Hotlantic crossing 2009, part 1


Written by Helena Clarkson

October 22nd 2009. We had a very good yearly visit to the Netherlands per usual visiting our mom, but that did not mean that we were not looking forward to our Trans Atlantic crossing home together. Being the good big sis that I are; I had made a lot of the bookings for our trip like the hotel in Amsterdam for instance. Well the hotel was ok, but the location was a bit out of the way of the airport. Also we soon found out that Afghani taxi drivers drive a hard bargain, as he had to drive another 10 minutes out of his way. For this mistake we paid at least 50% of the planned fare. On second thought I should have paid him what I thought it was worth and told him to buzz off for the rest!

Still the hotel was good, internet was free and the food was quite expensive as well as lousy! My philosophy is, when the food is mediocre, wash it down with some nice wine and you will soon quit whining. As a whole, I would call it a pretty good start to our trip!

October 23rd, we got up bright and early at some ungodly hour like 5am, so we would be at the airport in time for our flight to Venice. With the benefit of hind sight, we should have slept in a while longer for unbeknownst to us this would become a very long and trying day. Still at first, all looked like it would work like clockwork and we got onto the plane more or less in time as scheduled. We were just trying to get ourselves comfortable when the captain announced that he had some baaaaaaad news for us. To every one’s surprise, the north Italian traffic air controllers decided to go on strike just when we were boarding the plane. Nice move indeed, here we had gotten up at especially at 5am to make sure we would make it to our ship in time the following day. Now we were wondering whether we would actually be able to fly to Venice at all that day…We soon came to the conclusion that airports are masters at managing crowd control, for we were immediately told to stand in a long line and wait for at least one hours worth and then when you finally get to the end of the line, they tell you sorry but you should come back in another hour and join another cue to keep you busy and try your patience. Now I should give my sister lots of credit, for instead of waiting in the line as we were told; she went straight to the desk and raised some good old “Texas-hell”. She managed to acquire an entourage of traveling admirers and some how she became the designated leader of the pack. After several “run-arounds” and many hours later, we proudly boarded our plane to Venice. So what!- that it was the wrong airport where we landed! So what!-, that KLM had promised us a bus that never arrived at the airport. So what!- that, we never had a chance to make a tour of Venice as originally planned; at least now, we just landed in the vicinity of town and certainly nothing could stop us now! One of Elly’s fans bought us even tickets for the bus to Venice and we were finally on our way!

Oh I forgot to mention it was raining pretty hard too in Venice, but no matter we would find out from “tourist information” where our hotel was located. I had elected this hotel as it was supposed to be near the Piazzale Roma. Since it had become dark and soppy wet outside at this time, we hoped we would not have to walk very far. Well we wouldn’t have, if we had seen the damn place when we got off the bus. Just as soon as we crossed the busy Piazzale, we narrowly missed a huge piece of metal debris that sped over the street pushed by a tour bus. This airborne missile might have serious injured or even killed any pedestrian who had walked in its path. The loud scraping noise the thing created, was enough to scare you to death!

Asking for directions from information was a serious mistake. The stupid foreigner that worked at information didn’t have a frigging clue. Mind you, we were dumb foreigners too in Venice; but at least, we did not pretend to work for tourist info. This dumb twit politely sent us over the Rialto Bridge, which is the “mudah”of all bridges in all of Venice. In the streaming rain it would have been quite a feat to walk over it without our two suitcases in tow. It took us at least 15 minutes to get over this bridge while being accosted every 5minute by some well meaning “African-illegals” peddling “5- euro” umbrellas. What the hell were they thinking? We practically needed both hands pulling our luggage. Inside were our own umbrellas which we could not use while pulling our luggage. Trying to sell us dry bath towels might have been more profitable?

After we struggled slowly over the bridge and got the other side, we still couldn’t find the hotel. We asked another person and she told us we are on the wrong side of the bridge. At this time, my sister appeared to be ready for a total meltdown; come to think of it I was nearing the end of my tethers as well. So once again we hobbled over this by now friggin infamous bridge and were again mugged by the “African Brolly Brigade”. Then out of no where our “Italian angel’ appeared with her cell phone under her wings. She did not stop till she contacted our hotel by phone and would be our guiding light to our hotel in the pouring rain. Gosh at this moment at least, she became a Saint in my eyes! Need I mention the Best western turned out to be only a five minute walk from our bus stop?!?

I tend to think the hotels in Venice are too expensive and hotel staff behaves rather snooty and arrogant; just to rob unsuspecting tourists from spare cash and make them think that soaking up the town’s atmosphere is a rare privilege. Yes Venice is quite photogenic but let’s face it; it is also very old, dirty and moldy which seems to work well as a tourist trap!

Our hotel quoted free internet, but we were told it was not as yet available. How does one translate “false advertising in Italian?!? Since it was about 9pm when Sis and I got settled in our room with a view of a little canal, we decided to forego finding a restaurant and settled on speculaas and chocolate for dinner and washed it down with wine. It made for an all round tasty and “healthy meal” as I recall; due especially to the tremendous amount of anti oxidants in chocolate of course!

October 24th we slept reasonably well on the smallest and hardest “queen-sized” bed on record the night before and awoke fresh as daisies to loud Italian obscenities spoken outside our bedroom window. I presume my sister took a shower; I figured mine could wait till aboard ship. The bath room was not huge and the bidet took a lot of floor space from it as well. We all know what they are for, but do people actually use them? They are a bit low to the ground and my knees aint as good as they used to be. The thought of having to call a plumber, while my butt was stuck in this ceramic contraption with golden faucets digging into my voluptuous cheeks, did not attract me!

We complained to the hotel manager about the idiot woman who had sent us over the Rialto Bridge twice in the streaming rain the night before. He told us:” She must die!”Elly seemed to think that was a fair punishment for the little twit. Before checking out of the hotel, we did a walk by of the immediate area and Sister Dearest took some photographs for the family album. We found a reasonably easy way to the Piazzale and noticed there were many free cruise shuttles parked there. Yes after all these mishaps, it did look our cruise would perhaps finally become a reality after all…

We left Venice just before sunset and enjoyed a leisurely sail through the Grand Canal. I suppose it was almost as good as sight-seeing through this town and it certainly beat walking. We celebrated in style with a bottle of champagne, while we slowly but surely sailed into the Adriatic. Yes, our joint cruising adventure had finally begun!

Besides Tom, my dear sister is probably one of the very few people in the world; I could actually share a cabin with, without ever having a major tiff. I think she is probably as near perfect a travel companion as any one could wish for. Cheerful, funny and easy going as well as smarter than the average bear; yep, that pretty much sums up my sis! She does snore louder than Tom though, which can be a bit annoying, even though she calls it her “happy sounds”! I should have recorded them for her, as these so called happy noises, sounded a bit vulgar to me! Our nice cabin is still rather close quarters for such a long trip; but our small balcony ads on a bit of space and also gives you the added on dimension of the sea to look at. Elly had brought us both some earplugs, they proved to be very useful in case of sleepless nights while your roomy was snoring blissfully unaware of the other’s predicament. My memory might be failing me, but I don’t recall making much use of the plugs after the first couple of nights though. Perhaps, I was getting used to these joyful happy sounds, hey who knows?

On October 25, our first stop was Bari, Italy. Why MSC decided to stop there will always remain a mystery, I suppose. The town was less than attractive and should be called the armpit of Italy, but we did get to stretch our legs a bit on dry land at least. It also was extremely hot out side so we were actually quite happy to get back to our air-conditioned cabin. Next plan was to connect to the internet. The internet manager turned out to be a first class jerk. I usually have only nice comments to make about the Italians; I shall have to make an exception for this self proclaimed macho Italian stallion. He took being rude to a new level and managed in record time to make it to the top of our sh*t list; nice going Pisano! After my sister and I discussed his behavior, we decided he deserved a special write up. No sense getting mad; getting even was our motto! This guy was a first class b*stard to put it mildly!

Since we ordered room service for dinner on our first night, we had yet to make a grand entrance at our dinner table. When we arrived, our new table companions looked at us with silent awe…….uh or something like that. We usually dress with care and tried to figure out, what the awkward silence was all about? All of a sudden we realized that our table companions were NOT expecting a couple consisting of two women apparently; yep you guessed it, we were mistaken for lesbians! When they found out we were sisters, the conversation became immediately less restrained, not that our relationship should have mattered one way or the other though.

Our dinner companions turned out to be an interesting group of people. There was the Canadian couple, he was a veterinarian and she took care of a library. They lived in Toronto in summer and wintered as snow birds in south Florida. They were always happy, for they drank lots of wine. Then there was a rather interesting couple; he was born in Casablanca and she was German. They lived in Antibes, France. Casablanca-Guy told me that they lived 10 years in Rochester, NY. He was a flirty kind of old coot, who liked to make his wife a little jealous we think. Our “Fraulein” was one of the prettiest 78 year olds I have seen in a long time. Elly and I tried to grill her many times about her youth in WWII in Germany, but she was very close mouthed about this. Then there was a somewhat stuffy British couple with lots of money, who lived in Indiana. They bored us to death with bragging about their expensive motor homes etc. He always looked like he was ready to cry at the dinner table and she yakked on and on about causes no sane person could possibly care about. This guy hated the food at the dinner table and he would order a full course meal every evening and then look sadly at it and not eat a bite. Eventually they disappeared all together from our table; every night they would go to the pizza buffet we were told. Our dinner conversations were much livelier and fun after these two sad sacks left the building!


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