Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Punta Cana With Friends

So yeah, we just got back from a month in Europe. But moving is hard! We needed a mini-vacation, plus we are still exercising our Southwest Airlines Companion Pass super powers. I think after this Costa Rica might be the only foreign destination that they fly to that we haven't visited yet. This trip began in St. Louis which was super exciting: no long drive to Tulsa or Kansas City for us!


Lydia refuses to use hotel shampoo so we had to refill our tiny travel bottles up first.


Unfortunately the TSA heard we were coming and our boarding pass printed out with the dreaded "SSSS" code on it. I didn't know what that meant but Lydia did from the flight she was pulled off in New York for being a security risk. The Southwest desk lady knew what it meant too because her eyes went wide and she asked a coworker what she should do before eventually handing them over.




Our theory on "SSSS" is Super Secret Sufferin' Suckatash or Super Sexy Sensitive Search, which unfortunately is what was about to happen to me.

When we got to the security line and the guard lady scanned our tickets the scanner went red and made an ominous beep for both of us. We each got a TSA agent assigned to us who followed us through the line. I felt kind of like a super villain from the X-Men. When I sat my luggage on the scanner another agent followed my bags while my original pig tail followed me, lest I use my power over magnetics to mess with the scanners.

I then got patted down which was made much worse by the slow, creepy description of how I was about to be patted down beforehand. "I'm going to use the back of my hand on your sensitive areas." Is the federal government allowed to tell me where I'm sensitive?

After this every little pouch of my backpack was opened and swabbed then run through a machine that checks for werewolfs or something. I had to turn my computer on to prove its innocence as well.

After that they take my passport and one goon says to another that he's going to "call it in to CC". After a long wait Captain Crunch apparently gave me the go ahead and they gave me my passport back and said thank you or something. The one that patted me down tried to kiss me on the cheek but I politely refused.

Insult to injury was that throughout they were either ignorant or lying about why this was happening. I heard "random security check" at least twice which clearly isn't true because it happened to both Lydia and I and it happened to her last week. One told Lydia that it had something to do with our airline which also seems to be nonsense.

I'm not sure why we've been flagged as super villains but my best guess is our visits to Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, although all three are well established tourist destinations so I dunno. I suppose flying to Russia and not even staying 24 hours is out of the ordinary.

Well I managed to conceal my evil plans once again so on to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic!




I know what you're thinking, "John, if you want to go to every country in the world wouldn't it be efficient to just pop over to Haiti?" Yes, annoying question thinker, yes it would. The universe likes to torture me though, and the cheapest way to fly from Punta Cana to Haiti involves going back to Florida first. We looked at buses but they sounded crappy and it would have been a four day round trip. I'll just visit some other time. Womp womp.


There were several wedding parties on the flight so the plane was especially rowdy. One girl spilled a drink on herself so bad that she had to change clothes. One of the couples getting married was asked to come to the front of the plane and were presented with crowns made from swizzle sticks and peanut packets.






I was especially impressed with Punta Cana's airport. It could have easily been the check in area for a resort. It had a thatched roof and the immigration officers just had polos on, no scary military uniforms here. Topping it off was a band playing some live Caribbean music. This is how a tourist destination airport should be. I'm looking at you, Montego Bay, Jamaica!

Lydia and I, her work friend Kayla and husband Aaron were adventuring together so we booked a condo to escape the expensive resorts.

I thought I was pretty smart and even had planned out the specific grocery store that I wanted the cab driver to take us to in order to stock up on cheap food. Well we had mixed results. The local beer was $10 a six pack. I went for the can six packs since they looked cheaper but the price posted was PER CAN!




The condo was pretty solid. We spent a lot of time in the pool.






This fearsome beast was guarding one of the houses in our neighborhood.


Monday, July 06, 2015

Moving!

Moving day is here! We got everything from the apartment and Lydia's classroom packed up into an even bigger U-Haul than last year.








The opportunity I wanted to move here for in the first place didn't end up working out but living in Neosho was a good experience for us I think. Plus it put us in road trip range of lots of fun places we hadn't been before. I'm happy I came and I'm happy to go home. Good deal.


I am going to miss the motivational bumper stickers. It reads "Don't let the car fool you, my treasure is in heaven."

Monday, June 29, 2015

Left Italy, Interrogated in the US

Well it was finally time to come home. Time for the obligatory pictures through the plane window!


Lydia was still coming down from her nutella experience so I got us goth these little snack packs that even included a drink. Fun!






We again booked the cheapest flight possible and ended up on Meridiana, an Italian airline. It reminded me of the Transaero flight that started this whole adventure: decent enough food but pretty outdated plane. How would you like to fly a transatlantic flight on a plane with no air vents?!


This poor guy looked like a guy who was dressed as a pilot for Halloween.


This awesome little dog and owner sat near us. It was funny because he was unleashed during takeoff for some reason and started sliding down the walkway and nearby passengers had to sort of push him back to his spot underneath a seat. We were on the plane together so long that we're on a first name basis. His name is Caesar.




We landed and got to the Global Entry kiosks which are awesome. We are almost to the customs door when I realize my little printout has a huge X through my face and reads "see an agent" or something threatening like that. Ruh roh.

I show an agent and he asks me lots of questions. He asked me if I'd been to any of the three or four countries in Africa on the Ebola list. I said no, but I saw him holding up my passport to compare the stamps to those of the Ebola countries. Ok. Then he says he needs to take me somewhere else where they are going to ask me more questions.

I'm walking along side of him and he stops to talk to someone and he grabs the top handle of my backpack to get me to stop. He's holding my passport at this point so it's not like I'm going to make a run for it.

Nameless Homeland Security man drops me off in this waiting room looking place with more guards at computers, but they are high up and looming, like at a pharmacy. One calls me over and proceeds to go though my passport and ask me about most of the stamps in there, which as you can imagine took some time. He asked if I'd been to Iran or Syria. At this point I have a pretty righteous beard going so I'm wondering if they think I've gone extremist or something.

Both this guy and the last guy had an annoying way of asking the same question twice like trying to trip me up or something. Like:

"Did you travel to Africa?"
"Yes, but just to Egypt."
"Did you travel to... Liberia?"
"No."

"Did you travel with anyone?"
"Yes, my girlfriend."
"So she's not your wife or anything?"
"Argh! You caught me! Death to America!"

Well eventually they let me go and Lydia and I had an extended laugh over the whole thing. I honestly felt kind of cool like I traveled so hard that I broke a government computer somewhere.

Well we were on our Southwest plane out of New York and everyone was seated, just about to roll when they call Lydia's name. They ask her to bring her bags with her and the TSA get her and take her back to security and run her through the deluxe treatment because she's "been flagged as a security risk". Lydia said that once the TSA lady saw her get off the plane she turned and said "she's not a security risk" into her radio. It was pretty funny. Lydia and I are definitely on the naughty list for some reason.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Milan's Duomo

Lydia:






[It's hard to see but this building had little flags in the windows for every country that participated in the EXPO.]


[I really liked these advertisements for amaretto, which placed the bottle in various old world's fair settings. I'm easily amused.]


Our second day in Milan started with a visit to the Duomo. Because it was Sunday, visiting the inside of the church was free.  However we still had to wait in the ticket line to visit the roof. After standing in the sunny, unmoving line for about 10 minutes, I noticed a second window labeled "group tickets." Well there were only a few people in this second line and none of them appeared to be with a group. So I decided if they were important enough to be in that short line so was I. When I got closer to the window I noticed a sign that said it was the priority line for seniors, pregnant ladies, and the disabled. Well lucky for us there was an older American couple standing behind John in the normal line, so I waved them all over. Viola! We were in a group with seniors and our line time was cut in half! [The guy said he used to live in St. Louis back in the day, so that made it more fun.]





There were employees for the line telling people if they were dressed too revealingly to enter the house of prudishness. Unsurprisingly there were hustlers nearby selling scarves that you could buy to cover up.


[This seemed to me to be a tax on people who have trouble walking.]








We started with a quick stroll through the church. It's massive columns were pretty impressive.


[The building was so large that I thought I could see the other end sort of shaded by all the air between it and me.]






[Lydia thought this newish looking statue my be Pope John Paul II. I couldn't really tell.]














[I was surprised to see this giant screen playing ads on the side of the church.]




The best part of the Duomo is definitely the top. After climbing quite a few flights of stairs we emerged on the roof. From here we had a great view of the church's many pillars and statues.


[Security was performed by these awesome soldiers with Robin Hood hats, complete with feathers.]






















After we left the Duomo we went for a quick stroll through Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. We watched as people spun on the tiles in the floor. [Wikipedia: "Tradition says that if a person spins around three times with a heel on the testicles of the bull from Turin Coat of Arms this will bring good luck. This practice causes damage to the mosaic: a hole developed on the place of the bull's genitals."]






We also spotted a sign for a free art exhibit related to the expo, and we thought to ourselves, Why not? There was a guard blocking the door, and when we asked to see the art, he seemed surprised. He led us through an empty building to an elevator and hit the button for the second floor. To our surprise we arrived at a bar. When we explained to the hostess that we were there for the art exhibit and not drinks, she pointed us down a hall.The art exhibit was lining the halls of an apartment building. An artist had created an abstract painting to represent each country at the expo. The art was cool, but the venue was pretty weird, so we left quickly.

Next up was lunch. We hit all the Italian food groups with pizza, pasta, and gelato.




After lunch we wandered around a bit more. We stopped by the Opera Museum, but unfortunately there was something wrong with the lights, so we didn't get to see the inside. Womp womp!













We also happened upon Milan's Sforza Castle. In front of the castle was a big fountain. Someone had dropped their pennies in the fountain, so I picked them up!






[This was sort of how it went.]


















At this point it was time to check into our new hotel. We switched to a different Hilton that was closer to the airport. It was quite the haul on public transportation. We did get to ride a little trolley thing which was fun.








For dinner we had more pizza. This was super authentic pizza from a neighborhood pizza delivery place. It was good, but unfortunately I got peppers instead of the pepperoni I ordered.






[I got tired of deciphering the menu so I just order a "Sicilian" because it sounded safe enough. It came with whole black olives, anchovies, and capers. I ate it anyway but Lydia wouldn't touch it with a stick.]


[Our new neighborhood was a little rough around the edges.]


A good last day in Europe!