FAIRS, FLOWERS, AND FEATHERY FRIENDS (II)

This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!)

 

FAIRS, FLOWERS, AND FEATHERY FRIENDS (II)

 

One autumn we decided to take a week on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, especially to see migrating fowl. I remember being most impressed by the huge flocks of snow geese and tundra swans. There was also a perky little yellow-rumped warbler, known irreverently as the butterbutt.

We sometimes see a long-legged blue heron wading at the edge of a lake near our home. Along the upper Mississippi Valley we’ve seen thousands of raucous and energetic red-winged blackbirds. In the woods near old Jamestown we once spotted a pair of foot-and-a-half-high pileated woodpeckers.

Chickens run wild all over Kauai, the only Hawaiian island where the predatory mongoose doesn’t live. These ubiquitous feral fowl are small and colorful (think bantams). One fearless little hen laid her eggs only a few feet from the door of the apartment where we were staying with our family.

One dark night on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes), Fran and I witnessed an unnerving sight: The entire top of a fencepost detached itself, sprouted wings, and flapped away. A large owl had been perching there, its dimensions seeming to become only a matching upward extension of the wood.

For years we had a large outdoor cage that held our kutilang. This fair-sized bird is drab-colored except for a splash of yellow on his hinder parts, but how he can sing!

Talking birds are in a class unto themselves. The mynah of Southeast Asia can talk circles around almost anybody in the parrot family. There used to be a mynah near the entrance to a bird park that could whistle the entire first line of the Indonesian national anthem.

Missionary colleagues of ours in Indonesia were natives of Texas. They had a mynah that would cock its head and greet you in the Indonesian language: “Selamat pagi, tuan!” (“Good morning, sir!”) If you did not respond, the bird would cock its head the other way and say “Apa kabar, tuan?” (“How are you, sir?”) Continued silence would evoke its third attempt to be friendly, spoken with a broad southwestern twang: “Howdy, tuan!”

When we visited ranches in South America, we saw big gaunt birds that are locally called pterodactyls. I forget whether it was in Chile or in  Argentina where we observed these black bony fowl. They almost make you feel you’re being haunted by something primeval or prehistoric.

The kea, a small grey parrot native to New Zealand, has unfortunately developed a taste for rubber. When you park near keas, you have to keep a good watch on your tires, as well as on your car’s door and window fittings.

The long-tailed widow bird is a native of Kenya in East Africa. Its magnificent tail-feathers grow only on the males, not the females. Is that why it’s called the widow bird? We never found out.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

FAIRS, FLOWERS, AND FEATHERY FRIENDS (I)

 

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

FAIRS, FLOWERS, AND FEATHERY FRIENDS (I)

 

What a pity that world’s fairs now seem to be on the wane!

We’ve never made it to some of history’s more famous world’s fairs. But we did have a delightful time at Osaka, Japan in 1970 and at Knoxville, Tennessee in 1982.

Why have “Fairs” been lumped together with “Flowers” in this blog post? Because we have also been to the Floriade, Holland’s unique style of world’s fair that specifically features flowers.

Where there are flowers, there are likely to be feathers. Neither Fran nor I is a birdwatcher in the conventional sense. Yet during our world travels we’ve met our fair share of feathery friends. (Should this blog post have been entitled “Fair and Fowl”?)

While cruising along a canal in the Netherlands, we’ve seen little black coots with their bone-white bills, nesting only inches above the water-line. We’ve seen pheasants beside busy highways. We’ve seen a mother goose incubating her eggs on a tiny islet, with her mate standing guard as he awaits his turn on the nest. We’ve seen a Dutch pigeon fluffing his tail- and neck-feathers, a Dutch peacock showing off his courting colors, a strutting white Dutch turkey-cock.

By the way, European peoples once rightly considered the turkey to be an exotic fowl. They figured that such an ungainly-shaped and weirdly-colored creature must have come from some strange faraway place.

Actually the turkey is a native of North and Central America. But European peoples guessed wrong as to its distant land of origin. That’s why speakers of English called it “turkey fowl.” That’s also why speakers of Germanic languages called it “Kalkuttischerhuhn,” or “Calcutta hen.” This mouth-stretching term has been abbreviated to kalkun, which is still the turkey’s name today both in Europe and in Indonesia.

Even less colorful birds can sometimes be interesting. No one would call cormorants beautiful, but it’s fascinating to see them busily fishing. We’ve gotten to observe this constant activity, both on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and along the Li River in South China.

Another famous but less-than-beautiful feathery friend is the stork. We’ve enjoyed stories about boys and girls breathlessly waiting in the springtime for the storks to return – in the Netherlands and also in other countries of Europe. But the storks we’ve personally seen close up have all been in Morocco. These awkward long-legged fowl consider the flat roofs and mud-brick pinnacles of ancient Moorish fortresses to be ideal places for building their huge untidy nests and raising their gawky young.

Read more about our feathery friends in next week’s blog!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

THE BEACH OR THE MOUNTAINS?

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

THE BEACH OR THE MOUNTAINS?

 

When people along the eastern seaboard plan their vacations, you may hear them asking, “The beach or the mountains?” We dwellers in these eastern states of America are blessed in having both the beach and the mountains within an easy day’s drive.

We’ve had many good experiences both on the beach and in the mountains. During our three decades on the island of Java, we were never far away from ocean beaches — northeast, southeast, and due west from our home. Since we were already living in the mountains, an even shorter trip could take us to cooler elevations near the peaks.

There’s nothing quite like the beach. Growing up in inland North America, I was already in my mid-20s before I ever experienced this for myself. I will never forget that first shining wonder of waves and tides, sand-castles and sunsets, squishy footsteps on a glistening shore.

But then . . . there’s nothing quite like the mountains, either. In pre-interstate years my family lived two full days’ drive from the Appalachians, so it was only occasionally that we made that long, hard trip. Even harking back to the tender age of five, I can fondly remember Rockwood Cabin in a little scenic cove near Cumberland Gap.

Probably the beaches we recall with greatest nostalgia are those in Southeast Asia. As to mountains, I can honestly say that we’ve enjoyed highlands all over the world.

In my youth I used to say that I’d rather spend my summers in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico than anywhere else on earth. That is indeed gorgeous high country. But since then we’ve been privileged to visit many other highlands as well.

Actually neither the beach nor the mountains now holds for me the same fascination that they once did. I’ve gotten to a time in life when I don’t like sand between my toes or sea-floors that seem to shift under my feet with the drifting tides. Nor do I still have the strength, energy, or endurance to climb more than a moderate slope.

The last time Fran and I went to a beach was in Hawaii with our younger son. And we discovered then that we liked nothing better than just resting in beach chairs to take in the view.

The last time we climbed a mountain was at Yosemite with our older son. And if he hadn’t gently shepherded us all the way up to Vernal Falls and all the way back down again, we never would have made it.

All good things (except God’s love) must come to an end at last. So when someone asks me nowadays “The beach or the mountains?” I reply with genuine nostalgia and regret, “Neither one, thank you.”

  

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas 

GETTING ACCUSTOMED TO CUSTOMS

This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

GETTING ACCUSTOMED TO CUSTOMS

 

Our first memorable encounter with customs control happened at Hong Kong in 1965. A Chinese woman in quasi-military attire looked at us severely, chalk in hand, and demanded:

“Do you have any furrarrmsigoretzorlickrr?”

After three or four repetitions of “furrarrmsigoretzorlickrr,” we finally managed to pick out “Firearms, cigarettes, or liquor?” When we thankfully said no, she marked our luggage with her chalk, and that was that. (Incidentally, never be tempted to buy expensive designer luggage for foreign travel. In customs control it’s likely to get messed up beyond all recognition.)

Customs control can be tricky – even in our beloved homeland. Fran and I have learned from experience to carry along simple snacks when we travel. Once on a memorable jaunt through Russia, we had consumed all of our nibbles except for one clearly-labeled American-grown Granny Smith apple. But when we got back to customs control in the States – guess what? A little fruit-sniffing beagle and his handler made us throw away our perfectly good American apple.

Once I had trouble with Liberian customs control. This was in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, when I was already used to traveling with a laptop computer. Yet those Liberian customs officials insisted I must be bringing it in for resale, and wanted to charge me the full retail value of it.

Finally one of them managed to dredge up a belated memory: “O yes,” he mused, “I have heard that in more advanced countries people sometimes do travel with small computers. Let him take it in with him.”

When I was traveling to India, it was not my laptop but my AutoHarp that caused the problem. Even though this small musical instrument resembles other members of the zither family that are played in many countries of Asia, it was a strange new object to those officials at customs control in Kolkata (Calcutta). They felt sure I was importing it for resale.

I argued that this was a personal possession, for my own personal use only, even having come to me as a personal gift. Finally I persuaded them to write a detailed description of the AutoHarp into my passport, so that their outgoing customs colleagues could make sure I was taking the same thing with me out of India again.

What do you state on the values declaration which every incoming passenger has to fill out for customs control?

Knowing the dishonesty, venality, and stupidity of some officials, I have sometimes been tempted to fudge a little. Fortunately a more-experienced friend gave me an excellent piece of advice long ago: “Once you’ve purchased it,” he said, “it counts as used goods. You don’t have to state the full original price on a customs form.” Whew!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

 

MISGUIDED TOURS

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

MISGUIDED TOURS

 

In the process of traveling around the world six and a half times, Fran and I have developed an unfortunate propensity for taking misguided tours. 

Is it because one of us is a man, and those of us of the male gender are notoriously resistant to asking for guidance during travel?

I don’t know. I do know, though, that even when we ask for guidance, it doesn’t always seem to help.

One of the late humorist Robert Benchley’s most hilarious short essays is entitled, “Ask That Man!” The author claims that his wife kept egging him on with those same three words. Finally he got fed up and decided to do exactly as she advised him. He also followed all of the directions given by strangers. Eventually the two of them ended up hopelessly lost, somewhere deep in a tropical rain forest.

A tourist in Ireland was once baffled when he tried to follow the directions given by a friendly concierge. “Go to the second church and turn right; you can’t miss it.” After a long and fruitless search, he returned to the hotel. “Did you remember to follow my directions?” the concierge asked. The tourist insisted that he had indeed remembered, even naming the street corner where he had turned right. “Nooo, that’s not a Catholic church, we don’t count that one!” the concierge cried.

The peninsula and state of Yucatán in Mexico got their name in an unusual way. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they asked, “What do you call this place?” The puzzled Mayan natives answered, “Yucatán,” which in their language meant “What?” or “What are you saying?”

Even in our own local area, Fran and I sometimes take misguided tours. Perhaps it’s partly because in our individual minds we remember and process directions in such different ways. I’m usually thinking, “Go to such-and-such a street, turn left, and drive to so-and-so.” On the other hand, Fran tends to follow her nose. I hate to admit it, but often she does better than I do in getting somewhere without going off on a misguided tour.

Don’t we benighted old fogies ever use GPS?

Of course we do . . . but we’ve still been misguided sometimes. Once in downtown Richmond our GPS vehemently insisted that we make a turn which would have slammed us directly into the side of a tall building. Our sons later explained that the shadow of tall buildings, as well as the shadow of clouds, can sometimes cause a GPS to be misleading.

We’re also well aware that the GPS device we were trying to use in Richmond that day was an early model, long since superseded by more accurate gadgets. We’ve also heard, though, that excessive use of GPS can cause your brain to lose its edge. At our advanced ages, we need all the brain power we can muster!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

GULLIBLE’S TRAVAILS

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

GULLIBLE’S TRAVAILS

 

In our six and a half times around the world, one of the strangest scams we’ve ever experienced came in the lovely city of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. As we walked to church on a sunny Sunday morning, we were approached by an innocent-looking couple who pointed out bilingually that we had been anointed by the pigeons flying overhead. They courteously took us aside and began to dab at the doo-doo spots.

Later, when we were preparing for the offering time at church, we realized that they had been pickpockets. Apparently they had carried with them spray bottles of something that looked (and smelled!) like pigeon poop, so the initial spots had been their handiwork as well. Then when they had so kindly rushed to our assistance, we had been robbed.

Actually the story of the pigeon-poop pickpockets had one redeeming outcome. Later that same morning, I discovered a large bill of Argentine money in my shirt pocket. I almost never carry cash up there. In rifling through all of our hiding places, had the guilty couple accidentally dropped that one bill? Or had they deliberately decided to have mercy on a gullible silver-haired couple and so had left behind some of their loot?

We’ve never known. We did find out that another couple in our tour group had been robbed of a sizable amount that same morning by the same method. As for us, our major loss was the lightweight jacket I happened to be wearing: Those fake pigeon-poop spots never would wash out!

Of course the world’s clever thieves don’t live only in Argentina.      Bad apples in the barrel can turn up anywhere. My brother and his family were visiting Mount Vernon, home of the revered American statesman who is said to have claimed, “I cannot tell a lie.” While they were there, someone broke a window in their station wagon and made off with their son’s expensive cello.

I had a bad experience on an even more hallowed mount than Mount Vernon. As Fran and I were standing on the Mount of Olives, looking across the Kidron Valley toward the storied panorama of Jerusalem, someone jostled between us. Halfway down the slope, I realized that my billfold was missing. Fortunately there hadn’t been much money in it, but how could I replace all those photo ID’s and credit cards?

Our tour guide was an Israeli reserve military officer. He apologized for the perennial presence of crafty Arabs at the holy site. Whether he was actually in cahoots with them or not, he commanded enough respect that he was able to regain my wallet with all of its cards still intact. But we did have to call a toll-free number and warn the credit-card company not to honor two large amounts that had somehow been charged to us . . . just during the brief time it took us to walk halfway down the Mount of Olives.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

FRIENDLY FACES IN FAR-OFF PLACES (II)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

FRIENDLY FACES IN FAR-OFF PLACES (II)

 

We’ve felt a warmth of affection from kids across Africa. But Africa isn’t the only continent where we’ve encountered children’s friendly faces.

At a Turkish middle school we met some perky half-grown boys who grinned as they took turns trying on my Indiana Jones-style hat. We have some delightful photographs to commemorate that unique experience.

At an open-air market stall in the famous old Dutch city of Delft, we met the young son of a spice-seller from faraway Uzbekistan. Some of the names of the spices were much like Indonesian terms we knew, so we could have a limited but friendly meeting of the minds.

In a village of Mainland China, a little girl once befriended me over a watermelon seed. Have you ever tasted the delightful tang of a toasted and salted watermelon seed? Don’t try to eat the whole thing; just crack the black outer shell with your teeth so you can enjoy the tiny inner seed.

In Indonesia I had already learned from experience that you don’t hold the outer shell parallel to your front teeth when you try to bite open a watermelon seed. Instead, you have to turn it at a perpendicular angle so your incisors can make the proper crack down its side. Yet somehow in that Chinese village I happened to try a toasted watermelon seed the wrong way. A little Chinese girl shook her head, took the unopened outer shell from my hand, neatly cracked it open with her own tiny pearls, and returned the tasty white kernel to my palm. I ate it, too!

Nowhere have we met friendlier children than in a remote Bengali village. This was not in Bangladesh but rather on the other side of Bengal, in eastern India. The villagers were largely Christian; the preschool daughter of the pastor there went by the name of Modu, which is the same as Madu in Indonesian: “Honey.” She proved to be just as sweet as her name.

Older children in that Bengali village were also warm and outgoing. We felt especially drawn toward an orphan boy who worked as a household servant for a more affluent family.

In Bengal, as in several parts of the Philippines, I have experienced a remarkable interchange of ideas with children of school age. You see, all of the languages used in those islands are related to the Indonesian language, the same as Bengali is. So I would start pointing to different parts of my body such as nose, chin, elbow, or shoulder, each time saying the usual Indonesian word for it.

Every third or fourth word, the children would burst into laughter and (so they thought) correct my pronunciation. For in this simple way I had hit upon a sound so close to their own expression for the same basic of daily life, that they thought I was just saying it wrong!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

FRIENDLY FACES IN FAR-OFF PLACES (I)

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

FRIENDLY FACES IN FAR-OFF PLACES (I)

 

Some timid souls shrink from foreign travel because they’re loath to leave familiar faces and accustomed places far behind them. If they dared to be even a little braver, they might find – as we have – many friendly faces in far-off places.

Occasionally you may hear American travelers telling sad stories of UNfriendly faces in foreign places. Often such stories seem to have come from France. Yet we have found the French people to be unfailingly polite in our dealings with them. I especially remember a genial railway agent in Tours who spoke not one word of English, yet managed to understand and be understood. And he gave us the right change, too.

Another time, I forget whether it was in Vienna or in Munich, our Germanic landlady was fascinated by a rather ordinary sweater I was wearing, because it was adorned with the trendy Izod crocodile. She managed to explain that her son-in-law was eager to get a genuine American-brand Izod-label sweater. Producing three good sweaters that had been left behind by other guests, she offered an even swap for any one of them. And that was how I got my first genuine lamb’s-wool sweater! It was ideal for travel – lightweight and compact enough to cram into a carry-on, yet warm and stylish enough to wear whenever needed.

On a trip through the Low Countries, we met an old man who welcomed us to Veere using English he had learned from Canadians and Scots who liberated his village during World War II. We also met a young man who kindly offered to take our photo while we were standing in front of the 1601 city gate into Schoonhoven. At Axel we got a private guided tour of century-old carriages, hearses, and farm machines.

Brown-faced friends from India and Somalia once helped us get through London’s vast Heathrow Airport when we had a close international connection. A genial black ticket-seller from Suriname once came to our aid on a Dutch streetcar.

One disappointing aspect of our three decades in Indonesia was, the frequent difficulty of making friends with pre-school children there. We never quite figured out what it was – something lacking in our own manner or approach, perhaps, or something strange in Indonesian culture.

By contrast, we found that little folks across Africa were almost embarrassingly friendly. Strange . . . we had the language to chat with most kids in Indonesia, but not with most kids in Africa. Yet — everywhere we traveled in Liberia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, it was always the same: Small African boys and girls seemed eager to hold our hands, turn smiling faces toward us, hug us, even sit in our laps.

Why the big difference? We’ve never understood.

 

 

Copyright  © 2017 by Perry Thomas

CRUISING OVER THE MOUNTAINS

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

CRUISING OVER THE MOUNTAINS

 

How about the strange title of this blog post, “Cruising Over the Mountains”? Can you actually do that?

Yes you can, if you take the lake route through the Andes from Chile over to Argentina. Of course you don’t travel on water the whole way, but brief bus trips link up a series of short cruises through spectacular mountain scenery.     

One of the first cruises that Fran and I took was from Moscow to St. Petersburg. Of course no single body of water traverses that wide expanse. Yet the clever Russians have stitched together an ingenious series of rivers, lakes, canals, and reservoirs to float you all the way through in style. There were even seven-foot waves when we crossed Lake Ladoga! We were grateful that for reasons of economy our cabin was on the lowest – and therefore most stable – deck. (We used motion-sickness medicine, too.)

Fran’s favorite cruise thus far has been on the Nile. Many tourist sites on the upper Nile (which looks like the lower Nile on the map) are difficult to reach in comfort except by riverboat. After a warm walk onshore, we would be welcomed aboard again with a refreshing drink squeezed from hibiscus blossoms. This was also the trip where each evening the cabin crew would cleverly twist our fresh towels into something that seemed animate – a snake coiled on the pillow, a monkey dangling overhead.

We’ve cruised twice on the Rhine and three times on the Danube. Excellent food and drink service on cruise boats began early on the first morning of that very first Rhine trip, when an elderly steward knocked on our cabin door and offered us steaming hot cups of mint tea.

The Rhine-Main-Danube Waterway includes some locks of impressive size. It feels strange to sink so far down below the surface. Glancing out the window shows walls holding back water more than a hundred feet above you.

Except for a 65-mile jaunt from Florida to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, the nearest we’ve ever come to going to sea has been on a springtime voyage through harbors and inlets of Belgium and the Netherlands. Downtown streets in Antwerp were sealed off for a marathon, so our son had to park many blocks away from the harbor. I think Fran and I must have been the only walk-on passengers in the tour group!  

There was one other unusual aspect to that glorious springtime voyage. Besides seeing all the tulips and everything else in bloom, we actually cruised along a canal that crossed over a superhighway. It felt surreal to look down over the railing and see motor traffic passing underneath!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

           

TROLLEYS, TAXIS, TRAMS, AND SUCH

¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.”     ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.”     ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.”     ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).

 

TROLLEYS, TAXIS, TRAMS, AND SUCH

 

More than once we have faced difficulties because short-distance public vehicles such as trolleys, taxis, and trams are not usually geared to serve international travelers.

One night we got off a Rhine River boat at Rotterdam and caught a commuter train into Amsterdam. When we arrived at Centraal Station, there wasn’t a taxi in sight. All of them had flocked to other platforms where passengers were stepping off long-distance trains. (Who ever heard of a mere commuter needing a taxi anyway?)

Finally we got to a phone booth (no cell phones in 1969) and found somebody willing to ferry us and two sleepy little boys and all of our luggage to the place where we would be spending that night.

One type of storied local transportation we had hoped to try in Italy was a gondola plying the canals of Venice. Sadly enough, it turned out that present-day gondoliers charge exorbitant fees – far beyond our usual travel budget. Instead, we settled for a vaporetto, one of the sea-going streetcars that chug up and down and all around in that historic watery city.

Streetcars themselves can offer adventures. Once in Amsterdam I got my foot caught when the back door closed unexpectedly. Despite my howling, the streetcar conductor calmly continued to the next stop. My foot felt sore the next day, but fortunately nothing worse.

Another time our family of four boarded a streetcar late at night – in Munich, I think it was. We found ourselves utterly baffled by the honor-system machine that promised (in German) to eat our money and spit out our tickets. Finally German-speaking passengers motioned for us to just go ahead and sit down without paying. It’s a good thing no streetcar inspector was out spot-checking that night.

Cable cars offer a special way to make a short journey. We’ve enjoyed riding these to go up to ski slopes and other heights – both in and out of season, both in the U. S. A. and in other lands. We’ve also enjoyed riding cable cars to go down into the depths of a Colorado gold mine.

It took more than one cable-car ride for us to see those spectacular views above the great harbor of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Eventually we stood at the foot of the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, looking across to the unmistakable shape of Sugarloaf on the other side of the bay.

One of the loveliest cable car rides anywhere on earth stretches up through Valparaiso in Chile. “Valparaiso” means “valley of paradise”; the nearby city of Viña del Mar means “vineyard beside the sea.” We believe both places-names are apt descriptions.

On St. Helena Island (so we saw once on television) there’s a small public vehicle marked “NOT FOR THE FAINTHEARTED.” Do you suppose that’s also an apt description?

 

 

Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas

 

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