Okay, back to Stockholm… You’re keeping up with me, right?

P1110694

I hate winter. I know, I know. You aren’t supposed to hate anything. But I really do hate winter and everything about it. I hate everything about winter; being cold, snow, bitter wind that cuts through the warmest of clothing, short days. None of it is appealing to me. Oh, it’s pretty for a minute, but it inevitably ends up dirty and messy. So color me surprised, when I went against common sense and booked a trip to Stockholm at the end of November. But I was up for the adventure; after all I booked this during the summer. You know… when it was warm and sunny. Far removed from winter where the days were cold and oh so short. But once again, a harried travel schedule put me behind the eight ball and I was spending my Thanksgiving running up and down stairs, trying to fit in family time in-between laundry and packing. To say I was distracted would be nothing new however it turned out to be a costly mistake (see previous Stockholm blog entry).

On the heels of a business trip to Copenhagen, I headed north to Stockholm for a few down days. It is such a long journey to get from the Pacific Northwest to Europe, I cannot fathom going all that way for a few days of work and trying around and making the trek back. Fortunately for me, I’ve always managed to tack on a few personal days to extend my trip just long enough to adjust to European time and give me the kind of jet lag that makes me lethargic for a week.

To be fair, I did my homework before I left. I knew the days would be short and the temperatures on the cold side. I brought layers, a [what I thought was a warm enough] coat, gloves and scarf. The 10 day forecast didn’t look too shabby so I was overly optimistic that I would experience the kind of “winter” I had the previous year in Copenhagen. No such luck. Even as I making my way to Denmark, Murphy was preparing what I’m sure he felt was a suitable welcome for such a fair-weather person. The sunny days in the mid 40’s gave way to rain, no make that snow, in the low 20’s. This. Will. Be. Fun.

I landed in darkness and it took a good hour to get from the airport into the city. Of course, I could have taken the train but I wasn’t about to maneuver my bag, heavy backpack and tired self through a train station in the dark, cold, wind and rain. Call me crazy. So an expensive cab ride was the only viable option. It was during this ride as I sat back listening to the radio station that I wished I could understand Swedish. I tried to imagine what they were saying and after a while, I realized I could [understand Swedish]. Wow, it really isn’t that difficult! Shortly thereafter I realized it was English. So there went that theory. Apparently, I couldn’t understand it after all.

One of the many fun things about traveling to another country is the hotel room. One never quite knows what to expect when you open the door. This one was no different. In fact, just opening the door was unique. It opened to the outside (hallway), rather than in. The door was larger than the frame and the knob was tiny. Inside, the room was tiny with two beds pushed together, a desk the size of a tray table, two funky chairs (one padded, one wooden – neither comfortable) and a wooden floor that was uneven. Surprisingly, there were three channels that had English speaking shows. Typically, you can find BBC and CNN and a 50-50 chance at a UK sports channel. Now the bathroom was an experience. It had your standard equipment but with a curved glass wall that you opened to block the toilet and [hopefully] keep your towel dry. It sort of worked. The bathmat was pretty useless though. And no washcloth. I don’t get why most of Europe don’t seem to use them. The hotel was nice enough. My only complaint comes from the lack of response when I called down to reception to report a party – yes, a party – in the room next to me that spilled into the hallway. I have a low tolerance for noise on any given day but this would have sent the most tolerant person over the edge. I called down three times before it was taken care of (this was after midnight). I’m not sure what finally spurred the appropriate reaction but it might have been my threat to call down every 2 minutes until it stopped. Like I said, I don’t like noise.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, my first day was spent in the rain, replacing my umbrella and finding warmer attire. In hindsight, I could have left all my jeans at home. The long underwear I wore underneath and the wet snow only caused them to fall off me so I ended up wearing leggings. Once it turned to snow, it was easier in most ways (less wet, easy to take pictures, etc.) except for walking. Trudging through the wet snow was like walking on a sandy beach but much more slippery. The cobblestone streets were quickly iced over and provided no traction. Yet, I persevered. Going in and out of extremely warm buildings and back into the cold made it challenging to maintain the ideal body temperature. By the afternoon, I had no choice but to head back to the hotel for a couple of hours to warm up and add additional layers. By dinner time, I would head out again looking for food and an opportunity to see the city in the snow at night. The reflection of the lights made it seem bright for being so dark. (Yes, I know what I did there.)

Despite the weather and the short days, I did enjoy a boat cruise around the harbor and walking around Gamla Stan (Old Town). The Vasa Museum had the coolest Viking ship, made entirely out of Oak that sunk in the harbor in 1628, less than a nautical mile from its origin. I was ready to head home by Saturday, dreaming of warmer weather and sleeping in my own bed.

Because it was a long ride from the airport and there was significant snow and ice on the roads, I asked the guy working reception for some advice on when to head to the airport for a 9 AM flight, assuming I would need to arrange for a taxi for an early departure. He said it would normally take 45 minutes and I should allow twice that amount of time due to the road conditions. Wow, really? So that put me around 5:30 AM for a departure. I hemmed and hawed and opted to go with his advice. After all, he lives there and better safe than sorry (I always allow at least 2 hours for international departures). In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he was getting even with me for my calls the previous evening. First of all, the taxi wasn’t there on time so I waited an additional 15 minutes in the lobby. Then it took all of about 30 minutes door to door, so I was at the airport by 6:15. I’m pretty sure I was the first person to check in for my flight to Newark and sped through security like a pro. Immigration would wait until I actually went to the gate. I headed to Starbucks which was in another terminal (as always). It really didn’t matter as I had plenty of time and a nice, long walk sounded good (I loathe sitting for extended periods of time and lord knows, I was going to get plenty of opportunity to sit with three flights). Another pleasant surprise awaited me once I got there. There was no line (the airport was a ghost town) and the barista was from the UK and familiar with affogato style so I knew my drink would be made correctly the first time. Both girls were chatty and I enjoyed visiting with them about my travels, the many Starbucks I have visited and drinking cold coffee on a wintery day. I then proceeded to get into a rather lengthy chat via text with my sister and before I knew it, I had an hour until my departure. Where did the time go? I didn’t even get to visit the lounge. I decided I’d better make my way to the other terminal (it was about a 10 minute walk) and I still had a lot of Swedish currency to dispose of. I passed several shops but thought it would be better to shop closer to my gate just in case. Bad choice as I discovered there were no where near as many options. That’s what happens when you make assumptions. Not one to buy tacky souvenirs, the choices were poor and I was running out of time because I still had to go through immigration. Guess my souvenirs would be a whole lot of change and I would be visiting a currency kiosk sometime in the near future. Immigration was no fuss, no muss and with priority boarding I was soon settling in my seat. Once again, I didn’t think through the implications of seat selection and as it turns out, 1A kind of sucked (757-200 for those in the know). If the curtain to the galley was closed I had no issues but unfortunately, they rarely keep it closed so I enjoyed the bright light through most of the flight. Not that I wanted to sleep, but it did seem to be shining in my eyes which was annoying.

We arrived 20 minutes early in Newark. I don’t know how to explain it but there is something about landing in the US after being overseas. I don’t care if it’s been a week or months. There is this feeling of being “home” where you don’t have to worry about currency, adapters or anything remotely foreign. It never fails, no matter where I’ve been or how much fun I’ve had, I love that feeling of touching down in my own country.

Crazy as this may sound, I chose the long way home just so I could hitch a ride aboard the Dreamliner, Boeing’s latest. United is the first US carrier to get the 787 and they are flying them domestically to break them in before they become international planes, on routes such as Denver to Tokyo or Houston to Laos. This was going to add several hours but at the time, it sounded like a great opportunity. Now several other routes that had scheduled the Dreamliner had an equipment swap so I held my breath I was actually going to get to ride. It was great to get to my gate and see it ready and waiting. Did I mention I was first class, too boot? Other than the obnoxious complainer next to me, it was a fun ride, made extra special by the crew. We land in Houston and I said goodbye to comfort, knowing the last leg would be the hardest (even in First since the seats are no where near as good as BusinessFirst). Spoiled, yes. Travel diva, maybe. Okay, yes. I think I’m just about there. Don’t judge, however. I was perfectly content in economy (okay, that’s not exactly true) but until you experience Business/First class travel you live in a state of ignorance and don’t understand what you are missing. Once you go up front, it’s awfully hard to go back. I’m fortunate that my business travel allows for comfort and I’m able to collect enough miles to upgrade myself for personal travel. Trust me, if I had to shell out big bucks, I ‘d be sucking it up in the back with everyone else. I may be a diva, but I’m a cheap one at that.

Already have some new destinations lined up next year as well as some old favorites. Until then, peace and joy to you and yours.

P1110630 P1110631 P1110650 P1110651 P1110656 P1110658 P1110662 P1110674 P1110677 P1110678 P1110688 P1110695 P1110699 P1110701 P1110715 P1110728 P1110730 P1110753 P1110761 P1110762 P1110768 P1110772 P1110773 P1110779 P1110786 P1110802 P1110812 P1110833 P1110851 P1110855 Stockholm 943 Stockholm 969 Stockholm 973

Posted by: Michelle | December 16, 2012

Me and Mini Me in the Big Apple


iPhone 2128One of the benefits of being a road warrior (actually more of an air warrior but that sounds silly for some reason), is collecting all the miles and points. Of course, the last thing you really want to do is travel when you are off but then again, how else are you going to see the world?

A few years back, I took my nephew to Washington, DC. Now it was his sister’s turn and her chosen destination was New York City. She was all about the Statue of Liberty and going somewhere her brother hadn’t been (you know how siblings are… “he’s touching me,” “she’s breathing my air” but I digress.). We had initially planned a trip back in May but she missed too much school so we settled on October and the fall break to minimize her time out of school. There was no way I was going during the sweltering summer months or spring break when everybody and their mother travels to the Big Apple.

When I picked the dates in the spring, I had no idea what my work travel schedule would be. As it turned out, it was quite hectic and I managed to tuck this little holiday in-between the most important meetings and it got me out of one that was in Kuala Lumpur (been there, done that – zero desire to go back). Returning from Croatia, I enjoyed a brief four days at home before heading to Reno to pick up my niece. It was rough packing for this upcoming trip, which included personal time and business. I must admit I didn’t give too much thought to the business attire as I grabbed a pair of pants that are 2 sizes too big and forgot dress shoes.  I’m going to go with jet lag on this one. Otherwise, there is no way I would have packed the way I did.

And here I go again. PDX -> SFO -> RNO.  Spent the one day in Reno with a sick kid (the non-traveling one) and getting my niece packed and ready to rock and roll Tuesday morning.

We left bright and early, long before the sun started to rise. We arrived in Denver with a little less than an hour to grab coffee and head to our gate. Murphy didn’t disappoint me. We arrived at B40 (about mid terminal), Starbucks is located in the regional terminal (about B80) and our flight to LaGuardia was departing from B20. She knew she had to hustle to keep up with me but wasn’t about to complain because she knows how cranky her aunt can be without her Starbucks. Thank goodness for moving sidewalks that allows for fast passage along the long terminal. Soon enough we were onboard and jetting towards New York. Because we were arriving during rush hour, I decided to stay close to LaGuardia and head into Manhattan in the morning.

It’s not really easy to get into Manhattan from LaGuardia. Okay – it’s easy enough, but expensive and even during the day – time consuming but I wasn’t in the mood to tackle the subway with luggage. At least we were staying at a nice hotel, the Sheraton New York in Times Square (not really but that’s what they advertise). It’s really on the fringe but a good location all the same. We dropped our bags off because New York isn’t typically a place you can check in early and we were on our way.

We started in Times Square. It is amazing to view this city from the lens of a tourist, rather than a business traveler. One of my client relationships is with a large professional services firm in the heart of the city and I’ve passed through Times Square many times without really looking. There are some strange (maybe unique is a better word) people that hang around. Who am I kidding? Just plain weird! We even ran into the Naked Cowboy. All I can say is what a way to make a living!

Of course, we did all the usual – Central Park (absolutely stunning in the fall), Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island,P11102689/11 Memorial, Empire State Building, Good Morning America, etc. I forgot how long it can take to do the touristy stuff, even in the off season. It was an exercise in patience for me. Waiting in line, going through security, waiting in line. The niece wasn’t used to walking and standing so every time we stopped for more than a minute, she was sitting down or leaning against a wall. I’m used to moving at my speed and she was used to my sister’s speed; which would resemble the tortoise and the hare. And there was the texting. Oy! Patience, patience, patience was the mantra playing over and over (and over) in my head all week. Part of the problem is she is a lot like me so it’s a bit like hanging out with yourself; the best of you and the not as great part of you.

Meanwhile, there was this storm approaching the Eastern seaboard. Usually I’m quite sensible but I was on vacation and to be fair, I wasn’t really watching the news and paying attention. Besides, who has to worry about a hurricane hitting Manhattan? Apparently, I needed to be worried about it. On Friday afternoon, as we were enjoying our frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity III, I received a text from my boss. She thought I should pay attention to the storm. In fact, she urged me to make alternate travel plans ASAP as all predictions were that it was going to hit NYC like Chris Brown a fat kid hitting a piñata with a baseball bat (did I ever mention when I was around 8 years old that I went to catechism with a friend and decided I wanted to become Catholic because they had a piñata? Oops, there I go again, getting off track…). Where was I? Yes, the storm. I wasn’t completely sold on the severity of this so-called hurricane because United had yet to issue a travel waiver. As I was hemming and hawing over what to do, the notification of a travel waiver came across. This, along with the dire warning from my boss (who happens to live in New Orleans and knows a thing or two about these kind of storms), I rang the 1K desk and rebooked us on a flight headed out Sunday instead of Monday evening. What made this so hard was missing Wicked Sunday afternoon. Looking back, I remember having the option of purchasing insurance “just in case” something happened but I opted not to. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Lost a pretty penny since I splurged on center stage, first row in the balcony (still hurts to think about it). But the thought of being stuck in New York with an 11 year old on the 29th floor with no power wasn’t appealing either.

As you can imagine, it was the one of the best decisions I ever made. We boarded our flight early Sunday morning (after a $100+ cab ride to Newark – again at o’dark thirty). There were so many people desperate to flee Sandy’s wrath. As we flew westward to LAX, I watched the clouds diminish and the bumpy ride smoothed out. Sure, I lost several hundred dollars, but we were safe and our family didn’t have to worry. Who knows how long it would have taken us to get home should we have decided to stay. Me and mini me made it home safe and sound and I actually got an additional day to relax before heading to Las Vegas for work. Things may not always go as planned, but this time we were lucky that Murphy allowed us to get home quickly and safely when so many didn’t.

Posted by: Michelle | November 28, 2012

Taking Stock of Stockholm… Quick Observations


I’m behind in my blogging. I started my NYC saga… err, blog… a few weeks ago. And I’ll finish it. Some day soonish. Probably. Maybe. That is the hope, but we’ll see. Life has a way of… heck, who am I kidding? It’s all about a short attention span and the fact that my brain goes too fast for my fingers so I lose interest quickly. Where is that Ritalin when I need it? Some days I miss it but I refuse to use medications when I can manage my ADHD on my own. Oh, look… it still is snowing. I need to change the channel. Eight minutes left of uploading my pictures from Dubrovnik to Shutterfly (surprised that I haven’t done that yet? Well, you ought not to be!). Still need to change the channel. New tweets to read. Dang it, I forgot to send the link to the designer. That’s done. Quick search of the channels and I’m still stuck on The Family Guy. Not my kind of show but it is the only English show on in Stockholm. I’m surprised to find anything other than BBC or CNN, which is the norm. Now where was I? That’s right. Initial impressions of my first day in Stockholm. (And you no longer wonder why I am behind on my blogging…)

Stockholm has been on my bucket list for awhile. So when it came time to go back to Copenhagen for work, I immediately thought of flying north for a few days to check it out for myself. Naturally, I wasn’t overjoyed at the thought of being here during the winter months but decided it would be part of the adventure. I am not a winter person; my preference is temps somewhere north of 75 degrees Fahrenheit. And snow, forget about it! I like it on postcards and that’s about it. My days of skiing have long since past (too many injuries).

I landed at 3:30 PM last evening. And I say evening because it was dark… as in “night” time dark. It took some time to get to the hotel so I had a brief venture out only because my stomach was growling. After another night of restless sleep (oxymoron, I know), I woke up late (8 AM, when the sun is starting to come out) so I knew I had to hustle and get outdoors in the few hours of light one is afforded this far north.

(Disclaimer: please note, that my “quick” observations doesn’t mean “short.”)

It was raining as promised (which was a bummer because before I left, the original forecast was for partly sunny and low to mid 40’s which sounded reasonable to me. It’s too bad you can’t hold the weather people accountable when they flub it up.). Any who…

I proceed outside, umbrella in hand. As I rounded the corner, it immediately went all “Linda Blair” on me (Exorcist reference). Great. With my head down, I held on to one side as the other one flapped in the wind, banging against the side of my head making sure I was soaked on that particular side. Surely, I’ll pass a story quickly where I can replace it. So one would think. First of all, most stores weren’t open. Second of all, not likely the wedding shops, hardware stores, book stores, pubs and cafes would likely be selling any kind of rain gear. It dawned on me about 15 minutes into my walk, that while looking downward, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, let along where I had been. This will make the day interesting but how lost can a person get? I’m not sure but I can answer how wet can a person get with a broken down umbrella in the wind. The answer is very, very wet.

I eventually ducked into an Espresso House (yes, I cheated on Starbucks… sorta, because there isn’t a Starbucks in Sweden except at the airport so one has to make due, sorta like a bird in the hand. Do not judge!). As I sat shivering, trying to warm up with a latte, I was feeling a bit out of sorts. This isn’t my usual style. I typically am very thoughtful when planning a trip and packing but this time, I didn’t think things through (again I was distracted by work, Thanksgiving and other things). I brought the wrong coat, wrong shoes, wrong gloves, cheap umbrella and forgot my bag I use to when I travel internationally because of the crap I need to carry with me. After mustering up some courage, I eventually went back outside and found a nearby mall which had a much needed umbrella. I did not go cheap this time and was assured this one could go upside down, backwards and still work. So far, so good.

Next on the list: gloves. I found some really cool ones that are warm but have all fingers sticking out, making it easy to use my iPhone. Check.

Then there was the coat issue. Did I really want to buy a coat? I mean, they can be expensive but the one I brought was too thin and definitely not waterproof. I went in and out of stores, hemming and hawing. I realized if I was going to enjoy this trip, I didn’t have much of a choice. It was coming down hard and it wasn’t going to stop. All the Swedish people where running around in nice, big, thick coats and I was green with envy. I managed to find a reasonably priced down coat, that was not only waterproof but went down to my knees. And let me tell you, I now know what they mean when they say it is the bees knees! Merry Christmas and happy birthday to me. The rest of the day was definitely better and infinitely warmer and dryer.

From what I could see from under my umbrella, Stockholm is amazing and very pretty. Reminds me a lot of Prague, with a lot of interesting architecture. Even better, the city is decked out for Christmas with lots of trees, lights and other decorations. I took some photos but was challenged in the rain with the wind and trying to hold up an umbrella. Hoping the weather clears up on Friday as promised so I can get some good pictures.

So far…

  • It is easy to get around on foot (I didn’t get lost or turned around once)
  • There is more water and more hills than I expected
  • There are less bikes than I anticipated
  • People are very friendly and polite (hold the doors open, etc.)
  • Cars will stop so you can cross the street (this doesn’t occur very often in most countries)
  • They like their coffee (as do I)
  • Most Swedes really are tall and good looking
  • The children I’ve seen are very well behaved and oh so cute in their snow suits
  • There is a 7-11 approximately every 500 feet
Image

My view from under the umbrella

Alas, the rain has turned to snow as predicted. Hoping for a better photo opp day tomorrow but will spend some time in a few museums, leaving Gamla Stand (Old Town) for Friday. But so far, I really love what I see despite what mother nature has rained down upon me. Get it? Rained as is reigned? Okay, maybe not.

Final side note: You all should be impressed! Except for some minor distractions, I pretty much sat down and typed this  in one sitting. A new record!

Posted by: Michelle | November 15, 2012

I’m going where?


My bucket list pretty much consists of places I want to go. I don’t have lofty goals such as “writing an Oscar winning script” or “climb Mt Everest”… but I do want to see as much of the world as possible. The more places I go, the more places I want to see. Now I can say there are a few places that aren’t on my list, mostly due to safety concerns (think Iraq) or extreme cold (think Antarctica). But I must confess that Croatia was not on my list. In fact, I actually wasn’t motivated or excited about going so I didn’t give it much thought until it was time to pack.

Getting to Dubrovnik from the Pacific Northwest is no easy feat. I flew across country to Dulles then on to Frankfurt before arriving in Dubrovnik some 26 hours later. (Don’t even get me started on the 6+ hour layover in DC!) The only upside to this was landing at 17:00 which meant by the time I arrived at the resort, checked in and unpacked, I could collapse. Typically, I land in Europe in the morning making it a very long day to stay awake in order to adjust to the time change. Thankfully, I avoided the whole immigration/customs in Frankfurt and Dubrovnik is so small (and it was off-season) it was easy to sail through in a matter of minutes. After boarding the bus, we were on our way to the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa Dubrovnik Sun Gardens, a mere 10 kilometers north of the old city. It was quite a ride, alongside the coast and mountains, often steep and windy, just what a person who suffers from motion sickness likes to avoid. (And I must admit, I thought about what it would be like to careen off the side of the mountain more than once.) But it was a stunning view, coming around the bend to see the sun setting on the old, walled city of Dubrovnik. Suddenly, I was happy to be there and hoped that the work part would pass quickly so I could get to the vacation part.

Thursday evening was my first opportunity to go into Dubrovnik. After the final day of the work part, my colleagues and I decided it was time to venture outside the resort for a much deserved good meal. The hotel recommended and made reservations for me and five of my comrades. As I was perusing the menu, the waiter brought over a rather large, smelly platter full of ugly fish. I turned up my nose and looked down at my menu deciding seafood was not an option this particular evening. Or so I thought. Apparently, when I tuned out the rest of the table talk I failed to realize that they ordered for the table. Yeah, that is so not going to happen. I’ll take that steak, thank you very much. Luckily for the waiter, he got his happy butt back to our table to take MY order. After dinner, we had about 40ish minutes to meander around the area before the resort shuttle came to whisk us back along the narrow, windy road. The white stones were bright under the lights and made me glad that I came and had 3 days of free time to roam around.

Checking out of the hotel Friday morning was not fun. For the first time ever, my card was declined. Now, I knew the billed was paid; I wasn’t over the limit so it had to be something else. After 30 minutes on the phone, the AMEX guy figured out what the issue was on the hotel’s end and I was free to go. I’m pretty sure the 20+ people behind me clapped as I left the reception area to head towards back to the Old City.

I had rented an apartment inside the walls. There is virtually one hotel within the walls and it was way outside my budget. The other options would involve a long walk and/or a bus or taxi ride. Of course, this became part of the adventure.

Things I was grateful for… the apartment owner met me at the Polcè Gate and carried my suitcase through the maze of narrow, cobbled streets and stone steps. As we walked, he shared the history of his home and recommended restaurants and places to visit. Once we arrived at the tiny apartment, he gave me the nickel tour then handed me the keys. Being anxious to get going, I grabbed my camera and headed out the door.

My intention that afternoon was to get acclimated and grab some food. After finding pizza (remember – I don’t like experimenting with food), I decided to head back and unpack. From the plaza, I knew I had to go half way up the stairs, down a ways, turn left, make another left, then right. I knew exactly where I needed to be and found my “street” (I use this term somewhat loosely because it is really the size of a sidewalk with lots of steps). So I proceed up the street and realize I don’t quite remember which door is mine. There are multiple green doors, and no numbers. I did recall seeing a Trip Advisor sticker but didn’t see one. I hesitate and walk back down. I’m positive this is the right street. There is the bench we passed. I go back up and back down. Twice. Finally, an older man yells down at me. I hadn’t noticed him sitting on a balcony over the street. Turns out he really didn’t speak English but he did seem amused with my predicament. Glad someone was laughing. It certainly wasn’t me. Finally, I decide to walk further up the steps and alas, there is my green door with the Trip Advisor sticker. It was much further up than I thought. It is so rare that I don’t pay attention to details and I certainly paid the price the next morning. Note to self: spend more time on the stair master at the gym.

Overall, I really liked Dubrovnik. It didn’t capture my heart the way Prague did, but I did enjoy my weekend. I’m not sold on the apartment thing but it was probably a good thing for me to “rough” it for a change. My biggest issue was the very small hot water tank (think military shower), tiny shower and dampness. The location, however, was awesome and made the little things tolerable. I think that you really only need a weekend to see what you need to see in Dubrovnik. I was more than ready to head out on Monday afternoon, especially after waking up to a torrential downpour that created a waterfall to cascade down the stone street that left me wondering how I would manage to carry my suitcase down all those steps to outside the city walls where I would have to pay a small fortune to get a taxi to the airport. (Wow, long run on sentence. Good thing this isn’t being graded!)

 
Can I just mention that I went an entire week sans Starbucks? Reality – eight days, 17 hours, 15 minutes (give or take). If I didn’t think I was addicted before, I can definitely state categorically that I am. Addicted to Starbucks. Again, sue me. All I know is I was never more excited to get off a plane, grab my bag and get my coffee. I exited customs in Munich and opened my trusty Starbucks app to locate the nearest store. Fortunately, I was virtually on top of it. I look to the right and there she was, the green goddess of coffee. I ordered my drink, taking care to speak slowly and carefully so that it was made right. I didn’t want to wait again should it be wrong. Since I was the only customer, she chatted with me as she rang me up. She said I sounded like a true coffee connoisseur; if she only knew. Well, she probably figured it out when I came back 10 minutes later to order another one. “Did you drop it?” she asked. Umm, no. I drank it. After getting my second fix, I headed out to catch the shuttle. Holy mother of … , it is … freezing out here. Nothing like a 40 degree temperature to make you feel alive. I’m so not ready for winter. It certainly doesn’t help that I drink my coffee cold.

 

Turns out I really like the Munich airport. So much easier to deal with than Frankfurt… I must remember this for future travel. I was excited to get home, if only for four days before I was headed out again for another 10 days and another adventure.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Michelle | November 3, 2012

Where are my Ruby Slippers?


Home, sweet home. Home is where the heart is. There’s no place like home. We’ve all heard these lines, said these lines but I’m not sure I’ve ever really felt it so deep down with all my being. It is kind of strange – I’ve certainly been away from home for much longer periods of time however this time feels differently.

Just like everything in my life, it feels like it is all or nothing. This certainly applies to travel. After very little travel over the summer and going a little stir crazy, I hit the road with a vengeance in August and haven’t looked back. October was particularly bad – being home a total of 6 days the entire month (it all started on September 30 and ended early morning on November 2).  From Myrtle Beach to Las Vegas, Dubrovnik to New York, I feel like I’ve been in a constant state of perpetual motion.

After our vacation in New York was cut short due to Hurricane Sandy, I returned my niece to Reno before heading south to Vegas for work. Side note: why clients hold conferences in Vegas is beyond me, but throw Halloween in the mix and you get some very hung over (and still drunk) people going through training so how much they retained on day 2 is yet to be determined. Anyway… I was less than thrilled to be boarding a plane for anywhere but home. But I did. And I survived.

When we finally touched down early Friday morning, I stepped off the plane and inhaled the fresh air and was over the moon that I was going to sleep in my own bed, even if only for a few nights. I was less than thrilled to check my email later in the day and find a reminder that I’m leaving o’dark early on Monday. I hadn’t even brought my suitcase upstairs and unpacked before reading those ominous words from TripIt “pack your bags, your trip to Denver starts Monday.” Sigh.

While I was away, it rained 7 inches the month of October but the sun came out Friday morning and lit up the colorful trees and I was happy to see that although some trees lost their leaves, there are still plenty of fall left to see. It really is gorgeous up here and unlike seeing the colors in New York, this is my HOME. I should have gone out yesterday and took pictures with the sunshine but I think you can still appreciate why I’m happy to be back.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Michelle | September 5, 2012

Just when you thought it was safe to enter the water…


It’s been awhile since I’ve had a blog worthy day. This is mostly due to a lull in travel over the summer, which is typical in my line of work. Whilst I enjoy being home, there comes a time where I need to get on that big metal bird and fly somewhere that isn’t here. So after three weeks at home, I was more than ready to head off to Baltimore for a two day meeting. Or so I thought…

A few days before taking off, a colleague asked me to join her to do some discovery work for a new client. Sounded good in theory but was a little more than challenging to pull off. This was due in part to the locations (Springboro, OH and Allentown, PA) and the timing. I booked a flight departing Baltimore via Charlotte to Cincinnati at o’dark thirty (5 am) with a 40 minute layover landing at 9 am. The reality of catching a 5 am flight hit me Tuesday morning. This became a moot point when I checked my email Tuesday during the morning break. An email from one of the two colleagues I was meeting advised that there had been a change of plans and they were meeting Tuesday night in Cincinnati instead of Wednesday morning. Although I detested early morning flights, the thought of rebooking, packing and catching a flight that evening wasn’t exactly appealing. I was looking forward to a nice, leisurely dinner along the harbor and a workout. I could also picture my suitcase, unpacked and disorganized since I had the evening to repack. Oh, I had the option of getting in Wednesday morning. It came with renting a car and driving 50 some odd miles to Springboro. Seemed like a waste of money as well as something that could be a wee bit dangerous giving the early hour of my impending departure. Alright, I’m in. So here came the fun part – walking the six blocks to the hotel, packing, checking out, and lugging my bag across “quaint” stoney walkways and wooden planks. In the heat. All within an hour. I was sweating bullets by the time I arrived back at the meeting with about two minutes to spare. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about hitting traffic (we were ending at 4 pm) and I could catch a ride with a consultant who booked a car.

At least I had time to grab a bit to eat. Okay, I admit it.. time for Starbucks. To be honest, I could have cared less about dinner. I found a place to sit to answer my email when our plane pulled up. Immediately, I could hear my inner voice saying “no, no, no, no.” This is NOT happening to me. As it turns out, it was no joke. It was – in fact – a US Airways plane dedicated to The Steelers. I.Hate.The.Steelers. Truly.Hate.Them. I rarely fly any other carrier than United, but this was an instance where I needed to fly another Star Alliance carrier. But I knew I had to suck it up. It was a completely full flight and I had a nice (big) fella sitting in the middle seat. I felt sorry for him, he had to be uncomfortable. At least it was a short flight to Charlotte and I couldn’t wait to get out of the cramped quarters. I had a little over an hour and it was a good thing as it was quite the walk (note to self: allow ample time to change planes in Charlotte). Strangely enough, I ran into a client. Small world. Enjoyed a few minutes of catching up before I was off (and up) again.

Finally arrived at Cincinnati (Kentucky in reality) around midnight. Since I was near the front and I tend to walk fast, I was leading the pack to baggage claim. It was a large airport but very quiet. It was another long walk and long escalator ride down two levels. I jump on the train. It seemed strange I was the only person on it but maybe I am just that fast. I should have known better. Instead of heading towards baggage, I was headed further out to another terminal. Greaattt… As it turns out, I needed to make a sharp right off the escalator and take another one back up to get to where I needed to be. In my defense, the signs weren’t that obvious. Or I could have been that tired. Or both. After all, it was past midnight and my bedtime.

Fast forward to 7 am. Bleary eyed, I met with my colleagues (who were bright-eyed and bushy tailed since they arrived much earlier than me). All I could think of was Starbucks (I realize that it wasn’t unusual for me but the need was much greater). Steve programs the GPS for the nearest Starbucks. So we’re off and we find ourselves at the airport. Yeah, this really isn’t going to work. Surely we’ll find another one between here and there. We head back out the airport by the Marriott (where we stayed) which was across the interstate. Strange, but okay. We circle back around and head the road away from the interstate. It a matter of minutes, we are on a windy, two lane road, surrounded by dense trees and a shear drop-off. This goes on for several miles. We gradually see a few “houses” (I use this term loosely as many looked more like shacks, one even had a plastic NASCAR race car on top of the roof. Wonder why I never thought of doing that? That’s right, I don’t like NASCAR). We were all wondering about the routing the nice GPS lady was directing us on. I even muttered “and they were never seen or heard from again” as I watched the minutes tick by seeing my hopes of going to Starbucks diminish. All of sudden, we were told to make a left and we were on a dirt road facing the Ohio River. I jokingly said “what? are we suppose to get on a ferry?” when we noticed the sign. Sure enough, we were directed to Anderson Ferry. This isn’t really going to work for us, so we back up and head back to the interstate (via the Marriott making me feel a little like Clark Griswold “look kids, there’s Big Ben and Parliament”). Better to take the time to program the damn thing properly the first time. By now, we are under an hour and 55 miles to go.

So here I go! No Starbucks (or caffeine in any form, a very bad omen), 5 hour meeting, back in the car, hit traffic slowing us down to a crawl, arrive at the airport with a few spare moments (fortunately just enough time to grab Starbucks that was long, LONG overdue). Back on the plane, off to Philadelphia. Off the plane, back in a car (85 miles this time to Allentown via the turnpike), check in and collapse. Lather, rinse, repeat. Never mind, it just shows the frame of mind after relentless movement over the past 24 hours.

Thursday morning. I’ve been waiting for you since Sunday when I started this little trip. Fortunately for all, there was a Starbucks across the street so come hell or high water, I was going and no one was going to stop me. (Caffeine headaches are a bitch!) Another long meeting, car ride (heavier traffic during daylight hours), check in, plane ride, layover in Houston, another lengthy plane ride and then finally, I look out the window and see Mt Hood. I’m home. Has it only been five days? Yes, five days, seven states, six airports, two cars, three hotels and four layovers. Not in that order but you get the drift. By the time I got home, I really didn’t know if I was coming or going but fortunately my car knew the way home. I was barely conscious. Probably not a good thing but it happens.

And I saved the best for last. We didn’t need to drive 55 miles to Springboro. We could have flown through Dayton and saved ourselves 70 miles (round trip) and even better, we could have flown into Allentown, PA and been within two miles of the airport (instead of 85). Next time, I’m in charge of traveling. I mean, it was nice to drive through the countryside but I lost several hours of valuable work time lending to a very long Friday and weekend. As for GPS, I’m not convinced. Every experience has been an “experience” that hasn’t been positive.

I’ve missed the travel but didn’t need to make it all up in one week. It’s the whole “be careful what you wish for” it just might come true.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Michelle | July 4, 2012

Do You Want Fries With That?


Berlin was an add-on to my European vacation. After booking Amsterdam and Prague, a client booked a meeting in Berlin and since I was “in the general vicinity” it was decided that I should attend. This was fine by me – an additional three days of sightseeing on somebody else’s dime. What’s not to like? Yes, I’ll have fries with that!

Admittedly, the expectations were set high after Amsterdam and Prague. I’ve visited other parts of Germany and spent a brief 2 days in Berlin many, many moons ago so I was looking forward to going back. After a brief overnight in Amsterdam, we were back in the air on our way to Berlin bright and early. I must say, the Berlin airport was small, dark and dingy. The drive to the hotel wasn’t much better. Although there were a lot of greenbelts along the way, they weren’t well taken care of. The buildings appeared to be your average, run-of-the-mill type, nothing fancy or unique. In fact, most looked identical. This was not the city I remembered. It didn’t help that it was cloudy and cool with a steady drizzle.

Our cab driver was a friendly sort of guy, originally from Ghana but had lived in Berlin for over 25 years. He said he loved “his” city so I was hopeful that once we started touring we would also appreciate what she had to offer. Because the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon and the temperature hovering around 50° F, we decided it would be a good museum day. As luck would have it, we were within a few short blocks of Museuminsel, a museum complex located on an island in the middle of the city. After purchasing a museum pass, we spend many hours going through just 4 of the top 10. We started at the Alte Nationalgalerie which houses paintings and sculptures. I was relieved to be inside, out of the cold rain. We had to put our belongings (both of us carried large bags – a strict “no no”) into a locker and proceeded up our first of many, many staircases that day. As we went through the various halls, I finally warmed up enough to remove my light jacket (I wore multiple layers). Immediately, a stern looking guard approached me. I could tell by the look on his face he wasn’t happy however I didn’t know why as he rambled on in German. I shrugged my shoulders as an apology and stated I didn’t understand German. He continued to verbally berate me in German and I walked away. In the next room, we could see the security guard speaking into their collar watching us intently. Now we were getting paranoid. Finally, a woman approached me again and stated I must leave my coat on. Wow, really? By now I was quite warm but decided I didn’t need another international incident so I reluctantly put it back on. It still didn’t prevent the evil-eyed stares from virtually every guard as we entered each room as if we were some kind of threat to the artwork and/or Germans. Between the warmth and the stares, I was more than ready to move on. We picked up our stuff and headed next door to the Neues Museum. This one held an extensive Egyptian artifact collection. I had certainly learned my lesson at the previous building so I removed all my layers in order not to get in trouble with the personnel at this location. This time it seems my reputation did not precede me making this visit less stressful. This was my favorite museum however it was lacking one thing – mummies! (At the Museum of Natural History in London, they have actual mummies on display.) Next was Pergamonmuseum, which was the most crowded. This one had a special exhibit on Greece. By now, the mileage was starting to wear us out a bit. The last one we visited was the Bode museum which had more paintings and sculptures. Sad to say we only managed the ground floor. We stopped and looked at the large marble staircase but neither one of us could bring ourselves to actually climb it.

Wearily, we shuffled back to the hotel. The weather had not improved but the next day was supposed to be warmer and sunnier. Because there wasn’t a lot of restaurant options nearby, we opted to hop in a cab and head to the Hard Rock Café. I know, I know. This isn’t local and very touristy. However, I collect the guitar pins and never pass up the opportunity to pick one up if there is one nearby. Besides, haven’t I mentioned I’m a picky eater? Currywurst? Bratwurst? Um, no. I’ll take a good old-fashioned American cheeseburger any day of the week. So sue me.

The next day we signed up for the hop on, hop off bus tour. Because Berlin is so big and everything is so spread out, we decided this would give us the best opportunity to see the sights without having to navigate the subway or bus system. Whilst the sun did show up as promised, it was still quite cool and we decided not to expose ourselves to the brisk breeze on the open upper deck. I promptly lost my ticket (so unlike me) and hoped that it would be enough to show my credit card receipt. We managed to see the big sights – Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, and Schloss Charlottenburg to name a few.

We had saved the afternoon for Checkpoint Charlie, the Jewish Museum and of course, the Berlin Wall. The Jewish Museum consists of 2 buildings. The older building has the typical architecture one would expect to find while the newer addition is very modern. Designed by Daniel Libeskind, it has several meaningful exhibits representing what the Jewish people experienced during the Holocaust. The building itself is a maize with halls and stairs that go nowhere and from the outside looks like it was put together haphazardly. Inside, there are several Voids; without air conditioning, heat or light are isolating. One of these areas is filled with round, iron “faces.” You really stop to think as the mere 10,000 are a drop in the bucket when you think of the millions who perished. The Garden of Exile is a made up of concrete pillars of different heights and sizes. When walking through this “garden” one feels off balance and a little dizzy. This was representing how the survivors felt when the war was over and they had no place to go. Russian Olives grow on top of the pillars representing hope. Like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC it really makes you think about the atrocities of war. Next we headed to Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall Museum. As with most historical sites, there is a bit of tacky tourism at work. There were American “soldiers” you could pose with. Seems a bit silly to me, but what do I know? The Wall Museum was small and quite crowded. There was a lot of information written on the walls in German and English, along with hundreds of photos. There were all sorts of contraptions used to smuggle people from East Berlin to West Berlin. Hard to believe it wasn’t that long ago the wall stood, dividing the city and the risks people took to escape the oppression of the Communist government. An entire room was dedicated to President Reagan with a video loop playing his famous speech ending with “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” With commercialism well at work here, one can buy a small chunk of the wall, be it a on a keychain, magnet or in a jar. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some small factory breaking of bits of concrete to fool the tourists into thinking they were getting a piece of the actual wall. At any rate, I opted for a few postcards showing old Berlin and new Berlin and a book.

Keeping in mind that much of Berlin was destroyed by the Allies, it was still fairly blah in terms of architecture in most areas. However, when one thinks about the history it is certainly worth a visit but I wouldn’t say it was one of my favorites. Overall, I didn’t find the Germans all that friendly and some were in fact quite hostile making me feel like I was back in Paris. The most friendly Germans were those who immigrated to the country from the Middle East or Africa. They loved Berlin with a ferocity that I couldn’t understand but could appreciate that they live in and experience a different city than I visited.

Monday afternoon we were off again, this time to Frankfurt. You see, the client moved the meeting and I only found out two weeks before we left. Rather than spend those additional days in Frankfurt (I’ve been there, done that twice), I decided to keep with the original program and visit Berlin. And I’m glad I did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: Michelle | June 23, 2012

I Heart Prague


Virtually every city in the world sells tee shirts and oodles of other paraphernalia from key chains to bags to lanyards that proclaim “I “heart” [insert heart graphic here] wherever you are at. Some go as far as to use the three letter airport code (SYD for Sydney for example). Personally, no city has ever moved me enough to make such a declaration. But I do “heart” Prague, even if I did not purchase any tacky souvenirs.

I had high expectations for Prague based on endorsements from many friends. I’m happy to say Prague did not disappoint in anyway. We landed at the airport on the outskirts of town mid morning and hopped in a cab to head into the city. Shortly, we were in Mala Strana an area of the Old Town, just below Prague Castle. The narrow cobblestone street led up a hill to the Hotel Golden Star, a unique hotel situated just below Prague Castle. Despite the early flight from Amsterdam to Prague the day after Queen’s Day I was anxious to explore. Best of all, the sun was out and it was warm. Even though it wasn’t quite noon, I was feeling the effects of an early flight after a full day of walking in Amsterdam. Lunch sounded like a good idea. But then we are back to the what to eat that’s not fries or pizza, a continuing saga for those who don’t have a wide palette. This was easily solved when we spotted a French cafe that served baguettes. Just slap a little jambon and fromage on it and I’m a happy camper (in other words, ham and cheese). Boring for some, but it works for me. This and a coke (with ice) gives me the energy to start exploring. We started down the hill and happened upon a church, St. Nicholas, a roman catholic church. Granted, I’m not a religious person but I do enjoy the architecture and beauty of churches. This particular Baroque church was completed in 1735. There was a nominal fee to go inside. I wandered upstairs to take in the view and leaned over a railing to take a photo. As I stood up, my bag got caught on a pedestal, causing a huge racket. Suddenly there was a guard behind me looking rather stern as I sheepishly slunk away mumbling an apology. I could feel his eyes on me as I continued to walk around so I thought it was best to move on. Back outside, it had really begun to heat up and I had to remind myself not to complain about the heat after freezing in Amsterdam. We proceeded to wander around Mala Stran (Lesser Town). We happened upon a unique gift shop called Blue, which we would end up visiting multiple times. Eventually, we made our way to Charles Bridge, a pedestrian thoroughfare crossing the Vltava River over to Old Town. The 13th century bridge is full of vendors selling souvenirs, artists and musicians. There are multiple statues, all in need a good cleaning on both sides of the bridge representing various historical figures (mostly religious). In fact, several had lines of faithful catholic parishioners rubbing said statues, saying a prayer, no doubt looking for some kind of blessing that will enrich their life.

Because the day was so warm, I opted for an evening shower. This, as you know, can be an experience in itself and I was not disappointed. First, the shower was at least a foot high so it was a rather large step up. The shower itself was probably 3’ by 3’ with two sliding doors that met in the corner and did not provide a good seal (can you see the handwriting on the wall?). I turned on the two faucets and waited for the water to be not too hot or too cold. Once the temperature was just right, I decided I needed more water pressure so I slowly turned up the faucet and without warning the shower head that was pointed downward turned full force aimed squarely at my face before jettisoning over my head hitting the wall, towel rack and pretty much everything else in the bathroom soaking everything but me. I let out a squeal and turned it off. Score one for Murphy and the shower. I proceed to turn the water back on, slowly which meant the shower head drooped against the wall (not very contusive for showering purposes) or aimed squarely above me if turned on too high. This was a battle of wills with the shower winning. So do I hug the wall and have ¼ of my body under the water or do I hold the blasted thing and try to wash my hair and shave my legs with one hand. Dang those Europeans and their handheld shower heads. I haven’t been that frustrated taking a shower since… well, the last time I was in Europe. Too bad you can’t take one with you but I assume they wouldn’t let you on the plane. And if you are thinking that is part of the adventure of travelling you’d be right, but it doesn’t make it any more fun. Just wet.

The next day, we signed up for a 6 hour walking tour around the city. Our group consisted of three married couples and Aliena and I. It was an interesting group – one from the UK (retired), one from Canada (owners of a Bed and Breakfast) and a doctor and his wife from Dubai. The woman from Dubai wore high heels (ha ha! I typed “hells” and realized this was truly a Freudian slip), tight jeans and long sleeves. She didn’t seem miserable but I was just looking at her. It was hot and we walked several miles. I would have been sitting on the ground in a puddle of sweat and tears if it were me. We started at Old Town Square, walked through the Jewish Ghetto, saw many a churches, had lunch in a medieval dungeon, went up to Prague Castle, meandered back through Lesser Town back across Charles Bridge ending up where we started. Exhausting as the day was, we headed out again to meet Aliena’s cousin who lives in Prague. He took us to a rooftop bar overlooking the city. Of course the rain soon materialized and we were seated a table without a cover. Nothing like slamming a drink down and running for cover (I did pause to take the most gorgeous picture of a double rainbow over the city)! Of course, the rain was over by the time we took the lift down and headed down the street to a local pizzeria. Afterwards we enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to our hotel on the other side of the river. The humid evening and clouds made the Old Town Square look like the Forum shops at the Caesar’s in Las Vegas but I was happy to know that I was in Prague and not a stuffy casino. The castle was stunning at night and despite multiple attempts, I could not capture its beauty.

We were departing the next afternoon for Berlin (via Amsterdam) and I was exhausted. It was tempting to sleep in and find a café to hang out in but I convinced myself that I needed to make the most of my visit so I headed out early, including a walk downhill to Starbucks and back up again to do some more exploring beyond the castle. I found another church – Loreta. I paid the small entry fee and an additional €6 to take pictures. The cashier handed me a lanyard to wear indicating I paid the photo fee. Not that it mattered. Almost everyone I saw had a camera and took many snapshots yet I was the only one who appeared to pay for the privilege. One woman in particularly, made a big to-do about making the sign of the cross and kneeling in the chapels, yet had no problem breaking the rules by taking pictures. I must admit I enjoyed getting in several of her shots. I find it completely frustrating when some people feel that they are exempt from the rules and basically do whatever they feel like doing. These are the same people who don’t turn off their electronics before take-off and… well, I won’t go there.

Despite the fact it took me several weeks to finish this blog (I actually started whilst I was in Germany), it in no way reflects how I felt about Prague. I’ll always remember what a beautiful city it is and count it among my all-time favorite places.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I’ve often wondered about those individuals you find sleeping at the airport. Often times, they are laid out like yesterday’s laundry taking up valuable space that could otherwise be occupied by several others. Even worse, are the ones on the floor using carry-on luggage as a pillow. What on earth would possess a person to do such a thing? Well (as you may have gathered by now) I know the answer. They were probably late for a flight (through no fault of their own) and were denied compensation by the airline and couldn’t afford a hotel so they were left to fend for themselves. That’s what happened to me – except I could afford a hotel. I just choose to spend the night at the airport. Seriously, by the time I found a hotel, took a shuttle or taxi and checked in I would have around 3 hours before I would have to get up and come back to the airport. Why bother? Besides, I’m just mad enough that I doubt I would sleep anyway.

I can hear by mother now, telling me this is just a “bump” in the road and there is a life lesson in there, somewhere, just for me (no doubt it’s that stupid patience issue). And I know, in the grand scheme of life, it is merely a blip on the screen but it’s my screen and I don’t like it dirty. I like things neat and orderly. AND ON TIME!!!

I flew to LA for the day, really for a few measly hours to attend a meeting. Sure, it was a long day but nice that I could go and come back in one day. YOU HEAR THAT, MURPHY? (Pretty sure I hear his evil laugh in the background.) This morning was great, awesome in fact. Beautiful day, sun was out and despite the onslaught of summer travelers (longer lines, slower lines, screaming brats who don’t want to be in line, you know what I mean) I was feeling good. No bag to check, premier lane at security was long but efficient and no line at Starbucks. Both flights were on time and the day flew by. Until I checked my flight status, which is kind of funny since it said on time yet I always click on “where is the flight coming from?” and what do you know, the flight coming from SFO to LAX going back to SFO was delayed. An hour and 15 minutes late (to be exact) arriving at 7:27 with my flight departing on time at 7:29. Because this wasn’t my first rodeo, I decided to keep an eye on it. Once my flight said delayed “30 minutes” I knew I was hosed. “30 minutes” for United always turns into an hour plus. This one turned into over two hours. To make it more interesting, once our plane actually landed and deplaned, there was an issue so they took the plane out of service. Lucky for us (United’s word, not mine), we just had to shift down 2 gates (which was the equivalent of 6 because of the restaurants and stores). So 200 people shuffled down to the new gate where this “new” plane was waiting “ready to go.” By this time, our 8:22… 8:23… 8:26… 8:29… 8:33… make it 8:53 departure (I kid you not – I have the text messages to prove it) was looking rather bleak. It was 8:42 and the crew was just boarding to begin their safety check (15 minutes) before we could board. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. Now I know it’s out of my control, whatever will be, will be… yada, yada, yada but I wanted to get home and sleep in my own bed. I was amazed that boarding went rather quickly for a 757. But then… wait for it… the catering wasn’t delivered so we had to wait for that. Like we couldn’t fly for an hour without it. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Now several people are restless, wondering if they would make their connections. Finally, the catering dudes shut the side door and we let out a collective sigh of relief. It’s 9:10 maybe we’ll make it after all. At 9:20 we’re still sitting at the gate. The door to the cockpit is open and the flight attendants are chatting amongst themselves. REALLY?? Finally, the woman next to me asked what was going on and we were told our push back time was 9:25. I wanted to whine like the many children I saw today and ask “wwwhhhhyyyy????” but I refrained. It’s out of my control, right? Things could be worse, right? I could be sick, I could be poor, I could be without a job… whatever. I just wanted to go home. So sue me.

Miracles do happen. I believe! Wheels touched down at SFO at 10:25. Sweet Georgia Brown! My flight is at 10:45 and my gate is literally across from where we arriving. The flight attendant made sure that I was first and could head out the door. It was half open and I was out like a shot, up the ramp and through the door. I could see the monitor “Portland” and 50 steps I was at the door. Which was closed. And not a soul to be found as my plane pushed back. INSERT EXPLECTIVE HERE. I turned around and stomped down to customer service. The woman sweetly informed me I was booked bright and early on the 5am flight. Gee, thanks. Oh and “we’re sorry” but we are “out” of hotel rooms and meal vouchers. But I did get you upgraded to First Class. Wow, really? I was already in First I mumbled as I watched the plane taxi by the window. I really did want to throw myself on the ground and kick and scream but decided I needn’t make a scene. After all, if I’m going to be on the evening news, it’s going to be because I won the lottery not for being an idiot.

My most favorite part of my story is the part where I went to customer service inside the United Club and tried to get on an earlier flight and the nice gentleman informed me I would make my flight with no trouble so he wouldn’t change my flight. “You’ve got plenty of time!” I wish, more than anything, that I had his home number. I would love to call him right about now…

I really do get that this a nothing more than a minor inconvenience and there are oodles of people in the world that have real problems but everyone has those moments where they feel like the world is against them. I always think where there is a fire and a family loses everything, someone always says “yeah, but it’s just stuff.” Easy to say when it’s not your “stuff.” Sure, being alive is the MOST important but trust me, if you lost everything you owned in a fire it is no longer just stuff. Not that my day is anything remotely even close to a fire, accident or the like. But it just feels like a really BAD day and I can’t even lay down and go to sleep and wake up to a better one tomorrow. That will come later, when I finally do make it home. Fingers crossed that Murphy will pester someone else tomorrow. I’ve had enough “fun” to last at least the rest of the summer… You hear me, Murphy? Stay. Away.

At least I can cross “sleeping at the airport” off my bucket list… Oh wait, it wasn’t on there so I’ll just chalk it up to another one of life’s great adventures. Just kidding, I love my life. Really. No, really. I do. To quote myself “if you didn’t have a bad day now and again, you wouldn’t appreciate the good ones.” Bet you didn’t know I was so profound. Or tired. Whatever. Maybe I should quit whilst I’m ahead.


Yah, yah, yah. I realize I’m about as close to a princess as George Clooney. But you feel like a bit of the royalty culture when celebrating the Dutch holiday Queen’s Day. Obviously, we don’t have an official royal family in the USA but I am fascinated by the countries that still have a monarchy, regardless of the political power they may or may not possess. So when Rachel suggested we schedule our visit around Queen’s Day, we decided to see what it was all about. I will say I had a bit of hesitation as I do not like crowds and I’m not much of a partier by nature, but it definitely sounded like a once in a lifetime – bucket list –  type of opportunity and if I survived the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, I can surely handle the Dutch celebration.

First and foremost, you must wear orange. The name of the first royal family was Oranje hence the tradition began – and we’re talking ORANGE, as in the bright kind of orange. I set out to find an orange tee shirt and was amazed how many shades of orange there was: melon, rust, burnt, etc. but finding “orange” was tough. I managed to find one on my many, many trips to Chicago but as it turns out, I ended up buying an orange tee shirt in Amsterdam anyway. Rachel bought us an orange hat and her friends from Germany bought us orange leis so we were all set.

The weather certainly hadn’t cooperated the first three days we were in The Netherlands however, Queen’s Day turned out to be a great weather day, the kind that would have made Goldilocks happy – not too hot, not too cold but just right. The evening before, the rain dissipated as we meandered around the city to check out the evening festivities. It started with dinner where we met up with a friend of Rachel’s and her friend. Both had driven up from Germany where they live with their military husbands. The five of us got to know each other a bit before setting out as the sunset over the city. Rachel led the way, seeking some good music and perhaps partake in a local beer. There were bands playing on virtually every corner, some with a small gathering, some with a large crowd. No matter your nationality or taste in music, there was virtually something for everyone. Rachel told us that as the evening wore on, you would hear more Dutch music with rowdy drunk people singing along. We didn’t stay too long in any one area but slowly made our way around, stopping and listening occasionally and always people watching. Because we had a full day touring (Anne Frank Huis, Zaanse Schans, etc.) we didn’t stay out too late. The girls got their one beer and we made our way to Centraal Station where we parted ways with Elyisa and Trish. The noise followed us all the way to Rachel’s apartment where we fell into bed and drifted off to sleep as the party continued around us.

The next morning we donned our orange gear, cameras and other necessities before heading out. Fortunately, the celebration is throughout the city so there was no one place we had to be at any particular time. Of course, I had to get my morning coffee so we stopped at the Starbucks concept store near Rembrandt Square. The long was fairly long and full of people wearing orange. So far, so good. We hadn’t encountered any large crowds (they make me feel claustrophobic) and I was enjoying seeing all the different expressions of orange from the normal to the outrageous. The crowds started getting a bit thicker as we got closer to Vodel Park. We could see that the canal was starting to fill with boats and it was getting harder to maneuver through the crowded streets. We met Elyisa and Trish near the Hard Rock Café and sat in the patio area for a quick bite and a drink.

Next stop was the Iamsterdam for a Kodak moment. It was literally crawling with revelers so we got our picture and moved on. We then moved on to Vodel Park, where the crowd turned into more families with loads of children selling all sorts of toys and clothing. There were several booths where kids who were a little more ingenious with earning some money with games. My favorite was three kids who had a ladder, PVC pipe, a table and a sledge hammer. One girl stood atop the ladder and inserted a tomato into the pipe which was angled with the end on a small table. The tomato would shoot out and the contestant would attempt to smash the tomato with the hammer. A boy stood ready and the end and caught it if it was missed. They didn’t have a lot of tomatoes but it turns out, it wasn’t needed. There was evidence of one smashed tomato but after observing for several minutes, it was clear it was a lot harder that I looked. Many people were waiting their turn so I can only assume they made some good money. There were others who performed, a few that painted nails or did face painting. The park was quite crowded so you had to be careful where you stepped. Here we met up with a few more friends of Rachel’s. After spending some time in the park, we parted ways with the group. The three of us decided we needed to sit a spell and get some food, water and a toilet break. We found a small French café with an open table outside giving our feet a much needed break.

As we slowly headed back to Niewmarket, we stopped along one of the larger canals to watch those who were on boats. By this time, they weren’t moving and you could literally cross the canal by walking across the boats. Further down, we ran into a massive crowd. In the distance, we could see a small stage with a band rocking out. Rather than try and penetrate the partiers, we turned around and took the long way back to the apartment.

My impression of Queen’s Day would be much like what I image Mardi Gras to be minus the floats and beads. There is an energy when people gather to celebrate, forgetting their worries if only for a few hours and let themselves be happy and enjoy the company of friends and strangers. There were some strange costumes, a little over the top perhaps but in the spirit of being Dutch (if only for a day) it is a good excuse to express yourself however you chose to. Except for the urinals placed strategically around the city which not only reeked by the end of day but are not a great visual, I had a great time participating in a local tradition. Although it wasn’t on my bucket list, I have since added it and crossed it off. It may sound silly but there are unique experiences that few get to have and typically, if one happens to experience something like Queen’s Day, it only come around once in a lifetime.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Categories