…and we are back. In Europe. Again.

After a crazy set of circumstances, I’ve found myself in Europe again.  This time I’m in Austria (Salzburg, next Vienna).  After that, we head to the Czech Republic (Prague).  Then home.  I’m with the orchestra.  I was promised many solos.  I think I’ll get to play about half of them now, but whatever, I’m here and I gotta do what I gotta do.

Let me get some whining out, then we’ll do the funny stuff.

Short story:  last trip I boosted my seats on British Airways to their premium economy thing.  I got huge spacious seats, more legroom than I could use, and all kinds of fancy service.  I was impressed.  I had read an article somewhere about how Delta’s Comfort+ was better than BA’s version.  So when I had the tour folk book this trip, I asked for that.

Guess what?  It’s not better. It’s like economy with 5 or 6 extra peanuts in your bag, and maybe an inch or two of extra room.  Oh, and the plane we were flying was older, so I was trying to stare at movies the size of a postcard on an old screen that looked like it was about to fall out of the seat.  On top of that, the headphone jack was jacked up (hurr) so if I or my neighbors touched the screen, I got all kind of weird feedback.  Food was exactly the same as my last trip two years ago.  I am kind of peeved that I paid extra for that.  I’m seriously so disappointed that I’ll insist I never ever fly Delta again for the rest of my life.  Gawd.

Ok, now the fun stuff.  Let’s start off by just stating that I have been WHOLLY unprepared for this trip.  I barely had time to read anything about Austria or the Czech Republic.  Unlike Italy, I didn’t spend a couple of months with Duolingo trying to get at least a baby comprehension of phrases/basic instructions.  This is due to the fact that the decision to go was last minute.  I signed up at the end of February, then had a concert series, then got my post put in (ongoing tooth face destruction).  Recovery, panic practicing, then omg I am leaving in less than a week PUT ALL THE THINGS IN A BAG.  So yeah, I did that and now I’m here.  And completely clueless.

I am also writing this blog with about 8 hours of sleep spread out over 2 days, so there is some degree of delirium.

Once I settled in the hotel, I thought I’d go on an adventure. I walked down to the little grocery store down the street.  I drained my account for some precious Euros, went in to pick up some stuff.  I was mostly collecting water, snacks, and a couple of baby bottles of the local vino to try.

Oranges were easy.  I found and threw a couple in my basked.  Then I tackled the water.  As a reminder, I have spent ZERO time getting familiar enough with German to navigate my way verbally or linguistically out of a paper bag.  As a result, I spent way too long staring at the water bottles trying to figure out which ones were sparkling, and which ones were not. After a lot of staring, some confusion, and at one point considering using my precious international data plan megabytes for google translate, I realized one bottle said “Still”. Using my jet-lagged brain logic, I picked the other bottle.

TL;DR:  Prickeld = sparkling

I spent some time ruminating over the untranslatable german language wines (see note above about not wanting to burn precious megabytes).  There was a gal next to me staring down the sparkling wines.  I guess when I walked up and started reviewing baby bottles and either evicting or adding them to my basket, she determined I knew what I was doing (the tour guide did tell us to be assertive here).  So she started to ask me (I presume) about her selection of sparkling wine.  And I had no idea what to say other than “I’m sorry…”.  She then said (again, I presume) “oh, it’s ok” (I did hear the work “ok” in there), and grabbed a bottle and ran.  I hope she picked a good one.

mystery wine – I will get around to translating it.  Decided to sample first.

So I purchased my selections.  Much like SF, they make you buy bags for your groceries. Luckily I was traveling with a backpack, so I loaded it all in and headed back to the hotel.  In that brief time I was in the grocery store, it started snowing.  AGAIN.  Instead of heading out into the historic areas I decided to camp inside.  I have a good chunk of tomorrow to walk around when I’m less tired to do that.

I thought I left this….

Not much else yet to report.  I’ve been here for about 6 hours at this point.  Spent some time with Mary Anne and Marsha.  Tried hard not to fall asleep during conversations.  I’ll be fine after a full night sleep tonight.  Maybe.  Steel yourself for more updates in a day or so!

Oh, this thing

I’ve written about my depression issues already.  I’ll just say for now:  that shit is sneaky.  It happened again.  It always happens.  The difference this time is it took me less than a couple of weeks to see it.  And no, I’m not un-depressed yet, but I’m getting there.  I am allowing myself to experience the downturn.  I think (with lots and lots of therapy) this time I’m not letting it sink me further down. I’m still flaky.  I still don’t want to go out or do anything.  Each day is better than the last.  It will pass.

I told my therapist that the most amusing part of depression is that it makes you tired.  I go through my day feeling like I need a nap all the time.  I want to sleep.  However, when I do try and sleep I can’t do it.  And when I fall asleep I wake up repeatedly to nightmares or to a sudden anxious thought.  I’d love to have a full night of uninterrupted sleep.  My sleep patterns are getting better, though, which tells me I’m feeling better.

Moving on from that, I suppose an update is in order about my tooth issue.  I arrived home from my glorious vacation (really, aside from the tooth problem, it was amazing).  I booked an appointment with the dentist for the day after my return.  When I got there, they did x-rays, poked around (without any valium to chill me out, that was stressful), and the dentist pronounced I fractured my tooth.  Not any fracture.  A fracture in four places.  In other words, I bit down hard enough to crack my tooth in four places, and one of them down to the root.

Now, I have had a mouth guard (custom) for several years.  I clench my teeth.  I do it when I sleep.  I do it when I work.  I lost it about 3 years ago.  I had this awful habit of pulling it out in my sleep – it was this little piece of resin that fit over my front teeth.  I pulled it out one night in my sleep, and it vanished.  I think the cat batted it into some random place never to be seen again.  So yeah, never got it replaced.  And as such I resumed my bad sleep-teeth-grinding-clenching habits.

As a result of this new fracture, I had three choices:  try to let them fix it (would not work in the long term), have them replace it with a bridge (NO – it would vibrate when I played oboe), or replace it with a new post and crown ($$$$$).  I went with option 3, only after they swore up and down I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference when playing.

I take valium to go to the dentist, even for simple cleanings, because of my anxiety.  I now had to go to an oral surgeon and let them pull out a tooth and do a bone graft.  Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, I had the option to be put completely out for the procedure.  Not that it really stopped the anxiety. When I arrived, I had to sign a sheet that basically listed every worst case scenario from being sedated.  As I sat in the chair, all of that ran through my head.  I was shaking and terrified when they put in the IV.  The most humorous part was as I started to go under. I remember feeling each new effect of the sedative and asking if I was going to die.  This was the conversation:

Me: “Ben” – he was the doctor – “I feel dizzy, am I going to die?”
Ben: “No, you’re fine”.
Me:  “Ben, I feel like I can’t breathe, am I going to die?”
Ben: “No, we’re watching your vitals, everything is just fine”
Me: “Ben, it’s getting hard to talk, am I going to die?”
Ben: “That’s normal too, just try and sleep”
Me: “BEN! I AM SLEEPY AND I AM GOING TO DIE????”
Ben: <muffled words – I was out at that point>

An hour and a half later I woke up, and his assistant was greeted by me asking “I can’t see the hippos anymore, where are they?”

Suffice it to say, I felt like the world’s biggest dork later on.

Anxiety is a pain in the ass – the most normal sensation always means YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.  It’s so hard to explain that bit of anxiety to someone.  It’s kind of like going into your house and seeing a crack in the wood floor, and automatically assuming the house is going to collapse on you.  There’s no in between.  There’s no logic in place to say “yeah, crap, crack in the floor”.  It’s always, ALWAYS, worst case scenario.  This bleeds into everything in my life, and quite frankly makes it really difficult to function normally.  I live like this since my mid-20s.  I’ve developed ways of dealing with the anxiety, but it is always there, under the surface.  When I’m faced with something new, I am always on the verge of collapse from complete paralyzing fear.  I hate it, but I can’t stop it.  So I cope.

So back to the tooth.  Everything went normally.  Destroyed tooth was yanked.  Bone graft done.  I healed up just fine, although it took about 3 days to get back to eating solid food.  I had a minor complication with a fragment of bone poking out, so I was banned from oboe-ing for about a month total until it settled back where it belonged.

Right now I’ve still got the gap there.  I am playing again.  Net side effects from the hole are excessive drooling when I play. Seriously, I collect so much water in my horn now, it’s gross – I have to keep swabbing and blowing out the upper joint.  Second weird effect is the tooth behind the gap resonates when I play a D above middle C.  It buzzes a bit, and my inner ear itches.  Luckily, oboe is not a long-note holding instrument so when I’m plowing through Bach the feeling is fleeing.  Long tones are a bitch, though.

I go back in one month to get the post put in.  I was promised the heal time will be less than a week.  After a month, I’ll go to my dentist, get a crown, and VOILA.  New fake tooth.  After all of THAT is done, we’re getting me a nice mouth guard for sleeping (again), and hopefully my sleep tooth clenching will be a thing of the past and I won’t have to live through all this again.

It’s been one year and 10 days since the last time I was told what a horrible person I was. It’s been an interesting year.  I tried hard to let that little awful anniversary pass, but I couldn’t.  Next year will be better.  And the year after that I’ll remember it without hurting.

Today, however, I was reminded by The Man Friend™ (ok, more than a friend, shut up) that I am wanted and needed.  Maybe I’ll remember that more next year than the Awful Memory.

 

 

Last day: Barcelona

I got off the boat this morning in Barcelona. After my mishap getting over here, I was looking forward to my full day in this city. I tucked the last of my belongings into my bags and got off the ship. Norwegian disembarking is fairly easy. You can do it fancy style and have them carry your luggage off the boat, or if you’re like me and totally forgot to grab the right tags the day before, you can also just drag your luggage off with you. Despite the high number of people on the ship, the lines were very short and quick to get off. Once I was off, I waited in the meeting area for my driver. He showed up (right on time) and off we went.

I am staying at Hotel 1898, which is a few blocks from Catalunya Square (aka Plaça de Catalunya) and a very short drive from the port. Driving up to the hotel I was pleased to see an army of shops and clothing stores. My driver was pretty cool too – the provided a mini verbal tour on the way to the hotel, so by the time I got out of the car I was oriented. We also chatted about San Francisco (he lived there for a few years), Las Vegas, and general city history and differences.

I arrived early at the hotel. Although check-in wasn’t until 3PM, they had an extra room and parked me in there. I unloaded my pile of crap, pushed all the buttons available in my hotel room (you have to try out all the things when you first get into a hotel room, it’s a rule), then headed out on foot to see how long it would take me to get lost.

I did not get lost!

That said, I was initially mildly disappointed. It’s Sunday. Almost everything is closed. There is still quite a bit open, but it’s not much. Clothing stores were all closed (BOO). A lot of shoe stores were open. I did get to see a nice cathedral, fight my way through an open food market, and snap a few nice pictures of the city while on foot. I considered heading to the Sagrada Família but I was just too tired to hop on another bus and fight the tourist crush. Next time!

On my wanderings I did run into a group setting up to play. Among them were relatives, a double reed instrument known as a dolçaina (dulzaina). I told them we were double reed cousins, and they let me snap photos.

Around 2PM I returned to the hotel. I chilled with some sparkling white wine, having invaded the mini-bar. Damn the prices, after all the walking I needed a drink! I also spent more money. When I got back I realized THIS IS BAD. My suitcase is full. The spare empty bag I brought is full. I have no idea where I’m going to shove that stuff. To make it all worse, I discovered a tear in my suitcase near the zipper, so I need to find some sort of strap to hold it all together.

I had a bunch of euros left, and since I couldn’t blow them on clothes I eventually put down the sparkling wine and went to go buy another bag/small suitcase. But first, lunch. Having spent a week on a cruise ship, I’d forgotten that part about buying food to eat when you’re hungry. I marched myself down La Rambla and stumbled on this square full of restaurants (Plaça Reial). Picked one at semi-random, and got a giant dish of paella de pollo.

After that, I went back the way I came, wandered into some gift shops, and found myself a second cheap suitcase. Since all of my airlines do two free bags, it was far cheaper than attempting to ship everything back home. Seriously, I collected a lot of crap along the way. Mercifully, my 6 pack of wine is being shipped so I don’t have to worry about hauling that out of the country.

Euro count is now extremely low, so I figure I’ve got enough for driver tip and another fancy glass of wine. And a postcard. Forgot to get one of those. I walked nearly 7 miles today. By the time I get downstairs and back up, it will be 7 miles. I’m pooped, but definitely got a lot out of my one day in Spain.

I get to go home tomorrow. Well, home after 15 hours of flying and 6 hours of layovers. Then the day after is dentist and work. At least it’s a half day of work. I expect to be fully fried, but I’ll be happy to be home.

Traveling to strange new places alone is definitely an experience. I’m glad I decided to do it. It’s far better than waiting around for somebody to join you. This way I have zero regrets and get to see the things I want.

Now my blog can return to it’s status of post-desert, where the updates are few and not nearly as exciting as this last week.

Cruise Day 6: Marseille, France

First of all, I woke up this morning on the tail end of a minor nightmare. Not Bonine caused this time, just one of my general run-of-the-mill extravagant dreams. Dream is a story for myself, but let’s just say at the end my house collapsed around me and sent me off of the edge of a cliff (which in reality was the sensation of the ship hitting the dock). I woke up before my alarm (boo), tried to snooze a little to no avail, and finally gave up and got up at 5:30 AM.

Marseille

So this morning I went to do my routine (as you know, The Routine is important).

Step 1: Make Coffee.
Step 1a: Realize there’s only decaf packets.
STEP 1b: M’FER

Aurelio forgot to stock my room. Doh. Free coffee was upstairs, but that required being social. So I did the shower, teeth brushing, hair combing, etc. sans coffee, then headed upstairs to get some. I also toured the buffet briefly and grabbed a croissant, because I remembered how shaky and and tired I was the previous day climbing hills with only coffee in my stomach. After collecting the necessary calories, I headed back down to chill and finish off my routine, with a full cup of caffeine because caffeine.

Around 9:00 AM was the call for my tour, so I headed down to the theater. For the shore excursions, they give you neat little yellow tickets with your call time and location. All of my locations where the Epic theater, which is a two-story theater near the bottom of the ship. After being called in, they directed us off the ship to a little tour bus. This particular tour was a walking tour, but to get to the heart of Marseille is a bit of a drive (20 minutes?), so bus it was. Our guide met us and walked us a few miles through the heart of town, pointing out sites from the French Connection, dispensing information about local politics, and naming sites famous artists lived. We ultimately wound up at the “old port” of Marseille, which has been completely renovated. It’s a great big open bay full of sailboats and merchants now, which according to our guide is a far cry from the drug-smuggling creepiness of 10 years ago.

We did walk through the old quarter, but overall the entire port area is fairly new. Some of the buildings have been restored and renovated, and there’s a lot of new architecture. It was not disappointing. While Cannes is very glitzy, the Marseille folk have been more interested in renovation and restoration. Per our guide, if the building is serviceable or has historical significance, it’s renovated. If not, it’s demolished and replaced with something more functional.

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Street art

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Some street that appears a lot in movies.  From the top of it.

We only had enough free time to do a little brief shopping, where I loaded up on soaps and postcards.

The Postcards

This started sometime in my early 20s. I was so interested in seeing the world.  It was one of my goals in life. When I did, I would make it a point to purchase postcards from places I had been. During college I used to pin the postcards to my wall for decoration. As I grew older, the postcard collection increased. In my late 20s I realized I had far too many to be sticking into walls with pushpins, so I bought poster frames. I use double sided tape to stick them to the paper insert as a collage, frame them in the original poster frame, than hang them up. Over the years I’ve collected so many that I tend to create a new poster frame every year or two. They hang in my office right now – although after my last couple of trips I may need to branch out to my bedroom. It’s kind of nice being able to walk through the history of my travels on my wall.

There are rules to the postcards: They can’t be just any postcard. They can’t be gifts (there are two exceptions, for good reasons). They also must be pictures of things I have stood upon or seen with my own eyes. They aren’t always standard, either. Sometimes I see a piece of artwork or an artist’s works, and get a postcard of the artist or the work, which counts because I have seen their work with my own eyes. They don’t have to be photographs either – a representation is valid (such as a painting of something I’ve seen).

So yeah, the postcard purchase is required each stop.

Buddies

For once, I was not the only solo traveler on the excursions. I met a nice lady from England (she didn’t specify where), and another from Colorado. The Colorado gal and I stuck close together most of the trip. She was a lot of fun, and when we got free time we were of the same mind, so we tagged along together during shopping. It was nice to have somebody to chat with for once. I’ve kind of gotten used to doing my own thing with minimal chatting, so it was good to make a buddy. On the way back to the bus to the ship the tour group was lagging, so we sped ahead on a power walk, yakking the whole way. That was a good time, I’m so glad I found somebody to chat with that wasn’t part of the staff.

The End of the Cruise

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Here’s me on the last day!

Today was a very short day in Marseille. The ship is taking off early, so I was back on by 1:30 PM local time. We’ll be pushing off soon. We land in Barcelona tomorrow, where I’ll leave the ship, check into my hotel, then go spend a day on foot wandering around trying to blow the Euros I have leftover from my initial ATM stop. After that, I get to go home, hug my dog, pet my cats, kiss my neighbor, then get used to having only 1/3 of the bed to sleep on. I’ll make sure you get a post for tomorrow. I think my hotel has Wifi. I think.

Also, I have to pack tonight.  Triple boo.

Cruise Day 5: Cannes, France

No aka today. Cannes is Cannes. I believe the French would declare war if we were to refer to it as anything else.

We arrived at Cannes this morning. This port is a little different. They don’t allow cruise ships to actually dock, so right now we’re parked a few miles offshore. The cruise ship uses the lifeboats to ferry us ashore, which was actually cool because 1) I got to be in a lifeboat and 2) I now believe the lifeboats actually work.

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My heart will go on

I spent approximately 5 hours onshore in France. For this port, I chose a very short walking tour – 3 hours. We met at the terminal, walked our way through the main parts of the city, visited the Promenade de la Croisette.

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It’s French for “very tiny beach”

Walked through some streets and shopping areas,

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and then were dropped off to do our own thing. After our guide hauled us up to the castle/tower for the view, we were let go.

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The original Angry Bird

The area we are at is where the Cannes film festival is held. There’s great ugly building on the waterfront, and the entire main row of shops is packed with extremely expensive shops (Chanel, Gucci, etc). It has a very LA/Vegas type feel to it, so much like Venice I wasn’t too overawed by what I was seeing. FYI, lots of real estate, so if you have a cool million Euro laying around you can probably buy one of the properties.

The tour guide chatted the whole way, however her accent was pretty heavy so it was hard to keep up with what she was saying. And she punctuated the ends of her sentences with “yah?” “This is a poster of Ingrid Bergman, yah? She was in <movie>, yah?” I’m not making fun of her – she definitely speaks one more language than I do, just found her verbal punctuation a bit amusing.

As far as what we learned, there wasn’t a whole lot of history other than “seaside town, invaded a lot”. I had gotten used to the very clear biographies of every paving stone I stepped on in Italy, so this seemed a bit thinner. But it’s fine – for me the overview is good, I’ll read up on what I want to know later, and lemme go explore. For the record, I did NOT get lost today. Didn’t even have a map!

The area is beautiful (of course). They have a huge open market in the center area of the city where you can pick up pretty much anything you need to make dinner. The homes/apartments/buildings are well maintained. It reminded me of Florence, but definitely a different vibe and look.

I bought a lot of candy for my sister’s kids. I plan to send them home with their heads spinning.

I think I’m getting a little tired. I was far less enthused today than I have been the first few days of the trip. Upside is my tooth has stopped hurting, and the swelling is going down. Which in dental land tells me I’ll likely need a root canal when I get back (dead nerve). But it’s not as critical or painful, and I’m actually able to eat again.

Tomorrow is Marseille, then a day in Barcelona, then I get to go home! I miss my little house. I’ll be lighter in the wallet, and I’ll have many more memories under my belt when I get back.