Dare to Be 100: An Airplane on Steroids

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I have just returned from a glorious mid-spring vacation, a one week cruise through the middle Mediterranean on a small vessel, "The Silver Cloud." It was an over-the top birthday present.

The itinerary was SFO to JFK to Rome, one night at the fine hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps, dead sleep, then a few precious hours in the Eternal City to rekindle old memories. I chose to go to St. Peter's to see if La Pieta is still as spectacular as it was on past visit. It was and is.

Then a two hour taxi ride to port where we boarded our lovely ship. Immediately, I met with my porter who turned out to be from Darjeeling in India. He was delighted when I told him that I had actually visited his village as it was the terminus of the toy train that was featured in Cinerama many years ago.

We sailed for Sorrento at six and wakened already anchored off the lovely shore.

This day, as well as the subsequent five, was devoted to learning about our port of anchorage.
Clearly my favorite spot was Malta. I had anticipated this moment by reading up extensively about the famous siege of Malta in 1565 when a huge force of infidels from Istanbul had sought to capture this tiny island from the Crusaders. For many months the defenders repulsed the varied attacks. Fort St. Elmo finally was taken, but the Crusaders miraculously held out until a rescue armada appeared. This whole siege probably changed history, and is wonderfully captured by a documentary shown within the ramparts of St. Elmo.

On April 15 we anchored off of Nice, where a cab delivered us to the airport, and then a short flight to Paris. The days on board the "Silver Cloud" remained vivid, but lasted for far too brief a moment.

Paris deserves all of its great testimonials, but our one night stay allowed only an afternoon exploration that I used to walk directly to the Louvre and for a 15 dollar admission (I recalled that Disney World was 115$) gained entry to the acres of art that are world treasures. Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa welcomed me back.

We savored our last night at a restaurant that Gretchen had previously noted. Simply spectacular food plus a terrific French beer, I thought that the French only drank wine (wrong again).

Too short a sleep bought departure urgency. The airport provided the most memorable of all the trip's moments, as I beheld our prospective plane that was to take us home. I was flabbergasted. It was huge! There was absolutely no way that this monstrous machine could ever get off the ground. I had earlier flown on a 747, and that was incredible. But this plane, an Airbus 350, was 40 percent larger yet. It is capable of carrying 900 passengers, our Air France configuration accommodated 550, but still... it has 330 miles of wires. It takes 950 gallons of paint to gloss it up. It has 22 wheels, and is so big that airports must be specially designed to accommodate it. It has two complete decks. There are now 184 such planes aloft.

I was on deck 2 in Tourist Plus section, but my knees were still under my chin which made the 11 ½ hour flight to LAX seem endless. Also, despite the varied amenities it still featured two screaming kids, and assorted turbulence over the Rockies.

Disembarkment was eventful as I exited in company with French ex-President Sarkozy, wife and kid. He must have up-graded to first class. I was the first to welcome him to the good old U.S. of A.

The final leg of this excursion was a limo to Santa Barbara where I spoke about successful aging Monday evening to the outstanding City College where I recalled hearing dear friend Norman Cousins speak 20 years ago.

I was and still am miserably jet-lagged, but I figure that this is a small price to pay for such a perfect birthday present.