Cloak and dagger

I think I am a fairly experienced traveller.  I have my packing cubes so I fold and don’t roll.  I never take a purse with me – just my backpack and my smallish sized suitcase.  I even have my favourite flat Sketchers that I wear while flying as there are no laces or bits of metal to set off the security alarms.

Heck I even dumped my laptop in favour of an ipad so I don’t even have to open up my backpack going through security.  Easy peasy – until this last trip.  It’s what you call being over-confident.

Yes I will admit that in the past I have tapped my foot and raised my eyebrows when people’s carry on is searched only to reveal that two litre size bottle of shampoo.  Jeez, do people not read the signs.  No liquids.  C’mon people.  Work with me here – we all have a plane to catch.

So imagine my surprise when I breezed through security at Madrid airport only to be asked by security if this was my backpack.

“Yes” I replied (maybe a bit condescendingly).

“Do you mind opening it up so I can check it?”.  Well of course not.  I have nothing to hide.
So she goes through my back pack – ipad, kobo, medicine bag, shawl …. and yes those few little gifts – a bracelet and a pendant.  Oh… but what is this?

“Is this a dagger which I see before me”

Was my face red or what?

Not a dagger but a small lethal letter opener made in Toledo.

Next time I see someone holding up security I am going to shut the hell up!

The computer says no

On a recent flight out of our beautiful city , Calgary, I was rather perplexed. Here I was faced with the dilemma of loading my own luggage onto the luggage rack and waiting for the computer to scan the baggage tag. It all sounds very futuristic and makes a lot of sense as it would make available another person to help in a different department.

The only problem was it didn’t work.

It was quite funny and eventually the lovely check in lady (I am not going to mention the airline] was laughing with us as we tried multiple times to position the suitcase in just the right position so that the computer could see the baggage tag and scan properly. The first time we put it in we were standing too close to it so she asked us to back off a little because she said the computer had issues with personal space. OK I get that. I’m a bit like that too. So we backed off a little and still no luck.

So we repositioned suit case a couple of different times and eventually YAY success!  My bag trundled its way into the underworld of suitcases and actually came out the other end in Edmonton. So what is the lesson in this?

It’s that people are better than computers.

Now I know a lot of different services at the airport are becoming more computerized. Let’s face it we are now checking in ourselves at self-service kiosks and even printing our own baggage tags.  fastening my first baggage tag to my suitcase was a bit of a challenge but with the help of, yes, a person standing nearby in a uniform I was able to attach the baggage tag in the correct manner so that the computer would not be able to screen it.  When it came to loading my baggage …….here we go again. You get my drift it’s all very well to be very technical and yes I can see that in the future maybe it will all start working perfectly well but in the meantime it provides a source of irritation to some or amusement in our case. It made me chuckle as well because it reminded me of that very funny comedy program little Britain where one of the characters dresses up as a travel agent who’s working on his computer that consistently says no ……take a look.

 

 

Would you like fries with that?

Yep – the service industry.  It’s big.  It’s HUGE as The Donald would say (oh no please let’s not talk about that…..).

The service industry employs millions of people. Sometimes good service.  Sometimes bad service.  Nobody is perfect – the service provider or the customer.  We are all just human after all.  You can get mad or you can laugh and I find that the thrivers and survivors of the service industry are those with the most acute sense of humour.  Here are a few tales that hopefully will make you smile or even chuckle –

WISHY WASHY AT THE GARAGE

I don’t know how to do this stuff

(I work at a gas station; a lady comes in to buy windshield washer fluid but needs help getting it in her car. I am by myself and there are other people there so I can’t help her.)  (courtesy of notalwaysright.com)

Customer: “Is there anyone here that can help me put this washer fluid in the car?”

Me: “No, sorry, I’m the only person here and as long as someone is fueling, I can’t leave the store.” *it’s a bylaw*

Customer: “Well, can you ask the manager or someone in the back to come help?”

Me: “Again, I’m sorry. I’m the only person here at the moment.”

Customer: “Well, can YOU help me, then?”

Me: “I’m not allowed to leave the front when people are fuelling. It’s a safety hazard and a bylaw. I actually don’t drive either, or have a car, so I’m not sure how much help I’d be. If you ask one of the people outside they might be able to help you, though?”

Customer: “YOU can’t FILL the washer fluid? Funny that they gave YOU this job then.”

Me: “You can’t fill YOUR washer fluid? Funny that they gave you the car.”

(She left pretty mad. I told my manager about the exchange and she was laughing.)

 

Delayed Reaction – at the airport

AIRPORT | LOS ANGELES, CA, USA | TECHNOLOGY, TOURISTS/TRAVEL

Passenger: “Why is there nobody to inform me about the delay?! I came all the way from San Francisco and now that I’m here you tell me there is a delay!”

Me: “Sir, some people sign up for email alert from the airport or the airlines for possible delays.”

Passenger: “Who are those ‘some people’?! I talked to everyone here! Nobody knew about the delay before!”

Me: “Sir, those people who have signed up and received an alert wouldn’t even bother to come to the airport. People are here because they did not sign up and did not know there is a delay.”

WHAT IS THAT CITY CODE AGAIN?

Passenger Manifest
A New Yorker called and asked, ‘Do airlines put your physical description on your bag so they know whose luggage belongs to who?’

I said, ‘No, why do you ask?’ She replied, ‘Well, when I checked in with the airline, they put a tag on my luggage that said (FAT), and I’m overweight, I think that is very rude.

‘After putting her on hold for a minute while I ‘looked into it’ (I was actually laughing) I came back and explained the city code for Fresno, CA is (FAT), and that the airline was just putting a destination tag on her luggage.

I thought under my breath, a good job she wasn’t going to Show Low airport in Arizona (SOW).

AND THEN THERE ARE THE PEOPLE WE LOVE …..

(Courtesy of a travel agents group facebook page) …..

“So cute story of my week. ..I should mention my clientele definitely trends to the elder based on my location. Man comes in, very elderly with his walker. He wants to book an easy domestic flight. Sure no problem. Start to get his info, “what’s the best phone number for you?”. “Hmm I don’t remember let me check” he says. Then he rifles through his carry basket on his walker and says “oh no I seem to have forgotten my phone as I brought this”. He holds up his tv remote! ♡my old ppl!”

And also the story of a lady who went into her travel agent to book a ticket to the Maritimes.  Upon conversation it emerged that she was going there on a blind date.  She was 72.  Yay for her.  We love her!

 

Five months – one suitcase

Ever had the wish to quit your job, pack a suitcase and take a five month sabbatical to seven very different destinations?  My sister made this happen and just got back to Calgary last week (good timing by the way – just in time for some flurries).

I will tell you how she did it, the highs, the lows, the what the hells….
(with her permission of course)

My sister!

First thing you need to know that my sister is very organised.  She planned most of her trip flying business class with points – kudos for that immediately.  I know how frustrating it is and get asked often by clients what is the best way to do this.  My advice (via my sister) is to phone in.  Don’t try to do it on-line.  You need a person – a qualified person – to help you string all these flights together.  So she will make herself a cup of tea and get on the phone and prepare to spend a couple of hours but it’s worth it.

I asked her what the best thing about travelling for months with one suitcase and she told me the sense of freedom and liberation from “stuff”.  She was quite shocked when she came home and realised how much stuff they have that they probably don’t need, won’t use.  They travelled with packing cubes and compartments so they could be up and packed in half an hour and on to their next destination.

For us ladies – the thought of living for five months with one suitcase might be intimidating.  Minimalism and comfort are key.   A little black dress can go a long way.  Just team it up with nice sandals and a scarf and you are done.  Most of the time she dressed for comfort as every day was spent out walking and discovering.

You might think you would grow tired of travelling after five months – maybe a couple of months in you start yearning for your own bed, your own bathroom.  Not so, says my sister.  Every day was a new day – a new place.  If they liked a place lots they would try to stay a bit longer within the confines of their air tickets.  It was an exhilarating and liberating experience.

All those flights …. what did she think?  Well Jet Star was apparently fantastic.  Easy to deal with, very reasonable change fees, superb service on board, in comparison with Qantas which she described as “crap”.  Six hours on an overnight flight and not even a cup of tea.  This is what I call one of the “what the hell” moments.  Unfortunately American Airlines seems to be closely related to Qantas in the level of non-existent service.

Of course on any trip of this length there are going to be the highlights and then the “omg get me out of here” moments.  They had one such night in Auckland . There was a big convention on – no room at the Inn.  So eventually they went to the tourism board who got them into the Hotel from Hell.  Now one thing you need to know about my sister (and me) is that we are very particular and I would rather sleep in a tent than sleep in a crappy hotel.  When they arrived at the hotel there was water running down the walls of the elevator.  My brother-in-law told my sister “Don’t look.  Walk straight to the bedroom. Take a sleeping pill and go to bed.”

Needless to say they checked out the next day and then managed to rent a room in someone’s house.  Not my best I am afraid.  They didn’t have an en suite bathroom but in the true spirit of travelling the world they sucked it up.  It was in a beautiful area of the city and the best thing (according to my sister) – no TV in the bedroom.  Wow – six nights without having to watch sports on the TV.  YAY.

After touring both Australia and New Zealand from coast to coast they started to make their way back to North America.  Because of how the flights worked out they ended up with a few nights in Waikiki on their way to Maui.  Waikiki was a big shock to them after Australia and New Zealand.  I know it is a common sight even on our streets – homeless people, litter – maybe after a while we become inured to it.  But after having spent so much time in Australia and New Zealand they were shocked.

In Australia and New Zealand the beaches are clean.  There are bike paths everywhere with lots of trees and green space.  Every 100 metres of so there are stainless steel tables and benches and big square stainless steel BBQ tables. People clean up after themselves and every morning the parks people come by and check and hose down everywhere.
bbq Filtered water in stainless steel dispensers where you can refill your water bottle.  Beautiful high-end deck chairs positioned along the river (not chained down in case someone steals one).

deck chairs

This place sounds like Utopia.  Why can’t we be more like that.  We are supposed to be a first world country.  Compare the public BBQ facilities in Waikiki….
Waikiki bbq

So after all her months of travelling would she do it again – in a heartbeat!  Calgary will be home for the next few months but after that who knows?

What are your tales of long long long vacations….do tell!

 

 

 

 

 

It’s like riding a bike…

You never forget, right?  I guess that is true for last week was the second time in probably forty years I have ridden a bike.  Although I was a bit nervous at first, having an expert on hand to fit me to the right size bike was certainly handy.  When I had used one of the river cruise bikes in Holland a few years ago I quickly realised that it was way too big and heavy for me so now I was all set up with the right size bike.  Ready steady go!

As I cycled the streets of Victoria I gained more confidence as I realised that the drivers there were very courteous and drove slowly past giving me a wide berth.  Mmm I had to wonder how that would go down in Calgary after seeing so many people speeding through the 30 zone in front of my house.  Some countries even legislate on the space you should give a cyclist when overtaking.

Give cyclists 1 full metre of space while overtaking

Road sign from Tenerife 

My husband had suggested that we ride on the pathway as that would be easier.  NOT.  Trying to dodge lamp posts and pedestrians on this narrow pathway with an ominous looking kerb waiting to “get” me was not that easy.  I said I would rather ride on the street.  OK he says, then ride facing the traffic, it’s much safer.  That didn’t work very well as within a few minutes I was faced with oncoming traffic which was in fact two spandex clad guys on flashy looking bikes.  I stared at them bewildered as to what to do.  They screamed past and I caught the comment from one to the other…”British”.

YES – BRITISH!

Biking is so popular now – especially with us baby boomers – that there are special tours out there that are fully guided, luggage transported from one place to another with five-star accommodation waiting where you can rest up your aching bum.

If you feel you are not up to doing a whole week of biking then why not consider a day or two.  There are some great places to bike – Holland of course is famous for its biking lanes.  The country is flat which is a help (none of those gear clacking, thigh busting hills that I experienced in Victoria).  So many people in Holland bike to work so it is not unusual to see women in suits and heels riding to work – or even taking the kids to day care on their way.

Distracted driving?

Many of the river cruises today carry bikes and even offer guided tours in places of interest.  Just a recommendation however – follow my lead and get some practice in before you go.  Remember – unless you are very well experienced then rather stick with a guided group.  The rules of the road are different in Europe, the road signs may be incomprehensible to you,


and don’t forget about those damn cobbled stone roads.

 

 

 

Is it a boat or a ship

This is something that causes confusion when talking about river cruises – is it a boat or a ship?  According to the website Diffen this is the difference –

“Boat

A boat is a watercraft of modest size designed to float or plane, to provide passage across water. Usually this water is inland (lakes) or in protected coastal areas. In naval terms, a boat is something small enough to be carried aboard another vessel (a ship).

Ship

A ship is a large vessel that floats on water. In traditional terms, ships were considered to be vessels which had at least one continuous water-tight deck extending from bow to stern. Ships may be found on lakes, seas, and rivers and they allow for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing, entertainment, public safety, and warfare.

Strictly speaking and quite uniquely a submarine is a boat as defined by the Royal Navy. Some boats too large for the naval definition include the Great Lakes freighter, riverboat, narrowboat and ferryboat.”

So then I guess that settles it – a river cruise is a ship.  Except maybe in the case of some of the river cruise ships that became boats when they were transported on special trailers across land for a new river home.  (It’s true!)

So a river cruise is the perfect way of travel for someone who has tried an ocean cruise and … well ….threw up!

It’s an interesting debate – the cross over from ocean cruise to river cruise.   On the oceans the risk is bad weather – while on a river cruise the risk is low water – or high water.  Both cause problems.

Another interesting debate is the size of the river cruise ship.

Yes I have decided it is a ship.

So because of the locks the ships can only be a certain length and a certain width.   Now each river cruise company wants to be different or have something unique to offer their guests and each line touts the value of that particular feature.  Viking has the Long Ships which are the same size as all the other longer ships…. 135 metres long … but has the feature of being one of the most dominant river cruise companies in the world with so many new builds that they made the Guinness Book of Records.  It also is extremely well known because of television ads on the History Channel.  These beautiful commercials give a very accurate depiction of what it is like to travel Europe on a river cruise.  Once you have done it you will return for sure.

New Viking ships christening

So what are the other companies doing that is special or different?  Avalon has adopted the approach that they don’t want to add balconies which will take away from the size of the room (remember – all river cruises can only be a certain width in order to get through the locks).  So the question is – do you really need a balcony when you are on a river cruise?  I guess this is a personal preference but one thing for sure, I love to have at least a window or french balcony so I can get lots of fresh air.

Avalon panorama suite

Scenic cruises have gone the balcony route but have included window type shutters that can enclose the balcony in times of inclement weather – which I would imagine is lots because this is Europe after all.

Uniworld have gone “olde world” with ornate decor and incredible old world service.

Where are you Marie Antoinette???

Yes – there is a lot of choice out there and the deciding factor will be itinerary, availability and of course special offers such as repeat passenger discounts, early booking bonus offers, free airfare ….. I could go on and on and on….But I won’t bore you.  Having travelled on the Rhine, the Danube, the Po, the Garonne, the Dordogne…. OK I will stop.

Just go do it.  Do a river cruise.  On a ship …. not a boat.

 

 

Nobody can sleep on a train

Well I certainly can’t and I have been riding trains since a very early age.  Growing up in England and not owning a car the only practical way to get around was using the good old train.  Those were the days before the high speed trains in England and so a trip from Somerset up to Scotland took hours and hours and hours.  And only the posh people had sleeping compartments.  My poor mother being a Navy “widow” had to take care of three kids and all the suitcases on all the connections all on her own.  Fortunately she was a “looker” and there was always a willing porter around to help hold one of the babies.

Mom

Oh the excitement many years later as a grown up when I got to experience a “sleeper” train with our own compartment.  Such fun making up the beds – watching the countryside go flashing past.  This was in South Africa and the night came quickly so very soon we could see very little from our compartment.  Oh, I thought to myself.  This is going to be amazing. Cuddling down in my bunk being gently swayed to sleep by the rhythmic clatter of the wheels.

Well – no!  I tossed, I turned.  I peeped out the window at every little stop along the way while boxes were loaded and unloaded.  The slow chug chug chug out of the station until we were out on the open rail again when we gathered up speed and then that long lonely train whistle in the night.  Yes – I heard everything.  And I did not sleep.  By the morning pulling into Durban I was a wreck.

And this is a shame because I have always seen myself doing something incredibly romantic like the Orient Express.  But I don’t think I could.  Just think what I am missing out on.  The Ghan speeding through the outback in Australia!  The Blue Train from Cape Town to Johannesburg.  The Trans Siberian Express!  Now there’s a train for you.  Moscow to Beijing in sevendays.  SEVEN DAYS!   Ye gods.   Still if Joanna Lumley can do it then so could I.

Well this doesn’t look too bad.

I could handle a week of that.  Don’t know if I could travel steerage though….
This is the third class cabin on the Trans-Siberian.

Kind of a taste what we are in for with our no-frills airlines maybe?

For me the best kind of train trip is a day time one – preferably non stop in Europe. Fantastic on time service – always love to book over lunch time and treat myself to premium or first class.  Super service while the European countryside flashes past.  Much easier than catching internal flights within Europe.

And then I can get to my next stop without having to go through ABA (otherwise known as Another Bloody Airport) and have a proper sleep in a proper bed.