Why do we travel, sounds like an easy enough question to answer but first I need to talk about exactly who “we” are. I could take the broad view and talk about the population as a whole. If I go down that road it would probably take up an entire book. I will speak to that possible question, in brief, later on.
I will focus this blog entry on Catherine and I. As most will conclude we have taken travel to an extreme. We have met a number of people along the way that have retired and have gone on the road but all, so far, actually have a home. I also belong to a group on Face Book called, Full-Timers. They are folks that have sold their home and bought a RV and have been full timing in their rig ever since.
We actually have a motor home but we only spend any time in it a few times a year. We usually spend around a week each time and have been moving it around over the last several years. This would be a good place to start the conversation about travel. Back in the day when my kids were growing up we always had a motor home and would use it to travel from one sporting event to the other.
Not in the typical way, of course. Some would think it would be a way to save on hotel expenses but not in our case. We would actually still stay in a hotel but it was more of an efficient way to move from one venue to the next and have some place for the other two to relax while one of them was out on the soccer field, basketball court, dance recital, gymnastic event, etc.
Over time I got very proficient at getting each of our 3 motor homes in and out of tight spots. Each time I would buy one a little bigger. I did not realize, after buying the one we presently have, that when they each went off to college that they would no longer want to travel with us in that mode of transportation.
With that in mind I decided to rent out the one that we presently have. I did that for about three years and it was not profitable but did keep it moving and provided cash flow for the payments. Unfortunately things did not always go as planned and some had problems moving the 38 foot motor home there and back without any damage.
No real big deal but insurance companies decided that the risk out weighted the payments people were making to them, so the industry changed and folks like myself could not longer rent it out their personal units. I put it in storage for several years and it was not until I neared retirement that I started to use it again. Knowing that Atlanta was a possible place for our hub and spoke idea, it was first moved there.
With a motorhome you have to drain all the water and fill the lines with antifreeze so even thought ATL temps do not dip below freezing much I still had to go back and forth to winterize and de-winterize the unit. After we started the actual Run all over the world fling, it was decided to move it south.
Not to go into great detail but it made its way to its current storage area of MIA over the last 20 months. I really do not like to drive it for long distances so the trip to MIA was basically at 100 or so miles at a time. Over that time it was put in storage many times from ATL to MIA. We will reunite with what we affectionally call, “The Crib” after we come back from Cuba in late November until we head back to ATL the first of December. The plan there is to move it from MIA across alligator alley to the western coast of Florida. Even though I do not have to winterize the unit anymore I still have to worry about it being blown away.
As the kids were growing up we were always on the road each and every weekend. My kids stayed very active and since we had a pretty good size vehicle to transport them in, it would be no surprise to have several of their friends and team mates with us.
On the other end of the spectrum, since I was also a pilot and manager for UPS I had to be away from home from time to time to keep my flying skills top notch. Unlike other pilots that either were gone every other week or two I would find flights to fly that only had me away from home a couple time a month. Most jobs that I had over the 27 years I worked mostly in the Simulator or office so most time I was there to watch my kids grow up.
I was very fortunate and I actually flew more in the first 8 years of my career at a commuter airline then I flew the entire following 27 years at UPS. I was able to satisfy the currency requirement of 3 takeoffs and landings each 90 days in a simulator, from time to time. Instead of being away 3 nights a month I could get the takeoffs and landings done in about 15 minutes.
I still had to go thru the yearly training, just like everyone else, but in most cases, I was actually the Training Manager for the fleet that I flown so had a pretty good idea of what to expect during training. Surprisingly enough, just knowing what was going to happen did not always make it any easier since simulators are extremely realistic.
We even had to put together a training scenario to replicate a dual engine failure right after takeoff and water landing, in the Hudson, of the now famous Capt. Sully. For some strange reason I could not bring myself to land in the water and made it back to the airport each time. That is a long story, especially after watching the movie Sully.
As you can see travel as been in my blood my entire adult life but it goes deeper than that.
Presently we are in Venice Italy and after 2 days here we are on our way in a few hours to the cruise ship terminal for another Windstar cruise from here to Rome. This is our fourth trip with them and I highly recommend that cruise line. We will go down the coast of Croatia with several stops along the way. Stop also in Sicily and then make it back up the west coast of Italy to Rome.
As we took self guided tours of Venice over the last two days I realized, it is certain things about travel, that intrigue me. I am a planner and manager by heart. I have spent most of my adult life managing assets and find that to be a better fit for me than actually flying airplanes from point A to B safely. I really enjoy the planning part of travel and then putting those plans into action. The points of interest are nice to look at but figuring out how to get around on my own is where the real thrill exist.
Venice is a real challenge with all of its narrow streets, over 400 foot bridges and numerous canals with few signs makes it almost impossible to get around with out getting lost. It is like the largest corn maze in the world. I tried my best not to double back and also I only pulled out my map a few times and my phone only once. It was the challenge that kept me going. Over the three days we also walked over 22 miles but did take time out for the, rather expensive, 30 minute gondola ride. The fare is regulated by the government and you can tell they are pushing the envelope on what people will pay. It was worth it, but only for the tourist factor and limited learning experience.
After awhile you did start to wonder why there were thousands of little shops selling stuff we don’t want or need. There were great looking churches along the way and it was very interesting watching the water transportation system. That is the other part of travel that I love. That being how people all over the world go about their daily lives dealing with the same thing all of us have to deal with. Sleep, eat, entertainment, transportation and how to rid of garbage, to say a few.
Some of the places we have traveled to are very touristy and others not so much so also watching how the people living there deal with the different aspects of life is of interest to me. The difference is stark and sometimes very entertaining in it of itself. In most places I try to use mass transportation as much as possible so the different ways that is handled varies greatly.
We are staying at the Venice Airport, Marriott. It is a very nice hotel and will probably do a trip advisor review before we leave. The hotel van was right there after our flight and the ride was a quick trip. From there it was easy as pie to get to Central Venice by bus. The bus stop was right across the street from the hotel and the number 5 bus departs every ten minutes. 20 minutes you are in the middle of it all and from there you are a tram ride to the cruise terminal, so I thought.
Turns out our yacht, as they like to call it, is not large enough for the actual cruise terminal so we had to drag our bags along with another misguided couple to where it was docked. The Windsurf is their largest yacht and can carry 330 people. It has sails and usually have them up 90% of the time while in motion. We only had 260 folks on our trip and they have a crew of 190 so you do the math. To put it simply, if you drop your napkin, 3 people will be right there to pick it up. Turns out there were 5 crew members that we had been on previous cruises with.
Right now they have six ships, 3 with sails and three without. The ones without carry around 200 and the service is top notch. They are rated number 1 for the under 500 passenger size. We go another trip with them in December out of San Juan and booked two more weeks with them next May while we were on board. We ran into one gentleman that has 92 cruises. He usually does a lot of Caribbean cruises since he likes to scuba dive.
The 8 day cruise was once again excellent but nothing really not worthy took place. During the planning phase of this trip I was looking for somewhere to go prior to Amsterdam and for some strange reason I picked Casablanca. Catherine gets first right of refusal and it seemed fine with her. Here is something I posted to Face Book on why we went there.
Why you might ask.
1. Because we have never been there before.
2. Because my Daughter, Mariah Parker, has.
3. Because we have no home and have to sleep somewhere.
4. Because it is NOT on our way to our next stop, Amsterdam.
5. Because we really like the movie.
6. And the most important one being,
Because Catherine did not say we couldn’t
Don’t waste your time. The Sofitel hotel was in the middle of it all and was fantastic but the city itself was basically a hole in a wall. They did have the Hassan II Mosque which was jaw dropping but everything else was very dirty and not appealing to the eye. The hotel had two great restaurants and one night we had a sampler meal of all the Moroccan dishes known to man. They had a great lounge with an outstanding Jazz singer which reminded us of Debra, who we met back in Bangkok.
I will have to say that is another reason why we travel. You just have to see it for yourself. You can hear stories from others, look at pictures in books or on the internet but the term seeing is believing really comes to life when you travel. I guess I also travel for the stories you can tell. I will say Casablanca made for a great story.
The train station was right across the street from the hotel so the trip back to the airport was easy enough, so I thought. The problems getting out of the country started the moment we stepped off the train. The train was packed and unfortunately we were at the end of the train and they had security screening before you could leave the train station. Only one guy was checking to make sure everyone had a plane ticket. Then one belt for everyone to put their bags on and only one guy to check you thru the metal detector.
I usually plan to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior and the first hour went by just trying to get off the train and on airport property. The ticket counter was just as bad. They had no record of me paying for my third bag and they wanted twice the amount at the airport. We went back and forth for another hour and after a manager’s intervention we were now on our way to customs and immigration.
As we turned the corner I could hear yelling and a sea of people trying to be processed by 4 agents. That is twice the number we sometimes see in Paris, at the, Charles De Gaul airport, but it became crystal clear we were going to miss our flight. I saw and took the opportunity to cut the line, since staying another night in Casablanca, was not an option. The agent was not happy but I held my ground and Catherine flashed her smile and baby blues and we were on our way.
Security screening was a joke with a cop with a gun standing in the metal detector and basically frisking everyone, since it was obvious, the machine itself did not work. Made it to the gate with a few minutes to spare and was very happy for an on time departure for Madrid for our connecting flight to Amsterdam.
I thought the worst was behind us since our flight was on time and we had almost 2 hours to go thru customs in Madrid. We encountered the usually amusement park type back and forth line. They had twice the number of agents for EU folks so we slowly made our way to point where you had to pick a particular agent to stand in line for. Just like at the grocery store, I picked the wrong one. First our agent went to lunch and the new agent took awhile to settle in. She was busy talking to her friend between each passenger so her process rate was nothing to write home to mom about. She was also not happy with a few folks so that also took awhile.
We were now 45 minutes prior to departure and the signs indicated it would take 30 minutes to get to our gate. First you go several levels down to the underground train and after a long ride to our terminal back up you go. They can give your seats away within 15 minutes of departure time so we started a slow jog to our gate as we could now see that the departure board saying final call.
They did not close the door right behind us or had given our seat away but it was close. Great flight on Iberia and 1 plus 30 we were in Amsterdam. This was our third trip there and have decided whenever we go to Europe we are going to stop there for a few days each way. Easy train ride to Central Station and after a short bag drag to the Renaissance, by Marriott, hotel, we were in the Executive Lounge having drinks and dinner.
We did not go out to eat the entire time we were there but did manage to find a Irish pub around the corner from the hotel. We were there for the half marathon and it was the best race I had run in recent memory. They encouraged everyone to catch the Metro to the start and even though the trains were packed the 1:50pm start for our corral made it easy as pie. It took about an hour from door to door and we were off right on time.
It was a Sunday race, so with the afternoon start, we were still able to enjoy the night life of Amsterdam before and after the race. There was no beer at the finish, that I could find, but we were able to find some at our now favorite Irish pub a few hours later. The weather was perfect, the people along the course were not plentiful but very friendly. The views along the way were great but I understood some of the marathon course did go thru a very industrial part of town, so glad it was not us. We figured out the real reason this was one of favorite races since we had done so many is simply because it was simply in Amsterdam. What is there not to love about the place.
Before and after
After a few more days we were on our way to Marseilles to meet up with our runningcruise.com group for another trip with the infamous John and Jenny. It started with 3 nights in Marseilles and 7 night cruise up the Rhone river from Arles to Lyon. We had been to Marseilles the previous year but back then we actually stayed in Aux de Providence and came in one day by bus to tour Marseilles. Nothing much had changed, expect for this big ass ferris wheel, but we did get to see more of the city with a couple of bus tours.
We also did a morning run along the Mediterranean which was simply gorgeous with the turn around point being the Square du Lieutenant Danjume. It was nice to see more of the city this time around and cool to take pictures then and now. Something we had never done before during our adventure was to eat at the same restaurant 3 nights in a row. the Le Petit Pernod was worth it and each time more and more people joined the group
With runningcruise.com, mastermind, Jenny Hadfield
This time we were by private bus charter to Arles to meet up with our new home, Amadagio. This was actually one of the oldest ships AMA Waterways has but you really could not tell it. It holds 120 and basically had two groups on board for this sailing. 94 runners and walkers with runningcruise.com and 20 from Expedia. The 13 year old ship has already been sold and will change hands the end of the season and its replacement will be a bit longer but not wider. During our trip we went thru 12 locks and there was only mere inches on either side thru most if not all of them.
We had cruised with this line back in 2013 when we did the same concept cruise up the Danube. They set a pretty high standard back then and did not disappoint for this trip. Turns out I was looking for a trip that went to Cambodia and Vietnam and low and behold they have one so I filled out the form to get a discount for a return traveler. The great thing is that you can cancel within 30 days and get your $200 per person deposit back and don’t have to book the trip for 2 years. The savings themselves are not as great as Windstar but one thing I do like over Windstar is that beer and wine during lunch and dinner are included and most excursions are also included.
To say the least this was a very active cruise and now believe John and Jenny can get this group of lemmings to do anything, if they asked. I am not saying that in a bad way but we all did the 15 mile bike ride in pouring down rain. We could have stayed on board but there was beer at the finish and most runners do love free beer. Our group covered the distance in about an hour so it was not a leisurely ride by any stretch of the imagination. We rode along the famous ViaRhôna, a bike route between the Swiss Alps and France’s Mediterranean Coast.
We have stage winners like they do with the Tour De France but we get yellow hats if we win. In some cases it is pretty random with whoever gets an ace is the winner as cards are handed out at the finish. Others are for the speed demens with the first to cross the finish line for both women and men and runners and walkers. Poor Tony, not me, a mini me version, did not have his arch rival BJ to contend with on this trip so we all thought he had it in the bag for his first yellow hat.
He was minutes ahead as he went by after the turn around point and all he had to do is make it to the top of Mont Pipet, in Vienne, but turns out there were severals different ways to get there and he did not take the shortest route. Clearly, the fastest female, Marci, who was following Tony, also was very disappointed when she tuned the corner of the finish to see two others putting on their yellow hats. We already had our yellow hats’ from previous trips and races with them so we were in it for the pure fun of it.
Everyone gets a medal at the end of all the races and the thought when they first started these trips that you could cover a marathon or half marathon distance during the week. They have moved away from that and I also wrote a previous blog entry about the concept called, How not to go overboard on a cruise ship.
I noticed this group seemed to be a bit more cohesive then previous trips and that is probably because only a few folks had not been on a trip with them before. This was our 8th trip with them and only a few had more than us. We ended watching red hats being given out to a few friends of ours, Michael, Kay and Kim for their 9th trip and Ernst got a hat and Jacket for trip number 14. We call people like him, overachievers.
We have two more trips with them scheduled next year, the Caribbean, out of San Juan in February and back to a land based trip of Tuscany out of Florence, in May. We had done each of them before so we are mere months away from our own coveted red hat. Turns out I put a 2 month trip together in Europe next year starting off with that Tuscany trip. After we leave them in Florence we will meet up with my sister, Gwen and sister in law, Joan, for a 9 night Windstar Cruise from Florence to Athens, Greece. They get off there but the ship continues back to Rome with Catherine and I on board. From there to a wedding in Lake Como, Italy for my niece Anna, goof off, probably in Amsterdam, for a week then on to Madagascar for a half Marathon the middle of June.
That is pretty much how I plan our trips. Put a couple of things tentatively on a schedule, some with a race involved, then fill it in and firm it up. That is how this 34 day trip was developed. I knew we wanted to do the Windstar cruise, the Amsterdam half marathon and the John and Jenny cruise so just filled it in and firmed it up.
I often tell people that our schedule is filling up fast so if they have anything in mind for us we need to know about it right away. During this trip I have been asking random people the question why they travel and here are some answer that I have been given.
Something I have always done, in their DNA
For the excitement
To meet new and different people
To see it for yourself
Because my father did not
Because my parents did
Because we can, kind of the same reason we run Marathons
For the adventure
It makes for a good story to tell others
You only live once
To get a better perspective of the world
Presently in the back of the bus for the 7 hour bus ride to Paris after departing the cruise ship in in Lyon. I am very impressed with AMA and look forward to our next trip with them sometime next year or the year after. I kind of got behind on this current blog and some of it is a bit disjointed but hope I am giving you a good feel of our trip so far.
As we all get older we all have to deal with health issues from time to time and sometimes thoughts about how you are doing gets in the way of you being able to enjoy what is going on around you at the time. No big deal, a turned ankle here a slip and fall there and you are thinking about how much longer one will have it here on planet earth.
Catherine and I both have some routine Doctor appointments coming up when we get back to Atlanta and that does not help matters. There is one lady, Nancy, on this trip and she was also my daughter’s, Mariah, roomie back in 2013 when we did the Danube. We also ran into her during the Napa to Sonoma half marathon a few months back. She was volunteering with Team in Training as she does from time to time.
Nancy always has a smile on her face
She happens to be 80 years young and I aspire to be just like her when I get to be her age. After the 10K run through the Beaujolais region along the roads of the Tour de France and the Beaujolais Marathon route I asked her for some words of wisdom.
She said to stay active as long as you can and don’t let your age dictate your brain. I translate that to mean to keep up with the running in spite of the continual fact you are slowing down or can’t run as far. Also don’t dwell on your current age or how much longer you might have. By living each day to your fullest seems to help and travel is probably the best way to achieve that.
The race that day finished up with a wine tasting and everyone had to predict their time and run either 5K or 10K without a watch. We chose the 10K and some say it turned out to be about 7 miles. The rolling hills beside and thru the various vineyards always seems to make the distance enjoyable. After that we went to the top of the vineyards in the area for a fantastic lunch and final awards ceremony.
There were several other events that took place in no particular order. One day we went for a 7 mile guided hike through the Alpilles Region from Les Baux that lead us thru the Lumieres Quarry to the Van Gogh Asylum with a tour there. After a short bus ride we had an over the top outdoor buffet lunch with specialities of Provence. This took place in St. Remy de Provence at the Manade Caillan, a farm with black bulls of Camarque. These bulls are trained to race against men. The winner is the man that has gotten the most scarfs off their horns and also the winning bull is the one that still has his scarf on his horns.
He was the Big daddy
We had a Red Wine and Chocolate Pairing tour in a castle, Château-musée de Tournon-sur-Rhône,which was off the charts.
They selected three wines for us to taste and gave the information to a master chocolate maker in the area. After tasting each wine he made enough chocalate balls for those of us in the tour based on the wine. We basically were taught everything you ever wanted to know about how to make chocolate in general and that particular piece of chocolate and why he came up with those ingredients. It was mind blowing and plan on going out buy some fine chocolate the next time I buy a bottle of wine.
We always have a variation of the amazing race on these trips but they changed the format for this particular race. The winning team of 3-4 had to get back to ship after going to as many check points as possible in 60 minutes. Some check points were worth more than others and if you were a second late you were disqualified.
Catherine had to modify our tradition of turning it into a pub crawl do to the fact that it was held at 8 am and can get much drinking done in 60 minutes. We went for a leisurely 4.5 mile run of the area and ended up at the start of a Marathon in historic Avignon. The roads were all closed in the area so it was perfect for us.
We might have found our new home. The name says it all.
We opted out of a couple half day tours along the way since I have said before, “we are not on vacation, this is our lifestyle” and from time to time we need our rest. This group seemed more active after dinner, maybe due to the included beer and wine and one night even the 1st, 2nd Captain and crew joined us for dancing in the main lounge.
The fun and activities did not let up once we got to Paris for the 3 day post cruise package. We did lose a few folks since some had to get back home to go back to work or had other things they wanted to see. The 50 or so of us that were still intact met up that evening for a night time 4 hour bike tour of Paris with Fat Tire. This was not for the faint of heart but it was worth the risk. At this point I realized why we were so eager to say yes to whatever hair brain scheme John and Jenny come up. You simply did not want to be one of “those people” that stayed behind and missed out on the action.
We took several stops along way to see the famous sights of Paris along with a stop for ice cream or a Irish Coffee. Another stop near the end for a 30 minute river cruise where the city was all lit up and were able to cut the chill with some wine along the way.
Good thing we took some afternoons off because the next day we were back at it with a Hash House Harrier run thru the largest park in Paris. It is 3 times bigger than Central Park and our hound made sure we got to see all the great sites along the way. If you get a chance look up Hash House Harrier for more details. This was by far the best one we have done and they had plenty of food and refreshments at the finish. Did not disappoint with their infamous circle of accusation.
If that was not enough we were then off to a pub for more food and beer. They had asked up to dress up in Halloween theme outfits, something orange or just something different. Pictures are worth a thousand words.
For most that would have been enough but with this group and one day to go we were off the next day in a 12 passenger, Mercedes van, to the Reims/Champagne region for two Champagne tastings. Another group took the Versailles tour. Usually when Catherine and I do group tours we are ready to go our own way about 2-3 days prior the tour being over. Not this time our first stop was a small vineyard, Ployez-Jacquemart and the other, the famous Moet-&Chandon which was established in 1743 .
The views of the region we awe aspiring I learned more than I ever expected about how Champagne is made and now have a greater appreciation of the price per bottle. Unlike other wine tours they did not teach us how to drink it. I was disappointed since we found out on our way to the vineyards that there are bisques you can buy to dip in your champagne but did not buy any thinking we could get some later. Moet sold everything else but no bisques.
Presently on our way back on our least favorite Sky Team member, Air France. Once again they changed planes and everyone was complaining because they did not get the seat they had selected when they bought their tickets. I have pretty much gotten use to the seat roulette but on Delta that usually means we get an upgrade.
Like I said earlier we have some routine Doctors’ visits and will be in the Atlanta area for almost 2 weeks. After that off to MIA for a few days then on to Cuba for another half marathon. When we get back from Cuba we will reunite with the Crib and move it to the west coast of Florida.
This particular 34 day trip taught me a couple of things. The first has to do with preconceived notions about things and by traveling and seeing them yourself you can either confirm these thoughts or not, as we did in Casablanca. That there are places in the world, like Paris which is so diverse and some other places which are not so much if you take tourist out of the mix. I still don’t see many me’s, (Middle age African American Males) during our travels.
Another reason to travel is to learn. As we age our brains don’t do as well as when we were younger. Even for the best of us seeing new and exciting things it keeps those synapsis fired up and especially for folks like Catherine with Younger onset Alzheimer’s. I have noticed the difference even for myself. These memories will stay with me for a lifetime as opposed who said what to who on the latest favorite TV show.
One last thing. I am trying to figure out as we go from place to place and noticing the people around us. Are Catherine and I two peas in a pod or two nuts in a shell? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject, you can email me at Flyprkr@aol.com or leave a comment.
When we touch down in ATL this will be destination number 196. This does not include the many ports of call on six different cruises. This is day number 683 and we are still averaging around 3.5 days per destination.