Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

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.

Travel: Memories of Southeast England

© 2002, 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

County Kent is the southeastern-most county of England. I (almost) accidentally spent a week there in December 2002, with my wife, Jenny. On one other occasion, I passed through it on the train from London to Dover, where I took a hovercraft across to France, and then a train to Paris.

When we reserved time on our calendars for a trip in December 2002, our first choice was to go to Uruguay. Given the very cheap fares United Airlines had been offering to South America, not only was I looking forward to meeting up with the friends I'd made down there during a 2-week visit a year earlier, I was also hoping for some much warmer weather, it being summer and all down there. However, that was not to be; when the time came to book, South America was no longer on sale! [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] However, London, England, was on sale, and as there are always plenty of things to do in and around that area, we made the decision to go there instead, I booked the flights, and I found a hotel, all in a matter of hours, only six days before our departure. So what if we were going to a different continent, country, and season; at least we were still going! [Remember my Travel Rule: Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!]

[Diary] We travelled light; our luggage consisted of a full backpack and a daypack, for two people, for 10 days. We expected wintry weather, so took warm clothes. I even packed my long underwear (for which I was most grateful later on).

It was our first time flying since the Federal Government took over airport security from private contractors. Although the security line at Washington Dulles International (IAD) airport was very long, it moved quite quickly, and the inspectors were polite and most efficient. After years of having people messing around and not paying attention, and with each airport having its own idea of what a thorough search meant, it was most encouraging to see a major improvement.

We took the shuttle bus to the mid-field terminal and settled into the Red Carpet Club business lounge, where we had a light breakfast in comfort. Our flight left on time, and we were on a Boeing 767. Although it was quite old, the seats had been replaced; however, due to our last-minute booking, we were unable to get in the extended legroom section. Flying time was six hours, and we passed the time by reading. We had a huge tail wind, which brought us into London Heathrow (LHR) some 30 minutes early.

Almost all trans-Atlantic flights from the U.S. east coast depart in the evening, arriving early-to-mid-morning the next day. However, United had introduced one flight each day that departed Washington at 9:30 am, and arrived in London around 9:30 pm, local time, with the idea being that despite the 5-hour time change, one might be able to get on local time by going straight to bed on arrival. Since I hardly ever sleep at all on the night flights, I figured that this approach would be no worse, so was happy to try it.

We arrived with light drizzle falling, and soon had our luggage. We walked the long tunnels to the underground station, and immediately boarded the subway on the Piccadilly line. We got off at Earl's Court and waited for a District line train. While there, we chatted with a young German couple who were winding up their holiday. From there it was a short ride to Paddington Station, an area with which we'd become quite familiar over the years.

Before leaving home, we'd searched the Internet for a budget hotel. While doing so we came across a special winter rate, which just so happened to be for the Royal Norfolk Hotel, 100 yards from Paddington station. We'd stayed there on a number of occasions many years ago, but the price had steadily increased over the years, so we'd stopped using it. However, their internet-only rate was only £45 for a double room with en-suite, tax, and full English breakfast included, while the regular rate if one booked directly with the hotel or via a travel agent was £110! So, we'd reserved one night at the start of our trip and two more at the end.

The front desk clerk checked us in. He was a typical Brit—an Algerian who had been raised in Denmark, but was now living in London. Such is the world of the EU these days. Although it was 11 pm, local time (but only 6 pm back home), we weren't quite ready for bed, so I ventured out to a fish and chip shop several blocks away, and laid in a good-sized snack. Like all hotels and B&Bs in the UK, our room came with all the equipment and supplies for making tea and coffee, so we put that to good use as well. Lights out at 12:30 am.

[Diary] Our room faced the street, and delivery people were out awfully early, so I awoke much earlier than planned. However, we both had more than six hours of sleep. We went down to the dining room for breakfast around 8:30 am. Our waitress was a young woman from Mexico, whose husband was attending graduate school. She got bored with sitting at home, so got that job. We had the full English breakfast, since it was included in the room rate: juice, bacon, sausage, eggs, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, toast, and the ever-present pot of tea. Way too much food at any time, let alone so early in the day.

We checked out of the hotel at 9:30 and walked the 150 yards to Paddington train station. The information office informed us that the train we wanted left from Victoria station, so we hopped on the Circle line underground for a 15minute ride.

Earlier that year, we spent a week in London with side trips to Oxford and Brighton. This time, we planned on covering the county of Kent with a short visit to the county of East Sussex, both south and east from London. We bought one-way tickets to Canterbury for £15 each, and headed off on the 2-hour trip. While no rain was in sight, it was pretty cold. We read a newspaper and watched the countryside go by.

From the station, we walked into Canterbury and located the tourist office just by the main gate to the grounds of the famous Canterbury Cathedral. As we hadn't done any advance research on what we might see or do on this trip, we made good use of these facilities. The young lady recommended the hotel built into the gate wall itself, only 50 yards away. The Cathedral Gate Hotel was 564 years old, and, yes, the manager did have a quaint twin room for us, right up in the attic, and for £46 at that, continental breakfast included. So, we checked in and proceeded to the "Rooftop" room on the top floor. The room floor had such a slope that the legs on one end of each bed had extensions fitted to them to make them horizontal. However, the table had no such modifications as I found when a teacup I placed on it almost slid off the other side. In any event, we settled in and had a cup of tea.

We walked through the cathedral grounds then bought a ticket to go inside. It was certainly something to see although I thought the outside looked poor in comparison to other churches I'd seen. We paid our respects at the site where Thomas a' Becket was killed and where his shrine stood until Henry VIII had it destroyed when he broke with Rome. Until then it had been a major drawcard for pilgrims from all over England and Europe. (Such pilgrimages were recorded in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.)

As you may know, the archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Anglican Church. A new one, Rowan Williams, had just been appointed and was proving to be somewhat controversial. He certainly seemed to be progressive, and most days we were in country he was the subject of one newspaper article or another. Apart from allowing women to have higher ranks in the clergy, the other main issue was the separation of church and state such that Prince Charles, heir to the throne, could be allowed to marry a divorced woman. And currently, certain clergy were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but would that continue?

It sure got dark early—before 4 pm—so we went in search of a place to eat. We finally finished up eating sitting outside a fish and chip shop, devouring a Cornish pasty and steak and kidney pie. We took some deserts and drinks back to the room. I had a long hot bath in a very deep tub that was even long enough to fit me. Then we read through some tourist information to plan the next day's activities.

[Diary] I was awake from 1–4 am, which was par for the course for trans-Atlantic crossings for me; however, I did get back to sleep until 8:15 am. As it was possible to have our breakfast delivered to our room we did so, and it arrived promptly at 8:30 am per our request. After a bowl of cornflakes, toast, and tea, we were sufficiently charged for our next expedition. However, I discovered the hard way that the electric kettle was not quite idiot-proof, and managed to scold my left thumb quite badly with a steam burn. I did manage to get my hand under cold water within seconds, and that saved a lot of pain and damage. In any event, we always travel with a first-aid kit, so no point doing that if we don't get to use it occasionally, right?

We checked out at 10:30 am. It was overcast and there was light rain. As a precaution, I wore my long underwear as the temperature was steadily dropping toward freezing. We walked a short distance to the main bus terminal and waited for about 15 minutes. Eventually, a double-decker bus arrived, the driver informed us that the best ticket was a local area day pass, and we boarded, sitting upstairs at the front, so we had a good view. The movement of the bus in that position was greatly exaggerated, and we constantly thought we were going to sideswipe cars and passengers waiting at the curb each time the bus turned. By the way, the name of the bus company was "Stagecoach".

We got off in Whitstable, a small sleepy seaside town north of Canterbury. We found some very friendly ladies in the tourist office, and then we toured the town museum, which was very well organized and interesting. This was fishing country, so many exhibits had a nautical flavor. This was the site of the first steam-powered passenger railway. We walked along the waterfront, but the cold wind made it unpleasant; however, the rain did hold off during our stop.

Next stop was Herne Bay, a little further east along the coast. By the time we arrived, the rain was back, so we quickly found a family restaurant for lunch. It had great food, great service, and great prices! I devoured sausage with onions in French bread while Jenny had sausages, chips, and peas. She also had a jam roly-poly with custard for desert, a little touch of home. And to top it off, the waitress made me her secret-recipe cafe-au-lait, of which I had two cups.

The town also had a small museum and tourist office, so we spent time there keeping dry and warm. We saw fossils of hippopotamus teeth and elephant tusks that had been excavated nearby. They dated back to a time when such critters lived in that area, which was hard to imagine given the current weather.

We walked along the waterfront for a bit to see the raging sea crashing on the beach. [Quite often, English beaches are quite stony, with large rounded pebbles everywhere. Many don't have any sand to speak of.]

From there, we took the bus onto Margate, a larger town further to the east, again on the coast. It was quite cold and windy, so we got information at the tourist office, bought some groceries, and headed for the Luxor B&B. Unfortunately, it was on a busy road, and the bedroom window leaked cold air all night, which became a problem in the middle of the night when the room heat was switched off. In any event, it was adequate as was the full breakfast; it cost £46 for the two of us.

[Diary] After breakfast, we checked out and walked back into town to the bus station. We bought a day pass and headed out, again in a double-decker bus, with a young woman driver. She dropped us off not far out of town and we walked the mile to the beach, which had real sand. It also had chalk cliffs all around. Apart from seeing the cliffs up close, we visited this place because it was named Botany Bay, the namesake of the place at which the First Fleet from England settled in Australia, in 1788. (It's part of the Sydney Harbor area.)

Rather than walk back to the same stop at which we got off, we decided to go south along the cliff tops and catch up the main road further on. Unfortunately, the bus route must have gone inland, as no bus stops or buses were ever seen. So, we had a 3-mile walk through the countryside, stopping occasionally to watch the locals at work and play. There was a busy golf course near the cliffs, a few trees, and lots of cold wind. As if getting that damned ball in the hole wasn't hard enough already! In any event, the English Channel made for quite a water hazard.

We finally got to the town of Broadstairs where we had lunch at the Prince Albert pub. From there, we took the local bus to Ramsgate, a popular summer resort with a large boat marina. We dropped into the tourist office to get information, and set off to find a place to stay. On the third try, we were lucky. Host Tony was very nice, took good care of us, and his place was on a quiet street. After a hot shower, we prepared the food we had bought, and stayed in for the evening watching TV. First, there was a most interesting documentary on ancient stone circles, then one on the development of radar in the UK, followed by an interview with David Attenborough. [Like most places we stayed in England, TV was limited to four channels.]

We slept well although I was awake for an hour in the middle of the night, during which time I finished my Agatha Christie novel.

[Diary] After our full breakfast, we checked out and walked back into the town along the waterfront. There was certainly some serious money tied up in the pleasure craft we saw. We got information on towns to the south and changed some travelers' checks at the bank. Then it was on the bus to Sandwich, home of the 4th Earl thereof (John Montagu), who invented the idea of sticking food between two slices of bread. Several stories abound as to when/how he did this: one has him playing cards, and he didn't want to get grease on them; the other has him taking lunch to work. The Earl was also the first Lord of the Admiralty in which capacity he was a sponsor of Captain James Cook, the explorer who (re)discovered Australia. It was Cook who ran into the Hawaiian Islands on one of his voyages, which he named the Sandwich Islands to honor his patron. [Cook was killed just off the Big Island, near a town that now bears the name Captain Cook.]

Sandwich was a quaint little town with half-timbered houses, narrow streets, and an old city gate and wall segments. We did the walking tour and finished up at the New Inn pub for a cup of hot chocolate and a chat with several of the locals who were having their noontime constitutional pint.

From there, we boarded the bus to Dover, again sitting upstairs in a double-decker. We had a good view of the countryside. Two big employers in the region were Pfizer chemicals and a nuclear power plant; we passed both.

In Dover, we dropped by the tourist office. Most of the B&Bs were clustered on two busy roads, so we went in search of a quiet neighborhood. On the fourth try, we found one that had a twin room for two nights. And with a multi-night rate of £40/night with full breakfast, it was a good deal. It was also close to downtown and the main tourist attraction, Dover Castle. The room had an en-suite bathroom and a double and single bed. After a rest and cup of tea in the room, we ventured out to a restaurant for dinner: bangers (sausages) and mash with peas for me, and fish and chips for Jenny. Back in our room, we watched TV and ate deserts.

[Diary] After a large and excellent breakfast, we started the steep climb up the path to Dover Castle, which although open for the most part to tourists, was still a military establishment. I especially liked not having to haul the backpack. We arrived at 10 am, opening time, and proceeded to the secret tunnels only to be told that the first tour didn't start until 11. [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] So, we got tickets for that and walked around a bit, visiting a Saxon church from around the year 1000, and a Roman lighthouse. At 11 am, we joined the guided tour of the tunnel complex that had been carved out of the chalk cliffs over the centuries. The first section was the hospital. Then came the tunnels built during the Napoleonic Wars when an invasion of England was expected. More than 2,000 troops lived down there at that time, and, apparently, more of them died from disease from living in the cold and so close to each other than died of other causes. Apparently, the lower levels were extensive, but were still classified and closed to the public. In the event of a nuclear war, it was to be used as the base for government in the southeast of England; however, the authorities have discovered that radioactivity would leech in through water coming through the porous chalk, so that idea has been abandoned.

The tunnel complex was the base from which the Dunkirk evacuation was run when the Brits were forced from continental Europe in WWII. It was only in 1985 that the Brits acknowledged the tunnels even existed, and it appeared that the Germans had not known of their existence. We then toured the old castle keep where Henry VIII dropped by for a few days to inspect his fortifications. Finally, we finished up on Admiral's Way, an observation platform that stuck out from the cliffs, from which we got our first glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover. Despite the cold wind, the visit was well worth it, and by the time we got back home it had taken more than four hours. After a nap, we headed out for fish and chips, and then bought food to eat in the room that night. The temperature was hovering around freezing and snow had been forecast.

[Diary] At breakfast, we met a Japanese man who had been transferred to London for three years. We chatted with him and then checked out, catching the 9:35 am bus for Hastings, a coastal city in the county of East Sussex. Although there was no snow, it definitely was freezing. Throughout the 2½-hour journey, we watched from our front seat—you guessed it—upstairs in a double-decker bus.

After a short visit to the tourist office we decided that we didn't want to stay right in the city, so after a snack and hot drinks we headed for the train station where we took a 15-minute ride to the town of Battle, some six miles to the north. The Battle of Hastings actually took place there in 1066 resulting in William the Conqueror's whipping Harold, but only just. Apparently, after killing all those Saxons, William decided to build an abbey on the site as part of his penance. In the years that followed, the town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey.

We arrived in the afternoon of the last day of a fair, and the abbey admission charge was much higher and some usual activities were unavailable, so we walked about the town and ate in our most comfortable hotel room at the rear of a restaurant. A most interesting documentary on the evolution of English after the Normal Conquest played on TV. (Did you know that the chess term "checkmate" came from Arabic via French? It means, "The King is dead".)

[Diary] Our full English breakfast was served in the restaurant and at a most respectable hour too. After that, we stowed our luggage with our host and headed for the abbey. We bought our tickets, got our audio wand, and headed out around the grounds, museum, and battlefield for a narrated tour. The audio wand allowed us to get commentary from the point of view of a Saxon soldier, a Norman knight, and Harold's wife (who was present at the battle, tending to the wounded). Of course, the two sides had different versions of the story.

At 12:30 pm, we retrieved our luggage, walked to the station, and boarded the 1-pm train for London. We got off at Tunbridge Wells where we were met by friends. We had a late lunch together and walked around the old town before departing for London on the 3:30-pm train.

The train terminated at Charring Cross station, so we walked a few blocks north to Leicester Square, home of the discount-theater ticket office. We got tickets for a performance that night then headed back to our hotel at Paddington station to check-in, unload the luggage, and to prepare for an evening of theater.

At 7:45 pm, the lights went down, the curtain went up, and George Bernard Shaw's play Mrs. Warren's Profession began. Although it had been written in 1895, it was banned for 32 years, due to the nature of its subject matter. (Mrs. Warren and her business partners ran "houses of ill repute".) The star was Brenda Blethyn, to whom we had only recently been introduced in several movies. It was most enjoyable. We then went back home for a late gourmet supper of fish and chips with Jamaican ginger beer. What bliss!

[Diary] This was our rest day. After breakfast, we took it easy in the room, planning the day. Finally, we headed downtown where Jenny visited the Cabinet War Rooms (from which Churchill ran his end of WWII). I had seen it before, so I went on a walking tour over the Thames on a new footbridge, to the huge London Eye Ferris wheel, and around the Houses of Parliament. We met up at Westminster Abbey, and then headed back to the theater district for a matinee play. This time is was Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which has been running non-stop for 50 years, with more than 20,000 performances. It was well cast and most enjoyable, and we were sworn to secrecy as to "who done it".

Afterwards we stopped in at a large supermarket to get food for the evening as well as candy and a Christmas pudding to take home. Back in the room, we packed our gear and settled down to an early night.

[Diary] Although the alarm was set for 4:45 am, we were awake before that. Soon after 5 am, we checked-out and walked to Paddington station where we caught the Heathrow Express train. Although it was expensive compared to the subway, it was much quicker and there was no change. At Heathrow, we were soon checked-in and seated in the Red Carpet Club lounge having a light breakfast. This time we managed to get exit seats with copious amounts of legroom, so the flight home was quite comfortable. United Airlines had declared bankruptcy a few days before, and from the quality of the meals, I could see where they were trying to save money!

As we approached Washington D.C., we were advised that freezing rain was falling and that we'd have to circle for a bit; however, we landed with little delay. Once outside we found quite a bit of snow on the ground, rain, and freezing temperatures. Despite the weather and delays, passport control was quick, our luggage came quickly, and we got a taxi without waiting. However, at home, our front entrance was covered in a layer of ice, so getting up the steps to the door was tricky. As we had a very early flight back, we were home by 1 pm local time, so, while Jenny unpacked, I got the ice and snow off of one car and went shopping to fill the empty refrigerator. We were back in the real world, with 10 days' worth of phone messages, email, and mail to handle.

Conclusion

[Diary] It was good to be back in our own place and bed; however, there was to be a distinct shortage of country sausage, bacon without large amounts of fat, and fish and chips. C'est la vie!

In the words of Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness".

Travel: Memories of Southeast England

© 2002, 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

County Kent is the southeastern-most county of England. I (almost) accidentally spent a week there in December 2002, with my wife, Jenny. On one other occasion, I passed through it on the train from London to Dover, where I took a hovercraft across to France, and then a train to Paris.

When we reserved time on our calendars for a trip in December 2002, our first choice was to go to Uruguay. Given the very cheap fares United Airlines had been offering to South America, not only was I looking forward to meeting up with the friends I'd made down there during a 2-week visit a year earlier, I was also hoping for some much warmer weather, it being summer and all down there. However, that was not to be; when the time came to book, South America was no longer on sale! [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] However, London, England, was on sale, and as there are always plenty of things to do in and around that area, we made the decision to go there instead, I booked the flights, and I found a hotel, all in a matter of hours, only six days before our departure. So what if we were going to a different continent, country, and season; at least we were still going! [Remember my Travel Rule: Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!]

[Diary] We travelled light; our luggage consisted of a full backpack and a daypack, for two people, for 10 days. We expected wintry weather, so took warm clothes. I even packed my long underwear (for which I was most grateful later on).

It was our first time flying since the Federal Government took over airport security from private contractors. Although the security line at Washington Dulles International (IAD) airport was very long, it moved quite quickly, and the inspectors were polite and most efficient. After years of having people messing around and not paying attention, and with each airport having its own idea of what a thorough search meant, it was most encouraging to see a major improvement.

We took the shuttle bus to the mid-field terminal and settled into the Red Carpet Club business lounge, where we had a light breakfast in comfort. Our flight left on time, and we were on a Boeing 767. Although it was quite old, the seats had been replaced; however, due to our last-minute booking, we were unable to get in the extended legroom section. Flying time was six hours, and we passed the time by reading. We had a huge tail wind, which brought us into London Heathrow (LHR) some 30 minutes early.

Almost all trans-Atlantic flights from the U.S. east coast depart in the evening, arriving early-to-mid-morning the next day. However, United had introduced one flight each day that departed Washington at 9:30 am, and arrived in London around 9:30 pm, local time, with the idea being that despite the 5-hour time change, one might be able to get on local time by going straight to bed on arrival. Since I hardly ever sleep at all on the night flights, I figured that this approach would be no worse, so was happy to try it.

We arrived with light drizzle falling, and soon had our luggage. We walked the long tunnels to the underground station, and immediately boarded the subway on the Piccadilly line. We got off at Earl's Court and waited for a District line train. While there, we chatted with a young German couple who were winding up their holiday. From there it was a short ride to Paddington Station, an area with which we'd become quite familiar over the years.

Before leaving home, we'd searched the Internet for a budget hotel. While doing so we came across a special winter rate, which just so happened to be for the Royal Norfolk Hotel, 100 yards from Paddington station. We'd stayed there on a number of occasions many years ago, but the price had steadily increased over the years, so we'd stopped using it. However, their internet-only rate was only £45 for a double room with en-suite, tax, and full English breakfast included, while the regular rate if one booked directly with the hotel or via a travel agent was £110! So, we'd reserved one night at the start of our trip and two more at the end.

The front desk clerk checked us in. He was a typical Brit—an Algerian who had been raised in Denmark, but was now living in London. Such is the world of the EU these days. Although it was 11 pm, local time (but only 6 pm back home), we weren't quite ready for bed, so I ventured out to a fish and chip shop several blocks away, and laid in a good-sized snack. Like all hotels and B&Bs in the UK, our room came with all the equipment and supplies for making tea and coffee, so we put that to good use as well. Lights out at 12:30 am.

[Diary] Our room faced the street, and delivery people were out awfully early, so I awoke much earlier than planned. However, we both had more than six hours of sleep. We went down to the dining room for breakfast around 8:30 am. Our waitress was a young woman from Mexico, whose husband was attending graduate school. She got bored with sitting at home, so got that job. We had the full English breakfast, since it was included in the room rate: juice, bacon, sausage, eggs, fried bread, tomato, mushrooms, toast, and the ever-present pot of tea. Way too much food at any time, let alone so early in the day.

We checked out of the hotel at 9:30 and walked the 150 yards to Paddington train station. The information office informed us that the train we wanted left from Victoria station, so we hopped on the Circle line underground for a 15minute ride.

Earlier that year, we spent a week in London with side trips to Oxford and Brighton. This time, we planned on covering the county of Kent with a short visit to the county of East Sussex, both south and east from London. We bought one-way tickets to Canterbury for £15 each, and headed off on the 2-hour trip. While no rain was in sight, it was pretty cold. We read a newspaper and watched the countryside go by.

From the station, we walked into Canterbury and located the tourist office just by the main gate to the grounds of the famous Canterbury Cathedral. As we hadn't done any advance research on what we might see or do on this trip, we made good use of these facilities. The young lady recommended the hotel built into the gate wall itself, only 50 yards away. The Cathedral Gate Hotel was 564 years old, and, yes, the manager did have a quaint twin room for us, right up in the attic, and for £46 at that, continental breakfast included. So, we checked in and proceeded to the "Rooftop" room on the top floor. The room floor had such a slope that the legs on one end of each bed had extensions fitted to them to make them horizontal. However, the table had no such modifications as I found when a teacup I placed on it almost slid off the other side. In any event, we settled in and had a cup of tea.

We walked through the cathedral grounds then bought a ticket to go inside. It was certainly something to see although I thought the outside looked poor in comparison to other churches I'd seen. We paid our respects at the site where Thomas a' Becket was killed and where his shrine stood until Henry VIII had it destroyed when he broke with Rome. Until then it had been a major drawcard for pilgrims from all over England and Europe. (Such pilgrimages were recorded in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.)

As you may know, the archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Anglican Church. A new one, Rowan Williams, had just been appointed and was proving to be somewhat controversial. He certainly seemed to be progressive, and most days we were in country he was the subject of one newspaper article or another. Apart from allowing women to have higher ranks in the clergy, the other main issue was the separation of church and state such that Prince Charles, heir to the throne, could be allowed to marry a divorced woman. And currently, certain clergy were entitled to sit in the House of Lords, but would that continue?

It sure got dark early—before 4 pm—so we went in search of a place to eat. We finally finished up eating sitting outside a fish and chip shop, devouring a Cornish pasty and steak and kidney pie. We took some deserts and drinks back to the room. I had a long hot bath in a very deep tub that was even long enough to fit me. Then we read through some tourist information to plan the next day's activities.

[Diary] I was awake from 1–4 am, which was par for the course for trans-Atlantic crossings for me; however, I did get back to sleep until 8:15 am. As it was possible to have our breakfast delivered to our room we did so, and it arrived promptly at 8:30 am per our request. After a bowl of cornflakes, toast, and tea, we were sufficiently charged for our next expedition. However, I discovered the hard way that the electric kettle was not quite idiot-proof, and managed to scold my left thumb quite badly with a steam burn. I did manage to get my hand under cold water within seconds, and that saved a lot of pain and damage. In any event, we always travel with a first-aid kit, so no point doing that if we don't get to use it occasionally, right?

We checked out at 10:30 am. It was overcast and there was light rain. As a precaution, I wore my long underwear as the temperature was steadily dropping toward freezing. We walked a short distance to the main bus terminal and waited for about 15 minutes. Eventually, a double-decker bus arrived, the driver informed us that the best ticket was a local area day pass, and we boarded, sitting upstairs at the front, so we had a good view. The movement of the bus in that position was greatly exaggerated, and we constantly thought we were going to sideswipe cars and passengers waiting at the curb each time the bus turned. By the way, the name of the bus company was "Stagecoach".

We got off in Whitstable, a small sleepy seaside town north of Canterbury. We found some very friendly ladies in the tourist office, and then we toured the town museum, which was very well organized and interesting. This was fishing country, so many exhibits had a nautical flavor. This was the site of the first steam-powered passenger railway. We walked along the waterfront, but the cold wind made it unpleasant; however, the rain did hold off during our stop.

Next stop was Herne Bay, a little further east along the coast. By the time we arrived, the rain was back, so we quickly found a family restaurant for lunch. It had great food, great service, and great prices! I devoured sausage with onions in French bread while Jenny had sausages, chips, and peas. She also had a jam roly-poly with custard for desert, a little touch of home. And to top it off, the waitress made me her secret-recipe cafe-au-lait, of which I had two cups.

The town also had a small museum and tourist office, so we spent time there keeping dry and warm. We saw fossils of hippopotamus teeth and elephant tusks that had been excavated nearby. They dated back to a time when such critters lived in that area, which was hard to imagine given the current weather.

We walked along the waterfront for a bit to see the raging sea crashing on the beach. [Quite often, English beaches are quite stony, with large rounded pebbles everywhere. Many don't have any sand to speak of.]

From there, we took the bus onto Margate, a larger town further to the east, again on the coast. It was quite cold and windy, so we got information at the tourist office, bought some groceries, and headed for the Luxor B&B. Unfortunately, it was on a busy road, and the bedroom window leaked cold air all night, which became a problem in the middle of the night when the room heat was switched off. In any event, it was adequate as was the full breakfast; it cost £46 for the two of us.

[Diary] After breakfast, we checked out and walked back into town to the bus station. We bought a day pass and headed out, again in a double-decker bus, with a young woman driver. She dropped us off not far out of town and we walked the mile to the beach, which had real sand. It also had chalk cliffs all around. Apart from seeing the cliffs up close, we visited this place because it was named Botany Bay, the namesake of the place at which the First Fleet from England settled in Australia, in 1788. (It's part of the Sydney Harbor area.)

Rather than walk back to the same stop at which we got off, we decided to go south along the cliff tops and catch up the main road further on. Unfortunately, the bus route must have gone inland, as no bus stops or buses were ever seen. So, we had a 3-mile walk through the countryside, stopping occasionally to watch the locals at work and play. There was a busy golf course near the cliffs, a few trees, and lots of cold wind. As if getting that damned ball in the hole wasn't hard enough already! In any event, the English Channel made for quite a water hazard.

We finally got to the town of Broadstairs where we had lunch at the Prince Albert pub. From there, we took the local bus to Ramsgate, a popular summer resort with a large boat marina. We dropped into the tourist office to get information, and set off to find a place to stay. On the third try, we were lucky. Host Tony was very nice, took good care of us, and his place was on a quiet street. After a hot shower, we prepared the food we had bought, and stayed in for the evening watching TV. First, there was a most interesting documentary on ancient stone circles, then one on the development of radar in the UK, followed by an interview with David Attenborough. [Like most places we stayed in England, TV was limited to four channels.]

We slept well although I was awake for an hour in the middle of the night, during which time I finished my Agatha Christie novel.

[Diary] After our full breakfast, we checked out and walked back into the town along the waterfront. There was certainly some serious money tied up in the pleasure craft we saw. We got information on towns to the south and changed some travelers' checks at the bank. Then it was on the bus to Sandwich, home of the 4th Earl thereof (John Montagu), who invented the idea of sticking food between two slices of bread. Several stories abound as to when/how he did this: one has him playing cards, and he didn't want to get grease on them; the other has him taking lunch to work. The Earl was also the first Lord of the Admiralty in which capacity he was a sponsor of Captain James Cook, the explorer who (re)discovered Australia. It was Cook who ran into the Hawaiian Islands on one of his voyages, which he named the Sandwich Islands to honor his patron. [Cook was killed just off the Big Island, near a town that now bears the name Captain Cook.]

Sandwich was a quaint little town with half-timbered houses, narrow streets, and an old city gate and wall segments. We did the walking tour and finished up at the New Inn pub for a cup of hot chocolate and a chat with several of the locals who were having their noontime constitutional pint.

From there, we boarded the bus to Dover, again sitting upstairs in a double-decker. We had a good view of the countryside. Two big employers in the region were Pfizer chemicals and a nuclear power plant; we passed both.

In Dover, we dropped by the tourist office. Most of the B&Bs were clustered on two busy roads, so we went in search of a quiet neighborhood. On the fourth try, we found one that had a twin room for two nights. And with a multi-night rate of £40/night with full breakfast, it was a good deal. It was also close to downtown and the main tourist attraction, Dover Castle. The room had an en-suite bathroom and a double and single bed. After a rest and cup of tea in the room, we ventured out to a restaurant for dinner: bangers (sausages) and mash with peas for me, and fish and chips for Jenny. Back in our room, we watched TV and ate deserts.

[Diary] After a large and excellent breakfast, we started the steep climb up the path to Dover Castle, which although open for the most part to tourists, was still a military establishment. I especially liked not having to haul the backpack. We arrived at 10 am, opening time, and proceeded to the secret tunnels only to be told that the first tour didn't start until 11. [Don't you just hate that when that happens?] So, we got tickets for that and walked around a bit, visiting a Saxon church from around the year 1000, and a Roman lighthouse. At 11 am, we joined the guided tour of the tunnel complex that had been carved out of the chalk cliffs over the centuries. The first section was the hospital. Then came the tunnels built during the Napoleonic Wars when an invasion of England was expected. More than 2,000 troops lived down there at that time, and, apparently, more of them died from disease from living in the cold and so close to each other than died of other causes. Apparently, the lower levels were extensive, but were still classified and closed to the public. In the event of a nuclear war, it was to be used as the base for government in the southeast of England; however, the authorities have discovered that radioactivity would leech in through water coming through the porous chalk, so that idea has been abandoned.

The tunnel complex was the base from which the Dunkirk evacuation was run when the Brits were forced from continental Europe in WWII. It was only in 1985 that the Brits acknowledged the tunnels even existed, and it appeared that the Germans had not known of their existence. We then toured the old castle keep where Henry VIII dropped by for a few days to inspect his fortifications. Finally, we finished up on Admiral's Way, an observation platform that stuck out from the cliffs, from which we got our first glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover. Despite the cold wind, the visit was well worth it, and by the time we got back home it had taken more than four hours. After a nap, we headed out for fish and chips, and then bought food to eat in the room that night. The temperature was hovering around freezing and snow had been forecast.

[Diary] At breakfast, we met a Japanese man who had been transferred to London for three years. We chatted with him and then checked out, catching the 9:35 am bus for Hastings, a coastal city in the county of East Sussex. Although there was no snow, it definitely was freezing. Throughout the 2½-hour journey, we watched from our front seat—you guessed it—upstairs in a double-decker bus.

After a short visit to the tourist office we decided that we didn't want to stay right in the city, so after a snack and hot drinks we headed for the train station where we took a 15-minute ride to the town of Battle, some six miles to the north. The Battle of Hastings actually took place there in 1066 resulting in William the Conqueror's whipping Harold, but only just. Apparently, after killing all those Saxons, William decided to build an abbey on the site as part of his penance. In the years that followed, the town of Battle grew up around Battle Abbey.

We arrived in the afternoon of the last day of a fair, and the abbey admission charge was much higher and some usual activities were unavailable, so we walked about the town and ate in our most comfortable hotel room at the rear of a restaurant. A most interesting documentary on the evolution of English after the Normal Conquest played on TV. (Did you know that the chess term "checkmate" came from Arabic via French? It means, "The King is dead".)

[Diary] Our full English breakfast was served in the restaurant and at a most respectable hour too. After that, we stowed our luggage with our host and headed for the abbey. We bought our tickets, got our audio wand, and headed out around the grounds, museum, and battlefield for a narrated tour. The audio wand allowed us to get commentary from the point of view of a Saxon soldier, a Norman knight, and Harold's wife (who was present at the battle, tending to the wounded). Of course, the two sides had different versions of the story.

At 12:30 pm, we retrieved our luggage, walked to the station, and boarded the 1-pm train for London. We got off at Tunbridge Wells where we were met by friends. We had a late lunch together and walked around the old town before departing for London on the 3:30-pm train.

The train terminated at Charring Cross station, so we walked a few blocks north to Leicester Square, home of the discount-theater ticket office. We got tickets for a performance that night then headed back to our hotel at Paddington station to check-in, unload the luggage, and to prepare for an evening of theater.

At 7:45 pm, the lights went down, the curtain went up, and George Bernard Shaw's play Mrs. Warren's Profession began. Although it had been written in 1895, it was banned for 32 years, due to the nature of its subject matter. (Mrs. Warren and her business partners ran "houses of ill repute".) The star was Brenda Blethyn, to whom we had only recently been introduced in several movies. It was most enjoyable. We then went back home for a late gourmet supper of fish and chips with Jamaican ginger beer. What bliss!

[Diary] This was our rest day. After breakfast, we took it easy in the room, planning the day. Finally, we headed downtown where Jenny visited the Cabinet War Rooms (from which Churchill ran his end of WWII). I had seen it before, so I went on a walking tour over the Thames on a new footbridge, to the huge London Eye Ferris wheel, and around the Houses of Parliament. We met up at Westminster Abbey, and then headed back to the theater district for a matinee play. This time is was Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which has been running non-stop for 50 years, with more than 20,000 performances. It was well cast and most enjoyable, and we were sworn to secrecy as to "who done it".

Afterwards we stopped in at a large supermarket to get food for the evening as well as candy and a Christmas pudding to take home. Back in the room, we packed our gear and settled down to an early night.

[Diary] Although the alarm was set for 4:45 am, we were awake before that. Soon after 5 am, we checked-out and walked to Paddington station where we caught the Heathrow Express train. Although it was expensive compared to the subway, it was much quicker and there was no change. At Heathrow, we were soon checked-in and seated in the Red Carpet Club lounge having a light breakfast. This time we managed to get exit seats with copious amounts of legroom, so the flight home was quite comfortable. United Airlines had declared bankruptcy a few days before, and from the quality of the meals, I could see where they were trying to save money!

As we approached Washington D.C., we were advised that freezing rain was falling and that we'd have to circle for a bit; however, we landed with little delay. Once outside we found quite a bit of snow on the ground, rain, and freezing temperatures. Despite the weather and delays, passport control was quick, our luggage came quickly, and we got a taxi without waiting. However, at home, our front entrance was covered in a layer of ice, so getting up the steps to the door was tricky. As we had a very early flight back, we were home by 1 pm local time, so, while Jenny unpacked, I got the ice and snow off of one car and went shopping to fill the empty refrigerator. We were back in the real world, with 10 days' worth of phone messages, email, and mail to handle.

Conclusion

[Diary] It was good to be back in our own place and bed; however, there was to be a distinct shortage of country sausage, bacon without large amounts of fat, and fish and chips. C'est la vie!

In the words of Mark Twain: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness".

Signs of Life: Part 7

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

BTW, pasticceria is Italian for pastry shop.

 

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

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

 

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

 

From a Cinque Terre town.

 

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

 

A convenience store in the suburbs of Amman, Jordan.

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

 

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

 

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

 

In the suburbs of Amman, Jordan.

 

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

 

In the suburbs of Amman, Jordan.

 

The JET Bus Terminal in Amman, Jordan.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

From Caen, in Normandy, France.

 

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

 

Some advice from the French in Caen.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Travel: Airports

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

Naming Conventions

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

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

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

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

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

Some Airports I have Graced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Travel: Memories of Cornwall and Devon

© 2012 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Signs of Life: Part 6

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

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

Every day: charbroiled chicken with soup broth and onion.

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

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

 

Okay, smarty pants; try pronouncing that!

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

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

 

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

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

Salida is Spanish for exit! How embarrassing!

 

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

 

From a recreation center in the Netherlands.

I never did figure out why black poodles were banned!

 

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

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

 

Apparently, Einstein and Medusa had the same hair stylist!

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

I toured a section of the underground fortifications.

 

From Japan.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A street name in Rome, Italy.

 

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

 

A manhole cover in Rome, Italy.

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

 

 

A Little Bit of Astronomy: The Moon

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

 

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

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

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

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

The Moon's Makeup and Environment

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

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

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

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

Earth's Poles, Tropics, Seasons, and Tides

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

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

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

The Moon's Phases

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

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

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

Craters and Seas

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

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

Eclipses

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

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

Time and Lunar Calendars

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

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

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

The Moon's Orbit

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

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

Miscellaneous Bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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