This blog entry will cover another 27-day sojourn around Europe. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. In this case, it was how I choose our route to Europe.
Catherine and I are both Diamond Medallion with Delta. Agents always ask how that is possible since it is usually on or the other, of the couple, and my tag line is, “don’t leave home without her”. Little do they know that we actually don’t have a home.
Being Double Diamonds’, as I put it, gives us each 4 global upgrades a year. You can use them in several ways. One is to book the flight and then call in and ask them to apply the upgrade. The computer then figures out if you can be upgraded right away or be put at the head of the list for the available seats.
The other way is to call in and tell them you want to go first class/business class or Delta One to and from Europe. I usually give them three days we can travel each way and to and from either Paris/CDG or Amsterdam/AMS. We have done this many times but this was the second time we were routed thru another city out of ATL.
The last time was March of last year and that did not work out very well. You can read all about that fiasco here, however, I will give you the highlights. That time we were routed thru Detroit. Unfortunately, there was a spring snowstorm there and as we taxied in our plane was taxiing out.
Lucky/unlucky for us our plane out of ATL had a mechanical or they could have used the old weather excuse and we would have been on our own to make our way to Paris. Instead, they gave us a hotel, voucher for dinner, breakfast and honored our upgrades across the pond with one catch, we had to go thru Minneapolis. I didn’t really care since we are always looking for ways to build those miles.
So far so good, however, when we finally got to Paris a day late Catherine’s bag was still somewhere in the states. Till this day I still have no idea what route her bag took to finally make it to Europe, 21 days behind us. It had plenty of different bag tags still attached.
When it finally showed up I had basically replaced the entire contents. Not all at once but on an as-needed basis. That trip was 31 days with stops in, Paris, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem with a half marathon there. On to Cyprus for another half marathon. Back to Paris and Amsterdam for a 7-day cruise on AMA Waterways cruise line.
I had finished up the shopping with dresses for Catherine when the bag made its appearance. Delta made good on reimbursement for all that I had bought but that also meant that I had to transport the extra bag on the cruise and back to the US.
I made sure Catherine wore all the clothes that she now had. In some cases, I had her change clothes 3 times a day. When we got back to ATL we picked out the best of the best to use for the continuation of our travels and the rest went into our small storage unit in ATL.
Some might be wondering, by now, what this has to do with the title to the blog entry. The no-excuses part will come later but suffice to say even with all the twists and turns I definitely have no regrets. I look at all of them as valuable learning experiences.
This time around we were routed thru Cincinnati/CVG and the whole time I was wondering what could possibly go wrong. The plane was at the gate in ATL 30 minutes prior to departure and the weather in the area looked good.
As usual, we left the hotel 3 hours prior and we walked the terminal to get in our steps. The flight to CVG was uneventful and with a 90-minute layover, I figured we were good to go. In CVG the plane was at the gate at least 1 hour prior and after boarding, the skies opened up for the next hour.
No big deal, if the crew does not time out, but I figured they probably just started their day so that was, most likely, not going to happen. For the first time in my 37 year aviation career and 4 plus years of running all over the world, I opted for a sleeping pill for the 8 hour flight over.
My fear has always been that you take the pill and an emergency occurs, I would be of no use to help with the evacuation. I have also heard of some pretty strange stories over the years with people that have taken them inflight. You can read about a great article here.
It actually worked out pretty good with Catherine and I got 4 hours of deep sleep. The prescribed medication only stays in your system 4 hours so by the time we started our descent we were refreshed and ready to go.
Because of our experience, last March Catherine now travels with two carry on’s but of course, with cruise wear, I had to check my 55-pound bag. Low and behold my bag was one of the first on the belt, however when I raised the handle it broke off in my hand.
This bag was only a month old so I was very surprised. I usually spend less than 100 bucks on our suitcases but they usually last at least 9 months.
There was an agent there and she directed me to customer service in Paris, handled by Air France. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to that encounter but I was pleasantly surprised. Paperwork was filled out and was told to go the baggage service center not far away from where a very nice gentleman tried to repair the handle.
When it was apparent he could not fix the handle he directed me to a room where I could transfer my items to a brand new bag. It was the exact same style and with a 5-year warranty. I was one happy camper.
We were now about two hours behind schedule but nothing was planned for the day in Paris but the typical walk over to the nearby mall from our favorite Airport Marriott. We like to us the time to adjust to the new time zone and give us plenty of time to make our cruise out of Rome.
The next day we’re back to the airport for our AirFrance flight to Rome. This time it was to the cheapest Marriott I could find since we had already been to Rome several times over the years.
It was a very nice hotel and there were many folks, like ourselves, going out on a cruise the following day. Turns out there were six ships at the port with ours being the smallest.
The 15-day cruise started out very well especially since the Windsurf is our favorite ship and many of the crew we have seen before either in the Caribbean or last year when we did this cruise in the opposite direction from Lisbon to Rome.
The first 7 days had us go from Rome to Barcelona with stops in Portoferraio, Portofino, Italy. Motte Carlo, Monaco, Cannes, Sanary-Sur-Mer and Port Vendres, France.
We usually do not do excursions but we had some shipboard credit to use so we did have a great excursion to Eze and Villa Rothschild. We are vista junkies and love visiting gardens around the world and this tour had both and did not disappoint.
This ship is going into dry dock in November so there was a group on board that was going over the ship to review what work needs to be done. Also, this was a designated James Beard Foundation trip. That meant they also brought on a specialty executive chef, Jamie Leeds,
Also on board was Claire which we had met on another James Beard Foundation trip last December out of San Juan on the Star Pride. She coordinated all the activities which included two fantastic wine tastings and complimentary wine one evening. My favorite was the Chenin Blanc, Alban de St. Pre Vouvray.
We were able to dine with Clair one night. We also got to dine with the Captain one evening. Turns out Catherine and I came in second with 20 cruises to Glen and Susan who have done 23 cruises. They have a vacation home in Loreto, Mexico so that is another example it is a small world after all. Catherine and I are headed back to Loreto for our third trip in November.
We love Barcelona and this was our third trip there. Back in 2014, we ran a marathon and last year we stopped here. There were several places I wanted to visit so we set out on foot around 9:30 am. All aboard was 4 pm so I figured we had plenty of time to visit Park Guel and the funky church, Sagrada Familia.
Even though the temps were in the 90’s most of the route we took was shaded. Along the way back to the ship I decided to take a detour to a Sketchers store which was about 8 miles, both ways, out of our way. Unfortunately, the shoe that I wanted the largest size was 11.5 which was a bit small for me.
As we followed our Apple maps route back to the ship, I joked to Catherine about the fact that there were reports of folks ending off-roading in Denver while following turn by turn directions to their destination. At this point we were only about 1 mile from the ship when it became clear that our route was to take us thru a security area for the cargo ships.
We backtracked and noticed a railroad track that ran alongside the route. Looking at that possibility it was decided that was not a viable solution. It was now 2:30 pm and with only 90 minutes till all on board. I was starting to worry about us getting back to the ship on time. There was a fort up a huge mountain and I figured if we made it up there we could catch a cab in plenty of time.
So up we went but it soon became obvious this road was not used very often with dead seagulls on the road and others hovering overhead. I was not deterred and when we got to the top we quickly realized that this section was closed to the public and completely surrounded by fencing.
Back down we went and with time not on our side we went back to the guarded area and tried to explain that we need to get to our boat thru their area. The guy did not speak much English but made it very clear that we were not getting there the way Apple maps had routed us.
I remembered there being a bar about a half-mile back down the road so Catherine and I started jogging back to the bar. I figured for 20 Euro I would easily get someone to drive us the final mile to the port. The reason we were not routed that way was because it was along a very busy highway.
Unfortunately, no one spoke English and also no one was willing to leave their beers to help us out. We were now down to 45 minutes and no cabs were willing to come out to this remote area. So it was decided the highway was the only way to go.
Lucky for us someone from the bar waved us back to the bar with us thinking they were willing to give us a ride. Back to the bar, we went only to find out that several were headed to the bus stop for bus #21 that was scheduled to arrive in 5 minutes.
10 minutes transpired as we tried to hitchhike. Turns out that it was great that we returned to the bar since while we were on the bus we noticed that there was no shoulder on the highway at all. We got off the bus and then ran to the port with 10 minutes to spare.
The last hour I kept replaying the Captain reminding those going on the ship for the next 8 days not to miss the boat. After it was all over we had walked 17 miles nonstop for around 6 hours. Catherine and I have done 10 miles plus each day so even though we call ourselves taking some time off from a very active spring race season.
Since March we have done 2 marathons, 6 half marathons and two 10k’s. Our next scheduled race is in September so staying in shape one way or another is very important to us. I am sure I will find some races to participate in prior to September.
The next 8 days we made stops in Palma, Cartagena, Almeria and Malaga, Spain. My favorite, Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory and Cadiz, Spain on our way to Lisbon. The weather was great the entire cruise with the last day being a Sea day. It was my birthday that day so it turned out pretty good. That was a first for me to be at sea on my Birthday. Any suggestions for what and where to be on my big 65th.
I have a tradition of having Lobster on my birthday so the chef was willing to accommodate. Birthday wishes by many on board and just about all of the crew made its very special day.
Glen and Susan were still on board so they once again beat us out for the champagne but as a very kind gesture, they gave it to us to enjoy on my Birthday.
We also met another couple we had cruised with before on Windstar last August in the Greek Isles. It was funny that I recognized Lee, however, Liz recognized me. It was great catching up with the two of them.
The highlight for us was the stop at the rock of Gibraltar. As a matter of fact, it was a major factor in our picking this cruise since last year we stopped in Morocco, Africa. We were able to see the rock but it had always been on my list of places to visit.
With some more shipboard credit to spend, we went on another excursion while there. Besides the rock itself it, the whole history of the Rock was very fascinating to me. There is only 34K that live there with another 10K that drive over from Spain to work there. It is part of the UK and their major industry is tourism with another 10k coming by to visit most days. On average, they only have 500 people that are unemployed.
We really lucked out being the only ship that arrived that day so it was really easy to catch the cable car up to the top of the rock. Second to tourism is online betting where a ton of money is tracked in the rock. There are over 100 miles of tunnels, many you can not get to, but some lead to an area where the computers are housed.
Originally the idea was to dig the tunnels to transport 2 cannons to the top of the rock to fend off the Spanish back in 1782. That planned changed when they realized they could make portholes inside the rock looking out and place many cannons along the rock. They came about this idea while trying to figure out how to supply air to the areas they were digging and blasting.
They say, necessity is the mother of invention. As the plan progressed they ended up with several hospitals along with areas to house airplanes and other military equipment inside the rock.
You can’t forget the monkeys that also live there. Not going to bore you with the details on their existence there but here is a great link all about the rock here.
They kicked us to the curb in Lisbon, Portugal and there, my mission was to make our way to the Sao Jorge Castle for some great views of the city below and to the infamous Bota Alta. This was my fourth visit to Lisbon and must say this one was more civilized than the previous 3. Thanks to it being Sunday and now being older and wiser. By far the Vodka and crushed strawberries based drink called Caipiroska is my favorite.
It took me over an hour to find a bar that was showing the Women’s World Cup finals soccer game but with persistence, I was able to find somewhere to watch the second half of the game. We then went back to a restaurant Catherine ate at last year and the Sea Bass was outstanding let alone the Sangria.
Currently, we are on another AirFrance flight this time to Paris with a train to somewhere south of Paris. My sister and sister in law rented a villa there for two weeks or so and this is our allotted 5 days for us to visit. While we were waiting for the train they turned out the entire airport and train station for about 30 minutes while they investigated a left bag near the Egyptair check-in counter.
The train was on time but come to find out that we still have an hour cab ride ahead of us to their spot. Sometimes I don’t look into all the details of some of these treks Catherine and I go on. Travel with no regrets.
The train was to where the high-speed train stops adjacent to Tours France, not to be confused with Tour de France. The villa was actually located in Varennes-Sur-Fouzon, where the 8 of us hung out. Catherine and I were able to get in our first run in 3 weeks as we made ourself through and around the corn and fields upon fields of Sunflowers.
We enjoyed some fabulous food and got to see a magnificent church called, Cathedral Sainte-Croix in Orléans and one of the largest castles, Chateau de Chambord in the world clocking in at 450 rooms. Story be told the design was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, and has an amazing double helix staircase.
With three days left we split up from others and spent those days in Amsterdam. It was quite an adjustment after over 3 weeks in temps in the 90’s to the 70’s here. I asked a long-time resident what is the best time to visit and the answer was that you can never tell since the weather has a mind of its own.
When we were in the area last spring we were bundled up most of the time. I always say you can buy anything in Amsterdam and once again they lived up to that motto. That time it was clothing and this time it was CBD, good for what ails you.
I will close with the, “Live with no excuses”, part of this title. Catherine and I chose to run all over the world but it is time to bring this chapter in our life to a close. After 5 years of packing up and moving on, 5 years is long enough. It has been a blast but all good things must come to an end.
We will have made over 500 stops, visited over 70 countries where we have a run a race in over have of them. We averaged around 15 races of all shapes and sizes a year. We have done nearly 30 races with Marathon Tours and Tavel and several dozen cruises.
We have no excuse for this crazy lifestyle but for us, it was what we needed. My open-heart surgery and Catherine’s Early Onset Alzheimer’s has taught us that life is way the hell to short. We have seen and done it all with only a few places left to see. So now it is time to slow down the pace.
We are not going to buy a house somewhere with a white picket fence but instead of going somewhere for a few days it will probably be more like a few weeks to a month. We will still do our race thing with Catherine only having 3 more states to get all 50 done. After that, it will be more of the half marathon/ 10 K or 5 K variety.
People all the time say I should write a book so next year will give me the time to tackle that project. We have two more trips scheduled this year with the last one being a bit over the top. Spoiler alert, it will be awesome.
I have loved the feedback on the blog but that to will be coming to an end. It has been a great ride and has enjoyed all the friendships along the way. I will still let everyone know on Facebook where we have lighted for the few weeks in hopes that we can catch up over dinner or a run.
Running/walking is our passion and we will continue to sightsee one step at a time. We might venture to Europe once a year and maybe in the future check a few more places off our life list. We really like the Caribbean and Mexico, for obvious reasons, so you will probably be able to catch us there during the winter months.
We really don’t have and excuse as to why we started this grand adventure or why we are bringing it to a close. We look at life as a gift and we are so blessed to be able to enjoy it in the way we have chosen for ourselves.
It definitely was not the lifestyle for everyone but it was perfect for us and that is all that matters. I am sure I will come up with something truly unique for my 65th Birthday next July. In the meantime, I really appreciate all the folks we have met and hope to cross paths with each of you for years to come.