A quick tour

The train ride was easy and uneventful. They served a breakfast snack right after we boarded in Cologne, and a lunch snack just after Brussels. Since we were in the Premium class, we were able to fill out a form and pre-request a taxi for €7 extra. It was nice because the taxi line stretched from outside all the way into the middle of the station.

We took the quick taxi to the new hotel, Hotel Paris Bastille Boutet. It’s near the Bastille Plaza, and in fact we drove right through it on the way to the hotel. I planned to take a quick nap and then go out, but I realized I would just skip everything if I didn’t go out right that second. I consulted Google Maps for the best way to get about, and I decided on going to the Louvre since it was a straight shot without multiple line changes. I turned left out of the hotel and walked about 10 minutes to the Reuilly – Diderot Metro stop. The ticket machines were easy to switch to English and accepted credit cards, though I had to use my pin. I barely have to use it since it still hasn’t taken off in the US, but luckily I remembered it. Tickets anywhere in Zone 1, which covers most of Paris, were €1.90 each way.

The train arrived quickly, and there wasn’t a large crowd since it was about 1pm on a Friday. I got to the Louvre 7 stops later and walked up onto one of the side entrances. Although lots of people were taking pictures here, it wasn’t the view I had in mind when I thought about the Louvre. I made my way around to the front and took a picture with the pyramid in the background:

I didn’t realize how huge the Louvre is, or that it had been a place previously. I guess I need to do a little more studying before going to new cities so that I know what I’m seeing. I didn’t feel the need to join the throngs and see the Mona Lisa today, but maybe next time if I spend longer there. I hear there are also other pieces of art in the Louvre as well 🙂

After looking around the square a bit, I walked along the Seine parallel to the Tuileries Gardens, which are also pretty huge. It’s cool to imagine what it looked like in the old days when the Louvre Palace was one of the only big buildings around. I knew the Eiffel Tower was a pretty far walk, but I figured I could get close enough for an identifiable shot today. This was all mainly a recon trip to make sure I didn’t waste time figuring out transportation next time when I have enough time and am awake enough to actually see things. Anyway, here’s La Tour Eiffel in the distance:

I walked on the Seine as far as the Place du Concorde, which looks so much like the copy in Vegas that Google Lens thinks that’s where I was. I took some shots, enjoyed the scenery, and walked back to the Metro. 7 stops later I was back on Rue Reuilly for the short walk back to the hotel. I was pretty beat by the time I got back, and I slept a good 7 hours until 11pm or later.

I stayed up until breakfast the next morning and met the captain down there. The breakfast was pretty good, with eggs, bacon and sausage as well as some fruits, meats and cheeses. All-in-all it was small for a €22 breakfast, but not bad when you don’t feel like going out early in the morning. The captain and I had an enjoyable time talking about airplanes and guns, although we both managed to spill the lid off the orange juice, much to the hotel waiter’s chagrin. I think it was clogged with pulp and made you turn it over more than usual, causing the weight of the liquid inside to pop the top off and spill OJ all over. Anyway I’ll know better for next time if I decide to eat here again.


I’m back in Medellin, this time in the city proper instead of Rio Negro. I’m so excited because Elle and Max will be here in just 2 days to visit me! I decided to go with a slightly nicer hotel this time, the Four Points Sheraton, and so far I really like it. I’m going to move into a suite tomorrow so that we can have a door between us and Max for his naps and when he goes to bed earlier. I can’t wait!

Rio Negro

I’m at the end of what was supposed to be a 3-day trip here but ended up being an overnight because the mission changed. I’m at a hotel near the Rio Negro airport that serves Medellin. The place I’m at is kinda neat; Max would love it if he could stay here because there’s an upstairs bedroom that overlooks the main floor. Max doesn’t know it yet, but he and E are coming to visit me in about 2 weeks when I come to Medellin again for a week. Anyway below me are some pictures of the place.


After 4 months in a city it’s nice to see this view outside the room!

Only in Colombia

Yesterday the 4th floor (below me) accused me of spilling water on the floor because their apt. smelled humid. My roommate verified for them there was no leak or spill in my bathroom. Apparently today they had a repairman in and our maid let him in our apartment because now I have no toilet. You think they would have told us before doing something like that.

The Park Plaza

More on my trip to Utrecht in November:
Did I mention I was in a fairly nice hotel? I was going to spend a total of 2 nights in Utrecht, and I didn’t have time to do a ton of research, so all I did was do a search of hotels rated 4 stars and above in Utrecht and compared that search with my daily hotel limit. The Park Plaza came in under the limit and seemed to be easy to find. An additional factor is that I was initially denied a rental car authorization and I planned to take the train from the airport. This hotel is right at the Utrecht train station.
As you can imagine, searching for “Park Plaza” will get you thousands of hits from companies all over the world, but after about 30 minutes I was able to find the link to the Park Plaza I wanted. It seemed like a decent hotel but said there was no availability for the days I was going. Another quick search led me to Bookings NL, where I picked up a room for the low, low price of €104 the first night and €150 the second, for a total of €254 or about $200 at the current exchange rate. Incidentally, after the trip I found that I was charged €20 more than the quoted rate. A quick email to Bookings NL fixed that error in no time!
The room included breakfast, which was good, but did not include the €10 a day parking fee in the small lot surrounding the hotel. I managed to find spots in the hotel lot both nights, but one afternoon when I got back from my business early the lot was full from a lunch conference and I had to park in the street for 30 minutes until something opened up.

ΕΛΛΑΣ – Back on Dry Land

I forgot to mention yesterday that the Shore Excursion office never got back to me about the post-cruise excursion. I had to go back during their evening working hour, re-explain what I wanted to do, and re-authorize them to charge us $55 per person for the tour. Looking back, we could have done it differently. We did it the right way because 1) we’re honest and 2) we wanted to guarantee that we’d be with Ted and Joelle. Purely for information purposes I can tell you that we could have put Joelle and Ted’s extra bag tags on our luggage to have it carried to their room at the Divani Caravel and then slipped on to the tour–more on that later.
We got up at 7 so that we could vacate the room before 8. Luckily the standard breakfast was still being served, so we took full advantage of the cereals, fresh fruits, and omelet station. Our bag tag color was called at about 8:30, and then the fun began. We were crammed into a people mover for the short ride to the terminal where we were alternately told to wait, start identifying luggage, and move out because the luggage had already been transferred. #3 turned out out to be correct, so we tried to follow one of the 30 or so Greek tour reps wearing Orient uniforms and waving around clipboards with no identification. Shortly after exiting the terminal we entered the madhouse of a bus parking lot where busses from at least 4 cruise ships were trying to load people for their different tours. I would estimate that there were at least 40 busses in the lot. We quickly lost any hope of following anyone and instead started searching for a ‘Burgundy’ bus (our bag tag color). We had no luck and eventually asked one of the Orient reps what to do. In my favorite “aren’t you an idiot” tone of voice, she told us that we should know that Orange and Burgundy are the same and that we needed to get on an Orange bus. How stupid of us not to realize that those 2 colors were the same, especially after Orient went through the expense to print out different colored tags for us!
I quickly realized that with no Shore Excursion tickets you could walk into that pandemonium and do any tour you wanted–at least on Orient Lines! If you used the bag tag trick from before, all you’d need to do is say you were orange or blue or whatever color matches the hotel you want to end up in. Again, we paid for it, but I almost wish we hadn’t. Big regret of the day: the other orange bus had 4 seats left, but we didn’t go there because we wanted to be sure to sit across from Ted and Joelle. I regret it because we got a tour guide who was monotonous, repetitive, and really didn’t like tourists. She apparently got paid by the word, because she talked non-stop during the entire 1-hour drive to the Acropolis. I would have preferred short bursts of interesting commentary separated by minutes of silence to the never ending stream-of-consciousness drivel we got. We finally got to the Acropolis after a brief drive through the city which included the 1896 Olympic Stadium and some other sights. The tour guide gave us our tickets, and we followed her through to the steps. Incidentally, the tour guide didn’t bother to share with us that the €12 ticket (part of the excursion fee) is good for one week at the Agora, Dionysos Theater, and other ancient sites. The walk up to the Acropolis was surprisingly short given the fact that the 87 steps were highly emphasized. The steps were wide, easy to climb, and separated by inclined landings at regular intervals. The Acropolis is incredible, but we would rather have done it alone than stay with our guide. She stopped in front of the most famous building–the Parthenon–and talked for about 20 minutes with several dog-related interruptions. Yep, there are dogs guarding the Parthenon as well, but unlike Rome and Pompeii these are actually trained guard dogs, not just strays that happen to live there. Apparently there’s a new worker in the restoration area that tourists aren’t supposed to enter, so the dog thinks he’s an intruder and keeps barking at him. We thought it was funny, but one of our fellow cruisers was very unhappy and couldn’t believe that the dog had the nerve to ruin his vacation by barking.
I should point out that the coming Olympic Games has caused the Greek government to spend millions if not billions of euros refurbishing everything in sight. So, instead of seeing just the 2500 year-old Parthenon, you get it covered in scaffolding, which takes something away from the experience. All of the sites are guarded by people with whistles who will blow a foul if you try to enter the roped off areas, walk around with your shirt open, or try to take a sample of the ancient marble, something no one in our party was despicable enough to do. It’s a little like being at the beach when the lifeguard blows his whistle. Everyone–including those not doing anything wrong–stops what they’re doing to see what the whistling is for and to be sure that they aren’t getting in trouble. I’m proud to report that at least 1/2 of the Anderson clan was able to avoid infraction-related whistles during the Acropolis visit.
We spent the rest of the time looking at the ruins on the Acropolis and the view down to the city. Athens is not a pretty looking city by any stretch of the imagination, but it is cool to see the Agora, Jupiter’s temple, and 1896 stadium scattered among the normal buildings.
After the Acropolis, we drove through Athens some more, seeing the monument to Aristotle Onassis’s last wife among many other things. Despite the tour guide’s drone, I was able to get in a 5 minute nap before Ellen woke me up at the hotel.
Since we didn’t book our room through Orient it wasn’t ready at 1300, and when we finally got a room at 1330 it wasn’t a superior double with a view but a 2nd floor 2 twin that looked out over the hotel driveway. The only advantage to being independent is that breakfast was included in our €136 rate (€150 with taxes). The Divani Caravel calls itself 5 star, but for those 5 stars you get one ice machine in the building, no ice buckets in the rooms, and €5 Cokes in the mini bar. We quickly found the local supermarket (left out of the hotel, 1st left, 2 blocks down on the left) and got some supplies. So, in a few short hours we went from the ship’s abundance to PB&J in the hotel room! (That PB&J was good, though!)
One of the great things about the Caravel is the rooftop pool. Don’t forget to check out the fitness room below with underwater views of the pool. We went up to the pool for a swim and then back to the room for a nap before dinner. We met up at 20:30, and Ellen asked the hotel for a recommendation. We left with a dot on the map but not the restaurant’s name, which wound up causing us problems. We made a left out of the hotel and a right on Michalokopoulou (say that 3 times fast!). When we got to the dot, we found a closed restaurant, and in front of us it looked like houses, so we turned back towards the Caravel. When we came across the Holiday Inn, Ted #1 ran in and got directions, the name, and even a phone call to be sure the place was open. Yay Holiday Inn! The restaurant was good, we ate too much, and it was fun! We can’t believe there’s only one day until Ted and Joelle leave for the US! (On the way out of town I tried to copy the restaurant’s name, but we didn’t pass close enough to it. I’d say it’s no more than 4 blocks from the Holiday Inn on the right side going away from the Caravel. It’s the place that obviously converted its porch into part of the air conditioned restaurant.)

At Sea on the Destination Oriented Cruise Ship

Well, last night really did turn out to be a late one! After the nightly entertainment was over yesterday, Ted and I wound up in the casino watching the 5 or 6 people there play Blackjack and Roulette until the tables closed at 1:30. As we walked out of the casino, we struck up a conversation with a couple from England who were playing one of those machines with a pile of coins inside where you have to drop your coin so that the sliding drawer eventually pushes money over the edge. (Know what it’s called? Please leave a comment or send me an email. ) The couple said they regularly play these kinds of machines and that the one on board paid off a lot better. One thing led to another, and before long I had $20 worth of quarter tokens and was dropping away.
After two malfunctions where the technician moved the money around inside, I saw that I had a good chance of getting the wrapped up $20 bill on top of the pile of tokens. It was slow going, but the machine kept paying off enough for me to keep playing without reaching into my bucket for more coins. By the end of the night, I had the original $20 back plus $50 more and a free bottle of champagne.
I came back from my winning streak at 0400 and remembered that it was really 0500 because we were setting the clocks ahead to prepare for Greece. We woke up at 10 for another room service breakfast and then lounged around the room until a little after noon. There weren’t a lot of activities today, and several were even cancelled due to lack of participation, so we mainly lounged around and went to meals when we could 🙂
Since there’s not much else to say, I’ll touch on one of the hotly debated points I’ve read about Orient Lines: the crew. Our ship’s crew was nearly 100% Filipino, including both the service staff and the actual sailors who rarely interact with the passengers. I’m not sure how a company is able to hire almost exclusively from one nationality, but I’m sure it’s related to the fact that they’re not subject to US laws. I’m not going to say one way is better than the other because our last cruise was multinational and equally enjoyable, especially our waiter Barisch (sp?). However, I did notice a uniformity among the Orient crew that was not present on our other cruise. All of the service staff from the stewards to the waiters to the reception desk clerks displayed a kind of practiced politeness. They weren’t just nice when you spoke to them, they went out of their way to greet you or talk to you and make sure you were having a good time. I call it practiced because I think you really need to work on not just walking through a corridor but instead happily greeting every single person you pass, and this crew does it well. In any event, the crewmembers I spoke with said it will all change soon. If they can’t get contracts from the Marco Polo and stay in the Orient Lines fold, they will most likely be required to move to other ships in the NCL fleet. So, whether or not you like the current crew, it will come to an end within a year.

Hotel American

Yeah I know, what a cop-out, right? According to the reviews I’ve read, the Hotel American is 100% Italian. From what I’ve seen it looks like a great place, and we splurged a little (as if we’re not spending enough already on this trip). A double room with a view of the canal will run us €190 a night, with a 5% discount if we pay in cash. I’ve heard many good things about the American including that it has a free internet terminal in the lobby, so you may get some updates from there. Then again, I may handwrite everything on the trip (how 20th century) and then transfer it to the web when we get home.

Divani Carvel Hotel

Once again we decided to stay in the same hotel as our family after the cruise, especially since they will be in Athens 2 nights. We will be at the Divani Caravel Hotel, which seems to be a fairly nice hotel athough a little ways away from the main Plaka area. Discount hotel companies don’t seem to do too much business with the Caravel because every place we found showed the same price as the hotel website. We wound up booking through Travelocity. They say we’re getting a Superior Double room with a view for €136.17 a night, but naturally as soon as I entered my credit card information the confirmation no longer shows the words “superior,” “view,” or even “room,” so we’ll see what we get once we’re over there.
By the way, I neglected to make a Piraeus to Hotel entry because in the end we’ll probably wind up taking a taxi there if we can’t get in with the paying passengers. Supposedly the metro runs from the port to the center of town, but I haven’t found anyone who could confirm it.

The cruise

Ellen and I have talked about doing a Mediterranean cruise, with or without friends and family, since we found out we were moving to Spain. Ted and Joelle thought it sounded like a great idea, and in the summer of 2002 we started looking at our options. We wanted to have a Spain departure so that they could come visit our house first, which really narrowed down the cruise options. Royal Caribbean has a 7-day cruise that starts and ends in Barcelona, but we were having trouble finding a good price. In November 2002, Joelle went to a travel agent and found out about Orient Cruise Lines. She was able to get a 7-day cruise from Barcelona, plus airfare, pre- and post-cruise hotel stays, and shipboard credit for less than the cruise-only portion of Royal Caribbean. The travel agent was kind enough to get us a similar deal on the cruise-only portion, and when all was said and done we paid about $3000 for the two of us. We’re booked in a cabin with a porthole on the lowest deck–room 3033 to be exact–but I’ve read that if the ship isn’t full we can expect a free upgrade. We originally had cabins on Deck 5, but the twins didn’t convert into a queen-size bed. I don’t know what’s up with Europeans, but to me $3000 to spend 7 nights in a twin and NOT in the same bed as my wife is unacceptable, so we asked the travel agent to move us to a cabin where the beds go together. Hopefully we won’t get “upgraded” back into the same cabin!
Using Joelle’s travel agent had its advantages, since she took care of both couples together better than 2 separate travel agents would have, but there were drawbacks as well. With the time difference and the expense, we weren’t ever inclined to make a long-distance call, but the agent’s email response was almost nonexistent. Joelle and Ted wound up making phone calls, faxing for us, and even visiting the office to take care of things for us. We were so thankful for all of their assistance that we think they should earn the TA’s commission! Short of that, we got them a little Travel Clock to show our appreciation. Thanks you two!
An interesting tidbit about our ship, the Crown Odyssey: Orient Cruise Lines is owned by the much-bigger Norwegian Cruise Lines, and in 2003 NCL decided to pull the Odyssey under the NCL brand. From what I’ve read, the ship was refurbished, given a new paint job, and renamed the Norwegian Crown. As the NC, it’s going to be a freestyle ship, but it’s unclear whether those changes have taken place even though the ship is already sporting the new name. As far as I can tell it will continue its Orient Lines program until the end of the summer when it leaves Italy for the US and its new life under NCL. So, what does that mean? To be honest, I’m not 100% sure, but I think it means we’ll have at least one formal night whereas the freestyle ships are more casual. I found that info and a lot of other, more useful information at
For those of you not interested in going to Orient’s site (see link on the sidebar; I’m tired of typing it in), here’s our itinerary:
25 Jul Embark in Barcelona, Spain
26 Jul Monte Carlo, Monaco
27 Jul Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
28 Jul Sorrento, Italy
29 Jul Valletta, Malta
30 Jul At Sea
31 Jul Santorini, Greece
1 Aug Disembark in Athens (Piraeus), Greece