Europe Adventure Oct 2012..  --------- Page 2 ---------
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Tom Ballard Photography
First meal in Italy
Gondola in Venice
Colosseum in Rome
Salzburg, Austria
Day 5 in Europe, October 27, 2012

What a day this is going to be.. Our plan for today, as best we could figure, is to make it to Geneva,
Switzerland, essentially completing the top leg of a triangle shaped train trip through three countries, before
having to return to Rome on the morning of October 29.

Breakfast will be served at 0700, but it might be ready even sooner, so we are going to do our best to eat
and get gone as soon as possible. As I recall, the alarm goes off at 0500, and like a drill team, we are up and
at it, real fast.. We get all the basics out of the way, then make our way downstairs, arriving at 0645, and
finding our breakfast already sitting out and ready to go.. Super, the man we spoke with last night is there and
has been up for awhile making sure everything is ready for us.. Though not as large a spread as the other
places, it is nice and we get plenty to eat, then, it was after we ate and was going back upstairs that Darlene
finally was able to remind the man that we needed to pay before we left. He did not seem concerned in the
least!! However, they got their paperwork completed, we chatted with the fellow for a bit, then it was back to
the room for the final packing and hike back to the train station. The trip back to the station was a snap now,
given that we had walked this path the day before, and we had the station marked on the GPS in my pocket.

Back on the train, we are headed for Geneva, Switzerland. To get there, we have chosen to go to Zurich,
where we will switch trains, then take off again.. And, it happened pretty much that way. But, here is the twist,
it is raining, sometimes snowing I think, and is just overall a bad day for sightseeing. As our train headed for
Geneva, and the view out the window got more boring with each mile, I started suggesting to Darlene that we
should consider a change of plans and find a way to give up on going to Geneva, spending the night there,
then making our way back towards Rome. Just how to do this became the subject of a lot of thinking and
talking and looking over the train schedule. Things did not look good. Seemed all the options for getting out
of Geneva and going south were going to cost us a lot of valuable time. But, what else could we do. I think it
became my Idea to get to Geneva, get new tickets, get back on the train, go back to Zurich, then go south.
Not a great option, but would work. While we thought about this option, I took off to the restroom on the train.
While there, the train started slowing down, as it was coming to one of the stops along the way.

Just after I got out of the restroom, I was greeted by a very excited Darlene, who was talking really fast and
showing me something in the train schedule book.. According to her, the place we were stopping at was
Lusanne, Switzerland, and if we got off here instead of going on to Geneva, we could change trains here and
head south, without wasting all that time we had been so concerned about.. I thought about for at least 5
seconds and agreed it was the thing to do, and just as the train came to a stop, we had our bags and we were
out the door! SAVED! This lady must have a lucky penny or something. And, the events got even better when
Darlene went for tickets. I think this is the place were we had less that 1 hour to catch the train going south.
When we got in the station, we saw a waiting line that was more than an hour long.. Now what!!! It would
seem that there were some kiosks where a person could do their own tickets, but how to work them was too
much for us, so we got in line.. Then, more magic happened.. A man who has heard us talking about the
problem, comes over to us, and offers to help us with the ticket machine.. We accept. And is less than 5
minutes, he had gotten us the tickets we needed to go south. Of course, I gave him several metal euros I had
in my pocket, maybe three, and off we went. Later I would learn that local people make extra money hanging
around the train station doing this for tourists.. Of course the tourist reward them for the favor. But, according
to my sources, it is illegal for them to do this, but it happens anyway, and we're the winners of this illegal
business!! Saved our butt on this one. With our new tickets in hand, we headed for the train that would take us
to Milan, and later on to Genova, Italy.

Going to Genova was not a part of the original plan, but we included it because I told Darlene that my ole
boss, CH, who now lives in Germany had been to a place in northern Italy, on the coast, and he really loved it.
It has the name of Cinque Terre. I think this means Five Villages. From the photos I had seen before the trip,
the whole area is well known for villages that seem to hang on cliffs, above the ocean.. In the photos, it is
beautiful. With that picture in our mind, we made Cinque Terre our new goal. Why not, beautiful place on the
coast.. And, if the weather was great, we could have some serious fun. So, off we go on the train, to find
Cinque Terre.

As I recall, we have to change trains in Milan, then we are off to Genova. Not sure what the whole town would
look like in the daylight, as I recall it was late when we got there. And, since we did not have a plan to be
there, we had no idea of where to stay.. And, keep in mind, we are back in Italy where people are not friendly
and not helpful.. When we tried to ask someone for help with a hotel, they just told us to go down that street
there, you will find lots of hotels.. Too bad we were not back up north were people are friendly and helpful.
Italians may be played up as romantic in the movies, but if they make love and do romance like they do
friendly, the movies lied, BIG TIME.. But, no matter how unfriendly these people are, we planned to have a
good time, and so off we went to find a hotel. We did see two or three, and I am not sure why we went into
the Galata Hotel, but we did. I think there was a sign that said "Three Star Hotel". The man could speak
almost no English, but somehow he and Darlene did communicate. She asked to see the room he was
offering. So, we went up to see it.. It met her needs and we took it... I think the price was around 104 euros,
or 135 dollars.. Same place back in the states would have been about half as much, or less. And, as I recall,
we tried to get a referral for a place to eat. The hotel might have furnished that, but I forget..

However it came to be, after moving into our room, we were off to look for food and found a pizza place a
few blocks away. Turns out it was pretty good pizza! The official name of the place was Ristorante Bar
Trieste. As I recall we each had a beer and a pizza, plus the usual bottle or two of bubbly water they call it, or
here it would be called carbonated water. I liked the beer and I like the pizza.. But, we were both tired and I
was still being treated for my cold, so it was back to the room for a very hot shower, and some wine, I think,
and some more zinc. Then it was time to sleep. Tomorrow, we are going to make a run for the Cinque Terre.
I think we were in room 105..

To view the images from this day of our adventure, use the link below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632898398277/show/
Day 6 in Europe, October 28, 2012

WOW, time is flying by. Hard to believe we have been on trains for going on 6 days now.. I think my count is
correct. Well, if my math is off, its not far off, maybe a day one way or the other! But, the alarm has gone off,
we are up, and we have done the usual morning prep work, now it is time to go eat. The room was nothing to
write home about, and there seemed to have been a party going on in the alley behind us as there were a
bunch of young people out there hollering and making a lot of noise well past the time when we went to sleep!

We make our way to the front desk and get help finding the dining area which as I recall was on the top floor
of the hotel. Not only was it on the top floor, but looked as if is was not a well cared for area, and might have
even been getting some repair work done. Over all, it did not look good, then came the actual food, there
almost was none. There was a few yogurts in a cooler, a few pastries, etc. There was some ole gal up there
who got one cup of coffee for us, then she left, and we did not see her back there again.. Lacking coffee and
food, I went back to the front desk and told the old man there that we had no coffee and near no food.. He
hollered down to the lady down in the basement or somewhere. Up out of the lower level came the ole gal that
had given us our first cup of coffee. Best I could tell, she served the one cup of coffee, then came downstairs
to watch TV. The old man went up with us, and got us more coffee.. But, even that was a struggle.. We finally
gave up, went to our room, got our bags and went to the desk, where we checked out and headed to the train
station.

At the train station, Darlene got tickets for us to go to Cinque Terre. The weather in Genova is not good this
day, and will be getting worse. We do get on the train, and find that it is a rather long ride to Cinque Terre.
And, when we get there, it seemed like they were having a storm. Wind was blowing hard and rain was
coming down at a fairly heavy pace.

After getting off the train at the first village, we had to hide out under the awing of some buildings until we saw
a break in the rain, then we took off. The waves from the ocean were really coming in big and slamming
against the rocks, beaches, and buildings. But, we wanted to see the place, so we ducked our heads and took
off. We did the tourist thing as much as we could here, then moved on to another village, by train. There we
experienced more rain and wind, but stayed with the program. I think it was at this stop that we went in an old
church and climbed an old tower on the beach. To get to the tower, one has to climb up through narrow
passages that go between the buildings. You will see these in the shared folder. Kinda neat, but nothing like
the experience my buddy had described. He had been here under much better conditions.. I can see where
great fun could happen, if a person were here in good weather and warmer weather, but now was not the time
to be here. But we were going to make the best of it.. But, we were not liking the cold, the rain, and the wind,
so we chose to skip over a couple of villages and go to the last one on the list, then turn back.. When we got
there, it was getting very nasty, weather wise, so we did not spend much time in the area. At one point I saw a
place to use the internet, and paid the shop person to use one of the stations to send a message back to
readers back home, but the computer would not work for me. I ended up taking the mouse and keyboard back
to the desk and asking or my money back. They would not return it.. So, I thanked them for being soooo nice,
and wished them a happy day.. Italians. Where did they come from, and were they born unfriendly, or did they
become that way after they were born??? These people get an F in my book. OH, and it was on one of the
villages where we encounter our first squat toilet.. You will see it in the shared images. I hope this place is a
lot more fun in warm weather, because it is nasty now!

OK, we have had enough of Cinque Terre, so we make our way back to the train and head back north
towards Genova. The problem is, there must be a dozen stops in Genova!!! We had no idea when to get off..
We finally found a local and explained to them that we wanted to get off where the Columbus statue was. With
that info, they were able to help us get off the train back where we started.. The problem now is that it is now
maybe 7 or 8 PM, and we have decided to try for a sleeper train back to Rome. I am not sure, but I do not
think we have those tickets yet, but we might have. Darlene may have already gotten them. As a matter of
fact, I think we got them after we returned from the villages.. And I think we barely got them before the ticket
office closed! Whatever the arrangement, we ended up with tickets to Rome in a sleeper car. For now, we are
hungry, and since Darlene liked the place we were last night, we went back this night as well. Had the same
thing all over again.. And it as good again! I think the food bill came to about 36 euros or 48 dollars.

With dinner out of the way, it was time to go wait for the train to Rome. As I recall, it was to leave at midnight
and get to Rome at 0530ish. We have about four hours to wait. And waiting in these train stations is not fun,
there is no place to sit inside the station.. After looking around, we did manage to find a place in a little shelter
area outside the station and next to the tracks, but about the time I got comfy and relaxed, the guard came run
us out and locked the place up.. As I recall we had to go back inside the station and look for warm places to
hide out until midnight rolled around and it was time to go.. It was a nasty wait.. I was still not feeling well, and
the cold did not help, and standing up in the windy hallways did not help.. In fact for awhile, we were hanging
out in the bathrooms trying to stay warm. Then, midnight rolled around and we could get on the train.

I am thinking the train we got on in Genova, did not require us to change trains on our way to Rome, but I
really cannot remember.. What I do remember is that we expected to have something on the train that
resembled a bunk or a bed, but when we finally found the car that we were assigned to, we then had to find
the bunk type thing we were assigned to. Turns out, there are just these little family rooms I would call them,
semiprivate glassed in cages on the train where there are 6 seats facing each other, actually three on each
side, facing each other. For sleeping, the train people raised the arm rests, added a thin pad to the seats,
then tossed in a go package of a light blanket, like on airplanes, and a pillow, plus some wet wipes, etc.
Darlene and I were assigned the two lower bunks. Above us, on each side was a fold down deck that made
into a bunk. These two upper bunks were used by two males. One older than me, and one that might have
been college age. They were actually helpful in getting moved in.. Also to note, there was a ladder now in the
middle of the room for the upper people to use to get in their beds. For the first and only time on the trip, I
used my security cable to secure my backpack and her carry on, by locking them to the ladder with cable.
Guess it worked, they were there the next morning! The other odd thing was that the ticket person did not give
us our tickets back when he came around this evening! So, what is up with that!! Will tell ya later, but for now,
we are tired, we are rolling towards Rome and we are to get off the train at 0530.. Hope we do not miss our
stop and end up in the bottom of Italy.

To see the images that are shared for this day of adventure, use the link below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632782097719/show/
Day 7 in Europe, October 29, 2012

The question I posed at the end of yesterday, will now be answered, why did the train person not give us our
tickets back last night when he came around checking the tickets. As it ends up, he kept them so that he could
come around and wake people up at the correct time! Our time was 0530, but I think I had already awaken
and gone to the restroom before he came around. In fact, I think everyone was awake by the time he came
around to get us up. Guess we were all sleeping light this night. For me, it was my first time to use the sleeper
on a train.. Worked out okay, and would be much better next time, now that I know how this all works!

As it turns out, I must have gotten up around 0500 to go to the restroom, and ran into one of the train people
who said they would come by and tell us when to get off the train, which would be in about another 25
minutes. So, I go back and share the info with Darlene so that she can take her term in the restroom, etc
before we get to the stop. And, she does, then comes the train station and we pile off, with all of our gear..
And, it was at this location where we ran into our first problem with getting a train ticket. We could not find
which train went to the Rome airport, as we were not actually there, we were at the central hub. To get to the
airport, we had to take a connecting train. Our reason for getting to Rome was that we were to meet our
fellow travelers this morning at around 0930, if all went well. And, we had to go to the hotel and get our stored
bags.. So, we were motivated. We finally located the right train, but could not get tickets, as we could not find
the ticket office or it was not open yet. And, again, there was that kiosk thing, but we could not figure out how
to use it.. Using them will give the average person a real headache. When we found the right train, we had
only 5 minutes to catch it.. Did not happen. We got to the kiosk, and found it being blocked by some other
people who did not know how to use it. Then, in comes one of these station people, who do this for extra
money. The fellow was good at it. We told him what we wanted, he punched all the right buttons, and out
came our tickets. Again, I gave the fellow 3 or so euros for helping, but by the time we got our tickets, the
train was gone. That is the bad part, the good part is that it returns for another load of people about every 30
minutes. So, we waited and caught it on the next go around. This is our first miss for the entire trip! In about
15 minutes we were at the airport and ready to get business done.

I forget the exact steps in the process, but believing that our fellow travelers were coming in at 0930, we
rushed over to the baggage area to catch or buddies, but they never showed. We tried everything we could
think of to find them, but it did not happen. Finally we gave up and decided to take a taxi to the hotel, get our
bags and come back. Then that chore would be out of the way, and we could take the transfer straight to our
assigned hotel in Rome.

We went to the taxi stand, asked for a price to the hotel to get our bags and come back. The price was
around 20 Euros. So, we took the deal. On the way, I saw a sign on the seat of the taxi, FLAT FEE TO
ROME 60 EUROS. I showed it to Darlene and asked her opinion of just doing a deal with the driver to take
us to our Rome hotel, and skip meeting our buddies and trying to do the shuttle thing. The driver and Darlene
could understand each other a little, so they started doing a deal to take us to get the bags, then on to our
hotel in Rome. They negotatied awhile and  arrived at a price of 70 euros for the trip to get the bags then on
to the hotel in Rome. We took it. Why wait for the others, as we did not know for sure what their situation
was. So, off we went, we got our bags, then some 45 minutes later, we were at our hotel in Rome, Hotel
Morgana. We paid our taxi and off we went to get our room and see if any of the others had showed up..
They had not. And, when we asked for our room, and gave our names, they asked us to wait in the waiting
area until some arrangements were made. Maybe we were too  early or something. But, we went to the
waiting area. Darlene asked me to watch the bags while she went to the ladies room. When she came back,
she said they were serving breakfast in the dining area, and suggested we go eat!! We figured what the heck,
lets try, so, with bags in tow, we went to the front hostess, announced ourselves, and were taken in to be fed.
It as now after 10 AM, and the dining area was supposed to close at 1030.. We have to eat fast. Actually we
did not have to eat fast, but we did. After a good feeding, we had full bellies and were much happier! And, I
think it was about this time that other members of the group started showing up, and it was not long after that
until the poo hit the fan.

As everyone arrived, they brought horrible stories of travel arrangements being screwed up by our travel
agent. Then as more people arrived, we found that nobody had gotten the free shuttle to the hotel, that was
promised. Each person or group of people had to arrange for their own transportation to the hotel, which
meant that it was good that we come on out when we did, as we would never have met the shuttle that was
promised. Then as the mystery unfolded, we learned that our rooms had been reserved, but not paid for, and
to get into them, we would have to pay for them here, again. The problem here is that we had paid the travel
agent for them months ago, but now that we are here, we find that we do not have paid rooms. What a
mess.. Some people really freaked out. All the people eventually coughed up the credit cards and paid for the
rooms. In my case, Darlene was the one who gave her credit card and paid for our room, for the four nights
that we were to be there. Little did any of us know that this was only the beginning of a really bad story, that
until this day, some four months later, is still not resolved. Lucky for us, one lady in our group is a tech wizard
and had the smart phone and tablet to use to get some help, with our issues. With these connections, she
was able to contact the travel agent, but I think very little came of that, as we were slowly beginning to learn,
the travel agent had apparently scammed everyone. Solving the problem is still an issue, but now we think the
agent gambled and drank away all of our money. As I write this note, there has now been at least 20 of the 38
people who have now gone to the police station and filed criminal charges against the agent. More on this
later.

We did get our rooms, but we were also supposed to have tours that were already paid for. I think we got one
of two of the three, but that only happened because our wizard, Betty, was able to get the tickets emailed in
and printed.. It was a mess, and still is. But, we did get our rooms. And, so now, for the first few days
anyway, we have a room. Later, after a nap, etc, some of us went for a walk down to a local church, looked
around and then went to eat. I think the church was Santa Maria, and the place we ate was Trattoria Cecio.
Was an okay place to eat, but not real high on my list.. With dinner out of the way, it was time for a hot
shower and some much needed sleep..

To view the images from this day of adventure travel, use the link below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632790675833/show/
Day 8 in Europe, October 30, 2012

This trip definitely took a downturn yesterday when we found out that we had been screwed over by the travel
agent. But, we all got together and decided to make the best of it. Most of the people in the group are
seasoned travelers, so they can survive almost anywhere, but they are not liking the way things have gone. I
think there is a lot more to the story than I know, but I have been letting Darlene and the more experienced
people handle this. This is my first trip to Europe, so I am a fish out of its water! Next time around, I will be a
much better prepared person.

This morning we have all agreed to do the Hop-on/off bus tour that was supposed to have been arranged by
our agent. Turns out, some had the tickets, some did not. Darlene and I did not and ended up paying again
for the tour. This is another thing we paid for at home, then had to pay again here. I think the price for 48
hours for the two of us was 54 euros or approximately 70 dollars. So, after our big breakfast in the hotel, and
it was a big breakfast, maybe the best one on the trip, we all met up at an agreed upon time, and took off to
catch the tour bus. I really had no idea where we were off to, but I started taking photos from the bus and
keeping an eye on the other people, so I could get off when and where they did. Again here, this was a
hop/on/off bus, which uses the ear buds to provide info about the trip as you move along, however, most of
the ear buds would not work, because the jacks on the bus were out of order!! We gave up on that part. But,
we did manage to find the rest of our group that had left earlier. They were at a sidewalk cafe outside the
Vatican City. They were eating, which is something our group did a lot of! But, while we waited for some of
our group to catch up, I ran around the area grabbing memory photos. And, for note, this was the first place
that I ran onto that charged to go to the restroom. Inside the restaurant, where these people were getting this
food, was a restroom, but is was one euro to use it.. Guess they had a lot of none customer types trying to
use the restroom, a lot... In most food places, if you are a customer, you get to us the john for free, but here,
being so close to the Vatican, and with all the tourist, and all the street vendors, the bathroom thing could get
out of hand.. The other thing I noticed when I went to check it out, is that men and women use the same
restroom area, and the same stalls, etc.. You pay, then you get permission to use one of the stalls. It is a first
come, first serve system, no matter which sex you are.. And, there is an attendant that takes the money and
keeps the place clean, etc.. So, I guess it is a fair system! Nobody was complaining..

Once all the eating was over, it was time to gather the troops and do the Vatican Tour. It would seem that
somehow the ladies had managed to get the required tickets for the tour. I am still puzzled as to how it came
about, but I am thinking Betty did get the travel agent to email the tickets, then got print copies of them, and
now we will be using them to do the tour.  What I will learn is that the tickets we have are only for admission to
the Vatican Museum, not a real tour, in which someone takes you on a tour, etc.. Then, there are the free
agents running around all over the place trying to sell their guide service for an extra fee. Darlene, Louise, and
I, were not interested in the guide service, so we split off from the rest of the group and went for general
admission. With this, we got into the place, then we were on our own to see whatever we could find. I am not
sure how much they knew about the place, but I knew nothing, so everything was new to me! And, of course I
was busy taking photos of everything. And, before long, I no longer had Darlene and Louise. We have gotten
separated. But where could they have gone? At some point, I think I heard that there was more than seven
miles of hallways in this complex, so they could be anywhere!!!!!!!!!!!! Best I just keep following the crowd and
see where it goes. I guessed I would catch up to them somewhere, but it did not happen. And, I am not sure
how it came to be, but I found myself in front of a sign or something that mentioned the Sistine Chapel. That
is a name I remember, so I took off to find it.. Now if my memory is worth anything, there is supposed to be
this famous painting of God and Adam, on the ceiling. And, I am thinking this thing is super big, so I am
expecting to find a huge round room with this painting consuming the top of the room.. Well, the time came
when I found the room. And, when I walked in, it was overwhelming to see all the stuff painted on the walls
and ceiling of this one room, which would remind any average person of the inside of a shoe box. It was just
a plain flat walled room with a high ceiling. Nothing outstanding, just a box shaped room, and very plain for the
most part, except for the gobs of paintings! As I stepped in, and started to take photos, a man said no, not
allowed!!! Why, everyone was doing it, so why not me?? I nodded a yes and moved on.. Once inside the
room, and was standing there watching all the other people take photos, I joined in.. Why not!! And as for the
guards coming over and saying it was wrong to do so, they just stood around watching.. So, what was the big
deal? I got my photos, but the surprising part was the fact that it took a long time to find this famous painting
on the ceiling.. But, finally, there is was, way up in the top, and in the center of everything, but is was way
small compared to my impression of what I would find!!!! Never the less, after all these years of hearing about
it, there it was, right above my head!!! It was neat, but nothing compared to the what I thought I would find!!!
OH well... But, I got my photos and left my spot in the very crowed room to someone else. I do not know how
many people this little room would hold, but it was full, and I mean almost shoulder to shoulder full.

Once outside, I noticed it was getting late and I should make an honest effort to find my buddies, so I went to
hunt for them, thinking they would be in the courtyard where we had been earlier, so I went there, but, no
buddies. I asked the man who worked there when the museum closed, he said it closed at 5:30. It was 5 PM
now, so decided to go outside and catch them when they came out, or else they would already be there
waiting for me.. So, I follow the exit signs down a spiral  staircase, and exit the complex through a big door,
along with many other people. Outside, I find nobody I know. So, I wait. And, I wait.. 5:30 comes and goes,
then 6:00 comes and goes, and finally I decide when they finally close the doors that it is all over, I have
missed my people somewhere. Now what? I have a GPS in my pocket, and I have recorded the location of
the hotel, and it is a fairly nice night out, so maybe I can walk back to the hotel. I check the GPS, it tells me it
is less than 3 miles back, as the crow flies, so I am thinking the walking distance is between 3.5 and 4.0. I
think I will do it, that is not much for me, given I do this sort of thing for many of my outdoor hikes, and some
of them with a pack on my back. So, off I go. The GPS I have does not have the streets on it, so I have to
just take streets and bridges that will keep me on a course to the hotel. The GPS has a pointer that points at
the location of the hotel, no matter where you are, and it gives the straight line distance.

I did record some points along the way, but have not gone back to see exactly where I walked, but I am
guessing I took the best path back. Saw some really neat things along the way, and could have seem more if
I had known they were there. Two of these were the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. I had walked close
to each of them without knowing they were there. Things in Rome are kinda hidden in all the mess of
buildings! The place is super congested!!

Over all, I would say it was a fun hike back, but wish I had known I was so close to some famous places.
Would have been fun to see them in the night lights, but I also needed to get back to my people and let
everyone know I was okay. At this point, they have no idea what happened to me..

As I neared the location of the hotel, I messed around and took a couple of turns that were not the best, but
were still fun and ended up helping with my issue. As I was nearing my hotel, I saw the sign on the cafe where
we had eaten the night before, so as I went by, I slowed down and peeked in, thinking that since my buddies
liked this place last night, they might come back here tonight. And, guess what, as I looked in the door, and
way back to the back of the cafe, I saw a head of hair that I thought I recognized. So, I went in to check it out.
As I went in, one of the waiters stopped me to see what I was up to. Told him I thought my friends were here
and I was supposed to have dinner with them. So, off I went. Turns out they were not here, but Darlene was,
and when she saw me, it was as if she was looking at a ghost!!! Kinda funny really. Guess she could not
figure out how I found her, and why I was not mad as hell for being left behind! I guess some people, maybe
most people, would be, but, I am a survivor, so I was fine.. But it took a bit for her to tell me her part of the
story and how they had lost me, tried to find me, and gave up when the last bus was leaving to come back to
the hotel. What I learned from all this was that there was more than one exit from the museum. They went out
the front one, I went out the back one! And, they had gone to see a place called the Basilica, which I did not
see, but Darlene said it was just the best and that I had to go see it while in town!

She had been in the cafe long enough to have already ordered her dinner and a bottle of wine, but, she had
just ordered, so I was not far behind on the food thing. The waiter took my order and since it was just pasta, it
came out the same time as hers did, and it was good. Again, no protein, but was good pasta. No wonder
these people are grouchy, they do not eat enough protein!!!!!!!!! As we share her wine and then eat our food, I
get more of the story on their visit to the museum. I also learned that when Darlene returned to the room, and
did not find me, she left a note for me, saying she was off to eat, but did not say where she was going. It was
just pure luck that I found her. She had even gone to the front desk, and ask them to find a food place for her,
and they made the reservation here for her, and still, through all that, I stumbled on to her. It was a one in a
million chance deal. And everything worked out. We had a great dinner, then strolled back to the room and got
ready for the next day, with plans for her to take me back across town to see the Basilica. tomorrow.

Also, it should be noted, that even though she had been taking the zinc and the special grape wine that we
bought, she was coming down with the cold I had, or something similar. Several times during the night she
could not breathe and got up to soak in hot water to clean up the issue.. Over the course of the next few days,
my issue cleared up, but as mine cleared up, her problem increased until she was the next victim of the bug..
It ended up getting us both! We had the zinc, we had the wine, we had the hot water, but not much else.
Looked like we were both doomed to let the bug run its course.

It was quite a day. Filled with mystery, exploration, excitement, adventure, and good time with a friend. It all
worked out. Hopefully the memory photos will fill in the gaps in my story. To see the shared memories from
this day, use the links below. I shot so many photos that I had to put them in three folders to get them into the
system.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632896824261/show/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632901943798/show/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632898124485/show/
Day 9 in Europe, October 31, 2012

Halloween in Rome!! Who would have guessed!! But, yep, today we will do our Halloween in Rome, and yes,
it will turn out to be spooky, but not in the way you might think... So, let  me tell you about the day, then I will
offer more info on the mystery, when really, even now, it is not solved to my satisfaction...

This morning, Darlene, me, and many of the group, assemble downstairs in the dining area for the really nice
breakfast they offer, which is included in the price of the room.. It is a toss up as to which is better, this
breakfast, or the one in Vienna, but, I think I will have to declare this one to be the winner. However, it was a
close call and could be challenged. But, the point of all this is that the ladies take this Halloween thing
seriously! Darlene has been hauling around a shirt all this time, that she will get to wear only once on the trip,
today.. Check it out in the photos...

With breakfast out of the way, it was time to get moving and see as much as we could see. The problem here
is that we are having another RAIN DAY. How can it rain so much on a vacation trip!!!!!!!! But, rain or not, we
are on a mission. The plan that we have designed for ourselves today is to get to the Colosseum, do the walk
through as early as possible, then Darlene wants to make sure I get to the Basilica and spend some time
there before this day, and this trip, are over.. So, it is off to the Hop on/off bus, where we get on and take off.
After a short ride, we have arrived at the bus area for the Colosseum. We hop off and take off. We have a lot
of steps to make today.

You would not think so, but just getting the tickets for the Colosseum is a bit of a hassle when you have never
been there. You would think the ticket vendors would be right out front and ready for ya, but not so. We ran
around all over asking for tickets, but got little help. We tried a kiosk across the street from the Colosseum,
but no tickets for sale. We tried inside of a gift shop, but no tickets.. Finally someone did say the tickets were
inside the Colosseum. So, off we go. And, yes, we found a ticket station in the Colosseum. And, as I recall,
the tickets were 12 euros each, or 16 dollars. With tickets in hand, we were free to roam around this big
historic thing! It was overwhelming to say the least.. For years I have seen photos of this thing in history
books, now I am standing in it... But, somehow, the awesome feeling I thought I would get is just not there. In
hindsight, I think it was because it was smaller than I had thought in my mind, for all these years. Actually, this
thing is not very large. However, I am sure that in its day, it was an awesome sight. What you will learn from
different sources is that it was nearly destroyed by people tearing it apart to build other structures.. It had
been more or less  tossed in the recycle bin, after it was no longer used for the things that made it famous. I
think this was true of a lot of other buildings in the area, though I am not 100 percent sure.

No matter of our initial impression, in the rain, we set out to see and to photograph as much of it as we
could.. The photos will have to tell the story of our visit for me, as I do not have the words to draw an image
for ya. I can say, there were a lot of people there, even in the rain, and it is a good thing we got there early,
because the line to get in got long and the public areas were filling up by the time we did our thing and got out.
I think my visit there created more questions than generated answers. When you see the photos, you will see
the pathways under the main stage. Question is, how did they get light down there to move around? Where
did the people sit, as there are no seats. And, then, it was odd that in some places the stone work was done
to precision, and in others, it was a pile of junk. The photos will show both the precision stone work, and the
trashy stuff that must have just been tossed in for fill.!!!But we did our tour and left, however I should mention
we were only allowed to go on two levels, I think. Had we been with a guide, we could have gone to the level
below the stage, and then to the top observation area. But, these two places were off limits unless you were
with a guide. We did what we wanted to do, went to the restroom, then we were off to the Basilica.

When we arrived, it was still raining, and there was a long line of people waiting to get in!! But, it was a much
shorter line than the one that was there when we left. I think the wait time for us to get in was just less than an
hour, but I am guessing the wait time to get in later was closer to two hours or more.. The line was looped all
around the courtyard area outside.. And, we would hear later that some people who came here early this
morning actually got to sit in the courtyard and hear a little speech given by the pope. But, I think they had to
pay 50 euros for the pleasure. I am not sure it was raining at the time, but might have been. We did notice
there were hundreds of the plastic chairs out in front of the Basilica, but if the people sat in those for the
speech, they surely got their butt soaked!

Darlene had told me before that the inside of the Basilica was just amazing, but I was still not prepared for
what I saw when I got in. I think it was here that I nearly fell on my butt in the entrance. Many of the entrances
to the large buildings have marble floors, and they are super slick when they get wet. It is just about all a
person can do to stand up.. I am much surprised there were not a lot of injuries from people falling in these
buildings. They are at least as slick as ice, maybe more so.. But, I am super happy Darlene made sure I saw
this before leaving Rome. Words cannot describe what the eyes will see in this place. Then, of course, a
person like me is constantly wondering, how did they do it??? If you have seen the place, you know what I
mean, if you have not, you would if you did. You might even get that feeling by looking at my photos. I do not
remember how long we spent in the Basilica, but once we were out, it was back on the bus to find our next
tourist spot.

After the Basilica, we boarded the bus and rode it the get off point for the Trevi Fountain, which in Rome is
one of the must do things to see. And, we did. Was not as easy to find as I would have thought, nor was it as
big as I would have thought, given all the photos I had seen. And, we were in a downpour of rain.. Keep this
point in mind, it will be important later.. But, at the fountain, we caught up with some of our travel buddies who
had been in the area most of the day looking at other stuff while we were in the Basilica. Now, we are all here
at the fountain, trying to take photos in the rain. And, for the most part, we gotter done. But, the crowd of
people was just amazing, and more amazing was the fact that there were so many there in a downpour of
rain. We must have wanted to see it really bad, which, of course we did, so I guess there were a lot of other
people in the same frame of mind. If it had not been raining, there would still have been a lot of people here,
but when each of them has an umbrella, then things get congested really big time. Somehow, we were able to
get our memory photos, and toss a coin in the fountain, and then move on to the next attraction..

While we were in the area, we wanted to see the Spanish Steps, for whatever reason.. Some things are just
famous, and need to be seen, I guess.. But, off we went to find them. This was not an easy task. For one, the
locals are not helpful or friendly, and second it was raining, and third, we did not have a map.. Looking back
on it all, if I had entered all this stuff into my GPS before leaving home, I would have been in great shape, but
I had no idea how hard it would be to find this stuff, as it is really well hidden in the jungle of buildings.. But,
someway, somehow, after asking a lot of people, we found the steps, and we got our memory photos.. For
the most part the rain was coming down pretty hard, but there were small breaks that allowed us to get the
camera out and do a few shots.. I was doing about as much as I could do to keep the camera dry, and in fact,
I had a waterproof bag that I kept it in when I was not taking photos, but, still rain was getting on it when I had
it out of the bag..

After the Spanish Steps, we started asking people how to get to the Pantheon. I do not think we were very far
away, but because of the lack of help, we wasted a lot of time going the wrong direction, etc.. In fact, we
finally ended up back at the bus stop for the Trevi Fountain. Once there, we could find the fountain again, and
was able to find a few people who would point in the direction of the Pantheon. By doing this, we finally got
there, but we were almost running through the rain to get there before it was too late. We arrived at 4:30 PM,
and managed to get into the building, which, even on a cold, wet, rain soaked day, was full of people. So, we
were not the only people crazy enough to be out doing this sort of thing. And, if you know anything about this
place, you will know it has a big hole in the ceiling, for whatever reason, and it stays open year around, as far
as I know. Today, rain is just pouring in through the hole. And water is running all over the marble floor. The
actually drop zone where the water was coming in was roped off, but other than that, life was unchanged
inside. With the rain and my wet, foggy glasses it was rather hard to see the inside of the place, but I did get
to look around enough to get the general idea of what was there.

Now, Darlene and I are soaked to the bone. We do have rain coats, etc, on, but even with that, after awhile
the rain will manage to make you wet. Not knowing how long we had to be inside, we took photos as fast as
we could, but, then in a few minutes, the guards came by and started moving people out!!!! Out, why, it is
barely past 4:30 PM.. This place should be open until at least 5 PM. But, they said there was going to be a
church service. So, even as they pushed us towards the big front doors, I kept trying to get a few more
photos. I am not sure many of them survived, but I tried. Then, once out the door, I checked my watch, we
were now out at 4:42 PM. Twelve minutes in the Pantheon. We had zipped in just in time to see what little we
could see before they closed the place for the day.. That was cutting it close. There were still crowds of
people standing outside trying to see in as we left. They were not as lucky as we, for what that was worth.

Once outside, we discovered there was a fountain that we could take photos of, and we did. We got our few
memory photos there before heading back through the winding village streets which would take us back to
Trevi Fountain. To be honest, it was a much longer walk than I thought it was.. And, we were walking in ankle
deep water. And, I was in sandals, which is generally not an issue, but I think it was on this day that the
wetness and the sand finally got to me.. When sand gets under the straps and stays there, which will happen
in conditions like this, damage is sure to happen and it did! Took the skin off my big toes on both sides. The
solution to this is to put on socks, but I do not think I had them with me on this day, and most likely would not
have stopped long enough to put them on even if I had them.

In a short while we were back at the Trevi Fountain, then in a few more blocks we were back at the bus stop.
And, this is where another story starts. Tomorrow, November 01, is both my birthday, and it is Holy Day in
Rome. This means a lot of services will be closed for the day, much like our big holidays here. But, we had
asked the bus employees earlier in the day about the bus service on this day, and we were told that the buses
would be running till 9 PM this night. Great, we had until 9 PM, to be tourist and still get back to the hotel. So,
there had been no thoughts of bus issues this evening. This is all about to change.

At the bus stop, a man from England, so we learned, and his wife came over and spoke to us, asking if we
had any info on the bus service this day. We told him what we had been told, and he said he had heard the
same thing, but he and the wife had been waiting here for more than 1.5 hours and there had been no bus
from our company. So, what gives? None of us know, and the more we talk, the more that we find there are a
lot of the people around us who are waiting for the same bus we are.. It is supposed to run every 15 minutes,
but none have been seen for near two hours now. Nobody knows what has happened.. A few people at a time
start moving off and catching taxis to where they need to go. As I recall, the English couple did the same. And
after another half hour or so, now around 6:30 PM, Darlene says, hey, lets just walk back to the hotel. I check
my GPS and tell her it is at least 1.5 miles back. She says well, you did the walk the other night, we can do it
now, and with that, we were off and walking. As I recall it was a pretty nice hike, but was in the rain, and still I
am trying to keep the camera as dry as I can.

Between 7:30 and 8:00 PM, we arrive back at the hotel, after I stop and get some cold beverage at a little
shop along the way. Once back, I start trying to make sure the camera is still dry and still working. Best I could
tell, it was okay. And, somewhere during all this commotion, we caught up with the rest of our group, and as a
group, we took off to find a place to eat. Do not remember where we went, but we got a big long table and
started our dinner, which turned out to be one of those times when everyone wanted to laugh and tell their
story of survival in the rain. Turned out to be a lot of fun, and while all this was going on, one fellow in our
group bought Darlene a bottle of wine for her birthday, maybe mine too, but anyway, Dan bought a bottle of
wine for the two of us to enjoy, and we did real well with it. Was good wine!

The funny part of our dinner this evening was that about two thirds of the way through the meal, a lady came
over to me and in a really pissed off voice, said this is why people hate you Americans so much, you come
to a restaurant and make so much noise that other people cannot even sit and enjoy their meal. Then she said
that we had completely ruined her meal and her evening!! We all looked at each other and started laughing.
WOW, that lady needed to learn to enjoy life. This was not a five star dining place, but rather a hole in the wall
pizza hut. What was she thinking.. I'll bet whoever has been sleeping with her at night has to take a pill to be
around her.. Mercy!!! But, for us, the party went on, and a good time was had by all, including the waiters and
the staff. We did manage to get our memory shots and then we were off to our rooms. Tomorrow, is going to
be a big day, it will be my birthday, plus, we have learned that we will have to leave our hotel, and move to
another hotel across town, for reasons unknown. I still do not know why. But, later someone said the hotel we
were in, wanted us out so that they could rent our rooms for the weekend, for way more money than we were
paying. Guess we will never know. But, for now, the day is done, and it is time for a hot shower and some
sleep. It has been a very long day.

To see the images shared for this day in Rome, use the links below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632911431308/show/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632907704015/show/
Day 10 in Europe, November 01, 2012, My 61st birthday!


This is a big day for me!! I turn 61 years of age this morning, and I am doing it in Rome!! What a cool way to
remember this birthday.. As it turns out, it was a day filled with many twists and turns, so lets get started and I
will tell you as much of it as I can remember.

To start the day, we have to be up early! Not only is today my birthday, but it is also a day that we will be
using to go on a couple of tours, and we will use part of the day to move to another hotel, for whatever
reason. More on this later, as we are still trying to get answers.

I am thinking we are up at around 0530, so that we can get ready, and be at breakfast when the doors open at
0630, I think. When I returned from my morning trip to the bathroom, I found a card and a gift waiting for me. I
think I opened the card first, which was neat and talked about the fun we had while on this adventure, then in
the package was a t-shirt that said "Life Is Good".. Neat. I think these t-shirts are the current fade right now.
One thing for sure, the cotton might be the softest I have felt in a shirt! Felt really good to have it one.. And,
later I would be wearing it nearly every day on the cruise ship as it was just perfect for the days we had at sea.
More on that later, but for now, I am officially 61, I am in Rome with a great travel buddy, I have a really neat
card and a really neat card. I am off to a great start. I even have photos to prove all this happened!

After the official birthday presentations, we grabbed the camera and headed for the dining room, where we
ran on to other members of the group. Today is not only my birthday, but is a busy day in several ways. We
start by getting our breakfast started, taking memory photos of the birthday boy, and getting back to the room
to pack up and move out. For some odd reason, which I still do not understand, all of us in this group, and in
this hotel, are being moved to another hotel, owned by the same people as this one. We think it was for
money reasons, but with the screwed up way our travel agent did things, anything is possible. I guess we
should just feel lucky that we even have a room. Our travel agent has made a super mess of our vacation.

Back in our room, we get our bags, take them downstairs, give them to hotel employees who are storing them
in a locked room until we come back for them and the big move this afternoon. At this time, we have to catch
a tour bus to go on a tour, or two, depending on how you count things. But, the whole thing starts at the hotel,
and on a tour bus. We have turned in our bags, we have gotten on a bus, and we are headed across town,
assuming we are doing a tour. But, the bus stops somewhere in town, and word gets around that we are
supposed to get off here and get on the bus in front of us!!! Now what!! This really is a nutty day. Keep in
mind, I have been doing my thing and taking photos all morning, now we get off the bus and I am still taking
photos outside the bus. When the time comes to get on the new bus, I started to do what I most often do, I
take a photo of the license plate on the bus, so I can be sure later of which one I have to get back on, in case
I forget. The problem this time is that the exposure for this photo should have been around 1/60 of a second,
but it turned out to be about 5 seconds!!! That is far from proper!! So, I try another, same thing. Now it is time
to see what is going on, but we are getting on the bus, so I have to wait till I am on the new bus to check it out.
Not sure what all is going on, but the camera is really acting strange, and there have been no more good
photos from it after this point in time. After a half hour of messing with it, it would take photos, but  all had
scan lines in them. Wrong. Something is not right here. And, to make a long story short, the camera never
worked again for the rest of the vacation. That morning at around 1030 was when I took the last usuable
photo on this adventure. This is a NIKON D7000, which is not supposed to do things like this. In my hands, I
am holding about 3000 dollars worth of junk. At this moment in time, I have no idea what is going on. Maybe
the rain from yesterday got to it, but if that were the case, it should have stopped yesterday, not many hours
later.. So, no more photos from this point forward. Many people have asked why I did not have a backup
camera, and I have to tell them that weight is the issue. With the size of cameras and equipment that I use,
weight is the issue. I could take as much gear as I wanted, if I wanted to pay the heavy fees for the weight, but
for me it is just a hobby, and the extra fees do not seem appealing. So, I gambled on one Nikon to do the job,
but it failed. Not a good feeling.

Now that the camera is dead, there is little to do but go with the flow and make the best of it. We do have to
keep in mind that this is just a hobby, but I take it seriously for my own pleasure and so that I will have nice
photos to share with people who want to remember, or for people who want to dream. So, as unhappy as I
am about it, it is just a camera. The adventure will go on.

After the NIKON died, we arrived at some ruins, heard a guide tell the story of what it was supposed to be in
its glory days. Then, it was off to some gardens, which I thought were awesome, but while on the tour,
Darlene shared with me the fact that there were other gardens in other countries that would put this to shame. I
would not know at the time, but later when I looked up some of the other gardens in Europe, I think she was
correct. This was nice, but a far cry from the real winners in other places. Hopefully some day I will get to see
those, with a camera that works!!!!

After the tour of the ruins and the gardens, it was back to the hotel, where we retrieved our bags and put them
on another bus, which took us across town to the second hotel. It was much different than our first, and not
nearly as nice. However, Darlene and I did have a patio on our second floor room, and as I recall, we opened
our last bottle of wine and shared it while sitting on the patio, in the sun!!!!!!! I even let the camera sit in the
sun, to see it that would help it, but no, nothing helped it. It was trashed.
Today is my birthday, and not only is that true, but Darlene has chosen to take me to dinner!! And to do that,
we go to the front desk, ask for a referral, get one and take off. To get to this place, we will be walking about 6
blocks, in the dark.. Oddly enough, we find it, we are seated, and I am treated to a steak dinner for my
birthday!!! No memory photos, but I was there and I had a great time. Actually, I had a very good day. Much
of it as a result of work done by Darlene. I owed her a lot, and I will remember this day as one of great fun
because of her. Then, on November 5, she will be having a birthday, and I will get a chance to return the favor.

Back at the room, we have to make sure we are organized and ready to move out in the morning, as
tomorrow, Nov 2, will be the day we see our ship for the first time on this adventure. I have been on this ship,
the Mariner of the Sea, back in 2008, I think it was. And, earlier this year, in February, I was on the sister ship,
the Adventure of the Seas, for a two week cruise in the Caribbean. Both are very nice ships. My favorite is
the Adventure of the Seas. They are said to be identical, but that it not entirely true, as the Adventure has a
really neat indoor pool on the back of it, with water jets etc.. I love it. The Mariner has a small pool in the same
area, but it is nothing compared to the one of the Adventure!!! I am getting ahead of myself, but let me end
this day by saying it was a good day, despite the problems. Now, we just have to make sure we are ready to
make the big move tomorrow. Once on the ship, we can unpack or bags and relax for the following 16 days,
actually is only 14 days, but.... On a cruise, you lose one day on each end! One for moving in, one for moving
out.. Actually the next to last day is a near loss, as you have to spend a lot of time packing all your stuff back
in the bags, so I will say that out of the 16 day trip, we had 13 play days.. Too bad I do not have photos of the
room in this hotel. People who have been on cruise ships know how small the inside cabins can be. Well, the
bedroom of this hotel was at least as small.. It was so small there was hardly room for the bed!!!!!!!! If you
have been to Europe, you know what I mean, if you have not, think small when you go over.. They do not
waste space on hotel rooms!

For the memory photos for this day, use the link below:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/10908506@N03/sets/72157632898876593/show/
Day 11 in Europe, November 02, 2012

There will be no photos to share with anyone from this point on in this adventure, and I thought about just
ending this story on November 01, Day 10, after the camera died, but, after thinking about it, I elected to
share what I can remember about the rest of the trip and the mess we have found ourselves in. If you
remember some time ago, there was a ship that flipped over on its side in the water near Italy, then here
more recent there was the ship that lost power and had to be towed back. Both of these have given cruising a
bad bruising, and I think they deserve it. Things in the cruise industry have been going downhill in a bad way
for a long time. You might not think about this unless you had been cruising as long as I have. I do not
remember the exact year of my first cruise, but I am thinking it as around the 1980 time frame. And the first
ship I went on was called the Flavia. Not sure who owned the old thing, and in fact it was not supposed to
even be doing cruises anymore, as it had been taken out of service and then brought back to cover for a
newer ship that had a mechanical issue and was in for repair, so problems with ships go way back. If you
want to see this old ship that I started on, check out this link:
http://www.ssmaritime.com/flavia.htm. It shows
some historical images of  my first cruise ship. It had an interesting life.  And, speaking of life, I won the trip
that I was on, and as a result, I was rooming with a fellow that I had never met, but he too had won a free trip
on this cruise, as we were both buying product from the same carpet supplier, who gave out these trips to
people who bought enough of their product to win these trips.

The first night on the Flavia, I met two ladies from Texas, and the next day, I introduced  them to my
roommate. To make a long story short, though it is an nice story, this fellow and one of the girls ended up
doing a long distance dating thing, got married, and had a baby girl. The second girl went on to marry a fellow
she met later in Texas, where they were from. This couple ended up having two boys, getting a divorce 23
years later, then she remarried. Beyond that, I am not sure what happened to everyone. But, I think my old
roommate, who was a general contractor here in town, ended up moving from here down to Texas where his
wife was from. I tell you all this to show that lots of things can happen on cruise ships. However, what I
wanted everyone to know is that in the early days, cruising was a real fun thing to do. And, the most famous
thing to do on a cruise ship back then was to eat. That is what they were famous for, eating. And, great food
they did have. It was awesome, as I recall. And, not only was it good, but there was lots of it, sometimes so
much of it, that much of it was tossed, I am sure. There were midnight buffets, with treats of all kinds,
however, again, I am sure lots of it went to waste.. But, that has all changed. On the Trans-Atlantic trip, and
most all recent trips that I have been on, the food is almost a joke. I still like going on cruises, but it is no
longer for the food. However, good food, at night, can be had, but it comes at an extra fee. Now, they have
the "slaves" food, and the "kings" food. By this I mean, that during the day, everyone eats the same thing,
pretty much, no matter who your are, as a customer, but at night, things change. Now, on most ships in the
class I travel on, the ships have added "special dining" areas. In these areas you can get the good food,
meaning the good steaks and the good lobster, and the good deserts, etc.. I think that most of the ships are
pricing these extra dining rooms at around 30 dollars per person, per meal. For a seven day cruise, this would
be about 210 dollars extra per week to get real food in the evening. My suggestion, if you can steal the extra
200 dollars, do it, its worth the extra. Eating in the regular dining rooms these days is a waste of time. If you
are not going to eat in the upgraded dining rooms, don't even bother getting dressed up, just throw on a pair
of shorts and go to the buffet line. The food will be just as good, or better. And, if you are asking why the
difference in the quality of food, it is the price of the cruises. I do not think the price of a cruise has gone up in
the last 20 years. So, if the price has not gone up, how will they make money on the cruise? Easy, they lower
the quality of the product. But, your have choices, though I have only heard of them, there are still cruise ships
out there that do provide the top of line quality that you are dreaming of when you think of going on a cruise,
and if you have the money, go that route. Being a retired person, I find it a little hard to shell out the amount of
money that is required on the better ships, though, I am tempted!!! And, just maybe the temptation will finally
get the best of me, and I will move up to the higher quality line. I have talked to people who have been there,
and they say it is awesome.. If I go, I'll let you know what I think. So, keep watching my site for that report!

Now back to our cruise. It is November 2, and we have loaded our bags on the bus that will take us to the
ship. Just how we got this bus is unknown to me. Someone in our group arranged it, I think, and my guess is
that is the work of our friend Betty. But, whoever it is, we are grateful. But, this is only the beginning, we now
have to get the driver to go across town to another hotel and pick up other people who have come into town
yesterday. It is all a mess, but bless someone's soul, we finally got all our people and headed for the ship,
which is about a one hour ride from Rome.

Was a nice drive to the ship, with interesting views of the countryside as we moved along. Then, as we
topped one of the hills, we could see the ship far away in the distance. Had to be ours, as there was only one
there! But still, it took awhile to get into the harbor area. Of course, we thought the bus we were on would take
us right to the front door of the ship, but no, there as another surprise to come. Our bus came to a stop in a
parking area, and we were told to get off, and we did, then our baggage was unloaded. Now what. From what
we could understand, we had to now catch a second bus to the ship, which we could see, but could not get
to!!!!!!!!!! However it happened, another bus showed us, and after what almost ended up in a fight between
driver and customers, we got on, with our luggage and got to the ship! What an experience. Never figured out
what was going on with the buses, but we made it to the ship.

Once we were at the ship, life became easy, real easy. Most of us were ole experienced cruisers and we fell
right into our routine once we got to the door of the ship. If you have not done it, you are okay. In the old
days, it was a hassle, but now, with computers and pre-check-in, it is a snap. So, in no time flat, Darlene and I
had our paperwork complete, and we were off to our room. We were home! We did have to wait for our bags
to arrive later before we could unpack, but we could go to the dining area, and do lunch, then explore the ship,
etc.. After days of fighting the system on land, it was a great relief to be on the ship and able to relax. Now,
for the next 13 days, we can really relax!!! And, we did. Had a great time.

Again, I could stop the adventure story here, but I won't, I will go on. The ship pulls out around 4 PM, I think,
and we go to dinner around 6 PM, and we find that we have a little confusion with the seating, but at this time,
it is not an issue. So, we do dinner, and then we are off to the show, etc... And, the first day on the ship ends,
well, after we do the evening show, then after hitting the snack bar, etc.. Back at the room we finish unpacking
our bags, now that we have them.  Tonight we get to sleep in a bed that will be ours through the night of the
15th!!! We are home!! Sort of.

The next morning, I think it is, we wake up at one of the islands off the coast of Italy. If, I get time later, I will
list all the places we stopped, but for now I will just say we stopped at this island near Italy. And, on all the
islands, Darlene and I get off and run around a little, but mostly we stay close to the ship. Some people were
energetic enough to sign up for excursions, but even though we talked about it, we never got excited enough
about the options to actually do one.. So, we just walked and relaxed.

The second night on the ship was when the fun started. Somehow, there was a mix-up in the seating
arrangements, and when Darlene and I got to our table, there was no place for us to sit, and when some other
people arrived for their seats, they too had been booted out due to a screw-up in the seating. That was the
bad part, we did not have a place to sit. The good part for us and the bad part for the ship is that we had two
very aggressive ladies in our group that were part of this mix-up.. They insisted on speaking with the head of
the dining room, the table service people, and almost anyone else that they could get to, just short of the
captain, and they may have asked to speak to him. Both were widow women, both were cousins, both had
traveled a lot, and both had the attitude that someone screw-up and we were not going to suffer for it!!!! They
got their point across. Not only did they want a private table for those of us who had been kicked out, they
wanted the ship to give us two bottles of good wine, not the cheap crap, to settle our nerves. And, they got
everything they asked for! We had our own table arranged for us, and we got the two bottles of wine, for
free.!!! Good going ladies..We owe Marilyn and Judy some great favors for getting this done for us.  That
was the excitement for this night. So.. It went well, then there was the rest of the evening of fun as the story
was told and retold, many times.

The next day, we were docked at one of the ports in Spain. And, again, Darlene and I chose to do a hike
close to the ship and just take life easy. Then, at the end of the day trip, we were back on the ship, cleaned up
and off to dinner. This time, we had our own table, next to a big window in the dining room. Great spot. And,
as the people came in to sit with us, we learned that the dining room staff had taken care for the seating issue
and we were now at a location that was ours for the rest of the trip. And, if that as not enough, I was the only
guy at the table. It is was just me and 5 women. How much better could it get!!! And, this is how it remained
for the rest of the trip. Me and my ladies! Was great fun!! They were a great group and fun was had by all, at
least as far as I know. But, as it turns out, there was one lady at our table with a healthissue that scared us all.
One of the ladies at the table, finally shared with the rest of us that she had started to have rectal bleeding!!
First symptoms were that of food poisoning, but then changed to just the rectal bleeding. The question was
what on earth to do. She ended up going to the doctor on board, who really did  not know what was going on,
but was much concerned and started trying different meds on her, while at the same time monitoring her
blood count.

After a day or two of the medical issue staying the same, the doctor insisted she be taken off the ship and
taken to a local hospital where she could get a colonoscopy, to see what all the bleeding was about. For now,
they could just give her pain pills, etc. And, if I remember correctly, the first place they tried to get the test was
in Spain, but the hospital did not have an opening available. So, she would have to wait. There were several
concerns. One was that there could be something serious wrong and she would have to leave the cruise, for  
good. The real fear was that if got a little better, and no test as done, then if we got to the middle of he
ocean, and things went real downhill, there would be no help till we were back near land again, because there
would be no hospitals in the middle of the Atlantic. So, things were a bit touch and go for awhile.

The cruise we were on, stopped at one island off the coast of Italy, then made two stops in Spain, went
through the straights and on to two islands in the Canaries. And, at the last minute, the ship doctor found a
hospital in the Canaries that could do the colonoscopy for this lady. And, so, it was arranged. She and one of
the other ladies got off the ship, went to the local hospital, which was reported not be a place one would want
to go, but she had to go anyway as she needed the test. We did not know about this until after it was all over.
Of course it was at dinner that night when we were all back together and she could tell her story. The result of
the test showed that she had an infection of some type in the lining of the colon, and that it could be treated
with antibiotics, which she was put on immediately. Just knowing that she did not need surgery, and was not
going to miss the rest of the trip was a great relief to her, and actually to all of us. She was family, and it
would have driven us nuts if we would have had to leave her behind. At this point the tension was much less,
of course, but it would be several days before she really felt better, and she did, the meds worked.

The actual trip across the ocean was a blast, in a nice gentle way. I think each of us gained 10 pounds. We
did eat a lot, even if the food was nothing to write home about. One of the real problems we ran onto on
board the ship was the yogurt machine. The company put a self serve ice cream machine on the deck and
kept it open from around 10 AM till maybe 8 PM, or something like that. Whatever the times, we were there a
lot. Seems we could always find a reason for going by there on our way to almost any other place on the
ship. Funny how that happens, and as a matter of fact, it became something of a meeting place for our group.
Seems like one of us was there nearly all the time. But we were aware of our sins, and did our best to pay for
them. As I recall, Darlene and I walked for about an hour each day, on the track. But, the issue was, we
generally had an ice cream cone in our hand when we did the walk.!!! I am not sure how we justified that
action, but that is how it was.

What else happened on the ship? Not much out of the ordinary. We ate, we relaxed, we napped, we went to
ice shows, we went to all the meals, we went to the main theater for the daily shows, and we ended each
evening at the snack shop on the promenade deck. For those who have not been on cruise ships, in the old
days, there were big buffets late at night for the people who had not gotten enough food during the day, but,
with time and most likely lots of wasted food, plus through efforts to cut costs, the cruise ships no longer do
the midnight buffet. Besides the cost, most of the old people are asleep by this time anyway! So, what the
ships have now to replace the buffets is snack bars. Here you can meet up with your friends, get coffee, tea,
cookies, brownies, fruit, water, etc, etc. The snack bars are generally open 24 hours each day.This is actually
nice, and is a nice way to end each day. Come here to relax for a few minutes, chat with your old friends or
make new ones. On this trip, we made a few new friends just by doing this. Was fun. But, the point is, people
come here for a little relaxation, a last minute chat with friends, and spend some time talking about what they
will do tomorrow, if anything at all. In the middle the ocean, there is not much to do, when close to land, there
might be some last minute plans for what to do at the next stop, etc. The ships in this class are large enough
to have an ice skating rink, so the ship provides several ice shows during the cruise. Most are pretty good.  
There are also a lot of seminars on board. You can learn a little about cooking, or folding napkins, etc.. They
also have bingo games during the day. And, one of the highlights of this cruise, was the choir!!! The music
crew on the ship offered customers on the ship the chance to become part of a choir while there, and many
did, and from what I heard, they had a lot of fun, but they had to work hard, like maybe two hours per day!!!
The end result, they got on stage and sang several of their songs for us. They were good!!!!

Near the end of our trip, we stopped at Nassau in the Bahamas. It was there that Darlene and I decided to get
out and get a little sun, and most likely it was also because our friends were going to go snorkeling, we joined
in.  The trip consisted of a catamaran ride to a dive area, where we were given the proper gear and about an
hour to play in the water. Turned out to be fun, and then became even more fun when we headed back, as
that is when they start serving the rum punch!!! Most of us downed as many of those as we could before the
boat got back to the ship! The more we drank, the better the adventure!! Actually, our consumption was
modest, but was enough to make some of the people very relaxed and elevated them to a very high level of
happy!!! Had this gone on much longer there might have been some who would have been trying to go skinny
dippin!!! But, we got back before that happened! Mostly, I think they needed a nap!!!

After Nassau it was time to head for the end point, Galveston. We rounded the tip of Florida and off we went.
Some of us tried to see Cuba as we went by, but it did not happen. In fact, I think we went by in the dark.
Then we cut across the gulf.

On the morning of the 16th, we were parked in Galveston when we went to the dining area to eat. Today, we
had to eat fast, turn our cell phones on for the first time in nearly a month, catch up on the voice mails, etc.
Then, with baggage in hand, we headed to the assembly places where we would wait until we were called to
leave the ship. Once that was done, we located the shuttle bus that would carry us to the airport in Houston,
something like an hour and half away. Where we all started catching the flights that would bring us home.

Darlene and I were using standby flights to travel for this adventure, which meant that we were living a little on
the edge, but we had good luck going over and then good luck leaving Texas, as we were able to catch the
flight we wanted to get home. We had been taken to the airport by one of her friends, and upon our return,
this friend came back and got us, so there was hardly any waiting on our part, anywhere.

Once back at Darlene's home, I went in with her to make sure her home was in good working and safe order,
then I took off, arriving back at my place safe and sound, with lots of great memories and some neat photos
of the early part of our adventure. Over all, we ran into no real issues while on the trip. We did have a bit of a
challenge with catching the colds, and with having the camera break down, and with the rain, and with the
screw-ups brought on by the travel agent, but still, we managed to keep moving and got the adventure done.
Now we are back and we are sharing our story. And, you would think the adventure would end here, and we
would all live happy ever after, but no, it is not over yet.

If you remember the stories of the shuttle that was not there at the airport in Rome, it was supposed to be,
we had paid for it. If you remember the story of the issue with the rooms, we had prepaid for those before we
left the USA. If you remember the story of the tours, some we did not get, but we had paid for them before
we left. So, what is the issue. The issue is that our travel agent Marlene Schroyer, who works out of her home
in Fairview Heights, Illinois, has apparently ripped all of us off. She took the money from us for all these
things that we paid for, but then, she did not pay the people there, such as the hotel people, etc.. This meant
that we ended up in Europe with almost nothing paid for. So, what happened next. You would think that if this
were the result of some honest mistakes, the agent would have sent out a letter explaining all the issues, and
would have been working hard to resolve them. But, this is not what happened, and as a matter of fact, it is
now nearly four months later, and we still do not have answers as to where our money went. We have paid
twice for much of our time in Rome.  As of this writing, things have gotten really bad for our group. Many
have begged Marlene to resolve this issue, but she has not. In fact, in my case, when I got home, I found the
agent had put three charges on my credit card that could not be explained. One of the three might have been
partially good, but still, nobody could tell me what all the charge was for. I am leaving out a lot of the small
details when I tell you I disputed all my card charges, and that several days ago, I got letters from the card
company, letting me know I had won the dispute on the two larger charges. There is still one disputed charge
that has not been resolved. Also, the issue with the hotel rooms, the travel insurance, and the excursions, etc,
has not been resolved. Some of the people finally went to the police and ask for help. The result of that was
that now, 20 of the original 38 people have filed criminal charges against Marlene. We expect her to be faced
with very serious crimes to include wrongful handling of checks, credit cards,  and transactions across state
lines.

When a group of seven of us went to file charges several days ago, we were told that the detective in charge
was assembling all the info needed to put together the case and submit it to the states attorney general. We
hope to get our money back, but we have not a clue if we will now. The real question is what did Marlene do
with the money, she will not say. We think she gambled it away, but we may never know.

So, as I try to close this story, I cannot, it is not over. It will not be over until this issue with Marlene is
resolved. That could be a long time.  As for the NIKON camera, I shipped it back to NIKON in California. My
first report from them was that there was water damage! The estimated repair cost would be 164 dollars, I
think. Later I got another letter from them and they said the damage was much more, now the price was near
400 dollars. I had insured the equipment before leaving on the trip, so I knew it was covered, but should it be
repaired or totaled out? Could it really be repaired now?? I expressed my concerns to the service people.
The man I was talking to did not think the camera should be totaled, as it could be rebuilt to be like a new one,
or better. Finally, I agreed to the repair, and so I then sat and waited for the repair. I mailed the camera on
November 23, 2012. I got it back on January 21, 2013, with a bill that said the cost for repair was well over
500, but they gave me a little discount of some kind. The total to me, 452. 48. With original shipping, my cost
is now 470.08.. With that, I called my insurance office at AAA and filed a claim, and several days later, I had a
check from AAA for full payment! Now it was up to me to check the camera and see if it was working
properly.. It is working, but I am not convinced that it is doing as well as it should. NIKON gave me a 6 month
warranty on the repair, so if there is something wrong, hopefully they will fix it, but they are so slow, I will be
dead of old age before the thing is taken care of!

Is this story finished yet? No, there is a little more to go, then you can rest. And here it is. Some time ago, I
bought a waterproof watch from the Dakota watch company, for doing my canoe trips and other watersports.
And, for a long time, it did great, and I had a lot of faith in it, but I have learned not to depend on one watch
for anything!!! So, before Darlene and I left for Europe, I went on AMAZON.COM and ordered each of us a
Casio  waterproof watch with dual time, etc.. Would be nice to have several watches around in case one went
bad, maybe even two! And sure enough, right after we got on the cruise ship, the Dakota died. So, the little
Casio came to the rescue. Back home, I took the Dakota back to the place where I bought it. The people
there were very good to me, and without a hassle, they changed out the whole insides of the watch. Great.
Now I am ready to get on with life.. That repair only lasted a few days, then the watch lost ten minutes, all at
once! So, I reset it, and started life again. A few days later, it lost 15 minutes, all at once. Now, I go back to
the shop and ask for help again. They say they will give a new one to me, but it is not here, it is 14 miles up
the road at another shop, so I go get it, then I leave town again. Life is good.. Then, about a week ago, the
new one just stopped dead in its tracks! Being close to the shop when it happened, I took it back to see what
was going on. The same lady who had presented me with the new one at the north location, just happened to
be at this location and recognized me. When I shared the problem with her, she checked it out and thought a
new battery might be the answer, so a new battery I got. Since then there has been no issues, but she
assured me, that if there were, she would replace the watch again. I guess this was a very uncommon thing to
happen!!!! Now we wait to see if it keeps going.!

And with that, I will end this story, for now. Later, when more details on the Marlene issue come in, I will be
back to update this ending!!! Thanks for reading about my/our adventure. At the present, I do not have the
next one planned, but I bet I will be planning one soon.  So, stay tuned to my site and see what I have been up
to and see what I have to share in the way of photos and stories.


Darlene,

THANKS for being such a great travel buddy!!!  Was GREAT fun!!!
I could not have done it without you.

                                                                   Tom
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PS.. Do your remember the ole saying, don't put off things until tomorrow, what you could do today??? Give
that some serious thought. Maybe there are places you want to go, and things you want to do, but are putting
it off for some reason. Don't, and here is an example of why. If you have read any of the material I shared
while traveling the Alaskan Highway, you will have learned about a really neat family that I met up with at least
four times, which might be a record of some kind. They  were all from Canada, and were the best folks you
could want to meet. I learned a lot about their life, their work, and their retirement plans. The husband, Dave,
not much older than me, had made good money in the road building business, and now he and the family
were living the good life they had looked forward to. Was a real treat to have met them. They had many good
years of travel planned for the future.

While in Europe, I was able to get on a computer and check my emails. The one that really got my attention
was from Ann, the sister-in-law to Dave, and who had been in the family travel group. In her email, she told
that Dave was no longer with us. While on an outing of some kind, back in September of 2012, he collapsed
and died of a heart attack. Who would have ever guessed. He appeared to be one of the most healthy people
on earth. Now, he is gone....... So, think of this when you think of doing something LATER.