2008 will be an exciting winter if I can adhere to the major
portion of the trip I have planned, although I fully expect to make
some itinerary changes en route. I will leave on January 10th for a
flight from Washington Dulles to Madrid, Spain, where. I
will spend 9
or 10 days
adjusting to jet lag. If Madrid is too cold for the wardrobe that I
packed for this year’s adventure in the southern hemisphere, I will
Sevilla, one of my favorite cities and considerably warmer than Spain’s
capital, and return to Madrid for the next leg of my journey.
Around midnight on January 19th, I leave on an overnight flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. Because Johannesburg has been called one of the most dangerous cities in the world, I wanted to be recovered from jet lag and on my toes when I arrive in a brand new location with such a nasty reputation. Atypically, I am even considering making a hotel reservation for the first night in town so that I have some place to go when I arrive. I imagine that I would make a much easier target if I wander around looking for a hotel room not knowing whom I can trust at the city’s large airport.
I expect to spend a day or two touring Johannesburg – I am especially interested in visiting Soweto – before taking an overnight train to Cape Town, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. The crime rate is significantly lower than Johannesburg, too, according to all that I have read. It is in Cape Town that I expect to spend four or five weeks and meet my son and his family when they travel there from Switzerland on a week-long winter vacation. I imagine that I will be sampling a lot of new food and taking in a completely different culture than any I have experienced heretofore.
At the end of February I will fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg from whence, if I can endure an eight-hour layover, I will fly overnight to London. After a quick change of planes at Heathrow, I will take a short flight to Rome, Italy. A few days in Rome to eat a little pasta, enjoy the Italian wines, and reinitiate my love affair with the eternal city is my current thinking. Then, I envision heading to Venice and Trieste in northeastern Italy to catch a bus down the Dalmatian Coast for Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the new country of Montenegro. I hope to spend a little time in either Dubrovnik or Split, two cities in Croatia noted for their history and their beauty.
My entire trip has been planned to avoid the coldest weather of the northern hemisphere, so the return to Rome may be a little premature. I am hoping that the warm waters of the Adriatic will temper the chilly air of the Balkan Peninsula and that the Dalmatian coast will be tolerable in March. If not, I will bundle up in as many warm weather clothes as I can muster.
At the beginning of April, if all goes well, I will fly from Dubrovnik to Geneva to visit my son and my grandchildren and to meet my wife and another couple with whom a railway exploration of Switzerland is planned. I expect to return to the USA on April 19.
I could plan my itinerary a little more definitively this year because I was able to use frequent flyer miles for the entire adventure. With a cost of under $150 for all of the air travel on this journey, perhaps I will be able to afford an occasional dessert. The European portion of the trip will be expensive because of the reduced purchasing power of the dollar, but since neither South Africa nor the Balkan countries are in the European Common Market, things should be a little less expensive there. I will again try to keep you posted from internet cafes along the way.
11, 2008 -
I am in Madrid again! It almost feels like home. The first leg of the journey has been completed and for this nervous flier all went pretty well. Some of the credit for the success must go to the pilot, but a generous portion can be attributed to my physician. I took half a pill of the anti-anxiety Xanax, prescribed by my doctor for just this situation, as I approached Dulles Airport in a driving rain. An hour later, I took another half-capsule to work up the courage to board the huge aluminum bird and popped one more half-dose at the first bump of the Iberia Airbus just after take-off. Before the flying machine reached cruising altitude, I laid down across four seats in the center aisle and let the Xanax take me. This was the first flight where I was fortunate enough to sit in an unoccupied row of seats for an overnight flight and Xanax and I took full advantage of the situation.
I heard them announce that they would serve dinner when we reached cruising altitude, but I have no recollection of any meal being served or of reaching the prescribed altitude. It wasn't particularly comfortable with the seatbelt straining to hold me at that angle, but I got 5 1/2 hours of sleep before awakening at 3:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time as they were serving breakfast. I think I recall the flight being a little turbulent, but I was deeply in Xanax land and didn't panic at all. We landed smoothly at 4:00 a.m. our time and 10:00 a.m. here in Madrid after a flight of 6 1/2 hours.
Through email, a former English student of mine here in Spain offered me a bed in the guest room of her apartment during my stay in Madrid and I wound my way there through the underground maze of the Metro and called her on her cell phone. She met me an hour later and walked me a mile and a half through a steady drizzle to the apartment of a work colleague who will be out of town for the next two weeks. She warmly offered me a choice of where to stay - in her apartment where I'm certain I would interfere with her busy, late-night social life or in her friend's apartment all alone. I opted for the bachelor pad, unpacked, freshened up, and crawled in his bed and slept the "sleep of the dead" for 2 1/2 hours. Jet leg has already taken its toll even though I got a decent sleep on the way over the Atlantic.
That was the idea about stopping in Madrid in the first place, however. I wanted to be over jet lag before tackling the new territory of South Africa and I am well on my way. That much is going exactly as planned and my friend, Virginia, and her friend have probably saved me more than $500 with the generous offer of lodging.
It is now time to cruise the tapas bars and sample the spectacular Spanish cuisine. I am eager to get back in the wonderful Spanish lifestyle. I will keep you updated as the trip unfolds. Adios.
January 12, 2008 - from Madrid
Overcoming jetlag is a long way off. I'm trying to listen to my body and sleep when it tells me I should, but it simply doesn't recognize that we are in a different time zone. After the long siesta yesterday, I walked several blocks around my new abode and came across one of four locations (I didn't know there was more than one) of my favorite tapas bar. Write this down: El Rincon de Jaen, which means the corner of Jaen. I'll try to find out today what Jaen means. If you are ever in Madrid, find one of them for fantastic tapas and conversation.
I stood at the bar, which is customary in a tapas bar, and ordered a red wine (here called vino tinto) from Rioja, the best wine area of Spain. They poured a small glass - tapas bars are about socializing and eating, not about drinking great quantities. They placed the wine on the bar, reaching over the refrigerated case displaying some of the delicious looking small plates, called tapas. They also placed a small mixed plate of fried calamari, sardines, and zucchini in front of me, the complimentary tapa. Three glasses of wine and three different tapas later, I had consumed enough food and beverage for the evening. They were my dinner. Other tapas included strips of pork with slivers of roasted garlic and a plate of boiled ham chunks in a vinegar sauce with onions. All were quite delicious.
I engaged in an interesting conversation, I think, with a woman who was an attorney. She spoke no English and I am laboring with my Spanish on the first day back in the Spanish-speaking world, but I understood about a quarter of what she said. Despite my efforts in explaining my comprehension problems, she rattled on and I nodded my head at what I thought were appropriate times. This led to more rattling, but it was a great time in the crowded and brightly decorated bar/restaurant. One of the wait staff, perhaps she was the bus girl, was Filipina and she spoke a few sentences in English. Other than that, it was an evening immersed in Spanish and I enjoyed it immensely. The tapas hour (or two) is a great custom and it was fascinating to watch the clientele, many husbands and wives, working men on their way home, women talking about the day's work, etc. A virtual beehive of activity.
I'm certain that they were getting themselves prepared for the 11:00 p.m. dinner hour, but by 9:30 I had enough. My body seemed to be saying it was time to sleep again, so I walked the two short blocks home and read one of the detective novels that I carried with me. I fell asleep by 10:30, awoke again at midnight, and stayed awake until 4:00 a.m. My body just doesn't get it yet, but it will, it will. I awoke at 7:30 ready to explore Madrid. Until I showered, shaved, read a little more, and got ready to depart, it was 9:30 and nobody was on the street.
After walking several blocks and seeing many closed shops and restaurants, I finally found a Cafe and Tea shop where I had breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly ground coffee with hot cream, and a purro (a large, deep-fried, extruded tube of dough) to dunk in the coffee. I was ready to go!
Only one problem to face: something happened to the lock when I left the apartment. I couldn't reopen it after I exited. I will try it one more time before lunch, and then I will rely on my friend, Virginia, to find a way back into my bachelor pad. A different challenge every day is what makes these trips so interesting.
I will lunch today with three former English students, all business executives, in a grand reunion. One of the students is Gumercindo, the creative architect with whom I lived to experience the Carnival of Cadiz a few years back. I am delighted to see these folks again. It will be interesting to see how their English skills have improved.
It will also be interesting to see when my body calls for more sleep. I'll try to keep you informed on the jetlag challenge. Hasta luego!
January 14, 2008 - from Madrid
Traveling alone can be fantastic, but traveling to an area where local friends show you around is even better. Saturday brought a great reunion with three Spanish friends who attended the immersion school in which I was an English speaker four years ago. Two now live in Madrid, but the three are originally from different areas of Spain. We met at a tapas bar near Virginia's apartment after Virginia had a locksmith file the key to my bachelor pad into serviceable shape. I experienced no further problems with my apartment key over the weekend.
If you read my journal from previous years, you might recall the great time that I had in Cadiz in southern Spain during the Carnival season. Gumer was the architect with whom I lived and my local guide for the events of Carnival. It was great to see him again. He hasn't changed, still creative, witty, bright, and charming. In case he reads this, I should also add handsome and talented.
Veronica, originally from Asturia in northern Spain, works for Iberia Airlines and she hasn't changed either. She is still pretty, intelligent, and enthusiastic about the use of English. Actually, Veronica is enthusiastic about almost everything.
Virginia, my benefactor here in Madrid, was her usual charming, bubbly, gorgeous self. She organized the gathering and it was delightful to see everyone again. Gumer also brought along a childhood friend, Antonio, who is an engineer living here in Madrid. They were wonderful hosts and all spoke English even though it would have been much easier for them to speak their native language. I think they tolerate the old American so they get a chance to use their English skills, which none of them get to do on a regular basis.
They are all young, enthusiastic professionals and the conversation was lively. One of the wonderful things about the Spanish lifestyle is how large a part human interaction plays. These folks usually live in small apartments and gather in local restaurants, tapas bars, etc., to discuss news, views, and opinions with friends and family. Very few cook much at home and the amount of time spent in front of a television set (soccer games notwithstanding) is much reduced in comparison to typical American lives.
We visited three tapas bars Saturday afternoon and had lively conversations about politics, immigration, national health care, and about everything you can imagine. I rarely encounter conversations of that depth at home, though brief chats about similar topics and the news do occur. We chatted about these topics for four hours. It was invigorating. I have encouraged all of these folks to visit me at home, since none have visited much of the USA. Antonio and Virginia have been to New York City, Chicago, and Antonio to Los Angeles. I would like to be able to show them Lancaster, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York when they visit. They keep promising that they will make it one day.
We parted and I returned to my apartment for an evening of reading, something I don't take enough time to do at home. At 10:15 p.m., after nodding off for a moment or two, OK - maybe it was half an hour, I headed back to El Rincon de Jaen, my favorite tapas bar. I confirmed that the name of the bar means a corner of Jaen, a city in southern Spain.
The bar was jammed and I could barely squeeze in the door. Singles, couples of all ages, lovers - the place was elbow to elbow with Spanish folks having a typical Saturday evening. The restaurant section was full of people beginning their evening meal (remember, it was 10:30 p.m.) and the bar was jammed with the rest of us having small beers or glasses of wine with the complimentary tapas. All accompanied by the buzz of conversation. It was an exciting venue.
A number of people took turns next to me at the stand-up bar as customers came and left. Finally, two petite, older women (about my age and with just as much gray hair) took their place next to me and had a small glass of red wine and tapas. They seemed to be from a lower socio-economic class than the other patrons in the small bar and, when they finished their drinks, they talked among themselves as they looked through their change purses to try to come up with enough money for the tab. I signaled to the bartender that I would pay for their tab, but I put my fingers to my lips indicating that I didn't want them to know that I had done so. The bartender informed a waitress that I had paid the bill and she told the ladies about my actions. They were flabbergasted! Maybe, it is not appropriate to do that in this culture, but they were struggling to get the cash together and it was less than five dollars, so I thought that I should help.
My actions won a lot of good will from the bar staff. They seemed to be happy to be rid of the ladies and I think they also appreciated my generosity. They poured me two complimentary after dinner drinks which I needed like a hole in the head, but felt obligated to drink. One was a yellow liquid poured by me into a shot glass from the bottle they served me. They called it a degustivo. Good for the digestion - right, and so is kerosene! Wow, it was strong, but I sipped my way through one glass of the stuff. The other drink was a slushy-like glass of lemon, ice, and champagne, they said. It was much sweeter and went down like a slushy at home, but slowly because of the crushed ice.
I left the bar to walk the two blocks home, but the two ladies were waiting outside for me. They seemed overwhelmed that I bought them a drink, but I couldn't follow the remainder of their conversation. Either they were just expressing more gratitude or they wanted to reciprocate and buy me a drink. I needed no more alcohol and thanked them profusely. I told them it was my pleasure to buy the drink and I excused myself. I made it home safely to bed and slept like a log.
On Sunday, I arranged to meet Virginia at Puerta del Sol, the major square in downtown Madrid, only a short subway ride away. We met around 1:30 and spent three or four delightful hours crawling around tapas bars in an area that I had not visited before. There were hundreds of people on the street, street musicians playing jazz, and thousands crowded into the tapas bars. Each bar seemed to specialize in a different kind of tapa. My favorite was one famous for its "Juevos Rotos," or broken eggs. French fries, topped with fried, over-easy eggs whose yolks were intentionally broken over the fries, topped further with tiny chunks of grilled ham. Delicious! Virginia and I each had a fork and shared the plate as had the four of us during our reunion on Saturday. It is the custom.
Our final stop was a dessert and coffee bar. Here, people ate Italian gelato, desserts, and consumed coffee in one of the myriad ways coffee is served these days. Virginia and I had a cortado, a short glass of coffee with just a little milk. Cafe con leche is usually served at breakfast and is about half coffee and half hot milk. Both are excellent. Of course, many drink their expresso straight, but that is still difficult for me. I had a wonderful weekend and learned about many new tapas bars that I can try during the week and on future visits to this wonderful city. I imagine that is more than you needed to know about my weekend, but, as is my wont in these adventures, I am pretty verbose in the beginning as I adjust to life alone on the road. I will cut back the verbiage as time goes on. Hasta manana!
January 15, 2008 - from Madrid
Big city life without a car mandates considerable walking, even if you use the metro for longer distances as I have been doing. Several blocks to the entrance, up and down many stairs to arrive at your destination, up and down again when you arrive, then a walk to see whatever you have chosen to see. I have been walking my legs off! I power walk an hour or so almost every day, so I can calculate pretty well the distance I have walked from the way my legs feel each evening. And my legs have been exhausted. The bottom of my feet also hurt at the end of the day from the pounding they take on the sidewalks.
I am not complaining! This has to be a wonderful weight loss program, especially when you are trying to keep up with youngsters like Virginia. I estimate that Saturday I walked six miles, easily. I said to her when the locksmith was late that we should take a cab, because we were late meeting the others for the reunion. She said, "It is only a short distance away." I estimate that it was a mile and a half.
On Sunday when she took me tapas bar-crawling in downtown Madrid, she walked up the hills, then back down to another bar, and back up again for the next tapas. She never slowed her pace and I wouldn't ask for mercy. I gritted my teeth and continued without complaint. Sunday, I would estimate that I walked five miles on sore feet and tired legs, still not healed from the day before.
Yesterday, my first day alone with everyone back to work, I reduced the steps I took, but still walked at least three miles. By now, I should be in pretty good walking shape, but I need an occasional day of rest, it appears. Today is that day. I will stay around the apartment, exploring an ever larger circle around my home base. I will still put on more miles than most suburban dwellers at home who get in the car in the garage and park right outside their office door or in the closest parking place to the grocery store. No wonder there are so few obese folks here in Madrid! Hasta manana!
January 16, 2008 - from Madrid
Dinner the last two evenings, when I was all alone for the first time on the trip, was spent in a total of seven tapas bars - all different. Meals consisted of the small glass of wine and complimentary tapas. It is possible to order a larger portion of the various tapas on the menu, called a ration (racion). Raciones, except for the dried, pate negra ham (like dry beef), are reasonably priced and enough for a small meal, but I did not find it necessary to go that way. I just stopped in different bars and ate various, complimentary tapas. It is the custom, but I did skip the customary 10:30 dinners each evening.
The tapas have been interesting, including the one that I purchased for lunch, called a Zarajo. I only know one place to buy this particular delicacy - in a tapas bar near the Puerta del Sol, Madrid's busiest square. The dish is deep-fried sheep intestines, wound on a stick. Yes, I'm serious. They are delicious, although I thought they were a little salty this time. The stick was a little tough, however.
Okay, I'm joking about the stick - it is not edible, just used to provide some structure around which the sheep innards can be wound. It is really good, I'm not joking about that!
Other tapas included lightly-breaded small fish, sun-fish sized, in a caramelized onion sauce, ham pate on a baguette slice, calamari, and other small dishes too numerous to mention. I haven't found anything that I didn't like, but, of course, that is part of my problem and why all the walking is necessary.
The jet lag is a thing of the past. I should be able to be at the top of my game after my overnight flight to Johannesburg, South Africa, in a couple of days. I was in bed by 10:00 p.m. last night, read a little while and awakened at 8:00 this morning, pretty much on schedule.
I have also confirmed reservations on the internet for a Bed and Breakfast for the first three nights of my arrival in Johannesburg. The B & B has airport pickup and it is probably a safer arrangement than my usual no-reservation approach for my first night in a strange city noted for its high crime rate.
Tomorrow will be laundry day here in Madrid and I should have a good time trying to figure out how to use the combination washer-dryer in the apartment. At least I think it is a combination washer-dryer. This should be interesting; here's hoping I don't flood the apartment with soap suds. I'll let you know how the Whirpool adventure turns out. Adios.
January 17, 2008 - from Madrid
As we speak, the thingy is spinning on the washer and the space ship window on the front is warm. It may be in the drying cycle and that could be a tad premature. The thingy started spinning without any water after I pushed one of the three buttons on the front of the machine. After pushing the other buttons a couple of times and twisting one past GO to collect the $200, some water was evident in the window. After a few minutes, I even saw a few suds, although the water never was deep enough to show on the front window. But, who knows, maybe they are into conservation.
When I finish here in the internet center, I will return and hang the laundry from the torture (drying) rack that I found in the room. It is very, very dry here, so an open window should accelerate the drying process. If the clothing still appears dirty, and with the jeans that should be obvious, I will rewash the duds. I have all day to wash darks. Tomorrow is the day for whites. I hope to leave for South Africa on Saturday with almost a full suitcase of clean clothes. That would be a great way to start.
It is so dry here that I am using buckets of lotion to keep my face from peeling. Perhaps, that is why they do not bathe every day here. The morning shower feels too good for me to give up, but I am paying for it with dry skin and a huge Lubriderm bill.
Virginia left for two days of unexpected work in Barcelona, so I have been alone since Sunday after the reunion. It is challenging to overcome the loneliness and the homesickness which sets in early each year, but I am working on it. This, too, shall pass. I will get a chance to say goodbye to Virginia on Saturday when we will meet for lunch. Then, I will head for the airport for my midnight departure for Johannesburg. Hasta luego.
January 18, 2008 - from Madrid
The clothes are clean! I mean ALL the clothes are clean: darks, whites, mine, Carlos', towels, carpets, etc. They're all clean and dry. I can't make this stuff up!
After finishing my update yesterday, I returned to the apartment to remove the darks and hang them to dry, only to find them already hung on the drying rack, along with my whites, Carlos' (the apartment owner) dirty clothes, and the machine washing yet another load of what looked like towels and carpets. No way!! The place was also cleaned from stem to stern and everything neatly in its place, including my suitcase and backpack neatly in Carlos' closet. Apparently, Carlos has a cleaning service and they were there yesterday while I was at the internet center. I always say that God takes care of fools and here we have another clear example. This old fool, struggling with the modern technology of a washing machine whose few directions were in Spanish and located where I had to lie on the floor to read them, was taken care of one more time.
Now, if only I can find all of my things where the cleaning lady placed them. That problem, plus the fact that Carlos' clothes and mine are commingled, is the only concern that I have. It shouldn't be too much of a problem, since Carlos doesn't quite have the same musculature (or girth - okay, be nice!) as I.
The cleaning service also left Carlos a note. At least, I think it was the cleaning service and not Carlos himself, prematurely returned from Sevilla. Nah, Carlos is not that good a housekeeper. The note seemed to say that she needed cleaning and laundry detergent, but the handwriting was difficult and I don't read Spanish all that well. Anyway, it gave me a chance to replenish all of Carlos' cleaning and paper supplies and to write him a thank you note. I also left him a bottle of Rioja for so generously permitting me use of his apartment.
I spent last evening with a two-hour stroll to and from the Plaza Colon, the square honoring Columbus, where I customarily disembark after a bus ride from the airport. This year was different because I was instructed to meet Virginia at her apartment, near a metro stop. It was a direct run from the airport to that stop and I will return to the airport the same way, since my apartment is one metro stop closer to the airport.
As I strolled at nearly 5:00 p.m., the crowds on the sidewalk started to increase as people began to leave their offices after work. The work hours here can be confusing. Generally, offices open at 9:00 a.m. and work until five, with an hour or so for lunch somewhere around 2:00 p.m. But the old way, still practiced by stores and some businesses, is to begin work at 10:00 a.m., close for lunch from 2:00 until 5:00 p.m., then work until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. The tapas hours begin at 7:30 or 8:00 and continue until 10:30 p.m., when the dinner hour begins. Sounds confusing, only because it is.
I have become accustomed to the schedule and really enjoy the lifestyle. Think about it this way, sleep in late, take a three hour lunch - sometime with co-workers, sometime with your family, complete the work, then start strolling and window shopping. This portion of the day morphs into the rolling cocktail party, called tapas hour, when people converge on the bars/restaurants to discuss the day's news and views. How can a daily Happy Hour be a bad thing??
I bought two English language detective/spy novels at a bookstore during my three or four mile stroll and took a few pictures. I am in the process of sending the photos back for my website, so you should see some shots of Madrid in a few days. I finished my second novel last night, so I was desperate for reading material. TV in a foreign language is not much of an option for me.
I know that it is snowing at home, so I hate to mention that the temperature at 6:30 p.m. yesterday was still 51 degrees as the sun was setting. I ended the day at two tapas bars, enjoying ham at one and a racione of octopus with oil and paprika at the next. I strolled home to bed by about midnight, always feeling safe in this big city, but I am not living where tourists are prey to petty pickpockets and thieves.
The laundry was not completely dry this morning, especially the jeans and around the elastic of my thongs. I folded the socks and tee shirts, and, contain yourself here, I ironed the two, long-sleeved, cotton shirts for packing. I probably won't need them again until I reach Rome at the end of February. Isn't it great that Carlos had an ironing board and an iron for my use in the apartment?
I owe a major debt of gratitude to my Spanish hosts, Virginia and her co-worker, Carlos. Not only did they save me a big chunk of change with the dollar being so low against the Euro, but they permitted me to live the lifestyle of a local. For that, I will always be indebted. I have invited them to visit me in Pennsylvania and I am expecting them to do that. It would be great to show them the major cities on our east coast, so they can compare them with Madrid.
I leave tomorrow for the instant summertime of Jburg or JoBurg, as those in the know call Johannesburg. I do not look forward to then ten-hour, overnight flight, but there is no jet lag when one flies north or south. I should be on the top of my game when I arrive, looking for the airport transfer I arranged to the B & B where I made reservations. I am melancholy about leaving the Spanish culture. It has been another wonderful visit to this delightful country with its friendly inhabitants.
I will next try to update you from South Africa where I have no clue about the availability of internet services. My hunch is that I will not be disappointed and that you will hear from me soon. Adios, todos! And, adios, España!
January 20, 2008 - from JoBurg, South Africa
Safely arrived in JoBurg this morning after a harrowing 10 hour flight. It wasn't so much the flight as the seat that was so bad; that plus the remnants of the illness that struck me on my last night in Madrid. The last night was memorable, but one I'd just as soon forget.
While eating lunch in Madrid, I started feeling badly. I knew that it couldn't be the ration of sweetbreads of sheep that I was eating, because it was delicious, but I started feeling really sick. A quick trip back to the apartment began a night of constant trips to the baño. Yes, the green apple quicksteps or Montezuma's revenge struck again. It was pretty bad, but the problem was compounded when I started to shiver and perspire profusely in cold droplets. I started fearing botulism or salmonella and when I went downstairs to buy a bottle of water to ward off the first dehydration I had ever experienced, I started to get dizzy. I knew that I was in physical trouble.
I headed for a private clinic a half-block away, only to be told that they couldn't take me. They were afraid that my insurance wouldn't pay. They recommended the public hospital nearby, but I couldn't take another step, so I asked them to call a taxi. They complied and also called Virginia for me; she promised to meet me at the hospital.
There were more than 200 people in the waiting room at the emergency room, in this one-provider program that is Spain's answer to socialized medicine. I stayed from 9:00 p.m. until 2:00 a.m., finally getting diagnosed with a stomach virus by a nice, young doctor. He said that the virus is flying around Madrid.
He treated me with one bottle of medication and one plastic bag of saline, both in the first intravenous dripping of my life. Virginia and her date for the evening stayed with me until almost midnight when they finally acceded to my pleas for them to leave and enjoy their night on the town.
The diarrhea persisted right up until I got on the plane for JoBurg which the physician said was doable. "No food for a couple of days, however," he urged. I got here with no further problems or runs to the tiny, airline bathroom, and I am hungry for the first time since the illness began.
Virginia and her friend, Julio, were real troopers coming through for me when I was one sick puppy. I think that I am on my way back and I will start to look around JoBurg tomorrow. I am writing this from a shopping center near the B & B that I reserved on the internet. The place is a prime example of why I never take a room without seeing it first. I will describe it later, but since I had to pay for three nights in advance, I will endure. I am having the B & B owner check on the overnight train to Cape Town.
I didn't have much time to write this, sitting in a shopping center only a five minute walk from the B & B, but unsafe to take that walk after dark. The owner will pick me up in a few minutes. Toodle-oo!
January 21, 2008 - from Ferndale, outskirts of Randburg, suburban JoBurg
It rained for the second consecutive day in JoBurg, although the sun came out for a spell this afternoon. Showers returned in the evening. It was still 70 degrees, so I can handle the showers.
Veronica, the owner of my B & B and a licensed tour operator, took me on a tour of JoBurg today. I don't know the qualifications to get a tour license, but she didn't do very well at all. She did get me to the train station where I purchased a ticket on the first class train to Cape Town. This is not the famous Blue Train, but a cheaper, more reasonable facsimile. I leave on Thursday afternoon starting with a reception in the rail station. Then it is overnight in a private compartment with dinner in the first-class dining car, breakfast, lunch and high tea the next day, and a late afternoon arrival in Cape Town. It is travel the old fashioned way and I am looking forward to it. The best thing is that I do not have to leave the ground and I will get to see a lot of South Africa.
Veronica also took me to one of the many shopping centers in the northern JoBurg suburbs so I could buy two more novels. I am chewing these things up, reading before I fall asleep every night. There she stopped in a travel agency to price a flight to Swaziland, knowing my desire to see that country. She had tried to get me a tour to the country surrounded by South Africa, but there were none available that would get me back in time for my twice weekly train.
After a long discussion with a well-traveled, Mozambique-born, Portuguese South African who lived in San Francisco for two years and London for six, I decided to drive to Swaziland by myself tomorrow. That could start an interesting cocktail party conversation. How many people have driven to Swaziland? Now, if only they have quelled the cannibal uprising there.
I have driven on the left side of the road in Bermuda, England, and Ireland, so I am not expecting a lot of difficulty in handling the driving end of the trip. I wish I hadn't said that!! The problem could be seeing route signs while concentrating on the driving. I'll let you know how I make out.
In my younger days (much) I had a summer job on the labor crew at a steel company. I was in the minority, being the only white employee on an otherwise all-black crew. I really enjoyed the experience and, although the work was difficult, I got to meet some people that I would otherwise not have met. This is a tad different. Fully 70% of this country is black, so I can't drive home and be in the majority racial group once more. It just takes a little getting accustomed. I find the South African majority to be well-mannered, pleasant, and very happy. I have not yet visited Soweto and the areas where the lower socio-economic Africans live, however. The train/bus station was a sea of black folks of varying backgrounds. Many people from other African nations immigrate here because of the availability of employment. I am favorably impressed with the variety of occupations for blacks in this country. It is not unusual to see people of different races working the same job, whether ticket taker, cashier at the bookstore, or travel agent. The country has made giant strides in the 13 years since apartheid. I have a deep respect for the man who led them through this relatively peaceful transition - Nelson Mandela. On to Swaziland!
January 25, 2008 - from Cape Town, South Africa
My apologies for not updating sooner. I hope you haven't worried about me, but several things precluded my updating the webpage. You will learn the problems as I continue, but let me begin.
"Think left; think left," I chided myself as I entered the Budget Toyota Corolla and slid behind the wheel in JoBurg. "Follow me," said Veronica of the B & B. "I'll take you to the entrance to the N1."
It was raining pretty hard, but I did a quick cockpit check. Steering wheel on the right, 5-speed stick on the left, pedals in the normal places - no problem. Let's roll! Oops, wiper stem on the left, turn signal on the right - shouldn't be a problem. Wrong! I hit the N1, a loop route around JoBurg and to Pretoria and it was wall-to-wall traffic, all six and eight lanes, not counting the on and off ramps (on the left, of course).
"Think left; think left," I kept saying to myself. "Stay in the left lane and don't get out where the big dogs run." That caused a problem with the exits and on ramps. Oops, here comes the merging traffic. Put the turn signal on and change to the center lane. Oops, I turned the wipers off in the middle of one of those tropical summertime deluges that almost make you pull off the road. I must have done that five times before overcoming the reflexive action to use my right hand to indicate a change of lanes. Finally, I got it. I was on my way to Swaziland!
Once I cleared the heavy traffic, I was okay. The traffic thinned on the toll road and there was little difference driving on the left. As I got farther east, the rain lessened until there was finally a break in the sky. JoBurg is in its second straight week of all day on-and-off rains, an unusual situation, although they do experience afternoon showers on typical summer afternoons.
I was entering interior Africa and looking forward to seeing animals. I saw five species that I could identify during my day and a half drive. You were expecting lions, elephants, zebra, giraffe, and rhinoceros, perhaps. But, no, I identified cattle, chicken, goats, sheep, and horses. What a bummer! Wait, there was a HIPPO! Honestly, there it was, on a highway sign like our deer crossing signs. HIPPO Crossing! No, I didn't see a hippo, but I could have. I saw the sign.
A couple of hundred kilometers later, I saw a sign with a jumping impala on it and it said they would cross for the next 20 kms. No, I didn't see an impala, but I could have. I saw the sign.
My goal was to get to Nelspruit (for those following on a map and I know several of you are), then make a following morning run to the Swaziland border. I stopped in a Nelspruit hotel and I was tired and ready to quit driving. The desk clerk told me it would take me a long time to get to Swaziland because the roads were so bad. Why did I want to go to Swaziland, she inquired. When I told her that it was just to start cocktail party conversation, she said, "well, in that case, just keep driving on this great road for 200 kilometers and you will be in Mozambique in a couple of hours." No way! Mozambique! I'm on my way.
I blew right by the Swaziland turn-offs and made it to the Mozambique border by about 6:00 p.m. I had been on the road for six hours. It was a great ride, though. No wild animals, but wonderful cropland and it got sunnier and warmer the farther east I drove - downright tropical near the border. Wheat, sunflowers, oranges, mangos, bananas, much sugar cane, and other crops were observed along the way. I walked across the Mozambique border and headed back to South Africa. Wait, this is a malaria area!
I hadn't expected to be in malaria areas and hadn't taken any malaria prophylaxis. No problem, my room at the Border Country Inn had white walls and ceilings and I went on a search and destroy mission with my towel. I killed everything that moved. No mosquitos, though, until I put the towel down and closed the curtains. One lousy mosquito flew past me into the room. Now, I am at risk for malaria. One bite of an infected, female anopheles mosquito kills more than a million people each year. I wouldn't sleep all night. But wait, I came prepared.
I have clothing DEET, really heavy duty stuff to spray on clothes and it lasts two weeks. I took a dirty, long-sleeved, cotton shirt out of the laundry bag, hung it on the shower door and saturated it, then closed the bathroom door, because it reeked. I also sprayed skin insect repellent, heavy duty DEET, also, on hands, neck, face, and ears.
I slept that way all night, greasily tossing and turning, waiting for the bite that kills. I think the mosquito died trying to exit the room. In the morning, when I went in the bathroom, a six-inch long dead snail (slug) lay on the tiled floor behind the toilet. Slugs must not like DEET, either. But, I was in no more danger of malaria, since the mosquito only bites from dusk until dawn and I had survived.
Mozambique behind, I ate breakfast and headed for Swaziland. I took a different road than I would have taken from Nelspruit; the drive was absolutely gorgeous and the road was fine, despite occasional nursing cows and goats that blocked the road. Lakes, rivers, orange groves, and field after field of sugar cane bordered the way to the so-called Mountain Kingdom. I made the border in about 45 minutes, walked into the country, took a few pictures, and headed back to JoBurg. People everywhere were polite and courteous to me. Imagine, I drove to Mozambique and Swaziland in the same 24 hour period. That should start a conversation or two, not that I ever have trouble starting one.
I was really full of myself on the way back. I felt like people who complete their first marathon must feel - a great sense of accomplishment. I drove on the left side and did the exploring that I wanted. Now, how to return the car to Budget? There will be a Budget at the airport and there are highway signs to the airport, so head to the airport. It was a good plan and went perfectly but, as I pulled in the Budget space, Mother Nature brought me down to earth. The stomach virus was back!! I was forced to stay in an expensive airport hotel to battle the stomach pain and extreme exhaustion that quickly overcame me. I had been feeling so well.
I knew that I had been gone two days and hadn't updated, so I headed (painful abdomen and all) to the business center of the hotel to update the page. They wanted $15/hour to access the internet. I have never paid more than two or three dollars. It could take a couple of hours to do email and update. I was not going to pay those exorbitant fees, so that is why I haven't kept you current.
It is now after 7:00 p.m. and I have just completed a 26 hour train ride to Cape Town, watching mostly semi-arid flatlands along the way. It is full of the sparse sage-like grasses, here called "karoo", that is only productive for grazing sheep. As we approached the mountains near Cape Town the "karoo" got greener and there was much more to see. Famous Table Mountain was mammoth and we passed close-by on the way into the station.
All meals were included on the train, but I rejected dinner, still battling the virus. I just drank tea. This morning, I was back on a light breakfast and had the nice lunch that was provided. That was a mistake. I am now experiencing stomach pains again, so I will skip dinner another night. I may never get to taste all of the game on the local menus.
I have rattled on, so I will desist. I will try to inform you more regularly from now now. Ta ta!
January 26, 2008 - from Cape Town, South Africa
The first two nights in Africa I stayed in the guesthouse (B & B) that I got in Madrid off the net. I told you that I would describe the problems with that decision. First, my spacious, sun-filled room was a cell with one tiny window. No closet and no place to put the suitcase or hang any clothing. I jokingly told the owner, Veronica, that Nelson Mandela's cell had been larger than my room. She thought that hilarious. I told her that I was glad that I wasn't staying for 27 years, as Mandela did. She asked me to retell her husband, who also found it entertaining. She has even referred to my cell in an email she sent me, so relax; I didn't insult her.
All rooms were supposed to have ensuite baths, meaning they were private. My room shared a bath with the next cell. She had one nice room and two cells. The first night there was nobody to share my bath, but I shared the next day. I am getting too old and spoiled to share baths with strangers. I worry too much that my stay in the bath is inconveniencing the other person. I would not have taken the room had the internet ad mentioned a shared bath.
Veronica was gracious, welcoming, and very helpful, but my room reeked of dog urine. It stuck to my nostrils until I fell asleep both nights. The woman has four dogs as pets/puppy mill/burglar alarms and also has a puppy (poodle) that she is trying to sell. Apparently, she used the foyer of my little outbuilding to house the litter of puppies from her poodles. The urine odor was almost intolerable. This is the reason that, with few exceptions, I rarely book ahead. I prefer to see (and smell) the rooms that I engage.
Feeling poorly, really weak, when I was leaving JoBurg, I did it again. I engaged a room in a guesthouse without seeing it. I did, however, use the Fodor's guide that I am carrying and took its advice on a "real find" in Cape Town. I am staying in Koornhoop Manor Guest House and it is a "find." In the section of the city called Observatory and near Cape Town University, there are students everywhere. There are only eight rooms, but they are spacious, sun-filled, and all have ensuite baths. The price is $56/night with breakfast. It is only a short walk to this internet center where internet access is less than two dollars an hour, not $15.
I have sent my first African photos from this site, so they should be on my 2008 Photo Page in a couple of days. I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them.
Today, I am having my laundry done in a Laundromat around the corner for less than seven dollars. I am also feeling a little better in the abdomen - no pain so far, after a light breakfast. If that holds, I will be pleased.
I may take the local train to the V & A Waterfront this afternoon. The Waterfront sounds like Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, a restored tourist area near the wharfs and marinas of the harbor. I shall see and report back to you, of course. Bye!
January 28, 2008 - from Cape Town, South Africa
My bachelor son has described for me the so-called "chick-magnet" triumvirate of puppies, babies, and BMW's, which apparently attract gorgeous young ladies. My colon seems to contain a "virus-magnet".
Victor, owner of my B & B and named after VJ Day of WWII, has a daughter attending school in Manchester, England. He is an ex-patriot from the UK who seems to be quite happy in Cape Town. He said that his daughter informed him of a stomach virus making the rounds of England. Of course, we know that Madrid has a virus of its own. Now, I learn that South Africa has a similar problem. The virus may be different or they may be the same, but why does my colon have to attract all of them?
Yesterday, I experienced a fever for the first time in this siege, so I decided to head to a doctor that Victor recommended, since it has been 10 days since I have felt well. The doctor was great; spoke English, too. He prescribed an antibiotic and a probiotic and almost guaranteed my return to health in three days. That will end the discussion of my health.
Honestly, there is not much more to fill you in on about Cape Town, since I have not been well enough to do much sightseeing. I did venture into the Victoria and Alfred (V & A) Waterfront for a bowl of soup on Saturday, via train and bus, but I was too weak to really enjoy the visit. The theme of the place does remind one of Baltimore, Maryland, with docks, marinas, shopping centers, and restaurants lining the wharf. I hope to go on a city tour just as soon as the energy returns.
I can only stay at Victor's B & B for a few more days, since he is booked thereafter. I will try to head North of Cape Town on the Atlantic coast, close to where my son from Switzerland and his family will be staying for a short holiday. If I can get close enough, I will provide some babysitting services for my grandchildren so their parents can have a night or two on the town.
It is difficult to continually move locations while on these winter vacations. Pack, unpack, and then travel to a new spot. It gets a little old. I prefer longer stays where I can get into a routine and not worry about looking for new quarters. Of course, the looking is part of the adventure. I'll update again when there is news to report.
January 30, 2008 - from Cape Town, South Africa
The Dead Have Arisen! At least this one corpse is starting to move around a little. The doctor's diagnosis and prediction have been pretty accurate. I am finishing day three of his drug regimen and starting to feel stronger. The fever has not returned for almost 36 hours. I am getting ready to roll again!
This afternoon, I will train and bus back to the V & A Waterfront to pick up a red, double-deck, British-type tour bus and take the grand circuit around Cape Town. No, I won't need any Xanax to sit on the top deck, thank you. I don't plan to exit at any museums or other sites; I don't want to rush things this early in my recovery. I just want to get a feel for the beauty of the area. I'll take photos to share with you soon.
I also will try to reserve a car today, for a run tomorrow down the coastal road to Hermanus, where Victor, the B & B owner, believes I will enjoy the seaside amenities.
The B & B in this Observatory section of Cape Town has been like a rest home for me. I have spent a lot of time in bed, resting, sleeping, and hallucinating. The homelike surroundings and safe environment have been much appreciated. Victor's advice on sightseeing the area has also been valuable. Hopefully, I will still report one time from this location, before starting to explore once again. Until then...
January 31, 2008 - from Cape Town, South Africa
I don't start back gradually; I go full bore right away! Yesterday, I updated this page, then withdrew money from an ATM with my debit card, compared two prices on rental cars (called car hires), took half of a Cape Town city tour after buying a safari hat to protect from the boiling sun, then rushed back to the B & B to shower, before being picked up by the British friends I met on the train from JoBurg.
They took me to a restaurant which overlooks Camp's Bay (reminded me of a mini South Beach, Miami), where we sat at a picnic table and dined on fried seafood platters - mine of hake, prawns, and calamari. Served with chips (fries), of course. The sun was still brutal at 6:00 p.m. as we waited for the sunset. We were at the foot of the reverse side of Table Mountain, at a place where the mountain is called the Twelve Apostles because of the number of definitive peaks. Stark in their beauty, reminding me of the desert mountains of Arizona, they reflected the light from the sun and changing shadows at sunset made for a spectacular view. Even the setting sun was scalding me, however, and I usually have little problem with sunburn. This morning, I am still a little pink, but should be browning by evening.
The health continues to rebound and I continued to abstain from alcohol on doctor's orders. I took the last of the Ciprixx antibiotic last night, so the three days are over. Perhaps I will forego the alcohol one more evening, and then I am going to taste the South African wine. I won't overdo it, but it is time to start introducing vino back into my body. Who knows, maybe the bacteria have developed a thirst.
This morning, I signed for a month-long car rental, since people here unanimously told me that I couldn't see the Cape without a vehicle. A month-long lease was the most reasonable and the car that was provided was a brand-spanking new (are you ready?) KIA Picanto. It is large enough for me, my suitcase and backpack, although they won't fit in the tiny trunk. I will need to put the back seat down to fit everything inside.
This afternoon, I will make a 20-mile run north to Melkbosstrand, where I am scheduled to meet my son's family in 10 days. I want to be sure they will be pleased with the home base they booked sight-unseen off the internet. After I see the place and the area, I will be better able to give them some advice. I will head out tomorrow, a day later than expected, to reconnoiter Hermanus south of Cape Town. I will keep you informed.
February 1, 2008 - from Cape Town, South Africa
The Picanto is hot (Spanish picante)!! The little KIA has plenty of guts, a great air-conditioner, and is very maneuverable. I got a charge out of driving it and am looking forward to today's adventure with the cute, little, blue shoebox. The Koreans are starting to make some very serviceable little cars.
I can't say that I took a straight-line route to Melkbosstrand, the beach town where I will meet my son's family in a week or so. I got there after sightseeing some of the interior Cape ranching areas in a 2.5 hour journey that Victor, the B & B owner, told me should take 45 minutes. No panic, though, I enjoyed the scenery, stopped a couple of times to ask directions, and finally made it to the B & B where we will meet.
The B & B is in a new, modern, white building, has a plunge pool that the grandchildren will love, and a rocky beach that will occupy them for hours. The new town reminds me of the towns on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the entire focus is on the beach. The area is windy and wet-suit-clad wind surfers lined beached leading up to the little town as I finally drove along the coast.
I had lunch of a carefully-created Italian salad and something called buoncini which were two six-inch squares of light dough covered in pesto, a tomato slice, and mozzarella cheese. Light, refreshing and consumed while sitting at a picnic table overlooking the beach. Not bad at all! Temperature definitely in the 80's and without the wind the sun would have been broiling hot, but I was under a bevy of beach umbrellas. The ride home in the middle of the 5:00 p.m. traffic was a challenge, but the Picanto and I were up to the task. We made it back in about an hour.
I spent a couple of hours reading more about Jason Bourne, in a new novel, then retired to the internet center to answer emails. Afterward, I strolled the little main street of Observatory past cafes, bars, and restaurants that were starting to buzz with young people. I ate in a wonderful place called Cafe Ganesh, the place where I had eaten the minced lamb roti on my first venture back into real food.
The waiter recognized me with a big smile and a hearty welcome and I ordered a glass of beautiful, red, South African wine. I limited myself to one glass and it was delicious. I asked for a snack to help my stomach handle its first wine in more than 10 days and the waiter brought me two vegetable samosas - fried, four-inch triangles of vegetable-filled dough that reminded me of an egg roll. They were great to consume with the wine.
For dinner, I finally had the springbok that I had been viewing on menus when all I could order was tea. This springbok (think antelope) was grilled and its taste and texture were beef-like, though not as strong. It was, quite simply, scrumptious. I had seen springbok shanks in juniper berry sauce on other menus, but this grilled steak was delicious. I will get around to the shanks one of these days, too.
I am packed and ready to load the Picanto for today's adventure. I will drive the famous Coast road south of Cape Town. It is famous for scenery similar to our Monterey Peninsula in California, so it should be a great ride. Victor thinks that I should book a B & B that previous guests have recommended to him. He insists that he gets no commission and doesn't even know the owner. Maybe I will do that, since he also says that if I see it and don't like it, I just don't stay there; the owner should not be upset by that. I will have plenty of information for you the next time that I find an internet center. Stay warm!!
February 2, 2008 - from Hermanus, South Africa
Every picture I took yesterday was of screensaver quality. It wasn't my ability with the camera, though; it was the unbelievable scenery that will make the photos great. The road was smooth and new and had a golden, rock-wall guard-rail on the edge of the cliffs next to the ocean. I never worried about the height. The turquoise waters near the white sand beaches, accented by the white, breaking surf, were simply breathtaking. The deeper water was almost a royal blue and, with mountains plunging into the ocean, this was one of the most spectacular rides that I have ever taken. There were plenty of places to pull off and take photos and I took the time. My next pictures should be sensational.
I have heard people say it reminds them of the road from Monaco to Antibes and I agree. The road from Camp's Bay to Hermanus is always elevated and the beautiful stone work on the wall seems to frame the beauty before you. I stopped for lunch at a National Garden where the sandwich I consumed was very interesting. I had to take a photo of it, of course. I also took the time to stroll through the gardens.
Early on in the trip, I observed a sign saying it was "illegal to feed the baboons." About half an hour later, I saw two baboons run out of the karoo, and squat to eat something. I passed quickly, but it looked like they were opening seeds or something. I didn't have time to take a picture, but if you will refer back to the section of this website titled, "About Harry", you'll get a pretty good idea of what they looked like. Long faces with squat bodies, these specimens looked very healthy. There were also signs in the National gardens (the Robert Taylor Memorial Gardens) urging people not to feed the baboons. I am pleased to report that I complied with their laws and their urgings.
I stayed last night in a B & B in suburban Hermanus, the one recommended by guests at Victor's in Observatory. I had a garden apartment with a full kitchen and the place would have easily slept five in the two bedrooms. It was a pretty place and only $50, but I am able to stay only one evening since the place is fully booked hereafter. I will spend the day looking around this gorgeous, little town of Hermanus. Who knows, if I find plenty to see here, I may spend another night, if I can find a B & B, which should be pretty easy, since they are all over the place. This is a South African tourist destination and well it should be with all of the natural beauty.
I wandered down to the shoreline for dinner, having three glasses of South African red, and a delicious hake main course after a nice Asian salad. After the wine, I don't even remember what the meal cost. I needed a good meal after the long bout of fasting and I got one.
I am writing this update from my B & B where they are giving me access, using their computer. That makes this stop a bargain. My health is back to normal and I am looking forward to the new things today will bring. Hopefully, I'll get back to you soon. Stay warm, it is 80 beautiful degrees here in Hermanus.
February 3, 2008 - from Hermanus, South Africa
There are very few times when I even think about Schim, my companion for three weeks last winter, but today was one of them. I was ruminating about the $650 that it was setting me back for the car rental this month and thought about how great it would have been if he were here to share that cost. But no, he sits at home in Florida, dieting and exercising, intimidated by the entire African continent. He does write periodically, begging for more detailed information than I write on this page, trying desperately to experience this beautiful place without risking one hair on his always beautifully-coiffed head. You either have the wanderlust or you don't.
I dined last night in an African restaurant and tried a sampler plate. It included ostrich pot, a stew made of ostrich neck bones - delicious, but not much meat on the three vertebra that were served me. I also had my first barbotie, this a vegetable mixture much like lasagna with a layer of egg baked on the top. Finally, there was the most delicious lamb curry that I have ever tasted. The curry in these parts is heavily influenced by the Malaysian folks who have immigrated here. It may have been the best curry that I have ever eaten and I love curry!
Two glasses of red wine accompanied my meal, which I spent in conversation with an old Afrikaner who comes here every year with his wife on "holiday." His home and many businesses are in the town of Springbok (yep, just like the deer) near the border with Namibia. He owns a lodge and restaurant there, as well as a large property which was originally a copper mine. He purchased it to harvest "Chinese turquoise," a green, semi-precious stone. He has sold large quantities of the copper slag to companies in China where they extract the turquoise. He has visited Tucson, Arizona, several times for the huge mineral show held there each February. He was a very interesting man and full of jokes he delighted in using to entertain me. Did you hear the one about... nah, I won't try to repeat them here. I am supposed to meet him for lunch today to continue our discussion and to give him a card with my webpage address.
I walked home after dinner and felt completely safe during the 10 minute stroll. Except at the JoBurg train station where the large throngs kept me alert, I have not felt the least bit threatened in this country. Everybody is friendly, courteous, and responds with a smile and a warm salutation when greeted. I have had a great time in South Africa and I have almost a month left to more fully experience the place.
I swam a few laps in the saltwater pool outside my room before dinner yesterday and plan on repeating that exercise today. I will first travel, in shorts and tee shirt, two minutes by car to Onrus Beach, favorite of the locals, to see what I can see. Who knows, there may even be a bikini to study. I'll report to you later. Stay warm!
February 4, 2008 - from Cape Agulhas, South Africa
Hermanus is the best place on the face of the earth from which to view whales from the shore. They visit Walker's Bay in Hermanus from May to December every year and people flock to watch them frolic only a few feet from the shoreline. According to Barbara, the recently-widowed owner of the B & B where I stayed two nights in Hermanus, 177 whales visited Walker's Bay this year. How they know that, I have no idea, but Barbara said that there are three still remaining. I did not see them, but the little town offered a beautiful, weekend respite for me after the hectic life in Cape Town.
The going rate for B & B's is $50, give or take a buck or two, and Barbara's breakfast was fantastic. This morning, it was two poached eggs, whole wheat toast, three teeny sausages, one mushroom, and a tomato slice. This was after the full, cold buffet breakfast where cereal, fresh fruit, rolls, ham, a cheeseboard with eight or ten cheeses, juice, and coffee were available. The large breakfast will mean only one more meal today for me.
Crocs!! I bought a pair of crocs! I knew I was living in a Bohemian neighborhood when I was in Observatory in Cape Town, but I never figured that Bohemianism was contagious. Tired of wearing the hot docksiders or the black SAS sneakers, I sprung for a pair of Crocs, which I have seen all over South Africa. You know the ones I mean, the ugly rubber thingy’s, with holes all over them. I couldn't imagine they would be comfortable, but they are. I figured sweaty feet sticking to the rubber and insufficient cushioning. I was dead wrong. The wholes provide air, the little nubbins inside massage the sole of your foot, and the contraptions really work. I drove five hours today wearing them and they were okay!
I left Hermanus, which I really liked, and headed for Weinhuiskrans, also called Arniston, but didn't quite get there. Arniston is the warm-water, quaint, fishing village where a woman in Cape Town told me she spent her honeymoon. I am stopped for the evening in the "Tip of Africa Guesthouse." The place is located a kilometer or so from the southernmost point in Africa. Noooo! Not the Cape of Good Hope!! It seems that Vasco de Gama and the boys miscalculated where they were and named the little peninsula where Cape Town is located, "The Cape of Good Hope." They erroneously thought that they were at the southernmost point.
Cape Agulhas is actually the southernmost point and the water, where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet, is a beautiful turquoise. The gorgeous whitecaps roll from the turquoise water onto a very rocky beach. I got some great photos. I also took a shot of the Cape Agulhas lighthouse which is a few meters east of the actual Cape. This is a beautiful place and one where the warm waters of the Indian Ocean make swimming a lot more attractive. Tomorrow, I will move on to Arniston which will probably only be a 45 minute ride.
I am writing from the computer of the wife of the owner at Tip of Africa. The price here, with a full breakfast again, is $50, which isn't too bad, considering the low standing of the dollar. I'll try to gain internet access in Arniston tomorrow. Stay warm; it is gorgeous, warm, and breezy here at the tip of Africa. Bye!
I saw a zebra!! A ZEBRA! I saw him yesterday, standing in a giant, fenced in field as I left the town of Stanford on the way to Agulhas. I didn't mention it in yesterday's update because I thought it must be a tame one, being behind a fence of this huge farm. Derick, who owns the Tip of Africa Guesthouse and who is a licensed guide and hunter, told me at breakfast this morning that there are no tame zebras. They are impossible to tame. "If you saw a zebra, it was a wild zebra," he said emphatically. Mark up a zebra on my list of wild animals spotted.
Mark up ostrich, too. This morning, Derick took me on a wonderful tour of the national park here, trying to show me some game, especially springbok which he says exist in large numbers here. With the eye of a hunter, he saw springbok too far away for me to see, but we spotted a flock of 15 baby ostrich about four feet tall, guarded by their mother who might have made eight feet. Close by, but not watching the chicks, was the father trotting along the road and refusing to be captured by my camera. I should have a good shot of the mother and chicks, however.
Derick also took me to the harbor at Struisbaai when the fisherman were off-loading their night's catch. Large yellowtail, Atlantic salmon, and a couple other species were in their haul. I got great pictures of the catch for the fishermen out there.
I am now entertaining an offer by Derick to drive me to a game park in Botswana, then back through Namibia after my son and grandchildren depart. It is mighty tempting since I will not pass this way again. Now, you might understand why I don't book hotels or B & B's in advance. Had I done so in this case, I would have missed this morning's tour with Derick. I simply decided to spend an additional night in the southernmost town in Africa. What a great experience! Stay tuned.
February 6, 2008 - from Agulhas, RSA
There were seven people staying at the Tip of Africa Guesthouse last night, including the owner and his wife. I did not talk to one of the couples, but I ate dinner at the restaurant across the street with Sean and Evelyn who live on the Isle of Jersey in the Channel Islands off the coast of France. The islands are British possessions. Sean is Irish, but now a hard-working member of the legislature on Jersey.
Brace yourself for this. Of the five people staying here last night with whom I talked, every last one of them has been to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my home. Go figure!! What a small place the world is becoming! Derick and his wife, the B & B owners, have traveled to Lancaster because she is interested in quilting. She is now an Amish buff, with several books about the Amish sitting on the coffee table in the guest lounge.
Sean, the gregarious Jersey legislator, lived for six years in Port Deposit and Havre de Grace, Maryland, while working in the Baltimore area. Everybody has fond memories of my little city. I found this an amazing situation: here on the tip of Africa, five people had been to my hometown. I simply must speak to the other couple this morning to find out if they have been there, as well.
It is off to Arniston this morning, to stay the night and see the huge sea cave that can only be viewed at low tide. I will stop on the way at Bredasdorp and visit an optician. The stem of my glasses broke the other morning in Hermanus and I have been wearing my back-up pair. I always bring two pairs of glasses since a similar instance left me stuck in Gibraltar a few years back. Hopefully, I can get the repairs done in the little village in South Africa. Talk to you soon. Stay warm!
I had a great drive yesterday! I headed from Agulhas to Arniston, stopping in Bredasdorp to have an attempt made at repairing my glasses. She tried, but about all she ended up doing was scratching my lens twice with a grinding wheel. Ah well, the price was right, she didn't charge me and she glued a temporary temple on my glasses. They obviously won't last through a day, so I am still wearing the backup pair.
On my way to Bredasdorp, I saw a young springbok, standing along the fence pretty close to the road. I guess it was a springbok; it was a small deer-like creature, about the size of Pennsylvania's white-tails. It had no antlers and rather large ears; made me identify with it immediately. Between Bredasdorp and Arniston, I saw four wild ostriches in two sightings. I saw a single male, then a couple of miles later saw a standing male with two seated females. They are big birds and pretty hard to miss when they are near the road.
At Arniston, I saw one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. There are many beautiful beaches in the world and I have seen the Mexican, Caribbean, and South American beaches, but this one was spectacular with nearby rocks and turquoise water. I sent pictures, which have been added to my slideshow.
I parked the car at the beach, took my shirt off, and plunged into the Indian Ocean. Well, not exactly. I did take my shirt off, walked across the beach, and marched right into the water, crocs and all. The water was a little chilly, but actually quite refreshing - ankle high, that's all the further I plunged.
I drove around Arniston; the tide was too high to get a look at the big, sea cliff for which the town is famous. I then headed the Picanto back to Bredasdorp, buzzed right through town, and headed for wine country. It was a spectacular ride, through miles of wheat fields, recently cut from gigantic, rolling hills, giving the hills a golden hue. Then, it was through the mountains and the pass leading to Franschhoek, one of the most famous towns in the wine regions.
I stopped in Franschhoek, bought a few trinkets at a stand on Main Street, and then headed over the mountain to Stellenbosch, the most famous city in the region. Stellenbosch has a major university with more than 20,000 students and school was in session. The town was larger and much more crowded than Franschhoek. The B & B's were almost completely booked and much more expensive ($80 and up) than I have been paying. I didn't really like the place, so I turned right around and drove the 15 miles over the mountain back to Franschhoek, where I found a B & B for $71.
On other trips, I have given my readers towns where they might take a vacation and be thrilled with what they found; great places to take a wife, mistress, or significant other. I think of Cascais in Portugal and Buzios, outside Rio de Janeiro as two places I have recommended to you. Well, mark down Franschhoek, South Africa, as another place you should vacation. This place combines the qualities of the Napa Valley in California, and Aspen, Colorado with San Diego weather. Beautiful mountains surround the village, planted part way up the slopes with vineyards that produce the wine for which the region is so famous. Many vineyards have show rooms and tastings behind the lovely white walls outlining their properties. I'm telling you, this is a must visit location. Mark it down.
I will rest here for three nights, and then drive to the beach village of Melkbosstrand where I will rendezvous with my son's family. It will be great to see family again. Stay tuned.
Franschhoek means French corner in Afrikaans, I learned from a beautiful photo book of the area that was on the desk of my B & B. The area is simply beautiful with so many white, Cape Dutch buildings, and white, masonry walls surrounding vineyards. The valley was settled by the French Huguenots who moved here from France to escape religious persecution by the Catholic Church. They brought with them the plants that make up the vineyards that produce the area's great wines. Prior to that, this valley was once called Elephant Valley because elephants came here to breed and give birth to offspring. It is now full of vineyards and the elephants have moved (or been moved) elsewhere.
I have been asked about the language here and I have been speaking English during my entire visit with few problems. The country of the Republic of South Africa has 11 (eleven) national languages. They are: Afrikaans (from Dutch settlers), English (from English settlers), Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Venda, Sroati, Sesotho, Sepedi, Tsonga, and Tswana. I have heard English, Afrikaans (especially in this Western Cape area), Xhosa, Zulu, and probably others that I failed to identify. Near Mozambique and Swaziland, I also heard Swazi, but it is a language of recent immigrants and not one of the nation's official languages.
"Me bodeee," means hello, how are you in Zulu. "Me soodee," means fine, thank you. I have now exhausted my Zulu vocabulary. When I hear black South Africans speaking another language, I always inquire what language they are speaking. I find it interesting that so many folks speak so many languages. Many of the blacks can speak several of the native languages, as well as Afrikaans and English - quite impressive.
There are many accents in the English as it is spoken in this country, so it is still a challenge to understand the day's specials, what's for breakfast, and the prices of things. I am getting the knack of it, but it is a challenge.
The current exchange rate for the Rand, the nation's currency, is 7 dollars to one rand. To compute prices, I divide everything by 7. The British pound is currently trading at 15 to 1, so the British get a real break in travel here. I remember the days when the dollar was that valuable. Ah, they were the good, old days.
I will spend another night in this little French corner of South Africa, but I am tiring of the French food and sauces. I have not had pasta since I left home and am developing a craving. I will travel to Rome on the 27th of February, so I am fighting the urge to dine on Italian cuisine here. Maybe, I can sneak in an African pizza for lunch.
Tomorrow morning, I will drive about two hours to reach Melkbosstrand on the Atlantic north of Cape Town, where my son and his family, complete with grandchildren, will meet me for five days together. I am anxiously awaiting their arrival. I will probably not update over the weekend but, if I can find an internet cafe in tiny Melkbosstrand, I'll let you how things are going at the beach. Stay warm.
Since my son's family has arrived, the list of animal sightings has been nothing short of amazing. From the breakfast room of the B & B, we have seen two whales, a feeding seal, and a flock of Franklins (a bird that reminds me of a guinea hen). While on the road, we have seen families of baboons (got great pictures), springbok, and a school of seals feeding around the boats in a small fishing village. After seeing these springbok, I have decided that my initial springbok sighting was not a springbok at all but a steenbok. It helped that my son had a travel guide with pictures of most local animals to help with the identification.
We drove along the coast through Simon's Town yesterday in fog and on-again, off-again rain, which was sometimes a torrential downpour. We saw the flocks of famous African penguins, up close and personal. With the walkways built for tourists, we were no more than three or four feet away from the cute, little nesting birds.
We drove to the Cape of Good Hope, stopped at the Bartelomeu Dias memorial (he being the Portuguese who discovered the Cape), then drove north through Hout Bay to Camp's Bay. The view was spectacular, but would have been immeasurably better in sunny weather.
Today is foggy and drizzly, but, undaunted, we are off to the V & A Waterfront, its aquarium, and then, perhaps, lunch at the renowned Africa Cafe, where dancing, singing, and drumming should excite the children. We'll keep an eye out for animals along the way and I will report back ASAP. Stay warm.
It has been a few days since I updated and I know you are dying to know what we have been up to. On Monday, which was still rainy and drizzling in spurts, we went to the V & A Waterfront, did the Aquarium there, and watched some wonderful buskers (street entertainers). Especially good, was a group of thirteen a cappella singers who sang and danced native songs. They were excellent and we were all enthralled with their performance. There was also a juggler/balancer/comedian, dressed in a Zulu, war-like costume whom the grandchildren found particularly entertaining.
That evening, we ate dinner at a touristy restaurant called the Africa Cafe, where a huge sampling of dishes from many African countries was brought to our table by a delightful waitress whose face was painted in a beautiful decoration. When my grandchildren and I ran in to book reservations, we saw the waitress’s faces and decided to get my granddaughter's face painted before we returned to the car and their parents. Mom and Dad were certainly surprised and we had fun with her red and white, African face paintings the rest of the evening. We also enjoyed the variety of African foods, though I can't say we got unanimous opinions about all of the dishes.
Yesterday, we drove to Franschhoek so my son and his wife could enjoy the views and get a taste of wine country. I can't say the children were as excited by the scenery as the adults among us, but we stopped at a cheetah park on the way and they got to pet a live, almost-napping cheetah, carefully (though not carefully enough for me) secured by a collar and leash by a handler. I wasn't particularly happy with the prospect of my grandchildren becoming a cheetah snack.
We returned to the Melkbosstrand B & B so that my son could participate in a business, conference call from which he couldn't extricate himself. We got time to take the grandchildren to the beach and, although the south Atlantic is ice-cold with all other swimmers in wet-suits, my grandson had no problem with the temperature. The rest of us plunged in only to our ankles.
I have been in contact with Derick, the guide who will take me to Botswana and Namibia. The only fly in the ointment is whether people with American passports need Visas to enter Botswana. He continues to check on that, although he must have some confidence that we can overcome the hurdle because he has already packed the car with our camping equipment. Today is the final day that I will spend with my son's family. They will head for a safari resort for a little family time, and I will probably head up the Atlantic coast to a new beach location for a few days. Derick says that our adventure to Botswana and Namibia will work for him from Sunday to Sunday, so I have a couple of days to fritter away. If only I could figure out how to fritter?! Stay in touch!
Good-byes having been said, I am off on my own again for a few days. Somehow, with a little drizzle on the coast, I headed inland and stopped here in Stellenbosch for lunch. I enjoy driving through these beautiful mountains and vineyards, so the drive has really been no chore. I drove over the mountain between Franschhoek and Stellenbosch for the fourth time this morning and I still marvel at the beauty around me.
Derick and I have made arrangements to meet early Monday morning for our departure to Botswana and Namibia. I am going to get two more countries under my belt, but I will have to rough it for a week to pull it off. If I can pick up two more countries and keep from becoming the main entree in a lion pride buffet, I will consider it a successful trip. I would also like to refrain from being a blood donor to an anopheles mosquito to avoid malaria during the trip.
After bidding my son's family adieu, I picked up my glasses that were repaired by a Melkbosstrand optician. I was fortunate that they could get the stems shipped from JoBurg in time to make the repairs. The cost was pretty much what it would have been in the USA, but I had to settle for the gold color that were the only ones in stock in all of South Africa. I may start a new trend: nose pads one color and stems another. Very stylish and I am wearing my original glasses again.
I will now head to Bellville, located in suburban Cape Town. Derick has friends there where I can park the Picanto for a week during our trip in Derick's Toyota Land Cruiser. It will be a long, arduous journey, probably taking a dozen hours to reach the Botswana border. We will sleep with friends of Derick a few nights and camp in National Parks in both Botswana and Namibia. It is here where the lions may have their way with me.
The trip will take us through the Kalahari Desert, not a destination I ever dreamed about, but one that will make a great story to tell while I am rocking on the chair in the nursing home. Provided, of course, I do not become some creature's daily kill, but that is where Derick comes in. He is supposed to keep the creatures at arm's length (at least!). It is going to be very hot and moist, since Derick has gotten reports that they have had considerable rain in Botswana. I will report to you what animals I see and the unbelievably challenging conditions I face along the way.
I have finished lunch in Stellenbosch, so I'd better head to Bellville to procure a B & B for the weekend. I'll try to update again tomorrow, before starting the long trek northward. Stay tuned.
February 15, 2008 - from Bellville (suburban Cape Town), RSA
Yesterday was spent driving in a circle from the coast to the wine country and almost back again before I found, through the Cape Town Tourist Information Office, a B & B that wasn't completely booked. The Information Office must have called a dozen places before they found one that could take me for the four-day weekend. I had more trouble in obtaining accommodations than any day that I have traveled this year. I rarely use a tourist office, but yesterday it was necessary.
I finally lie in bed and put my feet up for a second (perhaps it was a minute or two) by 7:00 p.m., safe and secure in a gated and guarded suburban neighborhood. This was not my kind of place, since I am accustomed to walking after I arrive in my B & B or Guesthouse. Last evening, I had to drive to find a restaurant and finally located one in a giant mall called "The Tigre Valley Center," a mall typical of major U.S. cities, complete with bowling alley, movie theatres, and shops of all kinds. As I expected, the food was lousy, the wine worse (I had to send the first glass back), and I will not be eating here tonight. One of today's major goals will be to find a decent place for dinner. That will require driving, too, since I am living in a sprawling, suburban development, much like we have experienced in the USA. Here, however, the land taken for development is not as productive as some of the rich farmland at home. The developments are mostly spread across land containing karoo and only good for grazing.
I feel obliged to tell you that I have not felt like I was in the minority in this country for the past couple of weeks. The trip through Cape Agulhas (called the Western Cape), the stay by the sea in Melkbosstrand, and here in suburban Cape Town, I have stayed in areas inhabited by Afrikaners. The black majority folks, many of whom live in shantytowns, called townships, work in stores, B & B’s, Guesthouses, restaurants, etc., but have not so far, in my observation, shared in the wealth of the country to any great extent. Apartheid was eliminated only 14 years ago, so these things will take time. There have been improvements, but I wouldn't want you to believe that the wealth is shared evenly now.
Anyone coming to South Africa would be foolish to stay in a hotel. The B & B/Guesthouse system here is enormous and amazingly comfortable and inexpensive. Hotel quality rooms, most times in buildings separate from the family's living quarters, are available everywhere. My son's take (one conditioned by his MBA, no doubt) is that large hotels take capital and the B & B/Guesthouse system is a low-capital approach to the hospitality industry. Perhaps, he is correct, but it seems to me to be mostly generated to augment family income and the B & B fills a niche made possible by the dearth of hotels. Certainly, world class hotel chains have the capital to build hotels in this country, but there are only a few of these and only in the largest cities.
The breakfasts in the B & B’s have been magnificent. Almost all serve a full "English" breakfast, which consists of sausage or bacon, eggs any style, toast, cereal, coffee, tea, and assorted cheeses and lunch meats. It is always included in the price of the room. My room last night cost $51 and the breakfast was typical, although it also included a large, coffee-house muffin.
My laundry is being done so that I can repack everything over the weekend to be ready for the trip to Botswana and Namibia on Monday. I will update on the trip only if there is time and we run into an internet center along the way. If not, there will be a pause of a week while I am in the bush!! Stay tuned for my safari report...
Safely returned from Botswana, a walk into Namibia, and a desert safari that few get to experience. The second time Derick and Gawie (pronounced Havey) shined their torch around the perimeter of our campsite looking for the reflections of lion's eyes, I knew that I was engaged in about as primitive a safari as I could handle. They weren't joking, there was no fence, we had spotted 10 lions during the ride to the remote campsite and the lions were a real danger.
Since I am writing this, you may have figured out that I survived the grueling "game drive" that covered close to 400 miles, including 160 miles on a rutted, two-tire, off-road ride through the dunes of the Kalahari Desert. The final animal count, believe it or not, was one leopard (which I spotted half-an-hour after the drive in the National Park began), an unbelievable 14 lions, three cheetahs (a mother with two beautiful cubs), and probably two thousand antelope. The antelope in order of the numbers observed were springbok, oryx (gemsbok), blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, steenbok, and kudu. I also saw black-backed jackals and a rich variety of bird life that fascinated me. I will try to report on this later. This is just a brief announcement that I am still alive.
Have a desire to experience a real safari, one through the Kalahari Desert in South Africa and Botswana?? If so, contact Derick Burger on the internet at the Tip of Africa Guesthouse in Agulhas, South Africa. You couldn't have a better, more organized, or careful guide than Derick. He got me safely back to Bellville after a fantastic experience camping in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which straddles Botswana and South Africa (hence the Transfrontier title).
Derick has contacts everywhere and is a great camp chef, producing delicious braais (barbecues) one night and potjies (stews - pronounced poy-gees, hard G) the next. His friends, Gawie (pronounced Harvey, but without the R) and Izanne, are owners of Khamkirri, a rustic lodge on the banks of the Orange River where I spent three wonderful nights. Khamkirri is an excellent starting point for a safari through the Kgalagadi Park, only three and half hours away. Gawie packed his Land Rover and joined us on our exciting adventure in the desert. His experience was invaluable and his need for occasional swims at odd times during the day in campground pools along the way kept us loose and cool. His exuberance in driving his Land Rover over the dunes on the two-wheel-track roads was extremely entertaining. He kept us in stitches during the entire trip with his driving and his sense of humor.
The hospitality of this couple was just fantastic. Izanne prepared a feast in her house on our return with roast chicken on a bed of mushroom rice, leg of lamb with oven-baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, a delicious salad, and a fantastic dessert cupcake served with "custard." Suffice it to say, we were filled to overflowing with their hospitality and Izanne's great cooking. Gawie is a lucky man to have such a lovely wife who serves as the hostess at Khamkirri. Mark it on your list of adventure sites to visit.
This wonderful couple poured me a glass of champagne on my birthday and, unbeknownst to Gawie, Izanne gave me an all too chaste birthday kiss that made my day. They also gave me a Khamkirri/Land Rover shirt as a birthday gift that I will wear proudly in all of my future adventures.
Today, I will send photos of my trip through the desert which will be posted in a couple of days. I took the photos with my little Nikon, point-and-shoot camera. Charlie and Derick had much better (and bigger) Canon digital cameras with multiple lenses and they will send their photos to me in a few days. I will ask my webmaster to include a sampling of their best photos on a separate slideshow. They will be well worth your time.
My laundry is being done as we speak and I will pick it up tomorrow to finalize the packing for my trip to Rome two days hence. I will fly from Cape Town to JoBurg, layover eight hours, and then take a 12 hour, overnight flight to London Heathrow, where I change planes for a two-hour hop to Rome. I should land in Rome Thursday morning by 10:00 a.m., which should give me plenty of time to find a place to lay my head for a few days. I will update you as time allows on that journey.
I will try to summarize my trip to South Africa tomorrow after I finish the packing. There are many things to say about this beautiful country and its fantastically friendly people. Tune in tomorrow.
Despite lingering computer downloading problems, I finally was able to read some of my recent updates about the safari, all written quickly while borrowing a laptop computer at Khamkirri Lodge, which incidentally means "The Place of the Leopard." The laptop was strange to me and caused problems with my reporting, but my description of the entire experience was brief and woefully inadequate. It was a fantastic experience that I will never forget. Hopefully, I will be able to flesh out my recollections of the safari when I have time in Europe. If not, you will have to buy my book when it is published or invite me for dinner so that I can recount some of the adventure with you.
I left this experience with a deeper understanding of the desert and the wildlife therein, but more importantly I developed friendships with my companions and their families that I will treasure forever. Derick is really a nice guy who really looked out for me. He is 57 and the other two guys were 45 and 39. They took care of me like I was their father or grandfather. Gave me the safest bed, made me sit and have a drink while they set up camp and started dinner, and generally made certain that I had a good time. I tried to entertain them in return, although keeping up with Charlie and Gawie was not easy. Their senses of humor really added to the mix. I couldn't have been with a better group of guys. Hopefully, I will stay in touch with them so that we can see one another once again.
As I wind down my visit to South Africa, I am full of observations about the country. I won't have time to share all of my thoughts here, but I will make an attempt to sketch a few.
South Africa is a huge country with several climate zones and geographic areas. From the desert of the Kalahari where by definition average rainfall is less than 10 inches a year to the sugar cane areas bordering Mozambique and Swaziland, this country is one of great physical diversity.
There are four accepted racial groups here: White (or European), Indian, Black, and Coloured. Indians traveled to this country to work the sugar cane fields near Mozambique and now may number close to two million. I am estimating because of the lack of research information. Whites, mostly Afrikans (Dutch descent) and English speakers descended from settlers from the United Kingdom are also about two million in number. Blacks, native Africans from this country and those who emigrated from extremely poor countries to the north, comprise about 70% of the population of the country. Coloureds (an accepted term with no negative connotations here) are people of mixed ethnic heritage, mostly descended from slaves brought from Africa or Malaysia. This is a richly diverse mix and not without problems in adjusting to the post-apartheid era.
The one worry that I have about this country is that, with such a large, relatively uneducated majority, an articulate, passionate orator with radical intentions (ala Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe) could win an election and reshape the country in line with the efforts of Mugabe or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Hopefully, that will never happen, but if it does and the international community ignores it, everybody in this country would lose. The country's physical and cultural diversity is a strength that gives it great potential. Its future path must be charted and planned very carefully.
I have always thought that the people of Ireland were the friendliest that I have met in my travels. They will have to share that position with the South Africans henceforth. People of all four racial groups have been warm, friendly, courteous, and helpful to me during my six weeks in this gorgeous country. I couldn't have asked for better treatment.
While I'm comparing countries, I must also add that this country has some of the most beautiful women that I have seen anywhere, though I don't spend much time thinking about such things. Show-stopping blondes, apparently of Dutch descent, are commonplace. The mixture of races also has produced beautiful and handsome people of all hues. It has been an exciting place to people watch.
On such a shallow note I will end my observations of South Africa, a country of rich cultural and physical diversity and a land of great beauty.
I leave tomorrow on the next leg of my journey, to Rome via London. I hope to arrive in Rome by 1:00 p.m., in time to secure a place to lay my head for a few days. I look forward to the pasta and the Italian culture. Hopefully, you will follow the rest of my journey as I head for Dubrovnik, Croatia, and then the Balkan Peninsula. Ciao!
I got on the train at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome exactly 31 hours after I left my B & B in suburban Cape Town. I survived a horrendous, morning, rush-hour drive to the Cape Town airport, an almost eight-hour layover in the JoBurg airport, a four-hour layover at Heathrow Airport in London, and 16 hours aloft, using only 1/2 a Xanax. But the chemical did the trick. I took it right before boarding the plane in JoBurg and slept almost eight hours on the overnight flight to London.
I quickly changed my remaining Rand into pounds at a money exchange at Heathrow, but that only yielded a little over two pounds, barely enough for a cup of coffee. I arrived in Rome with 30 euros left over from Madrid, but they quoted me 35 for a taxi into the city. I took a train, a process I read somewhere on the internet, and saved 30 euros to arrive in downtown Trastevere, the oldest section of Rome, the place that I chose to lay my head for the night.
I convinced a cab driver who had lived for three years in New York City to try to help me find the convent converted into a hotel where I had stayed during a previous visit to the eternal city and we found it on the second try. Unfortunately, they had no vacancies and offered little encouragement for an opening in the next three days. The cabbie knew another hotel, but they wanted more than 200 euros a night, far beyond my budget. His second try at hotels, however, yielded a tiny place for 90 euros in a double room the first night, and the next two nights in a single for 80, including breakfast. I quickly took the room, eager for a place of rest.
This morning, I enjoyed the hotel's breakfast. An Italian hotel breakfast is customarily juice, coffee or espresso, fruit, and a sweet roll. That's it, but that is all I need. I grew a little tired of the full breakfasts in South Africa where large portions of sausage, eggs, toast, juice, and coffee were typical. The B & B owners almost insisted that I eat more than the cereal, toast and coffee that I preferred.
South Africa was a wonderful place, but be prepared to eat meat when you visit. Game, beef, pork, and, they joke, if you need vegetables, eat some chicken. It isn't really that bad. Vegetables are available, but like Argentineans, South Africans prefer meat. Their favorite snack is biltong - dried meat. A little more moist than our beef jerky, it includes game, ostrich, and pork, but they prefer beef biltong.
Now that I am out of the country and safe from the abuse of Charlie, Gawie, and Derick, I can express some other observations about their country. I also finally have enough time to express those observations.
Like most advanced societies today, South Africa has a huge immigration problem. The problem is one shared by the USA, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy – all the countries I have entered this winter and the problem is probably universal among all of today's HAVE countries (except Japan). Folks from the HAVE-NOT countries simply want to share our standard of living and they are entering in droves, legally or illegally.
In South Africa, immigrants number close to eight million and almost all are blacks from the interior African nations where poverty and war have made their lives unbearable. South Africa has an unemployment rate of around 40% (Gawie and Derick's estimate) and most of these folks live in shanty towns called Townships adjacent to the major cities. Cheap labor is everywhere. The country's minimum wage is eight dollars a day and almost every B & B in which I stayed had several black folks happily working for that rate. Gawie's laborers in his table grape and raisin operation are paid that rate, also.
To hear the Afrikaners tell it, the post-apartheid, post-Mandela (black) government has driven hundreds of thousands (I have heard a million) of educated whites out of the country, mostly out of fear that there is no future for them in their homeland. Afrikaners and other whites point to their energy crisis, the perceived decline of their school system, the poor condition of the public transportation system (mainly the trains), and the higher crime rate as an indication that many blacks in positions of authority were not ready for the responsibilities given them. I think that the country is going through growing pains, but I still see the country providing leadership for the rest of Africa. South Africa is a working democracy with a successful, capitalistic economy and, like the rest of the world's democracies, a work in progress. The international community needs to provide support for the government and the country's minorities to ensure a successful transition into full participation by all citizens in the country's future.
The final observation is a sad one. The country has an HIV epidemic that is almost entirely in the black and coloured populations. The rate of infection (again by Gawie and Derick's estimate) is around 40%, a huge number. Gawie is worried about keeping his work force alive, an indication of the seriousness of the epidemic. It was no accident that Gawie had rubber gloves in his Land Rover when we came upon a tragic truck accident. He has to deal with injuries to his employees and he could never do that without wearing rubber gloves because of the extent of the problem. There is no easy answer to this epidemic and, no doubt, the government's estimate of the problem is less than that of Derick and Gawie. Afrikaners believe that the government is embarrassed by the epidemic's scope.
The only answer to this horrendous epidemic is to change the behavior of a very uneducated populace and that may be impossible. The USA and other nations have contributed billions to attack the problem, but money alone may not be the answer. To not contribute the money would be unthinkable, but our best minds may be needed to focus the world's attention on the solution to this problem. I worry for the black African population.
On that gloomy note, I will conclude my observations about the wonderful country of South Africa, although I will still attempt, on a day when news is scarce, to describe my safari experience in greater detail. I have not done it justice.
It is now time for lunch here in Rome, an experience I cannot describe lest I be criticized once more for concentrating too much on cuisine. Mi scusi while I mangia. Ciao.
My last night in the Trastevere section of Rome was spent strolling, window shopping, and people watching. I decided at one point to walk around the block because it was too early for dinner and headed out, strolling and absorbing the wonderful culture of the old streets. I passed an ATM and tried my debit card, failing once again to get any cash with a card that is suddenly "unauthorized for international usage". The Credit Union at home says that they are having a problem only in Italy, which isn't too bad, unless you are in Italy - duh! This is why one should bring a couple of cards with them - hidden under one's clothing, of course.
I used my credit card to get the minimum amount I thought I would need, since credit card cash costs much more than debit card cash and I continued strolling. I was lost. I tried to walk around the block and I got lost! That is how confusing the tiny, black, cobble-stoned streets are: one can't walk around the block without a map. I had a map, of course, finally found my way back to the hotel, sat at an outside table at "Al Spaghetteri" and ordered a margherita pizza. I rarely eat pizza at home, but I had eaten a large lunch and a thin-crusted pizza sounded like just the right touch at 9:00 p.m. I finished the pie (remember when it was called pizza pie?) and the wine while watching diners at other tables and numerous passers-by, then headed home for the final packing and mental preparation needed for the early morning departure to Venice.
I paid 80 euros per night to stay in Rome. When I last visited Europe for any length of time, I was able to get a euro for 87 cents, meaning I could expect a 13% discount on the 80 euro room. Total cost to me would have been about $70 for the lodging. Today, with the dollar at its lowest ever against the euro, the same 80 euro room will cost me $120. You may now understand why I am so quickly headed to Croatia in Eastern Europe where the euro is not the medium of exchange. My research has disclosed that Slovenia, through which I will pass on the way to Dubrovnik, Croatia, has a strong economy and uses the euro. I guess I won't be staying very long in Slovenia, either.
After a delightful, 4 1/2 hour train ride through green valleys and foggy mountains, I arrived in unbelievably beautiful Venice. It is even more beautiful and unique than I remembered. I located a hotel near the train station by using a Frommer's® guidebook borrowed from a Dallas couple on the train and the services of the tourist information bureau at the train station to avoid running from hotel to hotel. They called the hotel that I requested and secured a room for me for 90 euros, but when I got to the hotel and inquired about a cheaper room, they showed me a small single that I could have for 70. I jumped at the chance, since the bathroom was twice as large (and then some) as the one I used in Rome. I didn't have to lug my suitcase on the boat taxis or up and down the colorful pedestrian bridges, so the location was perfect. I will also be close to the train station for my departure for Trieste three days hence.
I am ready to explore Venice once again. In a brief exploration walk before dinner last evening, I got so confused by the tiny streets and bridges that I almost got lost once more. Actually, I thought I was lost, but I retraced my steps through piazzas, over six or eight pedestrian bridges straddling canals, and found my way back to the hotel. If I can do it at night, it should be a piece of cake in the daytime. I'll let you know tomorrow. Ciao!
Smiles! Everywhere I looked yesterday I saw smiles on people's faces. It was that kind of day and Venice is that kind of place. The beauty of the place brings smiles to people's faces. The sun was shining, the tourists were in awe of the beauty and the unique qualities of the city, and the business owners were making money - all was well in Venice.
What a difference a day makes. Today started a little dreary and got progressively worse from there. It is raining and has been for most of the day. There aren't so many smiles. Whenever I can see people's faces under the umbrellas and behind the raincoat hoods, there are grimaces, faces braced against the wind and rain and the awful cold. I don't know the temperature and it is always raw near the sea in a storm, but I have used all of the warm clothing in my wardrobe. I am five layers thick in clothing. Tee shirt, long-sleeved cotton shirt, wool sweater, fleece sweatshirt, and Gore-Tex® golf rain jacket. I have them all on my body and I could use a pair of gloves. I haven't been in winter temperature since I left home in January and I don't like it.
What to do on a rainy day in Venice, now that I have finished the novel I was reading? Use the Vaporetto three-day ticket that I bought when I arrived in town, that's what. A Vaporetto is the 50-60 foot long boat that serves as a passenger bus on the busy canals of the city. I thought I would take a ride to Murano, the island that is famous worldwide for its blown glass. Not a good idea. I took an hour and fifteen minute round-trip ride to Murano and never got off of the boat. It was raining there, but not near my hotel when I started the journey, and my umbrella was back in the room. The ride over and back was the roughest crossing I have experienced since the Army put me on a Navy troop ship to cross the Pacific. The locals were nonplussed by the three-foot waves and the white-caps on the turquoise water. People gave up their seats to old folks and ladies and helped one another exit the rolling, bumping craft. It was a little rough, but all in all a good experience despite the weather. It was certainly better than sitting in my room and starting a new novel.
As I finished my primi piatti of black spaghetti with the black sauce of cuttle fish ink last evening, Jason and Shelly, the young couple from Texas who loaned me their Frommer's Guide to search for a hotel while on the train, walked into the restaurant. We enjoyed the rest of the meal together and they shared that they are expecting their first child in a few months. Their first trip to Italy is a celebration of the upcoming birth in the knowledge that they won't be doing much traveling for a while. They are headed for Florence from here and then will take a train down the AmalfiCoast. They seemed to be loving their adventure.
I leave tomorrow on a two-hour train ride to Trieste, perhaps only a brief stop on my way to Slovenia, although a woman from Florence told me on the train that she was headed there after Venice because it was such a beautiful city. We'll see. I know that I will have to be more careful throwing around my heavy suitcase, which I hoisted onto the top shelf of the train's luggage rack for security reasons on my way here from Rome. I have been pumping Ibuprofren for the past two days in an attempt to reduce the muscle pain in my lower back. I should be recovered sufficiently to make the ride in the morning. Ciao!
It was slightly more than two hours on the train to reach Trieste, but it is like entering another world. For the geographically challenged who have no idea where Trieste is located, Trieste is in the far northeast corner of Italy in a section of land that for many years was a part of Austria. At the end of World War I, Italy was given this area and the effects of its Austrian heritage are still evident in architecture, language, and food. Trieste is located on the northern shore of the Adriatic Sea and is typically and currently buffeted in the winter by harsh winds that come out of the Austrian Alps.
A few years back when I rode my scooter, Leonardo, along the Mediterranean in the south of France, these same kinds of winds were called La Mistral. It was a challenge riding the scooter in that wind. Here, they are called Mistrale, but they are just as nasty. I estimate that there is a steady 30 mph wind with gusts exceeding 40 mph. It is difficult to walk a straight line on the street and I am cold. I should have anticipated as much when we pulled out of the station in Venice and I noticed snow-capped mountains close-by to the north. They were beautiful, but they looked so out of place when viewed over the blue Adriatic.
My trip on the train was uneventful after the harsh, chewing-out from the conductor that I endured. It seems that I should have punched my ticket in a machine in the station in Venice that stamps the time on the ticket so that I can't reuse it. He asked if I was or spoke Italian and I replied, "No, English." That didn't matter; he chewed me out in rapid Italian, gestures and all. Finally, when he thought I had enough or when he did, he punched my ticket, shook his head, and walked off. I passed many vineyards without a leaf on the vines and many winter wheat fields green with new growth. Other fields were plowed and disked and ready for planting, all neatly done in narrow fields flanked by irrigation ditches. It was an interesting ride, despite the dirty windows of the train, but I guess you can't have everything. The ride was only 8.75 euros.
The good news is that the different world that I have entered is a half-priced world. I am ensconced in an alberghi, like a hostel in Spain, where the family lives in a hotel-like environment, renting a few rooms to tourists. This room costs exactly half of what I paid in Venice. The 35 euros does not include breakfast and I must share a toilet - not a bathroom, just the toilet. My room has a separate bath with shower and a sink. There is no toilet, so I must walk down the hall to the toilet that is shared. It should be interesting in the middle of the night without pajamas. But, the room itself is at least twice as large as what I had in Venice and Rome and everything is very clean.
I stopped for lunch at "Buffet a Pepi," a place so crowded the woman ahead of me turned and left. Not I. This is just the kind of place for which I search. Many locals were standing around eating sandwiches and drinking small beers or small wines. The specialty was boiled meat, pork and beef, certainly an Austrian leftover. I ordered a pork sandwich by pointing to the sandwich that the guy in front of me was handed and it came in a hard roll with mustard and freshly grated horseradish. It was absolutely delicious and only 3.5 euros, including the small wine.
Tomorrow, I have decided to head to Ljubljana, Slovenia. It will probably be even colder and I had no plans to visit the country's capital, but how often will I get a chance to visit a city that has two L's followed by two J's in its name?? Incidentally, every letter is pronounced, but the J's are pronounced like Y's, which will make it a lot easier to pronounce the next time you use it in conversation. Go ahead, practice. Every letter now! Ciao.
If you make a wrong turn sometime and wind up in Trieste, don't come in March. The wind has not abated since last night and may be even stronger this morning. It whistled in the window of my room all night long, but the whistling isn't a problem - walking is. It is almost impossible to walk into this wind. A man last night told me that this isn't the Bora wind. "What's a Bora?" I asked. He said, "The Bora comes from Siberia and sometimes blows 120 kph." That's more than 70 mph. He said that Italian television usually shows the flags and trees bent over in Trieste because of the wind. Great! Just like we get air from the Arctic (one of the main reasons for my winter departures), they get wind from Siberia and I walk right into it.
If you do get to Trieste, by all means try "La Bottega dei Riggattieri", the little restaurant outside my alberghi where I dined last evening. Chef Roberto cooks with a genuine passion and looks a little like movie and TV personality Dom DeLuise. He served me homemade, three-inch diameter ravioli last evening, stuffed with an artichoke and mushroom mixture that was outstanding in a light cream sauce. He followed that with a bowl of cozze (mussels) marinari that were fresh and tasty. The first Sambuca (with the obligatory coffee beans) of my trip finished off the evening and I walked across the street to my room feeling really mellow and oblivious to the gale blowing around me.
I take the 2:00 p.m. bus to Ljubljana today, the only bus of the day. The only train departs at 4:00 for the 1.5 hour journey. The ticket agent at the train station told me it is autostrada (four-lane highway) the entire way, so the bus is quicker and the trip should be a breeze. Here's hoping the breezes aren't crosswinds.
I am expecting one overnight in Ljubljana, then another in Zagreb, capital of Croatia. I think there is a pretty rapid train from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, although it may take six or seven hours to run down the Dalmation coast to that famous, walled city. I am hoping for less wind and considerably more warmth there. If I am wrong about that and it is just as cold and windy, I will consider booking an economy (think Ryan Air), one-way flight to Sevilla, Spain, where I know it will be warm. My plans now call for me to meet my wife and our good friends, Ron and Karen, in Paris from whence we will train or drive to Geneva after a stop in the Burgundy region of France.
Today, I cross the border into Slovenia. Hopefully, I will update you tomorrow, although internet access is becoming more difficult to find. This is definitely the low season here. Ciao.
Like dead soldiers strewn across a battlefield, more than a dozen, wind-toppled, motor scooters lay awkwardly on their sides in the parking lot across from the bus station in Trieste. Overnight, the mistral had been blown away by the dreaded Bora from Siberia. No wonder I had trouble walking the streets when I wrote my last update. I have a picture of the dead and wounded.
Though only six or eight blocks, the bus station seemed light years away as I walked to the terminal to save taxi fare, regularly changing the hand pulling the suitcase to keep it from freezing. Trieste had turned brutally cold and I was glad to board the bus headed for this city of contiguous consonants.
Chef Roberto, from the great restaurant of the night before, spoke excellent English and told me that Ljubljana was only 1.5 hours away and the trip was entirely on autostrada (avtocesta in Slovene). The only problem with that information was that the bus didn't take the avtocesta until we got 10 miles from our destination. We drove through snow-covered mountains, dropping and picking up passengers in villages along the twisting, two-lane road. The trip was only 60 miles, but took three hours.
This is probably a beautiful country in the summertime, but the snow and the dreary winter skies are just not my thing. I even saw a ski jump with adjoining stairs a short distance from the road, all covered in snow and ready for the flying skiers to have a go. In most places along the way, six inches or more of snow covered the fields and evergreen forests. People probably would have called it beautiful and with green mountains devoid of snow, I would have agreed. The snow disappeared in the fields along the road when we entered the avtocesta and Ljubljana is snow free, but cold - nowhere near as cold as Trieste and with very little wind, but I am back in winter time.
That fact forced my decision to leave this beautiful capital city and head south first thing tomorrow morning, so I am updating the evening before you will read this. I will board a train for Zagreb, Croatia, at 8:30 and, after a three-hour layover in that capital city, will continue south to Split, where I will disembark at about 9:00 p.m. Anything to find warmer weather, but I hope that I can find lodging that late at night. I haven't slept in a train station since many years ago in Paris, and I'm not sure I can handle that now, so I'll look awfully hard before bedding down at the terminal. Na svidenje!
March 8, 2008 - from Split, Croatia
Yesterday was a long one, involving 13 hours of train rides and layovers. I started the day with my backpack on my back, pulling my suitcase, on a mile-long walk from my hotel in Ljubljana to the train station. After arriving in that city which is smaller, but may be as beautiful as Prague in the Czech Republic, I took a taxi from the bus station to the hotel that I found listed in Rick Steve's guidebook on Slovenia and Croatia. The taxi driver charged me 10 euros ($15) for a one mile ride - ridiculous. Not knowing where the hotel was located forced my hand with the cabbie, but I wasn't going to make that mistake again. I hoofed it to the station and, although the air was cold, I enjoyed the walk, felt a sense of accomplishment, and knew that I had gotten even with the cabbie world.
I was glad I didn't take a bus to Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia, because the train cut through snow-covered mountains and I could see the narrow, winding roads that twisted through the area and along a beautiful stream dammed several times for hydroelectric power. The bus would have taken far longer than the two hours required by train.
I arrived in Zagreb, where it seemed colder than Ljubljana and very dreary, with four hours to kill before the train departed for Split. Unwilling to stay that long in the damp, chilly train station, I wandered along the main street and into the restaurant of a four-star hotel, The Palace, where I read while I enjoyed an expensive cup of soup, a coke, and, much later, a unique Croatian dessert recommended by the waitress. I killed three hours in the luxurious comfort of the hotel and returned to the train station ready for the next leg of the adventure.
The train to Split was an assigned-seat, almost-full, ICN train, one of the fast trains used in Europe, but not one of the lightning-fast bullet trains. This train tilted on corners, allowing it to corner faster on regular tracks, but giving passengers the same feeling as boat travel in rough seas. When we arrived in Split five hours later, I needed a few minutes to get my land legs again.
The path of the train kept me on edge during the entire day. As I left Ljubljana, there was snow cover on the surrounding mountains which disappeared as we approached Zagreb where it was misting. The snow would not stay away long, however. As the ICN headed south from Zagreb through Croatia, I started to notice small amounts of snow accumulated on plowed fields. The snow accumulation increased, then increased some more, then the mist changed to snow as we knifed through the Croatia countryside. Eventually, the snow reached depths of one foot on railroad ties, fence posts, train stations, and house roofs as we made our way through forests where evergreen trees were bowed with its weight. It even started accumulating on the window through which I viewed this panorama.
Who planned this trip? Whomever it was had taken me too far north, too far inland, and too far above sea level too soon in the year. I began to worry that Split and Dubrovnik might also be experiencing a freak, winter storm that brought snow to the coast. Train stations one hour from the scheduled arrival in Split even had snow piled at the station. This was not what I signed on for.
Not to worry!! When we arrived in the station at Split on the Adriatic coast, people were disembarking without putting on their heavy, winter coats. The first rush of air I felt was pretty warm and there was none of the ugly white stuff in sight. What was in sight was a group of folks aggressively approaching passengers offering sobe (rooms, pronounced sobay) for rent. Rick Steves had prepared me for this and I was counting on a soba (singular, pronounced sobah) as a place to rest my weary bones. The guidebook had recommended several, but I never got a chance to check them out.
I am staying in a soba that Rick Steves would never recommend, but Pasko Ljubicic recommends highly. I am staying in Pasko's soba, a third-floor room with two single beds, no TV, worn linoleum floors, a few carpet remnants, cracked walls, two plastic chairs, and a private bathroom complete with a tub that has a European shower handle (no overhead shower), but no shower curtain. Oh, the bathroom also has the family's clothes dryer at the foot of the toilet. Pasko (pronounced Pashko) 71, is a retired teacher who was among the sobe hawkers who met the train. He was almost frantic in his approach to me and I could read desperation in his eyes. He appeared to really need to rent the room last night. I agreed to follow him across the tracks (literally) to look it over. It ain't the Ritz, but at $25/night (150 Kuna – Croatian currency) it will make up for some of the expensive hotels in Rome and Venice. It doesn't include breakfast, but is located only five minutes from the old town and the sea.
Pasko accompanied me to his favorite restaurant last night which he described as cheap - his English is not good at all, but he speaks fluent Russian. One of the evening's specials was black rice, cuttle fish and its ink, one of my favorites. It was only $6.50, so I asked Pasko to join me. He was thrilled. We shared a half-liter of wine and the bill was $16. During the meal, Pasko told me about his five-year old grandson, born blind and with epilepsy. After his daughter gave birth to the child with physical problems, the father disappeared leaving the mother and Pasko and his wife to raise the boy. A really sad story. Pasko hopes someday to be able to afford to take the child to Japan for surgery that might correct his blindness. I was glad that I had decided to stay at Pasko's home and I'll probably remain for three nights to unwind and to help the family a little. I'll still have plenty of time in Dubrovnik.
Now, it is time to tour the city. Pasko insists that he will be my tour guide, but perhaps, he is looking for another full meal. He has already shown me one inexpensive restaurant, a nearby ATM machine, this internet center around the corner, and the best place for breakfast. He might be worth another meal. Stay tuned.
March 9, 2008 - from Hvar Town, Croatia (on Hvar, an island in the Adriatic Sea)
I took an unexpected side trip to this gorgeous island Sunday afternoon. The ferry was a fast-moving catamaran that got here in an hour. Hvar (the H is silent) Town is supposed to be the new jetsetters' hotspot, according to Rick Steves and other internet sources. The harbor and square in the town are extremely picturesque, but there really isn't much to do other than sit in the square and watch the boats coming and going. That's good enough for me, though. The temperature is around 60 degrees, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and there are palm trees aplenty. What more could I want after the horrible snow that I had to endure to get here?
Pasko would not allow me to buy him another meal after our tour of old town Split yesterday, but he did drink a small beer. Not only was he above board with the meal, are you ready for this? He cooked Sunday dinner for me! His wife had gone to visit her mother and Pasko fried some fresh, whole sardines and warmed up some left-over sauerkraut for us. With a glass of wine, poured from a plastic bottle, we had a great meal together. The sardines were cooked whole, so you ate head, tail, and eyeballs. They were delicious and reminded me of the grilled sardines I have eaten in Portugal. He kept putting more of the little critters on my plate and I enjoyed them all. I promised that I would take him for dinner again when I return tomorrow, especially since he allowed me to keep my big suitcase in my room until I return. I just packed my backpack for the overnight journey.
The visit to this island will yield some wonderful pictures and was well worth the $3.50 ferry ticket. After all, the trip wasn't very Hvar.
March 10, 2008 - from Split, Croatia
Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Bill Gates, Stephen Spielberg, and Harry's Travels have all visited Hvar. The others visited, some often, in the summer when their yachts entered the beautiful harbor. The restaurant owner at dinner last evening said Bill Gates walked around like a regular person with no bodyguards. He said that is one reason the celebrities like Hvar: they can maintain their privacy. He also said that Wilt Chamberlain came every year and played basketball against the Yugoslavia national team in pick-up games. That was when Yugoslavia, Russia, and the USA were the only real competition for the Olympic Gold Medal.
I needed to navigate Eighty-one (81) marble steps to reach the soba I rented from an older woman that I met on one of the narrow streets during my soba search. I went up and down the steps four different times in my one night visit. I didn't see many overweight people on this island and the steps are the reason. The older woman (she was 74) needed to rest a few times on the way up, so I felt pretty good about my ability to make the climb without a break. I told the restaurant owner and another customer with whom I had been chatting (mostly about the war with Serbia) the number of steps that I had to climb and one of them said, "Slowly, slowly!" That was good advice after a full meal and a half-liter of wine and I complied.
Instead of returning on the ferry from Hvar, I took a bus across the island to the port of Stari Grad, which had an 11:30 departure, while Hvar had only three departures: 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 a.m. The bus ride overlooking the sea enabled me to see more of the rocky island, but was a little nerve-wracking at times. The southern slopes of the island were planted in grapes that produced the local wine I drank at dinner last evening.
Pasko welcomed me upon my return to his home and I reminded him that we were going to dine together this evening. I think that I should invite his wife to accompany us, too. Tomorrow morning, I will board a bus for Dubrovnik. It has been quite the adventure just getting to this point and I am looking forward to seeing the city that everybody says is the most beautiful on the Dalmatian Coast. Stay tuned.
Roman emperor Diocletian built a huge palace in Split sometime between 280 and 325 A.D. when he planned on retiring to his native Croatia. Who knew that emperors could be Croatian-born?? Anyway, his rush to have the huge palace (a square 600 ft. on each side) built got it completed in only 11 years. When you see the enormity of the palace, that timeframe boggles the mind. Of course, 2,000 slaves died during its construction, which was of little consequence to Diocletian, who saw himself as Jupiter's (the God) son. This guy was also famous for killing thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of Christians while he was in power. A real sweetheart, this Croatian emperor.
The palace started to decay with time and a city was built inside the palace, now called the old city. It is, perhaps, the only reason to visit Split, unless you are headed somewhere else like Hvar or Dubrovnik. The people are nice and the food is fine, but there isn't much else in the very large city of Split.
I now reside in Dubrovnik, the final goal in this year's plan for my winter adventure. I just love it when a plan comes together. There were a few spontaneous side trips along the way: a safari, Hermanus south of Cape Town, Ljubljana, and Zagreb, but I pretty much accomplished what I set out to do.
It is not over yet. I boarded a bus in Split at 10:00 a.m. and rode down the Dalmatian Coast for 4.5 hours to reach Dubrovnik, the famous walled city called the "pearl of the Adriatic." The ride was a half-Xanax trip; the road often hung precariously off the side of the mountain with no guard-rails between us and the Adriatic Sea several hundred feet below. Even on a dreary day, the ocean was turquoise and beautiful little beaches and fishing harbors seemed to be around every S-turn in the road. I can only imagine what it might have looked like on a summer day in the sunshine when sail boats would be plying the waters. At this time of year, the only vessels on the water were working fishing boats, and buoys for fishing nets or traps were everywhere. Some bays were wall to wall with the colorful little floats.
It was almost like riding among fjords in Norway, because of the many offshore islands. There were plenty of beaches along the way, but all were stones or pebbles. There were no sand beaches, but in the summertime, when the air and water are warm and with crocs on your feet, this should be a fantastic place to swim in the sea.
On the way here, we had to stop for a passport check near Neum, Bosnia-Herzegovina, through which we passed to reach Dubrovnik. I didn't realize that Bosnia-Herzegovina had a port on the Adriatic, so I learned some geography while I notched another country on my life list.
Dubrovnik is a walled city with a tiny old port hidden around the corner to protect it from the Venetians when the city was a big rival with the Italian sea power of that era. In 1996, this gorgeous, historic city was shelled by the Serbians during the crazy Balkan War. The city survived, but 200 civilians and some very brave militia men died during the conflict. The militia went outside the wall to the mountain overlooking the city to attack the Serbs who were firing down into the city while the Serb navy shelled the town from the sea.
I have only begun to explore the city where I will probably spend a couple of weeks. I got lost within 10 minutes of entering one of the gates, which was complete with a medieval moat. I finally found my way to a restaurant (recommended by Rick Steves and my landlord) where I had a late lunch that will suffice for lunch and dinner today. My friend, Pasko, in Split had his friend waiting for me at the bus station and I decided to rent his soba, which is just outside the old town's wall. Actually, I could throw a stone and hit the wall from his house. I will pay $30/night for the first eight days in a large double room with private bath, but will have to move to a tiny single after that because he has the room rented for an 11-day stretch thereafter. The little room will only be $22 and I can make it work.
Tomorrow, I begin the real exploration of beautiful Dubrovnik. I will keep you informed about what I find.
March 12, 2008 - from Dubrovnik, Croatia
Even simple cultural differences interest me in the countries I visit. This morning, I noticed a difference in purchasing breakfast that signifies a small change in culture. Since breakfast is not included in my soba (maybe maid service isn't, either, since at 4:00 p.m. my bed is still unmade), I sought a little repast at about 8:30 a.m. by stopping at a corner cafe just outside the walls of the city. The tables inside and outside were full of locals with coffee and water in front of them. I went inside, sat at the bar, and tried to order coffee and a pastry – I was thinking croissant, but this isn't France. They served no food, just coffee, then alcoholic beverages in the evening. I was directed across the street to a bakery where I purchased a nut roll (not very good) and returned to the cafe for my coffee. I experienced the same thing on Hvar. That is apparently the way it is done in most of Croatia, although I did have both coffee and pastry in a bakery in Split.
In Italy, a cappuccino and a croissant is pretty much the standard fare at breakfast and all cafes would serve both. Breakfast in South Africa, always included at the B & B's, was a full, so-called "English Breakfast:" eggs, bacon, and toast - usually yoghurt and sweet rolls of some kind, too. The small differences in culture are interesting to observe and make each country unique.
At about 10:30 here and in Italy, too, everyone stops for coffee. The cafes are full, store clerks send somebody for take-out, and everyone has mid-morning coffee - cappuccino, latte, or espresso. I looked to partake and found a place called "Hole in the Wall" in Croatian. They served only cold drinks, wine and beer in the evening and the place is hanging high outside the oceanside portion of the city's wall on a large pile of rocks. I was the first customer of the day and had an iced coffee, the most palatable choice on the menu, and later talked to three female educators from Oregon who often travel together and who came to enjoy the fantastic view. They were on a tour of some sort and had done South Africa last year.
It turns out that the "Hole in the Wall" is the hangout of Bill Gates when he is in town. I seem to be following his itinerary here in Croatia. Perhaps, I'll run into him on one of my stops.
Dubrovnik is not all that large and I have pretty much covered the place. I took a lot of great pictures this morning, but this internet center does not burn CD's so I won't be sending them for the webpage until I can find a place that does.
After two and one half months of being on the move every few days, I am finding it difficult imagining being here for three weeks. I am planning two side trips - one to Montenegro's Bay of Kotor and one to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Muslim mosques and the war damage are of interest to me. But, three weeks here?? Whatever will I do?? I guess that I will need to sit back and relax, read a little, and bask in the morning sun. That will be difficult after becoming accustomed to packing and traveling every few days. I will try to handle it, but I don't imagine that my webpage postings will be too interesting until I head for the two side trips. Dobra dan.
Just chilling on the Dalmatian coast, but thought that I should keep you informed of my very routine activities. This morning, I put away the last of my laundry that the owner of my soba washed for me. She obviously doesn't use fabric softener; the clothing is so hard that even the tee shirts could stand up by themselves. I cracked and rolled them anyway and put them in the suitcase. I haven't had laundry done since I was in South Africa and was on my last pair of underwear. I realize that isn't a pretty picture, but that is life on the road. Everything is clean now, though, but hard. I could get brush-burns wearing this stuff.
I also decided to get a haircut today, since it will be more than a month until I return home. I had shopped for a barber for the last couple of days by lingering outside shops to see the finished product. I entered the shop and was greeted by the owner who had the worst hairdo on any male I have seen on the trip. Balding, with extremely thin long strands combed over the bald crown and hanging loosely and straggly to his shirt collar. The other barber should have insisted that he get a haircut, but there he was, advertising what one's hair shouldn't look like. There were two barbers and a third chair that was in use yesterday by a young woman who was in the back room today doing a woman's hair in a big dryer. She must have been producing the decent haircuts that left that shop yesterday. After waiting ten minutes and watching the butchering being done to customers' hair by the two men, I excused myself and told them I would return - NOT!
I found a salon with two women doing hair and walked in, asking if they did men. Of course, they did. They couldn't do any worse than the two men I had observed. The 21-year-old got the lucky task of trimming my locks and asked how I wanted it done. I told her that when she finished I should look like Brad Pitt. She was not afraid to take some hair off, but when finished, I looked more like Brad and Angelina's dog than Brad himself. Go figure. She took enough off that I may be good for two months, but I got my kuna's worth. The price was 70 kuna, a little over $10.00.
I ate dinner last night with Gakuk, a 24-year-old Japanese mechanical engineer, who just graduated from the university and is on his congratulatory holiday before beginning work. He will stay in another room in my soba for three nights and was introduced to me by the owner who told him that I would show him around. We had a good time, struggling with his English skills and joking about them. Of course, my Japanese was limited to "Hello, how are you?" We talked about WWII, the Japanese economy, Japanese history, and a little of everything. That pretty much covers the exciting times in Dubrovnik. Hlava.
March 17, 2008 - from Dubrovnik, Croatia
It was a slow weekend here on the Dalmatian Coast and little has changed. I have been alone with my thoughts for quite a while now, which I realize might be scary to some, but I thought I would share a few thoughts that whistled through my gray matter.
1. Either there are growth hormones in the water or a few sequoia genes exist in the pool here in Croatia. It is certainly a generalization, but there are an unusually large number of tall people in Croatia – men and women. I often see women well over six feet and men 6'4" to 7'0" walking the streets in this country. Really tall folks occur in far greater numbers than in the USA. It is no wonder that Yugoslavia excelled in basketball during the Tito era and that Tony Kukoc and other Croatian stars have been successful in the NBA. Look for increased numbers of Croatians there and, if I were a college basketball or volleyball coach, I would be recruiting in Croatia.
2. Yesterday, I saw three classes of middle school-aged students working on a community service project in the old town of Dubrovnik. They were on their hands and knees with putty knives, scraping gum off the gorgeous, marble blocks that make up the main street in the city. Everybody seems really proud of their UNESCO-designated old city, where no cars are allowed. A couple of tiny, trash trucks, street sweepers, and repair vehicles are the only vehicles permitted in the town. I was told that no renovation work is permitted during the summer months, either, when the tiny city is overwhelmed with tourists.
3. It is interesting how tastes differ in different cultures. I remember how sweet the Heinz ketchup was in South America, appealing to the taste buds of the Argentineans, Brazilians, and Chileans. Croatians apparently don't have the same attraction to sweets (maybe the taste buds were sacrificed for the growth genes). I have twice tried the dessert crème caramel, for which this country is noted, according to Rick Steves. The pudding was good, not really sweet, but the caramel on top of the dessert was bitter in both cases, no hint of sweetness. The breakfast croissants that I eat almost daily are not nearly as sweet as the French and Italian versions and the cookies are really plain-tasting, too. What looks like a sugar cookie tastes like there is no sugar in the batter, but isn't bad if dunked into sweetened coffee.
4. Croatia is a country with a beautiful long coastline and a large fishing fleet of small boats, but seafood is expensive here. Locals tell me the demand is so high in Italy that fisherman get more money selling their catches on the other side of the Adriatic or to exporters who will take it there. It reminds me of the baby eel situation in Spain, where Japanese demand has driven the price so high that the Spanish can't afford hatchling eels any longer. They now make a baby eel tapa using the fake Krab we have all come to recognize.
5. Croatians, maybe all Europeans, spend much longer with a cup of coffee in front of them than I can. How long can you make a cup of coffee last? I have tried, but after a half-hour, I give up my seat and move along. A half-hour including the consumption of a croissant, too. The Croatians spend an hour or more with just a tiny cup of coffee - talking, watching passersby, saying hello to neighbors, etc. Cafe owners never hurry folks along to turn the tables over. Lingering is expected.
6. It is amazing how much I walk since I returned my rental car at the Cape Town airport and how little I walked when I had four wheels. I immediately returned to the "park in the front row" mentality that most Americans exhibit when driving. I even caught myself circling the lot at the shopping center, looking for a space closer to the entrance. For shame!!
7. I never overcame the reflexive action of entering the rental car on the left side where the steering wheel should have been. Even to my last day in the country I made the same mistake, which got a little embarrassing on occasion. I got better at maneuvering in traffic on the left side and using the turn signals which were on the right (wrong) side of the steering wheel, but I couldn't stop getting in the car on the left (wrong) side.
8. I can read the headlines on the internet at Yahoo or Google, but there is nothing like having a newspaper in your hands and reading the news and sports while drinking a cup of coffee. I have not seen a USA Today or an International Herald Tribune since Madrid, although I didn't really look for one in the tourist areas of Rome and Venice. I miss the newspaper.
9. I miss my shower, too. European showers are so tiny that one can't turn around or bend over to pick up errant soap. Furthermore, those little showerhead handles that can be removed to spray wherever are usually encrusted with lime or other sediments and I crave my shower with the big showerhead and its full pressure spray. Sometimes, it is good to go away just to appreciate what you have at home.
I guess that is enough rambling for one day. Perhaps, I will empty the gray matter further on another slow day in Croatia. Dobra.
Addendum:From Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
I am sitting in downtown Mostar in an area where damage from the war is very much in evidence. They say it is still not safe to enter damaged buildings and empty lots because of mines and unexploded ordnance, so we'll be staying on the main streets. When I say we, I mean Tommy and me. Tommy is the 13 year-old son of my new landlord's best friend and he loves traveling wherever Eddie, the landlord travels. Eddie told me he was going to Sarajevo to pick up his 2 year-old son for a five-day visit in Dubrovnik. I asked if I could go along, since Mostar is on the way to Sarajevo. He said sure, but when he came to pick me up from the garage that was repairing his Mercedes 320, Tommy was riding along. He was coming with us, which was no problem for me, since I like kids. On the way, Tommy decided to spend four hours with me in Mostar, rather than riding the four hours in the car.
Tommy only speaks a little English; we were practicing his numbers up to 12 and he was struggling. He is all boy and I'm betting he's not too interested in school right now. The English and the American speaking to him may motivate him a little. He has never been in Mostar, either, but we are getting around. He was hungry, so we stopped at a restaurant and had cevapcici, which both Eddie and Tommy said was delicious. It was a beef sausage sandwich, served with sour cream and onions on the side. We will meet Eddie back on the two-lane highway where he dropped us at 8:30 p.m., provided we can find the bus to take us there.
The real danger for me on this side trip is not the unexploded ordnance in Mostar, but the 100 mile drive home to Dubrovnik. I was extremely anxious on the way here. Eddie pushes the Mercedes around corners at 30 km. above the speed limit and the car corners well, on two or four wheels. On the way home in the dark, we will be on the lane closest to the sea for all of the S-turns and I have no Xanax along. Eddie maintains that he is driving safely, much slower than when he is alone, and his son and his best friend's son will be with us so he'll be careful. Right! I wouldn't want to be with him when he is driving alone.
Hopefully, I will continue this update tomorrow in Dubrovnik, if Eddie can keep us from tumbling down the cliffs into the sea. Ciao! (Commonly used in Croatia for good-bye).
The trip lasted from 2:00 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. when I finally entered my room, exhausted and nerves frazzled. As I described from Mostar, Eddie drove exceptionally fast on the way to Mostar, even alarming young Tommy, I was later to learn. The time in Mostar was brief and Tommy was a shopper, entering a dozen or more stores as eager as any 13 year-old to spend the money his mother had given him, which was burning the proverbial hole in his pocket. Bosnia is significantly cheaper for consumer goods than Croatia, so Tommy had a field day, finally settling on a battery charger and a glass cutter, but checking the prices of sneakers, speakers, TV's, and many other items. I have no idea why he needed a glass cutter, but it was fascinating to watch the gallery owner take the time to give Tommy instructions on using the tool. He even provided scrap glass on which Tommy practiced diligently under the watchful eye of the proprietor.
The town itself was incredibly scarred from the war which apparently pitted local Muslims and Christians against Serbs who were in the minority and who were finally expelled from the city. Entire blocks of buildings have been destroyed and stand vacant, displaying the scars of battle with bullet and artillery holes in walls and roofs. This in a city where east meets west and the skyline includes Muslim prayer minarets and Christian church steeples. It was probably a beautiful town at one time, with a gorgeous, rapid stream running through its center.
Tommy and I got into the center by bus from a hardware store and small mall along the road passing to Sarajevo. After our meal and Tommy's shopping spree, Tommy was ready to return to the mall and wait for Eddie, although he wasn't due for 90 more minutes. I think that he was nervous in his new urban surroundings. I tried to tell him that we were safer here, sitting at an outside table along the river with street lights and people passing regularly, than we would be at the mall which seemed pretty isolated to me.
I could tell he really wanted to leave, so we boarded the return bus and reached the mall by 7:20 p.m. Eddie told me not to expect him until after 8:30, so we shopped the grocery and hardware stores to waste a little time. We watched what turned out to be gypsy kids, aged 10 - 15 horse around the parking lot with a small motor scooter. Soon, the hardware store closed and shut its gates, so we crossed the parking lot and returned to the grocery store in the mall, still wasting time and trying to stay warm in the chilly evening air.
We ended up back outside and started drawing a crowd of gypsy kids who engaged Tommy in conversation. Everybody seemed interested in learning about conditions in each others' lives, but I really couldn't understand a word they were saying. One of these poor, dirty kids had shoes so bad that his heels were barefoot on the ground and the top of one shoe was open across the entire top of his foot. I asked if he had other shoes at home and he said, "No." I couldn't stand it. I told him to follow me and we went into the grocery store mall where I attempted to buy him sneakers. They had none in his size, so I gave him the remainder of my Bosnia cash (maybe 15) and told him to buy shoes tomorrow. He thanked me and got tears in his 15 year-old eyes which told me I had done the right thing. He disappeared shortly thereafter and went home, probably to protect the money from his friends.
After going through my entire grandfather's repertoire of whistling, rhythmic finger-snapping, ham-boning, and Donald Duck voices to entertain, the younger kids started heading home, apparently to go to bed. Older kids, we ended up with six 15-year-olds, started to congregate around us and I got nervous. These were rough kids and I had made a serious strategic error. I had taken the mace out of my jacket in Dubrovnik the day before the unexpected trip and the six kids probably were more than I could physically handle if things got ugly.
The mall closed at 9:30, Tommy and I had been waiting for more than two hours, and the parking lot was emptying of cars. Mall employees had tried to help by calling Tommy's mother in Dubrovnik, but were unable to get through, apparently because of the employer's long distance phone block on the phone system. We had hoped to have his mother call Eddie and see if he had experienced trouble. As the lights in the parking lot were turned off and it got darker, the parking lot now absolutely empty, I contemplated trying to get a bus (they were occasionally passing on the road) to the city, securing a hotel room, and taking a bus back in the morning. I was becoming very, very concerned about the situation, but I knew Eddie would be panicked if we weren't there when he returned.
Unbelievably, one of the dirty, poor, Gypsy kids had a cell phone and he let Tommy call home. Contacts were made and Eddie let us know that he was 20 minutes away (it ended up being 30). The kids still were crowding us and one started asking for money. The situation was starting to deteriorate when Eddie pulled up in the car, one hour and twenty minutes late, but a joy to behold. He had to tell the kids (Eddie is a bruiser) to back away from the car, but we got in and continued home.
We now had a full car with Eddie and yours truly in the front seat and Tommy, Eddie's two year old son, and the son's grandmother (mother's side) in the back. We faced the hazardous ride home through the S-turns of the seaside cliffs and Eddie's lead foot. Surprise! Eddie is so proud of that son of his, or else his child's grandmother had warned him before we entered the car, but he drove very slowly home. With all the S-turns and the late hour, it was still a hairy ride, but I was thrilled to be home. I wouldn't have missed the experience of Mostar, but I won't be returning tomorrow.
I still have to travel to mountainous Montenegro, but I will rent a car to make that trip. I can't handle another ride along the brink with somebody else in control. Ciao!
One ill-intentioned gnocchi, obviously imbued with the knowledge that it is my least favorite pasta, plunged off of my fork and into the bowl, splashing two drops of goulash on my jeans and one on my shirt at lunch a few minutes ago. Both articles of clothing still have five days wear in them. What to do? I packed a zip-lock baggie with a tiny bottle of Tide for just this purpose. Always be prepared! That should be somebody's motto. After completing this update, I will retire to my room, spot the clothing with Tide, wash off the offending goulash, and let the clothing dry while I read and, no doubt, nod off on the boring book I have almost completed.
Mole Hunt, by Nigel West, a British author who thinks the detail about the M15 and SIS double agents are fodder for an entire book about who said what when, is the novel through which I am suffering. Not one joke or humorous line in the entire novel; no suspense, either. I traded for the book at my last soba in a poor exchange for Frederick Forsythe's Dogs of War, which I had finished. It wasn't a bad decision, though. The other books available in English were romance novels.
Last evening, I found the movie theater in the Old Town of Dubrovnik. I have been here nine days and walked by the building several times every day without realizing that it was a theater. A marble, medieval building on the main square next to the monastery houses a large theater on the second floor. No signage describes it as a theater, although a small portable sign outside, like the one at the other end of the square, has movie posters inside. I followed a group of women - no surprise there - into the theater at 5:30 and "PS I Love You" ("PS Volim te" in Croatian) had just begun. I bought a ticket and spent two hours escaping from the medieval atmosphere of Dubrovnik. The movie was in its original form with Croatian subtitles. I hope there was a better version at home, however. I never saw a movie where the overhead "mike" accidentally appeared on the film and it must have happened a dozen times in this film.
Afterwards at dinner, I sat next to a Fulbright Scholar who is teaching Political Science at a university in Albania this semester. She, her husband, and two daughters had made the seven-hour drive from Albania and were spending their last night in Dubrovnik before heading home in the morning. I had a delightful conversation with them and they described an explosion in Tirana, Albania, that killed several people and wounded many more. It all happened during a controlled attempt to explode old munitions. Apparently, somebody miscalculated and the explosion was significantly larger than expected. I was unaware of this newsworthy event. No wonder the Albanians were always under Soviet control, if that is the best their military can do.
I took a public bus ride today, headed for the Dubrovnik Palace which I thought might provide a good view and some history. Turns out the Palace is the Palace Hotel, the location of a Cisco gathering of some sort today. There were a few pretty scenes along the short ride, but nothing like I expected. Tomorrow, I'll try a bus ride south of the old city. Maybe, I'll get luckier there. Ciao!
Entire countries have the thing figured out, like Ireland, France, and Italy. Even South Africa has made giant steps in the right direction, but Croatia and the state of Pennsylvania still don't get it. Stop the smoking in public places! The aforementioned countries have a much higher smoking population than anywhere in the USA and are famous for pubs and cafes where people lingered for long periods of time and smoking was disgustingly heavy. Despite extensive initial protests, Ireland, France, and Italy have moved smokers outside. South Africa requires a separate, most often sealed, room for smokers, but in Croatia and Pennsylvania people can still sit next to you while you are dining and light up. Perhaps, Croatia has more important matters on its plate, but Pennsylvania's intransigence is incomprehensible.
I'm glad to finally get that off of my chest and I hope the lady who lit up at the table next to me while drinking her coffee this morning while I ate breakfast takes that!
While I am at it, I have a few other complaints about Croatia and probably all of Europe, as much as I enjoy these places. Apparently, sewer vent pipes are unheard of here. My current soba has a loud fan in the tiny bathroom, along with air fresheners and toilet bowl fresheners, but sewer gases still permeate the small enclosure. They don't understand. Eddie, my landlord apologized for the odor and suggested that I keep a window open to dispel the fumes when he first showed me the room. No thought is ever given to a sewer gas vent pipe.
While I am in the bathroom, I might as well address what is socially unacceptable to discuss. The Europeans have invented many wonderful things, even theorized that the earth revolves around the sun, and that gravity forces apples to drop toward the center of the earth. But, they can't invent or develop a toilet that doesn't need scrubbing after every usage. Every toilet has a brush, some disgusting, right next to the toilet bowl that needs be used after every seating. Ahh, the lengths to which we must go to clean up a natural bodily function. Every seating - I'm embarrassed at having had to take that turn of phrase. Well, it's true. They still sell these lousy toilets in the stores. Haven't they noticed the difference, as I have, when they visit our great land of efficient toilets and odor-free bathrooms?
It is a little dreary here this morning, but that has not stopped the tourist invasion. This morning on my way to breakfast, I was running a little later than normal, five or six tour groups were entering the streets of the tiny, walled city. Guides stopped to lecture about the icons carved into the city's bastions, leaving no room for we locals to pass. The tourist invasion began yesterday like turning on a switch. It may be the Easter holiday, but the tourists have arrived in force. Dinner at little Spaghetteria Tony's was a different affair last evening with every table full. I have been almost alone in many restaurants prior to this. I like the sudden change. It gives me many more people to watch and to attempt to identify. Are they French? German? Croatian? English? The only way to confirm the identification is to sneak up when the guide is speaking to hear the language spoken. Hey, you have to pass the time somehow. Ciao!
March 24, 2008 - from Dubrovnik, Croatia
Wow and whoa! That would probably be the best way to start today's description of the weekend here in Croatia. Wow, is the exclamation that came from my mouth when I left this internet center last night to see a Stradun (main street) in which every building was outlined in white lights. The Easter holiday must be the official start of the tourist season and the lighting was pretty spectacular. The entire top of the city's surrounding wall and its ramparts and guard towers were all outlined, as were the church steeples at either end of the main street. Gorgeous! My camera isn't capable of taking that kind of photo, so I can't share it with you unless I can find a nighttime postcard someplace.
Whoa, would be to the rain. Let up a little bit! I knew when I came to the Dalmatian Coast that March was a little iffy. Here's some advice: Don't come to Dubrovnik in March. The climate chart I studied before planning my itinerary said that it rains 11 days in March on the average. It rained 11 days last week! At least it seemed like that. There is not much to do here, or most any tourist location, in the rain. I spent the week finishing two books and starting on Bill Clinton's "My Life" and I am already one quarter of the way through that lengthy tome. I need some sunshine.
My favorite meals anywhere would probably be grilled squid (done over charcoal) and roast chicken and filling. I have found a restaurant that makes fantastic grilled squid and I can sit by the fireplace and watch the chef baste the critters with olive oil using a long rosemary twig while the grate sits over the glowing embers of the wood fire. Portugal is where they are done best, but this restaurant (Orhan) is not far behind. I must caution you if you decide to eat my favorite dish that you need to excise the brain and eye sack from the head before eating it. At least, I do. They serve the head separately from the body, it having been removed in the cleaning process, but the brain and eye sack is usually not removed. The rest of the head, tentacles and all, are good, however. Some of you may be able to eat the whole thing, but I cannot. Apparently, the locals do. Why else would they not remove it in cleaning? It is a simple task. They eat sardines heads, eyes, and all, so I guess it is possible. I will try to be more observant the next time someone nearby orders the dish.
The roast chicken will have to wait until I get home, because chicken is a rare entree here. They simply do not eat much chicken. I have searched menus and the only chicken that I have had since arriving in Croatia is in a chicken spaghetti sauce. I could use a drumstick right now.
If the rains let up, I'll head to Montenegro someday this week (probably Wednesday by the forecast). It is a two-hour drive and I am now considering taking a one-day tour which is priced the same as a one-day car rental and includes lunch. I know that I will have to let the bus driver negotiate the dangerous highway, but that may be safer than my driving while trying to watch the gorgeous scenery about which all tour books talk. I'll take a Xanax along. Ciao!
March 25, 2008 - from Dubrovnik, Croatia
Pigeons can't be housebroken, but they are apparently welcome at cafes in Dubrovnik. Though 25 or more people sat outside in the chilly air bundled against the brisk breezes, I went inside to have my mid-morning coffee. I had skipped coffee at breakfast, opting instead for juice and a croissant from a nearby bakery ($3.00).
There were plenty of folks like me who chose to escape the cool breezes by sitting inside during their coffee break and one door was left open for customers and waitresses. Like he had been there before, a pigeon marched through the open door and visited the floor under almost every table looking for bits of food. He exited a few minutes later by another door left open by an entering customer. Ten minutes later, as I was running out of coffee, another pigeon entered, took the same route, and left his calling card on the shiny, cafe, floor tile. I think it was a statement of disgust since the first pigeon had already made a clean sweep. It was a little shocking to me to see a pigeon strolling around the cafe, but nobody else paid it much attention. I can only conclude that they are regular visitors.
I have wondered about pigeons for much of the trip. What else do I have to think about? With all the pigeons that I saw in San Marco Square in Venice and the many pigeons here in Dubrovnik, I have never seen a dead bird. Where do pigeons go to die?? I have seen wounded birds hopping on one foot while looking for food; I shared my breakfast croissant with just such a bird the other morning, but never a dead bird. Strange.
Yesterday, Schim, my companion in Argentina who also accompanied me on a driving trip through Central America, would have been proud of me. I spent less than $20 for my three meals. Schim ate tortillas all through Mexico and Central America to reduce his expenses. I had breakfast from the bakery and a Croatian cheeseburger for lunch at a nearby sandwich shop. I rarely eat hamburgers at home, perhaps one or two a year, but I thought a Croatian burger might be interesting and it was. The burger itself was pounded flat and was as big around as a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza. It was placed in a huge, thick roll and I was given a choice of condiments to be added. I picked sliced pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, brown chili-ketchup (their description), mayonnaise, and a little Croatian spicy sauce. I hate a dry sandwich and this one passed my moisture test to the point of becoming very sloppy. I wiped my chin a few times in its consumption and it was tasty. I still prefer really thick burgers and smaller rolls, however.
Dinner was a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese at Spaghetteria Tony's where I go to assuage a craving for pasta and where the meals are inexpensive. Schim would have been pleased, though I hate mentioning his name because he will email a response to me as soon as he reads the update, saying it is obvious that I miss him.
Tomorrow, I go to Montenegro, the ninth new country that I have visited on this winter's adventure. I purchased the ticket this morning after seeing the weather forecast which called for a day of sunshine. There will not be an update tomorrow because of the length of the tour, but I will brief you the following day on my visit to one of the newest countries in the world. Ciao!
March 27, 2008 - from Dubrovnik, Croatia
Yesterday's tour of Montenegro was, in one word, terrifying. I got much more than I bargained for in the $60 tour and it began once I boarded the 20 passenger mini-bus and the guide said, in her heavily accented Croatian English, "Today will be the first day of the year that we take our summer itinerary through Montenegro. We will drive along the Bay of Kotor to the walled, old city of Kotor, and then we will take the old, serpentine road up the mountain behind Kotor to a little farming village where we will stop for lunch. There is snow on the mountains, so we will probably see snow in the village before heading down the mountain to Budva on the sea again."
Did she say "drive an old, serpentine road up a snow-covered mountain?" Considering my acrophobia, I should have gotten off the bus immediately, because that is exactly what she said and exactly what we did. The drive along the Bay of Kotor was gorgeous, of course, and not nearly as frightening as I had feared because we stayed very close to sea level as we wound around the bay that reminds everybody of Norway's fjords. It certainly looked like the fjords I have seen in films and on TV (I have not been to Scandinavia) and the towns through which we passed relied heavily on the ocean for their livelihoods, even to the extent of being famous through the years for developing sea captains through formal training and hands-on experience.
The walled city of Kotor was similar, though smaller than Dubrovnik, and we were given an hour to enjoy its small streets and cafes (just what I hate about tours). I drank coffee, seated in the much-appreciated sunshine, and worried about the upcoming trip up the old, serpentine road. It made Kotor difficult to enjoy and the caffeine was not a wise choice with the anxiety that was beginning to rise. The Xanax was sitting right where I left it on the bedside table and I had to face the climb chemical-free. I can do this!
"They're kidding, right?" I overheard the dentist from Iowa, who was sitting one seat behind me, also begin to express concern to his wife when we were part-way up the switchbacks on the road where two mini-buses could never pass - a car and a mini-bus, barely. It was a two-way road, the guide told us, and in the summertime the road gets crowded with cars and full-sized buses that sometime have to back up for miles to reach a spot where they can pass one another. No bus is backing up miles on a cliff-side road with very few, small, individual, concrete guard bumpers with me on board. That much I can guarantee. I would exit and walk when the driver hit reverse.
I made it to the top in what seemed like a week-long climb, by looking only at the rock wall and up to the snow-covered mountain top and never looking down. I had to switch my head quickly at the hairpin turns so that I didn't look downward. I kept breathing deeply and mentally talking to myself. "You can do this!" It was an extremely terrifying experience. Before we got to the top, snow was piled on the side of the narrow road where a plow had pushed it and still we climbed, around blind, left corners and wider right-turn switchbacks. There was the top - the gorgeous, snow-covered, agricultural village with flat land and one open cafe. Wait, how are we going to get down?
They served wine in the village and I had a sandwich with one glass of red wine. Then, right before walking back to the bus, I drank a shot of grappa, the Mediterranean whiskey that tastes like kerosene. It was harsh, but it eased the anxiety during the rest of the trip, which started by climbing up another narrow, switch-backed road to the top of the mountain that overlooked the rear of the flat spot where the village lay. You can do this! The grappa helped considerably and so did the improvement of the road when we reached the top only a few minutes later.
The view from the top, both down the side facing Kotor and the other side which faced the rest of Montenegro, with Albania visible in the distance, were absolutely breathtaking. The snow-covered mountains and the blue sky made me feel like I was standing in a picture postcard. It was spectacular. Montenegro is the most mountainous country I have ever visited and the view across its mountain peaks was awe inspiring.
On the way down to Budva, we stopped in Cetinje, Montenegro's historic capital (Podgorica is today's capital) and visited the modest palace of King Nicholas, whose household artifacts were a rich, pleasant surprise. Montenegro has always been a poor country, certainly not as economically well off as Croatia today, so the contents of the palace were mostly gifts from other monarchs of the time. They included paintings of Napoleon and Josephine, Franz Josef, and other contemporaries of the king. The period furniture was beautiful as were the china and the glassware and included a solid gold coffee set, still sitting in an original glass cabinet. Everything was relatively unprotected by alarms, glass, or guard ropes, but an attendant accompanied us on the tour. However, she didn't stop the eight-year-old traveling with us from touching the dining room table and running his fingers over leather chairs; I was surprised by the lack of attention to security.
The tour continued down the mountains toward the sea, on a wider, two-lane road and we were most often on the inside lane, making the ride a lot less stressful. The views of Budva and the ocean were stunning. Budva is where the young, beautiful people of Europe go to the beach these days. For all of Montenegro's poverty and low standard of living, Budva is lush and luxurious. The walled, old city is small and beautiful; the newer city is the "in spot" for the wealthy to frolic in the summer. The beach is long and sandy, unlike the pebble beaches of the northern Dalmatian coast, and tourists flock here. Wealthy Russians especially like the place and have bought much land in Budva and in the countryside. Some real estate signs clearly describe properties in Russia's Cyrillic alphabet.
I was shocked to see a Bentley, a Mercedes convertible, several BMW sedans, and other expensive vehicles driven on the streets of Budva in a country where the average monthly salary is 250 euros, less than $5,000/year and there is a 27% unemployment rate. It was a beautiful town with a gorgeous marina, full of expensive yachts, but there something incongruous about the whole scene.
Nearby is the small island of Sveti Stefan, within eyesight of the old city, which a Russian company has purchased and is turning into a super luxurious hotel. It had previously been the location of a luxurious hotel with such famous visitors as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, President Clinton, and others I can't remember. I can only imagine what a room will cost when the renovation is complete.
On a beach just outside Budva on the way home, the guide pointed out the stage where the Rolling Stones performed last year and where Madonna will be performing this summer. Darn, I'm probably going to miss that.
We drove along the coast on the entire route home and took a 10 minute ferry ride at the narrowest point of the Bay of Kotor to reduce the distance we had to drive. It was a two-hour drive back to Dubrovnik with beautiful ocean scenery and a setting sun the whole way home. Boy was I exhausted. It was an exciting trip and one that I am glad that I endured. I won't be doing it again, however. I do recommend it to you, if you aren't acrophobic and you think you can handle the narrow, serpentine road. The panoramas will be remembered for a lifetime. Ciao!
March 28, 2008 - from Dubrovnik, Croatia
Today dawned bright and sunny after the sound of rain lulled me to sleep last night. "Will this precipitation ever end?" was the last thought that passed through my conscious mind. This morning is almost shirt-sleeve weather and I joined dozens of people sitting outside in the warm sun enjoying breakfast and lingering over the ever-present coffee. Perhaps, spring will finally reach the Dalmatian Coast in time for me to catch a few rays before departing for Paris next Wednesday.
As I ate my pasta last evening, three bright, young Canadians sat at the table next to me and we got into a delightful conversation. They are second-year medical students visiting Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Montenegro during a break in their studies from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland. Apparently, the demand for physicians cannot be met by the medical schools of Canada, so they are studying in Ireland. They seemed to really be enjoying their holiday and quizzed me on my travels, including my tour up the mountain behind Kotor where they are headed this morning. They have rented a car and there is no question about their intentions. They will drive up the serpentine road that I described and spend a night in Budva at my recommendation. I hope to get a report from them on Saturday night when they return and expect to dine in my favorite oceanside restaurant on the last night of their holiday.
The electronic ink wasn't dry when Schim responded to my tiny comment about him, just as I expected. His contention, of course, is that anybody who spends their days observing pigeons is lonely and misses him. Right, I miss that ingrown toenail I had one time, too. As I watched a pigeon during breakfast this morning, I thought of Schim and knew that he would have an answer to the question which arose from my morning observations. Whether I drop a breadcrumb or a cookie crumb, the pigeons eat it, but can they tell the difference? Do they have a sense of taste? Schim would know (or create an instant theory).
With this gorgeous weather, I can finally walk the walls of Dubrovnik, one of the first activities practiced by tourists to this old city. I chose not to make the hour-long walk until I had a great day to take photos and today is that day. The only other really beautiful day of the past two weeks was the day that I toured Montenegro, so I am looking forward to this "view from the top."
I hope that you enjoy the photos from Montenegro that will be downloaded to the site later today. There is much work to be done on the photos I send, re-sizing, re-formatting, making titles, creating the slide show, etc., and my daughter has done a marvelous job at keeping the website updated and preparing the photos. I owe her a debt of gratitude. Hvala, Ab! Ciao.
There is nothing like a harbor to help while away a few hours. Saturday, I took a bus to Dubrovnik's "new" harbor and walked its huge circumference looking at boats, observing a school of small fish along the wall, watching people sanding and polishing their vessels, and enjoying the bright, warm sunshine. I spent 30 minutes watching three men prepare their sailboat for a day on the Adriatic. Actually, since I went back the next day and their dinghy was still at their mooring, I assume they spent the weekend on the very blue water. It was such a beautiful day that I shunned the bus and hoofed it back, a distance of three or four miles.
I also spent some time this weekend reading in the afternoon sun near the tiny harbor outside the city's wall where I borrow a chair from my favorite restaurant to soak up the rays. Three weeks is a long time to spend in Dubrovnik and, with the run of bad weather last week, I owe a debt of gratitude to ex-President Bill Clinton whose "My Life" helped me pass countless hours. I still have more than 100 pages to go, but will probably finish the book by the time I depart for Paris early on Wednesday morning.
My landlady did my laundry on Saturday and I watched it dry overnight on the outside wash line. She folded and returned it to me on Sunday morning and I rolled, re-folded, and packed everything for the trip to Paris where I will start with a clean wardrobe. I certainly am tired of the clothing selection, however. Spending three months with four pairs of pants, four long-sleeved shirts, short-sleeved shirts that I haven't seen since South Africa, one black, fleece sweatshirt, and one black, Gore-Tex windbreaker does not provide much variety. I look forward to returning home where I will have more variety in the slacks, shirts, and jackets that I wear. I will probably not wear the ones I brought along on the trip for a long, long time.
It has been a long winter and I am especially eager to see my wife on Friday, along with our good friends who will accompany her to Paris. We will head immediately to Normandy to tour the WWII sites and cemetery. It is one of the most moving places that I have ever visited and I am eager to share the experience with them.
I need to spend tomorrow with last minute details; I leave at 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, so this will be my last update for the year. It sometimes takes a couple of hours to get my thoughts down on paper for the updates and I will not have that kind of time while we are traveling through France and Switzerland. I have enjoyed your company during my travels and thank you for your perseverance. I hope that you have enjoyed the trip, that the experience has been educational, and that I helped you pass the cold, windy, snowy winter. Au Revoir, Mes Amis!
I know that I said there would be no more updates, but thousands of emails demanding that I give a thumbnail sketch of the past two weeks make one more update a necessity. For historical accuracy, I must confess that there weren't thousands of email demands. As a matter of fact, I didn't get a single email inquiring about my welfare from my legion of readers. What is the matter with you people? Don't you care about my self esteem?
If you will recall, I left you as I boarded the plane in Dubrovnik, Croatia, for the flight to Zagreb then on to Paris. I had two, great, short flights, which combined with safe landings is what made them great. I trained into Paris, then back out again to the little hotel that I had booked online. It was a nice little hotel, but was pretty far outside Paris and had only one cafe within walking distance. All other travel had to be made by train. I only stayed two nights, so it wasn't a real hardship.
I spent one day touring Paris before my wife and our friends arrived. I walked up the hill to Sacre Coeur to get a view of the city, and then strolled the square in Montmartre, watching the artistic hucksters working the crowd to buy sketches, paintings, and caricatures. I strolled through Pigalle, which is becoming very sleazy, and stopped in a fine Indian restaurant for lunch. I realize that when in Paris I should eat French food, but I figured that I would be eating French for the next couple of weeks and I was hungry for Indian. I trained back to my hotel and taxied early the next morning to Charles de Gaulle airport to pick up our rental car and welcome my wife and friends.
It was fantastic to see familiar faces again! After five laps around de Gaulle trying to return to Hertz to sign my friend up as a second driver, we were finally headed for Normandy. We struggled to find a hotel (no reservations, Mr. Bourdain) in busy Caen, but registered in a nice place in downtown Bayeux, where a Christmas card on their bulletin board from Rick Steves marked the place as his annual stop in Normandy. We had no tour books and just lucked into his familiar haunt.
The following day, we toured Omaha Beach, Pointe du Hoc, and the beautiful US military cemetery that still holds almost 10,000 of our finest young men, just a fraction of those lost in Europe during the war. Our Irish guide (Eddie), who is probably the best guide in the area, is a military history buff who was trained as an organic chemist, but who hated every day of that work. He makes less money as a guide, but he loves his job and it shows magnificently. He enthusiastically answered every question from our group of six and created many questions we hadn't thought about. The visit was fantastic.
We checked out of the Bayeux hotel the following morning after visiting the colorful Saturday market across the street from the hotel and ended up in St. Mare Eglise, site of the famous 82nd Airborne Division parachute drop of WWII where one paratrooper got hung up on the church steeple. This town was the first town liberated by the Allies during the D-Day invasion. We found an acceptable hotel (there was only one in town) and spent the next day touring Utah Beach where my friend's father had landed on D-day. It was an emotional experience for all of us, since his father passed away a little more than a year ago. The man was a quiet hero, who never talked about the two wounds he sustained during the war or all the sacrifices that he and others had to make. We walked the area where he landed, saw the route inland that he had taken, and visited the hedgerows through which he had to fight. We were in awe to be walking the same ground.
Our next stop was at Mont Saint Michel, the beautiful cathedral built on a peninsula once only accessible at low tide. It was a beautiful, though windy and chilly sight and we took the obligatory photographs and continued on our way. Wait, we were almost out of gas and it was Sunday when almost everything in France is closed. There was a station seven kilometers away, we were told, where we could buy gas. The problem was that it was an unmanned station, meaning that only credit card purchases were possible. That was a problem, since none of our credit cards had the chip required to make gas purchases in France. We drove around on fumes looking to no avail for another station. A quick idea took us back to the robot station: pay to borrow someone's credit card to purchase our gas. Right, who would agree to such a thing, especially since we don't speak French? The first person we asked, that's who. A nice young man with his wife in the car was filling up and spoke a little English. He allowed us to use his card for our fill-up and we gave him an extra five euros for his efforts which he tried to refuse. We headed east toward Burgundy, our next destination.
The gas stop is an indication of our treatment by the French during the 10-day vacation. Everyone was helpful, cooperative, and friendly, which is a real departure from typical American generalizations about the French people. They actually do remember WWII and genuinely like Americans, though they are not too fond of our current President. They treated us extremely well.
The Cotes d'Or (Burgundy) was a spectacular stop; the little town of Beaune and the even smaller Meursault were especially quaint and full of photo opportunities. We reluctantly tasted the necessary wines, went on a wine tour with a less than competent guide, and enjoyed our two days in the heart of Burgundy wine country.
From Beaune, we proceeded to Coppet, a little town along Lake Geneva only a few minutes outside of Switzerland's second largest city. This is where my second son, his wife, and my only two grandchildren live in a picture postcard setting with views of the Swiss Juras and the French Alps on either side of Lake Geneva. My wife and I enjoyed a warm reunion with our family and were treated to spectacular hospitality, even from the family's young Bernese Mountain dog, Matterhorn (Mattie), who joined in the welcome. I experienced a stab of jealousy as my grandchildren quickly adopted our friends as additional grandparents during our stay. We had a delightful visit.
During our stay, escorted by my son's family, we visited Gruyere, another picture postcard village with spectacular views of snow-covered Alps, home of the famous Gruyere cheese. We took a very educational tour of the cheese factory, tasted three samples of Gruyere, toured a gorgeous medieval castle in the village, and ate a dinner of fondue (naturally) and raclette, another Swiss cheese specialty. We also visited the French city of Annecy, called the Venice of France, where a fast-moving stream pours from the lake through the heart of the old city. Annecy is another picture-postcard village on beautiful Lake Annecy, surrounded by snow-covered Alps; the area is full of these beautiful places.
On the final day of our week-long car rental, we also drove to Luzerne, the picturesque Swiss city on the German side of the country. Again, the views of the snow-covered Alps towering above the city which sits on the banks of Lake Luzerne was breathtaking. One runs out of superlatives when describing the beauty of the areas of France and Switzerland which we visited. This is an area of the world that I can highly recommend, but I would suggest waiting until the dollar gets a little stronger. Switzerland, especially, is currently very expensive, although the exchange rate is horrible for both countries. Fortunately, thanks to my son's family, we avoided hotel costs for five days of the trip.
My wife and friends have now arrived safely back home and I am ensconced in Rome near the train station, an area of Rome with which I am unfamiliar. I arrived here after a nine and a half hour train ride through the Swiss and Italian Alps and along Lago Maggiore. The views were absolutely awesome, but nine hours is a long time to sit on a crowded train. My bed felt like it was rocking like the train until I finally dropped off to sleep last night and my derriere (note the French I have acquired) is still a mite sore as I write this epistle this morning.
I will enjoy exploring this area of Rome for the next couple of days, before heading home on Saturday. I have had an unbelievable winter, visiting places that I never thought I would get to see. I am extremely grateful that I have been given the opportunity to travel like this. I hope that you have enjoyed the trip as much as I. Ciao!