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Rhine - Day Twelve - Homeward Bound and Travel Thoughts PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 07 October 2013 18:14

I think it was the dread of traveling again via air that kept me awake most the night. After all, I’m dealing with all the crap, along with a wife with a broken wing. In preparation, we repacked everything down and condensed it into our two checkins and one carry bag. One very heavy carry bag. And I’m the bag who carries it.

The driver was on time – thank goodness – but dropped us at the wrong terminal. Yes, we were flying UNITED AIRLINES but it was actually Lufthansa. This mean a good hike to our checkin gate. I found a cart so we could move the bags quicker, had JB tuck into my back (protecting her arm) and off we went. Got the tickets okay, then the guy at the counter pulled a fast one – he moved our flight up from 11am to 7:10am, now boarding. We should be able to make it. Sharp kid.

Security was light, we moved quickly, we walked the treadways, and made the gate just at final boarding. Whew. I mother-henned JB all the way to Frankfurt (giving the guy next to her the evil eye – nudge my wife and I’ll keeel you). But no stress, and the Indians say – we got onto Frankfurt with hours to spare, got through customs, and did a little final shopping for the folks back home.

The final flight was pretty easy (as transatlantic flights with a broken arm can be). We lucked out – on a packed flight, the seat next to JB was empty. She could rest her arm on pillows and sleep. Got home on time, the limo was there, we were in the door as expected.

The cat lingered around the corner of the door frame, watching, clearly thinking, “Who the F…?”

 

So…

Overall, we had a pretty fun trip. The cruise with Avalon was everything we could have imagined it to be. Wonderful food, wonderful friends, great sights, and our own little room every night. Perfect.

Corporations I’m pissed off:

UNITED AIRLINES: Couldn’t find their asses with both hands. Four chances to get us to Zurich and they blew the lot of them. I finally got one of their help desk people to write me, and after two tries and the picture of their mismarked tram sign, they finally agreed to forward it to the group that manages the Newark Concourse. It’s not that I’m simply unhappy – I’m a lifetime enemy now.

TRAVEL INSURED INTL: If this wasn’t a corporation, if it was a person, I would call them out on the street and beat them. What were you thinking, quibbling and ducking like you did while my wife suffered a broken arm 4000 miles from home? I’ve let my travel agent know exactly what you did, everyone on the cruise knows what you did, and I’ll pass it along (by word and blog) until I die.

AVALON CRUISE LINES: Okay, I’m pissed with your lack of contingency planning – nobody knew what to do for an on-board injury. We wasted a lot of time trying to work a trip home through you, wasted time that could have been spent better. On the other hand, Cruise Director Ninki showed up at our room to check on JB. While this might have been corporate damage control, I’m thankful enough for her compassion to give you a break on this one. We’ll probably book with you in future. Just get the laundry up out of the halls, okay?

GO TRAVEL: Lucienne set us up for our vacation, booklets, travel books, advice, everything. She got us on our ship for our anniversary when all other means were closed. She’s a dynamite lady and I’m grateful for her in her following up with the insurance trolls.

So, fellow travelers – some advice:

1)      Use travel agencies. They can really do a lot of that self-service work for you, and can get you ins that the internet can’t.

2)      If flying overseas, always make your transatlantic flight first, then short-hop it to your final destination. Why? If you miss a connection, there are more alternatives for that short hop (even trains). When we missed our Zurich flight, we had to wait 20 hours for the next.

3)      When coming home, always make your transatlantic flight last. American Security is an officious impediment, and you will have trouble making connections and going through customs, security, and so on. Last time, when we came through Charlotte, we went through five levels of customs/security/anal probes, just to get dumped outside the security perimeter and have to come back through.

4)      If anything happens, an injury or sickness, DON’T try to work it through the carrier or insurance. Just get your loved one home. Call the airline, get that seat, get them flying. Corporations have a vested interest in screwing you. I experienced this first hand.

5)      Don’t fly UNITED AIRLINES.

6)      Don’t insure throughTRAVEL INSURED INTL.

And that’s it! JB has had surgery and had a screw installed in her left shoulderblade. She’s in mild pain but healing rapidly. We see the doctor again on Tuesday. Currently, we are thinking of another Amsterdam trip (to catch up on what we missed), and looking towards 2014/15 or so for that.

Thanks for coming on our trip with us. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

<<<START

>>>AND IF YOU REALLY ENJOY MY WRITING, MY BOOKS ARE RIGHT HERE<<<

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 December 2014 09:29
 
Rhine - Day Eleven - Lemonade PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator   
Sunday, 06 October 2013 18:59

You gotta be kidding me.

The phone did not ring.

TRAVEL INSURED INTL denied the claim and the special flight out. Why? How could they leave a woman in a foreign country with a broken arm? It turns out their non-English-speaking doctor did not fill out the O2 entry in the documentation he was supposed to provide (he only had a simple satchel with him, with no means of measuring it anyway). And I even had included (with the eight pages of documentation the insurance company wanted) his own form with the FIT TO FLY box checked, AND the hospital’s form, with the same thing clearly noted. So not only did they deny us on a technicality, they were too chicken-shit to call us and tell us. So I’ll be having words with them when I get back.

Jane examines a bike-lane car. Cute!On the other hand (at the end of an unbroken arm) at least we managed to have a fairly nice day. JB didn’t want to hang around the hotel room – she wanted fresh air - so we took a slow walk in a nice neighborhood all along the waterfront. No crowds. No jostling. The scenery was wonderful, the air fresh, and it was fun just to see Amsterdam life going on around us. The afternoon was naps and reading in the room (which has a stellar view of the harbor).

Speaking of bikes, I need to mention a couple of things about their bikes. Of course, everyone rides bikes here – there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. There are roads and signals just for bikes. Anyway, many of their bikes look gearless – just the chain and the two hubs. No shifting. Since the land is flat, it doesn’t seem to be a problem – they just zip along in their casual commutes. I even saw a woman with six-inch heels riding along.

Secondly, they have a strange way of covering the gear and chain, an enclosed sort of thing that shields the drive chain from the elements (and also protects pants legs from snagging). It seems to work – outside of one or two rust buckets, the bikes we’ve seen (and ridden on) were smooth and quiet, a real joy to ride. I wonder how they service them.

The Dutch do have some amazing variations, including bikes with forward tubs on them (for kids, dogs and cargo). Interestingly, they are generally made of wood. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a sort of tricked-out showy thing, but no, everyone’s got them.

While I saw a couple of road bikes (with flamingo-togged riders), most of the Dutch bikes are work-a-day bikes, beat up and scratched and even rusting. It makes me even more attached to my decade-old Cannondale, which squeaks and squawks and gets me there. Solidarity!

  I’ve also seen a roving biker with spare tires over his handlebars and tubes in his basket, doing repairs. And here I was wondering if the Dutch ever get flats. Guess they do. Interesting job.

A masted boat, a houseboat, a bike and tram rails - Amsterdam!As the afternoon wore on, I went for a quick walk to see the rebuilt windmill that’s about a mile from our place – got a good look at it in the afternoon sun. Just enjoyed my last evening in Amsterdam.

Of course, when I got back, I found out that TRAVEL INSURED INTL.  and told my wife they’d put her in first class, if she went and got herself re-physicalled at the hospital. She told them to make sure they had an appointment and transport for us, then to call back. Apparently she was really pissy with them, the pissy that pain brings. Serves them right. I’m not going to go to the clinic and sit for five hours in plastic chairs just so we can skip it the next day. And why, if you decided you wanted to do this, TRAVEL INSURED INTL, did you wait until 5pm local time to come up with this idea? We’ve been sitting around most of the morning and all the afternoon and could have done it then. Or could it be that the comment I put on your Facebook page goaded you into action?

Anyway, on my windmill march, I bumped into the Gills (just back from their hovercraft adventure) and we agreed to have dinner with them downstairs. It was nice to see them a final time. Also, JB is a bit of a celebrity – everyone seems to know about her fall and were coming over to wish her well. I made sure to mention our service with TRAVEL INSURED INTL.

<<<START

NEXT>>>

>>>TOMORROW WE FLY HOME – BACK TO WORK, AND BACK TO HAWKING BOOKS (ACTUALLY, I NEVER STOPPED)<<<

Last Updated on Monday, 07 October 2013 18:25
 
Rhine - Day Ten - Broke her crown PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 05 October 2013 19:15

The morning of debarkation. We’ve put the suitcases out in the hall with ribbons to show our transfer to the hotel. I’m walking down the hall, toting my carryon, calling out to an Aussie I knew. And JB, somewhere behind me and following, trips on some sheets left in the halls by the cleaners and faceplants. Crash!

At first I was pretty angry – how embarrassing. Everyone’s standing around cooing and she can’t seem to tell where she hurts. I thought she was just shaken. But no, she can’t move her left arm.

I’ll give them this – Avalon (the tour operator) had us in a taxi and off to the hospital in short order. Compassion for the injured or terror of liability? Who knows. We were dropped at the hospital (very quiet on a Sunday morning, but you could see vomit all over the doorstep from Saturday night). She was seen pretty quick, an X-ray was shot and the news came back – she’d actually sheared the protruding bone on her shoulder. Yes, she’d broken her damn arm.

I know her emotions were pain. Mine were anger, shock, frustration, guilt, you name it. I’m going to say (and get catcalls from the audience) that I was really pissed that there were things I wanted to do that day. Dammit. Okay, so say it. Boooo, Robert!

And here’s the last thing I’ll say bad about Avalon – they didn’t seem to know how to handle this. Back at the hotel, I sat with their representative and tried to get to the UNITED AIRLINES site- we couldn’t pull up my flight info. So he came up with the great idea for me to head out to the airport and personally change the flight at the desk. So off I went, on a wild (and dumb) goose chase.

Let me point out right now that the Above and Beyond award goes to our boatside friends, Joe and Joyce Gill, who sat with JB in the hotel lobby while I was on my airport jaunt. Our rooms weren’t ready and she was drugged, sitting with our luggage, and yet our friends camped out with her (I’m sure that they also had plans for Amsterdam that day). But they stayed and had lunch with us afterwards (when JB’s pills and my adrenalin dropped out and we hit the wall). But thanks, folks, for your compassion and assistance in our dire situation.

But I’m ahead of myself – lunch with the Gills was after my snipe hunt: At the UNITED AIRLINES’  desk I got a firm “NO”; they couldn’t change the ticket because Avalon had booked it. So I caught the bus back – two hours wasted.

Now it was getting into the afternoon. The cruise director, Ninki, called and suggested we work it through the trip insurance people, TRAVEL INSURED INTL (you know what the bold underline signifies). After a lot of confused international dialing I got them. But they wanted medical proof that her arm was broken, so more hours were spent while they located a doctor and sent him to our hotel. And we waited. And waited. Finally he showed up with one of the bellhops, who would serve as a translator (he was a nice old guy, very 1950s-ish, way out of place with Modern Bustling Amsterdam). Then there was pure pandemonium in the room – the Dutch doctor quizzing my wife through the bellhop, and me trying to call TRAVEL INSURED INTL to find out where the paperwork was. And that’s when the guy from the front desk finally showed up to show us how the remote worked. And Ninki called again. Crazy!

Cruise casuality JB and Cruise Director NinkiEventually things got settled. I went down and faxed the stuff to the travel advisers (clocks running, guys – it’s been four hours). JB was feeling better – she could move her arm a bit more, and it didn't hurt too much in the sling. And then Ninki showed up – how nice of her to do so (strange to see her in civilian life). She was very pleasant and caring – and listened when I mentioned they might consider having better contingency planning. So Avalon, we might again book with you, if only because Ninki put in the extra effort.

So after this crazy day, how did we spend our evening in this city of sex, drugs and bicycles? We went to a Subway (not a cool European transportation system, no, but the sandwich shop). Now JB is taking a bath – she’s flexible enough for that. And I’m sitting here reflecting on my day of Dutch hospitals, a whirlwind airport tour, country doctors and two six inch (or 15 centimeter?) sandwiches.

I can’t wait until I get back to work and things settle down.

Just waiting for that phone to ring…

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Last Updated on Thursday, 26 December 2013 17:46
 
Rhine - Day Nine - Black hearts and round wheels PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 04 October 2013 19:00

After a night bumping into locks, today we ended up on Amsterdam. Interesting city, of course, with all the bikes. No, I mean ALL THE BIKES. Unless you’ve been here, you have no idea how many bikes are here. Racks and racks of bikes. Every street has a bike lane. Bikes rule the city.

While this might seem like Nirvana for me given my interest in bicycling, it didn’t come across as a particularly friendly city. Pedestrians are threatened by cars and bikes. People toss the finger and curse each other with great abandon. So, no, I don’t think I could happily live downtown - this is a city that would eat at me.

Just as it ate at Anne Frank, given what I’ve read of her diary thus far (review to be up in few weeks). This morning, we visited the Anne Frank house. Ugh. Remember what I mentioned a day before about justification about the allied plastering of Nazi Germany? A trip through the Frank hideaway will give you a greater appreciation for the reasons we did what we did. There were some things I learned in the museum (such as a recounting by the last person to see Anne alive in the camp) that broke my heart. She was a girl so alive with hopes and dreams and desires, and all that got snuffed through an indescribably evil internal policy of an industrialized government. If you visit Amsterdam, perhaps you need to skip the windmills and the red light district and check this out. I mean, for $@%# sakes! She was only a frightened little girl. How could anyone…?

Anyway, let’s move on. In the afternoon, after a quick lunch, JB and I took a cycle ride through the Dutch wetland zones. It was one of the tours we signed up for – seeing Amsterdam like a native. JB was freaking out – she figured that she couldn’t keep up with the casual riding, even with all the riding I put her through. But it was easy – the bikes rode well (disk brakes and nice smooth shifts, though mine was (by our definition) a girl’s bike) and the route was nice. We put on helmets which made up look like tourists – fine, the natives can think whatever they want. I ride in the most statistically dangerous place for bikes anywhere - Orlando, and I use a helmet. I invite you to come to my city, ride my route and sneer at my helmet.

Anyway, off we went, north to the Central Station then across by ferry to the east bank, then out along several bike routes. Eventually we found ourselves close to the city center but amid cows and green carpets of grass. Riding bikes in situations like this is weird – it’s like you are on an Alternative Earth. We were a kilometer from the city, in open fields, on long roads that only existed for bikes. Beautiful!

Two or three Kilometers from Amsterdam

Eventually we stopped for beers in a tiny tavern – very good. Chatted with an Australian couple, then boom, off we went, riding at about 7mph along kilometers* of greenspace dikes. Soon enough we made it home. A final dinner with the Canadians and now JB is packing up her tonnage while I write this. Tomorrow we officially end our cruise and move to a shore-side hotel.

<<<START

NEXT>>>

>>>NO CARS IN MASON’S TIME (330BC IN TYRE) BUT NO BIKES EITHER. FIND OUT IF THIS IS ONE OF HIS MANY CHANGES HE MAKES TO HIS NEW HOMELAND IN “EARLY RETYREMENT”<<<

* = I just realized how stupid this sentence is.

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 October 2013 19:30
 
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