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Transatlantic trip December 2023 - Planning and initial travel

A third transatlantic cruise in 2023? Once I returned from Europe in August and got settled in, finished writing up the 20-week trip and pushing photos and narrative up to the blog, I spotted this crossing - a relocation from Rome to Florida - which looked do-able. All that mattered would be whether the surgery I had postponed in the spring would fit the schedule, or if I could push it off even further. After meeting the new urologist and the surgeon, and they slotted my operation and recovery before my planned flight to Rome.

Armed with the cruise itinerary, I checked my list of cathedrals missed and figured out what might be possible. Returning on the Epic to Naples and Livorno, I’d visited those regions in July, and contacted Elisa to see if she could find driver guides for me. Elisa also helped with the ports calls in Barcelona and Lisbon. That left 3 other ports: Marseilles, Cadiz and Punta Delgada; I reached out to Paul, my French concierge/”Hero”, but his options were both twice the cost that I’d pay at other ports. My ship-excursion based options proved a way to complete my itinerary.

Using United miles, I booked a one-way ticket to FCO - as all options involved a plane change, I initiated the trip with the nearer airport in Sarasota, through Newark. My neighbor Dave was booked to drive me there, and I had a pass for the United Club lounge. With my experience of “lost luggage” on the Iceland trip in 2022, I made sure there was enough time between flights to ensure the one checked bag got on the longer flight.

Thanksgiving was the 4-week mark post surgery, and I was cleared to resume normal life. On Sunday I packed, as Monday was booked with three doctor appointments. I’d purchased a smaller suitcase from Amazon, as the huge Samsonite I’d picked up in Rome in July would be overkill. Switching luggage, however, did result in several items not making this journey. But I adapted, replacing as needed.

Day -3 (minus three cruising) Traveling

Dave collected me a bit ahead of schedule, and I was soon in Sarasota airport and had the larger bag checked. TSA confiscated my waiter’s corkscrew, as the dull 2-inch blade (for cutting the foil off the top of a wine bottle) was a potential threat. The waiting area was crowded, as the earlier flight to Newark was waiting on a replacement tire, leaving 3 hours late. Until I heard the reason for the delay, I was concerned that our Newark flight would be similarly delayed. It turned out both flights were boarding within 15 minutes. Group 2 on my flight had a long line to board, but I was able to stash my roll-on above and slip into the window seat. We were a tad slow pushing back and getting off the ground, but arrived in Newark on time.

Leaving the aircraft, I was faced with a choice - the United Club was to the right, while my gate for the continuing flight was to the left. With over two hours, I went right. Salads and cheese, water to stay hydrated, I found a corner to sit and relax, chatting with two couples who were also waiting on their next flights. When I received a text that the craft was boarding, I gathered up my stuff and headed to the gate. Another United Club was just beyond my gate, which was a “too late” discovery. They had called my group, and then group 3, so I wound up stashing my overhead at the very front of the plane. We had a significant delay pushing back, as we had to wait for a wheelchair to be brought onto the aircraft.

My seat was on the aisle and bulkhead - enhanced economy, so a tad longer. As on the northbound leg, my bag of treats for the crew were well received. My seatmate Ray and I had “cow” for dinner, which was quite tasty. He was in a family group of 5, but needed the leg room, so the rest of his team were sprinkled throughout economy. And the brief period of quiet darkness was pleasant, albeit I wasn’t able to actually sleep.

Book: Cathedrals to the Glory of God
Cathedrals to the Glory of God

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