Faces and Places


Norwegian Guide, Bergen

I just got back from a week in Indonesia. Although I enjoyed the experience and meeting up with both new and old colleagues on this trip, I missed my family badly and couldn’t wait to be back home. This wasn’t always the case, of course. In my younger days, before I got married, I was quite excited about traveling.

In fact, when I turned 21, I went backpacking through Europe for a month and never felt anything but the thrill of the open road. That trip was and will forever be a defining moment in my life. In a way, it was an important rite of passage to adulthood and a declaration that I could go out into the wide world and take care of myself. In those few, precious, glorious autumn days of my youth, I left the coast of England and made my landfall in Belgium; crossed through the Ardennes into Luxembourg; went through Germany on the way to Denmark; took a long train and ferry ride to Norway; retraced my path and went to Austria; thought of heading to Greece but bailed out into the then Republic of Yugoslavia; finally returning to Belgium.

The earth has circled the sun many times since then but as I reflect on that trip, I realise as much as I had enjoyed the scenery, the architecture, history and culture, the fondest of memories are the people I met along the way.

  1. Belgium. There was an English father with his teenage son who were spending two weeks cycling through Europe. We met quite a few times as we chose a similar travel route. It culminated with a quiet but beautiful evening on the verandah of a small Youth Hostel in the Ardennes sharing stories and several rounds of beer with other fellow travelers. It was great. There was also that Youth Hostel in Namur with its hippie American staff and their wonderfully bohemian barbeque party.
  2. Luxembourg. I met up with the son of a famous cartoonist. Together we had some wild adventures in this ancient kingdom which would have made the authorities frown with disapproval but which make the memories all the more precious. You can read more about it here.
  3. Germany. It was a long train ride so my traveling companion and I decided to practice a few choice phrases in Hebrew on a couple of unsuspecting Isreali youths. In fact, we only knew about three phrases but it was enough to have one of them enquire if there was a large Chinese Jewish community. We enjoyed playing with their minds!
  4. Norway. I will always remember that very sweet and friendly guide at the cultural village in Bergen. It was pouring with rain and the two of us were the only ones mad enough to show up but she still graciously took us around. A fun interaction and a very fond memory.
  5. Germany. The visit to Herrenchiemsee was interesting but spending a rainy afternoon doing laundry with two Southern Belles from America was special. One was a nurse and the other a student of politics. Somehow, we got talking about the Kennedy era and the American Camelot.
  6. Austria. Arriving late in Salzburg, I teamed up with an American student to find a beer garden for food and drinks. We had a wonderful time under the stars talking about politics and life in general. We also had a great meal and liberal amounts of beer which resulted in a mad adventure trying to find our way through the maze of streets to our Hostel. It did not help that neither of us could walk straight but bouncing off the walls of the narrow cobvled streets was fun in its own way.
  7. Yugoslavia. This was a nation of colourful characters. Starting with the bus conductor that insisted in speaking to me even though I did not understand a word he was saying. At Plitvice Lakes, I enjoyed the company and the stories of my B&B host who was an elderly Dutch lady who had lived in Indonesia and had now found her heaven in Yugoslavia ( I often what happened to her during the war). Then I actually ran into a group of dissidents that printed an underground newspaper. They actually kept me company for a couple of hours while I waited for a train. On the train, I then met an attractive and vivacious Aussie girl (Kate) and the Yugoslavian soldier who commandeered my phrase book so that he could hit on the former.
  8. Austria. Back in Vienna, I spent my time in the company of two Aussie girls, Kate and Gai. We made a good team. One girl could be counted on to find great shopping, the other was an expert at finding coffee and cakes and I was the one who could actually read a map and navigate. We all had a very interesting but scary encounter with an elderly man with wild eyes who kept prodding us with his walking stick while asking, “Hitler gud, ya?” We did the culture vulture thing for a few days and promised to keep in touch, buddies for life and look each other up…….but never did.
  9. Belgium. My second time back in Belgium and I was caught by a nationwide transport strike. I celebrated my 21st birthday with a Canadian student, a Welsh Parole officer and an Irish Artist. I wandered the streets of Brussels with a Moroccan student even though we communicated only by sign language. Finally, I made a run for the ports and back to U.K. by hitching a ride with an American pastor (the driver), an American couple and a British student.

Finally though, I should not forget my friend, partner in crime and occasional travel companion (although we started the trip together, we split up a couple of times before finally separating as he went on into Greece and I stopped at Yugoslavia). Now he, is a great character indeed but I think I will elaborate in my next post.

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