Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Travel Oddities (Part 2)

The carnival atmosphere outside Fenway Park
Travel Oddities (Part 2)
travel memoirs
by Gregory E. Larson

 1.     Dirty Water at Fenway Park, Boston
           I finally made it to see the Boston Red Sox play in Fenway Park last July with two of my daughters, and I was able to check off another bucket-list item. We ate fast food along Boylston Avenue and walked over I-90 to the street adjacent to the ballpark. A carnival atmosphere permeated the entrance, where people were hawking t-shirts, programs, etc., and jugglers and clowns were walking among the crowd.
          Once inside, I looked in awe at my surroundings. I had that feeling of baseball reverence as I spied the green monster wall and saw the Boston skyline beyond. The ball field was an intimate space, with the crowd and the scoreboard packed around it.
Fenway Park is hallowed ground for baseball fans.
          I knew that one of the traditions was the playing of Neil Diamond’s song, Sweet Caroline, at the seventh inning stretch. What I didn’t know was the tradition of playing an old rock tune at the end of the game when the Red Sox won. I was having so much fun watching the game that I secretly hoped the Minnesota Twins would tie it up so we could stay longer, but they didn’t score in the top of the ninth inning, so the game was over.
          The speakers began to blare a loud guitar rift and the fans rocked and clapped like they were at a concert. The song, a 1966 one-hit wonder by The Standells, titled Dirty Water, was pumping adrenaline into the fans who stayed for the end of the game. I realized the lyrics were about Boston, although I wouldn’t consider a family crowd a target market. Here are some of the pertinent lyrics, which are sung with a snarly, devil-may-care attitude:

 Aw, Boston, you’re my home . . .
Yeah, down by the river,
Down by the banks of the river Charles.
(Aw, that's where it's happenin' baby)
That's where you'll find me
Along with lovers, muggers, and thieves. 
(Aw, but they're cool people) . . .
I love that dirty water!
I love that dirty water!

          The baseball crowd knew the lyrics by heart and they sang at the top of their lungs. I have to admit that I tapped my toes to the music and hated to hear the song come to an end. I guess there’s a bit of bad boy in all of us. I felt like a Bostonian as I walked out of the stadium and into the night along with several thousand fans.
Here's a link to Dirty Water:

2. Christmas in July
          The little hotel on the edge of Spello, Italy, was a perfect stopover on a 2005 bike tour across Italy. The building had previously been an olive mill and was converted into a hotel. The rooms had patios with unobstructed views of the mountains and the dusty-green olive groves that hugged their bases.
Countryside near Spello, Italy
         But . . . inside the room was an unusual art print above the sofa. It was a folk-art picture of a small Italian village on Christmas Eve, in which all of the townspeople were walking towards the church. While we washed our bike clothes and hung them out on the patio to dry, I mentioned to Gretta that I thought the art seemed unusual and out of place. She responded, “Yes, but I do think it is kind of cute.”

Italian winter scene in our Spello hotel room in July
          The next day we wandered around Spello. It was Sunday, and the shops and galleries were closed, but we did bump into a little gallery that was the studio for the folk artist who had created the Christmas Eve picture. Every painting in the window had little village people plodding along the streets. The artist appeared to have a following and was probably a revered painter in Spello.
          But Christmas Eve on the wall in the hotel room in July?

3. Puppet Bike

Of course! It's a puppet bike!
          April in Chicago wasn't exactly Paris, but a visit to the Chicago Art Institute and some street entertainment afterwards made me feel like I'd been transported to a land of varied culture with fine art and street theatre.
          Gretta and I were enjoying a weekend in Chicago with friends, and we'd just walked out of the Institute and crossed to the west side of Michigan Avenue. At the corner, I spied some type of bicycle contraption with a small crowd huddled near the rear of the bike where a large, fancy box was attached to the frame. Oh, I should have realized instantly that it was a "Puppet Bike!" Little doggie hand-puppets were dancing to an Elvis tune, and they had captured the attention of every passerby on Michigan Avenue. 

Doggie puppets rockin' on Michigan Ave.
          Pat-a-cake hand-jive, dosey-doh! I couldn't see any blue suede shoes, but a disco ball was included in the performance, along with the puppets waving dollar bills and pointing to the money box below the tiny stage. 
Here's a link to see a reporter's story on puppet bike: 
4. Prime Real Estate in Banff    
A nice hotel on the main street in Banff, Alberta
          Banff, Alberta is a beautiful tourist town at the edge of the Canadian Rockies. When trying to describe it to Americans, I tell them it is like Estes Park, Colorado on steroids. It’s bigger and a bit fancier – larger streets, multiple downtown hotels and curio shops with high-end merchandise. The adventure tour company booked us in the Royal Canadian Hotel, which was located on the main street in the middle of town.
          I assumed the real estate in downtown would be considered prime, but when I looked out the hotel room window at the house adjacent to the hotel, I was a bit shocked.

Driveway amenities.
          The house and yard didn’t fit the tidy little town appearance of Banff. I saw several dogs and cats, although I had to look through all the overgrowth and junk. The VW bus in the driveway looked like a permanent structure with little trees growing on the roof. The cottage in the back yard had its own issues.

A real fixer-upper in the back yard.
          All I could figure was the property was in a trust or stuck in a lawsuit. The only other thought was maybe the owner was holding out for a prime price.
          Hey, it would make a great Bed and Breakfast fixer-upper.

5.     Rag-tag Band on the streets of Florence
          I looked out the third-floor window of the bed and breakfast room in Florence, and my jaw dropped. The San Giovanni Baptistry was directly in front of me in the middle of the town square and the view to the right was the massive Duomo and the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral. Gretta and I used the central location to allow us to roam and sightsee during the day and return to the room for a deli lunch break. It was fun to sit at the window sill and people-watch.
View from our room in Florence, Italy
          On a Saturday we were munching sandwiches and swigging Coca-Colas when we heard a marching band. The noise kept getting louder so we looked out the window, only to witness a crowd following a rag-tag bunch of musicians with a strange mixture of drums and instruments. They were playing simple tunes and the crowd of tourists and locals looked like they were having a lot of fun.
Impromptu marching band at the square in Florence
          All of a sudden they turned and began to march around the square. As they passed our window we waved to the crowd and they looked up and waved and cheered back to us! Gretta and I felt like a King and Queen receiving a command performance from the people’s band.
          The mass of people continued to follow the band around the square two more times before they went on down the street. At one point, near the front of the cathedral, it seemed like the whole city was attempting to converge on one spot. The horse carriages, the band, the crowd, the vendors, beggars, a street sweeping machine and an ambulance were all vying for the same space.

There was a lot happening on the square that afternoon.
          The band was enjoying their march around town. It appeared to be a family affair, with all ages participating. Being in Italy, I assumed that wine was somehow included, possibly before, during, and after the march. I guess they decided to wake the town up in the middle of the afternoon. What could be better than exercise, music, sunshine, and the effects of wine and a happy crowd on a Saturday afternoon? Gretta and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

6.     La Forge - A Storybook Cottage Made from Stone
     Note: This anecdote isn't quite what I would consider an oddity, but the stone cabin was a unique place. it was a great memory - so I'll end this blog post with a moment in time I'll never forget.
     On a 2007 bike tour in France, our accommodations in La Bugue were on the grounds of a large French chateau. We were the lucky couple who got the keys to a private stone cabin down by a creek.
          “Wow, look at this,” I said to Gretta as we walked up to the bulding. “It looks like something out of a fairy tale.”
La Forge - The fairy-tale stone cabin
           Centuries ago, the building had been a forge for making horseshoes, and for a time it had been the bakery for the chateau. The main floor of the tiny cabin had a living room and a large bathroom. The bed was in a loft which was accessed by a glorified ladder with a rope for a railing.
Gretta in the storybook cottage
          Outside, there was a small creek and a little waterfall next to the cabin. A bamboo grove created a soft shimmer of green light on the surroundings. A giant sycamore grew in front of the cabin, making the building look even smaller than it was. Gretta seemed like a little kid playing house as she opened up the shutters and windows in the warm summer afternoon. I just sat outside on a chaise lounge while I sipped a beer, looked at the cabin and then decided to pinch myself.