Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “Elderly travellers”

Excavating a Life (Los Altos TOWN CRIER April 2014)

Pix of Dimi

 

My husband’s mother, known to friends and family as “Dimi”, died at 102, and I went with my husband to help arrange funeral services and reacquaint ourselves with family. We stayed in my husband’s boyhood bedroom in his mother’s abandoned house.

The house had been rented out for a few months to a family connection who had used mostly the first floor. Almost all Dimi’s belongings had been moved to the second floor. They included a couple of bedrooms’ worth of furniture, plus boxes and baskets of documents, oddments, gewgaws, and bric-a-brac.

As a relative by marriage only, I enjoyed going through the boxes, bins, and dresser drawers which had been jumbled together, and the closer relatives seemed relieved to have an unemotional eye sorting through the accumulation. It was exciting to explore, as if I were doing an archaeological dig through the strata of a life.

I found a newspaper clipping with a picture of Dimi at about 18, as she starred in a college play. At her 90th birthday she had listed as one of her regrets that “I never acted on Broadway.” We had thought she was joking. Was it a real dream at one time?

In a drawer of a bureau upstairs I found a wedding photo. We had thought that my husband’s parents had not been able to afford a fully costumed and documented wedding in 1933, the beginning of the Depression. Yet here they were, he looking dapper and debonair in a suit, vest, and watch chain, she glamorous in a swooping hat, full length white lace gown, and sporting an enormous bouquet.

I found a letter from a soldier dated April, 1945, thanking Dimi for a newsletter she had sent as a class correspondent. He said it was like a breath of spring to hear from her, and asked to be remembered to the college professors he had admired. Did C.E. “Dutch” Eby, Lieutenant on the USS Barron, survive the last few months of the war?

I found a note from a young woman who had been a childhood friend of Dimi’s daughter, saying that she had always thought of Dimi as a ideal parent, and she had tried to model her own parenting after Dimi.

I found notes from people whom Dimi had met on her travels, from Guam, and Australia, and Hawaii, and Norway, with whom she had kept in touch and in friendship for decades after their chance meetings.

I found notes written between Dimi and her husband of 40 years, including the last heartbreaking one when he was in the grip of his last illness, knowing he was near his end, just before his death.

I found lists of Christmas presents which Dimi had given year by year. In later years, many of these presents were ludicrously inappropriate, mis-sized, or obviously pre-owned. We laughed with other family members about the too-small shirts, the ladies’ sweaters given to grandsons, the tarnished necklaces with missing stones. Yet these lists showed how much thought and care she had taken so that no child or grandchild or even great-grandchild would go unremembered as her family grew.

On my return home I looked at my cluttered closets and crammed desk drawers with a different eye. I knew Dimi so much better since I had delved into the strata of her life. Maybe one day my children will learn to know me better also thanks to the clutter I leave behind.

 

Freeway Free in Spain: Madrid and its Museums – El Prado

El Prado 3D galleryEl Prado

At El Prado you can thrill your fill on the Big 3 of Spanish painting: Goya, El Greco, Velasquez.  Wow!  I warmed up with a roomful of Hieronymous Bosch (inspiration for every sci fi paperback anthology cover ever printed).  The Garden of Earthly Delights is enough to give one nightmares for a week.  On the wall catty corner is Breughel’s Triumph of Death  with Death leading an army of skeletons against the doomed remainder of mankind – the original zombie apocalypse.Bosch - Earthly Delights and Torments After

Unfortunately, a guard informed me that photos are not allowed soon after I left Bosch and Breughel, so I will have to link you to websites for you to get your tastes of G, V, and el G.

I was headed for Goya but got side-tracked by Velasquez.  Three hundred years before the Impressionists, this man knew exactly how to make light shine out of a picture.  I could have looked at his portrait of the Infanta Maria  and her handmaidens and dwarves for hours speculating on what was happening in each person’s mind, but the traffic of Japanese, German, French, and Spanish tour groups impeded reflection.

So I proceeded on my search for Goya but went the wrong way and got caught by El Greco  - even earlier than Velasquez, and combining use of light and of exaggeration to portray emotion and character in a way that prefigures Toulouse-Lautrec by 400 years.

W and I had split up after Bosch and Breughel.  When we reunited for lunch I was ready to babble about El Greco while she had found and been immersed in Goya, especially the “black Goyas” from his late period.  We exchanged enthusiasms, and then went out to explore again.

This time I found the Goyas and worked backward from the black period all the way to when he was hired to do “cartoons” of designs of frolicking gypsies and children,  to be used as patterns for tapestries at the local royal weavers workshop.  Amazing.  Age and war do alter one’s  point of view, and to go backwards in his career, from the murals of massacre and the blindness of fate to these sunny comic scenes, was especially poignant.

So which was the greatest painter of the Big Three?  Impossible to choose.

 

 

Freeway-free in Spain: Madrid and its Museums: Reina Sophia

Line for Dali

Madrid is a big city, the largest we have visited in Spain. Unlike the other largish cities we have visited, it does not seem to have a historic center; the Plaza Mayor is a nice place in daylight, but in the evening it is a haven for the homeless who are sheltering in cardboard boxes left over from the day’s sales of tidbits and trinkets for tourists. The main gathering place for events is the Puerta del Sol, site of the city hall and of Madrid’s civic mascot, the statue of a bear reaching for fruit on a strawberry tree (obviously not the kind of strawberries we grow for shortcake in the US).  Unlike other European capitals, it does not have an iconic identifying landmark, like the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben  or the Brandenburg Gate or St. Paul’s Cathedral.  What Madrid has is Art, in three world-class museums, and in Madrid we looked at Art, with an occasional eyeball-break in the lovely Parque del Buen Retiro.

Here are our experiences with the Big Three (spreading over a couple of posts):

Museo de la Reina Sophia
Reina Sophia focuses on  Spanish modern art with the jewel of the collection being
PIcasso’s  Guernica Pablo-Picassos-Guernica-001.  The museum was having a special exhibit of Dali
which had started two days before our arrival and despite the drizzle the line to get in there was across the plaza  when we arrived at 4:30.  We decided to do the rest of the museum and come  back later for Dali.  We worked our way up in the general admission line, and  discovered gleefully that as seniors we qualified for free admission to  everything but Dali.  W had done her prep and started us on the second floor, but even  then we wore out our feet and our brains before we got to Guernica.  

Two days later we came back to the Reina Sophia for a second go-around.  This time we let ourselves drown in the overwhelming torrents of Dali and Picasso. These had never been my favorite painters, but after learning of the background against which they lived and painted I am more favorably inclined.

I did not know that Guernica had been painted on commission by the republican government of Spain to show at the Spanish pavilion at the 1936 World’s Fair in Paris.  I did not know it  was part of an attempt to win world sympathy for the republicans in the Civil War against Franco. (They got a lot of sympathy, but Franco still won). And I did not know that during World War II Dali had to flee Spain for France, then for the USA. There he became the first performance artist/career celebrity, perfectly reading the needs of the host country, anticipating Paris Hilton and Madonna by a half-century.

After drinking from the fire hydrant of history and art at Reina Sophia, the park was a chance to stretch our legs and our eyes over some longer distances.  There is something very refreshingly basic about a vista that includes a little girl and a pigeon.

Park and Pigeon

From Russia with Love – Day 6 – St. Petersberg finale

[Note: I was reviewing my notes, and discovered I had skipped our last day in St. Petersburg - sorry for time warp!]

Today started early : Alarm at 7:30 AM for bus departure at 9 to take us for our Hermitage tour.

Mom agreed  to use a  wheelchair reluctantly but very glad of it by the time the two hour tour was over .  We had access to the elevators instead of the stairs, got preferential deference from the 30-odd Japanese tourists who were grouped on our bus – they were charmed by my Shibuya jacket and   my three sentences of Japanese.  They beckoned us to the front of the crowd for each of the picture stops, insisted we get ahead in the loo for access to the handicapped stall – It is good to be a dowager.  I got all the privileges as the designated pusher.

I didn’t have my camera at the Hermitage, but Duke Zoran – entertainer on the cruise ship – took many pix, including the Return of the Prodigal Son, which was one of my favorites also (parental love, sibling rivaly).  Other faves: Raphael’s amazing ceiling frescoes of God creating the Heavens and the Earth (so sweeping and dynamic – conveys a real sense of the Power that created all we know), Titian’s “Danae” (an orgasm in progress – makes Rembrandt’s painting of the same subject a few rooms later look positively prudish) – and a bunch of Pisarro’s and Picasso’s that we had to zoom by as our time was running out.

The Monet’s and Degas’s were B level, the Gauguins were more interesting to me than those at the Louvre.  It was all a bit overwhelming – especially in the context of the incredibly ornate, marble-columned, gilt chandeliered, parquetry-floored Winter Palace and Hermitage rooms.  Oh yeah, there were some da Vinci’s and Fra Lippo Lippi – just more than you could stop to take in.

Back at the boat, we had our first served lunch rather than the buffet – delicious salad, beautifully served – irresistible desserts. Back in our spacious suite, Mom napped while  I struggled to send a simple email – it seems Hotmail is technically challenged in exotic locales.

So I vented my frustration with a brisk walk along the English Embankment.  Oh, how good it felt to walk at rated speed after several days of accommodating Mom’s tentative pace!  I stormed along, found my tension easing, and was able to come up with some alternative communication strategies (Facebook!  Mom’s gmail account!).

The Engllish Embankment where we were docked was easy distance from St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the big civic park which also houses the iconic statue of Peter the Great commissioned by Catherine.  I saw children somersaulting in the park, saw an intrepid 5-year-old scaling the Thunderstone and then sliding down as if it were playground equipment. (It does have potential as a slide – see photo from rear above.) There were brides and grooms canoodling in the grass for photographers and relatives; I used my odd rubles in the W.C.; I struck up some conversations… a fine liberation!

5:00: Lifeboat drill.  An example of “First  tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them”.  We lined up in our orange life vests at our muster stations and received our safety instructions (if you see someone fall overboard, throw a life preserver and holler “Man overboard!”  If you see a fire, push the red fire alarm button nearest you and holler “Fire!”)

6PM – we launch from the dock. Slowly, slowly, we edge away from the pier, turn end for end, sail out past the mothballed submarine, the tall ship used for training Russian naval cadets, the container port.  We can see rain sweeping up over St. Petersburg behind us, but we are just ahead of it.  West to Finland!

Dinner at “Il Terrazo” – the Terrace café reconfigured as a semi-luxe Italian restaurant.  there were some glitches with the menu, but what we ended up with was just what Mom wanted (spaghetti with meat sauce- most basic and authenic) ; we both enjoyed the eggplant wrapped around fresh tomato and cheese;  my “osso bucco” was really veal shank, not ox tail, but it was ok. And that will end our “gourmet” dinners for the cruise – the really swank restaurant was booked to overflow the afternoon of the first day, so we don’t have to deal with it.

We are skimming along the Bay of Finland under clearing skies at 9:20 PM – seems like 6PM at home.  Mom is wrapped in a terry robe under a comforter and about to be gone;  I am enjoying my journal but not thinking about stretching to anything more serious – I guess this is vacation.

From Russia With Mom – Day 11 – Rostock Harbor/ Warnemunde

We arrive at port about 6AM with a tremendous grinding and bustle of engines.  From Rostock it is possible to train to Berlin, wander that city, then return by train – 6 hours round trip to wander for three.  Mom and I opt for the local bus tour of Warnemunde instead, as we have both visited Berlin, albeit decades ago.  It is a beautiful day, about 70 F. out, I can see the tram passing, see people wandering along the promenade, but  Mom doesn’t want to go out until the scheduled outing to make sure her feeling of chill and digestive unease is past – not un-anticipated, but a bit frustrating.  I resolve to go for a long bike ride when I get home.

Finally the bus ride/ walking tour – we are in the bus with the South American Contingent – only one other couple speaks English as a first language.  The guide, Irene, a sweet young thing with  wispy voice , has a hard time keeping control.

Fun: a fountain with a bunch of naked figures, in which a number of equally naked young children dance.

A Lutheran church which coopted a Catholic church in full ornate mode – somehow they adjusted, by not insisting on restoring the historic stained glass windows which were destroyed in the war.

It is stunning to realize that we are in EAST Germany – the gray side of the Berlin Wall when I last toured as a student.  Instead of the Stalinist blocks which I had seen before, we see sunny plazas, brightly-dressed people, frolicking children,  flowers – and McDonald’s and TJ Maxx.  Some Stalinist statuary remains, but mostly on a sunny day that past does not show.

After the tour, which ended up covering quite a bit of cobble-stoned pavement, Mom decided to recuperate, and I bolted for the gangplank to do a little unguided exploring.  Of course there was a souvenir mart close to the cruise ship docks, and evidently there had been some sort of civic sand sculpture competition quite recently. The theme seemed to require some reference to Warnemunde’s history;  the themes ranged from serious to sensuous. (see below).

Warnemunde city fathers

Tips on travel with the Oldest Old – Part IV– Trains and buses

Maybe you get seasick in swimming pools.  Maybe you get claustrophobia if there is no escape route from a boat.  A second alternative available in some areas is old-fashioned luxury rail travel.  I’m not talking about AmTrak with its erratic schedules and limited meal service.  There are excellent tours by rail if you search diligently – and are willing to pay.

For example, Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer luxury train starts in either Jasper or Banff and winds its way through the Canadian rockies past glaciers,, wildlife, and snowcapped peaks.  You can choose to travel with three different levels of luxe– a car with picture windows with a box lunch brought to your seat,  a dome car with hot breakfast and lunch served at your seat, or a dome car with an open bar and a dining service below offering a choice of excellent gourmet meals with white tablecloths, crystal glassware, and attentive service.   The train travels only in daylight so as not to miss a scenic moment, and you disembark in the evening to stay in 4-5 star historic hotels  along the route.

Other luxury train travel opportunities are available in the UK, Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa.

Caveats:

You are likely to have different stopping points each night – lots of unpacking and re-packing

Use of the premium service requires that you must be able to negotiate the  narrow spiral staircase between the sightseeing and dining levels of the rail car.

Options are pricey, pricier, and priciest

=======

A third alternative – luxury bus travel

Advantages:

Bus tours cost depends on the tour company, but are generally  more affordable than either cruise or rail travel

There is a wider variety of destinations available by bus than by boat or train. A top-end bus tour company will put its travelers into the same hotels as the luxury train might offer, and has more flexibility in offering excursions to restaurants and other attractions outside the hotel.

Caveats:

Bus travel, no matter how well sprung the bus and how insulated the engine, is more tiring than cruise or train travel, with more on-and-offs for trick knees and hips to endure.

Compared to cruise or train travel, there is more “dead time” on the bus between destinations, and less ability to move about.  If you get carsick trying to read on a bus, you have few entertainment alternatives, no matter how many sing-alongs and Draw-the-Moose competitions your tour guide instigates.  And if sing-alongs and Draw-the-Moose competitions are not your thing – so much the worse!

Like train travel,  bus travel is likely to  involve multiple overnight locations.  If you don’t want to pack and repack every day, check   itineraries for tours that have a central hub for overnights with tours branching out to different destinations each day.

From Russia with Mom – Day 10 – Ronne Harbor, Bornholm

Danish beer and kippers in Bornholm

Years ago my husband spent his summers as a bus tour guide, sometimes heading up an expedition of seniors going from New York to San Francisco.  His problem was – what do you talk about after Chicago until you get to the Rockies?  He emcee’d a number of trivia contests, draw-the-buffalo contests, sing-a-longs – anything to make the hours pass as they cruised through the open blank spaces of South Dakota and Iowa and Nebraska.

The challenge for our Baltic cruise planner was similar – on one end you have St. Petersburg – the Paris of the Baltic, glittering with history, palaces, and art.  On the other end is Copenhagen – home of the Tivoli Gardens , the historic inspiration for Disneyland.  But in between?  Once you have spent a day in Helsinki and a day in Stockholm, then what?

Our cruise planners did the best they could.  Ronne (Denmark’s laid-back resort island)  provides at least an excuse for parking the boat for awhile, and at best a real sense of what life might be like out of the urban tourist centers.  On Ronne  it would be possible to rent a bicycle and see the land from an inhabitant’s perspective.  From a bus, the experience was like flipping through postcards – stop here at the unusual round church…

Unusual round church

American expat glassblower’s studio

….stop there are the American expatriate glass-blower’s studio,

….have lunch at the Danish deli for kippers, open-face sandwiches and Danish beer (see above)……  Other than these brief emergences, we were in the tourist bubble at all times.

Still, I must not under-value the emergences.  I saw wild-flowers blooming against the seawall, smelled grass drying in the sun, ate a kipper, felt the sun’s heat radiating from the cobbles on a warm day – these will stay with me.

Wildflowers in the sun at Ronne

From Russia with Mom – Musing on Cruising

After only three days on the boat we are learning about the culture of cruising.  Life is divided between the Boat and the Bus -  cruising from port to port, followed by  at least one bus tour at each stop.  As a companion/escort for the oldest person on the boat, my goal is :Don’t be last to board the bus.  This is not easy.

In Stockholm we kept no-one waiting as we left the boat, nor after the Vasa Museum.

But we were the last on the bus after visiting the Stockholm City hall where they hold the Nobel Prize banquet each December 10.  Here is what the guide (a charming Swedish Carol Channing type)  said in her Swedish accent:  “When you exit the souvenir shop go through the arch on the left there will be your bus waiting.”

We were not the only ones who heard: “When you exit the souvenir shop, go through the arch.  On the left there will be your bus waiting.”

She meant :” When you exit the souvenir shop, go through the arch on the left.  There will be your bus waiting.”

The issue – there were two arches – one IN FRONT of the exit, as well as a much less prominent arch in the dark on the left when you exit.   So we got lost (along with Christine and Mark from Pennsylvania, bless their hearts) and were retrieved twenty minutes later by the assistant guide who was supposed to be bearing up the rear to make sure all laggards were accounted for, but somehow lost track of us. Bah!

Doing the bus tour each day feels like being part of a canned travelogue in a bubble, but I can’t leave Mom on her own, so I have abandoned the bike tours which were going to be my  variety.  The lap of luxury is still a lap – we are used to being a bit more active.

Back on the boat, at a cocktail party for first-timers we met two other sets of mother/daughter voyagers.  The 89 year old said to Mom –” so sorry to hear you have beaten me by two years – I’m not the oldest on the boat!”

Mom rapped back instantly “I’m sorry too!”  General laughter.

Mom at lunch: “There’s a statue over there – it’s a copy of something that is very familiar;  I think it’s Rodin;, can you name it?”  I look, see no statue.  “I don’t recognize a statue,” I say to her.  She gets up, goes closer to see.  The waiter mimes anxiously, as she wanders toward the deserted corner, “Is she all right?”  I mime “It’s ok.”  Mom looks about in the corner, returns .  “It was a pile of dirty napkins.  That’s AWFUL!”

There are a lot of groups, but we are not part of any.  Even the mothers-and-daughters have other family members they are with, and no invitations to join them are forthcoming  So we are spending a lot of time together.  I have much more understanding of the handicaps Mom is living with – and more admiration for the way she gallantly overlooks and surmounts them.

It is what it is.  Her eyesight and hearing seem to go in and out – she can spot a sign out of the corner of her eye “Did that say ‘teleferique’?” No, it was “telegraf” – pretty close;  and then mistake a pile of napkins for a statue by Rodin.  She can rap right back in conversation, and then not be able to hear me across the table. Meanwhile, I am learning to go at a slower pace, to listen, to think ahead, to appreciate the small comforts of a cozy robe, a sunny balcony, a reclining chair.

From Russia with Mom – Day 8-9 – Stockholm

Stockholm – Another sparkling day  spent in buses and museums. You can imagine being a Viking on a day like this, cruising through the inlets and isles of the Swedish coast, riding the wind on a dragon boat, monarch of the world!

Some museums are worth it.  The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is a jaw dropper!  Nothing had prepared me for the impact of this one-of-a-kind, perfectly thought-through museum.  Walk into the darkened hallway and enter the cavernous museum hall  and there is a 17th century war ship levitated from the deep like something in a fevered dream of Pirates of the Caribbean, except that not even Jack Hawkins could imagine the demented level of decoration (when you look up the work ornate  in the dictionary … or did I say that before ?) – spars and shrouds and rigging all looking like it is ready to sail off into a night sky to join The Flying Dutchman.   Instead, on its maiden voyage in 1628 the weight of all that decoration caused it to capsize, then sink.  Its masts  sticking up from the bottom were a hazard of the harbor until the embarassed king (who had taken over design when the shipbuilder died) had the masts cut off.

The museum design allows you to view a ship model up close, then go from the top floor down level by level, giving you a close-up view of every detail from the crows nest to the keel.  Videos, slide show overlays, and artifacts document both the building of the ship, the tremendous engineering feat which brought it up in one piece from its resting place of over 500 years, and its meticulously imagined and executed  restoration.

The next Notable Site was the Stockholm City hall where they hold the Nobel Prize banquet each December 10, the anniversary of the death date of Alfred Nobel.  It was fun imagining oneself dancing in the art-deco gold-mosaic  ball room.   The mosaic which dominates the hall does its best to be ecumenical, with Europe and the US represented on one side of the giant goddess of knowledge, and the domes of Istanbul, a tiger, an elephant, some vaguely Chinese mountains and an Arabian flag on the side of Asia.    What about Africa? India? South America?  I guess to the Swedes of 1920 most of the Southern Hemisphere was just geography.

Can you spot the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty? (lower left)

After the official bus tour I joined up with a fellow cruiser and took the shuttle back to central Stockholm.  Stockholmers tall, healthy, erect, slender, tending to blond.  Streets clean, wide, lined with parks and trees.  What’s not to like?  (It’s a bait-and-switch – think about December when you have only 5 hours of weak sunlight per day!)

[Note: one of the cruise entertainers has written several blog posts about this same trip - for a different point of view, check out Duke Zoran's Blog on Stockholm]

Tourist shopping tip: to avoid impulse purchases and subsequent buyer’s remorse, be pre-armed with an idea of something you would actually like to buy; if you find it, you have a successful souvenir;  if not, you at least have a way to fend off souvenir hawkers.  My comrade was looking for knitting wool;  we poked around some very interesting shops in the course of finding something wonderful.

Next day – on the bus once more for a tour of the Viking Golden Hoard in the Historical Museum and a visit to the Royal Armoury in the basement of the Royal Palace.  The lean and acidulous retired professor leading the tour  enthralled us with the political maneouvreing between Finland, Russia, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark during the 18th – 20th centuries – seems the Swedes were quite accustomed to cutting their coat to suit the prevailing winds (AKA neutrality).

It was a beautiful day to be passing in a dungeon (the locale of the armoury) so we were glad when the tour brought us back to the boat.  The clouds were hovering and the wind freshening as we left Stockholm harbor , but now post-lunch we are on the sunny side of the boat and Mom is wrapped in a cozy terry robe snoozing  on our balcony as the Baltic Sea rustles by.

We are very close to some of the small islands  – suddenly we are passing a very serious looking gun emplacement with pillboxes set into the hill and large cannons looming.  Guns of Stockharone?

Tips on travel with the Oldest Old – Part III – Cruising

Failing strength, advancing years, and weakening eyesight may not dull the wanderlust in the heart of the traveler – what alternatives are available to ease the travel experience for the itchy-footed elderly?  There are many  – the cost often varying in direct proportion to the level of ease and convenience provided.  Careful shopping and the assistance of a good travel agent can help.

One of the most popular alternatives for an elderly traveler is the boat cruise.  The advantages are immediately clear:

Having a boat as home base  eliminates the bother and confusion of packing and repacking, saving energy for the important business of sight-seeing and socializing.   Every night spent in the same bedroom eliminates the possibility of something critical being left behind.

Home away from home

Having the same bedroom layout, dining room access, and elevator access each day is a great help to a visually or mobility-impaired traveler. If the goal is to relax, eliminating the tension of getting to know a new “home base” is a big plus.

The ratio of personnel to guests is usually high on a cruise ship, ensuring there will be plenty of assistance available as needed, either for embarking and disembarking or for planning and enabling excursions along the cruise route.

Being on a cruise ship allows the scenery to come to the traveler.  One elderly friend of mine enjoys cruise after cruise on the same ship.  He has become friends with the crew, enjoys the amenities on board, observes the constantly changing scene at the ports of call  and in between, but never leaves the boat.

Caveat:

Cruises can be pricey;  look for discounts at the edges of the season.  We were able to book a seven-day cruise on a 6-star cruise line at a very considerable discount in the spring of 2012 during the European economic crisis and just after the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground .  If your times a bit flexible, you may luck out. A travel agent can be very helpful in sniffing out the best deals.

Cruises do depend for success  on smooth water,  good weather, and capable crews.  There are storms on the Baltic, hurricanes in the Caribbean.  There is no calm-water guarantee, and no way to pull over to the shoulder of the sea until the roughness goes away.  And those pictures of the Costa Concordia are not reassuring.

Cruises can be cliquish.  Use the Social Director or equivalent to match you with other unattached pairs if you are not part of a family or tour group .Mom and I were hoping to connect with some other couples and singles during the cruise, to lighten the dependence on each other, but it didn’t happen natuarally.   When toward the end of our cruise we mentioned our wish to  the Cruise Social Director, he swept us into a group of other unattached pairs and we had a wonderful evening – we should have done this right away.

Helpful Hints:

If you are on a cruise where there are “deluxe” dining areas, rush to sign up for these the instant you arrive on the boat – we never made it to the top-of-the-line restaurant on our boat because it was completely booked by the time we arrived just an hour past the earliest boarding time. Fortunately, the other restaurant choices were delectable – no worries.

The buffet is good if you are in a hurry to eat in order to be on time for some activity; otherwise don’t waste your calories here if there is a full-service restaurant available. After our first day on the boat we never served our own lunch again.

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