Faces and Places

on Saturday, March 21, 2009

Norwegian Guide, Bergen

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

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

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

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


heartinsanfrancisco said...

Welcome home! It sounds like a wonderful trip with many memories to treasure.

Long ago, I met two young men in Venice who pretended to be Austrian while trying to pick up my friend and me. I insisted that they were really German until finally, one of them admitted it but said that they had no luck with girls until they began passing for Austrian.

The people we meet traveling often stay with us forever, even as the scenery and other details blur.

Molly said...

That sounds like a great ramble through Europe. My nephew, who lives in Ireland, has just embarked on just such a trip. He started out in Buenos Aires last week..... I would give my eye teeth to be young again and have a chance to do something like that!

Joyce's Ramblings said...

Sounds like a great trip. It is so wonderful to meet people from all walks of life. I have met some great people while traveling on the train. I would love to get on a train and go somewhere. I love that you can walk around or just sit and look out the windows.
Train stations are great for people watching.

the walking man said...

I had a wanderlust as a young man as well but the difference was only in the places we traveled. I've never been away from North America but the people met all have a story to go along with the ride.

I was a road dog, you a road squirrel.

kat said...

Welcome home!

Travel Travel Travel, something the stayathomekat should have done more of! The world and all its peoples and history and cultures... so fascinating.

I hope on this most recent trip you made some fond memories as well.

Anonymous said...

I used to enjoy traveling a lot more than I do today myself. This week I had to go to here and then there and I was missing my man. It's much if he can go with me! Anywho...enjoy reading your adventures!

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a fabulous trip.

I haven't yet lost my thrill of travelling to new places.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Fascinating. How did you see through their act? And why would being Austrian make them more successful with the ladies? Is it the association with the Sound of Music or something else? Curious squirrels would like to know.

Your nephew is going to the land of the Tango! How exciting. And for yourself, its not too late to plan such a trip but as we grow older, I think we also grow wiser in that quantity (of countries visited) is not better than quality (spending more and better quality time in just a few locations).

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I agree. Train trips are great. A wonderful combination of scenery and companionship. I also agree about train stations being a great place to watch people. I think train stations are charged with emotional energy; whether it is the joy of reunion or the pathos of loneliness.
Ever thought of taking the Orient Express?

I think traveling through the USA is sufficient to chalk up a whole series of interesting characters on the road. You must have volumes of stories.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I remember from your earlier posts that you have done some interesting travels. Did you not go to Alaska at one point?

I think for you and me, part of the travel lust was a search for home. Once we found it in our spouses, the need to travel diminishes.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I can actually feel your excitement in your travel posts.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

No, not The Sound of Music. It was in the 60's and most Europeans still hated Germans then. Hence, the charade.

I seem to have a good ear for accents. I didn't care where they were from, but didn't respect their dishonesty, and their assumption that American girls were easy offended me so I blew the whistle on them.

I would love to travel freely again, and to be that young again, if I could.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Ahhhhh! *sound of penny dropping* Strangely though, it was in Austria and not Germany that I met the old man who asked,"Hitler gud, yah?"

Violet said...

Every one should travel with an open mind.

Anonymous said...

You did all this in a month?? Wow. You should do it all again as an adult - maybe with your family and staying in hotels this time and then write a book comparing the two adventures.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

In my case, it was more of traveling with an "empty" mind! Haha!

The full story is:-

Dover->(BELGIUM) Oostende->Brugge->Brussels->Han-sur-Lesse->Namur-> (Luxembourg) Luxembourg City->(GERMANY) Trier-> (DENMARK) Copenhagen-> Ribe-> Frederiksborg-> Helsingor-> (SWEDEN)-> (NORWAY) Oslo-> Bergen -> Hardangerfiord -> (SWEDEN) ->(DENMARK)-> (Germany) Munich -> (Yugoslavia) Plitvice Lakes-> (AUSTRIA)Salzburg-> Vienna-> (GERMANY)Herrenchiemsee-> St. Goar/Lorelei -> (BELGIUM)Brussels-> Oostende -> U.K.

The thinking then was that this might be a once in a lifetime chance and so for the hard-saved money spent, I was going to see as many countries as possible. Now I recommend spending more time on less destinations instead of running around like a hare on steroids! :)

geewits said...

You are a very lucky man to have had such an adventure. And thanks for that link, it was fun to read that again.

I always tell people that one of the reasons I like to travel alone is because you are more likely to meet all sorts of people. I don't know why most people won't travel alone. Even my Dad who was a man and older than me (really?) would not travel alone.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

you are so right. Traveling alone is a great way to meet people although for ladies a bit of caution and street-wiseness is important.

squirrelmama said...

Memories and friendships of travel to different places provide the kind of souvenirs you will always have, even after you have lost the refrigerator magnets, mugs and other knick-knacks emblazoned with the logos of another time and place. They are treasures.

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