Our lost together locations

Friday, June 25, 2010

Italy, Part II -- at last!

Yes, it's been a long time in coming. But between the pregnancy and buying/moving into a house, we've had a lot to occupy ourselves lately. :)

Here are some photos from the second half of our travels through Italy. From our Christmas sojourn in Padova, we scooted down to Napoli, then back up through Siena for New Year's Eve in Bologna, and a final stay in Venezia (with a day trip to Bassano del Grappa).

This slideshow covers these stops. Again, if you want to see captions, make sure you maximize the slideshow to full-screen and adjust the settings (top right-hand corner). Some photos don't have captions -- honestly, there is hardly a more photogenic city in the world than Venice, and I think most of the photos of it speak for themselves.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Italy Part I, Take 2

So I posted the photos from the first half of our Italy stay but forgot to caption them. So if you were wondering what you were looking at, going back to the last post and going through the slide show again should now provide captions (in full-screen mode, at top right).

Working on Italy Part II -- about 2/3 done. :)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Photos from Italy -- Part 1

We spent almost a month in Italy, and, as you can imagine, it is one of the most picturesque places we visited. Definitely a favourite, now on our list of "gotta go back one day" (though we'll spend more time in the countryside if we do).

Our plans for a farmstay in Tuscany fell through because the day we landed in Milan there was a cold snap that dumped tons of snow on much of Europe. Tuscany, which rarely sees any snow, was buried (by their standards) under half a foot, and our hosts, without any heat at their farm, vacated to a friend's for the holidays.

So instead, after having visited Milan, Rome, and Florence, we headed for Padua (Padova) to spend Christmas with my cousin Maya, who is studying there to be a vet. We had a great time shopping in the market to prepare for our all-Jewish Christmas Eve dinner.

The photos in this slideshow are from those four cities. The next album will be the rest of our stay in Italy. :)

Remember to expand the slideshow to full-screen mode for the best viewing options!

Sunday, February 28, 2010



The People of Israel. They're beautiful. All of them. Well, most of them. Israelis themselves are great people. Most of them speak English and contrary to popular belief, they're actually safe and conscientious drivers. They may make quick/abrupt lane changes, but they tend to use their turn signals better than anywhere else I've seen.

The Places of Israel. We went to Tel Aviv (LOVED IT! Like Toronto or New York, or another largest city in a country), Yafo (quiet old part of Tel Aviv that reminded me of Kensington Market in Toronto), Rishon L'Ziyyon (where Anne/Arie, Jodi's aunt/uncle, live, which is a suburb of Tel Aviv and has 4 Flavours Falafel and Melech HaShwarma (King of Shwarma) AND Thailandi Sandwich, which are TOTALLY fantastic street food!!! It's also the home of Carmel Wine, which is what a lot of people think about when they think Israeli wine), Jerusalem (Great for the Old City and the new city too! Yad Vashem is not to be missed, in an attempt to make some sense of the Holocaust and to learn from the mistakes of the time), Haifa (beautiful Ba'hai Gardens), Tiberias (Israel's Atlantic City? Tacky and not the greatest experience), Eilat (Israel's Vegas? Tackier and bigger than Tiberias, but with more things to do.), Masada (a mountain with 900 steps, with significant Jewish/Israeli history attached to it!), the Dead Sea (The Lowest Place on Earth, with lots of salt and sulfur), Neot Hakikar (A fantastic community that's like a kibbutz, and right at the border with Jordan - with the best dates I've ever eaten! - and GREAT people), Metulla, Be'er Sheva and a few other smaller ones along the way.

The Food of Israel. There's more than a few places to get hummus, falafel, shwarma, kebabs, schnitzel and other forms of street food. Minus one tourist cafeteria, they're all good. More often than not they're great. There's more than just that. There's the fusion cuisine. The Thailand(i) sandwiches for Rishon L'Ziyyon, the superb meal/experience to be had at MachaneYehuda (spelling may be off) near the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Tmol Shilshom's kosher dairy delights (again in Jerusalem), the breakfast/brunch at Benedict in Tel Aviv, the insanely delicious gelato of Iceberg (Again, Tel Aviv) and the steak of Shmulik on Neot Hakikar, the lentil soup of XX and the great food served by Anne Lamdan in her kitchen in Rishon L'Ziyyon. But you need to make a reservation for THAT table. They're hard to come by.

That said, I suspect that most people wondered about the politics.

What would I say about the politics?

Well, I know more now than I did before I came here.

I know that there is no simple answer to what is happening in the country now, and in the future. I know that people want peace. I know that the Palestineans want peace, but don't seem to have a consistent voice of leadership and direction, and this has hindered the peace process. I know that the Israelis want peace, but don't want to continue to give up land, when surrounded by enemies and not being willing to continue to get smaller and smaller. I know that fundamentalism in any religion is a bad thing. I would like to know that there is a chance for peace for Israel, but I'm not holding out hope for that.

I know that Israel does a s**tty job of PR/explaining what has happened post-"incident" and the Palestineans/Arabs are masterful at it. This results in the world getting a one-sided report of these incidents and not hearing the whole story. Israel would benefit from better PR and talking to the press about what really happens when the world hears from another group/country.

I know that many people (Jews and Christians) refer to Israel as the Holy Land. It is. It's a spiritual haven, to be able to put your hand on the Kotel (Western/Wailing Wall) and touch thousands of years of history. For many, it's the Home Land.

In my mind, it's the Home Land for Israelis, and for any Jew if they need it. That said, my Jewish identity is weak. I thought that going to Israel, climbing Masada, touching the Kotel, going to the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock, being in the Negev Desert, seeing the Jordan River, walking in the footsteps of Moses, Isaac, Abraham and Jacob, would make me feel more Jewish.

What it's served to do is reinforce that I believe in The Golden Rule. Do unto others, as you have them do unto you. I don't believe in God, because if there was a God there wouldn't be the hatred that exists between Jews and Muslims, Arabs and Palestineans, Palestineans and Jews, Arabs and Jews, Jews and Christians, Israelis and other countries. All over the same piece of land. All in the name of "God".

Their god.

My god.

Good god!

Things wouldn't be happening all over the world, like the slaughter of innocents in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, the Holocaust (and if try to deny it, I'll kick you in the teeth before you can think about what to do next!) and all the other natural distasters all over the world like Haiti, and most recently Chile.

There are beautiful elements to religion, as it gives people a base. It grounds people in need of that. For me, it just doesn't feel right.

Like wearing someone else's boots or clothing.

I still identify as a Jew, but culturally. As I did before.

Going to Israel did aid in my sense of Jewishness.

I like me.

I really do.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The very abridged Spain & Portugal

Some highlights -- for the sake of simplicity I've combined both our passes through Spain (Barcelona and Madrid, then later when we met up with my parents, various places all over Andalucia), and then gone on to Portugal (Lisbon, Porto and Lagos).

There were a LOT of photos in these albums, and I don't necessarily think these are all the best ones, but oh well! I did manage to keep it under 200 images, as per my goal! :)

Reminder that there are some useful viewing tips in previous blog posts.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The photos continue: Low Countries and France

These are my picks of our pics of Amsterdam, Belgium (Brussels and Bruges), and France (Paris, Lyon, and our HelpX workstay at a climbing gite in the Pyrenees).

A reminder of the USEFUL VIEWING TIPS:

You can wiggle and/or click your mouse over the slideshow for options at the bottom like pausing and restarting the slides (left-hand side), making the slideshow fullscreen (right-hand side), or selecting to view a specific image.

In full-screen mode (recommended), wiggling your mouse over the top right-hand corner gives you Show info (which allows you to see the captions for each photo - strongly recommended) and Options (like choosing the slideshow speed -- recommended: slow).

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some More UK/Ireland/London Pics

Some that I felt necessary to share.

Just 'cause.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Photos Photos Photos - Part 1

Well, sooner or later we were going to have to do it.

We took in excess of 25,000 photos during the course of our trip, and now we have to sort through them.

Yes, you read that correctly. I mean, come on, it was five months! And, well, you know what happens when you give David a camera, especially a heavy-duty fun camera like our trusty Canon 40D.

Every day or two, we would offload the most recent photos to our netbook, and then back them up to an external hard drive. During downtime on trains or before bed, we'd sort them into folders, and even occasionally weed out the ones we didn't intend to keep.

Then, we'd store them in hidden folders on our Flickr account, uploading them whenever we had a stable internet connection so that should anything happen to our physical storage, we'd have all our photos. And Flickr is kind enough to keep track of how many photos you have in your account. Including some photos that were there from before, and a bit of duplication when we re-uploaded stuff we'd forgotten we'd already uploaded, our most recent count is 28,722 items. And we haven't finished uploading all our photos from Israel yet. They're chugging along through Paul and Rachel's wireless connection as I type this.

Obviously it will be impossible to share all of these photos with even the most maniacally interested people. And there are tons of photos that aren't worth sharing: photos that didn't turn out or multiple shots of the same thing that we didn't take or have time to edit and delete; photos of things we personally found funny but just won't translate if you weren't there with us; photos that we took only for the benefit of this or that friend.

And it's impossible to narrow down to a "best of" hitlist, because, honestly, when you take that many shots, you get more than the usual quotient of really cool photos, and even those are too many to share. Also, likely David and I have different opinions of what constitutes the "best" photos from our collection.

So I'm trying to create a series of slide shows that will represent the various chunks of our journey -- 5 in all -- and that each contain fewer than 200 shots. Even then, that's still almost 1000 photos. But I think by breaking them up a bit, it'll be less overwhelming.

The first chunk comprises Ireland and the UK. We arrived in London on September 21 and left for the Continent exactly a month later. In between our two stays in London, we visited Ireland (Dublin, Galway, the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, a farm in Sligo County, Belfast, the Giant's Causeway) and Scotland (Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Highlands, Fort William, and our friends' little town of Carstairs).

I haven't really given the photos any kind of narrative, except to label each one's location. If you're curious about something or want more of the story of a photo, leave a comment here on the blog or on the photo itself, and we'll give more details.

USEFUL VIEWING TIPS (read before starting the slide show):

You can wiggle and/or click your mouse over the slideshow for options at the bottom like pausing and restarting the slides (left-hand side), making the slideshow fullscreen (right-hand side), or selecting to view a specific image.

In full-screen mode (recommended), wiggling your mouse over the top right-hand corner gives you Show info (which allows you to see the captions for each photo - strongly recommended) and Options (like choosing the slideshow speed -- recommended: slow). Unfortunately, I can't set those options on my end -- you have to do it.

Now click on the slideshow picture below and enjoy! More to come when I get around to it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jodi, Jodi, Jodi.

The Europeans and Israelis like to call her Judy, which is of course pronounced Jooooodeeeeee.

How do I write about Jodi? How do I write about the woman that I first saw online in October of 2005 having a shish-kebab duel with her cousin? How do I write about the woman who planned our wedding, with a few little bits of input/assistance from me? How do I write about the woman who is responsible for the 20 weeks of travel we had? How do I write about the woman who seemed to speak Italian, Spanish and Portuguese when we encountered someone who didn't speak English, and who DOES speak French and Hebrew?

How do I write about her?

Well, she's put up with me since our first date. Our first date when I said, "I don't do lines" as it pertained to the wait at "Bella Did You Eat?", and instead went to "Aunties & Uncles".

She's put up with me ever since she realized I love to cook/bake/create more than I do most things (Exceptions include: Eating/tasting, feeling, seeing, hearing and smelling, breathing, talking, walking, interacting with the world.....) and that has its pros and cons.

She puts up with my rants and raves, most of which are nonsensical.

She puts up with me in general.

Truth is, that's what it is. She puts up with me. The good and the bad. I suppose that's what marriage is. For better or worse.

Most of it is better, and there's been some "worse" on this trip.

My sense of alienation when in non-English speaking countries.

My concern about getting lost. After getting lost.

Getting lost. With Jodi and without.

Poorly signed roads while driving in Israel.

Being yelled at in Hebrew for taking pictures in a grocery store.

Being chased by yeshiva guard dogs, outside the Walls of the Old City in Jerusalem.

Not having clean clothes.

Not having our bags.

Not having food in Montmarte.

Jodi being sick. In Galway, Montmarte, Barcelona/Madrid/Lisboa, Jerusalem and Tiberias.

The car not working near Loch Lomond. (Thanks again to the Germans for helping us with that!)

Helping me for hours in the library in Edinburgh and Glasgow, while I chased family ghosts.

My insisting we try different beer in different countries and endeavour to stop in virtually every place we might find said different beer to buy it.

But, all-in-all, it's been magical.

It's been magical thanks to Jodi's patience, linguistic and directional skills and our ability to function as a team.

And for that I'm eternally grateful. As many of you have said along the way, it's a once-in-a-lifetime trip/experience. That remains to be seen, but if this is our trip to "Paradise Falls" (Up reference), then so be it.

It's been a hell of a ride.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What I Miss(ed) About Home

(Written on a BA767, sitting in First Class, from Tel Aviv to London)

Home. What is home? Is it the city where you live? Where you were born? Where you sleep at night? The question of home has been a recurring theme with me during this time, and something that given me a lot of cause to pause.

Dictionary.com defines home (as a noun) as :

1. a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
2. the place in which one's domestic affections are centered.
3. an institution for the homeless, sick, etc.: a nursing home.
4. the dwelling place or retreat of an animal.
5. the place or region where something is native or most common.
6. any place of residence or refuge: a heavenly home.
7. a person's native place or own country.
8. (in games) the destination or goal.
9. a principal base of operations or activities: The new stadium will be the home of the local football team.
10. Baseball. home plate.
11. Lacrosse. one of three attack positions nearest the opposing goal.

Geez, that was a lot of different meanings, but I think you get the idea here when I'm talking about "home".

As a Canadian, my home is Canada. I was born there and I've lived there my whole life.

As the grandson of Agnes Aitken McKintyre, born in Shettleston (Glasgow), Scotland on June 30th, 1909, my home is Scotland.

As a Jew, regardless of the level of my level of observancy, my home is Israel.

I have always said I feel at home in New York City. That it was the city that made me feel most alive. I still feel that way. I feel at home there. That said, it is not my home.

I don't identify as a Canadian, since for me being Canadian so often means finding difference between other countries and how we do things in Canada.

I felt at home, and connected to the past, in Glasgow, and Scotland and general. I felt welcomed and alive. Invigorated. Like voices and spirits from the past were talking to me.

In Italy, I felt like I was welcome and connected to the way Italians lived their lives. In fact, my Italian accent is far better than my French, and I've never taken any Italian language classes. It just feels right.

In Portugal, I also felt connected to the country and the people, in large part owing to my close ties to the country through my friends Marcos and James.

I can say that Israel can be my home any time I want, but it is not my home.

Toronto is my home.

I am a Torontonian. In the good way, not in the Toronto-is-the-centre-of-the-world/Canada way.

Here is what I missed about home.

Having the chance to tell Jodi about my day, and listen to what happened in her day. Cooking/baking for her while she's working, watching TV and/or I'm listening/watching TV and/or listening to music that makes me vibrant and vital.

Black Camel sandwiches (had one yesterday!), Burrito Boyz Halibut burrito, Mill Street beer, Beau's beer, The Globe & Mail, my dear friends/family (Remember you choose your friends, but not your family), my parents, working/earning a cheque, grocery shopping, cooking and baking in my own kitchen (and with my own utensils/appliances/pots/pans), Friday dinners with Wally & Gitta, access to my clothes/not living out a rucksack, wearing any/all of my Nikes, listening to any music I want to, watching TV in English, not having to figure out what people are saying to me and being able to ask/answer questions without difficulty, reading eye/NOW/fab and Xtra! weekly, free events around town, green spaces, the Distillery District, Church Street, Queen Street, my slow cooker, having a fridge and freezer, the wine/chocolate fridge, drag queens, Halloween on Church Street, working out, wandering aimlessly along a street just because I can and knowing where I am/was, admiring how areas have changed while at the same time being horrified at what happens to others, the revitalization of Regent Park and being close enough to my nephews, niece and new little cousins that I can see if so inclined.

The TTC. I love their simple, yet woefully under-developed subway system.

Our bed. Our bed is a beautiful thing. Right now it's in storage, but it's there and closer as we travel from Tel Aviv to London, and then London to Toronto. Mind you, until we have our own mailing address, it's going to stay in storage. This makes me sad.

Irn-Bru and San Benedetto iced tea. These are things that I can get in Toronto. I could get Irn-Bru in the UK and San Benedetto iced tea in Italy. I could not get both of them in one place. Except Toronto.

Our scotch collection. Also, the tequila.

I'm sure there's more, but that's what comes to mind.


It's a state of mind.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Electronic Carpet Bombing

Most of you know that Jodi and I had our bags lost in transit while flying from Milano to London to Tel Aviv. Jodi thought it would be a good blog post to share the emails that we sent them.

I agree. Very little information has been changed.

Email #1 - Subject: British Airways Customer Relations Nightmare

Wednesday January 13th, 2010.

Re: British Airways File Reference #ABC123

Gentlemen and Ladies:

I know you're busy people, but I think this is something that needs to be brought to your attention.

You currently have two very unhappy customers. Our names are David Kruger and Jodi Rice, we are on our honeymoon, and we have spent about $2000 (CDN) with your airline and are sorely disappointed with the misinformation provided by British Airways following the delay of our bags this past week during the snowstorms in London. This misinformation has led us to make purchases that we have now been told may not be covered by your liability policy.

First, some background: We booked a flight with your airline in August from Toronto to Tel Aviv because we knew we would be treated the way we expected to be treated, and also because we knew that we wouldn't have to worry about anything. For the most part, we have been very pleased with the level of service offered by British Airways in flight and on the ground.

We booked a flight from Milano (MXP) to Heathrow (LHR) on January 7, 2010 in order to continue on with our flight to Tel Aviv. Our flight was meant to leave MXP at 19:45, but with the bad weather was delayed. We were told by the British Airways (BA) representative to take our bags to “Bulky Bags” at MXP at 17:45 – two hours beforehand. In the meantime, we diligently checked online (at our own expense) to see if the flight (BA 581) would be canceled, or when it was scheduled to depart.

My wife and I are both school-teachers, on a sabbatical year, and we're conscientious people. We didn't want to put anyone, including ourselves, in a precarious position by checking in our luggage too soon, so we didn't do so until 20:30, when we wanted to make sure our bags would be on our flight, which was pushed back until 22:30.

Let me now tell you about our luggage, and why it mattered so much to us. We left Toronto on September 20, 2009 and have travelled through Scotland, Ireland, North Ireland, London, Amsterdam, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. These bags have all our “worldly belongings” on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as several important gifts. Because of flight restrictions, our toiletries and bottled souvenirs (alcohol and olive oil) are in the checked luggage as well.

Our carry-on luggage has our important medications, electronics, books, some fragile souvenirs and some snacks.

We got on the plane and it took off. The flight was great. The aircrew was fantastic, as to be expected, and the captain informative and charming. We landed in Heathrow without incident at about 23:30. However, the airplane couldn't get a stand, which delayed things, and we then had to stand in line at Customs for an hour or so.

Upon entering the Baggage Hall sometime after 1am, we didn't see our luggage. In fact, we heard an announcement saying that there would be no more baggage delivered and we were to leave the Baggage Hall. Amidst the understandable chaos, we found a BA employee and he gave us a form to fill out. We also realized that the Tube wasn't running and we wouldn't be able to get to our hotel. He said that BA would pay for the cab ride, and gave us a card with a number to call about our baggage, saying that they would be delivered to us, probably the next day.

So, without our baggage, on our honeymoon, with no toiletries and no clothes but those we were wearing – which thankfully/luckily were hiking boots and a few layers of jackets, we waited for 30 minutes in the freezing cold to get a cab to our hotel.

We got to our hotel about about 3 AM, and stumbled into bed. In the morning my wife started calling BA in an attempt to find out where our bags where. The number on the card didn't seem to be active, or was overloaded with callers. A friend in London also tried to call various BA numbers and got a number different from the one we had. The following are in fact snippets of the friend's online chat with Jodi while the friend tried to call:

Jodi: i'm worried that a) our bags didn't even get on in Italy (things were pretty lackadaisacal there) and b) our form might get lost in the shuffle from last night, or not processed in time to get our bags to us before we leave

at this stage i'd just be happy being reassured that they actually know where our bags are and are processing them

between not having eaten since lunch yesterday, being up all night and all this stress, i'm sick and am trying to force down corn flakes like one corn flake at a time and of course all my drugs are in my bag

[and, after we finally got hold of a BA representative:]

we got her [the British Airways rep] to have the bags sent on to israel asap and we will buy stuff to keep us tided over here and get it reimbursed

So, as you can see, we were deeply concerned about our luggage and took many steps in order to speak with someone at BA about what we could/should do. We were prepared to go to Heathrow to pick up our baggage if need be. We were told by a woman (with an Irish accent?) with the initials of “X” not to go to Heathrow because it would be a waste of time, but instead to go and buy what we needed for two days in London. Jodi asked about what the upper limit was, and she was told to get what we needed and BA would be very reasonable in reimbursing us. Understandably, the BA representative told us to buy just a couple of days' worth of clothes, and to stay away from the designer shops.

Fair enough! This is what we did.

We've kept all our receipts, and I won't itemize them here, but in a nutshell they include:

Toiletries (such as shampoo, deodorant, contact lens solution, toothbrushes and paste, razors), winter hat/scarf, underwear, socks, shirts, pants, a guide book (we had one in our luggage, but needed to plan for a month in Israel), and a small backpack to put this new clothing in, as we already had a full carry-on each. Nothing extravagant. No designer shops. Just two adults who needed to make sure they could function appropriately in London. Mind you, we didn't buy shoes, although our hiking boots were inappropriate for city walking and led to back, foot and knee soreness after three straight days in Italy and London. The total of these expenditures is 333.43 GBP + 88.40 GBP for the cab from Heathrow, for a total thus far of 421.83 GBP.

So our intrepid honeymooners leave London's Heathrow Airport Sunday January 10th in the morning, on a flight to Tel Aviv. We're leaving without our luggage – our luggage that was meant to fly with us Thursday January 7th. That's 2 ½ days without our luggage. We understand the logistical problems involved in directing thousands of pieces of delayed and lost luggage following the unexpected weather and flight cancellations, but at this stage we're not even sure our bags have made it to Heathrow in the first place, and no one can seem to enlighten us.

Going on faith, we get on the flight, assuming that our bags are going to be at Ben Gurion Airport. I bet you're on the edge of your seat wondering if they were there. Well, to save you the anticipation, sadly, they weren't.

We've gone from Milano to London to Tel Aviv without the comfort of our own underwear, socks, anti-perspirants, contact lens solution, pants, shirts, shoes, and without knowing if three very important gifts were going to ever make it to the intended recipients. Jodi now has a cold and those cold medications we had are in our lost bags.

Once again, we enter another country without our bags. Instead of snow and freezing temperatures, we now have sun and temperatures in the 20s Celsius, but no shoes, shorts, or sunscreen. And once again, we need to make some purchases in order to live with some degree of comfort.

So we buy shoes suitable for the weather and for walking long distances in the city, and a couple of short-sleeved shirts each. We need more toiletries, since we don't have several things we need, and which are in our toiletry bags, wherever they are. The total for these purchases is 1171.88 NIS (or 195.64 GBP).

We still have not purchased shorts.

Monday, we continue to check on things online. Our bags have not been found. We check the BA website and see that you deal with a company in Israel for your luggage. We called QAS (http://www.qasisrael.co.il/) and are told that someone would call us back the next day (Tuesday, January 12th) but no one does.

On Tuesday, we call the number again at the end of the day, and speak to Y, who tells us that one bag has been found and will be delivered by the end of the next day (Wednesday, January 13th).

He also tells us that passengers travelling “Tourist Class” (we flew “Euro Traveller” from Milano to London and “World Traveller” from London to Tel Aviv) are allowed 25-75 GBP, after 24 hours, to spend on necessities. I don't know if Euro Traveller and/or World Traveller are the same as Tourist Class, but this was not information we were given by “X” in London.

This bombshell is unacceptable. Having been told by two people (one at the airport, another on the BA Customer Service line) not to worry about any kind of limit but to make reasonable purchases, which we did, and being reassured that they would be reimbursed, and then being told by another that we exceeded more than half our limit simply by taking a taxi – our only option at 2am – is misleading, upsetting, and downright ridiculous.

Appalled, we asked to speak to someone with more authority than Y to discuss our concerns, but were told no such person was available, but that someone could call us back. We never received such a call. We were growing increasingly disappointed, having hoped for much better from BA, given its reputation for customer relations.

So we now sit and wait., unable to carry on with our planned travel in Israel, unable to book hotels, B&Bs, tour companies and operators, and putting friends and family who are expecting us into difficult positions, because we are not able to travel. We had planned to go to Petra, Jordan, but our sleeping bags are in our baggage, and you can no doubt appreciate that we have been reluctant to make any more purchases, particularly any that might be deemed “unnecessary”.

As of this morning, it would seem that both our bags had been found and were expected in Tel Aviv from Heathrow on a flight today. Were our bags not to show up today, we would be forced to buy shorts. Again, a necessary expenditure. If we are without our bags tomorrow, we will need to buy “nicer” clothing, since it is my 40th birthday and we have reservations at a restaurant that will not allow us to show up in jeans. Jodi will need to buy a skirt to attend any religious services and to visit several conservative religious sites in Jerusalem.

These expenditures are not our responsibility, since they would not be a problem if we had our baggage.

Since the first part of this letter was written, we have encountered further carelessness from British Airways and their agents.

Upon checking online today (Wednesday), we learned that one bag was delivered to Tel Aviv on a flight that landed at 16:19 today, but as of this writing, at 22:50, it still had yet to be delivered. This is hardly prompt and expedient customer service! We have been without this bag for six days, and it seemingly won't be delivered until tomorrow.

You may be wondering where the other bag is. Apparently, it is at Chicago O'Hare (ORD). How this bag ended up in Chicago is beyond all comprehension and is tearing the last strands of stretched patience we have remaining. The complete and utter incompetent, negligent illiteracy is unbelievable!

Immediately, we called QAS back. Our record now showed that only one bag was missing, not two – they knew where the bag was in Tel Aviv, but were apparently unaware that they had sent the other bag to a completely different and unaccountably absurd second destination. Aside from re-labeling that bag for proper forwarding to Israel, Z at QAS wasn't able to help us beyond supplying two numbers for BA customer service here in Israel. At the first, A at BA's offices in Tel Aviv was sympathetic to our plight, but couldn't help us, and she gave us a number to call for BA at the Tel Aviv airport. This number didn't work, so I tried the other number from Z and at that point I got a number that wasn't answered. At this point we were so frustrated we called it a night.

So, here we sit with no baggage for six days.

We expect to hear back from someone at British Airways tomorrow. My 40th birthday. I have had better birthdays and, frankly, better moments on my honeymoon. 967-1111.

We also expect full compensation for our expenditures, and at this point, we think it appropriate to be compensated above and beyond that for the time required to deal with the ineptitude of British Airways and its agents, and the pain and suffering we have had to endure because of time lost on our honeymoon.

Yours truly, and none too happily,

David Kruger & Jodi Rice.

P.S. This has been sent to the entire list of Directors available to me at reuters.com. If I have excluded the relevant and responsible person to deal with this, I will expect someone to forward this along. Many thanks.

Email #2

Thursday January 14th, 2010.

Mr. Walsh, (President/CEO BA)

Since several of these email addresses "bounced back", and company.secretary@ba.com is out of the office until 1/18/10, I figured I would try your email address directly.

Mr. Lord (Director of Operations), I apologize for the duplication, but I wanted both of you to know that I had sent this email to each of you.

I expect to hear back from someone at BA today.

Yours truly,

David Kruger.

Surprise Email

They didn't realize that I had Cc'ed Jodi on the initial email, and I didn't do it to be nefarious or anything, but it meant that when they passed around information internally, she got a couple of emails. Like this:

"Another one for your team please. Many thanks. I will follow process on Nirvana." P to K.

"I've read through the customer's email and passed this one on to be prioritised this morning."

(The job title KILLS ME!!!)
Third Party and Continuous Improvement Manager
Customer Relations

Email #3 - Subject: British Airways Customer Relations Nightmare - Continued

Monday January 18, 2010.

Good evening Mr. H.

I unfortunately find it necessary to contact British Airways once again, since we're continuing to suffer as a result of the incidents associated with the misplacement and painfully inappropriate shipping of my wife's bag to Chicago. Rehashing the content of my previous email would seem unnceccessary, as I'm sure you're well aware of what happened to our bags.

I do however find it necessary to point out a few dates. We flew from Milano to London on January 7th and from London to Tel Aviv on January 10th. We received my bag on January 14th. We still have yet to receive my wife's bag, which presumably is on its way from Chicago to Israel. Supposedly it was sent two days ago from Chicago, and last I checked it's not that long to fly from the U.S. to Israel.

We had planned to go walking/hiking at Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea. We've postponed the trip waiting for my wife's bag, which has our hiking pants and bathing suits. We have now had to cancel that trip and are hoping to be able to find the time before we leave the country, since a) hiking pants here are too expensive, and b) we have one pair of hiking pants and swimsuits and don't need another pair.

My wife's travel pillow and sleeping bag are in her bag, so she's without those, and again, we don't need to buy another one to have two of these.

I'd throw in the fact that her umbrella is in her checked luggage (fear of it being considered a weapon), and it poured today, but that just seems to be adding something in to have you feel sorry for us.

Then again, I guess that's what I'm trying to get across here. British Airways has misplaced our bags, caused us to buy clothing we didn't want to buy in the first place, spend hours of our time while on vacation to find/buy these things, and still we don't have my wife's bag.

We're now hoping to find out that the bag will be in Rishon L'Ziyyon when we get back there tomorrow - which is an unplanned trip - as we need the sleeping bag to continue on with our travels to Eilat and Petra, Jordan.

I do want to thank you for the debit card with 620 GBP on it. That was great, but truth be told, and a welcome surprise. But we're unsure of what role it serves. When told about the debit card's existence, my wife asked if it was instead of the compensation, in addition to the compensation or a part of the compensation. She didn't get an answer from the BA rep she asked.

As well, my wife was really pleased with the way that A.H. approached the situation when she was on the phone with him. She felt reassured that things would be handled the way we expected them to be when we booked with British Airways in the first place, and after her conversation with your rep in London.

Thanks so much for taking the time to deal with our issues/concerns, which I know aren't the biggest problem your airline has to deal with, but for us they're a huge problem and I suspect you realize that.

Yours truly,

David Kruger & Jodi Rice

P.S. We received an email from M @ BA Israel, and his reference number
(ABC123) is different from our BA case reference number (XYZ987). I have Cc'ed him (the email address I have for him) and the two email addresses I have for QAS, so they know about our desire to have the bag in Rishon L'Ziyyon tomorrow.

Email #4 - Subject: British Airways Customer Relations Nightmare - Part III

Tuesday January 19, 2010.

Mr. H.

This is starting to get ridiculous.

We have received two phone calls from QAS using words like, "maybe", "hopefully" and other non-committal terminology as it pertains to a bag that was supposed to be in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Apparently it's in London.

This is unacceptable, and while I appreciate that Mssrs. H., Walsh, Lord and B. have more important things to do than receive emails from a Kindergarten teacher from Toronto, my time is worth money as well. A lot of my time has been wasted with this. My wife's too. Our energy. Our happiness.

Our honeymoon.

This has been a huge source of stress for us, and on that note I'm including a little reading for you folks, which I hope you'll take the few minutes to read. And just before the link I ask this question:

How much is my time worth?


I know for me, this isn't my job. I'm not getting paid to try and get back our bag, that contains gifts, souvenirs and things that frankly we don't want to replace. Truth be told, I have close to 900 friends on Facebook who are expecting to hear a happy outcome from this, so that they continue to have confidence in British Airways.

I just want the damn bag returned to us tomorrow, so that we can attempt to salvage some of our time in Israel, where we have been for 9 days without feeling grounded and happy. We have been without our bag for 12 days now.

T-W-E-L-V-E D-A-Y-S!!!

Yours truly,

David Kruger.

The Conclusion

We got our bags back. Mine took a week and Jodi's took two weeks.

We got fed up and considering we were told to replace what was in the bags, and we were covered by the Montreal Convention for up to 1900 GBP, we went to the Israeli version of MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), LeMaytayel, in the Dizengoff Centre and spent 5600 skekels (about $1600 CDN) doing just that.

Jodi's bag got here the next day.

How and why her bag went from MXP to LHR to ORD, instead of TLV, we'll never know.

To be honest, we're sick of telling the story, but we're REALLY good at tag-teaming it and could probably be convinced to pull it out at some point. For a meal or a place to sleep (Yes Dawn/Dee/Ro, we know you're going to have something to say about this! Heh.)

I thought it would be nice to include the two emails from our new best friend at BA, A.H. to finish it up.

Thank you very much for your email addressed to our senior management team. I was delighted to hear that you have received both of your bags. I would like this opportunity to thank you again for taking the time to speak to me on the telephone. It was very nice speaking to you and your new wife.

The baggage problems you experienced on your flight from Milan must have been extremely frustrating, particularly as it took two weeks to return both pieces of luggage. I am very sorry that your birthday and honeymoon were affected by the delay. Clearly we let you and Mrs Rice down.

We know that getting our customers’ bags to the right place is a critical part of our operation. That’s why we worked so hard to improve the baggage system at Terminal 5, and it is now one of the most advanced systems in the world. However, during the disruption period we recently experienced, we did face problems with the system. This resulted in your bag being incorrectly rerouted and prevented an earlier delivery. Please accept my apologies.

I do appreciate the efforts you made to keep your essential purchases to a minimum. We have altered the standard procedure to enable myself to deal with your baggage claim. This should improve the efficiency and resolution of your claim.

I would be grateful if you could send an itemised list, including the dates of purchase, values and receipt of the essential items you and Mrs Rice were required to buy throughout the affected period. Our address is:

(We know what it is)

Alternatively, you may fax the claim directly to me on #. Please mark the documents for my attention and reference your case number, ABC123.

To make some amends for the baggage failures, I would like to offer you and your wife a complimentary space-available one-way upgrade for your return to Toronto. This will include both flights from Tel Aviv and London Heathrow.

I must emphasise that it will depend on the availability of seats on the day, so I’m afraid we will only be able to confirm that you have in fact been upgraded when you get to the departure gates just before your flights leave.

As long as there is space in the next highest cabin to the one you booked, we'll be happy to upgrade you. If you have prepaid for your seating and your upgrade is successful, we will not be able to refund the seating fee.

If we find we can't upgrade you for either one of your flights, you will be considered for an upgrade the next time you travel with us - though again, it will have to depend on the higher class seats being available on the day. If this is necessary, please reply using the link below, and provide me with your new booking details.

Thank you again for your time and your patience. We look forward to welcoming you and Mrs Rice on board for your return to Canada, and hope you enjoy the remainder of your holiday.

Best regards

And then,

Dear Mr Kruger

Thank you for your email regarding your upcoming return to Canada and for providing me with your booking details.

I can confirm that I have added the upgrade requests into your booking. I will also send messages to both airports the day before your departure to ensure they are aware of the requests.

Should you need to make a claim for any additional essential expenses that we are unable to cover, I will be able to provide any relevant baggage information to support a claim on your travel insurance.

I look forward to receiving your baggage claim and hope that you and Mrs Rice are offered the space available upgrades on your return to Toronto in February.

Best regards

Israel -- as tourist, not visitor

"How many times have you been in Israel?"

"This is my fifth."

Suspicious glance from the Israeli border guard between Aqaba, Jordan and Eilat. "Fifth?"

"Yesh li mishpachah be'Rishon LeZion." ("I have family in Rishon LeZion.")

So, yes, this is now my fifth time coming to Israel. But in a certain way, it's the first.

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, now, but it's been hard to really crystallize and put into words the difference between my previous visits and this one. "Visit" is a key word -- when it comes down to it, it's the difference between being a visitor and being a tourist. But how to define and illustrate that difference?

The difference itself struck me while David and I were wandering through a part of Jerusalem that I really hadn't seen before. Four previous visits to Israel and I felt like I was seeing the city for the first time.

"You know, in all the times I've been to the Old City, I really haven't been anywhere but the Jewish Quarter?" I told him, faintly wonderous at the revelation.

David was more than faintly wonderous; he was incredulous. "Really??"

It was true. I had been to all the important landmarks of the Old City -- at least, important in terms of Jewish national and historic identity. Other parts of the city were incidental to those visits: you might make a pass through the Arab part of the shouk on your way to the Kotel, for example, or glance at severely-clad Armenian priests walking along the Via Dolorosa as curiosities. Once, when it was still open to tourists, I walked barefoot into the Dome of the Rock and touched the cool, perfumed stone where the world is said to have begun.

But being a visitor meant that our itinerary and experiences were usually tied to whatever it was that brought us to Israel in the first place, usually a family event like a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding. Our "home base" would be my aunt and uncle's home in Rishon, and most sightseeing would be confined to day-trips when there was time in between celebrations, family get-togethers, hanging-out-with-cousins time.

Only one time before had I come to Israel without a celebration, a simchah, at the centre of our trip: when I graduated from university in 1995 and I travelled just with my Dad. The most memorable part of that trip was a two-day trip to Jordan to see Petra and Wadi Rum. In fact, I don't really remember much else from that trip at all, though we probably stayed here for at least 10 days, if not longer, so we must have done other things.

So in planning Israel as our last stop on this trip, I sort of had the idea that it would be a lot like every other time I had come here, but with a month to spend rather than just a couple of weeks. Two weeks always went by so quickly; when I was last here, for my cousin Nadav's wedding, I cursed myself for spending only two weeks, as my flight took me home just as the other cousins were gearing up for a weekend trip to the Sinai for some serious beach time.

But this visit has been almost entirely different in an almost undefinable way -- I can only again point to the difference between being a visitor and being a tourist.

A visitor comes to hang out with her hosts; a tourist comes to see something.

Throughout almost our whole trip, we have been tourists. The only time seeing something wasn't our priority was when we HelpX'ed in France.

I suspect that for David, the expectations about coming to Israel were not that different than those about going to any other country: there were things to see and do, cultures to experience, foods and drinks to taste. Technically, I had already ticked the major sights in Israel off my list: the beaches and markets of Tel Aviv, the Wailing Wall, Yad VaShem, Masada, the Dead Sea, even the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa.

So it was weird being here with a guidebook in hand. Suddenly, I felt bewildered, even unprepared. I wasn't relying on someone else to plan my route, and yet I didn't have a clue where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see. People had sent us literally dozens of suggestions in response to David's canvassing them for opinions of what to do while in Israel, and they all sounded good -- but shouldn't we start with the big, important ones, even if I'd seen them before? Could we even fit the off-the-beaten-path destinations in once we'd filled exhausting days with the usual sightseeing ones?

And how would we get to them? Suddenly I had to learn to negotiate the public transit system. I'd never done that before, and I didn't have a clue. Certainly it was no different than doing so in all the other countries we'd been in... but I'd never been a visitor in those countries, only a tourist, so I was used to looking up schedules and routes, asking drivers and other passengers. It felt weird to be doing so in Israel.

And I could speak the language... sort of. I mean, I was in Hebrew immersion school until I was 12. If someone speaks slowly, uses language no more sophisticated than a Grade 6 vocabulary, and gives me enough context, I can figure out what's being said. I can pick out a few words at a time on a sign. But deciphering more than that is as much an exercise in frustration for me as for anyone else trying to deal with Hebrew -- maybe more so, since it defies the expectation that I should be able to get by. (I'm being a bit dramatic here -- most of the time I can get by, because most Israelis both speak English and are very forgiving to people making an earnest attempt to speak Hebrew. But the reading is still a word-at-a-time pain in the @$$.)

OK, you must be thinking by now, what a rotten time she seems to be having in Israel. She's missing the comforts of being there with Mummy and Daddy, of being chauffeured everywhere, of having a personal translator, of sticking within familiar boundaries.

Of course not! I'm having a great time... it's just taken a little while to get adjusted to being a tourist here, and now that I feel as though I'm quite adjusted, it's almost time to go. Typical! No matter how much time I book myself in this country, it's never quite enough!

I loved, of course, hanging out with my aunt and uncle in their crazy, funky, art-gallery-cum-#1-guesthouse-in-Israel.

I loved walking aimlessly around the streets of Tel Aviv, even if half our time there seemed to be devoted to trying to find clothing to replace the stuff that was in my 2-weeks'-late backpack.

Jerusalem was fascinating, as ever, though even with 4 days there we felt we left it only half explored.

Tiberias was less than inspiring, and we left the north too early because my stomach once again rebelled, but the time we spent in the Galilee and the Golan revealed a startlingly green, mountainous expanse I didn't really fully appreciate before now.

Eilat was as tacky as I remembered -- tackier -- but offered one of the absolute best relaxation experiences ever and was our gateway to Petra.

I had never before climbed Masada at 5:30am to witness dawn breaking over the Jordanian mountains, and it was at once gruelling and exhilarating, and I'm glad we did it.

And, believe it or not, although I had visited the Dead Sea before, I had never floated on it or rubbed its black mineral mud all over myself. Now I have photos of both -- an absolutely essential Israeli tourist cliche.
We're now spending a few days on a moshav just south of the Dead Sea, on the border with Jordan, called Neot HaKikar. Although initially our intention was to work with/for the farmers here, it's been tough finding something to do, in part because the farmer our host intended to hook us up with is on vacation in Germany, in part because the farms are largely staffed already by a very industrious and amusingly incongruous workforce of Thais, and, not insignificantly, because the farmers don't understand why we want to be anything but tourists here.

I think normally I would object to their way of thinking, but, after all my time here, I just can't find it in me to do so.
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Friday, January 8, 2010

An Unexpected Travel Advisory

Hello there Fearless Readers (or Dawn, Ray, Andrea and our parents!)

I wasn't planning on writing this blog post, but then again, I wasn't planning on doing a lot of things in the past couple of days.

The travel advisory isn't about drinking the water in some country, or not traveling to some country because of disease or war. Nope, it's about knowing that in some countries, or some restaurants in some countries you need to prepared for free food.

It's NOT FREE!!!

(Truth be told, this wasn't the blog post I was referring to when I said I wasn't planning to write it. Truth is that it's just after 8:00 AM in London, and I'm hungry and I'm thinking about food. It's something I do a lot. Think about food. I love to think about food. Meals past, meals present, fantasy meals, ideal meals, best meals.....)

Well, the "free" food I'm referring to is the food you get at the start of a meal in Spain, Portugal, Italy and also Indian/South Asian restaurants. In Spain, you might get olives and something else. Ask how much they are, as they're rarely free. In Portugal, again, it's olives, cheese and something else. Again, rarely free. In Italy it's bread. Bread at the start or bread during the meal.

Folks, READ the menu! Look for couvert/cover/service/bread/pain/pane on the menu and it will often tell you how much things are. If you're not sure, ask.\

"How much is this?"

Last night was the three lovely sauces we got upon sitting down at a GREAT Indian restaurant near Whitechapel Station on the Tube in London. Whitechapel of course makes me think of the line from the Beastie Boys "Slow and Low" and "White Castle fries only come in one size". And also "Harold & Kumar go to White Castle". But that's me. So the three sauces came and so did four popppadoms.

The poppadoms were on the bill.

No biggie. But ask so you aren't surprised when the bill comes. And the food at Tayyabs was REALLY good and REALLY reasonable. Not cheap. Reasonable.

Back to the unexpected blog post.

As you may have figured out, we're in London. It seems our bags will meet us in Tel Aviv at Anne/Arie's. Jodi's aunt/uncle and two AMAZING people. If you were at the wedding Arie is the mastermind/creator of our ketubah (wedding document or Jewish pre-nuptial agreement).

We were supposed to fly easyjet to London's Gatwick from Milano's Malpensa at 4:25 Thursday afternoon. When we checked just before leaving our hotel, our flight was set to go. Upon arriving at the airport, we found it was cancelled.

Our choices were to change our flight or cancel our flight. Both options were to be done online. No other way to do it. To say that travel has changed in the electronic age is an understatement.

So we pulled out the netbook, paid 10 euros and tried to change our flight to later in the day. No luck. Only chance to fly on easyjet from Milan to London, where we had a room booked, was to fly out Friday night. We really wanted to be in London (as we are meant to fly to Tel Aviv early Sunday morning) to meet friends, do some things in the "English" world and enjoy a city we've been in twice already on this trip. Still, no guarantee that the easyjet Friday night flight would go from Milan to Gatwick.

We searched a site that we've looked at before (edreams.com) and found a relatively cheap flight on British Airways from Milan Malpensa (Terminal 1 versus 2) and Heathrow versus Gatwick (more runways and therefore a better chance of flying, PLUS if we were cancelled with BA, we'd get put up in a hotel and fly out the next day, versus being stuck with no options.) But we didn't want to book with them, because if the flight didn't go, we weren't sure if we would have any "standing" with British Airways.

So, we cancelled our easyjet flight, but we're not 100% sure we're going to be get our refund because we first tried to change our flight and didn't just cancel it. We looked on BA's website and found the same flight that we found on edreams.com for a little less, and we booked it.

We then moved all our worldly belongings from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1, and looked for the British Airways counter. After walking all around, we finally found it. Now when I say walking around, I mean walking around. It's a fair-sized terminal, and we walked up and down it twice. With our rucksacks (mine is just over 20 kilos (45 pounds for you Imperial folks - and while I'm at it...if the Americans were so pissed off with the British that the American Revolution happened, when are you still using their units of measure?!?!?! Just asking yo! And Jodi's is a few kilos less.) and we each have a carry-on bag.

The British Airways counter was near the guys with guns. We found out later that El Al was near the BA counter, and that means there's heightened security. So there are guns. I should be more used to guns, since I've seen assault rifles of differing forms in Gatwick when flying to Amsterdam and all over Italy. Guns, guns, guns. Tonnes of guns. And let's remember that I'm heading to Israel, where I will see more....anybody? GUNS!

Back to the counter. We picked a good time to stand in the VERY short line, because ten minutes later it was a VERY long line. About 40 people long in fact. There was one guy sitting at the desk/counter. One guy and a lot of people. He got heckled a little bit, and BOY did he ever shoot back a long and deadly stare. He could have been a teacher. Or a librarian.

We got our boarding pass and our luggage was tagged, but couldn't check it in because it was too early. We were then meant to fly out at 7:45. So, we sat down and had our lunch. Yep, we made a lunch. Buns we bought in Venezia, with basil olive oil we bought in Siena (?), with cheese we bought in Siena, with prosciutto we bought in Milano. I also found it necessary to buy a 500 mL bottle of peach San Benedetto iced tea, a 500 mL bottle of Chino from San Pellegrino, a 660 mL bottle of Nastro Azzuro beer, a 660 mL bottle of Moretti beer and a litre bottle of milk (lactose-free milk it turns out, since I only was able to make out "milk" and "partially skimmed" in my not-so-good Italian).

We still had our rucksacks, so I was able to use Jodi's Swiss Army knife to open the beer instead of having to use my teeth (which I wouldn't) or try to find a counter-top to do the macho/cool guy bottle opening trick that I'm not too good at, for obvious reasons. I usually break the bottle neck, and that's really wrong at the best of times, but especially when you're in an airport and there are guys with guns nearby.

Long and short of it, we ate our lunch, drank some beer, drank some chino (Keeno, for those of you following along at home!), ate some yummy cookies that Jodi wanted. Nutella filled chocolate chip nuggets of goodness, checked the web/email/British Airways and Heathrow sites, and checked in our luggage around 8:30, and FINALLY flew out at about 10:20.

We landed in London around 11:30 local time and waited a bit to be granted a stand to be let off the plane. They've been backlogged because of the awful cold, snow and ice in London/England, and it's been devilishly awful. The captain was AMAZING, as he chatted along the flight, telling us if he was going to go right or left at certain points, and informing us a lot while on the ground about the situation we were in. Truth is, we were some of the lucky ones, as we were ACTUALLY able to fly in to Heathrow/London! We were off the plane after midnight, I do believe.

We then had the pleasure of standing in the customs line at Terminal 5 for well over an hour. I don't know if you've been in this line, but about 1/4 of the way along there's a sign that reads, (something along the lines of) "You're 45 minutes away from the front of the line". We finally got through around 1:30, and headed to the baggage area.

Which is when we found out that the bags weren't coming off the plane, and had to leave the baggage area. There were cops with guns. I thought the Brits didn't have cops with guns. As with so many other times on this trip, I thought wrong.

So, there we are. Our carry-on luggage - which doesn't have our toiletries! - and the clothing we've been wearing all day. In both our cases, the clothing we were wearing wouldn't quite qualify as "spring-time" fresh, and was washed using soap. As in handsoap, not laundry detergent.

At the best of times, to get from Heathrow's Terminal 5 to Bow Road Station would be a long trek. Jodi figures about 90 minutes to 2 hours. But, the Tube (subway) stops running at 11:30 pm.

We then waited in line for a taxi. A long line. In the cold.

Around 2:00 or so.

The cost of the cab from Heathrow to our hotel near Bow Road Station?

90 pounds, or about 150 dollars CDN.

So, no bags but a bed.

Thanks to my friend from Toronto (Mariza), who lives in London (until the end of the month, when she moves to Athens, Greece with her fiancee), and Skype and the British Airways customer service woman from Ireland, and the front desk fella at the hotel.....we were able to figure out that we would/should go shopping for clothing/toiletries while in London.

UNIQLO (Japanese clothing store we love) and BOOTS (formerly in Canada, for those of you old enough to remember)!!!


So, we had super duper South Asian lunch down the street from the hotel (Bengali "fast food" heaven!!!) and super duper South Asian dinner (with Mariza and Ilias) at Tayyabs near Whitechapel Station. So we've been well fed. In fact, the leftovers from lunch are going to go well with some green onions and mushrooms for breakfast.

We went shopping and I got new socks, underwear, jeans (Jodi likes 'em!), shirts and a hoodie from UNIQLO, and new toiletries from Boots. I certainly got things I wanted/needed and in some cases, things that I needed and would have bought in London regardless.

Still need to get a few more things, like another bag to travel with, since we have lots of liquids that can't go on the plane, but we're doing well. Mind you, I wouldn't normally be walking around in a city in my hiking boots, but....can't win 'em ALL!

So, that's our story from here.

Oh ya. I've been craving GOOD beer since we were in Belgium and wanted to get a pint or two of real ale from The Little Driver, across the street from our hotel. Jodi wanted to get home, so we popped into the Co-operative (one of my FAVE stores!) and got some bits and pieces for breakfast, licorice allsorts, gum and two bottles of beer. SO GOOD!!! I can't wait for the real ale tonight, PLUS we're going to Vinopolis (Mark, we're actually going!) on Jodi's brother's suggestion, and I'm psyched for that too.

Borough Market is something that's been suggested by quite a few people, so it's on tap for today. We fly out STUPIDLY early tomorrow, so we're not going to be doing much, other than dragging our asses out of bed and getting to the airport.

THOUGH, with the snow that's expected today/tomorrow, we may not be flying out tomorrow.


It could be worse. We could be on easyjet.

"Sorry. Your flight has been cancelled. You have to rebook or get a refund. Online."

To think how f**ked we would have been without the netbook.

Thanks again Joe and Alessandra!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Things I've learned/realized/appreciated in 3+ months away

Things I've learned/realized/appreciated thus far, while away for three-plus months.

The best licorice allsorts and wine gums are in the UK.

Getting socks on a British Airways flight is a good thing when you're in Bologna, Italy three months later and need socks. Navy blue or otherwise.

You appreciate a good meal, whether it's unexpectedly on an airplane, train, you make it, it's made for you, or in a restaurant that you didn't expect to enjoy so much.

Good airplane landings should not be taken for granted.

The UK has some REALLY good food. Marks & Spencer has good deals on lunches (sandwiches, crisps/chips and drinks) but their drinks have "nasties" - artificial sweeteners that make them taste....nasty. Pret a Manger (now in NYC) and Wagamama come to mind has SUPERFLY! Pret's drinks don't have "nasties", and it's where I got the term "nasties" from!

Russell Peters may joke about the Indians running after the English when they left (wanting to feed them!), but some of the best curry I've had has been in England (Shampan in Brick Lane, The Wee Curry Shop in Glasgow and Melati in London come to mind), though it was top-notch in Lagos, Portugal too. Probably 'cause there are so many Brits there!

I like Uniqlo best in NYC. The Paris store was expensive and PACKED, and the London store wasn't as big and fabulous.

I don't like bunk beds and I don't like dorm rooms.

I like museums that aren't in the "salon style" (Louvre!) and LOVE free ones (London in general).

I love Robert Mapplethorpe and am thankful to have seen his work side-by-side with Michaelangelo's, as I found it inspiring and life affirming.

I appreciate well-dressed people, especially when I'm carting around a rucksack!

I appreciate good/sexy beer, since I haven't had any since Belgium - which seems like a lifetime ago!

I appreciate cheap flights from Ryanair and Easyjet, and CERTAINLY appreciate the more lax weight restrictions on Easyjet (20 kg for checked luggage, versus Ryanair's 15) and British Airways (20 kg as well).

I appreciate having brainstorms (I've had one or two while away) like buying a bag in Gatwick in order to meet the weight restrictions imposed by Ryanair.

I have a new appreciation for football. Not American football, but "soccer". I want to play when we're back at home. Great game. No, I don't have a favourite team. I suspect my favourite team will always be the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I appreciate a Netbook, Flickr and an external hard-drive, in order to hold the thousands of pictures that we (me) have taken while away, and Facebook to share them with friends/family easily.

I appreciate good tours. Walking tour in Edinburgh ("free" - pay what you think the guide is worth. GREAT idea!), Belfast Black Cab tour, distillery tour at Glenmorangie, Porto port tours, a good sherry tour at Tio Pepe (Uncle Joe) in Jerez (versus the interesting tour at Sandeman's that was...interesting) and a fantastic tour of a Brunello winery in Italy.

I appreciate the work that Stonewall UK is doing for gay/same-sex rights in the UK and LOVE my new t-shirt.

I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about mom's mom's family ancestry and the chance to see where my grandmother grew up in Shettleston, (Glasgow) Scotland.

I appreciate that all we've used McDonald's for while away is a bathroom and photo ops.

I appreciate a good clean room and a good bed.

I appreciate Jodi being healthy.

I appreciate a good cup of tea. BOIL THE FREAKIN' WATER IF YOU'RE GOING TO CALL IT TEA!!!

I appreciate an "Irish Shopper" recycled plastic/reusable shopping bag that we've had since Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

I appreciate my hate/distrust for industrial meat, produce and Wal-mart more and more every day.

I appreciate a good meal, but not paying a lot for it is even better.

I appreciate things of beauty, but a) I want to be able to photograph them (Michaelangelo's "David" and The Sistine Chapel come to mind - and I did photgraph both of them!), and b) am getting sick of churches, but still think they're beautiful.

I appreciate being on a farm, but think that being on a farm should mean that you're not burning plastic period, let alone for your family/children to breathe in. That is, instead of paying to have it picked up with the garbage.

I appreciate children that aren't annoying, parents that parent when necessary and people who aren't obnoxious when drunk in public. "VIVA JOE!!!"

I appreciate good transportation, that runs on time (Italy!) with informative signage (every country except Italy).

I appreciate, for whatever reason, that the UK drives on the left side of the road while the driver is on the right side of the car, but think the car rental agency should inform you what to do if you can't get the ignition to turnover. THANK YOU to the Germans for the assistance at Loch Lomond. And for those of you reading this, it's the "other" side of the road, not the "wrong" side of the road. Mind you, it's not the "right" side of the road either, and that's a pun. I try not to be punny. That's dad humour.

I appreciate good food prices.

I REALLY appreciate good wine prices - Spain, Portugal, France (Pyrenees mainly) and Italy.

I also really appreciate good scotch prices in France and Spain. Well, almost everywhere except....Scotland.

I appreciate the good coffee we've had in Spain, Portugal and Italy, but especially Italy.

I appreciate Starbucks, but mainly for their WiFi in the UK and Northern Ireland.

I appreciate farmers' markets and so should you. If you don't already.

I appreciate that I didn't have my credit cards and/or cash in my wallet when I lost it, or was pickpocketed, in Milano.

I appreciate home cooked meals. Thanks to Alex, Jon, Deb and Maya!

I apprecite unexpected coffee and pastry - thanks Andrea in Naples (which our server in Siena called "Nipples", and it was his hometown. This made me giggle.) for that.

I appreciate the sane driving in Toronto after being in Naples and seeing the insanity that is the norm.

I appreciate being a pedestrian in any city except Amsterdam.

I appreciate modern art and don't like boring old s**t.

I appreciate that the Glasgow city council has hired translators to aid in interpreting what Glaswegians are saying. In English apparently. Which is sad, since it's the language I speak. Mind you, my Italian accent is pretty good.

I appreciate all the places we've been, but wonder what some of them are like in the summer/good weather. Some I don't ever want to see in the summer with the insanity that I'm sure runs amok.

I appreciate/expect free WiFi if there's WiFi in a hotel. Sorry, that's just me.

I appreciate English language TV and am amused (and frustrated at times) when I see English language TV shows dubbed into the local language. I ESPECIALLY appreciate when they're closed captioned with the local language and I get to hear the English.

I appreciate when I don't have to listen to the f**kin' accordion, which has been pretty much every city/country we've been in.

I appreciate a lack of exposure to lousy street performers, especially the "statues" who expect to be paid for standing still.

I appreciate that beggars in Toronto don't approach you with a cup and expect to be given money for no reason at all. Begging in the name of a saint is even worse. In my eyes.

I appreciate HelpX and Jon/Deb for potentially saving our time away.

I appreciate the doctor in ER in Barcelona who gave us Valium. Not that I've used it, but to have it was reassuring.

I appreciate Corinne in Lyon for being so generous and potentially saving our time away.

I appreciate the generosity of Pedro, who just reinforced how beautiful the Portuguese are. Or maybe it's just the Portuguese I know, and/or Marcos' family!

I appreciate our e-doctor panel of Rachel, Brigit and Zarya for saving us for good, while in Spain.

I appreciate that Jodi likes overnight trains, but the coffee served with breakfast is not enough to overcome the bunkbeds, narrow aisles and constant freakin' jostling. THOUGH, I'm sure the people standing on lonely small-town platforms in Lisboa and Madrid appreciated my mooning them!

I appreciate guide books, but hate when restaurants/bars I REALLY want to go to don't exist. Or, when the really well-reviewed places are impressive to high-school/college students who think having access to a microwave is a chance for some "fine dining".

I appreciate Jodi's sense of direction, since I'm a wee bit spatially/directionally (NOT like Emily's issues with left & right though!) and it's been a saviour. Not to mention her already existing ability to speak French and newfound ability to speak Portuguese, Italian and Spanish. Oh, and she speaks Hebrew too, which will come in Handy in Israel!

I appreciate grocery stores, but farmers' markets make me much happier. THOUGH, farmers' markets rarely, if ever, have wine for between 1 and 5 euros that is some seriously good s**t.

I appreciate small towns. I appreciate big cities. I appreciate places in-between. I'm a big-city kinda guy though. I love to people watch, and that's hard to do when there aren't any....PEOPLE!!!

I appreciate family and families. I also appreciate parenting when done right/appropriately. I can't begin to count how many times I've said, "If I would have done that when I was a child...." while away.

I appreciate all the churches we've seen (this is my second time sitting down to write this, so there may be some repetition. Deal with it!) but the Gaudi was my fave - though we only saw it from the outside. Jodi was sick in Barcelona, and I didn't want to pay and then leave. Kinda like Eddie Murphy in "Delirious" when he's talking about the black family and the haunted house. "Okay, gotta go!"

I appreciate that people are willing to try and communicate with an Anglophone, through whatever means they have readily available. This has been a delight. That and the fact that Jodi seems to understand every freakin' language under the sun.

I have enjoyed listening to all the native languages being spoken while away, but Portuguese makes me giggle and Glaswegian is just "royally" messed up! I like to pretend to talk most of the languages we've heard while away, but by far Italian is my best accent, Portuguese is my favourite to pretend I know (well, next to Italian!) and while I'm not good in Spanish, I think I'm better in Spanish than French. Which I took from grade 4 - 10. Go figure.

I appreciate that every freakin' town/city has had an Irish pub and Chinese restaurant. We've even had Chinese in Sintra, Portugal and Bologna, Italia.

I appreciate that people like fried food, and we've had some, but generally speaking not too much. The Spanish seem to like to fry a lot, as do the Portuguese. Oddly though, we didn't have much fried stuff in the UK, where they'll fry a lawn chair or hammer if someone will eat it and/or pay money for it.

I appreciate a good sandwich, and ANYONE who knows me knows this. I've had packaged sandwiches in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, bocadillos in Spain and panini in Italy.

I miss my bed at home.

I miss my slow cooker. (Thanks again Mark & Ray!)

I've appreciated all the native alcoholic beverages, but especially port in Portugal.

I've appreciated passion for food and drink, much like I have, and I firmly believe it's contagious and that food should be more than merely a means to cease your hunger or enable you to continue on with whatever activity requires calories/nutrition. Food is life, life should be passionate, and therefore, food should be passionate.

I appreciate books and magazines in English, even if I end up finding them in a pile near a garbage dumpster in Firenze, Italia. It's great when you can get UK Cosmo, Elle, Penthouse (a few good stories/articles - pig hunting (feral (wild) pigs (not sexual at all, though he was REALLY into it!), the real Sopranos from New Jersey and some other little blurbs of interest, National Geographic (no nudity) and Stars & Astrology (or some other goofy title like that).

I appreciate free publications. In English. I will read just about any free publication that has news and other stuff in it. I don't read free classifieds though. UNLESS they have Companions/Singles Ads in 'em. Then, I'll read those. I suppose that's about where I draw the line.

I appreciate public transit that alerts you to the next stop. There have been lots of examples of this, and a few where we had to scurry off at the last second. "And don't you do that again!" Like I'm going to miss the stop again? Well, I might, but Jodi wouldn't!

Every city's cathedral/basilica/duomo was the first/biggest/tallest/longest/best at something. Just look around or ask someone, and they'll be more than willing to tell you why it's best. It's like local cooking in Italia or football (the real deal!) anywhere (A-N-Y-W-H-E-R-E!!! in the UK and/or Europe!).

I appreciate "free" breakfast. We paid for the room, it's not "free", it's INCLUDED!!!!

I appreciate good Indian food. Lagos, Portugal and Mijas, Spain come to mind. Probably the large numbers of Brits that are there.

I appreciate public nudity. I haven't seen any as of yet. Other than inappropriate butt cracks on women bending over, or homeless men that is.

I appreciate tasty food, but can do without some of the salt that seems to be so prevalent in Portugal and Spain.

I appreciate a good movie, whether in English or not. "Scarface" (Pacino) was great in Italian, and "Cobra" (NOT Stallone) was funny and all in Spanish.

I appreciate a good trivia night, ESPECIALLY when the questions can be answered by non-Europeans/Brits.

What the F**K is up with gypsies?!?!? They were camped, YES CAMPED, on the platform in Tunes, Portugal for a few hours. I just don't get it. I appreciate nothing about gypsies. Except that this culture seems to have given us "Snatch", and I loved Brad Pitt in that.

I appreciate Wally & Gitta Rice. They're great people, and I wouldn't "have" Jodi if not for them. I appreciate that they put up with me. I think they appreciate that I put up with them. (Kidding!)

I appreciate that I have a spatial issue, which tends to rear it's ugly head when I'm driving (I also have a habit of walking into door frames, but usually with my right shoulder. Mind you, that's not the shoulder that's giving me issues right now. That's the other one, the left one (for those of you playing at home. I think it has to do with the pickaxe work in the Pyrenees. I suspect some physio is in my future!). Not really just driving, but turning/parking/reversing in tight situations. My brother knows this from 1987 when I scraped up Plymouth Scamp in the Branson parking lot. The Rices know this from the Alhambra parking lot. Goldcar in Malaga, Spain knows this as well, but really didn't seem to care about it. As long as the under-carriage, windows and roof were fine, they were fine with whatever other body damage occured. If renting a car, try to see if there is a "GOLDCAR" in business there. That's G-O-L-D-C-A-R!!!

I appreciate a shower with warm/hot water. There seemed to be a shortage at times in Mijas and Roma. Oh well. I ended up cutting my head in Mijas, and used the sink in Roma for my audience with Benny.

I appreciate when people aren't drunk and yelling "Viva Joe!", when I'm out to dinner in a "nice" restaurant. Though, to be honest, it was amusing to see the drunk dude, who looked like a cross between Roberto Benigni and Gilbert Gottfried, toast the newly 25 year old Joe. SEVERAL TIMES!!! It ceased to be as amusing as eat toast went on.

I appreciate it when Jodi understands that we don't have to do all the same things together. UNLESS I don't speak the language or will get lost. Then we do.

I appreciate that every language/culture seems to have a version of John or Joe.

I appreciate that people consider it cold in Italia when it's not. But the herd of fur coats isn't necessary. No matter what the temperature is.

I appreciate that people consider the Pope to be an important figure, but the high school football pep rally atmosphere at the weekly Wednesday papal audience was SUPER DUPER weird. The Mexican high school boys biting each other was entertaining though. The girl beside us writing in her dictionary about hating traveling with her parents and that she was broken was sad. But entertaining nonetheless.

I appreciate/love good gelato, and there's been tonnes in Italia. I'm psyched to go home, since I know there are some really great spots in Toronto. Though it's not the same.

I would GREATLY appreciate it if people would learn how to use their (digital) cameras, since EVERYONE seems to have one now, so that they DO NOT use their F**KIN' flash when taking pictures in musuems/churches where it says "NO FLASH" and even shows a picture of a camera, with a BIG BOLD "X" through the flash part of the camera if you do not read the language, or the four others posted. In case you didn't know this, you are destroying the artwork of the world with your reckless and inappropriate use of THE FLASH! YES, YOU!!!! YOU!!!! YOU!!!! (Can you tell this pisses me off more than a little bit?)

I appreciate Maya for saving us in the awful weather that messed up our HelpX and miss how much Sarah enjoyed the attention she got from me. If only more women were like Sarah (the German Shepherd)....well, I won't finish that sentence.

Why is it so hard to find dill and/or cilantro in Italia and/or France?!?!?! ARGH!!!

If I see one more Nativity scene AKA presepe I'm going to scream!!!