The Trip — 2016: Part 19 — Villa Andonis to Heathrow

Time to take a swim before the day gets too hot to go out in the sun; after all, I’m not an Englishman.

Don and Kathy took the bus to Kassiopi; Becka walked to the harbor to do a little swimming in the bay (and maybe a bit of shopping); Di and her sisters are in and out of the pool and I’m reading the “local” papers online.

Eirini, Di and Dora at Villa Andonis
Eirini, Di and Dora

Being as this is our last full day at the villa, the sisters who own it came to say goodbye to Di, and the rest of us, this morning and brought her a few small gifts. They’re good people as Di has gotten to know them quite well through two years of email communications and frequent conversations while we’ve been here.

Dinner was a home-made affair of chicken, pasta and salad provided mostly by Trish and Helen.

Our last day, Friday, dawned just as beautiful, with promise to be hot, as most of those in the previous three weeks. I had my swim about nine and then went in to shower and finish packing. Di and her sisters swam later and sunned until after one in the afternoon. By that time I had most of Di’s stuff packed, including the items she’d purchased on Corfu for herself or for gifts.

Trip - Villa Andonis on the day we left.
Villa Andonis on the day we left.

Our taxi was late and arrived about two-fifteen. We loaded our belongings, Charlie’s scooter and ourselves and we were off. The drive to Corfu airport took about a half-hour.

At the airport we went to check in and all went fine until we came to Charlie’s scooter. First the security had me load it on the luggage belt to go through the scan — it wouldn’t fit. Later they decided that it had to have its battery attached — contrary to what had been AA and BA policy on our two flights previous. They had me wait in an out of the way area until the scooter was brought out from the luggage loading area.

Can you see me getting ticked off at both BA and Corfu security?

Trip - BA A-320, Passenger bus, wheel-chair loading truck.
BA A-320, Passenger bus, wheel-chair loading truck.

Then they came and got me and told I now had to go through security with the rest of my party, who had also been held up, and go to “6” just past Gate 5. (Gate 1 is where the rest of the passengers on our flight were to board.)

Di and I were hurried through security and to “6” at the end of the Departure level of the terminal. We were taken outside into the 90°+ heat of the day and I had to attach the battery to Di’s scooter. It was then wheeled off to be loaded onto our A320. The gentleman who had taken charge of us wanted Di and I to wait in the chairs there to be taken to the plane in about “5 minutes.”

NO, we were not going to wait in the heat and sun for him to return, so he reluctantly brought us back into the terminal with its minimal air conditioning. And, no, Di did not have time to shop in Duty Free. Yeah. Fifteen – twenty minutes later our guide returned to get us to the plane.

Trip - Passenger loading/unloading stairs.
Passenger loading/unloading stairs.

Now we were a bit ticked off but the next part was actually neat. Di was wheeled down a long ramp and to the back of rather large truck, but it wasn’t exactly a truck. The back end had a lift gate which we all got on and it lifted to the passenger area of the vehicle. The airport worker opened the door and pushed Charlie in. There was an identical door in the front to the right of the driver and another lift.

We drove to the front of the plane and parked just inches from the plane. The entire passenger section of our vehicle was then lifted to the level of the plane’s door and Charlie was wheeled forward. All she had to do was walk a step to the plane and then another fifteen feet or so to her seat in Aisle 1.

Trip - Lunch on BA
Lunch / Dinner

After we were seated the buses from the terminal carried the rest of the passengers out to be boarded. A weather delay over western Europe caused a half hour delay of our takeoff, but the plane was cool and it wasn’t a problem.

The flight itself was smooth; the Jack Daniels plentiful and the prawn dinner tasty. We had a twenty-five minute wait until a wheelchair arrived to take Di into the terminal at Heathrow. A longish walk and a two-stop tram ride brought us to the baggage area . . . Problem.


Trip - Back over England
Back over England

The Trip — 2016: Part 16 — “Adventure”

Last night was the most comfortable of our stay. We caught the southern edge of a front crossing Europe and had some clouds and a very nice breeze. Today dawned cool and breezy with clouds. The temperature in the sun, without cloud cover, is still brutal, however.

Trip - Cara, Lola and Kit at Nissaki Beach
Cara, Lola and Kit at Nissaki Beach

Charlie got up a bit earlier than ususal and I was able to get my swim in before Kathy and Don rose. Trish, Ivy and David drove to the market and David drove back with the groceries while the two ladies walked back for some exercise.

Don and I later walked to the market for exercise and to get some more milk, as we were about out — Di has to have some milk for her tea. We also picked up a newspaper and some soft drinks. The price came to €10.60 and I gave the cashier €15.00. She didn’t want to make change, however, so she only took the €10 note and I now owe her €0.60.

Charlie’s former student, Becka, is supposed to arrive some time before we go to dinner — she’s landed and we’re just waiting for her taxi to appear; our dinner reservation is for 7:30 pm and we’ll probably be a couple of hours. Ahhh . . . relaxing with good food and good friends.

Trip - Nissaki Beach from Mitsos Taverna
Nissaki Beach from Mitsos Taverna

Well, Becka showed up before we left for dinner and we showed her around the villa. She took a few minutes to rest in her room and then we talked a bit and went to dinner. David drove Di and I to the restaurant and found a place to park the car. The remainder of our party walked from the villa.

Di had wanted to browse at The Loom, the shop across from the taverna, but to the consternation of all it had closed early for the day. There weren’t many people in the taverna either nor at the beach. Ah hah, the winds had blown in seaweed and grass to the beach making it difficult to swim — I guess that accounted for the small crowd.

Trip - Joe and Di at Mitsos Taverna
Joe and Di at Mitsos Taverna

At any rate, we had our table for eleven in a beautiful spot and sat down. David and I had a beer, Di a Fanta lemonade; we also ordered water and wine. A few minutes later the walkers arrived, found seats (with Kathy sitting next to Di and Becka across the table from her). We talked for a while, took pictures, ordered starters and proceeded to enjoy the atmosphere and company.

Dinner consumed, the dessert course arrived: vanilla ice cream and espresso for four, chocolate and vanilla ice cream for the girls, ouzo for four and I had a brandy . . . ahhhh. The trip back to the villa was the reverse of the trip to the taverna. Soon after returning most of us went to bed, but Don and Kathy stayed up trying to get in sync with the local time zone.

Trip - Lola, Becka, Ivy and Cara walking to dinneer
Lola, Becka, Ivy and Cara walking to dinneer

This Sunday morning actually dawned cool and breezy. I had a nice swim and the coffee and . . . then it rained. Yes, it rained — for about ten minutes and then again a while later. David, Ivy and the girls left for the airport a bit before noon — they’ll next spend a week in Provence before heading back to the US. Kit leaves for the UK tonight.

Well . . . there is a definition of adventure which goes something like an event best experienced in the retelling rather than in the occurring — and, of course, you’d much rather hear from a friend who experienced it rather than your own experience from your own lips. . . well, today we had an adventure.

Trip - Di, Kathy, Don, Cara, Lola, Kit, Ivy, David, Tricia, Becka (and Joe behind the camera)
Di, Kathy, Don, Cara, Lola, Kit, Ivy, David, Tricia, Becka (and Joe behind the camera)

An hour or two after David, Ivy and the girls had left, we had lunch. Some salad, some leftovers, some bread and cheese. One of the leftover dishes was a lentil concoction . . . to some it tasted good, others, my wife, not so good. I’d had a cold spoonful from the fridge the night before and had some more of the re-heated remainder for lunch.

Of the seven of us at lunch five of us had the lentils — all five of us came down with “food poisoning.” Don, Kathy, Kit, Trish felt it early and I felt ill a couple of hours later. I barely made it to the throne room where the lentils went up and out. An hour later I again lost some more lentils. An hour later, again. This time it was mostly dry heaves, but no less painful and miserable. I crashed in bed and remained there for the next twelve hours or so.

During that time, Kit came in to find our Pepto supply Di had told him about. Someone also came in for Di’s night meds and I had to get out of bed and get these. Eventually Di came to bed, helped by Becka (who, like Di, hadn’t eaten any of the lentils).

(to be continued)

The Trip — 2016: Part 4

First to baggage to pick up our suitcases and then to the surface to find our ride. She found us, because of Charlie’s scooter, and we were soon loaded into the car and bound for Hopton to the northeast of London. It was supposed to be a two and a half hour drive that morphed into a three and a half to four hour drive because of Friday traffic and a stalled lorry on a two-lane country highway — with Di and the driver nattering away about either Brexit or Trump for almost the entire journey.Trip - The Cedars

It rained a bit, but we missed the day’s downpours and safely reached The Cedars, the home of Gerry and Maria, Di’s cousins. (In Britain many houses are named and without street number addresses — good luck finding a place without detailed directions and/or local assistance. Their postal service survives with a rather esoteric system of postal codes, but I don’t know how, so I guess we can too.)

Gerry and Maria greeted us warmly, and with Gerry’s help I carried our bags to upstairs to our rooms. Yes, upstairs seventeen steps and then down one step and again down two steps — then the reverse to go downstairs. It’s a bit tough on Di, but she seems, with help, to be managing. She needs both her cane and rollator “wheelie” to successfully navigate the house but does so without complaint.

Trip - The CedarsWe had a nice dinner the first night and slept with no sign of jet lag. Part of this may be due to the excellent company, food, wine and whisky provided by our hosts.

If you think that American television these days spends too much time and effort on the election campaign, you might be surprised to learn that British television, and newspaper coverage, spends at least as much time and effort on Brexit.

If the term “Brexit” means nothing to you, here’s a brief explanation: the United Kingdom last Thursday (June 23, 2016) held a referendum on whether or not to remain in the EU (European Union) or to leave. BRitish EXIT.

To the surprise of many, if not most, UK citizens and politicians, pollsters and bookies the LEAVE side won: 52% to 48%. Some areas, such as metropolitan London and Scotland, voted heavily to remain in the EU and others voted just as heavily to leave.Trip - The Cedars

Even the bookies were wrong in their guesses as to which side would prevail. More money (the richer bettors) was bet on the “Remain” side, but more small bets (the poorer guys) were placed on the “Leave” side of the equation — “Leave” won the election.

The Prime Minister resigned; the financial markets were in turmoil; politicians, pollsters and pundits scrambled to explain the results; many Europeans said the equivalent of “Leave quickly”; and many “Leavers” were quite pleasantly surprised but unsure of what to do next. A number of disappointed (and possibly outraged “Remainers”) began signing an online petition to force another referendum.

A couple of days later the online petition was stripped of many electronic signatures for obvious irregularities such as several thousand signatures coming from British citizens living in Vatican City — with a population of about 800. Hmmm . . .

(to be continued)

The Trip — 2016: Part 2

The next problem had nothing to do with the government but with American Express.

Charlie made our flight reservations through an American Express (https://travel.americanexpress.com/home) travel agent. She, very explicitly, wanted to fly British Airways (https://www.britishairways.com/travel/home/public/en_us) and was assured by the travel agent that our flight to the UK was on BA. It turned out, however, that the BA flight, operated by American Airlines, was actually an American Airlines (https://www.aa.com/homePage.do) flight.

BOOM! The fecal matter met the rapidly spinning rotary impeller.

She proceeded to spend many, many hours on the phone with BA and AA and AMEX trying to find out how they would handle her battery-powered scooter (http://www.tzora.com/Easy%2DTravel%2DScooter.html) and batteries and whether it would be allowed on the flight at all. Phone tag played with customer service representatives shunting her off to the next company’s customer service representative. And round and round we go unable to get definitive answers to just about any substantive question. Phone Tag Hell.

Eventually, it boiled down to: Yes, she could bring her scooter. No, no spare batteries. No, bring the sealed dry-cell battery and not the longer-range lithium-ion battery. Yes, the plane check-in and departure would be from the Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX. Well, sort of . . .

Trip -- Di on Tzora Scooter
Di on Tzora Scooter

Thursday — We arrived at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport — http://www.lawa.org/welcomeLAX.aspx) about two and a half hours before our scheduled departure and entered the Tom Bradley International terminal. Looking at the displays, we, to my wife’s great displeasure found that our flight’s check-in was not at TB but at the next terminal in line — Terminal #4.

It was the matter of a three-minute walk, for me with our luggage and Charlie on her scooter, to get to Terminal 4 and then a couple of more minutes to find check-in. Five minutes later we were at the front of the short line and spent the next ten or twenty minutes going through the formalities with boarding passes, luggage and scooter and sorting things out.

Then on to the lift, elevator, and through security — less than ten minutes in line. I went through the regular line while Charlie, seated in her scooter, got some individual attention. Following this was a l – o – n – g hike (especially as I was carrying all of our carry-on bags) across the bridge from Terminal 4 to TB and the very last gate to board our plane.

Less than fifteen minutes later we were pre-boarded and ensconced in our Business Class lay-down seats. The only hassles being removing the twenty-pound battery from Charlie’s scooter and folding it up so the attendant could put it in cargo (while I put the battery in my seat storage area on the plane’s floor). I then returned to the front of the plane and helped Charlie through the aisles to our seats at the very back of Business Class (right in front of the toilet so Charlie would not have to walk any distance when she would need the facilities).

As I also had the battery charger with me (no, it was not packed away in our luggage), I was able to re-charge it during the flight. Clothes can be replaced without too many problems if the carrier loses our luggage. Her scooter charger and her medicines would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace if lost on the way to Europe so they were all a part of our carry-on luggage with our electronics and cameras.

The plane was a Boeing 777-300 (https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/experience/planes/boeing-777-300er.jsp) with comfortable seating and an excellent entertainment suite. Charlie took the window seat, and I got the interior seat with no outside view (dirty word, dirty word, dirty word). But that’s how it is when we travel.

Although Business Class is quite expensive compared with Coach, Di’s medical problems do not allow her to travel comfortably in Coach seating. As we do not travel by plane more than a couple of times each decade, we find the expense tolerable and can juggle our budgets sufficiently to afford the expense. I cringe a bit when looking at the actual financial figures, but . . . .

(to be continued)

The Trip — 2016: Part 1

Two years ago my wife, Diana (Di or Charlie), set out on planning “The Trip”. Where? To Corfu. Corfu? Yes, Corfu. Why? Well, because one of the authors (Gerald Durrell) she enjoys spent time growing up there and wrote about it. She also planned to spend time with her family in England and invited them, and some American friends, to spend time with us at the villa she was renting on the Greek island of Corfu.

Along the way there have been a few bumps in the road. First, her British passport expired and she had to renew it — by mail. Eventually, she got her new passport and then another bump appeared.

Because she is a British citizen she needs a “green card” to live in the United States. She’s had one for some forty years — yes, she is a legal Permanent Resident of the United States. These cards are good for ten years and must then be renewed. The last two renewals were difficult and involved crowds and standing (and/or sitting) in long lines.

Owing to her medical problems of the last few years (and her forced retirement) neither of us realized that her card had passed its expiration date. She was still a legal resident but not having the card would bring about problems traveling out of the country and then trying to re-enter.

We filed for renewal of her card online but had a great deal of difficulty using the government’s site. The customer service phone help people were quite good in helping us navigate its foibles, but we had to use them each time we went to the site as it refused to recognize her username and password.

She paid her renewal fee online without any problem, but we then found out that it would require up to nine months for her to receive her new card — that would be long after we would have returned from our travels. So, we would have to set up an appointment with Immigration to get her passport stamped with an extension.

We arrived at the appointed Immigration facility a few minutes early for her appointment and were pleasantly surprised that there were only three other people in the office. Our appointment with the Immigration clerk (?) went quickly and twenty minutes later we left with my wife’s passport properly stamped and signed with a nine-month extension (to her green card) so she could travel out of the country and re-enter with a minimum of hassle.

The nine-month extension was because replacing her Permanent Resident card could take up to nine months.

A week or two later we received a letter from Immigration informing us that we now had another scheduled appointment at another building for “biometrics” processing. This appointment was for two days before our departure for the UK.

We again arrived a few minutes early and found a couple of dozen people sitting and waiting for their appointments. However, luck and kindness made things a bit easier. After filling out an appointment paper — name, nationality, etc. — the gentleman in charge moved us to the front of the queue as my wife was in her wheel-chair.The Trip

Twenty or so minutes later, her picture and fingerprints taken, we were set to go. Immigration also updated her now-expired Permanent Resident card with the new information and a new nine-month extension. (Although her new card will still require not arrive for about another nine months.)

Legally we were now set to leave and re-enter the United States.

(to be continued)