Monday, November 22, 2010

Yes, I'll take a pat down.

Okay, I know - I was supposed to write another round of London today.  And I will get back to it - I promise...but I'm just getting too worked up over all these folks bitching and moaning about airport security to ignore it.

I also met an actual airport security guy (let's call him Stew) at a get together on Saturday night - and after chatting with Stew for quite a long time (yes, we all grilled him), I gotta say - people are just stupid. 

(Newsflash?  Not really).

As usual, the media is honing in on the minuscule percent of the population that isn't supportive of the changes in procedure.  As usual, the media is replaying over and over one guy's strange desire to have his pat down recorded.  (I can't say for sure...but I'm guessing he has a mirror over his bed, too).

The first thing that keeps coming to my mind?  Do we not remember 9/11?  I realize it's been nearly a decade - but can you not remember how you felt as the planes went down one after another? 

Or really, just remember the second plane - because that was the one that told the story.  We were under attack.  Before that one hit, it was just a horrible plane crash.  After it hit, it was terrorism. 

Here's what I remember - feeling scared out of my mind and completely vulnerable.  Feeling trapped (I was in Michigan and actually scheduled to fly that day) and wanting someone to tell me how or when it was going to all shake out.  And I remember how the pit in my stomach kept growing - as the third plane went and then the fourth and then the first tower and then the second.  And how that pit stayed in my stomach for weeks - slowly shrinking, yes, but still there. 

And while reality says there are no completely fool proof check points - is it not smarter to set up something pretty strict now instead of after someone hops on a plane with an explosive strapped to their leg?  Why does it make more sense to people to put these procedures in place after the fact?

There's no 'junk-touching' or 'nipple twisting.' There's a reason you stand on a mat with your feet placed in the marked spots.  There's a reason gloves are worn.  There are reasons why the image scanners are located away from the image readers and why you can request a same sex pat down or not - depending on your mood.

Today I heard someone say that there should be an age limit - where maybe someone under three years old wouldn't have to get scanned or patted.  Why?  Because if a terrorist has no problem killing hundreds of people, would they really have a problem using a toddler as their carrier?  Especially if such a limit tells them pretty clearly to  hide any prohibited objects under an infant.

And I really do doubt that there is a mad dash of 'perverts' signing up for jobs at TSA.  I think the more likely scenario is that the new guidelines came out and a lot of currently employed TSA folks went "Ugh, this is going to suck...."

Back to my new friend, Stew.  Stew doesn't wake up wondering who he'll get to touch that day.  He gets up and prays that he doesn't make a mistake. He's very much aware that if he does and sends someone on a plane that is then tossed out of the sky - it's on him. Stew's not patting down passengers down to make them uncomfortable or embarrassed.

He's doing it to make them live.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

London, Part I: Really, William? Really??

I went back and forth a bit today about whether or not I'd do my planned blog about our last trip stop - London.  See, I absolutely 185% LOVED London.  Until a little over 24 hours ago, when from London came some rather shocking news. 

Not even from the horse's mouth - but via a newscast.

Public breakups are never appropriate, Prince William.  I mean, yes, I suspected Kate was leading the race to the altar.  But in my heart, my mangled heart, I still held out hope.  So good luck.

Dear Harry,

Well, as Eminem would say...Snap back to reality.

As warned, we were kicked of our cruise ship in Dover, England.  Now, on departure day, you are given a specific time to depart - this keeps the groups going to the same places together.  There's the airport buses, the hotel buses, the people who are actually getting back on the ship buses, etc.

My family waited until the allotted time and went to the appropriate bus.  Where we faced a cluster...

Turns out everyone else on this hotel bus dashed out early.  And half of them thought it was appropriate to bring their three weeks of luggage on board instead of stowing it underneath.  Turns out the same half also preferred not to sit with their husband/wife/significant. 

In summary, there was no where for us to sit.  And no one willing to adjust.  Did I mention just how cranky people get at the end of a three week vacation?  Multiply it by a big number.

We finally ended up in the very back row - the one that goes five across - where the middle seat is barely a seat and faces directly up the aisle.  Yes, I'm nearing 40...and I still had to sit on the hump.

The bus ride turned into four hours of hell.  Flanking me were my dad and a guy from Colorado.  Within minutes, both were sound asleep.  When grown men fall asleep, gravity forces them towards the middle.  Where I sat. 

The whole point of this ride is to keep you busy until it's time to check into your hotels.  We did actual circles around London.  Many, many, many circles - but no actual stopping.

Until a bathroom riot.  Never deny 40 cranky people a potty break.

Yes, eventually the hell ended and we were deposited at our hotel.  Who didn't seem to be expecting us so early.  Which gave us a much needed hour to drink a beer, eat fish and chips and re-live the morning.

Now, on my London List, I had three things:
1.  The Tower of London
2.  A Toasted Cheese Sandwich in Borough Market
3.  Harrods

Harrods could only fit in on this first day in London - and had to take place between hotel check-in and our appointment to ride the London Eye.  The window was small and shrinking.  Surely we wouldn't start off this stop with a total strike out?

In a SHOCKER, Mom and I were not only granted our Harrods wish AND Dad would be joining us.  (Yes, I should have sense something strange...).

And, after a quick taxi ride...
We did it!  Now, for those of you who may be thinking, "Oh yippee, a department store..."  No,'re so wrong.  This is some sort of mecca with floor after floor and department after department. 

I seriously believe I could spend a full week in this store and still not see everything.

Ah, but the rub. 

Upon entering through these doors to heaven on earth....Dad looked at his watch and said, "Okay, have one hour." 

Come again?

We zipped through that store buying whatever we could reach.  I bought Oven Roasting Mitts.  I don't even have a roasting pan.  I couldn't even guess when the last time my oven was on.  But they are so cute!

We snatched up stuff on our right, stuff on our left - a total pay now, figure out what you bought mentality.  And I've never seen such a display of Burberry or Louis V..  Endless.

They even had an enormous pet section - where you could buy actual puppies.  If you had a spare couple grand.  Couldn't be done in our allotted hour.

In fairness to Father Time...our scheduled London Eye ride was at 5pm and after that, a 9.30pm stop at the Tower of London - so I guess the stopwatch was necessary.

Still...Harrods...I'm coming back to you.  Don't you worry.

Consider yourself on notice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

AmsterDAM that's a cool city.

Going from Oslo to Amsterdam was actually a bit of a downer.  Because to get there, we had a day at sea - which meant a day of, "What should we do today?"  Which turned into, "Oh shoot, this cruise almost over, we should start packing while we're killing time in the North Sea."  Yeah, total bummer.

And the ship doesn't even pretend they want you to say because you start getting mail at your door that includes exit tags for your luggage, invoices reminding you of what you bought while on board and details on how they'd like you to leave the ship (8am, promptly after swiping your ship card for the last time) in two days.  Rude...I thought we were friends.  Don't they have any sympathy for our mental state?

The quickest way to Amsterdam is through a lock system (basically this is a stopping point to change water levels - enabling the ship to take a short cut - obviously they were really in a hurry to end our tour).

Never having been through a lock system, I opted to get up at the crack of dawn to watch the process.  My folks had done the whole Panama Canal, so this was old hat for them. 

Here's how I remember it - early, cold, dark and misty.  I also remember the minute I found out that I could have just waited for the reverse show scheduled at 5pm the same day.  Doodies...I hate when I give up a perfectly good sleep-in unnecessarily.

After the museum punishment of Oslo, I made sure to read up on the Amsterdam tour.  It started with the words "Tour of the Reclaimed Land."  Oh boy.  Snoozer Potential.


The whole tour was about how Holland opted to use a windmill system to lower the water level in order to inhabit the lands.  Without the windmills, the land would be under water.  With it, the land is total utopia for plant life. 

I never thought the words "Hydrangea Envy" would cross my lips.  But I did take several pictures to bring back to my own garden - my Hydrangea has not responded to these motivational posters.

We did tour an old windmill - and, yes, they are still maintained by real live Millers (in case there is ever an emergency, they'd crank these up to help out).  More importantly - they really do wear wooden shoes!  Who knew?? 

 Evidently they are really good in the saturated ground for keeping feet dry. 

Especially when you are heading out to the outhouse.  I'm not seeing very much privacy in this area...

The thought did cross my mind to buy a pair (of wooden shoes, not prehistoric outhouses that leave last night's dinner in your canal). 

Then I remembered where I live.  Probably not very useful in the drought land.

And the most popular response I get to anyone who hears I was in Amsterdam?  "Did you smoke any pot?"  Um, no, I did not.  I did however make note of the Cannabis Cafes - especially while walking past them.  And you can actually buy the seeds in the flower market.  No wonder the people were so chill.

After a day our touring in the mist, we were forced back to the ship - to once again face the fact that we were now just one day away from our departure.  

As we were beginning our trek back to the lock...a rainbow popped up behind one of those new-fangled windmills.  

Those were either storm clouds or the exhaust from the Cannabis Cafes...   

And after an hour or so we were back at the lock that stirred me to get up so early - except this time I could see it.  This just doesn't seem like a great idea...but I'm no engineer.  It seemed even more sketchy as we sailed in - noting that we had what seemed like a yard of space on either side.  And the tiniest string tossed out to some potentially homeless and or high dudes to 'guide' our ship through.  Right, just aim us at the little white dot up there. 

We made it through with no drama, other than folks fighting for the best seat in the observation lounge.  People get testy when they know their next job is to pack up their dirty clothes!

Oh, yes - back to the shoes - this was the pair I loved the most.  Not quite my size, but definitely a fashion statement, no?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Oslo, Norway. OR, holy crap how many museums are there here?

When you are super lucky like me and you save your pennies for a year or so and you get yourself signed up for an amazing cruise - you are sent a list of excursions from the ship essentially asking you how you would like to spend your days.

Are you one of those folks who prefer a slow vacation - where you don't really do anything scheduled, but instead bum around on your own?  Or are you on of those folks who want to dive into as much as you can in an attempt to fill up every minute of your stop? 

I'm mostly the latter - although there are days when I'd prefer the former. 

With my parents - this usually works out perfectly.  Much of what they want to see is also what I want to see, so we do our excursions together.  (I do have the 'go-ahead' to do something on my own ~ and actually signed up for Sea Kayaking in Tallin, Estonia on this trip (I'm not 100% sure my mom was on board with that one).  Of course, Tallin was the stop where we didn't stop because the sea was not behaving.)

Oslo, Norway is at the end of a long, long fjord.  Right, so a fjord is a narrow inlet with steep cliffs on both sides and water that is generally deeper than the actual see.  In other words - it's not ugly at all.  All the way into Oslo we passed beautiful marinas and homes.   

Because it takes so long to get from the sea to Oslo, we had another shortened day - arriving at about 10am, touring from 1pm to 5pm and then back on the ship to head back down the fjord to our next stop.

Being the crazy go-getters that we are - we decided to hop on a Hop-On/Hop-Off bus parked at the port and take a pre-tour of Oslo before our scheduled excursion.

I can't really explain how glad I am to have done that. 

Because, evidently when I was picking out excursions with my mom and dad I failed to notice the part of our tour that said, "Spend day at three separate boat museums where you will quickly tire of history and begin a staggering quest to maintain a pulse."

Sometimes I just get museum-ed out.  Or it might be that I don't need much time in a museum to get the picture.  Or maybe I'm not a fan of items stowed behind glass where I can't touch them.  Or maybe we were just so deep into the trip that my brain was fried.

We did three museums...The Viking Ship Museum, the Kon Tiki Museum and the Fram Museum.  And yes, I can tell you what each of these museums hold and what part of nautical history they represent. 

But I'm not going to.

I did vow to read the Kon Tiki book at some point in my life. 

Now, our Hop-On/Hop-Off tour - that was cool.  Although too quick.  (PS - if you're ever abroad, these tours are a really easy way to learn the city quickly - and you have the freedom of hopping on and off to explore where and when you want to). 

Oslo is one of those super-progressive cities - they seem to have a total handle on thinking ahead and being proactive.  Currently they are finishing off a tunnel that will take all the city traffic under ground to alleviate congestion. 

And, of course, there's that national health care thing - they have it, it works.  Oh, did you have a baby? Take a year off.  And make sure your husband joins you for the first six weeks.  Okay, I'm sure it's not REALLY all rainbows and unicorns, but the guide did a pretty sweet sell job.

So while the excursion wasn't my favorite of the tour - I really did like the city.  We got to see the Royal Yacht coming in from a vacation trip...and the Royal Horse Farm (another place I'd like to live).  There were some decent old castles that could use an exploration or two next time.

Plus it was another stop where we came back from our touring, dropped dad off at the ship and then did a u-turn to go shopping.  Which is always a win.