Champagne Bucket trips, trip planning

In case you needed a reminder… Scandinavia is EXPENSIVE.

The featured photo was taken on a day cruise we took in Oslo, Norway, back in 2009.

It’s not so often that I travel blog during the work week. We have the pandemic to thank for that, as it made taking normal trips a lot more difficult for the past couple of years. In 2023, things are pretty much back in full swing. I expect Europe will be, once again, teeming with people this summer. In fact, I expect there will be more people than ever.

A week ago, we did a champagne bucket draw, and Finland won. That meant planning a trip that included a stop in Finland. I marvel at the changes our plans have undergone within about ten days. We went from planning a Helsinki based trip that would include land based stops in the Baltic countries, to pulling the trigger on a luxury cruise, with a week in Norway beforehand.

When you see the words “luxury cruise” in my blog post, of course it goes without saying that this trip is going to be pricey. We are going to sail on Regent Seven Seas’ newest completed ship, Splendor, in June. An even newer ship, Grandeur, will be sailing this year, but I don’t think she’s had her maiden voyage yet. So, as of this writing, Splendor, which was built in 2020, is Regent’s newest. This will also be the newest ship we’ve ever sailed on, as we usually opt for either SeaDream or Hebridean Island Cruises, both of which offer luxury on much smaller and older vessels.

One of many Regent Splendor cruise ship tour videos on YouTube.

I chose this particular cruise on Regent mostly because of the itinerary, which includes a stop in Helsinki, as well as most of the Baltic locations we wanted to visit, along with a couple of other stops. It’s not our first Baltic cruise, though.

Our very first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas, back in 2009, and that was also a Baltic cruise. It was only four nights, and included stops in Tallin, Estonia and Copenhagen, Denmark, with embarkation in Oslo, Norway, and debarkation in Stockholm, Sweden. On that trip, we spent a couple of nights in Oslo, which we both really enjoyed. The cruise was loaded with Norwegians, and we found that we really enjoyed their joie de vivre. 😉 Later, we encountered a friendly bunch of them on our second SeaDream cruise and vowed we’d visit Norway again. So that’s why we’re doing a week in Norway, too… and staying longer, so we can see more of Norway than just the city of Oslo. Below are a few photos from our cruise from Norway to Sweden in 2009… As you can see, I need to take more photos of beautiful Norway, at the very least! That was before I had an iPhone.

When I saw Regent’s June 23 Stockholm to Copenhagen cruise, I knew it was a no brainer to book it, because I was finding it very difficult to plan a land based trip including Finland and the Baltics… And yes, before anyone comes at me, I know there’s a large body of water we’d have to cross to get to the Baltics. I was planning a few days in Finland, then a ferry ride to Tallin, where I naively thought we could arrange train travel or maybe rent a car or something… At this writing, a train route is being constructed to make that vision come to fruition in the future. As of now, though, it’s just not convenient. 😉 I also realized Bill wouldn’t want to be driving so much, and I wouldn’t want to be flying so much.

The cruise solution was simply more practical, and it was available during the time we wanted to travel. And– we had the money to pay for it, thanks to a big tax refund. Even better was the fact that the sailing I found was on sale… which was a damned good thing. In fact, I should have waited another week, because the price went down again, and it was quite a significant drop! Some people would probably tell me to cancel and rebook, but I’ve already had lots of words with my bank. Oh well… you win some, you lose some.

Anyway… last night, we were trying to decide how long we wanted to stay in the places we’re visiting before the cruise, and how we wanted to travel to them. It didn’t take us long to decide to visit Bergen, which is a very beautiful city on Norway’s west coast that offers enchanting scenery, fresh seafood, and lots to do. However, from Oslo, it takes seven hours to drive there or take the train. We could also fly; that takes just an hour. But if we fly, we’ll miss the incredibly beautiful scenery on the way, and have to deal with everything that flying entails nowadays.

I thought maybe we’d drive and stop somewhere on the way, maybe do some exploration. Unfortunately, renting a car in Norway, especially for a one way trip with drop off in another city, is VERY expensive. Gas and food are also very expensive in Norway, plus there are tolls on the road we’d be using.

The route from Oslo to Bergen is also rather devoid of places to stay. There are a lot of apartments to rent, and a few hotels that are either in the middle of nowhere or have dodgy reviews. I wouldn’t mind renting an apartment, but I’d hate to do that for just an overnight. Most of the ones I found were pretty bare bones, too. I did manage to find several hotels that allowed me to book now and pay later, and can be canceled up to the day of arrival. Clarion Hotels for the win! They even have a hotel out in the middle of nowhere that I considered booking, but then I thought again.

Finally, I think we decided we’d just take the train… which means we now have to decide if we want to leave at 8:23AM or 12:05PM. The later trip is notably less expensive, but slower. I suspect we’ll go for the morning time, so we can get to Bergen in the afternoon. If we wanted to spend another night in Oslo, we could get a really (relatively) cheap train fare… but then we’d be paying for another night in Oslo, which is legitimately a nice city, but one we’ve already seen. It’s not a super pretty town, either, although I do remember enjoying the day cruise we took on the Oslo Fjord in 2009.

So, once I found a hotel that offers parking, in case we drive after all, I went to book plane tickets. A flight from Bergen to Stockholm takes one hour and twenty minutes. I found seats on SAS– Scandinavian Airlines (although when I hear SAS, it reminds me of a cursed statistics program I had to use in grad school). I tried to book with my PenFed card, but for some reason, PenFed refuses to send texts with codes to overseas phone numbers, nor will they send the confirmation codes to emails. So that means I can’t authorize charges through their stupid two factor authentication program.

I went to USAA, which did successfully send me a text. But, even though I entered all of my information, gave them a fingerprint, and tried to authorize the charge, they still declined it and blocked my card. At 10PM, I was calling USAA– for the second time in a week– to ask them to unblock my card and authorize payment, so we can get from Bergen to Stockholm. The lady I spoke to last night was very nice and professional, unlike the other person I talked to a few days ago, who was quite rude to me.

We finally got the plane tickets sorted, and now we just have to confirm where we’ll be sleeping for our night in Stockholm. I had wanted to stay longer in Stockholm, since we never really got to see the city when we were there in 2009, but that would have meant arranging for another night there. Our night in Stockholm is already included in our cruise fare, so adding another would mean going to another hotel or paying more to Regent. I think we’d prefer another night in Bergen, anyway.

All that’s left to do now is buy train tickets, or arrange for a car to get us from Oslo to Bergen. I’ve even mostly paid off the credit card companies. I paid off the deposit and Lufthansa tickets last week, which I booked through PenFed. Then, this morning, I accidentally paid USAA for the rest of the cruise fare. I had only meant to send them $1000 today, but ended up requesting to pay the whole bill. Luckily, there was enough money to pay for it. Thanks again to Bill’s decision to pay taxes all year and get a refund, we had the cash available. Edited to add: I just got us our train tickets… good thing, too, because the seats were already sold out, and I had to get us a compartment for six people instead. That was another $500. At least it’s changeable and refundable.

Living in Germany sure has been good for us…

But dammit… the fares went down 2,000 euros this week!!!!

Oh well. We’re sure to have a great time. I look forward to blogging about it, and experiencing new places on a different cruise line. I’ll be surprised if I’ll want to give up small ship cruising for Regent permanently, but we’ll see. I suspect that if I ever spot a hot deal like the one they’re offering right now for our cruise, I’ll want to jump on it. Especially if we have the money!

If you’re curious about what we’re in for on our journey from Oslo to Bergen, have a look at a couple of videos… I think it will be unforgettable.

Let’s hope for sunny weather!
Looks good!

And yes, I know we don’t have to spend this much money to have a good time… but I have definitely done my fair share of cheap traveling. It’s nice to have an upgraded experience, and I’m grateful we have the opportunity. We never thought the day would come.

Champagne Bucket trips, Finland, Latvia

A true first world issue (cross-posted)

Cross posted on my main blog. The featured photo was taken in 2019, when Bill and I went to Sweden to pick up our car and drove it on a Nordic adventure.

I’m in the midst of trying to plan a summer vacation/birthday trip for Bill and myself. Because of the whole COVID-19 odyssey, and the seemingly endless lockdowns that followed, we’ve decided that this year, we’d like to fly somewhere. And because there are a lot of places in Europe we still want to see, we decided to choose our destination using the “champagne bucket” method.

I’ve written about the champagne bucket method on this blog. Basically, I got the idea for it from “blind bookings” on Germanwings (now known as Eurowings). I’m not sure if Eurowings still does blind bookings, but Lufthansa does, and Lufthansa owns Eurowings. It basically involves booking a surprise flight, and usually paying a lower fare. You don’t know where you’re going until after you pay for the ticket(s). Bill and I have done it four times to great success. We visited Barcelona, London, Berlin, and Munich that way.

When we moved back to the States, I decided that it wouldn’t be hard to plan more of our vacations that way. Instead of relying on the airline, we just put our choices on slips of paper and put them in the champagne bucket. Then, Bill picks one of the slips out of the bucket.

I was really rooting for a trip to Armenia and possibly Georgia this summer. That was one of the choices, too. Bill was a bit reluctant, because of political and military issues going on in Armenia right now. We may still go there this year, but for a short trip to Yerevan, instead of an all out country tour. Then, I can show Bill where I lived, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and sign him up for a more extensive trip. 😉

Anyway, when we did our champagne bucket challenge, Bill ended up choosing Finland. Neither of us has ever been there before. We have been to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Estonia together. Bill has also been to Latvia a couple of times on business. Neither of us has seen Lithuania, but we’ve met people from there and Latvia on cruises.

Originally, I was planning for us to go to Helsinki and do a land based trip, then go by ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, stay a few days, and work our way south to Latvia and Lithuania, before flying back. Then I started researching and discovered, there’s no easy way to travel to Latvia and Lithuania that doesn’t involve riding a bus. We considered renting a car, but that seemed potentially risky.

So then I thought, maybe instead of trying to hit the Baltic capitals, I could go west. Visit Finland, do a day trip in Tallinn, then head west toward Norway, which we know we love. Then I thought, maybe it would be better to start in Norway, and head east to Finland, then go to Tallinn and spend a night or two…

Then I realized how expensive flights would be… plus the stress and inconvenience involving finding transportation, hauling bags, and booking hotels… and although I’d already looked for cruises and initially didn’t see any I liked, I kept getting ads for Regent Seven Seas on Facebook. And Regent is– or was– considered a luxury line, although it’s a much bigger ship than we usually go for when we cruise.

I noticed they had a cruise available during the time we plan to travel. It starts June 23 and ends June 30, and hits ports in Sweden, Helsinki, Estonia, Latvia, and Denmark. We could still go to Norway and do a land based trip, working our way to Stockholm, a city we’ve been to, but didn’t really get to explore at all in 2009. Best of all, the cruise in question is on sale. It’s still expensive, but doable for us. We wouldn’t even have to stay in the cheapest stateroom. I pitched the idea to Bill, who liked it.

I started making a booking request. It took about a half dozen times to finally get registered. I mismatched my email address, or added one too many dots in the address, or the passwords didn’t match. Finally, I had my account, and started to make the request.

But the stateroom I wanted was listed as twice as expensive than was advertised. While we technically could do it, I’d rather spend that much money on a new car or a down payment on a house. So I stopped making the request, and sent an inquiry to Regent, asking them to confirm that the cruise is on sale.

About an hour later, I got a phone call through my iPad, which I wasn’t prepared to answer, as I was reading something to Bill. I also got a message, written in German, indicating that the cruise is on sale, and inviting me to call between 11am and 8pm today. I sent a message back in English, asking if I have to call to get that rate, and clarifying that I’m American and can’t speak German worth a damn. 😉

Then I went on Cruise Critic and started reading reviews and comments on the messageboards. The consensus is, the ship I’m looking at booking is beautiful, although Regent has “gone downhill” in recent years. Bill and I have done cruises on Royal Caribbean, SeaDream, and Hebridean Island Cruises. SeaDream and Hebridean, like Regent, are considered luxury and are all inclusive. However, they are much smaller ships. So Regent would be a different cruise experience for us, and it would offer some convenience, as we’d be hitting places we want to visit– albeit for a shorter time than we would personally plan for ourselves.

I truly am attracted to the cruise because of the itinerary and the time the cruise is going. I don’t have particularly high expectations of great service or being treated like royalty. A cruise just offers a convenient way to cross some items off our bucket list.

On the other hand, I was kind of looking forward to a deeper dive into the areas, and exploring more on our own. Also, there’s less chance of running into people with whom we don’t mesh when we do land based trips, or getting sick from any number of viruses on ships. I like to plan trips and look for interesting places to stay. I guess the pre cruise travel to Norway would offer that, but I was kind of wanting to get more of a feel for Finland.

Either way, this trip is going to be expensive. Good thing Bill got a generous raise this year. We do have the money, too… at least for the cruise. I’m just not used to having that, either… being somewhat well-heeled is kind of a new experience for us.

Sigh… a trip to Armenia would be a lot more economical. On the other hand, if I develop a bleeding stomach ulcer, I’d feel better about seeking treatment in a nordic country. 😉

This is truly a first world problem. I’m sure I should just go for it and see what happens. We’ve had some great times on cruises and made some friends. And a bonus is, since Regent ships are a lot bigger, there’s less chance I’ll get seasick this time.

We’ll see what happens. I may scrap the idea of the cruise. It is tempting, though… Regent is probably more comfortable than the Stockholm to Helsinki ferry.


A rant about the CDC’s new rule about importing pets…

If you are a regular reader of my blogs, you know that I have two adorable furry family members. At this writing, our dogs are Arran and Noyzi. Prior to our acquisition of Noyzi, we had another dog named Zane, who sadly died of lymphoma on August 31, 2019. The featured photo today is of Zane and Arran on August 2, 2014, when we flew from Houston, Texas to Frankfurt, Germany on a Lufthansa flight.

Bill and I have always had dogs. Next month, we will celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary. Our dogs have been our family members, because we were not able to have children. Although I don’t require an emotional support animal, I do rely on my dogs to keep my company when Bill travels. Prior to the pandemic and, more specifically, the new CDC restriction on bringing animals into the United States, it was a pain in the butt to move abroad with pets. Now, it’s become a real hassle for people who have to return home from living overseas. I fear that this new rule may cause a lot of pets to be abandoned. Here in Germany, that is bad news, since Americans already have a terrible reputation for abandoning their pets when it’s time to move. It really sucks for those of us who are dedicated pet owners.

This morning, The New York Times ran an article about the new rule and how it affects people who travel with their pets, or Americans who live abroad. I am a subscriber to The New York Times and have gifted this article, so you should be able to click the link and read it for free. I am a member of a Facebook group for people who are “PCSing” with pets, and there’s been a lot of worry about how to get dogs and cats safely to places abroad. Many of the people traveling with pets are young folks who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on hiring pet shippers. And many of the people in Germany or other countries with pets brought their animals before this new rule suddenly went into effect. I have noticed that the government has, sort of, been trying to gradually phase in the most draconian parts of this new rule. But they still pose a huge problem for a lot of people who make their living abroad.

My dogs have always flown as “excess baggage”, which means they flew on our flights in the hold of the aircraft. That is the most economical way to transport pets. When Bill was still in the Army, our dogs flew on United Airlines and Delta Airlines respectively. Last time we flew with dogs, back in 2014, they flew on Lufthansa, which is a wonderful airline for pets. The luggage hold on Lufthansa is light and temperature controlled, and the animals are loaded at the last minute, so they don’t have to sit on the tarmac. But the United States government has a rule that makes using pet friendly airlines tricky for people who are flying on the government’s dime.

Because of the Fly America Act, people who are flying on taxpayer funds must use an American carrier for as far as possible. At this writing, only a handful of American carriers are still allowing pets to fly. Some people can get around that rule by booking their flights on a codeshared flight. Say you’re flying to Germany. To comply with the Fly America Act, you should be booking your flight on United or Delta. But you can book a Lufthansa flight through United and still be in compliance. Of course, thanks to COVID-19 and the new CDC rule, it’s gotten much harder to book flights. Some airlines won’t fly animals in the baggage hold anymore. Some will only fly small animals in the cabin, which can be problematic for those who have pets who are too big. Military servicemembers can sometimes use the rotator (Patriot Express) to fly their pets, but spots are limited and book up very quickly. I have read a lot of horror stories from stressed out servicemembers trying to figure out how to get their pets home.

Many people have used pet shippers to fly their pets. I suspect that if and when Bill and I have to move to the States with pets, we will have to use a shipper. Noyzi is a big dog, and he will probably need a special crate. He isn’t very heavy, but he’s tall and long bodied, and there are very specific rules on the sizes of the carriers that can be used. I have been saving money, because I’m sure he’s going to need to go cargo with a pet shipper, and that costs several thousand dollars, as opposed to the couple hundred per pet charged when flying them as excess baggage. Flying with a shipper is also a hassle, since it involves the dog going through a different part of the airport and possibly not coming on the same flight. We are currently fortunate enough to be able to afford a shipper, but not everyone is.

All of this is a real pain for anyone with pets and living abroad, but what is actually prompting me to write this morning are the negative, ignorant, and dismissive attitudes I’ve seen in some of the comment sections on the articles I’ve seen about this new CDC rule. I get that a lot of pet owners have done some “crazy” things, like bringing their emotional support kangaroos or peacocks on planes. I also understand that there’s been some very bad press about animals dying because they were transported in weather that was too hot or cold, or because someone put them in the overhead bin (which is just plain stupid). But there really must be a safe, affordable, and accessible way for people to travel with animals. Especially if we’re serious about not abandoning pets at shelters. This new rule is going to cause issues from negative troop morale to hostile host country relations. It will probably also result in a lot of wonderful pets dying or being abandoned.

So many comments on The New York Times article were from people who wrote things like, “It’s just an animal” or “Good! I hate flying with pets!” or “Americans who live overseas shouldn’t have pets.” This self-centered attitude is really distressing to me. I don’t have a problem with my dogs flying under the cabin, but it should be safe and affordable. And people should not be so narrow-minded and shitty about people who need to move their pets. A lot of these self-entitled twits are the same ones who condemn other people for needing to rehome their pets. It would be nice if people, in general, would have more empathy and understanding for those who aren’t like them. I get that some people have allergies or don’t like animals. I don’t like dealing with some people or their kids… some of them give me a rash or a pain in the ass. It is what it is. Flying is a hassle for everybody.

One lady kept writing about how when she was a “military kid living overseas”, her parents didn’t allow her to have pets. She implied that those of us in that situation should “suck it up” and live without pets. I finally had to offer her a cookie and a reminder that as a military “brat”, she should know that military families are diverse. To some military families, pets are beloved companions who make life easier and more worthwhile. And while it may not be practical to have pets when there’s a chance one could move overseas, life happens to everyone. Sometimes people in civilian jobs get the opportunity or find that they must move abroad. There should be a solution for those people, too.

In my case, I was not able to have children, and I’ve followed my husband to several different states and twice to Germany for his career. The career I planned for in public health and social work, back when I was single, has turned into blogging. I know a lot of people don’t think my blogs are worth anything, but they give me a reason to get up in the morning. My dogs help keep me sane and happy, especially when he travels. I don’t have a lot of human friends. We rescued Noyzi from Kosovo, where he lived outside with a bunch of other dogs. He wasn’t being abused in that environment, but he’s much happier having a family. Every day, we get to see him evolve and become more loving and trusting toward us. It’s very rewarding for us, and, I imagine, for him.

When we moved to Germany with Zane and Arran in 2014, the rules were already stricter than they had been in 2007 and 2009, when we flew with our previous dogs. Now, they have become downright oppressive. We made the choice to move here in 2014 because we wanted to live in Germany, but it was also the only place where Bill had a firm job offer after his Army retirement. It was either move to Germany, or be unemployed and soon land in dire financial straits. The move was a good one for us, but thanks to this new rule from the CDC, we’re going to have to do what we can to stay here for as long as possible. Abandoning our dogs isn’t an option, and it shouldn’t be something people are forced to do over well-intended, but impractical, rules imposed by the CDC.

At this point, Germany is not on the list of high risk rabies countries, nor are other countries in the European Union. But because of the CDC’s new rule, a lot of European airlines are not wanting to transport animals. They don’t want to deal with the hassle. And who can blame them for that? After January 2022, it’s going to be a lot harder to bring animals into the United States, because only three “ports” will allow them to enter– Atlanta, JFK in New York City, and Los Angeles. That will cause backups for sure. I truly hope this rule will be amended or abolished at some point soon. Otherwise, Bill and I will have to stay here until Noyzi crosses the Rainbow Bridge. At twelve years old, we may not have to worry about Arran for too many more years… although he’s proving to be a real scrapper in his old age.

Rant over for now… tomorrow, we go on vacation, and the boys go to the Hundepension. Hopefully, it will go off without a hitch, and I can write some new content about actual travel.

Edited to add: Here’s a link to a book review I wrote about a lady in Virginia who, along with her mom, adopted dogs from Turkey. Military and government employees aren’t the only ones affected by this ruling. She rants about the new rule in her book, too.

Hebridean Island Cruises

Off the ship and on to Frankfurt…

We woke up bright and early on Tuesday, the day of disembarkation. Bill and I did most of our packing the day before. We also filled out the survey and turned it in before the previous night’s embarrassing incident. I wish I had waited, because the second disappointment came that morning. We had our final breakfast. I went with porridge without a whisky dram, a side of streaky bacon, and some fried bread. I should have skipped the bread, given the long coach ride from Oban.

As we cruised toward the charming town where we’d be ending our cruise, Bill and I spoke to one of the more reticent passengers, a guy who had revealed to me earlier in the cruise that he and his wife live in Oban. When they got off the ship, it was an easy trip for them to go home. I liked his wife, who looked a lot like my friend, Melody, especially in the face. The guy, who told me he was 80 but looked about twenty years younger, said it was his first and last Hebridean cruise, due to the expense. Then he told us how he’d made his living. It had been his job to maintain Scotland’s many lighthouses. Talk about an unusual and interesting career! And he looked so fit. I never would have guessed he was 80. He was also the guy who showed up in jeans to the first gala. While some people appeared to be a little appalled by it, frankly, I thought it was kind of bad ass. He looked great in his jeans, and I was sorry when he changed.

So anyway, I got a few last photos, although we’ve seen Oban a few times. It’s the place where the bulk of Hebridean cruises embark and disembark. Then, when we were called off the ship, I didn’t see our luggage. It seems our young and apparently rather inexperienced cabin steward wasn’t clued in on the fact that he was supposed to bring our bags out of the ship. Remember, we had FIVE of them, and they were heavy. We had to get them up a long flight of stairs. Bill went down to the stateroom to see if we’d left anything, and there our bags were. The cabin steward was in the room, reading something. He claimed he “didn’t know” what we wanted him to do with them. On every other cruise we’ve taken with Hebridean, our bags have been taken out for us and left near the coach.

The day prior, this same guy, who had been very nice, but seemed immature and inexperienced, had specifically requested that I give him nice comments on the final survey, since he was on probation and the staff was “watching him closely”. It didn’t occur to me to say it at the time, but it seems to me that asking for positive comments is kind of counterproductive. Those who do a noticeably good job are going to be recognized and rightfully praised. I can think of at least ten crew members who will never need to ask me for praise. I will give it to them freely, because they are so good at their jobs.

I mostly thought our steward did a good job. When I asked him for an extra blanket, he offered to give us a duvet, which turned out to be a much better choice for us and made the bed more comfortable. However, he was a bit slow in getting the room clean. More than once, I came down at lunch to find it still wasn’t quite done. On previous cruises, the room was always made up much sooner than that. One time, he left us without toilet paper. A couple of times, I found my nightgown cutely laid out on my pillow, which seemed a little weird. He had so neatly arranged my toiletries, yet didn’t know to get the bags off the ship on the last day. Still, I try to be fairly easy going about most things when it comes to service. I’ve done that work and I have empathy for people who do it now.

We spent well over $12,000 on this cruise and it was mostly worth it, despite the seasickness. We really did have a great time. But between the dressing down Bill got the night before and the steward’s lack of a clue, I was left a little deflated as we left the Hebridean Princess. Bill actually hauled three of our bags off the ship himself, which he definitely should not have felt like he had to do. However, when we boarded the coach to Glasgow, Captain David Kirkwood was there to say goodbye and he was very sincere as he thanked us for sailing… and even kissed me European style (on both cheeks). So, although I wasn’t happy about a couple of lapses in decorum at the end of the cruise, I would still happily cruise with Hebridean again (if they’ll still let me back on the ship 😉 ).

The ride between Glasgow and Oban takes about two and a half hours, so we had a quick break in Inverary. I was grateful for that, since the fried bread was making me feel kind of queasy. I was able to get ahold of my bottle of Tums, which saved the rest of the ride for me. Fried food and coach rides don’t mix for me.

Glasgow Airport is another thing altogether. It gets a lot of traffic that it can’t seem to handle. Our flight wasn’t until 4:15, but we had arrived at about noon. We had to hang onto the luggage or pay to stow it until 2:15. We paid to stow it, then had lunch in one of the airport’s rather crappy restaurants. As we were leaving, we ran into one of the new stewardesses, Sonia, who is from Portugal and on her way home for two weeks. I think she will do fine on the Princess. She’s very smart, sweet, hard working and service oriented. I enjoyed getting to know her, although I didn’t initially recognize her without her uniform.

As we were leaving the bar, I noticed a group of ladies with Hebridean luggage tags on their bags. They no doubt noticed mine and probably wondered if we were coming or going. We were going, since it was time to check our bags. Glasgow doesn’t have a lounge for Lufthansa, so we used their “Upper Deck” lounge, which business class passengers can access for free. Bad pop played very loudly put me in a mood, although it was worse in the terminal itself. Luckily, our flight was on time and we had a seamless flight back to Germany. I even got a few cool photos of another Lufthansa plane flying next to us.

Once we got to Frankfurt, it was back through passport control, where Bill got the third degree about our status here. Then we collected our bags and, thank God, a luggage cart. Frankfurt is a huge airport and you have to walk your ass off to get anywhere. Doing it with five bags is a nightmare. Then, we had to get to another level to access the parking garage and half of the elevators seemed to be broken. But we did find a couple of them that functioned, managed to find our Volvo, and now we’re home, chilling…

I’ve already hung up our new art, welcomed our dogs home, and done some housework. The laundry is done and my blog is now complete. I’ll probably write one more post to summarize our trip… strictly for those who don’t want to wade through the whole series. I left out some things, like the lovely Scottish gentleman who was a British Army public health officer and musician, and had lived in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) for twenty years. And the two British/American couples we met, who were charming in their own ways. And the beautiful lady who was always dressed to the nines, no matter what… and the pistol of an 88 year old who managed to keep up with everyone and everything, and told us of her plans to visit the Chilean Fjords soon.

Despite my minor grumbles, we had a very good time. And yes, Bill will continue to wear his kilt. If I have to wear a seatbelt, he has to wear his kilt sometimes… and the idiots who either can’t avert their eyes to avoid being offended by his shorts length knit boxer shorts or are rude enough to comment on it can simply go jump in a lake. I do love Scotland. I love Bill. And anyone who shames him for looking gorgeous in his kilt can answer to me.


Two nights in Edinburgh… living life on the Fringe.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we arrived in Edinburgh just in time for the city’s annual Fringe Festival. When I booked our room at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel back in early April, I had no idea this huge festival was going to be happening. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have avoided Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival, not because it isn’t a fantastic festival, but because I don’t enjoy crowds. Edinburgh was bursting at the seams during our two nights there.

Our flight to Edinburgh from Frankfurt occurred on August 2nd. I booked us in business class, not just because I like luxury, but also because we were bringing a lot of bags. During our last visit to Scotland in 2017, Bill had a kilt custom made expressly for gala nights on Hebridean Princess. He doesn’t own a tuxedo and doesn’t particularly want to purchase one. I kept bugging him to get a kilt, even though he’s more Irish than Scottish.

On prior cruises, Bill wore his Army dress blues, but he’s now five years retired and it’s not so easy to fit into the old uniform anymore. Moreover, technically he’s not supposed to wear the uniform at non-military sponsored events, since he’s no longer on active duty. Now, that doesn’t mean he’d get “busted” on Hebridean Princess. In fact, when he’s worn the uniform, he’s mostly been well-received by the other passengers. Most of them have been from Britain and on every cruise we’ve done so far, Bill has met at least a couple of people who have served in Britain’s armed forces. Fellow Americans tend to be scarce on Hebridean cruises. The ones we have met had nothing to do with the military. Still, it was time for a change in wardrobe. The uniform serves as a great conversation piece, but it’s cumbersome and requires crash dieting.

We had to transport the kilt and all that comes with it, as well as a few nice dresses for yours truly. In business class on most airlines, passengers get a generous luggage allowance. On Lufthansa, we each got two free bags. We only checked three bags, which was way more than enough! I really need to learn to pack less!

Our flight to Edinburgh was to commence at 4:15pm. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, although we couldn’t find any luggage carts near where Bill parked. The one machine we found was broken, so we ended up hauling the bags well into the airport before we finally found someone’s mercifully abandoned cart. My mood was rapidly turning to irritation as we searched for a place to check our bags. Although we had just flown out of Frankfurt in late June when we went to Sweden, the check in desk we’d used was moved.

Complicating matters was the fact that the check in desks were on a lower floor and there was no elevator nearby. Somehow, we managed to wrangle the bags onto the escalator without major injury. Then, instead of searching for a proper full service check in, we headed for the self-service luggage drop. That was a bad idea, and didn’t turn out to be self-service, since we ended up requiring assistance. I don’t know what we were thinking. I don’t even like using the self-service checkout at the grocery store. As we were trying to figure out how to get the luggage tags, I remarked to Bill that since we paid for business class, we should have enjoyed all of its perks… like someone who knows what they’re doing and can efficiently get our luggage sorted. Hindsight is 20/20.

Fortunately, there were a couple of Lufthansa staffers on hand to help us get our bags checked. Then, after a somewhat painless trip through security, we headed to passport control, which is always an interesting experience when you’re on “SOFA” status. For those who don’t know, SOFA stands for Status of Forces Agreement. It’s what allows Bill and me to live in Germany and not be legal residents or pay German taxes. We’ve found that the passport officials don’t always know about SOFA, particularly in countries where U.S. forces aren’t typically based.

Even in Germany, which has a long history of hosting U.S. military folks, the passport officials sometimes have to be reminded to check for the blue card. We usually only deal with passport control when we’re headed out of the Schengen zone, like when we go to Britain or the United States. Bill, of course, has dealt with them more than I have on his trips to Africa.

We cleared passport control, then headed to Lufthansa’s business class lounge. Access to the lounge is another reason I usually book business class within Europe. I don’t like crowds and, although the lounge can get crowded, it’s never as crowded as the general areas are in most airports. Lufthansa’s lounges are nice, since they offer relatively quiet places to plug in electronics, comfortable seating, clean toilets, food, and beverages. The ones at Frankfurt Airport also have showers available, which I’m sure are great for people who are on long haul flights.

At about 3:30pm, we headed for our gate, where many people were already congregated. Boarding time was 3:45pm, but it came and went. Our flight was delayed due to weather problems and a computer glitch. I was pretty impatient to get out of Germany. I do love living here, but I also love getting away for a few days. I longed to get to Scotland, where I knew I’d see and hear inappropriate things that would make me laugh. For instance, in Germany, it’s technically against the law to flip someone off, particularly in traffic. I’ve never actually done that myself, but I’ve read that people who get caught doing it can be levied heavy fines. Scotland has no such oppressive laws, as we found out soon after landing in Edinburgh.

Lufthansa’s cuisine in business class. It wasn’t bad. Bill actually liked the green sauce, which is a Frankfurt specialty.

Our flight was okay, except there was a child sitting behind me who kept kicking my seat. Her brother sat in the aisle seat and kept whining for his mom, who was sitting nearby and looked really tired. I couldn’t blame her. Her kids were at a very energetic age, which they were sharing with everyone. The drama escalated when “mama”, apparently from Italy, took her son’s tablet away, causing him to protest rather loudly. I’m glad there was wine.

Somewhere over Scotland!

Edinburgh’s airport is pretty decent, especially compared to Glasgow’s, which we experienced yesterday. When we landed, we had a super quick, painless entrance. It was fully automated and took seconds. I put my passport on a scanner, was deemed “okay”, waited to have my picture taken, then scooted straight through to baggage claim. We had no trouble finding a luggage cart, and after a brief walk to the taxi stand, were soon experiencing our first taste of Scottish hospitality. The hilarious cab driver loaded our bags in the back of his van. As he was packing us up, the cab driver behind him honked. Our cabbie straightened up, smiled pretty, and shot the bird at the guy behind him! I howled with laughter! It felt like I’d come home!

Part 3


Volvo, Mark Knopfler, and East German adventures… part two

Last Saturday was the day we’d been waiting for.  Bill took the dogs to the Tierpension in the morning, then ordered a cab to take us to the Frankfurt Airport.  We could have driven my car, but because we picked up a new car, we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of having to retrieve my Mini Cooper a week later.  Plus, it’s not cheap to park at the airport for eight days.

I decided to book business class on Lufthansa, since it’s relatively affordable over here and doing so nets us more frequent flier points.  Sometimes, those points come in handy.  I also booked all of our accommodations on  When we stay in hotels, I use Expedia.  When we book self catering accommodations, I tend to use Booking, because they have more variety.  I book directly if a place is somewhere I really want to try and they aren’t on a travel site.

Surreal look at life above the clouds.

Since we booked business class for our 90 minute flight, check in was a breeze.  A very friendly Asian lady checked our bags.  I was originally going to book both of my bags, but I brought my laptop and it seems the airlines are getting a lot stricter about not allowing certain electronics to be in checked baggage.  Flying business class got us access to the business class lounge, which was very crowded, but not as crowded as the rest of the airport was.  The friendly Lufthansa clerk was not lying when she told us it was the “high” season.  We also happened to be traveling at the same time a bunch of handball teams from around the world were going to Sweden for a tournament.  Our flight, in particular, had the entire Brazilian team on it.  The players were mostly kids and teenagers and their coaches.  A lot of them are still firmly in their ids.

Wine in the business class lounge…  


Right before our flight.  Glad we could go to the lounge, especially since it took forever to get to the plane, which was parked all the way at the end of the airport.  We had to take a lengthy bus ride.


This guy’s in love with me…  ha ha ha!


It turned out there was no beer or wine available on our flight.  There was a reason given for the lack of booze, but I couldn’t hear what it was.  It was no big deal, since the flight was finished in a jiffy.  Now that we’re living near Frankfurt, getting to Scandinavia without layovers is a cinch!  We’ll have to visit Scandinavia more often, now that it’s more accessible.

Gothenburg is Volvo land…  even the airport has Volvo exhibits.  


It’s also home to Liseberg, which is a very well-known amusement park that was located directly across the street from where we stayed.  This play station was sponsored by the park.


A driver sent by Volvo picked us up and took us to Gothia Towers, which are three huge towers in Gothenburg.  They include the Gothia Towers hotel, several restaurants, and Upper House, which is a five star hotel located on the 20th through the 25th floors of the second tower.  If we had only wanted to stay one night, Volvo would have probably put us up at a different hotel.  But since we wanted two nights, we were on our own to book and pay for them.

I have expensive tastes, so I booked us in the Upper House.  I got several emails and a phone call from them before we arrived.  It’s supposedly among the best hotels in Sweden.  Having now stayed there, I can mostly see why.  The service is superb; the rooms are huge and comfortable; and there is an amazing spa complete with a heated swimming pool that juts out of the 18th floor of the building.  The spa is free for Upper House guests.  Others have to pay admission.  We decided to book a due aromatherapy massage for Sunday, then use the spa afterwards.

This was our view from the 21st floor.  To access Upper House, you have to go to the 25th floor.  All of the rooms are under the reception.

Bathroom was generously stocked with Molton Brown toiletries!

It was a very nice room…  The bed was excellent.  Wish I could have taken it home with me.


Once we dumped our bags, we went looking for food.  Gothia Towers has several restaurants, but most of them were fully booked last Saturday night, on account of all of the handball players who were staying in Gothia Towers.  We had dinner at the bar at West Coast, which is a seafood place on the first floor of the towers.  It was okay…

Bill had seafood casserole, which was very comforting and filling.

I had a martini…  

And trout, that looks like salmon.  I noticed the food was never served very hot.  I don’t know if that’s a Swedish thing, or the kitchen was just weeded.  I did enjoy the Swedish dishes we had, though.  It was a nice change from German fare.

Swedish beer, too.


It was after 10:00pm when I took this photo.  The park had just closed.  Thank God for blackout curtains.


Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part ten

Monday morning, we woke up bright and early for our trip back to Germany.  Bill had scheduled a wake up call for 7:00am, but we were already wide awake by the time the phone rang.  He’d also ordered a cab for 8:00am, but we were ready to go at about 7:30am.  In retrospect, I wish we’d had one last breakfast at the marvelous Merrion Hotel, even though it would have added another 60 euros to our bill.  I had forgotten that the lounges at the Dublin Airport are all purpose and kind of suck.  Our last visit to Dublin was in November 2016 and I had forgotten about the lounge, which is kind of grubby and crowded.

I had prepaid for the room with the plane tickets.  I booked the trip through Expedia and I think it came to about $3,000, including four nights in a five star hotel, business class flights on Lufthansa, and trip insurance in case we couldn’t go for some reason.  When we checked out, we paid another 438 euros for food and bar.  That was actually less than I was expecting.  Could we have done it cheaper?  Of course!  But I wanted this to be a really nice experience, and it was.  The Merrion Hotel certainly deserves all of the accolades it gets.  I’d stay again… if I can afford it, that is!  Seriously, if you’re going to Dublin and want to splurge, the Merrion Hotel is a great bet for that.

We had yet another entertaining ride to the airport with cab driver who told us he was one of eleven children.  He said back in the 60s, there was no TV, so what else were you gonna do with your time?  He was a very nice fellow who bid us a sincere farewell.  I think Ireland is one of those places where you have many friends you haven’t yet met.  It’s got to be one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever visited… and at times, I felt like I was back in the USA.  Lots of Americans were in Dublin, too.

Obviously, other people wondered if that all purpose lounge was seriously the only one…  Oh well.  It had free WiFi, fruits, cheeses, drinks, and limited seating space.  In the morning, there’s no beer to be had, but they do stock it later.  Don’t ask me how I know.


Our flight to Munich was populated with a lot of Italian teenagers.  I guess they were in Ireland for the same reason the Spanish teens were there– to learn English.  This, even though English is Ireland’s second language.  It’s easy to forget that Irish is a language, too.  The flight was trouble free and pleasant, complete with food…

The flight attendant seemed nervous about giving me this tray of food.  It wasn’t bad.  The cookies were extras from coach because she was afraid I wouldn’t like it.  There was burrata, a shrimp with asparagus slices, wurst with pickles, and some kind of vanilla mousse that was pretty tasty.  I also got hot bread and white wine.


We had a two hour layover at Munich’s fabulous airport.  Given a choice, I think I’d take Munich over Frankfurt.  It’s just a nicer place to spend time.  The guy who checked our passports at passport control seemed confused by the concept of the Status of Forces Agreement.  But, to his credit, he figured things out quickly and sent us on our way.  We hung out in the Lufthansa Business lounge for an hour, then got our rinky dink flight back to Stuttgart.  It took about twenty minutes and yes, they fed us.  Actually, it was a nice snack consisting of part of a wrap, a brownie with nuts, caramel, and cherry filling, and grapes.  Seems crazy to wait two hours for a twenty minute flight, but it is what it is.

A couple of sky shots I took.  I think I got these on the first flight from Dublin.

When we got to Stuttgart, our bags were the first ones off the plane.  We grabbed them, got to our car, and drove to Max’s just in time to hit Stuttgart rush hour traffic.  Zane and Arran were delighted to see us and Max gave us the lowdown on what we need to discuss with their vet.  He really does take excellent care of the boys and they love going to see him, although sometimes I leave his place feeling like a negligent dog mom.  But I’d rather it be like that than worry that my dogs aren’t being taken care of and I know he does take great care of them.

I don’t know when our next trip will be.  I’m hoping to visit Armenia in the fall, if we can get enough time off and Max has availability for the dogs.  But we’ll have to see if we can pull it off.  For now, I’ll get back to blogging about restaurants and local fun stuff.  Stay tuned!


Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part two

We left Stuttgart on the morning of Thursday, July 12th.  I was pretty ready to go, since it had been awhile since our last foray out of Germany on an airplane.  It’s not that I like air travel.  It’s more that I’ve kind of been itching to go somewhere besides France or Switzerland.  The last time we went outside of France or Germany was in February, when we hit the Czech Republic for a long weekend.  Because we often travel with the dogs, we are kind of hindered in where we can go.  Also, it’s taken Bill some time to build up enough off time to go somewhere beyond the immediate border countries.

We got up early on the morning of our departure, loaded up the dogs and all of their junk, packed up our suitcases, and headed off to Leinfelden, where the dogs would spent the long weekend with Max at Dog Holiday and we would board our first plane to the Emerald Isle.  I don’t usually accompany Bill when he takes the dogs to Max’s, but in the interest of not looking like a negligent dog mom, I went in with him this time.  Max and his wife, Chris, always take great care of our dogs and they love going to see them.  It’s comforting to see my dogs greet Chris with much affection.

After the dogs were dropped off, we headed for the airport.  Bill dropped me off with the bags, parked the car, and joined me as we found our way to Lufthansa’s check in desk.  There was a family of Germans doing some business with the business class agent, holding up the line.  Several people were ahead of us and finally got so exasperated, they went to the line for economy.  Bill and I weren’t particularly in a hurry, so we waited and another agent came along and checked us in.  The German family with their many, many bags were still being helped when we finished checking in.  I don’t know what the issue was, but clearly it was a big and time consuming problem.

With our bags dropped, we headed for Lufthansa’s lounge, which like all the other lounges is on the second floor of the airport.  I didn’t bother to take pictures of it this time, mainly because I’ve taken pictures in previous posts and nothing has really changed.  It’s just a big room with comfortable chairs, free WiFi, televisions, and snacks.  I have become accustomed to using lounges when I fly and I’ve found that they do make the experience somewhat less stressful on a multi-leg journey.  The lounges are usually quieter and less obnoxious than the main airport and “free” beer is always a good thing.

Our first flight took us to Frankfurt, which is a huge and kind of old airport.  The flight to Frankfurt from Stuttgart is super short– maybe twenty minutes or so.  Nevertheless, they still fed us.  We had maybe ten minutes to scarf down a snack of bread, fruit, and cheese, which came with a side of chocolate.  I saved the chocolate for later.  Business class on Lufthansa is kind of boring, but you do get a few perks, like an empty seat next to you.  The seats are otherwise just like the ones in economy class.  You get a snack or a meal and free booze, and supposedly “priority” handling of your luggage and a quicker security check, as well as the right to check two bags without having to pay extra.  If I can afford it, I try to go business class.  I find it makes the trip more pleasant for everyone.

“Freiraum” is always welcome on airplanes… especially when you have wide hips.

“Special” accommodations in business class.

In Frankfurt, we had a four hour layover.  It’s good that we had so much time, since besides having a long walk to our gate, we also had to go through passport control.  Ireland is not part of the Schengen Zone, which is an important thing to remember when you’re planning your flights and don’t come from a European country.  If you go to the United Kingdom or Ireland or anywhere not in the Schengen Zone, you will have to wait in line.  Sometimes the lines are pretty obnoxious, which was the case on Thursday, when it backed up all the way past the food court.

We were standing behind a nice looking Mexican family, who appeared to be grandparents with their grandson.  They were very well-dressed and civilized, even when the abuelo reminded a veiled Muslim lady that she needed to wait in line like everyone else.  I couldn’t help but feel a little sad about the current state of affairs between the United States and Mexico right now.  To be honest, the current state of affairs in the United States was a constant topic of conversation on this trip, although no one was overtly unkind to us because we’re from the United States.  Still, Trump’s policies did have an affect on our travels if only because people we met were asking “WTF?” a lot.  Believe me, I ask the same thing on a daily basis.

We got to the window at passport control.  The guy who checked our passports looked all of about 18 years old and had no sense of urgency.  He paged through our passports, looking for evidence that we’ve been in Germany legally for the past four years.  He finally found our SOFA cards at the back of the passports, smiled, and sent us on our way.  I was kind of relieved that he knew about the Status of Forces Agreement.  It’s been my experience that some folks at passport control have never seen the cards and we have to explain.  That was kind of what happened to us yesterday in Munich, but I’ll get into that story later.

Anyway, once we got through passport control, we spent our lengthy layover in one of Frankfurt Airport’s many Lufthansa lounges.  It was a pretty boring afternoon until I started singing Monty Python songs to Bill.  That never fails to crack him up.  And again, there’s free wine and beer, of which we took full advantage.

A common sight in Lufthansa lounges.

Our flight to Dublin was trouble free and by 5:30pm local time, we were picking up our bags.  Although we flew business class and our bags were supposed to be offloaded first, we happened to be on the plane with a large group of Spanish kids.  The hilarious cab driver who took us into the city explained that Spain and Italy send a lot of young people to Ireland so they can learn English.  It appeared that a fresh group from Spain arrived with us last Thursday.  They were kind of fun to watch.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was that young and awkward.  Now, I’m just awkward.

I enjoyed the helpful signs in baggage claim.  I don’t know how many people this sign has helped… are you ever thinking of driving when you’re picking up your bags?

Our bags were probably the last to make it off of the plane.  Consequently, we ended up in the cab line behind another American couple who had been on our flight.  I knew they were American simply by looking at them, but there was another big clue hanging off of their luggage.  The male half of the couple was a consular officer in Milan, Italy.  The tag on his wife’s luggage gave his name, address, phone number, and job title.  I noticed that he had positioned his tag so that it faced down, but hers was face up, revealing a lot of information about them.  Bill noticed it, too.  My good deed of the day is to remind all of you out in Internetland to be careful about what you reveal to people when you travel.  I suppose I could have been really obnoxiously outspoken and said, “Hi Patrick!” to the guy in front of us, leaving him to wonder how I know him.  But despite popular belief, I’m not really that brash.

I liked this sign, too.  I think we should post a few of them in the United States.


The cab driver who took us to Dublin was hilarious.  He started out kind of quiet, but was soon warmly welcoming us to Ireland, complete with dropping the f-bomb several times.  We got caught in rush hour traffic, you see.  Every other word was “fookin'”, which I thought was pretty funny.  The cab driver was telling us about how Ireland has been experiencing a drought and all of the grass is scorched, which is a rare thing in the country known for being the most green.  Like other chatty Irish cabbies, he also told us about how safe Dublin is and how much he loves the city, even as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent visit caused significant backups downtown.

Before too long, our driver had delivered us safely to the Merrion Hotel, where a man in a top hat was quick to rush over and grab our bags.  He offered his hand to take my backpack and I shook it, which caused a moment of awkwardness for us both…  I guess that’s a sign that I’m not used to posh living!


Paul Simon or bust… Our Dublin getaway! Part one

Going back to Ireland for a stop on our year of concerts…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how Bill and I have dubbed 2018 as our year of concerts.  Bill and I aren’t usually concertgoers, but we’ll definitely drop some cash on tickets for certain shows.  On June 30th, we both saw The Rolling Stones for the first time and were absolutely blown away by the experience, obnoxious as it was.  Although the Stones was the first show we’ve seen so far, it was not the first concert I bought tickets to.  I think that honor probably belongs to Elton John, who announced his farewell tour.  Bill and I haven’t seen him either, but he’s coming to Stuttgart next year.  I bought tickets to his show, then got on a roll buying other tickets.

And then James Taylor announced on Facebook that he and Bonnie Raitt would be joining Paul Simon for a few dates on his Homeward Bound tour.  Now… as a child of the 70s and 80s, of course I like Paul Simon’s music.  I couldn’t get through my childhood without hearing his greatest hits with former musical partner Art Garfunkel.  My dad was a big fan of theirs.  I have always liked Paul Simon, although at least prior to Friday night’s show in Dublin, not quite as much as I did James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt.  Of the three on the bill, I was the most excited about seeing James play again.  This was my third time seeing him play live.

The idea of seeing James, Bonnie, and Paul appealed, as did going to Dublin in the summer.  Last time we were there was my first time– back in November 2016.  The weather wasn’t exactly stellar.  We spent three nights there before we moved on to the west coast of Ireland.  The hotel I chose that first time was nice, but not in the part of the city most conducive to seeing Dublin.  Plus, our time there was eaten by trips to Kilkenny to see the Smithwick’s Visitor’s Center and doing the Guinness tour.  Bill had also never been to Dublin during the summer, although he has been to Ireland once more than I have.  With his blessing, I ordered us tickets in February… and promptly lost them by June.

We don’t usually lose things at our house because Bill and I are both hoarders.  But we’re also getting old and forgetful.  Somehow, the tickets to the show I was most looking forward to got misplaced.  I had to call Ticketmaster Ireland to get new ones issued.  Fortunately, that wasn’t as onerous a task as online reviewers had led me to believe.  We just called them on a Saturday morning and a young woman with a charming Irish lilt verified my payment details and sent duplicates.  I’m so glad we went to the trouble.  The show was absolutely incredible– as good or probably even better than the Stones’ show was.  It’s too bad Paul Simon says he won’t be doing any more big tours.

I decided I wanted this particular trip to be as comfortable as possible.  I used Expedia to book us a room at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, which is reputed to be the best in the city.  I also got us business class tickets on Lufthansa with flights laying over in Frankfurt on the way to Dublin and Munich on the way back.  We booked the dogs for four nights with Uncle Max and Bill arranged for the time off, so we could leave last Thursday morning and come back today.  Four nights made for a nice break, and gave us the chance to see a few places we missed the first time we visited Dublin.

As usual, this will be a series.  That means there will be several posts, along with lots of pictures.  I hope those who read this first post will follow along as I write up the whole weekend, although I know not everyone will be interested.  My travel tends to be very adult oriented and full of stories about people we meet and things we see, rather than stuff we do.  However, if you’re interested in reading about the hotel, restaurants we tried, and our activities, I highly recommend staying the course.

This is a concert I will never… ever… forget.  It was just awesome.  As amazed as I was by The Rolling Stones, I was even more blown away by this show, for which tickets cost me significantly less money.


Celebrating 14 years in Ireland! Part two

On the morning of November 11th, we dropped off Zane and Arran at Dog Holiday.  Zane and Arran have stayed at this dog hotel several times and always have a good experience there.  I had left some medication for the dogs, along with peanut butter to help them take it.  At first, Max the proprietor didn’t want to use the peanut butter because he says it’s too messy and full of sugar.  I will admit I got a little pissy, mainly because I use peanut butter that is all natural and contains nothing but peanuts.  Whitley’s Peanuts in my hometown of Gloucester, Virginia sells amazing products that are very high quality.  Max was under the impression that I was giving my dogs Peter Pan or Jif.  No way!

I was on edge as we were leaving Stuttgart.  Zane just had surgery to remove a mast cell tumor.  I hadn’t been expecting the news that his lump had been cancerous, so I was upset.  Having someone imply that I feed my dogs junk didn’t sit right with me, but I’m sure Max meant well.

Having dropped off the dogs, Bill and I made our way to the airport.  We were there very early for our flight to Munich, which was set to leave at 12:50pm.  We did the self-check in at a kiosk, which sort of confused us because I think it might have been for people who weren’t checking luggage.  Because I booked business class, Bill and I were entitled to check two bags each at no extra charge.  We had planned to check one bag each, but I decided I’d rather not lug around the bag I usually use as a carry on, since the only thing in it I would need was an iPad.  It turned out to be a good decision to check three bags between us.

The very helpful Lufthansa agent pointed us to a dedicated security line for first and business class passengers, as well as the Lufthansa Lounge.  Since I was a bit hungry and we were in no hurry, we decided to stop for something to eat before we went through security.

Salmon tapas and a croissant!


We had a quick bite at the Italian cafe in Terminal 2, which I paired with some prosecco.  The salmon and shrimp salad was great for boosting my blood sugar a bit.

The priority security lane…  there was even a red carpet there!


Even though our security line was supposed to be “priority”, it was crowded.  It took some time to get through the process, made slightly more annoying because I was having trouble understanding instructions.  One of the agents said something to me that I couldn’t quite hear.  Even if I could hear it, I wouldn’t have necessarily understood it.  I finally said, “Sorry, I’m American.”  She switched to English and I finally got what I was supposed to do.  A sharp eyed agent spotted that my car key fob had fallen out of my purse.  When I went to claim it, he asked if I was sure it was mine.  I was sure, especially since it was apparent that no one else in the security line drove a Mini Cooper.

Once we got through security, we made our way to Stuttgart Airport’s Lufthansa business class lounge.  The lounge is actually in two parts.  There’s the Senate Lounge, which I guess is for very high priority passengers with first class tickets or many Lufthansa miles.  And there’s the Business Lounge, which is for business class passengers and fewer Lufthansa miles.  This was the first time either Bill or I have ever accessed the Business Lounge for any airline, so it was a new experience for us.  To access the lounge, show the agent your ticket.  It will be scanned and you can then go in and enjoy peace, quiet, comfortable seating, food, and drinks.  The lounge offers light snacks, including fruit, soup, and salads, as well as what looked like Chex mix.  They also have wine, beer, whiskey, schnapps, soda, water, coffee and tea.  It’s all included in the price of your ticket, so you can help yourself.

WiFi is free in the lounge and easy to access.  There are also computer desks, free newspapers, and a couple of TVs tuned to the news.  There’s a bathroom right outside the lounge that is clean and quiet.  You can even charge your phone up there without even entering the lounge.  That’s handy information for anyone who’s running low on juice and can’t find an electrical outlet.  I must admit, it was a pleasure to spend our time in the lounge.  It was probably one of the nicest of the business class “perks” we enjoyed on our flights to Dublin.

Bill enjoys an Italian red wine while he reads the paper in Lufthansa’s lounge.


I had been a little apprehensive about out flight to Munich, since I wasn’t able to pre-select our seats.  I needn’t have worried, though.  Bill and I were given seats 1A and 2A.  Although I’m sure no one would have minded had Bill sat next to me, another Lufthansa perk is that the seat next to you stays empty.  Since there were only two seats to a side of each row, he was seated behind me instead of next to me.

“Free space”

Peek a boo!

Our flight from Stuttgart to Munich was running late, but it was only scheduled to be only thirty minutes, anyway.  Nevertheless, I was very impressed by the service on that particular flight.  The flight attendants were excellent, not just to the four of us in “business class”, but to everyone on the flight.

We were even served meals, though I opted not to eat mine.  This was Bill’s meal.  Note the real silverware and plates.  He said the food was pretty good.  As for me, I enjoyed two beers in thirty minutes.  They were small ones, though– 25 ml. each.


We landed in Munich and had just enough time to rush to passport control, where there was a pretty good sized line.  Actually, we got there just in time, since the line got much longer minutes after we arrived.  The passport agent asked me if I had a European passport after she noted how long I’ve been in Germany.  I mentioned SOFA; she found the card; and we were on our way.

Our flight to Dublin was set to last about two hours.  The one thing about that flight that I liked was that we had a separate entrance that served the six of us sitting in business class.  Other than that, I can’t say the business class experience from Munich to Dublin was that special.

We were served a meal not long after takeoff.  This was a light chicken and shrimp salad with mango.  It was surprisingly good for airplane food.  There was also a berry crumble, hot roll, and Swiss chocolate.  I usually don’t eat airplane food, but I did eat some of this.  I think the people in economy class got sandwiches.


Not long after we were served our meal, some guy toward the back of the plane had a medical problem.  The flight attendants asked for a doctor.  I’m not sure if anyone was able to help; but whatever the problem was, it was evidently handled onboard.  I think in the course of helping the person with the medical issue, the lavatory in economy was temporarily blocked.  Consequently, lots of people from economy class were using the lavatory in business class.  Technically, they weren’t supposed to do that, but the flight attendants did nothing about it.

I know it sounds snobby for me to mention this; I mention it only because some people will be reading this actually wanting to know about business class service and I want to give full disclosure for those who care.  In any case, because of all of the people coming up to business class to use the toilet, it wasn’t as peaceful and quiet as it could have been on our flight.  I know this wasn’t necessarily a usual thing, since at the beginning of the flight, a man seated in economy asked if he could use the business class lavatory before he sat down.  The flight attendant directed him to use the toilet in the back.  Later, I saw him up front standing in line for the lavatory like everyone else.

Another issue I had that made our business class experience less special was the fact that I was sitting in the last row in business class.  Some guy with long legs was sitting behind me and he kept sticking his feet under my seat and kicking my feet.  Even the free middle seat between us was a little annoying, since there is a place to put drinks there that is fixed.  You can’t raise the arms on the seat or necessarily stretch out much.

Fortunately, since we were at the front of the plane, we were able to exit quickly once we landed in Dublin.  Our bags were among the first to arrive in baggage claim.  And within minutes of our arrival, some guy came up to me and apparently assumed I was a local.  I think he was speaking Irish to me, though, because I didn’t understand him.

With the flights behind us, I was eager to get to the hotel and rest.  It had been a long day and I was tired and hungry.  Off we went to the taxi stand, where we met our first local.  More on that in part 3.