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Yankee– stay home!

Yesterday, I read a travel column on The New York Times‘ Web site. Someone had asked for advice about travel to Europe this summer. The article was entitled, “Help! I Want to go to Europe in August. Is This a Pipe Dream?” Below is the letter in question:

My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Ireland, Portugal and Italy for August and September. We are only reserving hotels with free cancellation policies and our airline tickets can be changed to a future date. Knowing that much of Europe is closed right now to United States citizens because of the virus, is there much hope that our plans will materialize, or are we wasting our time? What should I watch for? 

Kathy

The author of the column, Sarah Firsheim, wasn’t as discouraging to Kathy as she probably should have been. She pointed out that some destinations in Europe are opening up for tourists. Greece and Iceland, for example, are starting to welcome tourists again, as long as they’re vaccinated and/or have negative COVID-19 tests. She points out that a lot of hotels and airlines are becoming more flexible about stays, too.

What I would like to tell Kathy is that she needs her head examined. I don’t think flying to Europe is a good idea right now, especially for tourist purposes. But even if COVID-19 weren’t an issue, I would never recommend coming to Europe in August. Why? Because August is typically when Europeans go on vacation. Many businesses close while people take vacations or, if they happen to be expats from another country, they go “home” to see family. August is also uncomfortably hot in many parts of Europe, and not everywhere has climate control, although it is getting more common every year.

But especially this year, I think Americans coming to Europe is a dumb idea. I said so in the comment section, with this comment:

Everything is locked down in Europe. I live here now. Save your plane fare.

I got an “angry” reaction from some lady in Sweden, who says I’m wrong because things are not locked down in Sweden. This was my response to her. I will admit, I was a bit annoyed, because I’m tired of random yahoos on the Internet shooting people down and insulting them simply for expressing their opinions.

Happy for you in Sweden. Where I live, it’s been locked down since November. Same seems to be the case in all the neighboring nations. If I were living in America wanting to come thousands of miles to Europe, enduring an overnight flight on a plane, donning a mask while being poked in the back by my neighbor’s knees, and having the person in front of me reclined in my lap, I would want to be sure the trip was well worth it.

Right now, living in Europe and LOCKED DOWN for months, I would say it’s definitely not. Your mileage may vary in Sweden. *shrug*

And then the Swedish lady came back and wrote this:

We have never had locked down and I am happy for that. But we can’t do much anyhow can’t see friends. I would not have come here from US either.

Seems to me this would be obvious. I mean, technically, one could say that Germany never locked down like France or Spain did. It’s never been to the point at which one literally can’t go anywhere. But shops are closed; people aren’t supposed to visit (although my neighbors break this rule); some places have curfews; museums and attractions are closed; hotels are not allowed to accept bookings for anything but business travel… Why in the HELL would an American want to come to Europe under those conditions, except maybe to see family? So I responded thusly:

Yes, and that was my point. I am American and I live in Germany. I love Europe, but I wouldn’t want to come here from America now. Not until more people have been vaccinated and things are more the way they were before. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my neighborhood since the fall. My car’s battery has died twice because there’s nowhere to drive, where I would go for a reason other than just to drive to keep the battery charged. It’s a lot of money and precious time off for most Americans to vacation in Europe. I think they should wait until they don’t have to make an appointment to shop.

Vaccination rollout here has been excruciatingly slow. Even the U.S. military, which was supposed to be getting us our vaccines sometime before the end of May, is now delayed because the shots they got were the Johnson & Johnson ones, which have caused clots in some women. And, at least in Germany, citizens can’t get vaccinated because there aren’t enough shots available yet. It’s going to take time before people are able to get the shots and things will be less weird.

I’m not sure if the Swedish lady realizes that many Americans– even those with good jobs– have a very limited amount of vacation time available to them. And that’s if they’re lucky enough to work full time and have benefits. Our culture doesn’t value leisure time like European culture does. A lot of people get two weeks– tops– per year for vacation purposes. Consequently, not only is it costly and uncomfortable to come to Europe from the United States, but those days off are very precious. And truly, I think Americans who are wanting to come to Europe this year are nuts, although I might consider visiting a place where things aren’t quite so restricted.

If I hadn’t decided against flying for the time being, maybe I would consider visiting Iceland, for instance. I have never been there and I would love to go. But, to be honest, the idea of flying is very unappealing to me right now. I think flying is unpleasant under the best of circumstances. People seem to turn into majorly selfish assholes when they’re on an airplane. Now, add in the fact that everyone is supposed to stay masked the whole time they’re flying… and not only is that uncomfortable and annoying, but now everyone on the plane is paying super close attention to what other people are doing, which I find weird and creepy.

The New York Times ran another article entitled “How Safe Are You From COVID When You Fly?” It was a pretty interesting article, complete with a cool interactive feature showing how air flow works. But just looking at the interactive feature creeped me out…

A creepy screenshot from the interactive simulator of everyone crowded together while wearing masks. It just looks really uncomfortable. Who wants to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for that experience, unless it’s absolutely necessary?
You can’t even eat a snack or drink something without everyone watching your every move, silently judging you and seeing how long it takes you to replace the mask. Creepy! Who wants to pay for that?

I do love to travel. I miss it, although I haven’t been as deprived as a lot of people have over the past year. But I don’t want to fly anywhere until the COVID-19 situation is more under control. I’ll fly if I MUST– like, if Germany kicks us out and we have to go back to the States. But I won’t be volunteering for the above experience anytime soon. I get the masks are important for now, but this whole coronavirus experience has made me dislike people even more than I ever did. And the idea of being mashed into a seat next to a bunch of cranky, hyper-vigilant people, right on the edge of making a scene over COVID-19 regulations, just makes me think flying is extremely unappealing right now. I would much rather drive, and not have to worry about fellow passengers and flight attendants observing my every move, fighting over armrests or seat recliners, getting through security, worrying about getting sick, using disgusting airplane lavatories, or any of the other many inconveniences and annoyances associated with flying.

And again… I think if you’re American and you’re looking for a vacation destination in Europe for this year, you need a reality check. Now is not the best time to be here. COVID-19 numbers are up, and things are very iffy in terms of border closures and lockdowns. I say, save your plane fare and go somewhere in North America.

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anecdotes

May we travel a lot?

It’s hard to believe May is going to be over in eleven days.  This morning, as I was looking at Facebook’s “On this day” feature, I noticed that May seems to be the month Bill and I most often choose for our adventures.  Even when we lived in the US, we always seemed to be in Europe in time for Eurovision.

Tomorrow, we leave for this year’s May trip.  We’ll be driving, so I’m going to take my laptop with me.  There will be blogging aplenty in the coming week-and-a-half.  Since my travel blog has been pretty quiet lately, I thought I’d take a look at some of our trips of Mays past.

2012–  Our very first military hop!

In 2012, Bill and I were living in North Carolina.  For years, I’d been bugging him about trying to take a hop somewhere.  My dad was an Air Force retiree and he and my mom took Space A flights several times when I was a kid.  I never got to go with them, though, so I wanted my turn.  In May 2012, Bill finally gave in and we drove from our home in Sanford, North Carolina to BWI near Baltimore.  That night, we were on a flight to Germany.

I was very excited because we’d lived in Germany from 2007-09 and I was pining for it.  We spent about $32 to get on the Patriot Express and by the afternoon, we landed at Ramstein.  I had never been to Ramstein before, so that in and of itself was exciting.  From Ramstein, we went to Cologne, where we spent a night.  Then I got a Blind Booking on Germanwings (now Eurowings), thinking that we’d get to go somewhere cool because the Cologne airport offered more choices.  We ended up with a flight to Munich.  No matter, though, because we had a blast.  We got train passes good for all of Germany and certain border areas, so while we were in Munich, we visited Salzburg.

Bill enjoying a Maibock at the Hofbrauhaus.

We spent three nights in Munich, then flew back to Cologne, where we hopped a train to Trier.  Trier is located very close to the Luxembourg border, so we were able to visit Luxembourg and get close enough to the French and Belgian borders to walk across if we’d wanted to.

A very pretty church in Rodanthe, Luxembourg, right across from a Portuguese restaurant where we had a cheap and delicious lunch.   Minutes after we passed this church, we ran into a hen party.  One of the women in the party was wearing a rubber phallus on her nose and an adult diaper.

That first trip was fairly short.  We were gone about a week.  But with that first success came bravery and we’ve since done two more “hops”.

2013– SeaDream cruise–Italy and Greece!

Back in November 2011, Bill and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary on SeaDream I.  That was our second cruise on the small luxury mega yacht and we had a great time in the southern Caribbean.  During that trip, we pre-booked another cruise and ended up choosing to visit Italy and Greece.  Although Bill and I visited Italy during our first Germany tour, we never made it to Venice, Florence, or Rome.  We also never went to Greece together, though Bill did get to go to Crete on a business trip.

Venice!

Amalfi coast from the ship.

 

Capri from the tender.

Because Bill had never been to the “holy trinity” of Italian cities, we made plans to see Venice and Florence on the way to Rome, which was where we’d be picking up our cruise.  On the other side of the cruise, we would spend a couple of nights in Athens.  Although I love SeaDream’s cruises and that particular one was a lot of fun, I ended up getting sick with a nasty cold.  We still managed to have a fantastic time.  I am wondering when our next SeaDream cruise will be.

2014– Our third military hop!

In May of 2014, we lived in Texas and Bill was preparing to retire from the Army.  Because he had terminal leave, we decided it was the perfect time to take another hop.  We had taken our second hop in January and ended up in Spain and Portugal.  This time, we were trying for Germany.

We got to Germany and stayed a night in Ramstein, where we met some Americans who had come from Belgium to play sports.  The Americans were based at SHAPE in Belgium and Bill ended up talking to them.  They gave him pointers on how to get us moved back to Europe.  I remember telling Bill that night that I had a feeling we’d be moving back to Germany.  Sure enough, weeks after we came home to the USA, Bill had a job offer in Stuttgart.

Boats in Nice

Lyon…

Beautiful sea in Nice!  Everything’s nice in Nice! 

On that trip, we visited Champagne country (Reims and Epernay), Dijon, Lyon, Nimes, and Nice.  While we were in Nimes, we visited an old American friend of mine from high school and college.  I hadn’t seen her since the 90s.  She’s lived in France for about twenty years and has three very French kids!  I loved Nimes and want to go back, not just to visit that city again, but to see some of the surrounding areas.  In fact, we very nearly decided to go back to France this year, but then I realized we’d not been to Slovenia yet and that’s been on my bucket list for awhile.

We really enjoyed Nice, though it’s quite a big city.  I’d love to go back there during the summer when swimming in the beautiful blue water is feasible.

From Nice, we flew back to Germany via Vienna, then took a day trip to Bacharach, on the Rhein.  We ran into some drunken fathers and sons at a biergarten.  Bill ended up talking to one guy who tearfully told us how the Americans had helped his family escape East Germany.  That really turned out to be a very special day…

Bill and me in Bacharach among many drunk German guys…

2015- Stuttgart

We didn’t go anywhere in May last year, though we did take trips in April and June.  I count it, though, because we had not yet been back in Germany a year as of last May and being in Germany still felt like a vacation.  Last May, we visited Triberg and Calw, two places I never visited during our first tour here.

Triberg…

Calw

2016- Austria, Italy, and Slovenia

Stay tuned for details.  I can hardly wait!  Incidentally, the first time we lived in Germany, we never took overnight trips to Austria.  This time, we keep going back there.  This will be our fourth time during our second tour!  On the other hand, last time we were here we went to Belgium and the Czech Republic several times.  This time, we’ve given those countries no love…  Ah well, maybe we’ll get back there next year.

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A new Greek restaurant in our neighborhood…

Last week, as we were telling our landlords about our wet basement, the conversation turned to food. They asked if we’d tried the new Greek restaurant in our neighborhood.  We hadn’t, though Bill had seen signs for it.  I wanted to go out last night, so we decided to walk to this new place.  To be totally honest, I’m not even really sure of the name of the restaurant… and when I left there last night, I was feeling no pain.  I did take a picture of the sign out front, though, as we were leaving.

Bei Dino?  ETA:  Bill says the restaurant is called Taverne bei Dimi…

As we approached this place, the chef was standing outside.  He followed us into the restaurant and a lady sitting in what appears to be their smoking lounge got up to greet us.  The smoking lounge is walled off with glass and has a TV and several electronic gambling machines.  A few folks were in there drinking, smoking, and gambling.

The lady who waited on us beamed when we told her we were Americans who live in the neighborhood.  She spoke very broken English, but I got the sense that Americans don’t visit their restaurant very often.  She told us she had spent a long time in Germany, then moved back home to northern Greece for a few years.  She also told us that she and her brother had moved back to Germany from Greece so she could send money to her daughter, who is studying at a university back home.  Evidently, the economy is not so good in Greece.  Yes, I’d heard about that… but she made it sound like she and her family were very personally affected.  I got a kick out of her comment that America is too dangerous.  I’m sure people who watch the news but have never been to the States could easily get that impression.

Bill checks out the menu…

They had some interesting art on the walls…  I kind of like this painting.

Smoking lounge…

I decided on the dorade, which they offer on Friday and Saturday nights.  Bill had lamb cutlets.  Our very kind waitress brought out a house shot of ouzo for us as we sipped dry red wine.  As we waited for our food, I looked around the restaurant, which is kind of plainly decorated.  A few more people came in for dinner.

The salad that came with my fish.  It was a little salty.

Bill’s salad seemed to be more Greek inspired.  It included feta and more peppers.  

Bill’s lamb.  He said it was very good.  I don’t like lamb very much, so I didn’t try it.

My dorade was mostly good, except it was a little cold/underdone in the middle.  It could have used a little more time on the fire.  I didn’t complain, though, because by the time I realized it was underdone, I had pretty much had enough anyway.  We could have taken the fish with us if we’d wanted to.  The t’zatziki that came with this dorade was absolutely fantastic… probably among the best I’ve ever had.  I liked the thick cut fries, too.

A nice little foyer near the restrooms…

Specials…


While I have had better dorade elsewhere, I liked this restaurant because I enjoyed talking to the lady/waitress who took care of us.  She was very friendly and kind and even showed us pictures of home and her family.  It made me want to go to Greece.  She brought out more ouzo, too…

We will have to go back and try their gyros and souvlaki.  I like that this restaurant is within stumbling distance of where we live.  That allows us to drink lots of red wine… which we definitely did last night.   

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BWI it is…

We’re flying to Baltimore tomorrow for a number of reasons.  First off, there are flights to Azores and Germany on Saturday that we stand a good chance of getting manifested on.  Secondly, flying to Baltimore is more practical, since it doesn’t involve having to rent a car to drive to a military base.  We will get there tomorrow night, crash at a local airport hotel, and then show up Saturday morning with hopes of getting on the flight to The Azores.  There are 23 tentative seats and my husband has category III priority, which means there’s a decent chance we’ll make the flight.

If we don’t get on the flight to The Azores, we will likely get on the flight to Germany.  There are 164 seats on that one… but it will mean having to wait around Baltimore all day.  I’d rather be on my way ASAP.  And there are flights from The Azores that go to mainland Europe, which means we could end up in Germany anyway… though I think we’ll go to Italy or Greece before Germany, unless we go there on the way home.

I am actually a little Italy-ed out, but I would love to go to Greece again, and I have never been to Souda Bay/Crete.  So this could turn out to be a very different trip…

We’ll see what happens.  Stay tuned!

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cruises, Greece, SeaDream

Day 5 of our SeaDream cruise… Greece!

I was very excited when I woke up on Wednesday, May 15th.  We were in Fiskardo, Greece.  It was my very first time in Greece, though I have been to many other European countries.  I’d been waiting years to cross Greece off the bucket list.  As it turned out Fiskardo was a delightful stop.  Bill and I both really enjoyed it for its picturesque beauty and almost eerie calm and quiet.  Seriously, after having spent days in busy Italian cities and ports, Fiskardo seemed like an oasis of tranquility.

The Greek flag is flown…

Views around Fiskardo…

The little port town was very tourist oriented, with lots of restaurants and shops.  Bill and I walked past them and up some steps near a church.  We walked a little ways on a road that ran by the church and a children’s playground and soon found ourselves at a tiny little beach with clear blue water.

Cute little beach with frigid water!

I couldn’t resist stepping into the water.  Thankfully, I had my water sandals on, because the beach was a bit rocky.  The water was also very cold.

We walked around some more in the little town and Bill said he could totally see renting an apartment in Fiskardo and just enjoying the serenity of the place.  It was very pretty and peaceful, despite all the foreign tourists who were being accommodated.

After we had explored the little town, we went back to the yacht and enjoyed plenty of cocktails, including a couple of Manuel’s amazing mojitos, as well as the Champagne and Caviar Splash.  That was the first time I’d ever done the Splash in Europe, where they are held on deck 3 instead of on a beach.  I have to admit, I much prefer the less crowded conditions of the beach for the Splash.

There’s nothing like one of Manuel’s mojitos and a Bali bed…

The Splash!

Musicians playing some groovy music…

Protein overload.

Later that evening, we dined on deck four with Nat Green, SeaDream’s new cruise director.  He gave us some interesting perspectives about SeaDream, as well as a little dirt on the possible plans for a new ship.  He also let us know that those who will be on the upcoming Black Sea cruise leaving today will get a special treat that he helped arrange.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise for those lucky folks… and I hope Nat is able to pull it off.

After dinner there was a dessert extravaganza.  I went down to the table laden with beautiful, rich desserts and the chef insisted that I take a huge piece of candy that was used as a garnish (and is occasionally used to make little dishes for SeaDream’s desserts).

Desserts!

I was also able to make it to the piano bar on Wednesday night and my voice was mostly back to normal.  That turned out to be kind of a cool evening, since one of the passengers played a few songs at the piano and was quite the virtuoso!  George was a very good sport about giving up his spot for a few minutes.  I met a charming couple from Northern Ireland and really started to realize how music bonds people.

I was basically starting to feel better by the time we made it to Fiskardo.  It was a good time to get over the worst of my cold.

 Clearly beautiful water…

Charming village!

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Italy

We’re back! Time to dish… Venice!

Well, after a little over two weeks of traveling in Italy and Greece, we’re finally back and ready to tell the tale.  I’m going to start from the very beginning, so this series may run for quite a few posts.  I have lots of photos and even a couple of videos to share.  Overall, the trip was a great success and we even still have some money left!  Though Bill and I suffered injuries, illnesses, and indignities over our two weeks abroad, we’re feeling pretty good.  So, without further ado, here’s the story of our trip!

Getting underway via RDU…  

Bill and I left for RDU after dropping off our dogs, Zane and Arran, at the Sandhills Pet Resort.  Zane had been to the resort several times, but it was Arran’s first time.  I think they must have had a good time, since we got no emails about them while we were gone.  Last time we boarded our dogs was when our beloved MacGregor suddenly decompensated while we were in Scotland, so I’m glad to know that all apparently went well.

This truck we saw on the way to the airport had sticker that says “I love rednecks”…

We arrived at RDU on the afternoon of May 5, prepared to catch a late afternoon flight to Philadelphia. After a quick stop at Gordon Biersch for sandwiches and beer, we headed to the US Airways gate from which our flight was supposed to depart.  It was at that point, we realized something was amiss.  I had a missed call on my cellphone.  It turned out our flight was delayed.  This was a bad thing for us, because we had to pick up our flight to Venice and there wasn’t any time to waste.  Fortunately, another US Airways flight that was supposed to depart a couple of hours earlier was also delayed and was now scheduled to leave at about the time our original flight was supposed to go.  We scrambled to get on that now very full flight and were successful, but we ended up being separated.

Being separated turned out to be a good thing for me, since I ended up sitting next to a very nice lady from Raleigh who was going to Delaware for the week.  She turned out to be a world traveler like me, though she had not been to Italy.  We chatted for the whole hour it took to get to Philly and she wished us a nice trip.  I was actually glad I got to hang out with her.  It got the trip off to a nice start.

Bill says “Cheers!”

The flight to Venice…

So we got on the plane to Venice with time to spare.  I was a little nervous about the flight, since I figured there must be a reason they call US Airways “US Scareways”.  But, aside from not being quite as generous with beverages and having no personal monitors on the back of the seats, the US Airways flight to Venice was relatively uneventful.  I did, however, start my period.  That made the flight and the first days of our trip kind of icky.

We landed in Venice at about 9:30 am and picked up a water taxi that Bill had pre-arranged.  We had to haul our big bags to the dock, which was a bit of an ordeal, and the water taxis are expensive.  However, it was quite a nice way to re-enter Venice after a 15 year absence.

Back of the water taxi…

The view from where I was sitting…

The last time I was in Venice, it was August 1997.  It was brutally hot and I was broke.  This time, we were headed for a night at the lovely Hilton Molino Stucky hotel on the island of Giudecca.  We got the room for free, owing to cashing in some Hilton Honors Points…

This was the view from our room, which wasn’t ready when we arrived.  They gave us a suite… the second best room in the entire hotel, which was fully booked.  Our room was seriously gorgeous.  It was a corner room in the “tower” at the front of the hotel and had views of the canal running past the front of the hotel.  We didn’t know we would be getting this suite when we booked or when we arrived.  Indeed, we were jet lagged and slightly grumpy upon arrival and the hotel was teeming with Americans and Brits.  We expected this, of course, since it was a Hilton.

Anyway, despite the crowds, we got excellent service and that room…  In a word, wow!!!  It’s a far cry from the cheap communal convent room I stayed in last time I was in Venice.

We passed the time waiting for the room at Harry’s Dolci, which is very close to the hotel.  I had my very first Bellini there…  along with a very nice lunch and some bubbly…

Afterwards, we walked around Venice, but my back was killing me from having to sit up all night…

We didn’t do a gondola ride because they are expensive and we still had two weeks ahead of us.  Still, they were kind of fun to watch.  We were fortunate that the weather wasn’t too sticky.  Lots of big cruise ships were in town and they were fun to watch for many other reasons.  Here’s a big Royal Caribbean cruise ship passing as we eat lunch…

Here are some random shots we took around Venice…

The next day, we went to Florence… but before we left, we had to get some cash.  Bill went to get some money from an ATM in a bank and somehow managed to mash the shit out of his thumb.  Two weeks later, this is what it looks like…

I can barely stand to look at it.  It was very painful at first, but he says it doesn’t hurt much now.  Still…. Yecccch!!!

ETA… Just made this video of photos from Venice.  Some of the ones I used are in the blog post, but they are set to gorgeous music by a Polish guitar player we stumbled across in Florence.

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Getting really close…

In a week, we’ll be within a couple of days of boarding a plane to Venice.  I’ve been hearing a lot of horror stories about flight delays because of the government’s failure to pass the budget.  Hopefully, that won’t be an issue for us.

SeaDream II, which had been on a transatlantic cruise from Barbados, was a couple of days into its journey across the Atlantic when someone got hurt.  So they turned around and went back to Barbados, so the woman could get medical care.  The ship is now behind schedule, so those who were scheduled to be on the first European cruise will have their trips shortened by four nights.  This doesn’t affect me, but it does affect one poster on Cruise Critic, who said he’d just decided to cancel.

If Bill and I were in that fix, we would probably just go anyway and fuck around in Europe.  We can easily entertain ourselves there and SeaDream is no doubt going to refund some of the money for that interrupted cruise.  I had been looking at that cruise when I was considering trips last year.  Glad I didn’t end up choosing it.  On the plus side, those who are on the transatlantic and can spare the time off are getting four extra nights for free!  What a bargain!

I’m hoping this vacation is as much fun as most of our trips are.  At the very least, I’m excited to see Greece at last and color in that country on my map of visited countries!  Once we get back home, I’ll have to add it to my blog.

SeaDream II

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