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Monday, August 10, 2020

Road Trip Across the USA During Covid Outbreak

 by Paul Pakusch

With more time off in the summer of 2020 than I've ever had in my adult life, I was anxious to go on a trip. The restrictions placed because of the Covid situation meant that I should choose an area where the infection rate was low. I had a window of about 2 1/2 weeks to complete this trip before other responsibilities meant I needed to be home. My wife, Stacey did not have as much time off from work so she gave me the blessing to go by myself.New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo had started putting some states on a quarantine list; if you were coming to New York from one of those states, you were supposed to quarantine yourself for two weeks upon return.I wanted to avoid those states.

For the westward part of the trip, none of the states along the northern border of the U.S.A. were on the list. They included Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. They all had low rates of Covid infections, so I felt confident that I could travel by myself and not be infected. I wasn't planning on interacting with people much; I only wanted to enjoy scenery.

I began my drive west on Sunday, July 5.I drove along I-90 through western New York, through Pennsylvania and Ohio. I made two short stops to visit family and friends along the way; in both cases, we practiced social distancing procedures. Once I got past Detroit, I turned north along I-75 with my first stop being Mackinac Island after sleeping overnight at a rest stop.No automobiles are allowed on Mackinac Island. I took a ferry boat to the island, rented a bicycle and spent a few hours riding around.

Next, I headed west across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a popular tourist area filled with forests, small lakes, tiny villages and campgrounds. I stopped frequently to enjoy scenery and take pictures.This began the pattern for the rest of my journey. I drove through some heavy rains from passing thunderstorms. I stayed at a campground on Lake Michegamme the second night and continued my journey across upper Wisconsin and into Minnesota the next day.In Warba, MN, I found a very narrow portion of the Mississippi River and stopped to take photos.It would widen out further south.

I spent the night at a rustic campground near Waubun, MN, where more storms passed through during the overnight hours.I was happy to be camping in my minivan and not a tent.I had put the seats down and laid a mattress in the back. It was as comfortable as any bed back home.I had space along the side of the mattress to place small suitcases, which became my "dresser" for this journey.A cooler with ice was by the side door, for easy access either inside or outside the van.

I continued west into North Dakota with its miles and miles of flat farmland.I had seen this many times from an airliner while crossing the country, but this was the first time I'd seen it from ground level.I was getting exactly what I wanted from this trip:Scenic views of the U.S.A. on a journey by myself.The Painted Canyon in North Dakota gave me my first views of a changing landscape carved by millions of years of wind and water.This area had once been at the bottom of a swamp, much like Florida.At the petrified forest, the shape of tree parts had been preserved by a process of mineralization that turned them into solid stone.

As I headed into Montana, I thought about how I'm enjoying the awesome scenery of our great country as the picture changes from flat to canyon, to mountain to valley, to river to lake to barren to grasslands to trees and more.

Idaho was on the New York quarantine list, so I turned south before reaching it. There are some amazing canyons along route 191 as you head to West Yellowstone, where I entered Yellowstone National Park.I took the time to enjoy some of the thermal activity around the park.There are many geysers.Old Faithful is not the biggest geyser nor the most regular, but it is the biggest regular geyser, which is why it gets the most attention.I set up my camera on a tripod to make a video recording of an eruption, which occurred within 10 minutes of the forecast time.

Once I was done at Yellowstone, I was hoping to find a nearby campground to spend the night. Everything was booked. During this pandemic, many tourists were travelling in their trailers and RV's.I headed out of the south entrance, hoping to find a roadside rest area, but everything was marked, "No overnight camping."With stops for photos along the way until it got dark, I finally reached Dubois, Wyoming and checked into a motel for the night.The next morning, I was blown away by the scenery I had been driving through in the dark.I kept thinking about how you can never get a photo that truly shows the magnificent scenery of areas like this, no matter how good the photo is.

Next destination was Thermopolis, Wyoming.I had to drive through the Winding Rivers Canyon to get there.This was some of the most spectacular scenery of the whole trip, and I find myself at a loss of words as to how to describe it.Once in Thermopolis, I got some laundry washed at a laundromat and spent several hours enjoying water from the hot springs at a water park.I spent another night in a hotel.

At the suggestion of several friends who were following my adventures on Facebook, I decided to head back south the next day to see a bit of Denver, Colorado and visit some family members.Again, social distancing procedures applied.We took the opportunity to visit Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is a popular spot for many bands.It is open to the public when no events are scheduled and you can walk around its vast spaces.

My next destination was a KOA campground next to Devil's Tower, Wyoming, made popular because of its prominence in the 1977 film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It is a designated national monument and is a spectacular sight.As the sun slowly slipped into the west, my camping site was truly in its shadow.The campground plays the movie every night at 8:00. It was a surreal treat to be watching the movie while the real Devil's Tower was in sight, right behind the large TV screen.

The next day I drove to Mt. Rushmore to see the President's faces that had been blasted into the rock.There's a nice path that winds around the area, so I took the opportunity to do a bit of hiking and photography from many angles.Another night at a campground, and then I visited the similar but much larger monument still being blasted out of a mountain for Crazy Horse.I say "blasted" because these are not carvings.The skilled artists and workers who created them did so with dynamite.The rock is too hard to "carve."

The Badlands of South Dakota would be my final major destination. I spent several hours driving along the scenic route of the Badlands.I saw prairie dogs digging their holes and playing, saw a mother longhorn goat with her kids, and I encountered a bison walking past my van at one point.

I had been paying attention to reports of how Covid was spreading across the U.S.A. and I didn't want to be in a state that would go on New York's mandatory quarantine list. I wasn't doing much socializing; I was spending an average of 10-12 hours a day by myself in my air-conditioned mini-van. My fuel, ice and rest stops were as quick as possible, with a mask where needed or required, and interaction with cashiers and hotel personnel was done with plexiglass between us. If anything, I had already been pretty much in isolation through the majority of this journey. By this point, I was in South Dakota, a good 22 hours of driving distance from home. I had already seen the major attractions that I wanted to see. My plan had been a leisurely drive back; I wanted to drive a few hours each day and stop at campsites along the way home. Three states that were in my path had been added to the list of states required for quarantine in New York: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio. Up to this point, I hadn't been in any states that were on the list.I didn't know if more would be added, so I decided it was time to curtail the trip and head home the next morning.The rule was that someone driving, like me, was supposed to go onto a website, fill out a form as to where you had been, and then self-quarantine for two weeks.Exceptions included people who were just driving through and spending less than 24 hours.I decided to split my 22 hours of driving time into two days.I would get through those three states as quickly as possible, a few hours each at the most with minimal rest stops, and spend the night in a state that's not on the list.That ended up being Indiana.

The two days driving home were uneventful.As I had for most of the trip, I spent most of my hours listening to Sirius radio music, comedy and talk shows, and some of the 3,800 songs I have loaded onto my van's hard drive.I visited no museums or other indoor attractions; everything I wanted to see was outside and scenic.Other than ice, I bought no groceries or ate at any restaurants.I had purchased enough bulk food to store in boxes or keep cold in my cooler.I had two large packages of bottled water that kept me plenty hydrated.It truly was a scenic trip of as near-isolation as I could get while travelling more than halfway across the country and back.

Sunday, June 7, 2020


I was inspired to write about Jenny based on the caption I wrote for a picture I posted of Jenny and me on my Facebook page today. The caption read, "We have been through a lot together." Jenny is a grand old lady who came into our lives on January 1, 2005.  That makes her 16 years old, or 112 in dog or cat years.

Shortly before that, we had been without a cat for a couple years when I was helping my sister with a phone line in her house.  I was face down on the floor, doing some wiring, when her cat came up to me and started sniffing my face.  At that point, I knew I  missed having a cat in my house.  So, on New Year's Day, off we went looking for a pet store that was open.

I already knew the name.  Previously, naming a pet was always a family activity, but this time, since I was the one that wanted a cat, the honor went to me.  Being an aviation fanatic, I decided on the name "Jenny" since it was the nickname of a popular World War I training airplane.  All we need to do was find Jenny in the pet store.

Jenny adopted us.  While checking out the different kittens, Jenny was the one who had a hypnotic stare.  She would gaze into our eyes and not look away.  Her spell was successfully cast upon us and we obediently chauffeured her to her new home.

Garnering the interest that a pet always inherits from a new family, Jenny became the frequent subject of our daughters' art and photography pursuits, as well as a new playmate for our rambunctious Chocolate Lab, Fudge.

At full size, she is a small cat.  She is solid gray with a black nose. She has a delicate way of dabbing her nose as she sniffs around. She doesn't show much interest in being held or cuddled, but she will race to the door to see who is there, just as a dog does.  When she sits, she elegantly wraps her tail around her base, as if she were a statue to be idolized.

As I said, Jenny and I have been through a lot together.  In July, 2006, my wife, Mary, unexpectedly collapsed from a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. (A full description is here)  As I was on the phone with 911 and trying desperately to save her life, I have a vivid memory of being aware that Fudge and Jenny were on the other side of the living room, watching the scene.  In the 10 days that followed, not knowing if Mary would survive or be left a vegetable, both Fudge and Jenny were my solace when I came home from visiting her in the hospital.  We lived in a townhouse at the time, so I spent time with Fudge in the dog yard, and Jenny would always hang out in the living room with me or crawl around on my bed.

Mary beat the odds of a 5% survival rate, for which she received some media attention over the next few years.  On one such occasion, the Democrat and Chronicle wrote a story in which they wanted a photo of the two of us sitting in our living room.  Unbeknownst to us, Jenny managed to steal the scene by capturing the photographer's attention off to the side.  Imagine our surprise and laughter when we opened up the newspaper to see this picture!

Sadly, Fudged passed away not too long after this, but another daughter's dog, a hyper Rat Terrier named Peanut, came to live with us. The prim and proper Jenny now had a newly charged up bundle of energy to reckon with.

In February of 2008, my daughter, Melissa was home alone with Jenny and Peanut when the townhouse next door caught on fire. (A full description is here)  All three of them were safely moved to the apartment complex's community room while the fire was put out.  I left work early to get home because of this.  I'll never forget seeing Jenny explore the entire community room; she was on the floor, on tables, walking across the kitchen counter, and up on top of the cupboards. Ultimately, the kitchen next door was destroyed and we received only smoke damage, but the lingering smell was horrendous.  It was determined that we needed to temporarily move out.  The first couple of nights were in a nearby hotel.  Jenny and Peanut took to running around the hotel room like a couple of little kids excited about being on vacation.

As I said, Jenny was never a very cuddly cat, but we did notice a change in her demeanor once, after being out of town for a week and a half.  We figure she missed us; she started hanging around us more than usual, and seemed a lot more willing to have us pet her. Peanut and Jenny's address has changed multiple times, as we had gone from one apartment to another over several years.  In 2015, we bought a house again.  Jenny and Peanut, had a much bigger area to play and explore.

In January 2016, big changes happened.  Mary decided to end our marriage, so she moved out. The reasons are between us, but suffice to say, we have three grown daughters, great guys in their lives, a grandchild, a step-grandchild, and another grandchild on the way.  So, even though we are not together anymore, we still get along fine.

But a long-time marriage coming to an end does not happen without a lot of emotions going awry.  For much of 2016 and 2017, I was on the wildest emotional roller coaster ride of my life.  I hit stratospheric heights and ocean-deep lows.  While I was alone in my new house, which I came to dub, "The Lonely House," I had Peanut and Jenny.  The first couple of weeks, I would just get in my car and drive aimlessly with Peanut.  Jenny would hang out in the room with Peanut and me whenever I was home. I bought a guitar and started lessons to give me something to do.  Peanut and Jenny were my audience.

At first, my singular goal was to keep the house and keep the two pets.  As winter became spring, and spring became summer, I took my first tepid steps into dating, something I hadn't done in over 34 years.  Melissa and her family moved in with me, but by early 2017, I had decided I needed to put all responsibility behind me and get a fresh start by selling the house and paying off all my debts.  Sadly, the pets would not come with me.

Melissa found a new place to live and Jenny went with her.  Melissa has always loved Jenny; at least I can still visit Jenny whenever I want.  I still feel very attached to her.  We found a wonderful, loving family for Peanut, who has other canine playmates, and she is very happy these days. I miss her, but she has constant companionship now, so she is better off than being alone a lot.

I think most of my friends know what happened since 2017.  Once I met Stacey, my wild emotional roller coaster ride gradually settled down and we are now happily married.  It was a package deal, though.  I now have Mitten and Oreo in my life, too!

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

My Thoughts on the Current Status of Covid 19

My thoughts on the current status of Covid 19.

These are my opinions.  If you're interested in what I have to say, keep reading. If you have a thoughtful response, post it. If you're only here to argue with me, move on.

First of all, everyone in my family appears to be unaffected, so that's good news for us.  I do have some friends who have been diagnosed with Covid 19.  At last report, they appear to be healing.  My prayers are with those who have the virus, and the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones.

We are dealing with a virus that, in its current form, has never been around before.  How do you handle it?  How do you keep it from spreading?  There are no easy answers, but everyone has an opinion.  Who should we listen to?  I prefer to listen to the person(s) who have a combination of the most experience in immunology, the best data available, knowledge of previous pandemics, and the ability and authority to set policies.  Are these policies they've come up with the right policies?  Who knows.  But nothing will work if people don't cooperate to give these policies a chance.  It's a previously-unknown virus, and policies will need to be adjusted as we learn more about the virus. People need to be patient.

For those who post random YouTube clips of  "experts" to back up their claims about why the quarantines should be ended, or if they even should have happened: We all want the quarantine to end and for social distancing rules to be relaxed.  But as I said, there are a lot of different factors to consider and the government leaders we currently have in place, along with medical experts that advise them, are the ones who evaluate all the data and set the policies.  Will they work?  I don't know.  Give them a chance.  Having said that, I pray that the government leaders we currently have in place are taking the advice of their advisors and making wise choices.

I have no patience for the people who are out protesting the policies, especially those who are making this about their "rights." What "rights" do they think they are losing?  We are in a crisis situation and the authorities are trying to resolve it.  Besides, it's not just the United States, this is affecting the entire world.  I don't want to hear your government conspiracy theories.

The folks carrying guns around at these demonstrations look like clowns.  I'm sorry; I'm a supporter of the 2nd amendment as it was intended by our forefathers, and I'm usually ambiguous in what I say about gun owners' rights.  But if you're at a social-distancing protest to show off your guns, not only do you look silly, but you're diminishing your own credibility regarding gun owners' rights.

More than anything else, I am bothered by the growing violence by some of those who are protesting the social distance rules.  There have been reports of enforcement personnel being pushed and shot.  There is NO reason to take it out on these people; they are doing the job that was assigned to them.

Kudos to the front line workers.  It shows who are the true "essential" people are in our society and they should be paid accordingly.  I could go on and on about people who make millions in other lines of work, but I'm sure you get my drift.

Stay healthy, stay safe, and thank you for reading this.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

How We're Coping

Stacey and I have pretty much been alone together since this quarantine went into effect. That doesn't mean we've been hermits. We've both been keeping quite busy, but at a nice, relaxing pace. Both of us are used to being alone.  In our younger years, we each spent a lot of time by ourselves for various reasons, so we know how to stay occupied now.  Still, it doesn't help the fact that today we are more or less forced to be isolated from physical contact with other people, including family and friends.  We stay in touch through phone calls, Facebook, through Facetime, and through Zoom.
We've been getting a lot of work done around the house.  We bought it last year and are still trying to get our belongings organized.  Two separate near-lifetimes of accumulation adds up to a lot of stuff, even though we both disposed of a lot of stuff before we met.  Our house is small, so we've been creative about how to store what we want to keep.

We've been staying physically active.  It's not only healthy for your body, but also your mental well-being.  Physical activity releases endorphins, which are chemicals produced naturally by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress.  They are often called "feel-good" chemicals because they can act as a pain reliever and happiness booster.  This is why runners get a "runner's high" and why dancers enjoy dancing.  Stacey and I often dance in our living room in the evening, we take daily walks, I ride my bike, and we are doing yard work together.

Sitting around is the worst thing you can do, especially if you're watching endless hours of Covid news coverage.  Sitting makes your body tired because it senses you're trying to sleep. The lack of activity makes you bored, and your body isn't releasing any endorphins.  Watching the news makes you stressed out because you can't control what's going on.  The culmination of this is that you get depressed.  

Stacey watches a little bit of news a day just to keep up on what's going on.  Then she turns the TV off or watches something she enjoys.  I haven't watched any news at all; I get my news from, which is a source that the majority of the news outlets in the world use.  I especially don't watch Trump's daily rambles.  He makes me extremely angry. I don't feel I'm going to get any worthwhile information from him anyways, so why let myself get angry?  I read the summaries of what I need to know.  

We do watch TV shows and movies that we enjoy.  We've seen some Netflix series, some movies, some Disney Plus, and Stacey keeps up on her shows.  I've been organizing computer files, pictures and videos.  We take our daily walks, my bike ride, we play board games, we dance in our living room, we sing to YouTube karaoke videos, we've been cleaning together, doing yard work, organizing our stuff, and staying in touch with people.

We're all in this together, and we all need to do what we can to stay healthy.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


by Paul Pakusch

Watching my fellow U.S. citizens deal with shortages and boredom reminds me of the "normal" living conditions I've seen in my travels.  For example, when Stacey and I made a pit stop at a government building during an excursion on our honeymoon to Cuba last year, a state employee charged her 25 centavos for a few squares of toilet paper on her way  into the rest room.  She offered me none, and there was none to be seen in the men's room.  Tourists are often advised to bring their own toilet paper when staying at a hotel in Cuba.  This is the norm.

Then there's this:

No matter what your politics, it's a reminder to us Americans that we take many things for granted. We don't know the true meaning of "desperate."

First and foremost, take care of yourself.  If you're sick, obviously get help.  Otherwise, follow the rules about sanitizing yourself, your family and your environment.

If you're bored and stuck at home during this quarantine era, there are plenty of things you can find for yourself to do.  The obvious is to sit and watch TV, whether it's movies, talk shows, catching up on soaps, or binge-watching your favorite Netflix series.  But you can only take that for so long.  Eventually, sitting on the couch is going to bring you down and you'll feel depressed.

I'm taking this as an opportunity to get projects done around the house.  I've often heard retirees say, "There isn't enough time in the day to be retired."  For so many of them, they've waited years to be rid of the obligation of spending 8+ hours a day at work and get to the tasks and social activities they've always desired.  I feel that way; even though I now have 24 hours a day to do as I wish, I still feel like I don't have enough time to get to all the projects I want to get done around the house.  We bought it a year ago, and while we've come a long way in making it "ours," there's still much to be done.

We are blessed.  The internet is a  modern tool that no other generation in history had to give us news from around the world in seconds.  If lonely, we can easily stay in touch with such programs as Skype, Facebook Time, Google Hangouts, Viber, WebEx, Jami, Talky and WeChat.  Many of these can be set up for multiple users so you can have group conversations.

Here are some more ideas for how to use your time:

Learn a craft; there are thousands of YouTube videos that teach you how to do things.  Same with learning a music instrument; I've seen music teachers offer free lessons via live chat.

Take up drawing or painting.

Find karaoke videos on YouTube and sing along.  No one is around to hear how badly you sing, so sing away!

Rearrange furniture, your cupboards, or your home office files.

Clean out your garage.

Rake your yard; it's spring!

Take a walk; ride your bike.

Write a blog, read other people's blogs.  Write your autobiography!

Organize your photos or computer files.

Look up Jane Fonda's or Richard Simmons' workout videos and exercise.

Play music and dance like no one is watching.

Play board games with your family.  Especially get those games out that have been collecting dust for years.

Read a book; many can be downloaded for free from the library.

Get your spring cleaning done.

Or the best advice of all:  Read all the posts in my blog!  Ha ha!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Summary of My Life's Travel (so far)

by Paul Pakusch
Travel Writer and Agent
Facebook Page

I have always been thrilled by travel.  My mother once told me that, as a toddler and a young child, I would get out of breath, being so excited about travelling somewhere.  My parents loved the Adirondack Mountains, so much of my early life travel was to places such as Lake Placid, Lake George, and the Thousand Islands area.  We visited parks such as Storytown, Land of Make Believe, Gaslight Village, the North Pole, and of course, Santa's Workshop.  As my sisters and I got a little older, our family made visits to some places in Canada, including Lumina Resort in Muskoka, and Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.

A big travel phase of my life was when I was a member of the Greece Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps from 1972-1976.  Every summer, we would be away almost every weekend for Drum and Bugle Corps competitions.  I usually sat in the front seat of our bus, took in the sights as we traveled, and followed along on maps.  Maps were free from gas stations in those days.  Some notable cities and towns I remember competing in were Fulton, Oswego, Watkins Glen, Warren PA, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City, Marion OH, and Butler PA.

While in high school, I was active in WGMC radio when it was more of a community/student run station than it is now.  I was chosen to be a part of a delegation at the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System on three occasions.  We met in Washington DC, New York City, and Boston.

After I met my first wife, Mary in 1981, we got married in 1984 and honeymooned in Cocoa FL.  We visited Disney World (my first time there) and Kennedy Space Center.  Through our years together, and many with our three daughters, our travels took us to Toronto, Niagara Falls, Seattle, Florida, Vancouver BC for the World's Fair in 1986, Las Vegas, New York City, Philadelphia, and Europe.

For many years, my mother organized weekend trips every Columbus Day to a destination within a day's drive for her adult children and our families.  She paid for the hotel.  All my two sisters and I had to do was get our families there for a weekend of swimming in the hotel's pool and some sightseeing in the area we visited.

I worked in the control room at WHEC TV 10 for 32 years.  I spent about 25 of those years as an officer in NABET-CWA, the union representing control room workers and news photographers at that station and WROC TV 8.  Union business and conventions took me to places around New York State, as well as Florida, Kansas City, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Detroit, and Boston.  While these were work-oriented trips, I always managed to get in some sightseeing at the end of the day.

In 2004, I fell head-over-heels in love with cruising.  So much that I decided to become a part-time home-based travel agent, specializing in cruises. I took an online travel agent course and signed up as an independent contractor with a travel agency.  A year later, I ended my independent contractor status and set up my own agency.  I'd been on hiatus for 8 years when I decided to reactivate my status in 2019.

Until 2015, I sailed with Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, and a Rhine River cruise on Avalon Waterways. Mary and I parted ways in January 2016 and I became a solo traveler for two years.  My life-long goal was to travel the world.  Being newly single, I accelerated my travel activities with multiple cruises each year and added Norwegian Cruise Line to my list.  I did Mexican/Caribbean cruises, a Mediterranean cruise and a Baltic Sea cruise.

Once I was ready for the dating scene again, the one promise I made to myself was that whoever I met needed to either travel with me or not hold me back if she didn't want to go.  I met Stacey in 2017 and she is as avid a traveler as I am! Our first trip together was a month-long land/sea cruise to Europe and the North Sea.  For our honeymoon, we booked two weeks on MSC, a back-to-back cruise that included Havana, Cuba.  To date, we've also been to New York City, Disney World, and a second trip to London because I was sick and in the hospital the first time we were there.

The enthusiasm I had for travel as a young child is just as strong as it always was.  Here are all the countries I've visited in my life so far:  United States (including Puerto Rico), Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Belize, Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Grand Cayman, Cuba, Curacao, Martinique, St. Kitts, Turks & Caicos, France, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Norway, Iceland,  Scotland, and the Vatican (yes, it is a country unto itself).

I may edit and revise this post as my travels continue.  You can find further details about some of my trips elsewhere in my blog.

Paul Pakusch
Travel Writer and Agent

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Month in Europe and on the North Sea, Summer 2018

by Paul Pakusch
Travel Writer and Agent

I first started planning for this trip in the summer of 2017. Unlike the last couple of cruises that I had been on, I knew that I would not be able to get a cabin at a solo rate. So I went ahead and booked it, figuring I was going to take somebody with me but I didn't know who. It could have been one of my daughters, or it could have been a new love interest.

The North Sea cruise would be my longest cruise so far. It is 2 weeks long. It starts in Hamburg Germany, and goes to multiple ports in Norway, Iceland, and Scotland before returning to Hamburg. Being that it is expensive to get from North America to Europe, I also wanted to take a couple of weeks to do a land tour in some European countries. So I mapped out several possibilities that either included or began and ended in Hamburg, Germany. I decided to leave my options open until I figured out who was going with me on this trip. In the meantime I went ahead and booked a cabin on the Norwegian Jade, a ship I had sailed on in the Caribbean in March of 2016.

Over the summer of 2017, a strong friendship developed between Stacey and me. By the Fall, we were a couple and it looked like things were going to be pretty serious between us, and that this would end up being a long-term relationship. When the time seemed right, I told Stacey about my trip plans and asked her if she would be interested in going, and if she could get four weeks in a row off from work. She said yes. So I added Stacey to the cruise reservations.

Stacey said she had been in England when  she was about 6 months old to be baptized. Her dad had spent his younger years in Leicester England and she was interested seeing the area, including the church where she was baptized. With that in mind, I went ahead and planned out the remainder of our itinerary.

Our plan was to drive to Toronto, a three-hour drive from Rochester New York. We booked a flight from Toronto to London on Air Canada, with a transfer to Hamburg, Germany. We would spend three nights in Hamburg, then board the Norwegian Jade for our two week Cruise. After returning to Hamburg from the cruise, we would take a train to Berlin Germany, for two nights, then fly to Paris for three nights, then take the high-speed Chunnel train to London for 4 nights. Then we would fly home.

The cruise included the following ports:
Hamburg, Germany
Alesun, Norway
Bergen, Norway
Lerwick, Shetland Islands
Reykjavik, Iceland
Akureyri, Iceland
Torshavn, Faroe Islands
Invergordon, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Hamburg, Germany

What follows is a journal of our travels:

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

It is now the morning of the day we are leaving for Toronto. We have spent the last few evenings picking out clothes, packing, tidying up our apartment, and confirming reservations and directions. It is with a different perspective since neither of us has ever been gone for a whole month before.

Another new angle is that we are now engaged! I proposed to Stacey on June 18 and she said yes without any hesitation. I had originally planned to propose on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but circumstances made me move it up a few weeks.

Thursday, June 28

As I write this, it is 8:30 in the morning and we are at London Heathrow airport, sitting on our Eurowings jet, waiting for boarding to be complete. Our flight on Air Canada from Toronto to London was quite smooth. I have previously written in other blog posts about my experiences with Business Class on Air Canada. This time, because I was also paying for Stacey's seat, we chose Premium Economy. My big issue is legroom. I need plenty of it for a long flight. We had seats in the front of the Premium Economy section, right behind the bulkhead. It worked out well. Although I could not lay out flat like I did previously in Business Class, I did manage to get a couple hours of sleep after taking a sleeping pill. Stacey said she slept about an hour. It did not go well with her because she was by the aisle and the flight attendants kept bumping her awake with the drink cart.

After getting off the plane in Hamburg, customs was a breeze. We got our luggage and took the S1 train to Altoona. I had received a message from the host of our AirBnB apartment that he would not be there during our stay. He gave us instructions to pick up our key at another location. We found his friend, she gave us the keys, then we dragged our suitcases 15 minutes to the apartment. We struggled with the key in the door. While this was going on, the fire department showed up at the building next door. I'm pretty sure I heard someone say it was a small fire caused by someone smoking. In any event, the trucks we not there for very long.

Just as we were about to give up on trying to get the apartment door unlocked, a neighbor showed up and was able to get the door open for us.

Stacey desperately needed to take a nap, so I went out to find an ATM, get some Euros, and buy some groceries. I had researched ways to get foreign currency and concluded the best way was to simply get it from an ATM with your debit or credit card once you arrive. Stacey was awake by the time I got back. We rested for a couple hours, getting caught up on internet activities since she had figured out how to log onto the apartment's WiFi.

We took a 45-minute walk, then found a Greek restaurant to have dinner at. Yes, a Greek restaurant in Germany. When you're hungry after travelling, any square meal that satisfies the palate is a square deal. We got some laughs out of the strong liquor that was in the shot glasses.

After dinner, back to the apartment to rest some more, then settle in for a long night to catch up on jet lag.

Friday June 29

After getting a good night of sleep, we made our way to the pickup spot for the Hop On Hop Off bus that we had tickets for. It was a bit confusing at first because there are multiple companies offering the same service.

While waiting for a bus at the main stop, Stacey overheard 4 people talking about the cruise on Sunday. It turns out they are all going on the Jade. It was one mother and daughter from Scottsdale, Arizona, and two women from Hawaii. When we got off the bus at the Rathaus stop, we exchanged photos with the two Hawaiian women. Since we had met three other people going on our cruise at London Heathrow, this now makes a total of seven people from the cruise that we had already met.

Our Hop on Hop Off tour of Hamburg drove along the Speicherstadt (warehouse city), habor city, shopping areas, the villas of Harvestehude, the Outer Alster Lale, the City Hall, museums, the Reeperbahn, and the habor.

After finishing our bus tour of Hamburg, we started walking along the Elbe River, back towards our apartment. Along the way, we stopped to see an AIDA cruise ship that was docked at the Altoona Cruise Port.

Back at the apartment, we rested up and got groceries from the grocery store next door. Since eating out all the time adds up to a lot of money, we are buying food to eat at our AirBNBs. We agreed that it's actually kind of nice that Florenz, the owner of the apartment is out of town because we have the whole place to ourselves.

The frozen pizzas we bought were actually pretty good. After dinner, we took about an hour and a half walk. On his AirbBNB website page, Florenz describes this area as “trendy.” We see a lot of young adults on bikes.

There are many pubs around, after all this is Germany, but not much that we've seen with music. We turned in early Friday to get a good night of sleep.

Saturday June 30

We got a late start this morning, and then had some difficulties finding our bus stop to Miniatur Wunderland. That was quite an enjoyable experience for both of us. It's the largest model railway attraction in the world, and has such incredible detail. Not just of the trains and landscapes, but also of the activities by the tiny model people.

We spent about three hours at Miniatur Wunderland before moving on to a long walk back to the apartment. The walk itself was 2 ½ hours and included stops at  St Nikolai and St Michaelis Churches.

St Nikolai has a history going back to 1195.  The most recent structure was heavily damaged during air raids in 1943. The ruins have become a memorial to the tragic consequences of war and serve as a plea for world peace.

St Michaelis was rebuilt from past destructions in 1907-1912 and its high tower and clock is a very prominent landmark on Hamburg’s skyline.

We continued our walk through St Pauli, a district with a rather seedy past. Even today, there are plenty of pubs, sex shops, and entertainment venues in the area.

Back at the apartment, we had a couple of roast turkey sandwiches as we sat outside on the balcony, then a quiet, relaxing evening.

Sunday, July 1

I had made reservations with a taxi company on Thursday to pick us up at 11:15 this morning to take us to the cruise port. We figured we had some time to leisurely pack up, tidy up, and meet the taxi. We saw some runners outside the window and realized a marathon was in progress.

Little did we realize that this marathon was about to affect the next 2 hours of our day. At about 10:40, I received an email from the taxi company that our ride to the cruise port was cancelled. I was furious. I had made this reservation 3 days ago. Why would they wait until now to cancel? We found another cab company online and called them. They said that the whole city was shut down due to the marathon and that they would not be able to provide a ride for us. They said we needed to find public transportation. I was even more furious.

After considering several options, I suggested we start walking towards the train station to see if we could find a cab around there. After only two blocks, I found some police officers taking down the tape that was used to block spectators from the street during the marathon. One spoke English. I asked the police officer if he knew anything about how much the city was shut down for the marathon. I told him we were trying to get to the cruise port. He got on his cell phone, had a conversation with someone, and then arranged for a cab to pick us up right where we were standing. After about 20 minutes, a cab showed up, and we were on our way.

Checking into our ship, the Norwegian Jade went very smoothly. While walking into the ship, I spotted a couple of entertainment staff members and we introduced ourselves to them. I told them that they would be seeing us quite a bit over the next two weeks. They said they look forward to seeing us at the sail way party. As expected, the rooms were not ready yet, so Stacey and I headed to the buffet for lunch. This was my second cruise on Jade, so I  started giving her a tour of the ship. Naturally I had to show her the lounge where I felt my life changed on the March 2016 cruise. I showed her the spot where I said I became a dancing maniac. About halfway through the tour, they announced that our rooms were ready, so we stopped to drop off our carry-on bags. We took a few minutes to look around the room, and then continued our tour. We had some time to kill before the mandatory safety drill so we relaxed by the pool for a while.

After the drill we headed back to the pool deck for the sail away party.

We jumped right into dancing with the cupid shuffle. While we were dancing, I recognized a familiar face. It was Charlotte, one of my fellow solo cruisers from my 2016 Mediterranean cruise. Then they started a Congo line and both of us and Charlotte got pulled out to be on stage for the first contest of the ship. The contest was for four men and four women to show off their best dance moves and win a t-shirt. There were some Mexicans in the contest who had their large family with them, thus a cheering squad. They won the contest, of course. I'd long ago concluded that these contests are more like popularity contests, and whoever has the largest contingent to cheer them on is the winner. All of the contestants then received a drink. Stacey drank hers quite fast and felt quite affected by it. We both had a lot of laughs.

We went back to our cabin to enjoy the view from our balcony for 20 minutes and then went to the solo cruisers' meeting. Stacey announced to them right away that we were engaged, but we fit right in with them. We ended up going to dinner with five other solo cruisers. After dinner, we went to the theater to see the welcome aboard show.

We finished off the evening by dancing for a couple of hours at the opening night party. We had a bunch of others solo cruisers dancing with us. It looks like we may have found our dance team for the next couple of weeks.

Monday, July 2

It was a day at sea. We had a leisurely morning with breakfast in the buffet. We hung out by the pool while I went in the hot tub where we met some of our fellow solo cruisers.  After lunch we took a line dance lesson which we did pretty well with because we both knew some of the dances. Stacey was happy to learn the Wobble. I had learned it on previous cruises. We participated in a trivia contest. We met our solo cruisers for the evening meeting, then participated in a Motown trivia contest. Since our group already had left for dinner, we had dinner by ourselves. Then we watched the Newlywed Game, and stayed for a Motown Dance.

They had the Norwegian Night Out. Stacey and I won Best Couple! By now the entertainment staff had gotten to know us.

Tuesday July 3 we got up early so we could meet Paal at the cruise port in Alesund, Norway. He was one of my fellow solo cruisers on the Getaway on the Baltic Sea in 2017.

Paal got us a cab and took us to the top of a big hill where there was a cafe and a fantastic view of Alesund and the surrounding waters and islands. We ran into our cabin neighbors, who also had a good time chatting with Paal. We walked down the hill on a long staircase with 418 steps, then took a walk around the streets. There was hardly any road traffic because the whole city shuts down for a five week holiday over the summer.

Paal’s friend Dag met us in his boat at the dock by the ship. He took us through some of the local waterways, then stopped to get gas before we headed to the fjords and high mountains. We ended up in the tiny village of Ole, which has a beautiful, rustic old and historic hotel, which we toured.

After returning to the dock, we thanked Paal and Dag and said our goodbyes. Back on the ship, Stacey took a short nap while I tried to get the Alesund port WiFi. No luck. Stacey went to a trivia contest; I met up with her at the end. We checked out our photos so far, then joined the solo cruisers for dinner.

After dinner, we went to the 9:30 theatre showing of their voting off contest. This made us a few minutes late for the 50s/60s dance party.  When we arrived, the dancers were in a circle. As soon as we walked in, the entertainment crew got us into the middle of a circle and expected us to start dancing. Very shortly after that, the entertainment crew selected us as being one of five couples to participate in a twisting dance contest. We did well I think, but the couple that won had been married and dancing the twist for several decades. They were very good. We finally ran into the two women from Hawaii that we had met in Hamburg.

Wednesday July 4

We arrived in Bergen, Norway, went for breakfast and ran into the same two women from Hawaii so we had breakfast with them. After that we got on the Hop on Hop Off bus and did about three quarters of the tour before we decided to walk the rest of the way.

Back on ship, it was the 4th of July back in the U.S., so the crew had a 4th of July celebration on the ship, complete with fireworks on a large video screen!

We met some solo cruisemates for dinner, then went to the 9:30 show in the theatre, which featured three “Divas” singing a bunch of songs. The 70s party followed. I got called out to be the policeman in the Village People, dancing to the YMCA.

Thursday July 5

We woke up in Lerwick, Shetland Islands to an overcast sky that was forecast to be cloudy all day. But the sun came out soon after, and we took the tender to shore. We had no excursions booked, but decided on shore to take a 3-hour Central Shetland tour, which featured meeting some Shetland ponies and visiting the tiny community of Scallaway and its castle.

After that, Stacey went back to the ship and I walked around a bit longer.

We went to a Thriller dance lesson. I dropped out halfway through, but Stacey did quite well with it. We decided to skip the solo group meeting and have dinner on our own so we could attend an 80's music trivia contest in the afternoon. Along with an older German man and, I assume, his granddaughter, we did fairly well with it.

We went to watch the Mr. Norwegian Jade contest. Stacey and some of our friends talked me into being a contestant. Five of us guys did some crazy stuff. First, we did our sexiest dance. We had to show our “muscle” by how fast we could pop balloons under our arms and between our legs.  We had to go around in a circle of three chairs for 45 seconds, seeing how fast we could do a Tarzan yell, animal sounds, and lines from a song. We had to dress like Cleopatra or something and do a belly dance.

The winner was chosen by audience applause.I was quite surprised at the reaction I got; it came down to them needing to count hands between me and the guy who ultimately won. He was already known for being a bigshot ham on the ship. He actually came up to me, handed me the T-shirt he won, and said, “Here, you deserve this.” I'm already being approached by people telling me what a great job I did. I learned something new; it's actually pretty easy to good off in front of an audience.

They then had the band play ABBA songs for 45 minutes, and then we had the 80s party. It was a LOT of fun dancing!

Friday July 6

It was a day at sea en route to Iceland, so we took advantage of the opportunity to sleep in. We were up at 11:00. Missed breakfast, so we started the day with lunch. Then Stacey went to a belly dancing lesson while I went in the hot tub. It was cold and windy. Hardly anybody was out by the pool deck. After showering, I met up with Stacey at a trivia game. We walked and hung around a bit, then went to a scattergories game. Stacey then went to a country line dancing lesson while I sat off to the side to make changes to my Android music library.

After a brief break in our cabin, we got ready for dinner and met the solo cruisers. After dinner, we watched a Battle of the Sexes game, followed by the band playing Frank Sinatra music, and then the Decades music party. Stacey was a contestant in the Battle of the Sexes!

Saturday July 7

We arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland for two days. Again, with no pressure on our schedule, we took the opportunity to sleep in, finally getting up about 9:00. After breakfast, we headed out to the Hop On Hop Off Bus. We mostly just rode the bus, getting off at one stop to walk around for about an hour. For the first time on this trip, we had rain. We were prepared; we both had raincoats and umbrellas. We stayed on the bus through the first four stops, then attempted to backtrack. That's when the rain started so we jumped back on the bus further down than we had planned. So we stayed on for another circuit for the tour.

After getting back, we had a late lunch at O’Sheehans, then went back out to the visitor's center to check out excursions and use free WiFi.

For the evening solo group meeting, I was the only one that showed up, so I chatted with crew member Henry for awhile. After dinner, Stacey turned in for the night and I went up to Spinnaker lounge for Elvis music and ballroom dancing.

I was hoping to find people from the solo dance group to dance with, but found none. The entertainment crew was there so I did a few dances with Sheree and by myself. The rest of the time I sat and enjoyed the music and watched the sun set at around 11:45 pm.

At this latitude this time of year, even though the sun sets, it's never completely dark. It drops below the horizon for a few hours and then rises again. This photo was taken at 11:40 pm.

Sunday July 8

This was our second day in Reykjavik. Stacey decided to stay on the ship while I wanted to use the 24-hour option of my Hop On Hop Off bus ticket. We had breakfast together. 

Stacey walked for awhile, sat in the library, and played solitaire in the game room. She also went out to take advantage of free WiFi.

I got off the ship and then decided to walk along the path by the shoreline. Henry had told me about it. It was a long walk; I went to the Opera House, then headed to the city hall area and up to the church. Along the way I took a lot of pictures. I took the bus from the church to the Perlan dome. I bought a ticket to tour the place, see the ice tunnels, and look at the 360 degree view of Reykjavik. After that, I took the bus back to the ship. Along my walk, I also had a lot of opportunities for free WiFi.

Back on the ship, I had lunch and found Stacey at a trivia game. We hung out a bit, then got ready for an early dinner in Alizar dining room.

After dinner, we went to a Bee Gees trivia contest. We saw a stand-up comedienne at the theatre, then went dancing in Bliss lounge to a music duo until it was time for karaoke to start. Stacey and I each did three songs.

We were along the Arctic Circle by this point, so before going to bed, I took some pictures and video of the coastline in midnight daylight.

Monday, July 9

Arrival in Akureyri wasn't until 10:00, so we had time to sleep in and have breakfast. Our excursion was Jewels of the North. The stops included Godafoss, a waterfall; volcanically formed craters at Skutustadir; lava formations at Dimmuborgir; and Namaskard, a barren field of gurgling cauldrons and boiling mud pits. We concluded with a tour through the streets of Akureyri.

Back on the ship, we had dinner at O’Tooles, then danced to the duo again. We went to the Latina dance party.

Tuesday July 10

Today was a day at sea, so we stayed in bed as long as we could, then grabbed breakfast just before they closed the buffet. We took showers after breakfast, then tried hanging out in Bliss lounge. Stacey wasn't feeling too well; the ship was rocking quite a bit from the waves. We tried going back to our room, but it wasn't made up yet so we went to deck 6, middle of the ship in the champagne lounge to try to minimize the rocking. After a half hour, we went back to our room. Stacey layed down to take a nap. After updating Facebook, I went to eat lunch. After updating this blog, I noticed a few solo cruisers had come in, so I hung out with them.

Back in the room, Stacey was starting to do better. She was hungry so even though I was just there, we went to the pub. She had a full meal and I just had salad. Then we went to the solo cruisers evening meeting. The evening show was with a Voice contestant, Karl Loxley.

We went to the International Dance, which featured songs from the countries that were home to the entertainment staff, followed by a range of songs from countries all over the world. After that, we went to watch the karaoke singers. Since some people left before their songs came up, we were able to each get in one song before it closed for the night.

Wednesday July 11

We arrived at Torshavn, Faroe Islands at 7:00 AM. We had plans to meet 3 solo cruisers at 9:00 to walk around the city near the port. We didn't go far; we enjoyed some of the views, walked through some shops, and walked through a mall.

We were back on the ship around 12:30, had lunch, played cards, and took naps. Then went to the atrium to listen to music, and participate in another trivia game.

We had dinner at Alizar, finishing off the bottle of wine that we won, plus enjoying the cake the cruise line gave us for our engagement. We watched the cast do a show of Broadway tunes, a ballroom dance, and the dance off contest. We both had put our names in the bucket, but neither of us was chosen to participate.

Thursday July 12

We woke up docked in Invergordon, Scotland. After breakfast, we got off the ship to look for our Hop On Hop Off Bus stop, only to find out it was in Inverness, a 45-minute bus ride away on a city bus. We didn't realize it was that far away, otherwise we would have gotten an earlier start. We felt stressed out about catching it, doing the Hop on Hop off Tour, and getting back to the ship on time, so we decided to stay in Invergordon to walk. We mostly followed a suggested walking tour that was on a map, but extended it further in one direction and found a nature park.

Back on the ship, we had lunch, then Stacey went to see a Scottish dance and singing show in Spinnaker Lounge while I walked around the deck and took pictures. I also made arrangements to take an excursion the next morning rather than deal with a similar situation with the Hop On Hop Off bus. I resolved to never book Hop On Hop Off tours in advance again. It's easy to get on one once you dock in port.

I put my kilt on for the evening and we went to take pictures. Naturally, it caught attention, with people complimenting me, asking ”what's underneath,” and taking some pictures. We met the solo group, got a nice photo with them, and had dinner with some of them.

Stacey and I danced to the husband/wife duo, Spoken Two, and went to the Rock the Jade party. We left right at 11:00 since we had an early excursion the next morning.

Friday July 13

We arrived offshore Edinburgh and got up early to meet our excursion. They used a local tour boat instead of a lifeboat as our tender, so we were able to sit outside and enjoy the view on our 20 minute ride. Once at the dock, a bagpiper played as we disembarked.

We had given up on the idea of using the Hop On Hop Off bus. Instead, we took the leisurely tour of Edinburgh. We saw signs posting information about streets being blocked because of a planned protest about Trump scheduled for the next day.

That evening, the entertainment crew put on a hilarious “low budget” show of movie spoofs.

We danced to Spoken Two, then attended the White Hot Party.

Saturday July 14

This was our last full day on the ship and it was a day at sea. We stayed in bed late, then had breakfast. After that, there was a deck party going on with German music, pretzel snacks, other food and games.

We spent the entire afternoon laying by the pool and in our cabin. After the solo meeting and dinner, we put our names in for the Best Couple game, but didn't make it. We packed, then went to the Goodbye party.

Sunday July 15

We got off the ship in Hamburg, found a taxi, and got dropped off about ¼ mile from the main train station due to a bicycle marathon blocking our route. The train ride to Berlin was pleasant and we had WiFi.

Once in Berlin, we found our bus and found the AirBNB apartment building. After struggling to determine which apartment we were in , we got settled. We met our flatmates, three young women from London.

We had lunch and took a long walk, including a nice park, part of the Berlin Wall, and checkpoint Charlie.

Then we walked back, had pizza for dinner, and settled for the evening.

Monday July 16

We got up, had breakfast, and took the bus to Alexanderplatz. We took the Hop On Hop Off bus on the purple route, which Stacey was bored with. I loved it because it showed a lot of historic sites in Berlin. We had lunch in a cafeteria serving German and Asian food, then took the Hop On Hop Off yellow route, which Stacey said she enjoyed a lot. We did quite a bit of walking after that, then decided to go up in the landmark Berlin TV tower. We both enjoyed the view tremendously.

We took the bus back to the flat and chatted with the girls. One of them, Claudia, said she works in a pub near where we will be staying in London.

Tuesday July 17

Our morning went smoothly with breakfast, final packing, and the bus ride to Tegel Airport. This was the first time on EasyJet and the baggage check-in process sucked. It was extremely slow, even though we had paid for checked bags in advance. I had purchased seats with extra legroom, so at least our “Speedy Boarding” went right, as we were in the first group to board. Tegel is a very outdated airport. We had to walk out onto the ramp to board the jet.

After getting to Paris, we got on the bus and found the AirBNB where we were staying. We came across a woman who tried to scam a free taxi ride off of us. After getting settled, we went out to find something to eat. We found a nice restaurant where the owner looked like he was desperate for some business, so we ate there. It was nice, and we can say it was foreign, but it was actually Italian.

After that, we got lost trying to find the apartment again. Once we found it, we settled in for the night.

Wednesday July 18

We got up to go use our Hop On Hop Iff bus tickets for a tour of Paris. I think this was the most frustrating experience between the two of us regarding trying to figure our way around. But we finally got it resolved. After the Hop On Hop Off bus tour, we had a very long but nice walk to see a lot of the sites of Paris.

We got back to the apartment around dinner time and stayed in for the night. I went out to pick up a pizza for the two of us. Then we decided on plans for the next day, and we figured we better start purchasing tickets for things to do in England.

Thursday July 19

We got up to head to the Louvre. We had tickets for 12 noon, but we got there early, so we decided to relax by a pond at the Concord for an hour.

With reserved tickets, we had no wait getting into the Louvre.

Yes, that's the Mona Lisa. My impression is that it gets a lot more attention than it deserves. I was more impressed with most of the other art displayed in the Louvre. We spent a couple hours there, them went back to the apartment. After resting up for the afternoon, we headed out for our 10:30 PM appointment at the Eiffel Tower. Again we got there early so we had dinner, relaxed and then walked around.

We hung out on the bridge over the River Seine and watched the lights come on. A guy enticed me to buy a few roses for Stacey; I decided then to enact the proposal that I originally had in mind.

We got up on the tower after dark and spent about a half hour looking around.

Friday July 19

We got up early to get to the train station for the trip to London. I thought we were running early enough, but both of us got very stressed out with directions inside the train station, my bus ticket not working, and needing to go through passport control before boarding the train. I hadn't expected that. The train ride was smooth and uneventful.

After arriving at the London train station I found I was in a great deal of pain in my chest area. I thought it was acid reflux. (From previous tests and a similar situation, I was confident it was not a heart issue) We hung around there for an hour or two waiting to see if the pain would go away. It did not. I finally got my my nerve up enough to bear the pain so that we could take a taxi and go to our AirBNB. After arriving there, I laid down for a while but the pain kept getting worse. I finally called the British version of 911 and told them what was going on. They said it would take a couple of hours for an ambulance to arrive due to being backed up. They sent a medic. The medic arrived on a motorcycle. He checked me over asked a bunch of questions, and then I happened to vomit while he was there. Then he said, "You're going to the hospital." He called for a cab to take me to St. Thomas. It did not cost anything for me. Apparently that's the way they do things in London if they can't send an ambulance.

I waited in the ER for a little while and then they finally took me in. After examining me, it was determined that I was having gallstone blockage. I ended up spending five nights in the hospital in London. They did an endoscopy to clear the blockage. They wanted to take my gallbladder out, but they did not want to do that and then send me home on a 7-hour flight. So the plan was to get me well enough to fly home and then continue with treatment after I got back. So, for 5 nights, my view of London was from the 12th floor of St Thomas Hospital.

Meanwhile, Stacey was able to do some sightseeing around London. She took a bus tour that we had tickets for, she walked around looking at some of the sights, and rode the Eye.

As our departure date was getting closer, the hospital staff determined that I would not be able to go home on schedule. Stacey did want to go home on schedule so we made arrangements for that. She was homesick by this point and was mourning her cat, who had passed away while we were gone.

When I was finally able to go home, it was my hope that I could just walk to the other end of the bridge from St. Thomas Hospital and take a close look at Big Ben before I headed for the train station. By the time I got outside the hospital, I realized I was too wiped out to be able to do that. So I did not get any sightseeing done in London at all. As I was walking away from the hospital, it just so happened that one of the nurses who had taken care of me called out my name and was catching up to me. He had changed out of his scrubs and was in street clothes already. He asked me where I was headed. I told him I was heading to the train station so I could take the shuttle to the airport. He helped me with directions and carried my suitcase up a flight of stairs. That was very generous of him. 

Once I got to the airport I was really wiped out. I got to the check-in desk for my flight and told them I had just gotten out of the hospital and asked if they had any upgrades available. I could not face sitting in an airplane seat for 7 hours and I just wanted to be able to lay down. I was able to get a business class seat that laid out flat for $750 American. The flight home was very relaxing and I was able to eat a little bit more than I had in the hospital. My treatments at home continued and I finally had my gallbladder taken out. 

A lot of people have asked me how my experience with the British Healthcare System was compared to the U.S. The medical care in the hospital was quite comparable. The big difference was in the payment system. When I had checked into the ER nobody asked me for money at that point nor did they ask me for an insurance card. On the Monday morning when I was in the hospital, someone from international relations came to me and said that I would have to pay for my visit. I said that's fine and I had expected that. I put a down payment on my credit card and they said they would bill me for the rest. It took a little bit of time, but I finally got the payments worked out and I got reimbursed from my own medical insurance. 

Being that I had trip insurance for this trip, trip insurance covered all of the other emergency expenses. They paid for Stacey's flight home from Toronto to Rochester, they paid for some hotel expenses that I had lost, they paid for my half of the AirBNB that Stacey was staying in while we were in London, since I never got to stay there. They also paid for my business class upgrade on Air Canada for my flight home. Trip insurance is well worth the investment. I have heard many horror stories from people not getting trip insurance, including one from this particular hospital. It turns out another American had been hospitalized a couple of months prior to my visit. He ended up needing extra care for his flight back to the U.S. His flight cost $70,000 and he did not have trip insurance for it.

This whole trip was quite the adventure for Stacey and me.  We learned a lot about each other. People may joke about us taking our honeymoon before the wedding, but there is actually a lot of value to it.  Both of us got irritated at times, and we learned how to respond to each other when things aren’t going so well. Four weeks of constant togetherness, under both thrilling and stressful circumstances, brought us closer together in the long run.  As we had been recently engaged, I look forward to many years of marriage, life and travel with Stacey. As I finally finish editing this blog in February, 2020, a year and a half later, we are happily married and planning a return to London very soon to see what we missed!

Paul Pakusch