Spring 2015: Planning Ahead

Written 15 July 2015

This year, the Deep-Sea Biology Meetings will be held in Aveiro, Portugal, and because, during the usual midsummer time window, Portugal would be uncomfortably hot, the event has been pushed later in the year, to the first week of September. That could have been a serious nuisance a few years ago, but as David need no longer plan around a classroom teaching schedule, it's just fine with us, even though we will miss the first football game of the season.

Among the friends and colleagues we look forward to seeing there are George D. F. "Buz" Wilson (a grad-school lab-mate of David's) and his charming wife Kathy Fries-Wilson. Kathy worked for many years as a travel agent and really knows her way around an itinerary. She and Buz are the ones who talked us into the barge cruise through the Champagne region back in 1988 that we remember so fondly. This year, they've done it again. We are now signed up for a genuine Viking River Cruise that will occupy the week before the meetings. We'll fly into Lisbon and be met by the cruise folks, who will show us the city for a couple of days, then pack us off to Porto, where we'll board the Viking Hemming (named for a shape-shifting Norse god) for a cruise up and back down the River Douro ("Portugal's River of Gold"). From there, it's a short train ride to Aveiro, where David and Buz will disappear into the meetings while Kathy, I, and another colleague's wife play tourist. We'll all rendezvous for an interesting dinner in the evening.

One nice feature of this itinerary is its simplicity. I usually spend March and April lining up, say, 15 hotel reservations and 20 restaurant reservations. None of that at all this year—Viking takes care of everything until they decant us onto the dock in Porto at the end of the cruise, then we're in the conference hotel for the rest of the time. The only arrangements we need make are the trains from Porto to Aveiro and from Aveiro to Lisbon. Piece of cake.

The map at the left shows our principal stops: Lisbon, which we fly into and out of; Porto, where the actual cruise part begins and ends; Aveiro, site of the Deep-Sea Biology Meetings; and Salamanca, the far end of the cruise itinerary. The boat (ship, whatever) actually docks just short of the Spanish border. We all get loaded onto a bus for a full-day excursion to Salamanca and are then taken back to the boat for the return cruise. I've traced the portion of the Douro that we will cruise in red. The river then continues northeast along the border, but I don't think we sail up that part.

We're doing the cruise up right. All the cheaper cabins were sold out before we even heard about it, so we'll be in one of the second-most-expensive balcony suites! Fortunately, at that time of the year they're on two-for-one sale, so we got it for half price (told you Kathy knew her way around these things). The "passenger information form" we had to fill out on line was hilarious. For example, we were asked to choose a preferred form of address from a long pull-down list that included Mr., Ms., Miss, Mrs., Monseignor, Your Royal Highness, Your Grace, Princess, and about 80 other choices. I chose "Professor" for David and "Doctor" for me. The cruise is, however, soaking up the year's entire European travel budget, so no visit to France this year.

Never having done this sort of thing before, I foolishly agreed to let the Viking people arrange our airline travel, figuring they'd probably get deeper discounts, and how bad could it be? After all, Tallahassee affords only a limited choice of flights.

Well, it was pretty bad. First, they didn't put us on Delta, our airline of choice because of our frequent-flyer memberships. Second, they pieced together a bizarre itinerary involving Charlotte, Philadelphia, Rome (!), Cincinnati (not, fortunately, in that order), and way too many changes of plane both coming and going. Well, I thought, let that be a lesson to me—we'll probably make our medallion-status totals anyway, even without those flights, and I'll know better next time.

Then, a month or so ago, I got an e-mail from the airline saying they'd had a major schedule rearrangement and that, for our trip home, we would now be flying out of Porto at 4 a.m.! Meaning we'd have to be at the airport at 2:00 a.m.! David balked. "Call them up," he said, "and tell them they can't expect people our age to do that." So I did, not very optimistic, and to my surprise, Viking's reaction was "You're absolutely right. We're so sorry. We didn't know the airline had done that. We'll see what we can do and get back to you." And they did, noting in the process that, in addition to the 4:00 a.m. departure time, the revised itinerary, which just listed "Paris" as one of our stops, had us flying into one of Paris's airports and then out of the other one just two and a half hours later—insane! In the end, the best they could do out of Porto involved a very iffy 35-minute connection in Rome; could we perhaps change our departure date or departure airport? Sure—we had planned to take the train from Aveiro to an airport motel in Porto the night before anyway. If we just headed south rather than north and spent an extra hour or so on the train, we could make that a Lisbon airport motel. And hey, presto! Atlanta, Amsterdam, Lisbon going and Paris (without change of airport), Atlanta, Tallahassee coming back. Eminently reasonable departure times, and—best of all—Delta all the way! We even get to have breakfast in Paris on the way home, so we can't say we didn't get to France at all this year.

Written 6 August 2015

Viking has now sent us our "travel documents," laid out here for inspection. The page in the middle of the photo is the inventory of the contents, which came to us in the snazzy zipper pouch sporting an image of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

The inventory lists (a) an itinerary-specific information booklet for each of us, with our names printed right on the cover, that lists in detail all the places we'll go, things we'll see, meals they will provide, etc.; (b) a travel-companion destination book for us to share, all about Portugal in general; (c) a bright-red leather luggage tag for each of us; (d) two self-stick paper luggage tags for each of us; and (e) two large round red stickers that we are to wear on our clothing when we arrive in Portugal, so that the Viking folks picking us up will be able to spot us and take us to our hotel.

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