Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Signs of Life: Part 3

© 2015 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 recent trip to London and Yorkshire in England.


A magic shop.


But can they spell properly?


Instructions in a telephone booth (pay phone).


To reverse the charges is equivalent to America's to call collect.


Sign outside a pie shop.


This uses the general style of London Underground (Tube) station name signs.


Sign in a lane behind a business.


I've heard of cow tipping, but I couldn't figure out what this meant without researching it further. Apparently, it means no illegal dumping.


This just seemed odd. Did they mean one should not be tresspassing, so as to use the basketball facility? I really couldn't figure it out. And just what are authorized uses of basketball posts? And when did basket ball become two words?


A restaurant menu.


This was near and dear to my heart, as I've long used the term rabbit food to mean salad, and for exotic salads, I call them "California leaves and twigs".


Don't you just hate that when someone eats all the pies?


A shoe store.


The play here is on the word chiropody.


What a crazy name for a hairdresser's!


A chain of bars that also serve food.


Now while slugs very likely do eat lettuce, my guess is that the play here is the use of slug to mean a drink, as in, "He took a slug of whiskey."


Rumor has it that he is a distant relative of Thomas the Tank Engine!


Sign on a private gate next to a public path.


I must say that as I passed by, I did look around to see if I could see anyone with a gun.


A tea and coffee shop just for fans of Lewis Carroll.


Direction to a public toilet.


The internationally recognized term WC is an abbreviation for water closet, an early name for a flush toilet.


BTW, according to Wikipedia, "Contrary to widespread misconceptions, [Thomas] Crapper did not invent the flush toilet." However, he did improve it.


Collection boot for donations to the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen.


To wang is to throw, and a welly is a Wellington boot.


So what do you suppose this place sells? Apparently, mobile phones and such. That said I don't know about One. and Two.



Accidents and Incidents

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

As a boy and a young man, I experienced my fair share of "interesting events". I even had a couple of visits to a hospital's Emergency Room, but, unfortunately, not as many as I should have. Being right-handed and right-legged, it's no surprise that most of the scars on my body are on my right side. After all, that's the side I naturally lead with.

The Big Fire

When I was about five, a young girl from the neighboring farm was over at my house to play. As was common at the time, pigsties were sheds with roofs made of straw spread over chicken wire. Probably the most common birds in the area were sparrows, and they made nests in these straw roofs (as well as in other places). As sparrows were considered pests, I grew up being encouraged to destroy their nests as the opportunity arose. In this case, there were so many nests that I found pulling them apart by hand to be onerous. And so I proposed that we burn them out. Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I deliberately set fire to the straw roof. Unfortunately, my solution far exceeded my expectations, as it also destroyed a good part of the pigsties. Several pigs that were burned rather badly had to be put down. Quite some time after the alarm was raised, the Loxton Volunteer Fire Brigade arrived. I'm pretty sure my Dad whipped my butt afterwards. And although I've been somewhat fascinated by fire ever since—especially campfires—I have shown great restraint.

Around the Farm

From age 7–11, I lived on a 4,000-acre wheat and sheep farm. A popular activity for rural boys was bird nesting, which involved the climbing of trees and the taking eggs from bird's nests and blowing them (removing the contents through a small hole by blowing) to make an egg collection. Sparrows were rife, and Dad encouraged me to destroy their nests at every opportunity. Many nests were at the top of stone walls of various implement sheds just beneath the corrugated-iron roofs. One summer's day, I put my hand in such a nest to remove any eggs when something strange touched me. Then out popped the head of a rather large snake that had somehow gotten up to there to eat the eggs. After that, it took me a while to get up the courage to put my hand back into that kind of nest. Magpies didn't take kindly to having their nests robbed, and they would often swoop down on the heads of anyone climbing up a tree to their nest. And their beaks were sharp. Other birds that had nests were crows, tomtits, and pigeons.

I was probably about nine when I started shooting with a .22 rifle. And while I managed to shoot the occasional bird, I figure I missed far more than I hit. I had only one shooting accident in my life, which, of course, is one too many, but that didn't happen until I was a teenager. I was sitting in the kitchen cleaning the rifle, and managed to discharge a bullet right into the door frame.

To earn some serious pocket money, I trapped rabbits, although I seemed to have a problem remembering exactly where I'd set all of them, so sometimes I came home one or two short. When I had traps set, I had to get up early and go around them, especially in summer, to make sure the rabbits didn't die of heat. On school days, this mean a very early start. A number of incidents come to mind: One early morning, I came to a rabbit hole to see the chain was pulled down into the hole. So I reached way down into the dark hole, only to find a very angry and large lizard at the end. I can assure you I removed my arm muy pronto! On another occasion, there was a magpie with a very sharp beak! Once, the trap was missing, and since it had been tethered to an 18"-long steel peg hammered vertically into the ground, something rather large and/or strong had been caught and had managed to pull the peg from the ground. The trail was easy to follow, and more than a mile later, I caught up with Brer Fox, who was trailing the trap behind him. Being an enterprising lad, I managed to dispatch Foxy Loxy, and retrieve my trap without damage to myself.

From age 12–14, we lived on a place where we ran more than 200 pigs, many of which we bred. My job after school each weekday was to feed those pigs buckets of crushed grain. I also had to clean the cement water troughs. I remember one particular incident, which happened so quickly, I had no time to think that I was "going to die". The smaller sties had a small run out the back, and that was reached by a narrow opening in the wall at the back. Dad wanted to vaccinate (or do something or other) to a large sow, so he told me to bring her into the main pen from the run, and then to sit in that back opening, blocking it as an escape route. Well, the sow knew the opening was right behind me, and when she wanted "out", she put all her force behind her 200+ pounds of weight and fairly well charged pretty much through me. Fortunately, I was pushed back and to the side, rather than being wedged against the opening wall or trampled. Having me sit there certainly wasn't the smartest idea my Dad had, that's for sure!

Motor Vehicles

When I was about nine, Dad, Mom, and I took a day trip to the state capital, Adelaide. Somewhere in the suburbs, we were involved in an accident. I was sitting in the front between Dad and Mom. (This was during the days before seatbelts were installed.) I was taken by ambulance to the Adelaide Children's Hospital where I was treated for an obvious injury, a gashed mouth caused by glass from the broken windshield. When the Doctor asked me if I hurt anywhere else, I just happened to mention that my right shoulder was a bit sore. Once they got my sweater and shirt off they found a good-sized gash in my right shoulder where the rear-vision mirror stem had penetrated. So, they stitched up both wounds. [Some might say that the Dr. should have stitched my mouth a little tighter, as well!]

I started driving farm vehicles when I was about 11. However, despite a number of "near misses" I managed to keep my early driving record "clean". Interestingly, when I sat for my practical driving test (which back then, in South Australia, was done by a policeman) at age 16, the policeman told me to, "Drive like you were taught". Pretty soon, I was speeding and I cut a corner. Needless to say, he failed me, and I had to take the test again some weeks later.

When I was 18, I went home to help Dad cart wheat to the local grain elevator. However, to do that, I needed to get a truck-driving license. Now Dad had warned me that the driver's-side door latch was faulty, and that I should "Watch out!" Well, don't you know, there I was taking a Policemen out for my test drive, and as we were going around the town's large roundabout (turning circle), the driver's-side door flew open. Well, what was a lad from the bush to do, but say, "Sorry about that; the latch is a bit dicky", and put his arm out the window to hold it shut while driving with the other hand!

When I was 20, I bought a couple of cars of the same make and model, and I was trying to make one good one out of them. I parked them in the back lane and one Saturday afternoon I was working on them. I was tightening a bolt underneath the front of one when my hand slipped and I gashed my right wrist on some jagged metal. As I stood up, blood spurted 8–10 feet across the lane and I thought to myself, "Hmm, that doesn't look too good!" I used my left hand as a tourniquet and raced over to the neighbor's house. Fortunately, he was home. He owned a Mini Moke, which had open sides and roof, and we jumped in, me with a greasy old cloth trying to stem the bleeding. The first hospital we went to was for maternity patients only with no emergency facility, so we headed straight for the Royal Adelaide Hospital, some five miles further on. There the staff quickly put a clamp on things to stop the bleeding and then asked me to "please take a seat". Some hours later, after they'd dealt with all the higher priority emergencies, they got to me. And when they lifted me up onto a table, I fainted from all the blood loss. The gash was deep, and needed several layers of stiches. A second, but smaller, cut also needed a bit of attention. Of course, my arms were covered in grease from working on the car, but they only cleaned around the wounds. So when I got back home, I had to ask my housemate to help me clean up.

So there I was, right arm confined to a sling, with a brand new motorcycle sitting in the shed. So, how would I be able to ride in that condition? Of course, being young and stupid, I took my arm out of the sling and set off. Now I needed to twist my right wrist to operate the throttle, that tore the main wound open, and infection set in. So my short-term solution actually turned out to cause me to stop riding longer. Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!

I was rather cavalier when riding my motorcycle, and sometimes I even rode with open-toed sandals, which in hindsight can only be described as "incredibly stupid". One day, while riding on the sidewalk near my house I ran right along a chain-mesh fence, tearing up all the toes on one foot. Another time, I was tailgating a van, and when it braked suddenly, I turned the bike on its side and slid—still seated on the bike—under the back of the van. The large steel ball on the van's trailer hitch put a big dent into the bike's oil tank right next to my leg, but other than that, there was no damage.

On one visit back to Australia from the US, friend Dave, lent me a car. Well, one fine day, I was minding my own business when a guy coming towards me decided to do a U-turn, right in front of me. From a neighbor who watched the event, I borrow a large steel bar and managed to get my front fender off the wheel to make my car drivable. As for the other guy, I noticed the other side of his car was also dented, and when I asked, "How come?" he told me that was from an accident he'd had a few weeks before! By the way, 30+ years later, Dave and I are still friends.

Sports-Related Adventures

In 1968, I was in Year 11 at High school, and I played Australian Rules Football for the Loxton Tigers Colts team. We made it to the Grand Final. In the dying stages of the game, I was running in to pick the ball off the ground when a player from the opposing team ran in to kick the ball of the ground. [Nowadays, that results in a penalty and is referred to as "kicking in danger".] He missed the ball and got me right in the shin of my right leg, and down I went. After a brief lie on the ground, with the help of the trainers (the guys who run out onto the field with water, towels, and to help with minor medical problems) I managed to walk off the field. Not long after, the final siren sounded, and we'd won the game and the championship.

As was always the case, at each local sporting event involving bodily contact or other chances for injury, the non-profit St. Johns' Ambulance Brigade always provided an ambulance and several (usually volunteer) first-aid people. They looked me over, put my leg in an inflatable splint, and figured I'd need to go to the hospital to have the leg X-rayed. However, rather than go to the local hospital and possibly stay overnight in a town away from home, they agreed to drive me back to my home town, and my Dad rode in the ambulance with me. At the Loxton hospital, the X-ray showed a multiple fracture (without any sideways displacement, which was why I was able to walk off the playing field), so the doctor and nurses put a plaster cast on the lower leg leaving the front open to accommodate the swelling. Several days later, they wrapped plaster around to provide a somewhat thin cover over the front.

I stayed in hospital for a couple of nights. I was in a bed right up in the far corner in the large men's ward. Through a door nearby was a room where male patients were put if they were unlikely to survive. I believe it was referred to as the "Death Ward"! Anyway, while I was in hospital, an elderly farmer from my area was wheeled in there, and his family came to say "goodbye" along with the Lutheran minister. Charlie was on some sort of breathing device that made quite a sound. In the middle of the night, I woke up and heard that sound stop, and I figured Charlie had gone to that great farm in the sky. So I buzzed the nurse to let her know. The next morning, nurses were wheeling equipment out of that room and generally cleaning it up, but no one would say that Charlie had died; they had to keep up the morale of the other patients, I guess, lest we thought it was a result of the hospital food.

For some reason, the doctor did not put a heel on my cast, which made it difficult to walk. I'm guessing that was the point, to keep me off that foot. Of course, I had crutches, but I still put weight on the foot. Once I was out of hospital, I had checkups at the doctor's office every two weeks. Given the temporary nature of the first cast with the front closed after the swelling went down, and my general abuse of it, that cast lasted only a few weeks, and the doctor replaced it with a new one. But when I broke that—because I was driving a stick shift vehicle and getting around without my crutches to feed the pigs—the doctor put on a full cast, right up to my thigh. That made it impossible to sit on the front seat of a car, let alone drive, so it had the desired intent, to slow me down. Bugger!

I soon got into the swing of using crutches, but it made it awkward to use them and to carry a school satchel the half mile to/from the bus stop from the house, and to get around school with books and such.

To use the ambulance service, one generally became a member for an annual fee, and that entitled one to unlimited usage, as needed. As such, whenever I had to go to the doctor's office, I scheduled a pick up by an ambulance. And some days, the driver would be a bit bored, and he'd use the siren as we drove the couple of miles from the high school through the town. At the beginning, I rode in a special passenger seat. However, once I had a full cast, I could no longer fit there, so they had to open the back, lay me on the bed, and strap me in. It was quite a production when kids saw me being loaded in at the school. I know I enjoyed it. One nice day, when I was done at the doctor's office the driver said something like, "Where to Sir?" and I said, "It's such a nice afternoon, why don't I skip school for the rest of the day and have you drive me home?" He thought that was a fine idea, and as he nothing better to do, we drove the nine miles where he came into the house and had a cup of tea with Mom.

Over a number of years of playing football, I had my share of finger injuries and concussions. However, the big event that heralded the end of my career involved a knee injury. In March of 1973, at the grand age of 19, I was "all pumped up". I'd played in two consecutive premiership teams in the Under-19's competition, and I was ready to try to make the big move to a spot on the League team.

Before the regular season started in April, it was customary for clubs to have a series of pre-season trial games, mostly intra-club between the players in the League and Seconds squads. That year, there were three such games, and I remember well the first two games, in which I had opponents with years of League experience. It certainly was a shock to be making heavy body contact with seasoned veterans! In any event, I did well in those two games. In the third game, about 15–20 minutes into the first quarter, I was running for the ball and in the middle of a turn, my right knee "gave out", and I lay on the ground unable to move that leg much. Of course, the medical trainers rushed out to me, and after a few minutes, I was able to stand and hobble off the field. Back in the dressing room, a club doctor looked me over and said he thought it was a cartilage problem, a common malady for Aussie Rules players. Within a few days, a specialist has confirmed that I'd torn a cartilage, and surgery to remove it was set for a few weeks later.

I must say that this was a major setback, and, in hindsight, one from which I never really recovered. I spent the rest of that year working out, but was never confident enough to think I was ready to play again. To make matters worse, the following year, I tore the other cartilage in that knee and damaged a ligament. Subsequently, that cartilage was removed and the ligament cut and tied. I never was able to get that knee in good shape. Although I did play in later trial matches, it was clear my shot at the big time had passed. But, as they say, "Life goes on", and with football "out of that way" I could concentrate on my education and career.

Miscellaneous Events

My one-teacher country school had a large garden in which was a patch of bamboo, and from that I carry a large and permanent reminder. From time to time, we'd cut down lengths of bamboo for use in a variety of activities, leaving behind jagged stumps about three inches out of the ground. The Taplan football club oval (playing field) was nearby, and one Saturday during a game there, some other kids and I went over to the bamboo patch to "mess around". Somehow, I fell over and got one of those sharp, jagged stumps stuck in the front of my right, lower leg, right down to the bone. There was a lot of blood, yet I never did have it stitched. [Now, when I look at the large scar I am reminded of the famous quote from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "It's only a flesh wound!"

Once, I lived in a house several of whose doorways were a little shorter than I was tall. One day I turned around and charged out of the kitchen, and immediately encountered a rather stubborn door frame. Although I retained consciousness, I must say that I lay on the floor a good while after.

In 1981, I had my first Adventure Trip, eight days on and near the Amazon River in northeastern Peru. As part of my kit for the trip I bought a brand new Swiss Army knife. After a day at a swank base camp and then a long boat ride, we arrived near our quite primitive camp. As got off the boat, I spied a cluster of bamboo-like reeds, and decided to use my trusty knife to cut myself a walking stick. Seconds later, I'd managed to slice my finger quite badly, and as I looked around, I saw I was next to a villager's yard with a cow grazing nearby. Right about then, it occurred to me that I'd not had any vaccinations. (Can you say tetanus?) Fortunately, a fellow traveler was a nurse, and I had did have with me a basic First-Aid kit, so disaster was averted.

Over the years, I've been on the receiving end of some 240- and 110-volt electric shocks.

From age 16–18, I ran a quality control lab for a margarine factory. Now despite all recommendations to the contrary, I attempted to push a section of glass tubing through a hole in a rubber bung while holding said bung in the palm of my right hand. Needless to say, the tubing went right through the bung and into my hand right where the tendons for each finger come together. Forty five years later, I'm still reminded of that event each time I try to grip a screwdriver!

For my follow-on laboratory act, I attempted to pipette by mouth (instead of using a rubber pumper) absolute alcohol. Surprise! Yes, I got a mouthful, and although I got to the sink to rinse out my mouth within seconds, I can assure you that it takes far less time than that for absolute alcohol to "tickle" ones skin. As a result, if I take a sniff of any alcoholic drink, in my mind, I am transported back to that event.


Fortunately, the frequency of accidents has dropped significantly with age, but I have noticed that among many people Common Sense isn't so common. (If you doubt these, read about the Darwin Awards.)

After many years of having no medical problems of note, several years ago, within a span of only three months, I had emergency laser surgery for a torn and partially detached retina, surgery to remove an inflamed (but benign) cyst on my chest, and a visit to a hospital's emergency facility during the beginning of a snowstorm.

By the way, while aging is mandatory, maturing is optional!

Travel: Memories of Germany

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland); Capital: Berlin; Language: German; Country Code: DE; Currency: euro (EUR), formerly Deutsche Mark.

Before reunification in 1990, Germany was divided into East and West.

  • East Germany – Official Name: German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik); Capital: East Berlin; Language: German; Country Code: DD; Currency: DDR mark (DDM)
  • West Germany – Official Name: Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland); Capital: Bonn; Language: German; Country Code: DE; Currency: Deutsche Mark (DEM)

My first visit to Germany was in 1981. Since then, I've visited all 16 German States, some of them numerous times.

From June 2000:

[Diary] I spent two days with a host family in the old city of Mainz, the capital of the state of Rhineland-Pfalz. It was the home of Guttenberg, and the museum dedicated to his printing accomplishments had been renovated and recently re-opened. My hosts took me on a 40-km cycling tour along the Rhine River and surrounds.

[Diary] I met up with son Scott at Frankfurt airport, and we flew on to Berlin where we stayed with new friend Anna to begin our 2-week tour of the six former East-German States. Then it was on to Lutherstadt/Wittenburg where Martin Luther nailed his theses to the church door. It was a neat little town, but quite touristy. Then it was on to Leipzig for two days where we paid our respects to J.S. Bach at his grave in Thomaskirche.

From there, it was on to Weimar, another important city of the old German states, where friend Astrid met us. [I first met her in 1995 when I hosted her as part of a program for European teachers and librarians. She was born and raised under the East German regime.] We spent five days with her and husband Günter in their beautiful village, Tiefengruben, an unexpected gem in the former East Germany. I took advantage of the opportunity to go gliding in a sailplane one Sunday afternoon. We immersed ourselves in the culture, which included the famous German poets Goethe and Schiller.

Next, it was on to Jena, home of the world famous Jena Glass Company and Zeiss Optics, founded by the guy who invented many optical gizmos. Because of this plant, the city was a strategic target in WWII and quite a bit of the town was destroyed. We stayed with a host family right downtown. Next stop was Potsdam, capital of the Prussian empire, on the southeast outskirts of Berlin. We stayed with another host family who lived about 500 m from Sanssoucci Park where the palaces were located. Host Uwe took me on a great tour one evening showing me where the Berlin wall used to run and gave me an interesting history lesson.

Then it was on to Waren, about two hours north of Berlin, to visit Belinda, a teacher we'd hosted a few years earlier. We had a great visit with her; we all went to the Baltic Sea coast to tour a large Russian submarine floating museum and Hitler's V1 and V2 rocket research and development facility at Peenemünde. (Much of that work was "borrowed"' by the Americans and Russians at the end of WWII, and served as the basis for their respective space programs.) Interestingly, the Baltic Sea is known to the Germans as the East Sea.

We took the train back to Berlin where we stayed four nights with two hosts. We had a most enjoyable time there too and took in a lot of the sights. Queen Elizabeth II was in town to open the new British embassy, and we saw her from about 15 meters away getting into her Rolls Royce with hubby Phillip.

The primary purpose of the trip was to give Scott practice at speaking and understanding German. He had recently finished his 3rd year and was enrolled for a fourth in September. While it was hard work concentrating and trying to understand what people were saying, when people spoke more slowly, he did very well. And according to the native speakers, he did very well with his speaking too.

From a trip to Berlinin 2007:

[Diary] The very long street full of stalls ended at an intersection in the center of which stood a very tall crane that reached way up into the sky. Surrounding it was a fence, and inside, was, yes, a bungee jumping place. I watched a young couple get into harnesses and be taken up on a 4-foot square steel platform 60 meters (nearly 200 feet). After a few Hail Marys, they fell out the side of the cage, arms around each other, and bounced up and down 3 or 4 times before the heavy duty elastic cord holding them at their ankles stopped springing. The crane then lowered the whole apparatus so the jumpers, who, of course, were hanging upside down the whole time, could lie on the ground and be detached. Then the basket was lowered as well. And for that tandem jump, the happy couple paid €69.

I must say that, to quote George from an episode of "Blackadder Goes Forth", "It all looked pretty darned exciting". What the heck, thought I, and next thing you know, I was on the platform being raised sky-high in rather quick fashion. Now before you ask, "He's not going to bloody well jump, is he? No, I was not! Mind you, if I hadn't have just eaten I might have, but the thought of losing my glasses, dentures, and recently eaten bratwurst and Coke soon put that idea out of my head. For only €3, one could "go along for the ride", literally. In my case, as there were no jumpers waiting, all five of us passengers went for a look over Berlin. The cage was rather open, and there wasn't much between us and the ground, just a few bars and rubber restraints. The pilot slowly rotated the cage several times so we could have a good look around the city.

[Diary] I took my hosts to the plaza in front of the Humboldt University to see the memorial put there in 2000. It's not well known, even by the locals, and I think it's best seen at night. In the mid-1930s, the Nazis took control here and decided that certain authors wrote things that were decidedly "unacceptable" to the new government policies, so all books by those authors "had to go". They took some 20,000 books from the university library and burned them in a big fire in the plaza. So what is the memorial? It's a 4-foot square glass window set in the cobblestone plaza, which is a window on an underground room that's about 15-feet square and 8 feet deep. The four walls all have white book shelves from floor to ceiling, and all the shelves are empty. Basically, this is what a world without books would look like.

From a trip to Weimar in 2008:

[Diary] At Frankfurt Airport, I followed the signs to the Deutsche Bahn reisencentrum where an ever-so-friendly agent was happy to sell me a round-trip ticket to Weimar with an open return. And seeing it was my birthday later that week, I treated myself to First Class. [What the heck; you can't take it with you, you know. Did you ever see a hearse with a luggage rack?]

My good friend Astrid met me on the platform. As we drove to her quaint village of Tiefengruben I recognized many things and recalled events from previous visits. At their house we were met by her husband, Günter, who was his usual delightful self. We talked over tea and pastries. As Astrid taught English, we soon got into interesting and odd vocabulary, and had our dictionaries out.

[Diary] We left the village for Weimar at 11:15 am. It was a dreary cold day, but at least it was dry. We parked in an underground garage a short walk from the town center. We walked on the hill just above the Ilm River, not far from the famous poet Goethe's Garden House. For many years, the area was ruled by the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and Weimar was their seat. We strolled into the palace courtyard to see a long line of official-looking black Mercedes cars. That week, the Finance Ministers from all 16 German states were meeting there. We walked up the hill to the statue of Karl August, one of the great Dukes. Nearby was the café/restaurant Residenz where Goethe used to sit and have coffee.

Then it was on to one of the most famous libraries in Europe, named for Duchess Anna Amalia, Karl August's mother, and regent after his father died. After the great fire in 2004, there was much restoration and numerous precautions were added. The number of admission tickets issued each day was limited. We were given audio wands with English narration. Then to protect the wooden floors, we put on large felt overshoes, and waddled duck-like around the outer chamber listening to information about some artworks and a very interesting and complicated clock with calendar. Then we were ushered into the rococo room, the original library, the uppermost part of which was destroyed in the fire. It had been beautifully restored. We spent 30 minutes listening to narrations about paintings and busts.

We walked past the Hotel Elephant, the setting of one of Goethe's works. Right next to it was the town square with nicely restored town hall. Being Christmas time, the square was full of wooden huts decorated with boughs of fresh evergreen trees and lights. Some sold food and/or drink. Others sold crafts, cheese or meat. There were several carnival rides for little kids. Our reason for being there was to sample the famous Thüringen Bratwurst, the state's specialty. While Astrid applied mustard to hers, I smothered mine in ketchup. At another stall we purchased hot chocolate and glüwine.

From a 2011 trip to Berlin:

[Diary] The young receptionist at the hotel front desk was ever so happy to have me come stay and said, "Herr Jaeschke, we have taken the liberty of upgrading you to a room in the President's Club wing, at no charge to you." [Don't you just love that when that happens?] So, I put my key into the slot in the private elevator and rode to the 4th floor, and walked to the end of a corridor. My room was twice as large as the one I'd just left in Geneva, cost less than half the price, and had huge windows that opened and looked out over a garden with large trees. Although it had rained while I was in the taxi, the skies had cleared up and the sun streamed into my room. I had tea/coffee-making facilities, a small fridge, a digital TV, a spacious work desk, and—dah dah—a dressing gown monogrammed with the hotel logo. It was almost too much for the boy from the bush!

[Diary] We walked to the closest subway station and rode several lines along with one leg on a streetcar. That took us to the street-level entrance of a WWII bunker that was used as an air-raid shelter. Our guides were a couple of "typical" Berliners, a Welshman and a Greek, and we had a long and informative tour of how the shelter was used. Quite a few items were on display in cases as we moved from room to room. On my way home, there was a sign in my subway car that, when translated from German, went something like, "A mobile phone is not a loudspeaker!" Enough said.

From a trip to Dresden in 2012:

[Diary] The Johann Brahms express pulled out of Prague Station on time with light snow flurries falling. A thick cloud layer kept the sun completely blocked. Soon after, a very friendly conductor came along to check our tickets. He was fluent in Czech, English, and German, and tried some basic Japanese with that group. (In contrast, when we crossed the German border and changed conductors, it was all German and only German, as God intended!)

We followed a river for the whole of the 2:15-hour trip. In most places, there was ice near the banks, but occasionally that extended across the whole river. Although there was evidence the river was used for commercial transportation that did not seem to be happening at this time of the year. We made three stops before crossing the border into Germany and one stop after that before reaching Dresden at 10:45.

Peter, a university professor, was waiting for me on the platform, and after I bought a ticket for my ongoing trip and changed some money, we headed out in his car. Light snow was falling and the streets were quite messy. He'd booked me in to the very nice, small, cheap guesthouse near his university, so we went there to check in and dump my luggage. After that, we drove to his office where we discussed business over coffee and a light lunch. I met some of his colleagues.

Around 4 pm, we headed out to play tourist and parked downtown near the Elbe River and walked around the huge and impressive Zwinger Palace compound, parts of which were undergoing restoration. It was quite cold out, so we kept moving. As it got dark, we came across a nice restaurant in a basement that was decorated in a medieval style. Although our intent was to have coffee, we soon smelled the fresh strudel being baked, so we had to sample that along with a scoop of ice cream and another of cream! We chatted some more before venturing out in the dark and cold.

From a trip to Berlin and the countryside to the north in 2014:

[Diary] Now this was no ordinary Business Lounge; it was a First-Class lounge, don't you know! Actually, while the lounge was quite nice, they don't give much away anymore, at least not in those run by United Airlines. Sure, they had the usual champagne, wine, and liquor, soft drinks, and light food and snacks, but it is nothing exotic. In any event, I planned to eat supper on the plane.

As boarding was announced, I walked the few minutes from the lounge to the gate where I jumped right onboard with priority boarding. UAL flight 932 was a Boeing 777, whose front sections had been very nicely refurbished. I took up residence in Suite 1K, the first window seat on the starboard side. In front of me were the First Class galley, toilets, and the cockpit. Now when a passenger's area has four windows and takes up the same space as about four Economy Class seats, it's referred to as a Suite. The front cabin had only eight suites, two rows of four-across, each at a slight angle from the neighbor, and all facing forward. I had more storage space and electronic controls and plugs than I knew what to do with. I was promptly issued with a large toiletries bag and a smaller, special-edition one as a souvenir.

We pushed back from the gate a little early and the steward responsible for moi noticed I hadn't attached my seatbelt shoulder harness, so he hurried over to do that. Not having ever flown with a shoulder harness before, that was new to me. We took off into the night and went up the east coast to New York City and out over the North Atlantic. First up came the usual hot towel—that was so hot I could barely hold it in my fingertips—and that certainly opened up my facial pores. A bowl of hot, mixed nuts and a glass of ice-cold cranberry-apple drink followed.

A uniformed, ebony princess (I kid you not) hovered into view with a menu from which I proceeded to choose my evening's repast. To begin, there was a warm appetizer of cheese and piquillo pepper spring roll and coconut chicken with eggplant-mango chutney. [That was very tasty.] The soup was red rock seafood bisque. [Being allergic to shellfish, I skipped that.] The very large bowl of salad was smothered in creamy garlic dressing and could have been a meal on its own. There were four choices for the main course, beef, chicken, fish, and pasta. I chose the Fillet of Amazon Cod with a mixed vegetable ratatouille. [It was "to die for!"] Afterwards, I had a very nice cup of coffee and a large bowl of vanilla ice cream with walnuts. I declined the port wine and cheese.

Given the late time for my flight, I declined to watch any movies and settled instead on a medley of "Rhythm and Blues" audio tunes. By 11:30 pm, I'd finished my supper and two stewards appeared to enquire if "Sir would like Sir's bed prepared". I vacated my Suite while they worked. First, the electrics were used to lay the bed down flat. Then a padded mini-mattress was laid on top along with a light and a heavy blanket. Then a large and small pillow were added, and the seat belt was arranged such that I could be strapped in while sleeping. I took off my shoes and climbed in. Now I've had lay-flat beds many times in Business Class, but ordinarily they are barely 6'4" long with a point at the feet end with room for one foot only, so they really don't work for me. However, this baby was 6'6" long with a wide end, so I really could lie completely flat. I asked the stewards if they would be reading me a bedtime story or singing me to sleep, and one of them replied, "Better that I not sing!" So, at 11:45 pm, US Eastern Daylight Time, I turned out my lights and lay down. I was asleep very soon after.

[Diary] My train pulled into Altentreptow right on time at 14:44, and there waiting on the platform was Belinda and her smiling face. [I met her when she came to the US in 1998 for a month to stay with three different hosts. She was born and raised in the East.]

[Diary] We packed a picnic lunch and drinks, and headed out in the car around 10:15. We headed north on the autobahn for the large Baltic Sea island of Rügen, where Belinda had taken me during my previous visit, but this time, she had a different area in mind. There was little traffic and it was a pleasant drive. We stopped along the way for coffee and a stretch just after we'd crossed the bridge onto the island. Along the way, I saw two lots of deer grazing in the fields and a very large flock of cranes.

We had to cross a channel in a ferry, and Belinda had never done that before as a driver, but we managed without incident. Then once we got onto some back roads, it wasn't quite clear where we were, so we pressed the GPS navigator into service. The polite woman narrator soon got us to Kap Arkona, a touristy place near the sea that has several lighthouses and military bunkers. As cars cannot go to the attractions, we decided to ride the tour bus. There are some spectacular chalk cliffs in the area, but there have been so many landslides that all the paths near the top and all the steps down to the water have been closed to the public, so we couldn't see the cliffs at all.

We drove back a different route and stopped at one place where we walked a few hundred meters through a nice pine forest to the sand dunes and then down along the beach where we collected some shells. Then we had another rest stop before we set out for home around 5 pm. We were back home by 6:30. It had been a pleasant day.

[Diary] After lunch, we set out for a drive to the town of Penzlin, the home of witch burnings and such back in the "good old days". We walked by the lake and playground, and then went up into the town to the small, restored castle and museum where we sat in the sunshine talking while eating lemon cake and sipping coffee. It was an altogether pleasant interlude. Back home, we talked over a light supper.

[Diary] I headed out for Belinda's school. At 1:50, her 6th-grade English class got underway with me as the guest speaker. The students ranged from 13–15 and after a slow start, got enthusiastic. They are studying the US this year, so we made that the lesson's theme. They worked in groups to come up with questions. First, I asked them to write three or four things they thought were different or unusual about the US. Their feedback included different sports, poor people, guns and violence, national parks, and different systems of education. The second task was to have them identify three or four cities or places in the US where they'd like to visit. It went quite well. Next up, I helped the principal with his English class. There were 20-odd 7th-grade students, and we had a general question-and-answer session. I did not introduce myself; they had to ask questions to find out who I was, what I was doing there, what I did for a job, and so on.

[Diary] We drove to a small village on the coast opposite Poland where we walked around the yacht club area before settling in to the only place in town that was open, an ice cream and coffee place. From there, we drove further along the coast to a nice town that had its nicely restored harbor right in the middle of the old town. We walked around the harbor looking at some impressive private boats, and then walked the cobblestones back streets. We came across a very nice looking restaurant that had chalkboards outside advertising "exotic" fare, and one dish included 150 grams of kangaroo meat. As to where they got their supplies was a bit of a mystery.

From a trip to München in 2014:

[Diary] During the 15-minute walk to my hotel, I came across an Aldi supermarket, so stopped in to get milk and juice. I looked for something different, and there was a carton of rhabarber necktar (rhubarb juice). Well, that certainly was different. My hotel looked just like the pictures on the internet, and the friendly Greek desk clerk was ever so happy to take my credit card and get me situated. At €98 including tax, for two nights, it was a very good deal. He gave me a room on the quiet side of the hotel with a large window that opened all the way. As it was quite hot and a bit humid, I let what breeze there was come right on in. The room was small, but well designed, and still had room enough to swing a dead cat, although I had no plan to do so, yet!

[Diary] Soon, I was at the famous square, Marienplatz, with its Town Hall complete with performing figures and bells. I arrived a few minutes after the production began, and watched along with a few thousand of my close friends. I seemed to recall that it looked a lot like it did when I last saw it, 22 years ago.

From there, I took a fortuitous wrong turn and found myself at the Viktualienmarkt, a large plaza with many stalls selling food, beer, fruit, vegetables, and crafts. A maypole stood there and some sort of ceremony regarding beer and brewing was taking place. Hundreds of men milled around in traditional Bavarian costumes. Four large beer wagons each pulled by a team of four beautiful horses stood nearby.

Next stop was the Hofbräuhaus, the famous beer-drinking hall. As it was early in the day, only a few tourists were inside drinking. I took some photos of the ceiling and the metal stands where regular patrons keep their beer steins locked up. Out front, a mime was performing.

For my Kulcha fix, I dropped into the former royal palace complex, the Residenz Museum. Knowing that it would be "over the top", I bought just the basic ticket, forgoing all the extra rooms and smaller museums one could visit. It was room after room of huge wall tapestries, ornate furniture, elaborate ceilings, and gold-covered everything! Although all the contents were moved out during WWII, almost all the buildings were destroyed, so much of it had been reconstructed.

[Diary] I went out in search of just the right place for just the right meal. After 10 minutes of walking around, I found the end of the rainbow, a small snack bar near my hotel. All the young staff were friendly. I had a large bowl of creamy potato soup with large bits of sausage in it along with a liberal dose of fresh parsley. "Was it good?" you ask. Well let's just say that it was the kind of soup that your Grandma wished she could make! Even before getting the soup, I was dreaming about dessert, but, once again, I had no room, so I settled on a very nice, large mug of hot chocolate.


Being descended from German-speaking Lutherans from Prussia, and having being raised on various German foods, I'm always comfortable in Germany. I do like most foods there and I have a shot at the language, although I'm certain that three genders are two too many!

Bucket List: High on my list is a month starting in Copenhagen, going by ferry to the Danish island of Bornholm, and then by ferry to the German island of Rugen, then northeast Germany, and back to Copenhagen.

Signs of Life: Part 2

© 2015 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 recent trip to London and Yorkshire in England.


The name of a laundromat.

Give it a whirl is a common English idiom that usually means "to try something," but is used here as a pun since an automatic washing machine whirls around while washing clothing." [Whirlpool Corporation is a long-time US maker of home appliances, including those for doing laundry.]


A bar and bistro.

So why is it called that name? Probably because Shirtless Pig was already taken!


A water dish for dogs.

If you look very carefully at the top of the puppies' heads, you can see a coin slot. The money donated goes to training guide dogs for the blind.


A clothing shop.

As soon as I saw it, I immediate thought, "Hall and Oates, before they got rid of the middle C and became rock stars".


A strorefront in Harrogate.

We all expect a lot of Heaven, but this list is a pretty good start.


A hotel from the movie Chocolat? Nice try, but no. A hotel made of chocolate? No. A hotel for lovers of chocolate? Wrong again. A store that sells chocolate? Yes.


A type of pedestrian crossing.

To be specific, it's a Pelican crossing having speed humps on either side of it.

Apparently, it is not related to a zebra crossing, which is a pedestrian crossing for members of The Beatles only (and, of course, zebras).


From a T-shirt.

Based on a quote attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the only daughter of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.


From a T-shirt, probably not authorized by Apple.

Very clever!


A shop for knitted garments.

My guess is the name is meant to rhyme with the popular idiom sitting pretty, meaning being more than okay.

Note the child's bicycle out front that has been completely knitted over.


A laundry and dry cleaners.


A tea and cake shop .

What is widely known is Marie Antionette's saying, "Let them [the peasants] eat cake!" However, what is not so well known is that after a pause, she added, "With ice cream, perhaps?"


This pub seemed a bit out of place in Yorkshire.


The famous saying when using the London Underground (Tube).


Nothing more to add really!


It is sooo hard to get good help these days! Why, I've had three different butlers myself since the start of the year!



What is Normal - Part 9: An American in Australia

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[I started making notes for this essay one week into a 7-week trip to my country of birth, Australia. It had been more than eight years since my previous visit, and I was quickly reminded of many differences between the US and Australia. I decided to make a list of some of them, and to share that with you here, along with some commentary.]

In my June 2010 essay, "Australia and the U.S. - A Contrast", I looked at Politics and Government, Law Enforcement, Taxation, and Education. This time, I'll cover a number of other areas, especially those I noticed during my recent trip.

To put my comments in context, I spent the first 16 years of my life in the Riverland area of South Australia (SA), which has a Mediterranean climate and irrigated fruit growing and dryland farming. I then lived for 10 years in the state capital, Adelaide, which is between a range of 3,000-foot mountains and the coast. In the US, I lived a year in the Midwest city of Chicago followed by 35 more in the greater Washington DC area inland from the Mid-Atlantic coast.

Although I lived 25 years Down Under, I spent almost all of that time in one state, and then only in one country area and the state capital. As such, some general claims I make or seem to imply may well not be true in other Australian areas or states. Alternatively, they might have changed since I left 36 years ago.


Probably the first thing one notices is that everyone is driving on the other side of the road (and the car). Fortunately, the clutch, brake, and accelerator pedals are in the same order. Each time I went out with one or more passengers, I asked them to remind me to "keep to the left". This is quite easy when one is following other traffic, but when left alone, one can easily revert to one's "natural" side. One challenge I've always faced is to keep to the correct side when turning left into a divided highway. Then each time I left someone's house late at night, as I was saying "Goodbye", I inevitably unlocked the front passenger-side door, but soon noticed there was no steering wheel there, so went around to the other side.

One day, as I was driving up a steep hill, in the left lane, I found myself thinking, "What if some American or European tourist is coming up the other size in the wrong (that is, right-hand) lane?" I thought about that at length. At some point, you just have to trust that other people are playing by the rules.

The first few days in SA, each time I wanted to turn, the windshield wipers came on instead of the indicators. Don't you just hate that when that happens! (To be fair, that's not related to left- or right-hand driving; rather, cars built in different countries simply equip them that way.)

When I got my driving license, the written and practical tests were done by the local police (which are all state police). Now, like the US, these tests are handled by the state department of motor vehicles.

In SA, a driver can get a Learner's Permit at age 16 by passing a written test, and must have an L-Plate on their car to alert other drivers. Once they pass the practical test, they must have a Provisional Driver P-Plate for two years.

In SA, the open-road speed limit is 110 kph (68 mph), which given the general condition of the roads, I think is way too fast. To the chagrin of many drivers following me, for the most part, I stayed around 60 mph. The road conditions are not helped by the discontinuation of most freight rail-lines, resulting in the hauling of cargo by road, in increasingly bigger and heavier trucks, with many pulling trailers.

Unlike in the US, I don't think I saw any yellow lines on the highways, only white, and there seemed to be two different ways of indicating one was not to overtake another vehicle on a given section of roadway.

As Australia is representative of the western marketplace, it has long been a test ground for products from Asia, including motor vehicles. As a result, one can see models there that are not available in other countries. (Japan and Australia both drive on the left.)

A minor detail is the color of turning-indicator lights (AU: blinkers), as Australia requires them to be yellow. This seems not to be a requirement in the US.

Australia currently produces its own models of automobiles, via General Motors Holden (GMH) and Ford Australia. (For more than 35 years, Chrysler Australia did likewise.) One of the most distinctive styles is that of a utility vehicle, or ute, for short. Utes are really sedans with the back half replaced by a low cargo-carrying area, but they don't look at all like a typically US pick-up truck. In recent years, 4-door versions have also been built.

Prior to airline deregulation some 30 years ago, there were two domestic airlines, TAA and Ansett, the first being government-run, the second, private. They flew to the same places, at about the same times, for the same prices. With deregulation, there is more competition, but few people fly to small cities or towns. Qantas, the national airline, is now the biggest domestic carrier as well.

Weights and Measures

In 1972, Australia changed from the Imperial System of weights and measures to Metric. At the time, I worked in a chemistry lab, so was quite familiar with the Metric system, but only for relatively small measurements. (See my March 2013 essay, "What is Normal - Part 6: Weights and Measures".)

For someone used to the Imperial System (or the US version thereof), this involves new challenges. Weights are now in kilograms (or kilos, for short) rather than pounds, and tonnes rather than tons. Of course, feet, inches, yards, and miles all become meters and kilometers, and pints, quarts, and gallons become liters.

Now while one can easily make the transition from miles per hour to kilometers per hour, fuel consumption is another matter. Specifically, miles per gallon goes to liters per 100 km, which has the two measures swapped over. And instead of inflating the tires to some number of pounds per square inch, one has to deal with kilopascals per square cm.

Moving from the Fahrenheit temperature scale to Celsius is another challenge. Back when I was a lad, everyone knew a 100-degree F day was "bloody hot", but now they insist on its being 38 degrees C. Of course, cooking in an oven requires being able to translate between the systems.

And what's all this hectare and square-meter business? Acres used to be good enough!

Paper sizes are different, as are hole-punch positions, and envelope sizes.

When the Metric System was introduced in Australia, I distinctly remember companies having a 10-year transition period before they had to convert, and after which it was illegal to import products using non-Metric measurements. This seemed reasonable, in order that the populace "get with the program" as soon as possible. However, during my recent trips, more than 40 years after the conversion, I was quite surprised to find real estate ads in many newspapers using acres, and birth announcements showing baby weights in pounds and lengths in inches.

Food and Drink

Growing up in SA, the early meal of the day was breakfast. Around midday, we ate dinner, and in the evening, we ate tea. However, if we ate out in a nice restaurant, the evening meal became dinner. Snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon were called morning tea and afternoon tea, respectively, while a late-night snack was supper. In the US, we have breakfast, lunch, and supper, but an evening meal at a nice restaurant is dinner.

While a major US fast food is a hamburger or hot dog, Down Under, it's a meat pie, pasty, or sausage roll, with or without tomato sauce. In some areas, Cornish pasties are available, and in the past 20+ years, pies and pasties have been offered in various, and increasingly exotic flavors, including with kangaroo meat.

US pastries are often heavy on chocolate, icing, and sugar while Australia has many different kinds of buns, in the English tradition. (Can you say buttered finger bun?) Sweet muffins are now appearing in Australia.

In SA, a very popular drink is iced coffee, made entirely with milk rather than water, as in the US.

While Americans eat lots of English muffin, a sort-of similar thing Down Under is a crumpet.

In SA, custard is very popular, and can be bought ready-made in cartons. Apricots are also popular. Butcher shops are everywhere and lamb is readily available. One can get a fried egg on a hamburger, and beetroot on a steak sandwich. Fish and chip shops are common, and pineapple on pizza is not considered weird. Various US ethnic things like bagels, rye bread, and Mexican food aren't generally available. Culturally, people don't eat out for breakfast, and they eat with both knife and fork rather than cutting food, putting the knife down and eating with the fork after changing hands. A very popular source of food is a "counter" meal served at a pub or sporting club. The American idea of taking uneaten food home in a "doggy bag/doggy basket" is catching on. The term diner (as a cheap place to eat) isn't used.

A very popular Aussie alcoholic drink is bitters, brown lime, and lemonade (the latter being lemon squash).


In general, in SA houses are smaller, and sometimes considerably so. Second stories are rare, and basements are non-existent. Many have garages while carports are popular. Older homes do not have a dining room separate from an in-kitchen eating area, or any en-suite bathrooms. There are not separate formal lounge and family rooms. The one toilet is often in a room by itself, not in the bathroom. So the American phrase going to the bathroom seems odd to many Aussies. Most houses I've visited have separate hot and cold-water taps at each sink, with good old-fashioned plugs. There are nowhere near as many electric outlets as in the US, and there often is only one wall jack for a landline phone. Although it can get quite hot, in the southern half of the country the humidity used not to be so high. However, with world weather patterns changing, ducted heating and air conditioning is more popular in new houses. Many older houses (and even some newer ones) have galvanized-iron roofs, and now, outside walls as well. A far bigger percentage of houses are made of brick, in which case, they can support a roof of terra cotta tiles.


To be sure, in SA, many working couples have laborsaving devices, but they are not as committed to them as in the US. However, I did see more dishwashers this last trip. Except in the few big cities, hardly anyone lives in a multistoried building, and most people live in single-family houses, with a yard, and a rotary clothesline on which to hang their laundry.

Aussies pretty much are a big middleclass bunch. Yes, there are a few very wealthy ones, but it's impossible to be poor. There really are so many social programs, and medical care is available to all.

Aussies still have greengrocers, butcher shops, and newsagents.

Regarding the worldwide coffee craze, while Aussies do drink coffee, many love their hot tea, even in the hottest of weather when Aussies actually consider it a better thirst quencher than a cold drink. Regarding coffee, before the instant variety came to Australia, we made a cup by putting a teaspoonful of Bickford's coffee and chicory essence from a large, tall, black bottle, into a cup and pouring boiling water on that. Until I first ate at a fine restaurant, I'd never experienced percolated coffee. By the way, most hotel and motels rooms have an electric kettle and tea/coffee-making facilities, as God intended!

The principle religion Down Under is sport, pretty much of any kind. If you live in/near Sydney or Brisbane, football means rugby. For the other states, it's Australian Rules football. Nationally, there's soccer. These are winter sports, along with netball. The primary summer sports are cricket, tennis, and watersports. Hockey means field hockey while ice hockey means, well hockey on ice (which given the geographical position of the country, not surprisingly, is not well known). Basketball is a huge sport and baseball is becoming more popular. Lawn bowls used to be a retired-persons game, but now more and more young people play.

Aussies have a long history of gambling, and there's an old saying that two Aussies would bet on a fly crawling up a wall. When I lived in SA, the state government ran a statewide agency called the Totalizer Agency Board (TAB), which had outlets in pretty much every town over a few thousand residents. These provided places to bet on horse and greyhound racing, and later on English and European football. They still exist, and now they cover other sports as well. Most states have at least one casino. Probably one of the worst impacts on the pocket of the blue-collar worker was the wholesale introduction of poker machines some 20 years ago. They proved to be just another way for working-class people to throw away their money. Just about every pub and small sporting club has them, and often the proceeds from them are used to underwrite the cheap meals served.

Miscellaneous Stuff

In Australia, the electricity supply is 240 volts, 50Hz; power outlets have switches; light switches go down for on and up for off; and light bulbs fit into their sockets using a bayonet connector. In the US, the electricity supply is 110 volts, 60Hz, power outlets do not have switches, light switches go down for off and up for on, and light bulbs screw into their sockets.

When television came to Australia (much later than in the US), a channel 5A existed on all channel dials. [The channel based near my hometown has that designation.] For color TV, Australia chose the PAL analog system versus the US's NTSC. With digital TV, the same standards are used; however, the DVD region codes for the two countries are different, so one cannot play pre-recorded videos on the other's machines.

The Australian dollar (AUD) has 100 cents, and coins come in 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, and $1 and $2. (The 1-cent and 2-cent coins have been discontinued.) The US still has a 1-cent coin, but no 2-cent, and has a 25-cent (quarter) instead of a 20. It has both the traditional $1 banknote and a more recently introduced $1 coin; as such, the coin versions are far less used. Each Aussie banknote has a different color and increasing denominations get longer and wider. US banknotes are predominately green, but other colors are being added with new editions.

Language, Spelling, and Vocabulary

George Bernard Shaw wrote, "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." And given that Aussie English is rooted (but not identical) to British English, the same applies between Australia and the US.

Back in 1979, as I was preparing to move to the US from Australia, my travel agent gave me an Aussie-English-to-American-English "translation" guide consisting of more than 500 words. Here are some of them, the Aussie term first, followed by the equivalent American term in parentheses:

  • footpath (sidewalk)
  • serviette (napkin)
  • railway sleepers (railway ties)
  • clothes pegs (clothes pins)
  • kindergarten (preschool)
  • cool drink (soda, pop)
  • lemonade (Sprite, 7-Up)
  • budgerigar (parakeet)
  • tap (faucet)
  • petrol (gasoline)
  • diesel or distillate (diesel)
  • gas (LPG – natural gas)
  • windscreen (windshield)
  • car boot (hood)
  • mudguard (fender)
  • blinker (indicator)
  • manual gears (stick shift)
  • bum bag (fanny pack)
  • sultana (golden raisin)
  • anticlockwise (counterclockwise)
  • chemist shop (pharmacy); however, the American version is taking over
  • peanut paste (peanut butter)
  • tomato sauce (ketchup); however, the American version is taking over
  • icing (frosting)
  • scone (biscuit) (Aussies pronounce it as 'scon')
  • sweet biscuit (cookie)
  • savory biscuit (cracker)
  • jelly (gelatin, or the brand name Jello)
  • jam (jam, jelly, conserve)
  • beetroot (beets)
  • spirits (liquor)
  • pub (bar)
  • power point (electrical outlet)
  • xx-dollar note (xx-dollar bill)

There are numerous differences in spelling and pronunciation. For example,

  • litre (litre) and metre (meter)
  • colour (color), labour (labor), flavour (flavor), and so on
  • aluminium (aluminum)
  • tyre (tire)
  • newspaper [I hear Aussies (and Brits) say the n like the Spanish ñ while the Americans say it simply as n.]
  • Double letters and digits such as "oo" and 33 are spoken "double-o" and double-3 (oo and 33)


As I travel, I often think that everything is the same yet, on closer inspection, everything is different, and that's certainly the case with the US and Australia. As I finish writing this, it's 7 weeks after my return from Down Under, but now I'm in England for 3 weeks. Not surprisingly, there are lots of similarities and differences here as well, and to some extent, I'm using a whole other vocabulary. It's a whole other normal!

Travel: Memories of Austria

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Official Name: Republic of Austria; Capital: Vienna (Wien); Language: German; Country Code: AT; Currency: euro (EUR) [formerly schilling (ATS)]

From a trip to Vienna in 2011:

[Diary] Helmut and Annelies had very generously offered to host me for all four days of my stay even though the usual arrangement with the hosting group Servas International is for two. We drove out of the city to their country cottage, a 20-year-old large log cabin. It was a little bit of Heaven! We unloaded the groceries and did a few jobs in the garden before retiring to the terrace in the sun for Chinese tea followed by a large mid-afternoon meal. As the sun moved, so did we, taking the table with us. We finished off with a large bowl of wonderful strawberries.

[Diary] I slept like a baby, for 13 hours solid; YES! I woke at 10 am actually feeling rested. My hosts were sitting at the eating area in the garden out in the sun finishing their brunch. It was another glorious day. As I was a long time in my room, they had been discussing how one might handle the situation when a guest dies in their bed. We joked about that, and I suggested that they could keep my luggage and, after funeral expenses were covered, they could have the contents of my wallet.

After eating, Helmut led me on a hike. Very quickly, the trail got quite steep and narrow; however, it was well maintained. The area has some spectacular limestone peaks and is well known for climbing. I counted about 30 men and women either on ropes going up, or waiting to ascend the near vertical sides. Many of them were from the Czech Republic. I stopped regularly to put my heart back in my chest. At the top, we had a clear view over a large valley containing several villages and one large town with a big church. The trees were starting to bud and new leaves were only a few weeks away. We came to a mountain rescue center next door to which was a 2-story restaurant and hostel. The place was crowded with climbers and hikers filling all the outside tables and consuming vast quantities of pasta, meat, sauerkraut, and beer. From there on, the path was a wide and gentle way down to our village.

[Diary] (Back in Vienna) Just before noon, friend Peter arrived to be my tour guide for the afternoon. We started our cultural tour at Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the Habsburgs. We bought a ticket to tour 40 rooms, and I can say with great certainty that they were "over the top". I'm not a fan of gold and there was gilt everywhere. An audio guide was included, so we could hear all the details of daily life. Napoleon took over the place when he occupied the city, and I went into the room he had used as a bedroom. There are extensive gardens and some flowers were just starting to bloom. I was most impressed with the indoor gardens at the Palm House, a huge steel and glass structure filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Surprisingly, many of them were native to Australia.

Next up was the Naschmarkt, a longtime outdoor area with covered stalls selling all kinds of flowers, fruit, vegetables, meat, spices, and such with restaurants every 50 paces. We dropped in to Karlskirche as well as a Maltese Church, which appeared to be a result of the exploits of the Knights of Malta.

We finished up at the Hofburg Palace, a sprawling complex of buildings and grounds. The Vienna Boys Choir performs there, the Lipizzaner horses perform there, the President and Chancellor have their offices there, and there are numerous museums and the national library. The statues and carvings on the outside walls and gates surely are impressive.

[Diary] Peter and I headed out for another day of "playing tourist". It was very sunny and although a few raindrops fell later on, it was pleasant out. We started out at the Hundertwasserhaus, "a fairytale-like building with onion spires, green roof [as in trees and gardens growing on it], and a multicolored façade is one of the city's most frequently visited landmarks. It was designed by flamboyant Austrian artist Fruedensreich Hundertwasser as a playful take on usually dull council (social) housing. Today almost 200 people live in 50 apartments." Apparently, nothing is square and the floors undulate, and bright colors and patterns are used in paint and tile. A separate museum showcases samples of the main building as well as art and information about that place and others designed elsewhere by the same artist. I bought a large book of photos of the artist's work.

Next, we rode several trams to Belvedere. From the tourist brochure, "Prince Eugen of Savoy, the most celebrated of the Habsburg generals due to his defeat of the Turks in 1683, commissioned the two Belvedere Palaces (Upper and Lower) with the money he received as a reward for his victories during the Spanish Succession." They were built in Baroque style and have extensive gardens. We toured the upper palace, which has three floors of paintings with many works by Gustav Klimt including the famous "The Kiss". Among the notable painters, there was one van Gogh, one Munch, and several Monets and Manets. I liked one large painting that was huge and depicted a scene in the amusement park nearby, and two of trees and nature that looked remarkably like photographs. On May 15, 1955, Austria declared its neutrality at a meeting of the four powers that had occupied it after WWII. This ceremony took place in the Marble Hall and the balcony outside. Present and signing the documents were John Foster Dulles (US, for whom my home airport, Dulles, is named), Harold Macmillan (UK), Vyacheslav Molotov (USSR), and Antoine Pinay (France).

Our final activity was a visit to the world-famous Spanish Riding School. The horses were originally brought from Spain, hence the name. And then later, many came from a stud in Lipica (spelled "Lipizza" in Italian), in modern-day Slovenia, hence the name Lipizzaner. The guided tour took an hour and we started in the winter in-door arena. It can seat 1,000 with most standing, and the public can buy tickets to watch training each weekday. On weekends, the horses perform. The horses arrive at the age of four and are trained for eight years. They perform until age 25 or so, and go back to the stud to retire. There are 72 horses and 18 riders currently in residence. There are two chief riders, 10 riders, three assistant riders, and three novices. It's a tough job to get a spot. Applicants must have EU citizenship, be between 17 and 20 years old, and have a certain size and height. Since 2008, women can also apply. We looked over the outdoor arena, which is surrounded by a covered automatic horse-walking machine that can "push" horses around at various speeds. We went to the stables to see the horses and to learn how they are named. Only stallions are chosen. Those allergic to hay (surprise!) have wood shavings as bedding. Their feed is determined by their rider and vet and depends on their age and the type of training they are undergoing. Lastly, we visited the tack room. Black training saddles are used for everyday work and white ones are used for performances. They are custom-made for each horse and no saddle blankets are used. A rider has four reins, three in the left hand and one in the right, and they control the horse by finger movements rather than the whole hand.

From a trip to Salzburg and surrounds in 2014:

[Diary] I found the platform for my train from Prague to Salzburg. The good news was that the First-Class carriage was at the very end of the train, nearest to me. There were nine 6-person compartments, and even though it was a Saturday, I'd paid to reserve a seat. However, I'd forgotten to ask for a forward-looking seat, and got one looking backward, against the window. By the time we pulled out the station at 09:36, three whole minutes late, two other people had seen fit to sit in MY compartment.

We went due south through an industrial area and numerous high-rise apartment buildings. Then the countryside opened up and it was all rolling hills of green cereal crops, some bales of hay, and green fields topped with white flowers. In the distance, I saw a couple of yellow flowering fields of rapeseed. Mid-morning, I had an unnecessary snack, and as I was eating my Lay's potato chips (a very popular brand in the US) I started reading the back of the packet. The bag was packed in Poland, and the labeling on the back came in a multitude of languages: Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian, Polish, and English.

Jetlag was still with me after a whole week, but I managed to stay awake and read several newspapers and do some puzzles. However, around noon, I stretched out across three seats and put my head back on my pillow. I thought I didn't sleep much, as the PA system keep on making announcements in Czech, English, and German. However, when I finally decided to sit up, two hours had passed, and I'd crossed into Austria. At that point, the announcements came in English then German, as God intended! I had only 20 minutes to go to Linz.

We were several minutes late arriving and I had only eight minutes to change trains and platforms. My new platform was only two away, and as I topped the escalator to the platform, the end of the train, and my First-Class carriage, was right there, which saved me a walk down the long InterCity train that had started in Vienna and was going to Salzburg.

It was a sunny day out, much better than when I'd started. The ride to Salzburg took an hour and 20 minutes, and was uneventful. Once again, I sat backwards. I'd last passed through the Salzburg area 18 years ago. The train station looked quite new, and was very big and busy. I took a while to get my bearings, and finally found the tourist office where I got a city map and a 24-hour bus pass. Outside, I had only a 2-minute wait until the Number 6 bus arrived, and we headed south along the river, then over a bridge into the old town, then back again. I followed my progress on the map and my bus stop came just where it was supposed to be. I crossed the street to a block of apartments and pressed an intercom button, and the front door was unlocked. A 68-year man and his very friendly dog were there to meet me.

I'd known about the accommodation website www.airBnB.com for some years, but didn't use it until August 2013 when I stayed three nights in Amsterdam. That first experience was so good I thought I'd try it again. Anyone with a room to rent short-term, and who can comply with the rules, can join. I found this place on-line within minutes and paid about US$60/night. The resident was at a wedding reception, but had arranged for his father to meet me. He got me oriented and then we sat and talked for 30 minutes, which was just an excuse for me to pat his dog, which was so smart it understood German! The apartment was quite large, had large windows over a small park, and a fresh breeze wafted through. After I unpacked a few things, I set up my computer, was connected to the outside world, and started working on this diary.

I snacked on my emergency rations and then went online to see if there was a supermarket in the area. There was, and at 19:00, I went out to get some essentials at a Sparmarkt. I found some herb-flavored cream cheese, ham, slices of dark bread full of grains and nuts, some candy, two liters of whole milk, a liter of juice, and a ham and cheese croissant. The young woman cashier was pleasant and patient with my German. Back home, I checked the milk to make sure it wasn't bad. The testing took several glasses.

[Diary] Around 13:30, I ventured out to meet the day. It was quite warm with a gentle breeze. I walked to the bus stop and several minutes later a Number 6 arrived. I rode it three stops and then walked to the river to cross on a large pedestrian bridge. Both railings were chain-wire mesh and they were covered with padlocks with lovers' names attached, something I'd seen in a number of countries. On the other side of the river, there was a very long row of stalls along a river walk. They were selling all sorts of crafts, clothing, and food. I soon heard a distinctive noise, an Australian Aboriginal didgeridoo. A man was playing it along with a percussion instrument. Further down, there was a booth selling jewelry made from Australian opals.

From there I wandered the back streets and alleys of the Old Town, sticking my head in churches, courtyards, and shops as the mood took me. In an attempt to improve my Kulcha-quotient, I paid €7 to go into the Salzburg Museum. It contained a mixture of art, ceramics, photos, and film, and covered history, architecture, and World War I when this area was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I stopped to take the occasional photo and to people-watch. It was a gorgeous day to be out, and every hundred meters there was another outdoor eating-place. I went back across the river and headed home through a park containing some abstract sculptures. I'd only been out three hours, but that was enough. Besides, I had to leave something for the next visit!

At 18:00, I headed out to a restaurant across the street whose menu I'd perused the night before. A pleasant young waitress seated me in the sunshine in the Biergarten, and after my attempts at German, she asked if I'd like an English menu. I took both, and switched to the English one whenever I needed something translated. I ordered the chicken cordon blue, which came with parsley-covered boiled potatoes and some berry sauce along with a mixed salad. I washed that down with a glass of apricot juice. It was a lot of food, so I took my time. A big-screen TV was showing a World Cup soccer game. Once again, I had no room for apple strudel; bugger! I read some chapters of my novel and worked on this diary. Diners came and went, and a small boy at the next table worked on filling his pockets with gravel.

[Diary] After five hours of solid sleep, I was wide-awake. Unfortunately, I started thinking about a number of things, including some new topics for essays on my monthly blog. I got so much good information in my head that I got up and started typing on my laptop. I went back to bed at 06:30. The good news was that I slept soundly until 12:15. After a small breakfast complete with a custom mug of Milch-café, I headed out to play tourist. It was quite hot out, so I kept in the shade as much as possible, which included a walk through a nice park. In 15 minutes, I was across the river in the old town and winding my way through back alleys in search of the funicular railway that went up to the famous castle of the Salzburg Prince-Bishops.

I paid €11:50 for a return ticket, admission to the castle, an audio tour, and several museum admissions. Although I saved some energy and perspiration by riding the tram up, once inside the castle and its grounds, I still had many stairs some of which were quite steep for an old man. I—and most tourists with whom I spoke—gave the organizers a failing grade for the lack of signs, especially for the tours included in our ticket. The view from the top was very nice. You could see so far, it took two people to look! Two hours there was more than enough, and as I rode the tram back down, I chatted with a Canadian couple. They were travelling with a group on a boat down the river. More than 100 Aussies were on their boat, and as I walked around the castle and town, I heard their accents.

I walked along the river a good ways in the shade before crossing over and entering the grounds of the summer castle and its Mirabell Gardens. Flowers of all shapes and sizes abounded along with manicured lawns and large fountains with statutes. From there it was quite a hike back home. Once I got my shoes off and splashed some cold water on my face, I was ready for a large glass of ice-cold milk. It sure tasted good and represented one of life's simple pleasures.

Around 19:00, I went out to eat, although I didn't feel too hungry. The outdoor beer garden was closed for some unknown reason, so I sat indoors on a very hard seat worthy of being a church pew! I ordered the veal schnitzel and declined the accompanying salad. When the meal came, it was enormous; certainly, enough for two, and, unfortunately, a salad came too. It sure is hard to get good help these days! I ate half and packed the rest for 'Ron ( 'later on'; that is). I read a few chapters of my novel, but so many diners arrived with some smoking that they drove me out.

[Diary] It was Travel Day, although I didn't have far to go. I'd set my alarm for 09:30 and after a night of broken sleep, I was none too eager to get up. However, after a hot bath, things improved, and after my breakfast, it was even better. I packed my gear and got my final email fix just as my host got back from grocery shopping. We chatted a while and then I departed soon after 11:30. It had rained heavily that morning, but was clearing up as I walked to the bus stop. After only a few minutes, my bus arrived and I managed to convince the driver to sell me a ticket to the main train station. All of the city buses ran on electricity, so there were many overhead wires. It took 20 minutes to get to the station, and then I had to find out where the 120 bus to Mattsee departed from. I finally asked a bus-company employee who pointed me in the right direction. However, my bus had just left, and I had a 30-minute wait for the next one.

The bus trip was comfortable and pleasant with quite a few passengers. We had many stops and passed through a number of large towns and small villages on the 25-km drive. The end of the line was near my destination, Mattsee, the town in which my friend, Renate, lived. She had given me directions to her house, and as I got off at the town shop, I asked another passenger to confirm, and she sent me in the wrong direction. However, a young woman at a restaurant came to my rescue and gave me a map of the town. Soon after, I was knocking on Renate's front door.

We had met in the summer of 1989 when she was our second guest through the American Host Program. European teachers and librarians who were fluent in English came to the US for 30 days where they stayed with each host family for 10 or 15 days to experience American culture first-hand. My family and I visited her and her mother in Mattsee in 1992, and my brother-in-law, Colin, and I visited again in 1996. However, although we'd kept in phone and email contact over the years, we hadn't seen each other in 18 years. When I saw her, she looked the same to me, and she was enjoying her retirement from teaching.

The weather improved as the day wore on, and she proposed we head up into the surrounding mountains for a nice walk through the fields and forests. It certainly was a little piece of Paradise. At the top, we climbed a wooden tower and looked out over the valley. We came home by a different path that brought us along the lake and yacht club where Renate keeps her boat and teaches children how to sail. We caught up with a lot of each other's news along the way, and so we didn't notice we were exercising. We walked at least six kilometers.

We had some pastries and drinks for a late afternoon tea after which Renate had an engagement for 90 minutes. I pulled up a chair in the sun in the garden, and finished my novel. Having less than my sleep quota the night before, that caught up with me and I fell asleep sitting up in the chair. We sat down to a late supper around 20:15 when we had hausgemacht (homemade) soup with semolina dumpling-like thingies. By then it was 22:00 and I was thinking about sleep. Lights out soon after.

[Diary] I woke once during the night, but got back to sleep soon after. However, when I woke at 08:00, I didn't feel much rested. A bath got my circulation going and at 09:00, we sat down to breakfast outdoors. The sun was streaming down and all was right in this little corner of the world. I savored fresh bread rolls with ham and hausgemacht orange marmalade.

By 10:00, we were packed and on the road to our next adventure, hiking at the top of a mountain. After a short drive, we reached the parking lot of the cable car that would take us to the top of Der Untersberg. We had 30 minutes to wait for the next car, so we sat outdoors in the sunshine drinking milk coffee, which was served with a piece of chocolate; very civilized! As the car ascended the steep slope, the clouds came in and visibility was quite limited when we got off. We walked over the rocks and some loose gravel, and the wind came up a bit. Occasionally, the clouds cleared and we could see way down to the valley below. We went all the way to the top of the mountain, but couldn't see through the fog. On the walk back at the cable car station, it rained lightly, but got heavier as we went inside. We looked at the restaurant menu to see if they had any hausgemacht soup, which they did. Renate had the Goulashsuppe and I had the Würstsuppe with noodles. Mine was "just like Grandma used to make", and, with some bread, it was just the right amount of food. By the time we got back to our car, the sun was out; however, light rain continued to fall. The locals call this "liquid sun".

By the time we got back home it was 16:30, time for afternoon tea. We consumed some pastries whose used-by date was 15 minutes later, and Renate made me her style of Milch-café. Afterwards, we walked a short way to a new car museum created by the grandson of the creator of the Porsche car brand. All the old cars are registered and are driven on a regular basis. Some are available to rent. Back home, I set up my laptop in Renate's office and started working on this diary while listening to an album by Andrea Bocelli.

We had a late supper of Wurst with salad and talked until late. Lights out by 22:30.

[Diary] By 09:00, we were heading out of town for a 75-minute drive to the south. We spent a long day in the National Park along the Groβglockner Hochalpenstrasse some 7,000 feet up. We drove the 45 kms of the winding mountain road. There was quite a bit of traffic especially motorcycles. Entrance to the park for the day cost €43! The views were spectacular. The deep glacial valleys were braced on each side by green pastures and mountainsides right up to the snow line. There was quite a bit of snow left from the winter, and it's possible to have snowfall in the summer as well. We parked at the end of the road where we met Renate's friend, Johanna. The remnants of a glacier were below us. We visited some exhibitions and then had a nice lunch. We'd planned a hike there, but that route would not open until July 1, so we drove a short way back to a small restaurant set down a steep slope from a parking area. We hiked a kilometer or so down and across a lush, green field among some grazing cows, where we jumped across a raging stream that came down from a waterfall further up the mountain. A marmot (US: groundhog) was guarding his burrow nearby and watched as we passed. Back at the restaurant, I had a bowl of soup while the ladies had apple strudel and coffee. It was all very civilized.

[Diary] It was another glorious day outside, so we put on our walking shoes and headed out through the neighborhood and to the lake where we toured the very nice swimming club and playground. (Rumor has it that Big Kid Rex was seen riding one of the kiddie rocking horses.) From there, we dropped by the boat-rental place, and then on to the sailing club, of which Renate is a member. It's a very nice facility, and Renate proudly showed off her refurbished sailboat, which is made of brightly varnished mahogany. We walked into town and sat in the sun while sipping coffee and chatting. It was all hard work, but someone has to do it, right?

At noon, after we took photos of each other in the garden by Renate's house, we said our "Goodbyes". Now friends help you move, good friends help you move bodies, and great friends pick up with you where they left off, even if that was 18 years ago. Renate is a great friend!

It was another Travel Day; another city in another country. I walked the few hundred yards to the bus stop. Three young women were already waiting. Compared to them, I looked boringly normal. The first was dressed as a Goth and was busy with her music player. The second was wearing a top that she had thrown on as she left the house, and she nearly missed! Inside one upper arm, she had a large amount of tattooed text. The third was also dressed completely in black, and she had a large tattoo on her shoulder. Half her head was shaved, and the other half had long hair that was dyed bright red. She had a small ring through her bottom lip. I couldn't decide which of the three I should take home to meet Mother!

The bus arrived at least 10 minutes late, and quite a few students boarded, and by the time I got on, it was quite full. I sat down next to a girl, who immediately decided I fit the profile of suspicious-old-men-her-mother-had-warned-her-about, and she escaped to safety on the other side of the aisle. Several stops later, a large group of students boarded with lots of luggage; apparently, they were headed out on a trip.

When I walked into the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, the train to München was just leaving. Don't you just hate that when that happens? I went to buy a ticket, but found it a bit confusing. There was a long line at the ticket for the Austrian train company and a very short one for Germany's Deutsche Bahn. After I asked for help, I was directed to the DB line where I chatted with two American women. I bought a First-Class ticket with a reserved seat, and was directed to the First-Class Lounge next door. There I had a drink and some nuts, and chatted with a family from Oregon.

At 12:50, I headed for Gleis (Track) 1 where my train awaited, and a conductor pointed me towards Wagen 262, Sitzplatz 76. Well don't you know there was a couple in MY compartment and the man was sitting in MY seat! We greeted each other in German and after a few sentences, I knew they weren't native speakers, so I asked where they were from. Melbourne, bloody Australia. Fair suck of the sauce bottle, Cyril! Which, roughly translated from Orstralyan means, Strewth! or Stone the Flamin' Crows, Bruce! (Is that clear? Probably not. Okay, in plain English, Unbelievable!)

As we bounced along in the glorious sunshine through lush, green pastures, it was boringly beautiful. I cleaned out my collection of papers, used tickets, and the other flotsam and jetsam of travel, and worked on my diary while eating delicious, fresh cherries from Renate's neighbor's garden. I chatted with the Aussies off and on. They were on their annual 6-week tour of Europe, and he was a professional musician who was performing along the way.


Bucket List: Although I don't have any "must see" places, I'd be happy to be back in Vienna, or to visit my friend Renate anytime.

Signs of Life: Part 1

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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


A restaurant.

According to its website, "The restaurant features many quirks – eagles, clocks all set to 8 o'clock and film sets in the toilets – don't be afraid to ask!"


A sandwich shop.

According to Wikipedia, the upper crust is, "The upper class in modern societies; the social class composed of the wealthiest members of society, who also wield the greatest political power. Apparently, it's also "the name of a pizza chain in Boston, and a chain of European baguette (sandwich) restaurants".


This was in the window of a fish and chip shop.

I thought it odd to use the word species when taking about the available choices of cooked fish. Ordinarily, this term is used in the context of biological classification.

And just in case you were wondering what panga is, click here.


Now which couples do you know fit this description?


Presumably, the use of suck in this advertisement for a breakfast drink on the side of a public bus is not only about sucking through a straw, but also the slang term that Wiktionary describes as, "To be inferior or objectionable: a general term of disparagement, sometimes used with at to indicate a particular area of deficiency."

From my own experience living Down Under, until the great social awakening there in the 70's, I think it is fair to say that Aussies did think of themselves as being second-class. However, nowadays, they are far superior to the Poms at cricket!


One of many like signs I saw painted on the sidewalk (or should I say, footpath).

BTW, bin is short for dustbin, the British equivalent of an American garbage can or trash can.


A pizza place. A clever take-off of bits and pieces.


From a pub.

According to Wikipedia, "John Metcalf (1717–1810), also known as Blind Jack of Knaresborough or Blind Jack Metcalf, was the first professional road builder to emerge during the Industrial Revolution. And he was indeed blind.


A clever name for a real estate and property management company.


A restaurant.

The term Cosa Nostra generally refers to the Sicilian Mafia. As such, I couldn't help but think that, here, one could eat the fishes before sleeping with the fishes!


But who's counting?


A restaurant.

According to their website, "Our main offering is [sic] small homemade grazing dishes which are ideal for sharing or for having alone if you don't do sharing. The main thing that people enjoy is sampling lots of different dishes in one sitting. We often find that people will order something they wouldn't normally because it is served in our unique grazing style.


An antiques shop.

I've heard of a den of iniquity, but apparently, this is something else. Or perhaps the antiques are stolen!


Sign at a street market stall.

It seems like a fair request, although it doesn't say anything about the dog's owner taking a whizz.


A lingerie shop.

I immediately thought of the old song from the musical Carousel, "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", although I believe that in that context June was the name of a month rather than somebody's girl!


Magic carpet ride, anyone?



Confessions of a Canine Companion

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Okay, let's get it out there right up front; I'm a dog lover! However, there definitely are some breeds I avoid. Some years ago, I read an interesting article that claimed, "Children are for people who can't have dogs!" Now I've cited that quote many times, but when most people hear it they actually think the direct opposite; that is, having a pet is a consolation prize for not having a child. So when I meet someone walking a well-behaved and friendly dog, I share that quote. One woman replied, "I have some of each." And when I asked, "Which do you prefer?", she replied, "Some days the dogs, others the kids." C'est la vie!

Friends of mine bought a house from a family that had two cats: IC (Inside Cat) and OC (Outside Cat). Now IC was used to the family, so it moved out with them, whereas OC was used to the house and surrounds, and he stayed with the new owners. OC and I became friends, so much so that I made him an Honorary Dog, so we could hang out together.

While I do discuss my time as a canine companion, for the most part, this essay is about my experiences with various kinds of animals, both friendly and wild. Note that for my formative years, I lived in a rural part of South Australia. For the past 35 years, I've lived in Northern Virginia, USA.

Farm and Working Animals

My earliest memories of being around animals was at age 4. We had milk cows, pigs, and a henhouse. Nearby was a patch of lucerne (US: alfalfa) that was grown to feed these animals. A tall building housed a pigeon loft, and I remember someone opening the door high up to let the birds out to feed. That door was closed again at night. I'm pretty sure that we kept them for food, as I recall eating pigeon meat in soup.

At age 7, we moved to a 4,000-acre farm. At any time, we probably had 500–1,500 sheep, and these needed regular attention, especially in summer when blowflies would strike them by laying eggs in wet and manure-stained skin around their rear end. For this reason, lambs had their tails cut off quite short within days of birth. And apart from annual shearing for the wool, sheep were crutched, which involved clipping the wool from around their hindquarters. I remember helping with the shearing, sweeping up the fleeces from the floor, packing them into large bales, and filling and emptying yards of sheep using our sheep dog Ringa, a male Border Collie. The shearing stand was an engine driven by petrol (US: gasoline) that powered two stations, one per shearer. Mom delivered morning and afternoon tea to the shed, and everyone drank hot tea even in the hot weather! It was backbreaking work with a good shearer shearing 200 sheep per day at a rate of £10 ($20) per 100 sheep, which was good money in the '60s. The wool was sorted on a large table and then pressed in a bale using a mechanical ratchet with long metal handles.

Another sheep-related activity was treatment with chemicals to get rid of critters on their skin. Traditionally, this was done by running them through and down into a sheep dip, a deep channel filled with chemical-laced water through which they had to swim. This was known as dipping, and the sheep dogs were usually thrown in as well. Later, the same affect was achieved using spray guns mounted over, under, and around a pen of sheep.

At times, we had 4–8 cows that we milked by hand each morning and night. I only milked in the afternoons and, as my cow, Peggy, stood still pretty much anywhere without having to be tethered, I milked her out in the yard. I recall our having an engine-powered milking machine at some stage. Now after the morning milking, the cows were let out to graze all day in pasture, so each afternoon I had to fetch them with the dog. That often involved walking a couple of miles. Once the cows were milked, the cream had to be removed by a separator, a hand-turned machine made by Alfa-Laval that was very intricate. After each use it had to be completely broken down and sterilized, and that task took as least as long as the separating itself. We used the milk in the house and any excess was fed to the pigs.

Another chore I recall having was feeding the chooks (Aussie slang for hens) and collecting their eggs. From time to time, we raised new broods of chickens—that arrived on the train as day-olds in a cardboard box with air holes— under a heated device called a brooder. Hens that got behind in their laying duties finished up in the cooking pot.

Near the henhouse, there was a pen with a small cement-lined pond in which we sometimes kept ducks.

At various times, we had one or more farm cats, which lived in the outbuildings where they had to fend for themselves. Occasionally, we fed them a saucer of milk.

Each time I've seen an episode of the popular TV series All Creatures Great and Small, I've been amused at how the farmers call in a vet for all kinds of domestic-animal situations. As best as I can recall, in all the years we had animals and birds, not once was calling in a vet or taking an animal to a vet ever considered an option. Farmers simply expected to care for their livestock themselves.

At age 12, we moved again, to a place where we had more than 200 pigs at any time, many of which we bred. My job after school each weekday was to feed them buckets of crushed grain. I also had to clean the cement water troughs. All the sties had straw roofs and dirt floors, and in the summer, it got quite hot. At the hottest, we had sprinklers in some of the pens to help the pigs cool down. I found pigs to be very intelligent and I liked working with them. [To this day, when I'm at a farm or livestock show, I always reach into the pigpen and give one a scratch on the ears, head, and back, just to hear that contented grunt.]

Wildlife, Game, and Hunting

A huge property neighboring our farm provided a great habitat for wildlife, and whenever these animals could get through or over the fence separating that property from ours, they did. After all, we had juicy cereal crops to eat! The two large kinds of animals that did this were kangaroos and emus.

As emus are diurnal, they are rarely seen out at night. Often, they moved in large groups and with their large size and very strong legs, they could knock down a large swath of cereal crop as they waded through a paddock. Of course, chasing them through a crop made the damage even worse. When we could get up close to them by chasing them in an open paddock in a ute, short for utility vehicle (US: coupe utility, such as the Chevrolet El Camino), we killed them with a 12-guage shotgun. Back home, we fed them raw to the pigs, which loved them. However, due to the presence of parasites in and on the meat, we had to remove the bones and feathers from the pigsties within a few days.

While kangaroos were sometimes seen during the day, they seemed to be more common at night. Most years, rabbits were also plentiful, and I earned non-trivial pocket money by trapping them. Occasionally, we saw a hare or a fox.

Hunting was done at night, from the back of a ute, with a spotlight powered from the ute's 12-volt battery. This was known as spotlighting. It was best done on nights without a moon. The idea was to drive around looking for kangaroos, rabbits, hares, or foxes. If a kangaroo was spotted and it sat still and it was no more than a hundred yards or so away, the ute was stopped and the shooter used a high-powered rifle. Oftentimes it was a .303 army-surplus gun that could be bought quite cheaply (for less cost than a box of bullets, actually). [In previous times, people used to have one of a number of breeds of hunting dogs, which chased down kangaroos.] Foxes were chased and shot with a shotgun, which required us to get quite close; likewise for hares. In the case of rabbits, when they stopped, a shooter used a .22 rifle and shot into the ground very near the rabbit's head. This would temporarily deafen the rabbit so that a runner in the dark could come in from the side to grab the rabbit and wring its neck. By not shooting the rabbit directly, there was no damage to the carcass, which was essential if it was to be eaten or sold. The rule was that once a shooter had shot, they never shot again unless the runner called them to do so. That way, the runner was not in danger of being shot (which could easily happen when a trigger-happy guest was invited to join the hunting party). I very much appreciated this rule, as I was most often the runner.

Chasing a fox or hare involved very quick changes of direction, and driving fast in loops and circles. My Dad, who drove the ute, had the uncanny ability to know where he was in the paddock even on the darkest night, as it was important to know where the fast-moving ute was in relation to fences and rabbit burrows.

When we killed kangaroos, we took them home where we cooked them in one or more oil drums around which was burned a fire of mallee-tree stumps. The pigs loved the resulting kangaroo soup/stew. Occasionally, we ate a kangaroo steak, which was fried in a pan along with bay leaves. [At that time, kangaroo meat was declared unfit for human consumption, and when hunted for sale, was used in pet food. Many years later, it was offered for sale to humans in butcher shops.]

Occasionally, we'd see a wedge-tail eagle, and even one of their nests. They had a huge wingspan and were capable of carrying off a newborn lamb, as were foxes.

There was no shortage of birds, the most common being crows, magpies, and galahs, the latter being a large pink and grey parrot. [Apparently, at one time, someone considered them rather stupid, and the term galah entered the vernacular in that context, as in, "He's a bloody galah!"] Because they could be taught to talk, it was not uncommon to find galahs as pets. Another, but more beautiful, cockatoo was the Major Mitchell. Except in certain years (possibly wet ones), these were far less common.

I remember one year that we had a budgie [short for budgerigar (US: parakeet)] plague. And although budgies sold in pet shops came in a variety of colors, these wild ones were always green and yellow.

Birds in the area nested in open or closed nests made in trees, or in the hollows of tree brunches and trunks. The Murray Magpie made an open mud nest on a tree branch, and it was not unusual to see emu feathers embedded in the mud. Birds from the kingfisher family lived in burrows, usually near bodies of water. One particular member of that family is the kookaburra, also known as the laughing jackass. [If you watch old movies set in the jungle, you will often hear kookaburra calls despite the fact that those birds don't live in such places. It just makes for an impressive noise.]

A rare bird was the Mallee fowl, which made a nest on the ground and buried its eggs. I don't believe I ever saw such a bird in the wild, but I did see several nests, which had grown very large over many years of use.


Although we had a dog and some cats when I was a farm boy, they were working animals who liked some occasional personal attention on the side. At that time, many people kept caged birds and Mom had a budgie, which we taught to say a few words.

It wasn't until I lived in the US and my son, Scott, was about four that we talked about getting a pet. Neighbors had recently gotten a corn snake, and Scott liked holding that, but when he proposed getting one himself, his mother stated something like, "Over my dead body!" As a result, he was heard complaining to our next-door neighbor, Joe, "The problem with Mothers is they won't let you have a snake!"

Eventually, when we went to the pet shop to look at birds, this particular green and yellow budgie escaped and flew around the shop. My son thought the bird had spirit, so decided to buy that one and to call him Frisky. Once Frisky got used to us handling him, we let him fly around the house, and only caged him at nights. One day, we stood his cage outdoors—with him in it—to take in some sunshine and fresh air. Unfortunately, a cat took interest in him and knocked over the cage, causing one of the wire doors to slide open. Just after I heard the crash, I looked up to see Frisky perched on the edge of the door ready to fly out. We left the open cage outside should he find his way home, but even though we saw him flying around outside later that day, he never did return.

After a break from pets, once again I took my son to the pet store telling him that he could have any sort of animal that would fit in the birdcage we currently had. We came home with two mice, which he called Alice and Jasmine. The idea was that with two females, they could groom and amuse each other, and there wouldn't be any babies. Using wood, I build some stairs and several levels in the cage, and all was well, but only for a short while, when babies appeared. Apparently, one of the females was pregnant when we bought her. Fortunately, the pet shop agreed to take the babies, so we were back to our original plan. Every now and then, we'd take them out of the cage and let them run around, mostly inside mazes we built with blocks on a table. However, as they got older, they slowed way down and could no longer get up the stairs in their cage. Eventually, they developed growths and died, but not before my son had asked my wife to check with the veterinary clinic to see if anything could be done. "Yes", the exotic animal specialist told her, "We could perform surgery at a cost of $125, but their normal lifespan was short anyway." They both died soon after.

Some years later, we got a blue and white budgie, but as it liked to bite people, we gave it away, along with the cage.

My Dog-Walking Experience

Several years ago, I moved out to the countryside to a house less than a mile from the county animal shelter. As I was thinking about some volunteer possibilities, I visited the shelter. I was very impressed, and during my extensive travels abroad, have stayed in a number of accommodations that were nowhere near as nice as those animals had, I kid you not! So I submitted an application and signed up for an orientation session. That included an overview of the animal control process, the goals of the shelter, and a discussion of animals having to be destroyed under certain circumstances.

Being a long-time dog lover, I signed up to become a canine companion, and after a short time with a supervisor, I was on my own. I agreed to spend at least two hours per week walking and socializing with dogs. One goal was to get some regular exercise, but I also had a romantic idea of spending time with interesting dogs, which, unfortunately, turned out to not often be the case. The (fairly obvious) reason most dogs are in a shelter is that they are unwanted, and very often undisciplined and unloved as a result. As such, most dogs I walked had no attractive personality, the thing I most wanted. Occasionally, I'd walk one that showed some promise.

Once, a dog so wonderful arrived that I loved spending time with it, so much so that the staff suggested I adopt it. I proposed that I do that but keep it at the shelter, so when I was traveling, there would be someone to feed and walk it. Apparently, that wasn't an option, although I was all for it! Soon after, that dog was adopted, but after a few weeks, it was back again. When I inquired as to why, I was told, "The family had two cats, and they didn't get along with the dog." To me, the solution was obvious, keep the dog and get rid of the cats!

I dutifully walked dogs for two hours each week I was in town, and did extra to make up for those weeks I was away. I have to say that walking in the cold, rain, ice and snow, especially up steep and slippery paths, didn't help my enthusiasm, and after six months, I stopped.

Book, Cartoon, and Comic Strip Animals

My first recollection of storybook animals was in a large book containing many stories about Yogi Bear and his pal Boo Boo. [Fifty-five years later, I still have that book.] I also had a steady supply of Disney comics starring Donald Duck and his many friends and relatives. However, I must say that there were a lot of nieces and nephews, and uncles and aunts, but no actual parents!

When it came to reading to my son, my favorite characters were the Berenstain Bears. However, I often quizzed him as to why Mother Bear always seemed to wear the same old dress. And where did the bears get money?

We were also great fans of Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear. In the latter case, many years ago, I took the family to London, England, where we went to Paddington Station. There was a very large Paddington bear in a glass case, along with his suitcase that had a label saying "From Darkest Peru" with a note from Aunt Lucy. [Since that station's renovation, there is no longer a permanent Paddington Bear exhibit, but traces of him can still be found.]

Now another very popular character—but my least favorite—is Curious George. In almost every story, this monkey made a mess, broke something, or otherwise got into more than a little bit of trouble, yet every time the Man in the Yellow Hat forgave him without there being any consequences to bad behavior.

Through a kids' book club, we bought a series of Bugg Books, about many different insects that lived in the land of Morethansmall. The stories told and lessons learned were very well done, but the thing I found most interesting was that each book contained two stories. One story went up to the middle of the book. Then you simply went to the back of the book, turned it upside down, and started reading the second story to the middle. There were two front covers and no back ones!

When it comes to animals in print cartoons, Fred Bassett was probably the first I came across. Later, Footrot Flats entertained me, as did Garfield and Odie when I came to the US.

And when it comes to animated animals, Wiley Coyote and Foghorn Leghorn have gotten my attention, as did Tom and Jerry.

By far the most intelligent cartoon animal I can recall is the dog Gromit from Wallace and Gromit. Creator Nick Park also did a great job with the full-length movie Chicken Run.

TV and Screen Animals

Some of the first animals I saw on black and white TV included Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. (Did I mention that I was a dog lover?) I also enjoyed Mr. Ed the talking horse and Francis the Talking Mule. Later came Australia's own Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, followed by Flipper the dolphin and Fred the cockatoo from the TV series Baretta.


Having been raised in rural Australia, where kangaroos and emus were commonplace and not so interesting, once I moved to the US, I became fascinated with deer and squirrels, as they seemed rather exotic. It all depends on one's idea of normal.

Although I was a canine companion at the county animal shelter, my secret desire was to become a critter cuddler; that is, to take care of small animals like gerbils, rats, snakes, and such.

Over time, I've completely lost interest in seeing caged animals or birds, especially in commercial chicken and pig farms. And I'm even unhappy when I see pet birds or zoo animals in small cages, especially those pacing up and back all day. It seems to me that such critters really must suffer from mental health problems.

Travel: Memories of Mexico and Central America

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

The countries are listed in the order in which I first visited them.


Official Name: United Mexican States; Capital: Mexico City; Language: Spanish; Country Code: MX; Currency: peso (MXP)

My first foray into Mexico was a day trip to Tijuana from San Diego, California. I parked my rental car at the border and walked across into a town full of shops and restaurants. I made the obligatory visit to a liquor store to see the dead worms in the bottles of tequila. I spent an interesting evening watching jai alai, an indoor game played by two or four players.

From a trip to the capital and to the Caribbean-coast state of Vera Cruz in 1994:

My first impression of Mexico City was its pollution. As my plane descended, we flew through thick, brown/yellow clouds. At the airport, I phoned a young woman who was a member of a hosting organization to which I belonged. She was most generous and told me to "stay right there" while she drove across the city to pick me up, to find me a hotel, and to take me there. The next day, she and a friend picked me up and took me on a city tour.

After a few days in the capital, I headed southeast to the state of Puebla to see some of its earthen step pyramids. From there, it was on to the Caribbean coast and the state of Vera Cruz. Six weeks earlier, I'd written letters in English and Spanish to six different hosts in Mexico. I got no replies and those I contacted once in-country said they hadn't received them. Of all of them, there was one family with which I really wanted to stay, and that actually happened. They were a young couple with two kids, who ran the family dairy farm. When I phoned from their local village, they said they would be delighted to have me stay, and if I could wait a couple of hours, they'd come to get me. I stayed with them for three days. There was one situation, however, that made me feel quite uncomfortable. As I was a visitor from the US, the husband seemed to hold me personally responsible for political actions being taken by the California state government with respect to refusing to provide education to the children of illegal immigrants.

Throughout my travels, I'd heard about a quirky place to visit in the jungle to the north and west, so I decided to take a look. I took a bus to the town of Xilitla (where the letter x is pronounced as an h). If one was very wealthy, fed up with English society, heard voices in one's head telling one to get away from it all, one could do like Edward James, and go to a remote jungle in Mexico and build huge, surreal sculptures and a gothic-style mansion. A young American couple has recently taken over his house, and were in the process of renovating it as a hotel. Although they were not yet open for business, some rooms were ready and they were happy to rent me one for a couple of nights

From a trip to the Yucatan in 2007:

[Diary] At 6 pm, my bus pulled into the bus station at Tulum. I chatted with a young couple from Berlin, and we agreed to share a taxi to the hotel area on the beach some distance from downtown. The driver was very friendly and spoke basic English, which he had learned in Texas. The place where the Germans were staying had no single rooms available, so I had the driver take me to some other places nearby. I soon found a room and checked-in for two nights. Check-in consisted of my writing my name and nationality in a ruled schoolbook, and paying cash for my stay. Then I got a tour of the share toilets and shower rooms out under the trees. I was also given a strong padlock and key to lock-up my room.

On seeing my room, my first reaction was that it was the house of sticks, straight from "The Three Little Pigs". The walls of the room were literally large round sticks, going from floor to ceiling. The breeze came right on between them, as did the humidity. (Hopefully, the Big Bad Wolf wouldn't come huffing and puffing!) A double bed was fixed to one wall and was suspended from the roof on new strong ropes. It had a big mosquito net, a pillow, and a bottom sheet only. Also provided was an electric fan on a stand. The room cost 300 pesos ($30) per night. Not cheap considering what I got, but it wasn't very far from the ruins I'd come to see and it was right on the beach. It was also really quite quaint. The waves crashed all day and night outside my window and off the small restaurant patio.

[Diary] I woke feeling refreshed. It was then I discovered that the electricity was off. On inquiry, I was told it was on from 6 pm to 6 am only. I also found that the hot water came from solar panels, so the shower might be lukewarm at best. But that's okay as I'm on vacation and it's warm out.

Mid-morning, I packed my daypack with the essentials: water, leftover breakfast, first-aid kit, toilet paper, novel, and Spanish vocabulary book, among other things. Then I applied a liberal dose of suntan cream, and put on a light long-sleeved shirt and floppy hat. Then I headed out to walk to the main attraction.

The Tulum ruin comprises a wall on the north, west, and south sides, with the sea being the natural barrier to the east. The interior part was at least twice as long as it was wide, and was very nicely preserved with lots of cordoned-off areas to protect the ruins themselves. In fact, tourists can't walk on or in any ruins. There were quite a few iguanas sunning themselves on rocks, in the grass, and on the ruins. Some were quite large. The coastline there is very rugged with well-worn cliffs. There was one small horseshoe-shaped beach, although that was closed. A steep set of wooden stairs allowed visitors to get down to another small strip of beach, so I went down to have a look. Well what can I say; there were all shapes and sizes of human-like creatures sunbathing and swimming, quite a few of whom should never have been allowed out in public dressed as they were. There was plenty of shade and seats or rocks on which to sit, so after I walked all around, I sat and people-watched for quite some time. Since I had nowhere to go, I went nowhere. Mission Accomplished!

[Diary] At the bus station, I negotiated the purchase of a round-trip ticket to Coba. Although the walk to the ruin site was 2 kms in and 2 more back, it was all in the shade. However, I perspired a lot. The Mayan city held 50,000 people at its peak, and was spread out around several lakes. There were quite a few near-complete buildings and then there was the main pyramid. Its steps went all the way to the temple on top at an angle of 45 degrees. I climbed it in three stages with breaks along the way … during which I put my heart back in my chest. At the top, there was a small room, which was very cool and dark. The view went for miles with only the top of a much smaller temple to be seen in the vicinity.

I spent 2½ hours seeing the site, and then happily slumped in the shade with a tall bottle of cold grapefruit soda. I looked over the touristy trash in the souvenir stalls, and left with nothing but a postcard.

[Diary] We pulled into the new bus station in the middle of Valladolid, and I struck up a conversation with a woman from Quebec City, Canada. She recommended the hotel El Mason del Marques, which was only a few blocks away facing the large park in the center of town. It had a very nice looking restaurant and swimming pool, air-conditioned rooms, and even TV. A bank and post office were nearby. Oh, did I mention the book exchange? I asked if I could see a room, and a bellman took me on a tour. Bellman, you say, what kind of budget hotel has a bellman? While it was much more upscale from my previous very humble abode, it cost only 550 pesos ($55) per night, and I didn't have to haul my valuables with me when I went to the toilet or shower as the rooms have en-suites.

Here's what my guidebook had to say about the town. "Valladolid combines distinguished colonial architecture with the easygoing atmosphere of a Yucatan market town. Whitewashed arcades and 17th-century houses surround the main plaza, and among the town's many fine churches is a fine Franciscan monastery. Right in the middle of the town is a huge cenote (sink hole), which once provided all Valladolid's water, and nearby at Dzitnip are some of the Yucatan's most spectacular cenotes for swimming." While the essence of this likely is true, it conjured up a far more romantic picture than what I'd seen so far.

[Diary] The hotel restaurant was under a verandah, in a square wrapped around an open courtyard garden. A large cascading fountain splashed in the center, and some flowering plants, trees, and vines added contrasting colors to the cream and white plastered walls that lined the courtyard. The walls were lined with large paintings, large ornately carved furniture, clay pots, big brass light fixtures, including a big chandelier. From my table, I could see out the huge wooden double front doors to the plaza across the street. There, the craft markets had been in full swing for several hours. And if all that wasn't enough, the sound of Spanish guitars was piped in to soothe me as I ate my toast and honey. All this and more for a $5 breakfast! I could get used to this.

[Diary] Chichen Itza is by far the best known of the Mayan cities, and its main pyramid is recognized around the world. I started with some of the lesser buildings and temples. The observatory was impressive, and the Maya had an excellent understanding of the seasons. Their calendar was very accurate. They studied Venus and the sun, and like numerous other peoples around the world, constructed buildings aligned with the sun on equinoxes.

The main pyramid has been closed to tourists for some years, since one fell from the top. It was in a very good state of repair, and some people were working on it during my visit. There were several cenotes, the main one of which was open to the sky. The Maya played a ball game, and here was the largest arena in the Americas. On occasion, the losing team, or at least its captain, was executed. There was a large temple with two long sets of columns going off in different directions. Many of the columns were covered in elaborate carvings. A prominent figure carved all over the site was a serpent's head. At 6:30 pm, I returned to the ruins to see the light show.

[Diary] I rode a bus back to Cancun where I boarded the high-speed catamaran to la Isla Mujeres, "The Women's Island", a couple of miles off the coast. I soon found a hotel.

[Diary] Late morning, I ventured out from my air-conditioned cocoon. It was hot and more than a little humid, so I kept to the shade as much as possible. I went north along the waterfront. Some fishermen were stacking nets into a small boat, the dive and boat tours people were busy, and people were lazing in the sun on the beach. Once I got to the north coast, the hotels went a bit up-scale, with nicer beaches and deckchair and umbrella rentals. I came across a topless bathing area with more than a few women airing their differences. Over on the east coast, which is open to the Caribbean Sea, the waves were much stronger, and large parts of the beaches had been washed away. Some reclamation was underway. On the way back to my room, I paused for a treat, frozen mango juice covering vanilla ice cream.

Costa Rica

Official Name: Republic of Costa Rica; Capital: San Jose; Language: Spanish; Country Code: CR; Currency: colon (CRC)

I was impressed with the idea of a country that had no army, navy, or air force, which certainly keeps defense spending low! So in 1992, I decided to go visit. I stayed one night in a youth hostel in San Jose, and shared a room with three guys from various countries, one of whom was Norwegian. (He'd just come from Spanish-language training in Guatemala, and passed along information about the place he'd stayed and the woman from whom he'd had private lessons. See the Guatemala entry later.) The next morning, we all headed off in different directions, and by some fantastic coincidence, three days later, we were all back sharing the same room.

I started out my tour by riding a bus to Puerto Limon on the Caribbean coast. From there I went south not far from the Panamanian border to a town I'd read about in a Lonely Planet guide. Although the hotel I'd heard about was booked, they referred me to Ms. Mary nearby who sometimes rented a room to tourists. I stayed with her a couple of nights. She had a dog called Rex, and she wouldn't believe me when I told her that was also my name. Even after I showed her my passport, she kept on saying that Rex was a dog's name!

Next stop was La Fortuna where I wanted to see the Arenal Volcano erupt. While it did rumble several times each day, and actually erupted on a daily basis, the rain and fog kept me from seeing anything. Fortunately, on the last evening, the skies cleared and I went with a group to sit downwind of it and watch the fiery rocks shoot into the air and to feel the fine sand blast on my face.

I ended the trip with a 2-night stay with a retired journalist who lived in the heart of San Jose.

From a family trip in 2004:

[Diary] In San Jose, we boarded an express bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest off to the north east. The bus was more comfortable than when I had traveled this country by bus 12 years ago, but legroom was still minimal. After five hours through the countryside with frequent stops, we arrived in Santa Elene, just as light rain began to fall. As we got off the bus, a young mother, Marlena, was soliciting customers for her hotel, "Cabinas el Pueblo". She seemed to be an interesting character, so we set off with her to check it out. Our room had two bunk beds and a double bed, with en-suite bathroom, all for about US$25/night. Marlena directed us to her mother's "soda" (a small restaurant), where we had a delicious dinner of local food.

[Diary] A bus picked us up for our evening expedition. We joined our guide, and set off into the forest. We saw tarantulas, sleeping birds, two porcupines up in a tree (they really are tree porcupines that live in hollows high up), a raccoon, butterflies, and some frogs. We even got to see the Southern Cross although we were not in the southern hemisphere. The hike took two hours.

[Diary] We were booked for a day of Eco-tourism in the cloud forest. From 8:30–10:30 am, my son, Scott, and I took 13 zip-line trips across the ravines. We were rigged up with safety helmets and harnesses, which were attached to each wire. The longest wire was 400–500 feet, and with the thick clouds in the forest, we often couldn't see our landing spot until we raced close to it. I braked too hard several times, and had to pull myself in by hand the last 30 feet. (Don't you just hate that when that happens?) After lunch, we enjoyed the huge indoor butterfly garden dome, insect displays, and a hummingbird garden.

[Diary] Originally, we had planned to take the long bus ride to Arenal, but decided it was worth the extra cost to more than halve the trip time via an alternate means. At 8 am, a Jeep arrived to take us down the winding mountain roads to a lake. At 9:30, we began the boat ride across Lake Arenal. Our next accommodation had been arranged by Marlena, and so we were met and taken by Jeep to La Fortuna, the town at the base of the active Arenal Volcano. We checked into the "Pura Vida" (Good Life) B&B where we spent a quiet afternoon.

[Diary] There was still no sign of the volcano as it was covered in clouds. We took a taxi to the Arenal waterfalls. Our driver was quite a character, and agreed to pick us up later and then take us around the area. Scott and I walked down the narrow steps to the base of the falls. After half an hour there, we climbed back to the top. (When I did this 12 years ago, I rode from the town on horseback, and there were no tourist facilities or steps down.)

In the evening, we went to the "Baldi Termae" outdoor hot springs for an evening soak. (They are heated by the volcano, and most were way too hot for us to enter.) Despite almost constant rain, this was quite an experience. There was talk of being able to see a volcanic eruption, but we didn't see any activity.

[Diary] Back in the capital, our hotel was a beautifully restored coffee plantation house in the university district, out of the downtown area. From there, we took a local bus to an old city that had been the capital many years ago. We enjoyed wandering around the city and through the markets and stalls in the city square, as well as the never-completed big church that was ruined by an earthquake.


Official Name: Republic of Guatemala; Capital: Guatemala City; Language: Spanish; Country Code: GT; Currency: quetzal (GTQ)

As I wrote above, I was in Costa Rica in 1992, where a Norwegian had recommended a place in Guatemala to stay and learn Spanish. While I took down the particulars, going to Guatemala was not on my radar at that time. However, 12 months later, there I was in the old capital, Antigua, knocking on the lady's door. I stayed for two weeks paying $5/night for my Spartan room without meals. I also took private Spanish lessons at $2/hour. The woman worked, but each afternoon when she came home, we'd drink coffee out in the garden and I'd tell her what grammar I'd been working on that morning with my books. Then depending on our moods, we had a lesson from one to three hours. It was all very civilized and beat the boring language classes I'd attended in the past. Each morning, I'd visit my local bakery for a breakfast of empanadas and café con leche, and to practice my Spanish on the unsuspecting owner.

The weekend between those two weeks was Todo Santos (All Saints Day, after Halloween), and I rode a bus out to the famous town of Chichicastenango to see the big religious procession. I stayed overnight at Panajachel.

After two weeks of Spanish immersion and covering all 14 tenses, and then promptly forgetting all but the two I'd arrived with, I flew on a light plane up to Flores from where I toured the Mayan ruins at Tikal.


I've always found Latin Americans to be very friendly and helpful, and more than willing to tolerate my bad Spanish. I do enjoy much of their simple style of food, and I'd be happy to visit new places or to revisit some places in this region.

What is Normal - Part 8: Public Holidays

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

A public holiday is a day designated to celebrate a specific event, such as a country's independence, a patriot's birthday, or a major religious occasion. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, it might be celebrated on the nearest weekday. And if it falls on a weekday, it usually means that workers have that day off, with pay. People working on a public holiday generally get extra pay for doing so.

Public holidays can occur on the same day each year, be fixed to a certain day of a given week, or on a day tied to an alternate calendar (such as one following the phases of the moon, rather than the sun). (In the US, the Presidential Inauguration Day is celebrated once every four years.)

Countries made up of states, provinces, and other such subdivisions often have both national and state-specific public holidays. For example, in the US, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday. However, not all US states recognize that day, and even in those that do, there is no requirement that private companies give their employees the day off. My birth state, South Australia, has Proclamation Day to celebrate the establishment of government there as a British province, in 1836. (My father-in-law, John Hill, was named after his ancestor, a crew member on the HMS Buffalo on which Governor Hindmarsh arrived.) Texas celebrates its independence from Mexico on Texas Independence Day. [South Australia and Texas are "sister states", both having been created in 1836, although Texas did not join the US until some years later.]

In the UK and parts of the British Commonwealth, a public holiday is known as a bank holiday.

For a list of public holidays by country, click here.

For more discussion on holidays in general, see my July 2012 essay, Are You Getting Enough Vacation?

New Year's Day

As its name suggests, New Year's Day is the first day of the new year. And while most westerners immediately think of January 1st, people in other cultures use non-Gregorian calendars, or other methods to determine their holidays. Many places—such as Sydney, Australia—celebrate with fireworks at the stroke of midnight. In the US, New York City has the famous "dropping of the ball" in Times Square. Vienna, Austria, is famous for its New Year's Concert.

Chinese New Year is the first day of the lunar calendar, and typically occurs between January 20 and February 20.

The short-form name of the Vietnamese New Year (which is also lunar-calendar based), is Tết. According to Wikipedia, "The Tet Offensive was one of the largest military campaigns of the Vietnam War, launched on January 30, 1968 by forces of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese People's Army of Vietnam against the forces of South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. It was a campaign of surprise attacks against military and civilian commands and control centers throughout South Vietnam. The name of the offensive comes from the Tết holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when the first major attacks took place."

Koreans get time off at the start of both solar and lunar new years. I ask you, "Is that fair?"

Many Muslims use the Hijri Islamic calendar, which is also a lunar calendar

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, occurs in September or October.

The Russian New Year, Novy God, used to be September 1, until Tsar Peter I decreed something else.

National or Independence Days

Some countries gained their independence by force while others were granted independence. The US celebrates in a big way every July 4th.

Australians celebrate Australia Day on January 26 to commemorate the arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships in 1788; however, the country actually became independent on January 1, 1901.

Each July 14, the French National Day, Bastille Day, commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille.

While Cinco de Mayo (literally, "the fifth of May" in Spanish) is widely celebrated, it is not any country's Independence Day despite claims to the contrary.

The Celebration of the unification of East and West Germany process occurs on German Unity Day, on October 3.

Religious Holidays

For Christians, the two biggest holidays are Christmas and Easter. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, and usually occurs on December 25. According to Wikipedia, "While the month and date of Jesus' birth are unknown, by the early-to-mid 4th century, the Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25, a date later adopted in the East, although some churches celebrate on the December 25 of the older Julian calendar, which, in the Gregorian calendar, currently corresponds to January 7, the day after the Western Christian Church celebrates the Epiphany." Others celebrate on January 6 or 19.

In Australia, we Aussie kids got presents from Father Christmas; American kids have Santa Claus (or "Santa" for short); to my Dutch friends, Sinterklaas delivers presents December 5; while others get a visit from Saint Nicolas.

Australia's development of its own unique National culture really came to the fore in the 1970s with the advent of the Aussie greeting-card industry. Prior to that, Aussie Christmas cards depicted winter scenes from England, which is rather silly when you consider that Down Under, its summer! Thanks to Aussie ingenuity, Santa can now be seen sitting in a deck chair, in his swimming trunks, at the beach with a six-pack of beer (as God intended).

To read more than you ever wanted to know about Christmas trees, click here.

Another memory from my Aussie youth was the calendar entry marked Boxing Day, on December 26. I never knew what that meant until a few years ago when I decided to research it. Way back when, the lord of the manor would distribute a "Christmas box" to certain servants and tradesmen.

Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. According to Wikipedia, "Easter is a moveable feast, meaning it is not fixed in relation to the civil calendar. The First Council of Nicaea (325) established the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon, the full moon that occurs on or soonest after 21 March (taken to be the date of the equinox)."

In Australia (as with other countries as well), Easter is a 4-day long weekend. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are church-going days; Saturday is the time to take a breather, historically with seriously reduced shopping hours; and Monday is a huge sporting day. Unfortunately, that holiday also sets the highest highway death toll for a weekend. The first year I lived in the US, my wife and I were busy making plans for what we were going to do with our up-coming Easter long weekend. Imagine out surprise when we found that great Christian country had no Easter public holiday at all!

Now as for the Easter Bunny, it's not clear to me what role he played in the resurrection.

It is interesting to note that some major Christian religious holidays occur right about the same time as some pagan predecessors. In order to convert their subjects, they found it useful to preserve certain feast days, but to give them a new meaning, sneaky devils!

Eid al-Fitr, the Feast of Breaking the Fast, is celebrated by Muslims to mark the end of Ramadan, the month-long period of fasting.

Jews celebrate a number of days, including Pesach (Passover) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

When I was taking Spanish lessons in Antigua, Guatemala, a major celebration there was Todos Santos (All Saints Day), on November 1. I managed to get to the town of Chichicastenango where I witnessed the grand parade in which a religious statue was carried through the streets. Several years later, I was in Vera Cruz, Mexico, for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), for the same holiday. We cleaned up the cemetery around the graves of departed relatives before shooting off fireworks. You've likely heard of Halloween (All Hallows' Eve or All Saints' Eve) celebrated on October 31.


It's probably a toss-up as to which US holiday is bigger, Independence Day or Thanksgiving. Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November to honor the giving of thanks by the Pilgrims after they establish their settlement in New England in 1621.

The theme of Thanksgiving is to "go home to be with family". As such, it's the busiest travel period of the year, and if major snowfalls occur, chaos erupts. Many people take a floating holiday on the Friday following, so they can have a 4-day weekend.

In my 35+ years of living in the US, I've had more than a few Americans ask me how we celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia. Each time I've had to remind them the Pilgrims didn't quite make it to Australia; duh! That said I do have memories of attending Harvest Thanksgiving services at my local Lutheran Church. The altar and surrounds were decorated with fresh produce and homemade food and drink.

Canada's Thanksgiving predates America's, and has to do with giving thanks for surviving a long sea journey from England through the perils of storms and icebergs. It is now celebrated on the second Monday in October, and is tied to the close of the harvest season.

Rumor has it that the Brits celebrate their Thanksgiving on July 4 (US Independence Day), when they finally got rid of those troublesome colonies!

Labor Day

According to Wikipedia, "Labour Day (Labor Day in the United States) is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. For many countries, Labour Day is synonymous with, or linked with, International Workers' Day, which occurs on 1 May. For other countries, Labour Day is celebrated on a different date, often one with special significance for the labour movement in that country. In Canada and the United States, it is celebrated on the first Monday of September and considered the official end of the summer holiday for most of the respective countries, as public school and university students return to school that week or the following week."

In the US, this is a national holiday on the first Monday of September, while in Australia it is celebrated on different days in different states and territories.

Midsummer Day

According to Wikipedia, this day, "also known as St John's Day, is the period of time centered upon the summer solstice, and more specifically the Northern European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice or take place on a day between June 21 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures."

While this day is celebrated in numerous countries, I've personally witnessed it in two: Denmark and Finland. Copenhagen is home to the famous Tivoli Gardens, and I was in town on business and had my wife and young son with me. On Saint John's Day, we went to the gardens for an evening of entertainment, and to see the burning of a huge witch. As the fire raged, my son asked where the witch went after she was burned, to which I replied, in English, "She comes back as your mother-in-law." Those Danes nearby who understood English smiled on hearing that.

I was visiting Finnish friends in Helsinki, and for the holiday weekend, we drove to their lakeside cabin, complete with sauna (as God intended; after all, this was Finland!) There the day is called Juhannus Day after John the Baptist. In the evening, we made our way through the ever-present dark clouds of mosquitoes to the local village where we ate great food while being entertained by singers of folk songs. The culmination was the burning of a large witch on a platform out in the lake.

Apparently, it is not necessary to actually burn a witch. All along the coast and lakesides around Scandinavia, ordinary bonfires can be seen burning on this night.

Nowadays, the closest we have in the US to a festival with a witch burning is Burning Man. [I might just add this to my own bucket list.]

Miscellaneous Days

The UK and member countries of the British Commonwealth celebrate the Queen's Birthday; however, they don't always do it on the same date, or on the Queen's actual birthday. Some years ago, at the last minute, I bought a cheap 3-day weekend airfare from Washington DC to Ottawa, Canada's capital. On arrival, I discovered it was Victoria Day, named for the birthday of that foxy babe Queen Victoria. It now designates the reigning sovereign, whoever that may be. Ottawa is a fine city to visit at any time of the year, but a reason to go there in May is to witness the spectacular Canadian Tulip Festival when more than a million tulip bulbs are blooming in a small area with half a million pedestrians going around to see them. As to how this festival got started, let's just say it has something to do with the Crown Princess Juliana of the Netherlands being there during WWII, and leave it for you to read about that offline.

A major public holiday in Australia (and New Zealand) is Anzac Day, April 25, when the country remembers its people who died fighting or who served in wars. This day has its roots in the tragedy of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers at Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI. Many towns start the day with a dawn church service at a war memorial often referred to as a Cross of Sacrifice. The big military holiday in the US is Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May, while Armistice Day is widely observed on "the 11th day of the 11th month" in countries involved in WWI.


Back in the old days, the peasants slaved away in harsh conditions for long hours each day, usually for at least six days a week. In order to allow them to let off some steam, the landed gentry and church gave the workers a day off and a celebration now and then. As best as I can tell, in the Western world, that is still pretty much the reason behind most public holidays.