Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Having a Plan B

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

For many years, I've had a rule that goes, "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!" Occasionally, I get to C or D—and sometimes even to F or G—before I find success.

What we're talking about here is dealing with the unexpected, and this often comes with situations where you don't control all the variables. Basically, this pretty much means any time you leave the house. You are immediately subject to the weather, traffic, and people, all of which can be unpredictable, and in the case of people, even irrational.

To be sure, you can and should plan for success (see my essay from May 2011), but variables outside your control can quickly throw a wrench in the works. I've seen many people ruin their own day and that of those around them when something doesn't go according to their plan. As yelling, screaming, and generally having a tantrum are unlikely to resolve the problem, far better that you sit down, have a piece of chocolate, breathe deeply, and count to 10. And if that doesn't work, count to 100 (then 1,000). Then come up with a Plan B.

In this essay, I'll describe some of my last-minute plan changes, many of which involve travel. I'll also mention several instances in which no alternate plan was possible; it was just a matter of accepting the situation and not worrying about things over which one has no control.

The Ticket that Was then Wasn't

In late 1978, my wife and I left Australia for an indefinite period to work and travel. After some months of planning, we booked airline tickets from Adelaide, Australia, to Washington DC, with stops (going east) in New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. The trip would take two weeks. On May 25th, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed in Chicago. What made that significant was the plane was a DC-10, the type of aircraft we were going to fly across the Pacific with Air New Zealand. Immediately, all DC-10s, worldwide, were grounded; however, we didn't realize the impact on us for a good while, by which time, the alternate routing options were gone, and we were left with tickets that could not be used.

When next we went back to our travel agent, we had no Plan B. However, sitting on a desk in the office was a globe, and as I was spinning it around, I noticed that one could get from Australia to Washington DC by going west. Yes, it was a longer trip, but at least it didn't compete with all the passengers trying to rebook flights across the Pacific. And we didn't have any need to go east anyway. By the end of that meeting, we'd pinned down a viable alternative with tickets from Adelaide to London with unlimited stopovers and up to one year to complete the trip. The rules were based on distance travelled. [We'd buy a ticket to Washington DC once we were in London.] At that time, Adelaide airport did not have international flights, so we'd planned to leave the country via Sydney. As luck would have it, if you look on a globe, the following cites are pretty much in a straight line: Sydney, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Mumbai (called Bombay at that time), Athens, Rome, Geneva, Paris, and London. We included all those on our tickets and added a side trip to Hong Kong as well, for an extra 15% cost. [En-route, we skipped Athens, and we took five weeks to get to DC.]

The result was that after months of planning and my globe spinning, we had a chance to do it all over again, factoring in all the things we'd learned thus far. And we visited many more places and took longer. So, Plan B can be just as good as Plan A–and maybe even better—if you don't obsess with Plan A.

Lost Luggage

I traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for a conference, and took my wife and son with me. As it was cold, we'd packed winter clothes. From there, we flew to San Francisco, but our luggage didn't make it, and the weather was very warm. As we'd planned a driving trip down the coast, and had no planned itinerary, there was no way our luggage could catch up with us, so we arranged to pick it up when we came back some days later. We bought a few toiletries and some socks and underwear and headed off, enjoying the weather.

On another occasion, I flew home, but my luggage didn't come out on the belt. As it happened, it was standing outside the plane in the rain and got somewhat wet, and was delivered to my house 24 hours later, after I'd already left on another trip. The challenge was to come up with a whole other case as well as toiletries and clothing in the meantime.

When I taught seminars, I carried boxes of heavy overhead transparencies and other gear, all of which fit in a large lockable attaché case. I was headed home from San Francisco and boarded the car rental bus for my terminal. I put my case upfront on a large pile of luggage. However, when I got off, my case was gone, with no clue as to where it was. (Apparently, it had fallen out the door when another passenger pulled their case out of the pile, and the driver hadn't noticed!) Minutes later, an agent from an airline other than mine arrived in her bus to find this unaccompanied, locked case lying at the curb. She saw my business card luggage label, and contacted me to tell me she had it. She then put it on a flight—at no charge to me—and sent it home to me. I got her name and address and sent her a reward.

The good news is that after two million air miles over 40-odd years, I have never lost any luggage permanently. And of those few times when my luggage has gone astray, it has almost always been on the flight home, which is nowhere near as bad as on the flight out.

Certainly, one should not put critical or valuable items in checked luggage. And in my case, I never lock my checked bags. Security personnel have a right to inspect them, so no point in having them damage the locks by gaining entry. By the way, on each trip, I put a printed copy of my flight itinerary inside my checked luggage.

Money Troubles in Uruguay and France

At the Montevideo international airport in Uruguay, I met a Dutch woman. She had no traveler's checks or cash, just a cash-machine card. Unfortunately, she couldn't get the cash machine to work, and its being entirely in Spanish didn't help, as she spoke no Spanish. As I arrived, she was in tears with no Plan B and feeling very sorry for herself after a long flight from Europe. I too failed to get money from the machine, but I did have US$100 in $20 bills, so I went to the airport bank. Unfortunately, the bills had been printed/cut off-center, and the bank said they looked like forgeries, and refused to change them. I pleaded for a bit and, finally, they relented and changed $20. With the proceeds, I bought two bus tickets to the city center, and took my newly acquired Dutch friend with me. There, I found a cheap hotel and paid for two rooms. In the main street, I found a moneychanger who happily changed the remainder of my "funny looking" bills and my friend found a cash machine that she could understand. With that, she was able to pay me back.

With the increasing proliferation of cash machines around the world, it was our first time traveling without travelers' checks. We were in Strasbourg, Alsace, France. Now US telephone dials have long had letters as well as digits, and this transferred to keypads, and was in common use on cash machines all over the US. Not so in Europe, however, but there was I standing at a cash machine in France, with my card, but not knowing how to translate my alphabetic PIN to the corresponding digits on the keypad! It took me some effort to locate a business that had letters on a keypad, so I could see the letter-to-digit correspondence. [As a result, I have a letter-to-digit table stored in my pocket computer and laptop, but, of course, I've never needed it since, as international keypads now have letters as well.]

The Cancellation of a Play

A German friend met me in London, and after much discussion about the plays on offer, we bought half-price tickets for a performance of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit". As that started at 7:30 pm, we went off to have a leisurely supper. At 7:30, an employee of the theater announced that "Due to technical difficulties, tonight's performance is cancelled, and you can get a refund at the box office." I grabbed my friend and raced out to get at the front of the refund line. The good news was that most plays started at 8 pm, so we had a chance to go elsewhere. The bad news was we didn't have a second choice! However, as we exited the theater, across the street was another one, with a show about which we had no real knowledge. From the brief description given to us by the usher, we bought tickets. After all, we had planned for theater that night, and theater there would be, damn it! Well, don't you know, we very much enjoyed the performance of "Stomp", which involved a percussion group using their bodies and ordinary objects to create a physical theatre performance using rhythms, acrobatics, and pantomime. [More than 10 years later, it is still playing in London.]

A Poke in the Eye with a Blunt Stick

I'd arranged a 2-week trip with business in Copenhagen, Denmark, and visits with friends in that city and the island of Fyn. Two weeks prior, on a Friday evening, dark spots started floating across one of my eyes. I'd recently moved to a new county and had no eye doctor, so I had to find one. Then, they were not open on weekends, the following Monday was a holiday, and the doctor didn't practice on Tuesdays, so it was Wednesday before I got to see him. He very quickly diagnosed a torn and partially detached retina, and insisted a specialist make room for me that day. Within hours of that visit, the problem was fixed with laser surgery, but I was grounded for at least two weeks. No flying for me any time soon! Of course, I had to cancel my trip and handover my meeting secretarial duties to another committee member.

Although I'd very much looked forward to seeing good friends again, that was not an option, so there was no point dwelling on what might have been. You need to "Just get over it!"

[BTW, the section title is from a sarcastic Aussie saying that goes, "That was better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick!" which translates to "It wasn't very good at all."]

A Turn-Around in Flight

In September 2015, I departed Beijing, China, for Newark, New Jersey and Washington DC. I was minding my own business in Business Class, watching an interesting movie, "Interstellar", waiting for my supper to be served. Well, don't you know, my time in Paradise was interrupted by an announcement from the cockpit that "Due to a mechanical problem, we are returning to PEK". In all my years of airplane travel, that had never happened to me before. We were an hour out of PEK, so it took another hour to get back. The airline company planned to dump fuel, but apparently could not get Chinese permission to do so, and we landed with near-full tanks. However, we were assured that it was not an emergency, so there was no cause for alarm.

We landed back at PEK, but not even the crew knew what would happen next, so we all stayed in our seats parked out in the midfield some distance from a terminal. Unfortunately, the crew cut the power to the audio and video system, so I didn't get to finish my movie. An hour later, ground crew arrived, and we walked down stairs to waiting buses that took us to a terminal. Assistance was sporadic and insufficient. Eventually, we found ourselves at the backside of passport control, where staff let us back in to the country and put a "Cancel" stamp over our "Departed" stamps in our passports. By the time I caught the train to the baggage area my bag was on the carousel, and soon I was out on the street at bus stop 11 where we'd been told to wait for pickup. Right in front of me was a bus with a sign UA88, the flight I'd been on and that was cancelled. I boarded it to find one other passenger there. After 20 minutes, we were the only ones, which we thought was most strange, when a bi-lingual passenger joined us and found out from the driver that it was a bus for the crew. Our (unmarked) passenger bus was nearby. We boarded that along with five others and soon headed out to the airport Crowne Plaza hotel.

We arrived at the hotel at 8:45 pm to find 25 fellow passengers in line ahead of us being "processed". Our passports were photocopied, and we were given a room key and details of the rescheduled flight going out at the same time the next day. I went to my room to find a very elegant setting, in which I would not ordinarily stay otherwise. I had trouble connecting to the internet and difficulty understanding the front-desk assistant who explained I needed to pay about $20 for 1-day of connection. Bugger!

Down in the dining room, we were given a meal coupon for the evening meal, which I can assure you was not the beef I'd been anticipating in BusinessFirst on UA88! In fact, the offerings were pitiful and none of us were inspired to eat much at all. Of course, numerous dishes contained shellfish, and none was identified! As a number of fellow passengers came together at one table, I dubbed it the Gilligan's Island table.

Back in my room I found email from United Airlines telling me I'd been booked on the same flight the following day, but if I'd like to see my alternatives, I could do so. Knowing there was a direct flight to IAD, where I really wanted to be, I looked for that, and lo and behold, it had space available. Although I'd be home a day late, I'd arrive an hour earlier than planned and would not have a stopover. The ironic thing is that I'd wanted to go on that direct flight both ways when I booked the ticket, but it was $2,500 cheaper if I had a stopover in each direction, yet now I was going home on that very flight without paying extra.

A Train Strike in NW Italy

It was May and humid, and I was in Italy. I rode a train north from Rome to La Spezia, my plan being to spend time visiting the five towns of Cinque Terre and hiking the paths between them, before going south to Lucca, Pisa, and Siena. On arrival in La Spezia, I discovered that due to a workers' strike the regional train service was intermittent or non-existent, depending on one's destination. Fortunately, I had no confirmed accommodation reservations that needed to be cancelled or changed. Now I'd already changed my original plan, so was on Plan B, but as I spoke to a very helpful assistant at the tourist office, Plan C materialized.

I walked about 1 km through the town to a bus stop for a number of routes. Within five minutes, my bus arrived, and I boarded. It was crowded with standing room only; however, someone got off at the first stop and I was able to get a seat. I filled the one luggage rack with my backpack and daypack. The 11-km journey along the coast involved many tight turns and I felt some motion sickness, but managed to hold on to my lunch.

We pulled into the small town of Porto Venere where the bus route terminated. It was the end of a number of major hiking trails that came south from Cinque Terre, and given the beautiful weather, it was no surprise that the hikers were out in force. I walked 100 meters into the town where I found a friendly young policewoman who spoke passable English. She gave me some directions for the tourist office (which didn't open until 16:00) and some accommodation tips. I dropped by a nice hotel right on the waterfront, and although it wasn't too expensive, I went off in search of alternative places.

I soon found my Shangri La, the hotel Genio. It was built up a steep hillside with lots of steps and terraces that overlooked the main plaza. The friendly Russian front desk assistant, Igor, was happy to give me a very good rate for two nights if I paid cash. Breakfast on the terrace between 08:00 and 10:00 was included as was high-speed internet access at his desk. And all for €65 a night. Igor took me to see Room 6, way up the back with its own little garden under fruit trees. It was a very nicely appointed double room with en-suite bathroom, all quite modern and spacious. I accepted his offer and went down to check in. By the time I unpacked and settled in it was 15:30. A church clock chimed at 15-minute intervals.

I have to say that this unplanned diversion was one of the highlights of the trip. It also reinforces my usual style of travel, to have as much flexibility as possible. As such, I don't lock in a lot of accommodation, and I don't do plan-well-in-advance guided tours. The odds are very high that on such a tour I'd want to stay longer at some places and not at all at others, but that is not possible. [This is a major difference between being a traveler versus a tourist!]

When the INS says "Jump"!

In 2007, my wife and I applied for US citizenship, and after we were fingerprinted, we sat back and waited for our interview to be scheduled. That happened 13 months later when we received a letter from the then INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) telling us where and when to report. Unfortunately, the date was right in the middle of a 2-week trip to Croatia and Slovenia we'd planned months before. Well, one does not negotiate such things with the INS. When they say "jump", one replies, "how high?" So, we cancelled our trip.

I am happy to report that I passed the written and oral English-language test, I was made a US citizen, and I finally got to Croatia in 2012 and again in 2016, and to Slovenia in 2016. (See my essay from April 2010, "The Road-to-US-Citizenship".)

A Non-Visit to a Castle

I've been to Prague, Czech Republic, numerous times, and love that city. On one visit, I decided to visit the famous Karlštejn Castle, which is just a short train ride out of the city, and to take a friend with me. We walked from the station into the little village to find that this was the one day of the week the castle was closed. Don't you just hate that when that happens! The good news was that later in the week, a business colleague took us in his car for a drive around the countryside, and not only did we visit the castle, but we got into its off-limits inner sanctums, through a "friend of a friend". It was an impressive place to visit.

Sadly, this was not the first time I've shown up at a place to find it's "the closed day", and it probably won't be the last.

The Striking View from the Top

It was December, and after business in Paris, I visited Normandy. From there, I went to Avraches from where I visited Mont Saint-Michel. I dropped by the tourist office to get a small map and brochure. There was no fee to enter the walled town and no English guided tours were available, so I was left to make my own plan. The many tourist shops were opening, and the patisseries were setting out their freshly baked goods. It seemed to me a good idea to find a nice warm place and a hot drink. Auberge Saint Pierre looked as good a restaurant as any, so I went in and in my best French ordered a large hot chocolate "si vous plait".

The narrow main path meandered up a steady incline through the little town between the shops and restaurants. However, when I got to the entrance of the famous abbey near the top a sign informed me that it was closed just for the day. And all because of a monument/museum workers strike. Don't you just hate that? Well, they say that something good comes out of everything and, in this case, I saved the €8 admission charge. I chatted with some disgruntled tourists, which included a busload of Japanese. [I'd never seen Japanese get angry, but in this case, they were; this was to be a highlight of their trip and they wouldn't be able to "come back tomorrow" as was suggested by one of the picketing workers.]

As for me, Plan B involved walking around the town's ramparts taking photos of the church on the rock above and the mudflats exposed by the low tide. At sea level, I walked several hundred meters along the causeway to get a good photo of the whole island, which was about 1 km around. Then I walked out on the mudflats near the base of the fortifications. A sign warned of quicksand, so I made sure I followed the footsteps of the people ahead of me, that is, right up until the footsteps disappeared!

Let's Stop for some Fuel

There I was minding my own business on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Washington DC, when I noticed on the large flight map on the front wall of my cabin that we were flying a figure-eight over the New England states of the US. The power grid over New York City had gone down and air traffic was stopped from flying over that corridor. However, we circled around for so long, the pilot decided to stop off at Boston to refuel. Unfortunately, no-one there was ready for us, and we were on the ground for some hours before we could continue. Some passengers were actually flying back to Boston from DC, and after they made such a fuss, they were let off the plane, but their checked luggage would have to catch up with them later. Fortunately, my ride home was arranged when I landed, so apart from being a few hours late, I was not otherwise inconvenienced.

Landing at the Wrong Airport

Washington National Airport (DCA) has a nighttime curfew. I was flying there on a delayed flight, but the pilot was told that he could not land there. Now at the time, I lived near Washington Dulles Airport, to the west, but did they divert there to make it convenient for me? No, they sent us to Baltimore Washington International, and then bused us to National and Dulles. Don't you just hate that when that happens!

Chaos in Orlando

Pan Am airlines had pretty much gone out of business, and a cruise line had taken over its operations. My wife and son and I were on a flight home from Puerto Rico, which stopped in Orlando, Florida. Things were so disorganized with flights being cancelled or delayed that the passengers were about to mutiny, I kid you not. A young mother was so abusive, she was arrested, and her small children were taken into protective custody. Airport police appeared riding mountain bikes, and tried to maintain order. I knew that it was not a safe place to be and that the chance of our flight leaving soon or at all was minimal, so I quietly took my family back out to the main check-in desk. The good news was there was only one customer in front of me, but she was so obnoxious and gave the agent a hard time that once that passenger was processed, the agent needed a mental-health break, and left the counter for 15 minutes. When she returned she was composed, I treated her nicely, she got us on a flight the next day, and we unexpectedly stayed overnight near the airport.

Moving to Utah

Early in 2017, a friend announced that she was moving to Utah. In a fit of madness, I offered to drive her and her possessions there in a rental truck. After we'd each slept on the idea for a week, we decided that it might even be fun. The most direct route would be to go north a bit through Maryland and Pennsylvania, and then west on Interstate Highway 70 (I70) through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, and on into Utah, and then north on state highways to Park City, the location of her new home.

Despite all our planning, Mother Nature had other ideas. First, a major winter storm was forecast for the Northern Virginia area, our starting point, and another was already in progress in the Midwest, through which I70 ran. As a result, I quickly pulled together a new plan to avoid any ice and snow. Our final route was south through Virginia, and across the country on I40 through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. And we drove an extra 700 miles. But hey, when you are sitting in a moving van driving at 70 miles/hour, you don't have much time to check out the view. Besides, it allowed us to have a great visit to the Arches National Park.

No Trains Today!

After a very pleasant week in Alsace, France, my wife and I fronted up to the Strasburg train station to buy tickets to Mainz, Germany, for that morning. But, au contraire mon ami, that turned out to be impossible because the train workers were having a little sit-down with coffee and croissants! There would be no trains today, monsieur!

We needed a Plan B right then and there! Nearby was a car-rental counter and "Yes, perhaps we have a car available; just let me look as soon as I have finished my coffee and croissant." [The agent was marginally friendlier than the grouchy train agent had been.] Anyway, we got our car, loaded up our bags, and headed north. As we were no longer required to follow a route, we took advantage of the flexibility and stopped off to visit the Marginot Line along the way. [This never-completed fortified wall was built after WWI to stop the Germans from invading again. Unfortunately, they made an end-run through Belgium where there was no wall, tricky Devils!]

Eventually, we got to our host family in Mainz where we stayed one night instead of the two we'd planned, before. As we were eating breakfast the next morning, the news broke that the Gulf War invasion had started. As a result, there would be extra security around all flights by US carriers.

Conclusion

When confronted with unexpected situations, try to take advantage of them. Be open-minded. Ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that can happen if I don't get to follow my current plan?" Remember, it's the journey, not the destination. In any event, pack a novel, a deck of playing cards, and maybe some ear plugs, just in case you have to sleep overnight at an airport, bus station, or ferry terminal.

Travel: Memories of The Hill Country, Texas, Y’all

© 2012 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Three days after getting home from Prague, Czech Republic, it was time to leave again; however, this trip was for a vacation, to Austin, Texas, and the area to the west and south known as the Hill Country. Jenny's school system had a week off for Spring Break, and we'd decided to head south to warmer climes. It had been 20-odd years since I was last in Austin, and Jenny had never been. [Our home state of South Australia and Texas were both founded in 1836. They are sister states, and their capitals, Adelaide and Austin, are sister cities. While South Australia became a new state of Australia in 1836, Texas became an independent country after the war with Mexico. Texas joined the U.S. as a state in 1845.] I cashed in some of my Frequent Flyer miles, so the total cost of the two airline tickets was about $10.

[Diary] It rained quite heavily in the morning and the skies were dark; however, by lunchtime, it was very nice out, and the trees by our house were in full bloom with white and pink flowers. It was early April.

Jenny came home early from school, around 3:15 pm, just as I was winding up work for the day. We packed a few things and had a late lunch. At 5 pm, friend Cathy picked us up and drove us to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD).

The overnight flights to Europe and non-stop flights to the west coast had departed, so the airport was very quiet. We checked-in, went through security, and were in United Airlines' Red Carpet Club in double-quick time. There, we read newspapers, snacked, and phoned friends. Our flight was due to depart at 7:05 pm, but a delay was announced until 7:20 and then again to 7:55. As it happened, there was bad weather in the northeast and our in-bound plane was delayed.

As we waited at Gate 26, I chatted with the flight crew, which was led by a young woman captain. Finally, we boarded flight UA7281, a 67-seat jet. It was a full flight. Jenny and I had aisle seats opposite each other. The young woman sitting next to me had started out in India, flown to Frankfurt, then to IAD, and, finally, to Austin. She had had a very long day! Finally, at 8:30 pm, we raced down the runway and headed west and south.

The flight took 3½ hours, during which we were served drinks. We both napped at least a little. We landed at Austin (AUS) at 11 pm, quite some distance from the terminal, so it took a while for us to taxi there. We must have been one of the last flights in for the night, as the terminal was almost closed down.

Our luggage arrived in minutes and we made our way across the street to the express car rental desks in the parking garage. The young lady there tried to "do me a favor" by upgrading me for free to a large Sports Utility Vehicle, but I knew it would be a gas guzzler, so I politely insisted on the mid-size sedan I'd reserved. She produced a bright red VW Jetta, which, although it was a little tight for one so tall, was adequate.

We headed out to the freeway and it was a straight 20-minute run to our hotel on the northwest side of town. Having been a frequent guest with Marriott Hotels over the years, I cashed in some points and got a free room for the one night. We checked in about 11:45 pm, and got a room on the top floor. It had a full kitchen and all the comforts of home. Breakfast was included as was high-speed internet access.

As I had gone back to working part-time, I planned to travel more on personal trips. I needed to be in-touch with business associates on a regular basis, but my large laptop and gear was too big and heavy to carry around on vacation, especially if I was using a backpack. So, I'd recently bought a netbook, a small computer with a 10" screen that folded into the size of a large hardback novel. It was able to run everything my business desktop could do, just at a slower pace. I christened it Mini-Me, from the Austin Powers movies. I hooked it up to the hotel system, and, voila, it worked perfectly, which meant I'd be able to send and receive email and use my internet phone. I had also recorded a number of my favorite music CDs onto it, so I had music on demand.

[Diary] We were both awake at 7:30 am, at least an hour short of sleep. After hot showers, we went down to the front desk area to get the complimentary breakfast supplies of juice, bagels, cream cheese, blueberry and banana muffins, and energy bars. Back in our room, we ate and drank hot tea while listening to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"; not your typical Texas breakfast, I'm sure.

Jenny lay on the bed for a bit, and was soon fast asleep. I worked on this diary and then looked over her plans for our time in Austin, and used Mini-Me to get information from the internet and directions to our host. After an hour's sleep, Jenny awoke, and we packed and compared notes. I phoned the host family where we were to stay for the next two nights. It turned out they lived only 15 minutes from our hotel, so, after we checked out at noon, we drove to their house.

Karen was 40 and a Doctoral student in some sort of Russian studies/education field. (She spoke Russian, Czech, French, and Spanish.) John was a 55-year-old retired U.S. Air Force pilot who had flown B52 and B1B bombers. One of his hobbies was model railways. They had a daughter, Kathryn, who was seven, and two cats, both with Russian names. We spent 90 minutes getting acquainted and making a plan for the two days we were to spend with them.

Around 2 pm, Jenny and I drove to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Gardens, a project she started in the 1980s. (She was U.S. First Lady when her husband, Lyndon, was President, from 1963–1969.) It was 90 degrees F when we arrived, and we'd neglected to take sun screen. Fortunately, there was plenty of shade and water, and we took our time wandering around the exhibits. It was very interesting and we took a walk along a trail through the brush and cactus. Quite a few flowers were in bloom, including the state flower of Texas, the bluebonnet.

[Diary] Around 10 am, we drove south to the downtown area to the University of Texas campus. Housed there in its own building was President Lyndon Johnson's library. We started with an orientation film that was most informative. Then, for the next three hours, we wandered through the exhibits reading, listening and watching. Although many people remember him primarily for the Vietnam War, he did a lot of good things for the country during his five years in office, which he assumed when President Kennedy was assassinated.

From there, we drove closer to the center of the city where we visited the State Capitol. We had a tour and then wondered around on our own for some time. We saw both the house and senate chambers. I was pleasantly surprised that there was no security check to get in the building. (I did chat with a Texas State Trooper on duty there. Officially, the troopers are part of the State Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers are the detectives for that branch.) On the marble floor of the Capitol under the dome were depictions of the six flags that have flown over Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Texas as an independent country (1836–1845), the United States of America (1846–1861), the Confederated States of America (1861–1869), and, again, the United States of America. We walked across the grounds to the Visitor's Center where we looked at some interesting exhibits and chatted with one of the guides.

Late afternoon, we headed back to our hosts, stopping off to buy them a bottle of Australian wine. John BBQed chicken and Karen made salad and hot vegetables. Karen's parents lived right next door, and they joined us for some good food and conversation. They were both retired Protestant preachers who had lived most of their lives in Wisconsin in the northern part of the mid-west.

At 7:15 pm, John joined Jenny and me on a trip downtown. About 30 years ago, major renovations were done on the Congress Street Bridge over the Colorado River. In the months that followed, Mexican free-tailed bats, which migrate to the area each season, discovered the gaps between all the concrete supports, and moved in to all those dark and dank spaces. Since then, they had become a major tourist attraction from March until September each year. It is estimated that 750,000 bats fly up from Mexico with most of them pregnant. They have one pup each, so there are more than a million when they fly south for the winter. We arrived around dusk to see the colony start to come out from under the bridge and to fly east. Each night, they consume vast quantities of insects that would otherwise eat the commercial crops in the area.

[Diary] We had a light breakfast while chatting with John and, later, Karen. John had already taken Kathryn to school, and Karen left to teach at the university around 9 am. We packed our bags and headed off at 9:30. It had been a great visit, like the vast majority we'd had with Servas International hosts.

Although the speed limit was 65 mph, I set the car on cruise control at 55, and kept in the slow lane letting the world race by. It was sunny, but quite cool, so much so, that I had the heater on. We drove west an hour before arriving in Johnson City, the place where President Johnson's ancestors settled. There, we toured a Visitor Center and watched a 30-minute video on Lady Bird Johnson. 30 minutes to the west, we came to the LBJ Ranch, which was handed over to the National Park Service on the death of the President in 1973, provided they pledged not to charge admission and to keep the property a working ranch. Lady Bird lived there until her death in 2007, after which the President's "Western White House" office was opened to tours.

After a look around the visitor center, we toured a working farm that operated on the old-time principles of self-sufficiency. From there, we went on a self-guided driving tour of the ranch using the audio CD we'd borrowed from the Visitor's Center. The ranch had its own concrete airstrip. The hangar had been converted into an orientation center. From there, we had a guided tour of the President's office. In his five years in office, he spent nearly 25% of the time working from the ranch, so senior staff, cabinet members, military advisors, and foreign dignitaries came and went on a regular basis.

From there, we headed further west to the town of Fredericksburg, where we arrived at 4:45 pm. We settled on a newly built hotel, which came with microwave, fridge, and wireless internet connection. There, we rested up, watched some TV news, and I worked on this diary.

Fredericksburg was settled by Germans in the 1840s, about the same time the German-speaking Lutherans settled South Australia. And there was still a strong German theme throughout the town. We went to a restaurant that served a number of German dishes. And although the food was good, the servings were enough for at least two meals.

[Diary] We had a substantial breakfast in our room using the leftovers from dinner the night before, accompanied by cups of boiling hot tea. We ventured out at 11 am.

Fredericksburg was the birthplace of U.S. Navy Admiral of the Fleet Chester Nimitz, who was a major player in the Pacific theater during WWII. As a result, a large museum complex had been built around the old Nimitz hotel his grandfather had run. And 40,000 square feet of new exhibition space was under construction. We spent three hours looking, listening, reading many of the exhibits, and touring the Japanese peace garden. One outdoor exhibit honored the U.S. Presidents who had served in the military from WWII on. From there, we went a few blocks to another part of the museum to a recreation of a battlefield on a small island in the Pacific. (Several times a year, there are re-enactments.) Our volunteer tour guide was a WWII veteran who had served in Europe.

We walked in the nice afternoon sun up and down the main street for several blocks. Back in our room, we rested up. (Being a tourist can be hard work!) I had some work to do, so I spent several hours on that.

At 7:30 pm, we went to a little restaurant, "The Buffalo Nickel", we'd discovered on a side street, and had a light meal. For me it was a bowl of fiery chili with pieces of bison meat. For Jenny, it was a burger. We both had tall glasses of lemonade. Built-in to the top of the bar were quite a lot of Buffalo Nickels, the 5-cent coin issued up until the mid-1930s. For dessert, we shared a very nice serving of bread pudding and vanilla ice cream.

[Diary] My 5:55 am alarm woke me from a deep sleep. (Don't you just hate that when that happens?) Although I was on vacation, the sun never sets on the Microsoft Empire, and I had a 2-hour business teleconference to attend. So as not to wake Jenny, I set up my laptop in the bathroom and shut the door, then connected to the meeting by phone and video link using my computer. Then I sat (reasonably comfortably) on "the throne" while using my mouse on a mouse pad on the bottom of an up-turned trash bin. (Let's just say I've had worse improvised offices.) The meeting only ran for 1:15 hours, and I thought I was wide-awake, but, as I lay on the bed, I discovered I still had some sleep left in me, so back to bed I went until 9:30.

We took our time packing, and I got my last email fix. We checked out at 10:45, and were soon at the Denny's restaurant a few blocks away. We ordered our food and read the national newspaper while we waited for our meal. Soon, side orders of bacon, sausage, English muffin, and biscuits and sausage gravy arrived, and we "dug in". It was a relatively light meal designed to tide us over until our early afternoon snack break.

We headed south out of town on Highway 87 towards the town of Comfort. We had decided not to go on to San Antonio. We'd been there before to see the famous site "The Alamo", and were ready to have a rest day. We drove in the slow lane watching the countryside go by at a leisurely pace. In Comfort, we stopped by the Visitor's Center and chatted with the ladies volunteering there, and got information about places to stay and eat, and things to do. The town was a major stopping-off point for early settlers heading west, and had more than 100 buildings built before 1900. Now, it was sleepy with a lot of antique shops.

We settled on the "Meyer Bed and Breakfast" establishment high up on the bank of Cypress Creek. It was a complex of 30-odd cabins, cottages and rooms spread over several acres with swimming pool, hot tub, hammocks in the shade, picnic areas, and all kinds of gardens, and two resident cats. In the pasture next door some cattle grazed. We looked at a cottage and several separate rooms, settling on a room with an old-style metal four-poster king-size bed with a small sitting room and bathroom. The cost was $110 plus tax, and included breakfast. Outside the office, a pair of swallows flitted about and three hummingbirds competed for sugar water at a feeder. A very red cardinal flew off as I walked up.

Jenny got comfortable in a chair on the porch in the shade while I moved to a screened-in porch on the end of our building. There, I found a table just right for my computer, and a wicker chair on which I piled cushions so I could reach the keyboard. Each time I looked up from working on this diary, I had a 270-degree view around the garden down to the creek. About all I could hear was the sound of birds calling. We had wanted a little bit of Paradise for our rest day, and we'd surely found it. And it even came with free wireless internet access. No sooner had I set up my computer than I received mail from our rental property manager regarding a major plumbing problem. The joys of home ownership and being connected while on holiday!

Late in the afternoon, we went for a walk down by the creek. A small road had been cut out going down on both sides, and a number of large stones had been placed in the water, so we could get across. Up the other side was a strange contraption that contained corn kernels, with the whole thing hanging down from tall metal poles. Underneath was a device that when turned would eject kernels out the bottom. I figured it would be activated by large animals (such as deer) using their noses. The 25 acres of land on that side of the creek also belonged to the B&B, and supported quite a few pecan trees. (Can you say "pecan pie"?)

I started a Cold-War spy novel, and soon got into that. About 7:30 pm, we drove around the town looking for somewhere to eat. There were few choices, and, finally, we stumbled on a place that looked the least likely. It was made of rusty corrugated iron sheets and odd bits of flotsam and jetsam, and was called "Guenther's Biergarten-Grill". As the waitress said, it was quirky. Anyway, the menu was adequate and they made me some fresh-squeezed lemonade. I had a small salad and some quesadillas (tortillas filled with cheese and hot peppers). Jenny had fried catfish and coleslaw. By the time we got back to our B&B, it was well after dusk; however, we could make out three deer grazing down by the creek.

[Diary] It was a beautiful morning and I stopped to chat with a number of retired couples who were having a reunion over a few days stay. Some 20 deer were gathered near the corn feeder across the creek. Then, all of a sudden, I heard a mechanical noise, some corn was ejected and a squirrel went racing down the bank. I thought the squirrel had been trying to get at the corn and had triggered the device. As it happened, it was battery powered (the feeder, not the squirrel), and at 8 am each morning, it "went off", and scared the squirrel in the process. As soon as the deer heard the noise they raced over; I counted about 30 in all.

About 8:20 am, I went into the group dining room and made a cup of hot tea, and chatted with other guests. A buffet breakfast was served at 8:30 am, and we found a table in the sun overlooking the creek. We got chatting with a couple and invited them to join us. Rachel was Irish and James was American, and they lived in Ireland. Their three children were staying with grandparents in Texas while the parents had a holiday. Shane, the owner of the property joined us for a chat. We ate and talked until 10 am, at which time, we went to the office to extend our stay another night. Instead of one rest day, we'd have two. (Don't you just love that when that happens!)

I read a few chapters of my novel, but started to fade, so I found a spot in the shade by the creek and tried to nap. There were chirping birds of various species. That didn't work out, so I went up the hill to a large hammock. I heard the town fire siren announce 12 noon before getting 45 minutes' sleep. Then it was on to more reading and some snacking.

Around 4 pm, I set up my laptop computer on a large picnic table under a tree 25 yards from our room. From there, I worked on this diary, handled some email, and made some phone calls, reminding friends that I was holidaying in Texas and they weren't! Meanwhile, Jenny went in search of a Post Office, and to look around the shops.

The hot day quickly gave way to a cool evening as I sat on the verandah reading until late, by which time it was almost cold. After dusk, several deer ventured over to our side of the river and grazed 40 yards from where I sat.

[Diary] It was another beautiful morning, cool and fresh. We had breakfast in a different room of the dining cottage, and there seemed to be quite a few new guests. Once again, the owner, Shane, dropped by to chat and to thank us for staying an extra night. As checkout wasn't until 11 am and we had no place to be, we took our time packing, and sat and read our novels for a while.

We headed out of town around 10:45 am taking the back roads to the northeast in the general direction of Austin. We found a gas station on a main highway and filled up, and then went back to the local ranch roads. We stopped in a large town, Wimberly, which had a lot of artsy shops, and there we walked the streets. We also drove some distance following a very rocky creek.

Back on a ranch road, we were driving at only 40 mph and a Sheriff's Deputy came up behind us. Unfortunately, no passing was allowed for some distance, so, after a bit, I pulled over to let him and another car pass. Instead, he pulled over behind us with his lights flashing. He was very polite and asked if we were lost. After a short conversation, he was satisfied we weren't a threat to the security of Texas or the U.S. and he headed off to catch some real criminals.

We found a shady spot off the road in a tiny village, so we pulled up and read for a good while. Then, it was on towards Austin and the real world of freeways and traffic. After stopping at several hotels to get prices, we finished up at a Super 8. It was obviously a new facility, but I hadn't stayed in one for many years, and, back then, they were cheap and basic. We took a room there and, to our surprise, it was quite up-scale, and had a microwave, fridge, free hi-speed internet, and we were given a bag of snacks and drinks on arrival. And, the TV had a built-in video tape and disk player. Many movies were available on DVD at the front desk, all without charge.

Soon after 4 pm, we settled down to our first movie, "Charlie Wilson's War", starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Then came the WWII epic "Australia" with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman. Both films were decent.

[Diary] By 8:30 am, we were in the breakfast room having a decent meal that was included in the room rate. On TV, CNN blared out a constant stream of mostly bad news, something I hadn't missed for the week I'd gone without TV. By the way, the waffle maker made waffles in the shape of the state of Texas, no doubt as God intended!

At the airport, our CRJ 67-seat jet arrived, and we boarded, on time, at 11:35 am. Flight UA7436 took off to the north and I had a nice view of the downtown area of Austin. The flight home was uneventful except for five seconds in which we hit some turbulence and the whole plane twisted violently and dropped some altitude. That certainly got everyone's attention and wishing they had listened to the earlier safety demonstration.

We touched down at IAD just after 4 pm, local time, after turning our clocks forward an hour. The skies were clear, but it was way cooler (mid-50s) and there was water on the ground from a recent shower. As we had flown some distance north of Texas, it was not surprising that spring was not quite so advanced. It took quite a while for our luggage to arrive, but, as soon as it did, we caught a taxi and headed home.

Conclusion

We thoroughly enjoyed the break, the home stay, the historical places and the civics lessons, and the unexpected stay at the B&B in Comfort. Of course, Texas is a very large state, and we'd only sampled a small piece of it.

Signs of Life: Part 10

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

As you might expect, this is a stop sign; however, the text is a little unusual. The Parker Ranch was at one time, the biggest privately-owned cattle ranch in the US. For Wiktionary's meaning of whoa, click here.

Mahalo.

 

'Nuff said; now show me some ID and that you have "sufficient means of support" for that bikini!

 

You weren't confusing me with some Politically Correct person were you?

For the record, here's the real P.E.T.A. Also, see here.

 

You do know that while dogs have masters, cats have servants!

 

License plate on an under-cover Soviet agent's car.

BTW, when I was in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1992, from a street stall I bought a T-shirt that said the Russian equivalent of, "I was an agent of the KGB." Wikipedia says that KGB stands for "Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti, … Committee for State Security".

 

This Hawaii Administrative Rule governs certain actions regarding fishing with nets. I guess it means something to the locals, but I was worried that perhaps I'd inadvertently somehow lain my net incorrectly, and might end up spending years languishing in an Hawaiian prison especially during their severe winters!

 

There I was, minding my own business driving on a back road on Maui when I came across this sign. "Okay, I'm watching out, but what exactly am I watching out for?"

Wikipedia says, "a long speed hump with a flat section in the middle". Hmm, how about "speed bump ahead"?

 

A fish restaurant on Maui.

Read here for the English idiom.

 

Isn't that just the cutest thing to see on the T-shirts of a honeymooning couple? Now excuse me while I throw up!

 

You're not fooling me! I know this has absolutely nothing to do with a donkey. See other possibilities here.

 

Okay, I give in, what's a Mo'o? Surely not the dress a local cow wears to a luau. Or am I confusing that with a muumuu (Mo'o Mo'o)?

 

Au contraire, according to their website, it's an ice cream with a (presumably crushed) cookie in it.

 

I never could find an official explantion for this road sign. The best I could figure out is that you should go slow, as you can't see very far ahead.

 

When was the last time you got birthday greetings written using bits of coral on a background of smooth lava pebbles?

 

So, smarty pants, which of the 50 US states has the British Union Jack on its state flag?

There are various stories about why this might have come about, but I think this part of the Hawaiian flag history remains a bit of a mystery.

BTW, Brit Captain James Cook did name the islands The Sandwich Islands after his sponsor, The Earl of Sandwich.

 

Ain't that the truth? A hand-made sign in I'ao Valley State Park.

 

The imposing figure of King Kamehameha the Great can be seen at the entrances of all Hawaii state parks.

 

 

English – Part 7: Adverbs

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In Part 6, we looked at verbs. This time, we'll look at adverbs. According to Wikipedia, an adverb (abbrev. adv.) is "a word that modifies a verb, adjective, another adverb, determiner, noun phrase, clause, or sentence. Adverbs typically express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering questions such as how?, in what way?, when?, where?, and to what extent?."

I freely admit that adverbs are the part of speech with which I was least knowledgeable, until, that is, the time I started researching this essay. So, it's never too late to learn, even at age 63!

Some Examples

Modifying a verb:

  • The boy ran fast. (fast modifies the verb ran; it says how he ran)
  • It rained yesterday. (yesterday modifies the verb rained; it says when it rained)
  • We keep it there. (there modifies the verb phrase keep it; it says where we keep it)
  • He hardly eats anything. (hardly modifies the verb eats; it describes the degree to which he eats)

 

Modifying an adjective:

  • The light was quite bright. (quite modifies the adjective bright; it describes the degree of brightness)

 

Modifying another adverb:

  • The tortoise moved very slowly. (very modifies the adverb slowly; it says how slow the tortoise moved)

 

Modifying a determiner:

  • I have only this. (only modifies the determiner this)

 

Modifying a noun phrase:

  • They each brought only one piece of luggage. (only modifies the noun phrase one piece of luggage)

 

Modifying a sentence:

  • Certainly, we have to find a way to feed the refugees. (certainly modifies the whole sentence)

Single- and Multi-Word Forms

In all of the examples above, the adverb is a single word. However, a phrase or clause can take on the role of an adverb. Consider the following:

  • He'll fix the flat tire tomorrow.
  • He'll fix the flat tire in a few hours.
  • He'll fix the flat tire whenever he gets around to it.

 

In the first case, the adverb tomorrow is a single word. In the second sentence, the adverbial phrase in a few hours acts as an adverb even though that phrase contains no adverbs. In the third case, we see an adverbial clause.

Adverbs Enhance

Consider the following sentence: I swim.

From a grammatical viewpoint, it is complete, and sensible. The verb swim is intransitive, in the present tense, in the first-person singular, and it agrees with the subject. However, it says absolutely nothing about how, when, where, or why I swim. We can make such a sentence convey more information by adding one or more adverbs, adverbial phrases, or adverbial clauses. For example:

I swim for exercise for an hour non-stop every Thursday morning at the town pool.

Adjectives-to-Adverbs

In many cases, we can add the suffix -ly to an adjective to form the corresponding adverb. For example, amazing/amazingly, certain/certainly, honest/honestly, usual/usually, and extreme/extremely. But, of course, that doesn't mean that all words ending in ly are adverbs. For example, friendly is an adjective. However, we can use the adverbs more, less, or very, to modify that adjective.

Position and Ordering

Consider the following pairs of sentences:

  • I walked to work yesterday. Yesterday, I walked to work.
  • There are many islands in the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, there are many islands.

 

Both are correct. As to which you use comes down to whether you want special emphasis, by starting with the adverb or adverbial phrase.

Normally, adverbs don't go between a verb and its object. However, if there is no object, an adverb can follow the verb. If multiple adverbs are used to modify the same target, their usual order is manner, place, and time. For example, I ran very fast at the track yesterday.

Beware of Dangling Adverbs

Consider the following sentence:

At the age of five, my father bought me a two-wheel bike.

Here, the adverbial phrase at the age of five is attached to my father, not to me and my bike, and I very much doubt that when he was five, he bought me anything! To correct this, we can rewrite the sentence, as follows:

At the age of five, I got a two-wheel bike from my father.

or

When I was five, my father bought me a two-wheel bike.

Conclusion

Although adverbs are often not well understood, we use them all the time! How many times today did you use the following: almost, before, certainly, during, equally, fortunately, generally, how, indeed, just, later, monthly, nearly, obviously, possibly, quite, really, simply, together, up, vaguely, while, and yet?

In some future conversations, try dropping in the following adverbs: anon, hither, holus-bolus, fain, forsooth, sharpish, thereof, and yon.

Travel: Memories of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao

© 2012, 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

With it being winter, I'd looked at the possible warmer destinations reachable directly from my home airport, and settled on the three southern Dutch islands just off the northwest coast of Venezuela. I planned two days on Aruba, seven days on Bonaire, four days on Curaçao, and then two more back on Aruba. Together, these islands are sometimes referred to as The ABC Islands.

[In December 1991, I visited the three northern Dutch islands, Saba, St. Marteen, and St. Eustacius. According to Wikipedia, "The Caribbean Netherlands collectively refers to the three special municipalities (officially public bodies) of the Netherlands that are located overseas, in the Caribbean: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba. The territorial grouping is alternately known as Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba or the BES islands. Although part of the country of the Netherlands, the special municipalities remain overseas territories of the European Union at least until 2015." So, Aruba, Curacao, and St. Marteen have some other, special status.]

Aruba

Official Name: Aruba; Capital: Oranjestad; Language: Dutch, Papiamento; Country Code: AW; Currency: Aruban florin (AWG)

[Diary] I'd booked my hotel via the internet; however, when I arrived, the owner was out for at least an hour and her mother wasn't able to check me in, although it wasn't clear why. So, I stripped down, sat at a table in the shade next to the pool, and started reading "Seven Years in Tibet", by Heinrich Herrer. A nice breeze wafted through the palm trees surrounding me. Sometime later, the owner called me via the hotel phone to say that there was a complication. The previous occupants of my room had failed to check out, and she had no other rooms. So, she said she'd make "other arrangements" for me. And she did, but it took some hours.

[Diary] I settled into a hammock in the garden and read my novel until I thought about eating. It was then that I discovered that while I was engrossed in my book, the mosquitos had been feasting on my arms and legs. The restaurant was an open-air space under a very large thatched roof, and had friendly staff. I ordered a bowl of tomato soup and some Dutch snacks involving sausage. It was all just like Grandma used to make, and hit the spot! Total cost was only US$10.

Back in my room, I opened the window and door to let the breeze come right in while I worked on this diary. I decided to have a quick shower to wash away the day's perspiration, and that's when I discovered that there was no hot water. I don't mean the hot water taps gave no hot water; I mean, there were no hot water taps! Of course, given the temperature outside, a cold shower was fine. Afterwards, I read some more until lights out at 11 pm. Although I didn't finish up quite where I'd planned to, the detour wasn't unpleasant, and may well have left me in a better situation. C'est la vie! Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B.

[Diary] At 8:30 am, my driver and guide arrived to take me for a tour. She was most informative and took me to several lookouts (lighthouse hill, water tower hill, and natural rock formations), to ancient lava beaches, an old, very tiny Catholic church built in the middle of a cactus patch, and a donkey refuge. Along the way, we stopped to have some local ham and cheese snacks and coffee, then later on, some cold drinks. On the way home, we stopped at a supermarket (most of which are run by Chinese) where I bought some emergency rations: several liters of milk, some nuts, and a chocolate bar. I also managed to get a complete set of local coins and the smallest denomination banknote for my currency collection. All told, we were gone more than four hours.

Back in my room, I settled down to several tall glasses of cold milk while I brought this diary up to date and tended to some email. Afterwards, I went down to the pool and took up residence on a lounge chair in the shade. After a bit of reading, I spent 30 minutes swimming and doing some water aerobics to strengthen my aging knees. Then it was back to my novel. As far as I could tell, all the guests I saw were young people from The Netherlands. So, it was Dutch being spoken all around me. Late afternoon, I got into writing mode, and settled down at my laptop to proof and write essays for my monthly blog. That effort was quite successful.

[Diary] In anticipation of the mosquitoes coming out to feed early evening, I'd put on plenty of repellant, so was able to have my room window and door wide open while I lay on the bed reading. Unfortunately, the light bulb in my room was so dim, I read for 10 minutes before I realized I had my book upside down! [Don't you just hate that when that happens!]

Bonaire

Official Name: Bonaire; Capital: Kralendijk; Language: Dutch, Papiamento; Country Code: AN, BQ, NL; Currency: US dollar (USD)

[Diary] At "The Lizard Inn," my home for the next 7 nights, co-owner Rene took me to my room, gave me some information and a quick orientation, and we agreed that I'd formally check in the next morning. I unpacked a few things and then stripped down for the short walk into town for supper. My hotel was located in a quiet neighborhood only five minutes' walk from the sea and there were plenty of streetlights and little traffic. Once I reached the promenade, I turned left and walked another 10 minutes to the so-called downtown. A gentle breeze blew and many pleasure craft of all shapes, sizes, and prices bobbed up and down at anchor just out to sea.

I stopped at a number of restaurants and looked over their menus. With almost all food being imported, prices weren't cheap, so I kept on looking. Eventually, I found a great place, Paradise Moon. Everyone was eating outside, but most tables were occupied. The waitress asked how many were in my party, and I told her it was just my imaginary friend and me. She smiled, and led me to stools at the bar where she made room for both of us! I sipped ice-cold pineapple juice while I considered my options. I quickly settled on the spicy, shredded pork tacos with black beans and wild rice. The waitress gave me some of her secret habanero pepper sauce to liven it up a bit, and was it H-H-HOT! Each day, the staff makes ice cream, so I had a bowl of vanilla, and it too was great. In fact, the whole experience was wonderful, and by the time I left with a doggie bag of leftovers, I'd picked out dishes for at least two more visits.

[Diary] Having arrived after the shops closed the night before I was unable to buy any supplies for my kitchen, so I'd ordered a catered breakfast. At 8:30, I sat under the large open-air thatched-roof hut in the center of the yard, and minutes later, Annemieke (the other co-owner and Rene's partner) came to tell me she'd serve my breakfast there. There were plenty of fresh bread rolls, ham, cheese, jam, juice, and hot tea. The occupants in the room next to me had assembled their own breakfast, but they ate with me in the communal hut. Two hours later, we'd had some very interesting conversations. They were Friesian [the former Kingdom of Friesland became part of The Netherlands 150+ years ago], and he was a crane operator who had worked on oilrigs, windmills, and mostly large and exotic projects. He worked a month on and then had a month off. I mentioned how much I liked the Friesian flag, at which point the wife went inside, and brought me a present, an eyeglass-cleaning towel in the colors of that flag. I gladly accepted it.

At the office, I filled in a bit of paperwork to become an official guest, and I was inspected by Max, the very large chocolate-brown Labrador who "guarded" the place. After I scratched him a few times, we bonded a little, and he gave his seal of approval. Back in the Netherlands, Rene had been a detective for 20 years, but his passion now was scuba diving, so Bonaire is his Paradise. He and Max go swimming in the sea every morning.

I had expressed interest in diving, so Rene sent me to a place nearby where they would give me 10% discount. I signed up for a 3-hour "Discovery" session the following afternoon to see if I might like to take some lessons. There I sat in the shade of the verandah and chatted with an American man who'd moved there some years ago, and a young woman who was studying travel management in The Netherlands, and was working as an intern on Bonaire for five months as part of her course.

Back home, I set up my laptop in the communal hut and took care of quite a bit of personal and business email while listening to several albums by Enya and Andrea Bocelli. I also filled out several detailed forms required by the dive shop before they would let me participate. A stiff breeze blew all afternoon and, occasionally, guests drifted in and out to say "Hello". The young maid who cleaned my room was from Poland, and came from near my ancestral home area (Poznan), which I'd visited last summer. We chatted a bit and I shared some of my coconut cream cookies with her for afternoon tea. Annemieke was busy painting some outside walls. All in all, it was a very pleasant and productive afternoon.

[Diary] At 1:30 pm, I set off for the local dive shop and my test dive. Richard, formerly from the UK, was my instructor. I started with a video that explained to me my equipment, safety rules, and basic hand signals. Then I had a 10-question quiz, which I aced. He discussed a number of things and answered my questions. Then we suited up: boots, wetsuit with short sleeves and legs, weight belt, buoyancy vest and, finally, a single tank. We carried our fins to the water's edge across the narrow street in front of the dive shop. As I wear prescription glasses, I needed a facemask that allowed me to see. Fortunately, Rene had one at the hotel, which he lent me, and that was a really good match for my eyes.

I have to say that the first 20 minutes were "touch and go", as I was not at all comfortable. It turned out there was a lot to remember, and while it sounds silly, every so often I forgot to breathe and got a bit panicked. Plus, breathing in and out of one's mouth only can take a bit of getting used to. I finally broke the initial fear, sank to the bottom some eight feet down, relaxed, and worked on my breathing. Then I managed to practice purging my regulator as well as removing it, locating it behind my back, reinserting it, and clearing it. I also managed to purge water from my mask. Things were going okay, but not great. The water was very clear and there was plenty of activity below, including a school of quite small fish, some others up to 6" long, a couple of squid, and then came a monster fish more than three feet long. A nicely colored Angelfish also went by me.

As we moved out to deeper water, I had trouble with my buoyancy and as I'm a poor swimmer, always trying to swim with my head out of the water, I had great trouble swimming downwards. Also, the deeper I went, the more pressure came on my ears making them ring quite loud. Of course, I forgot to practice my pressure equalizing technique. To be sure, Richard was very encouraging and was never more than a few feet away from me at all times. Although an option was to swim out to a reef and go deeper, I declined as I felt I wasn't anywhere near ready for that, so we went back to shore, swimming under a boat and around a group of divers who were sitting on the bottom practicing some techniques. Near the end, I noticed that I was biting down extremely hard on my mouthpiece.

As I tried to get out of the water, the full weight of the gear came to bear, and it was hard standing up. Both Richard and I knew that I was no natural "water baby", but he was very encouraging. Halfway into the experience it was quite clear to me that diving was not my "cup of tea". However, it was worth the try. It's often just as important to know what one does not want to do in life, as it is the opposite. Once I stripped off my gear, I showered, dressed, paid my bill (about US$85), and headed back home, with both ears blocked. 10 minutes after I got back, the dark clouds opened up and let fall a short shower of rain.

[Diary] I went to visit Rene in his office to have him help me rent a car. Within minutes, he'd arranged for me to be picked up and taken to the rental office. 10 minutes later, a Dutchman arrived and we drove off together. He gave me a not-so-gently-cared-for Japanese SUV and we walked around it noting all the small dents and rust spots. His wife took care of my paperwork in the office and soon I was on my way. It was a 5-speed stick shift. I'd started with a quarter of a tank of gas, so the first thing I did was to add US$25-worth. At US$1.34/liter (US$5.10/US gallon), it wasn't cheap, at least not by US standards. I noticed that the car was equipped with an altimeter and a compass, and it puzzled me why I'd need either. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped off at a bank and coaxed cash from the machine. I lathered up with sunburn cream, had a small snack and drink, and packed my stuff to go driving for the afternoon.

I decided to cover the southern half of the island, and within 10 minutes, I was down beyond the airport, going along the southwest coast. The main highway was barely more than one lane wide. The whole coast had a reef and there were literally dozens of snorkeling and diving spots. All the beaches consisted of mostly smooth pieces of coral. There was little sand anywhere. The first 50 yards of the sea out from the beach were that classic turquoise color you see in all the travel brochures for tropical islands. Few people were about.

Quite a bit of the island to the south is dedicated to salt ponds and there are a number of "slave huts" there where the slaves lived that harvested the salt back in the 1850s. The ponds are quite pink due to the bacteria that live in them. A small freighter was docked and a series of conveyer belts went to the dock from inland more than half a mile. And just as I pulled up to have a look, the conveyer started up and I watched a steady stream of salt pass by and be loaded into the boat. The belt ran just above the ground until it reached the road, at which point it went up and over a bridge and then out to the pier. There were quite a few large pyramids of salt waiting for an excavating machine to load them onto the conveyor. A number of brown pelicans fished as I sat there. There was not a tree in sight except for a few palms planted by some buildings. Hence, there was no shade.

I came across a guy kite boarding, which involves a short surfboard and a parachute and harness. A bit further on, I came to a kite school where several more people were out trying that sport. Parked there was a big old bus that functioned as a mobile snack shop. It had all the basics except ice cream, the one thing I was after.

In places, there were small pools between the coast and the road, and they contained many mangrove trees. At the southern tip of the island, there was a lighthouse, and I stopped to walk around it. It was being renovated, but was still in operation, working on solar power. While I was there a couple of young Dutchwomen from Utrecht arrived on their bicycles and we chatted for some time.

As the east coast is open to the Caribbean Sea, the waves were much higher and many beaches had lots of flotsam and jetsam, mostly plastic trash. One piece was the door from a full-size refrigerator! I came upon some lakes in which a number of bright pink flamingos were feeding. [In the center of that part of the island there is a large flamingo reserve.] A series of short windmills with long tail fins were working hard in the wind to pump water from an inlet of the sea into the salt ponds, the level of which appeared to be about the same as sea level.

One of the most popular places to visit is Lac Bay, a huge and shallow lagoon protected from the open sea by a long reef. It was the perfect place for windsurfing, and people were doing just that by the dozens. The water was only a few feet deep and a light blue. The beaches there were quite sandy. I parked in the shade of some trees in a place with a good look over the action although I saw little, as I got engrossed in a new novel. Occasionally, I sipped pineapple juice. It was another hard day in Paradise!

From there, I drove a bit further up the east coast until the road turned inland heading for the main town, Kalenji. A couple of speeding drivers tried to run me off the narrow road, but I managed to avoid them, as well as the herd of goats and a second one of sheep that were grazing near the road. Very quickly, I got into thick brush with occasional tall cacti. A small lake had lots of flamingos feeding.

As I neared home, I spied the big, new, Dutch supermarket, so I stopped in for some emergency rations. I'd been without potato chips for nearly a week, so I rescued a large bag of those. However, despite them being my favorite brand, they fell short of my expectations. The place had pretty much everything you'd find in a supermarket in Amsterdam, and while some prices were decent, others were outrageous. For example, a liter of vla (Dutch custard) was US$5.50, and although I'd been salivating over the prospect of finding some, once I saw the price I lost interest. However, I did find 100-gram blocks of chocolate with hazelnut, and five blocks just happened to fall into my basket. And as I was leaving, I found that each customer was being offered two free packs of bread rolls, so I took those and gave them to my hosts.

Back home, I set up my laptop out in the communal hut, put on an Enya CD, and had a snack and a cold can of Pepsi. It was just the thing after a hard afternoon of touring. It was overcast much of the day with a strong wind, which kept things cool. I worked on my diary catching up the past two days.

[Diary] I headed north up the west coast, and pretty soon the road narrowed to one lane only although there was traffic in both directions. After the flat, featureless, and undeveloped south the day before, I rose a bit into hills, covered in dense brush with cacti towering above, with pockets of houses here and there.

My first stop was at "1,000 Steps". Although there were stone steps carved out of the side of the cliff to get down to the water, there were far fewer than 1,000. I met a couple who'd just seen two very large turtles swimming further along the coast, so I scampered up along a path to see if I could find them. No luck, but I did see a huge fish. It was at least five feet long and with a big girth, and it was mostly bright green. It was buffeted about among the rocks below me by the waves that crashed in. Off the coast, a boatload of divers was getting instructions for an open-water dive.

At each stop, I parked my car in the shade with the windows down, and one time I came back to find a cute frog had jumped aboard, so I took him a few stops further up the road. I'd seen many small iguanas, especially some with bright blue stripes, but today I saw some that were at least three feet from nose to tip-of-tail. There were a number of lakes and one was a flamingo sanctuary; however, no birds were about.

It was paved roads all the way to the entrance of the national park. I paid my US$25, which bought me a 1-year admission. Mostly, it helped the conservation effort. The unpaved road was one-way and I could choose the 1½-hour or the 2½-hour route; I chose the shorter as the roads were so poor in places. I didn't need an extra hour of that kind of driving. I came across a lake with many flamingos with their heads underwater feeding. Next came some large iguanas, a goat, and a good-sized bull. The brush was very thick and all the cacti had many, sharp needles. In places, the road was in such bad condition I thought I was driving in Washington D.C.!

Eventually I came out to the northwest coast where I stopped at a couple of places to look over the sea from the 20-foot cliffs. At the final beach, I pulled up in the shade next to an extended local family picnicking under some trees, and I got a great musical concert from their sound system. I started my next novel, a western I'd picked up at a thrift shop. I walked along the beach to find cacti growing right up to the edge of the cliff overhanging the water.

At the park exit, I looked at the small, but informative museum before heading back to Rincon on a road made of concrete. This town was the first on the island, settled by the Spanish some 500 years earlier. Many of the houses were gaily painted in yellow, orange, green, pink, and purple. From there I drove along the northeast coast through thick brush. Dark clouds threatened rain all the way, and given the pools of water by the roadside, it had just rained in that area. Finally, light rain fell and along with the cloud cover and rain, the wind felt great as it came in one window and went out the other.

By the time I was home, it was 4 pm, and I'd had enough of driving. I felt like I'd had a complete aerobics workout while sitting—or should I say sliding around—behind the wheel. Light rain misted as I pulled up at my hotel and setup my laptop in the communal hut to update this diary. I was winding down, as the next day I'd be moving on. After some time on my computer, I lay on the couch nearby to read my novel. Soon, rain started to fall quite heavily, so much so that it started dripping through the thatched roof, right onto my laptop. Fortunately, it was a smallish drip and I shut down my computer rather quickly and took all my stuff to my room. The rain kept coming down for 15 minutes, so I stayed indoors after that, especially as the mosquitos came out to feed.

The first time I'd eaten at the Paradise Moon restaurant, I picked out meals for my remaining visits, so the anticipation of my "Last Supper" there had mounted. Soon after 7 o'clock, I hopped in my car and drove into town to feast. Imagine my surprise to find that damned place closed! [Don't you just hate that when that happens!] Well, nothing else could compare, so I found a Dutch fast-food place and sulked my way through some chicken strips smothered in peanut sauce. Back home, I sipped a wonderful café au lait while finishing my novel.

Curaçao

Official Name: Country of Curaçao; Capital: Willemstad; Language: Dutch, Papiamento, English; Country Code: CW, AN; Currency: Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG)

[Diary] The rental car desk was busy with another customer, so I got talking to a man sitting next to me. He was from Brazil, but didn't speak English; however, we got by in Spanish. A customer finished his paperwork to get a car and left, but minutes later was back as he had not been given any keys. We all joked that he'd only rented the car and that the keys would be extra! Then it was my turn. I got the agent smiling especially once she learned that there was just my imaginary friend and me going driving. She thought that was very nice that I'd take him/her/it out for the day.

[Diary] The one tourist brochure I'd grabbed at the airport actually had something useful in it, and that was information about my favorite American diner, Dennys. Yes, there was a Dennys in town and it was only a mile or two from my hotel, so I went off to find it. Things were picking up indeed. I hadn't intended to eat, but wanted to checkout their hours and to look at the menu selection and prices. The menu looked just like one back home and the prices looked pretty steep, but I confirmed they were in Netherlands Antilles Guilders (NAF). "Since they took credit cards and I was already there, why not eat something", said the voice in my head. So, I ordered a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a Grand Slamwich: toast containing scrambled egg, ham, sausage, cheese, and other secret ingredients. A side of hash brown potatoes accompanied that. Well, the soup was fresh and steaming hot, just like Grandma used to make. It was almost a meal in itself, so I had a small part of my breakfast sandwich, taking the rest with me. My waitress was friendly and very efficient, so I tipped her well. When I asked if there was a supermarket near, she showed me on the map and then took me outside and pointed me in the right direction.

[Diary] I packed a few things and headed out for the afternoon. I soon got the hang of my little car and was putting it through its paces, careful not to go much over the 40 km in-town speed limit, although, frankly, I seemed to be the only driver doing that. I headed north and west along a decent highway for a few miles before taking a major road west. Halfway along that it turned into a series of patches on patches on patches, and was quite r-r-rough. There was plenty of greenery and some hills with the occasional stand of tall cacti towering over the brush. I was headed for what the map said was a lighthouse, but I ran into the security gate at the oil refinery instead. The friendly guard showed me a flashing light on a short pole nearby, and explained that that was now the navigation aid. There was no actual lighthouse. So, I walked back to my car, but as I put my key in the ignition, it sounded its alarm rather loudly. I figured out how to switch that off and tried again. Three times, it refused to let me start the car insisting each time that I was a car thief. By pressing all the buttons on my keychain in some random order, I managed to convince the electronics that it was okay to let me start the car. Bloody computers!

From there, I backtracked to a sign that said a beach was nearby. Quite a few cars were there and they charged admission only for divers. Inside, they had a large array of nice deck chairs in the sun and under a large canvas roof. A waitress in her bikini went from chair to chair around the beach selling drinks, but there was no pressure to buy anything, so I sat in the shade for a couple of hours reading my novel. The beach was quite sandy and people enjoyed swimming and playing. The skies were quite dark at times and light rain sprinkled now and then. Eventually, a heavy rain shower came and everyone scrambled in under the canvas roof. Here they were at the beach, but they didn't want to get wet! A PA system piped enjoyable music to a large speaker near my chair, which made it a very pleasant afternoon.

After I left the Kokomo Bar beach, I took another exit, into a sleepy village, and I drove the back streets to see how the locals lived. In one area, I came across an inlet in which many pink flamingos were feeding. Fifteen minutes after leaving there, I was back at my hotel having a cold drink and working on this diary. The day definitely turned out much better than it had started.

[Diary] Around noon, I headed out into the bright sunshine. I drove north and west to a small town with a brightly painted and large church. It had a cemetery surrounded by a high wall, but I found a side gate that was unlocked, so I strolled around. All the graves were above ground in large crypts. Perhaps the ground was too stony to dig. Nena Sanchez, a former Miss Curaçao and now a well-known artist had her gallery in an old plantation house nearby, so I stopped in to look just as light rain fell. All her things were brightly colored and with simple lines and patterns. The old house has been restored and looks down over the flamingo sanctuary that now occupies the former salt ponds where slaves had harvested that commodity in former times.

I followed the main road and soon ended up at the entrance of a gated, upscale private community, so I turned around and backtracked to an unmarked side road. That led me through heavy brush to a beautiful, secluded bay with sandy beach and turquoise water all the way out. Some 50 people were seated in deck chairs out in the sun or under small thatched huts. Some resident roosters, hens, and very small chickens strolled around among the sunbathers. I found a shaded picnic table and sat down. I read some information about the island and made notes about future travel and life plans while I watched swimmers and snorkelers. More rain fell, and as the holes in the roof of my hut were quite a bit bigger than the raindrops, a few drops splattered down on my book. However, the rain went as quickly as it came and soon the sun was back out. Behind me, a tree full of parrots chattered incessantly, and an army of small ants paid me a visit.

[Diary] I went out in the hot sunshine and wound up the rubber bands on my little clown car, and off we raced into the downtown area. Right near the water's edge, I spied a spare spot on the street and pulled right in. At the end of every batch of parking spaces, there was a solar-powered kiosk at which one could buy a parking permit. I asked for English mode and followed the instructions inserting my credit card and paying for five hours. That took me right up to 6 pm, the time at which the meters stopped charging. The total cost was less than US$5, which I thought was decent.

Downtown, there is a 300-yard wide channel that goes inland into a large maze of waterways for cargo ships and tankers going to the big oil refinery. As I walked to the rail overlooking that channel, a large tanker was being pulled through by two tugboats. As I watched, I got talking to a retired couple from near Toronto, Canada. Behind the tanker came an enormous cruise ship. It was Italian and had been moved from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean for the winter.

Ordinarily, the way people cross the channel is by the Queen Emma floating bridge. [Emma was the current queen Beatrix's great-grandmother.] However, as shipping demands, that bridge is driven open by swiveling on a hinge on one end, and pushed against one side of the channel. I watched that happen several times, and it was quite impressive. The whole structure and its 15 supporting "floats" were made of wood. And passengers could stay on the bridge while it was opening or closing. At times, there was so much water traffic the bridge stayed open for 45 minutes. During those times, two ferries took people across free of charge. (I tried both ways of crossing.)

The buildings on both sides of the channel were painted in bright colors and truly looked like a picture postcard. Things were neat and tidy. I walked along a side canal where there was a fresh fruit and vegetable market and some stalls selling souvenirs, which, no doubt, were made by prisoners in China or some other far-off place nowhere near the Caribbean! The place definitely appeared to cater to the cruise ship passengers. Apart from the ship that arrived while I watched, another one (from the US) was already docked just outside the channel at the Megapier. As a result, most of the people I overheard were tourists speaking a multitude of languages.

I stumbled on the island's government center, which consisted of a 3-story set of stone buildings built in 1769. They were painted light orange with white and green trim, and surrounded a large yard that had trees and some small gardens. The flags from The Netherlands and Curacao flew over the Governor's office. Between that and the sea was a long row of very thick stone defensive walls, which enclosed many former storage areas and powder magazines. These had all been turned into specialty stores, and when I went through one arch out to the seaside, I found myself in a series of up-scale restaurants with tables on platforms hanging out over the rocks and water.

By the time I got back to the channel, the bridge was open again, so I rode the ferry while chatting with a couple from Detroit. From there, I went to the old fort and climbed up some battlements to look down into the courtyard full of date palms shading people eating outdoors in restaurants that now occupied the place. Back at the channel, I found a shaded place, and sat and read while watching more water traffic.

Conclusion

I'd rightly figured that Aruba and Curaçao were far more touristy than Bonaire, so was very happy to have had half my stay on the latter. And as is often the case while traveling, I mix work and play. That said, doing business on a laptop under a thatched roof in the Caribbean in winter somehow doesn't seem much like work.

Bucket List: Having had a good look around each of the ABC's I've no compelling need to go back.

Signs of Life: Part 9

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

When I'm traveling abroad, I like my foreign words to be recognizable. "Shake it Mama!" indeed! (See top-left and bottom-right corners.)

 

A pest-control place? No, it's actually a chain of do-it-yourself laundries.

 

From a live-concert poster. One of the band's names was INSANE, perhaps written just the way it's shown here. Is that crazy, or what?

 

Sign on waterfront kiosks. Beer, Coke, and ice cream all in same place; serving three of the four food groups is pretty good.

 

The main entrance to the Mercat de St Josep de la Boqueria, a covered market.

 

Inside, it is wall-to-walls stalls, mostly selling fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, drinks, and other forms of cheesy comestibles.

 

I rescued several empanadas.

 

Now if you are fussy about the origins of your octopus, this stall brings them in from Galicia, an area of northwestern Spain.

 

Just the kind of non-descript front door you want when you are in a Witness Protection Program, and living in the backstreets of Barcelona.

 

Actually, this was the door to my apartment building.

 

The flag of Catalonia (Catalunya, in Catalan). For some time now, there have been very strong moves towards more autonomy and even separation from Spain.

 

A warning against bungee jumping without a cord! 'Nuff said!

 

Literally, "Fall Hazard" in Catalan.

 

What's missing is the speech bubble saying, "I'll meet you at the bottom. Love you, Honey. Oh, and I'll try to save the camera!"

 

As with most public signs in Barcelona, this one is written in Catalan, Castilian (what many of us known as Spanish), and English.

 

A sign outside the Barcelona Olympic Stadium.

 

Now, let me get this straight: No roller blading, playing football, or cycling (Olymic athletes excluded, presumably), no killer dogs, and no driverless, black cars.

 

Oh, but leave all the graffiti you want!

 

No prissy poodles here, thank you very much.

 

I quite agree, and nowhere else either, for that matter! Just admit they simpy are glorified cats and stop embarassing the other breeds by calling them dogs.

 

Hmm, but then perhaps the cats would be embarassed.

 

Without even reading the text, you just know it's got to be some artys-fartsy place!

 

The best part of the place by far was the inside and outside of the building itself, and the very comfortable, deep leather seats in the lobby. As for the art, I guess I just have my taste in my mouth!

 

I did see one Picasso, an abstract babe with the usual deformed head.

 

No, this is not a €10-illion painting in the modern section of the art museum; it's a sign on the grass along the outside!

 

I'm reminded of the question, "Under which sign were you conceived?" " I think it was 'Please keep off the grass!'"

 

Signs on an outdoor escalator leading down to Plaça d'Espanya.

 

Here are the rules for riding, so listen up! Down the left side: No baby carriages; kids must hold Mother's hand; don't get your foot jammed against the edge; and you must carry little dogs under your left arm. Down the right side: No women in period costume or mourning dresses, and definitely no sitting on the handrail; no black children sitting on the steps; no unaccompanied children (although one would have expected a red slash instead of "NO"); and certainly no black Crocs!

 

Yes, it's your basic sundial. However, this one is on the eastern side of a tower while it's mate is on the western side, so the folks defending Montjuïc Castle could tell the time during all daylight hours.

 

 

What is Normal - Part 10: Automobiles and Driving

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Most of us who drive on a regular basis take it for granted. When we want to, or need to, go somewhere, we just get in the car and go!

As a farm boy, I started driving small pickup trucks and tractors around the age of 10. I well remember that in 1964, my older brother bought a brand-new car and he let me drive it on the dirt, public road near our farm. Although I was tall for my age, I had to look between the dashboard and the upper rim for the steering wheel. The car had a 3-speed, column-shift, manual transmission, but he restricted me to using first and second gears only.

It turns out there are many different aspects of driving, some of which I'll cover in this essay. And to be sure, road rules and customs vary from one state or country to another.

Getting a Driving License

In December 1969, I turned 16 years-old, the age at which one could get a driving license in South Australia. At that time, written and practical driving tests were administered by the state police, and most towns with a thousand or more-people had a police station. On the day of my driving test, the policeman got in the passenger side and told me to drive like I'd been taught, which was probably my downfall. I failed the test because I went over the speed limit, with a policeman in the car. What was I thinking! Anyway, I retook the test two weeks later, and passed. Back then, very few cars had automatic transmissions, so it was much more challenging to have to park on the side of a steep hill going upwards, and to take off again, using the handbrake.

I don't remember the details, but after one passed the theory test, one got a Learner's Permit and L-plates to put on a vehicle until one passed the practical test. (Years later, new drivers got a provisional or P-plate, which had to be used for a year or more.)

Three years later, I came back home in the summer to help my father with his wheat harvest. However, to drive his truck filled with grain to the local silo (US: grain elevator), I had to get a truck license. When I took that test, one of the first things I had to do was to drive around the very large roundabout. Now my dad had warned me that the latch on the driver's-side door wasn't working properly, and, don't you know, half way around the circle, the door swung open. I simply reached over and pulled it closed, and put my arm out the open window to hold it closed, and told the policeman, "Sorry about that; the latch is a bit of a problem!" He just laughed it off, and I passed the test. After all, that's how some farm vehicles are, right?

Back then, South Australian drivers' licenses did not contain a photograph.

In 1980, I got my first US license, in the state of Maryland, at the Department of Motor Vehicles. It was a very high-tech process. For the theory, I had to sit at a computer terminal and answer multiple-choice questions with respect to colored diagrams showing a series of driving scenarios. The one I remember vividly was that in which I had a green light, but a policeman was standing in the intersection with his hand held up, presumably indicating I should stop. One of the answer choices was, "Run over the policeman". Now I was pretty sure that was not only the wrong answer, but selecting it would probably fail me immediately.

One winter, I went to Saba, one of three islands in the northern Dutch Antilles in the Caribbean. Although it's part of the Netherlands, the government wasn't much interested in spending money to build a road system on an island with few people and only five square miles in size. Well, some enterprising locals built some roads and brought in some cars. Of course, with almost no traffic, it was very safe. And, interestingly, any license granted there could be used back in Europe! Soon, a travel agent started promoting a trip to the Dutch back home: "Come to Saba for a week's holiday and bring back a driving license!" And it worked. However, it became clear that the testing process was hardly rigorous, and the conditions were nothing like in the Netherlands, so the practice was stopped. [As best as I can tell, in many western European countries, one cannot get a license until age 18, one must take a lot of expensive lessons, and one often takes several tries before passing. On the other hand, people can consume alcohol at age 15 or 16. In the US, many states allow driving at 15½, but no drinking until 21.]

While many countries issue licenses for 5–10 years, they also require annual tests for those with disabilities or beyond a certain age. For many years, I've lived in states where it is mandatory to have one's car inspected annually to make sure it's safe. However, none of those states ever checks whether the driver is roadworthy! I think that would be a great idea, as well as a serious source of revenue. I see having a driver's license as a privilege not a right! And I'm willing to sit and pay for an annual written and practical test to have that privilege.

Driving on the Left vs. Right

This a fundamental difference between countries. I was raised in Australia, and like most British Commonwealth countries (with the notable exception of Canada), drivers sit in the right-hand side of a vehicle, and drive on the left-hand side of the road. I did that for nearly 10 years. Then I moved to the US where I sat on the left and drove on the right. Since everyone is doing it, it isn't difficult to master. What can be a challenge is switching over when traveling abroad. And to make it more interesting (read: dangerous), some places differ yet again. For example, in some former or current English territories in the Caribbean, the road rules are British, but many cars are American, which means one is driving on the left while sitting on the left. [I recently experienced this on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix, which I believe it the only US territory to have this convention. Interestingly, this island was formerly a Danish possession, not English.]

Although the US uses left-hand-drive cars, there is one important exception: US Postal Service delivery vans are right-hand-drive, so the driver can put mail in mail boxes at the edge of the road, on the right-hand side.

For more details about driving on the left vs. driving on the right, click here and here. As you will read, numerous countries changed sides!

[Note that international rules for driving power boats on water require water craft to keep to the right. Interestingly, this rule is also applied in Australia, so rules for boating there are the opposite from those for land-based vehicles.]

License Plates

All countries to which I've been require some sort of plate on vehicles used on public roads. While many require a plate on the front and back, some require one only on the back (as in Indiana, US). In some cases, the front and back plates are of different color (as in the UK, where the front plates are white, and the back ones are yellow). According to Wikipedia, in the UK, "It is compulsory for motor vehicles used on public roads to display vehicle registration plates, with the exception of vehicles of the reigning monarch used on official business." (As my dear friend Günter is fond of saying, "Oh, it's good to be King!")

I remember arriving in the US in 1979 and moving to Chicago, in the state of Illinois. I was stunned to find that that state was just introducing vanity/personalized plates; after all, even sleepy old South Australia had them back then! (As it happens, much of the TV and movies exported to Australia back then were shot in California and New York, which did have vanity plates. I've since learned not to generalize about the US based on any one state, or region, for that matter.) Some countries prohibit certain personal "spellings".

In Japan, plates indicate the vehicles engine capacity.

In my early years in the US, each time when I renewed my car's registration, I got a new set of plates. Perhaps, they really were made by prisoners (as has often been claimed), and those fellows had to be kept busy, right! Nowadays, I get two small stickers, for month and year, which I put on the front and back plates. That said, they are quite easy to peel off, and I wonder why more are not removed or defaced by trouble makers. In Australia, we had decals instead, which were put on the passenger-side quarter-vent window, something that no longer exists. (In Virginia, I do put decals on my windshield, but they are for state inspection and a county tax permit.)

Many areas have plates with one of a number of approved slogans. South Australia is "The Festival State" highlighting its world-famous Festival of Arts. One from Virginia, US, is "1607 400th Anniversary 2007".

Ordinarily, German plates start with a 1-,2-, or 3-letter code based on the district (city or county) in which the vehicle is registered: For example, Berlin is B, Magdeburg is MD, and Rostock is ROS.

According to Wikipedia, "Several Native American tribes within the United States register motor vehicles and issue license plates to those vehicles." I recently witnessed that firsthand when I drove through the state of Oklahoma, a state that was created specifically as a home for a number of Indian nations (currently numbering 39).

Parking

If I understand correctly, with space being such a premium in Japan, one cannot register a car there unless one can show proof of a place to park it.

Now we're probably all familiar with high-rise parking buildings, but in Japan I saw cars being stacked one above the other using some kind of individual-car elevator. That is, there are no ramps, as there simply is no space!

From my observations in Italy and France (and probably other countries as well), it seems that if any one square centimeter (or inch) is inside a legal parking spot, then the whole car is parked legally; I kid you not!

I'm reminded of a story about a friend. In many paid-parking lots in his country, there is a metal device that after parking over it raises up under the car to prohibit it from being moved until payment has been made. He dutifully put in his money, and some car somewhere in the lot was freed, but not his! He'd entered the wrong space number; don't you just hate that when that happens!

In some cities in the US, a vehicle at an expired meter gets booted; that is, a heavy metal lock is placed on a wheel to prohibit the vehicle from being moved. (The rationale appears to be that drivers simply throw away parking tickets left under their wipers.)

Toll Roads/Bridges/Tunnels

More than a few places around the world charge a toll to use their roads, bridges, and/or tunnels. And sometimes the costs can be surprisingly high. Two such incidents come to mind. I was heading south from Innsbruck, Austria, towards the Italian border. Naively, I got on the autobahn and found I had to pay a large fee even though I only wanted to go a short distance to an exit just before that border. [Don't you hate that when that happens!] The other involved my driving across a bridge from the US mainland to Staten Island, New York City, and then across another bridge onto Long Island. And I did it in the reverse direction on the way back. That was the most expensive 10-mile trip I've ever driven!

Now I do live in an area with toll roads, especially one to my international airport. However, I avoid them unless I am really running late, or I can claim the expense as a business deduction (after all, time is money). In recent years, the circular beltway around Washington DC has added one or more express lanes, which one can use for a fee. (These are not to be confused with High-Occupancy Vehicle [HOV] lanes, which allow only vehicles with two or more passengers, at no charge.)

I've been travelling to the greater Seattle, Washington, area for more than 35 years, and on most trips, I crossed the Evergreen Point Bridge across Lake Washington. However, a couple of years ago, it was turned into a toll bridge, and I simply refuse to pay to cross. As such, when I use the approaching highway, I have to be sure to get off before a toll is due, to take an alternate route. I have also learned to configure my GPS unit to avoid paths requiring tolls.

Now, if I commuted some distance twice each work day, I might succumb to paying tolls if using a toll road was faster, but for the 32+ years I've been working from home, I haven't noticed much traffic between my bedroom and my office!

Roads

Here in the US, we have interstate highways, state roads, and local roads. I love the interstate highway system. North-south freeways have odd numbers starting from the west to the east. East-west freeways have even numbers starting from the south up to the north. Ordinarily, they have one- or two-digit numbers. Those with three join a major interstate at one or both ends. [I recently drove 2,631 miles (4,209 kms) in seven days, from Northern Virginia to Utah. Almost all of it was on Interstate 81 (I81) and Interstate 40 (I40).]

Until 25-odd years ago, most local and many state highways in the US had route numbers only, and a few had names. However, in an effort to assist fire and ambulance services, everyone in rural areas needed to have an address, so they could be found easily in an emergency. This meant having house numbers and road names. [A similar situation occurred in Australia.]

In my home state of South Australia, most of the interstate highway system consists of two, undivided lanes, with occasional passing lanes when going up hills. These roads are nowhere near as well-constructed as US interstate highways, yet the Aussie speed limit is 100–110 kph (62–69 mph), which is way too fast for this kind of road, especially when the lanes are not divided. Another problem is the discontinuation of much of the state's railway network, which has led to a huge increase of road transport, especially when it comes to hauling grain using monster B-double trucks/trailers. The wear-and-tear on many roads is quite obvious.

Signs

For the first of many pages of international road signs, click here.

One sign in Latin America that had me confused, showed the letter E inside a red circle with a slash through it. Obviously, something was prohibited, but what? It meant "No parking"; as estacionar is the Spanish equivalent for parking.

One of my all-time favorite signs is the set of three one sees when approaching an exit on an autobahn. The first, with three bars, indicates the exit is 300 meters on, the second has two bars indicating 200 meters, and the third has one bar for 100 meters. How sensible!

BTW, George Harrison famously wrote, "If you don't know where you're going, any road'll take you there".

Fuel

The price of gasoline (petrol in British Commonwealth countries) varies widely, and often includes more taxes than fuel cost. Here in the US, local governments—counties and towns—can levy their own gasoline tax, and many do. And many large metropolitan areas straddle two or even three state borders/tax zones.

One aspect of the metric system that confuses me is the measure of so-many liters per 100 kilometers, versus the Imperial system's miles-per-gallon (mpg).

Filling a gas tank in Iceland or a remote Caribbean island, can give one a shock! The cost of fuel per day might be more than the cost of the rental car.

Some years ago, I drove to New Jersey (what was I thinking?) and needed to fill my gas tank. I noticed that I had to wait for an attendant to do it for. Apparently, at least in that area, only full-service existed; no self-service was allowed! [But then I also recall that on one interstate toll road through that state, when one wanted a toll ticket, one had to be handed it by a person who took it from the machine. The driver was not allowed to take it directly from the machine!]

By the way, where I was born, gas stations are called road houses. And I'm old enough to remember when attendants washed one's windshield (AU: windscreen), checked the tire pressure, radiator, and battery, and maybe even gave one a set of drinking glasses.

Speed Limits

These vary widely around the world, from very low on small Caribbean islands to very high, with some countries even having minimum limits only in certain freeway lanes.

Years ago, in the US state of Montana, there was no limit during daylight hours provide one was driving safely. The nighttime limit was 75 mph (120 kph). However, when I was in that state a year ago, there was a daytime limit (85 mph).

As I mentioned above, I recently drove a small moving van across much of the US. For the first half, the limit was 70 mph, and most of the second half was 75 mph. While I drove at the limit much of the time, doing so with a crosswind and sometimes alongside a semitrailer, made it hard work.

In many US states, radar detectors are illegal. In Australia and other places, a device called an amphometer is used to catch speeders. This involves the use of two black tubes across a lane, with the time a car takes to run over both being used to determine its speed. I've heard stories of truckers slamming on their brakes when they see one, which rips the whole apparatus to shreds!

Roundabouts

My home town in South Australia has had a large roundabout (turning circle) for as long as I can remember, and people never had any trouble using it. And I've seen roundabouts in other countries, including parts of the US. In the past 10 years, they have been introduced to my area in Northern Virginia, including my town, and I hear nothing but complaints. As I say to my American friends, "How hard can they be to master? Foreigners have done it for years!" Personally, I think roundabouts are fine, and if they cause drivers to think about what they are doing and to look at the other traffic around them, well it's about damned time they started paying attention!

I'm reminded of one of Chevy Chase's National Lampoon's Vacation movies where he is stuck going around the same roundabout many times on a trip in Europe, trying to figure out which exit to take. On the rare occasions that I drive down Massachusetts Avenue here in Washington DC, I fully understand his concern when a circle has eight or more exits.

Accidents

As I mostly work from home, I don't drive a lot, but from time to time, I've come across traffic accidents. One involved a stopped car on fire, with black smoke billowing up from the burning oil and tires. Another involved a sports car that had driven up on top of the end of a guard rail and tipped over on its side. In a third case, I heard a loud bang, and looked in my driver-side mirror just in time to see a car crash into the median 100 yards behind me.

The one time I saw a tornado way off in the distance, I drove quite fast away from it, lest I finish up in Kansas!

For details of my own accidents, see my January 2016 essay, "Accidents and Incidents".

Weather

Although I've never had to put chains on my tires to go through snow and/or ice, I've seen numerous "chain-up" areas in various countries. And way out in the country on some US interstate highways, I've seen long gates that can be pulled across to close the highway during winter emergencies.

While many places still spread salt to melt ice and snow, more are turning to sand to improve traction (but not actually melt anything), as that doesn't rust vehicles and it doesn't leave a chemical residue behind afterwards.

In Alaska and Norway, I've seen flexible orange poles on the sides of roads, which indicate to snow plows where the edge of the road is. Given these poles can be more than 15 feet (5 meters) high, I'm glad I don't have to deal with that much snow.

In December of 1978, the Mother-of-All-Winter-Storms hit Chicago. There was so much snow that earthmoving equipment was used to clear whole streets, with more than a few cars being destroyed or discarded in the process.

Five years ago, I moved to a house with a garage, and I've had one ever since. The only new car I ever owned wore out from exposure to the elements: heat, cold, humidity, and birds. Now while many people would give a great deal to have a garage, almost all those Americans I know who have a garage (and sometimes two or even three) have them so full of crap that they don't have room in them for a car!

Hitchhiking

I hitchhiked some back when I was a teenager living in Australia. Since then, I've picked up more than few people doing likewise, in various US states and other countries. However, it wasn't until January 2016 that I tried it again, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. For the first half of my trip I had no car, and I was walking down a steep hill to a supermarket, and soon after I stuck out my thumb, a man in a pickup truck stopped. Unfortunately, no one did when I walked back up, in hot sun, carrying several heavy bags of groceries. The next day, I got rides to and from a state park with the second couple insisting on driving me right to my destination even though it was out of their way. Then once I rented a car, I gave two young guys a lift up to the top of the Haleakalā volcano, and I picked up a young man walking a bicycle loaded up with a car tire and rim.

Conclusion

My pet driving peeves are tailgating, not completely stopping at a Stop sign or when turning on a red light (here in my area one is supposed to actually come to a stop for three seconds), and talking/texting while driving. You know, the one good thing about capital punishment is there are no repeat offenders!

Finally, while they have some kinks to work out yet, driverless cars will almost certainly be a major improvement over the (way too many) idiots that inhabit our roads now!

Travel: Memories of Jordan

© 2009, 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Capital: Amman; Language: Arabic; Country Code: JO; Currency: dinar (JOD)

Once I learned I had to attend a conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, I immediately started planning a side trip to Jordan, primarily to visit the ancient site of Petra. This essay contains excerpts from the Jordan part of that trip. While I was in Amman, I was based at the house of an English academic, Richard, which he shared with his Palestinian friend, Abu. Richard was a host with Servas.

[Diary] The airport was quite some distance from the capital, Amman. Along the way, we listened to a cassette tape of 50's American pop classics, and I sang along. There were many billboards along the way, as well as numerous "traditional" Jordanian food places, such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Burger King. A very large sign on an overpass was trying to lure people to a dream vacation in the Maldives (presumably before the islands sink) with Oman Airways.

We stopped at an international supermarket to get some groceries. It was very large, and I walked around looking at the products. As expected, everything looked the same, yet, on closer inspection, everything was different. Of course, all the signs were in Arabic, but most also had English. One thing that jumped out at me immediately was that all the prices had three decimal places instead of the two that most currencies have. There are a number of things worth mentioning about the Jordanian dinar. The basic unit is more valuable than US$1, and 1 dinar has 100 piastres, each of which has 10 fils, so there are 1,000 fils to the dinar. [At the time of writing, 1 fil was about 1/8th of a US cent, and it's not clear one could buy anything with that amount.]

[Diary] I slept soundly until around 04:00, and then I lay there thinking about sleeping! [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] At 05:10, off in the distance I heard the first call to prayers at a mosque over a PA system. 15 minutes later, there was a second call. After what seemed like an eternity, I went back to sleep only to be awakened rudely by my alarm at 08:15.

At 11:00, Abu and I walked some distance up to the main highway to a row of banks. I needed cash, so selected one, and swiped my bankcard in the security door lock, and, lo and behold, the international banking computer system recognized the card, the thick glass door slid open, and I had access to the cash machine. I entered my card and PIN, and the system recognized it was issued in the US, and changed from Arabic to English. I politely asked for 200 dinars, and it politely handed over that amount in a combination of bills right down to five ones. I was off to a good start.

We took a taxi to the new bus station. It was a good thing Abu was with me, as all the bus signs were in Arabic, and we were looking for the one to Jerash. All the scribbles looked the same to me, and were impossible to decipher! We soon found our bus, an aging Mercedes that had seen better days, but it still had some get-up-and-go. The cost for the two of us for the 35 km to Jerash was 1.400 dinars, which was pretty cheap. However, there was one problem; the bus had no schedule. It simply left when it was full or the driver decided he had enough passengers to make it worth his while. The bus had heavy curtains with royal blue on the outside, and burnt orange on the inside.

Seventy minutes after we boarded, the bus pulled out, and we were out on a highway with three lanes in each direction. (I say "lanes", but as best as I could tell, a lane was defined as that strip of road containing the bus, and the lane moved sideways with the bus!) We climbed up and down some pretty big hills, and the driver spent quite some time changing gears, but the old Mercedes performed admirably.

We eased into the town of Jerash as a dust storm blew, and got off the bus several hundred yards from the site of the ruins. The city really got on the map in the 3rd century BC, and saw lots of construction and destruction over the centuries. It was a favorite place of Roman emperor Hadrian, the Christian Byzantines controlled it for a bit, then the Muslims moved in, and, later, the Crusaders took it back. My admission was eight dinars while Abu's was only half a dinar.

We started at Hadrian's Arch, and moved on to the huge elliptical Oval plaza and its 160 Ionic columns topped with lintels, and a complex drainage system under the paving stones. Several groups of young people were working on digs around the place. The main road through the ruins was more some 800 meters long, was flanked by columns, and was paved in thick slabs of stone, many of which had been pushed up or down by a series of earthquakes over the years. The South Theater was beautifully restored as a 3,000-person amphitheater with a magnificently carved stone stage. A troupe of musicians in uniform played bagpipes and drums. From there, we went to the Hippodrome, a smaller version of Rome's Circus Maximus, complete with chariots, horses, and centurions in full armor. After a demonstration, the charioteers took paying customers for rides on part of the track, and soldiers posed for photos.

By the time we finished walking around, the dust had stopped, and it was much more pleasant. We stopped in the bazaar among the touristy stuff, and sat in the sun drinking Coke and eating potato chips while contemplating Roman history. ("What did the Romans ever do for us?" I hear you Monty Python fans say.)

The next challenge was to figure out where the bus back home might leave. And after a false start, we headed in the right direction expecting to have to wait a good while. As we walked, a private vehicle with two enterprising young guys pulled up and asked if we needed a ride to Amman. The cost would be 1 dinar each. We quickly agreed, and got in the back of the small sedan. 100 yards further down, they got another customer, a Canadian from Vancouver, and they looked around for one more. As the car was small, and we didn't want to be crammed in, we offered to pay an extra dinar to keep the space free.

[Diary] A taxi dropped me downtown where I was met by Maha, a 24-year-old Palestinian woman who was a student in a Masters' program in American Studies. She was a day host in the Servas hosting program, and we had corresponded quite a bit in the weeks leading up to my arrival. Her parents were Palestinian, but were forced to leave the West Bank many years ago. They moved to Kuwait, where Maha was born. They all moved to Jordan some years ago, where she obtained a Bachelor's degree in Italian and English.

Several hours into our meeting, we were joined by Maha's good friend Rawan, who had attended university with her. Rawan was also a Servas day host, and her family background was similar.

We went on a driving tour. The first stop was the Roman Theatre. Built around AD 170 in a semicircle with around 6,000 seats, it was very nicely preserved. We entered from the street, right onto the main stage. There were several small museums featuring tribal costumes, crafts, and lifestyles. Next, we drove to an old part of town to the former compound of a wealthy family that now has a Foundation that sponsors numerous projects in Jordan. The gardens were nice, and the place had been turned into a gallery. We drank tea and juice in the trellised courtyard.

By the time we finished our drinks and another lengthy chat it was quite dark. Maha flagged a taxi for me and explained to the driver where I wanted to go. After what seemed like a lot of driving on small streets, we came out on a major highway, and, soon after, I saw a familiar landmark, the amusement park near home. From there, I used my hand-drawn map to locate the house (there were no street signs or house numbers). Two doors down from my house was a small corner store run by Wafa Al-Safadi, a very nice woman. Born in Saudi Arabia, she had lived in various places around the Middle East, and then eight years in Dallas, Texas, where her children were currently in university. Her English was excellent, and we chatted while I bought some emergency rations.

[Diary] Abu and I took a taxi to the south-side bus station at Mojama' al-Janoob. We decided to ride in style, in a coach with reserved seats, so we went to the JETT office and bought 2 one-way tickets to Petra for six dinars each. We had 1:20 hours to kill, so we walked around the yard stopping for drinks. Then we sat in the JETT waiting room. The 11:30 bus pulled up at 11:15, and we boarded soon after. We were in Seats 1 and 2, right behind the driver. I asked the driver if he had a license. He smiled, said "No", and that many drivers in Jordan drove without one!

We headed south on the main highway, and for three hours it was flat and desolate with very little vegetation. Apart from the divided highway with two lanes in each direction, there was a train line and a high-voltage power line. We passed through one large town and a few small villages. Most houses were incomplete. They built the ground floor and moved in, and added on as they could afford it. As a result, the roofs of most had 1–6-foot tall concrete pillars sticking up with steel reinforcement rods hanging out. I saw a few refugee camps, and the occasional camel and donkey.

We passed a turnoff to Petra, and I mentioned that to Abu. He said not to worry, as we'd stay on the better road until the last minute. We passed a second turnoff, and I asked again. "No problem", he said. I was a little concerned. When we passed the exit to Wadi Rum, I knew we had a problem, as that was well south and east of Petra.

Soon we came to a major security checkpoint where a soldier came on board and checked everyone's ID. Another soldier manned a machine gun mounted on the roof of a truck nearby, and had it aimed in the general direction of our bus. As I suspected, we were approaching Aqaba, the port city on the Red Sea, 100 kms south of our intended destination. [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] Obviously, there had been a major breakdown in communication. Oh well, on to Plan B, right? Ironically, I had decided to forgo Wadi Rum and Aqaba, as they were too far out of my way, yet there I was!

We pulled up at the bus terminal and went to the office to see how to get back to Petra. Naturally, the buses to Petra left from another station, so we asked several taxi drivers to give us a quote for the 120+ km trip to Petra. After some negotiations, one driver dropped his price to 35 dinars, which was three times what we'd paid for four hours on the bus. He said it would take two hours. In any event, we accepted, and off we went to Petra. Well, not quite. First, we had to go by the driver's house to feed the cat, kiss the wife, and spank the kids, as he'd be gone for four hours. So, we sat in the taxi outside his house and waited. Fortunately, it was only for 10 minutes. He jumped in the cab, and we then we really were off to Petra. Well, not quite. We stopped a km from his house while he made a phone call. His car was old and, possibly, might not be able to make the trip, so he called the half-brother of his uncle's cousin's next-door neighbor, who had a much nicer newer taxi, to see if he could take us. Yes, he could, and, surprise, he was there in two minutes, I kid you not. Finally, we actually set off for Petra.

We came across several herds of goats and sheep being driven by shepherd boys who were walking or riding donkeys. Some herds crossed the road, so we had to stop. Several other herds were being driven down the steep mountainside towards the road.

By the time we got to Wadi Musa, the town near Petra, the sun had set. We drove all the way to the entrance to Petra, and up a side street to the Petra Inn, at which I'd booked a double room for three nights, the day beforehand, via the internet. It was 18:00, and we were in Petra, only three hours behind schedule and 35 dinars out of pocket. It could have been much worse.

[Diary] We each packed a daypack, and stopped at the corner store to buy water. We knew that once we got inside Petra the prices would double or even triple, as everything has to be hauled in, mostly with horses and donkeys.

We entered the park at 08:00, and there was a small but steady stream of people going in. After a few hundred yards, we entered the Siq, a 1 km-long horizontal crack in the rocks through which Wadi Musa runs. Although it's dry much of the year, it can see some serious water flow.

Petra was built by the Nabataeans from 300 BC through AD 100. They were Arabs from eastern Arabia. They built a city of 20–30,000 people, but as they lived in tents, there were very few permanent buildings left to discover. However, what they did do was make some serious tombs, but rather than actually build them, the carved them out of the sandstone rock. And we are talking big here, 40-meter-high front entrances on some!

The Siq wound around and sloped steadily down. The people had cut channels in the walls to divert water into storage cisterns. They were big on water conservation. At the end of the Siq, one comes out to the main highlight, the so-called Treasury building. [If you saw the first Indiana Jones movie, you saw this place.] It certainly was impressive.

From there, we climbed ruins all around, and, eventually, climbed hundreds of steep steps up to a cathedral carved out of a cliff face. We rested there on seats with soft pillows, all set into a large cave. Although my can of lemon drink was expensive, it was cold and tasted great after the 1-hour climb. The lazy tourists with too much money opted to pay to have tiny donkeys haul their overweight butts all the way to the top. One thing I learned on the hike up, if you walk behind a farting donkey, keep your distance!

There were venders everywhere trying to sell crappy trinkets. One entertaining old guy offered me old coins made 2,000 years ago or fake ones made last week in China! There were camels, donkeys, and horses for hire everywhere one turned.

The vast majority of tourists were French, German, Dutch, Italian, and Australian. I met a couple from Leesburg, Virginia, the seat of the county next to mine, and a businessman from McLean, Virginia, not far away. I chatted with a retired Canadian couple who were on a National Geographic 30-day world tour. I had received that catalog, and recalled it had a chartered Boeing 757 fitted out as all-First Class. [I recalled that the cost per person was around US$60,000. OK if you are an armchair tourist with lots of cash!]

Of course, what goes down must come up, and the up-hill walk through the Siq and outer area reminded me I was still alive. I made it to my corner store where I drank half a liter of cold milk without stopping. Then it was up the very steep last hill to our hotel and a great shower. It was 15:30, and we'd been touring for 7½ hours. (I almost never work that hard for money!)

[Diary] Having covered most of Petra the day before, my plan was to sleep late, forgo breakfast, and go to the park around mid-morning. However, that was not to be. I figured that I had about four hours of solid sleep, and then lay awake until daylight broke around 06:00. [Don't you just hate that when that happens?]

By 06:45, I was ready to get up, and, soon after, I was in the hotel breakfast room. It had the same bland fare as the previous day, but I discovered the boiled eggs. Although they had been in a pan over a steam bath for a lengthy period, mine had not yet turned into a science experiment gone-wrong. People came and went while I took my time eating, drinking, and writing in this diary. I also started reading a new novel, but had a vague idea I'd read it before.

A short while later, I walked over to the park. I'd missed the morning rush, and the Siq was almost devoid of people. I travelled light, having left my daypack and video camera in my room. I wore my jacket, as it was rather cool, especially in the shade. I made it to the Treasury in double-quick time, and sat and watched the tourists take photos and try to mount camels for rides around the valley. A few hundred yards further on I located the path to the High Place of Sacrifice. Although it was steep, it was only half as far as the previous day's climb. The top was very exposed, and a stiff cold breeze blew over. I walked to the edge of the rock formation to take some photos of the Street of Facades far below. Halfway down the path a French family asked how far it was to The Cathedral. I pulled out my map and showed them they were on the wrong mountain, and quite some distance from the right one.

Back at the Treasury, I found a spare seat next to an English couple. We chatted at length about British Government and History, especially Churchill. I enjoyed it so much it may have been the highlight of the day!

I ran into people from New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, Czech Republic, and Northern Ireland.

I took my time walking out, stopping, and sitting occasionally to look at the rock formations on the canyon walls.

[Diary] Although I woke a couple of times during the night, I went back to sleep soon after, so was delighted that it was 09:00 when I woke. I had some bread, cheese, and drink in the hotel restaurant, which was almost deserted.

Back in my room, I packed my gear, and then checked out. The room had been more than adequate, and given the decent price so close to the park, it was good value.

I said goodbye to the front desk staff and walked down the hill to the row of taxis. The drivers were talking and smoking, and welcomed me with big smiles. I asked how much to take me to the bus station. One guy said five dinars. I said that was way too expensive. Eventually, he dropped to three. I said that the hotel told me one dinar was the going rate, so he told me to go back to the hotel and let them take me there for that price. I smiled and started walking to another group of taxis, and one young guy followed me and said he'd take me there for only one.

It was 09:45 when we pulled up at the so-called bus station. It consisted of a paved area with a 20-person minibus and two small shelters sheds. The bus was going to Amman, and the driver told me the price was five dinars. We'd leave when the bus was full. I was the 2nd passenger to arrive, and being Friday, the big religious day of the week, business might be slow, so I settled down to a long wait. After 15 minutes, the count had risen to four.

At 11:30, after a 1:45-hour wait, there was a flurry of activity, and passengers appeared seemingly, out of nowhere. The driver started the bus, everyone boarded, and we were "off to see the wizard". Just outside town, we pulled into a gas station to fill up the tank. The cost was 410 fils/liter, about US$1.10/US gallon, less than half what I paid at home.

Once we got out on to the highway, an older man played conductor, moving around the bus collecting money. He wore a pinstriped robe with a matching jacket, and a traditional red-and-white Hashemite headdress. The load was made up of 20 adults and five children, including the driver, conductor, a young policeman wearing a pistol, four women covered from head to toe in black robes with faces covered, a big guy around two meters tall (who I pegged as a Special Forces assassin!), and one infidel, me. I sat in the back row with my legs sticking out in the long aisle, as that was the only place on the bus I could fit comfortably. There were two spare seats, one either side of me. Coincidence? I think not; no one wanted to take a chance on catching infidel-itis by sitting next to me.

We drove on a back road through a number of towns, dropping off and picking up people. The road was in very good condition. After some 60 minutes, we were at the main highway, and we turned north to Amman. Up until then, the driver had us tapping our toes to some contemporary Arab music and singing, but, then, he turned to what I figured was a religious channel, and a cleric started in on a 15-minute sermon. Right from the start, the only mental picture I had was of Adolf Hitler giving a speech in Arabic, really! After a short break, another man came on and started singing in a rather pleasant voice. This went on for 30 minutes. My guess was that he was reciting verses from the Koran.

Traffic was light, and I looked out the windows watching the world go by. It was wonderful to have no smoking and no air conditioning. The children were all very well behaved, played quietly alone or with each other, and looked out the window. [They reminded me very much of Latin American kids in that they had an attention span of more than 15 seconds, and quietly observed the world around them without needing constant artificial stimulation.] At one point, we had to slow right down as shepherds pushed two large flocks of sheep (mostly with black wool) out over the 4-lane highway. Each man was assisted by two sheep dogs.

At 13:10, we pulled into a roadside café for a 15-minute break, and everyone got out. We were 100 km south of Amman. The "Special Forces assassin" came over to talk to me. He turned out to be a nice fellow, and he had a handle on a number of languages although I found it hard to understand his English. He gave me his phone number and email address, and asked me to contact him in Amman if I had any free time. He was especially interested in my hand-held computer, so I demonstrated some of its functions.

About 80 km out of Amman, we ran into a dust storm. Although it wasn't too thick, several times we had to slow down due to poor visibility. Strangely, light rain fell through the dust, and the driver had to put on the windshield wipers.

As was common, passengers waiting by the side of the highway waved down the bus. We stopped to pick up one guy, and the only spare seat was right next to me. He took it, but with some hesitation. Then, as we got going again, I noticed that several hundred yards down the road there was a large prison set on the hillside with high walls and guard towers. I wondered if my new seatmate had been visiting someone there, or, perhaps, he was an escapee. [I say this because once I was driving in the state of Utah in the US, and before and after a prison near the road, signs said not to pick up any hitchhikers.]

As we got closer to the capital, the rain got heavier. And as it was so dry and the roads had patches of oil and grease that had dropped from vehicles, we slid around in places.

By the time we arrived at the bus station at Mojama' al-Janoob it was 15:00, and the rain was coming down hard. I got a taxi right next to the bus, and with help from my assassin friend, managed to explain where I wanted to go. The driver took me straight there, but refused to use the meter. (If I never have to bargain with a taxi driver again in my life that would be just fine with me.)

Both Richard and Abu were home when I arrived, and Abu was cooking a chicken dinner, which we ate early with spiced rice and red pepper.

After supper, I showered and consolidated my luggage, and then downloaded the 220 emails that were waiting. I discarded more than half of them, but it still took a while to go through them. One was from my wife telling me that someone had tried to use my primary credit card to buy a lot of stuff, and that the card was now cancelled as a result. [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] I reviewed and named the digital photos from my trip to Petra.

[Diary] I woke for a few minutes when the 05:00 prayers were called, and then slept again until 08:30. I actually felt rested. Richard was making tea, so I made a pot as well, and sat down for tea and toast. Afterwards, I read a bit, and then caught up with new email that had arrived overnight.

I packed the last of my belongings, and worked on this diary throughout the morning. Then I noticed that a young man from my hometown in Australia was on-line, so we had a chat via instant messenger. He and his wife were currently living in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, on the west coast of the Caspian Sea. They had just returned from a week in neighboring Georgia.

Around noon, I packed up my computer gear, closed my bags, and chatted with Richard. He had reserved a taxi for 13:00, and it arrived right on time. I said goodbye to Wafa at her corner store, and we headed off. It was a very nice clean taxi, and the driver was young, polite, and dressed in a neat uniform. It was not your average Jordanian taxi and driver, I can assure you.

We stopped at a cash machine, so Richard could get some money. Then, soon after, we dropped him off to go in a different direction. We'd said our goodbye's en-route, and I looked forward to keeping in touch with him. Then, we headed for the airport.

It took 20 more minutes to get to the airport exit, and just before the terminal, we saw the Golden Tulip Hotel. We had to stop at a security gate where the guard asked if I had a reservation. I said that I did, and showed it to him. He then opened the gate, and we drove to the front entrance. There, I was greeted by two staff members, don't you know, one of whom ran off with my main luggage. I paid the taxi driver the very reasonable fare plus a small tip.

To get into the hotel, I had to put my luggage through an X-ray machine, and walk through a screening device myself. I though perhaps I'd arrived at the Beirut Hilton by mistake, but, no, I was in what I thought was sleepy old Jordan. The woman at the front desk was ever so pleasant, and found my reservation right away. Yes, she agreed, I'd prepaid via the internet with a booking agency. She asked my flight time the next morning, and recommended a wake-up call at 04:00 with ride to the terminal at 04:30. I agreed. My room was being made up, so she asked me to wait five minutes. The foyer was rather cavernous and nicely decorated without being "over the top".

Once my room was ready, the bellman took me to my room and set up my luggage. The room was nice, and had a large bed. I opened the curtains to the warm afternoon sun, but kept the window closed as a cool breeze was blowing. I decided against buying internet time, as there was no need for me to be connected again anytime soon. I set up my computer, and had it play some albums while I played games. Then I read my novel until the sun set.

At 17:00, I went down to the coffee shop off the foyer for a light supper. The prices were unbelievably good for a big hotel at an international airport. I ordered a tuna salad sandwich, which came in a large sesame seed bun, French fries, side salad, and a brand-new bottle of Heinz ketchup. Veddy civilized indeed, I must say. As I ate, I read my novel, which had gotten very interesting. The good news was that the author had written a series using the same character, so I had more stories to read once I got home. I finished off with a nice pot of hot chocolate. It was a fine "Last Supper in the Holy Land".

Back in my room, I read my whole diary making changes and corrections while listening to Vivaldi. At 19:45, I took a nice hot shower. Lights out soon after. All too soon, that 04:00 alarm would ring. Although I was tired, I took a while to get to sleep. A major problem with airport hotels is that they tend to be near airports! And a number of planes landed and took off with considerable noise.

[Diary] I slept right through to my 04:00 alarm. In 10 minutes, I was shaved, dressed, packed, and in the elevator heading downstairs. Checkout was a formality, and a driver was summoned to take me to the terminal, three minutes away. The security checkpoint was manned and a soldier stood at his machine gun on the back of a humvee. At the terminal, the driver took my big bag and wheeled it inside the main building. What service!

I went through security and was Number 2 in line at check in. Royal Jordanian's computer knew all about me, so I was soon processed. I asked the agent if he was up that early every morning. He replied, "Yes, but I prefer to think of it as late the night before!" Security and passport control was equally quick, and, by 04:40, I was sipping some wickedly strong coffee at the entrance to Gate 6. It had all been very uneventful, which was fine with me. And everyone made sure I was leaving the country with a good last impression.

At 05:45, I went through gate security and down to Gate 6. From there we boarded a bus for the short drive to the mid-field where an Embraer 195 jet named Petra stood ready to go. It was a crisp cold morning out and the sun was rising. We proceeded up the stairs in an orderly fashion and I sat in Seat 13A, window portside, at an exit with plenty of legroom. Instead of the usual cold air blowing around the plane, the heaters were on. Yes! Boxes of orange juice were handed out, the safety announcements made, and Royal Jordanian flight RJ342 took off at 06:30 to the southwest for the 20-minute trip to Tel Aviv.

Conclusion

Petra was everything I expected and more, and made the whole trip worthwhile. I only learned about Jerash a few weeks before the trip, and that was a very pleasant surprise.

Once while riding a bus near Amman, I saw a campus called "University of Philadelphia". My first thought that it was an American school. But No! Amman used to be called Philadelphia. According to Wikipedia, "Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the Macedonian ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom who reigned from 283 to 246 BC, renamed the city to "Philadelphia" (literally: "brotherly love") after occupying it. The name was given as an adulation to his own nickname, Philadelphus.

Signs of Life: Part 8

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

Fast food, Italian style, in France!

 

From a small town in Normandy, France. Do you suppose this shop actually sells ketchup?

Perhaps it's actually an art gallery that specializes in Andy Warhol paintings.

 

A bakery in the French town of Avranches, named for the famous US tank commander, General George S. Patton, who liberated the town during WWII.

I stayed in that town when I visited Mont Saint-Michel.

 

And to truly show their admiration, they even named a pizza place after him!

 

In France. On the one hand, you could argue that this is a useful sign. On the other, it might well give some kids an idea they wouldn't have otherwise thought of.

 

You'll find this sign at the waterfront in Helsinki, Finland.

Finland is official bilingual: Finnish and Swedish; so all public signs are in both languages.

Just off the coast on a series of interconnected islands is an impressive fortress complex with large dry docks, called Suomenlinna in Finnish and Sveaborg in Swedish.

And since I just know you're wondering about the three initials, the Helsinki City Transport system is called HKL (Helsingin kaupungin liikennelaitos in Finnish) and HST (Helsingfors stads trafikverk, in Swedish).

 

So there you are, driving along a Finnish highway going out into the country for the Juhannus Day weekend, and you stop at a gas station and food place for a bite to eat. But what to have?

The literal translation for säilykkeet is canned food, and Pastat is pastes. But what caught my eye was the Tex Mex; Texas-style Mexican food, in Finland. Hmm. "Build it and they will come." I guess!

 

A Christmas advertisement with a difference, for the world-famous San Diego, California, Zoo.

Apart from their main property, their Safari Park in Escondido is definitely worth a visit.

 

There I was riding my little motor scooter on the back roads of the Dalmation-Coast island of Hvar in Croatia, when I came across this sign.

It says that "The disposal and storage of waste materials and garbage is prohibited". Fair enough, but I though the picture of the clothes washer or dryer and the brick wall were an interesting way to reinforce the message.

 

This interesting-named shop is in the quaint town of Totnes in Devon, England.

 

From outside a pub in Totnes in Devon, England. Very clever!

BTW, TLC stands for "tender loving care".

 

This photo was taken in my hotel room on the South Korean island of Jeju (sometimes called Cheju).

It certainly made me wonder just what kind of natural disasters might actually occur there.

BTW, the rope was to help guests get over the balcony to the one below, from where they used that balcony's rope to go further, and so on.

 

If you happen to be wondering around Ocean Shores, Washington State, wearing a deer costume for Halloween, it's nice to know that hunters are not supposed to shoot you!

 

Although it sounds like good advice, while the elk weren't looking, I stuck my foot inside the 100-foot zone!

 

One of many such signs in and around Crescent City, Northern California.

The most startling thing were the posters at various beaches asking people who found human remains from the Japanese earthquake of 2011, washed across the Pacific Ocean, to report them to authorities.

 

The sign of civilization! Yes, I am a long-time patron of Denny's. Any place that serves breakfast 24 hours a day is okay with me. And on many occasions, the waitstaff have given me crayons and pictures to color while I was waiting for my food to be served.

The ultimate experience came when I found a Denny's restaurant in the parking lot of a Motel 6 hotel, in Annaheim, California, in which I stayed during a family trip to Disneyland.

 

 

Oh, the Things that I have Eaten

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Did you ever notice how habit-forming eating can be? In my case, I've been doing it at least twice a day for 63 years! I love food, I love preparing food, and I even like grocery shopping. And over the past year, I've found myself thinking often about what I was going to have for my next meal, sometimes even several meals ahead.

My food tastes were established at a very early age, when I was raised in rural South Australia, descended from German-speaking Lutherans from Prussia. Our menus were pretty much built around meat-and-potatoes, and rice was something you ate for dessert! Being farmers, we raised most of our own meat, fowl, fruit, and vegetables. With limited refrigeration and no freezer, we ate what was in season, or what was preserved in jars or smoked.

Like most farmers of German descent, my father could butcher most anything, and I recall from a very early age the story that "the only thing not used when a pig was slaughtered was the squeal it made as it was dying". Imagine my surprise when some 45 years later, an older cousin informed me that, "No, even that was used; it was sent to the state capital where it went into making whistles for referees!"

Once I moved to a large city and then started traveling, my food tastes broadened quite a bit, from pizza to Asian food, from pasta to curry, and ultimately to biscuits and gravy and peanut butter and jelly!

In this essay, I'll mention some of the ordinary and not-so-ordinary things I have eaten, some of my ideal meals, and some things I will not put in my mouth. Bon appétit!

Meat

Many meat cultures have their mystery meat product, something made from all those unmentionable offcuts. In South Australia, it was called fritz. In an eastern Australian state, it was called devon. In the US, it's bologna. As a kid, I recall going to the butcher shop, sitting upon the counter eating a slice of fritz while Mom's order was filled. Fritz with tomato sauce (ketchup, that is) rated high in my school lunch sandwiches. These days, however, I rarely eat it.

For five years, I lived on a 4,000-acre farm on which we had many wild kangaroos and emus. From time to time, we'd hunt them, and occasionally we'd grill up some kangaroo steak with bay leaves. I recall it was tasty. Mostly, we cooked the meat and fed it and the soup made from it to the pigs. They also ate raw emu meat. [A few years ago, while touring eastern Germany, I came across a restaurant serving kangaroo. Presumably someone was farming them there, but it just seemed odd. I also saw an emu ranch in west Texas. What will they think of next?]

For more than 30 years, I lived near a 5-star restaurant, at which I ate on very special occasions. One of their specials was game, and I usually had the wild boar. Bison is readily available in my area, but I have yet to try that.

I was raised on a wheat and sheep farm on which two of every five years were droughts. When there was little else to eat, there was always lamb (or mutton), and I ate a lot of it. So much so, that ever since, I don't much care for the taste or even the smell of it cooking. You can have too much of something!

As a kid, I trapped rabbits to sell for meat and skins. Some of them finished up in our kitchen pot, and I have fond memories of braised rabbit with gravy. In my area, rabbit was sometimes referred to as underground mutton!

On a family trip around Finland, I did eat a reindeer burger, and recently, I had braised reindeer in Norway. It's not a taste I care much for.

For some years, I stayed in a B&B in Chiswick, just outside London. One day as I was walking to my meeting place, I saw a sign advertising a new restaurant with a South African theme, so I dropped by to look at the menu. There was ostrich, kudu, buffalo, and zebra, among other exotic things, and all I could think of was how in the dark of night, the kitchen staff must jump the fence at the local zoo to get supplies. As it happened, with the reasonably low cost of air freight, they shipped in 20 kilos of meat from South Africa, twice a week!

One thing I miss about buying quality meat is South Australia's butcher shops, their great sausages, and bacon without all that fat the US seems to insist on having. Also, without all those preservatives. When traveling in Europe, I have been known to drool outside the window of a butcher shop, looking at all those wonderful meat cuts, except perhaps at a Pferdemetzgerei (horse butcher, that is) in Germany.

Fowl

In my early days, I ate a lot of chicken, and I still do. I also was involved in the production line when we butchered and dressed 20–30 of them at a time.

In my neck of the woods, ducks, geese, and turkeys were rare things. I probably ate turkey only once or twice in my 25 years in Australia. However, since living in the US, I eat it on a regular basis, not just at Thanksgiving.

In my very early days, we kept homing pigeons, and I remember some of them finishing up in our soup, and not just to swim!

I'm reminded of a story I once read about "How to cook a crow". It involved putting a crow in boiling water, along with a large stone. When the stone was soft, the crow was cooked!

Fish

For many years I lived 20–30 miles from a river or body of water, but fish was a rare thing, although we did have cans of sardines and, occasionally, tuna, and jars of fish paste. I do remember trying smoked fish, and I liked it. In fact, a few years ago, I rediscovered it and now have it regularly, especially in the form of salmon.

Now I'm allergic to shellfish, so when I travel to a non-English-speaking country, I try to find out how to communicate that. Several times I've failed, and either got no fish at all, or only shellfish. [As well as my throat constricting, if I touch shellfish and then touch my face near my eyes, my face swells. The doctors say it's to do with iodine, but I've never had any problem with using that directly.]

I quite like the texture of raw fish, and whenever I'm visiting my friends in Japan, we go to a local sushi restaurant. Of course, without shellfish the choices are halved, but there are still plenty of options.

Some years ago, Chilean sea bass started appearing on up-scale menus, and I've eaten it a number of times in Business Class on long-distance flights. It turns out, it's a bit of hoax. According to Wikipedia, "The name "Chilean Seabass" was invented by a fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz in 1977. He was looking for a name that would make it [Patagonian toothfish] attractive to the American market."

Given a choice, I'll put anchovies on my pizza. Unfortunately, where I live, most people don't care for the taste at all, and those pizza parlors that do provide them leave them in a can, so the diner can apply them himself without "polluting" the whole pie.

While I've eaten caviar a few times, I don't understand why people get so excited about it. But then, I don't drink champagne either!

Vegetables

I was raised on potatoes, peas, green beans, carrots, cabbage, onions, and pumpkin. I was probably 25 and living in the US when I ate my first ear of corn. Since then, I look forward to it every season, eating it with butter and black pepper. As a kid, I do recall having canned corn kernels in Mom's tuna mornay. My father banned from the table anything more exotic.

Fruit

I grew up in an apricot culture: fresh, dried, and as jam. I love peaches, including dried ones, also nectarines, pears, and oranges, both fresh and in juice form. I enjoy an occasional pink grapefruit half for breakfast, covered with sugar and left in the fridge overnight. While vacationing in Mexico some years ago, I rediscovered mangos, and love eating them and their juice. However, I have yet to master peeling one. My long-time Japanese friends introduced me to nashi (Asian pears), which I absolutely love, and often serve for dessert at dinner parties. It tastes like a pear, but has the look and texture of an apple, and doesn't bruise like a pear. I'm a fan of stewed rhubarb with apple, and if there's hot vanilla custard to go with it, that's just fine with me!

Pastries

I was raised in a culture having what we called savory pastries, such as meat pies, pasties (PAH-sties, that is, not PAY-sties) and sausage rolls. These were the staple offerings at my high school cafeteria, or if one ate at a bakery or deli for lunch. (According to Wikipedia, savoriness is "a culinary term traditionally contrasted with sweetness. Savory foods are flavorful but not sweet".)

Having lived in the US for 37 years, I'm very much aware of the popular American habit of eating sugar-laden, sweet pastries for breakfast. And while I have partaken occasionally over the years, eating a doughnut for breakfast just doesn't seem right.

 

Eggs

I love my eggs, but they must have come from a chicken; no duck eggs for me, thank you very much! I prefer them fried "over medium"; that is, flipped with the yolk a bit runny. Now I cannot bear to look at an egg whose white is not completely set. Unfortunately, this is rather a delicacy in Japan where the egg is passed under a flame for only seconds, and is almost entirely clear. Then in Geneva, Switzerland, I ordered a pizza with an egg fried in the center. When it came, the white was hardly set at all, which quite put me off my pizza. [Sadly, some years later, I'd forgotten that, and ordered the same thing again!]

Now, we've all heard about the dangers of salmonella in food, and one way to contract that is by eating eggs that have not been refrigerated. When I spent two weeks in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1992, and prepared my own meals, I avoided buying eggs out on the street, as I'd seen them delivered there early in the morning, and stand out in the sun all day.

During a recent trip to Beijing, China, I stayed at a hotel that claimed to cater for international guests. However, almost no English was spoken in the dining room. I saw a young man making custom omelets, so I thought I'd try one. However, as best as I could tell, each one contained pieces of dried shrimp, to which I am allergic. Despite my questions to him, and his replying "Yes" to most anything I said, it was clear the omelet option wasn't!

BTW, who was the first person to see a chicken and say, let's eat the next thing that comes out of its butt?

Dairy Products

Being a growing lad, I like to consume at least a liter of milk a day, and I'm not talking that non-fat or low-fat crap! I mean whole milk that's come from a real cow, not a test-tube! However, I am not a fan of yogurt. One thing high on my list when I visit South Australia is the local thickened cream (which has no American equivalent). I can make do with clotted cream, but forget about that spray-can stuff served in the US. And I could eat vanilla custard every day.

Although I like a number of cheeses, my tastes are pretty basic; brie and Camembert are about as exotic as I'm prepared to go. In fact, if I find myself in the so-called gourmet-cheese section of a market, I have to hold my nose or detour around that section.

As I travelled around Europe, I learned of cheese made from sheep's milk. Who knew you could milk a sheep!

Offal

A favorite of mine when growing up was braised sheep's liver (lamb's fry), served with mashed potato, gravy, and onions. So, imagine my delight when I arrived in the US and saw "liver and onions" on a menu. After one bite, I discovered it was either pig's or calf's liver, and it had a very strong and terrible taste!

I also recall Mom serving up fricasseed sheep's brains. I don't recall if that's after I'd been good or bad!

Desserts

I don't often get as far as the dessert menu, but I have been known to indulge on occasion. High on the list come stewed fruit with vanilla custard or ice cream (but not just any brand will do). Thickened cream is a nice topping as is passionfruit pulp. A few slices of Asian pears are also fine.

For afternoon tea, I do like British Commonwealth-style buns, preferably buttered, or a slab of coffee cake. My grandmother and one aunt were masters of making what we knew as kuchen, a German cake containing potatoes, topped with streusel.

Many years ago, I was invited to supper with a family in rural Maine. The hostess asked if anyone wanted a slice of rhubarb pie? When several of us replied, "Yes", she put the pie in the oven, so we could eat it hot. When she served it, we found it contained rabbit stew, at which time she remembered just what the large letter R on the pie crust meant!

In 2005, for my mid-life crisis, I decided to walk the 187-mile-long Thames Path in England carrying a backpack. [See my essay A Walk along the River.] One evening, I ate at a delightful pub right on the path. After my main course, I still had room for some dessert, and on offer was hot apple pie with vanilla custard, so I partook and ate outside in the garden. When I returned my empty plate, the young waitress asked, "How was it?" I replied enthusiastically, "It was better than sex, and if you wrote that next to the menu item on the chalkboard, you'll sell all of it." She declined my advice, but on reflection, I don't think I was exaggerating. After all, it was some darned fine pie and custard!

Drinks

I like plain and flavored teas (but not herbal) and instant coffee, provided sugar (or honey for tea) is available. While people have assured me that, "one can get used to going without sugar," I simply don't want to. When I make coffee for one at home, it's my own version of café-au-lait made entirely with milk.

I drink coffee-flavored milk by the gallon. Really!

When asked as to why I emigrated to the US, I often reply, "Because I don't drink beer or wine, I was not allowed to stay in Australia, so I went to the US, as that country takes refugees escaping all kinds of oppression." That said, I do like a nice glass of port wine. Unfortunately, I measure nice from the liqueur ports that used to be available in South Australia until some 15 years ago. But it appears the cellars have been emptied of them with no suitable replacement made.

After whole milk, fruit juice is king; orange, peach, mango, and occasionally pear are my favorites, and once in a blue moon, some pineapple. But never banana.

Foreign Flavors

As I travel around the world, I don't mind buying street food, so long as I know it doesn't contain shellfish. I also enjoy walking through fresh fruit and vegetable markets and supermarkets. At a glance, everything looks the same as back at home, but on closer inspection, many things really are different.

Now the Koreans think they have pretty good BBQ, but then they probably haven't been to an Australian or Texan BBQ. Quite frankly, they have no idea!

For my first adventure trip, I went into the jungles of the northern Amazon. On one hike, our guide took us to a native village to meet the chief where we drank some of the local homebrew with him. It turned out that it was from the root of some plant that was chewed by women who then spat the juice into a bowl where it fermented. Only the women's saliva would work. I haven't been back for seconds since, however. Back in our camp, the local native cooks fed us mystery meat that was so heavily smoked, one couldn't tell what it was.

Ramen noodle houses are big business in Japan, and the highlight of eating in one, is that one can make as much noise as one likes slurping the soup. My young son was delighted at that custom.

When my wife and I arrived in Singapore in 1979, we heard about The Satay Club, which sounded to us like an upscale dining place. Imagine our surprise when our trishaw driver dropped us at a park where grandfathers cooked satays over charcoal fires while their grandsons served food and drinks to patrons who ate at picnic tables. It was great; I love spicy peanut sauce on meat. Unfortunately, the "club" no longer exists.

We found a Chinese restaurant in a small village near Munich, Germany. When the food was served, I wanted chopsticks, but the staff spoke no English and my small German dictionary didn't have the word. After some miming, I finally got a pair, but as I started to eat with them, I felt this strange sensation. All the Germans in the room were watching this European-looking guy eat with sticks. How Barbarian! [BTW, the German word is Essstäbchen, the French word is baguettes Chinois (literally, Chinese sticks), and the Japanese is hashi.]

I was in Antigua, the old capital of Guatemala, where I had two weeks of private Spanish tutoring. Each night, I ate at the same restaurant where I was served by the same waitress. She tolerated my poor Spanish and I tipped her well. Ordinarily, I don't eat big meals, but one night, I had room for dessert, so I asked her if she had any cake. She looked blankly at me, but didn't try to figure out what I was saying. After a number of attempts, I got annoyed. I was thinking to myself, "Darn it woman, don't you understand Spanish?" Several days later, I was clear across the country riding a bus when it occurred to me what I'd been asking for. I had the right word but the wrong language. Cake in French is gateaux, which is what I had asked for, but it came across as gato, which in Spanish means cat. So, it was no surprise I didn't get my dessert!

It was Todo Santo (All Saints Day), a big event on the Catholic calendar, and there I was as a lunch guest at a family in rural Mexico. From time to time, different people tried to get me involved in their (Spanish-language) conversation by asking me questions. I started talking about what I thought was His Holiness the Pope, but it soon became obvious that no one was following. As it turned out, I was using the feminine la papa, which means potato, when I should have been using the masculine el papa, the Pope. Potato, Pope; hey what's the big deal, right? [It occurred to me later that perhaps The Devil made me do it!]

While staying with a host family in Japan, I offered to cook them a Mexican dinner. However, finding all the ingredients in the local supermarket was a challenge. After lots of searching, I found an aisle of "obscure foreign stuff", and right there were the familiar yellow-and-orange boxes of Old El Paso Mexican food containing all one needed; YES!

I discovered empanadas when I first travelled to Central America, and I loved them! However, early on as I was chowing down on one fresh out of the oven, I bit into a whole olive that was inside the pastry. Not being a fan of olives, I quickly spat that out into the gutter. For all future purchases, I checked first to see if an olive was inside, and if it was, I squeezed it out before I started eating, so it wouldn't pollute the ham and cheese filling.

Things Not on my Menu

There are more than a few things I do not care for or can't imagine putting in my mouth. They include the following: haggis; tripe; cold, boiled rice with raw egg mixed in, for breakfast (Japan); boiled eggs, black from pickling in vinegar (Korea); kimchi (Korea); pig's feet (trotters); the eyes from any animal; animal tongue; kidneys; duck; goose; pickled cucumber or cauliflower; raw beef; horseradish (except very mild wasabi on mashed potatoes); capers; many cheeses; qwark and other bacteria-laden things; buttermilk; any milk less than whole; blood sausages; Rocky Mountain oysters; olives; green tea; poi; and blood (ala the Maasai tribe's cattle herders). I'm sure there are many others, most of which I've tried very hard to forget over the years.

So, Just What do I Love to Eat?

Off the top of my head, here are some ideal things I might have in-between snacks:

Breakfast: cornflakes with fruit; sausage or thick, slab bacon with little fat; eggs fried (over medium); crisp, shredded hash-brown potatoes with sausage gravy; wheat toast with strawberry jam or perhaps some orange marmalade; a large mug of steaming café au lait or hot chocolate (but without the girly-man whipped cream). And, yes, ketchup does go on eggs! And my home-made stewed tomato and onions goes well over sausage and eggs.

Lunch: A pasty (or maybe a meat pie) with ketchup, buttered finger bun (with a small amount of frosting and coconut), and a carton of iced coffee (made entirely with milk, as God intended, not like that watery crap sold in the US!) On a cold day, a bowl of soup just-like-grandma-used-to-make hits the spot. Now while chicken noodle soup is a good standby, I'm partial to tomato and basil with a freshly buttered bread roll on the side, and I make a wonderful hot-and-sour soup laden with soyed chicken, carrots, mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.

Dinner: Bangers and mash with onions and gravy; medium-hot curried chicken and vegetables over steamed rice; a simple tuna or ham salad with cucumber, pickled beets (only certain brands will do!), lettuce, grated cheese, and 1000-Island dressing. Oh, and a few garlic-flavored croutons. And, for afters, some stewed apricots smothered with hot, vanilla custard, or a bowl of truly ripe fresh strawberries with French vanilla ice cream.

Anytime: Whole milk (but not too creamy;4% fat is adequate); passionfruit-flavored anything; mango juice; German mettwurst (preferably with garlic) from South Australia, on its own or in a sandwich of very fresh bread with butter. Stir-fried vegetables with peanuts, coconut milk, and some spicy sauce, optionally with meat.

I do love plenty of chopped parsley on everything except maybe cereal and dessert, and of course, a good dose of ground, black pepper. (Don't you just hate that when the waiter stops grinding over your food after just a few turns of the pepper mill? Did I say, "Stop"?)

And I have been known to eat a pound or three of milk chocolate with hazelnuts!

Conclusion

One strong bit of evidence that there is a coordinated international conspiracy against me, is that all too often, when I go to a restaurant, the vegetable of the day is broccoli! Who was it that said, "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get me!"?

Bottom line: I like my food "regular"; you know, from a menu that has pictures, and is served on a placemat that has kids puzzles and drawings to color in. None of that exotic stuff for moi, thank you very much! As such, I chose not to eat in swank places. In fact, my most common up-scale dining experiences have usually been while flying in International Business Class (and on rare occasions, in First Class). Then, the selection process is usually by elimination: no shellfish, no duck, nothing I need a dictionary to figure out, and preferably not pasta. Fancy restaurants even find ways to ruin a perfectly good salad! Who stole my lettuce and replaced it with some wild rocket/arugula crap!

I'll leave you with some bits of food-related advice: not all cornflakes around the world are created equal; potato chips are not food, but they can be a food-delivery vehicle; it is okay to fry an egg on a pizza or to put pineapple pieces on it; it is possible to have too much Worcestershire sauce; breaking up chocolate or cookies does not let the calories escape; and not all red sauces are ketchup! Oh, and by the way, there is a big difference between using a capful and a cupful, especially when it comes to measuring vinegar.