Luxembourg and Paris

We said goodbye to the Viking boat and were bussed to Luxembourg. We toured the American WWII cemetery and some locals gave us a history lesson on the battles fought in the area. We saw Patton’s cross and a monument/chapel. It’s a sobering experience. The cemetery is serene and pristine; the area is kept up by an American money. One curious thing: the German cemetery is just down the road a mile although we didn’t stop there, of course. After we’d paid our respects they bussed us to downtown Luxembourg. We got a guided tour of the city which didn’t take long. It’s not that big; it’s mostly foreign embassies but the guide pointed out the Apple headquarters of the area. I was impressed by how clean Luxembourg is. We were left at the city square which was hosting a farmers’ market. It was asparagus season so asparagus was sold at every farmers’ market we’d seen in Europe. I was surprised to see that rhubarb was a big seller, too. I got so hungry for rhubarb pie I made one last week–although I had a hell of a time finding any. Isn’t rhubarb an American plant? It was easier to find it in Europe than Los Angeles. Is a puzzlement.

It was lunch time so Gordon and I managed to buy sandwiches. We were trying to get around on the one year of French I took at SoDak State. I was rusty, of course (that was 45 years ago!), but it came back to me slowly. One difficulty; we’d taken our sandwiches to what we thought was a food court next to the gazebo where a brass band was playing. A young waitress came up to us and started, “Je suis tres desolee mais…” She didn’t look very desolee to me but the gist of her speech was the table we sat at belonged to a specific restaurant and we should eat our sandwiches where we bought ’em. We apologized and moved. We also helped some other Americans from our group who didn’t speak a word of French. I guess fractured French is better than none. We caught the bus for the long drive to Paris.

The drive was about five hours (LONG!) but I got see the French countryside. The fields had no fences and I didn’t see any little towns or farmhouses; it must have been mostly corporate farming. Some weird blobs appeared every now and again and we were told they were artistic pieces to break up monotony. Apparently, they had a problem with people falling asleep on the long straight road.

I was glad when we got to Paris. The bus was comfortable–it was a lot more comfortable than that Alitalia (Alitalia! Slowly I turned, step by step) flight–but it was still confining. On the way to our hotel our guide described what we were looking at and told us how to find our way around. We saw the Pont Neuf, we drove down the Champs Elysses…I was in Paris! And I was exhausted from sitting on my dead butt.

We got installed in our room at the Meridian hotel. We’d requested a king size bed and we got two twins pushed together which really isn’t the same thing but what the hell, it was only for two nights. We were on our own for dinner so we walked down the street and found a charming little bistro. I stumbled my way through the menu outside and took a chance that we could order something we liked. The maître d’ was charming, we sang “Bon Jour” at each other and he nattered on in French. I must have said something back which clearly indicated that I was American but he was cool. He asked in French if we wanted the menu “en Francaise ou Anglaise.” (Who was he kidding? My French is awful; but he was erring on the side of the angels). I gratefully smiled and said, “Anglaise.” We weren’t very hungry (too tired) but we split a spicy, very rich, lentil salad and each had a bowl of soup. I got a glass of Poully Fume which was delicious. It was Saturday night and the place filled up quickly but we ate and paid our bill without causing an international incident. On our way back to the hotel we noticed four handsome uniformed young men pacing slowly along–with automatic weapons. There’d been a terrorist attack on a policeman the week before and Macron was being sworn in at the Arch de Triumph three blocks from the Meridian the next day. I said, “Whoa” when I saw the weapons. One of the soldiers smiled slightly but they stayed vigilant and paced on. It was ten o’clock; time to go to bed.

We got up early for our tour next morning. We sang “Bon jour” to the hotel staff when we went to breakfast. The staff all spoke excellent English so I didn’t have to bother anybody with my fractured French. After, we were driven to Notre Dame where they freed us for an hour. I had my toilet money (coffee just goes through me) but the bathroom was locked. Hmmm. Time to see just how good my sphincter was. Notre Dame made me forget my worries. Mass was being said so Gordon wandered around and read the exhibits but I listened to the Mezzo sing. Wonderful. We got a Christmas ornament of the rose window and caught the bus again. We were driven past the Paris Opera House (got a kick out of Napoleon’s private carriage entrance), the Louvre, the Latin Quarter, and finally ended up at the Eiffel Tower.  They let us off the bus at the Eiffel but we couldn’t take the time to go to the top or have lunch. There was a ten k being run, Macron was being sworn in….there was a lot going on. I didn’t envy the bus driver trying to get around it all. Basically, it was an overview tour. I’d like to go back to check things out; the tour whetted my appetite. They took us back to the Meridian where I took the opportunity to pee–I’ve never appreciated bathrooms so much in my life. And it’s big business in Europe–all those desperate tourists with their 50 cents of toilet money in their hands. But I digress…

We were driven to Versailles. Wow. We toured Versailles for about two hours. The guide gave us a history lesson on when it was built (it must have been good to be Sun King) and mentioned that, even though the Revolutionaries beheaded the king during The Terror, they didn’t tear down Versailles. Thank God; it’s an impressive place. I probably will never go again but I’m glad I saw it once. When they took us back to the hotel we weren’t hungry; we just went to the food court in the Hyatt across the street–there was a small shopping mall attached to the hotel. The clerk didn’t speak English but I managed “Je voudrais…” and got stuck. So I pointed. It worked. We each got individual quiches. Very good. Then we stopped at a mini-mart for cookies and milk. That clerk didn’t appreciate Americans but she spoke English. I forgave her; Macron had talked about the national inferiority complex France was suffering so I could afford to be the bigger person. And speaking of Macron–I was surprised at how few people showed up at the Arch de Triumph. Maybe it was because it was raining–which I thought was supposed to be romantic; you know, rainy Paris in spring?–or because of the terror threat but I thought the turnout was meagre. It was our last night in Paris so Gordon got a shot of me at the Arch de Triumph. Then we went home and packed. We had a one o’clock flight and had to leave the hotel by 9;15.

I think I’ll write some conclusions about the trip later. I’ve written enough today.

Gordon taking a picture of Notre Dame.

At the Eiffel Tower. It’d been raining earlier and we hadn’t brought an umbrella so I wore my Irish cap. Those Irish know how to keep wind and rain off a body.

Versalles. It’s good to be the king.

Gordon in the Hall of Mirrors. You need to see it to believe it. It was designed to impress. It does.

Overlooking part of the Versailles grounds. And it’s a small part.

The Arch de Triumph. I’m starting to look a little ragged. Too much fun. Time to go home.

 

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Heidelberg, Miltenberg, Mainz, Rudesheim, Cochem, BernKastel, Trier

I have to mention that I became the entertainment at dinner with my Alitalia difficulties. People would ask about our flight over and I’d go into my song and dance. Gordon said it was funny the first three times he heard it; after the 15th it got a little old. At dinner someone asked, “How was your trip over?” Gordon said, “Don’t say Alitalia!” Which reminded me of the old vaudeville routine: Niagara Falls. “Whatever you do, don’t say Niag…” “Niagara Falls! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…” And that became the routine: “Alitalia?! Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…” And then we’d howl. People I’d never shared a table with must have heard us because a woman on the bus looked at me and started, “Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…” It was all over the boat. And that was my contribution to the entertainment. Back to touristing…

Heidelberg was interesting. We were bussed up to the castle ruins overlooking the river and saw the biggest wine vat in the world. Then we toured the Old City. We had lunch at the oldest restaurant in the city but I can’t remember the name of it. There was supposed to be an opportunity to talk to a real live college student but Gordon and I brought up the rear and sat at a table for four–no student but two lovely ladies from Wisconsin and us. I think we dodged a bullet. One of the people we starting dining with because he didn’t talk Lefty politics all the time told us he got stuck with one. She told him that Germany was the greatest: “Everybody shares here. People are taxed 50% and that allows us students to go to school for free.” Our friend asked her what she paid in taxes and of course she said nothing. So he pointed out to her that she wasn’t sharing, she was taking. Apparently, that didn’t go over too well. You can’t get away from it anywhere. Viking cut us loose to explore so Gordon and I found the Student Prison where they sell official Heidelberg sweatshirts. We were the only ones to find the place. I flaunted my Heidelberg sweatshirt but frankly it fits funny. I got an XLarge but it’s still snug and the arms are too long. I’m used to big baggy sweatshirts. I suppose Heidelberg students prefer to show off more body than I do. Well, they’re young.

We cruised down the Main River the next day. The hillsides are covered in grape vines for the local Reislings–which were delicious. A tour guide told me that the hillsides are so steep that it’s not possible to use machines; all the work is by hand. Romanian guest workers are imported to work the vines. It’s a good job for the Romanians and it’s good for the farmers. It’s a good guest worker program. Anyway, that’s why Reislings are more expensive than French or Italian wines–lots of labor costs. I developed a liking for Reislings. They were served at dinner a lot. Very good.

We visited Miltenberg and frankly I don’t remember anything about it; there was a castle, cobblestones, and half-timber buildings. So what else is new.

I enjoyed Mainz, though. We toured the Gutenberg Museum. They showed us how the original press worked and had some of the original bibles. Fascinating. We also toured the Mainz Cathedral with its stained glass windows by Marc Chagall (the original windows were blown out in WWII).

We toured Rudesheim. We skipped the wine tasting and walked around the town on our own. Same old same old. But I enjoyed cruising down the Rhine (when did we get on the Rhine?). Saw lots of  grapevines on the hillsides and castles. Very picturesque. I was supposed to see the Lorelei Rock but I missed it. I was starting to suffer from severe sensory overload. We tied up at Chochem which was a nice little town and the program says we saw Bernkastel but damned if I can remember anything about it. I do remember that a glass blower demonstrated his craft after dinner. That was interesting and I bought another Christmas tree ornament. That was small enough I could fit it in our luggage.

One curious thing: if I kept my mouth shut and a local initiated a conversation with me they’d start out in German. I’d just look at them and explain that I was American and my German stank on ice. They would immediately switch to perfect English. I asked a fellow diner if that’d happened to her and she said, “No, but you look German. I can understand the mistake.” I told her my last name was Schnell and we both laughed and agreed that I probably did look German. Anyway…

The last German spot was Trier, an old Roman outpost in the Moselle valley (were we now on the Moselle? Who knows). We drove past the amphitheater and got dropped off at the old Roman baths. We toured the oldest Christian church north of the Alps. It’s just stunning. Also saw the Constantine Basilica. The Roman engineers were so good a bishop a few centuries down the road tried to tear it down to build something new but they couldn’t raze it. Those were some engineers. They let us loose to tour the town on our own. We stopped for salted ice cream (delicious) at the coffee shop. We were standing aimlessly when a young man offered us his table. “I’ve been here for hours, I should go.” We told him we weren’t trying to guilt trip him but thanked him very much–and we grabbed the table. My feet hurt. The people watching was great. Gordon got some pictures of an amusing fountain that was supposed to show how great and beneficent the bishop was. The sculptor slyly included monkeys committing sins like throwing poop (don’t want to mention the other sins but the sculptor was making fun of the hypocrisy of the bishops and their sexual practices–or lack thereof claims. We met the bus at the Roman Porta Nigra (Black Gate). Lots of history. We went back to the boat for one last night. We had to pack up and get ready to take the bus to Luxembourg the next day. That broke up the drive to Paris.

I think this is the Miltenberg castle but really, who can remember…

I think this is the Moselle valley. But don’t quote me.

Interior of the Mainz cathedral.

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Bamberg, Wurzburg, Bernkastel, Wintrich

After my long sleep I was rarin’ to go when they bussed us to Bamberg. We got a walking tour through the medieval city center which is a UNISCO World Heritage Site. We couldn’t get into the 11th century cathedral because it was Sunday and everybody was at mass. But the tour guide got interrupted by the bells which were really impressive. We saw the Bishop’s residence and heard that the city is famous for smoke-flavored beer. I didn’t have any because it was only 10:30 in the morning and some other tourists who’d sampled it told me it was awful. We got educated about the historic bridge and the fishing village then they cut us lose to wander around the city square. We were munchy so we stopped at a bakery/coffee shop to order a pastry and coffee. I guess Gordon was tired of practicing his German so he let me take the lead. “Guten morgen, eine schnittlefritzen (or whatever the hell it was; I was pronouncing it phonetically) bitte.” The counter man answered me in perfect English and I said, “Thank God you speak English. This could have gotten really complicated.” We all had a good laugh and Gordon and I ate our pastry while we people watched. We even peaked into another historic church; very quietly, of course, mass was being said. Then we ran back to bus so we could rejoin the boat before it left for Wurzburg.

We had another unfortunate run-in at lunch. A crazy lady from Georgia started bellowing that the military was evil; she’d heard that there was a crime wave in Colorado Springs and it was all due to soldiers. I asked where she’d heard that and she said she read it on the internet. I raised a skeptical eyebrow and she left in a huff. That was another person I would avoid sitting with. But the day wasn’t done. After a pleasant afternoon of sitting on the top deck of the boat admiring the view we were joined at dinner by some other Californians–San Jose, to be specific. And they started in with a political diatribe–how taxes should be raised on the rich (they were retired teachers), that charter schools should be abolished, that charter schools were a conspiracy of the Right, and on and on and on. When did it become acceptable to dominate a conversation with perfect strangers about your political views? Had they no manners at all? But I’d had 11 hours of sleep the night before. I countered every one of their arguments with a better argument and a smile. Gordon even joined in and he usually ignores people like that. Then again, they were hard to ignore. Dinner ended on a cool note and we vowed never to let those people sit with us again.

We toured Wurzburg the next day. The Bishop’s residence was truly magnificent. The first floor was devoted to servants’ quarters and the entry way. Carriages pulled directly through the huge doors and deposited their riders right in front of the magnificent staircase leading to the banquet hall and other official rooms on the second floor. The story goes that Napolean wanted to impress everybody with the biggest carriage around. It was so big it couldn’t fit through the door and Napolean had to walk. There’s a lesson here. Anyway, the residence was impressive. It must have been good to be bishop.

We had another quiet afternoon of cruising to the next port before we faced the challenge of dinner. We decided to go late so we could avoid all the crazy Lefties who wanted to talk politics. We found two empty spaces and everybody said where they were from. When I announced that we were from California I could see the eyes of everybody else there narrow warity. Another diner asked if we knew one of the Lefties from last night. I said that they’d bored us with their politics and you could hear the collective sigh around the table. Apparently, every one at the table had been subjected to these awful people. Which led to a discussion of the grievances we’d all suffered at the hands of Lefties. So it ended up being a political discussion anyway. But once we’d unburdened ourselves talk turned to other things. I was able to enjoy my excellent dinner. By the way, the food on this cruise was much better than the last cruise we took. Less German food. I was told the chef was from the Phillipines. Maybe that explains it.

The boat stopped at Bernkastel and Gordon and I walked around by ourselves. It was a small town with a winery but I’d gotten to the point where if you’ve seen one historic German town, you’ve seen ’em all. The next stop was Wintrich where we took a tour of a renovated castle. It was impressive but I really liked the view. Oh, I forgot to mention that the boat travelled from the Danube, to the Rhine, to the Moselle. I could never remember what river we were on. Things started blurring together.

That’s enough for one day. On to Heidleburg tomorrow.

We couldn’t get into this cathedral because it was Sunday. The guide told us the area around this church was used in the movie, Three Musketeers.

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Nuremberg

Gordon and I got up early to check out of the Prague Hilton and catch the bus to Nuremberg. We had to take the bus because the Moldau is too shallow for a boat the size that Viking uses. We were driven to Nuremberg and let loose on the town square to explore and have lunch. Gordon and I found a local restaurant and ordered the speciality, the finger sausages. Between Gordon’s high school German and the waiter’s high school English we managed to do all right. I even practiced a little bit of German without causing an international incident. We stopped for ice cream and admired the fountain in the square. The fountain was covered the last time we were in Nuremberg so it was nice to see the finished product (I don’t think Gordon was ready for this picture). Then we got packed on the bus for a riding tour of Nuremberg. We’d already been to the castle last trip so we didn’t miss much. We got out of the bus at the spot next to an unfinished stadium where Hitler started the whole Nazi nightmare. Nobody in our group was interested in standing where Hitler stood to speak but I noticed some other tourists were up on the podium. Gives you the shivers. One of our group wanted to know where the Nazi salute came from and our guide, even though she’d just explained that Hitler was copying the Romans with his proposed (although unfinished) Coliseum, couldn’t answer. I suggested that the Nazi salute was referencing the Roman Ave: you know, “Hail Caesar”, Heil Hitler? Made sense to me. But I was impressed that the Germans aren’t trying to hide the Hitler connection. They’re facing it and trying to learn from their history so they don’t repeat it. It was time to get back on the bus to go to our boat on the Danube.

We got installed in our cabin. Gordon had popped for a room with a veranda so we had a lot more room than on our last cruise. We even had a chair! We got cleaned up and went to dinner. I was so tired at that point that all I remember was that I ordered the scallops. Two Welsh couples were sitting at our table and everything was great until one of the wives got on the topic of Arab refugees. She informed me that all the refugees should be shipped to the US: “I’ve been to the States and you have all that room in Arizona and New Mexico. And England is a Christian country. They don’t fit in. You Americans are the only people who can actually assimilate people.” I wasn’t sure if she just wanted to get rid of the Muslims in England or if she wanted to transplant most of Syria to the US but she glowed at her own generosity and good-feeling. I just looked at her stupidly. I was so tired that I couldn’t think to respond that the land she proposed giving away probably belonged to Native American tribes and that the land that the guvmint owned had no water or somebody would already be there. But you have to be touched in a back-handed way by people’s faith in the United States. They’ve just gotten so used to the USA solving their problems they want to dump everything on us. I don’t think the other Welsh couple agreed with her. They seemed embarrassed and I noticed they never sat together for the rest of the trip.

I wish I’d argued but, as I said, I was exhausted. I’d been touring non-stop for a week and I needed rest. I couldn’t even finish those excellent scallops. I just mumbled and excuse and left for my cabin. I didn’t even wake up when Gordon came in; I slept for 11 straight hours. Gordon told me that the man seated next to me at dinner ate my dessert and thanked me very much. I needed rest more than dessert so he was welcome to it. But I was ready to start looking at things again which was good. We had lots of German towns to inspect.

The Nuremberg town square. Note the cobblestones. Europe is covered in cobblestones. Thank God for tennis shoes. I’d have broken an ankle in anything with heels.

 

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Memorial Day

It’s that time of year to officially remember those who fought and died in war–and to honor those still with us. When I was a kid we sold poppies to raise money for veterans. There was also an assembly with a speaker; the school band played. The names of those from the town who died in war were read. Then we marched up to cemetery hill (actually, we straggled; it was a big hill) and played a patriotic song or two. My dad read the following poem and ‘Taps’ was played. Small towns remember.

This poem was written by Lt. Colonel (Leftenat is the correct pronunciation my Canadian friends tell me) John McCrae, a member of the first Canadian contingent. He died in France on January 28, 1918 after four years of service on the western front. I guess this poem is a sort of immortality.

In Flanders Field

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

 

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

 

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

 

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Prague

We finally got to Prague, collected our luggage, and got some Czech money from the ATM in the lobby (so convenient!). We didn’t know how much to get so we only got 2000 Czech dollars, whatever they’re called. The driver that Gordon had arranged to pick us up through the Hilton charged 900 and we didn’t know if we were supposed to tip so Gordon just rounded up to 1000 Czs–which turned out to be the right thing to do. The driver got us to the Hilton in a Skoda which is a VW car produced in Czech Republic. That was new. We got installed in our room and went looking for a place for dinner. The first place we tried was underground and looked really interesting but they were closed for a private party. So we went around the block and settled for a Czech/Italian place. The food was good but I had to try a Moravian wine which I didn’t like at all–but at least I tried it. We were falling over so we went back to the hotel and fell over.

The next day we were picked up by Gordon’s first cousin once removed (I think that’s the relationship) for a day of touristing. May 1st was a national holiday so Suzanne (the cousin) had the day off. I’d only met her husband, John, once (at their wedding) so it was nice to get to know him. I’d never met either of her kids (I won’t use their names to protect them) but they were smart and attractive. Suzanne took us to the usual tourist attractions except we got to see things close up and personal. We climbed the hill from the Moldau up to the castle which was quite a hike. But we got to see lots of shops on the way and I found a pair of amber earrings I couldn’t live without. We went down the hill to watch the astrological clock ring in the hour. I loved the saints going around and the skeleton ringing his bell. Then we had trdlenks–that’s as close as I can come to the spelling of the pastry. It sounded to us like ‘turtleneck’ with the accent on the second syllable so Gordon and I just called them turtlenecks. They were very good. Suzanne took us over the Charles Bridge and told us that one of the magnificent statues had been carved in the 16th century (I think) by one of her ancestors on her father’s side. What a great connection to have!

The kids were getting tired from all the walking (me too!) so John got the car and drove us all to their lovely home in a small town outside of Prague. Suzanne told us that the microwave was something most people didn’t have them but the company wanted to make Suzanne happy. I had to smile at how spoiled Americans are; who’d have thought a microwave would be a big deal. Suzanne and her daughter walked us around the lovely park that’s two blocks from their house. She says that the rhododendrons in the park are world-famous. We walked around the lake and admired all the flowers. I was glad we were in Czech Republic in the spring. We went to dinner at Suzanne’s and John’s favorite restaurant that translated to Grandma’s Kitchen. I had the duck with red cabbage and mushroom soup. The food was very good. The duck was domesticated so it wasn’t as gamey as I was used to. I had the Czech beer instead of the wine which was a good choice. The Czechs make great beer but I never found a wine I liked. John drove us back to our hotel and we died again.

But, of course, we had to get up and see more the next day. We bought ‘hop-on-hop-off’ tickets and retraced our steps from the day before. We also checked out spots that we skipped with Suzanne and family. We had dinner on a boat on the Moldau which was wonderful. The next day Suzanne picked us up again because Gordon wanted a tour of the candy factory she manages. We got in our protective gear and got an explanation of the machinery and what candy was sold to what country. It was an impressive operation. Suzanne is certainly making her mark in the world. I was so glad that Suzanne was able to spend so much time with us but the next day we were on Viking’s schedule. They basically took us over most of what we’d seen with Suzanne but we spent more time on the other side of the river. We got to see the Jewish cemetery which is a graveyard lasagna–graves have been stacked on top of each other for 400 years. I ran away from the tour to buy an Infant of Prague Christmas ornament and ran back in time to finish the tour. When they freed us Gordon went back to a glass shop and bought two crystal wine glasses I’d admired a few days before. We also stopped at Smetana Hall to see if there was a concert we wanted to attend but we couldn’t seem to coordinate our schedule with theirs. We took our loot back to the hotel and took a nap before dinner. Gordon had figured out Prague’s public transportation so we took the metro to a restaurant called Karnaver Slakia–or something like that. We had Czech goulash and another awful wine. The goulash was good but the dessert–a crepe–was spectacular. The Czechs take their time eating so dinner took about 2 1/2 hours. That gave us time to take a picture of the lights on the castle. That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about Prague; they light up the city at night. It’s gorgeous.

We took a cab home from the restaurant because it was raining cats and dogs. But we really enjoyed Prague–and the fact that most of the people we ran into spoke English. Czech is apparently closer to Russian than anything and I couldn’t even read the menus.

On to the next stop. But special thanks to Suzanne and John for entertaining us so royally.

John took a pic of Suzanne, kids, and Gordon & me outside the castle. The guards aren’t supposed to smile. This one sure didn’t.

Suzanne, John, & kids under the statue Suzanne’s ancestor sculpted. Too bad I didn’t include the statue in the picture. Oh well…

The cousins in front of the lake and castle, now a church, at the park in Suzanne’s neighborhood. Lovely place.

This is the only decent picture we got of the Prague castle lighted up. Too bad I’m in the picture too. This was at Karvarna Slavia or whatever it was called. Forgot to mention there was a painting called The Absinthe Drinker. Guy in the painting is staring and drooling at a green ghost. Went well with the Art Deco motif.

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I hate Alitalia!

Gordon and I just got back from a Viking cruise and for the most part it was fun–with a few exceptions. So I’m going to vent about the really bad part of our trip–the flight to Prague on Alitalia. Then I can talk about some good stuff. But I really need to vent.

We got to the terminal in plenty of time. The Alitalia agent who checked our luggage and gave us our boarding passes was efficient and polite. I was pleasantly surprised; I’ve gotten used to airline personnel–with the exception of Southwest–to be rather off-putting when they’re not actually rude. We bought a bottle of water before we boarded the plane. Thank God we did. Things would have been much worse for us if we hadn’t.

The plane we boarded had to be at least 40 years old. The seat I was assigned had a big metal blob where I was supposed to put my feet. There was little space anyway and this made things worse. I had to share Gordon’s legroom space which meant I was twisted like a pretzel. The head rests were supposed to be adjustable but they didn’t work. That meant Gordon was twisted too. The seats were so uncomfortable that we just stared at each other when we belted ourselves in. This was going to be a long flight. It got worse. The media screens on the back of the seat that are supposed to stupefy the passengers with movies didn’t work most of the time. There was no touch screen; a hand-held control was attached by a cord that supposedly rewound when you tugged on it. But that didn’t work most of the time either. I had to stuff the control into it’s slot. When I managed to get a the control to work the movie would suddenly switch from English to Italian; I was constantly pulling on my handset to switch back to English. And it didn’t make much difference; the movie usually stopped halfway through which was really annoying. I wonder how Moana ended…

I tried to get an attendant by pulling out my control (see difficulties above) but nobody came. I don’t know if that button didn’t work either but I knew the attendants didn’t. When I took a bathroom break (which was a mistake; I should have kept the fluid I had but at least I got to straighten out) I found the attendants playing cards. Well, it was a long flight and the attendants’ movie screens probably didn’t work either.

I was glad we kept our water bottle because we were only allowed 2 half-cups of water over the 12-hour flight. And the food was awful. I know airline food is generally bad but this was particularly bad. Probably they nuked it to death to keep the passengers from getting any fluid. I don’t think they wanted to have to clean the bathroom. No problem; I was getting seriously dehydrated.

The flight from hell finally ended in Rome. We disembarked to look for the next gate and couldn’t find it on any boards. We finally asked a gate attendant (Alitalia, of course) where we could get the information. Instead of looking anything up, which would have made sense, she directed us to an information station in the middle of the terminal. After a brief wait, the info person rudely told us which gate we were supposed to be at. So we hoofed in to another terminal. We knew we only had a 2-hour layover and we wanted to make sure we were in the right place. Then the next torture began; customs. We had to get our passports stamped. About two plane-loads of people were in line but we figured we had plenty of time. Wrong! We stood and stood and stood. Every time a load of people came another agent disappeared. And the one agent working was clogged by a woman who only had a boarding pass on her phone and apparently they weren’t prepared for that. What was particularly annoying was the fact that at least two ‘bosses’ strutted around, doing nothing. They had big bellies handing over their belts and too-tight jackets but they pranced and yelled and waved their hands–and got nothing done. And time was passing. There were two young women standing around in official jackets; I could actually reach them so I pointed to my watch and said we were going to miss our flight. They looked embarrassed and I think they actually tried to do something but the strutters got in the way. A poor Australian couple behind us were in serious time trouble but they didn’t do or say anything. I guess American outrage is foreign to them. Well, I started agitating. I was afraid I’d end up in an Italian jail but at least I’d probably get some water there–maybe. The demands worked for the Australian couple. They were sheparded to the head of the line. Another clerk finally came back and we were processed. I think they wanted to get rid of me; other passengers were starting to get upset and I was leading the insurrection. As we ran to our gate the Australian wife saw us trotting by and she ran me down to tell me that they’d missed their flight and the next one was three days away! Well, we did our best for them. We got on the last bus to our jet (a bus? in Rome?) but made the flight. Thank God, we didn’t have to pee. That was the only advantage to not getting any water.

We landed in Prague and our luggage landed with us–which I considered a minor miracle. Not losing our luggage was probably an oversight on the part of the Italians. That was the only thing they did right. We found out later that day that Alitalia had declared bankruptcy for the second time in a year. It should go out of business. We were thinking of touring Italy but I don’t want to go anywhere near that place anymore. Those bureaucrats have tortured me as much as they’re going to.

I had to buy a quart of cranberry juice in Prague; after the enforced dehydration I was developing a bladder infection. Thank God there was a grocery store right across the street from the Hilton.  And I pooped charcoal briquettes for a few days. Thanks Alitalia.

After this experience we took a closer look at the flight home that Viking had arranged. We were supposed to fly from Paris back to Rome, and from Rome to Los Angeles. Why fly back to Rome? It added an additional 5 hours of flight time on the airlines from hell. We went to the Viking personnel on the boat and had to pay a small fortune to change flights. We flew AirCanada from Paris to Montreal then home to Los Angeles. Why couldn’t Viking have arranged something sensible like that in the first place? I’m still mad about the flight Viking bought. None of the other passengers from the US on the boat were subjected to Alitalia; they got British Airways or AirFrance. I don’t know who from Viking got a kickback from Alitalia but I’m so disgusted by this treatment I’ll probably never take another Viking cruise. Cheat me once, shame on you; cheat me twice, shame on me. They don’t make this right they’ve lost a client. There are lots of other packages to buy.

Whew, glad I got that off my chest. Now I can talk about the more pleasant aspects of the trip. I was in Prague and Paris. How bad can that be?

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