Monday, January 15, 2018

Travel Oddities (Part I)

Travel Oddities
(Part I)
travel memoirs
Gregory E. Larson
It’s winter and I’m sitting by the fireplace remembering what I consider “odd happenings” from previous trips. These are not topics you’ll find in the slick travel brochures, or in magazine articles titled, “Top Ten Winter Destinations.” To me, these occurrences are the spice in the adventures. Sometimes it is when our preconceptions meet other cultures. Other times it is something that is just plain odd or funny. I purposely left out stories about European bathrooms or “the airplane trip from hell.” We’ve all had those. Buy me a beer sometime and I can talk at length on those subjects.

1. The non-existent B&B
          The B&B was supposed to be in a posh section of Birmingham, England, not too far from the airport. It seemed like the perfect place for Gretta and me to spend our last night of the 2008 trip to England and Wales before departing back to the U.S. After a day of driving (on the left side of the road) I pulled up to the address, and told Gretta to wait while I made sure it was the right place. I walked around a tall hedge and stared at what had been the B&B. There was a gaping hole in the front of the three story house, and workmen were pouring concrete at the front steps. They gave me odd looks when I told them I had a reservation.

Would you sleep here?

          The workmen went to get the foreman and I went to get Gretta. A tall Punjabi appeared in a turban and he profusely apologized for not getting the online reservations cut off in time to prevent us from showing up during construction. He snapped his fingers and barked orders to the workmen to “get these people some tea and American coffee.” In minutes, upholstered chairs were placed by the dumpster and a silver tray with creamer, sugar, and cups of tea and coffee were brought to us for afternoon refreshment.
Tea time in the construction zone
          While we sipped away, the owner/foreman/jack-of-all-trades found us new accommodations at Clovely Place B&B, just two blocks away . . . and a Clovely Place it was.

2. Calliope in Westermarkt, Amsterdam
          I love the sights and sounds that are experienced while riding a bicycle. This brief encounter occurred in the middle of a street in west Amsterdam. Our tour group turned the corner and pedaled down a long street towards the market. We began to hear some music up ahead, and as we got closer we discovered a huge calliope positioned in the middle of the street – no sign, no orange cones - nothing. The cars and bikes slowed as they passed the monstrosity. There appeared to be no one monitoring the contraption which emanated loud pipe organ sounds accompanied with cymbals and drums. What seemed strangest of all, it was blasting out the Bangles tune, Walk Like an Egyptian. The Doppler effect of the sound hit my ears as we passed it, and I laughed and said, “Just another typical day in Amsterdam.”

3. Japanese Tea House in Canada
Mile after mind-numbing mile passed before us on the highways of Montana, so Gretta and I decided to find a place to get out and stretch our legs once we crossed into Canada. The map showed the city of Lethbridge in Alberta as a good break point. As we approached the city, Gretta said, “There’s an authentic Japanese Tea House and Garden at a city park beside a lake.”
     A Japanese Tea House in the stretches of the wild west of Canada? It seemed a bit incongruous. What the heck. I knew nothing about Japanese Tea Houses. Maybe I could learn something.
Authentic Japanese Tea House
     Once we arrived at the park and began the walk through the house and garden, I was struck at the order and prescription of how a Tea House was designed and constructed. It had a very defined spatial arrangement of rooms, somewhat like we have for churches. This specific house had been taken apart, piece by piece in Japan, and shipped to Canada for reconstruction. While walking through the sculpture garden on the shore of the lake it seemed like we were transported to the orient. The brief tour gave me a much greater respect for oriental design.

4. Rockford Files and Wild Boar in the Apennines
     Unique cuisine after a long day of bike riding is always a treat. One night in the Apennine Mountains our guides took us to a small family-owned Italian restaurant for a four-star meal including wild boar stew. We walked across a bridge near a waterfall and went into a cozy dining room with a wood-planked floor and wood-trussed ceiling. 
     Adjacent to the dining room was a long bar where an old man was sitting. The TV was mounted above the bar and an episode of the Rockford Files was on the screen – except James Garner was spewing out Italian! The guides told us the man at the bar was the grandfather and owner of the restaurant. His family ran the restaurant and as he got older he liked to watch TV re-runs. 
          The Rockford Files continued while we ate the appetizers and sipped wine. The episode ended as the main course came out, and the family guided their father to the house which was attached to the restaurant. Gretta and I thought the patriarch and the TV were a nice touch of ambience for our meal of authentic Italian food in the Apennines.

5. Risk Management checks in to Ski Lodge
Gretta at Ski Tip Lodge
     For three winters Gretta and I went skiing at Keystone in Colorado and we always stayed at our favorite resort, Ski Tip Lodge, which was an old ski lodge with a colorful history. The architecture was a combination of original log cabin and Swiss ski chalet, and it catered to those who did not want to stay in a mega-resort condo.
No TV’s or radios existed, the food was first rate, Evening entertainment was sitting around one of the two stone fireplaces, where folks played cards, swapped stories and ate dessert. The guests were allowed to tend the fires and add logs when the fire burned low. In the dining room, real wax candles were in holders on each table. We knew the Vail Ski Corporation operated the lodge, and we were amazed they supported this old lodge which harkened back to a simpler time.
One of the large fireplaces at the lodge.
     It was our third trip when we noticed a change. During the first evening we discovered battery powered candles in the dining room. What? This was an assault on reality. Then we went to the fireplace and noticed a sign next to the hearth: WARNING – THIS AREA CAN GET VERY HOT.
     Gretta laughed and said, “Hey, ya think it might get hot by a fireplace?”
     “Maybe there was an inebriated guest that got burned while standing too close. Heavens to Betsy, don’t get me started on signs,”
     I immediately pictured long, drawn out meetings in a corporate conference room with a director of risk management, talking about the dangers of running an antiquated ski lodge, and the need to protect the guests from any danger. Ugh. There goes the way of a simple candle. By now, I’m sure the guests are no longer encouraged or allowed to tend the fire. That’s way too risky. People could injure their backs picking up the logs, or they might get burned tending the fire.

6. Baby Godzilla and the Swiss Motorcycle Wedding
          One of the odder memories I have from any trip was the time Gretta and I discovered an outdoor miniature museum south of Lugano, Switzerland, in a little town called Melide. In the summertime the place had a good throng of people walking about the grounds which were about the size of an acre. The landscape included a milieu of famous buildings around Switzerland. In addition, there were mountains with trains running through tunnels and lakes with operating miniature boats. Even the shrubs were trimmed to make a person feel like a giant as one walked through the Lilliputian world.

Miniature Park in Melide, Switzerland
          No detail was overlooked. Every building was a precise, replica representation of the original.
          A cathedral tower caught my eye and I began to look at the details. Lo, and behold, at the base of the miniature cathedral entrance were semi-circle rows of motorcycles all pointed to the doors where a priest was holding a wedding ceremony for the replica bride and groom. I wondered how many motorcycle weddings occurred at church entrances in Switzerland.
           Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a toddler whose dad had just let him down on the sidewalk. The adults in the group were having a conversation and were not watching the little monster as he began to crawl into the petunias and directly toward the cathedral.
          I said a polite, “Uh-oh,” and pointed to the kid. Just as baby Godzilla reached for the semi-circle of motorcycles, the dad swooped his arm and grabbed him just in time.
          My only regret is that I didn’t get a picture of the baby creating a Godzilla movie scene, but I do have a picture of the cathedral and wedding replica below.

Baby Godzilla attack was thwarted at this Swiss Cathedral replica