Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of the US Desert Southwest

© 2011 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

[Diary] Each November, I attend a plenary for an international computer standards committee. It has a number of subcommittees, one of which I chair. Late in 2011, the US hosted, in San Diego, California, which is not far from the Mexican border. Mario, a colleague and friend from the German delegation, and I had been talking about doing something together afterwards. As he had never been to the desert southwest, I offered to take him on a road trip through the southern California desert, up the Colorado River in Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada. And he accepted.

The plenary ran 5½ days and, for the most part, the weather was fair-to-nice. The social event was a dinner cruise around the harbor. [San Diego is a major US Navy port, so there were plenty of naval vessels around including some large carriers.] Friday afternoon (Memorial Day), I skipped out of my conference, and took my Finnish colleague and friend, Juha, for a drive. Our first stop was Cabrillo Point, the overlook on the end of the peninsular from which one can see the Coronado Peninsular and downtown. No sooner had we arrived, right before our very eyes, Air Force One approached and landed at the Naval Air Station down in front of us. Two Air Force Fighter jets flew as escorts. President Obama (an avid basketball fan and player) was in town to witness the basketball game between two college teams that took place in the evening on the deck of an aircraft carrier moored in the harbor.

[Diary] After breakfast, I headed out to the local supermarket to lay in supplies for our trip, including some ice. By 9:30 am, I was back at the conference keeping one ear on the proceedings while I handled email. We wrapped up around 1:15 pm, at which time we said our goodbyes to the other delegates who then literally headed off to the four corners of the globe (as in South Africa, Russia, Australia, and Korea).

By 2 pm, we were on the highway in our trusty Dodge Avenger rental car, in steady rain. As we climbed into the mountains, we encountered some fog, but visibility wasn't too bad. However, the road was narrow and winding. Around 3 pm, we pulled over in a parking lot in a small town and ate a late picnic lunch in the car as it was still raining.

The initial plan had been to get to the visitor's center at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park before it closed at 5 pm, but by the time we got to the town of Borrego Springs, it was getting dark and it was still raining. The first hotel we tried was full due to a vintage car club having an outing, but the next place, Hacienda del Sol (Spanish for "house of the sun"), had room for us. The friendly desk clerk got us checked in, and we each had a room with two queen-size beds. A DVD player was included, and the office had a large selection of videos at no charge. I settled on Cold Mountain, which was a bit grim. We walked to a Mexican restaurant nearby for supper where we ate and talked for a couple of hours.

[Diary] The rain stopped during the night and the sun was streaming down when I stuck my head outside around 7 am. All was right in this part of the world. The few guests had been very quiet. I decided I was in no mood for a meal, so I snacked a bit. Mario walked around to the restaurant, but once he saw the food, he too decided he really didn't need anything yet for a few hours.

A wifi signal was floating around the yard, so I hooked up my computer and got an email fix. Then I started on this diary. We arrived at the park visitor's center at 8:45. It is built underground. At 9 o'clock, a ranger opened the doors and we had a look at the exhibits, which included mounted birds and animals from the park. A stuffed mountain lion was lying atop a rock formation ready to jump on us as we rounded one corner. We watched a video that covered all four seasons in the park, and then another that featured an Australian man and his Ukrainian wife who lived out in the desert for 20+ years. They were self-sufficient and raised three kids there.

We drove out of the park through the badlands, a long stretch of rugged hills with deep gorges cut by water over the millennia. Along the way, we say a red hawk sitting on a power pole. We came across quite a few camps of motor homes with trailers full of off-road motorcycles and 4-wheel all-terrain vehicles. Eventually, we came out to the Salton Sea, a large saltwater inland lake formed 100 years ago. We found a picnic table at a yacht club where we had a picnic lunch among the palm trees while watching the pelicans and ducks. There was a lot of agriculture in the area: date palms, oranges, artichokes, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables. From there, we went east on Interstate Highway 10 for 25 miles, at which point we went north on a narrow road.

We stopped off at the ranger station for Joshua Tree National Park. Because it was the Memorial Day long weekend, park admission was free. We had an interesting chat with a ranger who had colorful tattoos on both arms. She was a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe and the artwork had some tribal significance. We stopped off at various places to take photos and shoot video, especially where a recent storm had washed out large areas near the road. At one point, a rabbit ran across the road and, 10 seconds later, a coyote followed in pursuit. We stopped to walk through a large cholla cactus garden; boy were those spines long and sharp! We also stopped at a desert campground in which the sites were mingled in and around huge boulders.

By the time we exited the park, the sun was behind the mountains, and it was getting cold as well as dark. So, we drove the few miles into the town of Twentynine Palms. It has a large US Marine Base nearby. We quickly found a decent hotel for only $50/room/night complete with king-size bed, microwave oven, fridge, and wifi connection. We'd been salivating over the idea of a pizza, so at 5:45, we headed out to Pizza Hut to satisfy our desire. 90 minutes later, we'd devoured almost all of a large, meat-lover's pizza with stuffed cheese crust, and plenty of anchovies. Yes! We waddled to the car and were back in our rooms by 7:30 after a hard day of playing tourist.

[Diary] We were up and ready to eat by 7 am. On the way into town the night before, we'd spied a Denny's restaurant (one of my favorites), so we went there. I asked the waitress for a booth in the VIP section, and she laughed and led us to a regular one by the window. There were way too many choices, but we showed great restraint by ordering smallish meals, which we finished off with coffee.

Around 9 o'clock, we headed out east on the main highway and drove through desert country for several hours, listing to country music stations along the way. We stopped at a few places to take some photos of the mountains and rock formations. Eventually, we crossed over the Colorado River into the state of Arizona, losing an hour in the process as we moved from Pacific Time to Mountain Time. We drove north along the river stopping occasionally to take photos and video.

In Lake Havasu City, we bought a few groceries and then went to see the old London Bridge. It was decommissioned around 1971 in London. A wealthy American bought it in 1968 for the princely sum of about $2.5 million, and then spent another $4.5 million to ship it to the desert of Arizona and rebuild it. It now spans water in Lake Havasu from the mainland to an island in the lake. "Build it and they will come" is a quote that came to my mind, although in all truth, one must ask "Why?" Mario certainly did!

We drove further north looking for a picnic table, but couldn't find any, so we finally settled on a small patch of grass at a gas station. It was a warm day and very pleasant out. From there, we got on Interstate Highway 40 and drove 45 minutes to Kingman. We made our way to a nice property on the famous American road, Route 66, where for $50 each, we each got a nice room with large bed, high-speed internet connection, microwave and fridge, and an entertaining desk clerk. Once we settled in, we went on-line and booked a rather special tour for a few days later, but more about that later.

At 7 pm, we drove to a wild west-style steakhouse nearby where we had pork ribs and steak with beans and salad. The food and service were great, but I took half mine away for lunch the next day.

[Diary] There was a busy train track running beyond the hill on which our hotel stood, with trains coming and going many times during the night. The hotel provided breakfast after which we climbed up the hill behind for a look around the general area. After that, we gassed up the car and headed northwest.

We arrived at Hoover Dam around 11 am, where we joined a tour group that went down inside the dam in an elevator to the power station on the Nevada side. The wall is 720 feet tall and about that thick at the base. Built in the 1930s during the Great Depression, it was completed under budget and two years ahead of schedule. It certainly is a sight to behold. We drove across the top of the dam and parked on the Arizona side where we had a picnic lunch. Afterwards, we parked near the new bridge that now spans the canyon and walked out along the bridge taking photos and video.

Early afternoon, on the Nevada side, we headed east along the Colorado River to the Valley of Fire State Park, a series of hills and rock formations that are bright orange. We caught them just at the right time with the afternoon sun streaming down. While we were there, a wedding party arrived in a limo to have their photos taken.

By the time we got to Las Vegas it was dark, so we drove along a long section of Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) so Mario could take photos of all the dazzling light displays on the casinos and shops. We checked in at our hotel, Circus Circus. We each had a room with a king-size bed in a tower on the sprawling premises. After resort fees and taxes, it cost $48/night, which is pretty darned good for a nice room in this town. And parking was free!

After we unpacked and freshened up a bit, we walked along The Strip where we had dinner at a family restaurant. At 8:30, we stopped by the Treasure Island casino to watch the free show that is performed out front several times each night. A pirate ship meets a ship of shapely sirens who woo them onto the rocks, and the pirate ship sinks. Prior to that, cannon shots were exchanged and there were various explosions and fires. In the end, the pirates swim to the sirens' ship and, as they say in Fantasyland, "They all lived happily ever after!" Afterwards, the sunken ship (which was a pretty good size), was raised up from the bottom of the small lake on a series of hydraulics and was "sailed" back into position for the next show.

On the way home, we stopped off at a very up-scale McDonalds for coffee. After a hard day of playing tourist, we had an early night.

[Diary] My 6:45 am wake-up call came a minute after I woke up. An hour later, we were sitting in the sun out front of our hotel waiting for a shuttle bus to take us on our tour. It came soon after and then proceeded to pick up others at various hotels before driving 30 minutes to Boulder City to the south. At that city's airport, we checked in and got our safety instructions for a flight.

It was close to 10 o'clock when Emily, our pilot, herded us out to her helicopter, a sleek machine for which her company paid $2.5 million new. She sat in the left front with two passengers on her right. Four other passengers sat across the back. It was a typically sunny and warm morning and soon we were circling Hoover Dam. From there, we headed out across the desert and mountains to the western end of the 270-mile-long Grand Canyon, at about 4,500 feet. Once we were inside the canyon, we circled around and put down at a spot up a small hill at an altitude of about 1,400 feet, which overlooked the brown Colorado River. There we were served a picnic lunch with champagne, and we shot film and video of the surrounding canyon walls. A number of ground squirrels came begging for food. We flew back along a more southerly route and saw the river below Hoover Dam. At the airport, the shuttle bus took us back to the tour company's depot in Las Vegas, where we were informed that we'd be taken back to our hotel in a stretched limousine. So, we climbed into the back of that sleek, black monster for the short ride. By the time we got back to our hotel, some five hours had passed; however, it was worth it.

At 6:30 pm, we headed out along The Strip stopping to take the occasional photo. It took us more than an hour to get down to the MGM Grand Hotel, where we went to the box office to pick up tickets we'd reserved online. Nearby, we found a Chinese fast-food place where we enjoyed a feast and a drink. Soon after 9 pm, we walked back to the MGM Grand, and by 9:15 we were seated front and center, three rows back in a very large and tall, custom-built theater. Promptly at 9:30, the KÀ Cirque du Soleil show began. And what a spectacular it was! Cirque du Soleil is a French-Canadian company that has performed daring acrobatics for years, and their traveling groups tour the world. Currently, they have seven different troupes in "permanent" theaters in Las Vegas. It really is impossible to describe their aerial acrobatics; you simply just have to see it for yourself.

After 90 minutes of non-stop action, we walked to a McDonald's nearby for coffee and hot chocolate, and to rest. I was tired out just watching! We caught a taxi back to our hotel. Lights out around 12:30 am.

[Diary] We were packed, loaded, and checked-out of our hotel by 9:30 am, and at a supermarket stocking up for the next stage of our road trip. By 10 o'clock, we were on the road to Death Valley, the lowest place in the US (282 feet below sea level). We stopped off at various places and got to the visitor's center well after 1 pm. We had a picnic lunch and a rest there for a while before driving out the western side into the mountains.

By 5 o'clock, it was quite dark, but we decided to push on a bit further. We forewent a couple of small motels in pokey towns, and then couldn't find a place to stay when we needed one. We finished up driving some distance off the main highway until we found just the right place. I stayed in for the evening and snacked a bit while Mario went to the pizza place next door for supper.

[Diary] It was another clear, warm morning in the desert, but the wind was picking up and dust was blowing from the north. The hotel provided a decent selection of light breakfast foods, and I got talking to a retired couple that was passing through the area. By the time we packed up and checked out, it was 9:30 am. We drove south on the main highway for 90 minutes by which time we were out of the desert. However, there was a great cloud over us that looked a lot like pollution from Los Angeles, which was not far away. Once we got on the interstate highway, the speed limit went up to 70 mph, so we really covered some distance. Along the way, we stopped for coffee and some bread. As there were no roadside stops, we finally took an exit into a town and looked for a place to eat lunch. With no parks or picnic tables in sight, we improvised up a back road.

After four hours, we arrived in Escondido, a town in the mountains some 30 miles from San Diego. There, we found a hotel and booked in for two nights. It was adequate, but nothing special. It did have a great family restaurant next door. At 7 pm we went there and had a nice, but quite large, meal. Our waitress was a bubbly young woman from Serbia. Back in my room, I listened to some music while playing games on my computer.

[Diary] I was awake early, so started reading a novel in bed, after which I snacked on some leftover food. At 8:30 am, I filled the cooler with ice and prepared our picnic lunch. Mario slept late and grabbed a coffee. Just before 10 o'clock, in very light rain we arrived at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Safari Park, several thousand acres of natural habitat for a large selection of animals from around the world. Although I'd visited it a number of times, the last time was more than 10 years ago, and things had changed, some for the better and some for the worse, but I guess that's called "progress." We rode the tram around half of the park taking in many animals from Africa. Then we walked the trails to look at numerous other habitats and to take in a bird show. We had our picnic lunch outside the park and went back in for more walking and looking. It's definitely an impressive place and helps preserve and reintroduce species back into the wild. The rain held off all day until we drove out the park.

By mid-afternoon, we were back at our hotel resting up. Being a tourist sure can be hard work!

At 7 pm, we went to the restaurant next door for supper. As they served breakfast all day, I decided that was what I wanted, so I ordered a chicken-fried steak with eggs and sausage gravy. Mario had a salad followed by a combo-dinner of steak, chicken, and shrimp. He thought he might like desert, so he ordered a slice of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream. However, when it arrived, it was a huge serving, so reluctantly I forced myself to help him devour it. Afterwards, we waddled across to our rooms.

[Diary] We were up by 8 am and light rain was falling. By the time we packed, grabbed hot drinks, and checked out, it was around 9 o'clock. We took the interstate highway right into downtown San Diego, and the weather was clear, but with a cool wind blowing. A leg of the America's Cup yacht race was taking place at the waterfront, so police were out in force redirecting traffic. Being a Sunday, we parked for free right at the water's edge.

Right next door was the aircraft carrier USS Midway, commissioned in 1945, and decommissioned in 1992. It had been turned into a floating museum. We spent more than five hours onboard taking in all the exhibits, listening to the details from the audio tour, and watching videos. The crew consisted of 4,500 men (women were not permitted as crew members back then). Each day, 13,500 meals were served, which included 3,000 potatoes, 1,000 loaves of bread, 4,500 lbs. of beef, and 500 pies. Of the crew, 600 worked in engineering, 225 were cooks, 40 were corpsmen, five were physicians, and three were dentists. We toured the bridge as well as the Captain and Executive Officer's quarters. During Operation Desert Storm, the initial air attack on Bagdad, Iraq, was coordinated by an Admiral on the Midway, managing that and three other carriers. When it was built, it was the biggest ship in the world, and it held that title for 10 years.

By 4:30, we were at our hotel. By then, the rain was coming down hard. We watched some news on TV for a couple of hours, after which I drove Mario to the airport for his flight home to Hamburg, Germany. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped off at a supermarket to buy some emergency rations. There was flooding in the streets as the rain pelted down. It was a good night to stay indoors.

[Diary] The rain had stopped, and the sun was out in force. I spent the whole day in my room snacking on all my leftover food, drinking hot tea, and working. Yes, as in working for money! After six hours at the laptop keyboard, I'd completed a major editing effort.

I spent the evening writing some essays for my blog, reading a newspaper, and listening to music. Then I finished my novel.

[Diary] I was wide-awake before 6 am; don't you just hate that when that happens? I lay in bed for a while and started a new novel. Then I finished up the last of my food, packed my gear, and watched some news programs. Despite the number of channels available, there was a dearth of content actually worth watching. [I've been without cable TV now for more than a year, and I don't miss it one bit.]

Once I checked out of my hotel, I gassed up the rental car, and coasted some five miles to the airport. The sun was shining and was quite warm. The courtesy bus dropped me at Terminal 1, and I was checked in immediately. Security was quick, and soon after I was sitting in United Airline's business lounge updating this diary. There were some mechanical difficulties with the in-bound plane, and I was switched to a flight that required me to change planes in Chicago. Once that was done, my original flight was restored, and I was changed back again. However, I was upgraded to First Class and my luggage survived the swaps. On the smooth flight home, I was served a nice lunch and I slept for a couple of hours. As I got in the taxi for the ride home from IAD, the Heavens opened, and very heavy rain fell all the way home. That coupled with low-lying fog made for low visibility.

Once home, I proceeded to unpack and take care of numerous things before going to bed around midnight. However, after a couple of sleepless hours, I got up, and cooked and ate a meal. It rained throughout the night and I listened to it through an open window as the temperature outside was quite reasonable.

Signs of Life: Part 19

© 2019 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 trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.

 

A bridal shop.

 

The lamp on the table made this an interesting sign for an interior decorator.

 

So, when you have the very best burgers in town, how do you distinguish yourself from those other "pretend" burger joints?

 

And these are just a few of the side effects experienced by women who eat Marmite!

And just in case you were wondering, PCOS is short for "Polycystic ovary syndrome".

 

Hmm, this looks like a place an Aussie might invent, or at least patronize.

In any event, Innis & Gunn is a brewing company based in Edinburgh. Its beer kitchens serve craft beer and food.

One of its brews is "Frank & Sense Golden Ale", a golden ale infused with gold, frankincense and myrrh. Presumably, it's drunk by wise men everywhere!

 

A UK coffee company.

 

Now I'm a chocolate lover from way back, but knowing that haggis "is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal's stomach," I declined to buy a block.

 

Apparently, this hotel is "The In-Place to Stay!"

Of course, just as I took the photo, some Aussie tourist walked by; don't you just hate that when that happens!

 

Just the place for a man and a woman to get some fresh apple pie! What could possibly go wrong?

 

Yeah, like I want a haircut just like Larry, Curly, or Moe!

 

What was interesting here, was that the top two signs were either side of the bottom one. However, I don't think the establishment was currently run by the Salvos.

 

The sign on the restaurant awning says "The Crazy Bull" in Spanish, while the one in the window tells you the deal on offer.

 

Grassmarket is a major shopping street and area in Edinburgh, and apparently these two sheep found the grazing there quite good!

 

The name of this tea and coffee house is an interesting play on the name of the ship Cutty Sark, one of the last of the tea clippers.

 

I was in Edinburgh for its world-famous Fringe Festival, where outragious was the norm. In this poster, this "woman"—suposedly called Cally—was performing.

Her show was quite supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

 

Anyone for a Caribbean cocktail?

 

 

Football, Aussie Style

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

The word football means different things to different people. To an American, it's American football (of which Canadian football is a relative); to most Europeans, Asians, Africans, and now many Aussies, it often means soccer; to Aussies from the right side of the tracks, it's Australian Rules Football (Aussie Rules); to some other Aussies, Kiwis, Fijians, Samoans, Japanese, and Frenchmen, it's rugby league; the Irish play Gaelic Football; and then there's rugby union, among other football codes.

Call me biased, but having been raised on Aussie Rules "since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," I have never been able to get remotely interested in any other code of football. I ask you, what sort of games allow time-outs; require that you break your nose at least once per season; have players who look and often behave like professional wrestlers; penalize you for getting ahead of the opposition; dress you like a gladiator; have specialty players who get only a few minutes of on-field time each game; or after two hours of play end in a nil-nil draw?

In this essay, with very few further insults, I'll provide a gentle introduction to the one true code of football, as perfected Down Under but first, let's define a few terms. When I say "professional football," I'm referring to the Australian Football League (AFL) national competition, whose players' jobs are to play football. "Semi-pro(fessional)" refers to the top league in each Aussie state or Territory, in which almost all players have full-time jobs outside of football, and who play football on the weekends in season. Many of these players get some financial compensation for playing. "Local" refers to all other leagues, in which some players of some teams might get paid at least something to play depending on the level of the league and the local economics.

The Basics

In Australia, the game of Aussie Rules is played from March through September; that is, in late autumn, winter, and early spring. The regular season—called the minor round—runs around 22 games and is followed by a series of finals. The AFL has a pre-season competition, and at that time, many leagues play trial games between teams in the same or different leagues as practice matches.

A game is played over four 25+-minute quarters. During the quarter- and three-quarter-time breaks, the coach addresses the players on the field, while at half-time, the players leave the field and rest in their dressing room.

The game is played on an oval, a field whose shape is, well, oval. The object of the game is to kick the ball between the goalposts at each end of the oval; high score wins (more on that later). Games can be drawn, and under certain circumstances, a draw can result in extended time. In all finals, if scores are tied at the end of official time, two five-minute periods are played. If the scores are still tied after this extra time, play continues until the next score.

When I played, each team had 20 players suited up, 18 on the field and two reserves on the bench. A reserve could only take the field if a teammate left the field; no interchange was permitted. Later, interchanging of players was added, so players could be rested, and less-debilitating injuries could be treated. Later still, in some leagues (including the AFL), the number of reserves was increased to four for a team total of 22 players.

Of the 18 on the field for each team, 15 start in fixed positions and 3 as "roaming" players, arranged with 6 in each of two zones within 50 meters of the goals and six across the center. Of these 6 in the center, 4 are within a 45-meter central square. A team's offensive and defensive players are on the field at the same time. After play commences any player can run/play anywhere on the oval. Each of a team's 15 fixed-position players has a direct opponent, who they are said to stand. Each quarter, the teams change ends.

Once a player has possession of the ball, there are two ways of disposing of it: kicking it with either leg or holding it still in one hand while punching it with the other fist (called a handball). Throwing the ball is not permitted! A player cannot carry the ball beyond 15 meters without kicking it, handballing it, or bouncing or touching it on the ground.

If the ball has been kicked a minimum of 15 meters without being touched by anyone, a player can catch the ball. This is called marking the ball, and the player took a mark. Unless the marking player plays on (that is, runs on with the ball), play stops, no tackling is allowed, and that player chooses to restart play either by kicking or handballing. Marks can often be quite spectacular with players leaping 1–1.5 meters (3–5 feet) off the ground.

The AFL has 18 teams in one national league, with 10 of them in one metro area, Melbourne, a city of around 5 million people. My own state capital, Adelaide, a city of around a million, has two teams (which play each other twice a season in what is called a "Cross-Town Showdown".) Adelaide's semi-pro league (SANFL) has 10 teams.

The Playing Field

At each of the two narrow ends of the oval there are four posts. The inner two are taller and are the goal posts. The outer two are the behind posts. The boundary of the oval is marked with a thick, white chalk line.

There is no fixed size for an oval, and they vary from 135–185 meters (145–200 yards) long, goal-to-goal, and 110–155 meters (120–165 yards) wide. [The Marvel stadium in Melbourne is covered by a retractable roof.]

Markings on the ground include 50-meter arcs (from the center of the goal line) at each end of the ground, and a 5-meter diameter circle in the center of the ground surrounded by a 45-meter square.

Many ovals have at least some light towers to allow training in the dark (remember, it's wintertime). Some ovals have major lighting systems allowing for games to be played at night. [The oval at my semi-pro club, Norwood, was well lit, as it also hosted semi-pro baseball games at night.]

While ovals host football games in winter, many also host cricket games in summer. Cricket uses a rectangular pitch some 20 meters (22 yards) long and several meters (yards) wide, located at the oval's center. Better pitches are made of turf and are rolled hard. The worst are made of concrete, which can hardly be hidden by several inches of dirt during football season! Even so, heavy rain on the sandy soil of a turf pitch in winter can make for a mud patch! The refurbished Adelaide Oval (capacity 55,000) actually has a very large machine that can lift-out the whole cricket pitch at once and replace it with different soil and turf for the football season.

The hallowed ground of Aussie Rules is the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which has 100,000 seats.

Scoring

There are two kinds of scores: a goal (worth six points) and a behind (worth one point). The team with the most points at the end wins. For example, a total score of 10 goals 20 behinds (10x6+20=80 points) beats one of 12 goals 5 behinds (12x6+5=77 points).

A goal is scored if an attacking player kicks the ball without it being touched by any player, and it goes between the two goal posts without touching either. If the ball is touched (even by an attacking player's teammate), or it scrapes the inside of a goalpost, one point is scored. Kicks going between a goal post and its adjacent behind post, result in a behind. When a goal is kicked, the ball is taken back to the center circle where play is restarted. When a behind is scored, the key defender [the role I mostly played] kicks the ball back into play from the goal square, an area in front of the goal posts.

At the end of a season, the leading goalkicker for each club and each league receives an award. A hundred goals are a lot for any one player to kick in a minor-round season.

The Umpires

The game is refereed by a group of umpires. Back in my time, there was one central umpire who ran over the whole oval, blowing his whistle and calling out play status, for things like marks and penalties, and when players play on without stopping. Given the pace of the modern, streamlined game, and that play can go from one end of the oval to the other in a few seconds, and that some players can kick the ball 70 meters (75 yards), and on occasions, much further if there is a tail wind—it can be hard to keep up. That led to semi-pro and pro leagues having two central umpires, and now three. The AFL is trialing four. That gives more sets of eyes on the game, especially for violations committed away from the play. [Most local leagues use two central umpires. Semi-pro leagues use three.]

At each end of the oval, a goal umpire stands on the goal line between the goal posts, and determines if a score is a goal or a behind. Each of the two boundary halves is patrolled by two boundary umpires, whose job it is to throw the ball back into play if it goes out-of-bounds (except that if the ball is kicked out on the full or kicked out deliberately, a penalty is awarded).

At the end of the game, the central umpires agree as to the three best players of the match, but that information is kept secret until after the minor round ends, at which time, the "Best and Fairest player" in the league for that season is announced.

In recent years, women have begun officiating as umpires.

The Ball

The ball is a 3-dimensional oval, but not as pointed as an American football. It is designed to be kicked, handballed, and bounced.

At the start of each quarter and after each goal, the central umpire bounces the ball in the center circle of the oval with the ball rising straight up some three meters (3+ yards), and two competing players try to hit it to a teammate. However, if weather or oval conditions are such that the ball cannot be reliably bounced, it is thrown up, much like a jump-ball in basketball. The ball is also thrown up when play stalemates in a scrimmage.

A player can bounce the ball while running at full speed, which is sometimes necessary, as it is not permitted to otherwise run with the ball beyond 15 meters.

Nowadays, there are two kinds of kick. A drop punt involves holding the ball in a vertical orientation and dropping it on the front-center of the boot. The ball turns end-over-end. A torpedo punt involves holding the ball at an angle and dropping it on the outside of the boot. The ball screws much like a thrown American football. Back in my time, drop kicks were allowed. This involved bouncing the ball on the ground and kicking it as it rose.

Player Equipment

Each player wears a pair of shorts in approved club colors, with a jockstrap (athletic supporter) underneath. They also wear a sweater-like jumper—sometimes called a guernsey—which must also be in approved club colors. [AFL teams have home/away sets to distinguish against rival colors; they also have special-event sets.] Each player has a distinct number, which is on the back of the jumper. The AFL allows a small commercial sponsorship logo; the player's name is not included.

Long or short socks are worn; these too must be in approved club colors.

Boots are much like numerous other sports. The soles have cleats (sometimes called studs; in my time, sprigs). Fifty years ago, the cleats were made from layers of leather and were held in place by several nails, which with wear-and-tear could lead to sharp metal edges. As a result, prior to the start of each game, the central umpire had to run his hand on the underside of both boots of each player to make sure there was no obvious danger. Later, rubber cleats molded around metal screws were used. Eventually, the sole had the cleats molded right into it.

Although some players might wear shin guards in their socks, players do not wear helmets or body padding.

Tackling Rules

The rules are very strict/limiting with regards to permitted body contact between players. For example, the following are not permitted: tripping, pushing in the back, grabbing around the neck/head, or punching. In fact, a player cannot interfere with an opponent unless the opponent is in possession of the ball or within 5 meters of it.

That said, it is common for a player to use his body to push aside or to get in front of his opponent when competing for the ball.

The Coaches

At the top level, the game is way too fast and complex now for a coach to also be a player at the same time, although playing coaches still exist in local league clubs.

At the pro and semi-pro levels, a coach has assistant coaches who specialize in some aspect of the game.

The coach usually sits high up in the stadium and communicates with his assistants and reserve players by radio/phone. He also has a runner who is permitted out on the oval after a goal is scored to deliver messages to/from players, and to move players to different positions.

The Finals Series

For leagues with a small number of teams, there might be a final-four team group that competes for the championship. Some leagues have a final-five. The AFL has a final-eight. In all cases, eventually all but two teams are eliminated, and those go on to play in the Grand Final.

Infringements and Violations

Most infringements result in play being stopped and a free kick being awarded to a player. If the recipient of the free is injured or otherwise unable to take the kick, a teammate can do so.

Disobeying a central umpire's ruling can result in a 50-meter (55 yards) penalty, and multiple such penalties can be awarded, which can sometimes allow the recipient to move right up to the goal square.

Other offences—including off-field behavior—can result in fines. Very serious offenses result in a player or official being reported by one or more of the umpires. Reports can also be made after the game by video review. Reported players attend a hearing/tribunal several days later, at which time, they are exonerated, fined, or suspended for one or more games. [Intentionally hitting an umpire can get you a very long, if not lifetime, suspension.] In my time, being found guilty meant disqualification from the league's "Best Player" award, but that now depends on the severity of the charge.

In AFL and semi-pro leagues, a player is not sent off for serious infringements, but most local leagues have their own regulations to allow for "send-off" or "sin-bin" for a limited time.

Common Injuries

The classic injury is torn cartilage and/or ligaments in knees. [I suffered both.] Certainly, players can get concussed. Twisted ankles can easily occur. Hamstring and groin muscle injuries are common. Players who have suffered some sort of head injury in the past, might wear a soft, leather, head protector.

While some injuries can end a career [as was my case], they are generally not too debilitating. That said, in the 1970's one semi-pro player had his neck broken leaving him a quadriplegic.

Some American Influence

The US has long had professional leagues for its football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey, among other sports. And it treats such sports as business. As such, it is not surprising that leagues in other countries adopt or adapt rules and operating procedures from US sports. Examples in the AFL include the following: drafting new players, trading existing players, blood rule, team salary cap, fines (for both on and off-field conduct), specialty coaches, sponsor logos on oval turf and players' jumpers, and characterization and recording of statistics such as goal assists.

For local and semi-pro leagues, games are still mostly played on Saturday afternoons. However, the nine AFL games played each week might be staggered over Thursday and Fri nights, Saturday afternoon or night, Sunday afternoon, and on holiday Mondays. As such, they can get people to pay to attend multiple games in the same week. Afterall, each pro club is a business!

My Own "Footy" Background

As a young kid, I started as a boundary umpire. I first played competition in an Under-14 team in my hometown. I then moved to the Under-16 team in which my right leg was broken in the dying moments of a Grand Final (which my team won). During that time, I was recruited by one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in the South Australian state semi-pro league, Norwood. However, I deferred joining them until I finished high school. [Over the years, more than a few players from my hometown have made it to the state semi-pro league, with a few going on to play pro. The most notable from my time was Russel Ebert, who won the South Australian Magary Medal a record four times.]

At age 16, I moved to the state capital and played a mediocre season for Norwood's Under-17 team. Then I played two very good seasons with their Under-19 team, both times winning the state competition. For certain, the highlight was playing both finals series on the league's premier field, Adelaide Oval, in front of a large crowd.

The following year, I played in several pre-season trial games trying out for a spot on the top-level team. Although I was doing well, during the third game, I had the first of a series of knee injuries that eventually forced me from the game. C'est la vie!

Of the 30-odd teammates I had in Norwood's junior teams, at least a dozen went on to play at the top level. One, Michael Taylor, was club champion many times, represented the state, and was assistant coach in the pro league. Another, Neil Craig, was a star player, and a semi-pro and pro coach.

The club coach and captain at Norwood when I played there, was Robert Oatey, who went on to receive the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2008, for his "service to Australian Rules football as a coach and as a contributor to the development of younger players." [Some 40 years after I started at Norwood, I reconnected with Robert, and spent quality time with him during several visits to Adelaide.]

In 1967, my Year-10 high school home-room teacher was Roger Magor. [He also taught me mathematics and chemistry.] Due to injuries, he retired from playing and became an umpire at the local level. He eventually worked his way up to become a semi-pro league umpire, and finally Chairman of the Board that managed umpiring for the state of South Australia and was responsible for appointing umpires to officiate at games.

In 2015, during a visit to Adelaide, my good friend John took me to a Cross-Town Showdown at Adelaide Oval. While I was there, it occurred to me that it was the first time I'd been at that oval since I played there in an Under-19 Grand Final in 1972. It was a rather nostalgic moment!

Conclusion

There are some similarities between Aussie Rules and Gaelic football, which led to some Irish players being recruited by AFL (and other) teams. Also, at the end of the AFL and Irish seasons, Australia plays an International Rules Series against Ireland.

Over the years, a number of semi-pro and pro Aussie Rules players have played in the US National Football League, selected for their ability in kicking field goals and kick-offs. Click here for more information.

The AFL actively promotes Aussie Rules outside Australia, and each season, a few games are played in other countries (e.g., China and New Zealand) to showcase the sport. International fans can also subscribe to live/replay broadcast videos.

In the past 10 years, there has been growing interest by women in playing Aussie Rules. In 2017, the AFL started a women's competition. Semi-pro and local leagues have followed.

Historically, Australian aborigines have shown a significant aptitude for various kinds of sports, including Aussie Rules. The AFL encourages the participation of indigenous players, and currently, they make up some 10% of the AFL player's list (which is a much higher ratio than their 3.3% in the general population).

Unlike the US college (university) sports system, which is a major pathway to playing professional American football (among other sports), Australia does not have any such system. Nor does it have any big, organized high school sports league systems. Players come to the semi-pro and pro ranks straight from high school or from local leagues.

Barring injuries, a good player might play 300+ games over 18 seasons, from age 18 to 35.

Unlike US pro teams, Aussie Rules teams are not owned by individuals or corporations; rather, a club owns itself! As such, teams are not bought and sold, renamed, or relocated to other cities.

For the rules of the game, click here.

If you've made it this far, and want to see how real football is played, search this website for game videos.

[Thanks very much to Roger M. for greatly improving my initial draft by incorporating all the changes during the game's evolution in the 40+ years since I left Australia. Thanks also to Kathy and John—rabid Port Power and Crows fans, respectively, for their input.]

Travel: Memories of Yorkshire

© 2015 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

It was June and time to get back on the road again, this time to London, England. After some business meetings there, I planned two weeks' vacation in Yorkshire. For something different, I decided to take along a traveling companion, a very bright, stuffed toy caterpillar (whom I christened Mr. C), and to use him to meet people and to take photos-with-a-difference; that is, with him in each of them. Yes, I'm still a kid at heart, and maybe I really have lost the plot!

[Diary] At 11 am, the Virgin Train express to Edinburgh departed with my stop, York, being the first. I sat facing backwards, and my seatmate was a 22-year-old woman, Evia, from Latvia. Ethnically Russian, she learned Latvian in school, along with English and basic French. She was a delight to be with.

At the York railway station, I met a small boy who had two stuffed animals, so I stopped and introduced him to Mr. C. His father smiled as we "played." I also chatted with a policeman, and got train information. As I walked into the city, I spoke with a Ukrainian woman who lived in San Francisco. My objective was the tourist office, where I got great service and a chat. Back at the station, I looked at tourist information while waiting for a local train to Poppleton, a village on the edge of town. The train there ran every hour at 11 minutes past. During the 6-minute ride, I chatted with a very elegant woman (around 80, I'd guess) from Lancashire, who'd recently returned from a 3-week river cruise all the way from Amsterdam to the Black sea. Next, she was headed on a tour to Athens and the Greek islands. She certainly was living life to the fullest.

Host John had sent me walking directions from the train station. He, black Labrador Sam, and two cats were there to welcome me to their home. He showed me my room upstairs after which we drank tea. I outlined my plan for my time in York and John helped me fine-tune a few things. Then I talked about "what next" and he gave me maps and brochures to help. As a result, I changed my plan for the next destination. I also exchanged a novel for one of his. The place was a Bed-and-Breakfast (B&B). I had a very nice, big room with a large bed and plenty of natural light, complete with tea/coffee facilities. There was a shared bathroom down the hall. A retired Aussie couple from rural Victoria were also guests. For supper, we all bought fish and chips, and mushy peas, which John fetched from a shop, and we ate, drank, and talked the night away. It was a good beginning to my holiday. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] As I got to the end of my street, several hundred yards from my bus stop, my bus went racing passed; bugger! Oh well, another would be along in 30 minutes. I walked into the village where I met an elderly man waiting at that stop. He owned a restored fire truck, and was going to pick it up to take it to an exhibition. He asked where I was traveling and highly recommended I visit the northeast coast of the county.

Very light rain fell as I waited and while we drove into and through York, and out the other side. Once we cleared the built-up areas, we came across fields of wheat surrounded by hedgerows, and a large horse farm with new-season foals racing about. The end of the line was the village of Stamford Bridge, the place where King Harold defeated the Vikings in 1066, just before he had to march his army south to face William the Conqueror at Hastings.

The exact location of the battle is unknown, so I looked at the memorial plaque before asking some locals for information. I headed to the bridge over the River Derwent to a public path that meandered along the river. The path was a narrow swath cut through 4-foot-high grass and stinging nettles with many wildflowers. Although the grass was wet, it hadn't been raining long or heavy, so my shoes and clothes didn't get very wet.

I made my way to the viaduct and walked on that over the river stopping to chat with a group of villagers who were working on a public garden at the old train station. Along the way, I stopped to pat some very friendly dogs and to chat with their masters. I walked around the village stopping occasionally to take a photo. I went inside the village church and wandered around the graveyard, which included markers for several local WWI soldiers. As I'd seen pretty much all there was to see, I waited for the next bus. As the friendly driver had sold me a day pass for the price of one return trip, I decided to go back to York and get off there.

[Diary] Back home, I set up my laptop on the breakfast table where I named the photos I'd taken, and brought this diary up to date after several days of neglect. Email arrived from friends Kathy and John with an update and photos of their time in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a city I have plans to revisit for an extended period. Fellow guests, Peter and Jan, returned from their trip into York, and we worked side-by-side sampling, repeatedly, the Cadbury's hazelnut chocolate I'd bought. Our hosts came home, and tempted us with fresh-made scones with jam and cream. I resisted eating there and then but took one for 'Ron (as in 'later on').

I researched the North Yorkshire Moors area and went online and booked a room for three nights, and checked out the transportation situation. For supper, I made a cup of cream-of-chicken soup, which I ate with potato chips, followed by a dessert of scones with a glass of milk. Lights out at 10, asleep at 10:01.

[Diary] I had a very nice breakfast of bacon, sausage, fried tomato on toast, and juice. I ate half and packed the rest for 'Ron. I walked into the village where I caught the mid-morning bus to York. A few drops of rain fell along the way. I got off at the train station where I bought my ticket for the following day. Then I boarded a city tour bus for a 1-hour tour, and I sat right up front, upstairs in the double-decker bus. After that orientation, I walked through some nice gardens, atop one section of the old city wall, around the York Minster (cathedral), and along narrow streets of shops including the famous one, The Shambles. I stopped to listen to on older man playing well-known ballads on a guitar and harmonica, then to two young women singing while a young man played guitar. As I approached, they were singing my new, favorite song, Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen, and that's what caught my attention. After four songs and lots of encouragement, Mr. C put one penny in their guitar case, and I put in £1. I figured they were high school students.

It was a mostly nice and sunny day with a cool, strong breeze blowing. Feeling tired, I walked back to the train station for a pint of cold milk and a Cornish pasty filled with Madras curry beef.

[Diary] I was up at 8 o'clock and packed soon after. At 8:30, John served me fried tomato on toast with bacon and sausage, and juice. It was all veddy civilized. I wrote in the guest book before settling in to a few more chapters of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I'd found on a shelf in my room. I left the house at 10:45 and walked to the main village bus stop where I chatted with an elderly couple. It was overcast with a cool breeze. I rode the bus to the York train station where I met two delightful Japanese ladies who were heading back to London and Tokyo. I also chatted with a young backpacker from New Zealand.

The 12:15 train to Middlesbrough arrived. The good news was I had a reserved seat; however, the bad news was that the train's printer wasn't working, so the staff couldn't print and put out the reserved-seat signs. That said, there was plenty of room and I staked out a table with four seats all to myself. As we raced north, I pored over maps and brochures getting a better idea of where I was headed. Once I happened to look out the right window where I saw the Kilburn White Horse, a very large horse made with limestone chips on the side of a hill in 1857. Soon after, the skies darkened, and it started to rain. At Middlesbrough, I had a 45-minute layover. On the 1:15-hour ride to Whitby, I chatted with an Englishwomen who'd long lived in Toronto, Canada. She too was headed for Whitby, and we exchanged information.

It was raining heavily as I came out of the railway station and crossed the street to the tourist office. There I got lots of good information and brochures. I also got an answer to my question, "I have come away without my woolen hat. Can you please direct me to a thrift shop where I might buy a used one?" Nearby was an Oxfam shop, and they had just the thing; a gaudy knitted hat suitable for a circus clown and that doubled as a tea cosy. It was perfect, and cost only £2!

Armed with my town map, I walked up some steep steps in the rain and soon found my new home, a 4-storey townhouse that had been very nicely renovated. Host Helen was there to meet me and to explain the house rules. The first was to remove street shoes. And as I travel with slippers anyway, I was happy to do that. She boiled water, but instead of tea, I made a cup of minestrone soup from my emergency rations. We chatted of many things before I went up to the attic bedroom that had a window looking out over the river and the east side of town. High on the hill the Abbey ruin was visible through light fog and rain.

I did a load of laundry and hung that all around my room to give the place some ambiance. I worked on my laptop and then spent quite some time going through all the tourist information I'd accumulated. By the time I was done, I'd decided that three nights wasn't long enough, so I extended my stay by another night.

Although I was yawning, I decided to go out into the night air for a brisk walk. I rugged up and went out around 8 pm. Thankfully, the rain had long since stopped. I toured a large supermarket and picked up some juice, sweets, cheese, and small deserts of vanilla custard and rice pudding. I walked all along the waterfront on the east side stopping to look in all the shop windows. Most fast-food places were closed or just about to when I came upon a fish-and-chip shop from which I rescued a large sausage that was battered and fried. It was served with a large cup of curry sauce into which I dipped said sausage. It was wonderful! I ate half and then walked out to the end of the East Pier right into the teeth of a strong and cold wind right off the North Sea. At the end of the pier, I found a sheltered spot behind a stone wall where I finished off my late-night snack. Back in my room, it was lights out at 9:30.

[Diary] When I woke, I felt sure it was only 6 am, but it was nearly 9:30 and I'd had 12 solid hours of sleep. YES! I went downstairs to the kitchen where I made coffee and toast, which I smothered in raspberry jam and cheese, together. It was a Breakfast of Champions. I was very happy to take a break from a cooked English breakfast.

Although the rain had ended, it was cold and windy out, so I rugged up before stepping outside around 11 o'clock. There, lo and behold, in the front garden next door were some 10 toilet bowls filled with soil and many colorful flowers. My host had lent me two town walking guidebooks, and my plan was to follow those. I started with the west side of town crossing the so-called swinging bridge. I stopped off at the Captain Cook Museum where young James lived during his seaman's apprenticeship. Then it was along the River Esk to the East Pier and breakwater. After that, it was up the 199 steps to the cemetery at St. Mary's church. According to my guidebook, "The broad landings and seats were designed 'for the easement of bearers of coffins where they rested their burden on the long climb to the clifftop graveyard'." Nearby was the Abbey Ruin that inspired the story of Dracula. Back at the river I dropped by a fish-and-chip shop to sample a serving of fried onion rings.

Back across the river, I started the walking tour of the west side of town. That took me to an overlook having an archway made of whalebones near a statue of Captain Cook that had plaques from Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, all marking his exploits in their lands. By the time I got back to my starting point the sun was out and it was decidedly warmer.

I was back at my B&B after 4½ hours, and my legs were complaining about all the steep steps and paths. I settled in at the dining table to handle email, name photos, and to work on this diary. Co-host Phil, who was a professional musician, and I chatted a bit before he headed out to conduct a small local orchestra. I continued listening to an album by Enya and stopped along the way for a cup of minestrone soup and some leftover food. A young German-speaking couple from Switzerland arrived and I gave them a brief orientation to the house and town. They were staying two nights in a room in the basement.

After more than four hours of travel administration, I was ready for a stretch, so I dressed to go out before retiring for the night. I walked around for an hour, and the sun was still high in the sky at 8 pm. I stopped off at a large public garden around a museum center and large playground. Then it was back into the old town along back streets and alleyways. Lights out at 10 o'clock.

[Diary] I readied my daypack and was out the door by 9:15. The weather was decent, cool with lots of clouds and no wind. I walked through the old town and on up the 199 steps to the Abbey ruin parking lot. There at 9:40 I started the 6½-mile hike on the Cleveland Way along the clifftops. I soon found that I had on too many layers of clothing, so perspired quite a bit. The path went way up and way down, repeatedly, and I sure was happy to get to Robin Hood's Bay after 2½ hours. The village had an upper part (where I arrived) and a lower part down by the water. I quickly decided that I had no desire—let alone energy—to go down and back up one more hill, so I stayed in the upper section sitting on the grass having my lunch and a pint of milk.

After a 40-minute break, I turned around and went back up the hill to the Cinder Trail, the bed of a former railway track that was removed many years ago. Although it wasn't steep, it had a steady incline up for the first four miles of the return trip. It ran inland following the hill contour and was several hundred feet higher than the coastal trail. I took just over two hours to get back to Whitby. By that time my feet were very sore with several small blisters developing. After a hot shower and a large drink of juice, I lay on the bed wondering how I could have done such a punishing thing. To revive, I had a cup of boiling tea with extra sugar.

I stayed in for the evening, as I didn't want to put my walking shoes back on. After a cup of soup and a snack, I worked on various bits of administration including researching the next area to visit and the next place to stay. My first choice for a host had the gall to turn me down as she already had a couple and didn't want to have to make them share a bathroom with me. Well, I farted in her general direction and went on to Plan B. Very soon after, I found the perfect place, in a town, some distance away, and that host was delighted to have me. She'd be out when I arrived, but she'd leave a key hidden and I was to have a cup of tea on arrival and generally make myself at home. Lights out at 10, tossed and turned until 11, read some more, and finally put out the light by midnight. Although I was happy to have done the hike, I knew for certain that I don't work that hard for money!

[Diary] I slept rather fitfully with my legs and knees aching off and on after the previous day's walk. I finally got up around 9 o'clock and went down for a light breakfast. I headed out into a nice day around 11 am and started by buying a train ticket to my next destination, a village near Harrogate. Then I rescued an ice-cold can of Pepsi from a shop and enjoyed the caffeine boost. After the hard walk the day before, I abandoned my idea of going to the North York Moors National Park to walk around. Instead, I decided to go to Sandsend, a small village some four miles up the coast. However, the bus there was very late, so I didn't arrive until noon. Families were playing down on the beach, ducks swam in the small river that came down from the hills, and people sat outside several restaurants and cafes eating lunch and drinking coffee. At times, the sun was nice and warm, and with little wind, it was very pleasant.

I walked to the end of the village and found a second river going back up into a valley with stone cottages each side and walking paths and seats by grassed areas down near the water. At the end was the village church. In the entrance, I stopped to look at the cost of various ceremonies one could have conducted by the Church of England: Marriage service £413; Baptisms were free, but a certificate cost £13; and Funeral with burial in the churchyard preceding or following a service in the church £310. I sat on a bench near the seawall and read my novel for some time before an elderly woman joined me and we chatted at length. She was on a day outing with a teenage granddaughter.

Mid-afternoon, I rode the bus back and bought a nice tuna salad, potato chips, and milk, and settled on a bench to eat while a school band performed in the public plaza. Although the weather was still decent, dark clouds crept closer. I was back in my room at 4 o'clock listening to music and handling emails. Some light rain fell. In the evening, I went out for a walk to the end of the pier. The sea was quite calm, in contrast to when I'd arrived Monday evening. Along the way, I dropped into several snack places to have a battered sausage, a scoop of ice cream, and a pint of milk. Back home, I finished off my novel. Lights out at 11 o'clock.

[Diary] Travel Day! I woke just before 9 am, and after a long, hot shower, I packed my gear and vacated my room just as the cleaning ladies arrived to service the house. I spent the morning sitting at the dining table working on various tasks. Although some rain fell, things brightened up as the morning wore on. At 11:30, I departed my place and headed for a narrow street purported to have a bakery with the best sausage rolls in town! I wanted two, but for an extra 10 pence, I could get four. That was not a tough decision by any means, and even though they didn't have any packets of ketchup, the young assistant put a sufficient quantity of that nectar in a paper cup for me to take away. I made my way to the train station as a few drops of rain fell. There I chatted with a couple from Nottingham. When I asked about the health of their sheriff, they replied that he was well.

I boarded the 12:18, 2-carriage train to Middlesbrough, and took a table with four seats all to myself, and I sat facing forward. Across the way was an older couple with a very well-behaved dog who got constant attention from me during the 90-minute trip. It was slow going as we had 15 stops. The whole trip was through valleys in amongst rolling hills, with small rivers with heron, hedgerows, stone walls, and green fields all with yellow and white flowers. There were newly shorn sheep, dairy cattle, geese waddling home from a pond, horses, and pheasants. It was a wonderful trip. Although it was overcast, there was a nice breeze coming in through the window.

After a 45-minute wait in Middlesbrough, I caught the 14:27 train for Manchester Airport getting off at York, where I had another 45-minute wait. As I waited for my 16:10 train, I struck up a conversation with a young woman who was an art student whose medium was photography. She'd worked after high school before going to university, and was 23 years old. She was the youngest of four daughters and had spent her formative years in France, so was fluent in French. We hit it off immediately, she invited me to her mother's clothing store for tea, and I accepted. From the station in Knaresborough, it was a short walk to the middle of town and soon we were in her mother's shop, Giraffe, where I met her mother, Elizabeth. We chatted over tea after which Elizabeth invited me to a musical concert later that evening, and I accepted. Interestingly, the young woman's first name was Boadecea, an alternative spelling for the famous warrior queen, with whom I was somewhat familiar. Like her namesake, she was a very independent woman, and meeting her was most fortuitous. [As I say repeatedly about travel, you can have a good or bad time anywhere in the world; it largely depends on your attitude and the people you meet. And traveling with a colorful, toy caterpillar sticking out of your coat pocket makes meeting interesting people much easier!]

I walked out into the rain and after 10 minutes found my new home, a private house with a large yard in a nice neighborhood. My host, Corrina, was out, but she's left me a key under a large flowerpot, so I let myself in and settled into my nice upstairs room. As it had been a bit humid out, I showered and then dressed for an evening of music. At 6:45, I headed out for St. John's Church where I chatted with a woman while we waited for the doors to be opened. I bought a ticket for £6 getting senior's concession. I reserved seats in the very first pew and soon after, Elizabeth and her friend Stephen, who I'd also met earlier, joined me. At 7:30, Christian Forshaw and the Sanctuary Ensemble began their concert. According to the program, his music explores the ecclesiastical sound world. He played saxophone, while two other men played percussion and an electric organ, and a woman sang. I wasn't sure what to expect from that style of music featuring a sax, but it was most enjoyable and very well arranged. The event took two hours, and included an intermission during which we went to the church hall for refreshments. While others drank wine, I had a glass of apple with elderflower drink while chatting with a man who was taking an opera-appreciation course.

When we adjourned, the weather out was very nice, and I walked home humming all the way. There I met my host before retiring to my room to read. [Host Corinna was a single mom with three young kids who lived half each week with her and half with their father. Before kids, she travelled a great deal and was an outgoing person who just happened to rent out her spare room.] The afternoon and evening had left an excellent first impression of my new town.

[Diary] I went downstairs around 8 o'clock and had some fruit, juice, and milk while I worked on a plan for activities for the next few days. Corinna joined me at 9 am and we chatted. Then she worked on her computer at her end of the dining table while I did likewise at mine. I extended my 3-day stay with her by two days then after an hour of research, I'd booked an upscale B&B right in the heart of the Dales for my last two nights in Yorkshire, and I'd made a plan for how to spend my time.

I stepped outside at 11 o'clock into a magnificent day that was almost hot. I walked into town taking photos and keeping an eye out for a bakery. I found one in the main square and I bought a cheese and onion roll for a light snack, and a bacon roll for 'Ron. I dropped by Elizabeth's shop to say "Hello." From there I wound around the streets to the castle and adjacent museum where I took a tour. The attendant was ever so obliging when I asked her to take a photo of me in the stocks. Nearby were very nice gardens, on the steep slope going down to the river. I walked along the riverbank for quite some distance and watched people working on expanding further their already generous waistlines. I tried to rent a rowboat at two different places, but they required at least two passengers, one to row, facing backwards, the other to steer using a rudder, facing forwards. Frankly, in all my years around rowboats I'd never seen one with a rudder. I walked back into the shopping area and sat in the sun on the steps of a monument where I chatted at length with a woman who was camping in the area.

[Diary] I headed out at 11 am. The local bus stop was a few yards from my front door and I had a 10-minute wait during which an elderly man talked to me of many things. The bus took me to Harrogate's main bus station where I checked the timetables for the return trip as well as other trips later in the week. Next door, was the train station, so I went there to buy my ticket to London for later in the week. The friendly agent found me a very good fare, which, oddly enough was in First Class, so I locked that in.

Harrogate is an upscale place full of nice (expensive, that is) shops and eating establishments. One of its most famous places is Bettys Café Tea Rooms, so I dropped by to look at the patrons through the window. From there it was down a steep hill through a very upscale area. It was Armed Forces Day, and a special activity was being held at a garden complex nearby. The grounds were in bloom and many people—young and old—were dressed in civilian and military clothing from WWII. The live entertainment featured singers and bands playing tunes from that era, and booths sold food and drink. A number of WWII vehicles were on display, and the Yorkshire Regiment had a booth, as did the Royal Air Force Reserves. Mid-afternoon, a Spitfire fighter flew over several times to great applause. It rained a few drops a couple of times then a bit stronger once, but only for a few minutes. Afterwards, we all got back on the grass. I chatted with a young family who'd moved from London and were enjoying the city.

[Diary] I was awake well before my 6:30-am alarm. After a small snack, Corinna and I drove through the countryside to Skipton, to pick up her three children who'd been at their dad's place. We drove through rolling hills of green grass, stone walls, and sheep. It was very scenic. At 7:45, she dropped me right in the middle of town. The main street was busy as people were setting up booths for the day's market. After a short walk around to orient myself, I settled in at a table at Walker's Tea Room where a very pleasant woman served me a bacon roll and a tall glass of steaming hot chocolate. I grabbed a local magazine from a shelf and did some puzzles, and then read an interesting article about the re-launching of a 50-year-old set of TV puppets, The Clangers. The new venture starred Michael Palin (of Monty Python fame) as the narrator.

I walked along a canal path and stopped to look at some barges on which people lived. When I came to a barge rental place, I went onboard one to see how it was equipped, and to find out the price for a week's rental. [For some years, renting a canal barge has been on my "possibles" trip list.] By the time I got back to the market, booths were open, and I stopped to buy cheap pairs of socks "for very tall men". At the tourist office, I got a map and some brochures, and I watched a great 35-minute video of Yorkshire. The main attraction of the town is its well-preserved castle, so I toured that. While there, I learned about the large Castle Woods behind it, so I decided to hike there. It was a mile up along a small, cascading river, then a mile west to the edge of the woods, all under a heavy canopy. My two favorite plants were everywhere: moss and ferns. Once out of the wood, I climbed a stile over a fence and walked another mile back to town through a farmer's field. As I climbed a large stone stile at the top of a hill, I met a woman walking a dog. We talked for a bit and admired the view of the valley and town. The path entered town right by Walker's Tea Rooms, which I took as an omen. So, I dropped in for another glass of hot chocolate, which I drank with my leftover breakfast. I sat outside under an awning watching the world go by. I walked back along the canal and hopped on a tour barge for a 30-minute tour along one section of the canal below the castle, feeding the ducks with a packet of food I bought onboard. Having had an early start, I'd done all I wanted to do in that town, so I headed for the railway station.

There were no direct busses or trains to Harrogate, so I caught a train to Leeds. We went through rolling hills of green grass, stone walls, and sheep. In Leeds, I walked around the city center for an hour. It was mostly modern high-rise with upscale shops and eating-places with a few old buildings in-between. I bought an ice cream and kept in the shade, as it was quite warm. Back at the station, I paid a visit to the men's toilets, and there, right next to me standing having a whizz, was a young guy playing with his mobile phone. It brought a completely new meaning to the term "streaming video!" After a 30-minute wait, I boarded a train to Knaresborough via Harrogate, and—you guessed it—we went through rolling hills of green grass, stone walls, and sheep! I walked into town and bought emergency rations at a supermarket before heading home. Not only were Corinna's three kids there, but so too were five of their friends, and all were active and noisy, just like a group of kids should be. And it was great to see that not one of them was using an electronic gadget. I kept out of their way by laying on my bed reading my novel, venturing out once all the guests had gone home. I heated up some leftover food and had a light supper before getting back to my novel. Lights out at 10 pm after a great day.

[Diary] It was Travel Day! I packed my gear and was waiting at the bus stop out front by 9:45, and the bus pulled up several minutes later. We had a leisurely ride into Harrogate where I had a 20-minute wait until my next bus. The Number 24 to Pateley Bridge arrived, we boarded, and it left, right on time at 10:30. The 50-minute ride cost £6. A young mother with a small child in a stroller sat up front next to me, and we chatted until she got off. I looked out the windows on both sides as we drove through the countryside. You guessed it; there were green fields, stone walls, and sheep. However, there were also hedgerows and cattle. All buildings were made of stone and had slate roofs. I was now well and truly in the Yorkshire Dales. It was quite hot out and rather humid.

In Pateley Bridge, I went to the tourist office where I got a map of the village and some information about things to see and do. I also bought a walking map that described a series of short hikes in the area. Next up was my B&B, Roslyn House, where I planned to drop my gear before going walking. Even though I arrived four hours before check-in time, my room was ready, and the hostess, Judith, showed me to my room.

I chose a 6-mile walk that would take me up to the top of the highest hills in the area, from which I could look out over the river valley. The first couple of miles were quite steep, starting on paved roads and then soon becoming public paths across farmers' fields. As I got near the top, I collapsed on the cool, damp grass and put my heart back in my chest. "It could be worse," thought I. "I could be doing this in winter, through a snow drift, on my way to deliver twin lambs on a remote farm, just like veterinarian James Herriot!"

At the top of the ridge, I crossed a section of moorland. However, when I came to a fork on the path, my guidebook provided no help. I went back and forth several times trying to find out which option to choose. By that time, the skies were getting dark and thunder and lightning were just across the valley. Light rain fell right about the time I realized I was no longer where I was supposed to be. Then the Mother-of-all-Thunder-Claps sounded directly above me. The Gods seemed to be quite angry. But was that at me, specifically, or at mankind, in general? I was no longer on a path, so I waded through the tall grass, climbed a stone wall, and crawled under a high gate, generally heading for the valley below where I knew the river and a path to be. Somewhere along the way, my sun hat fell from my waistband and was lost. I was in no mood to go back and look for it. The weather held off, but just as I got to the river, light rain fell again. However, from that point on, I was under a thick canopy of trees. I was back home after 3:30 hours, and I figure I'd done 1–2 miles more than I'd planned. C'est la vie! Back in my room, I had a shower and lay on the bed, too tired to sleep or to do anything useful. It was hot with no breeze.

At 6 o'clock, I ventured out to look for a place to eat, and I soon found a small restaurant tucked away on a back alley. I was the only customer until a couple arrived a bit later. I ordered the sausages, mashed potato, and gravy, which came with a very large plate of cooked vegetables. I sipped an ice-cold Coke while I waited. It was a lot of food, but I took my time and worked on some puzzles. Afterwards, I walked around the village stopping to buy a pint of whole milk. Back in my room, I started a new novel I'd gotten from the lounge room where I swapped over the two books I'd finished.

Lights out at 10:30 and I was asleep right away. I slept soundly until 11:55 when it sounded like the sky was falling, which it was! A hailstorm came and went in about four minutes, and from the sound of the ice chunks landing, some of them were big. I heard the sounds of glass and other things breaking. The burglar alarm on one car was activated, and kept on with lights flashing for some time. It rained very hard for no more than 10 minutes, and the water rushed down the side street out my window. The rain stopped altogether soon after and all I could hear was the sound of bleating sheep. Certainly, some hailstones would have been big enough to kill or maim a small animal.

[Diary] Soon after 8 o'clock, I was down in the dining room. Judith played waiter while her husband was in charge of the kitchen. I had a glass of orange juice while studying the menu. There was a wide range of choices. I settled on some toast, a fried egg, bacon, fried tomatoes, and black pudding, saving the bacon for 'Ron. I took my time and worked on some puzzles while sipping juice, and it was 9:15 by the time I was done. The storm had certainly cooled things off and cleared the air of humidity, and except for all the small dents in the cars from the hail and a broken window in the B&B's dining room, there was no evidence a storm had occurred.

I set out on a 2-mile walk/hike around my village. I took no jacket or pack, as it was only a 2-mile walk! However, not long into it I found that the distinct lack of signposts for the paths and the lack of information in my guidebook made it as challenging as the day before and pretty soon I was off the network and climbing fences. It occurred to me that the map might have been left over from WWII when misinformation was deliberately circulated to confuse any invading enemy. After an extra mile or more, I made it back home, but not before it'd gotten quite cool with thunder and lightning in the distance. I certainly had perspired a lot and my shirt was soaking wet. What to do but sit right down and boil the kettle for a hot cup of tea. That was matched nicely with some fruitcake and a cookie. The downside of the local walking experiences was that I abandoned all interest in doing another in the afternoon.

[Diary] As I stepped out of my B&B, a Royal Air Force fighter jet flew directly overhead at a very low altitude with its noise shattering the rural silence. At 11:15, I was at the bus stop and soon after, the 11:30 departed for Harrogate. On the way, we had the obligatory green fields, stone walls, and sheep! At Harrogate, I made the short walk to the train station where I settled into a coffee shop for a large latte and a blueberry muffin that was "to die for."

I arrived at London's Kings Cross station around 5:15, and fought my way through all the people to the Hammersmith and Circle Tube line. It was very humid, especially underground and on the train with little air circulation. I checked into my hotel at Paddington, dumped my gear, and headed back out again, into the city. A new theater guide had been issued the day before, so I grabbed a copy at my hotel to read on the Tube to Leicester Square. There was only one new play that I really wanted to see, but I thought that might be too new to be on sale yet. To my pleasant surprise, tickets were available and at a decent price, so I made my way to the Vaudeville Theatre on The Strand where I took up a seat in the stalls with a great view of the stage. At 7:30, the lights went down and the curtain went up on Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, starring David Suchet and Michelle Dotrice. Suchet played a woman, Lady Bracknell, and he did it superbly. The three acts plus intermissions ran 2½ hours, and the play was extremely well received, with a standing ovation and two curtain calls. It had been a long time since I'd enjoyed a play that much. It was my second time seeing Suchet on stage in London, and he's well and truly broken the Poirot stereotype with those performances.

[Diary] July 4th, American Independence Day! Oh, say can you see …

At Paddington Station, I boarded the Heathrow Express train and, at 8:10, it departed for the 15-minute ride to LHR. My carriage was quite full for a Saturday morning, especially considering that trains depart every 15 minutes. I got off at the first stop and made the long walk to Terminal 2 where check-in took place way up on the 5th floor. I said goodbye to my luggage and passed through the priority security check where Mr. C survived the X-ray machine. The estimated walk to my gate was 15 minutes! Of course, with my Seven-League boots, I managed that in half the time, but it was quite a hike. Near my gate was a United Airlines Business Lounge, where I set up camp in a comfortable seat to work on this diary. Although I'd be served lunch onboard, I looked at the food on offer there and rescued a couple of tasty Lincolnshire sausages and some fried potato. That was accompanied by a glass of peach nectar.

At 11 o'clock, I got up to look at the departure screen, and was just in time to see the staff setting up lunch. Being July 4th, they had shredded pork with BBQ sauce, coleslaw, and beans. It looked so good that I figured it would be better than the lunch I'd get in-flight, so I helped myself to a portion.

Back home, I unpacked my gear and went through three weeks of mail, and had an unnecessary snack and drink. It was good to be home with my own kitchen and bed. As jetlag kicked in, I wandered off to bed at 7:30, local time (12:30 am, London time).

Signs of Life: Part 18

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

Magnetic signs in my Tokyo hotel room, which I could stick on the outside of my room's metal door.

I especially liked the pictures.

 

Once you've seen this sign on the sides of vans, you start to wonder what it's all about.

According to Wikipedia, "Yamato Transport is Japan's largest door-to-door delivery service companies." Supposedly, they are as careful as a momma cat is when she moves her kittens!

 

Well, do you?

Yakiniku refers to grilled meat cuisine.

 

East meets west.

BTW, this famous American brand of whiskey is now owned by the Japanese!

 

As big as the Japanese are on small animals as pets, this is a recyclable bottle made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

 

I was staying at a ryokan on Izu Peninsular, and there were two sets of indoor baths with change rooms. The larger one was usually assigned to men; however, at certain times of each day, they swapped over the signs, so the ladies could enjoy the larger communal bath. Now while I remember reading this soon after I checked in, I promptly forgot about it, until that is, I was coming out of what had been the men's room the day before, and ran into a woman coming in. She gasped at the sight of the giant gaijin (foreigner) coming out of the (currently) ladies' room, and raced away!

 

When staying at a ryokan, one gets to wear a kimono-like gown called a yukata, for walking around the house and gardens, and for sleeping. The important thing to remember is shown in the box marked Caution! It states, "Do not put the right side of the Yukata over the left side—this is the way Japanese people dress corpses." So, unless you want to be a "dead man walking", pay attention!

 

In my many years of seeing this beverage during my trips to Japan, I cannot get inspired by drinking the sweat from anything! That said, this sports drink is very popular.

According to Wikipedia, "The reference to sweat in the name of the beverage tends to have a certain off-putting or humorous connotation for native English speakers. However, the name was chosen by the manufacturers originally for the purpose of marketing the product as a sports drink in Japan, where English words are used differently. It was largely derived from the notion of what it is intended to supply to the drinker: all of the nutrients and electrolytes lost when sweating. The first part of the name, Pocari, does not have any meaning; the word was coined for its light, bright sound."

 

Sign on a commercial laundry, probably not run by the Chinaman, Mr. Clea Ning!

 

On the table of a restaurant. Once a customer has ordered, waitstaff do not come and ask, "Is everything OK?" several times throughout the meal. If you want their attention, or to get the bill, you simply press the button, and someone comes.

 

Just in case you were wondering what this pet store is offering, the list contains the following: dog run, dog cafe, dog products, souvenirs, porcelain, and, of course, more!

 

In some Japanese restaurants, one takes off one's street shoes and puts on slippers provided by the host. (However, as I can attest, one size does not fit all!) So, what to do with one's own shoes? Put them in a storage locker in the foyer, close the locker door, and take the wooden block "key" with you. Wakari-mas? (Do you understand?)

 

From a sign outside a store on the island of Enoshima.

For only 500 yen, you can take off your shoes and socks, roll up your pants legs, sit down with your feet in a pond, and let the fish remove all the dead skin. It's ticklish fun!

 

According to Wiktionary, capricious means "impulsive and unpredictable; determined by chance, impulse, or whim." An interesting name for a resort.

 

While all the kinds of people qualified to sit in this train seat are obvious, I can't help but feel sorry for the woman who appears to be pregnant with triplets!

 

As Wikipedia states, 'The maneki-neko, literally "beckoning cat", is a common Japanese figurine (lucky charm, talisman) which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.' You'll see it "all over the place."

BTW, neko is Japanese for cat.

 

Washington D.C.

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Washington D.C. is the capital city of the United States of America. The "DC" suffix means "District of Columbia", and the city is often referred to as "Washington" or simply "D.C." However, note that there is also a state called Washington (think Seattle and Spokane), in the extreme northwest of the Continental US, so using the term "Washington" can cause confusion unless the context is clear.

D.C. is the home of the headquarters of the three branches of the Federal Government: The Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. [Almost all the Executive Departments and Agencies are within the limits of the District of Columbia, but the Department of Defense is actually across the Potomac River in the Pentagon located in the state of Virginia.]

According to Wikipedia, at the time of writing, "The city hosts 177 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profit, lobbying groups, and professional associations, including the World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States, …".

For a detailed overview of Washington D.C., click here.

Shape and Layout

When D.C. was created in 1791, it was a 10-mile-by-10-mile square consisting of land contributed by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and the Potomac River that separated them. However, in 1847, that part contributed by Virginia was returned to that state, leaving approximately 69 square miles (69% of the original), the southwestern, jagged edge of which borders on the Potomac.

Some 19% of the city's total area is parkland, which contains a wide variety of plant and animal species, including deer and coyotes.

The streets of D.C. are organized in a grid system. Those running north-south are numbered (as in First, Second, and Third Street), those running east-west are lettered (as in D, E, and F Street), and those running diagonally, at least in the downtown area, are named for states (as in New York Avenue and Virginia Avenue). Now while such a plan keeps it simple for Members of Congress and those that lobby them, in order to confuse any invading army—not to mention people visiting from out-of-town—a twist was added. The Capitol building is at the center of a rectangular coordinate system whose four quadrants are named—TA DAH!—Northwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest! And any street in a quadrant has the suffix NW, NE, SE, or SW, as appropriate. (For example, the Whitehouse is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, and Union [railway] Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE.) As a result, there are actually four distinct intersections of 6th and C Streets, for example, one per quadrant.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

This is probably one of the best-known addresses in the world and is the location of the White House, the residence of the US President. This building includes the West Wing, the location of the President's Oval Office.

Marine One is the Presidential helicopter, which typically transports the President to/from Air Force One (stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland) and to/from the Presidential retreat, Camp David, in rural Maryland. Marine One lands in the front yard of the White House. [Once while taking a cousin on a tour of the D.C. Mall, I watched Marine One land to deliver President George W. Bush. Some years later, I watched Air Force One land at the Naval Air Station in San Diego, California, with President Obama onboard.]

Every four years, on January 20, the President takes office at the Presidential inauguration, held on the steps of the US Capitol Building. The Presidential motorcade—and its very long parade—then travels from the Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue. [I stood out in the cold along Pennsylvania Avenue for the first inaugurations of Presidents Reagan and Clinton.]

Across the street from the White House is Blair House, where visiting dignitaries and other guests of the President sometimes stay. When a head of a foreign government is in residence there, at the corner of each street in the surrounding neighborhoods, a set of three flags fly: Washington D.C.'s flag, the US flag, and the flag of the country of the visiting leader. [When Harry Truman was President and the White House was being renovated, he lived at Blair House. During that time, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate him there.]

The Capitol and Surrounds

[Note the distinction between "capital" and "capitol".]

The United States Capitol building houses the Federal Senate and House chambers, which together make up Congress, the Legislative Branch of government. This building sits atop a hill in what is known as the Capitol Hill district. The Capitol (and other places mentioned below) are protected by the Capitol Police. The public may tour the Capitol via the Capitol Visitor Center (which I highly recommend visitors do).

The offices of Senators and Representatives, their staff, and meeting rooms, are not located in the Capitol. Instead, they are located on the north side of Constitution Avenue NE (Senate) and the south side of Independence Avenue SW (House). However, they are part of the Capitol Complex, and are protected by the Capitol Police.

On the eastern side of First Street NE stands the U.S. Supreme Court (pinnacle of the federal Judicial Branch), and next door, on the eastern side of First Street SE, stands the main building of the Library of Congress, the research arm of the US Congress. The United States Botanic Garden is in the southwest corner of the Capitol grounds. These places are also part of the Capitol Complex and are protected by the Capitol Police.

Although the Library of Congress doesn't look too impressive from the outside, it is definitely worth a visit just to see the interior. As well as entering via its main door, a tunnel leads to it from the Capitol.

The Supreme Court building is also worth a visit even if you don't plan on attending a formal session. There is an orientation video narrated by one or more of the justices, halls of permanent exhibits, and sometimes temporary exhibitions. There is also a nice cafeteria.

The National Mall and Memorial Parks

This is the large area to the west of the Capitol and is part of the National Park Service.

Much of this area used to be a mosquito-infested swamp, which is why, from time to time, people running for national office who have not served before in Washington promise that if elected, they will come to D.C. and "Drain the swamp!"

I highly recommend visiting the following:

  • Smithsonian Museums: These have free admission, although there is a charge for some special exhibits and movies. The National Air and Space Museum is perhaps the most-visited museum in the world. The place to start in the National Museum of the American Indian is in a small, circular theater on the top floor where a video is projected onto blankets. Although its cafeteria isn't cheap—visit even if you don't eat there—all the food is native American, as are all the things in the gift store. The administration building, the Castle, is also worth a visit.
  • Washington Monument (site of a major fireworks display on July 4th): Thankfully, tourists no longer need to stand out in the weather to get inside. Now, they get a (free) ticket in advance, which is stamped for a particular date/time.
  • Lincoln Memorial: The destination of various protests, and where one can stand on the spot from which Martin Luther King gave his "I have a dream" speech. Don't miss the basement where you can watch the video shown there. The 36 columns represent the 36 states in existence when Lincoln was President. The classic view is from the left or right edge upstairs, east across the Reflecting Pool, past the Washington Monument, and to the Capitol.
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial: After all the war memorials showing dead white guys on horseback, this was a big departure when it was completed in 1982. It's a wall sunken into the ground with the names of the 58,220 dead and missing-in-action engraved on a series of panels ordered by year. Nearby directories help you locate the panel for a given name. Nearby is the Three Servicemen Statue (with Agent Orange marker) and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial: After the Vietnam Memorial, it was a challenge for "what next" in war memorials, but this one really does justice to the conflict. I'm especially taken by the wall containing sandblasted images of photos carried by servicemen.
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial: Situated on the Tidal Basin with a larger-than-life statue at its heart.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial: This set of four open-rooms shows via writing and sculpture a snapshot of each of FDR's terms in office. And you can join the throngs of people who have patted the bronze head of the statue of his well-known dog, Fala.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial: This statue is also situated on the Tidal Basin.
  • National World War II Memorial: At the center of the Mall, this relatively new memorial is sunken down, so it doesn't obscure the view down the Mall at ground level.

Personally, I prefer to visit most of the monuments and memorials at night.

Each spring, the Tidal Basic is the location of the National Cherry Blossom Festival when many visitors come to see the pink and white blossoms. However, it is not uncommon to have strong winds and/or heavy rain in the days before the festival, resulting in many of the blossoms being knocked from the trees.

Local Government

Washington D.C. is not a state (yet)! Instead, it is a federal territory whose government is headed by a mayor and council. However, the US Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws.

For more information on how this all works, click here.

Federal Representation and Federal Elections

Washington D.C. is one of six US Federal Territories (the others being American SamoaGuam, the Northern Mariana IslandsPuerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). None of these territories has a voting member in the US Congress, not even D.C.! And while D.C. does have a non-voting, at-large congressional delegate to the House of Representatives, it has no representation at all in the Senate. In that respect, citizens residing in D.C. definitely are second-class Americans!

Leading up to the American Revolution, in 1773, the Boston Tea Party was a protest by the American colonists who objected to Britain's Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to "no taxation without representation" in British Parliament. Fast-forward 246 years, and we find that the D.C. motor vehicle license plate contains the phrase "End taxation without representation."

In 1961, the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution went into effect. For Presidential elections, this treats D.C. like the least-populous state, as though it had one Representative and two Senators, resulting in its having three electoral votes. (The other 535 electors come from the 50 states.) So, since 1961, citizens in the nation's capital can actually vote in a Presidential election. (See District of Columbia voting rights for more information.) But they still don't have a vote in Congress!

It is interesting to see how some other countries having a "capital territory" deal with this issue:

The Fight for Statehood

There have been, and continue to be, efforts to get D.C. full statehood. And if that were successful, given the model used for Federal representation in Congress for the 50 states, that would result in D.C. have one Representative and two Senators. Now, D.C. has long been a bastion of the Democratic Party, so it is quite likely that all three of these positions would ultimately be held by Democrats. With the Senate having only 100 members (two per state), adding two extra Democrats could easily cause control to swing Democrats' way. (As the House has 435 members, an addition of one would not have anywhere near as big an impact.) As a result, Republican opposition to statehood is high.

See District of Columbia statehood movement for more information.

The War of 1812

Although the British lost the American Revolutionary War in 1783, after licking their wounds, they decided to come back and "have another go," from June 1812 through February 1815. In August of 1814, the blighters actually captured and occupied the US Capital, and set fire to the White House and Capitol. Altogether, they were quite an unfriendly lot!

These days, the Brits seem to be content with a small bit of land in D.C. for an embassy, and permission for its staff and other subjects to play cricket in/near The Mall.

The Greater Metropolital Area

The Washington DC metro area includes the Maryland suburbs on the east side of the Potomac River, and the Virginia suburbs on the west side. This is especially important for prospective tourists to know when they are looking for accommodation. Although the D.C. subway system is relatively small, it does provide easy access to D.C. from numerous Maryland and Virginia areas.

The population of D.C proper is around 700,000 while the metro area has more than six million. Given the large number of people commuting to work from the suburbs, it is estimated that D.C.'s weekday population exceeds a million.

Conclusion

Washington D.C. was not the first national capital. The former capitals include Annapolis, Maryland; New York City, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Trenton, New Jersey.

The second President, John Adams, was the first to occupy the White House, in November 1800. Interestingly, the Vice President did not have an official residence until 1974 when a house on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory was made available. However, its first fulltime resident was Walter Mondale (1977–1981).

Presidential history buffs can visit Ford's Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was fatally wounded.

Many of D.C. neighborhoods have names, and one of the best-known is Georgetown with its brownstone houses and up-scale shopping and eating establishments. It is also home to Georgetown University, and the place where the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal joins the Potomac River.

One of the best "secrets" of D.C. is Theodore Roosevelt Island, a National Park on an island in the Potomac River. Although many thousands of commuters drive over part of it on a bridge each workday, because the island is only accessible from Virginia, and then by only one entrance while driving west, it's not easy to get to, and there is very little parking. Having walked and picnicked there many times, in all four seasons, I highly recommend going there. And if you are a little adventurous and the north shore of the island isn't flooded, you can make your way off the path through the woods to stand on a beach and get the only uninterrupted view of the Kennedy Center and Watergate complex (see below).

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts overlooks the Potomac River, as does the nearby Watergate building complex, the location of the great Watergate break-in, in 1972, that ultimately led to President Nixon's resignation.

The Washington Post newspaper was started in 1877. It is well-known for its reporting on the Watergate scandal, which was the subject of the 1976 movie, "All the President's Men." The 2017 movie, "The Post", covers the paper's decision in 1971 to publish the Pentagon Papers.

According to Wikipedia, "Washington was once described as the 'murder capital' of the United States during the early 1990s. The number of murders peaked in 1991 at 479, but the level of violence then began to decline significantly." Interestingly, in 1995, the owner of "The Washington Bullets" professional basketball team announced he would change the name to avoid violent overtones! Eventually, the team became the Washington Wizards. For many years, there has been opposition to the name of the local-area professional football team, The Washington Redskins, seen by some as offensive. Click here for more details.

Finally, not one of D.C. finest moments, according to Wikipedia, The Bonus Army, "were the 43,000 marchers—17,000 U.S. World War I veterans, their families, and affiliated groups—who gathered in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1932 to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. … Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier's promised payment [with] compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their certificates.

On July 28, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shots were fired, and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the Army to clear the marchers' campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded the infantry and cavalry supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned."

Major George S. Patton commanded a cavalry group, and Major Dwight D. Eisenhower served as one of MacArthur's aides.

Travel: Memories of New Mexico

© 2008 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

For some time, I'd been thinking about going to the US southwest state of New Mexico. And now the opportunity to do that finally arrived.

[Diary] My flight landed in Albuquerque (ABQ) at 8:15 pm, a few minutes ahead of schedule, to a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun was a huge orange ball just above the mountains to the west. Altitude-wise, the city is just short of a mile high. It being May, I switched my clock back two hours, to Mountain Daylight Time.

I called my first hosts to let them know I'd landed. I rode the shuttle bus to the rental car companies, and picked up my car, a Hyundai Elantra. While I was riding on the shuttle bus, a man dressed in a cowboy hat and boots and behaving strangely ran back and forth across the highway, apparently intent on entertaining the drivers. As I left the airport, officers from two police cars were "interviewing" him.

Thirty minutes later, I was at my hosts' place meeting Tricia and Ann, their dog Happy, two cats, and several neighbors. They served me a meal, and we started to get to know each other. They had traveled extensively, including time in Australia, where they even visited Hutt River Province, Prince Leonard's breakaway "country". Lights out soon after 10:30 pm.

[Diary] I had the bedroom window open all night, and only pulled on a blanket in the early hours. I was awake way too early. Tricia and I had a light breakfast of coffee and toast outdoors in the sun. Ann had left quite early for her work.

Around 10 am, I left for the southwest regional offices of the charity "Save the Children." I spent the morning talking to the director about their current programs, especially the ones involving literacy with which I participated. These programs were for schools with students from predominately Native American and Hispanic families. Another staff member, Liz, joined us for a traditional New Mexico lunch. The official state question in New Mexico is "Red or green?", which means "Do you want red or green chili peppers with that?" The correct answer is "Both".

At 2 pm, the "business" part of my trip was completed, so I headed to the edge of the metropolitan area up to 6,500 feet, to the base of an impressive aerial tramway. It took some 15 minutes to go the mile and a half across, and 4,000 feet up, to the peak. In a deep valley below, we saw the wreckage of a plane crash.

At the top, the temperature was 51 degrees, a drop of 30 degrees from the city below. I hiked a small section of the La Luz (Spanish for "The light") trail, and parts of a few others as well, stopping to shoot video and still photographs along the way. I came across some patches of snow, which had fallen a week earlier. I caught the tram down at 5:30 and was home by 6 pm.

Tricia was a photographer and worked for AmeriCorps, a U.S.-domestic version of the Peace Corps. That evening, she was teaching a photography class to young incarcerated women, so couldn't join us for dinner. Ann and I drove to Old Town where we walked around the shops, and I bought a silver and turquoise necklace from a woman working at her street stall. Ann was Navajo, a Native American tribe to the northwest. She worked for the Santo Domingo tribe on land restoration projects.

[Diary] It was very windy during the night, but it wasn't at all cold. I was awake with the alarm at 8 am, and up very soon afterwards. I joined Tricia for coffee and toast, and then checked my email to see if the outside world was getting along without me; fortunately, it was. We walked Happy to post mail at a mailbox. It was sunny, but a stiff breeze was blowing.

I washed the breakfast dishes, lest I get out of practice, and then packed my luggage, which seemed to have exploded all over the room in two short days. I wrote in my hosts' guest book, said my goodbyes, and departed at 10:15 am. It had been a very good visit.

Soon, I was headed north on Interstate Highway 25 (I-25) to the state capital, Santa Fe (Spanish for "Holy Faith"). (Interstate highways with odd numbers run north/south while even-numbered ones run east/west. I-25 starts in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and runs 1,059 miles through Albuquerque; Denver, Colorado; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and ends in Buffalo, Wyoming.)

The open-road speed limit was a rapid 75 mph, but I set the cruise control to a sedate 60, much to the chagrin of some other drivers behind me in the so-called "slow" lane.

The terrain was relatively flat, with gently rolling hills and brush on one side, and taller mesas on the other. The 50-mile drive was pleasurable, and I sang to tunes on an easy-listening station on my rental car's XM satellite radio. (Although the road looked rather level, in those 50 miles, I climbed 2,500 feet.)

Just south of Santa Fe, I pulled into a rest stop. They served free coffee, had free internet access, BBQ and picnic areas, and plenty of information.

I took an exit toward the downtown area, and when I saw some Golden Arches in the distance, I decided to pull into McDonald's for a light lunch. I ordered a spicy McChicken sandwich and Coke, which came for the surprisingly low price of only $1.62. The server gave me an unsolicited senior citizen's discount! I must have looked especially wise. I shared a table with an older gentleman who had a small ranch and grew vegetables. He was well informed about national politics and world events, and we had a pleasant chat. Then I pulled out my map and guidebook and made a plan for the rest of the day.

Around 1:30 pm, I put the car into an all-day parking lot, and walked to the Capitol building. A guided tour was scheduled for 2 pm, and I was able to join that. Like some other rural states, the Capitol had no security screening, just police and many cameras. It had a very friendly atmosphere and was quite new. More than 600 pieces of art were on exhibit on the walls, in small galleries, and in the grounds. All the 550 artists at some time lived in New Mexico. And all the art was paid for by private donations.

At 2 pm, guide James lead six of us on a 1-hour tour of the House chamber, a committee meeting room, and the Governor's offices. It was most informative. In odd years, the legislature meets for 30 days, and in even years, for 60. They receive no pay, just expenses.

The building is circular, centered on a rotunda with a skylight roof but no dome. On the floor is the state seal inside a stylized Zia Native American sun symbol of four parallel lines coming out on each of the four sides. These groups of four represent the four seasons, the four periods of the day, the four directions, and the four stages of human life. The circle represents life, no start and no end, just continuity.

At the Governor's office, I asked his receptionist if I could have a business card. She had none but gave me a large color photo of him. He was Bill Richardson, former Federal Representative in Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration.

I walked into the downtown area, stopping off at the oldest European church in the U.S., San Miguel Mission, and the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and its garden next door. I chatted with a German couple and another from Canberra, Australia. Next, I visited a western wear store and drooled over the hats and belts, although I thought that $350 was bit much for something to hold up my pants!

I sat in the sunshine in the main plaza area, and watched the world go by. Then I enjoyed all the authentic Native American art stores and drooled again at a shop having all-things sheepskin. I hesitated to try on anything for fear it would fit, and I'd have to buy it!

By 5:30 pm, I was starting to think about food, and soon came across the Plaza Café, a family-friendly restaurant that had some interesting specials. Not being too hungry, I settled on a large bowl of Yucatan chicken lime soup: chicken, rice, mild green peppers, and a good dose of green lime flavor. A fresh roll and butter came with it. I finished off with a cup of very strong café con leche.

At the table next to me sat a family with four small children, including a set of twin boys. I got chatting with the parents, and I asked if the kids were all theirs or had they just rented them for the day. They laughed and said that, unfortunately, the kids weren't rented. They were from Lubbock, Texas.

I walked in the sunshine back to my car. Using a book of discount coupons I'd gotten at a roadside stop, I found a number of medium-priced hotels with good facilities. By 6:30 pm, I was checked into a room with a king-size bed, free wifi internet connection, pool, and Jacuzzi.

I ventured out to a supermarket to buy emergency rations: milk, juice, and dried fruit. Back in my room, I handled email, photos and diary, read the national newspaper, and tried to have an early night. Lights out at 10:30 pm.

[Diary] At 8 am, I joined an international committee for its weekly 1-hour phone meeting. (The trip wasn't all vacation!) By the time I was done with that, the east coast was well and truly into its workday, and email started to arrive.

By 10:45 am, I was downtown and parked in a high-rise parking station. My first activity for the day was a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. She was a well-known American painter who lived to be 100. She spent many years in the area around Santa Fe painting the desert landscapes. The main exhibit was of her works along with a collection of black and white photos by renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams. I paid extra for the audio tour in an attempt to understand the exhibits, but, once again, the understanding of art eluded me, Philistine that I am.

I found my way back to the Plaza café for lunch. It was very busy, and all the tables were taken, so I sat at the counter next to Kathy from Pittsburgh, a fellow Sagittarian. We spent more than an hour swapping travel and life stories, and I invited her to visit me in Reston.

From there, I walked to the park in the main plaza, where I shared a bench with a woman having a brown-bag lunch in the sun. She was a potter and was selling at a stall in a park nearby. It was another glorious day, very warm with a gentle cool breeze and a clear blue sky.

The next culture stop was the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum. The main exhibits were made by members of the Mississippi and Oklahoma branches of the Choctaw tribe. There was clothing, beadwork, jewelry, baskets, and art. Now all that artwork, I understood.

[Diary] By 9 am, I was packed, checked-out, and heading north on Highway 285. Then it was west on 502, stopping occasionally to shoot photos and video of the spectacular rock formations. Although there was plenty of snowmelt in spring, the countryside looked harsh.

I turned south on Highway 4 towards Bandelier National Monument. At the entrance, I paid the fee, and drove the three miles to the visitor center. I took the short trail, along a creek, through the ruins of a 500-year-old Anasazi village, and up to a series of cliff dwellings via ladders. Several caves were open for inspection, and each had ceilings blackened from ancient campfires. Inside, they were very cool. Near the end of that trail loop, a sign to another attraction caught my eye, so off down the half-mile trail I went in search of the Alcove ceremonial site. The ceremonial chamber (kiva) was built on the floor of a huge cave 140 feet up from the canyon floor. It was reached by a series of large wooden ladders and was well worth the effort.

I took my time on the highway, and arrived in Los Alamos around 3 pm. This is the home of the world-famous Los Alamos National Laboratories, which was created in the 1940s to research and develop nuclear weapons for the U.S. with Britain as a partner. It is still in operation today. I spent two hours in the Bradbury Science Museum watching videos and looking at numerous displays including mock-up copies of the bombs Fat Man and Little Boy, which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively. It was a moving experience.

Although Los Alamos looked like a nice place to stay, I pushed on up into the mountains with the sun streaming down, a nice breeze blowing, and music playing. I soon discovered the best section of Highway 4, which ran through prime ranch land and pine forests. It didn't take me long to start thinking about living there.

I stopped off at Valles Caldera National Preserve to see some of its 7,000 elk. The preserve is tens of thousands of acres in size, and much of it is down in a caldera formed when the magma underneath ran out when a massive volcano on the edge erupted.

Next came La Cueva (Spanish for "cave"), which consisted of a general store, restaurant, and motel. It was 6 pm, and I got the last room. I paid more than I had wanted, but it was a long way to the next town, the proprietors were very friendly, and they had free internet access. Each cabin/room was named for a bird or animal; I was in Rabbit, right down the end. The bonus came in the form of a totally unexpected queen-size bed. The room was very comfortably furnished and included novels and magazines. The back door led out to a patio and picnic area, complete with BBQs. Just down over the back rail-fence, a stream ran rapidly passed, and, yes, there was even a young beaver swimming there with his small lodge off to one side. I sat in the sun at a picnic table reading the national newspaper as the stream gurgled by. It was hard to image that at 9 am that morning, I was in the state capital.

At 8:05, I went across to the café to eat supper, only to be told they closed at 8! Don't you just hate that when that happens! So, it was on to Plan B, which I made up right then and there. At the general store, I cobbled together some snack food, and retreated to my cabin to eat and do the day's newspaper puzzles. I sat indoors but with the backdoor open. However, once the sun went down, it got cold pretty quickly. I read some brochures that described the places I'd visited. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] It was a cold night up at 8,500 feet, but I had plenty of warm bedding. I was wide awake at 8 am. By 9 am, I was in the diner next door chowing down on sausage, egg, hash-brown potatoes, and toast, tapping my foot to country music. I took my time over breakfast and worked on some puzzles. Then I walked along the creek where a number of fishermen had set up their operations. However, there were no beaver out, probably because of the dogs around.

At 11 am, I checked-out and got email using the motel wifi while sitting in my car. The drive south out of the mountains was very pleasant, but slow. The lush green soon gave way to parched red. After an hour, I hit the main highway, so could increase my speed.

I drove to the outskirts of Albuquerque, and then went west on Interstate 40 (I-40), which goes 2,547 miles right across the country, from Barstow, California, to Wilmington, North Carolina. I stopped along the way for refreshments and a stretch. I was surprised to come across an area with large dark black lava flows. That continued for many miles and was in stark contrast to the surrounding geology.

I got off the freeway at the town of Grants, and went in search of a public telephone. Being one of the (presumably) few Americans without a mobile phone occasionally puts me at a disadvantage. The first phone I found was out of order. The second one had a dial tone, but the buttons worked only intermittently. The third one ate my 50 cents and wanted more money. On my fourth try, I switched to a phone credit card, and actually got through to my next hosts, letting them know I was less than an hour away.

Highway 53 was in good condition, and 40 minutes later, I was at the main ranch gate. Then it was on to several miles of dirt track and up into the forest to my hosts George and Caroly. After 4.5 hours of driving, I was ready to rest.

They built their magnificent adobe, passive, solar house themselves, and were retired on 40 acres. The house had one level, with huge windows facing south, with a great view.

We sat on a patio in the shade sipping cold drinks and getting acquainted. For supper, we had typical southwestern fare: corn tortillas, cheese, chicken and beans. We talked some more and then we each settled down to reading, and in my case, writing this diary. Lights out at 10 pm.

[Diary] My bed was Heavenly, and I had a very good sleep. I was up at 8 am, and not long after, we sat down to halves of grapefruit and waffles with syrup. After the dishes were done, I packed water, emergency rations, hat, and cameras, and headed out for the El Morro National Monument, just a few miles away. There, I paid my $3, watched an orientation video, and then applied sunscreen. The 2-mile hike started at the base of some formidable cliffs, on which Native Americans, Spanish explorers, and settlers moving west had all carved their names, dates, messages, and even a poem at a place called "Inscription Rock". A 12-foot-deep, 200,000-gallon pool lay at the bottom, which is why the spot was so popular.

The trail slowly took me 200 feet up to the top of the rock formation. Along the way, the geology changed several times. Fortunately, there were plenty of shade trees on the way up. From the top, I could see a large canyon down between the two branches of the rock formation. A Native American pueblo (Spanish for "village") ruin was partially excavated. It was occupied in the 13th or 14th century.

Back at the visitor center, I looked at the exhibits, bought a National Park DVD, and had a light lunch. On the way home, I stopped in at a Trading Post where I had a delicious peach-flavored smoothie (milk, crushed ice, and frozen fruit).

Back at the ranch, I rested up, worked on this diary, and went through all the digital photos from this trip, deleting some and naming the others. This tourist thing can be work! Around 5 pm, we had drinks in the shade on the patio. Then at 6 pm, we ate supper there. George grilled kebabs of meat, mushrooms, zucchini, and red pepper. Caroly served a salad. We talked over supper, and then did the dishes before we all worked on individual projects.

I showered and lay in bed reading a guidebook for frugal travelers that Caroly had published some years ago. As I read, I found myself agreeing with a lot of the advice she had given. One bit of information I got was that, at age 19, George had driven from Florida to Alaska to Costa Rica, and from there, to Nova Scotia, in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. What a trip! Lights out by 9:30 pm.

[Diary] I was up with the alarm at 7 am. We all had a light breakfast, and then packed for Albuquerque, me to head home, and them for a big shopping trip.

I left around 8 am, driving east, into the morning sun. It was pleasant out, and I had the windows down, and the stereo blasting as I went down the highway.

At exit 102 of Interstate 40, I went south some 15 miles, onto the Acoma Native American reservation, to an old town built high on a mesa (Spanish for "table"). At the very nicely appointed visitor center, I paid my $12 for a guided tour, and 10 minutes later, a bus took us up to the top. A young Acoma woman, called Tahoma, welcomed us and guided us through the Catholic church, cemetery, and village. Of the 300 dwellings up there, fewer than 20 are lived-in year-round. The rest are only used during Catholic or Acoma festivals, when extended families come to celebrate. I lead a small group back down, via a very steep set of steps carved into the rock. It was challenging, but well worth it.

Back at the visitor center, I had lunch with a retired couple from Alabama. All the food was prepared on the reservation, and I had some rather spicy lamb stew and bread, which was baked in a traditional mud brick oven outdoors.

Back at the ramp to the interstate highway, I picked up a hitchhiker. Originally from Michigan, he'd been working in southeast Arizona, near Tombstone. He was headed to Denver, Colorado, to find work. We chatted the 50 miles to Albuquerque, where I dropped him at a northbound ramp of I-25.

I was looking for a cheap hotel and soon found one with free wireless internet and a king-size bed. For the first time the whole trip I turned on the air-conditioning, and it sure felt good. As I unpacked, I watched some TV, and found that a movie was about to start. So, with my being on holiday, I didn't think that watching a movie at four o'clock in the afternoon was too decadent.

Soon after 6 pm, I walked to Milton's, the 24-hour diner nearby. I had a bowl of soup—just like Grandma used to make—and a BLT, while reading the national newspaper. After supper, I handled email, surfed the internet, and watched some TV. Lights out at 9:15 pm.

[Diary] I was awake a little before my 5:45 am alarm. I got my final email fix, packed my bags, dropped my room key in the "after hours" slot, and was on Interstate 25 for the short drive south to the airport. Weather-wise, it was a very nice, clear morning.

I fly a great deal, and rarely have any problems. However, as the old saying goes, "When it rains, it pours." It started right at the beginning when I returned my rental car; my rental record had been messed up, and the agent was neither polite nor helpful.

Once I got to the terminal, controlled chaos reigned. All the people from a cancelled flight were lined up in the premier check-in line, leaving us premier travelers with the exact opposite of priority check-in. Eventually, I got to the front, but much of the time I'd budgeted for breakfast had evaporated. And, No, United doesn't have a business lounge at ABQ, nor does the airport have a priority security line. So, it was one long line after the other, even to buy breakfast.

Despite having arrived at the airport two hours before my departure time, I got to Gate B9 just before boarding started. When priority boarding was announced, I stepped forward, put my boarding pass into the reader, which promptly rejected it. So, an agent came over, and after some effort trying to figure out why, he solved the problem by issuing me a new boarding pass, but this time, in First Class. Considering I was flying on a free ticket anyway, I did not object. (Of course, having had a rushed breakfast before boarding, I had to decline the nice one they served up front just after we were airborne.)

Once I was on the plane, things seemed to get back to normal. The captain and First-Class flight attendant welcomed me on board with big smiles, a pre-flight drink was served, and all was right in the world, or at least in Seat 2A of UA flight 782's Airbus 319, which was headed for Washington DC, non-stop.

ABQ shares runways with Kirtland Airforce Base, and as we went down the runway, I saw quite a few military aircraft, including two Ospreys, which take off vertically like a helicopter and then fly like a plane once their rotors are tilted. A large number of 4-engine prop cargo planes were present.

I worked on this diary while sipping a mixture of cranberry and apple juice. Then it was time for a short nap. The ride was very smooth, and we arrived at IAD, on-time at 1:55 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, losing two hours along the way. The baggage handlers played "hide the luggage" for a while, but, eventually, it appeared. By then, Jenny had arrived to pick me up, and we were on our way home, in humid weather.

Back home, it was time to unpack from the trip, complete my diary, upload and name photos, and upload and edit video. There was even a little bit of paid work to be done before our house guests (a German family) arrived on the following Friday. And my next flight wasn't scheduled for another four whole weeks!

One interesting fact was that New Mexico was the 47th state to be admitted to the US Union, and it was the 47th state I'd visited.

Signs of Life: Part 17

© 2017 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

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

 

A famous highway and a famous TV show.

 

The woman figure looks like she needs "to go" badly, but will it be safe?

 

Well, this public service message seems very clear!

 

Outside a vistor's center on a main highway.

I must say that I was in no great hurry to meet the indiginous wildlife.

 

I'm guessing there's an interesting story behind the name of this company.

 

A restaurant in Moab, UT.

 

I was amused by the pairs of hot peppers used to make the Spanish letter "ll" (yes, this is a single letter). And the claim that research and development were going on inside was encouraging.

 

All right!

 

Given that casa is Spanish for house, I thought this a bit clever.

 

I think the driver was probably handicapped by drink!

 

Who knew that pagans were into mountaineering!

 

You mean I can't just drive forward to get out?

 

With a name as attractive as that, why wouldn't every tourist driving through go to see this Utah state park?

Wikipedia states, "The park is so named because of its use as a natural corral by cowboys in the 19th century, where horses often died of exposure. Dead Horse Point has frequently been noted on lists of unusual place names.

 

Another "must see" place in southeastern Utah.

 

Just the thing for a polygamist to drink with his wives after a hard day of work on the ranch in Utah!

From the back-side label, "She's on Nitro! Meet the sister-wife of our classic brew. This nitrogenated version is as chocolatey and easy drinkin' as the original but even softer and creamier. It's OK to love them both."

BTW, porter is a dark style of beer.

 

This from an expansive gated community in Park City, Utah, an area where dinasoars once roamed.

I understand that running your vehicle into a Brontosaurus can ruin your day!

 

 

My Experience with Airbnb

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

According to Wikipedia, "Airbnb, Inc. is a privately held global company headquartered in San Francisco that operates an online marketplace and hospitality service which is accessible via its websites and mobile apps. Members can use the service to arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. The company does not own any of the real estate listings, nor does it host events; as a broker, it receives commissions from every booking."

I first starting using Airbnb for accommodation in August of 2013, and so far, I've stayed in 43 properties in 11 countries, for a total of 157 nights. Of those 43, nine involved renting the whole property; the rest were a private room. In three places, I travelled with a friend, and we had separate bedrooms; on another trip, three of us shared two bedrooms; and on three other occasions, two of us shared a single room.

Although I have never been an Airbnb host, I have hosted many people over the past 25+ years through various programs, so I have an appreciation of what it takes to host. [See my essay from January 2010, "Travel: Home Stays".]

When I asked my good friends Kathy and John, who are based in Australia, to proof this essay and to add some of their own comments about their Airbnb experiences, they very generously shared them. I have added their comments (with very light editing) at the end of the corresponding sections. Thanks very much, Kathy and John!

Setting Reasonable Expectations

[See my essay from May 2011, "Planning for Success".]

Here are some things to keep in mind as you look over candidate properties:

  1. While the name is "Airbnb", many properties are not what anyone would call "Bed-and-Breakfast" places. (See the opening paragraph to this essay about what Airbnb is in the business of doing.) At least 13 of the places I've used were partly or wholly commercial ventures (small hotels, guesthouses, or B&Bs), and some of the others rented out every bedroom in their home, including their own. That said, some were very pleasurable hosting experiences like one might get at a cozy B&B or country inn. Perhaps a quarter of my hosts provided meals, most of which involved a Continental breakfast and coffee/tea and maybe cookies (AU: biscuits) at all hours. Several provided a full English breakfast.
  2. A host and traveler might have different ideas about what is normal, even if they are living in the same country. Read the property description carefully and understand the cancellation policy. Ask questions before you book. Don't make any assumptions about things you can't verify! For example, while you will have access to a toilet and bathroom, they might not be in your room, or even anywhere near it, and they may well be shared with other guests or host family members!
  3. Read the reviews and look out for a pattern of the host cancelling at short notice!
  4. If you have certain allergies, take particular notice of whether the host has pets (or had them recently, or allows people with pets inside the house, or …). Check the rules regarding smoking.
  5. You will not find out the actual address before booking, just the general neighborhood. However, this is sufficient for you to "look around" in advance using Google Maps, for example.
  6. Do your homework! Who has the most to gain by having a good experience? You! Who has the most to lose by having a bad experience? You!

So, what are my preferences and selection criteria?

  1. Most importantly, I'm a traveler, not a tourist! For example, I am happy to try and communicate in the local language, to buy bread and cheese, and have lunch sitting on a seat in the local cemetery where I try to chat with the locals. A tourist, on the other hand, might be in a group with a leader, and be quite insulated from the locals, and eating in (expensive) mainstream restaurants, or maybe eating at a well-known international fast-food place, "because that's the only food they recognize/trust!" I have no interest in package deals, cruises, timeshares, or the like, and I want nothing to do with anything that suggests "luxury." To me, accommodation is a major part of travel and gives me to the opportunity to see how the locals live.
  2. Being a gregarious person, I very much like interacting with the host and any other guests. After all, that's part of the travel experience!
  3. I have no problem using a shared bathroom/toilet.
  4. I can be very flexible provided the situation is rational.
  5. I almost always chose a place that gives me kitchen privileges, and I'm happy to live by restricted hours for those. And I really want a fridge. Only one place I've stayed in provided neither.
  6. I almost always want a reliable wifi connection, so I can continue to run my business remotely, and so I can go online to get maps and to make plans for that or future locations on the trip. That said, I have been known to "go off the grid" for (typically no more than) three days at a time.
  7. I always rent a private room, unless, that is, I rent the whole place.
  8. I very much prefer quiet, residential neighborhoods, and if I have a rental car or easy access to public transportation, I'll stay outside major cities if I can. In only one place was my room overlooking a very busy pedestrian tourist area that was noisy until well after midnight!

[K&J: We have stayed in about a dozen Airbnb places in the USA, France, Spain, Australia, and Scandinavia. This year we will stay in another four in Scotland and one in Italy. We tend to stay longer than does Rex, most often 5–7 days and we generally like to be close to public transport unless we have a hire car and then we tend to avoid large cities, as we don't wish to negotiate and pay for parking. Whilst travelling together, we also have shared two thirds of our Airbnb places with friends. This means that we stay in places that are not hosted; in fact, we have never stayed in one of these. We seek out places that have an appropriate number of bedrooms, a living space and our own kitchen and bathroom facilities. Airbnb provides us with much more than a couple of hotel rooms (in terms of cost, privacy, space and comfort) when we are travelling with friends.

If we are in a city, we tend to like being a part of the action; able to walk to most places, use public transport and sit in restaurants, bars, and cafes where life abounds. All this can of course be done in the suburbs, but we quite like the vibe of the city. Two of our Airbnb places that were outstanding and were in the suburbs, were San Francisco and Bordeaux. Public transport was easy and only about 10–15 minutes from the city Center. On each of these occasions we met the owners and they were both terrific at letting us know what was available in our local area and the easiest transport to get into the town center.]

My 3-Night Model

In recent years, I've developed what I call, "the 3-night, 4-day model" of travel accommodation. The idea is that I'll have three nights and two full days at a location, plus any free time after I arrive the first day, and before I depart on the fourth day. I've found this to be just the right amount to get an overview of a new location. It's not so short that I'm hardly there, and it's not too long if I find it less interesting or otherwise difficult. [In my 40-odd years of international travel, I've rarely been so enthralled with a place that I've gone back again to spend more time there.]

My most successful implementation of this model was a vacation involving 12 nights in Croatia followed by three in neighboring Slovenia. I stayed in five places for three nights each, and crisscrossed northern Croatia by bus to get around, and then rode a bus to Slovenia. However, this involved one really long travel day, and another of medium length.

I also use this model for mini-vacations to places within 1–2-hour's drive of my home. In these cases, I "stop to smell the flowers" in towns through which I've passed, perhaps many times, yet never stopped to look around. As a result, I've found some very nice surprises and enjoyed various encounters by visiting places "right under my nose!" One doesn't have to go abroad or even out of one's area to have positive travel experiences.

However, I am not rigid about following this model; it's just a guideline. For example, I stayed only one night in a place in London, as I arrived late from the countryside and took in a night of theater before flying home the next day. I stayed put for 10 days in an apartment in Hawaii, and when touring Yorkshire, England, I stayed in three places for three, four, and then five nights, respectively.

Property Description and Photos

For the most part, I've found the written descriptions of properties adequate; however, it is clear that some people are more experienced at promoting their properties than others, and if they have also been travelers, they see it from both perspectives.

As they say, "A picture is worth 1,000 words", and by posting more than a few, representative photos of their place, a host has an easy way to show a prospective traveler around. Unfortunately, too many hosts don't seem to realize this. Some have only two or three photos, some have photos of really crappy quality, and quite a few have a whole set of photos, but few of which actually show the bedroom and bathroom where one will spend at least a third of the stay. In my case, I'm 6-feet 4-inches (195 cms) tall, so unless the bed is a queen or king, I need to see a photo of it, including the end. If the bed has no footer, I can hang my legs over, but otherwise, not.

If I find the set of photos less than helpful, I don't even bother contacting the host. Basically, "If they can't get their act together on such a basic thing, I'm not interested in staying with them!"

[K&J: We completely agree with you that the photos and descriptions can be one of the first indicators as to whether you will continue to pursue a property. We believe the wide-angle lens has often been used for photographs and when you only see very limited and bad photographs it does raise doubts. Another indicator is whether you get a timely and helpful response from the owner. Sometimes in the written description it is about 'what is not mentioned' and you do have to make sure that you read carefully what the place has to offer to reduce the number of 'surprises'. Some things to look out for are:

  • Is there an elevator (AU: lift), if you are on the fifth floor of an apartment building?
  • Is there a washing machine and how does it work? (In other parts of the world the front-loading type seems to prevail, not in Australia, so we are at a disadvantage to begin with!) We generally travel for extended times, so a washing machine is an essential requirement for us.
  • Is there a place to park a car?
  • The ability to contact someone if needed while you are staying in their accommodation
  • Some people are very good at supplying information about supermarkets, restaurants, appliances, etc.; this is difficult if there is a language barrier.]

Fees, Costs, and Discounts

One of the filters available to narrow property selection in a particular area is price, and the "base price" of a property is shown on a flag on the map. However, by the time you go to make a booking, you might find some unexpected surprises. For example, I wanted a basic room for one night not too far from the San Francisco airport (SFO). I located a very nice place for only US$59. However, the final bill came to $95, because there was a $25 cleaning fee, and an $11 Airbnb service fee. Of course, a stay of multiple days would have the same one-time $25 cleaning fee.

Note that more than a few local governments in the US (and perhaps other countries) have occupancy taxes on rooms rented to the public. And while these will apply to all properties in the same jurisdiction, you should make sure you understand if such taxes will be added to the base price.

Some properties provide a substantial discount for long stays (typically lasting seven days or more).

As the Airbnb site reminds you, you should never have to pay the host money directly for accommodation!

[K&J: When staying in places like Manhattan, New York, and central Chicago we expected prices to be quite high. They were, and therefore we were happy to stay in more basic accommodation. In actual fact, the cost of a couple of nights in a New York apartment was the same as a week in a whole house in a small village in the French countryside.

We have had two cancellations from owners; both were in a timely manner and we were able to book something else. Money was refunded, with no problems. At one place we stayed in France, we were told by the owner that there would be a cleaning fee at the end of our stay, (we could do the cleaning ourselves), but on all other occasions if there was a cleaning fee it was written into the conditions of occupancy.]

Writing a Review

Within hours of your stay ending, you will receive email asking you to rate the stay. The host will also be asked to rate you. However, neither can see the other's evaluation until both are posted publicly. Then, the host and traveler each get a chance to respond to each other's comments.

Frankly, if you have done your homework by reading carefully the property description and rules, and you've contacted the hosts prior to booking to resolve any issues or get answers to your questions, you really have no business complaining after the fact. Unfortunately, there are many whiners in this big world, and from time to time, they post negative comments about things that are quite petty, misunderstandings, or show that their expectations were incompatible with the property. That said, I do read traveler reviews carefully, and I have rejected more than a few properties based on what I've interpreted as constructively critical feedback.

Twice I've provided constructive feedback myself. A friend and I had a very nice 2-bedroom condominium in Idaho, and the kitchen had pretty much everything one might want to prepare meals for three days. However, I could not find any cooking pots and pans. When I communicated this to the owner, she was most apologetic, and she immediately drove to the property and took the pots and pans from their "hiding place" in a drawer at the base of the stove and put them in plain view on kitchen shelves. Now as that was a "problem" that could easily be fixed, I submitted it as a private comment. That is, it did not get posted on the permanent, public record. The host addressed the issue and there was no need for the world to know it had existed.

The second occasion involved a 2-bedroom apartment in Germany. The shower was inside a very deep bathtub, the inside bottom of which was narrow and very slippery. When any of us took a shower, we had to be extra careful not to slip and fall into the tub or against the large hot-water heater unit. From the first time I encountered this situation I just knew that "it was a serious accident just waiting to happen", and I felt obligated to make this a public comment. (If I'd have made it private, future travelers would not know about the potential disaster awaiting them if it were not rectified.) To his credit, the host—who actually lived in the apartment when it wasn't rented—posted a public reply thanking me for pointing out the problem and promising to fix it.

While ranting in a review might let an upset traveler feel good, it doesn't help the rest of us coming afterwards. In any event, such rants are visible to all future prospective hosts with whom the complainant asks to stay. So, if you rant too much, hosts might reject you; even worse, they might discover this well after you have booked, and cancel your booking at short notice!

[K&J: We have written a couple of reviews about our stays. We do however read them with some slight cynicism as it sometimes seems the whiners are people who want everything and don't wish to pay for it, or they have chosen places which are not appropriate for them. We have written personal notes or verbally thanked people; I know this doesn't help them get more customers, but it's the way we like to do it.]

My First Time

As the old saying goes, "The first impression is a lasting impression!", and that was certainly true for me. My first time using Airbnb was in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The young woman host was super organized and had a very nice 3-bedroom apartment. She provided detailed and comprehensive written instructions on the apartment, local shops, and transportation, and my room had a king-size bed, something not found too often in Europe. Interestingly, all three bedrooms had locks, and if she had three lots of guests, she stayed somewhere else. In this case, all three rooms were occupied, she was on vacation, and arranged for a friend to let me in and get me oriented.

The place was located in a residential neighborhood, a 15-minute bus/tram ride to downtown. Being a traveler, that suited me just fine, as I like to explore such neighborhoods and to "see the locals at work and play" by walking around and riding public transportation.

Of course, every Airbnb experience can and likely will be different, sometimes significantly so, but my comfort level with Airbnb was very high after this initial stay. The host set a high bar, but not unreasonably so. Thank you very much, Daniella!

Memories of Some Properties

England and Scotland: During a 2-week vacation in Yorkshire, I stayed in three places, all completely different. The first was a commercial B&B in a small village outside York, and I was their first guest via Airbnb. They served a full English breakfast, and one afternoon I came home to find fresh baked goods coming out of the oven, and I was invited to join the hosts for afternoon tea. One evening, the hosts, a guest couple, and I all put in money and bought take-away fish-and-chips, which we ate together at home. The hosts provided coffee and dessert. It was a very pleasant experience. At the local bus stop, I met an elderly man who said that if I wasn't going to Whitby, there was no point in my being in Yorkshire! Not having booked my next place, I checked out that town, booked an Airbnb place there for three days, and once there, I added a fourth. It definitely was worth spending time in that area, and it's good to have some flexibility built into one's schedule. Finally, I wanted to be in Harrogate, but the best deal I could find was in Knaresborough, a short train ride away. A single mother made a little extra income by renting a spare room in her house, and the location was great!

I decided to spend a week in Edinburgh, but discovered I'd be there in the middle of the very busy international festival season. However, I found a cozy place in a private house owned by a woman who ran a catering business from home. Needless to say, she "forced" all kinds of baked goodies on me! I had a 10-minute walk to the bus stop and then a 20-minute ride to the city, which was all quite manageable. And when it rained heavily on the day I left, my host generously drove me and my luggage to the bus stop.

Having visited London many times, where I usually take in two or three theater performances each visit, I like to go off to neighboring counties for days at a time. My most recent sojourn involved six nights in Norwich, the seat of Norfolk County, which I explored, and took the train to the north and east coasts. The very friendly hosts welcomed me and made room on a shelf and in their fridge for all my kitchen stuff.

Spain: After I finished business in Barcelona, I moved from my hotel to a 1-bedroom Airbnb apartment, which I had all to myself. It was walking distance to the subway and the downtown area, and the front door to the building was very non-descript, like you'd want if you were in some sort of witness-protection program. It was very cheap (as in US$45/night), clean, and serviceable. Yes, it was dark and dated, but, "So what!"

US: In California, I stayed with an 80-year-old woman in San Francisco, in a townhouse full of artworks and travel souvenirs. We enjoyed our time together, and I got along so well with her cat that I made it an honorary dog! I then moved to a place closer to Golden Gate Park, so I could explore that part of the city on foot over several days. There, I was in one of six rooms labelled A–F; clearly it was a commercial enterprise.

In Idaho and Montana, I rented three whole places so my travelling companion and I each had our own bedroom. The first place was a large 3-bedroom, 2-story log-house, and the host left us wine and snacks. The second place was a cottage, which the owner vacated during our stay. The third was a 2-bedroom condominium in a commercial storage neighborhood.

I've had several nice stays in the greater Seattle, Washington, area, one in Yakima, Central Washington, and another near the state capital, Olympia. I chose the particular Yakima property because the owner had an Australian kelpie sheepdog.

I spent three pleasant days over one Christmas in a B&B/restaurant in Berkley Springs, West Virginia.

Austria: My second Airbnb experience was in a private residence in Salzburg within walking distance of all the things to see/do. When I arrived, the host was at a wedding reception, and he'd arranged for his father to meet me. He got me oriented and then we sat, drank coffee, and talked for 30 minutes, which was just an excuse for me to pat his dog, who was so smart it understood German! The apartment was quite large, had large windows overlooking a small park, and a fresh breeze wafted through.

I had business in Vienna, and when that ended, I had six free days before more business in Seoul, Korea, and rather than going back home and then off in the other direction, I rented a room and then continued on around the world. My host admitted me to her ground-floor apartment, and I very much appreciated not having to lug two heavy bags up flights of stairs. My room came with a very large/long bed, a work desk and chair, some storage, and quite large windows overlooking the side street. When closed, they blocked out most of the noise. The kitchen and living space were nicely appointed, and there were two bathrooms, one with the usual sit-in-the-bath-with-hand-shower, the other with a proper shower stall. One afternoon, another AirBnB guest reported that the outer-door lock of the building was not working, and she couldn't get in. Fortunately, another tenant come soon after she arrived back and let her in. I checked my key and that too no longer worked, so I contacted our host about it. I had plenty of food in the apartment and had no need to go out, which was just as well, as I might not have been able to get back in until the lock was fixed.

Croatia and Slovenia: As I mentioned earlier, I spent three nights in each of five places in Croatia and Slovenia. The first place was a commercial guesthouse in the capital, Zagreb. I never saw anyone else there except the host's mother who managed the facility and was there on occasion. It was central and adequate. I very much wanted to visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park, so my second place was a (good long) walk from there. It was a small hotel that kept several small/cheap rooms for Airbnb folks. No meals or kitchen privileges were provided. Next up was a room in a guesthouse in Pula.

Then came an apartment in the heart of the quaint old town of Rovijn. The town is a veritable maze of large and small alleys, all with stone paving. Now while I had a street name for my place, I had no number. Fortunately, as I entered my street, a man came out from his hotel and asked if I was Rex. The owner of my place had gone to Zagreb for the day and had arranged for this man to give me my key, so he'd been on the lookout for me around my expected arrival time. I'd rented a place which although it looked like an apartment, it was much smaller! However, if I stood in the middle of it, to use an Aussie expression, there was just about enough room to swing a dead cat! I had a decent bathroom, but as I turned around in there, I hit my head on the hot-water system mounted on the wall, and I did that more than once. Don't you just hate that when that happens! The kitchen was quite compact, but very serviceable and it had all the basics. Two large windows opened out over the alley below. The bed was made for Leprechauns, but at least it did not have a footer on it, so my long legs could hang over!

While I only had three days in Ljubljana, Slovenia, I very much enjoyed staying with a 30-something couple who had gone back to university as students. We shared late-night pizza, drinks, and conversation in their nicely appointed loft. I also spent time with another of their Airbnb guests, a man from Spain.

Australia: There were two of us, on a 9-day road trip, and the first half was conducted in temperatures of up to 113 degrees F (45 C). We spent three nights near Mildura in an upstairs room with a mini-kitchen and had all the facilities we needed elsewhere in the guest wing, including a saltwater swimming pool and outdoor eating area. Next up were four nights in Broken Hill, a mining town way out in the desert. The hosts had three rooms to rent, but only ours was occupied during our stay. They offered a small buffet breakfast each morning and a cooked one on Sundays. We sat with them on their balcony to watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve. The third stay was in the delightful town of Clare, where we spent one night in a private house owned by a young woman.

From Spartan to Nice to Special

For sure, the most spartan room I've had was for one night in the inner suburbs of London. And although it was inside a faceless storefront, it was clean and comfortable, convenient to the Tube to the city and Heathrow airport, and it cost only US$60 (which for London, is cheap). It served its purpose precisely!

My longest stay was 10 days, in a 1-room building on the side of a mountain on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It was Christmas, and the weather was very nice, especially when back at my house in Virginia 36+ inches (1 meter) of snow fell while I was away. Although it was by no means luxurious, it was very comfortable and had all I needed. It also had a friendly, generous, and experienced host.

At the "high end"—remember, I'm a traveler not a tourist—were four nights in a tall, circular, stone tower on an old sugar plantation in the rain forest of the US Virgin Island of St. Croix. My suite consisted of the third floor containing a king-size, four-poster bed, a spacious living room on the second floor complete with various pieces of art and sculpture, and a toilet off the stairs between them. Double doors led to my large patio where I could sit and read in the sun under the bamboo trees. The ground floor had a communal kitchen, and a bathroom, which appeared to be used only by me. A ladder went up to a door in the roof of the bedroom through which one could climb to look out over the area. The shared kitchen reminded me of a number of hostels I'd stayed in over the years. It was very well-equipped. The eating area was outdoors, under a roof. One evening, a group of us pooled our supplies and made a meal together.

Challenges

When travelling abroad, I don't carry a mobile phone, which can make it challenging to get access to some Airbnb properties. Sometimes, the host simply says to "phone me or one of my neighbors/friends to get a key when you get to the neighborhood." I first encountered this in Madrid, Spain, with my third Airbnb rental. So, I simply went to the address, stopped a passer-by, and in my poor Spanish, asked him if I could use his phone—after all, everyone except me carries a mobile—and because people have unlimited use, they don't charge me, although I do offer to pay. In Montana, the host didn't listen to her phone messages and I don't do text messaging, so it took a bit of dancing around for us to communicate. In Norwich, England, I also borrowed a passerby's phone. More and more places now have some sort of door lock operated via a keypad, and the host sends me the access code the day or so before. (I have heard of properties with locks that can be opened from a mobile phone, but that wouldn't help me.)

As mentioned earlier, the host and traveler's "normal" might not be anywhere near the same, especially when it comes to language. For example, imagine you are in a property and you want to use the clothes washer, and no local is around. You find the washer and the detergent, but all the words on the controls are in—Heaven forbid!—some language of which you know little or nothing. In such cases, I have been known to go on the internet searching for a user's manual for said appliance, in English. Twice I encountered a whizz-bang cooking system that I was at a loss to figure out. How hard could it possibly be to switch on an electric hotplate to boil water or to fry an egg? I can attest that it can be "bloody impossible!" Apparently, the stove is matched to pots and pans, and one can't activate a hotplate unless there is a compatible pot sitting on it. I seem to recall there is some sort of electromagnetic technology involved. Now while the hosts know how to use this, most others out there probably don't, so it would make sense for the host to anticipate this and leave instructions, but neither had.

[K&J: Our biggest challenges have been front-loading washers! I think we may have won our first battle last year in Copenhagen. One surprise, when staying in a French village was that the house we stayed in did not have an oven; we had lots of 'stove-top' meals and it was also a good excuse to buy plenty of food from our town's fabulous food market; which happened to be, once a week, on the street just outside our front door. Occasionally when we have had a car, parking has been difficult, but we have known beforehand that parking may be an issue and we have managed to deal with that.]

Conclusion

I have more than a few real and imaginary trips planned. I fully expect to continue using Airbnb properties where they make sense. However, I'll also stay in cheap motels/hotels and traditional options, like ryokans in Japan.

Some cities (most noticeably New York City) have strict rent controls and leasing agreements. Specifically, tenants in many buildings are forbidden to sub-let (that is, to rent to someone else) their apartment. So, if you make contact with a host there and they say to not come to the main entrance, but to meet them "around the corner, out of sight" to get a key, you are probably violating some local law.

The bottom line is that I have not had a bad experience using Airbnb, just a few minor teething problems from time to time, but nothing that couldn't be solved with the application of some common sense or worked around. In any event, my main mantra in life, especially when it comes to travel, is "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!"

[K&J: Airbnb is part of our travel life and we are sure we will continue to use it. It's not just something we do overseas; we are now starting to do it more in Australia as we really like the flexibility it provides.]

Travel – From Adelaide to Washington DC

© 2019 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

 

In June of 1979, my wife, Jenny, and I departed Adelaide, Australia, to live and work in the US for a year. Five and a half weeks later, after touring around Asia and Europe, we landed in Washington DC. This month marks the 40th anniversary of our arrival in the US.

The Urge to Travel

Early in 1976, I moved from the field of chemistry to that of computer programming. I also got married. Over time, Jenny and I started talking about traveling abroad. I was living in Adelaide and working for a state government department. It was a classic public-service environment; sort of like waiting for someone to retire or die to be promoted. I was way too entrepreneurial, and knew it was just a matter of time before I went into business for myself.

The obvious places to move were Melbourne and Sydney where many multinational companies had offices. However, it occurred to us that if we relocated interstate, we'd have to start from scratch with respect to finding our way around, making friends, and so forth. In that case, we'd likely want to stay put there for some years before heading off to travel. An alternative was to travel overseas first for an extended period and then when we returned to Australia, our ties to Adelaide would be much weaker, and we could live in Melbourne or Sydney instead.

Sometime during 1978, I noticed an advertisement in the Pacific Computer Weekly, which, oddly enough, was published every two weeks. It invited people in Australia and New Zealand with solid computer programming skills to consider taking a job in another country. [At that time, there were many high-paying jobs for people with experience on IBM mainframe computers, in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, I had no such experience. My specialty was with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) PDP-11 minicomputers and, fortunately, that skill was in high demand in other places.] By then, I had been in the field more than two years and had obtained a wide range of experiences, and I was interested. So, I wrote a letter to Harvey, the recruiter who'd placed the ad, outlining my skills and requesting information.

Harvey responded enthusiastically. However, at the time, I was in the middle of a major renovation of the house we'd bought when we were married, and I still had a lot of work to do. As such, I indicated my interest, but said it would take considerable time before I would be ready. Over the next year, the house was completed, and we put it on the market. After we sold the house and our cars, we put some things in storage, and got rid of the rest. Then we lived with friends for some weeks. Jenny took a year's leave of absence from the South Australian Department of Education, and I gave a month's notice to quit my job at the State Highways Department.

Plan A

After a lot of planning, we had our airline tickets. It would take us two weeks to get from Adelaide, Australia, to Washington DC, USA, and along the way, we'd have stopovers in New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. However, that did not happen. On 1979-05-25, American Airlines Flight 191 crashed moments after takeoff from Chicago, killing all passengers and crew. What made this significant for us was that the plane was a McDonnell Douglas DC-10, the type we'd be flying across the Pacific with Air New Zealand. As a result, all DC-10s around the world were grounded, indefinitely. It took us some time to realize the impact on us, and by the time we did, the alternate flights across the Pacific were taken. We were back almost to Square 1!

Plan B

On a subsequent visit to our travel agency, I was looking at a large globe when it occurred to me that we could get to Washington DC by going in the opposite direction, via Asia and Europe. Yes, it was further, but we could take our time and stop off in a lot more places along the way. Very quickly, we put together a whole new—and far more exotic—itinerary, as follows: Adelaide to Sydney, Australia; Hong Kong; Singapore; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Bangkok, Thailand; Bombay, India; Athens, Greece; Rome, Italy; Geneva, Switzerland; Paris, France; London, United Kingdom; New York and Washington DC, United States.

We bought one-way, Sydney-to-London, unlimited stopover tickets valid for a year. So long as we kept going in the general direction of London we could add side trips, whose cost would simply be added to the base fare (about AU$1,000 at that time). If you look on a globe at the cities I listed above, they are pretty much in a straight line. The only place out of the way that we added was Hong Kong, for a 15% surcharge. To give us maximum flexibility, each leg of the ticket was issued to the most frequent carrier for that leg. When we were close to being ready to leave one country, we could go to the carrier for our next leg to see when they could accommodate us. If they couldn't, we'd asked them to sign-over that leg's voucher to another carrier who could.

Putting our lives into two suitcases was quite a challenge and required ruthlessness. So, when the travel plans changed drastically only weeks before departure, and the change in route limited us to only one case, halving our "treasures" turned out to be quite easy. Who needs two sets of socks and underwear anyway!

Leaving Home

We departed Adelaide (ADL) for Sydney (SYD) where we had a layover before boarding a 7.5-hour Cathay Pacific flight. [At that time, one could visit the cockpit in-flight, and we both did that and chatted with the pilots as we flew over parts of the vast Outback of Australia.]

We had open tickets, no specific plan with respect to the number of days in each country, and only the first two nights of accommodation booked. Hey, we were 25 and invincible; what could possibly go wrong!

Hong Kong (4 nights)

After my only ever flight in a Boeing 707, we landed at the old Kai Tak Airport, which involved flying "close" to high-rise buildings, an interesting experience. Our deal with the airline included two nights at an up-scale, Western hotel, complete with Colonial-style uniformed staff. Interestingly, our room was on the top floor, but the elevator (AU: lift) only went up to the floor below, so we had to walk up a flight of stairs! For the other two nights, we were on our own, and we located a cheap, Chinese-run place. Although there might have been a front desk, each floor had an attendant who sat on a rickety chair at an old wooden desk, and it was his job to "watch" that floor. Each time we came back to our room, he'd welcome us and then open the adjacent fire-hose cabinet in which there was a row of hooks with keys for each room. And we'd hand him our key each time we went out. [After I bought a new leather briefcase, I gave my old one to that man, who was very grateful.] The contrast between the two places was huge, and I remember the doorman at the first hotel looking strangely at us when he put us in a taxi to go to the second place and asked us where he should direct the driver.

As that was our first experience outside Australia, and we'd never even been to a Chinatown before, it was all quite a novelty. We had a good look around Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and a bit of the New Territories, where we got quite close to the Chinese border. Near that border, we asked a couple of women in peasant outfits if we could take a picture of them. After we gave them several $HK, they allowed us to "take away their souls" by taking their picture. [Back then, Hong Kong was still British territory.]

One day, we walked through the afternoon-tea room of the fabled Peninsula Hotel (which had a fleet of Rolls Royces to ferry around its VIP customers). Let's just say that it was "over the top", but in a veddy dignified British way! In our travels around the island, we met a diplomat from Malta who was having a vacation after business meetings in Asia. He'd bought quite a few used books and wanted to send them home without paying too much. So, he went to the concierge desk at the Peninsula and asked if they could arrange to send his books home for him. They replied, "Of course, Sir, and it will be at no charge to you. What is your room number?" He told them, and they took care of it. However, what he didn't tell them was that his room was not at that hotel! He also told us that rather than pay his hotel to do his laundry, he found it much cheaper to throw away his underwear and socks and buy new ones at the Chinese People's Republic store nearby.

When I departed Australia, I had longish hair and a beard. However, Singapore had a reputation about refusing to let in men who had long hair and beards, as such people were linked to hippies, and hippies meant drugs, which were a major "No No" there. As such, I shaved off my beard before leaving Hong Kong. However, I don't recall if I got my hair cut shorter. I do remember the challenge of shaving because I had to buy a hand razor. Up until that time, I'd only ever used an electric one.

Singapore (4 nights)

We flew Singapore Airlines, and landed at the then new airport, which had been built on reclaimed land. We stayed downtown in a non-descript hotel on Beach Road. Interestingly, the road was no longer on the beach, as more land had been reclaimed around it!

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

We took several bus tours around parts of the island and over into southern Malaysia. One highlight was a delightful ride in a trishaw, a cart pulled by a wiry man on a bicycle. As he pointed out interesting places and things, he added emphasis by appending "No bullshit!" to each of his statements. He asked if we were on our honeymoon, and we replied that we'd been married three years. Then he asked how many children we had. When my wife replied, "None", he looked me up and down several times and then said to my wife, "He no good!" We told him we'd heard that a good place to eat was the Satay Club, and could he drop us there. Now the name had conjured up in our minds a fancy place possibly with a dress code, but when he dropped us at a public park, we learned it was an open-air place filled with grandfather-and-grandson pairs running BBQs. For a small amount of money, we feasted on satays with hot peanut sauce, salad, and drinks. It was quite a fancy picnic. We rode the cable car across to Sentosa Island, site of the British surrender during WWII. However, halfway across, the cable stopped moving, and we hung suspended over the sea for quite some time until it started up again! We also took a bus tour around the island during which we saw many orchids. We visited Tiger Balm Gardens.

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur and Beyond (7 nights)

We flew Malaysian Airlines, and started in the capital, then visited Malacca to the south, and Penang Island to the north. Movies were very cheap, and in Penang we saw one each day. For the premier of Superman, the shows were all sold out, so we bought tickets from a scalper. Even then the cost, at least by our standards, was very cheap. One interesting thing was that most people in attendance did not speak English; instead, they were reading one of the three sets of subtitles that covered the bottom half of the screen, while talking to each other. That made it hard for those few of us native-English speakers to hear the audio.

It was our first experience being in a Muslim culture. So when the public-address system at the local mosque fired up at 5 am with the first call to prayers, we had no idea what was waking us up in the "middle of the night".

One night, we ate at an open-air restaurant, and enjoyed the food. When we left and walked around the side, we saw an old woman squatting on the curb washing dishes in some greasy, cold water with a rag. She was working for our restaurant, so as to what was on the plates we'd eaten from, we could only imagine!

I recall a tour outside the capital that took us to a huge cave. We also walked around various markets trying to figure out what all the things were.

Thailand: Bangkok and Beyond (7 nights)

The flight north from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok followed along a mountain range, and we'd just been served a meal with hot drinks when we hit some sort of air pocket. Well, we lost some altitude in double-quick time, and the food and drinks went up in the air, but no one was hurt. I don't even recall the oxygen masks dropping down. [Each time I watch the animated safety video on a plane, it shows how calm everyone is when the masks drop down. I'm thinking that is highly unlikely for most people in a real emergency.] When we landed, as martial law was in force, the airport was full of very short soldiers with very large automatic weapons. It was a little unnerving for a young lad from the bush, but I didn't feel at all unsafe. Outside the airport, there was no evidence of any security concerns.

A highlight of our visit was a boat tour around Bangkok's extensive canal system. At one market, a baby elephant put its trunk into everyone's pockets and bags looking for snacks! With all those canals, there are many bridges, and under many of them were shanties. The "owners" paid no rent, they stole their electricity from the public wires nearby, and they threw their trash out the windows into the canal. Kids jumped from the houses and swam in the canals. When we came across an ice works, I wondered how pure the ice was that was made from that water!

At Pattaya Beach (a popular place for R&R for Allied soldiers during the Vietnam War), I tried my hand at parasailing. I was much taller than the average tourist, so when the power boat took off to pull me in the air in the parachute, my long legs dragged across the beach and through the water until I got airborne. I'd not received any real instruction how to use the equipment, so when it came time to land, I really was "winging" it! It turned out that the parachute had controls on one side only, and as the boat pulled me closer to the beach, I had to pull on a handle to direct the chute in that direction. Now James Bond would have taken off on the beach dressed in a tuxedo, and landed back on the beach, without effort. However, I landed in about three feet of water, and had to pull the chute out onto the beach, which is probably why there was no Bond-girl waiting for me!

We spent an interesting day visiting Kanchanaburi, site of the infamous WWII prison camps and the Bridge over the River Kwai. We rode a public bus there and then hired a man with a pickup truck to drive us around to the tourist spots. He spoke no English and had a young son with him in the cab, as we rode on the back. At several roadside stalls, he stopped to buy us fresh fruit and sticks of sugar cane on which to chew. When we got back to the city it was dark and we had no idea how to get back to our hotel, and all the information posted nearby was only in Thai! After quite some time, we met a student who spoke some English, and he gave us directions.

The tourist literature said not to drink water from taps, but rather from the bottles in the hotel room. We dutifully followed this advice, but one day when we came back to the hotel, we saw a staff member filling those bottles from a tap! C'est la vie!

India: Bombay (now Mumbai) (1 night)

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

We had the romantic idea of getting a rail pass and spending some weeks traveling the countryside. However, when we went to the train station, we waited ages for attention and then were told that a ticket as complicated as that might take a week to organize! Then there were beggars and overcrowding everywhere and it was all rather off-putting. As such, we gave up and spent the rest of the day trying to find a flight out. We were ticketed next for Athens, Greece, but as we couldn't get a flight there with any carrier for a week or so, we opted to bypass that city and go to Rome, Italy, instead. [Forty years later, we still haven't been to Greece!]

Jenny remembers there being huge cockroaches in the sink in our hotel room, and the extensive slums built from cardboard and corrugated iron. Going to and from the airport, our taxi drivers drove with parking lights only and flashed on their main lights from time to time. The airport was very busy at 1 am, and we got the impression everyone was in a hurry to leave the country; we certainly were!

Greece, NOT!

The stopover that wasn't, as mentioned above!

Italy: Rome (3 nights)

We landed at Leonardo da Vinci International, and by the time we reached the end of our runway on landing, we were "way out in the vineyards", and took some 20 minutes to taxi to the terminal. It was our first time in Europe, and we had a most arrogant customs inspector. I had purchased a new briefcase in Hong Kong, and it had straps that allowed it to be expanded several inches, and the inspector figured it had some sort of false bottom. So rather roughly, he tipped out the contents on a table and searched the case for a secret compartment. When he found none, he threw up his hands in disgust and walked away. We didn't know where he was going, but after waiting a while and his not returning, we simply packed up and left.

We quickly realized that we no longer had the protection against tourists being ripped-off like we'd had in Asia, where we'd been welcomed/respected visitors. In Italy, we were on our own.

We found a hotel, and breakfast was included in the rate, but when we checked out, there was a different price for food each day, despite there being a buffet. We were told that a waiter was watching what we took and recording that; what a system! (It was a good thing that we'd been sneaking extra food out of the dining room when the staff wasn't looking.)

We visited the obligatory places, and at the Vatican City museums, on the floor were painted lines in different colors that one should follow for a 1-, 2-, 3-hour, etc., walking tour, as one wanted. Well, to get our money's-worth, we followed the 8-hour path, and we were out in an hour or so! You know, once you've seen Pope Pius I, II, and III's robes, do you really need to see those of Pope Pius IV and V? We also paid a visit to the Colosseum (where many stray cats were living) and the Fountain of Trevi.

To get to the airport, we rode a taxi to a bus station, and the taxi driver kept telling me we'd never make it to the airport on time and that he should drive us there instead, which, of course, would be an expensive trip. I repeatedly declined. To make sure he wasn't ripping us off, I tried to follow our route on a map, but wasn't able to. So, when the driver said he'd take a short cut, I feared the worst. In fact, he did take us straight to the bus station.

Switzerland: Geneva (3 nights)

The main thing I remember was that it was (and still is) an expensive city. As we walked around, we stumbled on a museum of armory. I especially remember it having a big collection of crossbows and pikes. We saw the very tall water jet, Jet d'Eau, and the impressive flower clock. We also visited the Reformation Wall, which commemorates John Calvin and his colleagues' efforts in getting going the Protestant Reformation going in that part of the world.

Jenny remembers that one night we ate a very expensive steak dinner.

France: Paris (3 nights)

I remember well the quaint hotel at which we stayed—l'Opéra Comique—next to the famous theater of the same name. The elevator was so small, that we each had to go up to our room separately. [In old cities, modern conveniences were retrofitted centuries after the buildings were constructed.] The hotel had two kinds of rooms: those with a bathroom, and those without, and we had the latter. Strangely, for those without, there were no shared bathrooms down the hall! Instead, each morning one wanted to take a shower, one went to the front desk to get a key to a room with bathroom that had been vacated, to use that. This worked well the first time, but the next one found me with a chambermaid who spoke no English. After a game of charades, she finally understood I wanted "la douche"!

We went up the Eiffel Tower, got a kulcha-fix at the Louvre, and strolled around the Pompidou Center. Quite coincidentally, we were there on July 14, Bastille Day, so we got to see the city and the French in party-mode, complete with very loud car horns and fireworks.

As we had no schedule, it wasn't until we got to Paris that we had a reasonable idea of when we'd be able to pick up our visas in London, so we contacted Harvey to let him know we would be arriving in the US "any week now".

England: London (5 nights)

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

The next day, I fronted up at the US Embassy to get my 1-year work visa with the very naïve attitude that I would be "in and out" in double-quick time. And, measured in geologic time, I was! After a considerable wait in line, we got to the end of a corridor, which opened out into a huge room populated by many hundreds of people waiting in lines that snaked back and forth across. We discovered that our little line was now at the very end of another very long line. Hours later, our paperwork was accepted, and we were told to come back in four days, which was about three days longer than we'd expected. [That was my very first time getting a visa in person; 40 years, 60-odd countries, and two million air miles later, I'm much wiser.]

To fill in time, we did the usual touristy stuff: Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Number 10 Downing Street (back when that street was open to the public), Parliament House, and the Big Ben clock tower.

As our airline ticket only got us as far as London, we had to buy a one-way ticket from there to the US. The cheapest alternative by far was with Sir Freddy Laker's Skytrain, a daily service between London's Gatwick and New York's JFK airports. Interestingly, the planes used were DC-10s, but by the time we reached London, the model his airline flew was allowed back in service. Passengers were encouraged to bring along their own food. [To this day, that's the only time I've used Gatwick.]

US: New York City

We landed at JFK International, and once we got through immigration and picked up our luggage, we took a taxi to La Guardia Airport, not too far away. There, we caught the Eastern Shuttle down to DC.

US: Washington DC

Strictly speaking, we landed in the state of Virginia, at Washington National Airport, which is across the river from DC. Harvey was there to meet us, and he drove us to the (quite new) Marriott Hotel in Bethesda, in the neighboring state of Maryland.

The main thing I remember about the hotel was the next evening, when we went to the dining room for supper. We ordered a salad and a main course, and the salad was soon served. Like all sophisticated people we "knew" that one eats one's salad with the main meal, so we waited, and we waited, and then we waited some more. Finally, we asked the waiter when our main course would be served. To which he replied, "As soon as you finish your salad, Sir." And so, a lesson was learned!

Conclusion

After a week in the Washington DC area having job interviews and getting back into work mode, I accepted a 1-year contract in Chicago, and we took the train there. [Interestingly, at the start of my discussions with Harvey about coming to the US, I said, "East or West coast; definitely not the Midwest!", yet there I was agreeing to go to the Midwest. C'est la vie.] And that's where I started my conquest of the United States. But that's a whole other story! [See my October 2018 essay, "Living in Chicago".]

As you might imagine, at age 25, going abroad for the first time and with the intention of traveling and working for up to five years, really was a big deal, but required a certain amount of naïveté. All I can say in my defense is that "it seemed like a good idea at the time".

In summary, in 38 days, we flew 22,000 miles (39,600 kms), on 10 airlines, and saw bits of nine countries. And after 40 years, we're still here in the US!