Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Sockets, Plugs, and Cables

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Until I finished high school in December 1969 in rural Australia, to me, cables, sockets, and plugs meant electricity. My first foray into having to learn something more about cables came when I bought my first stereo system. To be sure, it was rather simple, just a set of red and white cables to connect the various components, and some insulated wire for the speakers. Fast forward 40 years, and when I look in the boxes of cables and connectors I've accumulated since—which I'm saving for that (probably non-existent) time when I just might need them—I see a lot of things verging on obsolescence. Someone is always inventing a better/faster/simpler approach.

Telephone

My first memory of a home phone was a large wooden box mounted on the wall of the hallway. It was powered by an enormous dry-cell battery. The mouthpiece was fixed to the box and the earpiece hung on the side. To make a call, one cranked the rotary handle and spoke to an operator; there was no dialer. (Unlike some areas, we did not share a party line.) Service was available during daylight hours Monday–Friday, and possibly longer if an operator was on duty and one agreed to pay "an after-hours opening fee". Like many Commonwealth countries, in Australia, the Federal Post Office had the monopoly on phone equipment and service. No competition, so no incentive for innovation.

In the early 1970's in Australia, the idea of having multiple phone outlets in a house, and moving a phone from one outlet to another, came of age. In my house, during the day, the phone was in my study; at night, it was moved to the bedroom. There was an Australia-wide standard plug and socket. And I had progressed to a handset with a rotary dialer. [It wasn't until I moved to the US that I found letters on a phone dialer, as well as digits.]

In 1979, I moved to Chicago in the US. Not only did those decadent Americans have multiple phone jacks in each residence, they had one in just about every room! Back then, the jack had four pins arranged in a square. However, the phone cable ended in an RJ11 plug, so an adaptor was needed from one to the other. (The humble RJ11 plug became widely used, not just in the US, but in many other countries as well.)

I bought my first PC in December 1982. A few years later, I bought my first modem, a "speedy" 300 baud model. Eventually, I bought a portable PC, and ultimately, a laptop. I also started to take them abroad, which led to the problem of connecting to foreign phone systems. As someone once said, "Standards are great; everyone should have them." And so they do, but of course, many countries each had their own, different standard. For $100, I purchased a kit of adaptors that purported to support all the main phone systems in the modern world.

Nowadays, for those of us still having a so-called landline, we have wireless handsets connected to a base station, which is connected to an RJ11 jack or to a broadband system. An increasing number of us have only a mobile phone, which operates entirely without a cable.

Power

The first house I remember living in had no electricity. We used a pressurized kerosene lantern to light the main room, a wood stove for cooking, a fireplace for heating, and a wood-chip heater for heating water on bath days. The next house had a 32-volt DC generating plant, but that drove only the lighting system; we had no electrical appliances to speak of. The house after that was connected to the mains, which, in Australia, is 240 volts, 60 HZ, with a 3-pin plug/socket where the top two blades are flat and slanted, and the third flat blade serves as the earth/ground.

In the 1970's I recall buying a stereo amplifier made in Asia. Although it had an Aussie plug, the auxiliary power outlets on its back used the US 2-pin socket.

When I left Australia in 1979, I started shaving with a hand razor, as I knew that taking electric appliances to different countries would be a challenge. However, fast forward to traveling with a video camera, laptop computers, mobile phones, and such, and we have a situation similar to that of connecting to the internet on various phone systems. The adaptor kit I mentioned earlier for phones also came with a number of power adaptors. I've found that there really are only three needed these days: US, UK, and European. (Although the Aussie socket is different to that of the US, I have an adaptor that allows the top blades to be swiveled to satisfy both. A few years ago, when spending time with a new colleague from South Africa, I discovered that country also had its own plug/socket style.) I used to have to carry a frequency converter, but newer equipment can detect differences in frequency as well as voltage, so only a pin adaptor is needed.

On the battery front, it seems that we really do have some international standards for the mainstream ones; however, there are still plenty of proprietary ones. A nice feature involves having a power-to-USB adaptor, so one can charge devices from any USB port (such as on laptops and now in more and more car models).

Audio

Once upon a time, it was all quite simple; there was the 6.3 mm (1/4") phone connector, which I knew as a phono jack, and that was it! This was the way in which one hooked up to an amplifier, a microphone, headphones, and electric pickups for guitars and other musical instruments. With the advent of personal audio devices, smaller versions of the phone connector were introduced, primarily to connect headphones and earbuds.

In the world of stereo, it was all quite simple: you could choose between RCA connectors, and, well, RCA connectors! The left-channel plug was white, and the right-channel plug was red. [I am happy to say that my stereo equipment still uses these, and they work just fine.]

A popular alternate audio mechanism was the DIN connector. [It got its name from the German Standard's organization Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN).]

Nowadays, audio support has pretty much merged with video and computers, both of which are covered below.

TV/Video

Regarding connecting to a TV antenna, I've only ever run across two approaches: a flat ribbon cable and a coaxial cable.

When it came time to connect output from a TV to other components, the established RCA cable set was extended by adding a third line with yellow plug for composite video.

Another approach to video was S-Video.

An alternate approach involved component video, with red, blue, and green plugs.

Several years ago, when I made the plunge into High-Definition TV, I discovered that the lingua franca for connecting video was now HDMI.

Computers

As with many technologies, in the early days, most connectors and cables were proprietary. However, two standards emerged early. For serial cables used to connect terminals, printers, and modems, there was the serial RS232. For faster transmission to printers, the Centronics parallel format was used.

A high-speed protocol called SCSI was developed for large-capacity storage devices; however, this was expensive and never took hold except on high-end systems.

Connections for displays have seen a number of standards, including VGA, EGA, DVI, and DisplayPort. Although VGA is a very old technology, from my experience it's the most commonly used on projectors available in conference rooms. As such, in order to project from newer laptops one needs a cable that converts to VGA.

For connecting devices in general, the most common approaches have been USB and FireWire.

One of the early ways of networking computers used 10BaseT coaxial cable with BNC connectors. Eventually, Ethernet/RJ45 became ubiquitous.

Conclusion

In the late 1970's, I worked at a State Government department in Australia, which was housed in a large high-rise building. Like many such buildings, the ceiling of each floor was made of light-weight tiles that were suspended from the concrete floor above. Above this false ceiling ran all the water and sewer pipes, and the power and phone cables. From time to time, a man would show up to move or add new phone extensions. He was ably assisted by his trusty companion, a fox terrier. The dog wore a harness to which the man attached a light cord. He then put the dog up in the ceiling and then opened a hole above where he wanted the cord pulled, stuck his head up there, and called the dog toward him. Once the cord was through, the man attached the phone cable to it and pulled that through. It was a decidedly low-tech solution, but one that worked well. Of course, everyone loved the dog, which, by the way, was legally registered for the work, so his expenses were a business deduction.

I'm reminded of a story about some futuristic archaeologists who were digging at various sites. They came across an old broadband cable and discussed how advanced that civilization was. Then when they found some buried copper wires, they remarked how that was rather primitive. At one site they found no cables at all, leading one person to proclaim this to be quite a backward society. "On the contrary", responded another person, "This is evidence that they had wireless!"

I'm sure we'll see more new kinds of cables for video and PCs in the near future as new technologies evolve.

Regarding buying cables, do shop around as prices can vary widely. Often, one can buy generic cables on-line or in hardware stores that are good enough and much cheaper than those available in specialized computer/electronics stores. And when you buy a device (such as a printer), be sure to ask if a power and/or data cable is included; it often is not. Getting a "good" price turns out not to be so good if you have to spend another $20–30 for cables.

Travel: Oh the Places I have Stayed

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Earlier this year, I was sitting in the lounge of a very nice hotel in Prague, Czech Republic, waiting for my room to be readied. I'd arrived three hours before check-in time. I'd flown overnight from the US, and despite being in Business Class, I'd had no sleep, so jetlag was taking hold. In order to keep myself awake "just one more hour", I started thinking about all the different kinds of places I'd stayed in 35 years of domestic and international travel. My notes from that led to this essay.

I've limited the places to those for which I have paid. The categories are in no particular order. FYI, my top priorities are a clean, non-smoking room, a comfortable bed, seriously hot water, heavy curtains to keep out the light, and quiet. The rest of the so-called amenities are generally wasted on me. And for the most part, when moving around on personal travel, I like to make it up as I go along.

Hotel Chains

I've stayed at more than a few of them, from the low end to the high. The higher the number of stars, the more I am repulsed, I kid you not! Give me a 1- or 2-star place any day.

When on personal travel, I've often been seen at a Motel 6, a U.S. national chain that when it was started, charged $6/night. Now I am also a fan of the Denny's restaurant chain, so when I found a Motel 6 with a Denny's in its parking lot, in Anaheim, California, not far from Disneyland, I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven! And a Red Roof Inn suits me fine as well.

Throughout this year, I've made a number of trips to Silicon Valley where I've paid $200–250/night at a national chain, and that is far less than many charge in that neighborhood. As I work very long hours, often leaving and getting back in the dark, the facilities for which I'm paying are totally wasted. Basically, I'm only there to sleep and bathe.

Rented Rooms

Although I first learned about Airbnb some years ago, I didn't use it until late 2013. This site allows people to rent out spare bedrooms in their apartments, houses, castles, and so forth. I've used it in Amsterdam, Netherlands; Salzburg, Austria; and Madrid, Spain; and all were good experiences. After years of staying with host families, this is my new form of accommodation when on personal travel.

A few years ago, I walked the paths between the famed five towns of Cinque Terre, in northwest Italy. Throughout, I was based in a private house in the village of Vernazza. The landlady spoke no English and I spoke no Italian, but we got along just fine.

A fine way to experience the countryside in Bavaria and surrounds is to rent a room in a zimmer frei (spare room in German), which people advertise on handmade signs outside their houses and farmhouses.

I arrived in the sleepy town of Viejo on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica to find the place I'd planned to stay to be booked out. However, the staff directed me to a house nearby that was built on stilts. If the owner, Ms. Mary, liked the look of you, you might be able to convince her to rent you the room under the house. She did and I paid about $7/night for three nights. The next morning, as I was waiting for the daily 1–2 inches of rain to stop, she came out and started calling, "Rex". Now how did she know my name? It turns out that was the name of her Jack Russell dog, and when I told her that was my name, she refused to believe it. "That's a dog's name", she said. To which I replied, "Woof!"

Motor homes

I've had three experiences: a small unit for two adults and a child in Alaska, a medium-sized unit for four adults and a child in South Dakota, and a large unit for three adults and two pre-teens in Montana and Wyoming.

Having a motor home solves three main problems: where to sleep, how to get around, and where to eat. Of course, you need to find a place to pull up for the night that isn't illegal or dangerous. [When we were in Alaska, the law was that one could stay overnight at any place there was a state trash bin. My thought was that if we took one of those bins with us, we could put it out wherever we liked and stay there, but apparently that was not the intention.]

After a week or two in a motor home, you realize just how little you really need to live, and all the stuff you have is almost within arm's reach of the dining table.

There are several downsides, however. First, if a van is advertised to sleep X people, two of those would be sleeping in the bed that goes over the dining table, so using that requires you to fold and unfold that bed every day. Second, the beds can be short and/or narrow. For example, I took up the whole of a so-called "double bed". Third, the water and waste water storage is limited and the shower cubicle is small, especially for someone as tall as I am. During my trips, every three days or so, I've made sure to stay at a campground with a shower block.

Japanese Inns

These are called Ryokan, and I've used them quite a few times. A room can accommodate as many people as they can fit futons on the floor. None of those US-like rules of "The Fire Marshall limits this room to two [or three] people!" The downside is that the cost is based on a price per person, with kids paying the same as adults. None of this "A couple is a little bit more than a single, and kids under 18 in the same room stay for free!"

What's the downside? As I get older and my body slows down, getting down on the floor and back up again requires some serious effort. Most rooms do not have chairs or writing tables, which makes it hard to use a laptop computer. Any table provided is probably about 12 inches high and is used to serve tea. While some tables come with cushions to sit on the floor, others come with chairs with no legs, just bases and a back. When sitting on one of these, I can find no good place to put my very long legs! All that said, I like such places and the tradition that goes along them, especially wearing (and sleeping in) the yukata robe and obi sash, and wearing the slippers.

Hazardous Places

As I write this, I'm just wrapping up a 2-week trip in Japan. Many accommodations include a flashlight by the bed. At first glance, it seems like an unusual accessory to have in a room, but once you think about having an earthquake, you'll be happy to be able to find your way out of your room when the power goes out in the middle of the night. (I've experienced two earthquakes in Japan, both at night. For one of them, I was in a hotel, but there was no evacuation. After all, it only measured 2.5!)

Several times, I've stayed on the Korean island of Jeju (sometimes called Cheju), and that area can be subject to a variety of natural disasters. My room had a balcony on which was an emergency escape kit that included a rope ladder with hooks. If one could not leave one's room via the door, one hung the ladder over the edge of the balcony and climbed down to the floor below, and then repeated the process using the next floor's ladder.

Sleeping on the Move

I've slept four nights on a cruise ship off the coast of Florida. I've also slept a couple of nights on a train. I'd like to say I've slept on a plane in Economy class, but that would be a very rare case. I have, however, had some decent sleeps in International Business and First Classes. However, only the latter beds are long and wide enough for my frame to completely fit.

My First International Experience

My first trip outside Australia just happened to be when my wife and I left Australia to live, work, and travel abroad. Our first port of call was in Hong Kong (which was still a British territory). Our Cathay Pacific flight included two nights at an up-scale hotel, complete with Colonial-style uniformed staff. After that, we were on our own, and we located a cheap, Chinese-run place. Although there might have been a front desk, all I recall was that each floor had an attendant who sat on a rickety chair at an old wooden desk, and it was his job to "watch" that floor. Each time we came back to our room, he'd welcome us and then open the adjacent fire-hose cabinet in which there were a row of hooks with keys for each room. And we'd hand him our key each time we went out. The contrast between the two places was huge, and I remember the doorman at the first hotel looking strangely at us when he put us in a taxi to go to the second place and asked us where he should direct the driver.

Roughing It

At short notice, I booked a 10-day trip to the wilds of the Amazon Jungle in northeast Peru. The first night, we stayed at a Holiday Inn; the power went out during the night. The next two nights were at a base camp where the jetsetters could stay and claim to be in the jungle, but still have ice with their drinks, kitchen staff, and electricity. After that, we each slept in the middle of a clearing under an open-sided thatched roof with a mosquito net over us on very old and soiled mattresses. All the food was cooked by the local Indians and was rather nondescript. Ablutions consisted of a bucket of cold water and a towel.

Of course, many people consider having a room without an en-suite bathroom to be "camping". I've stayed in many places with share baths and toilets, and lived to tell about it. (The most recent was last week in a ryokan in Tokyo.)

Speaking of camping, at one place we pitched our tent in rural US, we saw electrical outlets at tent sites, and wondered what they were for. The answer was obvious that evening when we saw one family with a TV and microwave oven in their tent.

Sleeping outside can be interesting, although I've never woken up to find a wild animal sniffing at my face, like some people I know. However, the night I slept outdoors at Kakadu National Park in Australia, no more than 100 yards from the creek where there were crocodiles, I confess to sleeping with one eye open. I figured that if I slept in the middle of the group, I'd probably be woken by their screams if the crocs came for a snack. On another occasion, we arrived in town quite late at night on a big holiday weekend. There was no accommodation available, so we slept in sleeping bags on the dunes by the beach. I woke to find I'd made camp over the entrance to an ant hill, and they'd all come to join me in my bag. Don't you hate that when that happens? I also spent a rough night in the Aussie Outback on a camel safari.

For my second adventure trip, I joined a group on a hiker's trip across Patagonia in Chile and Argentina. Although we slept in two-person tents (with me sharing with a retired New York City policeman), porters brought bowls of hot water to our tents each morning, and we had a chef/cook who put together some impressive meals, along with wine and cheese in the early evening. When there was luggage to be carried, that was done by cowboys with packhorses.

The Small

Almost certainly the smallest space in which I've stayed is what I call a "shoebox" hotel in Tokyo (in which I'm sitting as I write this). The total living space was about twice the size of the single bed. There was also an en-suite bathroom. It had everything I needed, and I could just about reach everything from the center. It was compact, but practical. I have no wish to stay in a Japanese capsule hotel, however!

The Large

Two places come to mind, both of them suites. The first was in Tartu, the university, and second largest, city of Estonia. After staying with hosts for six nights, we decided to splurge, and we stayed in one of two top-tier places, the Pallas Hotel. This suite had four separate rooms, and the bedroom walls and ceiling had been painted by university art students in the style of a famous Estonian painter from the 1920's. The colors on the walls seem to drip down to the blood-red carpet, and I could imagine waking up in the night thinking that the nightmare was real! That said, it was a very nice room and hotel with very friendly staff.

The second was in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The room rate posted on the wall said US$2,200/night, which I expect was actually charged on/near New Year's Eve. However, as part of a conference-group booking, I paid just 10% of that, $220. There was a big-screen TV at the foot of the bed and another in the lounge. A full-size fax machine sat on a table next to the Queen Ann furniture. Of course, there was a phone on the wall of the separate toilet room.

The Low End

Prior to joining a hiking trip in San Diego, Chile, I spent some days on the Pacific coast in Valparaiso, the home of the Chilean Navy. There, I stayed at the Reina Victoria (Queen Victoria) Hotel on the waterfront. The price of the rooms went up by $2 with each level, and I think I paid about $6–8/night. As I checked in, the clerk asked me what time I'd like coffee brought to my room each morning. Using my very basic Spanish, I requested hot tea instead, at 8 am. The clerk said that he understood, yet coffee was delivered at 7 am the next day.

I also remember a rather dingy place in the Red-Light district of Amsterdam near the main railway station. And yes, you could rent it for the whole night, not just by the hour! The "lobby" was very dark and somewhere hidden there was a large bird in a cage that screeched when someone entered. And the rough bathroom area smelled heavily of bleach. (Perhaps someone had been removing bloodstains!)

I did, however, have a perfectly decent room in Montevideo, Uruguay for $12/night.

The High End

I've mentioned the suites earlier, and I've stayed in a number of other 4- and 5-star joints. One I actually like is the K+K in old-town Prague (whose lobby I was sitting in when I got the idea for this essay). Its breakfast area is largely made of glass and it seems to be suspended in air. Another fine property was the Priory in Bath, England. There was none of this crass numbering of rooms; instead, all were named for flowers, and I was in the Marigold room, don't you know!

The Very High End

It used to be that five stars was the top of the rating system, but seven-odd years ago, I stayed in a so-called 6-star Kempinski Hotel in Geneva. Now that city is already expensive without going looking to spend more, but I was part of a very large business group staying there, and I wasn't paying! On arrival, I found a large box of chocolates on my bed, and then a small packet again each other day. The terry-toweling bath robe was so luxurious I felt a bit like a polar bear. Around the walls of the large lobby, a few feet up from the floor, was a panel of smoky grey glass behind which a gas fire burned. Every time I saw it I immediately thought of one of my high school novels, The Loved One, by Evelyn Waugh, which was set in a funeral home with crematorium. I doubt that was the image the management had in mind. Breakfast was a grand buffet that cost US$45. I just wanted a croissant, a cup of coffee, and a small pastry, so I was directed to the ala-cart menu. I ordered from that, and that cost only $42! Despite that fact it wasn't my money I was spending, each morning after that, I walked to the main train station nearby where I ate with the locals without having to take out a second mortgage.

Although I didn't stay there, while I was in Hong Kong in 1979, I did walk through the afternoon-tea room of the fabled Peninsular Hotel (which has a fleet of Rolls Royces to ferry around its VIP customers). Let's just say that it was "over the top", but in a veddy dignified British way!

There are now 7-star properties, one of which I drove by recently in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Locked In!

We spent several nights in Singapore in a non-descript place. It was early evening, and we planned to go out after midnight to the famous "Boogie Street" where cross-dressers, transsexuals, and others paraded around in their finery. As we were a little tired, we decided to sleep for a few hours and to set the alarm for some time after midnight. We slept, our alarm went off, we dressed, but once we got downstairs, we found a huge metal grate across the entrance, and it was locked. And although we could hear someone snoring back in the office area, we couldn't get anyone to come and let us out. Fortunately, we also had no need to make an emergency evacuation that night.

Hostels

My first stay in a Youth Hostel was in Anchorage, Alaska, where I was traveling with my wife and small son. We had our own family room and had to do chores as part of our stay. It was a good, first experience. As part of a trip to Chile, I stayed in a hostel in the up-scale coastal town of Viña del Mar. One day as I lay on my bed reading, two guys starting pulling apart the old bunk beds, taking them outside, and replacing them with new ones. As the men were quite short, I offered to help them with the upper sections, especially pushing bolts through as they assembled the new sets. As I wrote in my diary that day, it gave a whole new meaning to "having to make my own bed".

My son and I were in a huge men's dormitory in the Netherlands, while my wife was with the women. The problem with this kind of place is that there are always loud and inconsiderate people coming in very late and/or leaving very early. One person insisted on packing and repacking their gear several times using plastic bags that made a lot of noise when handled. In Milan, Italy, I actually stayed in a hostel while attending a 5-day conference. Unfortunately, it had restricted hours in that one had to be out after 9:30 am and could not get back in until around 5 pm. Many of the people staying there was itinerant workers from Peru, of all places!

The hostel in upper Manhattan, New York City, was a 400-room hotel that had been renovated. We had a family room that slept four, and a key-card lock. It really was a decent place and not at all like a typical hostel.

My first two nights in San Jose, Costa Rica, were in a room sharing with three other guys, from three different countries. We exchanged stories and travel tips and then each headed out to different parts of the country. To our surprise, without any coordination, three days later we were all back, sharing the same room. The Norwegian guy had recently been in intensive-Spanish training in the old Guatemalan city of Antigua, and he passed on the address of his accommodation and details of his language course. Although I had no interest in that at the time, a year later, I was knocking on that house door and I stayed two weeks at $5/night, room only, and had private Spanish lessons each day for $2/hour.

Our first week in Chicago in 1979 (after moving to the US from Australia) was spent in the YMCA. We were waiting for funds to be transferred to us, so we could rent an apartment, and as we ran out of money, we found that we couldn't afford to stay, yet we couldn't afford to leave either!

B&Bs and Pubs

I've experienced quite a few of these, especially over the 21 days I hiked the Thames Path. (See my essay from July 2011: A Walk along the River.) One regular place I stay in London has bathrooms so small that once one is inside the shower stall and starts the water, the shower curtain clings tightly to one's body in the initial seconds. In Wales, we started our visit with a B&B and later stayed one night as the only guests in a country pub whose proprietor was very happy to have us as guests. In a B&B in Dublin, on the wall was the quote from George Bernard Shaw that went something like, "Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire!" I spent two nights in a nice B&B near the beach in Bray, just south of Dublin, which came complete with a very friendly dog. I had a series of decent B&Bs during my week in Cornwall and Devon.

Odds and Ends

I had an around-the-world plane ticket that required me to stay in at least three cities, but I only needed to stop in two. As such, I stayed a little more than 24 hours in the bridal suite of a small hotel in the town of Incheon, near Korea's international airport. The way in which the room was decorated reminded me of movies showing bordellos. It was most amusing. I was traveling solo, and the hotel didn't even provide me with a bride! Another time in Korea, on Jeju Island, I stayed in a new hotel that catered for honeymooners. I soon discovered that no matter what I asked any staff member, they always answered, "Yes".

On our first stop during a 10-day winter-time tour of County Kent in England, we arrived at the Gatehouse Hotel that is literally built into the wall at the front of the Canterbury Cathedral. When they quoted us their prices, we said we wanted something cheaper, to which they replied that they had a quaint double room up in the attic. It was more than adequate, but the entrance door was no more than four feet high. And the floor was on quite a lean with one end of each bed's legs having extensions to keep the beds level.

We stayed one night in Bombay, India, and the tourist literature said not to drink water from taps, but rather from the bottles in the hotel room. We dutifully followed this advice, but when we came back to the hotel, we saw a staff member filling those bottles from a tap!

When we landed at Heathrow in London in 1979, we visited the tourist office and asked for some place cheap. The woman looked down her nose and said, "Then it will have to be in South Kensington". It was quite a nice place, actually. At least it wasn't Earls Bloody Court!

I flew to Cancun on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico for a two-week trip without any accommodation reservations. By the time I got to Tulum, it was dark, and I had a taxi driver help me find a cheap place to stay down near the beach. I refer to the place I settled on as the House of Sticks (from the "Three Little Pigs"). The walls literally were made of one-inch diameter rough, crooked sticks between which all kinds of critters could squeeze. The roof was thatched palm fronds, and from the rafters hung a new queen-size bed on thick ropes. The room was not much bigger than that bed, and came with a large fan on a tall pole. A mosquito net covered the bed. At $30/night, it wasn't cheap, but it was an interesting experience. Oh, there was no traditional door key; instead, a padlock was used to secure a large metal bolt.

At the end of a two-week trip backpacking from Mexico City and back via Vera Cruz and the Pacific Coast, I stayed in a gothic-style, mini-castle built by a wealthy, eccentric Brit named Edward James, which was being renovated by a young American couple. They were not yet open for business, but were happy to take my money as my room had been completed.

One Christmas, we spent several days on the quaint Dutch island of Saba, just off the south coast of Saint Martin. When sailors arrived there to settle they found no timber for construction, so they dismantled their ships and made houses from them. We stayed in one such Saba Cottage.

One place I've stayed at numerous times is on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, way off the tourist track. Each room had its own kitchen, and no phone or TV. The waves crashed on the beach under the coconut trees ten yards from the window. It even came with a very nice dog, Babe. (She has since passed away, and is buried behind the building in which I stay.) Every afternoon, she'd come to visit me and lie on the cool tile floor of my room. A room by the beach and with a great dog is hard to beat!

Conclusion

My pet peeve about accommodations is the all-in-one bedcovers that are common throughout Europe and other countries. I generate a lot of body heat, and without any way to remove a layer or two of bedding, it's either too hot or too cold, never the Goldilocks "just right". Over the years, I've developed some inventive workarounds.

Despite all those stories about traveling salesmen who have broken down in a rural area and need a place to stay overnight, I've never been invited to spend the night sharing with a farmer's daughter!

English – Part 5: Adjectives

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In Part 4, we looked at pronouns. This time, we'll look at adjectives. An adjective (abbrev. adj.) is a word that describes a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun.

An attributive adjective precedes the noun or noun phrase; for example, White in "White House". [Interestingly, in the romance languages, adjectives follow the nouns; for example, "casa blanca" (white house in Spanish, but literally house, white), "monte verde" (mountain, green in Spanish), and "Baton Rouge" (stick, red in French.]

A predicative adjective takes the place of a predicate. For example, a predicate version of "He is a happy man." is "He is happy."

An adjective becomes nominal when its noun is implied, as in "I preferred the old version, but he preferred the new [version]"

Some adjectives can go before or after a noun, as in "proper house" and "house proper", which have different meanings.

Compound Adjectives

When an adjective is made up of multiple words, it is a compound adjective. Ordinarily, these words are hyphenated, as in "easy-going man", "sky-high prices", "10-year-old boy", and "hard-to-get toy". Of course, like all good rules, there are exceptions: hyphenate a two-word compound except when the first word ends in -ly, as in "hotly debated topic", "hastily drawn conclusion", and "mostly unfounded claim". Of course, when used in another context, such as a predicate, the same words do not have that hyphen. For example, in "He is easy going."

Possessive Adjectives

As their name suggests, possessive adjectives indicate possession. These adjectives are:

 

Possessive Adjectives

 

Singular

Plural

1st Person

my

our

2st Person

your

your

3st Person

his, hers, its

their

However, don't confuse these with their possessive-pronoun counterparts mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours, and theirs.

The word whose is a possessive adjective.

For example:

  • "My car is blue."
  • "Which are your containers?" "Her bins have her name on them."
  • I believe this is their chair."
  • "Whose turn is it?"
  • "She's a person whose imagination knows no bounds."

The archaic version is thy, as in the Biblical quote, "Thy will be done", from the Lord's Prayer.

See also "generic you" and "determiners" below.

The Generic "you"

If one speaks with a plum in one's mouth, or one attended a proper boarding school, one might use the words one, oneself, and one's when referring to an unspecified person. For example, while in everyday speech we might say, "You must do your best", the more formal version would be "One must do one's best". As one can clearly see, one's is a possessive adjective.

Determiners

Question: "When is an adjective not an adjective?" Answer: "When it is a determiner." Just when I was convinced there were only eight parts of speech in English, I found that someone (probably a lonely bloke called Ronald who as a child never had a pet) sitting in his ivory, linguistic tower, decided that, "No, some words simply can no longer be consider adjectives! Let's invent a new category and call it determiner, but only on Wednesdays, after 3 pm!"

In a previous installment, I raised the question as to what part of speech is an article (the, a, and and)? All of my dictionaries say these words are articles whereas for all other words, they actually tell me the part of speech. (Just like them to avoid the issue completely!)

To set the record straight, here's a direct quote from Wikipedia: "A determiner is a word, phrase or affix that occurs together with a noun or noun phrase and serves to express the reference of that noun or noun phrase in the context. That is, a determiner may indicate whether the noun is referring to a definite or indefinite element of a class, to a closer or more distant element, to an element belonging to a specified person or thing, to a particular number or quantity, etc. Common kinds of determiners include definite and indefinite articles (like the English the and a or an), demonstratives (this and that), possessive determiners (my and their), and quantifiers (many, few and several)."

As suggested above, another group of words that fall into this category is cardinal numbers. For example, "those 10 books", "the three little pigs", and "the seven wonders of the world". On the other hand, the ordinal numbers—first, second, third, and so on—are adjectives.

Adjective Order

It is quite common to apply multiple adjectives to the same noun. For example, "a little old lady" and "the big red shiny ball". In such cases, is there a suggested or required order for them? The hyperlink for this section leads to a detailed explanation, but here's the gist of what Wikipedia says in this regard. ' … the adjective order in English is Determiners, Observation, Size and shape, Age, Color, Origin, Material, Qualifier … adjectives pertaining to size precede adjectives pertaining to age ("little old", not "old little"), which in turn generally precede adjectives pertaining to color ("old white", not "white old"). So, we would say "One (quantity) nice (opinion) little (size) round (shape) old (age) white (color) brick (material) house."' To borrow from Winston Churchill, the complexity of that previous sentence "is something up with which I will not put".

Comparison to Adverbs

We'll cover adverbs in a future installment, but a few comments regarding them are useful here. While an adjective qualifies a noun (or pronoun), an adverb qualifies a verb. For example, in the adjectival example, "the slow boat", the noun boat is slow. In the adverbial example, "the boat goes slowly", the verb go is modified. There are many such pairs of words, with the adverbial member ending in -ly. Occasionally, the exact same word can be an adjective or an adverb, depending on the usage. For example, "the tall man" vs. "the man stood tall".

The "fewer" vs. "less" Debate

For a long time now, these two words have been used as synonyms. However, there are those who argue that there is an important difference between the two. The issue has to do with whether the noun being modified is countable. For example, "There is less ice", but "There are fewer ice cubes". The noun ice is not countable while ice cubes is.

What about "The interest rate is less than 1%." Should that be less be fewer? No. While one could count whole percentage points, interest rates are often quoted with one, two, or even three decimal places, the values of which are not, in any whole-number sense, countable.

By the way, fewer is classified as a determiner while less is an adjective.

For more details, click here.

Conclusion

I do have one pet peeve regarding the use of adjectives: despite its extensive use by speakers of American English and claims by various (apparently inferior) dictionaries, fun is not an adjective. We did not have a fun time at the beach. Rather, we had a good/great time. Now, don't let me catch you misusing this again!

Travel: Memories of the Benelux Countries

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

According to Wikipedia, Benelux "is a union of states comprising three neighboring countries in Midwestern Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The union's name is a portmanteau formed from joining the first syllable of each country's name – Belgium Netherlands Luxembourg – and was first used to name the customs agreement that initiated the union (signed in 1944). It is now used in a more general way to refer to the geographic, economic and cultural grouping of the three countries."

I've been to The Netherlands quite a few times, but only once to Luxembourg, and twice to Belgium. On one trip, with my wife and young son, we visited all three. On that trip, we flew with Icelandair to Luxembourg, via Reykjavik (where we stayed three days), then went by train to Paris where I attended a conference. From there, our Benelux Rail Pass took us to Brussels, Amsterdam, and, finally, back to Luxembourg. We flew back home via Iceland, but with no stop-over. Compared to most rail passes, this one allowed considerable flexibility. One could use it for any five days over a 15-day period.

Belgium

Official Name: Kingdom of Belgium; Capital: Brussels; Language: Dutch, French, and German; Country Code: BE; Currency: Euro (€ or EUR), formerly the Belgian franc.

Belgium is made up of two distinct regions, each with its own language and culture. The people of Flanders speak Flemish, a language closely related to Dutch, while the Walloons Speak French. Belgium is rather a new country, having only gained independence in 1830.

My first visit was a family vacation, and we arrived by train from Paris. We had no hotel reservation, but soon found a place to stay. As I was reading some tourist information, I discovered the famous Waterloo battlefield was on the outskirts of Brussels, so we rode a local bus to have a look. While having a picnic lunch there we met a Canadian family, attached to their country's embassy, and they had a daughter the same age as our son. They offered us a ride back to the city and invited us to spend the rest of the day with them at their house for supper, after which they took us back to our hotel. (Such random acts of kindness are what make traveling great!)

We discovered that our hotel was on the edge of the Arab Quarter, which gave us some interesting shops to explore. One morning we woke up and when we looked out the window, the previously deserted square was filled with stalls. A huge market was in progress. We also visited the famous bird market where people bought and sold caged birds.

We took a day trip to Bruges, the lace capital, and another to Oostende on the English Channel coast.

Nearly 20 years later, I was back in Brussels for a 2-day business meeting. Although I didn't spend any extra time there, I did walk the streets each evening to look at the old part of the city.

Luxembourg

Official Name: Grand Duchy of Luxembourg; Capital: Luxembourg City; Language: French, German, and Luxembourgish; Country Code: LU; Currency: Euro (€ or EUR), formerly the Luxembourg franc.

We rode a bus to the city of Luxembourg from the airport. From some tourist brochures I got some hotel phone numbers, and I proceeded to call around to try and find a place to stay. Eventually, we finished up at one where the staff spoke only French, which we did not speak. After we settled in, I went out to find a shop to buy juice, milk, and some snacks; however, by the time I got back, it was dark, and nothing looked familiar. Eventually, I found what looked like our hotel, and on the ground level was a bar and in its window sat a "Lady of the Evening" exhibiting her wares to passersby. Yes, Dear Reader, our hotel was in the heart of the Red Light District!

The hotel room did not have a bathroom; that was out in the hall. Imagine if you will a very large storage closet into which a prefabricated shower cubicle had been placed. The interesting problem was that you opened the closet door then opened the shower cubicle, but once you got inside that, you couldn't close the outer door. You needed a second person to help you get in/out of the shower/closet. It really was so ridiculous it was funny.

We spent half a day at the American War Graves Cemetery where we visited the grave of US Army General George Patton. Ordinarily, the policy is to bury all ranks together, but as Patton was so popular, it was presumed there would be heavy traffic to his grave, so it was set away from the other soldiers.

We rented a car for several days and drove out in to the countryside. We spent time in Wiltz where an American tank from WWII was sitting in the middle of a plaza. Luxembourg is a small country, and we saw most of it over a few days.

At the time, my son was only two years old, so we mostly ate at kid-friendly places that we knew would serve us quickly. That included Pizza Hut! The first time we did that, I struggled with the French menu and my little English-French dictionary, and after I'd placed our order, I noticed a small English version of the menu on the back page. C'est la vie!

The Netherlands

Official Name: the Kingdom of the Netherlands; Capital: Amsterdam; Language: Dutch, West Frisian (in the province [and former independent kingdom] of Friesland), Limburgish (in the province of Limburg), and Dutch Low Saxon (in the northeast); Country Code: NL; Currency: Euro (€ or EUR), formerly the Dutch Guilder.

From a 2008 visit to Amsterdam, Haren, and Delft:

[Diary from Amsterdam] At the Schiphol International Airport (AMS), the luggage was quite late in arriving. In the meantime, I asked a cash machine for 200 Euros, which it happily dispensed. The customs folks sat around talking, paying little attention to passengers, but as I approached the exit, one of them decided he needed to appear to be working, and, since I looked rather suspicious, he pulled me over and inspected my case. I was coming in from Oslo, Norway, and he was interested primarily in whether I was carrying any fish. Once he was satisfied I wasn't hiding anything, he thanked me for my cooperation and wished me a good day.

[Diary] From Amsterdam I rode a train to Groningen, the capital of the province of the same name. My stop was the last one before the end. One interesting challenge is that mid-trip, the train splits into two, with one part going off to Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland. Over the years, I have found it best to be in the right half of the train when this happens. Once again, I had a whole carriage to myself, so I checked to see if I'd remembered to put on deodorant that morning.

[Diary from Haren] Dessert consisted of fresh fruit with vla (pronounced "fla"), which is Dutch custard; it comes in many flavors. I love vla, and when asked why I'm going to the Netherlands, I always respond, "For the vla, of course!"

[Diary] After a breakfast of tea, bread and cheese, my friend Wietske and I set out on bikes for a ride into the countryside. After an hour, we pulled into a village restaurant for morning tea. I was definitely ready for a rest, as I probably hadn't ridden a bike in the year since I was last here. I had my usual, koffie verkeerd (literally "wrong coffee", as they put a little coffee into hot milk rather than the other way around). We also had a nice large slice of appelgebak mit slagroom (apple pie with whipped cream). After a 45-minute break, my upper legs were rather weak when I stood up. It was right about then I remembered Nietzsche's famous quote, "Was mich nicht umbrinkt macht mich sterker." ("That which does not kill me can only make me stronger.")

From a 2009 visit to Delft, Utrecht, and Haren:

[Diary from Delft] I met some colleagues, and we walked around the city in the sunshine. We took a 50-minute canal tour during which a young Dutch man gave us an overview of the city's architecture and history, and told us all about the East and West Indies Companies and merchants' houses on the canals. Delft was the home of the famous painter Vermeer, and a favorite place for William of Orange to stay. He did so because he thought it the safest place to be, yet he was assassinated there. After our boat tour, we stopped in at a small restaurant for coffee and apple pie. We sat in an indoor garden complete with several large macaws, although they didn't seem to speak any Dutch. As we came out of the restaurant, it drizzled lightly. One colleague and I went off to tour a museum and gallery where I got my cultural fix for the trip. By the time we came outside again, the sun was streaming down, so we strolled in the adjacent gardens.

[Diary from Utrecht] I arrived in the new town of Vleuten right on time, and there on the platform was my friend Elsa. We drove to her house nearby where her husband, Eduard, was working. We'd all met some 15 years earlier when they'd stayed with me during a 3-month driving trip around the US. I'd last seen them in 2001 when I stayed overnight on my way to the Schiphol airport. We sat outdoors sipping tea and catching up with each other's news. We ate supper outdoors. Then, after the kids went to bed, we drank coffee and port while we talked some more.

[Diary] Friend Jochem arrived to take me to his house in Houten, a suburb to the southeast of Utrecht. There, his wife, Floor, met us with their three girls, Bente, Jade, and Liane. (I met Jochem and Floor in 2002 in Puerto Rico when they were on their honeymoon.) We talked over tea, and then walked around their development, stopping to feed carrots to some pet rabbits, and bread to some ducks. It was overcast out with occasional sun, and a lot of wind. Back home, we drank more tea and ate a variety of snacks. The oldest daughter, Bente, decided she liked me, and took up a position on my lap. She had recently started to learn to read Dutch, and she showed me several of her favorite books. Her younger sister, Jade was not at all too sure about the foreign-speaking giant, so she kept her distance.

[Diary] Jochem, Bente, and I drove through the countryside through sheep farms and apple and plums orchards. In downtown Utrecht, we parked in a garage, and walked to the big church in the old town. There, we bought tickets for the 12-o'clock tour of the church tower. We had some time to kill, so went into the church and neighboring gardens. At noon, a large group of us gathered for a 50-minute guided tour in Dutch and English. In total, we climbed more than 400 steep steps for a 360-degree view over the city. The largest bell in the tower weighed 8,000 kg, and it had a 250 kg clapper, which was the weight of the smallest bell. In the street, we stopped to listen to a man playing Spanish guitar, and then to two men playing Baroque music on button accordions.

[Diary from Haren] I arrived at Haren station and walked on several familiar paths until I came to the house of my good friends, Gerard and Wietske, and their teenage girls, Marly and Suze. I'd last seen them in April 2008. As soon as we met, we picked up from where we left off last time. After supper, we drank tea and talked of many things. Gerard's latest book, about a German SS officer, had been published, and he was hard at work on another one, about a US marine during the Pacific campaign in WWII. And he had a day job besides.

[Diary] I was up at 08:30, and I had a cup of tea with Gerard. After that, he did some warm-up exercises in preparation for a 12-km run. We left the house with Gerard stretching out, and me on a bike, which was just about an even match given the difference in our respective fitness levels. We wound around the edge of Haren and out through several other villages and long dark paths through the forest. The Netherlands probably has the best support for bike riding of any country.

[Diary] Early afternoon, Wietske suggested a ride to a village having a 2-day festival. Soon after, she, Suze, and I set out on the 7-km trip through forests. The main feature of the festival was a series of floats decorated with flowers, foliage, and vegetables. Each one had a theme, and most had people in costume for their theme. Given the perishable nature of the decorations, they had been completed only the day before. The floats were impressive. There was live music, and we listened for some time to a choir of over-60s singing old tunes in English. They were having a great time. There were numerous stalls selling clothing, food, and toys. Mid-afternoon, we peddled back home.

From a 2013 visit to Amsterdam, Haren, Utrecht, and Delft:

[Diary] Now I didn't actually want to be in Germany; it's just that my preferred airline group, Star Alliance, didn't fly directly from London to Amsterdam. The best they could do was to route me through Frankfurt, which was probably more than four times the direct distance. C'est la vie! Well, I followed the Connecting Flights signs, but I still had to go through passport control and security even though I was only in-country about an hour. The alarm went off when I walked through security, and I was subjected to a rigorous hand-check. The security officer gave me a series of instructions in German, to which I replied, "Auf English, bitte." (In English please.) And his reply, in English, was, "I speak only German!"

To say that I walked a half-marathon to my gate would be exaggerating a bit, but it sure was a long way. At least I didn't have to change terminals! No sooner had I arrived at Gate A34, that I found a woman from Mexico who spoke only Spanish, and she needed help finding her gate. So I took her to the flight display, looked at her boarding pass, and directed her to a gate nearby. I found that my basic Spanish was a bit rusty as I struggled to remember my numbers.

In the waiting area I sat next to a very interesting young Dutch woman who was returning home to Utrecht from 12 days holiday on the island of Malta. She was a PhD student doing research on various aspects of cancer. We talked of many things and I discovered that in the Netherlands graduate students get paid a stipend. She would graduate in a year and planned to do post-grad work in London.

Boarding was called and being an elite flyer, I got to board Flight LH1002 early. At the entrance I asked the young flight attendant if the plane was going somewhere near Amsterdam. She replied with a smile, "No, we're going to Brussels, but you can get a taxi from there." We both laughed and agreed that, it's the journey, not the destination!

[Diary from Amsterdam] The Amsterdam International Airport (AMS) is called Schiphol and is up to 11 feet below sea level, so I hope that little Dutch boy keeps his finger in the dijk (dike). The name comes from "Ship Grave", a reference to the fact that numerous ships sank in the area before it was reclaimed.

[Diary] I had decided to do one significant activity that day, and that was to visit the Dutch Resistance Museum dealing with WWII. I spent more than 2½ hours looking at videos, reading information, and listening to an English-language headset. It was very well done and most informative. Of course, the theme suggests the problems the Dutch had with the occupation by the Germans, but one section of exhibits dealt with the impact of Japan's entering the war. Japan attacked and overran the Dutch East Indies. After the war, the Dutch expected to go back to the way things were there, but Sukarno and others pushed for independence, which eventually came in 1949. One theme I came away with was, during such an occupation, should the people "adapt, collaborate, or resist"? I guess we really won't know which we'd do until we're placed in that position.

I took the tram back into the downtown getting off at Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square). There, right in the middle of the square was a large statue of the great painter, surrounded by many bronze, armed men. There were many tourists and locals lazing in the sun, and as I watched, a half a dozen policemen and women walked among the groups of people inspecting their bags, presumably for drugs.

I decided to enjoy the sunshine and I walked along a canal to the square in front of the palace. Along the way, I stopped to take photos of bikes, bridges, tour boats, canals, and interesting signs. I jumped aboard a Number 14 tram and headed back to my neighborhood. There, I dropped by a supermarket to rescue two liters of volle melk (whole milk), a liter of sinaasapplesap (orange juice), and a carton of vanillavla (vanilla custard). (As a growing boy, I have to keep up my strength!)

[Diary] In the lift going down I met an American woman living in Berlin. Together, we walked to catch the tram. Having mastered the public transport system the previous day, I was ready for bigger moves, such as changing from one tram to another! After two very fast trips, I was standing at the end of a long line waiting to get into the van Gogh Museum. I wondered why it was so popular. Perhaps word had gotten around that Vinnie had cut off his other ear! The line moved quickly and I paid for €20-worth of culture, which included an audio/video guide. Two hours and four floors later I still didn't understand art, sigh. [This was my second visit to that museum. My first was 32 years earlier during my first visit to Amsterdam.] A number of his works looked familiar. These included two of his sunflower series, several self-portraits (but not my favorite one done with dots), and The Potato Eaters. When I saw Still life with cabbage and clogs, I almost wanted to cut off my own ear! He certainly lived the life of a tortured artist, and died by his own hand at age 37. To be sure, the highlight of my visit was the restaurant, where I had a bowl of tomato and parsley soep (soup) and a saucijzen broodje (sausage roll). It was more food than I needed, but it sure was good.

The large, open space behind the museum was full of tents and people with what appeared to be a festival to promote all the museums and galleries around the city. The public was out in force with entertainment, food, and drink all around. An impressive, huge building dominated the end of the park, and I walked over to take a look at it. It was the Rijksmuseum. I wondered around its gardens and main hall, but declined to go into the exhibits.

There was a tram stop nearby, and after I stood there waiting for while I noticed that stalls were built over the tram tracks in that area. Perhaps the tram to this point wasn't running today, thought I, and I was right. So I had to walk a bit to get outside the temporary pedestrian zone. I rode a tram toward the city station and got off to walk down some back streets. Then once I got back on the tram, it was stopped soon after by a police incident up ahead, so I got off and walked to the main station. From there, I headed towards De Oude Kirk (The Old Church) that had been recommended in one of my guidebooks. I saw the spires and headed down a side alley towards them. Just then, there was a loud knocking of metal on glass off to my right, and when I turned to see what it was, I saw a scantily-clad, buxom, dark-skinned woman sitting in a window rapping on the glass with her rings. She was tempting me like a Siren, but it had nothing to do with any rocks! So I raced off to the safety of the church, passing several more such ladies-of-the-night as I went. However, once I got there, I found the interior of the church quite underwhelming, and the €5 admission wasted. I might have gotten more value from one of the ladies! It was getting cold and a stiff breeze was blowing. Besides, my feet were telling me to go home. So I did, but I had to go through the Red Light District to get there.

[Diary from Haren] My friend, Gerard, came home around 13:00 and we ate lunch together and talked of many things. Around 14:30, we set out for his daily exercise (which doesn't include his 2x6 km bike ride to work each day). He was training for extreme races (those longer than a marathon; that is, more than 43 km) and he has a coach who sets him a monthly training schedule. This day it involved 1:15 hours of running, in five lots of 15 minutes with one minute walking between. I followed along on a bicycle. For the most part we were on paved surfaces, brick paths, or hard crushed gravel, but in a few places it was soft sand, and I had to put in some serious effort. We did it all, trains, boats, planes, and automobiles. During our 15-km jaunt, we followed along the main inter-city train line, we crossed a major canal along which a German was taking his big motor yacht, we crossed the flight path of the local airport, and we followed the regional freeway and crossed under it. We wound through villages and forests and between fields on farms, seeing sheep, horses, sweat corn, and lots of thick green grass.

Back home, Gerard prepared supper and we sat down to eat. Consider a family of four adults all of whom ride bikes and walk all the time and you can imagine they have hearty appetites, especially Gerard who completes in triathlons (swimming, running, and biking, with ice skating instead of swimming in winter).

After we finished eating and I did the dishes, Wietske and I went for a long walk on the edge of town where I patted and fed grass to some horses. It was very pleasant out and we talked of many things. Back home, we all sat quietly in the lounge reading with the sound of the clock ticking. I started in on Bryon Farwell's biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton, an amazing man from the Victorian Age.

[Diary from Utrecht] Around 11:00, we drove to a small river where we rented a rowboat and a 2-person kayak. We worked hard against the strong current for two hours with friend Floor and me rowing two girls in the boat and her husband, Jochem, with the third girl in the kayak. It was hard work and the seat was also very hard! However, the rain held off. We ate a nice lunch at a restaurant and then took only one hour to get back downstream. As we finished, a few drops of rain fell.

Next, we drove Bente to a riding lesson at a local stable. The class rode in a large in-door area and we watched them through windows in an attached waiting room. We played cards, looked around the stables, and I worked on this diary. Back home, Bente (age 10) cooked salmon in puff pastry, which we ate with salad.

[Diary] The next day, we all crammed in the car and headed out for our next adventure. The country road was just wide enough for a car and had marked bike lanes on each side. Despite the overcast day, many people were out riding. We also encountered a group of older motorcycle riders, including several with the ladies in sidecars. For some distance, we drove on a road atop an earthen dike. Finally, we reached a nature park where we walked a path along a river and among a herd of curious calves. Jade and I stopped to pick wildflowers. From there, they dropped me at a local station train; however, as soon as I reached the platform, the waiting train left without me. Don't you just hate that when that happens? So the whole family came onto the platform and waited with me for 15 minutes.

I bought a ticket to Utrecht Central, where I bought another one to Delft, supposedly via Den Haag (The Hague). The screen showed Spoor (Track) 8, and by the time I got there it was one minute to departure. I jumped on and just as the train started to pull out, I asked a woman if this was the train to Den Haag. She shook her head and said that we were going to Rotterdam. Apparently, I was on Platform 8a, and should have been a bit further along it at 8b. Oh well, Rotterdam is on the way to Delft, so I could change there. There was only one stop, in the famous cheese-market town of Gouda.

[Diary from Delft] At the Delft station, nothing looked like I remembered it. No, I wasn't having a senior moment and I hadn't gotten off at the wrong station; the station was in a complete state of turmoil with major construction going on. Light rain fell and just as I spied a fietstaxi (a small bike-like taxi driven by pedals) with a young woman driver, someone engaged her, and I was left to walk to my hotel in the rain. Once there I dumped my luggage, freshened up a bit, and then headed back to the center of town for a dinner meeting with some colleagues. Back in my room, I prepared for several meetings the next day.

My very nice room turned out to have a toaster oven for a bed cover, but due to some ingenious thinking, I managed to sleep most of the night without cooking. However, when my 07:00 alarm sounded, I was not ready to get up. A very hot shower rectified that and, by 07:30 I was in the dining room perusing the breakfast buffet, which was included in the room rate. I had a bowl of fruit with cornflakes, some dense, black bread with cheese and ham, and some juice. And to my pleasant surprise one of the three options on the coffee machine was café verkeerd, so I ordered up one of those and filled the tall glass mug with hot milk. It was all quite civilized. There was quite a crowd, eating quietly and talking in various languages.

[Diary] I shared a taxi to my meeting place with a committee secretary, a very pleasant Japanese woman I've come to know over the years. As we arrived early, I worked on my own for an hour until the plenary started at 10:00. Delegates attended from seven countries; however, the US delegation had gotten on an inter-city train by mistake, which took them to Rotterdam. Their train went through, but didn't stop at, the station they wanted! Don't you just hate that when that happens?

We broke for lunch at noon, and enjoyed some chicken satays with hot peanut sauce and rice with salad. At 1 o'clock, I joined an ad-hoc meeting that lasted for 90 minutes. Afterwards, I joined another committee, which met for two more hours. Meetings, bloody meetings!

[Diary] As I got to the train platform my train was standing there, but the doors were shut. I pushed the "open door" button and the train's electronics ignored me and the train pulled out of the station. A bit rude I thought! Anyway, there was another one in 15 minutes. As I waited, I noticed what looked like police activity listed on a few Inter-City train schedules. There were also some announcements on the PA system. When I asked a local to translate, he told me a dead body had been found at a station a few stops away, and that police were re-directing trains or not letting them stop at that station. Fortunately, that had no effect on my trip.

I caught a train that was direct to Schiphol Airport (AMS) via The Hague and the university city of Leiden. At Priority Check-In, I was processed in no time and the friendly Lufthansa agent got me a better seat on my second leg. After security, I located a business lounge that was happy to have me sit and rest a bit and to use its Wi-Fi system. I noted with interest how many people were drinking beer and spirits/liquor at 8:30 in the morning. AMS is at the crossroads of an international travel network, and it was interesting to see where everyone was going. My gate was one of many just on one concourse, and flights from there were scheduled to the following: Alicante, Basel, Berlin, Bilbao, Billund, Bologna, Bordeaux, Brussels, Canary Islands, La Coruna, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Hanover, Linkoping, Lisbon, Luxembourg, Lyon, Malta, Munich, Oslo, Nice, Prague, Stavanger, Stuttgart, Toulouse, Trondheim, and Vienna, all relatively short-haul destinations within Europe.

Conclusion

Bucket List: I've been to 11 of the Netherland's 12 provinces, with only Zeeland left to go. [Zeeland is the namesake of New Zealand.] I've gone wadlopen (walking out in the sea on the mudflats), so no need to do that again. In the back of my mind, I do have an idea about staying at a B&B in winter on one of the East Frisian Islands with a friendly dog to walk on the beach.

Abbreviations and Acronyms

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

The world is full of shorthand names, and given the explosion in writing via a limited keyboard (such as those on most mobile phones) for text messages, email, and such, many more shortcuts to typing have been invented.

In this essay, we'll look at some abbreviations and acronyms in common use, but whose long-form is not necessarily so well known or for which there is something of note to mention. A few are included because of a personal interest. [The idea for this essay and most of the entries came to me while I was awake with jetlag during a 2014 visit to Salzburg, Austria, between 04:00 and 06:30 one morning.]

Some references you might find useful are Oxford English Dictionary, http://www.abbreviations.com/, http://dictionary.reference.com/abbreviations/, and http://www.acronymfinder.com/.

Abbreviations

According to Wikipedia, an abbreviation "is a shortened form of a word or phrase". An abbreviation is never read like a word; it is spelled out letter by letter.

AD or A.D. – Taken from the Latin Anno Domini meaning, "In the Year of the Lord", and representing the year after the supposed birth of Jesus. The AD is written before the year, as is AD 1066. The politically correct equivalent is CE or C.E. (Common Era). See BC below.

A.M. or a.m. – from the Latin ante meridiem, meaning before midday: Of course, much of the world uses a 24-hour clock, thereby avoiding the silliness of having 12 pm be earlier than 1 pm! See P.M. below.

BC or B.C.Before Christ: This seems odd, as English really didn't exist as such when the AD naming convention was invented in AD 525. Why not Latin like AD? The BC is written after the year, as is 345 BC. The politically correct equivalent is BCE or B.C.E. (Before the Common Era). See AD above.

BS or BSc – A Bachelor of Science degree, from the Latin Scientiæ Baccalaureus: Just to show that my time in university was not entirely wasted, there I learned that BS had something to do with "bullsh*t", MS meant "more of the same", and Ph.D. meant, "piled higher and deeper".

DIYDo it Yourself: Mostly used in the context of home maintenance.

DNADeoxyribonucleic acid: Its buddy is RNA, Ribonucleic acid.

e.g. – from the Latin exempli gratia: Means "for example".

ETAEstimated Time of Arrival: Commonly heard from the cockpit when flying.

GMTGreenwich Mean Time: Named because the internationally accepted prime meridian runs through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. (Refer also to Coordinated Universal Time [UTC].) On one visit to said observatory, I watched as tourists stood with one foot either side of the meridian, inserted a £1-coin in a machine, and received an official "I straddled the Prime Meridian" certificate!

i.e. – from the Latin id est: Means "that is".

IRSInternal Revenue Service: The US Federal tax-collection agency. In the UK, this used to be known as Inland Revenue, and I remember well in a sketch English comedian Benny Hill questioning why he should pay taxes to them when "he lived on the coast"!

LSDlysergic acid diethylamide: A psychedelic drug commonly referred to as acid.

M&M – A brand of candy/sweets: Not to be confused with S&M.

m.o. – from the Latin modus operandi: Means "method of operation"; commonly used by police detectives when discussing a possible suspect's motives.

NB – from the Latin nota bene: Means "note well".

OK – okay: Although no one knows the origins of the use of this, click here for some interesting theories.

P.M. or p.m. – from the Latin post meridiem, meaning after midday: Of course, much of the world uses a 24-hour clock, thereby avoiding the silliness of having 12 am be earlier than 1 am! See A.M. above.

PS – from the Latin post scriptum: Means "writing that follows after the main body". If there is more than one thing to say, PSS, PPS, and PPPS can be used as well.

Q.E.D. – from the Latin quod erat demonstrandum: If you took a mathematics class in university, you may well have seen this written after a mathematical proof. Basically, it means, "As you can clearly see", when in reality it requires someone with several advanced degrees to figure out!

R&DResearch and Development: Not to be confused with B&D.

RSVP – from the French répondez s'il vous plaît, (reply, if you please): When seen on a written invitation along with a date, means "please respond by that date".

SOS – the international Morse code distress signal: The "continuous sequence of [easy to press] three dits, three dahs, and three dits" just happens to spell "SOS". Of course, someone just had to retrofit this abbreviation with matching words, with Save our Souls being one such attempt.

UKUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The purveyors of fine convicts, especially those sent first to the American colony of Georgia and later to Australia!

US/USAUnited Sates of America: As I wrote in the May 2014 essay, "What is Normal - Part 7: What's in a Name?" the US is known as VS to the Germans (Die Vereinigten Staaten) and the Dutch (Verenigde Staten), as EU to the French (Les États-Unis), and as EE.UU. to Spanish speakers (Los Estados Unidos).

USSRUnion of Soviet Socialist Republics: However, when written in the Cyrillic alphabet, it's CCCP (Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик, that is, Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), as you've no doubt seen in photos painted on Soviet military and space vehicles).

VIPVery Important Person: For some people, it means, "they are legend in their own mind" rather than "in their own time".

Acronyms

According to Wikipedia, an acronym is "formed from the initial components in a phrase or a word. These components may be individual letters or parts of words." An acronym is read like a word; it is never spelled out letter by letter.

ANZACAustralian and New Zealand Army Corps: Most noted for its WWI campaign at Gallipoli, Turkey. To this day, Australia's national day for remembering its war dead is Anzac Day, April 25th. (For a portrayal of that campaign see the movie Gallipoli, co-starring Mel Gibson.)

ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations: This political and economic group meets to discuss concerns for its region. Australia is an observing member.

BASICBeginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code: This high-level, computer-programming language was made popular by early mini- and personal computers. [It was my first programming language, on a DEC PDP-11 in 1974.]

COBOLCommon Business-Oriented Language: This high-level, computer-programming language has been used for many years for commercial business processing on mainframe computers. [It was my first production programming language when I started work as a programmer for a state highways authority in Australia.]

FortranFormula Translating System: This high-level, computer-programming language is suited to numerical and scientific programming. [I used it for programming mapping and graphics applications, as well as monitoring and controlling hydro and steam power generation.]

IKEA – According to Wikipedia, this well-known Swedish company's name was formed from the initials of its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, the name of the farm on which he was raised, Elmtaryd, and his hometown, Agunnaryd.

laserlight amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

NASA – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration: A US government agency that would have us believe it landed several spacecraft on the moon and Mars. Yeah, right! [See the movie Capricorn 1.]

NATONorth Atlantic Treaty Organization: Pretty much everyone knows about this political and military organization, but did you know that it once had a southern counterpart, SEATO? This was the South East Asia Treaty Organization. Separately, there is ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty). By the way, the Soviet-backed, cold-war archrival of NATO was the Warsaw Pact.

Nazi – A National Socialist, from the German Nationalsozialismus.

OPECOrganization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

POTUSPresident of the United States of America. Not to be outdone, the First Lady of the United States is FLOTUS, and the Supreme Court of the United States is SCOTUS. [Now, although you might see some similarities, POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS are not to be confused with Donald Duck's nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie!]

QantasQueensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services. Australia's national airline is one of the oldest, continuing air services in the world, and one of only a few that has never suffered a fatal crash.

radarradio detection and ranging.

scubaself-contained underwater breathing apparatus.

snafu – Military slang for "situation normal: all f**ked up". Generally used to mean a bad situation.

sonarsound navigation and ranging.

Stasi – Ministry for State Security, from the German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit: [These East German secret police had a compound on a hill overlooking the peaceful village of Tiefengruben (near Weimar in Thuringia), where my friends now live. When the East German government fell, the villagers went as a group to see what was in this off-limits area. To their surprise, they found a group of holiday cabins that were used by Stasi members and their families.]

ZIP (Code)Zone Improvement Plan: According to Wikipedia, this US postal code, "was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly (zipping along), when senders use the code in the postal address".

Written Abbreviations, Spoken Words

Some words are typically written only as abbreviations yet spoken as the full words. Here are some common ones:

etc. – from the Latin et cetera: Means "and so forth". This was a favorite word of the King of Siam in the musical and movie The King and I. The German equivalent is usw. (und so weiter); it's a favorite of mine when I enumerate a list of things and I have no idea whatsoever what comes after the first two!

Mr.mister, from master: The plural, Misters, is sometimes written as Messrs., from French.

Mrs.missus, from mistress: The plural, Mesdames, from French.

I've always found the French connection interesting, especially as the French words were used regularly in photo captions in my hometown and regional newspapers in rural Australia in the 1970s.

Conclusion

Of course there are many other sets of abbreviations and acronyms, ranks and titles, weights and measures, and month names, just to name a few.

Now you've waited patiently to get to this really exciting bit of information, the longest known acronym, ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC. This United States Navy term stands for Administrative Command, Amphibious Forces, Pacific Fleet Subordinate Command, but you'll have to figure out for yourself just how the letters were chosen. It certainly isn't obvious to me.

Travel: Memories of Japan

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Nippon-koku or Nihon-koku ([the] State of Japan); Capital: Tokyo; Language: Japanese (nihongo); Country Code: JP; Currency: Yen (¥ or JPY)

I've had at least a dozen trips to Japan, with more on the horizon. Apart from the fact that I'm allergic to shellfish, pretty much everything else in that country agrees with me.

General

[Diary] For those with a yen (pun intended) for Japanese food, the in-flight Business-Class menu had the Washoku Zen selection: appetizers of crabmeat in layered eggs, salmon temari, and burdock wrapped in glazed beef, shrimp with fish eggs, seared tuna with wasabi dressing, somen noodles and simmered shiitake mushrooms. The main course consisted of broiled sea bass saikyo yaki, shimeji mushroom, ginkgo nut, simmered bamboo shoot, carrot flower served with steamed rice and Japanese pickled vegetables. Naturally, green tea was served and hashi (chopsticks) were provided. Like most Japanese meals, it looked very attractive.

[Diary] It was at least 10 years since I last spent any real time learning basic Japanese, so I pulled out my introductory book, and refreshed my memory on some of the basics. Over the years, I have found that one of the most useful nihongo no tango (Japanese words) is wakarimasu (I understand) and its opposite wakarimasen (I don't understand). After dabbling in European languages, I must say I found Japanese quite attractive as it has no articles, no plurals, no verb conjugation, the verb comes at the end, and the addition of one suffix to the verb negates the statement while another makes it a question. Of course, as easy as the grammar and pronunciation are, the language is made very complicated with regards to writing and reading.

From a separate trip:

[Diary] I boarded the giant Airbus A380 through the front door of the main level. It was my first time on this behemoth, so I wanted to see how it was configured. It has 2 full levels with the upper deck having a handful of First-Class suites and 120-odd Business-Class suites, with ramps from the main deck at the front and rear. A separate boarding ramp served the upstairs only, to streamline the boarding process. The main deck has 425 Economy seats configured 3+4+3 across, starting at Row 50 at the front. Two ramps were used to board this level. I was in Seat 50C, first row, bulkhead with room to put at least one leg out in the aisle into the galley space in front. The cockpit is midway between the main and upper levels and is reached by 4 steps just in front of me. As far as I could see, the cockpit could accommodate up to 4 people. As you might imagine, it takes quite a while to load something that big, but finally we taxied way out from the terminal, and Flight LH710 was on its way, non-stop Frankfurt to Tokyo, 7 time zones and 11:30-hours flying time to the east. We headed up over Poland, Lithuania, across Russia, Mongolia, a bit of China, and South Korea, before landing at Tokyo International Narita (NRT).

A few words about life in a ryokan (inn): Each time on arrival, one is handed a pair of slippers, which one puts on right then and there while one's street shoes are placed in rows against a wall, on a shelf, or in some sort of unsecured storage space. While some inns have slippers of different sizes, others don't, in which case, very tall/big people like me (size 13 or metric 44 shoes) look a little odd in Asian feet-size footwear. These house slippers can only be worn in the inn's common areas. They are not to be worn in one's room or in a toilet. Each toilet has its own pair of slippers, which all users share. One does not wear any footwear in one's room, as one is walking on tatami (rice-stalk) mats. (This situation is replicated in some Japanese restaurants. That is, one leaves one's street shoes in the entrance area and wears slippers in the restaurant itself.)

My room had a narrow, short passage with hardwood floors, so one could wear slippers there. To the left was a western-style toilet and vanity cabinet; however, the sink was at the height for people no taller than five feet! Toiletries and a hair dryer were provided. Although the commode looked quite familiar, one side had an armrest containing quite a number of buttons to control various options. The best I can say is never trust a toilet that plugs into an electric outlet! To the right of the passage was the bathroom. The tub was very deep and nowhere near full-person length. In fact, it was a tub for soaking after one has soaped and washed oneself thoroughly while sitting on the very small, short stool on the floor. A hand-held shower is provided for that purpose. Putting soap or shampoo in the bath is a definite NO-NO, as soaking water is intended to be shared by others. However, as mine was a single room with private bathroom, no other guests or staff were policing my actions!

My room was 3 meters by 6 meters, and as a tatami mat is 1x3 meters in size, the room was six mats in size. In an alcove, there was a small fridge, a tea/coffee maker, and TV. On the floor sat a low table with chair, a lacquered tray set with teacup and a pastry, plus a thermos of boiling water to make green or black tea, which was provided in teabags. As I had arrived in the evening, the bedding had been taken out of the storage behind some rice paper screen doors along one wall, and placed on the floor. It consisted of a thick pad with a thinner one on top, and a bottom sheet. A soft, fluffy one-piece cover lay on top. In a small floor-to-ceiling closet hung a yukata, and in a wicker basket at the bottom lay a western-size bath towel and the obi (sash) for the yukata.

Now, regarding tying the obi, it is important to remember that the left side of the yukata must be wrapped over top of the right side. The only time the sides are wrapped right-over-left is when preparing a body for a funeral. So unless one wants to be seen as a "dead man walking", left goes over right!

Tokyo

It's a big and busy city, and I've seen and done at lot of the things on offer. Here are just a few, small extracts from my diaries, both involving food:

[Diary] I found a curry house and sat at a counter. The gaijin's (foreigner's) "Menu Book" was in English, Arabic, Russian, Portuguese, Korean, and Chinese. Interestingly, a separate sheet written only in Japanese had some sort of Dutch specials and had numerous pictures of windmills and tulips. The menu had this "Order by the numbers" approach. Choose pork or beef; 200, 300, or 400 grams of boiled rice; and choose the spice level from -1 to 10, with 0 being normal. I chose level 2 "For a little extra stimulation", the menu said. Level 5 was "Not for the faint-hearted. Consider the consequences." The food came quite quickly and perspiration soon appeared on my brow. I managed to neutralize the heat with some Coke.

[Diary] We sat at 2 long tables each of which had several gas-fired hotplates built in. I sat in front of one, so became a designated cook. Each group was given a large platter of meat and vegetables, and another with shredded cabbage and noodles. We started off with pieces of steak, spicy sausage, lobster, and scallops with red peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant, over which we poured a variety of sauces. Towards the end, we added the cabbage and noodles. Copious quantities of beer were consumed, and a great time was had by all. I sat with delegates from Japan and Korea, and I was very pleased to sit opposite the former Head-of-Delegation from Japan, who'd stepped down several years earlier. His English was decidedly British.

Kyoto

Yes, it's a city full of wooden temples, and what magnificent structures they are. Just go visit!

Nara

I've visited this old capital twice, both times for conferences. And, yes, the deer really do wander around the open park among the tourists.

[Diary] A Finnish conference delegate and I set off on a walking tour of the area and its temples, shrines and gardens. Early afternoon, we stopped in at a small restaurant run by a tiny grandmother, to get some lunch. She was ever so happy to have us as guests. I had a large bowl of soba noodles with vegetables. She was fascinated by my height and the size of my boots, especially when she and I put our feet alongside each other. We chose our meal from the plastic models in the window.

Outside the park, we walked down the long, main street shopping area. I was looking to buy a woolen cap to replace the one I'd accidentally left on the train. I finally found one at a most unexpected place, a convenience store. Then, as I was quite low on yen, I went in search of a cash machine. I tried at least six without luck. One was closed for servicing, three accepted cards only issued in Japan, and the rest had only Japanese instructions, and I couldn't figure out how to work them. Finally, I found a Post Office, and its machine was ever so happy to be of service, so I withdrew twice as much as I'd initially planned just in case I had trouble finding another one later in the week. Armed with ¥40,000 (US$400), I was ready to go again.

[Diary] At the station, I got my ticket for the 4:16 pm shinkansen (Bullet Train). To my right sat a middle-aged woman who read much of the way. To my left was an older man, a professor of Economics in Kyoto. He spoke very good English and had obtained his Ph. D in the U.S. many years ago. He had just bought two English-language magazines to read en-route. Both had President-elect Obama on the cover, and when I told him I'd volunteered for Obama during the recent [2008] elections, he stood up, bowed, grabbed my hand, shook it vigorously, and smiled. We had some great conversation and exchanged business cards.

Osaka

Late in 2000, I stayed with Harusa, a woman I'd hosted the year before when she was in the US for three months of English, American culture, and customer-service training. She lived with her family in the mountains of Hyogo Prefecture. She and her husband commuted to Osaka each day to work.

I spent three nights with them over a weekend during which time I offered to cook a meal. Harusa's mother, a widow who lived with her, ran the house. When Harusa translated for her my offer, the mother couldn't stop smiling. A man in the kitchen! Helping with domestic work! Whatever next! Anyway, she was gracious enough to let me in her kitchen, where I made Mexican food for the family and friends who lived nearby. It took a while for us to find all the ingredients and it wasn't until I found a large, international supermarket that I spied "Old El Paso" Mexican food kits containing all the ingredients. When it came time to cook, the three women appeared in their aprons, headscarves, and pads and pencils eager and ready to write down the recipe, so they might reproduce it. However, each time they asked me "How much?", "How long?", and so forth, I told them I just made it up as I went, and I never used recipes. They didn't understand that at all, so put away their pads and just watched.

Hiroshima

The visit to the Atomic Bomb museum and dome was very sobering, especially when at the entrance the ticket sign said that survivors of the blast were admitted free!

A highlight of being in that general area was a day-trip to the famous shrine at Miyajima.

Kamakura

After Tokyo, this is my second-most visited place in Japan.

We first met the Fukushima family when they hosted us in 1994. Since then, my family has hosted them numerous times, and vice versa. Most times I'm in Tokyo, I manage to make a day trip to see them or to stay for several days.

Misa teaches private English classes to children of various ages, and we help. My specialty is to teach them to play the card game Uno where we work on basic vocabulary regarding colors and numbers. Her husband, Kaz, and I like to go hiking.

[Diary] We drove to a nice summer house and grounds formerly used by Emperor Hirohito. The grounds ran down to the sea at Sagami Bay, which was a great place for collecting marine specimens. The emperor was an avid marine biologist, and we visited an interesting marine museum there.

[Diary] … We walked to a large shrine complex nearby. The streets were crowded with cars and people. In a small building near the shrine, a wedding was taking place, so we stopped to watch. The bride had a large white headdress and a young female assistant to the Shinto priest was performing some sort of ceremony. It was the day to celebrate 3-, 5- and 7-year-old boys and girls, so many young girls were dressed in kimonos and the boys in fancy clothes. I got some great photos.

[Diary] … Around noon, we all left to go out for lunch at a sushi restaurant. We sat in a large booth and a narrow conveyor belt delivered plates of food. Each plate cost ¥105. Each booth had a touch-sensitive flat-panel screen through which one could place custom orders; these were then delivered by a computer-controlled tray that ran above the belt. We ordered a number of plates and they came directly to our booth. Once we had taken the plates, we pressed a button and the tray returned empty to the kitchen. Each booth had a standard set of things: a box of chopsticks, toothpicks, wet towels, soy sauce, packets of wasabi, a large box containing slices of fresh ginger, and sweet and sour sauce (to be eaten with eel). We each placed a small spoon of powdered green tea in our cups and filled them from a boiling water spigot mounted on our table. We ate miso soup with seaweed, a variety of fish and seafood sushi, and rice with soy sauce. Once we were done, we summoned the waitress by pressing a button on our screen, she counted the empty plates, multiplied that number by 105, and, voila, we had the final bill.

[Diary] … Misa and I drove into Kamakura and visited 2 temples. The first was one of my favorites, and hers too, as it had a forest of dark green 50'-tall bamboos, along with my other favorites, moss, running water, and ferns. From there, we walked to another temple that had an English garden. We walked around that and then visited a teahouse. It had just opened and we were the first customers of the day. We took off our shoes and sat on the tatami mats looking out over a rock garden. There was no table, just a large expanse of mats. Misa ordered cold green tea with ice while I ordered hot green tea. Our server was a young woman who arrived soon after with a tray. She put it on the floor in front of Misa, bowed, and said some words. Misa also bowed and was served her tea along with a paper napkin and a sweet cookie. The process was repeated for me and my bowl of hot tea. When we were finished, the server came and went through another little ceremony before taking our empty bowls and cookie wrappers.

Fuji-san (Mount Fuji)

Although a picture is worth a 1,000 words, seeing the snow-capped Mt. Fuji in person without its ever-present weather system is a sight to behold! And I've had that pleasure a number of times.

[Diary] We headed for Hakone and the lakes district near the base of Mount Fuji. I asked my friend, Kaz, to stop, so I could take a photo of the many fishermen on the lake. I did so, and then when I turned around, there was a clear view of Mount Fuji in the distance, complete with snow cap. It was magnificent. The place where we stopped also just happened to be the site of a festival the following day, and people were setting up for it. The main event was to be archery while riding on horses, just like in the old Samurai warrior days.

We drove up Mount Fuji to the 5th Stage, which was as far as the road went. From there, one could only go on foot, and plenty of people do. This was where the snow currently ended, but we did get to walk in it some distance on one path. It was rather touristy there as you might imagine, and we bought postcards and had lunch. Apparently, at the mountain top there is a public telephone and a mailbox, so one can gets cards stamped on Mount Fuji. (Apparently, tourists climb to the top and post their letters and cards. Then some enterprising person climbs to the top, retrieves all the mail from the mailbox, and brings it back down to the Post Office.) The mountain is 3,700 meters tall, is a dormant volcano, whose crater is 800 meters across and which takes an hour to walk around. For centuries it was a sacred site (and is still considered to be by some), and women were not allowed there. The oldest recorded person to reach the summit was 102 and had climbed it many times.

The clouds rolled in soon after we arrived, and as is often the case, the mountain was hidden in its own weather system. On the drive back down we stopped off for a hike into some old and steep lava fields.

We drove back to Kamakura through the countryside. There was a lot of traffic and it took many hours, but it was well worth it. (The reason for the traffic was that this was a long weekend, after which Golden Week was to start. During this week many business are closed as are the schools, so it was a national holiday week.)

During a separate trip to the area:

[Diary] Kaz had booked a cabin in the woods near Hakone. We checked in, unloaded our gear, and went for a good long walk down by the lake before the sun set. There were plenty of trees with lots of colorful foliage, especially Japanese maples. It was a good physical workout, so on our return, we went to the hot baths. It was my first time at such a place, so I had to learn the rules. The lady at the counter spoke fluent English with an American accent. (She'd lived in California and New York City.) She gave me a key in a rubber pouch that strapped to my wrist. At the entrance to the change room, I took off my boots and placed them in small shoe locker, taking the key with me. That key I stored in a clothes locker along with all my clothes. I was issued a heavy-duty face washer and a mid-size towel. So naked I got, locked the locker with my first key, and off we went. Although there was a small indoor pool, Kaz said he was going to the outside one. So along I went. The pool was in the shape of a circle with a diameter of 15 feet. Down the middle was a tall wall that divided the men's' and women's' sections. The water was reasonably warm but not too hot and about 2–3 feet deep. A very big wooden roof covered us but the sides were open to the cold evening. Steam rose from the water as we lay back and soaked with hot towels on our heads.

Hokkaido

I've had one trip to Japan's northern-most island. I knew almost nothing about that island before I arrived, but soon learned that it was only occupied by the Japanese in the late 1800's. It was the first land the Japanese had that was suitable for broad-acre farming. The US provided help with that, and influenced things in other areas, such as the use of a grid system with numbered and lettered streets, and New England-style red-brick buildings.

[Diary] As I walked outside from the Sapporo main train station, it was a pleasant evening. However, soon it started to drizzle, then rain, then pour. And, for good measure, the wind blew hard, so I had to hold onto my straw hat as well as my luggage. I headed in the general direction of my ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). I asked directions of a young couple along the way, and although their English was minimal, with my very basic Japanese and their street map, we figured out I was off by a block, so I backtracked, arriving at the inn around 10 pm, local time.

The ryokan staff was very happy to see me, dripping wet as I was. I registered and the front desk clerk took my luggage, while a hostess, dressed in full kimono and those wonderful socks with toes, escorted me to my room on the second floor. Inside the main door of my room was the area to leave one's shoes and to change into house slippers. The main room measured 8 tatami (straw) mats in size. There was the usual low tea table, a TV, phone, refrigerator, and the traditional rice paper sliding screens for inner doors and on storage closets. A small, but adequate en-suite bathroom was included, but, of course, that had its own bathroom slippers—one must not wear house slippers in the toilet! The hostess gave me a towel to dry myself. She then took one look at my size, and took the yukata from my closet and replaced it with a much larger one. (A yukata is a light-weight kimono that one wears to bed. It can also be worn around the inn.) An insulated jug of iced water and another of boiling water were provided, along with a delicate piece of cake on a plate. Not being a green tea fan, and needing sugar with my tea, I did make tea, but used the black tea bags and sugar I'd brought from home.

I had a nice hot shower, then changed into my yukata, and got into my futon bed on the floor. Although I travel with my own feather pillow, I did use several Japanese pillows as extra support. They are small and stuffed full of dried rice kernels, which, although hard, can be quite comfortable. Lights out at 10:30 pm local time, more than 24 hours after I'd left my house.

[Diary] … When I went down to breakfast, the hostess welcomed me dressed in her beautiful kimono. After our bowing and pleasantries, she seated me and brought me a traditional Japanese breakfast. That included a tray with a bowl of hot miso soup, a piece of cold cooked fish, a variety of cold, pickled vegetables, the ever-present bowl of warm sticky white rice, and, of course, o-hashi (honorable chopsticks). As usual with food in Japan, it was all arranged like a piece of art, making it a shame to have to eat it.

[Diary] … My friend Yoshiyuki, whom I'd hosted several years earlier, met me at the ryokan. The sun was shining and the weather looked very promising. We drove to the Hokkaido Shinto shrine where we were very fortunate to watch a special ceremony. From there, we headed out on the main highway to Otaru, the port city an hour away. There were quite a few tour buses around, and young men were negotiating both hand- and bike-drawn rickshaw rides. The canal and warehouse district has been very nicely restored, and many flowers and art/craft stalls were along the canal. We ate lunch in a very small ramen noodle house. Mine was soy-based with pork, and mini-size, as the big ones were too big for me. Then on the street, we bought some wonderful melon-flavored ice cream. We drove along the coast a bit then up a small mountain, Mt. Tengu, which has a ski slope. At the famous glass factory, we saw many nice pieces and watched master craftsmen and their apprentices at work. Although we weren't that far up, it was pleasantly cool. We drove back along the coast.

[Diary] … It was a nice day, so I set out for the Hokkaido University, a sprawling campus started as an agricultural college in 1876. A co-founder was Dr. William Smith Clark, who founded the Massachusetts Agricultural College 10 years earlier. (Massachusetts and Hokkaido are sister states.) There were a number of gardens and museums. The current student population was about 20,000.

Okinawa

I've been there once, for a 3-day conference. It's quite some distance from the mainland.

[Diary] At 7 pm, I went down to a reception hosted by the Japan Standards organization. Delegates and partners sat at a number of tables socializing, and eating and drinking. There was an eclectic selection of eastern and western foods, and some divine desserts. Mid-way through, a young woman in traditional dress arrived and began playing a local stringed instrument while singing. She was accompanied on drums by another young woman dressed in a dance costume. After several songs, they were joined by a troupe of dancers in bright costumes. Each had a large drum hanging at their waist, and they sure belted out some noise. They were volunteers from the Okinawa prefecture (local government). I sat with a delegate from China, and his wife, an editor at a Chinese art institute. This was her first time traveling outside China.

[Diary] … First stop on our tour was the castle occupied by the leader of the old Kingdom of Ryukyu, which comprised Okinawa and the surrounding islands. Although quite a few of the wooden buildings had been destroyed by fire over its 500-year history, most of them had been beautifully restored. After an hour there, we moved on to the famous tunnel network dug by hand by Japanese naval forces in preparation for the Allied invasion in 1945. Many military members committed suicide there rather than be taken prisoner.

Yokohama

Although I'd passed through this city numerous times on the train going to Kamakura, I've only stayed in the area once, and visited it briefly two other times. It's quite close to the old international airport, Haneda (HND).

I stayed in, and attended a conference at, a hotel right near the harbor. I believe that it was the tallest building in Japan. Now at some 70 floors, it didn't seem that tall, but considering Japan is in an earthquake zone, this is the upper limit allowed for construction. As a hotel, what made it interesting was that the reception was on the fourth floor and the rooms were on the top floors, with a restaurant at the very top providing a great view over the city and harbor. From there, I got a bird's eye view of the helipads on the surrounding buildings.

During my free time, I took a local bus out to a large garden where traditional buildings from all over the country had been reconstructed as a living museum.

Conclusion

Each time I plan a trip to Japan, I look forward to it very much, and I've never been disappointed. One of the highlights is when I see a woman in traditional dress, complete with white-powdered face, and wooden clogs. I've found the people to be very gracious, and, initially, was pleasantly surprised to find that many people from the time of the US Occupation spoke passable English and were eager to practice it. I get the impression that interfering with someone else's stuff is just not done. Time and again, I've seen stores and private houses with valuable things left standing out in or near the street, yet no one seems to take them.

Bucket List: I have this romantic idea of spending a month staying and working on a farm where the host family has little or no English. I'm also interested in hiking with a small pack, probably around Hokkaido. And although I have never flown into the famous Kansai Airport (KIX), I'll get there eventually. It's built on an island created from earth cut from the top of a mountain, and as the soil settles, the island keeps moving. To that end, some 10,000 microprocessors are continually monitoring and using equipment to keep the terminal buildings level. The good news is that during a big earthquake in nearby Kobe, the island wobbled, but only a little bit.

Technology, Revisited

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Back in November 2010 [1], I wrote about the telephone, television, the internet, and recorded music. Then in December of that year [2], I covered automobiles, still and video cameras, the written word, a digital data preservation strategy, and my right-hand gadget. Three and a half years on, I'm back to update my thoughts on most of these topics.

Telephone

In mid-2012, I moved, and after 29 years with the same home/office telephone number, I was forced to change it. At first, I thought that would be a big loss, but as it happened, it stopped all those annoying sales and marketing callers from reaching me. And after a year of renting, I moved again, and had to change my number a second time. I've had my new number for a year now, but I still don't know any part of it except the area code. When asked my number, I open my wallet and take out a business card from which I read it. People often ask, "Have you just moved?" to which I reply, "No, I got this new number more than a year ago, but as I don't call myself, I haven't yet found a need to memorize it!"

Being an old-fashioned guy, I still have a landline. In any event, I work from home, so a landline is convenient for both work and play. When I moved the second time, I replaced my phone system for the first time in about 15 years. While the base unit is connected to a wall jack, the two extensions are wireless, so I can place them anywhere in the house and even outside.

Sometime after I moved the second time, my phone company ran a fiber-optic cable down my street, and they were very eager to have me move to that system from the old copper wire. After they answered a long list of questions, I agreed to the changeover, especially as it was at no cost to me. The big change was that the phone would no longer get power from the phone line. Instead, the technician installed a large box on the inside wall of my garage that contained a battery pack. The battery is kept charged by a connection to the electricity. In theory, if I lose my electricity supply, the backup pack provides some eight hours of phone use. Not having had a blackout since, this feature has not yet been put to the test.

In [1], I wrote, "I do not have a mobile phone and I have no plan to get one anytime soon. If I had one, I expect I would find uses for it, but I'm pretty sure I'd have it primarily for outgoing/emergency calls and would keep it switched off most of the time. And I'm certain its ring tone would not be a 100-decibel version of Beethoven's 5th, and that I'd have some manners when using it among other people."

I now own not one, but two mobile phones! Aggh; the Devil made me do it! Once I sold my house, I rented for a year while I decided "what next?" In order to interact with renting agents as I was driving around the countryside reading their advertising signs, I bought a basic Samsung phone for $10 that was compatible with the TracPhone pay-as-you-go service. It came with 20 free minutes and 60 days of service, and every minute/number-of-days I bought, would double. Exactly one day after I started looking, I found my dream house, and I made only one call on my new mobile. Later, I added a 240-minute/3-month card. Finally, I bought a 1,000-minute/2-year card. In the two years I've owned it, I've made no more than 25 calls on it. As I predicted in [1], I use it for my convenience only; it's switched off most of the time with no message-recording facility! I simply do not give out its number.

A year ago, I had a houseguest coming from Australia for six weeks. It would be convenient for us to communicate when we were apart, especially for the two weeks we travelled in the northwest. What to do but buy another Samsung—this time for only $7!—and three months of service. When that expired, I put the phone in a drawer. When the need arises, I will charge it up, both with power and minutes, and get a new phone number.

I've been a user of Skype for some years, and use it for international calls, but only to landline numbers as the calling rate is much cheaper. (As some friends abroad have found, when they've moved to mobile-phone service only, they no longer hear from me!) I used to use it for domestic, long-distance calls too, but my new home-phone service has unlimited time at no charge.

Once, I rode the high-speed Acela train from Washington DC to New York, and deliberately chose to sit in the "Quiet Car" where mobile phone usage is forbidden. Of course, that didn't stop some riders from taking calls, but after I glared at them and/or chastised them verbally, they got the message.

With all this hands-free stuff, I can no longer tell if a person is talking on a phone, to themselves, or their imaginary friend. Whichever, they seem to get pretty animated even when no one can see all their hand gestures. (Perhaps the NSA is capturing their actions by satellite as well as their call!)

As for texting, I just don't get it. It sure looks like a solution looking for a problem. Once, I used my mobile to order a taxi, so the taxi company had my (otherwise secret) number. Twice, I received text messages—at my expense—telling me the taxi was so-many miles or minutes away. Wow! I simply don't know how I survived this long without having that kind of information. In any event, my fingers are way too big for me to be able to select an individual key on a smartphone's soft keyboard. (Believe me; I've tried repeatedly.)

Earlier this year, I started a consulting contract with a well-known high-tech company based in Silicon Valley. Not only was I issued a laptop, I also got a smart phone. At first, I actually used the phone to have security codes texted to me each time I made a VPN connection to their site, but the need for that went away once I got a USB-based security card. Then after several months of that phone simply sitting quietly on a shelf in my office, it started buzzing so hard, it nearly jumped of the shelf! What could be so important after all this time? Perhaps WWIII had started. No, it wasn't anything earth shattering. Instead, I was being notified that a car with license plate xxx had been left in the parking lot with its lights on, and could the owner switch them off. I was sure it wasn't my car as I was on the US east coast and the parking lot was on the west!

Television

In [1], I wrote how I'd moved to antenna-only TV. However, when I moved to my botanic garden-with-a-house-in-it rental place, I was almost surrounded by forest. As such, my antenna was able to find one channel only. (And that broadcast mostly in French; sacrebleu!) Thirty seconds after discovering that, I viewed that as a positive thing, and I rediscovered my library of books and videos. And things stayed that way for 18 months, until I moved, and fiber-optic service came down my street.

I now have 100-odd TV channels, but not because I wanted them. What happened was that the combined package of phone, internet, and TV from one supplier was $50/month cheaper than my previous phone and internet service from two suppliers, so I paid less and got TV as well. And while I wasn't planning to have a Digital Video Recording (DVR) service, I did get one, and I must say that is very convenient. I never ever watch anything live; it all is recorded for viewing when I'm ready, and I never ever watch anything on Network TV.

For the 18 months I was disconnected from TV service, I made great use of my local library system by borrowing from its extensive video collections of movies, TV programs, and documentaries.

The Internet

My primary use of this is still for business, and even more so now that I use VPN access to run programs on remote computers. Email remains my biggest use, followed closely by access to webpages for documentation. I don't often look at newspapers online now, and I very rarely watch video online. For that, my aging eyes much prefer my 40-inch TV to my 27-inch computer screen, and my couch is much more comfortable than my office chair.

Recorded Music

Several years ago, as a prize in a raffle, I won an iPod Nano, a stripped-down iPod. Eventually, I loaded it up with the songs from a dozen CDs. However, the only use I made of it was when I was a dog-walker at an animal rescue facility. There, I walked dogs for two hours each week, and as most of them weren't very interesting, I simply walked them around a farm while listening to music tracks played in random order. Since I stopped that activity, I stopped having buds in my ears. However, I have 10–15 CDs ripped to my laptop for when I travel.

What I have discovered is free internet radio via iTunes. I have three favorite channels depending on my mood: Golden Oldies of Rock 'n Roll, Bavarian, and Mariachi.

Automobiles

I'm still driving my low-tech, stick shift, subcompact, used car, and it still gets me from A to B safely and in good time. However, from time to time, I rent a car, and occasionally I have difficultly mastering some simple chore, like resetting the trip mileage meter. With all these auto solutions looking for problems to solve, and the complexities of software design, I'm not at all surprised with the kinds of electronic failures that have been occurring in the auto industry.

Last year, I had houseguests from Australia, and they had been driving in various parts of the US and Canada. Soon after they arrived, they bought a navigation system with Global Positioning System (GPS). When they left to go home, they gave it to me. Now I carry it in the glove compartment of my car, but never remember I have it, so except for some playing around soon after I got it, I haven't used it. I do recall, however, a couple of times when it gave me rather strange directions. All that said if I did a lot of driving to locations with which I was not familiar, I'm sure I'd use it on a regular basis.

I can report one very welcome addition to my auto experience. For two years now, I have had a 2-car garage, and, unlike almost all of the garages that I've seen in my travels around the US, mine actually has room for two cars!

Oh, and I'm driving a lot more miles now that I used to, but that's because of volunteer work.

Cameras and Video

I've never been much interested in photography, and I still don't take many photos, although it's nice to be able to look at the results immediately and to erase/retake shots. And as for video, I've shot little in recent years, partly because upgrades to my editing software don't work properly, and partly because I don't watch the DVD's I've created.

One major task I did perform was to digitize 76 hours of home movies recorded onto VHS tape, and to edit them down to 34 1-hour DVDs.

On the photo front, my ex-wife and I are in the middle of scanning to digital 3,000-odd paper photos we took starting in the late 1960's. The time it takes to name and catalog each image is far more than it takes to scan in.

Books and Reading

I still like my books in paper form. Eighteen months ago, I became a volunteer for a local library where twice a year, we solicit donations from the public of used books, books and music on CD, and DVDs, and we hold a sale to raise money. As a sorter, I get to look over all those treasures before the public sees them.

I still maintain my steady diet of novels interspersed with non-fiction and reference material. Most mornings I read in bed, and then again the last thing at night. There's nothing quite like trying to hold a 1,000-page tome on US History on one's chest!

Backup

When it comes to backing up my personal and business computer files, I'm still quite anal! If it's worth doing, it's worth protecting.

Several years ago, as I was preparing my house for sale, we had an earthquake that measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale. After the second tremor, I calmly took the backup memory stick from my desktop computer, grabbed my wallet (with money and ID), picked up my key ring, and walked out to the parking lot. That stick, along with one of the master backup disks by my computer, in my fire safe, or in my bank's safe-deposit box, would get me operational again. And if all those had been destroyed, it is unlikely I would have been left standing myself!

One new habit I have developed is the use of offsite backup through DropBox. The price is right (as in free), and it is very convenient. I use it to share digital photos, and to backup and share work-related files for some business projects, as they require. However, I remain adamant that I will not backup any critical business or personal data of my own in the so-called Cloud. When cloud security gets broken—and it will, and in a major way—the affected users will be very sorry. As for me, you have to come to my place or bank and physically steal the data! And that's a big obstacle for a teenager in Russia, China, or Timbuktu who is hacking into a network.

My Beloved Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)

As I reported in [2], I've had a PDA for many years, and I never leave the house without it. Until a year ago, when I was at my desk, this little pocket computer was linked to my desktop computer, so their calendar and contacts databases were synchronized. The PDA had a removable 4MB SD memory card to which I backed up all my new and changed work and personal computer files.

I was running Windows Vista on my desktop computer, but decided to upgrade to Windows 7. And while that went well, Win7 no longer supported the synchronization program on my PDA. As a result, my automatic synchronization was no longer possible. Instead, I only update my PDA once each week, and then I have to do it via my netbook, which still runs Windows XP. It is inconvenient, but the process works. However, one day, disaster struck! The metal connector on my PDA where I inserted the synchronization cable broke. As such, not only couldn't I update the PDA, I couldn't even charge it; bugger!

The solution was obvious, buy a new PDA. However, that was easier said than done as no one makes PDAs anymore; the mobile phone industry had taken over that market space. I had a mobile phone, but it wasn't by any means smart, and I had absolutely no interest in buying a new phone and its attendant costs just to have a calendar and contact list. I was actually without a PDA for 6–8 weeks, and I can assure you it was quite traumatic, I kid you not. It turns out that I relied on it much more than I knew. I had all my passwords and PINs for credit and debit cards, on-line accounts, details of business contacts and friends, and much more. The final crisis came when I was admitted to the emergency room of a hospital and I was asked for the contact information of my next-of-kin, my son. His phone number, email address, and street address were all locked away in my PDA, whose battery was flat!

I set out in earnest to find a website from which I could buy a refurbished PDA, and eventually I found one. The PDA I selected was from the same family as the one I was replacing and although it was a bit smaller it had comparable capabilities. After a few weeks of using it, I called the company and bought a second unit as a backup.

Although I solved the immediate problem, I've deferred the long-term one. I've just bought a new laptop, which runs Windows 8, and thus far, I haven't found a way to make that synchronize with the old-technology PDA. So the only way I have of keeping the PDA up-to-date is to do it via my old netbook, and there is no reason to believe that strategy won't work for some time yet. However, my calendar and contacts are stored in Microsoft Office, and the 2013 version I run on my desktop won't run on WinXP. Fortunately, the data files for both versions are the same, so I can exchange them. But that might not be the case for the next edition. I guess I'll find out in 2016. Don't you just love built-in obsolescence?

Laptop

After all my years of travelling with electric gadgetry, it finally happened. The AC-power adaptor for my laptop computer died while I was in Tokyo on business. Fortunately, that happened near the end of the trip, but, nonetheless, it still made an impact. I had no access to Skype and had to use other people's systems to look at my mail, to do banking, and so forth. Since then, I have bought a new laptop, which is much lighter, less power-hungry, and its adaptor is small and light. However, it runs Windows 8, of which I'm not a fan.

Unfortunately, I now have a loaner laptop from a client, and I often have to take both machines with me when I travel. However, I've solved the problem by buying a nice, comfortable backpack to hold both and associated gear. It's much better for my stature than having a very heavy bag on a shoulder strap, and it leaves both my hands and arms free.

Conclusion

As I watch people preoccupied with thumbing their mini-keypads while waiting, walking, cycling, and even driving, I really do wonder how Civilization got this far without all that.

I still think there are way too many solutions looking for problems, and my mantra remains, for the most part, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, I'm not the least bit interested in the Social Media frenzy. If you want to by my friend, it's quite easy: phone me, send me a personal email or instant message, or even an old-fashioned letter. But don't think you can post something in a public, virtual place, and expect me and your 1,000 other so-called "friends" to believe you are actually communicating with us, personally.

Travel: Memories of Australia

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I was born in Australia and spent the first 25 years of my life there. I left in 1979. However, I've been back numerous times since then, and each time, I have added a significant "tourist" component to my usual visits to family and friends. In fact, my first visits to three of the six states have been on trips back.

Official Name: The Commonwealth of Australia (pronounced by the locals as Orstralya); Capital: Canberra; Language: a dialect of British English (see also strine, and an Aussie version of Rhyming Slang); Country Code: AU; Currency: Australian Dollar ($ or AUD)

South Australia (SA)

This is my home state, and it was created in 1836 as the only Australian state to be settled without convicts. [1836 was the year Texas became a Republic. As such, SA and Texas are "sister" states and their respective capitals, Adelaide and Austin, are "sister" cities.]

Over the next 10 years, many thousands of German-speaking Lutherans from Prussia emigrated to SA, where they spoke German until Australia joined WWII in 1939.

One of the biggest lessons I've learned when travelling around Australia on trips back there is that with a few exceptions, the Germans did not settle much outside SA, so many of the things I'd taken for granted as "being Australian", really were only "South Australian", and some of those were even regional.

From a 2006 trip to visit my home state:

[Diary] In the state capital, Adelaide, I walked around the Festival Theatre Centre, casino, and Parliament House [see below]. Then it was on past Government House to the Immigration Museum, the former site of the Department of Chemistry, where I worked from 1973–75. Next, it was on to the Adelaide University music department to meet a friend who lectures there. We lunched outside at the Art Gallery cafe nearby.

[Diary] I headed back into the city, where I had a meat pie with sauce, and iced coffee, at the railway station. From there it on to Parliament House for the 2-pm sitting of the lower house, the Legislative Assembly. I sat in the Strangers' Gallery. The house is decorated in green, just like the UK lower house, the House of Commons. There was a lengthy tribute from the state premier, his deputy, and cabinet ministers, and members of the opposition, to the recently deceased agent-general of South Australia to the U.K. He was to have become the next Governor of South Australia. (The Governor is the Queen's representative in a state, while the premier is the elected state government leader.) Afterwards, I went into the Strangers' Gallery of the upper house, the Legislative Council, which is red like the UK House of Lords. However, the upper house was not in session.

[Diary] In the afternoon, my brother-in-law, Colin, picked me up and we went to the Loxton Rifle Club. I shot as a guest. The range was 600 yards. From my 10 shots, I scored one bull's-eye and once missed the target completely, with a total of 34 out of a possible 50. At no time was the Australian Olympic Rifle Team threatened! After the shoot, we had afternoon tea at the clubhouse, along with a club meeting.

[Diary] My brother Ken and I prepared his new boat and motor for a fishing trip. We put into the river around 10:30 am. It was a very nice, but hot, day. We saw a hawk feeding babies on a nest, kangaroos came down to drink, and kookaburras and pelicans were common. We had a snack and drinks, and we caught some nice callop using shrimp and worms as bait.

[Diary] Nephew Andrew got a number of his motorcycles operational, and then he, the kids, and I rode around the fruit property to a Motocross track they had built. Andrew and Tyler showed us how to race and jump. I shot plenty of video. Later, we all went down to Hogwash Bend on the River Murray nearby, towing a boat and 40-HP outboard motor. The kids rode their hydra slides, and I shot video. We had a picnic supper on the beach.

[Diary] Awake and up by 6:30 am, although I could have done with a few more zzs. I had a light breakfast before setting off with Andrew for Nuriootpa in the Barossa Valley an hour to the west. We had a pleasant drive on some very good, hard dirt roads before we got onto the main highway. Along the way, we stopped at a bakery to rescue some pastries and cartons of iced coffee. Andrew gave me a quick orientation of the town and then went to a College where he had an all-day class on viticulture. From there, I walked into town where I walked around, shot video, and looked in shops. There were a lot of nicely landscaped garden areas most of which had numerous varieties of rose in bloom. I bought a postcard the picture on which showed a narrow dirt road lined with gum trees on either side, set nearby. Right then, I decided that I wanted to retire to a restored old stone farmhouse at the end of that very road, which no doubt came complete with a Border Collie sheepdog! I bought a spare card to put on my work desk to remind me.

[Diary] I was up early, and spent the day with brother Terry in his truck carting grain from farms to the silo. We certainly covered a good cross-section of the mallee area, and saw a variety of bulk-handling loading and unloading equipment. I shot a lot of video.

[Diary] Up soon after 7 am, had a light breakfast, showered, then packed lightly for a 3-day road trip with Paul. We departed Hahndorf around 10 am, going on some local back roads. Our target was to spend the day exploring Fleurieu Peninsula (named for the Count of Fleurieu by the French explorer Nicolas Boudin). The weather was wonderful, and I shot a lot of great video. We saw quite a few large and small grey kangaroos, many quite close up. We hiked a bit through the bush.

[Diary] Around 4:30 pm, we left the highway for the 4WD track that leads to Tea Tree Crossing. That crossing was quite dry, so we had no trouble going over the Coorong, the very long water course behind the dunes. We found a secluded camp site right at the backside base of the dunes in bush land. Once we made camp, we crossed the dunes, taking several attempts up the first steep hill as we had too much air in our tires. Once we were on the beach, the going was flat and relatively easy. People had made camps at regular intervals, and were fishing. Back at our camp, we threw together some food. Then we climbed the dunes to witness the sunset. It was impressive. Then we had a few glasses of port wine before retiring at 9:30 pm.

[Diary] I was awake around 5 am, feeling less than rested. We dressed and climbed the dunes to watch and photograph the sunrise. It was magnificent! We packed up the camp, leaving only footprints and taking only photos (and a few shells). We stopped at Policeman's Point for breakfast, and then drove home.

[Diary] Early evening, Paul and I headed out for a substantial hike on the Heysen Trail. We found a steep section that went through dense bush land, passed several streams and a golf course. It was a good workout, especially for the heart. At home, we settled down with fresh melon and a glass of port.

Western Australia (WA)

I've visited this state twice, both times as a tourist from the US.

From a 2006 trip to visit my godfather in Katanning and surrounds:

[Diary] Each month, a Men's fellowship group meets for a social get-together. This month, we rode a small bus from town out to the host's woolshed. We each took meat and salads and drinks, and the host provided several BBQs. We had sausages, lamb chops, and a bottle of port wine. About 25 people attended. A large quantity of yabbies (an Aussie freshwater mini-lobster) were served as appetizer. One member raised yabbies in dams on his farm. He explained the process and demonstrated several pieces of equipment. I then spoke about some of my experiences traveling to various countries.

[Diary] After an outdoor lunch, Albert took me for drive around Albany: Emu Point, the WWI light horse and camel driver ANZAC memorial, and the new port facility with bulk handling for grain, sand, and wood chips.

Northern Territory (NT)

My first time to this Federal territory was in December 1968 to visit my sister who had been living at the Aboriginal Finke River Mission at Hermannsburg. (Like many Aboriginal Missions in Australia, this one is run by the Lutheran Church.) I was 15 and I took the famous "Ghan" train (short for Afghan from the camel trains in the early years) up from Adelaide and we drove back by car. My next trip was 10 years later, when I also flew in a light aircraft to Ayers Rock (now known by its Aboriginal name, Uluru.) Like almost all tourists who go there, I climbed the steep ascent to the wind-swept top where there are hundreds of miles of desert in all directions. Unlike a number of them, I did not fall to my death along the way. (The plaques dedicated to them at the start of the climb provide pause for thought.) It's the largest sandstone monolith in the world.

In 1997, I had my first visit to Darwin, on the north coast, a city that was devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974, but since rebuilt. From there, I drove to and camped with friends at Kakadu National Park, Crocodile Dundee country, and Litchfield National Park. Out there, you can be a long ways from anywhere! From Darwin, I flew south to Ayers Rock where I stayed with friends. That time, I hiked through the Olgas (Aboriginal name Kata Tjuta), a much-eroded sister monolith to Ayers Rock.

Queensland (QLD)

I've been to this state once, in 2007, when I attended an international conference. However, for the few days prior to that, I spent some great days with friends.

[Diary] My hosts lived in a quiet neighborhood just south of Brisbane, the state capital. Native bush land came quite near their house, and there were many wild birds. We took the kids grocery shopping. After several weeks on the road, I was missing my kitchen, and I'd asked my host if I could borrow hers for some cooking. She readily agreed. Next to the supermarket, I spied a liquor store, so I rescued a fine bottle of Para liqueur port wine (can you say Nectar of the Gods?), which we emptied over the next three nights. Afterwards, we packed lunch and drove to a neighborhood park where we lit a classic Aussie BBQ. A number of wallabies came by to see what we were up to. One doe had a young joey in her pouch.

[Diary] We walked around the waterfront, and then took a hi-speed catamaran ferry trip up the Brisbane River. The wind took my hat for a swim; goodbye hat!

[Diary] We went to a local bakery to buy lunch. I bought good old Aussie meat pies and pasties, iced coffee, and buns. It was pretty darned good. That evening, we had a great BBQ out on the patio. I managed to force down some local Bundaberg Ginger Beer.

[Diary from a business conference] I went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The AU$22 buffet was a veritable orgy of food. I ate outdoors by the pool; however, the sun was very bright and hot. I left my table to go to get more food from the buffet. That took a while, and when I returned, my table was cleared, my newspaper gone, and a stranger was sitting in my very seat. I decided then and there that the waiters hovered about way too much, picking up things before one had barely put them down. And now, they'd decided I'd abandoned my table. It really is hard to get good help! In any event, my paper was found, another table was procured, and all without my having to buy the hotel and fire everyone.

[Diary] Flight JQ417 to SYD was pretty full; however, I managed to get an exit seat, so had plenty of legroom. We pushed back from the gate on time, the ground crew chased the sheep and kangaroos off the runway (just kidding; there were no sheep), and we were up-and-away flying inland, to the west. Soon, we were over lakes and rivers, hills and forests, and expensive waterside houses with private docks. The ride west and south was smooth and uneventful, just as flights should be. There were forests and meandering rivers all the way.

Touchdown was textbook-style, and I was soon waiting for my baggage. With respect to collecting baggage, people all around the world seem to have the exact same poorly thought-out plan: Let's all stand so close to the carrousel that no-one can see anything, and no-one on the outside can get to in to get their bags, which inevitably arrive before those for the inside people.

New South Wales (NSW)

I had my very first business trip when I was 18, and it was a week in Sydney, the capital city of NSW. I remember how the freeway we took from the airport ran under one of the planes' access roads to a runway. Almost every time I'm departed and returned to Australia, it's been through SYD. Now they have a curfew there; no traffic before something like 6 am. I know someone who was flying from SFO to SYD, non-stop across the Pacific, and "due to weather conditions" their departure from SFO was delayed quite a while. Now you might think the conditions were bad, but, in fact, they were too good. There would be a very strong tail wind throughout the flight, and if the plane departed on time, it would arrive way too early to be allowed to land!

From a 2006 trip to the Albury/Wodonga area to visit some cousins:

[Diary] Awake at 5:15 am, and up soon after. I shot video around the farm as the sun came up. There were many bush birds. I picked up sticks from the area where two long rows of trees were recently cleared. After an hour of physical labor, it was time for coffee and bread out on the patio among the birds. After lunch, I did some laundry, Paul and I fixed a hose at the pump down on the creek, we put a mower on a tractor, and I had my first drive in the farm ute. [A ute—utility vehicle—is an Aussie invention, and is a sedan with the back half converted for carrying stuff, built as an enclosed tray-top.] We put blades on the mower, and I met the farm dogs Red, Max, and Todd, all kelpies. At 3:30 pm, we drove to the nearby town of Walla Walla, where we stopped at the original covered wagon from German settlers who arrived from South Australia in 1850. To celebrate Paul's birthday, we dined at The Commercial Club. I had a veal schnitzel and salad, my first in years.

[Diary] Mid-morning, I helped Kevin the farm hand, bring in several lots of cattle. Don't you know, one young calf decided to test me by running along the creek in the opposite direction, just as far as it could, making me trek up and down to get it back. It was a good physical workout, but, fortunately, I was wearing a felt farm hat, which made me look and think like a farmer. At 11:30, I lay on the lawn in the sun trying to nap, but I doubt I did. I quickly got back into the Great Australian Salute—brushing flies away from my face. After lunch, we worked with cattle, vaccinating and drenching them, plus ear tagging and marking calves. Then it was on to some fencing and moving cattle and sheep. We saw a lone kangaroo and some rabbits. I collected the eggs from the 12 chooks (chickens, that is), let the chooks out for their afternoon run, fed the dogs their daily dose of pellets, and checked their water. I knocked-off for the day at 5:45 pm, and had a most welcome shower to remove the day's dust. Muscles I had long forgotten I had started to ache after yesterday's stick picking. With great authority, Paul told me that the best course of action was to keep on working until the ache stopped.

[Diary] Up at 6:30 to the smell of rain, which had fallen in too small a quantity before dawn. However, it was enough to settle the dust. We got a load of laundry going, and I hung that out on the unique Aussie rotary clothes line. It dried in double-quick time once the sun came out. Paul and I had a light breakfast and then headed out to work. While I got my early morning dose of dust by sweeping hay and sand off a concrete floor of a large shed, Paul emptied fertilizer from a storage bin into a truck-mounted bin. We then dumped that fertilizer on the concrete floor then off-loaded the bin onto its own legs, and swept off the truck tray. Next, we drove 22 rams from one paddock to another, partly along a public dirt road. We put up stock-caution signs at both ends of the road stretch we used. Then Paul drove the truck to Walla Walla for a registration checkup; I followed in the ute. The 5-speed manual gears were no problem (my own car in the U.S. is a stick shift), but I reminded myself to drive on the left. In town, we sat at a table in the shade outside the Billabong Cafe, where we had morning tea: meat pie with sauce and iced coffee (coffee-flavored milk, that is) for me, and a toasted sandwich and juice for Paul. He figured it was 38 years ago when he last ate morning tea in town. (More of my decadent influence.)

At 6:20 pm, we were dressed in our finest, and were on the road to Henty, a town of about 1,000 not far away. We were guests of the Henty Rotary Club, and I was the guest speaker. It was my first Rotary meeting. I sat at the head table with several officers and their wives. Spouses were invited as were members of another club. We conducted some business and ate dinner. I then spoke and answered questions for 30 minutes. My topic was a contrast of the U.S. Congressional form of government with the Westminster Parliamentary system used in Australia. It was well received, and the evening wrapped up by 10 pm. Back at the farm, we uncorked a bottle of vintage port wine from 1980, and had a small glass along with a Violet Crumble Bar. (More decadence!)

From a 2007 trip in and near Sydney:

[Diary] By mid-morning, we were on the highway heading west to the famed Blue Mountains. This was Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson country, the explorers who were first to cross these mountains. We hiked and took a lot of photos. At Katoomba, we saw the famous Three Sisters rocks, and even climbed right down onto one of them. A brightly painted Aborigine played a didgeridoo for the tourists, and had his photo taken with them. Near dusk, we hiked a very rugged bush track cleared under the command of one of friend Jane's pioneer ancestors. Along the way, we could see over a little bit of Paradise in the valley below, where small farms were scattered among the forest. On the way home, we stopped at a pub and ate outdoors, going home for dessert and coffee. Lights out at 11:15 pm. A great day.

[Diary] I awoke briefly at dawn to hear a magpie and kookaburra singing, and then went back to sleep until 8 am.

[Diary] We drove to the train station, and then took the train into downtown Sydney. We walked to the opera house, saw the bridge, visited the botanic gardens, and then took the high-speed ferry to Manly. There, we sat on the beach and watched the world go by before walking around to a cove. Then it was on to the slow ferry for a pleasant ride back to Circular Quay.

[Diary] I tried to wash away the tiredness from my legs in the shower. Although Bernie's Plan A was for us to walk across the Sydney Harbor Bridge, I opted for Plan B, which involved staying home, drinking coffee, and talking about walking across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Plan B won!

Victoria (VIC)

I was raised in a county that adjoined the state border with Victoria, and I visited various rural parts from there. However, my first real visit to the state was when as age 18, I rode the train from Adelaide to the state capital Melbourne, where I stayed with a cousin for the better part of a week. From there, I did a day trip to the ski slopes of Bright, where I had my first experience with snow and skiing. I had no trouble at all getting started; it was the stopping that was problematic, especially when I was faced with a long line of people waiting for the lift, and I had nowhere to go but to fall over in the snow before I hit them!

On a subsequent trip, I drove by car with a friend down the SA coast and along the Great Ocean Road of Victoria with it spectacular coastal scenery. Afterwards, I tried skiing again.

From a 2000 trip to Melbourne:

[Diary] We were up at 8:30 am, and had a light breakfast. Then we all got into our warm undies and rainproof gear and headed off, with me riding pillion on friend Jeff's new 1100 cc Kawasaki motorcycle and niece Felicity on her racy looking Kawasaki 250. It was the last day of the big international motorcycle race at Phillip Island, and there were two legs of the Super Bike World championships. It rained a little on and off during the 90-minute trip down, and then again throughout the day. We saw several riders dismount their bikes unexpectedly at the tight corner right in front of us. Bits and pieces broke off the bikes as they slid along on the road on their side. However, there were no serious injuries. The top speed on the straight was around 250 kph, which was rather quick for a bike.

In 2004, I had a conference in Melbourne, and I stayed in a very nice apartment on the edge of the magnificent parklands that surround the city. The weather was glorious the whole time, and each morning, I walked into through them to the city campus of Monash University.

Melbourne is the Mecca of Australian Rules Football (AFL), the game for which I was recruited from high school to play, starting in 1970.

Tasmania (TAS)

I've been to this island state once, in 2002. Niece Felicity and I took her car on the ferry across the Bass Strait from Melbourne to Devonport, Tasmania. Those waters can be very rough, but, fortunately, that day they were calm. After a night in a very nice B&B, we set off west along the north coast where we stayed three nights in a cottage. From there, we drove halfway down the rugged west coast through a large wilderness park, staying in small hotels along the way. We stopped to walk on some impressive dunes. After six days, we arrived in the capital, Hobart, where I stayed with friends I hadn't seen in 25 years. Hobart is a very nice, manageable city where they have a "rush minute" rather than a "rush hour"!

I did a number of interesting things while based in Hobart, but there were two things that stand above all others. The first, was a day-trip to the infamous convict settlement, Port Arthur. This is where many male prisoners (and even boys as young as six or seven) were transported from "ye merry old England" for offences as petty as stealing a loaf of bread. [Of course, we have to put a stop to all this bread stealing!] The second was to the southeast coast and Freycinet Peninsula. After an impressive bush walk up into the rocks, we had a spectacular view over Wineglass bay.

Conclusion

Did you know that the name of the national airline, Qantas, is an acronym for the former "Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service"?

Bucket List: I have yet to visit my own country's national capital, Canberra. This is located in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In my dreams, I imagine hiking the final 250 kms of the Heysen Trail in SA, as it runs to the sea. I'd also like to make a big loop from Adelaide, driving across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth, and then up the NW coast to Darwin, then back south to Adelaide. And I can easily image spending an Aussie summer in Tasmania.

What is Normal - Part 7: What’s in a Name?

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In previous installments, we've looked at all kinds of things that we take for granted, sometimes on a daily basis. This time, we'll look at the names by which some things are known. These include people, countries, and geographic features, among other things. In some cases, the same thing may have different names or have essentially the same spelling, but with a different pronunciation.

Mention to a native English speaker the term English Channel and it's a good bet they'll know you are referring to the body of water separating England and France. However, some months ago, I was looking at that waterway from the French side, in Brittany, and there they referred to is as la Manche. Meanwhile, the Dutch call it Het Kanaal, and the Spanish el canal de la Mancha. Similarly, from time to time, we hear the term Baltic States used, and many of us think Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which border on the Baltic Sea. However, the Germans and Swedes refer to that body of water as the East Sea (die Ostsee and Östersjön, respectively).

On my first trip to Amsterdam, I decided to go in search of the famous Van Gogh Museum. Now I've found that the vast majority of Dutch people speak a reasonable amount of English, so along the way I stopped and asked a local for directions. He replied that he'd never heard of the place. I said that surely he'd heard of the world-famous Dutch painter van Gogh. But no, apparently not. I persisted and after more discussion, I learned that I was using the English pronunciation. In Dutch, it is something like van Hhhoch. That is, the two g's are pronounced differently from each other and different from the hard-g sound in English. (Similarly, the Dutch town Gouda—and its famous cheese—is pronounced Hhhouda in Dutch.)

My final example here has to do with road signs in countries or areas that are bilingual, such as Finland, Wales, and Ireland. In general, the two names for the same town look nothing like each other.

Country Names

This is the age of the Internet; browsing web pages and sending email are parts of many peoples' daily lives. Now while many website and email addresses end in ".com", that suffix is used primarily by US-based entities. (Certainly, control of the allocation of such names lies in US hands.) As such, each country has a 2-character country code, so it can have its own unique addresses. For example, the official website of the British Monarchy is www.royal.gov.uk, that for the German Parliament (the Bundestag) is www.bundestag.de, and Honda's Japanese home is www.Honda.co.jp. As such, we deduce that the respective country codes for these countries are uk, de (Deutschland), and jp. [In fact, the country code for the UK is gb, but uk is also reserved.] When used in an Internet context these codes are not case-sensitive. That is, uk, UK, Uk, and uK are equivalent. By the way, as you travel around the world to various tourist attractions, you'll often find guide/souvenir books for sale. The language in which they are written is usually indicated by an abbreviation. For English, that abbreviation is GB!

The complete list of official 2-character country names in English is defined by the standard ISO 3166-1 alpha-2. Consider the codes for Australia (au) and Austria (at). One can argue a strong case this these can be confusing. As such, a 3-character version—ISO 3166-1 alpha-3—was introduced. In this, Australia (aus) and Austria (aut) are more distinguishable.

From an English-centric point-of-view, most of the 2-character codes are obvious. However, some require a bit of detection to recognize and understand. Here are some such examples: Algeria: dz (from the colloquial Arabic word Dzayer), Cambodia: kh (the home of the Khmer people), Chad: td (known in French and Arabic as Tchad), Croatia: hr (Hrvatska in Croatian), Estonia: ee (Eesti in Estonian), South Africa: za (Zuid-Afrika in Dutch), Spain: es (España in Spanish), and Switzerland: ch (from the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica).

Changes over Time

Some countries and place names have changed over the years, and some have even reverted to older names. For example:

  • In elementary school, I learned that Ceylon was a great exporter of tea. Now it's Sri Lanka.
  • Persia became Iran; however, after the US-hostage crisis, the Iranian taxi drivers at Washington National Airport suddenly became "Persian" to distinguish themselves from the modern-day Iranians.
  • Abyssinia became Ethiopia.
  • The African state of Tanganyika became Tanzania.
  • The boundaries of Transjordan changed and it became Jordan.
  • At its beginning, Australia was called New Holland (and its island state, Tasmania, was Van Diemen's Land).
  • Northern Rhodesia became Zambia.
  • Southern Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, an old tribal name.
  • The military government of Burma decided to call its country Myanmar.
  • In 1947, East and West Pakistan were spun off from India, and after a civil war, East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh. (Pakistan was initially referred to as Pakstan, which came from the following province names: Punjab, Afghania Province, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan.)
  • The former Yugoslavia was (eventually) broken up into Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. However, as Greece has its own province called Macedonia, it refuses to acknowledge the name of the independent country claiming the same name. As such, many maps show the country name as "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)".
  • Anatolia became Turkey.
  • What was Siam is now Thailand.
  • Cathay became China.
  • Modern-day Iraq came from Mesopotamia.
  • The island of Formosa became the country of Taiwan.
  • French Indo-China became Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
  • Malaya plus Singapore became Malaysia, and when Singapore split off, what remained is still Malaysia.
  • British Somaliland became Somalia.
  • Namibia was formerly Damaraland and German South-West Africa.
  • Hawaii was formerly called the Sandwich Islands (named for Captain James Cook's benefactor, The Earl of Sandwich).
  • Present-day Belize was once British Honduras.
  • Part of the New Hebrides became Vanuatu.
  • Kiribati was formerly the Gilbert Islands.
  • The Ellice Islands are now called Tuvalu. (Interesting, its country code, tv, is used by certain TV-related businesses!)
  • The Dominican Republic was formerly known as Santo Domingo, the name of its current capital.

A quick look at my 1900 Rand-McNally World Atlas shows the following country names that no longer seem to be around: Dalmatia, Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, Galicia, Transylvania, and Transcaucasia. (By the way, at that time, Ireland was part of the UK; and Poland, Finland, and the Czech Republic did not exist, but Prussia did. And the Arabian Peninsula was yet to be carved up.)

A number of well-known cities have had their names changed as well. I grew up with Peking and Bombay, but now they're Beijing and Mumbai, respectively. Of course, Constantinople became Istanbul, and Edo became Tokyo. St. Petersburg became Leningrad and then back again. Likewise, Volgograd became Stalingrad before reverting. Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro, was renamed to Titograd and back. And the East Prussian city of Königsberg became the Russian city Kaliningrad.

Closer to home, some 25 years ago when rural roads in northern Virginia were given names as well as route numbers, Route 287 became Berlin Turnpike. Apparently, that was its name many years earlier, when it lead to Brunswick (formerly Berlin), Maryland.

Going back to Biblical times, we have cities and states like Carthage, Nubia, Thrace, and Troy. (Ironically, in the US, Trojan is a brand name for condoms, so the esteemed name lives on! I can see Helen of Troy doing a commercial for them: "Just the thing to take on a hot date with a good-looking Greek!")

Differences between Languages or Cultures

I love the topic of geography, especially maps, and when I travel abroad, I like to look at maps in the local language. I certainly have trouble finding places I know. Those darn foreigners have names for everything! For example:

  • What the English-speaking world calls Holland is really The Netherlands (of which two provinces are North and South Holland). From my experience, people from Germanic-language countries use names that look much like one of these two. However, the French name is Pays Bas and the Spanish name is Países Bajos, meaning "low countries", as in "nether lands".
  • Of course, most of us are familiar with Deutschland being the German name for Germany. Some of its neighbors call it Aleman or some such. However, the Danes call it Tyskland and its language Tysk. However, the Italians call it Germania and its language tedesco.
  • What I call Munich the Germans call München.
  • London is known as Londres.
  • Capetown is Kapstadt.
  • And Cologne is the alter ego of Köln.
  • The Finns refer to Finland as Suomi.
  • The Germans call Hungary Ungarn.
  • Geneva can be Genf.
  • In Spanish, England, Wales, and Scotland become Inglaterra, Gales, and Escotia, respectively.
  • To the French, the United Kingdom is Le Royaume Uni.
  • What the English-speaking world knows as the United States (US) is known as VR to the Germans (Die Vereinigten Staaten) and the Dutch (Verenigde Staten), as EU to the French (Les États-Unis), and as EE.UU. to Spanish speakers (Los Estados Unidos).
  • Of course, USSR stands for the United Soviet Socialist Republic. So why then do Russians write it as CCCP. Actually, it's a trick question: In this case, the letters CCCP are from the Cyrillic alphabet not the Latin one, so with the Cyrillic C being equivalent to the English S, and P the R, we have, in Russian, Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik. That is, SSSR in English, which is CCCP in Cyrillic.
  • What I know as Copenhagen, the Danes call København.
  • The Italians like to have their own names too, for example: Firenza (Florence), Roma (Rome), and Napoli (Naples).
  • Drive a BMW? Well, they come from the Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works) whose initials in German just so happen to be the same as in English.
  • Ask an Argentinian about the Falkland Islands and they might take offence. They call those islands the Malvinas.
  • The country I call Belarus, the Germans call Weißrussland.
  • The city I know as Bratislava, the Germans call Preßburg.

The Danube River is well known. However, as it meanders across Europe, it goes through some name changes: It rises in Germany where it is called the Donau. It goes on to become Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Дунав, Dunărea, Дунáй, and Tuna before it reaches the Black Sea.

We've seen a number of examples of common abbreviations being different across languages. I'll leave you with one more, from the main railway company in Switzerland. Is it the SBB, the CFF, or the FFS? The answer is YES! As the Swiss have three main official languages— German, French, and Italian—and a fourth minority one called Romansch, the company is called Schweizerische Bundesbahnen, Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses, or Ferrovie federali svizzere) depending on the language of the speaker.

People's Names

Some years ago, I was traveling in a Spanish-speaking country, and I had the need to find someone's telephone number. So I located a directory and proceeded to search. However, unbeknownst to me, a Spanish person's name consists of a given name (sometimes called Christian name) followed by two family names (sometimes called surnames). Apparently, the first family name is the father's first family name, and the second the mother's first family name, except, of course, on Wednesdays that fall on a full moon! Of course, even that complicated rule is too simple. According to Wikipedia, "In Spain this order may now be reversed, according to a new gender equality law." It seems that the first family name is the formal/legal one, so use that when searching a list alphabetically.

We take for granted that certain people's names were exactly as we learned them. However, were the New Testament guys really called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Actually, they weren't; these are simply modern-day translations to "equivalent" English names. (The same goes for the names of Jesus' disciples.) For example, the popular English man's first name John might translate to Johannes, Giovanni, Ioan, Juan, João, Jean, Johan, Jan, Hans, Jens, Ieuan, Ifan, Ianto, Ioan, or Sîon. And William might translate to Wilhelm, Willelm, Williame, Willem, Guglielmo, Guillermo, Gwilym, or Liam. [Follow the two hyperlinks for more details.] In the case of William being Guillaume, I only learned that a few years ago when I visited the grave of the so-called "William the Conqueror" in Caen, Normandy, France.

If you'd like to know about the meaning of various family names in a number of languages, click here.

Some National Oddities

The UK (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is a country made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Okay then, so what are those four entities? States? Provinces? But no, Wikipedia says England is a country and that is has its own national football team! It says the same about Scotland and Wales, but for Northern Ireland, it says, "It is variously described as a country, province or region of the UK, amongst other terms." Yet it has an entry for a Northern Ireland national football team. Can one country "contain" another country? Is there something funny going on that the Queen and Prime Minister are not telling us? [Yes, there is, but that is a whole other story!] If we look a bit harder, we find that Wikipedia has an entry for Countries of the United Kingdom in which it claims that the UK is a "sovereign state under international law" made up of four countries. Now that article goes on to say, "[These countries] … compete separately in many international sporting competitions, including the Commonwealth Games." However, I don't believe that's the case for the Olympics.

Now the British Crown has some dependencies (the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) and overseas territories (which include Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands, and Gibraltar), but these are not part of the UK, per se. All of these appear to have their own 2-character country/internet codes.

Many people know that the US (United States of America) is made up of 50 states and a Federal Territory, the District of Columbia (or Washington DC). However, there are also populated and unpopulated territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and Midway Atoll. (The inhabitants of some of the populated territories are not US citizens.) Although a US territory, Puerto Rico has country code PR, and competes in the Olympics as a separate entity.

According to Wikipedia, "The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a sovereign state … [whose] … four parts— Aruba, Curaçao, the Netherlands, and Sint Maarten—are referred to as countries. … [There are also] three special municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba)." The four parts each have their own 2-character country/internet codes while the others share those for the Netherlands and the Netherlands Antilles.

So, when is a country not a country? It appears that the answer is "as clear as mud"!

Conclusion

Think Motown music and you think of the "motor town" of Michigan, USA, Detroit. Now pretty much everyone I know pronounces that name as de-troit or dee-troit, both with a hard 't' ending. A lot of that area was explored and settled by the French, so it is no surprise there are many names there having a French connection. The French word détroit means strait in English, as in a narrow waterway. For example, the waterway that flows from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and then on to the Mediterranean Sea is known in French as les Détroits (The Straits), shown on maps as the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. In the case of the city of Detroit, the waterway flows from Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair and on to Lake Erie. In French, détroit is pronounced day-twa, which I think you will agree sounds much more sophisticated. Given its current sad situation, Detroit needs all the help it can get, so a more sophisticated name just might work.

Travel: Memories of Ireland and the UK

© 2014 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

As with previous installments in this series, I'll borrow from my diaries. I'll also add other commentary. I've deliberately chosen to not include any photos, as you can see pictures (and plenty of other information) by following the on-line links.

Ireland

Official Name: Republic of Ireland (Éire); Capital: Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath); Language: English and Irish Gaelic (Gaeilge); Country Code: IE; Currency: Euro (previously, the Irish pound [punt])

My first trip to Ireland was in 2001 and started with a flight from the US to the Shannon Airport outside Limerick. After two nights there, we spent two weeks driving around the southwest counties of Kerry and Cork, staying with host families and Farmhouse Bed & Breakfasts. [Speaking of limerick, "There was a young man from the sticks; Who took to writing limericks; But he gave up the sport; Because he made them too short."]

[Diary] At Foynes we toured the Flying Boat Museum. (Foynes was the eastern terminal of the Trans-Atlantic flying boat services of the 1930s and 1940s.) Then we wandered along the Shannon estuary. We pulled into a picnic area and noticed a metal arch at each end of the pullout that we decided was to let cars in, but to keep out gypsies and their wagons. Travelers (the more polite term for gypsies) had quite a presence in Ireland.

[Diary] Contrary to our guidebook, our host suggested we explore the Dingle Peninsula by going over the Conor Pass first rather than at the end of the day. We stopped many times to shoot video. What a picturesque drive it was. At one point we climbed the rocks to a mountain lake. Dingle, a busy port town, was at the end of the pass. A bottle-nosed dolphin, Fungie, had taken up residence in the harbor and provided hours of amusement for tourists and locals. We decided to continue our tour and explore the town later. Of particular interest were the 5,000-year-old beehive dwellings made of stone and used by the early Christians.

[Diary] After dinner, we drove south on the Ring of Kerry, turning off to a beach overlooking the Inch Peninsula. The wind whipped up the waves in the ocean, but the more sheltered marshy area was quite calm. Many of the fields in which crops were grown were protected by two-to-three-foot hedges/fences. Watching the gale force wind that day showed us how practical this idea was. A house under construction had partially collapsed due to the wind.

[Diary] Next stop was Muckross House, built in 1843, visited by Queen Victoria in 1861, and given to the Irish Government by an American, Senator Vincent. We strolled around the stately home, through the vast gardens and into the craft center. Ladies View, so named because Queen Victoria and her ladies visited this spot, offered a spectacular look back up the Killarney Valley. We stopped in the town of Kenmore and walked to a ring of stones which supposedly had ties to the Druids. Quite a few sites have been excavated in different parts of Ireland.

[Diary] In June 1985, an Air India jumbo jet blew up off this Irish coast. Near the town of Ahakista, the Irish people created a memorial garden with flowers, a sundial and a wall on which the names of all the victims are inscribed.

[Diary] We donned hiking boots and coats and set off to see the stone circle that was part of the walking trails on the Sheep's Head Peninsula. This part of the trail had been opened the previous year by the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. We traipsed across tundra-like terrain, through the prickly heather, furze, and ferns. After about 25 minutes, we came to a stone stile and back onto a road that eventually lead to our farm.

[Diary] At 10 am, we left for Blarney and the famous castle. We decided to try lesser roads, and were surprised to find the best road of our trip so far. With only a few minor hitches, we pulled into the castle parking lot at 11 am. The entrance fee was reasonable at £3.50. The grounds were quite extensive, and the castle rather imposing up on the hill. The line to climb to the top to see/kiss the Blarney Stone was quite long, but it kept moving, and we chatted with others in line. Many of these folk were on organized tours, seeing the UK and Ireland in 10 days. (We were glad we chose to take our time.) We were inside the castle as the first rain of the day descended upon us. By the time we came outside at the top, it had stopped. Some of the stones were quite slippery and required extra care. The myth suggests that kissing the stone gives one the gift of the gab. I passed, as the Jaeschkes don't need any help in that department!

[Diary] Cobh (pronounced Cove) was our next destination. We circled around Cork, and, again, despite some confusing road signs, we found the N25 and Great Island on which the port town of Cobh can be found. This was the last port of call for the Titanic, and many of the 2,000 victims of the Lusitania (sunk during WWI) were buried there. Many Irish immigrants left their homeland from this port.

[Diary] Our next B&B was Killmuckey House, an impressive old home on a beef and dairy farm. We were the only guests, and so had the pick of the three rooms. We chose the brightest one. After cups of tea, we read and relaxed, a perfect way to spend part of a vacation. The weather continued to alternate between warm, sunny periods and showers. It was truly a charming, peaceful setting. At about 7 pm we drove into Castlematyr to find that the only pub serving food had closed its kitchen early. We drove to the shore at Garryvoe and, from a mobile kitchen, enjoyed sausages, fish and chips and a burger by the beach.

In December 2009, as one does, I met a Dublin-based couple at the Tourist Office in Caen, Normandy, France. We'd gone there to get information only to find it closed on Mondays, so we got talking and exchanged contact information. A year later, when I was making plans to go to Belfast, I decided to add on a week of play in and around Dublin, so I sent them mail to see about meeting up with them for a meal. They responded and invited me to stay two nights, and I accepted.

[Diary] At noon, we dressed warmly and ventured out. Although it was quite cold, the sun was shining and the wind was not blowing. We drove to some scenic overlooks and then to Howth, a suburb with a large harbor for fishing and recreational boats. It was quite busy there with people eating brunch/lunch and shopping at the open-air market. We walked out on the sea wall to the small lighthouse and then around the town a bit. At the market, we ate bratwursts at the German food stall and then stopped at a nearby café for coffee, chai latte, and pastries. I had a very nice buttered scone with jam.

[Diary] I'd made a plan to tour some cultural sites, and the first stop was the famous Trinity College Library, home of the equally famous Book of Kells, perhaps the finest illustrated book of the four Christian Gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. For €5, I got an audio guide, which made the visit much more interesting. The self-guided tour ended in the Long Room, which housed some 200,000 of the library's books shelved between two long rows of busts of famous Irish scholars. The oldest harp in Ireland was also on exhibit. It's the one featured on Irish Euro coins.

[Diary] Next, it was on to Dublin Castle and Christchurch to have a look, and then to St. Patrick's Cathedral (or should I say St. Padraig's Catedral?) where Jonathon Swift was buried. Next up was the National Museum (Anthropology). The good news was that admission was free; the bad news was that it too was closed on Mondays. Nearby was the National Gallery. The good news was that it too was free; the bad news was that it was open! I tried very hard to appreciate the paintings, but failed to get excited. Across the street was a statue of Oscar Wilde, so I went to pay my respects only to find the area cordoned off for repairs. However, I did manage to get a glimpse of his head through the trees. It was not my day, apparently.

[Diary] At 8:15 am at my Bed & Breakfast, I went down for breakfast where two young Egyptian men were eating. I ordered a cooked breakfast half of which I packed for Ron (as in "later on"). I had noticed a set of framed quotes from famous Irish literary people, mounted on the wall. The one that most amused me was from George Bernard Shaw, "Dancing is a vertical expression of a horizontal desire". Hmm.

I walked to the River Liffey and along one bank looking at some interesting architecture both old and new. What caught my eye was the new Samuel Beckett Bridge that looked like a huge harp hanging over the river with the cables being the strings. I came to O'Connell Bridge, which has the distinction of being wider than it is long. I strolled up the very busy O'Connell Street passed the stainless steel millennium Spire to the Garden of Remembrance, which honors those who helped win Irish independence in 1921. Opposite was another gallery, so I decided once again to try to increase my art-appreciation quotient. The best I can say was that the gallery had seats in every hall, so a weary traveler with bad knees could sit and rest and look at the paintings. The coffee shop was wonderful. I spent a whole hour there keeping warm, sipping very strong coffee, and working on some Sudoku puzzles.

I wandered through the main shopping streets to the river and back to Dublin Castle and the Beatty Library. Mr. Beatty was an American who had made his fortune in mining, and had lived much of his life in London and Dublin. Along the way, he collected a variety of things including very rare and ancient manuscripts most of which had some religious significance. He donated that collection to Ireland and the Library was built to house it. I was impressed with the man and the small collection that was on display.

[Diary] It had rained during the night and the leaf-covered sidewalks were a bit slippery. I walked to a rather swank hotel nearby, which was my closest tour pick-up point. The coach arrived at 9:30 and set off to pick up 25-odd others at various hotels and meeting places before heading out of town at 10:30. First stop was the Hill of Tara, at one-time the home of a large complex of wooden buildings from which the whole country was ruled. There is not much to see there now apart from old markers and mounds, however. From there, we drove down into the Boyne Valley where in 1690 the Protestant William of Orange (husband of Queen Mary) defeated his Catholic father-in-law, deposed King James, at the Battle of the Boyne.

At New Grange, we stopped for three hours. From the visitor's center, we rode a small bus to the huge earthen mound that had been excavated only 50 years earlier, perfectly preserved from when it was constructed 1,000 years before Egypt's pyramids were built. We went inside the narrow passageway and saw a simulation of sunlight coming in through a shaft above the entrance at noon on the midwinter's solstice. (To experience that on the actual day, one must be a winner of a national lottery for that purpose.)

[Diary] I rode the light rail to the seaside town of Bray, where I found a B&B for two nights. Next morning, I headed south along the boardwalk to Bray Head. It was a steady climb up a paved road and the view back over the town and its bay were great. The cliff-top walk south to Greystones was 6 km, and having nothing better to do I set out. There had been rain a few days earlier, so the path had mud in places, but it was not too bad. The path was 50+ feet above the train line, which in turn was 50+ feet above the Irish Sea. The hillside kept most of the wind away until the 4-km mark where the trail topped the cliffs and was completely exposed to the elements. There were only a few people out and I met up with two women from Belfast, a German family, and four young women from Slovakia. Near Greystones, the path had collapsed into the sea and a detour with tall fences on either side had been built across a farmer's field.

[Diary] Breakfast was a big affair with two sausages, three rashers of bacon, an egg, toast, tea, and juice. As was my usual practice, I ate half and packed the rest into my emergency ration kit. Back in my room, I packed my bag and finished my novel. I spent quality time with the resident dog, an aging Labrador who bonded with me in seconds. Then I bid farewell and stepped out into a glorious day, especially for November. The sun was streaming down and there was no wind. I had plenty of time, so I walked along the boardwalk watching people with dogs playing in and near the water. At the marina, a flock of gulls, geese, and swans fought for the bread people were feeding them. I walked out to the end of the seawall that protected the marina, and chatted with a retired woman who was very friendly. After a while, three of her friends joined us and we sat and chatted in the sun, lamenting the fact that no one had brought tea and scones!

The UK

Official Name: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Capital: London; Language: English; Country Code: GB (although UK is used as an Internet address suffix); Currency: Pound sterling. Great Britain is the island containing England, Scotland, and Wales.

England

Well now, where to begin? I've been to England and London many times. From the dozens of diary pages I've come up with the following handful of extracts:

[Diary from Bath] I rode a taxi to my very swank hotel, the Bath Priory, a member of a small luxury hotel chain. The normal rate was about £250 pounds (US$400) per night, but we had some sort of corporate deal that made it halfway decent. We had very special individual service, the whole nine yards; it was a bit posh, in fact. I expected I'd have to say "Please" when I ask them "I say old bean. Could you please pass the bloody potatoes?'" All the rooms were named for flowers; I was assigned "Marigold".

That night, a company hosted a reception for 25 people. It was a rather nice affair. Being in a private dining room, and most of us being your typical technical computer nerds, we didn't wear ties or jackets, apparently, a rule inviolate in the main dining room at dinnertime. (In fact, I'm sure that some didn't even wear socks, although I don't remember that being a requirement in the posted dress code.) Well it was a typical up-scale restaurant: the more expensive the dish, the bigger the plate, the smaller the serving, and the more artistic. In fact, I'd say that the appetizer and dessert looked more artistic than most art I'd seen, but, then, I'd been known to have my taste in my mouth!

Off the entrance hall there was a medium-sized parlor/reading room, with comfortable chairs, paintings and books. They had a collection of Robert Louis Stevenson's work, a set of 1910 11th edition Encyclopedia Britannica, Diaries of The French Revolution, lots of English classics, and so forth. Just the sort of thing a country squire would have. (I made notes for my dream house plan.)

The adjacent larger parlor was, how shall I say, overrun with large deep comfortable chairs and cushions, many oil paintings (of people paying polo, cricket and rugby, of military officers, and numerous other topics), objects of art, and other quaint stuff. From here, one could exit onto the patio that overlooked the croquet lawn, fountains, and large garden. As the sun shone down, I must say that it did look rather impressive, what! (I made more notes for my dream house.)

[Diary from Oxford] We arrived in a slight drizzle, but that stopped as we left the station. We boarded a double-decker bus for an orientation tour of this university city. We were the only passengers, so we sat upstairs in the open, next to the guide. After the tour we started a walking tour at Christ Church, the best known of the many colleges there. While there is one big university, and all the students mix in for classes, they live and dine in their own colleges, some of which date back many hundreds of years. Christ Church has the big cathedral built by Cardinal Wolsey, who then fell out of favor with Henry VIII, who then suggested to Wolsey that it would be good for his health to give it to the King, who made it his own design. (Oh it's good to be King!) Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) was a math tutor there, and numerous references to his characters are embodied in stain glass in the dining hall.

Back in Australia, my first car was a Morris Minor, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that William Morris had started out in Oxford with a bicycle shop and then built his first cars in a factory on the edge of town. This lead to the world-famous Mini, which BMW had taken over and launched a new model. (Shagadelic Baby! as Austin Powers might say.) The MG (Morris Garage) sports car was also well known.

[Diary from London] We set off for Abbey Road to see the studios made famous by the Beatles, although, it turned out, those studios were already quite well known for other reasons. We walked on the famous Zebra crossing that is featured on the Beatles' album "Abbey Road". … Then it was on to King's Cross station, and Saint Pancras, the wonderful church/train station next door. After a short walk we were at the British Library, opened only two years earlier. It houses the Magna Carta, an original Shakespeare folio, some very fancy Korans, numerous other literary treasures, and, last but by no means least, Beatles lyrics written on airline napkins and scrap paper. In the multimedia room we looked over some rare books that have been digitized, including Da Vinci's notebook. He wrote his Italian backwards (right-to-left), so you needed a mirror to read it. Of course, the computer reversed it for us.

[Diary from County Kent] From Hastings we took a 15-minute ride to the town of Battle, some six miles to the north. The Battle of Hastings actually took place there in 1066 resulting in William the Conqueror's whipping Harold, but only just. Apparently, after killing all those Saxons, William decided to build an abbey on the site as part of his penance. In the years that followed, the town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey. At the battlefield tour office we bought our tickets, got our audio wand, and headed out around the grounds, museum, and battlefield for a narrated tour. The audio wand allowed us to get commentary from the point of view of a Saxon soldier, a Norman knight, and Harold's wife who was part of his medical support team. Of course, the two sides had different versions of the story.

In May and June of 2005, I hiked the Thames Path (184 miles/294 km) along the Thames River. For details, see my essay.

Scotland

My family and I spent a week there using a Brit-Rail pass. We started out in Edinburgh were we spent two nice days playing tourist (visiting the castle and its Mons Meg cannon, Holy Rood Palace, and so on) and eating pub food. Next was Aberdeen, the center for North Sea oil activities. In the north, we spent half a day in Inverness where I bought a beautiful woolen sweater hand-made by a craftswoman from the remote islands. [As I write this, it's snowing and tonight's temperatures are forecast to be below zero Fahrenheit, so that sweater might come in handy, especially if the power goes out!]

We had a delightful and low-key weekend in Kyle of Lochalsh staying in a private home. From there, we took the short ferry ride across to the Isle of Skye and a bus down to Armidale, and the ferry back to the mainland and Fort William.

We'd been making up our plan as we traveled, but once we discovered that Glasgow was hosting an international garden festival, we found it impossible to find any accommodations in that area. As such, we looked at the map of the area 50+ miles to the northwest of Glasgow, and picked a place where we'd get off the train and try to find a place to stay there. As the train pulled out of the station we found ourselves the only ones who got off, and that the station was unmanned. There were signs to two neighboring villages: Tarbet and Arrochar. Although both were within a short walking distance, we chose the closer one, Tarbet. On the edge of town we found a B&B with a nice room, so we signed up for two nights. Although our choice of train station had been purely arbitrary, we found ourselves in the town that tourists use to visit the famed Loch Lomond, whose banks were "just down the hill from the pub". We did the obligatory boat tour of the loch, only to be "attacked" by two Royal Air Force jets that were practicing a bombing run on the dam nearby. To have jets come at you upwind at only hundreds of feet over your head, and then have a sonic boom hit you after they were well passed is quite an experience, not to mention cause for an underwear change!

On the final day of our rail pass, we spent the afternoon walking around Glasgow.

Wales

Our visit here started in Bangor, where we stayed two nights in a B&B. Next up, we were hosted by a 40-something single man who lived in a converted country chapel. One novel feature was that the front door was a typical heavy wooden church-door affair, and the key for it was "hidden" under a stone on top of the wall, in plain view! On our final morning, we helped our host repair bicycles in his bike-rental shop in town. After that, we had a rest day while staying at a country pub. We were the only guests and the publican was happy to have the company. We enjoyed walking on rights-of-way across fields, and eating lunch in front of a roaring fire.

We stayed with a second host family where the wife worked while the inventor-husband ran the house. We were introduced to several different kinds of tandem bicycles, wild-berry picking, and sleeping in a tent in the garden. The final host was a country doctor husband and wife, who were out on their rounds each day. He was a Quaker and she was an atheist, an interesting combination. This was not long after the Chernobyl disaster, and the people of this Welsh village were hosting 20–30 children from the affected area, to give them a psychological as well as medical respite. The last night of the trip was spent in Cardiff. [This was our first time as a family staying with hosts from Servas International.]

Northern Ireland

I've been to Northern Ireland only once, for a business conference in 2010. To get there, I flew into Dublin and took a bus to Belfast. I departed by train back to Dublin. Although it rained hard much of the week I was there, I was able to visit some of the countryside and to sample some great food and hospitality.

[Diary] … The Europa Hotel was a rather posh place with a grand lobby complete with open fireplace radiating quite some heat. The staff was ever so happy to have me as a guest for seven nights at the paltry cost of £90 per night, taxes and full breakfast included. However, internet access was not. I rode the lift to the 9th floor and opened the door to my room. As soon as I saw the bed, I thought there must be some mistake. Although it was a double, it was designed for two leprechauns! And the writing table certainly had character; that is, either the legs had different lengths or the floor was uneven. Tea- and coffee-making facilities were provided, as is the typical British Commonwealth custom. I unpacked and settled in. I'd been "on the road" 17½ hours.

Now I'm sure some readers will be interested in knowing whether it really is safe these days in Northern Ireland. I must say that I had been wondering that myself, so I picked up a daily paper in the hotel lobby and here's the stories splashed across the front page: "Officers injured in bomb ambush" (police officers were bombed as they responded to a burglary call); "Hunt on for kidnap gang"; and "Dentist trial to start later this month" (a dentist and his lover were to go on trial for murdering their previous partners). There was one bit of good news, however. The Farming Life insert proclaimed, "Beef producers look to happy new year." Well, that was a relief; just when I was starting to think this might be a dangerous place. [One factoid I learned that day was that my hotel, The Europa, had been bombed or threatened more than 35 times during The Troubles, which ended in the late 90's.]

[Diary] … On our free day, a colleague and I rented a car. After a long drive, we came to the main natural attraction of Northern Ireland—Giant's Causeway—an extensive basalt rock collection of 4-, 5-, and 6-sided vertical columns of rock formed after a huge volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago. We hiked down to the water's edge and climbed all over the formations along with other tourists. Then we climbed a trail and hiked a ways to see a huge amphitheater containing some of the tallest and best column sets. Then we hiked up to the top of the cliffs and into the teeth of a strong and cold wind back to the visitor center. After all that exercise and the cold, we were well and truly ready for a hot meal, and we settled into the hotel nearby for a great lunch.

[Diary] … I walked with a group of fellow conference delegates to the town hall where some 50 of us were given a guided tour. The rest of the delegates joined us afterwards and we all had drinks and appetizers to the sounds of a string quartet. From there, we moved into a large dining room and sat at circular tables of 7–8 people. The deputy Lord Mayor gave us a rousing welcome in a very good speech, and then the food was served. To start with there was hot pan-seared salmon with herbed potato bread and dulse (seaweed) cream. The main course was braised Northern Ireland lamb shank with champ (mashed potatoes with herbs), spring greens (beans), and baby carrots and caramelized shallots, served in Bushmills (local whiskey) and red currant jus. Dessert was Irish rhubarb and champagne crème Brule with Grenadine (liquor), roasted rhubarb and Irish butter shortbread. That was followed by tea and coffee. Throughout the meal, waiters served red wine from France, white wine from Chile, and bottled water from England's Blenheim Palace grounds (Churchill's ancestral home near Oxford).

Some speeches followed, a man played traditional tunes on different flutes, and four colleens danced some traditional steps accompanied by recorded music. I sat next to a retired Irish couple and we spent the evening discussing all kinds of topics relating to the Republic and Northern Ireland. It was quite an interesting history lesson.

[Diary] … The skies turned dark soon after we departed Belfast and rain fell. Several Irish Republic delegates and I talked most of the 2:20-hour train journey to Dublin comparing all sorts of things in our respective countries, and getting an Irish history lesson as we crossed the famous River Boyne.

Conclusion

Although I'd be happy to visit or revisit numerous places in Ireland and the UK, I have only one major thing on my bucket list for that part of the world. And that is a visit to Yorkshire. Yes, I might have a romantic notion of it from James Heriot's books and TV series, "All Creatures Great and Small", but I'd like to go anyway. I must admit, however, that I have also thought about hiking the Hadrian's Wall path. Yet deep in my heart I know that truly is a crazy idea.

I'll end with the following anecdote: A Scotsman and an Englishman were talking about the relative merits of their heritage, and the Englishman said, "By God, I was born an Englishman, I've lived as an Englishman, and I'll die as an Englishman!" To which the Scotsman replied, "Have ye no ambition?"