Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Signs of Life: Part 7

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some more, from trips to Italy, Jordan, and France.

 

Remember the good old Circus Maximus? It was the Roman equivalent of a modern-day Gran Prix, just with chariots instead of racing cars. Well, this road runs right by that site in Rome.

 

In 2009, I walked the full length of where the track used to be. In several places, I came across pieces of coconut husks, which I thought might have been dropped by African swallows on their way to England. (See Monty Python's "Holy Grail" for details.)

 

Now the address of this house is 110 G. Capellini Street, in the Italian coastal town of Porto Venere. However, the PEEK A BOO bit seems to have been a flourish added by the builder or the owner.

 

I unexpectedly stayed in that town for three nights. I was on my way to the famous Cinque Terre towns nearby, but couldn't get there due to a rail strike. So, I took a bus to Porto Venere instead, where I had a wonderful time. Some days later, I took a ferry up the coast to where I'd originally planned to be.

 

In travel (and in life), always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!

 

The Pirate's Café in the quaint town of Vernazza, in the famous Cinque Terre, on the northwest coast of Italy. I was based in that town during my hikes between the five towns.

Although I went by this cafe on numerous occasions, I never saw any people with eyepatches, peg legs, cutlasses, or striped shirts. Perhaps they were all out to sea!

 

BTW, pasticceria is Italian for pastry shop.

 

A sign on the trail between Vernazza and Corniglia in the Cinque Terre towns.

These were present every kilometer or so and were accompanied by some sort of box for emergency communications. Given the very rugged nature of the trail, it wasn't at all clear to me how one might be evacuated in a real emergency.

 

I say, "Beware of any train station that you must enter through a Tunnel of Love."

 

From a Cinque Terre town.

 

The sign says it all, don't you think?

 

A convenience store in the suburbs of Amman, Jordan.

Don't forget to read it right-to-left; it's Arabic!

 

BTW, the Greeks founded Amman, but they called it Philadelphia.

 

Being a non-recovering potato chip-aholic, this delivery van caught my eye. However, on closer inspection, the writing said something like, "The chips are all locked in a safe, and the driver does not have the key!"

 

In the suburbs of Amman, Jordan.

 

Sound too good to be true? I'd read the fine print if I were you!

 

In the suburbs of Amman, Jordan.

 

The JET Bus Terminal in Amman, Jordan.

 

Can you read the list of destinations? Me neither, which is why I had a Palestinian guide with me. In Arabic, he asked for two tickets to Petra, and after much smiling and such, we paid and boarded a bus, supposedly headed for that place. Imagine my surprise when we drove right by the exit to that old city, and went right on to Aqaba on the Red Sea coast! Don't you hate that when that happens! Well, four hours and a US$50-taxi ride later, we arrived at Petra. C'est la vie! Or as they say in Arabic, "إنها الحياة!"

 

Literally, "A Christmas Market", in Caen, in Normandy, France.

 

BTW, in French, Santa Clause is Père Noël, which literally is Father Christmas, the name used throughout the British Commonwealth.

 

From Caen, in Normandy, France.

 

"Put Fifi and Fido's droppings in the bag provided, if you please!"

 

Some advice from the French in Caen.

 

Roughly translated from the French, "Here lies William the Conqueror; may he Rise if Possible!"

In the Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen, in Normandy, France.

 

As I paid my respects, I said, 'Bill you wouldn't believe how the Brits have let things go since your time! Except for the Channel Islands, they don't even own Normandy anymore! And as for their international cricket team, well "girly men" comes to mind!'

 

Okay, let me see if I have this correct: I can confess my sins between 18:00 and 19:00, on Mondays with Father Brillaud, and on Tuedays through Fridays with Father Cheese!

 

A French drinking establishment called—yes it's the same in English—Vertigo, which doesn't seem at all like an enticing name for such a place. "Step right in and get dizzy and lose your balance wth us!"

 

A French "Pleasure Partner" condom (préservatif) vending machine, from inside the confessional mentioned earlier!

 

 

Travel: Airports

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

When it comes to airports, "When you've seen one, you've seen them all" hardly applies. They range from a single, small hut manned only a short time each day, to small cities open 24x7! And many of them provide places to eat, drink, sleep, shop, get a massage, and pray. [BTW, I'm of an age where I knew the word aerodrome before I knew the word airport.]

Looking at my flight log, in my 46+ years of air travel, I've spent time in 166 different airports, which sounds a lot, but isn't when you consider how many thousands there are in the world. Those airports were spread around 51 different countries or territories. I've had more than 1,380 point-to-point flights, many of them out only, many in-only, and quite a few for a short layover. That's about 30/year all told, but as I hardly flew in the first eight of those years, the annual count is closer to 40, which is one every nine days. I've also spent more than 500 8-hour days-worth of time getting to, getting from, or being at airports. At 50 working weeks/year, that's about 2 years.

In this installment, I'll comment on some of the airports through which I've passed.

[For details of my flight log, runway designations, and the phonetic alphabet used by air-traffic controllers and pilots, click here.]

Naming Conventions

As commercial air travel became popular, an international system for naming airports became necessary. (We don't want to confuse San Jose, California, with San Jose, Costa Rica, for example.) The system you see used on your luggage tags is the 3-character alphabetic IATA code from the International Air Transport Association. This allows for 17,576 (as in 26 to the third power) possibilities. [If you've ever had such a tag read LTB, that probably meant "Lose This Bag". Just kidding, or am I?] An alternate system—hey, you gotta have competition, right?—is the 4-character, alphanumeric ICAO code from the International Civil Aviation Organization. Throughout this article, I'll use the IATA code only.

For a list of airports and their IATA and ICAO codes, click here.

The vast majority of the codes for the airports I have visited are quite obvious, when looking at the English-language spelling of the cities/areas in which they occur. For example, ADL (Adelaide, Australia), DEN (Denver, Colorado, US), KUL (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), OSL (Oslo, Norway), VIE (Vienna, Austria), and ZRH (Zurich, Switzerland). That said, there are more than a few that are not at all obvious, cryptic, or seemingly arbitrary. For example: ARN (Stockholm, Sweden), OOL (Gold Coast/Coolongatta, Australia), ORD (Chicago's O'Hare, Illinois, US), and YYZ (Toronto, Ontario, Canada).

In the early days of flight in the US, numerous aerodromes had weather stations, and the US National Weather Service had a 2-letter code to indicate US cities. Some US airports adopted that 2-letter code, and added a suffix X to make three letters. Examples include LAX (Los Angeles, California) and PHX (Phoenix, Arizona).

Now Canada has a fairly simple scheme: All Canadian airports have an IATA code that begins with Y, except when they don't; got it? The system seemed quite regular until I stumbled on a handful of radicals daring to begin with other letters. (Actually, there is "some method in their madness"; the Y prefix indicates, "Yes, this airport is near a weather station".)

Some Airports I have Graced

The airports listed here are in English order of their IATA code:

ACV – Arcata/Eureka, California, US: As Wikipedia states, "The airport was built by the United States Navy during World War II to test defogging systems." Well, I got to experience firsthand the thick fog there when my departure was delayed, and I missed my connection in SFO.

ADL – Adelaide, Australia: This was the departure point of my first-ever jet flight, on a Being 727, for a 1-week business trip to SYD (Sydney), at the ripe old age of 17! (It's possible that I flew in a light aircraft prior to that, but I have no memory of doing so.)

AKL – Auckland, New Zealand: I've been to NZ once, for a couple of hours, on a layover to Australia. And this airport was almost all I saw of that country, except for a bit on takeoff as dawn was breaking. Apparently, there is more to NZ than AKL!

AMS – Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Known as Schiphol, it is built where there used to be a large lake, on which ships sometimes sank during storms. (The word Schiphol means "ship grave".) Here, more than 20 years ago, I was subjected to a very long "interview" by a gate agent who wasn't at all convinced I was travelling on business, just because I was wearing hiking clothes and carrying a full-size backpack.

AYQ – Yulara, Australia: My first time in and out of this airport was on a small, private plane. At that time, there was no manned air-traffic control, just a set of rules as to how pilots announced themselves and gave priority to larger planes. Now that jet traffic is common, it's became a real airport. Yulara is the town that serves the very popular tourist destinations of Ayers Rock and The Olgas, which are now known by their Aboriginal names Uluru and Kata Tjuta, respectively. If you are looking for a unique experience to a remote place, this would be a candidate.

BGR – Bangor, Maine, US: This airport rates Number 4 on my list of frequented airports with around 90 times in and out. [For many years, I worked on a computer system for a paper company in central Maine.] Commercial aviation shares the 11,400-foot runway with the refueling-tanker wing of the Maine Air National Guard. It is a common jumping-off point for military passenger charter flights to/from Europe. If you want a reason not to go to BGR, see the movie The Langoliers from the book by Stephen King.

BOM – Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India: Due to its location with respect to the world's time zones, long-distance flights often arrive and depart here in the very early hours of the morning. I well remember having to go through numerous "layers" of staff, each of which seemed to have no purpose but to pass me along to the next person. (Perhaps it was a way to keep people employed!) A large and rather imposing security guard eyed a nice ballpoint pen I had in my possession, and he seemed to suggest it would be good if I made a gift of it to him. I hesitated, and after a very long pause, he offered to swap it with a third-rate pen he had. In the interests of getting into the country, I agreed.

BOS – Boston,     Massachusetts, US: This airport rates Number 2 on my list of frequented airports with around 200 times in and out. [For some years, I provided services to a company in the area; I also changed planes there when flying to/from BGR.] At one time, Boston had a problem with teenage pregnancy, and on the walls of some of the jet ways was a poster showing a very-pregnant girl, with the following text: "Make sure your daughter learns how to add and subtract before she learns how to multiply!" This airport is right next to the sea, and fog and/or low cloud sometimes occurs, and when one looks out the window one can only see water. On one approach, the pilot aborted the landing and then announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we seem to have missed the runway; I'm going to go around and try that again!" My long-term consulting client in Central Maine had its own twin-engine, prop plan, which sometimes flew to BOS. I rode it several times, once sitting in the co-pilot's seat. Landing at a major international airport and seeing it from the cockpit is much more interesting than seeing out a side window when sitting in the back.

CAJ – Canaima, Venezuela: This is the airport that serves the area around Angel Falls, the tallest in the world. Now to visit the falls, one might well expect to have to pay serious money to a local tour group, and that certainly was possible, if one wanted to get there by river. However, the friendly Captain of my Avensa airlines Boeing 727-100 gave us a treat. He flew low over the airport (presumably to let the staff know he was in the area) and then headed for the falls. As we raced up the valley at the same level as the point at which the falls began, he asked those passengers on the other side of the plane to take their seats, as he was going to do a U-turn and come back, so they could get a good look out their windows! [The 727-100 was the original, short-body version, but with its large engines, seemed to me like a VW Bug with a 12-cylinder engine! Having been discontinued in 1972, that model was no longer used in first-world countries.]

CGN – Cologne-Bonn, Germany: I went there once, but I didn't actually arrive by plane! I had a ticket from the US to CGN, via FRA (Frankfurt), which is only 85 miles away. To my surprise, the leg to CGN was actually on a train!

CPH – Copenhagen, Denmark: While it's a fine airport, for me, the highlight of flying into CPH is seeing the formation of wind turbines out in the sea. They look like "poetry in motion".

CUZ – Cuzco, Peru: This is the jumping off point for the famous Incan city of Machu Picchu. The main thing of interest is the airport's elevation, high up in the Andes at 10,860 feet (3,310 meters). While in the area, I learned firsthand about altitude sickness!

CVG – Cincinnati, Ohio: This airport is actually across the Ohio River in the state of Kentucky! It is named for nearby Covington.

DCA – Washington DC - National (now Ronald Reagan), Virginia, US: This airport rates Number 3 on my list of frequented airports with around 105 times in and out. (I've lived in the greater DC area for the past 37 years.)

DEN – Denver, Colorado, US: Originally, this was the designation of the Stapleton International Airport, but the code was reassigned to Denver International Airport when that was built. For a while, the new airport was known (at least informally) as DIA.

DMK – Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand: What I remember most about this airport was the large number of very short, heavily-armed soldiers on guard. It was July 1979, and the country was under military control, again. It was a bit of a surprise, but I didn't feel at all unsafe. [In 2006, a new international airport, BKK, went into service.]

EWR – Newark, New Jersey, US: This is one of the airports that serves New York City. As the US Navy reserves airport codes beginning with N, this code is made from other letters of the location's name.

EZE – Buenos Aires, Argentina: Its code comes from its being in the area of the city called Ezeiza.

FCO – Rome, Italy: I first landed at Leonardo da Vinci International in 1979. By the time we reached the end of our runway on landing, we were "way out in the vineyards", and took some 20 minutes to taxi to the terminal. It was my first time in Europe!

FRA – Frankfurt, Germany: This airport truly is a city that never sleeps! The first time I departed from there, in 1981, armed security people were very prominent, and German-Shephard dogs sniffed everybody and everything. (Think Baader-Meinhof Group/Red Army Faction.) It was a little bit intimidating. One time I arrived late and my in-coming plane went right by my out-going plane onto another terminal some distance away. By the time I got back to my next gate, my next plane had already departed, so I had to spend the night at an airport hotel. Nowadays when I depart FRA on a flight to elsewhere in Europe, the departure gate actually leads to a bus that takes the passengers a kilometer or more out to the plane.

HKG – Hong Kong: When I flew there in 1979, this code designated the old Kai Tak Airport, which is right at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, opposite Hong Kong Island. On takeoff or landing, one seemed to be flying between high-rise buildings. This was the destination of my first ever international flight.This code now designates the new Chek Lap Kok airport, which is located on an island some distance out of the city.

IAD – Washington DC - Dulles International, Virginia, US: This airport rates Number 1 on my list of frequented airports with around 300 times in and out. (I've lived in the greater DC area for past 37 years.) It is named for John Foster Dulles. I think that IAD might have been the first new airport designed for commercial jets. As such, it was built "way out in the country" as were many later airports. It serviced Concorde flights from London and Paris. At IAD, I once had the great pleasure of being "sniffed by a Beagle dog" that was searching among passengers and their hand luggage for fruit, vegetables and/or contraband.

ITO – Hilo, Hawaii, US: There are a number of theories about the code of this Big-Island airport. One goes like this: "Hilo Airport was called ITO after one of the first Hawaiian Airlines Hilo Airport station managers: "Mr. Ito." I flew out of there in 1982 on a plane with an unusual configuration. The front half was filled with passengers while the back half was filled with flowers (mostly orchids, I believe) headed for the US West Coast flower market.

IVL – Ivalo, Finland. This is the northernmost airport in the country, in the heart of Lapland, and it is the furthest north I've ever been. The Finnair Jet had its own retractable stairs, and the terminal was a small, log cabin. As we waited for our luggage, a large reindeer came out of the forest to welcome us and to stand still for photos.

JFK – New York City, US: This was my first stop in the US when I arrived from London in 1979. It was formerly known as IDL (Idlewild), and was renamed for President John Fitzgerald Kennedy after his assassination.

KEF – Keflavík airport, Iceland: Previously, the main airport for Reykjavík was RKV, which is close to the city. When I visited in 1987, I landed at the new airport, but all the car rental agencies and the hotel were still at the old airport, so the airport bus shuttled me between the two airports. During the ride, I recall seeing a sign for a "Texas BBQ" place. Later, I learned that KEF is shared with a US Air Force base. [RKV remains in service as a domestic airport.]

LAS – Las Vegas, Nevada, US: Only here would you find slot machines in the terminals, and you can hear them as soon as you get off the plane. I also discovered they have no airline lounges; instead, they want you there gambling while you wait.

LCY – London City, UK: Reachable on the Docklands Light Rail from the Tube, this small airport is just the thing for a quick trip to the Continent. The single runway is on a long, narrow dock between two waterways.

LGW – London Gatwick, UK: My one flight out of there was in 1979, to New York City in the US. It was on one of Sir Freddy Laker's "SkyTrain" DC10s. He was a pioneer of "no-frills" flying, and the flight cost US$99. Passengers were encouraged to bring along their own food.

LHR – London Heathrow, UK: This place is huge, and I can imagine it being intimidating to the novice traveler. The quick/expensive way to/from the city is on the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. The slow/cheaper way is on the Piccadilly Tube line.

LIN – Milan Linate, Italy: Known for fog, I had a flight out that was delayed sufficiently that I missed my connection in Frankfurt to the US. During one trip there, the taxi driver asked me if I was in town for the fashion show. I looked down at my hiking clothes and boots and wondered just what sort of a fashion show it was.

MCO – Orlando, Florida, US: This is the jumping-off point for Disney World, Cape Kennedy, and many other interesting places to visit. It was formerly the McCoy Strategic Air Command (SAC) air-force base. Soon after I got my first video camera, I shot video on a family vacation at Disney World. Not being used to having a large camera bag, I accidentally left it on the mobile lounge that took me to my plane. In a panic, I went back to the main terminal where someone had turned it in.

MEL – Melbourne, Australia: Also known as Tullamarine Airport. In early 1970, before I got my first professional job, I worked a while at a plastics-extrusion company. One of its contracts was to make the tinted, hemispherical covers for all the light poles around the airport. I was the one making them.

MEX – Mexico City, Mexico: What a polluted city! The clouds were quite brown/yellow as I descended to this airport.

NAN – Nadi, Fiji: Pronounced "Nandi", it's at the complete other end of the main island, a long way from the capital, Suva. On my flight out to Australia, I met a very drunk, young man from Germany who insisted I correct his English if he made any mistakes. When I questioned him about this he told me that he had been travelling for many months with a large wooden trunk, and someone had told him the English name for a large wooden box was a coffin. So, he'd been telling people he was traveling around the Pacific with his coffin!

NRT – Tokyo Narita, Japan: This was a very controversial construction project in the 1960s with many—even violent—demonstrations. As I usually stay in/near Ueno Park, I find the (private) Keisei train to Ueno very convenient and not-so-busy. There's an express or local version, with different prices. When NRT was built, its international flights took over from HND, and most domestic/short-haul flights stayed at HND. However, both airports now support both international and regional flights.

OGG – Maui's Kahului Airport, Hawaii, US: The code comes from a well-respected pilot called Bertram J. Hogg.

OOL – Gold Coast, Australia: The code is derived from the airport's former name, Coolangatta.

ORD – Chicago O'Hare, Illinois, US: The world's busiest airport—a title it generally alternates with ATL (Atlanta, Georgia, US)— w.r.t the number of takeoffs and landings, it was my home base for my first year in the US. It has eight runways. Formerly called Orchard Field Airport.

ORF – Norfolk, Virginia, US: The US Navy reserves airport codes starting with "N", hence the "ORF".

OSL – Oslo, Norway: After I'd checked my luggage for a flight to London, at security, I discovered I had a Swiss-Army knife in my carry-on bag. Fortunately, it was a slow Saturday afternoon, and the friendly security man smiled and said he "could take care of it" and he did! He found a cardboard box, put the knife in it, got my flight information from my ticket, put that on a label, and told me to pick it up in London. Later, at the check-in gate, the gate agent called for a Mr. Jaeschke to come to the counter. My first thought was that it was something to do with my knife. But no, the agent just wanted to tell me he was upgrading me to Business Class, if that was OK. Sure enough, box and knife came out on the carousel at LHR.

PEK – Beijing City, China: Named after Peking, the former English name for that city. In 2015, I unexpectedly took off from there to the US two days in a row! On the first day, an hour into the flight, the pilot informed us there was a mechanical problem and that we'd be turning around and going back. After hours waiting on the ground, I finally got to a nearby hotel. The next day's flight left without incident, so five weeks later, I went back and tried it again. (Yes, I really did have two conferences there, five weeks apart!)

PER – Perth, Australia: In 2003, which was well after 9/11, I went through security with a large VHS video camera in its bag. The checker couldn't tell what was in the camera bag, so he asked another agent to check it. When I informed him it contained a spare, solid, old-style battery, he said "No problem" and waved me through without actually looking in the bag. I was stunned at his complete lack of attention to detail.

PNS – Pensacola/Gulf Coast, Florida, US: As my flight approached, it appeared that half the area's house roofs were bright blue. And as we got lower, I could see they were large tarpaulins (presumably provided by the US Army and/or emergency services) after Hurricane Ivan had been through.

PUQ – Punta Arenas, Chile: This is at the southern-most tip of continental South America, and is the jumping-off point to the Andean glacier national parks.

RGL – Rio Gallegos, Argentina: This was the endpoint of my 10-day trip across the Patagonia. In the weeks preceding, a volcano had erupted and its ash had caused the cessation of flight from this airport. However, by the time I got there, it was operational.

SAB – Saba, Northern Netherlands Antilles: As Wikipedia states, "The airport … has one of the shortest commercial runways in the world … flanked on one side by high hills, with cliffs that drop into the sea at both ends." As such, only Short TakeOff and Landing (STOL) propeller aircraft can use it. It's built on the only flat piece of land on the small island. And yes, the guy who checks you in and carries the bags to the plane, is also your pilot!

SAN – San Diego, California, US: One day as I was driving on the road between the airport and the sea, a barrier came around to block traffic. As I looked to the water, I saw a propeller-driven, amphibious, passenger plane drive up a concrete ramp and then cross the road to the airport. Not something you see every day!

SNA – Santa Ana/Orange County, California, US: Also known as "John Wayne Airport". A nine-foot bronze statue of him dressed in western garb, complete with 6-shooter, stands at the entrance. Having seen it, I can cross it off my list of "10 things to do before I die!"

SPU – Split, Croatia: This is the jumping-off-point for those heading south down the Dalmatian Coast.

SXM – St. Maarten, Northern Netherlands Antilles: It is officially called Princess Juliana International Airport, which puzzled me, as it was not built before Juliana became Queen of the Netherlands. However, when she abdicated in favor of her daughter, Beatrix, she took back the title Princess, and the airport was named after her later on. Aircraft Spotters love to stand outside the fence at the end of the runway and watch wide bodies take off right over their heads.

TLV – Tel Aviv, Israel: I remember it well for two reasons: The approach for landing and the security on departure. I was on a Lufthansa Boeing 747 and we were only hundreds of feet above the runway when the pilot pushed all four engine throttles open and we took off and circled around to land safely on the same runway some 15 minutes later. No explanation was given, but all I could think off was that someone was firing rockets at the airport! On out-bound flights, it's normal to be at the airport at least three hours before a flight, and I used most of that time getting through security. I think part of the reason was that I'd come in that morning from neighboring Jordan. My luggage was X-rayed every possible way and my hand luggage checked, re-checked, and checked again.

TXL – Berlin Tegel, Germany: It is scheduled to be closed when BER (Berlin Brandenburg Airport) opens. Along with THF (Tempelhof)—which is now decommissioned—it played a major role in the Berlin Airlift.

YYC – Calgary, Alberta, Canada: I was taking off in a Boeing 727 when there was a very loud "bang", after which the engines slowed down. The Captain informed us, "due to a high cross-wind, the top engine's compressor had stalled, so I'm going to restart it and try again". From the looks on their faces, I think many of the passengers were thinking, "Maybe we should go back to the terminal and find another plane!"

Conclusion

As to which city/metro area has the most commercial airports, I think London, UK, wins. It has Gatwick, Heathrow, London City, Luton, Southend, and Stansted.

As I was researching this article, I found that Wilkins Runway in the Australian Antarctic Territory rated an ICAO code, but not one for IATA, so what is used on luggage tags for baggage that goes there? Perhaps that's where lost luggage goes!

By the way, if you are travelling with kids and there is the possibility of being at an airport for many hours, bring something along for them to do! In my family's case, we travelled with a deck of UNO cards. And once all the bored kids in our part of the terminal saw how much fun we were having, they came over and joined us. It was like an UNO version of the Pied Piper of Hamlin, except I had no desire to take any of the kids home with me.

And just in case you were wondering, there is an airport AAA (in French Polynesia). However, I couldn't find a ZZZ.

Travel: Memories of Cornwall and Devon

© 2012 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

For many years, I'd been interested in visiting Cornwall, the southwestern-most county of England, and I finally got to do that in 2012. During that visit, I finished up having several spare days at the end, and when I asked a biking couple where they recommend I go, they immediately said, "Why Devon, of course". So, I went!

[Diary] I checked out [of my London hotel] at 9:15 am and stepped out into an overcast day with heavy cloud cover. There were people everywhere, many of whom were headed to or from the train station or one of several Tube entrances nearby. In the train station, I found a ticket machine that informed me that a regular one-way ticket from Paddington to Penzance was £132. That was a huge shock as I'd been online a few days earlier and found that the cheapest tickets cost £52! So, I went to the ticket office and got at the end of the long line. Fortunately, it moved quite quickly and soon I was talking to a real human, who was very polite and knowledgeable. He quickly ascertained that I'd be returning within 30 days, and sold me a Super Off-Peak return ticket for £97.50. And not only was that cheaper than I'd expected, he told me I could use the return over several days on my way back. The automated ticket machine didn't offer me anything like that; bloody robots!

As I still had 25 minutes before my train departed, I nipped into the Sainsbury's supermarket where I rescued some emergency rations for the 5-hour trip. These consisted of a small block of Cadbury's nut milk chocolate, a pint of whole milk, a bag of Maynard's Wine Gums, and a pack of Roundtree's Fruit Pastilles. This covered the essential food groups.

At 9:50, I went to Platform 8 to board the 10:06 to Penzance. Not having a reserved seat, I had to ride in Carriage E where I found an aisle seat facing forwards, at a table. Apparently, Friday morning was a very busy time on that route, and there were few empty seats and lots of luggage. We headed out on time with the sun threatening to break through the clouds. The main stations on my route, in order, were as follows: Reading, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro, and the end of the line, Penzance.

I chatted with a number of people around me, several of whom were Irish with tick (as in thick) accents. Soon after we started, a man announced in an entertaining way that as the wrong catering carriage had been hooked up, the kitchen was operating with only a small grill, so the choices of cooked food would be limited. The people at my table agreed that would be acceptable so long as the caviar and champagne were cold!

By the time we arrived in Penzance, we'd slipped 10 minutes behind schedule and the weather had deteriorated. There was a slow, but steady drizzle. I stopped in at the Tourist Information office to get some maps and brochures, and I had a very pleasant chat with the two older ladies working there. Although they could arrange accommodation, I declined as I had a list of B&Bs I'd try. After all, it was out of season and raining, so who in their right mind would be coming to Penzance to stay that weekend?

Who indeed! I walked some distance getting wetter by the minute, until I located my Number 1 choice. I was greeted with a response that had the following meaning: "Frightfully sorry old chap, but we're booked out. Lots of people in town for the weekend, don't you know!" Well the six neighboring B&Bs also has "No Vacancy" signs out, and as it was now after closing time at the Tourist Office, I was on my own. So, it was on to Plan B. I decided to walk to another place I'd read about online, but of course that too was full as were its five neighboring B&Bs. I was starting to observe a pattern, so I stopped off at a Guest House only to find it had closed. That was Plan C. However, right next door and directly across the street from the harbor was the swank-looking Beachfield Hotel, and that became Plan D.

As soon as I entered, I knew it would be a budget buster, but I was wet and tired. Yes, the hostess could accommodate me for two nights, but at a price slightly higher than my London hotel. Of course, it would include a full/buffet breakfast and she'd be ever so happy to take a credit card. I asked to look at the room and we ascended several sets of stairs to a very nice room right out the back that just happened to overlook an overgrown block with lots of construction debris and abandoned stuff. Ah, the ambience of England by the sea! Fearing that my choices were lessening, as I got wetter, I signed up for two nights and settled into my room where I used the electric kettle to make a cup of coffee. I ate my left-over breakfast sandwich and a biscuit (cookie that is) while watching some TV. Light rain continued and I was ready for a quiet evening.

I fired up my netbook computer and brought this diary up to date. Although I had free wifi internet access, the signal was blocked by the heavy fire doors leading to my room, so after a nice hot shower I went downstairs to a sitting room where I connected to the outside world. A flood of email arrived of which about half was spam. I took care of the important stuff before visiting a few websites. Then I moved to the formal lounge where I went through the brochures from the tourist office as well as the books and guides at the hotel, to make a plan for the next day.

[Diary] At 8:15 am, I took a seat in the dining room and read a newspaper while toast and tea were served. My custom-made, cooked breakfast consisted of pork sausage, bacon, fried tomato, and scrambled egg topped with a sprig of parsley. It was served on a rather artsy square plate. Presentation really does matter! I am happy to report that it tasted every bit as good as it looked, and there were no leftovers. I took a full hour, and the morning sun shone full on me through the window.

The bad weather had passed and there was plenty of blue sky and sunshine behind the clouds. I walked to the bus terminal where I found the coastal trail. The initial section of the path was anything but interesting. It was concrete with a man-made seawall to one side, and railway tracks and 4-lane highway on the other. Soon after, I caught up with two older men who were hiking with full packs. We walked and talked for some time. They were hiking a 600-mile coastal trail, three days at a time. Quite a few people were out with their dogs.

My destination was the neighboring town Marazion, which according to different sources was 1½, 2½, or 3 miles away. This quaint little market town was chartered in 1257 by Henry III. The reason to be there was the island a half-mile offshore. St. Michael's Mount (a smaller version of Mont Saint Michel in France, which I had visited several years earlier) consists of a fortress, priory, and harbor, not to mention a stately castle/home on the summit. Unfortunately, I discovered that it was open every day but Saturday, today. As such, no shops or restaurants on the island were open and no ferries ran. Bugger! It wasn't all bad news, however. A hand-laid stone causeway joined the island to the mainland over which vehicles and pedestrians could walk at low tide, which was to happen at 1:30 pm. To pass the time I walked around the town and sat in the sun chatting to a number of retired couples and a Chinese student. Lunch consisted of a cold pint of whole milk, which as the container declared came from "healthy, happy Cornish cows".

As the tide went out more of the causeway appeared and we tourists moved further and further along it until some large waves sent us scurrying back a bit. A few people had wading boots and they walked through a foot of water. A few brave souls took off their shoes and socks, and rolled up their trouser legs and followed. Frankly, there was little to see on the island as everything was behind the fence and required an admission ticket on open days. By the way, the original owners, who donated the island and improvements to the National Trust some 60 years ago, have a 999-year lease to keep living in the castle.

I decided to forego the bus and to walk back to Penzance. Along the way, there was a large marsh, which attracted a large variety of birds. The bird watchers were out in force watching with binoculars and taking photos. Along the banks were many holes near which wascally wabbits sat sunbathing.

I arrived back in Penzance just after 3:30 pm and immediately spied the Iceland Supermarket, which I'd heard sold most things much cheaper than others, so I went in to see what I could rescue. First up, I saw giant packets of Maynard's Wine Gums @ 2 for £4. Sold! A quart of whole milk was only 90p; sold! And then right by the register, yes ladies and gentlemen, they had 6-packs of chocolate Freddo Frogs with or without caramel filling. As I couldn't decide, I got one of each. Outside, I sampled the delicious, cold milk just to be sure it wasn't bad. And right there next to me was a sign for Drecklys Cornish Deli & Steakhouse, which was just a few doors down.

Although it was a bit early for supper, after my long walk I figured that I deserved a treat, so in I went and ordered a traditional steak Cornish pasty, just like Grandma used to make (although she happened to be German). I went upstairs to a table and started on this diary, but before I got very far, my pasty was delivered accompanied by two packets of tomato ketchup (yes, the Brits have finally sold out to the Americans, along with now also having drugstores) and two more of that mystery HP sauce. I used all of the former and none of the latter. The pasty tasted pretty good, but half was enough, and the rest went in my pack for an evening snack.

I strolled through a multistory shopping center on my way up to the high street. Shoppers were out in force and the sun beamed down upon us. I came across a £1 shop where everything cost exactly that. I rescued some blocks of Cadbury's nut milk chocolate. Eventually, I came to Penlee Park, which consisted of many acres of trees, gardens, and playing fields. I walked through that coming out on the street for my hotel.

By 5 pm, I was warming up back in my room. Soon after, I made a cup of coffee and finished off my pasty while listening to some music. Then I filled my big bath tub with very hot water and lay in it for a good long soak. After walking eight miles, various bits of my body were complaining. Not having had my full quota of sleep in recent nights, I very nearly fell asleep in the tub.

Given that accommodation seemed to be in short supply, I thought I'd better go online and find a place to stay in my next stop, St. Ives. Four weeks ago, as I was talking to a couple on a ferry in Croatia, they recommended highly the Sloop Inn as a place to eat and stay. So, I went to its website and just when everything looked fine to book a room there, I noticed the small print: All rooms were double/twin, and single guests had to pay a £20/night supplement. Bugger! So, it was on to Plan B. (Does that sound familiar?) After 30 minutes of searching, I had not come up with any B&B's in the "Rex Budget" range that had rooms available. Of course, being out of season the tourist office was closed on Sunday (my planned arrival day), so they wouldn't be able to help me find a place to stay. Eventually, I settled on a swank hotel on 70 acres with golf course, badminton and squash courts, and heated pools. Interestingly, the rate was about the same as the hotel I had in Penzance, so I booked that.

[Diary] Around 11:30 am, I rugged up and headed out into what seemed remarkably like the setting of "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day". It was overcast. I came upon a couple who were drying themselves off after a swim in the sea. The word daft came to mind.

I rode the 12:05 to the first stop, St. Erth, where I had a 15-minute wait for the connecting train. I chatted with a young family that was having a day outing. The 12:30 stopped at Lelant Saltings, Lelant, and Carbis Bay before arriving in St. Ives. The tourist office was closed as was the train ticket office, and the town map didn't cover the area in which my hotel was located. However, a local woman was ever so helpful, don't you know, and directed me to the shortest walking route.

The website for the Tregenna Castle Hotel said the hotel was a 15-minute walk from the station, but it didn't mention that is was up a very steep hill. The path certainly was scenic and from the top, the view out over the beach and ocean might have been impressive; however, I was too busy putting my heart back in my chest to notice. The hotel looked very much like a castle (surprise!), and the large foyer and lounge overflowed with leather sofas, tables, art, and potted plants. Yes, reception had me in the system, but my room wouldn't be ready for another 45 minutes, don't you know, but if sir would like to have a seat in the lounge and to use the wifi internet service, they'd take care of sir in a little while. Jolly good!

At 2:15 pm, I was in my ever-so-cozy room complete with double bed and view over a garden. I unpacked, boiled water in the electric kettle, and made coffee. There were two packets of biscuits on my tea tray: oat shortcake and Viennese finger. I ate the former. Although I was told the internet signal didn't reach the guestrooms, it reached mine, so that was a bonus, and I sat down to send some mail and to surf the internet.

Soon after 4 o'clock, I decided to go exploring on the hotel's Woodland Walk to see if I could see any of the announced wildlife (as in woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels, robins, foxes, pheasant, badger, and owl). I opened the front door and it was raining. Bugger! In any event, I rugged up and as the path was under a heavy canopy of trees, I didn't get very wet. Undeterred by the rain the golfers pushed on. Perhaps it helped them excuse their poor scores. Of course, none of the aforementioned critters were silly enough to be out and about. No, they were all inside keeping warm and dry, and sipping cognac!

At 5 pm, I was in athletic mode. First up, it was swimming and although the pool was heated, it took me a bit to immerse myself completely. Next up was the hot tub, which was much warmer, but by no means hot. I tried going back into the pool, but that was way too cold by comparison. Thirdly, I sat in the sauna for a bit to cleanse my pores (not to mention my paws), and finally I had a short session in the steam room. I followed that with a very hot shower. After an hour of mild activity, I felt pretty good.

Back in my room, I made coffee, ate my breakfast leftovers, the other pack of biscuits (which I dipped in a tub of strawberry jam), and some dried fruit. I sent some email, read an old diary from my trip to Belfast and Dublin two years earlier, and faded fast.

[Diary] Breakfast was a buffet affair in a cavernous room. And, don't you know, they had all the windows wide open! Clearly, these people had no idea what nice weather is really like. Tea and a rack of six half-slices of mixed toast arrived soon after I sat down, and I eased into the day with a cup of tea and some buttered toast. I followed that with a full English breakfast, but took more than an hour to finish as I was reading the travel section of the newspaper. [Over the next few days, I discovered that one could ask for any number of half-slices of toast, but one was always served exactly six!]

At 10:30, I arrived at the St. Ives branch of the Tate Gallery. (This 20-year-old gallery is a sibling of the one in Liverpool and the two famous ones in London.) A combined 1-day ticket for two galleries was on offer, so I asked the cashier if I could buy £10's-worth of culture. She just smiled. I spent an hour perusing the halls, which consisted of a variety of art forms. Only one piece really interested me. It was by an African man and was a large sheet of cream-colored paper that had been set on a tabletop, with two teacups placed on it. Hot tea had then been spilled over the paper around the cups but not under them, making an interesting pattern. The artist had then taken different colored ribbons and sewn a border around parts of the edge of the stain. It was such a simple and basic idea yet the result was effective. (Besides, I saw a use for one of my old tablecloths!) At 11:30, I joined the 30-minute guided tour to try and improve my culture quotient. And while the talk was interesting, I'm sure I was no further advanced in the art-appreciation department afterward. One thing I'd glossed over, but which we stopped and looked at in detail, was a long, flowing cape with crocodile-like scales in lines down sections of the back. On closer inspection, the "scales" really were used teabags! I guess that's art.

After several hours, I was ready to move on, and so I walked to the Barbara Hepworth house/studio/gallery. Dame Barbara was a famous sculptor who blazed a trail for women as well as various art forms. She started out using the location as her studio, but eventually renovated several rooms as her living quarters. I was underwhelmed by both the indoor and garden selections although I very much enjoyed the 30-minute video presentation about her life. The highlights of the visit were completely unrelated to the artist. In the garden, numerous spiders were spinning webs, and I watched one from inches away as it went around and around. Further on, a large web was lying horizontal across the top of a shrub and it contained hundreds of tiny water droplets that sparkled in the light. Nearby was a small Catholic Church, and I went inside to see Hepworth's famous Madonna and Child sculpture. At least I could tell what that was.

The day was improving and the sun even came out for a bit. Down at the harbor I stopped at one of the many Cornish pasty shops to rescue a piping-hot sausage roll with dead horse (Aussie rhyming slang for "tomato sauce"), which I washed down with some whole milk. Nearby, a man was selling tickets for a boat tour to a seal colony, and not having anything better to do, I signed up. I took my time walking all the way around the harbor to the tour pickup point. There were 12 of us on the 3 o'clock tour, but as the tide was going out the tour boat couldn't come in to the pickup point, and a young man ferried us out six at a time in a small boat. The large set of rocks on which the seals lived was 3½ miles down the coast, and the ragged cliffs along the way had their tops hidden in fog. Of the 40 seals living there, we saw 10, four of which were in the water. It was a pleasant diversion.    

[Diary] After 4 days of Full-English Breakfasts, I needed a change, so I had a large bowl of cereal, toast, and tea, with some grapefruit slices on the side. I planned some train travel and worked on a Sudoku puzzle. After a leisurely hour, I went back to my room.

[Diary] I gave myself plenty of time to walk down to the station. In fact, I made such good time that I caught an earlier train, which took me to St. Erth 30 minutes earlier than I expected. The 14:58 to Plymouth arrived on time. It was like a train only smaller, consisting of two carriages. I faced forward at a table and watched the verdant countryside go by. There were lots of hedgerows.

We arrived in St. Austell and I confirmed my directions with a fellow passenger. On the way to my B&B, I spied a Lidl supermarket, so dropped by for some milk, juice, Camembert cheese, and a BLT sandwich. I was very pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices, something that hadn't happened much this trip. The walk to Pen Star House was almost a mile with a small hill climb. Hostess Anne welcomed me and I filled out some paperwork and got my keys. My single room with en-suite was up one flight of stairs. It was very nicely appointed. It appeared that I was the only guest.

I stayed in for the evening eating my supplies while watching some television. Then I set up my computer on a table in the breakfast room and connected to the outside world. My main task was to find my next accommodation. I decided to stop at Totnes in Devon, as recommended by the couple I'd met in Penzance. Although there were numerous B&Bs listed, the first six I phoned were full or not answering. However, Number 7 was the winner. And as it was a cash-only place there was no credit card deposit process; it was simply a matter of trust that I'd actually show, a novel idea in these modern times. Soon after, I was back in my room winding down. Lights out around 9:30 after an easy day.

[Diary] After a small bowl of fruit, I had bacon, hog pudding (a type of mild sausage not related to black pudding), a fried egg, tea, and toast. It was a lot of food, so I made a large bacon sandwich for later. I chatted with the host, Gary, who ran a gardening business when the weather permitted.

I headed out at 8:45 in heavy fog and ever so light mist. In 15 minutes, I was at the train/bus station, which was pretty speedy for 1 mile; Senior Olympics, look out! The mist got a little thicker as I neared the station. I had 30 minutes to wait. The 9:30 bus to The Eden Project pulled up and six of us boarded and we were off a minute later. The £5.60 return ticket would get me a £4 discount at the gardens for having gotten there via public transport. As we climbed up above the town, visibility was reduced from 200 yards to 100. The country road was rather narrow and we had to stop several times to let large, on-coming vehicles through.

[The Eden Project was the main reason I'd come to Cornwall. Built in an abandoned china clay pit with construction starting in 1999, and covering 35 acres, it is an experiment in regeneration. It's "an educational charity and social enterprise, creates gardens, exhibitions, events, experiences and projects that explore how people can work together and with nature to change things for the better".]

At the entrance, I paid my admission and bought a detailed guidebook. As there was no rain, I started by walking on some outdoor paths. Apart from the extensive outdoor gardens and plantings, there is an educational center and two huge biomes, each of which is made up of a series of climate-controlled, connected geodesic domes. The themes of those biomes are Rainforest and Mediterranean, respectively, with the former being billed as "the largest rainforest in captivity".

In the rainforest biome, I waited quite a while for the lookout to open. This metal platform was reached by a long and swaying set of metal stairs, and was at the highest point of the largest dome. It certainly was humid up there with all the moist heat rising to that point.

Although I'd eaten a big breakfast, when I came across a pasty stand, the smell of that hot cheese and onion in pastry was too much and I succumbed. It tasted like what Grandma wished she could have made!

As you might imagine, the project is all about sustainability, and signs saying "Reuse. Reduce. Recycle!" were all around. Somewhere along the way, I learned about the Big Lunch, an event that "encourages people across the UK and beyond to get together with their neighbors for a few hours of community, friendship and fun". The idea behind this is that "we are better equipped to tackle challenges when we face them together".

Numerous small signs throughout quoted pieces from well-known people. The following one from Chief Seattle (in 1854) caught my eye: "Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself."

In the Mediterranean biome, I came across a large garden of hot peppers where I got the following lesson: "The spicy heat of a chili pepper is measured on the Scoville scale named after its creator Wilbur Scoville, an American pharmacists working in the 20th century. The number of Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) indicates the amount of capsaicin present in the fruit. Capsaicin is a chemical compound that stimulates nerve endings in the skin, especially in the mouth and eyes. Pure capsaicin measures 15 million SHUs." The hottest pepper growing there was 1.6 million, and if someone ate one of those, they'd need hospitalization. The pepper spray used by various law enforcement agencies around the world is 5 million, which accounts for its effectiveness.

So, was it everything I expected? Yes. It certainly was impressive and just shows what you can do with an idea, some energy, a few friends, and £140 million.

[Diary] I stepped out at 10 am and took my time walking to the station where I arrived well before my 10:35 train. I stood in the sun on Platform 2 being careful not to stand directly underneath the pigeons, when all of a sudden, another heavy sun shower started. The 3-car train was quite busy and after most people got settled, others boarded with reserved seats, and we all played musical chairs. I faced forward and watched the countryside go by. We stopped quite a while in Plymouth. Then we raced into the county of Devon where many dairy cows grazed in green fields making cream for the next day's Devonshire teas!

We arrived in Totnes right on time and I got oriented with the help of a railway employee. I headed out to find my B&B, which, don't you know, took me up the steepest street in the town. Near the top, I stopped to rest in an old bookshop where I bought a collection of short stories by W. Somerset Maugham. Just when I thought I was in a quiet neighborhood, 100 yards further along found me on High Street, the narrow but bustling main street. Soon after, I found my street and my next home-away-from-home. The gentleman of the house was home and expecting me, and he showed me to my room. It was quite small, but adequate with a share bathroom and toilet down the hall. And at £30/night, it was by far the cheapest place of the trip. Frankly, it was what I'd been wanting all along.

I headed back out to High Street, and one of the first shops that I saw was called "Not Made in China". Now a word of explanation: Totnes is an alternative lifestyle town where everything is organic with a capital O! It also has its own Totnes Pound currency to encourage shopping locally. Nearby was a shop that specialized in harps, and being an angel, I stopped to look at all the instruments in the window.

I walked down the very steep main street stopping off to read the menus at the numerous eating-places and teashops. I also went into a large supermarket and spent quite some time browsing, looking at products and prices. I bought some seasoning packets for menus I planned for once I was back home. I finally found the tourist information office where a very pleasant lady gave me a map and guidebook plus suggestions of how to spend my time. On the way back up High Street I stopped off at a butcher's shop to take some photos of his window displays of meat and prepared foods. I stopped by a small deli and ate a hot jumbo sausage roll with ketchup washed down by a way-too-strong latte. I worked on this diary while sitting there.

Next up was the Totnes Museum, a nicely renovated merchant's shop and house that had three floors and a courtyard. The friendly assistant included an audio tour in my ticket price, and I spent the next hour touring all the rooms and listening to details of life in the "good old days". The town goes back to Saxon times, around 900. A large room was dedicated to Totnes' favorite son, the prominent scientist and mathematician Charles Babbage, who made plans for a mechanical calculating machine and an accompanying printer, neither of which was completed until 200 years later, when they were built using only materials and skills known during his time.

I dropped by St. Mary's Church, an impressive edifice built by the Benedictine Monks who lived and prayed there happily ever after, at least, that is, until Henry VIII told them to pack their gear and "Push Off".

My B&B fronted a small square on one corner of which was a pub. As I came up to it, I saw a large, eye-catching sign, which contained the following text: "Is he getting under your feet? Is he moaning about shopping? Would your day be stress-free without him? We have the perfect answer! Drop him off at our HUSBAND CRECHE inside. It's FREE! We'll take good care of him. He is in safe hands and you can enjoy a peaceful afternoon. All you have to do is pick him up when you're done and pay his bar bill. TLC GUARANTEED." Very clever.

[Diary] At 9:45, I stepped out into a clear sky and sunshine. However, after 50 paces, it drizzled lightly. I started my cultural tour with a walk around three small gardens built and maintained as community projects. Then it was on to the Totnes Castle located on a hill overlooking the town. Apparently, it was built around 1100 by some bloke called Norman (who I think was a distant ancestor of Bob the Builder).

I browsed the stalls at the market before strolling down High Street. I stopped to drool over the display of pastries in the window of a bakery, and rescued a large Belgian bun, which the assistant was ever so happy to slice in half and apply butter.

Down by the River Dart I stopped to look at a large monument to native son William Wills. He and his partner, Robert O'Hara Burke, lead the first European crossing of Australia from south to north and back. However, they perished on the return leg. I learned all about them in elementary school in South Australia. (I forgot all about them soon after!)

[Diary] The weather out was nice and I walked the 15 minutes to the train station stopping twice along the way to bond with two very nice dogs, a Border Collie and a black Labrador. Quite a few people were waiting on the platform for an earlier train that was running 30 minutes late. I was quite early for my train, but as I could also ride the delayed one, I was in luck! I boarded Carriage E to find it quite full. However, I did get a seat at a table, facing backwards. The young woman also sitting there was happy to chat and before we knew it, more than three hours had gone by. She had been raised in England by a Portuguese mother, so was bilingual. We made up some time along the way, so I got to Paddington even earlier than I'd expected.

Conclusion

Apart from visiting the Eden Project, the rest of the trip evolved day by day. Certainly, the advice I received to visit Totness proved to be excellent. One lesson I learned is "October is too late in the season to go."

Signs of Life: Part 6

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some more from various trips.

 

The Happy Chicken restaurant in Valladolid on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. From the menu:

Every day: charbroiled chicken with soup broth and onion.

On Saturdays and Sundays after 10:30 am: ribs and grilled beef, and soft drinks.

It seems to me that the chickens would not be very happy to be there, once they knew their fate!

 

Okay, smarty pants; try pronouncing that!

On the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, there are underground rivers, which are reached through sinkholes called cenotes.

Some place names—like this one—are based on indigenous languages.

 

A highway sign in the Spanish-speaking US territory of Puerto Rico.

Now a certain unnamed friend was riding with us, and after she'd seen numerous signs like this, she remarked, "That town called Salida sure is a popular place!"

Salida is Spanish for exit! How embarrassing!

 

Perhaps a better way to be "Working with the Community" would be to get all that crap out of the Thames River!

 

From a recreation center in the Netherlands.

I never did figure out why black poodles were banned!

 

The reception area of a rural motel in New Mexico, USA.

Each cabin/room was named for a bird or animal; I was in Rabbit. Out my back door, a stream ran rapidly past, and, yes, there was even a young beaver swimming there with his small lodge off to one side.

 

Apparently, Einstein and Medusa had the same hair stylist!

From the tulip festival in Ottawa, Canada, in 2008.

Click here to read about Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her exile in Canada, which led to this tulip festival.

 

I never did figure out who these characters were, but they were beckoning me to a restaurant in the streets aound Ueno Station in Tokyo.

 

After World War I (the war to end all wars!), the French embarked on a huge construction project, the Maginot Line.

 

Unfortunately, it was never finished, and the Germans entered France in WWII by making an end-run through Belgium; tricky devils!

 

I toured a section of the underground fortifications.

 

From Japan.

No funny business with your dog; wakarimasu (do you understand)?

 

From Munich, Germany: A butcher shop (metzgerei) that sells horse (pferd) meat!

 

From the very quaint east German village of Tiefengruben, near Weimar:

 

The German equivalent to, "Slow down; children at play." Literally, Caution, Children.

 

The Hotel Elephant in Weimar, Germany. Famous as a dining place for Goethe, Schiller, Liszt, and Wagner.

 

Hmm. Pub food in Rome, Italy. Whatever might that entail?

 

I'm reminded of the Roman Centurion who walked into a bar and held up two fingers (like the English "V-for-Victory"), which meant, he wanted "5 beers"!

 

A street name in Rome, Italy.

 

Interestingly, the word propaganda is derived from propagate, and the negative meaning the former has today only came into being during World War I.

 

A manhole cover in Rome, Italy.

According to Wikipedia, "SPQR is an acronym of a Latin phrase, Senātus Populusque Rōmānus ("The Senate and People of Rome"), referring to the government of the ancient Roman Republic, and used as an official emblem of the modern-day commune (municipality) of Rome.

 

 

A Little Bit of Astronomy: The Moon

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

 

A few years ago, after living in cities for more than 40 years, I moved out into the countryside. As a result, I rediscovered the night sky. So much so, that since then I even sit out on my deck in winter, wrapped in a blanket sipping hot chocolate or port wine gazing at the Heavens. Of course, the biggest and brightest object one can see is the Moon. After I watched a most interesting documentary video on the Moon, I was inspired to research the topic and to write this essay.

When we say the Moon, of course, we're talking about the natural satellite that goes around the Earth. As it happens there are other moons going around other planets, both in our solar system and in others. So, Earth's moon is but one of many moons. In general, a moon is a celestial body that orbits another body.

According to Wikipedia, in our solar system, "Of the inner planets, Mercury and Venus have no natural satellites; Earth has one large natural satellite, known as the Moon; and Mars has two tiny natural satellites, Phobos and Deimos. The large gas giants have extensive systems of natural satellites, including half a dozen comparable in size to Earth's Moon: the four Galilean moons, Saturn's Titan, and Neptune's Triton."

The Moon rotates synchronously with Earth. As such, we always see the same side, called the near side. The opposite side is—da da—the far side, sometimes incorrectly referred to as the dark side, although it receives sunlight each day. [A very popular music album is Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.]

The Moon's Makeup and Environment

So, just what is the moon made of? Why cheese, of course! Anyone who's seen the Wallace and Gromit movie A Grand Day Out knows that! Although the moon's makeup is not quite the same as Earth's, the prevailing theory is that the Moon was created from the debris left behind after a collision between Earth and Theia, a large ancient planet.

Even though the moon looks quite white, its surface soil is quite dark. The brightness comes from the sunlight reflected off the silicon compound in the soil.

The moon has no active volcanoes, no tectonic plates, no earthquakes, and no appreciable atmosphere. Regarding gravity, an object on the surface of the Moon has only 16.6% of its Earth weight.

Compared to the Earth, the moon has a weak magnetic field.

Earth's Poles, Tropics, Seasons, and Tides

The Earth rotates around its axis at a tilt between 22.1 and 24.5 degrees. This gives rise to the two polar circles, the two tropical lines, the equator, and the seasons. The gravitational interaction between the Earth and Moon prevents the Earth's axis from wobbling.

The gravitational influence of the Moon (along with the weaker gravitational influence of the Sun, and the Earth's rotation) is what causes the tides in our oceans. The oceans closest to the Moon experience high tides, as they are attracted to the Moon, while those on the opposite side of the Earth experience low tides. Some shorelines experience two high and two low tides per day, while others have only one of each.

The difference between a high and low tide over a 12-hour period is called the tidal range. This range is at its largest twice a month, during a new moon and a full moon, when we have spring tides. This range is at its smallest at the first quarter and third quarters of the Moon, when we have neap tides. [I grew up in the Australian state of South Australia, which has a unique term, dodge tide. This is a neap tide with very little rise and fall over a one- or two-day period.] The Bay of Fundy, located between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, has the largest tidal range on Earth, of up to 53.5 feet (16.3 meters).

The Moon's Phases

A phase of the Moon relates to the shape of the part of the Moon we can see from some given place on the Earth. As the Moon orbits the Earth, the phase changes.

In the West, we refer to four primary lunar phases: new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter (or last quarter). These are interspersed with four intermediate phases: waxing crescent, waxing gibbous, waning gibbous, and waning crescent.

Throughout history, attempts have been made to correlate certain human and animal behaviors (including madness) with phases of the Moon. This field of study is called lunar effect. Note that the word lunacy is derived from the Latin word for moon, luna.

Craters and Seas

The surface of the Moon has numerous craters from impacts of asteroids, comets, and such. The largest crater has a diameter of 1,390 miles (2,240 km)—about half the size of the United States—and a depth of 8.1 miles (13 km). Click here for more information about these craters.

Although there is no water at the Moon's surface, early astronomers thought the Moon contained seas, and named them each a mar, which is Latin for sea. One of the best known is the Sea of Tranquility, the landing site of the first manned mission, Apollo 11. Click here for more information about these so-called seas.

Eclipses

An eclipse occurs when an object in space is hidden temporarily, either because it passes into the shadow of another body—as with a lunar eclipse when the Earth comes between the Sun and the Moon–or by having another object pass between it and the viewer—as with a solar eclipse when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth. Given the Moon's size and its proximity to the Earth, during a solar eclipse the Moon completely hides the Sun. [Dazzle your friends by using the word syzygy in a conversion.]

The ancients often thought of eclipses as omens. Click here and here for further information on this regarding lunar and solar eclipses, respectively.

Time and Lunar Calendars

The gravitation force between the Earth and Moon slows the Earth's rotation ever so slightly, which resulted in the introduction of the leap second to our time-keeping systems back in 1972. As necessary, to compensate for this slowdown, at midnight on the last day of June and/or December of each year, an extra second is added, resulting in that final minute having 61 seconds. So, some minutes are more equal than others!

A prominent theory of Earth's creation (No; not the 7-day one!) is that it was formed after another object struck it and spun off Earth debris to create the Moon. The impact started the Earth spinning on its own axis at a rate of about once every 24 hours.

When we use the term year, we're talking about a solar year, which is based on the time it takes for the Earth to revolve once around the Sun. Calendars based on this time are solar calendars, of which the Gregorian calendar used in many countries, is one example. A calendar based on the cycles of lunar phases is, not surprisingly, a lunar calendar. Some calendars use a combination of factors relating to both the Sun and the Moon. (See Chinese calendar, Hebrew calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and Thai calendar.)

The Moon's Orbit

The moon orbits the Earth approximately every 27.3 days, although many people approximate this to 28 days. This orbit path is elliptical in shape and the distance from the Earth and the nearest and farthest point of the Moon's orbit differs by about 26,000 miles (41,600 kms). At certain times, the Moon appears so close to the Earth that we call it a supermoon.

Apparently, the Moon is moving ever so slightly away from the Earth.

Miscellaneous Bits

So, who owns the Moon and, legally, what can they do with it? For more information see Outer Space Treaty and Moon Agreement.

The name of the day of the week Monday, comes from the Old English "day of the moon". (Equivalent Germanic-language words have an equivalent basis.) In French, that day is Lundi, luni in Romanian, and lunes in Spanish.

It takes light about 1.26 seconds to travel between the Moon and Earth (compared with about 8.33 minutes to travel between the Sun and the Earth).

Click here to see a list of the artificial objects on the Moon.

The International Red Cross is well known in most Western countries; however, give the word cross implies a Christian influence, a corresponding branch of this organization, the Red Crescent, was created. The crescent shape appears as one of the phases of the Moon, and as Islamic countries typically use a lunar calendar, the crescent appears on some of their national flags.

The idiomatic English phrase "once in a blue moon" means "a long time". Typically, a blue moon is the second full moon in a given month, and has nothing to do with the Moon's color.

By the way, have you ever mooned anyone, or been mooned? Try it sometime!

Conclusion

According to Wikipedia, 'There is a traditional belief that the Man in the Moon enjoyed drinking, especially claret. An old ballad goes (shown here with original spelling):

Our man in the moon drinks clarret,
With powder-beef, turnep, and carret.
If he doth so, why should not you
Drink until the sky looks blew?

In the English Middle Ages and renaissance, the moon was held to be the god of drunkards, and at least three London taverns were named "The Man in the Moone".'

Travel: Memories of Poland

© 2011, 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska); Capital: Warsaw; Language: Polish; Country Code: PL; Currency: Złoty (PLN)

I've visited Poland just the once, for eight days in 2011, but only in the northwest.

[Diary] At the east station [of Berlin, Germany], I bought a First-Class ticket to Poznań, Poland. I went up to Track 1 to find the platform was under renovation and there was nowhere to sit. So I walked to the sunny end outside the cavernous roof and watched the world go by. Outside, there was one visible vestige of the old East-German regime, a large gas main that ran on top of the ground and up and over a local street. It was painted bright pink, and I'd seen lots of them during my first visit to the city in 1999. A rather run-down train pulled in to an adjacent platform. It belonged to the Russian Railways.

My train was the Euro City 43, and it was due to depart at 9:50. However, an announcement came in both German and English that there would be a 20-minute delay. Eventually, that became 30 minutes and then 35. It was a short train as business on a Saturday was slow; behind the engine were one First-Class car, a dining car, and two Second-Class cars. I settled into my reserved seat in a 6-seat compartment that I shared with a young Pole who was returning home from a business meeting in Hamburg. His name was Lukas and he too was in the IT industry. We spoke of many things during the 2:30-hour trip. He spoke English and was learning French. He lived with a German woman who spoke French and was learning Polish. [Now I say his name was Lukas because that's how westerners pronounce his name, which is actually spelled Łukas. Technically, the first letter is "L with stroke", and in Polish it's pronounced as the w in "went", so in Polish his name is pronounced "Wukas", not to be confused with "Woger" or "Wodewick" from Monty Python and the Life of Brian fame. A similar example exists with the Polish currency, spelled "złoty", which Westerners pronounce as "zloty" while the Poles say "zwaty".] To make Polish a bit more challenging, the letter w is pronounced as v, but only on Wednesdays between noon and 3 pm! Now, on the outside of each bus, tram, and train door there is a sign that reads "drzwi". Go ahead, try to pronounce it; I dare you!

The border between Germany and Poland is the Oder River, and just before we crossed, we stopped in Frankfurt (Oder). It is written this way to distinguish it from the other, really big Frankfurt, Frankfurt (Main); that is, the internationally known city is on the river Main. My first look at Poland was forest, forest, and more forest, with occasional farms of corn and cereal crops, and garden houses with large vegetable plots and fruit trees. I saw surprisingly few people or cars and almost no animals. [As it turned out, it was a long weekend after the longest day of the year celebrations of St. John's Day.]

My friend Ewa (remember, w is pronounced v) was there to meet me on the platform in Poznań. [I'd hosted her via Servas in 2008.] We drove back to her apartment where I met her friend Marek. We had a lunch of egg, cauliflower, and potatoes, with drinks and pastries.

Ewa had planned an afternoon and evening in the country. We stopped off in a small village that was hosting a volunteer fire-fighters' contest among the local fire companies, and watched some teams race against a stopwatch to assemble hoses and get their portable pump motors started. We ate some BBQ's sausage and pastries on sale at some stalls.

Next, we laid in some afternoon tea supplies and headed off to Ewa's country house, a 2-story cottage with a garden. We opened the doors and windows to let in the fresh air, and set up a table on the verandah where we ate bread and honey while drinking tea. It was all veddy sophisticated, wot! The village had about 200 cottages, but only five were occupied year-round. Truckloads of sand had been brought in to make a large beach/play area near the large lake, and many of the families in residence for the long weekend were there eating, drinking, and playing. A man had set up a PA system over which he was playing his entire ABBA collection. The main event was the making of floral designs on foam blocks with candles. When it got dark, the candles would be lit and the blocks floated out on the lake. Ewa and I walked quite a way into the woods nearby. Apparently, nearby, wild pigs come down to the water to wallow in the mud.

The cultural highlight of the day was a visit to a small village that had a very old wooden church, and that very night, it would be packed for a concert of "Musica Sacra and Musica Profana", Music, Sacred, and Profane. By the time we arrived, the 150-seat church was almost full and 200+ more people were seated outdoors where they could watch the indoor event via closed-circuit TV projected on a large screen. We squeezed into the back row of the church and settled in to a musical treat as comfortably as one can on hard wooden benches. The first act consisted of six nationally known singers who sang a capella, and from time to time, made sounds with their mouths like a variety of musical instruments. I expected a series of religious pieces, but there really weren't any. Yes, we had some classics, including wonderful renditions of parts of the spring suite from Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and Ravel's Boléro, neither of which has lyrics. Then came Polish-accented pieces in English written by the Bee Gees, Paul Simon, Phil Collins, Ben E. King, Freddy Mercury (of Queen), and Gene Pitney. There was a particularly good rendition of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly". At the end, the singers got a very long, standing ovation, after which they sang an encore. Then after another ovation, they gave a second encore. As it was getting late, we decided to leave before the Profane part started, which featured a different group outdoors. When the church-restoration plate was passed around, I gave generously; it had indeed been a great performance.

We were back home by 10:30 pm and I was fading fast. Lights out at 11 after a very nice introduction to Polish life, the countryside, and local entertainment.

[By the way, Ewa teaches English at a medical university. For some years now, she's been specializing in English as it applies to dentistry, and she co-wrote a book on the subject. I scanned an appendix containing translations of terms from Polish to English; who knew there were so many words specific to that field!]

[Diary] I was awake just before my 9-am alarm. While the others slept, I worked on this diary a bit. Ewa made a traditional Polish breakfast of "milk soup", which consisted of pieces of macaroni boiled in milk, with butter and salt added to taste. That was followed by scrambled eggs on bread with cold meat and "coffee" made not from coffee beans, but from cereal grains.

I brought out the pages I'd photocopied from my Jaeschke family book in Australia that traced my ancestors back to the Posen Province of Prussia. The city of Posen is now called Poznań, and it is Polish. Johann Georg Jaeschke and his first wife had eight children. Some years after his wife died, he married again, but produced no further children. In 1839, because of religious differences, he took his wife and children to Hamburg where they caught the ship Catherina and sailed to Adelaide, the capital of the new state of South Australia. [It had been created in 1836 as a free state; there were no convict settlers. Subsequently, many thousands of German-speaking Prussians from this area emigrated there where they spoke German for 100 years, until WWII made it unfashionable.] Unfortunately, the family book gives only a few place names of where the Jaeschke's were born, and nothing about where they lived, so without some serious research with the help of a Polish speaker I didn't expect to find out any more information. That said, my hosts did know several Jaeschke families in the area and found quite a few more listed in the greater metro area telephone directory. I had visions of finding an old Jaeschke castle and estate in need of a prince or king, but then I thought if there were one, I'd probably have to pay 170-odd years of back taxes. [Be careful what you wish for, right?]

We spent the afternoon on a cultural and nature expedition out in the country. We started at a 14th century castle, which now houses a very large library of old manuscripts. As lots of tourists were going inside, we decided to tour the extensive gardens instead, stopping off to read the many information boards about plants, trees, and shrubs. After that hard work, we sat in the shade eating ice cream.

From there it was on to a large baroque palace that was being restored courtesy of grants from the EU. Once again, we toured the grounds, but this time we were in search of the largest group of old oak trees in Europe. We walked down to a small river and along the flood plain where the water meandered in many horseshoe shaped pools. We came upon a grove of old monsters, quite a few of which are more than 1,000 years old. Some had died, while others had major insect damage via boring under the bark until it fell off in great swaths. The largest we saw had a base diameter of 9.3 meters.

We walked to a restaurant nearby and sat outdoors in the sun perusing the menu. I settled on goulash soup, which was served in a large sphere of bread complete with lid and knob on top. Ewa had traditional pirogues while Marek had pieces of pork in a sauce.

Near home, we stopped to buy me a day ticket for public transportation for the following day. We had a quiet evening reading, and I planned my solo tour into the city. Lights out at 10 pm after another day of fresh air and exercise.

[Diary] Dawn comes early at this latitude in summer, and I awoke several times after sun-up, but went back to sleep each time. When my alarm went off at 8 am, I'd had 10 hours of solid sleep, and I actually felt refreshed. I was nearly two weeks into my trip, and I was finally on local time. I put the kettle on and set the table, after which Ewa appeared. It was already quite warm out, but there was little noise and few people about. We ate a light breakfast of bread and sliced meat with tea/coffee.

At 9:45, I stepped out into a cool breeze and hot sun. It was less than 200 meters to the stop for Bus 63, and I had a 10-minute wait. The city's distinct green and yellow buses are modern and easy to use; however, the driver does not sell tickets. One must buy them from a machine at certain stops and punch them in the time clock on the bus when first boarding. For my day pass, I had only to punch it at the start of the first ride. I had a good map showing street names, bus routes, and bus stops, and I monitored my route as we went, so I would know how to get back again. Traffic was heavy and it took us 30 minutes to get into the city, which was not that far away.

I'd planned a walking tour of the old city, which was built on a slope, so I got off the bus at the top and walked down. It was Monday, and all museums were closed. First up was the Opera House, a fine-looking building with a statue of Pegasus (the winged horse) on top, with big steps up to the front flanked by statues of lions. Right opposite was a large park with a 50 meter-by-20-meter shallow pool in the center of which were a series of fountains. I sat on a park bench for a while watching the locals lying on the grass, reading, and sunbathing. All was right in that part of the world. I walked around the fountain and took in the cool spray from the jets.

Next up was a church, so I went in to look around. It was quite plain with a few stained glass windows and a large banner of the world-famous Polish Pope, John Paul II. I stopped in at a small art gallery and got my first culture fix for the day. Next-door was the tourist information office, so I stopped in to get a city map to supplement the ones my hosts had lent me. As it was getting quite hot out I kept to the shaded side of the street. Everywhere I looked downtown there seemed to be banks!

In the old-town, the streets were all cobblestone with trams lines embedded in many, and the car tires made interesting sounds as they went along the stones. I came upon a large outdoor market. There were fresh flowers of all kinds, with many large sunflowers. There was fruit, vegetables, and herbs, along with men's, women's, and children's clothing.

Nearby was the large town hall square (140x140 meters), which was dominated by a 3-story Renaissance town hall, built in the mid-16th century. The tourist attraction there is the noonday clock. I found a seat and waited 15 minutes for the big event. After the clock bell struck 12 times, two mechanical goats came out, sized each other up, and then proceeded to butt each other 12 times. And may I say, Ladies and Gentlemen, that it was the most exciting goat butting I'd witnessed in weeks! The goats had been at it since 1551, and appeared to be getting a little tired, as they only connected in the first few attempts. By the time the event was over, my side of the square was quite full. As far as I could hear, pretty much everyone was speaking Polish. A few times, I heard German, a couple of times English, and once Dutch.

The 3-story houses around the square were very nicely restored after WWII to their former Baroque and Renaissance styles complete with ornately painted and carved facades. The sides of the square were filled with outdoor restaurants, many of which seemed to be serving desserts. [My Polish host had told me that Poles didn't have a word for "lunch"; they ate breakfast, then late afternoon had an early supper, followed later by a late supper.] Nearby was the Church of St. Stanislaus. The interior was very ornate with marble and gilt everywhere. It surely was impressive, but for me, bordered on being "over the top".

I started back up the slope thinking about something light to eat. After some time, I spied a McDonalds with attached McCafe, so I went in to find it had attractive décor and looked very modern. I ordered some McNuggets, some veggie sticks, and a tall steaming glass of latte. I sat on a bar stool at a window bench and watched the world of Poznań go by, and it sure came in all shapes and sizes.

I'd started out "ready to go" at 8 o'clock. By 11 am, I was a bit lethargic. At 2 pm, I was definitely dragging my feet, so I made my way back to the park opposite the Opera House where I lay on the grass in the shade. Young children were stripped down to their underwear to splash in the pool, two guys were kicking a ball around in the water, and quite a few people were lazing in the sun.

At my home bus stop, I went into a large supermarket, and took my time looking up and down all the aisles. Those Poles have their own words for everything! I bought some emergency rations, such as Polish chocolate with hazelnuts, pasteurized whole milk (a change from the usual shelf-milk), a fresh cake, cheese, and juice.

[Diary] I left the apartment around 10 o'clock and bought a day-ticket at a local stop. I didn't have long to wait before my bus came and took me all the way into the city and out again. Along the way, a woman sitting next to me started asking me questions in Polish. I replied in my best Orstralian, "Sorry Love, no hablo Polski!" I followed the route on a map right up until we turned in an unexpected direction, and soon we pulled up at the end of the line. The driver spoke no English and was less than enthusiastic about helping me. Apparently, the route for Bus 63 had changed since my guide was printed. In any event, he did give me good information, and five minutes later, I was on another bus that took me right where I wanted to be.

My first cultural stop for the day was the church of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, a brick structure that dated back 900 years, and which was the only Maltese church in Poland. I knocked on the door to see if some of the knights could come out to play, but there was no answer. So I walked around the grounds and headed off to my next stop.

As I was getting familiar with the city's transportation system, I decided to hop a tram, and that took me to the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, one of the biggest churches in Poland. It was a good-sized brick building with some very nice stained glass windows. Except for the heavily gilded altarpiece, the building was tastefully decorated. I paid my entrance fee and took a tour of the basement in which 12 long-dead religious leaders lay in repose in coffins in a crypt. Old foundations of predecessor buildings had been excavated. In the garden, people were taking photos of each other standing in front of a large statue of John Paul II.

Next up was the Town Hall. As it was closed the day before, I was determined to visit its city museum, so I paid my money and walked around the three floors. As everything was in Polish I wasn't able to understand any of the explanations. There was a set of metal goats just like the ones in the bell tower. And just as I walked back out into the square, the clock chimed. I was just in time to have my second look at the butting goats in two days; it was almost too much!

Although it wasn't too hot out I was quite lethargic, so I decided to go back home and rest up. This vacation business can be quite tiring! I worked on this diary and some administrative chores.

Ewa came home around 4 o'clock and, not long after, we headed to her father's house some 3 kms away. He'd passed away earlier in the year, and she was taking care of his place. Our first task was to pick all the cherries off a small but heavily laden tree. Our next job was to get the electric lawn mower and extension cable out of the basement, to cut the back yard grass. As I was charging out from the underground garage with my face down, I failed to notice that the doorway top was quite low, and I attempted to move the concrete ceiling with my head. Suffice it to say, it didn't move at all; however, I pushed my skull down my neck a ways and probably now am only 6'2" tall! Nurse Ewa came to the rescue and had a cold compress on my head in no time. As best as we could tell, no brains spilled out and my head did not appear likely to fall off.

After that little wake-up call, I pruned a large rose bush and hand-watered the garden while Ewa did some chores. Then we set up a table on the back deck and ate an afternoon tea of slices of cake with butter, and drank coffee. It was ever so civilized!

Back home, the sun was streaming in the windows at 7:30 pm as I sat writing while listening to Andrea Bocelli belt out some ballads in Spanish. Meanwhile, Ewa was hard at work in her kitchen cooking us a last supper of pasta with her secret tomato sauce and cheese.

After supper, I used a simple hand-operated device to remove the pits from all the cherries we'd picked. Then I packed my luggage and wound down for the day. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] I was up with my 8-am alarm; it was Travel Day! I eased into it with a cup of coffee and some cheese. Surprisingly, my head did not hurt although there was still some swelling. However, my neck was quite stiff. After a shower, I got my final email fix and packed my computer gear. Ewa and I mounted two bicycles onto the roof of her car for her to take to the beach. Then we chatted until 10 o'clock.

Ewa kindly drove me to the main train station where we said our goodbyes. It had been a most enjoyable stay. Inside, I managed to communicate my wishes to the rather stern-looking woman at the ticket counter, and she sold me a 2nd-Class ticket to Szczecin (pronounced "Stettin") for about $15. I thought that was very cheap.

I was on my own in a 6-person compartment in 2nd Class, and it was as good as my 1st Class ride from Berlin. Eventually, a young conductor came along, looked at my ticket, frowned, and then informed that it was for the local train only, and I was on the express. After playing with his mobile ticket machine for some time and then consulting with a colleague, he told me I needed to pay considerably more. My $15 ticket became a $35 ticket, don't you know! [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] Oh well, c'est la vie, right?

I sat facing forwards and saw mile after mile of forest, punctuated occasionally with some small villages and corn and cereal fields. Although I had been reliably informed that Poland did indeed have animals, during the whole 210-km trip, I saw only one horse, one cow, and a group of beehives; that was it!

Ewa had packed me a snack of ham and cheese sandwiches, which I ate en-route with a bottle of fruit juice. An earlier traveler had left several daily papers behind, so I perused those, mostly studying the Polish alphabet, punctuation, and typesetting conventions.

We made three stops along the way with each lasting no more than 60 seconds. A woman came by with her cart offering various items, but after I declined twice, she said, "Gratis", and gave me a small pack of cookies and a smile. As it was a train serving only domestic stations, all announcements were in Polish only.

We arrived in Szczecin at 1:25 pm, about six minutes behind schedule, and I stepped out into bright sunshine. I had about $20-worth of local currency, no map, no information about the city, and no Polish language skills. However, I was not completely without a plan or assets. I did have a cash machine card and the phone number of my Servas host. The first order of business was to find a cash machine, which I did, and to convince it to give me some more local currency. The next problem was how to phone my host. I found a phone, but it took only a phone card, as do most public phones around the world these days. So, where to buy a card and how to ask for it? It was then that I spied a young woman sitting nearby. I asked her if she spoke English, and she replied that she did. Then she walked me around a number of kiosks asking to buy a phone card, and, on the 3rd try, I got one. I invited her to join me for ice cream as a thank-you gesture and we sat and chatted for a while. She had just finished high school and, after the summer holidays, she was off to university to study computers. I phoned my host, Marek, to let him know I was in town, and we agreed I'd call him again at 7 pm to be picked up.

Near the station, I came upon a tour office that on a sign in the window claimed to speak English, and the young woman at the counter did. She sold me a nice map and tourist guidebook to the city, and directed me to the tourist office, which I'd missed in the station. Back there, I got more information.

So, what to do with five hours to spare while pulling my luggage and carrying my heavy computer bag? I walked a km along the riverbank towards the tour-boat dock and there at the ticket office was an ever-so-friendly ticket seller whose English was very good. I bought a ticket for the 1-hour harbor and river cruise, and had 15 minutes to wait. She shared a booth with a tourist information officer from whom I got information about public transportation. She also told me that starting tomorrow there would be a 3-day celebration as Poland took on the EU Presidency for the next six months. I saw plenty of evidence of this along the waterfront where crews were erecting stages and setting up PA systems. In less than an hour, I'd gone from practically nothing to having a whole plan in place.

My tour boat pulled out filled with retired German tourists who were traveling by luxury coach. I sat next to a couple and got a bit of a German workout. Next to our boat dock was a massive 3-mast sailing ship, which belonged to the local maritime university, and was used for training. Although Szczecin is 65 km up the Oder River (Odra in Polish) from the East Sea (the Baltic, that is), it has a big harbor and dock system. [The city was a member of the old Hanseatic League.] And we sailed all around that. There was some cargo sitting around, including quite a few very long wind-turbine blades, but very little activity. A half a dozen small ships were tied up with one being loaded with grain from a huge silo. The ships were from Gibraltar, the Netherlands, and Cyprus. There was a series of floating dry docks with the longest being at least 150 meters, and most had ships inside and out above the water. On the return leg, there was quite a bit of river traffic with ships coming and going, and tugs headed upstream. As we disembarked, an elderly man started talking to me in German. When I said I spoke English and was originally from Australia, he switched to English and told me about his two trips there.

I still had three hours to kill, so I looked for a seat in the shade with a grand view of the river. I found one, but it was up a long series of steep steps. I took my time hauling my gear up, stopping occasionally to put my heart back in my chest, but the end result was worth it. I looked right out over a grassy park to the training sailing ship. There, I worked on this diary and generally watched the world go by.

Around 6:30 pm, I made my way to the Radisson Hotel, which took me through a large park. In these days of mobile phones, public telephones were few and far between; however, there was one 100 meters from the hotel. Soon after 7 o'clock, I phoned Marek, told him where I was, and he came to pick me up. We drove to his house just outside the city and introduced ourselves. His wife and three children had recently headed off in separate directions for vacations, and he was home on his own. He and his wife ran a language school, with him teaching English, as well as Polish to foreigners, and her teaching English, German, and Swedish. They had two classrooms in the basement of their house, and had expanded to space in another building nearby.

While Marek cooked supper, I watched a half-hour of news on Deutsche Welle TV. Marek's good friend and neighbor, Mariusz, joined us for a late meal. Mariusz teaches English at a Catholic "Silesian" school. We talked of many things including American politics, past and present, as well as US foreign policy especially in Afghanistan. All too soon, it was 11:30. Lights out soon after.

[Diary] I was awake with the early light at 5:15 am. [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] And try as I might, I could not get back to sleep. My fertile imagination was in gear and I was working in my head on some business problems. Finally, just before 7 o'clock, I got up, showered and dressed, setup my laptop at the kitchen table, and started writing. It looked like a nice day outside, but rain had been forecast for the first day of the city's festivities.

I sipped hot tea and ate some of my emergency rations while updating this diary. Marek joined me at 8:15. He had a private English lesson at 8:30, during which I washed the breakfast dishes.

Around 9:30, Mariusz arrived to be my driver and guide. We drove 10 km to his school next to which is a 300-acre cemetery I'd read about in a tourist brochure. He gave me a walking tour starting with a section containing the remains of Soviet and Polish soldiers. An especially moving monument remembered the 20,000+ Polish officers executed by the Soviets in 1940 when Hitler invaded from the west and Stalin from the east. The Soviets took 250,000 Polish prisoners in that push. Another equally moving memorial was to all the Poles sent to death camps or forcibly relocated to Siberia, as late as 1952.

From there, we drove downtown, parked, and went to Cafe22 on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in the city. It was a clear day and Mariusz took me on a 360-degree visual tour of the city. [As they might say in Maine, "You could see so far that it took two of us to look!"] We occupied a table by a window of the circular restaurant and ordered coffee. We shared a large slice of apple cake with whipped cream. After that, we visited the old castle, a pair of old city gates, the main cathedral, and the area around them. We walked by the birthplace of Catherine the Great as well as a small palace that she'd lived in much later on.

By the time we left the downtown area the traffic had gotten quite busy and the weather was deteriorating. On the way home, we stopped at a Tesco, the UK's leading supermarket export, and topped up my juice and milk supplies. A few spits of rain fell and the skies darkened. I spent a couple of hours at Mariusz' house where we drank tea and ate pirogues, a Polish delicacy, while watching some programs on BBC TV.

I was back home by 5:30 after which I worked on some travel planning and did some research on Wikipedia about Polish history and geography relating to the day's events. One particular search involved finding out why Australia's highest mountain, Mt. Kosciuszko, was named in honor of the Polish national hero, and hero of the American Revolutionary War, General Tadeusz Kościuszko. At 8:30, Marek and I ate dinner together, and by the time we finished that and I did the dishes, I was fading fast. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] When my 7:45 am alarm went off I was feeling rested and after a hot shower, I felt even better. Marek had a private lesson, so I fixed a simple breakfast of bread and cheese with tea, and then dealt with business and personal email. Marek then introduced me to his student and she and I spent 30 minutes talking about many things, so she could have a conversation with a native English speaker. She works for HSBC Bank, and travels around Poland each week working with regional sales staff. It was a good workout for both of us. Later, he had a second lesson, with a young woman who has completed one Master's Degree and is now working on another. I spent time talking to her as well.

I spent the afternoon researching and writing an essay for my monthly blog. I also did a load of laundry and hung that out to dry in the afternoon sun; however, by early evening, it starting raining lightly. I caught up with some world news on TV and generally surfed the large selection of international channels to see the world from various cultural perspectives. Then I phoned Belinda in Germany to coordinate our meeting on Sunday, and instead of having her drive 90 minutes each way to get me, we agreed that I'd ride the train to Neubrandenburg, and she'd meet me there.

Marek and I had a late supper and then sat and talked of many things until just after midnight. It was a relaxing and enjoyable day. I was asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow.

[Diary] I was awake just before my 9:15 alarm feeling quite rested. Marek and I had a light breakfast of oatmeal, bread, cheese, and tea, and we continued our conversation from the night before. The weather was still inclement, so we stayed indoors, he working on household projects, while I washed the dishes and spoke by internet phone to various people in Australia. I followed that with a lazy afternoon

At 5 pm, we drove into the city in light drizzle. We had a very nice dinner at a local restaurant. I had pork with dumplings and vegetables, and topped that off with milk coffee. Afterwards, we drove around the shipyard area where Solidarity demonstrations had taken place at the same time they occurred at the more famous Gdansk shipyards. It was also the site of unsuccessful demonstrations in 1970, which resulted in the deaths of a number of people. We finished our evening eating ice cream at a small café. Lights out at 10 pm after a good rest day.

[Diary]

It was overcast, but dry and quite a bit warmer, which meant the final day of the festival might not be washed out. At the train station, while Marek parked the van, I went inside. The ticket agent spoke no English, so I wrote down the name of the town I was headed to and the time of the train, and then we played charades as to whether I was going one-way or return. The cost of the ticket was 98.82 złotys, and I had 100 in paper money left plus some change, so that pretty much cleaned me out of local currency.

My train was going all the way to Lübeck, an old Hanseatic League city near the Baltic right on the border of the former West and East Germanys. We waited on Platform 4 for 15 minutes before saying our goodbyes. It had been a very good stay with Marek. Right on time at 10:57, what approached the platform looked like a train only it was much smaller. In fact, it consisted of two motorized carriages.

Conclusion

My only connection with Poland is my paternal ancestry back when it was part of Prussia, and then quite by chance, my one Polish guest came from Poznań, a city not far from Berlin. I had two great 4-day stays with hosts, which generally makes a trip much more interesting. Basically, it becomes an adventure with a safety net!

By the way, just in case you were wondering, drzwi is Polish for door.

Bucket List: There is nothing driving me back to Poland, but as I visit Berlin from time to time, I'd be happy for a repeat visit with Ewa.

Signs of Life: Part 5

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some more from various trips.

 

I came across this sign at a woodcarving gallery on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State in the US.

The idea is to keep your kids close to you and make sure they don't break anything.

 

In the early stages of hiking the Thames Path (see my essay A Walk along the River from July 2011), I came across this sign. I had no doubt it was a real warning, but I didn't expect to come across that kind of obstacle in England.

 

From Oxford, England.

Talk about false advertising! That ain't no penny farthing bike!

 

Hmm. I first visited Hong Kong in 1979, when it was a British protectorate. My second visit was in 2002, after it had become a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.

 

Some interesting breakfast choices in Hong Kong with prices in HK$.

Cookies and egg salad for breakfast! What were they thinking?

 

Let me get this right! The Hong Kong Government wants me to have a good time at the beach, but without flying kites, cycling, fishing, dogs, ball games, saucer throwing, roller skating or skateboarding, fires, diving (scuba or otherwise), water skiing, or surfing.

 

Apparently those chicken scratchings above the English words mean something to the locals, but I'm darned if I know how they get a sound from those characters. It seems to work though; a billion-plus people have mastered it!

 

Seen in a remote location in England. Now the current Queen is Elizabeth II, which in Latin (as I'm sure you all know) is written as Elizabeth Regina. Hence the ER on current UK coins and letter boxes. GR signifies George Rex, King George. ER's father was George VI, who died in 1952, and his father was George V, who died in 1936. Regardless of which one this box was named for, it goes back at least 64 years. Posting a letter here made me think of the dead-letter office!

 

How to get yourself and your car across a narrow river on the west coast of the island state of Tasmania, Australia.

 

Another one from the west coast of the island state of Tasmania, Australia.

The locals have a long and strong history of "Saving the Planet".

 

Another sign I encountered during my 187-mile walk along the Thames Path, England. Yes, there was a bull, but No I wasn't wearing red. That said, I must say that I kept looking over my shoulder regularly as I crossed through that field, all the while being careful to not ogle the fine heifers.

 

Although this sign on the W&OD Trail in Virginia, USA, "says it all", it seems to me a wee bit challenging for most people to figure out. Let me see now: Everyone must give way to someone on horseback, cyclists and rollerbladers must give way to hikers, who in turn must give way to someone on horseback.

 

From Geneva, Switzerland.

Pardon my French! Let me see now: no urinating, no dogs, no writing graffitti, no boomboxes, and no throwing bottles (trash).

I have to say that the urinating bit reminded me immediately of Harvey Korman (I think it was) calling out for the "piss boy" in the movie History of the World, Part 1, when the courtiers were playing chess outdoors using people as pieces.

 

A signature meat pie in Australia.

Ohh! What I'd give right now for a pie with dead horse (rhyming slang for [tomato] sauce; ketchup, that is).

 

For their regular concentrated yeast extract fix, Aussies spread Vegemite on their buttered bread or toast (not to mention their erogenous zones). Now certain other countries (including the UK and New Zealand) have a pretend competitor called Marmite. Some time back, NZ's only Marmite plant was out of action for an extended period, and in a hands-across-the-Tasman-Sea goodwill gesture, the Aussie Prime Minister offered his NZ counterpart some Vegemite food parcels. The Kiwis graciously declined saying they were not yet that desperate!

 

The "doorbell" on a farmhouse in rural Western Australia.

Having trapped rabbits as a boy using exactly that kind of trap, I know from experience what it is like to get one's fingers caught in it. However, if you look closely on the bottom-left side, you'll see that the trip-bit has been welded to the plate.

For many years now, such traps have been outlawed, at least in my home state, South Australia.

 

 

It’s All Greek to Me

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Είναι όλα ελληνικά για μένα. Okay, got that? Just in case your Greek is a little rusty, according to https://translate.google.com, it's the title of this essay written in Greek. That statement is often used in English to suggest that something is not understandable. That is, "For all the sense it made, it might as well have been written in Greek!"

According to Wikipedia, "The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the 8th century BC. It was derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script to have distinct letters for vowels as well as consonants. It is the ancestor of the Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Apart from its use in writing the Greek language, in both its ancient and its modern forms, the Greek alphabet today also serves as a source of technical symbols and labels in many domains of mathematics, science and other fields."

For those of us whose only alphabet is the Latin one used by English and other western languages, like other alphabets, the Greek alphabet is just another set of symbols with corresponding sounds. As such, if you insist on confusing yourself when trying to follow it, you surely will! [If you've been following my "What is Normal?" series, you'll know that one person's normal can vary widely from another's.]

More than 45 years ago, for four years in high school, I was a student of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, so I was exposed to Greek letters on a regular basis. Now I apologize to those of you who are still in therapy over those classes, but do the symbols π, α, β, Δ, θ, and λ look at least a little bit familiar? Hopefully, you remember the first one, the humble pi (pun intended)! For more information than you probably want to know about such symbols, click here.

The Cyrillic alphabet, as used by modern-day Russian and the languages of a number of Slavic countries, is derived from Greek. It came from Greece via Bulgaria, and is named after Saint Cyril, who was involved in creating an earlier alphabet.

In this essay, we'll look at how various Greek letters still influence the daily lives of many people outside Greece. In particular, we'll mention how Greek letters feature prominently in university life in the US, in college fraternity and sorority names.

The Greek Alphabet

Here are the 24 letters written in English, followed by their upper- and lowercase symbols, listed in Greek-alphabet order, along with some current uses and notes:

Alpha Α α:

  • The Latin letter A/a is derived from this
  • As the first letter, it often signifies first or beginning, as in alpha male, to indicate a dominant social position
  • Alpha Centuri is the brightest star in the constellation Centaurus
  • The angle in a triangle opposite side A
  • An alpha version of a product or computer program is a precursor to a beta version
  • alpha particle
  • The word alphabet comes from the combination of alpha and beta

Beta Β β:

  • The Latin letter B/b is derived from this
  • A beta version of something is not quite ready for primetime, while beta testing involves testing an early release of a product
  • The angle in a triangle opposite side B
  • The Betamax videotape recording format
  • US and British English differ on the pronunciation of this letter's name
  • [Not to be confused with the German letter ß (eszett)]

Gamma Γ γ:

Delta Δ δ:

  • The Latin letter D/d is derived from this
  • The uppercase letter is a triangle, commonly the shape of a river's delta, hence the Nile delta
  • The uppercase letter signifies an incremental change

Epsilon Ε ε:

  • The Latin letter E/e is derived from this

Zeta Ζ ζ:

  • The Latin letter Z/z is derived from this

Eta Η η:

  • The Latin letter H/h is derived from this

Theta Θ θ:

  • Used to represent an angle

Iota Ι ι:

  • The Latin letters I/i and J/j are derived from this
  • In English, an iota is a very small amount
  • The Spanish letter J is called jota, while the German J is called jot

Kappa Κ κ:

  • The Latin letter K/k is derived from this

Lambda Λ λ:

  • The Latin letter L/l is derived from this
  • Support for lambda functions (or closures) are becoming more prevalent in computer programming languages
  • Lambda calculus
  • [Under the Soviets, St. Petersburg was called Leningrad. While there in 1992, I recall seeing "mileposts" leading to/from that city showing Λxx, where xx was the number of kilometers to/from Leningrad.]

Mu Μ μ:

  • The Latin letter M/m is derived from this
  • The lowercase letter is used to represent micro, or one millionth

Nu Ν ν:

  • The Latin letter N/n is derived from this

Xi Ξ ξ:

  • The uppercase version is sometimes used in company names or corporate logos as a stylized "E"

Omicron Ο ο:

  • The Latin letter O/o is derived from this

Pi Π π:

  • The lowercase letter is the mathematic symbol for pi, as in the area of a circle is πr2.

Rho Ρ ρ:

  • The Latin letter R/r is derived from this
  • [Not to be confused with the Latin letter P/p; while visiting Russia, I constantly reminded myself that Russian P = Latin R, not Latin P!]

Sigma Σ σς:

  • There are two lowercase forms, each being used in a different context
  • In mathematics, the uppercase letter is used for the summation of a series of terms

Tau Τ τ:

  • The Latin letter T/t is derived from this

Upsilon Υ υ:

  • The Latin letters U/u, V/v, W/w, and Y/y are derived from this
  • The German letter Y/y is called üpsilon
  • The Spanish letter Y/y is called i griega, which literally is Greek I/i

Phi Φ φ:

Chi Χ χ:

  • The Latin letter X/x is derived from this
  • According to Wikipedia, chi (as in X) is often used to abbreviate the name Christ, as in the holiday Christmas (Xmas).

Psi Ψ ψ:

  • A symbol for the planet Neptune

Omega Ω ω:

  • Often used to mean the last or the end

Christianity has the term Alpha and Omega.

Student Fraternities and Sororities

In the US, many 4-year colleges and universities have chapters of national fraternities and sororities, which are social organizations for students. The names of these organizations are combinations of Greek letters, the first being the Phi Beta Kappa Society, in 1776. (Other examples are Alpha Delta Phi, Alpha Tau Omega, and Phi Sigma Kappa. Alpha Lambda Delta is a US National Honor Society.)

If you were fortunate enough to see the movie Revenge of the Nerds, you will know about its fraternity for nerds, Lambda Lambda Lambda.

Other Greek Influences

Here are some common English words that were derived from Greek: amphitheater, anarchy, antique, architect, baritone, cosmopolitan, diameter, encyclopedia, geometry, grammar, hydraulics, isosceles, kilogram, microscope, neurotic, octopus, philanthropy, surgeon, telegraph, and zoology.

Greek letters also appear in popular culture phrases or designations such as Delta Force, the US Army's special detachment used to bring about change in our best interests. Also, the TV series Alpha House, which is a political satire about a house shared in Washington DC by Republican Senators.

For a discussion of English words having Greek origin, click here.

And, of course, we have the Zodiac and the very extensive Greek Mythology.

Conclusion

In my high school in rural South Australia, students were divided into four so-called houses, which competed against each other, primarily in sporting events. Alpha house's color was yellow, Beta's was blue, Gamma's was green, and Delta's was red. I was in Alpha house.

When moving from Australia to the US in 1979, my unlimited-stopover, open-use, airline ticket included a leg from Bombay, India, to Athens, Greece, and then onto Rome, Italy. Unfortunately, when I was ready to leave Bombay, there was no space available on flights to Athens for nearly a week, so I elected to bypass Greece and go straight to Italy. Now, 37 years later, I still haven't been to Greece. C'est la vie, or perhaps I should say, Έτσι είναι η ζωή.

Travel: Memories of South America

© 1989, 1991, 2001, 2013, 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I've been once to each of six of the 13 countries. I'll cover them in the order in which I visited them.

Peru

Official Name: Republic of Peru; Capital: Lima; Language: Spanish; Country Code: PE; Currency: nuevo sol (PEN)

In November and December of 1981, I had my first adventure holiday, to the Amazon River in northern Peru. To outfit myself I went to a military surplus store and spent about $25 on some khaki shirts, trousers, and a webbing belt, and the shirts even came with some rank and insignia. At the end of my jungle trip we were taken to the airport by bus where we waited by a hanger. Several military helicopters swooped in and landed near us and a whole bunch of armed soldiers jumped out. There I was looking every bit like a mercenary or gunrunner, except for one standout feature, the bright red laces in my hiking boots! It turns out they weren't after me, they were headed out on "pirate patrol" on the Amazon. [While on the river, I saw evidence of that in the form of navy patrol vessels.]

While at our primitive jungle camp on the Amazon, we were about to board a boat for the 6-hour trip back to base camp when an oil-company floatplane touched down on the river next to us. After some discussion with the pilot, our guide announced that the pilot was flying to the same place we were headed and that he could take several people with him if we wanted to go, for about US$30 each. The trip would take less than an hour. I volunteered as did one other guy, and we were off bouncing along the water trying to get enough takeoff speed. All the controls were in English, which the pilot didn't speak, and a few things seemed to be tied together with string, but, hey, it was an adventure. Being in a floatplane, we had to follow the waterways so we could land in an emergency. It was only when the pilot took short cuts over the jungle that I worried a bit.

Some highlights of the trip were seeing a morpho butterfly, the size of a dinner plate, fly right by me on a jungle trail; canoeing and watching kids swimming where piranhas were swimming; canoeing at night looking for Caiman alligators with a flashlight; and drinking home brew with an Indian chief and then finding out the basis for it is a root that has to be chewed by women as only their spit has the right ingredient for fermentation to occur!

From there, we went on to the capital, Lima, where we spent a couple of less-than-interesting days. I seem to recall this was not long after a civilian government had taken over from a military one. Fortunately, it was also before the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) came on the scene in a big way.

From Lima, we flew high up in the Andes to Cuzco, the former seat of the Incan Empire, where I experienced firsthand a dose of altitude sickness. From there, we took the train to the famous Incan ruin of Machu Pichu where we stayed overnight. Once the day-trippers left mid-afternoon, the 100 or so of us staying over had the place to ourselves until mid-morning the next day. It definitely was a sight to behold!

Venezuela

Official Name: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela; Capital: Caracas; Language: Spanish; Country Code: VE; Currency: Bolívar fuerte (VEF)

For Christmas 1989, I took my family to Venezuela for the school winter break. After some time in the capital, we flew to Canaima, and later spent some pleasant days on Margarita Island. (This was in the days before Hugo Chavez.)

[Diary] We flew from Caracas, in a Boeing 727-100, which is like a VW Beetle with a V8 engine! We were headed for Canaima near the base of Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall. However, instead of stopping at the airport the pilot raced up the valley giving the passengers—first on the one side and then on the other—a bird's eye view of the 1,000-meter falls "just out the window". It was not your typical jet flight and most tourist destinations would charge you $100+ to do that in a small plane.

[Regarding the flat-topped mountains–called tepuis–and the isolated plant and animal species in that area, read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost World. The giant spider in the movie Arachnophobia came from the area, and the animated movie Up has the guy in the balloon land there.]

Apart from the falls, there was nothing very special about the trip, but at least it was much warmer than back home!

Chile

Official Name: Republic of Chile; Capital: Santiago; Language: Spanish; Country Code: CL; Currency: peso (CLP)

In October and November 1991, I had my second big adventure trip (for the first, see Peru above), which involved a couple weeks riding in a tour bus with a group, crossing southern Chile and Argentina, billed as a Patagonia Walking trip, preceded by some days on my own in Santiago getting in a Spanish-speaking mood.

[Diary] The main street of the capital is called La Avenida de O'Higgins. Now while Bernardo O'Higgins was a famous local general, his name doesn't sound very Hispanic. However, there are streets, hotels, and even a bank named after him.

[Diary] At the bus station, I bought a one-way ticket to Valparaiso, the country's main port and second largest city. The fare was 650 pesos. The coach was very nice and had a driver and two staff dressed in uniforms. One could buy food and drink, and there was a toilet on board. A radio was broadcast throughout the bus, and Tom Jones used that to serenade us in English en route. Driving time was 1:45 hours. I sat next to somebody's grandma, and we chatted a bit with me asking her lots of questions and she replying so fast I understood about two words per sentence, although when hearing rapid-spoken Spanish, it's hard to tell where one sentence ends and the next one starts. For all I know she may well have telling me about a boil on her butt!

While I was making progress on my Spanish reading and speaking, it was clear I was very deficient in comprehension. My most common responses were no entiendo (I don't understand) and mas despacio (speak more slowly).

[Diary] The town of Viña del Mar was very much up-market, so much so that I didn't think I'd be able to find cheap accommodation. I got wind of a hostel, but after 45 minutes of walking, I discovered it had closed down. After that long walk had tired me out what to do but stop at a supermarket and buy a bag of dried sultanas (golden raisins) and sit in the sun and eat them. They didn't help my feet any, but they sure tasted good.

Well, my travel motto is, "Always have a plan B, even for Plan B!" I finally found a place right downtown on Agua Santa. It was your typical hostel with mix-and-match furniture. The share-bathroom had a pan, cold water basin, and shower in a tub. A large gas cylinder sat at the end of the tub, and one just switched on the gas, struck a match, and "let her rip!" The price was $5/night, which was just fine with me.

Today was the day the staff had chosen to replace some of the furniture and bedding in my very room. So when I say that I had to make my bed, I mean that I had to make my bed, literally. Being much taller than the guys assembling the double bunk beds I offered to help them, and we become buddies even though we could barely understand each other. However, there was one bit of good news. One of the bolt holes in the bed was drilled incorrectly, and the bolt wouldn't fit properly. Just that very morning I had been learning some new Spanish verbs, one of which was to fit, and lo and behold I got a chance to use it in a real-life situation, "It won't fit", or as we'd say in Australian-Spanish, no bloody fitto, Jose!

We assembled three bunks and put on new mattresses, sheets, and blankets. My mattress was rock-hard, just as I like it. The old mattresses we replaced sagged almost to the floor. With them, I reckon I could have rocked myself to sleep trying to get out of bed.

I did learn one important lesson; if you are 6'4" tall and sleeping on the bottom bunk, don't sit straight up in bed as you'll hit your !@#$ head!

[Diary] Valparaiso was definitely a step down from Viña del Mar. I found the main Post Office, bought stamps and more cards, and posted some cards. From there I went to the main square, Plaza Solomayor. And right across the street, I spied the Hotel Reina Victoria (The Queen Victoria), but I doubt she'd have been very proud of it, at least not in its current state. The front desk was up a flight of stairs and it was tended by a kindly grandmother. We got along famously and soon, I was ensconced in my own large private room on the 3rd floor. The room had a washbasin, two face washers, a mirror, and a power outlet. There was a large wardrobe and a bed that sagged quite badly. The bedside stand had a small reading lamp on it along with—yes Ladies and Gentlemen—a chamber pot! A small table, chair, and a rug completed the décor. The two windows opened out over the plaza. To my left was the Chilean Navy Port and to my right was the Naval Headquarters. A window seat was built into the wall, and as I sat, I could see sailors coming and going to/from the Armada de Chile building.

Now, I ask you Ladies and Gentlemen, how much would you expect to pay for such luxury and a view? Well I paid 2,000 pesos per night, a little less than US$6. Continental breakfast was included and would be delivered to my room. A share bath was down the hall and ran on a gas-fired apparatus. I even had a view of the plaza from the toilet seat. But wait, there was even more; my room came with a living pot plant!

I went downstairs to go out for a walk and the manager informed me about the local street thieves. I set off to find a bakery, which wasn't hard, as there seemed to be one on each block. I devoured a meat and onion pie all washed down with some strawberry milk. I sat and watched the world go by for a bit before going back to my room for a nap. The strong coffee from the previous night had kept me awake, so I needed to get some ZZZs.

At 7:30 pm, I asked the woman at the desk to fire up the hot water, to lay out my silk pajamas, and to get some bearers to carry me down to "el tubbo". Well, the water was very hot and plentiful, and I had a good soak under the shower. It was good to be able to stand straight and still fit under the showerhead. I noticed that toilet paper was supplied, and was in strips of 2 feet laid atop the cistern. (Most cheap places did not supply it.) During my nap, I'd dreamed I was staying in 5-star villa and when I awoke, viola, there it was! Perhaps it will all be turned back into a pumpkin at midnight!

[Diary] The tea that I'd ordered for 9 am arrived at 8:30, and it was coffee! [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] It sure is hard to get good help nowadays. And just as I finished eating, my alarm sounded. Actually, the coffee was not so strong; in fact, the spoon needed some help before it could stand up on its own. The bread was fresh and came with lots of butter, and made a hearty start to the day.

[Diary] On my first full day back in the capital, I went to an afternoon movie and when I came out it was dusk. As I walked down a street, I could see a large group off in the distance chanting and coming towards me. So I went off to get a closer look. Apparently, something panicked them and they started running towards me. Unfortunately, the quickest way out of the street for me was to run towards them and then to a side street, so I did that, and they and I turned off at the same time. Safe, I thought! 30 seconds later, an armored car entered the intersection we'd just vacated and directed very high-pressure water cannons at many of the protesters knocking some of them over. Interesting thought I, and then I heard the sound of something metal rolling along the paved road and saw a teargas canister coming my way. Let's just say that I moved quite quickly down the side street. 200 meters down, I ran into a whole squad of riot police in full gear quietly smoking and talking. Back at my hotel, I was told that students protested regularly over the disappearance of people who had been arrested by the government, and that the whole episode was carefully choreographed. The next morning, I was awakened by a public address system right outside my hotel window where a speaker for some freedom political party was addressing a rally. I was sure that a SWAT team would be rappelling through my window any minute, but after 30 minutes, the protesters packed up and left.

[Diary] I finally caught up with the other dozen or so members of my tour group, and we flew to Punta Arenas at the southern tip of the mainland. From there, our minibus took as to several glacial areas including Torres del Paine. Then as we headed out across the Patagonia I saw a large iceberg that had broken off and run aground way downstream in the desert. That was impressive! We camped our way across to the Argentinian border doing optional day hikes and one overnight hike for which some cowboys and packhorses hauled our gear.

Argentina

Official Name: Argentine Republic; Capital: Buenos Aires; Language: Spanish; Country Code: AR; Currency: peso (ARS)

As I wrote above under "Chile", I crossed southern Chile and Argentina with a small group in a minibus.

We spent several days camping out, hiking, eating well, and sleeping like babies in the clear desert air. Once we hit the Atlantic coast, we flew up to Buenos Aires for a night. A month earlier, a large volcanic eruption has occurred in southern Argentina, and there was some concern that our flight might not be operational as a result, because volcanic ash is very corrosive. However, by then the wind had dispersed all the ash. The highlight of my 16 hours in Buenos Aires was dinner at McDonalds' (I kid you not) where those super-salty French fries tasted great!

Uruguay

Official Name: Eastern Republic of Uruguay; Capital: Montevideo; Language: Spanish; Country Code: UY; Currency: Uruguayan peso (UYU)

For some unknown reason, I'd long had an interest in this country, so in November 2001, I went on down for 15 nights, changing planes in Buenos Aires. I cashed in lots of Frequent-Flyer miles and went in style, in First Class.

On arrival, I rescued a Dutch woman who was in tears after not being able to get any money from a cash machine. And the airport bank didn't cash traveler's checks, so she was without local cash. I too had a shortage after the bank begrudgingly changed a US$20 bill that was printed off-center and which the bank people thought was counterfeit. Anyway, that got us on the bus to the city and a room for me, and we got money for her soon after.

For the next 14 nights, I stayed two nights each with seven different host families. It was quite challenging, especially as I was moving so often and had to re-tell the same stories and ask the same questions each time, all in Spanish! Two stays were fantastic. The first was with a woman in San Jose where she took me to observe the weekly "counting of the cash" and handling of the tickets for the national lottery, where she worked. Tables were piled high with cash and an armored car came to haul it all away. After that, I joined in the weekly party. The second was with a delightful family of four near the resort area of Punta del Este.

Back in the capital, I stayed with a woman who played cello in a national orchestra. She lived close to the national football (soccer, that is) stadium and the very afternoon I arrived, Australia played Uruguay in a rematch as part of the World Cup regional finals. The Aussies were so concerned about safety—they had beaten Uruguay in the previous match—that they helicoptered in from Buenos Aires for the game rather than staying in-country!

An eye-opener was a day-visit to a kid's center run by Catholic Charities in one of the many slums. Due to the acute shortage of schools, kids only went for half a day, with half of them going in the morning, the rest in the afternoon. As such, they needed a safe place to spend the rest of their day. I worked with some kids and got a workout in Spanish. A very smart young girl who asked me a lot of good questions very much wanted to take me home to meet her parents. So I went. She, her five sisters, and parents lived in a shanty with dirt floors. The father was an alcoholic and the mother in and out of mental-health facilities. It was quite heart-breaking.

Brazil

Official Name: Federative Republic of Brazil; Capital: Brasília; Language: Portuguese; Country Code: BR; Currency: real (BRL)

My only trip there was for seven days, to attend a series of international meetings in the capital, Brasília, which I reached via São Paulo.

[Diary] Although pleasant and comfortable without overdoing it, the hotel wasn't cheap, but nothing much is in this fair city. I had a room on the 13th floor with large windows that overlooked the city and parklands. After four weeks of living out in the country with no streetlights glaring in my windows and no noise of air conditioners and traffic all day and night, it was quite a shock to be in the middle of a noisy and bright city. However, the drapes kept the room dark. At least the noise outside was constant. The staff was all very pleasant, although they kept on speaking to me in Portuguese. And that darn language has words for everything!

Breakfast was included in my room rate. When one stays in such a place for seven days, the food can get rather repetitive to the point of being boring. However, I am happy to report that the variety was such that I could have stayed another week without that happening. A chef stood by to make custom omelets, which I sampled several days. And the oatmeal was almost as good as Grandma used to make. There was a good supply of fresh fruit and juice, and I ate large slices of sweet watermelon most mornings. Unlike bacon back in the US, the bacon here had little fat and it was cooked nice and crisp. Over the week, I ate the equivalent of a small pig, and loved it! (Sorry about that, pig.)

[Diary] On arrival in a new place, one of the first things I do is find a grocery store/supermarket or at least a convenience store. However, giving the city's zoning laws, the former were non-existent in the hotel district, and the latter had limited choices. Being a growing boy, ordinarily, I drink a liter of whole milk a day; however, there was no milk to be found except for the UHT/shelf milk served at breakfast to be put on cereal. As partial compensation, I drank lots of juice.

[Diary] I can get by with basic Spanish, and there are a lot of cognates between Spanish and Portuguese. As such, I was able to get the gist of more than a few things on signs and menus. But, of course, just when one thinks one has a handle on things, one finds that most words are unique to the language and that there are also false cognates. I didn't prepare for this in advance, and, quite frankly, didn't bother to learn any words while there. I spoke English, and if that didn't work, I spoke Spanish, and after that, it was sign language.

[Diary] Brasília was designed and built some 60 years ago, way out in the middle of nowhere. From a certain perspective, that allowed the planners to "get it all right" to begin with. Yet I found the completely predictable grid and block numbering system and the strict zoning (all hotels are in a concentrated 4-block area) rather clinical. Now while most cities grow in fits and starts and can be rather haphazard, they have character, which is something Brasilia lacks.

I had thought about taking the 3-hour city tour, but I couldn't even get inspired enough to do that. Instead, I went on a couple of walking expeditions around the parks, the hotel district, and a neighborhood nearby. It was a contrast of upscale architecture and shabby places, but with colorful gardens and fountains at regular intervals. Every now and then, the bright red clay soil was exposed in vacant blocks or construction areas. There was more than a little trash on the streets.

The weather was nice the whole week I was there, and the food was decent.

Conclusion

My time in South America has all been pleasant and mostly very good. One positive aspect of flying there is that there is only a 1–2-hour time change from home.

Bucket List: From time to time I think about visiting Bolivia and Ecuador, and getting a look at Iguazu Falls.

Signs of Life: Part 4

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some more from a trip to Australia in 2015.

 

Kangaroos known to cross the road in this area.

In some places, the bushland is quite close to the edge of the road, in which case, if you are traveling at any sort of speed, you have no chance of avoiding one hopping out onto the road. And this is especially true at night regardless of whether the sides of the road are clear or not.

My brother had one hop right onto the hood (AU: bonnet) of his car, and come through the windshield (AU: windscreen) into the passenger compartment, all the while kicking with its back legs. That sort of an accident can ruin your whole day!

By the way, kangaroos usually don't hop unless being pursued. Instead, to move around, they sit back on their tail, move their back legs forward, then move the tail forward between their legs, and then repeat that process.

These signs always show the animals jumping from the left, but don't take that literally! And do they really jump or hop? I thought that hopping was one leg only while jumping uses both. I've never seen one hop.

 

I found this sign rather amusing, since all my years in Australia, we used the word manure. Now, poo seems to be in fashion.

I'm reminded of the story about President Truman. His daughter, Margaret, had invited a young man to dinner at the White House. After the meal, the President excused himself from the table and said that he had to go and put some manure on the roses. Margaret was quite embarrassed by his language and asked her mother to do something about it. Her mother replied, "If you only knew how long it took me to get him to say manure!"

 

It seems that alpaca poo is cheaper than sheep poo, but then I didn't get to see if the bags where the same size. (See the previous photo.)

So what are alpacas doing in the Aussie bush? Most I saw were in with sheep acting as some sort of protectors. I hadn't seen them on previous visits.

 

Sign outside a leather shop.

Yes, cows tend to be vegetarian, but you still have to kill them to make the leather.

I was reminded of a young man working the booth at a local farmer's market, who was extolling the virtues of the organic beef his family raised. When I asked him, "Were any animals harmed in the production of this meat?" he quickly answered, "No!" However, when I challenged him further, he had to admit that they did kill them.

 

I noticed that a lot of these signs had been erected in recent years. I guess we all recognize a stream train, but I haven't seen one in commercial operation for a very long time, so this seemed a bit odd. On the other hand, what should the picture look like instead and still be effective?

 

My hometown area (the Riverland) is a big fruit-growing region with lots of citrus, stone fruits, and vineyards. For many years, fruit flies have existed in parts of Australia, and it is illegal to transport fruit out of infested areas.

The main highway going from the state of Victoria to the state of South Australia has a 24-hour, manned roadblock at which fruit is confiscated.

This particular sign was on a lessor rural highway some 20 miles outside the Riverland. It is an honor system in that drivers are asked to dispose of their fruit into the bin, but sometimes law enforcement personnel stop cars further down the road to check. Failure to comply results in a heavy fine.

 

From a T-shirt.

For me, this was a new take on the old nursery rhyme. I know of two others:

Mary had a little lamb, You've heard this tale before. But did you know she passed her plate, And had a little more?

Mary had a little lamb, The Doctor was surprised. But when Old MacDonald had a farm, He couldn't believe his eyes!

 

If you saw this just on its own, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out its meaning. However, when seen next to a gas station (AU: roadhouse), you might have a chance.

The fundamental thing to know is that petrol is what we in America call gasoline. Given that, pulp is premium unleaded petrol and ulp is unleaded petrol. Down Under, diesel is called distillate, and abbreviated dist. And gas means liquified petroleum gas (LPG). Of course, these notations only apply on days not involving a full moon!

 

Although quite predictable, I though this sign was udderly amusing!

 

Certainly the park containing this forest had daylight-only access hours, but I couldn't help thinking having this sign at the edge of the forest once inside the park was a bit strange. Perhaps it was intended for the animals!

 

From a branch of Members Equity Bank Limited, operating as ME, a national bank based in Melbourne, Australia.

From their promo material, "We believe that banks have become too complex and the best kind of bank for our customers is one that simply helps you get ahead."

 

We've already seen the kangaroo warning. In this case, we need to watch out for emus as well. As for the other critter, it looks a lot like a frill-neck lizzard (which was featured on the 2-cent coin until that was discontinued). In the latter case, the warning is more about not running over them than being concerned about a crash.

During my short visit to Kangaroo Island (where this photo was taken), there were so many dead kangaroos and wallabies on the roads—hit by vehicles—that I saw a number of carcasses being eaten by goannas more than three feet long.

 

Here we have a wallaby, a spiny ant eater, and a goanna. I got to see live ones up close.

 

From the same leather shop as featured earlier.

 

From a building in an old German Lutheran-settled town in the Adelaide Hills. That said, I saw no evidence of any concubines.

As they say, "The Lord moves in mysterious ways."

 

At the Cape Jervis ferry terminal for Kangaroo Island.

At a glance, this is an interesting set of things to prohibit.