Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sicily & trip home

In Sicily, we docked at Messina. This seemed to be a nice port city; but, we didn't see a lot of it. We boarded a bus nice early at 7:45. Began the 90 minute drive to Mt Etna and the surrounding area. The drive included passing through something like 30 tunnels. It was very picturesque and our guide did a good job of pointing out sights. We stopped in a little town at the foot of Etna.

I waited in the bus and talked a little with the driver. We discussed the small town of Caliscibetta - which is where Jill's family originated. Her grandfather and great-grandparents came from Caliscibetta in 1904. The driver and I managed to communicate enough that he programmed the town into his GPS and showed me where it was - just 125 km or about 75 miles from where were sitting. He, and then the guide, were quite interested in knowing that someone was on their bus who was from the area.

Next, we drove to what was literally the foot of the volcano. We saw what was the end of the lava flow from the last eruption. We could see the top of the volcano where three vents were steaming. This is considered to be a live volcano.

Afterward, we visited a local jewelry store and production location. They served us a snack of various cookies, cakes, etc and, of course, wine. After about an hour of shopping, we headed back to the ship.

We didn't do much when we got back to the ship other than pack and relax. We were schedule to disembark at 7:15 the next morning.

Disembarkation was perhaps the smoothest and quickest we have ever had. There was a driver right at the exit door shortly after we got off the ship and he loaded up our luggage. Now the fun part of the story....

The driver was holding up a sign that said "Allen". I asked him if he needed our printed voucher - he said he didn't need it. Well...we had gone about 35 or 45 minutes when the driver got a phone call. He handed me his cell and the person asked "what hotel are you going to?". I told him we were supposed to be headed to the airport. Turns out we were not in the right limo! The driver tried to convince me that I would need to pay him for the ride - while I explained that I had already paid for the ride and had no intention of paying again. He tried to imply I had made a mistake and I told him that I had offered the voucher - he rejected seeing it and didn't deny that. He then tried to get me to split it - which would have been around €100 (about $140). I explained to him that I was prepared to give what I planned to give as a tip and no more. All this time we were sitting at an exit Y on the freeway. I guess he wanted to give the impression that he would drop us off right then. Eventually, he drove on another 30 minutes and dropped us at the airport.

Checking in at the airport was a little confusing due to issues between Delta and NWA - we actually checked in at KLM. And, as we figured this out, we had to haul all of our luggage with us. By the time we got checked in, I was wasted and they called for a wheelchair - which took almost 30 minutes to get there. Everyone else had gone on through security and the line for the shuttle bus to our gate.

When my wheelchair finally showed up, they whizzed me past security (without the long line) and put me in a van. Turns out that the others really only barely beat me to the gate. The next confusion was that they told us we were leaving from Gate 32 and our boarding passes said Gate 32. Luckily, just a few minutes from boarding, Arielle noticed on the video over the gates that Detroit was listed over Gate 31.
We boarded close to on-time an began our 9 1/2 hour flight. There is nothing you can do to make that kind of flight any shorter.

In Detroit, there wasn't a wheelchair when we got off the plane and the ordeal was very difficult for me. It was quite a walk to immigration and pretty long lines. Once we got through immigration, we had to locate and collect our luggage for customs. Then, we had to recheck our luggage. I'm not sure of the purpose of this step since I didn't see them do anything other than ask if the bags were ours and send us on. Then, even though we hadn't left the airport, we had to go through security all over again.

After security, I spotted a couple porters with wheelchairs. I stopped them and didn't even need to act re the pitiful shape I was in. One of them put me in the wheelchair and took me the rest of the way to our gate.

I was almost out of batteries for my oxygen concentrator - I ran out while we were on the plane to Indy. Luckily, there was a wheelchair waiting for me in Indy and she stayed with us the entire time while we got our luggage and she helped us take it outside for pickup by our limo.

All in all, this was a very good trip that would have been much better if both Jill and I hadn't had health problems. This is one of the few times we have completed a cruise without having the next one booked. But, I think we will need to be careful with what we book next. We really need more days a sea.

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