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On Helluva Travel Year!

Written by Jeff Drake
12 · 18 · 23

Greetings Folks, from Sedona, Arizona!

Sedona, Arizona

This is our final travel destination for 2023. And what a travel year it has been! This year included trips to Las Vegas, Death Valley, Chicago, Minnesota, Vietnam, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and a cruise that took us to Greece, Cyprus, Malta, and Italy. And now, we’re here in Arizona. Lisa and I are a couple of travelin’ fools, for sure. Our cruise was made all the more special because we got to travel with our good friends, Mike and Denise. Mike and I have been best friends since freshman year in high school. I’ll write more about our cruise in just a moment. It’s been a while since I posted anything on my blog, so this post may ramble a bit as I want to cover a few different things, for example:

An Update on my shrinking world….

Our current visit to Sedona is special because it is with family. This is our third visit to Sedona. We do love this place! It’s beautiful! This trip to Sedona is enhanced somewhat for me, as I know it will be my last visit here. You see, my world is shrinking. We were last here in 2020 and we availed ourselves to so many wonderful trails! But no more, at least not for me. Since Covid hit me on our trip to the UK in 2022, my COPD has taken a severe turn for the worse. I struggle with being at altitude now, and our Airbnb house in Sedona is just about 5,000 in elevation. I am fine just sitting, but as soon as I exert myself, I start struggling to breathe, my nose starts running, and I feel exhausted. This is very unlike me and it is a difficult thing to get used to. I have become a true “flatlander”. I laugh when I think of this, remembering a good book I read years ago called, “Flatland,” about an imaginary world where the inhabitants all live in 2-dimensions. And for me, it’s beginning to feel like I do, too. Not by choice, believe me.

My nose running for no apparent reason threw me, since I do not have a cold. In fact, I haven’t been sick since Covid, back in 2022. It turns out that the nose running is due to lung inflammation. I do have some good medicine, fortunately, which is so nice. I can’t imagine living with COPD and not having my 3 different inhalers. I do cough occasionally, usually at night, although it doesn’t last too long. Good for me, not so great for Lisa. I also have a wonderful pulmonologist.

I begin some kind of lung therapy after I return home. I’ll be interested to see what that is all about and whether it will help. Anything I can do to try and fend off the occasional dreaded “flare-up” will be valuable. A flare-up is a period of time when breathing becomes especially difficult. They happen for no apparent reason, although some have been able to identify “triggers” that they say can cause flare-ups. I haven’t been able to identify my triggers yet, so I try to pay attention when they happen. People with asthma get flare-ups, too. The insidious difference between an asthma flare-up and a COPD flare-up is that with COPD, your lungs get potentially damaged from the flare-up and they do not get any better afterwards. This is why it’s a good thing to identify a flare-up and treat it immediately, before damage happens. With asthma, the lungs return to their previous state after a flare-up.

When I do experience a flare-up, my doctor gives me a 7-day regimen of prednisone, 2 pills per day. It’s a steroid, so my doctor is adamant that I not get dependent on it, because the side-effects of long-term use are very bad for you. But as a short-term fix for a flare-up, prednisone is a miracle drug! COPD is all about lung inflammation and the prednisone reduces it dramatically and almost immediately. The day we left Portland for Sedona, I began a 7-day dose he gave me for the trip. I can easily see why prednisone can become a crutch one can get dependent on. One downside for me with prednisone is that it completely counteracts medicine I take for another malady of mine, my essential tremors. So, while my breathing becomes easier with the drug, my shakes then get pretty bad. The shakes are annoying and embarrassing, but I have decided that it is better to be annoyed and embarrassed than not being able to breathe. The drug that lessens my tremors was not intended for that purpose. This just happens to be a side-effect of proplanalol, a blood pressure medicine. No one apparently knows why it lessens tremors, and while it doesn’t eliminate them, it helps a lot.

This whole experience, being someone with illnesses that effect the quality of my life, is new. In my case, I have two medical conditions whose origins are unknown. To my knowledge, no one on either side of my biological tree was ever afflicted with tremors. That said, science has no idea apparently what causes them and they happen to a lot of people, so this could just be luck of the draw. I wonder whether they are the result of exposure to Agent Orange, a deadly neurotoxin used in the Vietnam War. A number of soldiers I was stationed with have illnesses attributable to this nasty chemical. I watched these people come and go as I was in Vietnam for 19 months, worked and fought alongside them, so I suppose it is possible. Who knows? I sure don’t. As for the COPD, I quit smoking in 1983 and got diagnosed for it in 2017. Granted I smoked cigars for a period in the 90’s, but my doctor said that wouldn’t be enough to cause the COPD, so he remains puzzled. Again, COPD is a known disease caused by exposure to Agent Orange, but it is also true that 30% of people with COPD never smoked. Luck of the draw again perhaps? Agent Orange? I’ll never know for sure, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter. It is what it is.

I refuse to let my illnesses get me down and try to stay positive. How can I do elsewise, really? I’m one of the luckiest people I know! Yes, it’s true that my world is shrinking. Travel, which has been such a big part of my life is coming to an end for me, although I hope to still do occasional road trips or flights to fairly close locations (e.g., California, Washington, Canada). Having visited 45 countries, what could I possibly complain about? When it comes to travel, I have been living the dream, for sure!

Now, I have to refocus somewhat and think about the future. After all, I am not alone in this adventure called life. I need to get things in order so that Lisa, my wife and by default, care-giver, will not be over-burdened and get her situated so that she can more easily deal with my COPD, which will, without a doubt, get worse. This is the nature of the disease. I am one Covid experience away from the oxygen bottle. And with oxygen comes a dramatically reduced life expectancy. Again, trying to stay positive, there is a stroke of good fortune even in this rather dire forecast, you see it gives me an insight into my future and potential expiration date, which means that I can actually take the time to spend with the people I treasure, both family and friends. I truly hope that I will have the opportunity to say goodbye when the time comes. If you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know how precious this opportunity can be. So, no, I will not face the future with a dark cloud hanging over me. I will do what I can to fight this disease, stay healthy as I can, enjoy being with my wife (the worlds best care-giver), spend time with our son and family, our friends, etc. COPD is what it is, and I am still a very lucky man!

The cruise:

Lisa and I have taken 3 cruises previous to this trip to Greece and Italy. We both agreed that we wouldn’t do another until we were older. We decided to focus on travel that was more immersive, which is why we’ve done so many trips with Overseas Adventure Travel. But circumstances being what they are now with my health, we decided to take the cruise-plunge again.

We have talked about doing a cruise with Viking for a few years now. Initially, we have been considering one of their famous river cruises, but in this case an ocean cruise seemed right as they had a special deal that would return us to Greece, a place we’ve been before and thoroughly enjoyed. Lisa especially, has been interested in a return visit, so we jumped on the opportunity when it popped up.

I urge anyone interested in cruising to get on Youtube and checkout some Viking reviews. People who cruise, love Viking. And now we know why. Be warned, Viking is a step above most cruise lines, so you pay more. But, you get your money’s worth!

So, what’s to like about Viking? Well, first their ships are smaller than the mega-cruised ship lines found in Celebrity, Carnival, etc. This means fewer people! Consider the fact that a Viking cruise ship holds something like 950 people, but the staff to passenger rate is – get this – 2 to 1! That’s significant!

In our case, the cruise we picked was titled as a journey to Israel and the Holy Land. Talk about bad timing! As you might guess, the entire Israel and Holy Land tours were eliminated and replaced with other options I’ll talk about shortly. Because of the canceled tour to the Holy Land, we were told by other passengers who were somehow clued into Viking, that 30% of the registered passengers on our cruise, cancelled! This meant that our boat was not the least bit crowded at all. We had no trouble finding places to hang out and chill when we wanted to.

The staff were so organized and good at their jobs. They were everywhere, yet somehow able to not be noticeable. Everyone was eager to please without being patronizing or overbearing. Note also that with Viking you can prepay any tips, so you don’t have that to deal with while you are traveling. And they took such great care of us. One afternoon we took off to lunch, leaving our room somewhat in disarray, thinking we’d neaten it up after lunch and before the staff came in later in the day. Lisa had left a number of sundry items from her suitcase on the bed, some clothes, underwear, etc. When we returned from lunch we found that the our steward had entered the room and cleaned it, including folding each of her things nice and neat on the bed. LOL! She was a little embarrassed, but we were both impressed.

The ship was beautiful. So tastefully decorated! Someone knew what the hell they were doing. I think I described it as “comfort with style.” Nothing ostentatious, yet stylish in color, fabrics, paintings, carpets, etc. Really a class act.

Dress clothes were not required. Casual dress was fine everywhere, except men needed dress slacks for dinner at the specialty restaurants and women needed to cover their shoulders, or some such thing. In any event, it was an easy hurdle to jump.

Did I mention the food? Wow! The food was, well, so much! Not in price, as everything is paid for, but in quantity. As much food as you can possibly eat. They have a buffet, of course, open 24 hours. I think it was called the, “World Café.” Now, a buffet is a buffet, etc. and I did read some reviews critical of the food people got there, and I had a few things I wasn’t crazy about, but it is so huge I had no problem going back and being a bit more choosy and finding something I did like. There are several bars and they also had food options. One had hotdogs and hamburgers, another coffee bar had the most dreamy pastries and donuts that were so damn good! Oh man, the coffee! Delicious! There is also a Nordic restaurant that specialized in breakfast. I had their waffles twice. So damn good! Have a hankering for a bit of posh food, why not make a reservation for high tea? We did this twice. They bring out the traditional portable shelves laden with tasty sandwiches and sweets. Not enough? They’ll bring you another! And yes, all paid for up front. Want a high-end restaurant experience while you’re cruising? Viking (our boat was the Neptune, by the way) has 2 of them: Chef’s Table, and Manfredi’s. Chef’s Table is a prix fixe menu arrangement, complete with pairings. Manfredi’s is Italian. If I had paid a lot for meals at these restaurants back home, I would have been happy, they were that good! Chef’s Table rotated their menu every 3 days, so the staff worked with us to get bookings so we could try each menu while we were there. Yes, you do need reservations. Trying to book ahead of boarding was difficult, but once on board, we had no problem, so don’t freak if you can’t get in before you depart. Manfredi’s had a wonderful menu, so we had no problem wending our way around it. Lisa’s favorite was Manfredi’s, but for me it was a toss up. Good food everywhere you looked.

Oh, one more thing about the food. It turned out that we were on the boat for our 49th wedding anniversary! It was on November 23rd, which also happened to be Thanksgiving and which also happened to be my our friend, Mike’s birthday. Mike, by the way, was my best man at our wedding. We didn’t plan on this, it just happened this way. Very cool. We, of course, were sure to mention this to the woman who booked our cruise for us. Always do this! In our case, we had a beautiful cake delivered to our room. We were always so full from eating though, we didn’t touch if for a couple days and then suddenly, it was gone. Ugh, we were bummed. However, I had a suspicion that it might show up again, and sure enough, it did, at our dinner on our anniversary. I’m not sure we ever had a cake that good before, seriously.

What about the wine and liquor on the boat?

Viking offers a drink package called, Silver something-or-other. I looked into it, but since Lisa doesn’t drink liquor and is a tea-totaler when it comes to wine, I couldn’t justify the cost. If you look on Youtube, the consensus is that it only make sense if you and your mate (yes, all passengers sharing a stateroom have to buy it) drink at least $20 worth of alcohol per day. Without the drink package you still get free beer and wine at restaurants, but if you order at one of the bars you have to pay. The cost is about the same you’d pay back home. I figured if I wanted some good scotch, I’d just pay as I go. I quickly learned the error of this judgment after ordering my first single malt. It was an official single shot. It felt to me like I could barely see it. For the price, not worth it. So I stuck with wine. Let me say that the “house” wines were just fine! Some were quite delicious! I missed my scotch, but the wine sufficed, and the waiters keep it flowing, let me tell you! Glasses refilled every time you looked away. LOL. So, I would think carefully before paying for the Silver package.

What about entertainment for evenings and those “at sea” days? This was usually something I dreaded on the other cruises we were on. When I hear there is going to be musicals or Broadway tunes, I always envision sticking chopsticks into my ears. This is the typical fare on cruise ships. Viking was similar for the show tunes, but I have to say the singers weren’t bad, even if their choice in music was questionable. The ship has a beautiful atrium, too, with a grand piano, and a bar for music, so we had a choice of piano music with violin or guitar music at another bar. Both were very nice. But for those of us not into the music scene they also had a professional mentalist (seen him before on Youtube), who was excellent! He played two shows and we made sure to see them both. Very good!

Oh, about the canceled Holy Land tours – they replaced these tours with more time at Cyprus and added Malta, a place we we’d never even considered before. I can’t say much about the shore excursions we went on, as I had to sit out two of them due to the hills I would have had to climb, so while people walked about the town, I waited in a café. But even Lisa, who enjoyed the tour of Malta especially, felt they were just cursory tours, enough to give legitimacy to a claim to “having been there.” We still both much prefer a more immersive experience, spending time with locals and experiencing local culture. You aren’t going to get that on any cruise, not even Viking. So, the shore excursions for me were a bit of a bust. Other passengers seemed to enjoy them, though.

Oh, by the way, two islands we were supposed to see, Mykonos and Rhodes, were both canceled at the last moment due to high winds! We were bummed, as we visited both places back in the 90s and wanted to see them again. Apparently this is not an unusual thing. I got the feeling that 40 knot winds was the cut off point where the captain said, “Hell no, we won’t go!” We had winds that high and seas that were with 16 foot waves. We had an upgraded cabin in the very back (aft) end of the boat, with a nice seating area patio. The room was large, really. It had a minibar, of course, filled with drinks, chocolates, snacks, etc. Again all free. The drinks you get stocked with depend on your drink package. No alcohol for us. Sniff.  Even with the high seas, the boat was very stable. The aft end is notorious for more wave motion, which never bothers me, but even Lisa who is a bit more sensitive was fine with it. And I will never second guess or fault a captain for choosing safety first, disappointed as we were.

After all this, and although Viking has set the bar for any future cruise ship considerations, I won’t be doing any more cruises. The international flights are now off my plate entirely. And I think Lisa won’t be interested until she is older. She’s still in good health and quite active. She is open to the idea of a river cruise, still, I think. Again, not on my radar.

Another cancelation that happened was Naples. In our case we had just been to Naples, but we were looking forward to seeing it again and chasing down a cannoli, that we loved (the best in the world). Instead they added Messina, a place I remember hearing about from my uncle, who fought there during the war. I sat out the shore excursion again. It sounds like it was more of another bus tour.

We bracketed our cruise with 2 days in Athens before the cruise started, to help us get adjusted to the time difference and see the place on our own, and 2 days in Rome, because it’s Rome, a city we both love, having visited there in 2009. It was worth it.

I’m sure I’m forgetting to talk about some things you are may be curious about, so feel free to email me with your questions, or leave me a comment with them. I’ll do my best to answer.

Till next time…

Let us know what you think…

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Author

Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.