Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

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.


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.


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!


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

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

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

Travel: Memories of Poland

© 2011, 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Signs of Life: Part 5

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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


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

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


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


From Oxford, England.

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


From Geneva, Switzerland.

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

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


A signature meat pie in Australia.

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


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


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

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

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



It’s All Greek to Me

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Greek Alphabet

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

Alpha Α α:

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

Beta Β β:

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

Gamma Γ γ:

Delta Δ δ:

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

Epsilon Ε ε:

  • The Latin letter E/e is derived from this

Zeta Ζ ζ:

  • The Latin letter Z/z is derived from this

Eta Η η:

  • The Latin letter H/h is derived from this

Theta Θ θ:

  • Used to represent an angle

Iota Ι ι:

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

Kappa Κ κ:

  • The Latin letter K/k is derived from this

Lambda Λ λ:

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

Mu Μ μ:

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

Nu Ν ν:

  • The Latin letter N/n is derived from this

Xi Ξ ξ:

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

Omicron Ο ο:

  • The Latin letter O/o is derived from this

Pi Π π:

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

Rho Ρ ρ:

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

Sigma Σ σς:

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

Tau Τ τ:

  • The Latin letter T/t is derived from this

Upsilon Υ υ:

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

Phi Φ φ:

Chi Χ χ:

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

Psi Ψ ψ:

  • A symbol for the planet Neptune

Omega Ω ω:

  • Often used to mean the last or the end

Christianity has the term Alpha and Omega.

Student Fraternities and Sororities

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

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

Other Greek Influences

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

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

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

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


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

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

Travel: Memories of South America

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Signs of Life: Part 4

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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


Kangaroos known to cross the road in this area.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Sign outside a leather shop.

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

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


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


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

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

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


From a T-shirt.

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


From the same leather shop as featured earlier.


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

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


At the Cape Jervis ferry terminal for Kangaroo Island.

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



English – Part 6: Verbs

© 2016 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

In Part 5, we looked at adjectives. This time, we'll look at verbs. According to Wikipedia, a verb (abbrev. v. or vb.) is "a word that … conveys an action (bring, read, walk, run, learn), an occurrence (happen, become), or a state of being (be, exist, stand)."

The Infinitive Verb Form

All verbs have numerous forms (called conjugations, which we'll cover later) that indicate a number, person, and tense; for example, swim, swims, and swam. However, a verb typically appears in a dictionary only in its infinitive form (that is, present-tense, first-person, singular), which in this case, is swim.

In grammatical contexts, verbs are often prefixed with "to", as in to bring, to happen, and to be; however, the prefix—which itself is a particle—is not part of the dictionary entry. That said, we can use the prefix in regular speech: "I want to eat lunch.", "She declined to go with him.", and "They didn't know what to do."

In some languages (but not English), verbs in the infinitive end in a regular pattern. For example, most German verbs end in -en, with a few ending in -eln or -ern. Spanish verbs end in -ar, -er, or -ir. In French, they typically end in -re, -er, oir, or -ir.

A controversial topic is the split infinitive. Splitting an infinitive involves putting an adverb or adverbial phrase between the infinitive form of a verb and its prefix "to", as in "The cost is expected to rapidly increase over time." As we can see, the word rapidly splits the infinitive to increase. Likewise for, "I want to once again say …". Some purists consider such splits to be intolerable interruptions.

According to Wikipedia, 'In the 19th century, some grammatical authorities sought to introduce a prescriptive rule against it [splitting infinitives]. The construction is still the subject of disagreement: "No other grammatical issue has so divided English speakers since the split infinitive was declared to be a solecism in the 19c [19th century]: raise the subject of English usage in any conversation today and it is sure to be mentioned." Most modern English usage guides have dropped the objection to the split infinitive.'

From Patricia T. O'Conner's Woe is I (an eminently readable book on English grammar, and one I highly recommend), 'Sometimes, rewriting a sentence to avoid a "split" makes it ridiculous. Try rearranging the words in this example: "He threatened to more than double her rent."'

Note that Microsoft Word has an option to detect split infinitives consisting of two or more words, but not just one.


As an intransitive verb stands alone, it needs no direct object, although it can be followed by an adverb. For example: "I run", "He walked slowly", and "They smiled".

As a transitive verb needs something on which to operate, it requires a noun (such as a direct object) or noun phrase (which might also include an indirect object). For example: "I drink milk", "We built a snowman", and "They gave the money to the salesman".

Some verbs can be used in both transitive and intransitive forms, as in "I smell" and "I smell the sea". In the case of "I smell", one could argue that is ambiguous, as it could mean "I can and do smell with my nose" or "I stink". Similarly, "I count" could mean, "I can and do count numbers" or "I matter". Hopefully, the meaning is clear based on the context of the conversation.

Some intransitive verbs can also be written in transitive form, as in "He died a horrible death". The noun phrase simply adds emphasis or embellishment, and doesn't change the fact that the implied object of dying in the transitive form always is death.

Verb Conjugation

Depending on the language, a verb can take on different forms depending on the person, number, or tense. The great news is that, for the most part, this is so simple in English, that we can live life to the fullest with little or no consideration of it. For example, in the present tense:

  • First-person, singular and plural: I/we run, jump, sleep
  • Second-person, singular and plural: you run, jump, sleep
  • Third-person, singular: he/she/it runs, jumps, sleeps
  • Third-person, plural: they run, jump, sleep

Ordinarily, we use the infinite form in all cases except for third-person, singular, where we add -s.

Using past tense, I/we/you/he/she/it/they ran, jumped, slept. While the verb is changed slightly, all cases are the same. And using future tense, I/we/you/he/she/it/they will run, jump, sleep. The auxiliary verb will is used, but the verb it "helps" is in the infinite form in all cases.

Well if it's so simple, then why mention it? That's a fair question, but in order to appreciate the simplicity, let's look at how this works in some other languages, lest you have a romantic idea of learning one any time soon. (My apologies if this brings back painful memories of long-forgotten foreign-language classes.)

Here is an example in Spanish:

Present Tense of the Verb comer (to eat)




1st Person



2st Person



3st Person/Formal



Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, this verb has six forms for this tense, and guess what? Spanish has 14 tenses, most of which require other forms yet again. Holy Toledo! By the way, Spanish has two forms of you: the formal and informal, where the formal is used as a sign of respect. While the informal is the same as second-person in English, in Spanish, just to make things a bit more interesting, the formal you uses the same conjugation patterns as for third-person.

Are you ready for more? Vell zen, let's svitch to Cherman (as God intended):

Present Tense of the Verb essen (to eat)




1st Person



2st Person



3st Person/Formal



Again, we see six forms for this tense, but several are duplicated, although the pattern is not universal. And yes, some other tenses also have their own forms while others using the infinite and one or more auxiliary verbs. And like Spanish, the formal you uses the same pattern as third-person.

I present these as tables, as that's how you'll often see then in grammar books, although several language teachers I've encountered kept on saying, "Don't try to remember them as tables!" Of course, being a student of mathematics and computer science, I do remember them exactly in that format!

There are a number of series of books with titles like "101 [or 501] xxx Verbs", where xxx is the name of some language. They are full of nothing but tables of conjugations, which after a very short while, can make your head spin.

I spent quite a lot of time on my own learning bits and pieces of Spanish and German, but the complexity of conjugation (along with gender and its impact on nouns and articles) kept me from getting beyond basic proficiency. Therefore, when I started dabbling in Japanese, I was very happy to learn that not only do its verbs exist in infinite form only, that language has no gender or articles! (Of course, they managed to find other ways to complicate things, such as writing and reading!)

Earlier, I mentioned patterns of verb endings. Most verbs have such a pattern, in which case, they are referred to as regular verbs. By deduction, irregular verbs do not follow such a pattern.

In English, the classic example of an irregular verb is the fundamental to be:

Present Tense of the Verb to be




1st Person



2st Person



3st Person



This verb is also irregular in Spanish and German.

Auxiliary Verbs

Often called a helping verb, an auxiliary verb adds extra meaning to another verb. Examples include can, may, would like to, must, should, want to, and have to. (Most of these are also modal verbs.) In the following examples, the main noun is underlined and the auxiliary verbs are in bold:

  • "She must buy bread."
  • "I could have gone yesterday."
  • "The criminal should have been caught."

Note that the main verb is always written in the infinitive form, usually without the "to".

In English, the auxiliary verbs usually go together, immediately preceding the main noun, although intervening words are possible. For example:

  • "They should not walk in that neighborhood at night."
  • "I can only swim on Fridays."
  • "She must never say such things."

In many cases, the main verb is used with the to prefix, as in "I have to work on Saturday."

In German, when using an auxiliary verb, the main verb must come at the end of the phrase or sentence. For example, the English "I want to go to the beach" becomes "ich will zum Strand gehen". Now it isn't hard to contrive a long sentence in German—think of a bureaucrat speaking in an obfuscated way— in which the main verb comes at the very end. For people doing simultaneous translation of such speeches from German, the joke is, "Hurry up and get to the verb!" as they can't start saying the translated equivalent until they know the main verb.

Reflexive Verbs

A reflexive verb is one whose direct object is the same as its subject. For example:

  • I got myself out of bed.
  • He hurt himself while horse riding.
  • They warmed themselves by the fire.

In each case, the direct object is a reflexive pronoun, myself, himself, and themselves.

Let's make the direct objects non-reflexive. For example:

  • I got my son out of bed.
  • He hurt a pedestrian while horse riding.
  • They warmed their boots by the fire.

The verb forms are the same in each set, which is the norm in English. But as you might expect by now, that isn't the case in other languages. Spanish has many reflexive verbs, which when written in their infinitive form all end is -se, and that is how you find them in a Spanish dictionary. Some examples are to go to bed, to get up, to fall asleep, to shave oneself, to put on, and to take off.

Phrasal Verbs

Some verbs involve multiple words, as in to drop off, to get up, to go home, to go back, to go over, to put off, to put out, and to put down.

They often have the form verb + adverb.

Such verbs can be transitive or intransitive. The main issue is whether one can split the parts of a transitive phrasal verb. For example:

  • I asked him to put out the trash.


  • I asked him to put the trash out.

Yes, we usually can, unless the direct object is a pronoun, in which case, we really must split it. For example, we can say:

  • I asked him to put it out.

But not

  • I asked him to put out it.

Further Reading

If you still can't sleep, click on the links to learn about participles, both present and past, and gerunds, those verb forms that end in -ing. Also English verbs.


English has a huge number of specialized verbs, most of which the average person doesn't even know about, and many others we rarely use except perhaps in word puzzles. Try and use some of the following during casual conversation at your next cocktail party: behoove, discombobulate, elide, eschew, expectorate, flummox, fulminate, lollygag, pontificate, and prevaricate.

Travel: Memories of Switzerland

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Swiss Confederation; Capital: Bern; Language: German, French, Italian, Romansch; Country Code: CH (from the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica); Currency: Swiss franc (CHF)

I've visited Switzerland a number of times, mostly in and around Geneva and the lake of the same name.

From a business trip with my wife in 2001, to Montreux and surrounds:

[Diary] At the main station we boarded the 10:40:00-am train to Lausanne. (I can say 10:40:00 with confidence; after all, this was Switzerland!) The ride along the shore of Lake Geneva took 40 minutes. On arrival we were helped by a pleasant young lady at the tourist office who gave us a map and details on catching the on-going ferry. We bought some food at a nearby stand and I got my liter of cold milk at the supermarket. Then we headed down the steep hill to the Botanic Gardens for a "Swiss picnic in the park". We toured a nice rock garden and then found the small falls and ponds I was looking for.

From there we proceeded down the hill to the waterfront where we sat in the shade waiting for the ferry ticket office to open after the lunch-time break. The ferry arrived and we all boarded in a matter of minutes. At 2:05 pm, the horn sounded and we were off. We were installed in First Class, on the upper deck, in the shade, surrounded by other foreigners. There seemed to be two tour groups on board, with lots of Aussies and Poms (English). We were on Lake Geneva headed for Montreux, an 80-minute trip.

We were going east along the north shore, and the hill up from the shore was quite steep. There were terraces of grape vines all the way up. There was a light fog on the lake, but we could see the other side. In fact, we could see snow on the Alps a mile or so away to the south. We made a number of stops along the way.

We arrived at Montreux dock at 3:30 pm where we disembarked and dropped into the tourist office for a town map and directions to our hotel. After a 5-minute walk along the lake we arrived at the Hotel Eden du Lac (Eden on the Lake). Naturally, the outdoor restaurant was called "The Garden of Eden". It was a fine old hotel with a little bit of "new" thrown in. It had wooden floors with inlaid sections, large French windows and drapes, and space-age glass-sided elevators.

Our room was very large, and the French windows lead to a small balcony that overlooked the garden and lake, with a fine view across to the snow-covered Alps on the French side. The furnishings were very nice and all the knobs in the bathroom were gold-colored. We unpacked and explored the grounds before sitting in the salon reading newspapers. A Russian couple arrived at 5:45 pm; he with acoustic guitar and she with violin. They played an eclectic suite for quite some time.

Eventually, a group of fellow conventioneers and their partners gathered and we headed off to a restaurant that specialized in raclette and fondue, traditional Swiss eating styles.

[Diary] My business meeting group broke for morning coffee and, later, for lunch on the terrace, since the weather was unexpectedly very nice. My lunch included a dish of quail with herbs and a salad, followed by salmon in a parsley sauce with potato rissoles and royal carrots, topped off with a wonderful cream custard with glaze, and, finally, hot tea. Just the thing for a growing boy!

[Diary] At 12:30 pm, we broke for lunch in the garden. This included a shrimp salad, tournedos de poularde (chicken wrapped in bacon), rice in saffron, and warm cucumber slices, followed by a lemon sorbet dessert, optionally with vodka topping.

[Diary] After the meeting ended, my wife and I arrived in Grandvaux by train to find our host, Dan, waiting to collect us. After a short drive up the mountain we reached his very large home and met his wife Susanne, and their two children, Sophie (aged 9) and Adrian (aged 5). Dan was Romanian and Susanne was Danish, but both had lived in Switzerland many years. She spoke Danish to the kids and, of course, they all spoke French. The kids would learn German late in elementary school. Both parents were psychiatrists. Since both worked fulltime they had an au pair, a young woman from Denmark. Over dinner, we learned that Swiss women only got the right to vote in 1971. Also, despite existing for some 1,200 years as a very stable country/government, the country was very poor until less than 100 years ago.

[Diary] We went driving in the local area. There were many acres of vineyards, all protected by law from housing and commercial development. The average slope was 45 degrees, and in places got much steeper, so you can imagine how difficult it was to work the vines. Rows were broken up into quite small areas each of which was terraced with a tall retaining stone wall. The area has been settled for more than 800 years and the Cistercian monks built all the early terracing. In the mid-1500's much of the land was confiscated from the church by the government, during the Reformation, when the Catholic Church started to lose control of things. The main area had about 275 acres of vines shared among 40 growers most of whom also made wine. The wine produced was unique given that the grapes got direct sunlight, light reflected from the lake down below, and heat radiated from the many and huge retaining walls during the night as they cooled off.

[Diary] As we sat and took in the surroundings, I spied a fox coming through the vineyard toward a house. It climbed the steep stone steps up to the back gate of a house, climbed through the gate and proceeded to check out the back yard presumably looking for cat and/or dog food. Then it went around the side of the house out to a street and on its merry way. I've heard of the country mouse visiting the city mouse, so I guess this is the Swiss version for foxes.

[Diary] Dan told us that all houses built since early in the Cold War, were—and most interestingly, still are—required to have nuclear war shelters. He gave us a tour of his. The walls were very thin concrete with an enormous steel and concrete door. There was an air filtering device that operated on electricity, but should that fail, it could be turned by hand. There was also an oiled hole to the outside through which to push a radio antenna. In theory, owners were supposed to maintain bedding, food and water, and such there at all times. In fact, these shelters were inspected every year by a local official. Fortunately, the locals get a bit of notice, so they can move all their wine and other stuff from there and set it up just to pass inspection.

From a business trip in 2006, to Geneva:

[Diary] From the airport, I took the train into the city, and then a taxi to my hotel. It was quite adequate: a large bed, TV, microwave oven, fridge, and wireless internet connection were supplied, and a continental breakfast was included. By this time, the stores had closed, so I had to resort to a convenience store for some basic kitchen supplies; they were very expensive! I had some Middle Eastern food then went to bed. Unfortunately, the hotel had a very noisy nightclub in the basement. Fortunately, I had some earplugs, and they did a reasonable job.

[Diary] The next morning, a Japanese colleague and I spent several hours walking along the edge of Lake Geneva as vendors set up their food and souvenir shops. We stopped to look at the famous floral clock, a large almost-horizontal clock with metal hands whose face is made from flowers growing in beds. Each year, the flowers are planted in different arrangements. After a nap, I joined several colleagues for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, smoking is very common, and there is no such thing as a non-smoking area in eating places. It rained all afternoon and night.

[Diary] After dinner, it was on to a performance by Cirque du Soleil, a world-famous acrobatic troupe. They were absolutely magnificent! Although I had seen them perform on TV a number of times, this was my first time live. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

From a business trip in 2008, to Geneva (which the Germans call Genf, as I discovered while reading the Frankfurt Airport Departures screen). Despite the excerpts below, I did more than just eat on that trip:

[Diary] The front-desk assistant at the hotel was ever so happy to see me, and "Bon Jour"ed me with a sweet smile. I gave her my passport and credit card, and she gave me a key. A porter hauled my luggage up to my room. Room 506 was on the 5th floor and had a small balcony over a main street and a small view of the lake. The hotel was situated right in the downtown area and cost CHFs 230/night, which included internet access, a buffet breakfast, and my share of a meeting room and catering for four days of meetings; pretty good for this city. I had a large bed, plenty of tasteful older-style furniture, a small refrigerator, large digital TV on the wall in front of my bed, and a large plate of fresh fruit nicely packaged. By the time I unpacked it was 2:15 pm, and I was getting my second wind. I had a long hot shower and then snacked on cheese and fruit as the rain come down.

[Diary] Next morning, I was the first to arrive in the dining room for breakfast. I ordered tea, but then the waitress asked me a question. And in French too! How dare she? As was typical when I'm "assaulted by a foreign language", I had trouble recognizing the first few words, so didn't hear the rest of them, but, eventually, I deduced that she wanted my room number, just to make sure I wasn't some homeless person who'd wandered in off the street for a free breakfast. Of course, when she asked the same question of the next poor unsuspecting foreign guest, being infinitely wiser, I was able to translate for him.

[Diary] My committee met from 9 am to 5:45 pm, stopping for morning and afternoon breaks, during which tea, coffee and very nice pastries were served. Lunch was catered and was served in an adjourning room. To begin, there was a poached egg in a mushroom crust. Next came fingers of ham, gratinated macaroni, and green peas. For dessert, we had apple Tatin pie with salted butter caramel ice cream. Coffee followed. All in all, it was quite good and looked very attractive. In fact, several dishes were quite artistic.

[Diary] Next day, we broke for another nice lunch at 12:15 pm. To begin there was Scottish salmon Carpaccio with crystallized lemon and leek vinaigrette. Next came flank of veal cooked a la plancha style and served with pumpkin gnocchi and broccoli with butter. For dessert, there was a chocolate praline brownie with white chocolate sorbet. I was near full after the appetizer, but, unfortunately, that didn't stop me eating.

[Diary] We worked steadily throughout the day, taking the usual breaks during which more food was forced upon us. I managed to avoid the morning and afternoon tea pastries, but took advantage of two of the three courses at lunch. I passed on the chicory salad with Roquefort cheese, figs, grapes and walnuts. The main course was roasted guinea fowl with autumn chanterelles (mushrooms), small potato pancakes and vegetables. Dessert was pear clafoutis. I followed that with a cup of proper tea.

[Diary] The next day, we had the usual wonderful selection of pastries at 9 am, 10:30 am and 3 pm, and lunch was the usual great spread. I passed on the poultry liver terrine with figs and salad, saving myself for the main course. That was halibut fillet meunière with cabbage stuffed with salmon, all with vegetables and cream of parmesan cheese. I was well into it when the waiter came looking for me to tell me the sauce contained shrimp, and that he had a plate without. Being allergic to shellfish I took the alternate plate. Unfortunately, the shrimp pieces I'd already eaten started to work their (black) magic, and parts of my lips and mouth started to feel a bit odd. Fortunately, I hadn't eaten very much, and the black chocolate and chestnut macaroon with praline ice cream proved to be an effective antidote. And the boiling cup of tea rounded things out very nicely.

Mid-afternoon, a great parade came down the street outside our hotel, so we all moved out on the balcony to watch it pass by. There were many students in costumes, and vans laden with sound equipment blasted the neighborhood with various kinds of music. The procession took at least 15 minutes to go by.

[Diary] That evening, mid-way through my meal, three children came in to the restaurant and sang for the guests, and then passed around a hat for donations. I contributed two francs. The older boy was dressed as a cowboy, the older girl as a pirate, and the younger girl as a butterfly, or maybe she was an angel! Later, three teenage boys came and sang half-heartedly, and as they seemed to be in it for the money only, I declined to contribute.

From a business trip in 2011, to Geneva:

[Diary] Having discovered United's refurbished Boeing 767s several years ago, I try to fly their Business Class whenever I can especially for overnight trans-Atlantic flights. I took up my usual seat, 8A, at a window facing backwards where I could keep my eye on the portside engine. The flight was completely full. Once we got our safety instructions in English and French, flight UA974 took off from Washington Dulles International (IAD) to the west in bright sunshine, then turned north and northeast. I settled in to watch the animated movie Rango, which was mildly amusing.

After the usual bowl of nuts and drink, dinner was served. First up was a wonderful serving of smoked salmon with cucumber and dill. That was followed by a crunchy salad with ranch dressing. For my main course, I chose braised beef short ribs with roasted shallot sauce, oven-roasted fingerling potatoes, and grilled asparagus.

By the time dinner and the movie were finished, we were over Halifax, Nova Scotia, headed for Newfoundland and the open Atlantic. I declined the port wine and cheese, but did succumb to a large scoop of vanilla and passion fruit ice cream.

Around 8 pm, it got dark rather quickly as we flew east into the night. At 8:30, I yawned, lay back my seat until it was almost flat, and started counting sheep; baa-1, baa-2, baa…zzz.

I slept reasonably well and woke to find it was 1 am back home, at which time I advanced my clock six hours to GMT+1 with summertime. We were 40 minutes out from Geneva. I opened my blind slightly and was pleased to see that the port engine was still there and functioning perfectly. [Don't you just love that when that happens?] According to my flight map, we'd crossed the extreme tip of southwest England, entered France near Cherbourg, and passed to the south of Paris.

A flight attendant promptly placed a cloth on my table and served me orange juice, a fruit plate, and a croissant with strawberry jam. And she did so with a smile although I suspect she had had no sleep at all. I opened my blind all the way to see a beautiful day below. The sun was shining brightly over a patchwork quilt of green fields and ripening cereal crops. The color of the river directly below had a distinct glacial milk tinge to it.

We had a perfect landing at GVA ahead of our scheduled 8-am arrival, and as we taxied to our terminal, I saw a, Aeroflot plane from Russia, an Etihad jet from Abu Dhabi, and a Garuda plane from Indonesia; not your usual sights. Passport control was a formality, and most of my time at the immigration window was taken up by the officer looking for space in my passport in which to put an arrival stamp. After a bit of a walk, I reached the baggage area and my bag came out a few minutes later. There was no customs control. I stopped off at a machine to get my free ticket to ride public transportation anywhere in the metro area for the next 80 minutes.

All trains from the airport stop downtown, so I boarded the next one, an inter-regional headed for Lausanne and Montreux. It took 10 minutes to get to Gare Cornavin, the main station. I stepped out on the platform into glorious sunshine. Having had a much better than average sleep for an overnight flight I decided to walk the 1+ km to my hotel. Vehicle and pedestrian traffic was heavy as the locals were headed to work. I walked down Rue Mont Blanc to Lake Geneva where I crossed the Pont du Mont Blanc Bridge to the old town. And there, at 13 place Longmalle, was the Hotel Longmalle, right where I'd left it at the end of my previous visit!

Two very pleasant young women were there to greet me at reception. Yes, they were expecting me and although check-in was not until 2 pm—it was not yet 9 am—they promised me a double room within the hour. As it was such a nice day, I suggested we put a "Closed" sign on the door and take a picnic into the mountains. They agreed that was a fine idea, but, unfortunately, they had to work. C'est la vie!

I worked on this diary while seated in the hotel lobby, and after 20 minutes my room was ready and the bellman took my luggage and lead me to the elevator. In my room, I connected to the outside world to receive new email, then showered and jumped into bed. Although I hoped to have three hours of deep sleep, it was a long time coming and wasn't so deep. However, I awoke at 1 pm feeling fair.

At 1:30, I headed out and it was still glorious. I walked the six blocks to the headquarters of an international consortium with which I do business, and I spent several hours there sipping tea and chatting to various staff members. I walked back to my hotel along the lakefront and through the gardens passed the famous floral clock. The equally famous 200-meter tall fountain, Jet d'Eau, was operating out in the lake.

Back in my room, I took care of some email. I'd asked the international hosting organization Servas for a list of hosts in Poland and that had arrived, so I read through some entries in two cities looking for both day and overnight hosts. [After Geneva, I was going to Berlin for more business meetings, and then onto western Poland for a vacation.]

At 5 o'clock, I went back to the lake and bought a ticket for a 75-minute boat tour. We departed at 5:20. Seated next to me was a young couple from Melbourne, Australia. They were traveling around Italy, Switzerland, and France for a month. I also chatted with an American man and woman from Washington DC and my home city, Reston, respectively. As we talked some more we found that we'd arrived on the same overnight flight. In fact, they were flight attendants with United and both of them had served me in-flight. The recorded narration on the tour was broadcast in French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian, and my brochure was in English, Japanese, Arabic, and Russian. Sacrebleu!

After a short walk, I was at my familiar Italian restaurant, San Marco, where I sipped a glass of pineapple juice while studying the pizza section of the menu. I placed my order and read a newspaper while I waited for my food. The pizza was delicious, but a bit more than I really needed. I took my time eating and reading. The best thing was that there was no air conditioning.

The sun had dropped below the buildings and a cool breeze blew. I decided to walk up the steep hill to the old city where I sat in a park watching the world go by while savoring a half-liter carton of milk. Then I walked through an area with lots of outdoor restaurants and then back to lake level. I spent a few minutes listening to some street musicians before heading back to my hotel. Lights out at 10:30 pm.

[Diary] I was wide-awake at 1 am and never quite got back to sleep. I certainly was not ready to get up when my 9:30 am alarm sounded. By the time I'd showered, dressed, and packed my computer bag, there was no time left for breakfast. I took a taxi to the headquarters of the International Standards Organization (ISO).

I met with a man who had recently joined ISO from the Washington DC area, and we continued our discussions over lunch outdoors at a pizza restaurant nearby. Back at his office, I also met several other staff in his department who were working on the latest edition of one of my documents. It was a very productive five hours.

It was glorious out and as I had plenty of time, I figured out the local bus system and how to use the free transportation card issued to me by my hotel, and I rode a bus back to my hotel where I worked in my room for an hour.

At 5 pm, I was back on the bus headed for the Royal Hotel to attend a reception for US-based attendees for the up-coming conference. Afterwards, I rode the bus back home. Lights out at 10:30 pm.

[Diary] I slept until 3:15 am and then not much more until my alarm at 6:30; bugger! I ate breakfast at the hotel, read a newspaper, and dealt with new email.

Outside it was another nice day. I rode the bus to the big convention center where I registered for the 2-day ISO committee chairs' conference. We started promptly at 9:30 with 180 delegates from 40-odd countries speaking at least 25 different first languages. All business was conducted in English.

Assuming it was going to be a rather boring set of "lectures" with attendees seated classroom-style, I'd planned to do a whole lot of work on my laptop. Instead, I was surprised to find round tables for 8–10 people, with laptop and mobile phone usage banned! At the start of each agenda item, a speaker introduced the topic after which the people at each table had to brainstorm solutions for the problems presented, with the aid of a facilitator. Each table then appointed a spokesperson who presented their collective ideas, sometimes with a limit of 60 seconds! Apparently, it was a different approach from previous years. In any event, it worked well and I got quite involved even acting as a spokesman. Throughout the day attendees got to move to different tables as their interests dictated. It sure was a diverse group. For example, there were representatives from the oil and gas industry, dentistry, law enforcement, heavy earth-moving equipment, information technology, aviation, and greenhouse gases/climate-related fields, to name a few.

Having had a decent breakfast, I skipped lunch and worked on my laptop. Mid-afternoon, I faded and had 40 winks during one presentation. We broke for the day at 6 pm and moved to an adjacent space for a reception that consisted of food that was so substantial it served as my evening meal.

[Diary] After 9:30 hours of solid sleep, I felt great! The day went much the same as the one before except that we had a very fancy buffet lunch, during which I met quite a few interesting people. We finished at 5 o'clock and I left in light drizzle. Having had a big lunch, I wanted a small supper, so after working in my room for several hours, I paid a visit to "Chez McDonalds". I happened to sit at a table right next to a door with a combination lock, and people kept coming and going through it constantly. I figured it was the staff entry to the kitchen. However, people kept asking me something about the door, in French, of course. Finally, it occurred to me that it was the door leading to the toilets, and to enter one needed the access code printed on one's meal receipt.

[Diary] It had rained all night and there was still light drizzle, so I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel. Soon after, my friend Daniela (formerly from Perth, Australia, and now living in Geneva), arrived and we walked into the old city looking for a place to eat lunch. There were many places from which to choose, but it took us a while to find just the right one, an Italian pasta house. In traditional European style, we took three hours to eat, talk, and drink coffee. We hadn't seen each other in more than two years, and it was great to catch up with her and to see her smiling face.

That evening, Daniela picked me up for an evening with her friends, Liz and Jean-Marc and family, at their lovely house on a mountainside in France overlooking greater Geneva. The weather had cleared up and the sun was out. We started out with champagne and several kinds of quiche, followed by BBQ'ed pork sausages and chicken kebabs, and wrapped up with chocolate cake and Twining's finest Earl Grey tea. Throughout, we talked of many things. Quite coincidentally, Liz had attended the same conference as me where she had heard me speak. We said 'Au revoir' around 10 pm and drove back to my hotel in heavy rain.


Except for the French-speaking Lake Geneva area, I've seen very little of the country. However, one summer, my family and I, complete with grandparents, spent a day and night near Lake Constance, after having previously been in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Liechtenstein. Although I've been through the Zurich airport a number of times, I've only ever seen its gates and business lounge.

Bucket List: I can easily imagine spending a couple of weeks wandering from village to village and around the countryside, and even hiking from hut-to-hut on some of the mountain paths. I'd also like to visit some of the German-speaking areas.