Four chartered buses gathered at the commuter lot at I-35 and 122nd Street to pick up 200 people for a weekend trip to Washington, D.C. This rally is billed as “Restoring Honor” and is said to be non-partisan.
As we gathered and registered, Mary Fallin, Oklahoma’s Republican candidate for governor, arrived to greet the people and thank them for taking the time to represent Oklahoma at the rally. She is a gracious lady, as I’m sure her opponent Jari Askins is, and November’s election will produce Oklahoma’s first woman governor.
We left Oklahoma City at dinnertime and made a short stop at what used to be known as the Glass House, the midway station of the Will Rogers Turnpike, between Vinita and Miami.
Back in the bus for a long night, the tedium of riding broken by a couple of movies. A stop in Springfield, MO around midnight allowed for a change of bus drivers. No stop for 200 people can be accomplished in 15 minutes, so we climbed back aboard, knowing that we were running behind.
According to our itinerary we would be in Dayton, Ohio for breakfast between 7:00am and 8:00am. In reality, our breakfast became lunch when we arrived near noon. It is notable that the staff at Bob Evans restaurant was prepared for our breakfast arrival, but couldn’t have been more gracious in taking our lunch orders and serving us quickly.
All in all, the trip has been a good one so far. Tiring? Yes, of course. The Timelines bus is as comfortable as one could be under the circumstances, and it offers electrical outlets and wireless Internet, a miniscule galley, and a tiny bathroom. But as one friend sitting in front of me described it to her husband when talking to him on her cell phone, “It’s like a flight to Australia, only worse.”
Only six more hours to our destination, a Hampton Inn in Washington, D.C. Oh, how nice that bed is going to be!
We are off on another trip and I’m reminded that sometimes we seem to do things backwards. When our children were young — actually before the third child was born — we decided we could travel more economically by purchasing a small travel trailer.
It was really quite nice, by the standards of those days, with a kitchen and bathroom and adequate sleeping space. When our third child was born, however, it was too small and we sold it.
As soon as the baby was old enough for vacations, we purchased a pop-up tent camper. Combining that with the back of our station wagon, we could manage pretty nicely. We had several very nice trips that way, including one into Canada.
Within a few years, our lives seemed to get busier and we had less time for camping trips, so we sold the tent camper. That left us with no way to camp out on an occasional fishing trip, however, so we bought a regular tent.
Most people would have begun with a tent and worked up to a travel trailer, I imagine, but not us!
Now we are seasoned travelers but are heading backwards again. Three months ago we took a transatlantic flight and cruised around Italy for two weeks, the height of luxury traveling.
Last month we flew to Baltimore to attend a family wedding in the Chesapeake Bay area and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. That was not quite so luxurious, but we did have clean sheets and a bathroom and a swimming pool at our disposal.
In contrast to these experiences, we left today on a tour bus, headed for Washington, D.C. We will drive straight through and arrive in D.C. tomorrow night. We will have a short night at a Hampton Inn (yea for clean sheets and a bathroom!) and head to the Lincoln Memorial very early Saturday morning for a rally.
Although this trip is obviously going to lack the niceties that the other two trips had, we are going to be richer for the experience, I’m sure.
So now we return to reality, to jobs and responsibilities and families. But the memories of our trip will go on forever.
Just a few words about getting home from long, overseas trips, though.
When planning a trip like this, one of the things to remember is that you need to allow plenty of time between flights when returning, because of going through customs.
Our flight from Rome to Dulles in Washington, D.C. was all during daylight hours, which made catching some shut-eye more difficult. Luckily, the return trip didn’t seem quite as long as the trip going to Rome.
Once we arrived at Dulles, we headed for the customs check-in. What we hadn’t planned on was the VERY LONG wait there. The room was divided into returning U.S. citizens and entering non-U.S. citizens. The first line was so long, we waited almost 90 minutes to step up to the customs agent’s kiosk, where we were waved right through as soon as we showed our passports.
They were short-handed that day, so only half of the agents were available and only one in four to five passports were checked at length.
From there, we headed to baggage claim, where we reclaimed our luggage (Yea! It was all there and together!) and entered another line. This line eventually brought us to another customs checkpoint where we put our bags on the carousel to be loaded for our next flight.
We then headed to our gate to catch our flight from Dulles to Oklahoma City, and there were no hitches from there on.
Once we arrived in OKC, we loaded up and were driven back home by an airport shuttle. This is definitely the way to go. No one had to retrieve a car from the parking lot, had to try to figure out how to get all the luggage in the trunk of the car, had to think about driving. Door to door service after being gone for 18 days was great!
There’s lots more to tell about, so even though this trip is over, there will be more blogging as I “travel along.”
Oh, my! The city of Venice is absolutely amazing! As the Quest (and six other cruise ships) sailed in and docked, the port area became a starting point for exploring the Grand Canal and particularly, St. Mark’s Square. Piazza San Marco is the center of so much in Venice. To travel there from the pier, we took a vaporetto (a water taxi).
St. Mark’s Basilica contains beautiful Byzantine architecture and mosaics that depict so much in the Christian religion. The Bell Tower and the Clock Tower hold prominent positions in Piazza San Marco. The bell on the Clock Tower is rung on the hour by being struck giant Moor statues.
Next to the Basilica is Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace. It was the home of the government and leadership. Connecting the palace with the old prisons was the Ponte del Sospin (Bridge of Sighs).
The most prominent bridge over the Grand Canal is the Rialto Bridge. It is unique in that it is lined with a double row of shops and has another row of steps outside the shops.
And shops there are… everywhere! It would be so easy to get lost in Venice, with its walkways winding here and there. Leaving a trail of ‘bread crumbs’ would be smart — if the pigeons wouldn’t gobble them up, that is!
The other way to get from place to place, other than walking, is via the waterways. Water taxis are reasonably priced, but if you are looking for the traditional gondola ride, those are certainly available, too. An evening gondola ride with an accompanying singer and accordionist is a very special treat to include in your plans for Venice.
Venice includes many churches and museums to add to your itinerary. To get an idea how the real Venetians live, however, you should visit the Jewish Ghetto. This area was settled by the many Jews who came to Venice from Spain and central Europe after 1492.
Venice is famous for many things – its canals, Murano glass, Burano laces, elaborate masks, and wonderful shopping.
A visit to Ravenna today showed the incredible masterpieces that were created in the V and VI centuries in mosaic.
We docked and took a shuttle bus* into the city. The drop-off point was a convenient walk to most all of the points of interest we wanted to visit, so we went. We first walked to the main square, Piazza del Popolo and from there to Mercato Coperto. This market of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats and fishes showed the products of the agricultural economy of Italy.
We then purchased a ticket that gave us entrance to five monuments that show why Ravenna has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The Basilica di San Vitale is known as one of the most important monuments of early Christian art in Italy. The mosaics in the central octagon of the building are extraordinary depictions of the Byzantine Empire. (The pictures here don’t begin to do justice to the rich colors and pictorials.)
On the same grounds as the Basilica is the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. Here again, the mosaics depict important Christian events and representation of the skies and stars and the flowers. Supposedly, Cole Porter wrote “Night and Day” thinking of the starry sky shown in the ceiling mosaic of Gallo Placidia.
A lunch break was spent in an Italian ‘self serve buffet’ that included various pastas, meat dishes, salads, breads, and desserts. As with most buffets or cafeterias, the eyes were bigger than the stomachs and we left more than replete!
At this point our group split up, and one couple went to visit Battistero Neoniano, the most ancient monument of Ravenna, and Museo Arcivescoville, which contains the throne of Maximian, an ivory masterpiece. The remainder of the group went to Dante’s Tomb and the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (and the other couple stopped there before leaving Ravenna). This is another example of masterful mosaics of the Byzantine style, with processions of Virgins and Martyrs and the Three Wise Kings.
Back on the ship, we enjoyed a special buffet dinner on the pool deck. The ornate ice carvings, fruit and vegetable displays added to the superb grilled fresh Ravenna fish and other meats. Entertainment was provided by a guitarist, and the lovely weather made it wonderful to be outside for dinner.
A day filled with beauty… the ornate mosaics were incomparable!
* NOTE: not all ports have shuttle bus service, so be sure to check that out ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.
Before I go any further, I need to mention a few things from yesterday’s wonderful tour in Rome.
The traffic in Rome can be horrendous. Many of the streets are very narrow, made more so by double parking, and the motor bikes whip in and out of traffic. Our guide Guido said there are laws and regulations for the motor bikers, but it seemed that they had much more freedom than motorcycles in the U.S.A. Because of the traffic conditions, it is always wise to allow an extra amount of time to get to your destination.
The other thing to be to allow for is LINES! At the Vatican we had reservations, so we were in the shorter line to enter. Those who did not have reservations formed a line that went on for blocks. Our line was unusually long also, but Guido discovered that there had been a power outage and the Vatican museum was hours late opening, because they couldn’t use the metal detectors and screeners. We couldn’t get advance tickets for the Forum and Coliseum; but Guido stepped up in line for us and was able to get us through the line much more quickly.
Now, on to today… our luggage was picked up from our hotel room at 10 a.m., and we boarded a shuttle for the hour and a half ride to the port of Civitivecchia. We had taken several cruises before, so we were prepared for the long and slow process of checking in to get onboard the ship. We speeded up the process by having done the forms online for our stateroom, contact information, and credit card information, but we really were surprised by the Azamara procedures.
We walked in to the embarkation building, presented our documents, including passports, of course, and were boarding the ship within 15 minutes – which included going through the metal detectors. It was wonderful!
Azamara Club Cruises includes some wonderful amenities.
*All coffee, tea, soda, and water are complimentary, as is table wine at meals.
* There is complimentary self-service laundry. For two-week trips like this one, that is very helpful.
* Shuttle bus service in ports is complimentary (where applicable).
With approximately 800-passenger capacity, there is not the same feel of crowding that is sometimes found in the larger cruise ships. Even the required lifeboat drill was very organized and efficiently conducted.
The beautiful sunny climes of the Mediterranean have gone into hiding, unfortunately, and we are sailing on rough seas. Tomorrow’s tendering at Sorrento has been changed to docking at Naples. Hopefully the skies will improve, the wind will calm, and our scheduled sightseeing tour will be successful.
Yea! We (and our luggage) have arrived in Rome and we’re comfortably settled in Hotel Savoy! Of course, no trip would be normal without a few hiccups, and we certainly experienced those.
On the day prior to departure, we printed out our boarding passes, only to discover that our reserved 24A/24B seats had been changed to 17E/41F, in spite of having paid extra for United’s Economy Plus seating, which gives more legroom. We immediately called customer service where a very nice young man named Chet said he was sorry, that he couldn’t reassign our seating, since that is turned over to the airport agents 24 hours before departure. He promised that he would tag our reservation for the airport to review the first thing in the morning. Imagine our pleasure at arriving in Washington, D.C. and finding that we had been reassigned to 18A/18B. Thank you, Chet!
We traveled from Oklahoma City with our friends Mickey and Tana and met Jim’s sister Sharon and her husband Mark (from Columbia, MD) at Dulles. Our 5:55 p.m. flight departure became a 6:15 p.m. departure. Once we were all settled in our seats, however, the captain informed us that the weather had taken over cockpit controls and we wouldn’t be leaving too soon.
The flight attendants were very nice and all passengers on the 777 were thrilled when we finally departed at 8:50 p.m. The flight itself was uneventful, though the 8 ½ hour trip was decidedly tiring. Pillows and blankets were provided, and first-run movies were on the entertainment channels.
A couple of tips about long flights like this one:
* purchase one of the semi-circular neck pillows. They provide support and make it much more comfortable.
* use earplugs if you aren’t going to watch the video or listen to music. Blocking out all the extra noises of hundreds of people will make sleep a better possibility.
* take along a snack or two. The dinner was typical airplane food, as was the continental breakfast; so some snack mix or fruit to snack on is a help.
Heard in the airport: “I did it! I switched to a window seat! And the ticket agent said it was a good window. I asked her ‘What’s a bad window?’ The answer? ‘OPEN!’”
We’re still laughing about that one.
Now the sightseeing begins.
With all the planning for a 20-day trip, one of the hardest things to plan has been what to pack!
Airline requirements on baggage have become an issue on very short trips, so you can imagine what it must be like for overseas flights! This is another item that can be researched online and we found that United would not charge us extra if we each check a bag no larger than 62 linear inches (measure around the perimeter edges) and weighing no more than 50 pounds. An additional bag would be $50 at airport check-in or $45 if checking in online. Overweight baggage can cost as much as $200, so packing just one 50-pound bag each was our goal.
We researched temperatures in some of the larger ports and came to the conclusion that it will probably be a little cooler than it is here. Of course we know that the weather couldn’t possibly be any more erratic than Oklahoma weather — in the last 48 hours temperatures have ranged 40 degrees with rain, hail, and devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma. We have been warned, however, to be prepared for rain. So here are the basics in my 38-pound bag:
Rain gear: that means rain jacket or poncho and what about an umbrella? Friends who have been there said umbrellas are inexpensive, to save that packing space for other things.
Shoes: good comfortable walking shoes are a must, of course. We shopped for leather shoes with good support and soles. I ended up with a pair that are sandals, and of course, the rain will play havoc with those, so I’ve packed a pair of tennis shoes as well. Because our cruise doesn’t have required formal nights, I’m not taking dressy heels, just some dressier sandals. And of course, a vacation requires flip-flops.
Clothes: pants of preference would be capris and I’ve included several pairs in denim and in cotton. I have also included regular full-length pants in standard colors — black, white, tan. Coordinating colors in shirts and tops will allow them to go with any of the pants. A couple of the tops are dressier for evening dinners, but I was happy to put the dresses away. Adding in lingerie, a cardigan sweater, a jacket, and of course, some jewelry pretty well completes my packing, right?
Unfortunately, the weight in my bag probably comes more from all the other things: cosmetics and haircare products. Travel-size products are a great plan — I can toss the container when empty and have extra space for bringing home those wonderful Italian trinkets. I also made sure to include prescription medications, those that I take daily and a few for just-in-case situations.
Yea! My bag is packed!!