Sunday, 22 March 2020

DoubleTree Hotel (Portland, Oregon)

On Friday I was up early to prepare for my flight to London Heathrow. The flight was at 11:30 but I needed to eat breakfast, shower and shave, finish packing, check out of the hotel, take a taxi to the Queen Street station in Glasgow to catch train that will deliver me to the Edinburgh Haymarket station and from there to the Edinburgh airport. I kept thinking “one step at a time” and eventually I found myself resting in my Heathrow Hilton room.

I was able to have a good hour nap, and that was about the best sleep I would have for the next 36 hours. Later, I was able to contact someone in Portland who has a rental in the John Ross where I want to live. My friend Scott had sent me the floor plan and a few pictures of the apartment as well. A little small but has a great view of the Willamette River. I will meet the owner Monday afternoon and review the lease. I also contacted a local company that builds furniture that converts from a desk to a queen-sized bed. In between all of this I secured a U.S. phone number that I can use with my Viber app. Also ate dinner in a restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel.

I did get a little more sleep that evening but I didn’t feel rested. I woke in time to talk with the apartment owner, but this was at 2:30 a.m. I tried to sleep a little more but didn’t have any luck. I was able to book a flight from NYC to Portland for Sunday. By then I knew it would be impossible to get any more sleep before it was time to get up in time for my early flight to Kefvlavik, Iceland. My taxi would be waiting for me at 4:30. The hotel concierge thought I should be at Heathrow three hours before my flight, but I had a hunch the airport wouldn’t be that busy. I was right.

Once I arrived in Kefflavik, where I would have nearly a six hour wait, I decided to take a taxi into town and have lunch in a local restaurant. This turned out to be an excellent idea. I walked in before the restaurant was open for lunch and sat next to the restaurant owner and a couple of his friends. We had a great time talking about travel, politics, of course, the impact of the coronavirus. I ordered fish and chips and found myself stuffed when I finished. Would have loved to take a nap.

While at the restaurant I completed the online application as part of the leasing process for the new apartment. Also posted to FB and IG as well. I was there for three hours. The restaurant called a taxi to take me back to the airport. On the way to the airport the driver informed me that they were not supposed to drive people from the airport who were in transit and not residents of Iceland. He was gracious and said he would take me to the airport.

I still had more time to kill so I spoke with my brother, checked my account balances then took a quick peak at the financial market daily performance. Because my investments were so conservative I’m still in fairly good shape. Just will have to wait for the market to improve, which it will.

I was not looking forward to being on a plane for over six hours. I hope that I have enough activities to keep me busy. When I walked onto the plane I almost forgot that I upgraded my seat to have more leg room. That was a very good idea. Also, this second flight was not even a third full. The first flight might have been around 20% full. The affects of the virus on air travel were very evident. We are some of the last Americans returning to the U.S. I spoke with a couple who were visiting Iceland and cut their vacation short. They had seen the writing on the wall and decided to quickly return to the U.S. or they might get trapped in Iceland for the next few weeks.  

The cost of a taxi from JFK to the hotel, a five minute ride away, was $30. Welcome to New York! The hotel had seen better days but I didn’t care I was so tired. An interesting change to my morning breakfast was that they required that I use a takeaway container and take my breakfast to my room, which was okay.

The taxi to LaGuardia on Sunday morning went well. The taxi driver was nice enough to point out some of the interesting sites along the way and we had a good conversation. This fare was $40. But I got to the airport in good time and made my flight to Minneapolis, my layover city. I had it planned where I could break down my trip across the U.S. in two segments. NYC to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Portland. All was going well until my flight to Portland was cancelled. The alternative was a flight to Seattle and another to Portland. This worked out though but when I got to Portland I learned my suitcase was still on its way from Minneapolis. I wasn’t surprised.

From the airport I took the Max tram’s red line to the hotel and checked in. Once I got to my room (was given a junior suite) I tried to take a nap but it wasn’t happening. I decided to return to the airport later to retrieve my suitcase. In the meantime I ventured out to see where I could buy some food. I eventually found a Safeway that had some sandwiches. I saw very few people on the streets and those I did see were on drugs, drunk, or a combination of the three.

Rather than take public transportation to the airport I called for an Uber. Once there I was pleasantly surprised that the woman who helped me earlier at lost baggage area knew my name. She retrieved my suitcase and I was on my way back to the hotel.

By now it was getting late this Sunday evening and I was dead tired. I sort of unpacked, ate dinner and recharged my phone and laptop using a power plug converter I bought at the airport. Tonight I expect to get more sleep so I’m ready on Monday to sign my lease. I also want to go furniture shopping later.

Earlier I started to make my project plan that contains all of the activities I need to do over the next month or so. It is turning out to be an extensive list. In the meantime I will not be updating my travel log. Perhaps I’ll write an update next week. One of the items on my plan is to write a trip summary, but that will happen after I’ve had time to process my being back in the U.S. It was nice to receive many notes welcoming me back to the U.S. from Facebook friends and family. Too bad I won’t see them for the next couple of weeks, which is fine. I’ve got a lot to do during this time, if I’m able to, since most everything is shut down.

As I often say, “We shall see.”

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Hampton by Hilton (Edinburgh, Scotland)

My morning started about 4:15 a.m. when I woke up for a potty break. I noticed an email from KLM that informed me that my flight had been cancelled. This flight would have taken me from Edinburgh to Keflavik Iceland. For the next hour I cancelled my hotel for Friday night in Edinburgh and rebooked for London Heathrow Hilton and will take a flight from London to Keflavik. Then I went back to bed.

On the way down to breakfast a guy got on the elevator on the 7th floor and on the way down coughed, and didn’t cover his cough. I held my breath until we got out of the elevator. He didn’t look well.

I was planning to take an after breakfast nap but decided I should take the train into Edinburgh and pick up my passport. I called ahead to make sure the Russian Visa Service Center was open. I tried to book an Uber to the train station but the application wouldn’t take my request, so I took a taxi.

Once I arrived in Edinburgh I took another taxi to the Russian Visa Service Center and had a good conversation with the taxi driver. He mentioned his sister works at a hospital in Manchester and said that because more people are washing their hands and staying home the number of people coming in with colds and flu (non-coronavirus) had dropped by half. He waited for me to get my passport and then he took me to get my haircut. I tipped him well.

Nice to get my hair cut. It was looking a bit shaggy since I hadn’t had it cut since I was in Cyprus, almost a month ago. The guy who cut my hair asked where in the U.S. I was from and knew about Portland, Oregon. I continue to be impressed how well people outside the U.S. know our cities and states.

My taxi driver in Glasgow told me how his number of fares has dropped dramatically. More so this past week. He said there was nothing he could do and plans to get by the best he can. I gave him a hefty tip as I left his cab. Talking to people that are affected by this virus is heartbreaking. When I walked into the hotel the lobby was empty, and this is a big hotel with 20 floors. (I’m on the 19th floor.) At breakfast there were only a handful of people in the dining room so think that hotel has very few guests.

After my afternoon nap I double-checked that I hadn’t made any mistakes booking and cancelling flights and hotels earlier this morning. Discovered that KLM may not refund my ticket for the flight they cancelled. But good news is that there are places in the John Ross, one that looks really good (and within my budget) that’s available. Not large, but I can make it work for the next year. Also, hotel prices are dropping in Portland so I’ll have a place to stay while I find permanent place to stay. (A Hilton hotel of course.)

I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the “travel adventure tunnel”. But still need to take it one step at a time. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I’ll walk down to the River Clyde and take in the view. Yesterday I did a little clothes shopping (shopping therapy) and it gave me a chance to walk around the shopping district of Glasgow.

Just need to remember: One step at a time.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Hampton by Hilton (Edinburgh, Scotland)

On Friday I made the decision to return to the U.S. I’ve been reading about the many closures, travel restrictions, flight cancellations, and the increase in reported cases here in Scotland, though still quite low compared to other countries.

I will stay in a Hilton in Glasgow from tomorrow until Friday the 20th, then will stay in a Hilton at the Edinburgh airport. My flight on Saturday morning will take me to Amsterdam then to Keflavik, Iceland where I will catch a flight to JFK. A direct flight to JFK would take over 8 hours, which is too long for me to be on a flight.

I was right when writing that I had stayed in my last Airbnb. I spoke with my brother tonight and told him how many places I’ve stayed. Almost overwhelming when you think about it. I plan to do a more comprehensive debrief once I get settled in Portland. Like I do when I finish a major project, I conduct a “Lessons Learned” and will write about what I have learned from my travel experiences.

The most difficult part of returning to the U.S. is saying goodbye to those who I’ve met here. Perhaps not a final goodbye, but it will be most likely a couple of years before I return. I have so many people to thank. Some I don’t even know their names, like the Uber drivers, people I met on flights or trains, and hotel staff. I must now focus on how happy I’ll be to say hello to those who have waited for me to return.

As I said to my brother this evening, I’m going one step at a time. I can’t get too far in my thinking at this time. I know the path to Oregon and next Saturday I’ll take my first step. Just one of many. Soon I’ll have a place of my own where I can start the next phase of my life. Will I work again? Chances are I will, but that step will happen after I get settled. First, I’ll board the flight that will take me to the U.S.

Monday, 9 March 2020

28 Dublin Street (Edinburgh, Scotland)

The weather hasn’t been too pleasant for the past few days. Today included. I haven’t felt like walking around in the cold so I didn’t. Nor did I feel like taking the train to Glasgow.

I’m still on hold regarding future travel plans, but I’m not very concerned. Thankfully I haven’t made any plans that I can’t change. I would like to finish with my doctor appointments (last ones are on the 11th) and have my Russian visa in-hand before making any plans. Today I made a reservation to stay in a Hilton property here in Edinburgh and can add days to my stay if necessary. I’ll move over there when my time at this Airbnb is over, which will be on the 12th.

With the financial markets taking a tumble I have been confirming that my conservative and insured investments are still hanging in there, and they are for now. My financial adviser reached out to me today and we talked over how the current market might impact my investments. I was just thinking about her today and then received an email from her. How about that? We talked for nearly an hour.

Because we talked so long on the phone I just finished putting a chicken in the oven. Looks like I won’t have dinner until 9:00. I doubt if I’ll starve, but I’m sure to be hungry once the chicken comes out of the oven. Now if I can just stay away from making toast as a snack.

I went to the grocery earlier to buy the last few items for my stay in this Airbnb. If I don’t stay in an Airbnb until I return to the states then it could be quite a while before I’m cooking again. I will probably stay in an Airbnb, while in New York, that is near a friend who I’ll visit while there, but that will be in Queens. Will plan to visit friends who live in Manhattan as well. In fact I heard from Ginny today after I sent her an email last week. She and her husband Alan are doing well (met them last year while traveling in southern Italy) and she looks forward to catching up while I’m in town.

I forgot to write that I finally saw the Downton Abbey movie. I happened upon it while looking through available movies via YouTube. For whatever reason I have to VPN to the U.S. to make payment then switch back to the U.K. connection to watch movies. Not sure what had changed so that I have to do this but it works so I’m okay. Another reason to get back to the U.S. so I don’t have to finagle purchases and “stand on my head” to conduct normal business. Even today, to access one of my accounts, it is required that a code is sent to my phone in the U.S., which I don’t have but use a friend’s number. I text him to expect a text with the security code and he then sends the code to me.

I’ll use the extra days while I’m here in Edinburgh to make a few day trips. The hotel is almost next door to the Hay Market train station and I expect the weather to improve over the next week or so. In the meantime I’ll continue to be lazy and rest.

Isn’t that chicken done yet? Yes, I’m now becoming quite hungry.

Friday, 6 March 2020

28 Dublin Street (Edinburgh, Scotland)

For the past two days I’ve been researching several different travel contingencies as I mentioned in Wednesday’s update. Yesterday I received a text from a friend who is traveling next month to Asia, Italy and then the U.K. and it helped me feel more comfortable about traveling as we learn more about the virus that we’re hearing so much about. Now I’m once again becoming more comfortable with traveling in France. In any case, we will see how this pans out over the next few weeks.

Today I was okay with staying in the flat and not going outside. Colder and overcast too. Just to rest and consider future travel plans. Also to do a load of wash. Nice that this flat has a drying rack that you lower from the ceiling, then pull it up again so the hot rising air dries the clothes. Helps to have high ceilings.

U.S. politics and the financial markets are also on my mind as well. Perhaps I keep hoping that after I wake from one of my naps these areas of concern will work themselves out. Wishful thinking. I know that eventually they will indeed go one way or the other and I need to be more patient. I suppose going outside and walking in the fresh air would help, but I’ll save that for tomorrow. By then I’ll have grown tired of being inside.

No news regarding my Russian visa. I’ve been checking every other day and the status still says that the application has been forwarded to the Russian Embassy. No news is good news. I did hear that my tax forms were accepted by both the Federal and State and I should receive my very small Federal refund in the next few days. I owe the state and will pay that next month.

I’ve been working towards changing my diet. My hygienist lectured me (in a nice way) about how sugar weakens my teeth’s enamel. A likely cause for the recent chipping of teeth. I expect when meeting with my GP next week, I’ll hear how I need to continue maintaining a more balanced and nutritious diet to reduce my BMI and eat foods to improve my cholesterol levels. More dark green vegetables, more fruit, and lean meat.

I’m now realizing that staying in Airbnb flats is close to coming to an end, at least for now. If I don’t go to France, I’ll most likely stay only in Hilton’s until I return to the U.S. At last count, I’ve stayed in 88 different Airbnb flats so far. And if the non-Airbnb flats were added, the total would be well over 90. Wow! To be honest, I will not miss walking into another Airbnb and acquainting myself to a new place to live. I don’t mind hotels so much since they have pretty much the same layout, but Airbnb flats are a little more work and it takes more time to get settled in.

Tomorrow I’d like to visit Glasgow again. Haven’t been there for a couple of years. We will see.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

28 Dublin Street (Edinburgh, Scotland)

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much sunshine there has been. I keep seeing rain and overcast skies in the forecast. Nice when the forecast is wrong. But it is still very chilly. I was concerned about how much I’ve been using the heating in this flat but noticed there is a display on a desk that shows how much it costs per day for electricity. This display has been consistently showing that the cost per day is around 1.5 UK pounds, so now I’m not too concerned.

Finished with my dental appointments and now my chipped tooth is repaired and teeth cleaned and polished. The appointment with the hygienist was around $50. And this is in a highly rated dental clinic. Would cost over $200 in the U.S.

My annual physical is done and will learn the results next week when I meet with my GP. Next up will be to visit the dermatologist and ophthalmologist. I’ll have Parts A & B coverage from Medicare when I return to the U.S. but need to figure out Part D and supplemental coverage when I return. I’m honestly considering making an annual visit to Edinburgh each year for my basic medical needs and get any prescriptions filled.

Travel planning is still in limbo until I receive my Russian visa. While I’m not too concerned that I’ll get the virus as I travel, I’m more concerned about upcoming travel restrictions. I’m planning for three contingencies. 1). Visit western France after I leave Edinburgh around the 16th of March, then travel to Moscow on the 15th; 2) Leave for the Netherlands, Germany and Finland before Moscow; or 3). Leave directly for the U.S. if travel becomes too restrictive around Europe, which would be the worst-case scenario. Though I’m reading that people are still traveling to Milan, which is in the middle of the most affected part of Italy. Though I’m not much of a risk-taker.

Today I discovered that Google Maps has restored their high-level map feature that shows red dots on where you’ve traveled. It apparently was not working as Google was making improvements to Google Maps, but found that it is now fully restored. Nice to see a visual representation of where I’ve been for the past 3+ years. Perhaps I should post the map again to Instagram and Facebook.

I’m thinking that I need to take a few day trips while I’m in Edinburgh. Perhaps down to York or to the north of Glasgow. Rain is in the forecast but that can always change as I’ve been finding out. We shall see.