To GO or Not TO GO, THAT is the Question

In September of 2018, we signed up with Overseas Adventure Travel for a March 2020 trip to Morocco. Why plan so far in advance? We wanted to travel with friends, OAT limits their groups to 16, and popular trips sell out quickly. We had no difficulty recruiting 11 friends to go on the tour with us. So far so good. Fast forward to today, with departure date rapidly approaching. As my favorite philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

Well ol’ John was right. “Life” has certainly jumped up and slapped us in the face. Within the last two months three travel buddies had to drop out. One member of a couple was diagnosed with a serious medical issue, then another fell and fractured her knee. Their future absence made us realize how much we were looking forward to spending time with them.

Because the trip is so popular, their spots were quickly taken by other OAT travelers –also known as friends we haven’t met yet. So, there will still be 16 of us on the trip. But wait, we aren’t finished. Unless you are in a coma, you have probably heard about the coronavirus. So far, none of us has allowed it to disrupt our plans.

Fortunately, according to our State Department, Morocco is looking safe. Still, we have to fly to get there and back, and our plans include a three day stopover in Paris before we enter Morocco. Although the State Department hasn’t identified France as a “do not travel” country, another source indicated that several cases have popped up in France.

What to do? Sadly, we have to acknowledge that being over 65, we have aged into the “at risk” group. Fortunately, we are relatively healthy, and are up to date on all of our shots. Still, we recently experienced another country’s health care system, and although the outcome was positive, visiting my spouse in the Alice Springs Hospital was not a high point of our trip to Australia. (Clearly, it wasn’t my spouse’s either.) On a positive note, although we learned just how wonderful our medicare supplement coverage is when we are outside of the USA, we hope to never have to use it again!

As of today, according to the US State Department, Morocco and Paris have only the usual warnings about terrorist activities, but that is the world we live in. Given our record of gun violence in schools, churches, shopping malls, movie theaters, we could just as easily be mowed down by a home grown terrorist shooting his assault weapon. I refuse to let terrorists, either here or elsewhere, win. A virus, however, is another matter.

As of today, Morocco has reported its first case of the coronavirus; its victim, a man who returned from a visit to Italy, is being treated in a Casablanca hospital.

In Paris, a protest by workers closed the Louvre for two days, until the Museum staff assured the workers that “proper measures” to ensure their safety were being taken.

What happens if we get to Paris, and Morocco decides not to let anyone into the country from France –or from the USA? Let’s face it, several states have reported outbreaks, with many of the victims having no known source of contact. Our response is being managed by Mike Pence, who is not noted for his expertise in the medical and scientific arena. Maybe other countries will view US as being problematic? What if we make it to Morocco, an outbreak occurs and we can’t fly home? What if we catch a cold or some other nasty thing on the flights, either to or from our destination and we have to be quarantined until we are tested and certified as okay? So many “what ifs”. One thing that’s certain, if we go, my plan to travel with “carry on only” has been abandoned. I want to be sure we have enough clean clothes to get us through any “what ifs” that come our way.

In addition to cancelling all trips to China, South Korea and Mongolia, OAT has allowed travelers that signed up for their Italy trips the option to cancel right up to the date of departure, choosing either to apply their payment to a future OAT trip or to get a refund, minus a small processing fee. That gives us peace of mind.

What will we do? We will prepare as if we are going to take the trip, watch the news, check the internet and wait to see how it all unfolds.

Reykjavik, Iceland

If your idea of the perfect vacation is warm days full of continuous sunshine, then Iceland should definitely NOT be on your bucket list.  If, however, you are intrigued by quirky experiences, visually spectacular landscapes, geology, elves and trolls, go ahead and book your trip.

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I was amazed that the plants were thriving in this cold, gray weather! 

Those of you that have been following me know that I am a lazy, somewhat random blogger, but my friend Nancy is not.  If you want interesting, timely accounts of our trip, hop on over to her blog.  She’s done such a fine job, There is no need for me to take you over the same ground.  Instead, my post is a loose collection of whatever caught my eye.

Although Mike and I arrived in Reykjavik a day before the tour officially started, we took it slow, using our extra time TRYING (and failing ) to get over jet lag.  

The one in the middle belonged to a giraffe

While in Reykjavik we DID manage to make it to the museum Nancy (intentionally and wisely) missed.  Unless you are particularly intrigued by pickled whale penises, I recommend you do likewise.  Save your $15,000 kroners admission fee ($10,000 for seniors) and buy a glass of wine instead.  Good news: You can tour the gift shop for free.

 

 

 

My family will be pleased to know I did NOT do any Christmas shopping there.

 

 

I am  particularly fond of outdoor art and Reykjavik had plenty of it, both traditional, like the statue of Leif Erikson ( a gift from the USA), and unconventional (on the sides of buildings).

 

Icelanders are hearty souls.  Check out this sign above one of the restaurants.  1E24E02F-2AB3-4A9C-A011-22E2511561AF.jpegFor those of us not familiar with the metric system, 5 degrees Celsius translates to a balmy 41 degrees Fahrenheit.  While we were in town, the mercury skyrocketed all the way up to 52 degrees, still WE drank our coffee inside!

The Hilton Reykjavik is a lovely hotel some distance from the town center.  No matter.  During our stay, we were content to spend our evenings at the hotel.  One night, Mike organized a surprise party to celebrate the start of the last year I’ll be in my sixties.  Yes, that banner DOES light up and yes, it WILL be used again for the August birthday girl in my life.  

The second night at the hotel, everyone was gathered either around the big screen TV in the lobby area, or by the smaller one in the bar, to watch Croatia win the soccer semifinals.

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No restaurant meal for THESE soccer enthusiasts! 

Although ours is an organized tour, it is possible to go off on your own.  Sam did just that, hiring a guide to take him salmon fishing on  a “two rod river”.  What is THAT, you ask?  Well,  for that one day, Sam and the guide (2 rods) “owned” the river.  No one else was allowed to fish there.  Was he successful?  Well, OUR tour guide took home two of Sam’s three salmon.  (Photos courtesy of Sam’s guide).

 

While Sam was fishing, the rest of us were touring the Ocean Cluster House, an absolutely fascinating place.  With most of my family still living in or near New Bedford, Massachusetts, I am well aware of the impact changes in the fishing industry can make on an area’s economy.  Icelanders dealt with fishing restrictions very creatively.   They don’t (can’t) catch as many fish, so they have figured out how to extract maximum value from every pound of fish they are allowed to catch.4D7C4ED2-385F-4F10-A781-6D90B70F5B01
 This jacket is made entirely of processed fish skin.  It is incredibly soft.  Yes, I touched it. 

Fish skin is also being used as bandages.  Apparently, the fibers in cod skin are more similar to human skin than the skin of pigs, so the bandage can be absorbed into the body. 

Other products are used for cosmetics—fish intestines for hand cream, because (according to the Ocean Cluster House guide) someone noticed that Icelandic fishermen have very soft hands, and figured they got that way from handling fish intestines. (My Dad must have steered clear of fish intestines!) 

Even fish heads are utilized.  They are dried and exported to Nigeria for use in soup!?  By using all parts of the fish, Icelanders have upped the value from $8 per pound to about $3000. 

71551513-8F2B-4FF7-BDD6-F5B729E92814Better yet, because these products are manufactured in Iceland, they have created new industries and new jobs.  That’s a good thing, because today’s Icelandic trawlers are able to catch 200 metric tons in one trip, with far fewer fishermen, doing very little actual fishing; they now just monitor computers that run the equipment.   

72ECD07D-4C8C-4520-B301-B04F1823E5A0Our last stop was at the National Museum, an incredibly beautiful building, where we learned Iceland’s history through artifacts, clothing and household items.  Given that we will be riding Icelandic horses in a few days, I was particularly interested in the saddle exhibit.

Fortunately  women are no longer required to ride sidesaddle or wear corseted riding habits.

Next stop, Stykkishólmur.   Okay, so we have already been there for two days, and are now in Aqua-ree-ray (That’s how it is SAID, not how it is spelled).  I’m just having too much fun to keep current! 

“All You Need Is Love” The Beatles

“Love is all you need”.   Turns out, those four British boys were definitely on to something.

This blog post is about that THIRD essential ingredient for a happy retirement — strong personal relationships.  Nothing new or revolutionary about that.  Erich Fromm’s book, “The Art of Loving” published more than 50 years ago, informed us that the key to a happy life is love and work.  (We’ll address the “work” part in the next post)

Fast forward to 2016.  Robert Waldinger’s excellent Ted Talk describes findings from a 75 year Harvard study on adult development.  Guess what?  Researchers discovered the most important factor in determining whether someone is happy is not fame or wealth, but the quality of their relationships.  Not only were people with strong, positive relationships happier, but they were healthier–both physically and mentally.

During the 30+ years I was in the workforce, I was lucky enough to have jobs that paid me for establishing positive relationships with other people.  (Which, of course, is very different from being paid to have relations with other people.  Not that I’m judging…)  So, when I retired, I was not only saying goodbye to my co-workers, but also to customers that, in most cases, had become friends. Unfortunately, most of them are long distance friends.  And are still working.

Although I still think of my husband as my “boyfriend”, I don’t expect him to fill all of my companionship needs.   Perhaps part of the reason we are still going strong after 4 decades together is we both understand our mutual need for other interests and for time apart. Our relationship is very much like a Venn Diagram–my interests – his interests, with a nice big intersection of OUR interests.  Surprisingly, I have encountered people that find this a bit strange.  So, when I read this  Wall Street Journal article shortly after retiring, I was pleased to find that there are others out there like us.  Why I find it gratifying to discover that we aren’t so different is probably a subject for a therapist, or at least a future post.  But I digress.   Which happens a lot.  

Anyway, I have spent the last four years figuring out how to exchange “work mates” for “play mates”, and I’m happy to share what I learned with you, my newly retired, soon to be retired, or hoping to one day be retired readers.

Here’s what’s been working for me:

  1. Meet-Ups This on-line application allows you to select by  geographic area and areas of interest.  After you make your selections, you get notifications of gatherings of like minded individuals.  You can get even more specific, narrowing it down by age or marital status.  I’ve made friends via book club, biking, and boomer dining meet-ups–and there are lots of other options.  Plus, if you are so inclined, you can start your own meet up group.
  2. The Local Y   It is indeed fun to go to the YMCA!  But don’t just  hang out on the treadmill.  Join classes, and attend regularly.  And don’t worry about being out of shape.  There are no mean girls here!  The women (and most of the class attendees ARE women) are friendly, welcoming and caring.  In many ways, the Y “family” has been a wonderful substitute for my workplace “family”.
  3. Volunteer I’ve made some incredible friends during my Global Volunteer Projects. See the world, make new friends, learn about another culture!  Check out that wonderful organization!
    If you prefer something local, AARP offers an on-line application designed to link retirees with nearby organizations in need of their skills, and aligned with their interests.
  4. The Local Library  Mine offers an array of programs, including book clubs and educational seminars.
  5. Welcome Wagon  Yes, I know, this is supposed to be for newcomers.  BUT the local contact can be a great resource for area clubs and gatherings.  It took me 32 years before I stumbled across our Neighbors and Newcomers Club, but I’m so glad I did!
  6. Reconnections  Maybe you have been too busy to stay in contact with friends from high school or college.  Why not reach out?  I attended my first college reunion five years ago, and am looking forward to the next one this spring.  It was a wonderful trip down memory lane, an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and a chance to make new ones.  Ditto for high school.
  7. Travel  Okay, so this probably isn’t going to help you with day to day connections, but we met some fantastic, fascinating people on our trips with Road Scholar, OAT, and Grand Circle.  In 2016, our new Zealand friends will be visiting us and we will be taking a trip with friends we met in Peru and on a Global Volunteer experience.
  8. Virtual Buddies I put this one last, because a computer relationship is no substitute for face to face, hand to hand connections.  Still, email, facebook and blogging can be wonderful ways to complement your other relationships.  I loved having pen pals back in the dark ages when I was a child.  My Blog Buddies to me are the 21st century version of pen pals. The best part, however, was when I met a blog buddy when we both happened to be in San Francisco, visiting our kids.  With luck, she and I will be able to synchronize travel again.

What about YOU?  What has helped YOU make the social transition from workto retirement?