The Rock of Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom, though it sits in the south of Spain. It has an interesting history – look it up. I’m here to tell you about my experience. We scheduled a tour with a local company that held organization as a low priority. We milled around with hundreds of other lost souls trying to make sense of the chaos that confronted us when we left the port authority security. People were yelling, and cars and buses were honking and trying to drive through the crowd while squishing a minimum number of tourists. One man with a clipboard held the secrets of who goes where. He doled them out parsimoniously.
We finally found our seats on the correct mini-bus when a wild-eyed man jumped on the bus, looked around frantically, made an indecipherable noise, and jumped back off. Though we didn’t know it then, we had just met our tour guide, Clive. Clive was very knowledgeable about Gibraltar and could talk for extended periods without taking a breath. He was informative, funny, and likable but also a bit scary. He was both driver and guide for the tour. The roads are narrow, and his fuse is short. Not a good combination. He used no microphone, as he had the voice of a carnival barker. When someone parked in a location he didn’t like, we all got to hear what he thought of the situation. It came up a lot. At one stop, a group member was late returning to the bus. He left him. A different tour guide brought him to us at a later site. It was like a train wreck that you couldn’t look away from. You wanted to see what would happen; you just hoped it didn’t happen to you.
Clive warned us that we were heading to an area of Gibraltar with many Barbary Apes (they are actually monkeys, Barbary Macaques to be specific, but we’ll keep that to ourselves). He said they are very curious animals that assume all backpacks contain food. He cautioned that if one should approach you or touch you, just stay calm. Under no circumstances should you move quickly or make loud noises, as this could frighten the animals and cause them to react unpredictably. True to his word, a monkey saw us taking pictures of him and came to investigate. He poked around with a man’s backpack that he was wearing but couldn’t figure out the zipper. He was about to steal the man’s glasses when a big colorful hat caught his attention, so he scampered down the wall to retrieve it. Unfortunately, the hat was perched atop Judi’s head. Judi cut loose with a blood-curdling scream when the monkey got within reach of the hat, which probably sent half to pack racing for Spain to escape. I’m unsure if the monkeys in Gibraltar have recovered from their trauma, but Judi still has her hat…and she says I’m not a rule follower.
Sometimes you don’t know you have stepped in something until everyone is holding their noses. Today, I had such an experience. I love taking pictures, so I constantly make Judi pose in front of something I want to photograph. Fearful people would think she went on the cruise alone, she insisted I pose for a picture. We composed the shot we wanted, and I headed to my spot. I leaned against a planter with a cheesy grin on my face. Several women passed and gave me odd looks as if I had just escaped from an institution that needed to keep me medicated. Judi gave me the sign that she got the picture. I pushed off the planter to head back when one more woman passed, gave me a dirty look, and mumbled something unkind under her breath. I turned around to see why she was so grumpy when I spied the stick figure of a woman adhered to the door just behind me. I imagine I got out just in time before the Gibraltar constable showed up to nab the pervert hanging out in front of the women’s restroom with a lurid grin on his face; so much for situational awareness.
Being on a cruise is like being in a floating Costco store. They rival one another for the quantity of food available. The free samples at Costco can’t compare to the buffet on board for quantity or quality, but there are as many people loitering in front of the offerings trying to decide what or if they will eat. Meanwhile, the hungry masses behind them tire of waiting and head for the ice cream shop. That’s the real reason people gain weight on a cruise.
This behavior is at the core of the similarities. Both have a large population of elderly who have no situational awareness. They don’t mean to be rude; they don’t know you are there. They step off an elevator and stop to figure out where they are and to remember where they intend to go. All the folks behind them remain trapped on the lift. They park their cart at an angle in the aisle because they are unaware that anyone else is shopping today. There is no age requirement for this behavior, but it helps if you are in your dotage.
Our ship departs from Barcelona, Spain, so we arrived a few days early to avoid any problems. All went smoothly, and we checked into our hotel without incident. We had nothing planned except jet lag, so we wandered the city streets to get our bearings and to look for paella and gelato. We found paella, but gelato remained elusive. This first day was an unplanned, relaxing day as a gift to me. The rest of this vacation has been thoroughly scheduled to ensure we don’t miss a moment of “fun.”
Judi assigns me extensive reading in preparation for trips, but she reads even more. This is a great way to look forward to a trip but can backfire. She is now obsessed with an architect, Antoni Gaudi. If he weren’t dead, I might even be jealous. I won’t bore you with everything he has designed or what makes him famous. I have absorbed it all for you and am now acting as a filter. Suffice it to say he is impressive. Judi certainly thinks so; we taxied and walked all over Barcelona to see everything he did. I thought I couldn’t see another thing, but Judi had one more surprise. Our hotel window looks out on apartments of varying levels of quality. Judi looked out the window, gasped, and called me over to see a man strutting around in his skivvies with his curtains wide open. It was something to behold. Not something good, mind you, just something. This was matched the next morning when a woman in the same apartment marched about in her unmentionables. Neither of these exhibitionists would tempt someone to buy binoculars, but at least they were in their apartment. I think Judi misses the window.
Boarding an airplane is always interesting because it affords so many people-watching opportunities. My progress toward my seat stopped when I encountered a woman directing her brood where to sit, where to put their luggage, and other helpful information. When she, we’ll call her Betty, finally heard her husband telling her that she was blocking the aisle and traffic was backing up, she turned around to ensure he hadn’t misunderstood the situation. Satisfied he had not screwed up, she permitted me (and fifty other travelers) to pass before she resumed her mother henning. I was seated directly behind the husband and kitty-corner to mother superior, across the aisle from her charge (i.e., husband). Before the plane was fully boarded, buttons were pushed, and attendants were summoned so she could explain a better seating arrangement for herself, those around her, and the folks sitting in the back. I wish I were making this up…and so does her husband (let’s call him beat-down Bob, or just Bob for short). Bob was begging his wife to sit in her assigned seat, which she did… until take off.
I tried to understand all the family relationships; the elderly woman sitting next to Betty, the young woman sitting by the window, and the in-between-aged woman sitting by Bob. They appeared to be dunces as they required, or at least were given, instructions on conducting every aspect of air travel. Imagine my surprise when Betty leaned forward four hours into the flight and asked the woman next to Bob what her name was. Then she asked what language the old woman was speaking! Wow. These folks she had been bossing around for four hours were not even in her party…and spoke a different language. This was getting good. The climax came when she dragged the old woman out of her seat, and her husband asked what she was doing. “Taking her to the bathroom,” she replied. “She needs to go.” However, the old woman was not cooperating with the exercise and was babbling something in a language neither Betty nor I understood. The woman beside Bob saved the day when she announced, “She’s saying she doesn’t need to go to the bathroom.” Betty was deflated at missing the opportunity to force an octogenarian to urinate on demand. I found myself very thankful for my traveling companion.
Since the pandemic, costs have gone up on everything, so quality is often compromised. The Philadelphia airport is no exception. After consuming a chicken cheese steak before my flight, I visited the men’s room to make “final preparations before lift off.” I had to visit three sinks before the sensors would acknowledge my presence and provide me with water to wash my hands. Sanitation being successfully completed, I stepped over to the air dryer to have my hands gently blown into sterile dryness. It didn’t happen. I heard a sound, but the wind appeared to be coming from four stink bugs trapped inside. Giving up on the air dryer, I placed my hand under, in front of, and generally all around the paper towel dispenser. Finally, four inches of course paper emerged. Assuming the paper had jammed, I tried again to get a piece big enough to tear off. Apparently, Philadelphia is saving money by issuing dryer towels smaller than a dollar bill. I dried two fingers and left the room, shaking the remainder of the water from my hands. People looked at me strangely, wondering what I was just up to, so I smiled and let them have fun with their imagination.
From my previous blog, it is an error to assume that Judi is why we have a last-minute rush. She isn’t. I rarely saw a 5-pound bag of time that I didn’t think I could fit 10 pounds of activity into. I have a zest for life that is dangerous. Judi would say I have poor time management, but I prefer my characterization. In addition to the projects that Judi planned, I have a few of my own.
There is the ongoing project of cleaning and organizing my garage. It takes up copious amounts of time and energy but is never completed. I suspect it will be done a month after I die when Judi has the dumpster delivered. I keep working on it because all other projects depend on it. The current competing project is my Vegepod. I love growing vegetables and other edible products. Flowers are pointless. Growing flowers would save me money on the flowers I buy for her, but cutting my own flowers would yield about a tenth of the credit I get when I buy them. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I admit I don’t understand women.
I’m off track; the point here is my Vegepod which is a raised garden with some cool features. It holds about 450 liters of soil (12 bags at Home Depot or 8 bags at Costco). Once you add the water this is a pretty heavy setup and I want it to be mobile. It did not come with the cool feature of heavy-duty tires. The only solution to this problem is to build your own. So I did. I felt it necessary to have all four tires swivel for easy maneuvering. This has proved quite a challenge. I won’t bore you with the details of how the thrust bearings could not be delivered on time or how my “creative” solutions were more creative than functional. Suffice it to say that my veggies are not in the pod, and I will be back to the drawing board when I get home. I plan to keep the basic trolly made from street signs (don’t ask), but my swiveling needs to be straightened out.
The first day of vacation is the one that confirms you need a vacation. No matter how far ahead you plan, there is always a mad dash at the end to get everything ready…at least for us. Part of this is Judi’s tendency to use any potential deadline as an opportunity to get massive amounts of work done – by me. She boldly admits to this as this is the only reasonable response to a deadline. For this vacation, it was the basement…and the fireplace…and painting. I loathe paying for anything I can do myself. When I suggest that I can do these tasks without outside contractors, she points out that I’m not as fast as I used to be with repairs, and I’ve never been fast. This is true, but I’m cheap. I work for food or even attaboys. She says, “You can’t repair the fireplace; we may burn the house down.” Potentially, but not a guarantee. For the money we’d save, I say it is well worth the risk. Besides, we’re getting older, and I want to go out in a flame of glory, not just fade away slowly.
Our current compromise is that I will do the basement (new floor, replace lights, fix a couple of broken doors, and finish the built-ins I started 15 years ago.) I said I wasn’t fast. The fireplace is still in negotiations, but I did buy the refractory cement necessary for repairs. Painting is always tricky because I hate to do it, but it’s easy. I’m just too finicky about the walls, and it takes me forever. Under normal circumstances, I would rather light my hair on fire than paint a room. So I caved in this department, and she has hired it out. There will be no follicular fires, just my wallet is ablaze.
In college it was fun to pull pranks on each other – stretch plastic wrap across a toilet beneath the seat, Scotch-guard a towel so it repels water rather than absorb it, or, my personal favorite, put chicken bouillon in the shower head so the unsuspecting bather thinks someone is making chicken soup, and so does everyone who comes in contact with them for the rest of the day. Pranks are fun, but we are supposed to out-grow them.
I don’t know who invented the duvet, but I’m going to blame it on the French; both because of how it sounds versus how it is spelled and because it is easy to blame things on the French. In my mind, two French college grads were reminiscing about their college days when one of them said, “I have a great idea. Let’s sew bedsheets to quilts. We can sell them to hotels as a cheap alternative to buying both sheets and quilts and pull off the ultimate prank at the same time.” They did, and it worked. All hotels seem to use this bedding alternative, so these French guys are rich. At the same time, folks around the world are losing sleep from being too hot under a quilt and a sheet or are cold because the alternative is nothing at all. All the bed clothes or no bed clothes – you choose your fate.
The Israeli’s take the prank a little further. They start with an uncharacteristically chaste setup of separate beds for couples. A few hotels give the illusion of togetherness, by pushing the beds (mostly) together and stretching a giant bottom sheet across them, and, of course, a single duvet covers the whole arrangement. Reality hits home when I am foolish enough to approach the center line in “no-man’s land.” As I scooch amorously out of my territory I disappear into the crevasse between the beds and realize I have been caught in an Israeli bed moat. I climb out of the moat on my own side since I do not know what other booby-traps may await me. Concluding that sleep is my safest option I attempt to cover my body with the demonic duvet. It doesn’t even make it to my armpits; I pull harder; nothing happens. I think somebody short-sheeted my bed. No, this is more diabolical – the duvet is short. I kick at the bottom of the bed until the accursed covering is fully untucked. Feeling triumphant, I pull the duvet up to my pits and see my feet pop out of the bottom. It’s okay – I’m too impressed by the Jewish upgrade of the French prank to be angry.
After a layover in Moscow we hop onto another, smaller, Aeroflot jet to complete the last 4 hours to Tel Aviv. Two things were notable on this leg of the journey. The first was a mom and daughter with whom we shared a row. The flight attendant presented this young family with a package of goodies designed for juvenile passengers. The daughter was symbiotic with a handheld entertainment device and could not be bothered with the mundanity of airline trinkets. The mother, however, lit up like a Christmas tree at the sight of the package. With great delight she dug through the package and vainly attempted to impress it’s worth onto her daughter. Her sheer joy at receiving this unexpected bounty warmed the cockles of my heart, which is good, because I don’t like cold cockles.
The next notable event happened just minutes later. I am sure it happened on the previous flight, but I did not have a screen in front of me on that part of the journey. I was sitting innocently in my seat solving a sudoku puzzle as a I awaited take off when my screen came to life with the Aeroflot logo. The scene switched to a tall blond strolling in slow motion to some unseen destination of great importance as the wind blows her hair. It appears she is heading out for a night on the town as she is wearing 4-inch pumps. At this point her feet are joined by several identical legs in equally absurd footwear. The camera pulls back to reveal a phalanx of women that we are supposed to believe are a flight crew from Aeroflot. (I noticed that our flight crew all wore very practical flats to avoid breaking an ankle while serving you a thimble of room-temperature water.) This was the intro to the safety instructions. I did not watch the video to the end, but I never watch all the safety instructions. I refuse to believe that a plane will crash if my tray table is not latched or my seat is not in the full, upright position. I also don’t think if the engines drop off the plane and we plummet 50,000 feet into the Northern Sea that the first thing on my mind will be “how do I blow into this tube protruding from the rubber sport coat I’m wearing.” More likely, the first thing that goes through my mind will be my knees. The majority of the safety instructions are for people who have no business traveling unsupervised. If you are foolish enough to leave your chaperone at home when you can’t find your way out of a hallway where eight doorways have just opened and have flashing signs to tell you to exit, then Darwin says you should remain in your seat with your seatbelt securely fastened so you can improve the gene pool by removing yourself.