You Think You Want to Eat Here, But You Don’t

We walked in a little before 5 pm, there were a few patrons at the bar, none at the tables, and 5+ serving staff on duty. All of the tables are tiny hightops with uncomfortable chairs that sit too low for the tables.

Our server brought us water and left. We had to wave and stare to get her attn. for drink orders and to ask about the special menu items. I inquired about a bottle of wine and was told “we were hit really hard over the weekend so we’re out of it.” No alternative was offered for the same price point. We should have left then.

We ordered a bottle of wine, when served, the wine was placed in the middle of the tiny table, rather than at the empty, adjacent table. I ordered a $10 salad and added-on steak as my protein for $8. To my surprise, the salad was the size of a small starter served in a square bowl. The steak was no more than 2-2.5 oz, five pieces the size of my pinkie finger. I tried to trim the fat from the edges of the steak, impossible with a table knife. Once again we had to wave and gesture extensively to ask the server for a steak knife. Even when I trimmed the steak, I bit into hard, inedible gristle. When I showed the server, she offered to have the kitchen cook it more. I explained it was cooked appropriately, but the quality of the meat was bad, inedible, and the portion. She offered to get me a new salad and send the manager over. The new salad came back without any steak and she informed me she took it off the bill. Shocked, I told her I needed a protein or I would be hungry. I ordered shrimp which was $7 for 6 shrimp. The manager never came over. My friend ordered the fish and chips. It was served glistening and wet with grease.

If you want a pleasant dining experience, go somewhere else.

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Do You Do Down Under?

We’re heading to New Zealand with brief stops in Australia. As DIY travelers, we seek creative tour options featuring local favorites and specialties.

Our journey starts at ~4:30pm in Colorado Springs, depending on who wins the argument on how early we need to arrive for our 5:53pm flight, which will take us to DEN to connect to SFO to ultimately catch our long haul to SYD. Total trip time from initial take off to set-down is 21 hr 37 min not including transit times to and from airports.  Essentially, this will be a 24 hour trip.

WHOA! despite having made this trip 3 times before, I never quantified it. If your reaction is like mine, the burning question is “Is it worth it?” The answer is yes, as I am going back for the 3rd time. Please join me on our month long journey as we travel to Sydney, AU and cruise for 2 weeks to Tasmania and then around the South Island of New Zealand up to Auckland.  From Auckland we will fly south again to Christchurch, enjoy the TranzAlpine train and Marlborough wine country before returning home to the USA.

Looking for a Caribbean Cruise in April?

I did this analysis for a friend, so I thought I would share it on the chance that others will benefit.

I include 9 cruises departing in April from Florida to the Caribbean to consider.  Two are 5 nights the others are 7 nights.  The cruises identified are based on my assessment of the following criteria:

  • price/ value
  • reviews on CruiseCritic.com
  • demographics of the passengers on the ships
  • amenities and the condition of the ships
  • service/ guest to staff ratio
  • Florida departures

You can find less expensive cruises on Carnival, but their ships are not as nice/ well-maintained and do not get consistent good ratings on Cruise Critic.  Also, Carnival is known for more of a “party” atmosphere often with younger singles.  For reference I added 2 Disney cruises at the end.  Disney is more expensive, but if you really want to go Disney, these are the options.

Things to consider:

  • Itinerary — Are there particular ports you are interested in?  How long are you in port and what are you interested in doing in port?
  • Number of “At Sea” days.  When you are at sea, the ship is full of passengers and your activities are limited to what is going on on the ship.  Personally, I find at sea days relaxing, because you just hang around with no pressure to sight-see.
  • Location of the cabin on the ship.  The less expensive cabins are on the lower decks, which may require more time/ longer waits for elevators.  I do not recommend inside, porthole or obstructed view cabins, as they can be claustrophobic and you are not able to enjoy looking at the sea while in your cabin.
  • All travel agents sell the same inventory, so you may be able to negotiate prices.
  • You should be able to negotiate for on-board credits and ask that gratuities be free/ included/ pre-paid by the agency or cruise line.
  • Check out the entertainment/ activities on each ship to find which is the best fit for your interests

Gratuities:

  • Princess automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day.
  • Royal Caribbean recommends $11.65 per person, per day.
  • Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day.

Note:  Prices are per person based on double occupancy. Government taxes, Port Charges and fees are additional.

Caribbean-Western 5 Days ‣ Celebrity Cruises ‣ Celebrity Constellation

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=272

Sailing Date    Inside  Outside   Balcony  Suite

Apr 01             $464   $524       $659        $1179

Day Date (2013) Port Arrive Depart

  • 1 Mon, Feb 4 Miami 4:30 P
  • 2 Tue, Feb 5 At Sea
  • 3 Wed, Feb 6 Roatan 10:00 A 6:00 P
  • 4 Thu, Feb 7 Cozumel 10:00 A 7:00 P
  • 5 Fri, Feb 8 At Sea
  • 6 Sat, Feb 9 Miami 7:00 A

Concierge Class

Category C3-Deck:   Sky, Panorama, Vista

Special check-in counter, complimentary welcome champagne, express luggage delivery, fresh fruit and flowers, nightly delivery of hors d’oeuvres, pillow menu to customize your night’s sleep, sitting area with sofa, 32” LCD television, vanity, veranda with lounge seating, some staterooms may have a trundle bed , veranda with lounge seating.

Per Passenger (2 )$689

Gratuities Free

Cruise TOTAL  $1,378

Cruise.com  •  888-999-2783

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Jewel of the Seas 5 Day Caribbean Cruise

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=307— rated #5 large ship of 2012 #3 (tied) best for service cruise on Cruise Critic

Interior      Oceanview      Balcony    Suite

$509          $609                 $739          $989        800-284-0462,  Discount Code: 2005 or 1-800-CRUISES Apr 13-18

$479          $549                 $709          $1,169      800-CRUISES Apr 27-May 02

Day Port Arrive Depart

  • 4/13/2013 Tampa, Florida 4:30 PM
  • 4/14/2013 Key West, Florida 11:00 AM 5:00 PM
  • 4/15/2013 Cruising
  • 4/16/2013 Cozumel, Mexico 8:00 AM 6:00 PM
  • 4/17/2013 Cruising
  • 4/18/2013 Tampa, Florida 7:00 AM

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Caribbean-Southern 7 Days ‣ Caribbean Princess

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=303

Inside      Outside     Balcony      Suite

$549       $599          $799          $949      800-780-9002 — Apr 06, 13

Day Date (2013) Port Arrive Depart

  • 1 Sat, Apr 6 Fort Lauderdale 4:00 P
  • 2 Sun, Apr 7 Princess Cay 9:00 A 4:00 P
  • 3 Mon, Apr 8 At Sea
  • 4 Tue, Apr 9 Curacao 2:00 P 10:00 P
  • 5 Wed, Apr 10 Aruba 8:00 A 5:00 P
  • 6 Thu, Apr 11 At Sea
  • 7 Fri, Apr 12 At Sea
  • 8 Sat, Apr 13 Fort Lauderdale 7:00 A

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Caribbean-Eastern 7 Days ‣ Ruby Princess

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=443

Inside      Outside     Balcony     Suite

$699       $749         $1139         $2249     800-780-9002

Day Date (2013) Port Arrive Depart

  • 1 Sun, Apr 21 Fort Lauderdale 4:00 P
  • 2 Mon, Apr 22 Princess Cay 9:00 A 4:00 P
  • 3 Tue, Apr 23 At Sea
  • 4 Wed, Apr 24 Saint Maarten 10:00 A 6:00 P
  • 5 Thu, Apr 25 St. Thomas/Charlotte Amalie  7:00 A 4:00 P
  • 6 Fri, Apr 26 At Sea
  • 7 Sat, Apr 27 Nassau 12:00 P 7:00 P
  • 8 Sun, Apr 28 Fort Lauderdale 7:00 A

========================================================================

7 Day Caribbean Cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=358  — rated #3 (tied) large ship of 2012 and #4 best Caribbean and #4 best from Florida and #3 (tied) best for service cruise on Cruise Critic

Interior    Oceanview     Balcony   Suite

$689       $799               $999        $1,599   855-296-9012 — Apr 14 , 28  or 800-780-9002

$649       $929               $949        $1 549   800-780-9002 — Apr 28

$659       $759               $999        $1,539   800-780-9002 — Apr 14

Day Port Arrive Depart

  • 4/14/2013 Port Canaveral, Florida 4:30 PM
  • 4/15/2013 Cruising
  • 4/16/2013 Labadee, Haiti 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
  • 4/17/2013 Falmouth, Jamaica 10:00 AM 7:00 PM
  • 4/18/2013 Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
  • 4/19/2013 Cozumel, Mexico 10:00 AM 7:00 PM
  • 4/20/2013 Cruising
  • 4/21/2013 Port Canaveral, Florida 6:00 AM

========================================================================

Royal Caribbean -Freedom of the Seas 7 nights — Apr 21

— rated #3 (tied) large ship of 2012 and #4 best Caribbean and #4 best from Florida and #3 (tied) best for service cruise on Cruise Critic

Interior     Oceanview     Balcony   Suite

$659        $849              $1,049      $1,629     800-780-9002

Day Date (2013) Port Arrive Depart

  • 1 Sun, Apr 7 Port Canaveral 4:30 P
  • 2 Mon, Apr 8 Coco Cay 7:00 A 4:00 P
  • 3 Tue, Apr 9 At Sea
  • 4 Wed, Apr 10 St. Thomas/Charlotte Amalie 11:00 A 7:00 P
  • 5 Thu, Apr 11 Philipsburg/St. Maarten 8:00 A 5:00 P
  • 6 Fri, Apr 12 At Sea
  • 7 Sat, Apr 13 At Sea
  • 8 Sun, Apr 14 Port Canaveral 6:00 A

========================================================================

Celebrity Reflection – 7 Night Eastern Caribbean — Apr 06

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=6

Interior     Oceanview     Balcony     Suite

$799        $1,149            $1,209       $2,299   800-814-8381  Promo Code: PC601

$799        $999               $1,159       $2,199   800-780-9002

Day Port Arrival Departure

  • Apr 13, 2013 Miami – Florida 4:30 p.m.
  • Apr 14, 2013 At Sea
  • Apr 15, 2013 San Juan – Puerto Rico 3:00 p.m.10:00 p.m.
  • Apr 16, 2013 Philipsburg – St. Maarten 9:00 a.m.6:00 p.m.
  • Apr 17, 2013 Basseterre – St. Kitts 8:00 a.m.5:00 p.m.
  • Apr 18, 2013 At Sea
  • Apr 19, 2013 At Sea
  • Apr 20, 2013 Miami – Florida 7:00 a.m.

========================================================================

7 – Night Western Caribbean – Ft. Lauderdale on Oasis of the Seas

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=368 — rated #3 (tied) large ship of 2012 and #5 best from Florida #4 (tied) best for service cruise on Cruise Critic

Inside     Oceanview     Balcony     Suite

$849      $849               $949          $1,749      855-296-9012 — Apr 13 , 27

$749      $889               $949          $1,899      800-780-9002 — Apr 27

$749      $829               $949          $1,699      800-780-9002 — Apr 13

Day Date (2013) Port Arrive Depart

  • 1 Sat, Apr 13 Fort Lauderdale 5:00 P
  • 2 Sun, Apr 14 At Sea
  • 3 Mon, Apr 15 Labadi/Labadee 8:00 A 5:00 P
  • 4 Tue, Apr 16 Falmouth 10:00 A 7:00 P
  • 5 Wed, Apr 17 At Sea
  • 6 Thu, Apr 18 Cozumel 8:00 A 7:00 P
  • 7 Fri, Apr 19 At Sea
  • 8 Sat, Apr 20 Fort Lauderdale 6:15 A

========================================================================

Caribbean-Western 7 Days ‣ Celebrity Silhouette — Sun, Apr 07

http://www.cruisecritic.com/reviews/review.cfm?ShipID=594— rated #4 (tied) large ship of 2012 and #3 (tied) best for service cruise on Cruise Critic

Inside      Outside       Balcony      Suite

$849       $999           $1109          $2249       800-780-9002

Day Date (2013) Port Arrive Depart

  • 1 Sun, Apr 7 Fort Lauderdale 4:30 P
  • 2 Mon, Apr 8 At Sea
  • 3 Tue, Apr 9 Cozumel 7:00 A 4:00 P
  • 4 Wed, Apr 10 Caymans/George Town 10:00 A 6:00 P
  • 5 Thu, Apr 11 Falmouth 8:00 A 5:00 P
  • 6 Fri, Apr 12 Labadi/Labadee 10:00 A 5:00 P
  • 7 Sat, Apr 13 At Sea
  • 8 Sun, Apr 14 Fort Lauderdale 7:00 A

========================================================================

Disney Magic — 6 Nights — Apr 20

Ports Of Call:   Galveston | Grand Cayman | Cozumel

Insides      Outsides      Balconies      Suites

$870         $1,020         $1,140           $2,520

Onboard Credit $100          $150            $175              $400

  • 04/20 Galveston
  • 04/21 day at sea
  • 04/22 day at sea
  • 04/23 Grand Cayman Arrive 07:30 AM
  • 04/24 Cozumel Arrive 10:15 AM
  • 04/25 day at sea
  • 04/26 Galveston Arrive 08:30 AM

========================================================================

Disney Fantasy — 7 Nights — Apr 6

Insides      Outsides       Balconies

$1,435      $1,484           $1,519

Onboard Credit     $200         $225             $225

  • 04/06 Port Canaveral Depart 03:45 PM
  • 04/07 day at sea
  • 04/08 day at sea
  • 04/09 St Thomas Arrive 08:00 AM
  • 04/09 St Thomas
  • 04/10 San Juan Arrive 07:45 AM
  • 04/10 San Juan
  • 04/11 day at sea
  • 04/12 Castaway Cay Arrive 09:45 AM
  • 04/12 Castaway Cay
  • 04/13 Port Canaveral Arrive 07:30 AM

You’re going again?!?!?!

I booked this trip barely a month before departure, for 2 reasons 1) my mother bought a new suitcase and informed me she was ready to go on another trip whenever I was and 2) I am always looking for a reason to go.  My mother and I began traveling after the death of my father.  It became something we do together.  The most notable moments of our adventures include climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge; seeing a German opera in the Sydney Opera House; riding the Royal Scotsman; a great white shark observation trip in Gansbaai; my bungy jumping 216 meters in S. Africa and more.

All of our trips start with what I call a mating dance. For this trip, it went this way:

Mom:  I went to TJ Maxx today.

Me:  OK, that’s nothing new, don’t you go like every week?

Mom:  Well……, I got a new suitcase.

Me:  Oh, OK, good for you.  What are you trying to say.

Mom:  Well, I’m just sayin’ I’m ready to go on a trip whenever you are.

Me:  I thought you said you went on too many trips last year and weren’t going on trips for a while.

Mom:  Well, that was last year, this is now.  I have a new suitcase and I’m ready.

Me:  OK, where do you want to go?

Mom:  I’ll go anywhere.  You just tell me when you’re ready and I’ll go.

Me:  But Mom, if you want to go on a trip, I want you to go where you want to go, so what do you think.

Mom:  Just anywhere is fine with me.

Me:  OK, fine, we can talk about this later.

The following week, after we repeated the “mating dance” above at least 4 times.

Me:  I am going to send you some different trip ideas on e-mail, so check your e-mail and let me know what you like.

Mom:  Ok, you know I don’t do good with the e-mail.  I will check it at the church on Monday.

The choices:

–“Viking Cruise” – 12 nights, from Southampton through Greenland/ Iceland to Nova Scotia, ending in NY

— China – hotel and land package with day tours

— New Zealand – N & S island hotel and land package

— ~”Holy Land Cruise” – 14 nights, Malta – Jerusalem – Egypt

— Northern Europe Cruise – 25 nights, Amsterdam, Norwegian fjords, Edinburgh, Dublin, Guernsey, Rouen, Southampton

Monday evening

Me:  So did you get the e-mails?  I sent you 5 choices.

Mom:  Well, I don’t want to go to China.

Me:  OK, what about the other ones.

Mom:  Are these cruises?

Me:  China and New Zealand are not, the rest are.

Mom:  Well, I don’t know.

Me:  What do you think about the Holy Land cruise.

Mom:  No, too hot there.

Me:  OK, well I do not want to go to New Zealand, because we’ve been there already.

**Fast Forward**

We settle on the 23-night cruise, which is what they call in the cruise industry, a back-to-back, because it is 2 cruises and we stay on the ship in the same cabin for both.  We chose this because it was, in our view a good deal based on the cruise ship amenities and the inclusive air fare and transfers.

I am writing this from Amsterdam.  Mom is asleep.  We board the ship tomorrow.  Are you ready to join us on our journey?

Taka Sushi and Passion, a well kept secret in Buckhead

One of my favorite things is small, family style sushi houses where the head sushi chef is also the owner operator. The one I frequent most often in Atlanta is Taka Sushi and Passion http://www.takasushiatlanta.com on Pharr Road in Buckhead. Taka lets us know when he has an especially nice piece of fish coming in from the Japanese fish market in Tokyo on his blog sushiandpassion.blogspot.com. Just looking at the photos of this Big Eye tuna makes my mouth water. Some of the other likeable things about this sushi house includes the homemade gyoza, the appetizer specials, like kanpachi carpaccio, thinly sliced amberjack with a light ponzu sauce, daikon, radish, scallions and some little crunchy green roe. The wait staff is very attentive, the decor well appointed with light wood and gold complimented by hints of red and white, and the setting intimate (bordering on crowded), and an ambiance that allows you to converse with your dining companions (very light jazzy ballads as background music). Guess where I’m going to dinner!

Started with the Negitoro Don, finely minced big eye toro marinated with wasabi and a fine soy, garnished with scallions over a bed of warm jasmine rice. A melt in your mouth blend of sweet and creamy with a pop of wasabi spice along the way.

I followed this with Taka’s Tokyo Tsukuji Express special. Taka’s choice of 4 fish prepared sashimi style from the fish market. I was served Black Throat (Aka-mutsu), Blue Fusilier (Ao Dai), Malabar Grouper (Yabo-Hata) and Bartail Flathead (Magochi).

So here’s the tricky part, remembering which fish is which, as they look so similar. I think my favorite is the Black Throat because of its buttery melt in your mouth texture and flavor, tiny bits of oak and smoke in the finish. My second choice was the Bartail Flathead, which also had a subtle earthy, smoky element to it. The grouper was my least favorite, only because it was chewy and to me its flavor did not offer the complexity of the Black Throat. The Blue Fusilier fit somewhere between the grouper and the flathead, not so chewy as the grouper. That is my palate though, yours might be different.

The opportunity to try different fish, not common on most sushi house menus is another element that makes Taka Sushi and Passion a special dining experience. After 2 years of eating my way through low grade tuna, sushi menus that lacked creativity and a few overpriced sushi houses, I am glad I finally found Taka!

Seriously, US Olympic Uniforms Designed by Ralph Lauren Manufactured in China

I was appalled to learn today in a report on abc news with Diane Sawyer that the uniforms designed and manufactured by Ralph Lauren for our US Olympic athletes are manufactured in China! As I dug further into the details, I learned that Ralph Lauren also designed and manufactured our US Olympic athletes’ uniforms in 2008….and manufactured them in China. He/ the company were criticized for the choice to manufacture outside the US in 2008. I guess Ralph Lauren did not learn in 2008 that Americans do not want their Olympic athletes’ uniforms manufactured in China. I cannot believe he and the executives in his company are that stupid, so I have to believe they do not care, because he/ they did it again. Manufactured in China.

In my view, Ralph Lauren’s choice to manufacture the US Olympic uniforms in China is irresponsible and a slap in the face to the US jobs index, the US economy and good ole’ American patriotism. According to Diane’s report (if I heard correctly), conducting the manufacturing in the US would have had a $1B impact on our economy. Seems like a missed opportunity to create jobs when foreclosures continue; our retail sector is suffering; and the economic pundits on CNBC are foreshadowing recession.

I am even more appalled at the publicity Ralph Lauren is receiving as the uniform designer. The morning talk shows all picked up the story and heralded the uniforms “designed by the American icon Ralph Lauren” as part of their Olympics coverage. Does an American icon send jobs overseas? The big debate on American talk TV is whether or not we like the berets that are part of the uniform. AGAIN, SERIOUSLY?!?!?!? Some of these shows even call themselves news shows? Why isn’t the talk about the more pertinent issue of Ralph Lauren’s choice to manufacture US Olympic uniforms in China.

I am mad about this, and I hope you are too. I am so mad I started a Facebook boycott page against Ralph Lauren. Please visit the Facebook page and spread the word not to buy Ralph Lauren products until he commits to manufacturing in the US. I am sure he can afford it, and his finance gurus can figure out how to make it work for the company.

https://www.facebook.com/BoycottRalphLaurenUsOlympicUniformsMadeInChina

http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/us-olympic-team-uniforms-made-china-16758952#.T_4ytXnNSFk.email

Rally for Sally

Take a moment to listen to Sally’s music and watch her video on Kickstarter. You can be a part of the movement. movement

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sallyallenmusic/the-new-sally-allen-record

The final night is here

The last night of a long trip is the worst. I have to re-pack and re-organize all of my bags, and accommodate my acquisitions, which on this trip are few. However, they include 2 bottles of wine (made by the monks on Ile St Honorat) and 1 sparkling blanquette, which I can’t carry on, thanks to the terrorists. I feel like Lucy in the episode where she tries to smuggle cheese home from Paris, wrapped as a baby in a blanket. I have to make sure the bottles are packed in a way they will not break. Meanwhile, I need to weight and volume shift between bags to avoid overage charges. The wine purchase was a good idea, until I remembered I would not be allowed to carry it on.

I wish for fairies or elves to come and pack my bags, Snow White’s dwarves would do nicely. What I really need is a butler or servants. Not part of the amenity of a 2-star hotel. I know you can get butler service in high end 5-7 star hotels. For me, this is one night that would be *almost* worth it.

Instead of packing, I head out for a treat. I have only had sweets 3 times in the month I have been here, 1-ice cream, 1-chocolate crepe, 1-chocolate croissant. On my walking tour this morning, we passed a recommended ice cream shop, Fennochio. The square is packed at 9:30pm. People swarm around Fennochio. I ask to share a table with 2 young girls. The sundaes range from 10-25€. As much as I would love a sundae, I decide on a 3 scoop bowl for 5€. Rather than wait for the waiter, I buy from the counter. Caramel, Cacao and Cafe. The cacao flavor is rich and overpowers the others. I save it for last. The cafe is light, but distinctly tastes like coffee. The caramel is faint, I wish it were richer, like the cacao. None are overly sweet. I stroll back, enjoying the evening and my ice cream.

The Wall

I hit THE WALL, yesterday, maybe the day before. Which wall? The one where you need a vacation from your vacation because you hit maximum fatigue from traveling and touring. In my case, about 11 days of driving, hiking and a different hotel every night. Further confounded by having a limited, general sense of where I was at any time (geographical disorientation).

My goal for my last days in Nice:

– do nothing on Fri.
– lay on a private beach on Sat.

The beaches on the Cote d’Azur do not vary much. The towns do, some are more chic and expensive, like St. Tropez, St. Rafael, Cannes and Monaco. If French Rivera sun is what you seek, it really doesn’t matter. So I opted for Nice to minimize my transit efforts to the airport, and because at a peak weekend in early June, it is easier to find affordable accommodation.

Only yesterday, I booked a 2-Star Hotel with good trip advisor reviews, Hotel Solara. Located very. Lose to the beach, it has a lift and according to trip advisor, a rooftop terrace. For 130€ for 2 nights, not bad. Now, the trick is getting to my hotel in Nice without my little Peugot and trusty GPS.

From the Nice train station, I take a taxi to the hotel, because I just don’t have to fortitude to hump the baggage in the hit sun. I re-organized and rebalanced this morning at the hotel, and then again at the rental car drop off. I just have to much d*!?#*%#* stuff!!!! I hire porters in the Cannes train station, a bargain at 7.60€, for my 3 big heavy bags, which they carry down and up the stairs to the center platform. Twenty minutes later they come back and heft my bags onto the train for me. Even though we are unable to communicate verbally, they help me. The Nice train is delayed. The one that comes is a reserved train only, I bought a cheaper general ticket. Should I have bought the reserved? Would it matter? The porters move me and my luggage family to the other side if the platform for the trail to Ventimiglia. This is the same line I took to Monaco for the Grand Prix. I know it stops in Nice, so I am not anxious. The train arrives and they like my luggage family into the section between the cars, where there is a fold down seat. I sit. The trip to Nice is about 30-mins, I think. I am blocking most if the door on one side. Not sure what I will do if this door needs to be used.

Comfortably, we move down the track. People get on, people get off. Then, it happens, the doors on my side open for a stop. I get up and squish myself into my luggage. There is room for single file passage. A guy with a stroller lifts it over part of my luggage. I feel horrible, what can I do?

The train becomes more crowded as we approach Nice. I watch the station display to make sure I don’t miss my stop. I think about how I am going to get the bags off. I have the 3 plus a small shopping bag with precious wine from Ile St. Honorat. As we approach “Nice Ville” some people ask me if Nice is the next stop. “Oui”, I reply and point as the display. We pull into the station where they kindly take my bulky bag. I manage the others, only after the exiting crowd clears. They wave at me from the platform, I proceed and we meet. I bank them profusely as they re-board the train. Funny, I thought I was helping them navigate the right stop. When all along, they were helping me. This would rarely happen in the USA.

I wait for the clutter of passengers to clear to sort myself out and find he lift. I see no signs for a lift. I spy the SCNF railroad employee in his conductors hat. The same in Cannes kindly directed me to the porters. I ask him for a lift. No. He says, no escalator. I ask for a porter, following my experience in Cannes. He shrugs his shoulders and moves on, he doesn’t understand and I am not his problem.

OK. I only have one option, hump the luggage myself. I make 2 trips humping the luggage down the stairs. Traverse it through the tunnel where I am faced with two options. 1-Escalator up or 2- Stairs up. My dilemma is 2 trips are required, so I will have to leave bags on both sides in the process. I have. I choice. I am hot, sweaty and stressed and probably do not think this through. The most important items, my passport, money and credit cards are on my back, everything else is replaceable.

I head up the escalator with the bike bag and stow it by some black ladies on a bench away from the crowds. I cannot see the stairs to get back down to my other bags, including my precious wine. People stream up the escalator. I am doomed and sure my things are stolen. I search inside, find the stairs and hustle down. The crowds from the arriving train have cleared. To my relieved surprised, my bags, including the wine, are intact. Never in 15+ years of travel have I faced a dilemma like this. I fully expected the bag with the wines to be gone. A blessing, I do not know. I am thankful.

We take a cab to the hotel, almost. My hotel is on a pedestrian street. The taxi takes me as far as he can and explains in French. We cross communicate as he tries to explain he cannot take me further. We cannot see the hotel sign from the taxi, he assures me it is not far. He offers to help with my luggage. I reactively say no- when I should have said yes. I rig up the bags and head along the flat pedestrian street. It is hot. I arrive at Hotel Solara and press the buzzer. I push my way into a small, painted iron grate door and use a bag to prop it open, as I bring the others in. This hotel has a lift, so I feel confident I am finished humping my bags at this point.

The lift is tiny, it cannot fit a wheelchair. There are multiple signs in the lift warning. I more than 2 persons or 1 person and 1 valise/ bag/ suitcase at a time. A young man pops out of the lift to help me with my bags. I did not see his reaction, but told him we could send the bags in the lift and I will walk up. He says he will tend to the bags and ride up with them. We load 2 bags into the elevator and he climbs in. Nothing happens, it doesn’t move. We take a bag out, maybe it is overweight. It doesn’t move. After a few other tries, we decide it is broken. The hotel is on the 4th floor. He says he bring the bags up for me. I ask of there is storage on this floor, I do not need everything, I explain. He says no, it is OK. What about leaving them here until the lift is fixed. No, it is not safe enough, he says. I will take them up for you. What else can I do. I head up the 4 flights of stairs, rounded, like climbing a tower, but wider. I am out breath, sweat drips visibly down my face as I smile and check in. The receptionist is kind, acting as if my face is not melting off, which I am sure it is. She wants to help me, hot, sweaty, and feeling guilty about the bags, I just want to be in my room. She keeps talking at me, doing her job, as I drip with sweat. This could be an SNL skit, ala the profuse sweating in “Broadcast News”. Finally, she leads me to my room a few steps down on the same floor. I am thankful there are no more steps. She lets me in and tells me I was the last booking for the night. I set my backpack on the table, look out the window. A knock at my door, 2 of my 3 suitcases have arrived, carried 4 flights by this young man. I feel guilty, but not. I paid for a hotel with a lift knowingly, so a broken lift is not my problem. In a few more minutes, he returns with the third. I am appreciative and apologize for his trouble. I do not tip him, he does not expect it, as it is not the custom in France.

Hot and tired, I lay on the bed, on top of the covers. I sync my iPhone and look at e-mail and Facebook, until I am
even too tired for that. I cannot muster the energy to free my iPad from my backpack and sync it too. I have time for that, I am here 2 nights.

I rest in the room for about an hour, then head out to the tourist office.

I just don’t need to see your boobs – R-rated

I spent a lovely afternoon on a private beach in Nice. All along the stony pebbled beach are restaurants/ lounges where you can hire a chair. Last night, I asked my waiter for a recommendation, as the receptionist at my hotel was not helpful when I inquired. I think she did not understand my question. My waiter recommended Hi Plage (plage=beach in French), because they offer cushioned chairs and good service. It is where he goes. The private beaches are noted on the tourist map, making it easy to find. I go down the stairs and pay 12€ for my space. I ask about a towel, 6€ more. C’mon! I pay anyway. The beach is divided into 3 sections, family, active (with music, close to the bar/ restaurant) and quiet, no children allowed. I opt for quiet, as it is the section with the cushioned chairs.

Of course, strolling along the promenade etas-unis, also called promenade anglais, you see an occasional woman on the beach with her top off. Most of them are lying down, rarely, I see them walking along. The free boobs are more evident when you lay amongst them. I’ve been to nude beaches before, I accidentally found myself in the gay male section of one in Hawaii once, got there early am, when few others were around, didn’t realize it was a naked gay male beach until I was surrounded by what I termed the “sea of dicks”. At least in Barcelona, the hotel staff warned me about where the family beach ended and the nude beach started.

What I did not expect today, was to be faced with them from every angle, shape and size. There were brown ones, crystal white ones, very droopy ones, tiny ones, perky ones, I just didn’t need to see all of them. Mind you, it seemed more women had tops on (60%) than off. I thought to myself, this should improve a woman’s body image to see all of these natural, normal boobs. No implants here. Gravity is prominent. I recall sneaking into our basement in 4th grade with National Geographics, looking curiously at the boobs of naked African women.

I respect the choice to be as naked as one wants to be. I like to be naked in my house sometimes. I prefer not to be surrounded by the floppy personal parts of others, in Hawaii, France, Spain or elsewhere. Maybe they can create another section for tops / no tops, as a reprieve for those of us who just don’t need to see your boobs. We are paying clients, after all.

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