Day 1 / Saturday August 20th / Regent Cruise Athens Greece

August 20th was my 27th Anniversary with Bob! I made sure black-and-white cookies had arrived for him so we could virtually celebrate even though we were on separate continents :).

I was now at my connection spot in Madrid, Spain, and the sun was just rising over the horizon as I landed.

I was fortunate that Madrid was my only connection to make. My mom had three connections. When I got off the plane in Madrid, it was quite a long, involved walk down featureless hallways, with no signs or indicators, with twists and turns, before I reached a first ‘stopping point’ of a destination board. My next flight to Athens was listed, but it was the only flight in the next 3 hours without a terminal or gate or anything by its flight number. So I had no idea of where to go.

Everyone else around me started out in various directions. I tracked down an information booth to ask where to go. They pointed me in the direction of a passport check. By the time I got into the passport line it was quite long. Still, it shuffled along. About half of the people were still wearing masks from our mask-requiring flight.

The actual passport check was very quick. They asked what I was doing in Greece and then asked which countries the ship would be stopping in. That was it. Then I was out the other side.

I still had no idea what terminal / gate I was going to. Another boarding display up ahead showed my flight but not any destination info. It was stressful, but I lemming-like followed the main group which went down to a subway system. I had no idea if leaving my current terminal area was a good idea, but it seemed everyone else was, so I had to trust this was where most of the flights were going to leave from. I got onto the subway.

The signs on the subway walls said we should be wearing masks, but by this point most people weren’t. Off we went.

We arrived at another terminal area. We went up to a main junction with a row of monitors. Again my flight was on the board but had no terminal or gate information listed. At this juncture, half the people went left, half right. I didn’t even know who to follow any more.

I went to an info desk to ask. The woman was very dismissive and said my flight was about 2 hours out and the board would be updated with info by the hour mark. I went back to look at the board. This was a smallish area with turnstiles to the left and the right. There weren’t any chairs or benches or anything to sit on here.

I finally went back to the info desk, to a new woman, and asked if I was really supposed to stand in this smallish area for an hour until the board updated. She looked at my ticket and said I should take the right-hand fork and there would be benches there so I could wait for further updates.

Off I went through the right-hand turnstiles.

The space opened up. I was now in a very long terminal area split into the letters J-K-L. There were shops and benches, but all the benches were stuffed full of people. I had to walk quite a long way to find an open bench. I had just finally sat down when I got an email alert from Iberia that my gate was at one end of the terminal, far from me. I got up and started walking. I checked the displays along the way and they all said ‘contact company’ for the gate info, which wasn’t reassuring.

Eventually I got to the gate, which had people at it. That was encouraging. The sign over the check-in desk was completely blank. Less encouraging. I sat down. Waited. Occasionally I got up to check the departure displays, but while they steadily counted down, my flight was still only listed as ‘contact company’.

About 15 minutes before boarding I got another email, saying we were going to board from the far opposite end of the terminal. I got up and started walking. Again the departure boards I passed just said ‘contact company’ for my flight’s gate, even though every other flight had its info. I wonder how people without phones were supposed to know what to do?

Finally I got to the gate just in time. They had lines for section 2, 3, and 4, but no line for business class. There were two random lines by the main entryway. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just milled around the desk area.

They called people with small children and people who needed assistance. I waited. Then they called groups 1 and 2 together. Apparently people who had been in group 1 (business class) had already gone in with the ‘people who need assistance’ group. So I headed onto the plane.

Business class on this leg was not really much different than non-business-class. It was simply the first three rows of close-packed seats. I was in row 3. Behind me was a curtain and the next rows of close-packed seats. I sat in my window seat. The woman behind me with painted toenails decided my seat rests were perfect for stretching her bare feet on. She put one foot on each arm. She kept poking me with her bare toes by accident. So it was an interesting flight. No TV monitors.

I tried to sleep.

Finally, we landed in Athens. I got off and headed toward baggage claim. The baggage process took quite a while, and my luggage was near the very end, but I did get my luggage. So that is a good thing. I later heard that other people on the ship had luggage go missing.

Luggage in tow, I followed the signs out to the exit. There were no security checks or anything. I nearly instantly found the woman holding the Regent Cruises sign. Apparently they were waiting just for me and my mom. More than that, they had a minivan just for me and another minivan for her, so we wouldn’t have to wait for each other.

I wanted to ride with my mom. After all, the entire purpose of this trip was to spend time with her, and apparently she was landing shortly! I wanted to wait here for her. However, they seemed to want me to go into my minivan, so, exhausted, I gave in. It was just me and my driver on the 45-minute drive to the ship. It seemed fairly wasteful of gas and resources to do it this way, but I was, as mentioned, exhausted, and not up for pressing the point.

My driver and I arrived at the docks. Attendants took my larger bag, and I wheeled my smaller one into a big building. This building was clearly set up for large groups, with banks of chairs, but I was the only one there in ‘line’. I showed my proof of recent PCR covid test. They put a wristband on me indicating I was OK with my test and sent me along. There were two or three people sitting in chairs in the massive area apparently waiting for their test results.

I walked over to the security building. It was in essence the same setup – a very big building set up for long lines, but just me there. I went to a desk to get my key card handed to me. Then I went through a metal detector, and I was out of the building, down the stairs, and at the short walk to the ship.

The gangplank was fairly long with lots of shallow steps, so sort of tedious to walk up. Then I was on the ship and checking in with my key card. A group of crew members were waiting in the entry lobby area. I was the only passenger in sight. One of the crew members gave me a glass of bubbly. Another then escorted me the short distance to the theater to tell me this was where I would muster in case of emergency. They no longer make you sit through a muster drill – they have you watch an in-cabin video. Then I was released to go to my cabin, number 814.

I went up the elevator and down the hall to my cabin. I did not see a single passenger this entire time. I got to the room. It was quite lovely. There were two twin beds, a desk area, a couch area with table, and a balcony with two chairs There was a walk-in closet. The bath area has a bathtub, separate shower, and vanity with two sinks. There was a bottle of sparkling wine and a fruit basket waiting.

A steward soon showed up to explain that the room lights turn on when you put your key card in a slot by the door. That way it conserves electricity when you leave. You can’t have things plugged in while you’re not in the room, for safety reasons. She said the passengers are required to watch the safety video on the TV all the way through before the TV acts normally.

I’ll note that nearly all plugs in the room were European-style plugs. I’d brought converters, but Mom had to unplug a lamp to get to a US-style plug.

I headed back down to the gangway again and sat underneath the tent there. It was maybe a half hour later when my mom arrived. Hurrah! I went with her as she was shown her muster station, and then we went to the cabin. Our luggage arrived soon after. We were all set! Exhausted but on the boat!

I showered and the floor area of the shower ended up fairly swamped – and there was water out in the toilet area, too. I mopped it up with towels and figured I’d had the shower on too strong and that it got past the sliding glass door. I would do better tomorrow to have the shower on a lower pressure.

We had a welcome reception in the lounge with the group my Mom booked this tour with. We talked with them a while.

Normally my mom loves listening to the classical string quartets – but oddly there weren’t any listed on the schedule. Just a pianist. We decided to go to the main dining room for dinner. We were nearly the only ones in there. We were given a table by the window. Dinner was delicious and artfully arranged. We’d recently cruised on Oceania and I’d commented that their presentation was just not what one would think for fine dining. Regent really showed what a nice dining experience could be. It still was odd, though, how few people we had seen on the ship so far.

Dinner done, we were beyond exhausted. We headed back to the room and climbed into our beds.

Ask with any questions!

Step count: 7398 steps

Next up:

Day 0 / Regent Cruise Greece to Turkey

Day 0 / Friday August 19th / Departure

Welcome to the start of my day-by-day travelogue! This is for my recent 10-day cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer through Greece and Turkey! Note that I am AT HOME now and am writing this from home :). Every day I’ll post the next step of the journey. Feel free to ask me more details about what I did or saw!

My wonderful mother Ann took me along with her on this cruise. She had always wanted to see Istanbul. The cruise went from Athens, Greece to Istanbul, Turkey. My mom lives in Sarasota while I live in Massachusetts. I was thrilled to be spending time with her!

I quadruple-checked my packing list, which I kept as light as possible. I’d heard many news reports about travel nightmares over the past month. Apparently COVID-penned-up summer travel demand, paired with a very low level of travel employees, was causing luggage to be lost in droves. I wanted to pack as little as possible so if I lost the bag I only had to replace a few things. I only packed 4 days of clothes and planned to run laundry on the ship a few times, which was free. Note that this still meant 8 sets of clothes, because I packed tunic tops and pants for the long hot daily adventures and then dresses for evening meals.

My main suitcase was 35 pounds. I also brought a small carry-on for my laptop and headphones to keep with me. Often in the past I’d take, in addition, both a digital camera and a film camera. However, I wasn’t risking either with the luggage-getting-lost situation. My cellphone would do fine.

At about 1:30pm Bob and I drove in to Logan. We knew that traffic out of Boston would be fairly heavy, and Bob had a gig Friday evening, so we wanted to make sure we left him enough time to be prepared. The drive in was fairly smooth. Soon I was dropped off at the Iberian gate. Barely any passengers were wearing masks.

My flight was in two stages – Boston to Madrid, Spain and then Madrid to Athens, Greece.

My mother had kindly set us up with business class flights. Check-in was a breeze. The desk person checked both my passport and my COVID vaccine card. She let me know my ticket gave me access to the business lounge area.

There was a separate security line for business class. That went quickly. Fairly soon I was in the terminal area. There was a lounge sign to go for “Air France” and as I didn’t see any other lounge signs, I followed the Air France one. It took me to an elevator, which made me concerned – I like to be near the actual gate area in case of changes or announcements. Still, I went to the different floor.

Down an unmarked alley, and there was the lounge with a line. Out of the four groups ahead of me, two were turned away. They let me through. The lounge area had small tables with straight chairs and then a collection of softer chairs. Nearly every single chair was full. There was a small buffet with a few small sandwich options, a few trays with meatballs or pasta, and then an open bar. There were nut mixes.

A screaming baby. A dense crowd. No masks anywhere.

The lounge didn’t seem very ‘relaxing’ to me but apparently quite a number of people were trying to get in who weren’t really allowed to, maybe because of the free food and alcohol. It was all you could eat or drink.

I luckily found an open small table and had two small turkey-and-swiss rolls. I foolishly had a Diet Coke, when my plan had been to sleep on the flight. Finally the crowdedness, the screaming baby, and the sense of being away from my gate got to me and I headed back up.

The gate area was quite full, and I finally found a spot on a stool by a bench with a charger. I texted Bob to give him updates. The overhead announcements made clear we DID need masks for the flights and could buy them at the shops. Not too long later they began boarding prep.

Business class went on first.

Each passenger had a ‘pod’ in a seat with lumbar controls. The seat could recline fully. We each had a TV, headset, and controller.

Normally when I fly I listen to soothing music on my Bose noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones are so old they are still wired. Unfortunately, on my phone I somehow confused YouTube Music with YouTube Premium and in the lounge I’d activated YouTube Music. This meant, once I went into airplane mode, I didn’t have access to my ‘soothing music’ mixes. Ooops. You’d think by now I’d have moved all my iTunes music onto my actual phone, but I never did it when I switched phones and keep forgetting.

In business class, you’d think dinner would be a key part of this experience. However, by the time they got to me they were out of the salmon and chicken so the only option was cabbage. That seems an odd thing to feed people on a long flight, but it was tasty enough.

Then we all stretched out and they turned down the lights. I did sleep a bit, but I probably would have slept more if I’d not drunk that Diet Coke!

At last we landed in Madrid. It was now Saturday morning and the sun was just coming up.

Step count: 2071 Steps

Next up:

Air Canada Praise for Ashir in Customer Service

A message in praise sent to Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Executive Vice President / Chief Human Resources Officer and Communications Officer at Air Canada

Dear Arielle –

I am writing in high praise of your Air Canada customer service representative Ashir. He wholly saved four people who were trapped in Istanbul on the morning of August 30th, including me.

My mother (who is in the middle of chemo!) and I along with two men were returning home from a Regent cruise through Greece and Turkey. Our travel was booked through Regent Cruises. When we arrived at the Turkish Airlines desk, Turkish Airlines claimed they could not process our reservations. The business class seats were booked in our names, but as there were no matching ‘reservation’ entries, we could not pass their security check. Turkish Airlines refused to call Air Canada. Turkish Airlines coldly told us it was our problem to fix. Luckily, out of us four, I had a working phone, or we would have been wholly stuck.

I called Regent Cruises. Their answering machine said to leave a message and they would call us back quickly. They never did.

I didn’t wait for them (thankfully). I moved right on to calling Air Canada at 11:06pm EST / 6:06am Istanbul time. Your phone system was quick and efficient, and in moments I was talking with Ashir. He became our lifeline to sanity.

Ashir did his very best to talk to the Turkish Airlines team. Turkish Airlines absolutely refused to budge. Turkish Airlines said everything that was wrong was Air Canada’s fault. Ashir tried to point out to them a number of times that all records were set up properly in the Air Canada system. Ashir even tried recreating the tickets. Turkish Airlines was hostile and half the time refused to even double-check. Finally, Ashir had to give up on them. He rebooked me on an Air France flight through Paris. That set up perfectly. While I was trying to access the email he sent me, I think I accidentally disconnected us. That was at 1 hour 10 minutes. I nearly panicked.

Ashir called me right back. He finished my reservation and moved on to my mother. He tried a number of options for her, but options for her to get back to Tampa Florida were very convoluted with very long layovers. And somehow she disconnected the phone at 22 minutes in.

Again Ashir called us right back. My mother and the other two men agreed they would just fly to Miami to get out of Turkey. They could take an Uber the 4 hours home from there. Our primary drive at this point was to get out of Turkey as quickly as possible. Ashir set it all up. He got all three of them direct flights to Miami. That took another 46 minutes, and we were wholly set, ticket IDs in hand. Our boarding passes were easily printed without any problems at all, and we escaped Turkey.

I cannot even begin to express how panicked we were at the Turkish Airlines counter when Turkish Airlines refused to help us. Ashir was an absolute lifeline. He did his very best to sort things out with Turkish Airlines, but once he realized how non-communicative they were being, he moved on to focusing on rescuing us. Ashir went above and beyond to ensure we made it out of Turkey to safety.

Is there a way I can make sure Ashir is recognized for his amazing work as a customer service rep and as a compassionate human being? Is there an office address I can send boxes of chocolates to?

Sincerely,

Lisa Shea

Owner, BellaOnline.com

Charter/Spectrum email addresses

BestBuy Citibank Credit Card Cannot Export to Quicken / Quickbooks

I am absolutely stunned that this is still a problem in 2022. I use my BestBuy card quite regularly for a variety of purchases. I then have to HAND ENTER every single row of data into QuickBooks, because BestBuy Citibank does not have a Quicken or QuickBooks export option from their system.

The only options they support for export are:

PDF – not useful for anything at all

Spreadsheet / XLS – would need substantial conversion

CSV – a comma separated value file, even worse

Tab Delimited – are we in the 1990s?

Custom Delimited – not really any better than tab delimited

It is pretty jaw-dropping that any credit card in modern times still cannot export to any normal financial software format. Every other credit card that I use provides at least one standard financial software export option.

It’s even worse than that, though. If you look back more than six months, the ONLY export option available is a PDF file. So even if you created an import system that worked with the XLS or CSV types of files, it would only work for your last six months of data. The information before that would have to be hand typed in line by line. And the online system only shows 2 years worth of data.

Best Buy / Citibank absolutely needs to update their systems to provide modern functionality.

QuickBooks 2022 is Atrocious

QuickBooks 2022 is Atrocious – Move to an Alternative

I have used QuickBooks for over a decade, and all my historical data is in the QuickBooks system. Despite the immense hassle involved with changing systems I am absolutely going transition away from QuickBooks. This latest 2022 iteration is absolutely atrocious.

First, the customer service at QuickBooks is mind-bogglingly bad. One time with this new 2022 version I called with issues with logging in. They told me it was because my email address (associated with my company URL) was “non-standard” and I should use a “normal” one like Gmail or Hotmail. What?? Another time I called, he couldn’t answer my questions, said no manager was available to help, and then asked to put me on hold for a half hour in essence to ‘run out his shift’. He promised to call me back with a manager the next morning. I never got a call.

Next, the QuickBooks system is FULL of errors, and then when you try to hunt down help to fix them, the QuickBooks help is bafflingly bad. Every ten minutes or so I’d get a new error which I’d then have to google to find solutions for. Their help would not provide information on their own errors. Out of my two bank accounts, two PayPal accounts, and eight credit cards, nearly every single one had import or connection errors. I mention again that I’ve been using this software for over ten years. These aren’t new accounts. For some I had to custom-write code to convert their files into something usable by QuickBooks. This should not be happening in 2022. When you look through the QuickBooks forums these issues have been thoroughly documented for YEARS by users and are still not fixed.

There are just so many issues with navigating through an account, reconciling accounts, and more, which are either tedious or user-hostile. I am baffled how this software is in this state.

And then of course there is the pricing issue. It was bad enough when they used to force you to upgrade every three years to have functional software. Now in 2022 they have a high price which you are required to pay YEARLY to use them. If the software and customer service were top-notch I might say it’s worth that price. But with all the errors in the software and the atrocious customer service? There is no way it is worth this kind of money.

I will absolutely be changing off of QuickBooks. I will thoroughly document the process to make it easy for others to do the same. Managing finances is stressful enough – financial software should make this process EASIER, not HARDER.

Amazon Kindle Vella SciFi

Do Antibiotics Prevent You from Getting Lyme Disease?

I live in a Lyme-tick-rich place – central Massachusetts. I know many people who have gotten Lyme disease from a tick. I recently had a tick bite me and, on testing the tick, the tick did have Lyme disease in it.

I was on antibiotics – Doxycycline – within three days.

Do antibiotics prevent you from getting Lyme Disease?

What Is Lyme Disease?

First, a quick summary. It was only 1975 when doctors near Lyme, Connecticut finally realized that their patients weren’t “crazy” but really did have serious real symptoms from a tick-borne disease. The problem is a bacterium inside the tick -Lyme borreliosis – which the tick gets by sucking on infected deer etc. The bacterium is then inside the tick, so when they bite a human, now the saliva from the tick gets into the bite wound and the human gets Lyme borreliosis inside them. That then causes Lyme Disease.

Does Everyone Infected with Lyme Disease Get a Bullseye Rash?

I’ve had doctors say “You don’t have a rash so you’re all set”. THAT IS NOT TRUE. Many Lyme-infected people do NOT get a bullseye rash. Always take precautions if you’ve been bitten by a tick in a Lyme-active area.

Does The Tick Only Transfer Lyme if Attached for 36+ Hours?

This is an old wives’ tale. What we know is that most attached ticks tend to be nymphs (the tiny stage) simply because we are able to see the adults (larger stage) more easily. With an attached tiny nymph, most known infections come from those ticks which have been attached for around 36 hours (a day and a half).

HOWEVER. This does NOT mean that a person is magically immune if they get the tick off in 24 hours. It’s not like the saliva isn’t flowing for the first 24 hours. A tick that’s attached for 24 hours already has quite a lot of blood in it.

ALSO – many people get bitten by adult ticks and don’t find it for various reasons. I was bitten by an adult tick on my back and only happened to notice it because my shirt rubbed against it, making it hurt. I easily could have not known it was there. An adult tick has a much larger stomach / mouth / etc. and much more saliva in it. So those of us unlucky enough to get bitten by an adult somewhere we don’t notice, it could easily spread the Lyme borreliosis much more quickly than 36 hours.

It’s also worth noting that bacteria multiply. That’s how they work. So doctors assume that if you only got one bacteria into you that your immune system would spot it and kill it. If you got thousands of bacterium into you, your immune system might get overwhelmed.

But what if your immune system wasn’t healthy for whatever reason? It could be that even a small amount of Lyme borreliosis could cause your body problems. So even a few hours of tick contact could get enough Lyme borreliosis into you to start an issue.

Single-Dose of Antibiotics / Doxycycline

It used to be recommended, if you found a tick instantly and the Lyme borreliosis were only starting to multiply inside you, that you could take one mega-dose of Doxycycline antibiotics and wipe out all of the Lyme borreliosis. This is no longer recommended by most physicians. It’s better to take the standard 10-day regimen to ensure all the bacteria are slain, while you wait for the tick test to come back.

Test Your Tick for Lyme Disease!

All of this discussion so far assumes that the tick DOES have Lyme Disease / Lyme borreliosis in it – but the only way to know for sure is to test it. There are many testing centers to do this for you. Send in the remnants of the tick, even if it’s in pieces. Within 2-3 days you’ll get a message back letting you know if the tick even had Lyme disease. You can test for other diseases, too, while you’re at it. If the tick did NOT have Lyme, you can breathe easy and know you’re set.

If the tick DID have Lyme, it’s now a question of how many of the actual Lyme borreliosis got from the tick digestive system into your blood system. If it was attached under 36 hours, it’s going to be a smaller volume of bacteria that got in. If it was attached longer, there is more chance of a transfer. An adult tick will transfer more than a tiny nymph. Different skin areas will have different blood flow. Your immune system might be robust and have instantly slain every single bacteria – or it might be weaker and be struggling.

Do Antibiotics Completely Wipe Out Every Lyme borreliosis Bacterium?

The way Lyme (and many diseases) work is that the bacterium start out ‘living’ where they entered the system – i.e. at the tick bite. That’s why you often (but not always!) see a rash near the tick bite area. That’s the body having trouble with those Lyme borreliosis bacterium.

Then, as the Lyme borreliosis multiply, they spread out and get into other body parts. The joints. The organs. The brain. Etc.

So if the tick bites you in your back, and the Lyme borreliosis are hanging out near that spot in your back, and you take antibiotics quickly, it could be that the antibiotics destroy every single little Lyme borreliosis bacteria that exists before they get any further.

But let’s keep in mind how antibiotics work.

The antibiotic – let’s say Doxycycline – is put in your mouth. It dissolves in your stomach, and then goes through your blood system. But do the particles of Doxycycline really go down EVERY SINGLE CAPPILARY? Does it really get into every single cell? Or is it reaching maybe 95% of your body and figuring it’ll be good enough?

Keep in mind some capillaries are so tiny that red blood cells have to ‘line up’ to get through them. As high a dose of Doxycycline they give you, there are still chances that some sections of your body will end up with no particles down a given route.

Then there’s the issue that some bacteria can manage to evade antibiotics by ‘hiding’ / disguising themselves so the antibiotic can’t see it. And then other bacteria have evolved to be resistant to antibiotics.

So do not necessarily think that once you get antibiotics – even for the recommended 20 days – that you are 100% absolutely guaranteed to be wholly free of the Lyme borreliosis bacteria. Always watch for symptoms.

Once Bitten by a Lyme Tick, Are You Immune to Lyme Going Forward?

Your white blood cells are helping out as best they can. So in addition to the antibiotics you will ALSO have your white blood cells building their knowledge to Lyme borreliosis. White blood cells have a memory system where they remember things they have fought off before. That’s how humans can build immunity to some illnesses.

A challenge with Lyme is that it’s not just one bacteria. There’s at least 18 different syb-types of Lyme. So while you might now become immune to type #1, that still leaves you vulnerable to types #2 to #18.

How Do You Know if you Have Lyme?

There’s no easy way to test for the presence of Lyme borreliosis bacteria inside you. Instead, what doctors test for is the ability of your white blood cells to know about Lyme. Your white blood cells don’t instantly build up this knowledge. It takes about six weeks before your body fully builds its knowledge about a new invader. So you would have to wait six weeks before doing a blood test to determine if your body has interacted with Lyme in the past.

Note that the test will have no idea WHEN you encountered Lyme borreliosis. It might have been ten years ago. But the test will be able to tell you that your white blood cells are sensitive to at least one of the Lyme varieties.

It could be that this invasion of Lyme was caught very early and every single bacteria was wiped out. It could also be that a few copies of Lyme bacteria managed to stay in your body and cause issues. The blood test can’t tell that. It only knows that at one point in time there was indeed Lyme borreliosis inside you.

If Lyme Gets Into You – Do Antibiotics “Cure” You?

So with everything we’ve covered, the question comes again: If a Lyme-positive tick bites you, and the Lyme borreliosis bacteria then get into your body, do antibiotics wholly keep you from “getting Lyme”?

Technically, the moment those bacteria are in you, you have Lyme in you. The question is how it impacts your body.

If you are able to wholly stamp it out quickly through a combination of white blood cells and antibiotics / Doxycycline, then the damage done to your body could be minimal. Your experience with Lyme could be short and uneventful.

If instead some Lyme borreliosis are able to survive for whatever reason, and nestle into somewhere vulnerable, then you could still have symptoms even years later.

That’s why it’s always good to know your Lyme exposure status – and to track all symptoms. It will help you be a good caretaker of your body. After all, we only get this one body to last our entire life.

Watercolor Girl in Moon - Support Ukraine

What Do Constellations Look Like from Other Planets?

What do constellations look like from other planets? That’s an intriguing question that has inspired many sky-watchers.

We have two probes – Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 – which are past the furthest planets.

https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/18/world/nasa-voyager-1-issue-scn/index.html

Neptune is 2.9 billion miles away. The probe is 12.1 billion miles away – so much, much further. Even so, signals **only** take 20 hours to go from us to them. In general, an observer needs to be several **light years** away to see some interesting constellation changes.

Our amazingly long distance probes aren’t even a single “light day” away from us. Never mind a light month or a light year. So the constellations look nearly identical even that far away.

Constellations look the same from other planets in our solar system –

https://usm.maine.edu/planet/do-constellations-look-same-other-planets

So how far away do you need to go before the constellations start to look different?

You can easily “travel” much further with Celestia and see what the sky would look like from many other places in our universe –

https://celestia.space/

You would have to go REALLY far away from Earth before the sky began to change.

Rome Airport Sculpture

Oceania Riviera Cruise Day 16 – Flying Home

It was the last day of our trip. Day 16. Tuesday, April 19th, 2022. Today was the day of our flights home.

My mother, my sister, and I all had valid plane tickets. We all had negative COVID tests in hand.

Mom and Jenn were flying Delta from Fiumicino (Rome) Italy direct to Atlanta, to connect there, departing at 1:15pm. I was flying Lufthansa from Fiumicino to Munich at 12:55pm. We were leaving out of the same airport, nearly at the same time, but from different terminals.

We spent the morning cleaning the apartment, finishing the packing, and so on. I took the trash and recyclables to the bins on the street.

Soon enough the van was at the door. We locked up the apartment and brought down our luggage. We tucked ourselves in to the van. We always masked up in every cab throughout this trip, if I hadn’t mentioned that. He drove us over to the airport.

I was dropped off first. I said my goodbyes to Mom and Jenn. Now I was on my own! I felt my “aloneness” very strongly. I imagine part of it was being surrounded by Italian-speaking people and Italian-language signs.

I found my way in to the Lufthansa check-in spot. There were only a few people in line. The clerk spoke English. My main luggage bag checked in without a problem. I was wearing a cloth mask. She pointed at my mask and said I needed to wear an official N95 one on the flight. I had some in my carry-on and said OK. She pointed me off toward the gate.

There was a long security line, so I snaked my way through that. People were not social distancing, but everyone had a mask of some type on. Many were NOT N95 masks – many were blue surgical style masks.

I went through the xray machine.

Next, there was a small shopping area, and then the room opened up into a big waiting area. There were banks of monitors with flight details. My flight was on the fifth screen, in time order, and an actual gate hadn’t been assigned yet.

I found a seat with nobody around it and waited. It had a Euro-style plug outlet and a USB outlet right by the chair.

Time passed slowly but surely. I texted Jenn to keep track of how she and Mom were doing. There was a public use piano near me that would randomly be played by people – sometimes well, sometimes not-so-well.

Jenn texted me that she and Mom had a bit of an adventure. They were sitting in a row of seats with two empty ones alongside Jenn. The seat immediately next to Jenn had a sign on it in essence saying “do not sit here / do not move this sign” – i.e. for COVID reasons. The airport was trying to maintain social distancing.

A woman and man came over and eyed the seats. The woman plunked down in the two-away seat and indicated the man should sit next to her, i.e. next to Jenn, in the “do not sit here” seat. He pointed at the sign. The woman grabbed the sign and tossed it onto a ledge.

Jenn looked at the man. The man asked Jenn if Jenn minded if he sat next to her. Keep in mind that Jenn is PROBABLY COVID POSITIVE. Jenn showed great restraint and simply said to him “the signs are there for a reason”. The woman grumpily stood up and muttered “Unfriendly people!” Mom snapped back, “not getting SICK people!”

I bet that woman would have sung a different tune if she’d gotten COVID and ended up in the hospital …

My own experience was quiet. Nobody came anywhere near me. Another twenty minutes passed. Eventually the monitor assigned a gate for my flight. I headed down the hallway.

It turns out the gate area was quite a ways away from this initial ‘holding area’ and that there were lots of shops / restaurants / etc. in the gate area. I could have come to this deeper area and waited in more comfort. That’s all right.

There were very strange sculptures along the way … just what is this?

There were more public pianos and things like public foozball tables …

Eventually I got to my gate area. It was a hole-in-the-wall corner gate area with only about half as many seats as they needed. Lots of people were standing, jammed together. It’s just as well I only got here near the loading time. The people getting off the previous flight had to wiggle their way through us.

Finally the crew started loading us by group number. Occasionally they’d point at someone’s mask, say it wasn’t a N95, and tell them to go to the local shops and buy themselves a proper mask. You’d think after the first person or two was sent away that the rest of the passengers would check their masks. But no, even deeper into loading, passengers were still being sent off to buy a new one.

I was probably in the last group to load. I was very happy to have a paper boarding pass from the Lufthansa desk person. Paper boarding passes make me happy. I just don’t trust an electronic one. What if your phone dies?? I know, I’m a dinosaur.

On board, we all had N95 masks on and wore them the entire flight. This was a short hop just from Rome to Munich. I texted Jenn until they had us switch our phones to airplane mode. We were barely in the air (reasonably speaking, 1:15 flight time) before it seemed as if we were coming down again.

The connection time between this plane landing and the next plane taking off was fairly tight – and the gates were seemingly at the opposite ends of a large terminal. So the moment we were able to leave our seats, I grabbed my carry-on and started a fast walk.

It turns out even though we were staying within the EU, from Italy to Germany, that Germany still wanted us to go through a customs-type check. They had two main lines – one for EU people and one for the rest of the world. A US couple stood at the junction point staring baffled at the options, wholly unsure of what to do. I had to explain to them what the EU line was about.

Apparently many people around me also had very tight connections because there was a lot of grumbling around me in line about why this was happening. Fortunately, the customs people seemed to understand this. They were very quick and efficient in getting us through. Then we were off at our fast walk again.

But wait, up ahead there was yet another bank of security people. This one was split into lanes by flight. There was a particular lane for my Munich-to-Boston flight.

A middle-aged woman from behind us went barging up through our Munich-to-Boston line, going past everyone else on our flight, panicked that she’d miss her flight (i.e. the flight all the rest of us were on). We let her past. The security person wearily told her to take a deep breath, that she wasn’t going to miss her flight. The woman got processed through. Then the rest of us in line got processed.

I continued my fast walk to get to the actual gate. When I got there, it was empty of passengers. I guess our straggling group from Rome was the last set of passengers due on board. The crewperson quickly processed me. With great relief, I stepped onto the plane. I was in the near-very-back of my section, on the right-side aisle (window seat) with a young man also in my row. The crew closed the doors very soon after that. An attendant told the young man that the row behind us was wholly empty, and he moved back a row. I dramatically said goodbye to him :). He responded in kind. Both of us had an empty row for ourselves for the long flight which, all things considered, was of course a good thing.

I could at last settle in. This was the last leg, quite a long flight. I had a solo row. Maybe I could even sleep.

It turns out the man who had been in my row was a vegan. Because I was now the only person in “his” row, and he no longer was, I kept getting vegan meals. That was quite fine. They were tasty. Vegan lasagna, vegan salad, etc. He got vegan food, too, so I wasn’t “stealing” his food.

It turns out I wasn’t sleepy – maybe too much adrenaline – so I ended up watching Gladiator :). The Roman Colosseum and so on. And then the Russell Crowe Robin Hood, to keep the theme going.

The woman in the row in front of me kept trying to leave her mask off after eating (i.e. while watching a movie), and the airline attendant would come by and gently remind her to put her mask back on. I’ll note that in the US on this very day, Tuesday, a ruling decided that US flights no longer required masks. Apparently on my mom and sister’s Delta flight the passengers were happily taking off their masks and deeply breathing in the communal air.

Lufthansa was having none of that.

Finally we landed in Boston. I was in no rush on this end so I let other people race and scramble to get off the plane in case they had connecting flights. Then I got off. The security line was fairly quick, to process us. And then it was down to the luggage area to get my bag.

There was no set customs process. Random people would be chosen out of the stream to go to a side area and talk about their baggage. I saw an officer stop a young man with a duffel bag. I walked right through without anyone stopping me. Then it was out to the pick-up area, where I was picked up by Bob. And then in the blink of an eye we were home! Home home home! :).

I tested myself for COVID with my home kit. It came out negative. I tested myself three days later, just in case I picked COVID up somewhere along the travel path. I was still negative. I had no symptoms of anything. So I was 100% clear from start to finish. I’m very grateful for that.

My mom wasn’t feeling well the next day, and she then gave her cold to Len, but thankfully they both tested negative for COVID. It seems she got some sort of a generic illness from someone in her travels, but it wasn’t COVID. I call that a win. They healed up soon.

Jenn, of course, tested STRONGLY POSITIVE for COVID once she got home. Not even mildly positive. A bright strong line showed up instantly. So it really seems as if she was positive when she was evicted by the Golden Tulip on Saturday and she was positive when she got her ‘cleared for flying’ test Monday at the Golden Tulip.

Jenn self-quarantined at home, and after a few days the COVID test was only weakly positive, and then a few days later, negative. She made it through the end of her illness in comfort.

I’m amazed I never got COVID throughout the days of Jenn and me sharing a room both on the Oceania Riviera as well as in the Rome apartment. Our twin beds were right next to each other, and we shared a bathroom. We were only apart the one night she was at the Golden Tulip.

All in all, the Spain-Italy cruise and vacation was a lot of fun. I loved seeing the architecture at the Alhambra, the volcanic landscape on Lanzarote, the raptors, the churches of Rome, the opera dinner, and much more.

The Oceania Riviera definitely had “COVID issues” in a number of areas. They had new staff who didn’t quite know what they were doing. Our cabin person had to be gently reminded to bring us the breakfast form, when to do room maintenance, and so on. Oceania had in place poor procedures for handling health situations, for example how food delivery should be handled to a COVID-positive room.

There were a number of passengers who were quite cavalier about safety protocols, which undoubtedly led to COVID spreading easily amongst people. That is hard for the staff to deal with. At the same time, Oceania’s crew actively didn’t tell passengers that COVID was loose on the ship. People might have paid a bit more attention to their actions if they didn’t feel completely safe in a “COVID-free bubble”.

It will be interesting to see how travel changes in the coming months, as COVID continues to mutate and become even easier to catch – but hopefully at the same time becomes less dangerous to its victims. I think one of the key lessons in here is to absolutely have travel insurance, because you never know which day might bring an abrupt change to your plans.

In any case – spending two full weeks of fascinating travel with my mom and sister – priceless!!

Ask with any questions!

Oceania Riviera Cruise Day 15 – COVID Testing in Rome

We were now at Monday, April 18th, 2022. This was our last full day in Rome, Italy. We would be flying home on Tuesday. That meant that we were required to get a proctored COVID test today. Well, we could get one Tuesday morning, but it’s better to be prepared.

As things stood right now, Jenn had tested positive on the Oceania Riviera on Thursday, when Mom and I tested negative. Jenn had been taken Friday morning to the Golden Tulip hotel in Rome. Saturday morning they’d tested her and said she was negative.

Perhaps Jenn was actually now negative, Mom and I were still negative, and everything would be good. We could all test negative today and be fine.

Or perhaps Jenn was still positive but had only tested negative at the hotel for some reason, and had infected the other two of us, and we’d now all be sick. We could all be stuck in Rome for another week or two in a COVID hotel somewhere. Our apartment contact had let us know we could have this apartment for a few more days (i.e. nobody had rented it right after us). However, I’m not sure she meant it was available for two more weeks, or that she’d be happy with us hunkering down with COVID in here.

And how would we eat?

In any case, we had to find a COVID test.

I woke up Monday morning to find Jenn and Mom were awake and a little tense about finding a place to get COVID tested on Easter Monday. They’d been trying to contact a local hospital, it seemed. I’d done a bunch of research before we began the trip and all the posters had said it was easy to get tested at a pharmacy. I wasn’t concerned about the process.

I came out to the living room and tracked down the local open pharmacy. Unfortunately, when I called them, all the recorded answering prompts were in Italian. I WhatsApped our apartment contact (who of course speaks Italian) and asked her to please call that pharmacy to confirm they were open and doing COVID testing. The woman responded promptly, did so, and said that we were all set. The pharmacy was indeed open and was doing COVID tests. It was just a short walk away. Everything was fine.

While I was doing that, Jenn contacted someone at the Golden Tulip hotel. It turns out, since Jenn had stayed there, that the hotel would be happy to do tests for all three of us. So we could also just walk to the Golden Tulip and get the tests done there. We had two easy COVID testing options.

After some discussion we decided to go with the Golden Tulip option. After all, they had cared for Jenn and given her the negative test on Saturday. That way we would have all the testing done in one place and keep everything Oceania-related. It might mean if we tested positive that we would have more of a direct contact with the Oceania hotel and have more support with any next step.

The walk there would take about a half hour. We decided on a plan to walk fifteen minutes, eat lunch at a restaurant Mom liked, and then finish the walk to the hotel.

While we were having all of these discussions, Mom teased Jenn and me for being so optimistic about everything. And I’d respond by saying, “Look! We even get to walk by a big pretty park! It’ll be lovely! It says it’s a sanctuary!” And Mom said something about elephants, so now I started talking about being near an elephant sanctuary and how delightful this was.

It was also time to start electronically checking in for our flights. Jenn and Mom were all set. My flight was a strange mixture of United and Lufthansa. So far I’d done everything from the United side, but the flight home was wholly Lufthansa. I tried using my normal logins from United but it had trouble finding the Lufthansa flight. So finally I just created a new account directly with Lufthansa. From there I could see the flight but it was in some sort of a hold status.

I couldn’t reach our US-based travel agent (it was still early in the US). Jenn suggested I try calling her contact at Oceania Travel who had been helping her while she figured out her COVID flight change options.

It took me a try or two, but I found someone at Oceania to talk with.

It turns out when Jenn had been taken to the Golden Tulip with COVID, Oceania had NOT cancelled Jenn’s flight. Instead, they had put a hold onto MY flight. So MY flight was the one which was now invalid.

Oceania said they’d need some time to sort this out. They said they’d call me back shortly.

This was sort of funny, because people often comment on how Jenn and I look like sisters. We’d joked about us sneaking Jenn off the ship pretending to be me, or Jenn flying home using my passport or so on. And then here they did actually SWAP us for no good reason at all.

In any case, at this point I had two challenges – the upcoming COVID test and the lack of a flight home :).

Still, one step at a time. It was time to head toward the Golden Tulip and get some food along the way. We departed in beautiful weather for our walk.

Even the graffiti here was in support of Ukraine. Cheez is apparently a well-known graffiti artist.

The walk had some stairs and went through some residential areas. We couldn’t see into the “elephant sanctuary” as it was behind buildings, but I knew it was there. I waved to my elephants.

Soon enough we reached the half-way point and the Tempio de Mecenate, a lovely restaurant with a patio. We sat under the canopy. It was beautiful weather and relaxing.

Jenn and Mom both got giant (to me) uncut pizzas.

I got fettuccini with porcini mushrooms. When I want comfort food I have pasta. I admit that in the back of my mind was still lurking this looming COVID test. If any of us tested positive, we could be back in turmoil again. Plus I didn’t have a flight for tomorrow.

I didn’t want to make phone calls while away from the apartment wifi. Bob had warned me continuously that roaming phone calls were REALLY expensive. Somehow $25/minute stuck in my mind. I wanted to avoid that if at all possible. So I just kept waiting for my phone call from Oceania.

Finally we were done with lunch and ready to move on. This area of Rome is where Mom had stayed in the past, so she pointed out all sorts of sights to us. For instance, she’d stayed in this building:

Finally we were at the Golden Tulip hotel. They have a small lobby. The front desk person asked us to sit at the far right-hand side of it and wait.

While we waited, Mom and Jenn prodded me to call Oceania again. At the same time, Bob warned me in our texts not to rack up phone bills. I finally explained to Mom and Jenn the $25/minute cost issue and they eased up. But I gave in and called anyway to touch base with Oceania. They said they’d call me back. I got a call ten minutes later. They were still working on it. So still no news.

It took quite a while before the hotel doctor came out. He asked if he could test us right here in this lobby. We said sure. The swab was only in my nostril for maybe one second tops. Then we waited some more.

At last he came over and gave Jenn and Mom their negative-results paperwork. Mom heard him talking on the phone with someone about ‘negative’. The paper was an 8.5×11 piece of paper which folded in half then in half again to form sort of a booklet. It had all of the patient’s identifying information on it, plus details about the test, and a QR code. The front said it was a “EU COVID Certificate”.

But I didn’t get one.

We waited and waited some more. I of course was feeling a bit stressed. Finally I went over to the front desk. It turns out he’d gotten the final email and just hadn’t checked it. I was negative too. He printed my certificate.

Now all three of us had negative certificates in hand. We could fly out. Those of us with plane tickets, of course!

We walked the same route back, looking into rolling luggage for Jenn. Her luggage was already overstuffed and she needed more room to make it home. We found her a nice luggage from a street vendor. I liked how many shops had a place by the door to clip dogs, so the dogs could wait outside while the owner looked around.

We stopped in a church on the way home. It was quite lovely. I felt a little uncomfortable, though, being in there on Easter Monday when services were being held. I enjoy visiting churches during non-service-hours, but when people are in there listening to their mass, I feel ‘out of place’ with visitors walking around and making noise and so on. So I sat on a pew until we left. I had a pretty view.

Soon enough we were back in the apartment. Back to the wifi. I called Oceania again. They said they had to coordinate with Lufthansa – it was technically someone at Lufthansa who had to release the hold, as it was a COVID hold. So they were waiting on Lufthansa.

We waited. And waited. I did my Monday tarot card drawings. The card I drew for myself was the Six of Cups about working together with a trusted partner. It represented me and Jenn figuring this all out and finding solutions.

Finally two hours later I got the call. Everything was now set. The hold had been cleared. I could breathe again :).

At this point, I discovered that the cost for my roaming phone calls was 25 CENTS per minute. TWENTY FIVE CENTS. I was adding enormous stress to my life for TWENTY FIVE CENTS. I was worrying about making critical phone calls because of TWENTY FIVE CENTS. I admit that now I threatened to the universe that I would kill Bob for making me worry about phone call costs in the middle of all of this. Then I would resurrect him and kill him again. I have a feeling I was releasing excess stress at this point :). I would not kill Bob.

Whew.

We all had tickets home. We all had negative COVID tests.

Did we believe the negative tests? I’m not sure I did, but it also didn’t seem fruitful to go running around to pharmacies getting additional tests specifically trying to DISprove them. We could do our very best to stay masked and socially distant until we got home and then take fresh tests there. As I mentioned, the entire experience was feeling very surreal.

I was still feeling perfectly fine, so I had no symptoms. Neither did Mom. Jenn was feeling better.

I believe by this point Jenn had heard from other patients that they had left (been kicked out) of the Golden Tulip, found another place to stay, didn’t feel well, and gotten tested by another location. They’d tested positive again. So we didn’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about the negative tests from the Golden Tulip.

I’ll also note that it turns out the Golden Tulip did not charge us for our COVID tests. They probably put it on Oceania’s account since we were doing this as part of the overall cruise process. So we ended up saving about 90 euros by going with the Golden Tulip.

We decided to stay in for the evening and eat through our ample leftovers. We had pizza to eat, wine to drink, tea, Easter bread that our apartment people had left for us as a present, and more. Plus packing to do.

My teen class was from 11pm to 2am Rome time. By that point Jenn and Mom were asleep. I put on my headset, fired up the class, and changed my name to Lisa Shea the Silent :). I ran the entire class without verbally talking. I just typed in things to the teens. This is a writing support group so they all have a blast sharing news with each other, so the three hours went quite smoothly and they had fun. By the time 2am came around, I was exhausted and ready to sleep.

So today involved a fair amount of stress for me, but with patience and determination we got through everything. We were now all wholly set to fly home Tuesday morning. We had negative COVID tests. We had tickets. We had our cab ride all set up. All we had to do Tuesday morning was finish packing, finish cleaning the apartment, take out the trash / recycling, and climb into our cab.

It was time to sleep!

Oceania Riviera Cruise Day 14 – Easter in Rome

Here we were. Sunday, April 17th, 2022, and it was Easter Sunday. We were in Rome, Italy. My mother, my sister, and I were all together again, and we were all testing negative for COVID. Jenn was feeling better. We could all fly home together on Tuesday. Our world was settling down.

We’d been warned before the trip that the entire city of Rome could shut down for Easter, and that no restaurants could be open. We’d planned ahead with reservations a local nice-quality restaurant, Contrario, for a midday Easter meal. As it turns out, quite a number of restaurants were open, so we needn’t have worried. Still, it was wonderful to have a place all chosen and set.

Just after noon, we arrived at Contrario, just a few blocks away. They had even reserved a delightful ‘wine nook’ area for us to sit in. It was wonderful.

I wore the earrings and necklace that my godmother Steph had bought for me on our trip to Kiev. Thank you Steph!

We had a leisurely, delicious, quiet meal. There were other people in the restaurant, but it wasn’t crowded. It was just perfect for Easter. The three of us were together. The wait-staff was attentive. All was well.

Once we were finished, we walked the short distance to the Colosseum and recorded a short “Happy Easter” video there for our friends and family back home. Then we headed back to the apartment.

Jenn and Mom rested. The weather was beautiful, and there hadn’t been crowds out, so I decided to explore. I changed into another Etsy Ukrainian t-shirt and went back over to the Colosseum. I video-called my god-sister Kris, who was just waking up in US time. I gave her a virtual tour and chatted with her while I walked around. It was great fun.

Here’s the Etsy shirt, the Ukrainian flag done with butterflies.

On the way back to the apartment, I stopped in at the ice cream shop on the corner. I sent a photo to Jenn asking if she’d like an ice cream delivery. She said yes :).

Our apartment even had a pretty poppies painting in the living room. I’ll have to try to paint that. We think of Ukraine when we think of fields of poppies.

I did some more work in the living room for the afternoon.

Finally it was time for dinner. We decided to go casual for dinner, and chose the Ristorante Volare around the corner. Again, like the others, there was no checking of vaccine cards or anything else. The servers wore masks but, once seated, nobody else did.

The menu was fairly extensive. Jenn ordered one type of ravioli. I ordered another type with completely different insides. The waiter seemed to be saying there was only one ravioli. Maybe the second one was sold out? In any case, Jenn and I both got the same ravioli flavor and it was fine. And Jenn even got to have creme brulee for dessert, which she enjoys.

So our entire Easter from start to finish went incredibly smoothly. Jenn, Mom, and I were together. There were plenty of open restaurants. The streets weren’t crowded. The weather was stunning. It was restful and relaxing. Just what we needed.

The one and only item on our task list for Monday was to find a pharmacy to each get a COVID test done. The requirements for flying on Tuesday were that the COVID test had to be done within one full day of flying. So we either had to get tested on Monday or, in an emergency, Tuesday morning. We of course preferred Monday. The pharmacy right near us wouldn’t be open on Monday, but others in the area would be. The tests cost about 30 euros each and would take about 20 minutes to wait for results. You had to take a ‘proctored’ test – you couldn’t just self-test.

So the two questions were, could we find an open pharmacy tomorrow to do the test, and would all three of us test negative? If one or more of us did test positive, we hoped Oceania would still honor putting us up at a hotel and feeding us. It could be they’d claim at this point we were all negative ‘after the cruise’ and any new positive test would be our own responsibility. That situation could be tricky to navigate. If we tested positive, who would we even call to find somewhere to stay? Hopefully the pharmacy would know. How would we get all our luggage to this new place? These were all questions we hoped we wouldn’t have to figure out.

For now I was grateful that everything was fine and on track. We would tackle Monday when Monday came. We headed to bed.

Ask with any questions!

Roman Colosseum –

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/JDaWEoobmRw

Roman Colosseum Up Close –

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/6nQtBV6WGys

Easter Church Bells –

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/-2FyIp6sLzU

Next day: