No seat assignment available for us on Turkish air…A letter from Expedia.com…

With the midsummer heat, few flowers remain in the gardens.
With our upcoming flight from Venice, Italy to Mombasa, Kenya on September 2nd, arriving 17 hours later on September 3rd, we’d expected to be able to sit together.

When booking the flight several weeks ago, trying to choose our seats for the three legs of the flight, a message popped up stating that seat assignment will be available at a later date, unknown at this point.

As I walked through the gardens, the bees swarmed around me.

The thought of the possibility of that long flight without being able to sit next to one another was frustrating for us both.  Playing Gin and dining together (yes, they serve meals) makes the time pass quickly, an excellent diversion.

Knowing little about Turkish Air other than reviews we read online, we have no idea what to expect.  The reviews varied from “hate them” to “loved the flight” more on the favorable side.  There were few flight options to Kenya.

The honey bees love the lavender, still in its full glory.

Yesterday, concerned about the lack of seat assignments, I contacted Expedia.com from whom we purchased our tickets.  With the usual good customer service, I expected a response within 24 hours.  Within hours, they responded to our request with the following:

"Dear Expedia Customer,  
Thank you for contacting us about your seat requests for your flight reservation. The airline has not made seats available for a pre-assigned seat request at  this time. The airline will assign seats for you when you check in.
Meanwhile, your seat assignment requests have been sent to the airline. Please be advised, that the airline ultimately controls, seat assignments and we cannot guarantee every request will be honored. Confirm your specific requests with the airline before departure.   If this does not answer your question or solve your problem, feel free to reply to this message or  call us at 1-800-EXPEDIA (1-800-397-3342) or 1-404-728-8787 (for callers outside United States and Canada) and reference case ID: ????? Thank you for choosing Expedia.  Dennise Expedia Customer Service Team"

All we can determine from this message is that when checking in at the airport, we’ll have to stand in line, hopefully, early enough to get seats together, which may or may not be possible. Why? Why do it this way?

The shade of the overhanging vines creates a pleasant patio area in our yard.

If their online system is not sophisticated enough to allow seat selection? If that’s the case, are their planes updated and maintained to meet modern standards?

Each time we encounter a possible stress-inducing situation, we develop a back-up plan to ease us through the scenario. In this case, very early arrival at the gate in Venice is our best option. 

However, when we were departing on our last ship, the Norwegian Spirit in Venice, we were warned not to arrive at the airport over three hours before a flight’s departure.  One would not be allowed into the terminal if earlier.

We’ve noted our calendar:  arrive at Marco Polo airport in Venice at 7:30 am on September 2nd, considering our 10:30 am flight. 

A good soaking rain would bring all of the vegetation back to life.  It rains a little a few times a week but not enough during the summer heat in the 90’s each of the past several days.

Also, checking online for information about that airport, we discovered that they have a technology kiosk where we’ll be able to recharge our laptops and smartphones prior to departure.  At this point, we’re unable to determine if any of the three planes we’ll be flying have “plugins” at our seats (what seats?) for recharging digital equipment. 

Having our equipment charged will enable us to read Kindle app books, play games, and of course, write about our travel experience as it transpires, posting it on the blog in real-time.  If the plane doesn’t have plug-ins, we’ll recharge our equipment at kiosks at the two other airports along the way, Istanbul, Turkey, and Nairobi, Kenya, at each of which we’ll have layovers and plane changes.

Plan in place.  Stress reduced. 

The next flight stress inducer is overweight luggage, especially since we don’t want to pay the extra $700 in fees when we flew from Dubai, UAE to Barcelona, Spain. The process of reducing our load has already begun as we’ve disposed of more and more items each week, including making a pile of items we may ship to Kenya, after all. 

In checking with the owner of the house in Diani Beach, he’s agreed to accept a box of items for us.  It will be insured. If it’s stolen, we’ll be covered. We shall see how this rolls out.

More evidence of a need for rain.  This grass was lush green only a few weeks ago.

Tom has expressed his desire to drop off whatever rental car we have at the Venice airport the day before our departure. With the two hours it took to originally pick up the car, he feels more at ease doing it this way. 

At first, I disagreed with him.  Why bear the expense of transportation back to the hotel the previous day? With the hotel offering a complimentary shuttle to the airport, we’d have to pay the one way.  As these other concerns have materialized, I agree with him.  

In any case, we would have done it “his way” whether I agreed or not. To avoid arguing over any such item, we always acquiesce when one of us is adamant about a particular issue. Thus, we don’t argue, making the assumption that either of us is smart enough to make reasonable decisions.

The ongoing process of planning to reduce stress and surprises well in advance takes time and careful thought.  With that in mind, surprise, often occurs, forcing us to ditch our best-laid plans to begin again. I guess that is the way life is in general for all of us:  “Expect the unexpected.”

Road trip tomorrow!  To heck with waiting for the rental car agency to let us know where and when to swap out the rental car. Not a word from them. Off we go, back later in the day with photos and the story of our expedition.

 

What?…Rental car issues!…Classic European cars guessing game…Please help…

 

#1 Is this an MG?  Year?  Notice at a distance, the red Ferrari or Lamborghini.

This morning as we sat on the veranda Tom pointed out a procession of classic-type European cars coming up the winding road, fast approaching our area.  Were they on their way to a car show?  Running in my bare feet to take photos, I grabbed the camera and dashed down the stone steps, unlocked the front door (which is tricky), and headed outside, barely in time to take these shots as the cars buzzed by.

There is only one road leading in and out of Boveglio, one heading north, the other south, requiring anyone driving the general area, travel this option, directly passing our house.

Standing on rocky steps, I did my best shooting these photos as the cars whizzed by at surprisingly fast speeds for such a narrow village road. 

Tom’s expertise is in American cars, not foreign cars.  He’s identified these the best he can.

Can you identify any of these cars for us? The make.The model? The year? Correct us if we’re wrong! Please comment using the assigned #’s for each car, at the end of this post. We’ll make corrections based on your comments.

#2 Is this a Mercedes?  If so, which model, year?
#3 Is this a Porsche?  Model?  Year?

 

#4 Is this a Porsche?  Model?  Year?
#5 Is this an MG?  Model? Year?
#6 Is this a Mercedes?  Model?  Year?
#7 Is this a Triumph? Spider?  Year?

Please read below for the ongoing unbelievable rental car situation!

Without an actual phone number with us, with access to Skype, only my sister had offered that we use her cell phone number when a number was required such as for a car rental, airline reservation, etc. If she received a call for us, she’d only need to email us the name and number to return the call and we’d make the call via Skype.

On Thursday, she received such a call from Budget Car Rental at Marco Polo Airport in Venice. They called to inform us that our rental car was sold and to immediately return it to Venice, a five hour drive each way. 

Are you kidding me????

Prepaid until September 2, 2013, do they expect us to drive for 10 hours, stand in line for another two hours to get a different car, pay for gas at US $7.50 a gallon, tolls along the drive, meals, la la la???

Only a week ago, after an excruciating week of trying to reach someone who spoke English, they sent us a new extended contract, charged our credit card US $1356 to extend to our desired date when we’ll return the car to Marco Polo Airport in Venice when its time to fly to Kenya.

Trying to reach an English speaking person at Marco Polo by phone was fruitless. The thought of beginning that painstaking process again made my stomach hurt. Thus, I began an email campaign, sending no less than two messages a day requesting management respond to address this issue.

Finally today, Sunday, a manager returned the message saying they will either bring us another car to Boveglio in the next few days or they will require, we bring the car to a closer location such as Florence, which is still a two hour drive each way.  The manager said he will work on it and get back to us.

With a hotel reservation booked for our upcoming road trip on Tuesday, we had no alternative but to change our plans, leaving us and the car-free to respond to their decision. 

Immediately upon receiving this message this morning, with a 48-hour cancellation policy on our hotel reservation, I knew I’d better get to work to cancel the reservation. That in itself was not as painless as one may think.

Our reservation check-in time is 1:00 PM Tuesday, giving us more than 24 hours to cancel.  Ha!  Inexperienced traveler such as I in staying in hotels booked online (with little travel over the prior 15 years while living in the US) didn’t think that the 48-hour cutoff began at midnight last night, as opposed to check-in time on Tuesday.  Our 48-hour window no longer applied.

Having booked the reservation with Hotels.com I immediately logged into their website in a pointless attempt to cancel, leaving me no alternative but to call using Skype. After a half-hour on the call, our reservation was canceled at no charge, freeing us up to deal with the car. 

Now, we’ll wait to hear back from Budget as to how we’ll get the replacement car.  I can’t imagine how this is not going to cost us something, gas, expenses, or arbitrary charges. We had read reviews of potential issues when renting a car in Italy. 

Reminding myself to take a deep breath, I know this is a part of the experience, perhaps a price one pays, literally and figuratively, for having the opportunity to travel the world, as unencumbered as possible. So it goes. 

I settle myself down having vented here, realizing in the realm of things, its really a small inconvenience. We have our health, we have each other, the weather is beautiful, we have “our people” who love and miss us as we do them, and the future is open and bright for us two homeless wanderers.

With our road trip now on hold, pending the car situation, we settle back into our routine, playing a little Gin, lounging on our chaise lounges in the sun for an hour every other day, walking the hills in the neighborhood, taking a trip to Pescia for groceries tomorrow and enjoying a fabulous dinner we’re preparing for tonight.

Hope to hear back from you car aficionados!

 

Our costs for 2 1/2 months in Belize….Plus photos…Plus a new mission…

 

The beach outside our door.

Renting a golf cart is the best thing we could have done!  After the rain stopped yesterday, we decided to go check out some local restaurants for our date night. Although it only goes about 10 miles an hour, we can explore this general area quite easily.  There’s not another town for about 53 miles so we’re best to stay within the approximate eight-mile distance of the peninsula of Placencia.

Around noon, we took off for Robert’s Grove Resort to check out their health club and three restaurants.  Not a golfer, the golf cart reminded me of the motorized cars at Disneyland that I so much loved to drive as a kid maneuvering between the high rubber bumper curbs. The putt putt sound made the ride all the more entertaining.

Wandering into Robert’s Grove, for a moment I wished we were staying there for the entire 2 1/2 months.  Almost a year ago, I checked their prices to discover that they were already entirely booked. Also, at $200 a night plus meals at another $150 a day (we checked their menus), the cost would have been $24,150 plus tips, plus laundry, plus transportation. 

The total to stay at Robert’s Grove would have been around $30,000. Our total cost for the 2 1/2 months in Belize including rent, golf cart rental, groceries, and dining out will be approximately $6800 total! 

After the inspection visit at Robert’s Grove Resort, we made reservations for dinner for their Saturday night buffet. Much to our surprise, they offered to pick us up at our little beach house at 6:45 and bring us back at no charge. We described how to find us as best as we could and planned to be standing on the road at 6:45 promptly. 

In order to drive to Robert’s Grove, we must go through a very poor rough looking town, not unlike North Minneapolis, 10 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. The thought of a ride in the dark, unlit street in a van, as opposed to a golf cart, was very appealing making the prospect of dinner all the more exciting. We had newfound hope that soon we’d start enjoying ourselves. 

Determined to find more restaurants, we decided to eat out most days while we had either a ride or transportation during the times we’d have the golf cart. At over $900 a month for the cart, we thought we might get it every other week, grocery shopping for the long week stranded in between. Maybe, if dinner at Robert’s Grove was good, we’d have them pick us up a few times in the weeks we were without wheels. This was a plan we could live with.

Deciding against the $39 a month for workout facility at Robert’s Grove due to it not having the equipment I use, we were on our way, tootling down the road to see what else we could find.

Suddenly, a sign appeared, “Luxury Condos for Sale, Coco Plum Villas” as we looked at each other, nodding yes at each other at exactly the same moment. “Let’s check it out.” Of course, we had no intention of buying a home in Belize but thought it would be fun as vacationers often do, in order to get a better feel for an area, to do a bit of house hunting. We wanted to see the more luxurious side of Placencia as well.

Below are photos of the exquisite grounds of Coco Plum Villas.

A man-made lake was the central focus of the development.

A friendly guard waved us through at the gate pointing us to the model, a short distance down the road.  We were in another world.  At considerable cost and design, they utilized the Placencia peninsula on the lagoon side, to build a massive amount of waterways surrounding by nature’s bounty of the area, a variety of palm trees, flowering plants, and trees of unknown origin. Birds were singing and although a cloudy, humid day, it was beautiful.

Another view of the lake.

To see a photo gallery of the area, click this link:
http://www.cocoplumbelize.net/placencia-photo-gallery.aspx

Another friendly young man welcomed us in the model home. It was interesting seeing the model condo, designed and decorated to utilize the space and views of the sea. Priced at $369,000, not unlike a price one we find in any ocean town so close to the water. Fantasizing for a moment, we asked each other, “Could we live here?” as we walked out the breathtaking grounds, the cabana bars, the long dock with a built-in bar at the end, overlooking expansive views of the Caribbean Sea.

Much of the land around the lake was undeveloped.

Tom answered, “The condo, yes, it’s great. The general location, no.” 

I agreed, “There isn’t a grocery store anywhere in the area that would fulfill our needs with the way we eat.”  One would have to have food products flown in and the cost would be prohibitive.  Eating out every meal would become tiresome and costly. For vacationers, for a week or two, it would be ideal.  But not for us down the road.

It then dawned on us that we needed to “reframe our thinking” a phrase used by Tony Robbins, a renowned life coach and motivational speaker whom my eldest son Richard and I made a point of seeing as often as we could, many years ago. His teachings had a profound effect on both of our careers in real estate, with me, retiring over three years ago after over 25 years and Richard still active in Las Vegas/Henderson, Nevada with an illustrious career, still booming in this distressed market. 

A dock to the ocean.

Did we reframe our thinking? How did we do that? We talked.

As we drove away from the condo villas, smiles on our faces, we now realized a greater mission than we previously had dreamed of traveling the world.  At some point, we’ll need to settle down, due to health or tiring from being on the move. 

Where we will live is totally up in the air.  In our year’s long journey, somehow, somewhere, we will find a place that spells “home” deciding to spend whatever time we have left in this world in a beautiful setting (with a good grocery store) whereby our family can visit and feel they are on vacation.  We may do this someday.

With a new mission naturally falling into place, we are rejuvenated, our enthusiasm has been given a burst and we can be at peace wherever we may be.  Thus, as we choose, we can explore real estate at the numerous upcoming ports of call, arranging for a real estate agent to pick us up the pier and show us a few properties for sale.  As a former agent/broker for many years, I often showed homes to prospective buyers, knowing full well that they hadn’t yet locked in an area.  That is what agents do.

Last night at 6:45, we both outside on the dark road as directed waiting for the Robert’s Grove marked van to appear to pick us up.  We figured they’d find us since the Little Cottage was located on their map of Placencia and we gave them the milepost numbers.

Standing in the dark was scary.  Lots of pickup trucks drove by with the bed filled with people sitting on the edges, honking and making noise.  Each time we saw a vehicle go by we had to stand close to the road enabling the driver to see us.  By 7:00 pm and no driver, we had to make a decision. 

Do we go back inside the humid little house and call it a night with nothing defrosted for dinner.  Or, do we take a chance and drive the golf cart in the pitch dark the three miles through the scary town?

As we sat in the driveway in the golf cart contemplating our move, we noticed a golf cart go by with what looked like tourists. We opted to follow them.  There’s strength in numbers.  Driving as fast as he could, Tom reassured me we’d be safe.  My heart was racing.

Along the road, there were about six speed bumps that were raised pedestrian crossings. To cross them, one had to slow down to a snail’s pace. It’s during that time that a potential attacker could have easy access to golf cart occupants. As we sped up after crossing each of the speed bumps we sighed a sigh of relief to again be on our way.

Finally, we arrived at Robert’s Grove Habener Restaurant, the smell of unfamiliar spices filling the air while live reggae music pulsated through the restaurant. Immediately, we alerted the restaurant staff that the driver never arrived by 7:00 pm resulting in our driving on our own. We were pleased to know we hadn’t missed him since she explained he was running late, as much as 1/2 hour. We’d only waited 15 minutes. She called him to tell him we were there since he had yet to arrive to pick us up.

Seated at our cozy white linen-covered table and chairs, we finally relaxed ordering a drink. Tom was anxious to get to the buffet. We’d hardly eaten in days with the problematic tiny stove, the running water issues, the tiny refrigerator with little room to stock fresh foods befitting our diet. 

After a few sips of our drinks, we sauntered to the buffet delighted with what we found:  huge lobster tails, Belizean roast chicken, fried conch (which I couldn’t eat due to the breading), piles of fresh large unpeeled shrimp on a bed of ice, and a whole roasted pig cooked to perfection. Various rice concoctions, salads, fresh fruit, bread, and rolls, completed the buffet along with a full table of what appeared to be delectable desserts. 

I asked the waiter if the water was purified and he assured us it was which is typical for hotels not wanting sick, angry guests stuck in their rooms with the “revenge” unable to spend more money and, in this day and age, writing derogatory reviews.  We felt safe to finally enjoy some ice in our water.

There were numerous items of which I couldn’t partake, but more that I could and I piled my plate twice as high as Tom’s.  The lobster was sweet and tender, the chicken, seasoned the Belizean way was falling off the bone, the sausage was spicy and moist and the pig. Well, I “pigged out.” It was a feast. Tom went back for another lobster tail. I had taken two to start and didn’t go back for seconds after eating my entire plate of food. 

The music was so loud we could barely speak instead of preoccupying ourselves with our food, the ambiance, and the good feeling of enjoying “being out.” The bill for everything, including our drinks and a generous tip for the attentive waiter, was $78 US, a deal by our standards. We’ll definitely go back again soon. 

The drive back was less scary and uneventful. We now felt comfortable driving the golf cart at night and of course, we’d be as mindful as possible. We can’t spend our world travels being suspicious of every corner, but we can and will be as cautious as is practical and possible.

This morning, I swept the piles of sand off the tile floor in the little house and on the patio, boiled more water, washed off the tabletops and kitchen counters with rags dipped in cold soapy (there’s literally NO HOT WATER in the little house!) hoping the soap would somehow sanitize everything.

At noon, an hour from now, we’ll hop into our golf cart driving in the opposite direction as yesterday, find a restaurant for tonight, and hopefully discover more interesting areas to explore.  We’ll take more photos. 

Today, I received a comment from a reader kindly requesting me to post photos of the distressed areas as well.  Next time we go to Placencia Village, in the next few days, we will definitely take photos and post them.  Thanks, Anonymous.  We’re happy to comply.

We recovered from the virus/cold, we got on the ship. We’re getting used to the heat, my 25 bites are becoming less itchy, the sun is shining, its 80 degrees and we’re good.  Yep, for the moment, we’re good.

 

Moving on…Celebrity Equinox awaits us…Perks of an upgrade to Concierge Class…

It hot and humid here in Boca Raton, Florida, so humid that my clothes are sticking to me.  It rained all night, pouring pelting rain.  Tossing and turning all night, kicking off the covers from time to time, I awoke exhausted this morning feeling as if I hadn’t slept a wink.

Both of us have bad, painful right shoulders, different issues, similar discomfort.  We hurt today in the dampness, both taking two Aleve, know the hauling of bags into our friend’s SUV was yet ahead of us.  It’s almost 10 am and we can’t leave here until noon since we can’t board the new ship until 1:00 PM.

This time on the Celebrity Equinox we booked a Concierge Class balcony, an upgrade, we elected when booking the 11-night cruise from which we’ll embark three days early by the “tender” (smaller boat) in Belize.

We’ll live in the small peninsula community of Placencia, a four-hour drive from Belize City, for more than two months, moving to Ambergris Caye for an additional almost two weeks in yet another beach house. 

The Concierge Class upgrade was a bonus feature of the balcony cabin we selected at the time of booking.

Concierge Class includes:

Services

    • Priority check-in
    • Express luggage delivery
    • Personalized Concierge service
    • Priority disembarkation based on travel needs
    • Complimentary shoeshine service
    • Access to the exclusive Concierge Class Pre-departure Lounge

Dining

    • Main and specialty restaurant seating time preferences
    • Expanded room service menu

Amenities

    • Welcome Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine with a commemorative label featuring exclusive artwork from the ArtCenter/South Florida artists
    • Pillow menu to suit sleeping preferences
    • Daily delivery of Afternoon Savories (appetizers, most of which I can’t eat)
    • Plush Frette® bathrobes
    • Fresh fruit (we don’t eat fruit)
    • Fresh flowers
    • Custom-blended bath amenities
    • Personalized stationery
    • Use of binoculars and golf umbrella
    • Oversized 100% cotton bath towels
    • Extra handheld hairdryer
    • Celebrity tote bag

Stateroom Features

    • Hansgrohe® massaging showerhead

Hopefully, this express check-in feature will serve us as well as the seamless check-in we experienced leaving San Diego on January 3rd when we boarded the Celebrity Century for our 15-night Panama Canal Cruise. Now, after three days in Florida, we are excited to board the new ship. 

Packing carefully, we’ll only have to open a few of our bags aboard the Equinox, hiding the remainder behind the curtains as Tom so cleverly managed to accomplish on the last cruise.  Hopefully, by dinner time tonight, we’ll be unpacked and ready to enjoy another fabulous evening dining with amazing food and meeting other passengers.

Last night, we finally booked our airfare for June 3, 2013, getting us back to Barcelona after our 15-night cruise and a two-week stay in Dubai.  We struggled when deciding on the airline and the flight time. 

Hoping to get a great price and handling of our excess luggage (two bags over the limit), we finally decided to go for the shortest non-stop flight (7 hours 55 minutes from Dubai to Barcelona) of which there was only one, at $700 per person with an allowance of two large bags plus one carry-on each. 

This flight was almost twice as much as the 11 hours, two stops, separate airlines, changing planes, layover flights offered.  We’ll store our two extra bags in a storage facility we found near the pier avoiding $100 in extra charges.

We decided that the 8:15 am flight on luxurious Emirates Air with many amenities was worth the extra expense including service of gourmet meals.  We don’t enjoy flying. Simplifying the process makes it a more pleasant experience leaving us comfortable with our decision. I had budgeted $1500 for this particular flight. We’ll have the extra $100 for tips and gum. 

Now, we must find a hotel for the one night we’ll stay in Barcelona until our cruise a day later, departing from Barcelona to explore the Mediterranean. While onboard the Equinox we’ll research and book the one night plus another night we’ll need a few months later, which we’ll describe in a future post.

Here we go once again, boarding our second Celebrity ship which placed us into the “Captain’s Club” providing some cocktail parties and extra perks which we’ll report on as we experience them.  That combined with the Concierge Class upgrade should make this an extra special experience.  After reading many reviews online, some cruisers didn’t see any added value for the two upgrades but we shall see how it works for us.  We’re easy to please and we appreciate even the slightest extra amenity.

Special thanks to our friend Carol in Boca Raton for putting up with us for three days, for the comfortable accommodations, the fun dinner party meeting her friends, and for the bothersome drive to and from the Fort Lauderdale Pier.

Back in touch soon with updates, pricing, and comments on the Celebrity Equinox and the journey to Belize.  Stay well.

Scary night aboard ship!…

 

View as we sailed away from the Panama Canal area with numerous ships awaiting beyond the breakwater for their upcoming transit through the canal.

Most likely, cruising is one of the safest modes of travel. 

We haven’t given our safety a second thought until last night during dinner as the ship was literally rolling back and forth, our glasses tinkling at our dining table nearly splashing out their contents. 

Tom and I glanced at each other with a look of uncertainty. We shrugged, returning to yet another enjoyable evening, again sitting next to a new couple engaging in lively animated conversation.  They had cruised many times and had traveled the world extensively.  It was reassuring to hear they’d been to and loved many of the places we plan to visit in the near future.

A discussion ensued concerning our upcoming
cruise to Dubai in May 2013 which they had the pleasure of experiencing a few years ago. This particular cruise offers several excursions in which we’ll surely partake: the Great Pyramids; the Sphinx and Giza.  They advised against paying additional fees to actually venture inside the Great Pyramids, saying that it was a waste of money with the space too small, too commercialized, and outrageously hot.  We take their advice seriously.

We welcome any advice from our readers worldwide as we share places we’ve yet to visit or while we’re staying in a particular area.  Please suggest restaurants, markets, local foods, places to visit and people to see.  Also, if you have knowledge of medical resources/doctors in the area, let us know.  We can’t be too prepared.  Please comment at the end of each daily post to which we’ll respond within 24 hours, once we’re able to get online.

We find ourselves suspicious and cautious of commercialized offerings that make one feel like cattle herded along to awaiting salespeople barking to “buy, buy, buy” which is often the scenario at most ports of call. 

Most of the excursions offered by the ship present the ultimate goal to place the passenger into a “buying” mood.  Most outings end up in some form of a retail area. We’ve recently discovered that most of the
excursions are owned by the cruise lines. Certainly, they are entitled to their profits. But then again, we are entitled to keep our money for our chosen future plans, not trinkets, artwork, local clothing, or jewelry. 

 
After yet another elegant dinner and the 9 PM show in the Celebrity Theatre, a nightly event we’ve only missed twice (the first night aboard ship and the Panama Canal night after which I was too exhausted with only two
hours sleep), we headed to our cabin as the ship continued its wild thrashing about in the strong winds.

Tom, bless his heart, can go on and on into the night but then again, he is five years younger than I.  Oh, it’s “hell to get old.” How we used to be able to manage the next day on so little sleep! 

Walking down the long hallway to our cabin, we faltered back and forth between the narrow walls as
the ship continued to sway. I had a particularly difficult time walking in 3″ heels weaving as if I were drunk (I don’t drink).

Once inside our cabin, we turned on the TV to the ship’s GPS station, showing our exact location, wind speed, etc. After checking our email, we decided to try to get some sleep as the ship raced toward our next destination, Cartagena, Columbia, (expected time of arrival at 8:30 am today). We were asleep by 11:30.

At 1:30 am I was startled awake by the sound of something falling off of a shelf in our cabin as the ship
flailed wildly in the sea. Twice, I got out of bed stumbling over our shoes and power cords scattered on the floor to witness the high white waves splashing up the sides of the ship.  On the 8th deck, the floor of our balcony was
covered with water.  I was a bit scared, to say the least.

 
Tossing and turning for hours unable to fall back to sleep, the sounds escalated around
4 am.  I wanted to wake up Tom during that period.  I couldn’t believe he was sleeping through it all. Finally, I turned toward him and in a whispered tone, I asked, “Are you awake?”

Mumbling, he said, “No, not really.” 

Hesitant to awaken him further I said, “Do you feel the rollin’?”  Hard of hearing after 42 years on the railroad, he said “Did you say “rollin’…rollin’?”

“Yes,” I answered in a louder voice, “rollin’!”

“On the river?” he asked.

“No,”  I laughed aloud, “on the sea!”

Leave it to my guy to make me laugh when I’m scared.  He has a magical way of comforting me with his non-stop sense of humor.  It was 4:00 am. Cuddling up we both wandered off to sleep.

At 7:15 am we were awakened by the loud roar of the ship’s side thrusters.  We were finally approaching Cartagena, Columbia. Bolting out of bed at exactly the same moment we threw back the balcony door drapes, opened the heavy sliding door and this is what we saw.

Downtown Cartagena Columbia.  All the buildings are white.

Again, tonight we’ll dine in the Grand Restaurant to later attend the live show “Groove,” an interactive 60’s party in the Grand Foyer, and then off to the Celebrity Theatre for their last live show of the evening.  Quite fun! We’re having the time of our lives!  Our new lives couldn’t be more fun, rolling seas or not.

Our transit through the Panama Canal…Watch us live!

Here’s the link of our passage through the Panama Canal
http://www.pancanal.com/eng/photo/camera-java.html

If you’ll go to this site right now, we are currently approaching the Gatun Locks.  By clicking on the webcam view for the High-Resolution Gatun Locks, you may be able to see our ship, the navy blue and white Celebrity Century, approaching the entrance to the Gatun Locks, currently in line behind several humungous ships.  Based on the poor Internet connection aboard ship, I am unable to load our photos now as I post this. However, this webcam view will show you what we’re able to see.

At 5:15 this morning we quickly managed our way to the 12th floor of the Celebrity Century to the Hemisphere Bar, the highest point on the ship except for the navigation bridge.  We wanted to ensure we grabbed two comfy padded front row chairs facing the full glass wall at the bow of the ship, a firsthand view of the upcoming Panama Canal.
In a mere two and a half hours, we’d begin the eight to ten-hour journey through the canal commencing at the Miraflores Locks.
After a fitful night’s sleep of only three hours, we both bolted out of bed at exactly the same moment when the sounds of the ship changed from a familiar purr to a rumbling series of roars indicating we were slowing down. It was 4:00 am.
Over the past two days, we discussed various strategies as to how and where we’d secure an advantageous spot for viewing the transit through the canal, hopefully in air-conditioned comfort at the bow of the ship. 

The air, thick and murky with dense humidity left us glistening and sweaty as the hot wind licked at our faces on the long outdoor walk past the pool to the 12th floor. 

Our trusty coffee mugs, loaded with a mixture of lukewarm regular and decaf would have to last us the few hours until we were willing to leave our seats for fear of losing a moment of the exhilarating view.
Comfortably ensconced in those perfectly positioned chairs provided us with a bird’s eye view of the “road ahead” or shall I say, the “canal ahead.” We were content.
A lively conversation ensued as others, as anxious as us, found their way to nearby seats, they too with fantastic views.  With nary a thought of our exhaustion until hours later, our heightened senses were tuned in for this adventure, the Panama Canal from the best seat in the house, an experience of a lifetime, one of many yet to come. 

Oh my, we’re so grateful. How did this happen to us? How did we manage to unload everything we owned, leaving our family and friends behind, to follow this newly discovered dream of spreading our wings in a much wider expanse than we’d ever imagined, to travel the world, to be free of hearth and home, while carrying “heart and home” with us?

As we entered the first of five locks on our way from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans, Tom with his extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the canal, narrated the process for me, while in the background the voice of Panama’s “Ambassador” and our onboard educator, Uncle Marty blared over the loudspeaker.

With literally no audible sound or sensation, our huge 830-foot long, ship, gently maneuvered through the first three locks, utilizing the power of aquatic gravity along with the use of six low gear locomotives drawing us forward through the Miraflores Locks to 54 feet above sea level. 

Eventually, we made our way through the third and final “raising” lock to a high of 85 feet above sea level and into Gatun Lake, a man-made reservoir that supplies Panama
Canal.

Amazing!  Purely amazing!  Simple gravity coupled with a small amount of motorized assistance is still working almost 100 years later. That feat, in itself, is mind-boggling.

Soon, we were traveling through Gaylord Cut, the nine-mile winding section of the canal at a snail’s pace, passing tankers, cargo ships, and container ships, one after another during the nine-mile crossing through the lake.

We passed by Gold Hill, the continental divide on our long journey to the remaining three lowering locks to eventually take us out to the sea, the Atlantic/Caribbean Sea. It’s all so hard to believe. 

This morning the sun came up over the Pacific but due to our location, we had a sense that the sun was rising in the west.  This evening, the sun will set in the Atlantic, again perceived as setting in the east as opposed to the west.  An odd phenomenon, for sure.

Soon, we’ll enter the locks and finally be back out to sea.  We’d love to post photos, but our Internet connection is barely able to post the text.

Exhausted? Yes!  Exhilarated? Yes!

Ah, our amazing world yet to be discovered by us as we continue on

 

Budgeting, wills and taxes…

Its been nagging at me.  I think about it every day with a sense of dread. 

On the massive Excel spreadsheet, I created for our 5 to 10-year worldwide journey, there is a worksheet page entitled “To Do in Scottsdale.”  It contains all the paperwork tasks we’ve had to complete before leaving the country on January 3, 2013. 

“To Do” lists never intimidated me, no matter how lengthy. I’ve always taken great comfort it chipping away at task after task ensuring each one completed in its entirety before going on to the next. 

Yes, I know.  I’m rather obsessive. We live with that.  It doesn’t intrude in the enjoyment of our lives, we don’t fight about it and it doesn’t prevent us from a rich and full life. 

Perhaps, in a certain way, it adds to our lives by eliminating thoughts of all the “things” we have to do.  One by one, I chip away at them, freeing our thoughts to more fulfilling moments.  No one ever heard me say, “Oh, I can’t come to the party ’cause I have to fill out forms.”  Never.

So, on that “To Do in Scottsdale” sheet we’ve knocked off everything (many of which I posted here and there) except for the following:
1.  Prepare and get new wills notarized (our bank here will notarize at no cost)
2.  Prepare and get new Living Wills and health care directives notarized.
3.  Prepare our taxes up to date, amending the last two weeks of this month at the end of the month forwarding everything to our accountant by snail mail. 

Oh, tax prep, I despise this task!  Always have, always will. Yesterday, I began the process and today, it will be completed except for additions as mentioned above. 

We couldn’t imagine living in Belize, steps from the ocean and ever feeling like going through that bag of receipts, let alone hauling them along with us. In future years, we’ll have used our handy Doxie portable scanner, saving all tax-related items.  Much easier to do as we go then dread it all along.

A few people have asked, “Will you still file tax returns and pay taxes in the US?”  The answer is “yes,” always. We will always remain US citizens, as do many ex-pats living outside the US. 

Having saved every receipt for absolutely every dime we have spent since leaving Minnesota on October 31, 2012, it was also time to enter our “actual” costs into that budgeting expense record.  Upon completing the tax portion which I will finalize today, I started totaling the other expenses, such as food and entertainment.

Our total cost for the three-day drive to Scottsdale $780.  We had budgeted $1065 but arrived one day early.  Fortunately, the property manager didn’t charge us for arriving a day early but had he, we still would have been within the budget.

Preparing the taxes and totaling the receipts (all of which we’ve saved) finally enable us to see how we’re doing on our budget.  As I mentioned, going forward, we’ll log (scan) and toss each receipt as the expense occurs to avoid hauling around a growing bag of receipts.

Here’s where we are so far for the variable expenses for food and entertainment with only 18 days left in 2012.

Groceries for Scottsdale
Budget:  $ 1700.00     Actual: $ 696.00

Dining Out & Entertainment for Scottsdale 
Budget:  $  300.00      Actual: $501.00

Total Budget for Groceries and Entertainment for two months: $ 2000.00
Actual (so far):                                                                   $ 1197.00
Balance available until we leave for Henderson next week:     $   803.00

Groceries for upcoming 8 days in Henderson over the holidays
Budget: $ 600.00

Dining Out & Entertainment for upcoming 8 days in Henderson over holidays:
Budget: $ 450.00

We’ve been in Scottsdale 40 days as of today, arriving on November 3rd for an average cost of $30 per day.  With 6 more days until we leave for Henderson, we’ll plan to spend another $180 for a total of $1377, leaving us an overage of $623.00.  Thus, our total available for Henderson is $1673.

Preferably, it won’t be necessary to use this overage, putting us ahead of our budget right out of the chute.  We’ll see how it goes, posting our “actual” costs later.  Of course, there are other costs we are reviewing and will be posting as we go along.

Today, I will finish the tax prep after my trip to the health club, leaving the file ready to receive the remainder of this month.  Tomorrow, we will re-do our wills bringing them up-to-date and re-do our living wills, getting them notarized at the end of the day.

Also, VisaHQ, our visa, and passport processing company, sent us an email that our second passports will be in our mail within one week.  Yeah!  We did all the paperwork correctly! 

By this weekend, we can relax knowing that the worst of our paperwork is done, a huge relief.

Isn’t this part fun?

Moving out on Sunday…

Its hard to believe that this is finally happening. We’re moving out in 48 hours. There’s no space for us here.

The counter tops, the stove top, every single surface is covered with price tagged items from our lives.  There’s no room for us to maneuver, tending to the daily rituals we have fashioned into our survival, our comfort, our solace. Its gone.  We must go.

I’d move out today if we could but Tom has to work.  We could leave on Saturday but, it will take a day to finish gathering up the last of our belongings, empty and clean the food cabinets, the cold storage room, the three refrigerators and one upright freezer.  

The estate sale people will clean up the house after the sale but we’ll come back to do the fine tuning, leaving it as spotless as possible.  I don’t like this part. I’ve moved twice in the past 40 years. How do I even remember that I don’t like it?

The sale begins a week from today, Friday October 26th, ending on Sunday the 28th, a total of three full days to unload a lifetime of stuff.  Last night, as we roamed from room to room noting the prices on the little pieces of blue tape on each item, we felt we had made peace with our own form of “sticker shock,” with prices too low, not too high. 

A Waterford bowl I had purchased to complete a set, over 30 years ago for $275, still in perfect condition with no signs of wear, is now offered at a mere $18. I could go on and on with such examples.  I won’t.  Its the nature of the beast.  We must accept it and move on.

Its funny how we all value our belongings much higher than the true market value…that which a buyer is willing to pay.  Its that simple.  Any item is only worth that which a buyer will pay.  That’s it.  No fluff. No variables. Question: What will they pay?  Answer: The value! 

We hear someone say, “Oh, that’s worth so much more than I paid.” I am as guilty as the next person claiming to have made a great deal.  From time to time, an item is a great deal, usually when extenuating circumstances preclude a seller to “unload” the product(s) in a short time frame.  That’s us, right now…sell everything we own in three short days. 

Thus, a time frame and a seller’s motivation determine a price, coupled with a buyer’s perception of their “need” of the product (a sense of urgency) and, their willingness to buy now at the right price.  Then, and only then, do we have a sale.  

Optimistically, we anticipate that everything will sell.  What doesn’t sell, we’ll donate to various charities. With the professional appraisals we’ll have on hand, we’ll be able to write off more than the usual $500.  The estate sale people will take care of everything, giving us the appraisals and the receipts.  That’s comforting.

Today, I will scour every nook and cranny in this house to ensure no items were missed, leaving them on a table the estate sale people designated for pricing next week.  I’ll vacuum everything.  I know.  That’s sounds silly.  I always vacuum before visitors arrive.

Tomorrow when Tom is home, we’ll finish the above, pack his car for the move on Sunday morning, spend valuable time with son Greg, daughter-in-law Camille (who continues to be helpful) and three of the precious little grandchildren. Oh. That part is coming.  The goodbye part. We leave in 12 days.

Next time I write in this blog in two days, late in the day on Sunday, I will no longer be sitting in this comfy chair.  We’ll be at dear friend Karen’s lovely home.  I’ll pick an appropriate spot and I will write again knowing that so much is behind us and finally…so much is yet to come.

Goodbye party on the point…Thank you…

Saturday, at 4:45 pm, after a laughter and tear-filled day spent with son Greg and daughter-in-law Camille, and going through a lifetime of photos, handing off precious bits of memorabilia, enjoying a homemade low carb gluten free pizza, we realized it was time to get ready and head down the street to our party.  

Scheduled to begin at 5 PM, it was a short walk of only four doors down the road to attend a going away peninsula party, hosted for us by our friend Sue.

Twenty six years of blissful dinner parties, cocktail parties, cocktail cruises on the lake, lawn parties, neighborhood parties, 4th of July celebrations, graduations, holidays and birthday parties.  Ironically, each of the three husbands in every other of five houses in a row on the point were born on December 23rd, which included my Tom, Doug and Chip. Coincidence?

(And most recently, hundreds of friends and family members came to celebrate his life and to grieve the loss of our dear friend Chip, Sue’s loving husband’s memorial service at the nearby University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. He would have wanted a party, but it was hard to celebrate without him there. Then again, he was there in all of our hearts).

The thoughtfulness, the love and the generosity of a friend, amid the throes of such loss, such grief, so zealously decided to throw a party for us. Mind boggling. Beautifully executed. Gluten-free foods for us. Our neighbors, our friends, in attendance, happy for us, wishing us a great adventure, interminable safety and relentless freedom.

We couldn’t have had more fun. Thank you, dear Sue. Thank you dear friends. How lucky and grateful we are.

Sunday morning, we faced yet another day of seemingly endless list of “to do’s.” Starting our day with a big breakfast of free range organic eggs fried in a dab of coconut oil, topped with guacamole, nitrate free bacon, a thick slab of nitrate free ham and organic chicken sausage with spinach and feta cheese, we were fueled for the day.  

Since we started this way of eating almost 15 months ago, we aren’t hungry all day. Formerly grazers, it’s a pleasant sensation to be comfortably satiated all day, free of the endless search for the next “food fix.”  

Eating low carb, gluten/grain/starch/sugar free diet prevents the addictive centers of the brain from crying for a constant fix of high carb foods. Over the past year I’ve been following the new research that is emerging daily clearly defining that our relentless hunger is a result of blood sugar spikes and brain chemistry.  

By eating a moderate protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet, we have found it easy to stop thinking about eating, simply enjoying two delicious and satisfying meals a day. More on this later.

So, we hauled our six orange Antler suitcases to our friend Karen’s home where we will reside from the night of October 24th until the day we leave Minnesota, October 31st.  

The thought of staying in our house during the estate sale seemed preposterous to us and to our estate sale guy, Jim Anderson.  Most likely, the furniture will sell first. If returning during the sale, we’d witness the vacant spot where our two comfy chairs had been or, see strangers traipsing down the road with their arms loaded with our stuff.  No thank you.

It’s unusual for us to stay in another’s home.  We seldom traveled over these past years together, rarely feeling compelled to leave the lake or our pups (dog lovers understand). When we did, we stayed in hotels, fearful of imposing upon others in varying parts of the country. 

Let’s face it. I am not the easiest house guest.  Tom is.  Not me.  My family and friends accept my cooking and eating habits along with my endless array of eccentricities around the house; nary a dish in the sink or an item of clothing left in the laundry basket.  

Of course, my ultimate desire is to avoid making others uncomfortable with my peculiarities. Thus, I am somewhat of a “closet” perfectionist. 

It is only this confession that so clearly reveals why all the details of the planning of this year’s long adventure is not laborious to me.  It fuels my passion for the infinitesimal, researched and documented until there is no more. Then, the finale, let it go and enjoy it.    

Thank you, dear husband Tom for accepting my eccentricities with your usual aplomb and great sense of humor, for teaching me to laugh at myself and not taking it all so seriously.

So, house guests, we will be.  I will temper my ways, saving room for the relentless teasing I have so welcomed over the years while trying to simply enjoy the process.  

In 9 days, we move out for good.  In 16 days, we leave.  Thank you, family. Thank you, friends. Thank you, husband. Thank you, God, for them, for the joy they’ve given us and for that which the world has yet to offer.