Saturday, October 24, 2009

Almost 22 Hours from the M/S Harmony to Home

We were up Saturday morning at 2:45 a.m. European time to catch a 6:00 am flight out of Basel, Switzerland (whose airport is really in France!). After clearing Immigration and Customs in Houston we stopped at the store, came home and had no key to get in! I called my friend Sue Anne who must have a key for everyone I know. She came to our rescue so it was 5:30 when we finally got in. That was 12:30 Sunday morning European time so it was a L-O-N-G day.

I don't have pictures downloaded yet but I thought I'd pass along some of my initial observations. I really enjoyed Belgium, Holland and Germany. Everything is very neat and tidy, runs on schedule and most everyone speaks English which makes it nice for tourists. The history and age of things in Europe are just fascinating to me. The cemeteries in Luxembourg that I'll tell you about later made it a very moving day but I was disappointed in the country (half the size of Rhode Island). They have Roman ruins, buildings that our several hundred years old and massive new skyscrapers but it just didn't jell for me. Switzerland is another very small country but very cosmopolitan. It is almost three quarters forest and mountains so the cities are compact.

In Strasbourg, France the neatness and maintenance evident in the other countries was missing. If people spoke English, they didn't let you know. Besides touring the city we took a tour of the Alsatian Wine Road. It was much more interesting than the city with lovely countryside and fields much larger than we had seen elsewhere in Europe. When we arrived at the town where we stopped for a wine tasting, the buildings were marvelous, the wine not quite as good as what we tasted at a winery in Germany and none of the shopkeepers spoke English so it was a bit more difficult.

The dollar was dropping against the Euro as we toured. We received 66,7 Euro per dollar at the beginning of the trip and it was down to 62 by the time we left. There were no bargains and it costs a half Euro to use a public bathroom which translates to 75 cents per visit. There are no free p**s in Europe! And don't even think of holding the door open for your friend. But like anything in life, you adjust.

We had a marvelous time. We spent three days in Brugge (this town has many ways to spell its name depending on the language you are using). I'll just go with what was on the road signs. Our ship was very comfortable, the staff superb and the food interesting and very good. Since we had been on the M/S Symphony three years ago, we knew exactly what to expect.

A highlight was our Program Director, Peter. He was with us the entire time. What a sense of humor this young man has. He kept us in stitches the whole time. He speaks six languages so it didn't matter which country we went to, he could always help us if needed. Something new this trip were headsets and receivers to hear the Program Director no matter where you were standing. Additionally, the earphones kept my ears warm! Peter had "5 steps to Paradise." Put on your headset, plug it into the receiver, turn it on, put it on Channel 2 and adjust the volume." He told us this every day and by the 16th day in Basel, when he was still helping some of the little old ladies, I wondered how he maintained his patience. The funniest sight was one lady dragging her friend by her earphones over to Peter because she couldn't hear. She didn't follow the five steps!

I'm fading fast so I'll do my best to get the pictures downloaded and I'll do a few days at a time to keep the blog from getting too long.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

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