Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Flight is How Long? LAX to BER

I’ve taken a lot of trips that required air travel. Not as many as some of my friends, some who must routinely fly for business, but I’ve likely flown more than the average person (I think).

The first 18 years of my life, I never even thought of getting on a plane. The family trips we took were mostly camping. We had a trailer and a tent and would travel around California, and a few times to Baja California (the adults used the trailer, we kids were banished to the tent).

Then my mom separated from her second husband, and let’s face it, we were pretty poor. Mom did her best, but there were no fancy vacations on the horizon.

Then mom remarried. I don’t remember many real vacations, but my stepdad bought a boat, and we did a lot of water skiing on the local lakes. I couldn’t have asked for more.

My first experience with air travel came courtesy of the US Army. I joined the Army while still in my senior year of high school, and after a really great summer, headed off to basic training in New Jersey in October.

 A group of us, maybe 9 or 10 new recruits, were given packets with our tickets, orders and some other vital information and dropped off at Los Angeles International Airport.

As I remember it, none of us had ever been to an airport. The instructions were a bit sketchy, but we managed to make it to the plane, survived making a connection in St Louis, and arrived unscathed in Newark New Jersey. Our travel class was less than economy, I can only assume the Army had arranged for a special category of flying hell that they used for new recruits.

The Family Visiting Me in Hawaii in the 1980's

Since that first flight in 1979, I have flown a lot. Some flights have been great, some good and a few less than desirable. One or two a living hell.

Twice I have had the pleasure of a First-Class upgrade. Once with the kids when they were very young (flight was over booked, we opted to fly direct to Boston, instead of flying to Atlanta with a long delay, the kids were young enough that they don’t remember), once while traveling alone on Army business (weather closed the airport in St Louis for nearly 24 hours, and while rescheduling the flight, the guy in front of me treated the poor desk agent like crap {she was almost in tears}. I was nice to her, and she made sure I was well taken care of for my flight home).

Since the Christmas trip was a spur-of-the-moment idea, and we are heading to London/Paris in a few months for our 40th Anniversary, I hoped to do this trip on “the cheap.”

Now “cheap” has changed a bit. Our trip to London/Oxford in 2019 our flights were under $900 for both of us, oh yeah, and we had upgraded seats. Not business class, but better than the cheap seats.  This trip to Berlin the flights we a bit more. We were in the cheap seats. However, we paid over $1630 to sit in the back of the plane. Yeah, double the price from 2019.

Stonehenge 2019

So, what did we get for the additional $800?

I’m pretty sure that they reduced the distance between the seats. I’m not that tall, but I’m at about the max leg size for the cramped seats in economy.

The food is pretty sub-par. I remember flying on Alaska Airlines back in the ‘80’s. The lady in front of me was complaining about the quality of the salmon they served on the flight. I thought to myself, “you just had salmon on an airplane, are you kidding me?” (Might have been my first “Karen” experience).

I won't comment on the food they offered on this trip to Berlin, but it was "free" which was still overpriced. 

On this flight, we didn’t get charged extra for drinks, so a couple of glasses of wine were nice.

However, neither of us were able to get much sleep. So, we arrived in Germany almost totally exhausted.

The lack of sleep, combined with the time change meant that we would waste the first day + of an eight day trip trying to acclimate to the time change.






Monday, December 19, 2022

To the Airport!

 After just a couple of weeks preparation, we were off to see the wonders of the Christmas Markets of Europe. Well at least Germany and Prague.

It's something we have wanted to do for years, and on a bit of the spur-of-the-moment decision, we were off. 

We used to like flying out the the airport in Long Beach, CA. It's a smaller airport, but was always easy to get to, and to get to your gate.

Unfortunately, we have found ourselves leaving out of Los Angeles International Airport for our last few trips.

Parking at LAX has been a living hell. They were working on building a new high rise lot, so the available spaces were pretty few. Parking off airport has it's own challenges, which almost made me miss a flight to Boston (too few transports to the airport). 

They've finished the new parking structure, and it's pretty nice. It still is clean, not too many people are using it so far, it's close to the airport and the bus runs often.

We were flying Air France to Berlin with a 2 hour stop in Paris.

We left out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. It's a bit confusing, but we managed to get our bags checked in.

Security wasn't bad, and we went to our gate. 

Our gate was at the far end of the terminal. There wasn't a lot of things at the gate, some vending machines that who knows how long the food has been in there. 

The worst part of the terminal was there wasn't a bar. NO BAR! How am I expected to spend 12 hours on a plane without starting with a drink!

Well time to board came quickly and we made our way onto the plane.

At least I had a good meal before we got to the airport

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

I Decided to Take My Wife Christmas Shopping – In Germany

Just over a month ago, I was sitting at my computer, mindlessly surfing the internet.

My wife mentioned that she had sent me a link to a story by a gentleman that calls himself “The Points Guy.”

He writes about travel and suggests ways to save money using points from credit cards, hotels, airlines etc. to save money.

This story was about the Christmas Markets in Germany.

A trip to the European Christmas Markets has been on our list for several years. A co-worker once suggested that “you haven’t lived” until you had been to Prague for Christmas.

I looked out the window at our front yard. The trees had dropped most of their leaves, but it was still very warm in our SoCal neighborhood.

I thought, why not.

I went online and started looking at flights and hotels.

I booked us a flight to Berlin, Germany. I found a hotel near the airport and rented a car. I also made plans to drive to Prague and booked a one-night stay, about a 10-minute walk from the main Christmas Market.

The Christmas Market in Prague

Then I figured I should probably tell the wife. Her reaction? She seemed to think I had lost my mind.

Usually, before we go anywhere, I begin planning at least six months before departure dates. More often it is closer to a year before the trip. Once I make the “folder” it is official. We are going!

I made the folder and put the receipts for the plane, hotel and car inside it. We only had just over two weeks until we departed.

Amazon purchases started to show up daily, long johns, new winter coats, shoelaces for boots I rarely wear, masks to wear on public transport and a few accessories for my camera.

I spent almost every waking minute looking at Utube videos and researching every fact, tip and trick I could find on traveling to Germany and Czechia.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Finishing Up the Panama Canal Cruise Story

We finished our Panama Canal cruise almost 11 months ago. I never finished writing about it, I didn’t write about the trips we took following that cruise.

I’m not sure why. The cruise ended with us missing our last port of call, really rough seas passing Cuba, and me finally loosing at the craps table.

We weren’t told why we were refused docking in Jamaca, but if we had to miss a port, it’s the one I would have passed on. No real reason, but we didn’t have a really great excursion planned.

The Bird Sanctuary in Colombia

They also wouldn’t let us dock at Princess Cay, so I’m guessing we were above the threshold for Covid, 

We did get to go to the Sloth rescue in Costa Rica, but they had restricted the visit and dropped several activities we were looking forward to.

We will cruise again, most likely in late 2023 or spring 2024 to Alaska.

In the meantime, there are a couple of other places to see.


Friday, April 1, 2022

Birds and a New Hat

Our second port on the Panama Canal cruise was in Cartagena, Columbia. Frankly I had doubts about getting off the ship in Columbia. But after doing a bit of research, I figured we would be ok taking a trip to a private beach on an island just off the coast. 

Of course, that excursion got cancelled. 

I was looking for something pretty stress free and reading about how the locals would get in your space to try to encourage you to let them have your business didn’t sound like a lot of fun. 

So, we opted to head to the National Aviary.

We boarded the bus at the cruise port and in no time were headed through the city. 

As we passed through the countryside, I was reminded of the many days I spent in remote parts of Baja California shooting off-road racing. 

The Aviary was very nice, but we were on a guided tour, I would have preferred to spend the time discovering the Aviary alone, but they kept us on a pretty tight leash. 

When we got back to the cruise port, we wandered thru the shops. I managed to find a pretty nice Panama Hat. It was made in Columbia, not in the traditional Ecuador, but what the heck, it was reasonably priced. 

Loving the new hat

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Rum, Sand and a Burger

Our first stop, Grand Turk. We docked at about 7am and were off the ship by 7:30.

The Cruise Port at Grand Turk

We signed up for the Rum Tour “Party Bus.” At first, we were a bit concerned about being to “old people” on a party bus, but like I told my wife, this isn’t Carnival. There is a chance that we might be the “fun” couple.

The Rum Bus

Turned out we were in the middle.

The Rum Bus wasn’t our first choice. The original plan was I was going to do a scuba excursion and she was going to do the lighthouse tour.

Covid threw the wrench into that plan. I needed to get in a couple of refresher dive classes (it’s been a long time since I have been underwater), I never got the classes scheduled, so no diving. The excursion she had scheduled was cancelled. So, we went for the Rum Bus.

According to the internet, the Turks and Caicaos archipelago is made up of 40 low-lying coral islands.

It seems that the main tourist area is on the island of Providenciales, we went to Grand Turk Island, which is a bit more austere.

When we got off the ship and went into the cruise port, I was really impressed by the port. It was very nice, most of the buildings seemed new or at least, well maintained. There were shops, a flowrider surf pool, a very large pool and the Caribbean’s largest Margaritaville.  

Grand Turk Cruise Port

Once we left the port, the scenery changed dramatically.

From what I understand, about 10 years ago the island was hit by several severe hurricanes. Much of the island has yet to be rebuilt.   

That said, we got to see some sites, drank several glasses of rum punch on the bus, enjoyed a rum tasting at the lighthouse, then went to Governors Beach for a 1 ½ hour swim.

We were back on the ship by 12:30 for a 1:30 sail-away.

Once back on the ship, we relaxed until our reservation at the Crown Grill for dinner at a private table for the 1st formal night of the cruise.

The Steak and Lobster in the Crown Grill

Great way to start off 2022, and I hope most of the troubles of the last couple of years is behind us.

Oh yeah, I did have  the Burger in Paradise at Margaritaville. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Sea Day

The first day of our cruise was a sea day. We seriously thought about sleeping in, but we were too excited to get this vacation started. We got up and went to breakfast. I know what you're thinking, "how bold." Hey, we live on the edge. 

After a pretty good breakfast, we went back to the room and just chilled. Somewhere around 10 am we decided to take a walk around the ship and get a little exercise.

The promenade deck is a good place for an outside stroll, we did a couple of laps around the ship and then headed up to the lido deck. 

We wandered around the lido, past the multiple swimming pools, then went up to the sports deck at the stern of the ship

We stopped at the stern of the ship, found the putting green and did a bit of putting practice.

We wandered thru the shops, went to an “enrichment” show, and had a lesson in wine tasting.

We went to the 7pm main stage show, a Motown review (which was pretty good) and headed back to the room to get some rest before we arrive in Grand Turk tomorrow.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

On Board

The day of the cruise was finally here. After months of prep, plans and changes we were ready. 

We got up, dressed, packed and called for an Uber. 

This time was much better, the car showed up pretty quickly. I told the driver that we were headed to terminal 2 at the cruise port.

When we got to the port, the port sign said was at terminal 21. I said something, but I guess the driver didn’t hear me. 

As we approached the ship, I pointed that it was the wrong ship, we stopped and asked, our dock was on the other side of the port. Needless to say, I dropped a pretty big tip to make up for the extra time.

We dropped our bags and started thru the serpentine line to get to security. After about an hour, we made it thru the first hoop. We then went upstairs and were greeted by an even longer line for health screening. 

After health screening, we were directed to some chairs to wait to board the ship. 

View from the Lido Deck

Apparently the ship had a tough time leaving Jamaica the night before, they said high winds kept them in port. They had arrived three hours late and when we got there, they were still offloading the previous guest. We were finally allowed on board about three hours later. 

We couldn’t go to our rooms, they were still being sanitized, so we did what we were told and went up to deck 15. 

We never did hear an announcement that we could go to the room, but it seemed like people were leaving so we went to deck 9 and found our room. 

Our Mini Suite, not bad for a cruise ship room