thank goodness on the aisle. I am knitting, Mo is doing crosswords. The movie was “Mamma Mia” which is fun for both of us since we have a great memory of seeing the live broadway show on a spontaneous travel afternoon in Minneapolis a couple of years ago. Half way through this flight now, to Frankfurt. Hopefully our luggage will keep up with us. Amazingly, there isn’t one single crying baby on this plane! How lucky is that!

Saturday morning we landed in Frankfurt, Germany. There wasn’t any clue about where to go or what to do and when I spoke English to some of the airport personnel they acted truly irritated with me. I was getting a bit intimidated by all of it, and Mo and I walked around a bit before we managed to find someone who could tell us where to go. After flying for so many hours we were beginning to get tired and not a little bit grumpy with all the unknowns. I was surprised at how hard it was for me to feel at all comfortable with the language barrier in Germany. I was also surprised at how little I like the sound of the German language.

We finally found a Haagen Daz store, I had a tiny bit of ice cream, 5 bucks for maybe 4 ounces, but it was nice to have a place to sit and watch people. We discovered that we just had to wait till our departure time was a bit closer before they posted it up on the big board. We had 3 hours to wait in Franfkurt, so of course, there wasn’t anything up on the boards yet. They listed the gate letter but not the gate number and that had the two of us a bit disconcerted for a while for sure. By the time we got on the big airbus headed for Istanbul we were feeling the tiredness of all these hours flying. No matter where you go, you somehow have to get there, and that’s the hard part. It makes the first day seem really hard, so even things that might seem ok are made much worse by the tiredness and exhaustion of the travels. Just forget how things feel on that first day, I guess, just let it go.

Saturday evening at 730 pm Istanbul time
We are here in the hotel Lion waiting for our included dinner after meeting with the group. We managed to get in to the country today in spite of the wild weather that was plaguing most of Germany. As we circled Istanbul, the wild waves whipped up by the winds were dramatic and scary. The passengers cheered the pilot when we landed, it was a scary windy very sideways landing. A visa is required to enter Turkey, and before we left Grand Circle sent lots of documentation regarding how to buy this visa through a private company in advance. With some research however, we learned that you can by the visa when you enter the country. Just be sure to have a crisp new $20 bill. Immediately after getting off the plane you go through the visa gate, hand over your $20 and your passport and you are on your way. Five minutes at the most! Buying our visas and going through customs was completely uneventful once we got of the plane we just followed the signs.

We are here, we are certainly tired, we are ok, safely landed. The hotel smells smoky, it’s a European thing I guess. The room seems very small, and we open our window to look out at our lovely view of another cement building and some heating equipment. As I said, ignore however I feel on the first day of a long flight and just get some sleep. The wonders will begin to appear after that first day is a tiny laughable memory.

March 12 Leaving Kauai

March 12 Time to go home

There aren’t many flights from Lihue on Alaska and our reservation didn’t leave the island until 10:30 pm, so we were wondering a bit what we would do during the 10:00 am checkout time and the 9:00 pm turninthecar time. But Karl and Rene came to the rescue with the offer to stay on at the suite since there wasn’t anyone coming in today. What a treat. It made what could have been a very tiring day into a delightful rest and easy packing day.

We walked down to the beach, visited with Karl and Rene a bit to thank them for everything, got a tour of their great new house and listened to Rene’s garden stories. She grows more bromileads than anyone anywhere, just poking them in every nook and cranny. Her favorite trick is to use the water in the little vases that they form in their crowns to root just about anything that grows. Sh
e also puts miracle-gro on her rock pathways so all the tree roots grow under and around the rocks and anchors them so they don’t slip around in the Kauai red clay.

She and Karl of course had some choice words for the politicians trying to stop the homeowners from renting their homes to visitors, saying that the big hotels are really the culprits and that it has nothing to do with culture and such. They pay several thousand dollars a month in room taxes, and Karl was snorting about just how the island economy was going to run without all that money.

Then of course, there was the car rental. I opted for the auto fill at the beginning of the contract so we wouldn’t have to find gas at the last minute. But I didn’t read the fine print, and it seems that that option is a full tank of gas, prepaid, no matter what you have in the tank when you return the car. Oops. And Mo being Mo couldn’t stand the thought of that, so we decided that instead of hanging out on a beach somewhere we needed to DRIVE.

LOL so off we went, but on an island with a 90 mile perimeter and a road that doesn’t even go all the way around the island, that took some imagination. We had a lot of fun exploring neighborhoods and side roads, and byways and canyons that we would have never seen any other way. And since Waimea was all the way to the west side of the island, we decided to go there once again. Turned out to be a really good choice, because this time the canyons were clear, and when we got to the viewpoint, there was no fog obscuring that fabulous world class view. I stood there thinking, gee, this is one of the primo spots in the entire world, on the entire planet, and here I am. What a treat.

Drove back down the canyon to Waimea and had the other great delight of the Shrimp Factory coconut shrimp, and my last incredible tropical shave ice, while Mo found a beach dress in the shop we had visited earlier. Perfect.

We got home early enough to pack and leave for the airport in plenty of time. Check in was a breeze, except for the soil in my suitcase. The USDA doesn’t allow soil to leave the island because of the nematodes, but to my delight, they did allow sand, so I will have some sand for my daughter Melody, who promised to make mincemeat of me if I didn’t bring her sand from the islands.

We were already primed for our red-eye flight and knew that the 7 hour layover in Seattle would be a bear after being up all night. But as we started to board, the announcement came, “we are canceling boarding of this flight temporarily due to an equipment malfunction”. Hmmm. Same old story. So more than 200 people sat in a closed airport with explicit instructions NOT to leave the secure area for 4 hours while Alaska Airlines supposedly had the handle to a fire extinguisher flown from Honolulu to Lihue. Hmmm again. It wasn’t particularly fun waiting in this tiny airport with no amenities, and way too much air conditioning, but eventually it ended and we boarded our flight for the mainland. The best part of all this was that there was a tail wind and what was normally a 6 hour flight turned into must 4.5 hours to get from Lihue to Seattle. Wow!

In Seattle it was gray and rainy and very cool, so we had breakfast at a restaurant there, watched the skies and shopped a bit. The 3 hour layover was much easier than the 7hour would have been, and I even got a massage at one of those massage bars.

The Horizon flight from Seattle to Medford was delightful as usual, with complimentary wine and some kind of great organic chips and a windy wild landing. Once on the ground the luggage came out in a manner of minutes, Mo got the truck, and we were finished. Home. Well, not quite. We had the long drive from Medford to Klamath, IN THE SNOW!!!, to pick up Abby at the boarding facility, and then back to the SNOW at Rocky Point, but once there, and once the fire was built, we were happy to be home.

March 4 traveling to Kauai

Traveling to Hawaii isn’t what it used to be. I remember the 5 day crossing as a 5 year old on a gray Navy ship, my mother and baby sister sick below deck for most of the crossing, and me watching the horizon with the two Navy nurses who offered to help, above deck was the only way I got through it, even at 5. Returning from Hawaii was a 12 hour flight on the Mars seaplane, watching the ocean below as if it were right there, but confused because there were clouds between us and the water.

Traveling by air now is so much more mundane, been in the sky too many times. I think I get more excited about toodling down the road in the MoHo than I do thinking about getting on a plane. Too bad. The price of old age and lots of travels. Still, waiting in the Seattle airport for our flight was nice, and not too long, and everything was on perfect schedule. Our flight on Alaska was comfortable, and even the ordinary class seats weren’t too tight. Especially nice since Mo and I managed an aisle and a window seat with no one in between. Space enough for a rousing card game and still have room for our drinks. The flight was just about 6 hours, and they gave us Mai Tai’s and Macadamia nuts in the beginning, to make up for the fact that all food now is “available for purchase”. Not a bad flight though, and we arrived ahead of schedule at 8:30 PM Kauai time,

Once landed, the disorientation of a new place in the dark is always a bit challenging. We found the shuttle to the car rental, managed to get all our luggage without anything lost and found the last economy car on the lot. I guess 4×4’s and convertibles are the big deal here, but we had other things to spend out money on this time around. Mo drove and we followed the directions to our vacation rental, north on HWY 51 to HWY 56 and then on to Aliomanu Road to the last culdesac and up the hill. Now all this sounds so simple, unless it’s dark and the roads are dark and it’s a brand new world. And the car feels something like a roller skate scooting along the ground. Mo looked like some kind of low rider behind the wheel. Took her another day to actually find the button that would let her lower the steering wheel enough to see over it! Most everything was closed as we drove through Kapaa toward Anahola, but we found a quick fast food bite to get us through to morning, realizing that of course, we had no supplies for our vacation home stay.

The directions were clear, the door was open, the key on the table with a vase of fresh flowers and a bottle of champagne in the fridge. Ahh, Kauai. I am here.

The adventure of arriving at a new destination in the dark is worth the disorientation I think. I could smell everything and hear the ocean and the night sounds, but it all was a mystery waiting to unfold with the morning light.