large, the way air travel from Houston to Europe works is
predictable. Air flights to Europe take place at night.
The trip back is easier because it takes place at day.
the time zones heading to Europe. A 9 hour flight typically
takes 12-15 hours. Travelers arrive at their destination at
the crack of dawn. No one gets any real sleep on these Red
Eye trips, so you show up exhausted, stiff and grouchy.
Typically the hotel room isn't ready so there is no place to
crash. These mornings become serious Zombie Time.
Travel is this difficult. For example, Marla's annual dance
cruise to the Caribbean is a piece of cake. Take as much
luggage as you want, drive down to Galveston, park your car
and away you go. A trip to Europe is a different story. I
will be honest and say that Travel to Europe isn't for
sissies. A certain mental toughness is necessary or you
will go absolutely nuts. I always say the benefits outweigh
the headaches, but any USA to Europe flight is an ordeal to
say the least.
don't make it any easier. For one thing, the airlines like
to play games with luggage. Now every decision on how many
shoes and shirts to take becomes a burden because bad
decisions might put you over the 50 pound weight limit for
the big bag. The small bags are a problem too. For
example, what is kosher for carry-ons with one airline may
end up costing you a bundle with the next airline. "Sorry,
sir, your carry-on is too big, you will have to check it."
There goes another $50-$75 down the drain.
security checkpoint wants something different. Some
security checks leave you practically naked. Others leave
every item in your carry-on strewn over the inspection table
due to a toothpaste issue or a suspicious can of hair
spray. For example, in Newark, New Jersey, Marla got in
trouble for hair spray packed with her computer.
Apparently her computer needs hairspray so it will look
good. Just kidding. Marla's laptop is very cute, Gary.
irritates me is that procedures vary so much. One stop
looks for this, then at the next stop they look for
something else. For example, in Venice I was told to try
again because I didn't take my Kindle out (three other
security checks didn't care). This particular incident
flipped me out because I had deliberately put my wallet and
passport INSIDE my carry-on to prevent theft (my brother in
law Larry once had his watch stolen during a security check
because he left it exposed. Someone with fast hands helped
themselves). The next time through, I found my passport
and wallet had been deliberately taken out and placed in a
tray by the security guy in order to take a better look at
my deadly Kindle threat.
believe it... my two most important items were exposed for
any thief despite my best efforts to protect them both. I
was angry. What was so important about a Kindle?
maybe there was some sort of Tablet incident that I don't
know about. Fear is rampant... or should I say 'caution'?
For example, United Airlines was terrified of the current
exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7. I must have listened to 20
announcements in the terminal to keep these devices turned
My point is
that the rules change everywhere, so a certain patience is
necessary. Overseas Travel can be very complicated.
Fortunately, Marla knows the ropes, so she warns people well
in advance of what to watch out for. The problem is that
some people are too busy to take the time to read her 'word
to the wise' emails, so they end up getting
blind-sided. Then when it is too late they go complain to
Marla. But that's another story.
played a major role in this year's planning. To Go or Not
to Go? Airports are a favorite terrorist target.
Istanbul’s Ataturk airport was bombed in June, making this
tragedy the latest in a series of grisly attacks which
included an airport and metro station in Brussels, a concert
hall in Paris, a shrine in Bangkok, a hotel in Mumbai, a
train station in Madrid, and the London Tube. In the months
leading up to this trip there was also the terrible incident
in Nice, France, an incident in Munich, Germany, as well as
the coup attempt in Turkey.
people were reluctant to take their chances on our trip.
After talking to Marla, most decided to go anyway.
Nonetheless, Marla had six or seven people cancel due to
fears of terrorism. Among them were Marla's brother Larry
and his wife Roz.
say, Marla was fit to be tied when Larry canceled. Marla
loves Larry dearly, so her disappointment at his decision to
stay home was off the charts. Larry threw over $2,000 down
the drain in the process.
So who is to
say that Europe is more dangerous? Personally, I think the
fear is more perception than reality. Nothing happened in
Europe during our two-week visit. According to the U.S.
State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed
overseas by incidents of terrorism from 2001 to 2013 was
350. If you’re thinking home is safer, compare that number
with the 3,030 killed in the U.S. by terrorism during the
really safer? That's debatable. America is a very violent
place these days. In Larry's case, 5 women were shot to
death in a shopping mall near his home while we were away in
Europe. And then there was the frightening bomb incident in
New York and New Jersey.
In terms of
street crime and gun violence, most U.S. cities are
statistically far more dangerous than the places we visit
abroad. Your risk of being killed in a car crash (one in
19,000), drowning in a bathtub (one in 800,000), or being
struck by lightning (one in 5.5 million) far exceed your
risk of dying from terrorism (one in 20 million). Indeed,
the leading cause of tourism deaths are motor vehicle
accidents (based on an experience we had in Montenegro, I
can readily agree with that).
On the other
hand, I won't deny that the risk level of encountering
European terrorism has increased. That is exactly why the
terrorists attack airports... to deprive Europe of
much-needed tourism dollars. And it works!! When Marla
booked her Istanbul 2015 Cruise, Istanbul was listed as the
new NUMBER ONE TOURIST DESTINATION IN THE WORLD. I am
telling the truth... I saw the report. Today in 2016, no
cruise ship will go anywhere near the place.
has totally disrupted Turkey's economy and way of life.
Same thing for Egypt. Who has the guts to get on a plane
to Egypt? Not me. I'll pass.
bombs, bombs. Indeed, the debate over European travel with
Marla's brother Larry led to an unsettling experience on my
first day of the trip. Marla had arranged for the Celebrity
Constellation to transfer us on a bus from the Rome airport
to the cruise terminal in the port of Civitavecchia 35 miles
away. The only problem was we had a 90-minute wait at the
airport. To kill time we walked over to an airport cafe
about 30 feet from where the cruise guides were collecting
passengers. Who wants to wait standing up? Besides, maybe
some coffee would help chase the Zombie feeling.
after we sat down, an attractive young Italian girl appeared
out of nowhere pushing a luggage cart with a large bag on
top. She stopped five feet from our table and said she had
to use the restroom... "Would you watch my luggage,
only to see the young woman turn and literally sprint away.
Her rapid pace set off an alarm.
Now I began
to stare at the luggage. Was this a ploy? Was there a
bomb inside that luggage? That would give this woman an
excellent reason to run as fast as she could. On the other
hand, perhaps she had an urgent need to use the restroom.
Marla and I were both worried. Finally I told Marla to
leave. I said there was no reason for both of us to be
taking this chance. Marla argued with me... what's new?...
but finally agreed to vacate the premises just in case.
Now I sat
there alone staring at the luggage. One year ago the
thought that I might be in danger would have never crossed
my mind. But that was one year ago. Now my mind raced back
to the Brussels airport incident in March 2016. Two suicide
bombers had carried in large suitcases filled with
explosives and nails. Was I facing a similar threat? Was
there a way this girl could detonate a bomb remotely? Or
was there a timer inside that bag?
I was not
happy at all. It bothered me no end that I could be
deceived by this woman's seemingly innocent request. In
addition, it bothered me that maybe Larry was right. Maybe
European travel is too dangerous to take the risk. Five
minutes passed as I debated the issue. As I said, one year
ago, these horrible thoughts would have never crossed my
mind. But those were the good old days. Today it would be
foolish not to take note of the evil changes.
around for the woman. To my relief, I spotted her in line
trying to get coffee. Our eyes met... she was just as
worried about her luggage getting stolen as I was worried
about whether I could trust her. When she saw me looking
at her, she was clearly relieved. The young lady waved at
me and smiled.
I won this
round, but I won't deny it left me rattled.
point of terrorism is to use fear to disrupt our lives. It
clearly works. Some stay home, others go. Marla and I
share the attitude that while the risks have escalated, the
odds are still very remote. But let's face it... there is
no right answer. Each individual has to make up their own
09: Day 02, Friday: Amalfi Coast, Italy
Salerno is a
city just south of Naples on the western Italian coast.
There are many excellent excursion options at this port.
One choice to view the stunning mountainous coastline known
as the 'Amalfi Coast'. Another choice is to visit Pompeii,
the city tragically destroyed by the 79 AD volcanic eruption
of nearby Mount Vesuvius. A third choice is to visit the
beautiful Isle of Capri. Marla and I have done all three
and loved each excursion.
this year marked our fourth cruise visit to this particular
area, there were no new options. Hence Marla and I decided
to revisit Capri.
Mythology suggests that this isle was inhabited by the
Sirens. The Sirens were beautiful sea maidens who lured
sailors to their death by singing irresistible songs. The
sailors would come closer only to have their ships
demolished by hidden rocks. The tale of the deadly Sirens
are featured prominently in Homer's 'Odyssey'.
made famous by the introduction of Capri pants by fashion
designer Sonja de Lennart in 1948. They rose to popularity
in the late '50s and early '60s. American actress Grace
Kelly was among the first movie stars to wear capris, but
the strongest influence came from Mary Tyler Moore. On the
1960s television series 'The Dick Van Dyke Show', Mary as
Laura Petrie caused a fashion sensation – and some mild
controversy – by wearing snug-fitting capri pants during the
show's run. It didn't hurt that Mary Tyler Moore had the
perfect figure for these tight pants. Those pants looked
good on her, so capris shot to fame.
interested in Capri for several reasons. To begin with, the
place is stunningly beautiful. Capri is a tall, imposing
volcanic island just 4 short miles from the Italian coast.
When one takes the ski lift to the top, the reward is
something akin to being in heaven. The beauty of the
surrounding area is too wonderful to describe. The phrase
'feeling on top of the world' was coined just for
this occasion. Many people agree with me. Due to its
beauty, Capri is a popular home to many wealthy Europeans.
And now I
will share my other reason for visiting Capri. Last year
I watched a fascinating British mini-series from the
Seventies known as 'I Claudius'. One of the main
characters in this amazing story was the Roman Emperor
Tiberius. Capri was the retirement home of Tiberius. My
main reason to visit Capri again was to gather pictures and
information relevant to a tale of ancient Rome I am about to
share with you.
our Capri bus tour would include a visit to the villa of
Tiberius. The tour was advertised as heading to all the
important sites in Capri, but to my dismay the villa of
Tiberius was scratched from the list. As it turned out, we
could have reached it on foot. Located a mile and a half
away with two hours of free time, assuming we didn't get
lost, we had barely enough time to take a quick look, then
turn back around. Unfortunately we had a mediocre guide who
was far more interested in his own convenience than actually
helping us learn something. He warned us the boat back to
the ship would leave without us if we were late, so we got
intimidated. Oh well. There went my best chance to see
the 'Leap of Tiberius' in this lifetime.
think I may have seen it in a past life. Anyone who has
read my previous newsletters will recall I am perpetually
fascinated by the concept of Reincarnation. If such a thing
exists, I am convinced I surely spent one lifetime in Rome
during the reign of Julius Caesar.
Many of you
have seen HBO's amazing show 'Game of Thrones'. The
premise is that power players use assassination, war,
torture, brutality, poison and devious cunning... plus magic
and three flying dragons... in their ambitious attempts to
become ruler of the kingdom.
As it turns
out, Capri played a role in one of the strangest stories in
Roman history. The events are so bizarre and so twisted
that one almost wonders if the HBO series took its
inspiration from ancient Rome. Sorry to say, there are no
flying dragons or magic in my story, but the bloodshed,
depravity, and evil ambition are every bit the equal to 'Game
I hope you
will take the time to read my tale. I promise you will not
be disappointed. The
Roman Game of Thrones
In the coming weeks, I will add more stories about our trip.