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Rhine - Day Four - Wet entertainment and bed fun PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 28 September 2013 19:00

Strasbourg was our first full-day port (or first full day aboard, or whatever). Interesting place. After a night of bumping and thumping (but not too badly) through locks, dawn found us docked along an industrial area south of town. However, what a nice place (better, I’d suspect, than civic-prided blight of New Jersey). A line of railway goods wagons stood in a neatly mown and tree-lined railyard, with swans swanning (sorry, but that’s exactly what they were doing) about between ship and shore. On a nearby road and sweeping bridge, bicyclists whizzed past with German efficiency and French pride. Unlike the US, nobody took a shot at our ship.

After breakfast, we toured the city canals via a small glass-domed boat. It was a bit on the cool, rainy side, but still we saw many wonderful buildings and interesting sights in this gamepiece of a city, swapped between Germany and France over the last one hundred years. When we went through a set of locks, we hydro-jaded travelers didn’t bat as much as an eye.

After this, we debarked (debarged?) and walked the grounds for a bit. There was a beautiful cathedral that made one’s heart stop to look up its face (140 meters) with a steampunky clock inside with moving figures that rang bells and flipped hourglasses. Then we were given time to walk about and look into shops – alas, not much was really open, given that the weekend shops are generally closed Mondays and it was rainy and pretty much out of season. Still, I bought some fudge of Tootsie Roll consistency. And back we trudged through the passing showers, snapping careful shots from beneath our umbrella.

That afternoon, our small circle of Canadian friends we’ve hooked onto had originally thought about returning to town for a bit more shopping, but after a small easy lunch and a quiet communal chat, our beds looked better and better. As my sleep cycles are still off, this was a welcome respite – a chance to recharge my batteries (camera, computer, and biological) and brace myself for the journey to come.

It should be noted that tonight was formal night. Showed up with a tie (one of the few), with JB dapper. Ate dinner with our cruise buddies, made plans to go to a technology museum tomorrow, then retired upstairs to watch a local French singer (and her accompanying organist) grind through famous French music. Silly but fun in a boozy sort of way (how much did I drink at dinner?). Afterwards, JB and I took a quick walk around the deck – nice but she was as skittish as a colt. What, did she think she was going into the river? We’re in a lock now as I write this. Who knows what tomorrow holds?

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Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2013 05:20
 
Rhine - Day Three - Top of the world, Ma! PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 27 September 2013 18:17

What a difference today. If yesterday set us onto the course of vacation happiness, today gave us a hefty shove in the right direction.

I will admit being a bit on edge overnight – troubles sleeping. Would we be able to get the excursion we wanted – Mount Pilatus – or would be we be bumming around Zurich for another half day, waiting for the ship’s coach to leave? We ended up at the signup desk first thing at 8am and were first on the list (actually, for a bit, it looked like we wouldn’t have enough but everyone came through in the end). So off we went.

Met with Gubi, our funny Swiss-lady tour guide who took us to Kriens, at which point we boarded a small four-seat cable car which swung its way (mostly through clouds) higher and higher. Saw Swiss cows (standing on rising ground, their cow-bells bonging). Ascended a pinnacle a cable tower was anchored to, with the ground dropping away as we crossed it – gulp! Higher and higher until we reached a midpoint station, where we transferred to a 40 person gondola (like a cable car, but more people die if it falls) for the final ascent to the summit of the Timlishorn. Saw a mountain goat on an impossible peak as we soared higher up the cliff face, until we latched onto the final platform, a hotel at something like 7000 feet.

We wandered around up here for a bit – heavy clouds but occasionally we could see way, way down. We had lunch at the hotel (macaroni and cheese and onions – actually, I really rather liked this). Then some more climbing and hiking about before we boarded the cog railroad for the 47% grade down to the lake.

That was something. We followed another car down, and had to halt in a passing siding to let three up-trains get by. As they passed window-to-window, our guide laughing told us to tell the upbound tourists that it was snowing heavily on the summit – “There’s a foot of snow up there!” “Shouldn’t you dress warmer?” “You’re going to hate it”. Everyone in the other car gaped in shock and really looked startled at the news of their own frosty demise – joke’s on them.

Afterwards, we rolled over by bus to Lucerne, a beautiful town, if only a bit touristy. We checked out the must-sees: the Kapellbrucke Bridge and the Lion statue. Very interesting.

So now I’m writing this on my laptop, using a dodgy power converter in our stateroom, sloshy with wine and the aftergrow of new dinner friends as our boat thumps into another lock (so many on the upper Rhine). Tomorrow is Strasbourg, with a morning citywalk and an afternoon tramping around the town. I’ll let you know how it plays.

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Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2013 05:14
 
Rhine - Day Two - Zurich finally! PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 26 September 2013 17:53

Finally, this is the day we actually made it to Switzerland. While most of what I said for the 13th involved the early morning disaster, the second part (waking up at the hotel, having breakfast, then getting a cab ride back in to sit around and casually await our 6:55pm departure) went by pretty smooth. We took off and flew for most of the night, meaning that by Saturday, we’d made Zurich.

Even though UNITED AIRLINES told us to our faces that the luggage would be on our flight (“Yes sir, sitting right there. I can see it on my computer”) it turns out that UNITED AIRLINES’s baggage handlers were sharper than their gate agents, because while we didn’t make the flight, the luggage had. We came into Zurich, waited at the carousel and had that disappointing moment when you’ve seen all the bags there are and the belt stops. Show’s over, folks. So we went to lost and found with our receipts and passed them over and there were our bags, slobbering happily that we’d found them.

The Movenpick Hotel is a bit more upscale than the Jersey Holiday Inn. It’s so posh here – we took showers when we got in and when you turned it on, the shower actually played music (along with mood lighting – I’m not joking). I felt like I was in a disco - green and purple lights – but it actually was really nice.

We purchased tram passes from the desk so we could go down to the center of Zurich for the day. There was a bit of confusion working out the tramway – the people on the platform were very pleasant in pointing us in the right direction. We got on the correct train and finally understood their extensive system. So into town we rolled, marveling at how nice everything was, how scaled to human proportions. Here and there were gardens, fields, trees. The emphasis was on people moving in a civilized fashion (pedestrians, cyclists, trams, busses, cars) as opposed to grubby post-apocalypse New Jersey (cars, cars, and cars, and F-U, you bum!). The contrast was amazing.

Foreshadowing - something bad will happen to that left arm!So we got off at the central tram dropoff, just at the north end of Old Town, and wandered down to Lake Lucerne. Such a beautiful place! There were cyclists galore, all ages and speed-levels. All the bikes had that fendered, lock-tossed, work-a-day look to them. In the end, after looking down at the wonderful lake backed by snowcapped mountains, with sailboats dancing across its clean waters, we found a little streetside restaurant and had a wonderful meal (meal and tram both pretty much ate up my hundred Francs I’d pulled at the airport – so the cost of living is a bit high, but look what you get!). By the time we were done and our tummies happily digesting food not produced by UNITED AIRLINES, we sleepily trooped back to the tram stop and rode back to the room, our eye-lids fluttering with SandMan dust.

It was a very nice outing, and a good way to re-start our vacation.

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Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2013 05:13
 
Rhine - Day One - Friday the 13th PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 25 September 2013 21:51

Did we ever kick off this unlucky day in style.

It started on the 12th, roughly an hour after my last posting. We’re sitting sweet and pretty on the plane in Orlando, the plane pushes back, and that’s it. We sit. It's an ATC hold on planes into New Jersey International because of weather.

Finally (after an hour and more of excruciating delay) we’re off the ground and making back time. Good; we’ll be in to Jersey by 8:30pm, plenty of time for our 9:55 departure to Zurich. Wheels hit wet pavement at 8:30pm on the dot, we turn off the runway and taxi clear. And wait. And wait. Because of the weather delays, the airport is bollixed up.

Did I say this was United AIRLINES? I didn’t? Let me correct that. UNITED AIRLINES (criminal organizations need a shameful bold/underline treatment). At 8:50, Captain Nubbins called back and said, okay, everything’s clear, we’re taxying in. And we did. For 100 feet. And then we waited some more. Waited and waited until 9:30. And now we’re damn tight on time.

Of course, there is the usual hassle of everyone pulling steamer trunks out of the overheads – and I’ll blame UNITED AIRLINES for this – enforce your carryon rules, you twerps. You let all these asshats bring two huge suitcases on, then there is no bin space for us later rows, and these same self-centered prigs then slow down the exit process, each of them grunting two sixty pound trunks from the bins.

Down the ramp and there is the agent, a stumblepuck if I ever saw one, just some guy holding down a late shift and in over his head. I show him my boarding pass – it’s to another UNITED AIRLINES plane, for Christsakes! And he doesn’t know what gate! “Uh… go to Concourse B… I think….”

Do you see concourse B here? No, we didn't either.I ask (sharply) which way is it to B and he tells me go left and follow the signs to the tram. So off we go, run run run, down concourse C until… we run out of concourse. Backtracking (poor JB, doggedly jogging behind me, and me with all the carryons) we finally find someone who shows me where the tram is, which just departed, an unmarked portal to mythical concourse B.

After a long wait (9:45!) the tram comes. We get on. And off we go, to concourse A. I’m thinking that perhaps they know they need to go to B (I mean, shit’s sake, it’s between A and C, right?). But no, suddenly I look out and we’re back in C. “Are we going to B?” I shrill. “Ho yes,” the Jamaican/Hispanic/Martian/Union bus driver tells me. “Berry next stop.”

(Since this writing, the New Jersey Transit Authority responded to a complaint letter concerning the busses. They don’t operate them. That would be… yes? UNITED AIRLINES!)

So finally we get to the berry next stop (snail’s pace) with another desperate UNITED AIRLINES customer who is also trying to evacuate Jersey for Switzerland, and I give the bags to Jane and run run run down concourse B to hold the plane, to get there and see the gate and the staff and ZURICH on the board, and the nice UNITED AIRLINES employee looks up, doesn’t smile, and barks, “Closed.” “But the plane…?” “Gone.”

Shit.

We’ll cut some of the following stuff short here, the horrible trams (two of them!) to P4 (where hotel shuttles were), the horrible phone bank for calling them, and the fact that every hotel off the airport was filled to capacity with abandoned passengers (most of them likely UNITED AIRLINES  victims). Nowhere to overnight but a florescent, echoy and poorly signed airport. Now I know how Joseph felt – no room in the inn.

I took a moment and thought it through – called one of the hotels, got the “We’re booked solid” grunt from the bellhop, and told him to put me through to the chain’s reservation line. From there, I had the booking agent scan their properties for anything open. We found a last overlooked room eleven miles from the airport, which is (I now know) a $50 cab ride.

Waking in beautiful... New Jersey. Ugh!And so now, at the time of this writing, we’re back here in the airport, Day One of our dream vacation, in Newark. The garden state? Haven’t seen one. Just a lot of litter and rust and dead industry; it looks like Mordor a month after the ring got dunked, really.

But we’re here. And we won’t miss the plane this time. Of course, it’s me against the world (or at least UNITED AIRLINES ).

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>>>WHEN MY HERO FELL THROUGH TIME, IT WAS INSTATANIOUS. HE CERTAINLY WASN’T FLYING UNITED AIRLINES<<<

Last Updated on Monday, 30 September 2013 05:24
 
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