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The Return to Airport World

Curbside Check-in

Feeling quite proud of myself, and rather tech savvy, after having checked-in via the Delta App on my Samsung Tablet, I proceeded to curbside check-in, attempting to not look too confused at this new procedure. As soon as everything was checked, and silently praying that my bag would mysteriously reach my destination from the curb side of the airport I proceeded to security.

Now security is one of the best places to people watch, it seems to bring out the best and worst in people. For some reason the security system as SeaTac appeared to be more of a cluster-fu..dge than normal, almost as if they were in the middle of construction somewhere. All lines seemed to merge and no one line seemed to have a direct route. Add to that about 8 wheelchairs attempting to squeeze through hundreds of already exasperated passengers and it begins to border on a comedy.

The large Indian family saying farewell to parents and grandparents, walking along the outside as they are pushed in wheelchairs through the crowd. Tears in eyes as a son shouts out “Be Brave Mammi!”. Then you see the Tibetan nun, the deep burgundy color of her robes giving away her origin, calmly meandering her way through at peace with the whole process. And finally the old gentleman trying to extricate his laptop to the exasperation of other passengers who finally just push past him.

All this culminates into the final step, what I like to call the TSA carnival ride. Step in, feet apart, arms above your head and “weeeeee” as the scanner scans you. I always feel like I should get a sticker or a snapshot as a memorabilia and have never understood why folks get so indignant at being shown as an amorphous blob on a screen.

Duty Free

Finally making it to the gate with over an hour to spare, I swung by Duty Free to purchase the requested Gin. Now, having never purchased alcohol in Duty Free before I afraid it would be confiscated, since I pass through Amsterdam on my way to Norway, I went over to one of the store attendants, a lovely gentleman possibly from China. When asked if it was ok he replied with:
“No problem! We put it zippy bag”
“I am sorry, a what?”
“Zippy bag, we put it zippy bag”
Or something to that extent, I decided since I understood the first part of “No Problem” I would go with that.
At checkout they placed it in a sealed bag and I had to pick it up as I boarded the plane. So I think it kind of made sense.

Please Remain Seated!

Waiting in the gate area it was very warm, possibly an issue with the circulation system, this ultimately made passengers more fidgety than usual, and with the added benefit of the flight being overbooked, by around 20 seats.

You have got to love it when the airline does this. So of course everyone without a seat lined up, the desk agents repeated over and over again, “please remain seated, we are working on the issue and will call you up as soon as we have resolved it, please remain seated. Anyone willing to give up your ticket, please come and see us, otherwise, again, please remain seated.”
Of course, everyone kept standing in line.

As they were about to board the announcement came through that the plane was “Too Hot!” so they could not board us and to please remain seated. The result 90% of the passengers lined up. I was terribly bemused at the whole thing, watching as passengers got frustrated standing in line when they should just remain seated.

On a side note the exciting experience of Taco Bell from the previous evening seemed to be losing it’s grip as I merrily chomped on pepto chewables.

When Sleep Eludes You….

The plane was packed beyond packed, there was no free seat anywhere… and an unhappy child 2 rows in front of me. This flight was going to be fantastic (please note the sarcasm).

Since it is virtually impossible for me to sleep on planes unless I have at least 2 seats, preferably 3 (allowing me to stretch out), I decided to attempt to take a half tablet of my muscle relaxant that I use when my shoulder acts up.
Dinner was served and I requested pasta, they had to fetch it, after nibbling on the salad, the cold hard roll and the cracker, I asked again, they had forgotten, pasta received and opened…pasta quickly closed!
No sleep!
Certain a movie would help loll me to sleep I put on my noise canceling headphones (that I purchased in Istanbul for a tenth of the price) and flipped to Godzilla. Perhaps a high action movie with sci-fi undertones was a bad idea…
No Sleep!
Then I tried Malificent, the whimsical retake on sleeping beauty, I was so entranced with the movie that I barely blinked.
No Sleep!….maybe I should have taken a whole pill?

Then there was a call for medical assistance, I considered but decided to wait and see if they had help. Being a vet nurse means I can only do so much and I hoped they didn’t ask me to check for a fever…But luckily they had a doctor and 3 RNs answer the call.
Still No Sleep!
Perhaps a light hearted kids movies? How to Train Your Dragon 2, brilliant!
Begin to drift off slightly, the bliss of oblivion within reach… and so too was my butt apparently, as my seat mate attempted to tuck in her blanket mid snore, she ultimately attempted to tuck my butt in at the same time! Awake!
Oh bugger it, I give up! Grab a coffee and play Majong on the plane game station till we land.

Due to the medical emergency, my assessment was possible heart attack from the few glimpses I got, we were granted priority landing.
The flight attendants assured us the gentleman would be ok.

Greetings Amsterdam…Airport

I must say that Schipol International Airport is quite delightful. Easy to manoeuvre about and joy of all joys… an outside area where you can breathe the fresh air… as long as you are upwind of the smokers. But for those of us already 12hrs + in airport air, anything resembling fresh was worth it.
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The Final Leg

Eventually it was time to meander to the gate and await boarding. Feeling utterly exhausted I politely asked the gate agent if there was a free row so I could sleep, politeness always seems to help and by the time the plane left the ground I was strapped into a middle seat of 3 and passing out while attempting to ignore a section of the buckle digging into my side.

After a refreshing 45min catnap, I awoke to a wonderful flight attendant handing me coffee and a funky Dutch cookie, two wafers glued together with caramel… heaven to a long haul traveler. As I was correctly trained in cookie and coffee etiquette by my parents I broke it in half and…. DUNKED!

The flight attendant was so delighted she exclaimed “That’s the only way to eat them, but then one is never enough!” and promptly got me another one. I think I am in love with Dutch flight attendants as I was handed a third before leaving.

Journey to Voss

Leaving Airport World, at least for a few days, I discovered I had received a dose of exceptional traveler luck. My bag was one of the first, then I was just able to jump on the bus that was leaving for downtown Bergen, after a short walk I managed to get on a train leaving in 5min (a whole hour earlier than expected), I nodded off now and then and when I finally arrived at the platform, the first person I asked to borrow his phone ended up being a mate of mine and I was promptly handed an exceptionally strong cup of coffee (he was from Spain and apparently the stronger the better is their motto).

Shower, food and meeting all my mates mates ended a very long 2 days… but now the adventure into Norway was just beginning!
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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Travel

 

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What Not To Eat Before A 10 Hour Flight

You Have Never Had Taco Bell???

….. My friend Hillary asked as she picked me up at 10pm at the train station. She had kindly offered to put me up for the night and drive me to the Seattle airport the next day for my flight to Norway. As she had not had dinner she decided to drive through taco bell, one of her favorite guilty pleasures. She was horrified to discover that I had never had the sheer joy of experiencing one these tantalizingly processed delights. So, being game, I agreed to give it a shot, I mean it can’t be that bad, right? As I took my first bite of the crunchy taco, wrapped in the octagon shape of a soft taco, filled with ground beef (I think), sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes and some special cheese like substance, she casually mentions…. “it’s fine, some people do get diarrhea though”. Fantastic, less than 24hrs till a total of 15hrs of travel, including 2 flights, a bus and a train…..

The Morning After

So after indulging in a fair portion of the strange octagonal food like item, that I am still not certain what it was called, along with part of a large pepsi, and, just because it’s tradition when we get together, a strawberry daquiri with pineapple rum… I fell asleep.

After an early morning wake up call from the twins upstairs, I had my first bathroom run. Not too serious, at least as long as it doesn’t keep up.

Then a nice big cup of home brewed starbucks and a homemade waffle with syrup and marg…. this is going to be regretted eventually…. a couple more trips to the bathroom and off to meet some friends…

The Healthy Lunch Stop

We met my friends Alex and Matt, who had got married that weekend, so I could give personal congrats and bestow the gift of a handpainted bark painting from Mexico. We met at this charming, health conscious, gluten free place with great lemonade, sweetened with honey……

I think the last straw was the honey, the person makingthe lemondade must have thrown the entire honey pot in there and by the end of the 1hr lunch I had inspected the facilities twice and was experiencing cramps…. and only 4hrs till my flight!

Pepto To The Rescue

In between fits of giggles, my darling friend Hillary, agreed to stop at a walgreens so I could grab a few things and on the bemused recommendation of the pharmicist, who by the way had also made it through life without eating taco bell, a box of chewable pepto bismal.

2 tablets and 30min later the cramps started to subside, the automatic strategic planning for bathroom stops began to fade and we arrived at the airport just in time.

The Moral Of The Story

Don’t listen to your friends regarding taco bell, especially right before a long flight…. and on the off chance of a end of world cataclysmic event and taco bell is the only place with food…..always pack a box of chewable pepto!

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Travel

 

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Training to Tacoma

Amtrak Cascades 507

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest I have come to love the little Cascades 507 train, run by Amtrak. Living up in Seattle I would often take it home to Eugene and then return to Seattle. On occasion I have taken the Starlight, the fancy, double decker, long haul train that goes all the way down to California and back up the coast. But ultimately always return to my little Cascades.

On this occasion I am taking it as far as Tacoma, WA, where I will crash with a friend and then head to the airport tomorrow afternoon for the red eye flight to Amsterdam, and on to Bergen, Norway, more details on that later.

Fellow Passengers

I believe I can honestly say that I have never had an unpleasant ride due to passengers. There was the time where a freight train blocked us within sight of the Seattle Station and then the air went out of the brakes and our on time arrival turned into over an hour late…. and I repeat, within sight of the terminal. Luckily the amusing conductor kept us entertained over the intercom and prevented an all out mutiny.

But, passengers, nothing really comes to mind. This time however, it is a soap opera in my car. There is the teen mom arguing with her mom over what the babbling 1yr old wants. The conversation went something like this in the beginning:
“Gagaga googoo”
“Yes you tell Grandma, you know it’s funny you are a grandma and you are only 30″
“Well you made me that”
“Well excuse me, Iam sorry, wait no I am not”
And so on and so on, rather amusing and the kid is awfully cute and friendly.

Then I thad the older gentleman get a phone call, and decided to have a very loud conversation, competing with the 2 frat boys discussing return to Uni, with his friend about how to light a webber, what charcoal to use and the best way to bbq tomatoes… I now know that roma tomatoes are the best, because they don’t loose their juice as much….. good to know!

Off to the Bistro Car

After attempting to sleep, read and nibble on snacks, I decided to take my leave of the soap opera in car 6 and head to the bistro for good ‘ol cup of tea. Usually I bring tea with me and just get hot water, but today I had to pay $2. He heard my accent and asked if I wanted English Breakfast…. kind of amusing! Only once have I encountered a sour bistro attendant who gave me the evil eye every time I asked for hot water, in most cases they bistro guys are the most fun to talk to. Today, we got the slightly surly gentleman, think it might have been safer that I bought the tea, otherwise he might not have given me hot water…..

But I do like the Bistro car and the dining car to sit and relax, not as stuffy as the seated cars, and you get to listen to amusing discussions between the conductors…..

Where is the Final Destination?

For the first time since my 2mth trip in Thailand, to complete my Divemaster and mend a shattered heart, I am going abroad for vacation. There is no cruise line involved, there are no guests I have to be polite to, it is a real international vacation….. and only for 2 weeks, am not sure I have ever gone abroad for that short a time. Some might scorn me for saying this when they barely have time to leave for a weekend, but luckily, I have been blessed, in an ironic twist, to have been hired in a job where travel is part of it and the breaks in between contracts are long enough to do crazy things, like meet up with a friend and go camping north of the arctic circle.

Yup, you heard me, my Belgian friend (Who I met on the ship) and is tourguiding in Norway, it meeting up with me and we are heading to the Lofoten Islands to go camping, in September, north of the arctic circle…. YES!

No more to say!
PS I know I am still behind on ship posts but more will come as time goes by…. I have a never ending supply of tales from their.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Travel

 

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ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE

Yup, you guessed it, I was nominated by a good friend from the UK who I met in Wellington, New Zealand, during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

I nominated 4 friends and also made a donation not only to the ALS Foundation but also to the MS Society, as MS affects a family member. Hope all of you are getting in on the act, just remember to donate to a worthy cause.

So here goes, with the assistance of my dad who decided a slow pour would be infinitely more tortureous than a gush….

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2014 in Travel

 

Taking a Semi-Submarine in Curacao

Under ‘da Sea

Visiting Aruba was fantastic but the very next day we went to another of the Dutch Antille Islands, Curacao. This time I got the opportunity to do the Semi-Submarine excursion, my first time experiencing one of these.

Driving through the island we finally stopped at this beautiful resort and walked over to the boat.
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Stairs led down to a fairly cramped “submarine” area with windows along the side. Being the escort also meant I was an extra person and there was no space for me on the seats, so I squeezed into the stairwell and leaned forward to get a view.
Curacao

Even being a scuba diver I was amazed at the great views and the fish. There was so much to see, of course it also made me wish I could toss on some gear and jump in.

Coral formations

Coral formations

We were saddened by a net that was draped over some of hte coral, turns out some of the locals sneak in and fish at night, but often lose their nets. Turtles have been seen tangled in them in the past. The guests suggested a petition be started and have visitors sign it and write to the government to prevent or at least limit this beahviour. I felt rather proud of them for wanting to take a stand.
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Feeding Time

Heading upstairs to get some air I saw one of our deckhands gearing up to feed the fish, unfortunately they didn’t have an extra tank but did invite me to come diving if we were ever back in the area.
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Then it was time to feed all the pretty fishies…

preparing the food

preparing the food


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After a great morning of staring at fishes we headed off to explore more of the island, in particular it’s contribution to Alcohol, free tasting included….
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Mmmmm Curaçao Liqueur

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

My favorite was the chocolate and coffee flavor

Curaçao is a liqueur flavored with the dried peel of the laraha citrus fruit, grown on the island of Curaçao. A non-native plant similar to an orange, the laraha developed from the sweet Valencia orange transplanted by Spanish explorers. The nutrient-poor soil and arid climate of Curaçao proved unsuitable to Valencia cultivation, resulting in small, bitter fruit of the trees. Although the bitter flesh of the Laraha is all but inedible, the peels are aromatic and flavorful, maintaining much of the essence of the Valencia orange.

Curaçao liqueur was first developed and marketed by the Senior family in the 19th century. To create the liqueur the laraha peel is dried, bringing out the sweetly fragranced oils. After soaking in a still with alcohol and water for several days, the peel is removed and other spices are added.

The liqueur has an orange-like flavor with varying degrees of bitterness. It is naturally colorless, but is often given artificial coloring, most commonly blue or orange, which confers an exotic appearance to cocktails and other mixed drinks.

Some other liqueurs are also sold as Curaçaos with different flavors added, such as coffee, chocolate, and rum and raisin.
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Time to Stroll through Willemstad

Luckily I even had time for a stroll through the port of Willemstad. I really liked this port, more so than Aruba. The multi-colored buildings and small streets felt like I was wondering the lanes of a Delft or Amsterdam.

On the bridge to Willemstad

On the bridge to Willemstad

I think I would enjoy visiting Curacao again, perhaps even a little more than Aruba…..

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Aruba…ooohhh I wanna take ya

Theme Song While You Read

Every time I hear “Aruba” I break out into this song, I can’t help it, it’s automatic. It never crossed my mind that one day I might have the chance to do a tour of this stunning Island.

We docked at Oranjestad (Orange State) and I was excited to hear Dutch, giving me a chance to practice my Afrikaans (South African dialect of Dutch).

Wild Coasts

We drove round most of the island from the calmer more populated side to the wild northern coasts.

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Even a land bridge, although erosion makes it unsafe to get much closer than this

And yes I am wearing antlers, it was Christmas week afterall

And yes I am wearing antlers, it was Christmas week afterall

Butterflies

To truly explore a place you must know where to look for the smaller things in life, so a stop at the Butterfly Garden was a must. Focusing mostly on native butterflies they also had a few exotics that were brightly colored. I spent a lot of my time chasing a particularly stunning blue one, but am pretty certain the only pic any of got was the postcard from the gift shop. I did however, catch a few others on film…

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We also learnt about metamorphosis, where a caterpillar
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Becomes a stunning butterfly
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All in all it was a great tour, the island was a lot flatter than I expected but wild and beautiful all the same…

So when you visit Aruba
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And remember to look for the little things that will truly make your visit there spectacular
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Posted by on August 15, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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Perusing Panama

Panama City

During our crossing last year in November from Europe we stopped off in Panama. It was a gloriously cloudy muggy day with humidity bordering on 99% and the temperature hovering around 40C/104F, give or take a degree or two.
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The sunrise over the port was quite stunning…
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I had drawn the Panama City Tour exursion, around 6hrs of exploring and a chance to see some of the locks of the canal for which Panama is so famous for.

Panama City is a place of divergence, from the Old City to the New City to the Ruined City of Panama Viejo….vast differences from a central point.

Panama Viejo

Our first stop was the old capital of the country and part of the Old City, located in the suburbs of the Modern New City, it is a World Heritage Site.
panama ruins

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A settlement was founded here on the 19th August 1519, making it the first permanent European settlement on the Pacific Ocean.
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Now you can see the New City on the skyline….
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The New City

After exploring some of it’s history we headed through Panama City’s modern quarter, with it’s stunning architecture.
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Some that defies imagination…
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Old City

Making our way to the Old City we walked the streets and enjoyed a market, listened to a bugler under and umbrella and marvelled at the old colonial architecture.
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Gatun Locks

The driver almost forgot to take us to the canal and the locks, truly the highlight that everyone had been waiting for. Most of us were feeling hte heat and humidity and more than a few of the guests were getting grumpy and agitated, so I was much relieved when we changed direction and headed for the locks.

It was a sight to behold, truly a marvel of modern engineering, even being 100yrs old. I only wished my dad (an electrical engineer) could be there with me. We were also lucky enough to have a Korean Cargo ship proceeding through the locks right as we arrived.
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After filling with water to even out the level the first lock opens to accept the cargo ship, which just barely squeezes through.
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The “mules” that pull the ships through
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I wonder how many times they scratch the paint work….

Farewell Panama

All in all a fantastic opportunity to explore part of a country that always seemed slightly mysterious to me, I always imagined the canal with small cities along the edge… but discovered a complex place with stunning buildings and a rich history… just wish I had bought a hat!

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reflections in Panamanian Christmas Balls

reflections in Panamanian Christmas Balls

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2014 in Cruise, Cruise Ship, Travel

 

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