A Brief Digression – but still topical.

One of our excursions in Germany was an incredibly scenic mountain bus ride in the Black Forest Region. The primary purpose of this trip must have been scenery, but we somehow ended up at a cuckoo/souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere. Now how did that happen?

I was drooling over some exquisite Christmas ornaments when I heard Stephen behind me.
“Hey hun, how about we get this for N?” (That would be Miles Catowner’s little daughter, she who pulls Fluffy’s tail and makes him flee to our house for sanctuary.) He was holding a small fluffy bear. In lederhosen. The bear was in lederhosen, not Stephen.
“Sure!” I said, and went back to my drooling.

The bear accompanied us home, and Stephen was going to take it over to Miles’ house the other day. He was putting it into a bag when he noticed something odd.

“Hey hun, there’s something wrong with this bear.”
“Hmmm?” I looked up from making breakfast.
“It’s got something weird in its back.”
That got my full attention. I went over to him and took the bear.
“See, there.” And he pointed to an opening in the bear’s back, closed with Velcro.

Now, you have to realize, Stephen never had kids. He does not understand what all parents instinctively know – Velcro openings in the backs of fluffy critters are never good. I turned the bear over. Tummy or paw? Paws were too small, so it had to be tummy. I squeezed the bear’s tummy.

It yodeled. The. Bear. Yodeled.
Repeatedly.

I handed the still-yodeling creature back to Stephen and returned to my breakfast, remarking casually as I did, “You do realize Miles is going to kill you for this one, right?”

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Honeyversary part two

Chronologically I should first talk about our time in Amsterdam with Mimi, but there’s so much swirling around in my head about the ship and our take on it that I want to get that sorted out first. So here goes.

Neither of us had ever done a river cruise so had no idea what to expect. We’ve done ocean cruises, but everyone said you just can’t compare the two, and they’re right. We tried to go in with open minds, and we knew no matter what, we’d have fun, simply because we do.

The ship was brand new, launched in early 2016, and it was immaculate. It shone from bow to stern. Our stateroom was just as immaculate. The outer wall was wall to wall, floor to ceiling window, with sliding doors that opened so you could feel like you were on a balcony without losing the space a balcony would take up.The bed was oriented so that if we were rivering along, you could sit or lie in the bed and watch the scenery go by. I’m sure someone has complained on a TripAdvisor review that the doors are awkwardly situated – if the closet doors were open you couldn’t get out of the bathroom, and if you tried to open the bathroom and main stateroom doors at the same time – well, oops. However, we soon figured it all out and just laughed about it. Our cabin steward was very friendly and did an incredible job of keeping our room clean and tidy for us.

The main thing we were disappointed in was the food. I’ll state up front that part of it was my own fault because I truly am a fussy eater, but generally even on the most restrictive menus I can find something to enjoy.However even Stephen was disillusioned by the food. The breakfast buffet was the same every day, with only one hot dish changing each day. One day we had meatballs for breakfast, another we had hash browns, and several other things appeared randomly. There was plenty of breads, fruit, yogurt, cereals, cheeses and cold cuts, and we could have hard or soft boiled eggs, crispy or limp bacon, scrambled eggs and sausage every day. I fell into the habit of making a sort of club sandwich every morning with toast, a sliced egg, ham, cheese and bacon, then following it up with some fruit.

Lunch was usually a hot buffet, generally including some local specialties, but the breads, cheese, cold cuts, salads and fruit were still available. Lunch was by far the best meal, and I found I tended to eat a much larger lunch than I usually do because the dinners were so lackluster and took so flipping long that I was hungry again by the time I’d finished dessert.

And dinner. For dinner there is no assigned seating, which is rather nice, except that the first few days you spend moving around trying out different people to see who you get along with the best. The first two dinners were nothing short of tedious. Our first night we were joined by a younger couple from Australia – nice enough kids but nothing in common. The second night we sat with a flock from the States – a retired lawyer and his travelling companion, and a girl who worked for the State Department who was travelling with her mom. The mom was silent all through dinner, but the daughter more than made up for her – and us – and the lawyer. She just wouldn’t shut up. We didn’t sit with them again. By the third night we were so disillusioned with ship dinners, that we decided to remain in Cologne and find a little restaurant on our own. We didn’t have to be back aboard till 9:45, so we had plenty of time. We had a lovely pasta dish followed by traditional apple strudel for dessert – the only time, I might add, that we had strudel. You’d think on a primarily Germany based cruise, strudel would have been offered for dessert at least once. But no. By the fourth day we had met our new friends from England, and began to share all our meals with them. By the fifth day we had claimed our own table and god help anyone who tried to sit there. And there were those who wished to join us by that point. We had all hit it off so well that we were telling jokes and sharing funny stories and there was so much laughter at our table that heads would turn throughout the dining room to see what was going on. Our comfort level increased, and there was no pretentiousness among us. If we thought dinner sucked, we freely admitted it to one another. One night Janet had the fish and it was the teeniest piece of fish you’ve ever seen in your life! She wasn’t impressed. I saw it before she started eating and to me it looked like fillet of goldfish. Another night I had a chicken breast. No chicken breast that! Rather, it was a sparrow breast! Very disappointing.

The main problems were the lack of choices, the portion sizes, and the duration of the meals. It took over two hours for dinner, start to finish. We also didn’t care for having to place our dessert order before we’d even had anything to eat. How were we to know what we would feel like for dessert? There were usually three or four appetizer selections, most of which involved fish, which I don’t like, but caesar salad was always available. Thankfully. There were then two soup choices, one consomme, the other creamy. It was the general conclusion at our table by the end of the week that they made the same soups every day, just added different colours and called them different names. There were usually only two choices for the main course and one of them was always a fish dish. Every single night the other choice had something in it I didn’t like – usually mushrooms. Luckily there were always standard options like steak, chicken, fish or a vegetarian selection. I ate a lot of steak. As in every night. Well, except for the night we were in Cologne and the night I had the sparrow breast. At least the steak was a decent size portion! It came with a baked potato and a few bits of green beans wrapped in bacon. By the last night I believe our entire table of six had given up on the menu and we all had steak for dinner. There were usually several choices for dessert -a cheese platter which had maybe two morsels of cheese, two crackers and a grape; a serving of ice cream consisting of two scoops the size of melon balls – no, not melons, you know the little scoops you use to make those tiny melon balls? Yeah, that big. There was also usually a cake sliced so thin you could see through it.

I found that with the meager serving sizes and the length of time between courses, I was always hungry by about midnight. Of course we had no snacks in our stateroom, which led us to go out one day in search of potato chips or something – anything – snackable. Our friends thought this was great fun, and the six of us were romping all over – oh, I don’t remember, some German city – looking for crisps, as they called them. We were successful – Stephen and I found pretzel sticks and candy bars, and Helen and Janet returned with a small can of Pringles! We had such fun with the search! On the final night when we went down to dinner, there was something strange on our table. The others maneuvered us so that Stephen had to sit in the place containing a large paper bag tied closed with ribbons. When he opened it, we discovered multiple packages of various flavours of crisps! The others had remained behind that afternoon while we did an optional excursion, and they wandered around the town of Breisach in search of crisps for us! Needless to say we had a huge laugh over that. And the crisps were appreciated! We snacked on them in Zurich and had none left by the end of the trip!

So back to dinners. There was also an additional course several nights which offered no choice. Twice we started with some sort of pate served on a spoon which looked oddly like one of those round handled baby spoons. You could barely taste whatever was on it. And twice there was a seafood dish handed to everyone. The first time it was a prawn thing and I managed to stop the server from giving me one. But the second time it was lobster and I was the first one served. I had my back to the kitchen so didn’t see it coming until it sailed past my nose and landed in front of me! I hate the smell of lobster. To me it’s positively nauseating. I reared away and literally pushed my chair back. Stephen and I both tried to get the server’s attention to take it away, but she didn’t see us. I decided that would be a suitable point at which to quietly leave the table to fetch my camera from my room. I dawdled, but when I returned the lobster was still underway. Stephen had finished his, put his empty dish at my spot, and started in on mine. I sat down, but the smell was still bothering me. I pushed the dish as far forward as I could. One of our friends, Peter, noticed I was obviously bothered by it, so he motioned for me to give him my dish, which I did, and he stacked it neatly with his, far away from me. Thank you, Peter!

There was really no other food available on board aside from meals. In both lounges there was a coffee maker that produced anything coffee-ish imaginable, including mind-blowing creamy hot chocolate, and there were usually cookies, muffins and doughnuts available there as well but that was it.

I had planned to talk about the excursions, scheduling, and our annoying cruise director now, but it’s lunch time and all this talk of food has made me hungry. Time to eat. And it won’t be lobster….

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Honeyversary trip, part one

Before I start talking about my trip, I need to digress and get something off my chest.

I have many American friends – no, this isn’t about The Donald – whom I love dearly. They are funny, they are smart, they are great people. But I have learned that not all Americans are as wonderful as my friends, so I just have to ask – why on earth do they only let the totally moronic Americans travel outside of the country? Americans have a reputation for being nasty tourists – loud, rude, demanding – and truthfully, you far too often see that stereotype being perpetuated by American tourists.

Here are a few who really should have stayed at home…

We arrived at the hotel where we were supposed to check in for our river cruise. From this hotel we would be bused to the ship, and our luggage would be sent over ahead of us. It was lovely – a big room with tables, snacks and drinks, and a full view of the waterfront. We joined a harmless looking couple at a table. Her name was Dana, his name was Al, and we were told to remember them as “D’n’A” from Pittsburg. He had no sense of humour, the personality of a dead fish, and the social graces of a tarantula. She spent her time trying to overcompensate for his failings, becoming seriously off-putting in her efforts. We telepathically agreed to avoid this couple onboard.

We were joined by two ladies from Florida, both of whom seemed to be looking down their noses at everyone. Conversation turned to our flights and these ladies were horrified that we had actually flown Air Canada. Turned out one of them had flown Air Canada. Once. And would NEVER fly with them again.
Stephen: (puzzled) But why would you fly from Miami to Montreal to go to Paris in the first place? Wouldn’t it have been easier to fly out of JFK?
Florida Idiot: (as if speaking to a moron) Air Canada only flies out of Montreal. So I had to go to Montreal.
Stephen: But – (thinks better of it and changes line of questioning) So what was wrong with the Air Canada flight?
FI: They were LATE!  (and she sat back in her chair, waiting for us to be appropriately shocked and horrified. We weren’t.)
Stephen: Late? Like, a day late?
FI: An HOUR late! We were an hour late leaving Montreal.
Stephen and I exchanged glances, not quite catching the point here. So a plane was late. Is that a reason to boycott the entire fleet? Stephen decided to pursue questioning.
Stephen: Why were they late?
FI: There was a STORM!
Stephen: A – storm?
FI: Yes. There was a storm and the plane left an hour late and I’ll never fly with them again!
Stephen: (turns to me) Sweetie, shall we go get more drinks?

And then there was the retired lawyer from North Carolina and his “travelling companion” from Philadelphia with whom we had the misfortune to sit during dinner our second night. We never did tell him Stephen was a trucker because he spent most of his available talking time ranting about some truck driver who turned down their street by mistake and in trying to get turned around to leave mowed down the lawyer’s mailbox and tore up his lawn. And the neighbour who saw it happen didn’t even think to get a name off the truck. I say “available talking time” because there was a young lady roughly in her mid-thirties at the table who worked for the State Department in Wahington and she monopolized the conversation. In short, she wouldn’t shut up. And she was loud! Her mom was sitting silently at the end of the table, obviously used to being talked over. We didn’t sit with them again.

But the icing on the cake occurred late in the cruise after dinner one night. We had met a lovely group of people, all from England, and had taken to sitting together for all our meals and traveling together on most of the excursions. We got along well and there were a lot of jokes and much laughter – often very loud – at our table. This didn’t seem to go over well with the ladies sitting behind us who hailed from Atlanta, Georgia. They seemed to feel it necessary to add the “Georgia” part just in case we were all too provincial to know where Atlanta is. These two ladies were true Southern Belles, all growed up. They say “Bless your heart” to your face and slice you to ribbons behind your back. After one particularly laughter-filled dinner we stood to leave our table just as they did theirs. Our friend Janet was trying not to back into them as she pushed her chair in, and the one lady said to her, “My, y’all were having a lot of fun tonight. I have to tell you, I always thought you Brits were all dull and boring.” My jaw hit the table, and Janet was quite rightly offended, and quickly snapped back, “Well, I guess you haven’t met the right kind of Brits then if you think we’re dull!” I felt like cheering for Janet. I mean, seriously? At what point did that lady actually think it would be acceptable to make a comment like that?

So here’s the plan, America….from now on, please keep these people at home and let the rest of the world see that you have some wonderful and delightful people by letting them do the travelling. Please?

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37 Postcards. Or Six Degrees of Separation.

We romped off to Port Burwell Provincial Park with our trailer this weekend. We like Port Burwell. Good restaurants, cute shops, a lighthouse, and that submarine we STILL haven’t managed to tour! HMCS Ojibwa, in case you didn’t know.

On the Friday night we went to the Lighthouse Restaurant for dinner. There was a large table in the middle of the restaurant occupied by a group of people who were talking quite animatedly about something happening later that evening. A show of some sort, I thought.

At the table next to us, a lady with long dark hair and a bandage round one of her ankles was dining with a gentleman. One of the restaurant staff stopped by her table and, while we didn’t mean to eavesdrop, honestly, we learned that she was somehow involved in whatever was going down later, but as “a spectator tonight”. Don’t forget this lady; you’re going to meet her again.

I then noticed a poster beside the bar informing us that the Port Burwell Periscope Playhouse would be presenting a comedy entitled “37 Postcards” on a number of dates, one of which was that night. Aha! That explains it! Everyone in town is off to see the play tonight! Mystery thus solved, we finished our dinner, returned to the park and settled in for the night.

Fast forward to the next morning as we were heading over to the showers. Outside the bathhouse was an information board with Very Important Park Information – and a poster for 37 Postcards. As we were perusing the board, a gentleman wandered by and told us that he had seen the play the previous night and it was quite good. He told us it was in a brand new theater, very small, but nice, and that they had just received their occupancy permit at 4:01 on Thursday, less than four hours prior to their first, members only preview show! He said he picked up his tickets at someone’s house, but it was all good. So we decided, based on his resounding endorsement, to attend. We wrote down the two phone numbers, and when we returned to the trailer Stephen picked one number at random and called. Yes indeed, the lovely British voice informed him, there were tickets available, and yes indeed she would set two aside for him, and he could pick them up at – and she gave her home address.

So off we went to her house – a lovely B&B on a quiet street, where we were greeted by an excited dog of a small persuasion. The lovely English lady came out to greet us, and as she returned inside to retrieve our tickets, her husband came wandering from round the back to see what all the barking was about. Apparently they were expecting B&B guests to arrive, and he thought we might be them. Stephen introduced himself, and me, and the gentleman looked closely at him and announced, “I know you! We used to work together!” Which then spawned the “where did you work, where did you live, oh, THAT’S how I know you” routine. Come to find out they had both been members of a Montreal Kinsmen Club over 20 years ago! Nothing would do but we had to come up onto the porch, sit down in their comfy wicker seating and reminisce about the good old days. We were having a lovely afternoon visit, listening to them get all caught up, when suddenly the gentleman announced, “Oh,here’s Natalie now!” And up the walk came the dark haired lady we had shamelessly eavesdropped on the night before in the restaurant! Introductions were made all round and she animatedly entered into our conversation, delighted to hear we were planning to attend that evening’s performance, where she would be acting as front of the house manager. She was most entertained to hear how we had come to be picking up tickets, and much to our relief, was not at all offended by our accidental eavesdropping!

Long story short, we now have new (old) friends in Port Burwell, and we did go to the play, and it was good, and we both suggest that if you are in the Port Burwell area over the weekends of June 17-19 or 24-26, you should stop by the Port Burwell Periscope Playhouse and catch “37 Postcards” yourself. Just be sure to call ahead for tickets; they were sold out all last weekend. The theater is lovely, but small, seating only 50, which makes for an intimate, more personal performance. And who knows, you might make some new (old) friends too!

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Musings

I have voted in every single election since I turned 18 and became eligible to vote. I honestly believe that my vote does not matter in the least, because it has been my lifelong experience that it truly makes not one iota of difference to my daily life which political party is in power. Well, other than that my taxes constantly go up. However, I do have some scruples, and am at least a bit discerning about which party I vote for. I will never, ever, as long as I draw breath, vote for the NDP.

I find myself tonight preparing to cast a vote tomorrow that will actually impact my daily life as no other vote ever has. I never thought I would be in this position, but here I am, preparing to cast a “NO” vote for union certification in my place of employment. I despise unions and all they stand for. I swore I would never work in a unionized company. I am disgusted that I even have to cast this vote at all. But I do.

A group of dissatisfied employees banded together and approached a union to garner support. Of course the union was delighted to help them – after all, it’s what unions do, grow bigger and stronger. And wealthier. They held meetings in secret, gathering together like-minded souls who fed private information to the union organizers. Information like the time and location of our company safety meetings, where we were greeted at the gate by union members offering pamphlets. For some of us, this was the first we’d heard of the efforts. Things moved rapidly after that. I have heard tales of drivers being contacted by phone in an effort to persuade them to support the union. I have heard of union members showing up at drivers’ houses. All of this was done in secrecy, in an effort to bolster their numbers before those who would be opposed to union organization could mount any kind of opposition.

Finally there was a “public” meeting. An open house. An information session.

Right.

Those of us against were shouted over, yelled at, and told we had no idea what we were talking about. We came away with bizarre printed propaganda all about the “lies” our company would tell us. The lady – and I use the term very loosely – in charge of the meeting nattered on about “openness” and “transparency” when challenged about the secrecy, but had very little concrete information for us and seemed content to stand back and let the “sisters and brothers” just yell at one another in a singularly unproductive and very distressing session. The open hostility and antagonism emanating from the union supporters was horrifying and appalling. I have to work with these people.

And so, believing they have the support of the majority of drivers, the union has applied for a vote for certification. This will happen tomorrow. Much to the shock of the mechanics, they have been included in this vote without having been consulted. And they are very upset. So much for openness and transparency.

I do not trust unions. I believe they have too much power and they use that power to shelter the inept and incompetent. And the stupid. I have seen so many instances where inept, useless employees cannot be fired due to the union. I don’t want to be part of that. I believe striking is wrong. I believe picketing is wrong. I will never participate in either, regardless of the outcome tomorrow.

There are some drivers who have announced they will quit if the vote tomorrow results in a yes. I thought about it, but the bottom line is, I love my job and I have a great deal of respect for my employers. After spending the weekend in front of a campfire contemplating it all, I have decided to adopt a wait and see approach. I am praying for a no union outcome, but whatever happens I must follow my own conscience and do as I feel appropriate. Meanwhile, I will be voting NO tomorrow because I firmly believe that a union cannot possibly make the changes they claim they can, and I also believe that perks we currently enjoy will disappear following a yes outcome.

This is one vote I am taking very seriously.

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Florence (and Pisa)

Although Pisa is in parentheses, it actually was the reason for this excursion. After the fiasco that was Rome, we seriously discussed cancelling our other planned excursions. But we knew that Sean had his heart set on seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so we decided we would take our chances with this excursion and cancel our train tour of Nice the following day to remain on the ship. Guest services gets very anxious when you cancel an excursion. And when you tell them you are cancelling it due to a bad experience in Rome, well, then they want to know all about it. As in, they set up a meeting with you and the head of entertainment, which encompasses excursions, and he wants to hear all about what went wrong in Rome. And he is extremely apologetic and gives you a full refund of the Nice excursion, even though generally excursions are non-refundable after a certain point.

So. Florence. Our tour guide was also a woman, and we think she was a retired school teacher. She had her attendance list, and if at any point the number of her flock did not add up, she literally took attendance to determine who was missing! Her accent was much easier to understand but I still found I seemed to be missing some key points. For example, the Ponte Vecchio. It seemed to be extremely significant, but I completely missed the WHY? But I was a good tourist and took a photo of it regardless. This was a city tour, and I think Florence needs much more than a half day to be fully appreciated. She pointed out museums and art galleries, and I could sense Stephen itching to sneak off and explore an art gallery or five, but alas, it was not to be. Our Border Collie guide herded us along most efficiently. We saw religious statues, churches, a cathedral or two, bridges, museums, galleries and much more – just all from the outside, though I believe we did go in one church. Lunch is what I remember best about Florence. Well, lunch and the overwhelming crowds. We had the option to have her make us a reservation at a little restaurant she recommended (as in, she got a kickback from the owner, who was probably her cousin). We figured that was the safest option, rather than trying to find something on our own, and I’m so glad we did that. The restaurant had several little rooms, all interconnected and we were seated in a small back room where there were about 7 tables. The waitress came to take our drink order and Sean and I both asked for Diet Coke – actually, Coke Light, as it is known in Europe. We had commented the day before that we had had no difficulty finding Diet Coke in any of the restaurants. No one had come back at us with that annoying “Is Diet Pepsi OK?” Until Florence. That poor waitress. We asked for our Coke Light and for the first time in Europe we heard, “Is Pepsi Light ok?” All three of us burst out laughing, much to her confusion. We ordered our lunch and admired the decor while we waited. One thing we kept noticing was that the lights would periodically go off, then come back on. We realized it happened only when someone went to the bathrooms at the back of the room. We concluded it must be because the light switch was confusing and people thought they were turning on the bathroom light when they were actually turning off the room lighting. Lunch was delicious. Sean and I both had spaghetti and meatballs and thoroughly enjoyed it. After dinner I braved the bathroom light situation – and just like everyone else, turned off the main lighting by mistake! One would think the switch right outside the bathroom door would be for the bathroom?  No, no it’s not.

After lunch we had free time to explore, and then it was back to our bus to make our way to Pisa. Now, truthfully, I’m not quite sure what, exactly, I expected of Pisa. But somehow it didn’t quite measure up to what I had anticipated. We were dropped off at the outskirts of a pedestrian area and left to make our own way to the site. Easy enough to do – just follow the general flow of humanity. We came round a corner and there in a big open field were the three buildings – baptistry, cathedral and bell tower. And thousands of tourists. We walked along the roadway towards the leaning tower, but decided it was just too far along to go any further in the heat. We took the requisite shots of each of us holding up the tower and agreed to head back in search of ice cream. Our guide gathered us all up, herded us all on the bus and blessedly let us fall asleep on the way back to our ship.

The next day, while everyone else romped off to Nice, we stayed aboard the ship and relaxed and enjoyed the amenities. And unfortunately, the next day was back to Barcelona and off the ship. We spent that night in Barcelona and headed for home the next day, our thrilling European vacation now just memories of wonderful shared experiences.

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Rome

I’m going to start by warning you that I don’t have much good to say about Rome. It was not the most pleasant day. Most of the issues were caused by our guide who seemed determined to lose the whole lot of us anywhere along the way. Most group tour guides in Europe carry something tall to make them stand out from the crowd – an umbrella, or a selfie stick extended with something dangling from the top. Our tour guide was an ancient Italian lady who stood all of 5 feet tall. She was dressed in beige and carried a tiny beige umbrella which she didn’t seem to think necessary to actually open and hold up. It tended to rest about shoulder height on her. Note – she was wearing beige. The umbrella was beige. If you look at pictures you will see that 90% of the architecture in Rome is also beige. She was an expert at camouflage. She vanished against the backdrop of old buildings. She also seemed intent on leaving us behind. Stay tuned for more on that.

Our first destination was the Trevi Fountain, which I was quite eager to see. It was closed. Yep, closed for renovations, all blocked off with scaffolding. Why did they even bother taking us there? Apparently so our guide could stop for ice cream. “You have free time to explore. I will be in ice cream store. We will meet at the church.” This was accompanied by a hand wave generally encompassing the entire square – and four separate churches. Then she vanished. Poof, no more tour guide. We spent our free time in the square wandering from church to church, avoiding the sidewalk salesmen desperately trying to unload selfie sticks for only 5 euros. We peeked into the ice cream store, but with its beige walls we couldn’t have seen the guide even if she had still been inside. More of our tour group began collecting and we tried to figure out which church she meant. Finally we stationed representatives at every church, with instructions to call the rest of us if she showed up. Which she did, eventually, as she sort of materialized out of the shadow of a beige wall, and our much relieved flock headed off to the next stop.

That next stop was the Roman Forum. Now, I’m a bit hazy on my Roman history, and I keep meaning to look up what, exactly, the Roman forum was, because goodness knows I didn’t learn anything about it from our guide! She had rather a shrill, old lady voice and her accent was much more pronounced than our previous day’s guide, and quite frankly, all of us were experiencing great difficulty understanding her. Part way through the Forum I just gave up and pulled the earphones out so I didn’t have to try to decipher what she was saying. I spent my time instead focusing on following her without falling flat on my face. That beige, low-riding umbrella was nearly impossible to see against the beige buildings, and we were walking along uneven cobblestones, which necessitated watching one’s feet quite closely. The pattern became watch the feet, look up, find the umbrella, glance at the building, look quickly back down at the feet. All through the Forum. As we were leaving the Forum, she pointed out a lookout spot where “is popular to take photos. You take photos, I wait here by trees.” And she waved rather vaguely at a grouping of trees about a block away. Obediently, our entire group turned their backs on her to take photos. Which was her signal to turn and flee. Luckily, Stephen didn’t trust her, so he followed her along the path, down to the trees, around the trees, and around a freaking corner to disappear in a throng of tourists! At the tree line he yelled for me to come because she wasn’t stopping! I in turn yelled at our group that the guide was leaving, and I raced after Stephen, who was keeping the fleeing guide in sight. After turning yet another corner, she finally stopped and some of the group caught up to her, at which point she had the nerve to say, “Oh, so few. Where are the others?” Um…waiting for you back at the trees, like you told them to?

I think we had lunch in here somewhere, but I have to admit, I simply cannot remember – no, wait, it’s coming back. It was a pizza and burger restaurant, upstairs, with long tables and there was a set menu that was included with our tour. I seem to recall that the food was good, but there was nothing really outstanding – no, wait, wasn’t this the place with the statues of Obama and Putin dressed as ancient Romans? Yes, yes it was! And Sean had his photo taken next to them. Yes, that was lunch in Rome, I remember now. The tour guide was nowhere around for lunch. Well, maybe she was, but since the walls were beige there too – well, you know how she could blend in.

Next stop was the Colosseum. For me, this was the highlight of Rome. Luckily, Stephen and I had watched an amazing Discovery channel documentary all about the Colosseum and knew what was what, because once again I had to pull out my earphones since I couldn’t make head nor tails of what she was crackling through them. The Colosseum was packed with tourists, and it truly didn’t take much imagination to transport myself back in time. All the people milling around me were suddenly dressed in togas, and there was an air of excitement in the air as we made our way into the seating area to find our seats for the upcoming spectacle. Shaking my head, I came back to the present just in time to see the tour guide duck sharply into a side alcove where she hid while our group filed on past, carried by the flow of bodies around us. Stephen nodded at me that he had seen her hide as well, so we waited by her alcove for her to emerge, and when she did, we continued following her. The Colosseum was everything I’d imagined it would be. History right there in front of me. I could touch the stones touched by thousands of Ancient Romans and place my hand on a piece of history. I loved it.

We managed to follow our guide out of the Colosseum and to the edges of Vatican City, only suffering a couple near losses as she ducked into yet another alcove and zipped around a corner, turning left after she told us she would be turning right. By this point there was a great deal of grumbling and growling from our tour group, and I sincerely think that had the tour lasted much longer the guide would have been in serious danger. However, this was the point at which she left us on our own to enjoy free time in the Vatican. Our journey back to the bus and ship would be supervised by a different hostess who had actually been with us all day, but who seemed equally skilled at camouflage and vanishing techniques. The Vatican was – well, the Vatican. There were throngs of people everywhere, and huge lineups for the Sistine Chapel etc. None of that was high on our list of “must do’s” so we opted to enjoy some ice cream and sit in the shade in St Peter’s Square and just enjoy people-watching. There is a portable post office set up in the Square so you can send postcards with the Vatican City postmark. Sean considered sending his dad a postcard, but we hadn’t taken any addresses with us, so he couldn’t.

At the appointed time we made our way back to the pre-set meeting point and followed the hostess – wherever it was we followed her to. And this, my friends, is why I really need to blog trips immediately after the trip because I forget little details like how we got from the Vatican City to a bus which took us back to the port and our ship. And thus, that tidbit of information has been forgotten, never to be recorded in the annals of history.

Next stop, Florence. I think. Yes, I’m sure.

 

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