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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

There and Back Again

I’m sure you will all be STRUCK DUMB when you learn that I defied fate and traveled on an airplane! To Los Angeles and back! This terrifying voyage–which I have in fact taken many times before, now I come to think of it–allowed me to visit my darling grandson and his family.
I’m sure you’re bursting with questions about traveling in these perilous times!

Question 1: Any changes in the airport routine?
Answer: Driving to the Washington DC airport is now much more picturesque, as thoughtful officials have removed all those vulgar signs indicating the route to the airport. Luckily everyone already knows the way!

Question 2: How do we eat those delicious airline snacks while wearing masks?
Answer: We remove our masks! See, it turns out that the covid germs politely refrain from infecting us when we eat or drink.

Question 3: What if by some totally UNLIKELY quirk, I don’t set my alarm and thus awaken much later than planned for my flight home?
Answer: Not to worry! By dint of heart stopping exertion and frantic endeavour, You CAN make it to the airport in time! And in only a very few days, you will have recovered from the fright.

Question 4: Was it worth it?
Answer: YES! I loved every minute of it! Already thinking about my next trip.

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Sand in my shoes

I have just returned from an idyllic week at the beach with my brother and his family. The sky turquoise–the sea dark azure–the waves, that tender milky green topped with white foam! While we had no little children in our party, there were many of them on the beach, delighting us and their families with their complete joy in the water, the sand, the sun. And how wonderful to be with my family after the months and months of near solitude! I have seen very few people since March, aside from the masked shop attendants, and my dear son who faithfully visits me every week. It was a solace to my heart, being with my dear family.

The drive to Bethany was a 3 hour affair, skillfully conducted by the Google Maps lady–who kindly warned me of two speed traps on the way and flawlessly guided me right to the beach house door. I arrived around lunch time, and joined the party on the beach–the sand! The sky! The ocean! So beautiful. We had wonderful days at the beach, and wonderful dinners every night. There was a certain amount of drinking. The house was well provided with glasses and had the most powerful blender I have ever encountered. Margaritas and Daiquiris!

So anyway, came the day I had set for departing. I kissed them all goodbye and set off. The Google Maps lady had warned me of an accident on the bridge, and said there would be an hour and a half delay. I thought, well, so it goes.
HOWEVER.
As we came closer and closer to the bridge, I began to get horrifying glimpses of the traffic–15 miles of unmoving cars and trucks. Google offered me cunning little side roads, which I took, but of course at some point I had to join the throng waiting to cross the bridge.

So, then she offered me a work around–a SIXTY MILE detour, going all around the bay.
Comrades, I accepted!
Though, I admit that I wasn’t entirely sure that she hadn’t decided to take me to New York instead of home, and driving at great speed as I was, had no way of actually checking. At some point, I pulled off and checked. YES! We WERE going to Washington. I called the cat care lady and begged her to feed the cats their dinner as I would not after all be there in time to render them this important service.
And grimly continued on my way. There were also delays on 95–which though dispiriting enough were not nearly as ghastly as the one on Route 50. I arrived home 5 hours after I had left the beach.

Not quite twice as long as the usual trip.
But, WORTH IT!
(Apparently there was a jumper on the bridge. All lanes were finally open by 7 pm–at which time I was just turning into my own dear street.)

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And so good night

After many weeks of work and HUNDREDS of emails, my group of experts is aloft, streaking through the skies to their meeting in India!

Well, all but the one whose passport the very expensive Visa Service managed to lose–and not just lose, but lose without letting us know until the very last minute, so that there was no time to get another one, CURSES on them AND all those ghastly web pages I have had to plow through as a result of their negligence.
Why did we have to use a very expensive visa service you ask? Because this particular professor lives in San Francisco, and so his visa cannot be handled by the local visa service. You can get an e-visa to go to India in a few days, all online, easy-peasy–and he had one, in fact–but, he needed a special visa to attend one of the scheduled meeting. Which, it turned out, wasn’t scheduled after all, so in fact he actually didn’t need it.
But, he did need his passport.
Many teeth were gnashed over this in addition to mine.

And this was not the only vexatious visa incident. A local attendee also needed the special visa (for that meeting that was NOT AFTER ALL SCHEDULED but let us not be bitter for heaven’s sake) and brought me all her documents, which I duly sent to the local visa service place. But OOPS–I had entered a wrong number in one of the slots, so they sent it back. Blushing with shame, I corrected the mistake and resubmitted. But they still weren’t satisfied! More proof of local address was needed in ADDITION to her driving license. Her husband dutifully dropped by some utility bills, which I sent on.
Which FedEx LOST.
So, I sent them again. But now, it was getting late. So, we asked for the passport back, and I got her an e-visa. Solved, right? NO! The traveler got a message from FedEx that her package was going to her other house in Washington state. HOW, HOW, could this be? That address had not appeared in ANY of the documents. But eventually it turned out that this was ANOTHER package, and she got her passport and is even now sipping champagne high over Europe. Or patiently waiting in an airport, or snoring away as the plane drones onward.
So, bon voyage to all of them! Except of course for the one left behind, whose very expensive ticket will be credited on his next trip, minus some unbelievably enormous penalty.
And I will now alert the solicitous staff at the hotel not to expect him.

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Monday Monday

Today is Veteran’s Day, and many people are staying home in honor of our soldiers. I mean no disrespect, but here I am at work, as it is not a holiday for my office. Though the place is very quiet indeed this morning–the train was sparsely populated, and the sidewalks almost empty. But here I am, trusty supporter of the academy, bent over my keyboard.
Not exactly WORKING but here.
Yesterday I was in NY, playing with my grandson, who has miraculously grown from a baby to a child–a little boy with passionate opinions about everything, who skips alongside you as you go to the park or the restaurant. He is a charming fellow! GAMMA HOPE GAMMA HOPE he would call and lead me off to watch him play his tiny piano or set puzzle pieces together or draw a whale.

My journey was on the plane rather than the train. The plane ride is FORTY MINUTES–the train ride is three and a half hours. But oh the tiresome lines and shufflings and examinings that planes demand! Once on the plane I read my book (a PAPER book, which required no batteries to run, and could be deployed at all stages of the journey) and once arrived got a cab to Brooklyn. Laguardia is a complete PALACE within–such stores, such restaurants–but a complete and horrid disaster without. We crawled through miles of construction.
Traveling is very exciting but rather demanding.

I had a lovely time, it was such fun! But now I am happy be back home with my my loving cats, my pretty house, and my peaceful office.

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Speaking of ghastly travel problems, I just heard of a truly stunning set endured by a colleague. This young man was managing a group of Americans attending a meeting in Russia.
Which is already complicated enough.
So, arrived in Moscow after a 14 hour flight, he learned that one of his flock had decided not to come. Yikes, a 6 thousand dollar ticket must IMMEDIATELY be cancelled, or the value evaporated and the money was gone.
Then, one of the doddery old fellows hastened over with the dire news that he had lost his immigration card–a VERY IMPORTANT document without which he would be unable to leave the country.

To obtain a new one is a horrifying job that requires long confrontations with the bureaucracy (who mostly don’t speak English).
And as he frantically phoned about trying to deal with these problems—his briefcase was stolen.
Inside the briefcase was a thumb drive which contained ALL THE PASSPORT INFORMATION of the group.

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Thursday last week was the long awaited day appointed to visit my Los Angeles grandson. Fecklessly forgetting that it meant GETTING TO THE AIRPORT AT 5 AM, I had purchased a 7 AM ticket. So, I got up at 4:15, dressed and dashed out of the house and drove to the airport–MISSING THE TURNOFF TO THE PARKING LOT. Just as I had done the last time. But no problem! I remembered the solution: drive through the airport and then take the exit to the car park on the other side. Then there was a fork in the road with a sign pointing left saying “Airport”–naturally, I chose the other road, not wishing to return to the airport from which I had just come. But as the road wound on and on–it was still dark, remember–a sad feeling that I had once again missed the road came upon me. I tried turning back the way I had come but no, quite lost in the wilds of Virginia.

In a fever of apprehension, I asked my phone to get me to the airport, and took long slow breaths as she told me where to turn, how far to go before turning again. She got me onto the Dulles Toll Road–SIX DOLLARS, but whatever. And then when she told me to exit, I ONCE AGAIN took the wrong fork in the road. But no problem, she got me back on ($4.50) and this time I made it to the Economy Parking Lot. But lo! My torment was not yet over! The entrance machine bade me insert my card–and then wouldn’t give it back. I frantically hit the help button and gasped out my sorry dilemma to the patient man on the other end. He eventually had to restart the machine to remind it of its duty– and I got my card back. Then parking, the bus, the TREMENDOUSLY LONG line for the security check, and onto the gate with very little time to spare. Which meant NO BREAKFAST! Well, well, I had a chocolate bar in my bag, and there was coffee on the plane. And there was a cornucopia of movies to watch, so eventually the ghastly horror of the morning faded away and 5 hours later I entered the flower garlanded city of Los Angeles.

It was a simply wonderful visit, and the little lad is an angel. We had such fun together!
And then early this morning I sped back to the airport to return home. My, such crowds! Many many other people had decided to return home the day after the holiday. But when I tried to check in I discovered that I had in fact wisely decided to come back the day OF the holiday! HA HA!! I was a day late! A kindly Asian lady helped me buy another ticket, found me a place on the plane, and soon I was soaring towards DC.
Where I am very grateful to be now.
But I cannot help but feel that this travel event was not one that showed me off to my best advantage.
PS I ALMOST lost the airport car park ticket. It had floated out of my bag, but luckily was still sitting on the floor of the bus under my seat.

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I have just returned from a bang up 3 day trip to New York, babysitting for my charming 2 and 1/2 year old grandson. The boy is an ANGEL (well, aside from some bedtime issues) and we had a grand time together. I have to say that a relaxation in the former rather strict nutrition rules–which now allows previously forbidden sweeties–has certainly made otherwise impossible procedures suddenly possible. Bribery, so effective. The lad has a magnificent mane of beautiful hair, which he completely forbids one to groom. BUT–when offered a tiny marzipan candy in the shape of a fruit (from a dainty box in the fridge) he was completely at his ease– engrossed in the confection–as I plied the brush. AND with a brilliantly blue lollipop at his disposal, he calmly waited for the bus to the zoo without the tiniest hint of impatience. Even when we found that the zoo was not yet open on our arrival, his mood continued sunny–and let me add that it was FREEZING COLD. Once allowed inside, we LOVED the aminals! And the fishies! And the peacocks! And the kitty! A Pallas’s cat, said the sign.

Who was politely coughing up a hairball as we watched.
Where did I fail in perfection you will ask. Well, I simply could NOT fasten the lad’s seat belt in his stroller so that TWICE he tumbled out. He came to no harm, but my granny stars of servitude–earned by changing so many diapers–have been stripped from my unworthy shoulders.
Still, what fun to spend time with this small–but passionate and fascinating–human being!

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Further Developments

Another twist in the exciting drama that is my new job! Which possibly I should keep my mouth shut about, not wishing to celebrate the season by losing my situation, as Scrooge tartly remarked to his clerk Bob Cratchitt.
But really! How can I not share this exciting news!
So, I left you with the tantalizing prospect of our 6 travelers poised on the brink of their travels but possibly doomed to stay home for lack of the appropriate visas. But NOT SO! We persevered, we got the visas, we had FedEx deliver them on the day before departure, and all was well!
The cost was somewhat startling, but there it is, we prevailed.
Off they went to Moscow, ready to discuss interesting topics. Sigh of relief!
And then one of the eminent scientists had a heart attack, and had to be rushed to the hospital for immediate heart surgery.
This shed something of a gloom over the proceedings, though the various events and festivities could not be cancelled of course.

You will be relieved to hear that he survived, and will be brought home next week.

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How many hours to Babylon?

Tomorrow I shall visit the Pakistani embassy to get visas for 3 colleagues who will be attending a November meeting in Islamabad. That is, assuming the would-be travelers have sent me the one last document needed for this complicated process: a recent bank statement.  I have everything else, which is to say, 1) their passports, 2) completed visa forms, 3) invitations, 4) glowing letter from current employer, 5) completed document of business good will as required on the (rather clunky) website.
It will take FOUR TO SIX WEEKS.
And each visa costs $331.
Some countries are rather casual about visitors–no visa required to visit Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, many others–but not this one.
I am filled with admiration for my colleagues–so casually making ready to travel to a dangerous and disagreeable place. They believe in what they do, and for all I know, they may be doing good. In any case, I admire them–good people who spend their precious lives flying in airplanes for hours and hours. To them I raise my glass: may their missions succeed! And may their dinners be the BEST AIRLINE DINNERS EVER.

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Behold me returned from my travels! I took the train to New York and visited the adorable grandchild, who goes from strength to strength–he is now turning his remarkable powers towards acquiring language–communicating with the world. His emotions veer from ebullient joy to bottomless grief–he chuckles like old King Cole, howls like a banshee, and smiles like an angel–truly, children are wonders.

And I must remark that traveling on the train through this grand country is always humbling–thrusting through the backside of cities and towns, fields and forests, the train offers a constantly changing view of inexplicable structures, dilapidated buildings (carefully decorated with endless graffiti, hours of work done by nameless people, why, why do they labor so?), huge oil tanks, row upon row of tiny houses, proud industrial palaces–I keep watching and wondering that such amazing diversity can exist.

And when I returned home I found that a foolish robin red breast has made its nest right in front of my window, on a branch readily accessible to cats. As soon as those eggs hatch, my cat Bertie is grounded.
Children are precious.

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