TRAVEL STORIES

I have been fortunate or blessed to have traveled a lot in my life, both in the U.S. and globally.  This is nothing to brag about, for the majority of this travel was related to my work; I could never have afforded to do this on my own tab.

In discussing my travels, it would probably be fairly boring to show slides or share menus.  Rather, I thought I would give some encounters  incidents that were funny, stupid, meaningful, or overwhelming

Netherlands, Amsterdam: Lost on Train

France: A Tour of Tour

Rome: Pick-pocket’s Delight

Los Angeles:Star Spotting

New York City: A Folk Singer Appears

San Diego: A Rough Landing

Florida: An Orlando Sing-along

New Orleans: The Alligator Hunt

United Kingdom:  London’s East End

Seeing Munich Without Any Pain

 

Netherlands, Amsterdam: Lost on Train

 I was in Amsterdam for a week of meetings. After a day of business work I decided to go from the Airport area (Schiphol) to downtown Amsterdam.  I caught the train to downtown and then explored the home of Anne Frank, the architecture, good food, and various shops.  About 8PM I was about ready to return to my hotel so I walked back to the train station.  But instead of going directly to the front door, I happened to be entering from the train yard area, figuring this would ultimately lead to the station proper and the computer display of train schedules.  As I walked by one train engine, what looked like the operator of the train said hello to me, and I to him.  We got talking and he said, "Where are you going?" and I said "To the Schiphol airport station."  He said "Well we're going to Schiphol in about 15 minutes, so why don't you just jump on this train?"  That seemed to make sense, and before I left him, he said, "Remember, you have to change trains at Oosdorp."  I made a mental note of that and then proceeded to board a car and waited.  (Note to reader: this is a situation where you don't have to make a reservation or pre-purchase tickets; you buy the tickets on the train).

The train took off, and sure enough, the first stop was OOsdorp.  I collected my belongings and went to the door, which had some instructions or information posted on the door.  Since it was in Dutch, I couldn't understand it.  Anyway, when the train stopped I started to maneuver the door handle in several directions but it would not budge.  I studied it more with, trying to analyze how it would open.  I pushed a button and turned the handle, but that made no difference.  A couple of minutes had passed and I was panicking.  Then I heard the slow chug.....chug....chug of the train as it crawled down the tracks to leave the station.  Embarrassed and confused, I went back to my seat and pondered my fate.  The train moved on to a high speed and I suddenly realized that the next stop was Rotterdam, which would then put me into a new country, Belgium.  At one point an attendant walked by and asked for fare.  I explained the whole stuck-door incident, and he laughed and said something like "I don't understand your problem, it tells you clearly on the door what to do."  He finally smiled, took my money and gave me a ticket.  At Rotterdam and grabbed a train that took me to Schiphol by way of The Hague.  I got back to my hotel about 11:30, swearing I would stay at Schiphol the rest of the week with no more explanations.

 

France: A Tour of Tour

 

 While vacationing in France many years ago we spent a good week seeing the sights of Paris.  Thought this was beautiful and exciting, I was disappointed that I couldn't use my skills of speaking French.  It seems that in Paris the waiters and storekeepers, when t hey hear you speak French with an English accent, will switch immediately to English.  So there goes all of my preparation.

 

But after that first week we proceeded to see more out-lying areas of France, particularly in the city of Tour, which is the center for the best castles in France. On our final morning in Paris we caught the train for Tour and arrived in about an hour and started walking down the closest street with no idea where we were or who to ask.  For us this was like venturing on another planet. Obviously the first thing was to get a car. But it was evident that this wasn't Paris: no one spoke English.  Soon we saw to policemen walking on the sidewalk across the street.  So after composing some French in my head I bravely went up to them and asked: "Je voudrais louer une voiture."

The two fellows looked at each other puzzled, and then one yelled with great delight: "Ah, airtz, airtz!" (Of course meaning "Hertz.")  He then pointed to the Hertz office just a block away.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven; I had communicated successfully in their own language.

I continued to test my French as we proceeded through the day in Tour.  The trip was worth it; it had confirmed my abilities and was most satisfying.

Rome: Pick-pocket’s Delight

 

 When Marilyn and I reached our 25th anniversary, we decided to celebrate it by going to Italy--specifically Rome and Florence.  Arriving at Rome on that spring day was exciting, but we did not realize we were in for one of the more frightful events in our life.

From the Rome airport we caught a train that would take us to the center of Rome.  Our destination was a train station where we could catch a cab to our hotel.  After departing the train, we went looking for the taxi stands, each dragging a suitcase on wheels and with other bags in one hand, leaving the other free.  Literature we had read said that one must be careful in Rome; watch out for your belongings.  They even said "beware of the gypsies."  I normally carry my billfold in my hip pocket, but this time I had put it in the front pocket of my jeans on the right side.  (I had forgotten that jeans are usually a tight enough fit to show the outline of what could be a wallet).  As we got closer to the taxi stand, a group of what looked like gypsies approached us trying to sell their wares.  They had fabrics on frames that they apparently had made.  One lady approached me mumbling something in Italian--probably asking me to look at her goods.  Specifically, it was a large piece of fabric artwork, not very attractive, which she held out horizontally at waist level, the other end thus meeting at my waist.  I didn't realize at that time that this arrange created a perfect hiding place for her to do her evil act.  At the time I didn't realize what was going on, until suddenly Marilyn yelled out to me "Ted, look out!"  When I heard those words I immediately knew what she meant and what was going on.

I had two bags I was dragging and didn't know what to do.  To move away from the scene could result in me moving away from my wallet.  So I let go of the suitcases and slowly started lowering my body until I was kneeling on the ground.  Then I reached over into my front pocket to check the status of my wallet.  It was there, but also in my pocket was her hand.  When she saw/felt that I had beat her to the draw, she got up and stood back.  I didn't know what to do and was very angry, so I proceeded to yell and shout and the lady and her accomplices, saying something like "Get out of my life, how dare you, etc."  They just stood there and stared; it was obvious my shouting meant nothing.  This was part of their regular routine.  I instinctively grabbed the two suitcases and followed Marilyn to the taxi that was waiting about 40 feet away.  As I proceeded to put the suitcases down by the cab, I looked in my hand and saw what I was holding: the fabric artwork.  I can't remember even carrying it but I must have absent-mindedly picked it up as with the luggage.

Needless to say, I kept the wallet in snap pack on a belt under my shirt. 

Interestingly, the next day we met a couple at the Coliseum who had a similar incident. The man had his wallet stolen and the thief immediately jumped on a leaving train.  Right before the doors closed he was able to reach in and grab the wallet out of the thief's hand.

Moral of the story: Always do what the travel literature says to do. 

Los Angeles:Star Spotting

 

  While shopping in central Los Angeles we stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  After reading the menu, I looked around the room and saw someone who looked familiar.  Now they say that some people are stronger in their learning capabilities either by visual or auditory means. I tend to lean toward the auditory method; I have good ears. So when I saw someone in the restaurant who looked familiar, I had to tread water carefully if I wanted to announce this to my wife and daughter.  So I carefully announced to them: "I think I see somebody famous over there: David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young).  My wife looked over and said "By God, I think you're right).  He was having lunch with his son, looked a little older and larger girth, but it was Crosby.

Well, that's an accomplishment for one trip but there's more to tell.  When we were in the airport, my daughter and looked across the check-in area and there was Sam Waterston, key Prosecuting attorney on Law and Order.  He was with his wife and daughter preparing to take off. 

I frequently am annoyed when people in Los Angeles tell me that they saw Brittany Spears in the grocery store the other day, or "I got this bracelet from Tom Cruise."  I was always very suspicious, but now I'm starting to change my mind.

 

 

 

New York City: A Folk Singer Appears

 

 While vacationing in New York City, we of course we saw the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Build, and all the standard sites.  So after hitting most of the well-known places, we took a walk in Central Park, where you generally see plain folks.  So it was quite a surprise when my wife looked up and saw Judy Collins (of 60's folk song fame).  She walked through rather quickly so you had to be awake. Quite amazing what you see in New York if you keep your eyes open.

San Diego: A Rough Landing

 

 If I asked you to describe your most about your ocean cruise landing, you  probably think I'm crazy because your landing was most likely  uneventful and even boring.  But it certainly wouldn't be your landing (I hope).  Let me describe my landing.

In 2003 I went to Honolulu and met my son who was finishing his deployment to Afghanistan.  We spent a day and evening in Honolulu and then join several hundred Marines and their relatives or companions to sail back to San Diego and live like a Marine--a trip called the Tiger Cruise.  (You can learn more about this trip in this website.)  The trip was great,  but on the last day we were glad to be getting home.  We packed up our bags and went down to the lowest level of the ship.  We found ourselves standing tightly packed in a small boat-within-a-ship.  When were ready to head for shore, pumps filled the lower level of the ship with water so that the inner boat was floating.  The trip was about one mile and took about 30 minutes.  When we arrived a the San Diego shore, I was expecting a large urban, or at least suburban, setting.  Rather we were in the boon docks with sand all around.  As I got near the exit, I was expecting a wooden dock.  Not so.  Nor was there even one square food of land.  Rather, the boat had missed the shore by about six feet.  So we were all on our own to survive the walk to shore.  I decided to remove my shoes and socks so they would be dry when I got there.  We all waded through the cold water, reached the sandy shore as we tried to keep our luggage dry, and proceeded to dry ourselves off and then find the appropriate bus that would take us to the Miramar naval base.  I should have realized that when you're pretending to be a Marine for a week, you shouldn't expect a red carpet at the end of your trip.

Florida: An Orlando Sing-along

 I had mentioned in another area of this website my involvement in the DAMA organization.  This led to annual conferences in various cities, each averaging over a thousand attendants.  For several years, it was the practice in DAMA to identify conference attendees who had musical talents to bring their instruments to the conference for a jam session in the evening.  These usually involved the musicians improvising their own versions of old rock music. 

At one of these events I had been asked to play the piano.  So I accompanied the rock music gang on a grand piano in the hotel.  After they gave up for the evening I stayed at the piano and played solo quietly for a while. An attendee came up and talked to me while I was playing and we discussed how she liked to sing.  Then a few more came up and they said they were interested too.  This led to our going through dozens of Broadway musicals in a sing-along. Everyone had such a good time that the next day one of the singers put up posters and contacted individuals seeing if they would like to sing along that evening.  Twenty or thirty showed up, and several sang so professionally that I was sure they had performed in local plays in their local communities.  You can  hear audio files and see pictures of this event and hear/see the sing-along.  (To hear the music you're required to have appropriate software like Music Sampler or Windows Media Player on your computer).

 

New Orleans: The Alligator Hunt

 

  For our 6-months-delayed honeymoon, Marilyn  and I chose to New Orleans.  We spent several days enjoying all of the entertainment, shopping, and good food that the French Quarter has to offer.  While walking around in the French Quarter we me a man advertising a service of touring the bayous and swamps of the surrounding areas.  SO we signed up and met him the next morning at his vehicle, along with several other people.  It took about an hour's drive to get to our destination; the driver played Cajun music along the way.  When we arrived, he took us to lunch that included some good Cajun gumbo and po-boys and then he got in his boat.  It was a medium sized rowboat with a small motor.  The initial bayou we entered was about as wide as a highway road and it seemed like it might go for miles.  After abut a half a mile we turned into a smaller creek and followed that path and then turned into a very small creek about 5 feet wide with there was lush vegetation  beautiful flowers and an occasional alligator.  Just discovering this complex maze of "water roads" was quite a surprise.  I had heard of Cajuns making a pirogue (a hand carved sort of kayak that they used for navigating the swamps), but was not aware of the water-travel network.

The swamp trip was followed by a tour of some old settlements where the French settlers had lived and worked.  I'm sure that this service is always available in the French quarter and would highly recommend it.

 

United Kingdom:  London’s East End

 When I would ever travel to London during my employment at Shell, I hung out at or near the Shell Headquarters on the Thames River.  A short fifteen-minute walk from these headquarters gets you to the Charing Cross Thistle Hotel where I liked to stay.  It is several hundred years old and has beautiful original decor and building features.  It is so popular that they had to add an annex to the back of this hotel. If you stay in the front part of the hotel, everything is OK: the second floor is called "the second floor, etc. for all the other floors. But in the annex not only do the levels not match (first floor in the front is third floor in the annex), but also fifth floor in the Annex is really called the seventh floor!  Oh what a mess happens when you expand in an unplanned environment.

The area around the hotel is full of pubs, restaurants of all flavors, and shops.  The London Museum is a block away, next to the Trafalgar Square.  But my favorite hangout is St. Martin of the Fields.  This is a beautiful old Episcopal church, but the best part are the musical events.  Just check St. Martin of the Fields website to seethe classical concerts they offer in the church proper and the jazz and lighter styles in the "crypt" (the basement of the church).  The best way to get tickets to a concert is simply to go to their website, order and pay for the tickets on-line, and then pick up the tickets the night or day of the concert.  Also found in the crypt is a very nice gift shop and a cafeteria featuring homemade food operated by the church--and it’s cheap. 

Finally, a 10-minute walk back across the river right next to Shell's headquarters you'll find the "London Eye" (shown in picture above), a large Ferris wheel, each carriage enclosed in glass, that lifts you up to the top over London to see some beautiful views.

Seeing Munich Without Any Pain

 In the years that I worked for Compaq Computer Company I traveled several times to their production offices in Munich Germany.  On one particular visit in 1992 I was teaching classes during the day and seeing the sites at night.  It was fortunate that I was in Munich during October, because I could participate in the Oktoberfest celebrations.  Compaq gave each employee a voucher for a chicken dinner along with drinks. And what a place to get drinks—for Munich happens to be the capital of beer brewing in Europe.  The celebration was in a large tent with hundreds of people enjoying the music, food and drinks—the latter two being all held on one extended arm of the happy waitresses.  It so happens that Germans love the Beatles songs, so after no more than a couple of beers I found myself standing on the tables with everyone else singing and bouncing to OObladee OOblada.

After a few hours of this frivolity, I decided it was time to go back to my hotel.  But the Oktoberfest tent  and parkwas located in a somewhat suburban area, and the challenge was, in my somewhat handicapped state, to find the subway  and catch a train.  I am sure I circled the festival park by foot at least three times trying to find the road to the subway, and promising I would never do this ever again.  I finally made it to the hotel and woke up the next morning with a heavy head.  A quart of water and two-mile jog prepared me for the workday ahead.  I look back at this experience as rather foolish but at the same time a fond memory I won’t forget.