Monthly Archives: April 2013

Lost in Croatia, Tasmania, Etc.

IMG_7114

Need a ride?

Ruth & I have been extremely lucky while traveling.  On several occasions strangers have seen our predicament and offered us rides.  Six come immediately to mind.

We arrived in Brussels, Belgium, by train having been warned that criminals preyed on passengers at  several stations.  We headed straight for the first exit.  Waiting outside was a businessman from India.  We struck up a conversation, found a tenuous connection, and exchanged business cards.   When a taxi pulled up, he asked where we were going, said it was on his way, and told us to get in.  He would not let us pay.  Waiting for a train at another station three-day later, Ruth’s travel bag was stolen.  Be careful in Brussels.

Waiting for our bags to appear on the carousel in Launceston, Tasmania’s airport last year, I said to Ruth, “It’s after 10 pm so the shuttle has stopped running.  It’s further into town than I thought.  I wonder what a taxi is going to cost?”  The lady standing next to me overheard.  “I’m going through town and can drop you at your hotel.”

On our way to the outstanding, chilling Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, Ruth & I got off the bus at the wrong stop and had no choice but to wait for the next one.  We chatted with a woman who was expecting her husband to pick her up momentarily.  When her husband pulled up, she leaned in and spoke to him in Polish.  “Get in,” she said. “We’ll drop you there.”  They refused money.

We got off the train in Split, Croatia, at 9 pm and headed up a hilly street. The Art Hotel (not recommended) was not at the intersection where I thought to would be.  A young man pulled up and asked if we needed help. I told him where we were going and he said it was at the other end of the street and a long way.  In the middle of trying to give us directions, he said, “Never mind.  I’ll take you.”  Despite the fact that it was dark, late, and he was a stranger of unknown motive, we got in.  He was a Good Samaritan after all.  The next day we explored Diocletian’s Palace and fell in love with Split.

I told the story about meeting Diana from Great Britain in Russia.  It’s in the archives under “St. Petersburg’s Best Palace” published on November 19, 2012.   What I didn’t include was that Diana got rather angry with me when I insisted on paying for the taxi ride to her hotel.  She prevailed.  I bought her a drink instead.

My favorite tale about the kindness of strangers occurred in Kaunas, Lithuania, and involved a twenty-something musician named Ugnius.  If you’re interested, check out “Going to Kaunas” published on November 3, 2012.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that all of the above occurred in distant countries. We have been equally lucky in the U.S. but not as often mainly because we generally know our way around here.

Hank


Is the Eiffel Tower for Sale?

DSC00929

If some entrepreneur bought, disassembled, and moved the Eiffel Tower to, say, Yuma, Arizona, would it have the same allure as it does in Paris?  I asked myself this question on February, 4, 2013, when Ruth & I went through Lake Havasu City and saw London Bridge.

On our way from Las Vegas to Tucson, Ruth & I decided to take the designated scenic route.  Highway 93, which is incredibly scenic, is not marked as such from Kingman to Phoenix, Arizona, by Rand McNally’s 2013 Road Atlas.  But RM finds Highway 95 from I-40’s Exit 9 to Parker, Arizona, scenic.  There were a couple of fairly pleasant vistas, but it wasn’t what I’d call zowie.

After 20 miles of not much to see, we entered Lake Havasu City.  LHC’s 2012 VISITORS GUIDE calls it “A young town…built on the spirit of possibility and innovation.”

If you define innovation as endless miles of traffic passing between endless shopping centers, then you’ll love Lake Havasu City.  Surely part of this town’s congestion problem is that it has grown crazily since its 1978 incorporation.  With a current population exceeding 52,000, it has the look of a city that succeeded in attracting at least one franchise outlet of every company in the U.S. to serve  quickly built neighborhoods.

Of course, the VISITOR GUIDE makes it sound like an AAAAA tourist destination.  “…the city attracts 750,000 visitors a year with its calm waters, beautiful beaches and desert weather with more than 300 sunny days a year.”  Sure sounds like urban heaven to me.   If desert living is your thing, Lake Havasu City is your kind of place.

But Ruth & I weren’t there for resort-type activities.  LHC is “…a destination for boaters water sports enthusiasts, hikers, nature lovers, car enthusiasts and history buffs,” its Guide gushes.   The official Arizona Visitor’s Guide calls Lake Havasu the “Personal Watercraft Capital of the World”.  London Bridge is reportedly the #2 Tourist Attraction in a beautiful State with a Grand Canyon and a lot more.

LHC founder Robert McCulloch, Sr. clearly thought it was a good idea to deconstruct a sinking River Thames bridge that opened in 1831 and move it to Arizona.  I was surprised  that London Bridge doesn’t actually cross the Colorado River.  It provides access to a Lake Havasu island and is surrounded by Lions Dog Park, Island Shopping Mall, London Bridge Shops, Lake Havasu City Visitor Center, etc.  Visitors are supposed to be impressed by both the feat of moving it and details like, “Kaboom! The vintage lamps on the London Bridge are made from the melted down cannons of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army….The Bridge is rumored to be haunted!”

If you find the paragraph above thrilling, head for Lake Havasu City.  If you prefer to keep the Eiffel Tower in Paris, take Highway 93 the next time you drive from Las Vegas to Phoenix.

Hank

 

 


Thinking about Buenos Aires

imgres

TripAdvisor ranks Buenos Aires, Argentina, #13 among its current Top 25 Destinations in the World.  The Eve Perón Museum is there.

41% of  Argentinians are under the age of 24.  There are more Internet-connected computers in Argentina than in Canada. Argentinians still pride themselves on their European origins and love anything French. Buenos Aires reportedly has more psychiatrists than any other city in the world.  This information was in Variety, the show biz publication, this month.  Because the source was the entertainment industry, there was, of course, information about that.

Animated Hollywood films are extremely popular in Argentina and top its box office, most recently Wreck-It Ralph.  In many countries American series dominate prime time.  Not in Argentina.  Soaps, love comedies, etc. made in-country rule.  U.S. shows like The Simpsons are  somewhat popular.  Theater attendance grew 35% in 2012 because Argentinians love to go out to movies.

While 92% of Argentinians claim to be Roman Catholic, less that 20% practice their faith.  Perhaps Pope Francis, born in Buenos Aires in 1936 and currently the world’s most talked about Argentinian, will affect this.

TripAdvisor, the new Pope, and this article got me to thinking about another well-known Argentinian–Eva “Evita” Perón.  A successful revival of the musical Evita starring Ricky Martin made it to Broadway last year.

Ruth and I were in Buenos Aires shortly after the controversial Eva Perón Museum opened in an Italian Renaissance mansion in the Palermo neighborhood.  We were among its first visitors. Evita’s grandniece was largely responsible for this museum.  Because Eva was both loved and hated in her own country, it took the family 50 years to get the museum up and running.

The Eva Perón Museum we experienced didn’t avoid the fact that she was both idolized & despised.  Her death mask was prominently featured with a newsreel of her funeral procession.  Projected on a wall with mirrors on either side, the footage made the crowd look 3 times bigger than it was. When she died in 1952 at the age of 33, some citizens scrawled “Hurrah for cancer” on walls.

Artifacts & info abounded in all rooms–Eva’s First Communion missal, book covers with her looking like a haloed saint, quotes from her autobiography, etc.   Period magazine covers showed her as a glamorous model and actress. There wasn’t much about Juan Perón other than brief historical details, like the fact that Eva met him during the relief effort after an earthquake struck San Juan.

It’s not a great museum but certainly worth seeing since few museums focus so intently on one female historical figure.

Hank

p.s. the picture of Eva above is from Google


Lost in Lisbon

IMG_5822

Good news, I think.  The New York Times reported in February, 2013, that airlines are doing a better job of keeping track of passengers’ checked luggage.  According to the Department of Transportation, for every 1,000 people flying domestically only 3 reported lost, delayed, etc. bags.  A frequent flier, I have definitely noticed not only greater reliability but also speedier delivery of luggage at destinations.  This, however, doesn’t reduce anxiety if my bag hasn’t appeared on the conveyor within 5 minutes.

The good news about improved bag handling, alas, has exceptions.  For one, it doesn’t include luggage on international flights.   Also, improvements might at least partially be explained by the fact that fewer travelers check bags.

Speaking of anxiety, perhaps my worst case occurred after an international flight.  Ruth & I took TAP, Tranportes Aéreos Portugueses, from Newark to Lisbon.  At Portela Airport well before dawn, we waited for our suitcases until all other passengers had left.

In the TAP office, a very bored young woman who hadn’t been trained in eye-contact, smiling, or showing sympathy, tapped on her computer and told us our bags would be on the next flight.

The answer to my first question was, “In about 2 hours”.  The answer to my second was, “we’ll deliver them to your hotel”.

Having heard the “on the next flight” lie before and feeling very uneasy, we decided to wait in the terminal.  The woman assured us that we could leave the area, have some coffee, and return to the carousel when we heard the next-flight announcement.  Stupidly, we did just that.

Of course, when the arrival was announced we couldn’t get back in. Fortunately, a kind security sentry saw our distress and issued passes for us to return to the TAP office where the woman was gone but another just like her was in charge.

Back at the conveyor, we waited again until all deplaned passengers had left.  No bags.

Back in the now familiar office and after the usual programmed answers, Ruth asked if TAP had a place for unclaimed bags.  The answer was, of course, “Sim!”.   “Can we check it?” Ruth asked.  The answer was, of course, “Absolutamente não o!”

Long story short, after a lot of unpleasantness on both sides, the woman agreed to accompany us to this room.  The size of an airport hanger, this cavern was literally stuffed with forlorn, abandoned bags.  In less than a minute but 4 hours after we had landed, I spotted our suitcases and we were on our way into Lisbon.

Hank


This 50 Stater’s Georgia

IMG_4682

When I think of Georgia and travel, I think of Presidents.  Four of them have a connection to this State.  I also think about The Civil War.  The 4th state to secede from The Union, Georgia’s Civil War devastation exceeded that of most other Confederate States partly because it was a place of industry.

Columbus, Georgia, was a major supplier of weapons and shoes for the Confederate Army.   Macon produced cannons and harnesses.   In 1864, 400 Roswell residents working in a cotton factory, mostly women, were charged with treason and sent toward prison in Louisville, Kentucky.  They made it as far as Marietta.  After that their fate is still mostly unknown.

Post Civil War Georgia rose again to become a present-day economic power. 15 Fortune 500 businesses and 32 Fortune 1000 companies call Georgia home—UPS, Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Home Depot, CNN,  etc.

Atlanta is, of course, The South’s premier city.  Sherman’s 1864 siege of it lasted 117 days and destroyed 90% of its buildings.  This historical event was, of course, immortalized in Gone With the Wind.

Georgia’s presidential connections begin with Woodrow Wilson; 28th President Wilson’s boyhood home is in Augusta, Georgia, at 419 Seventh Street.

39th President Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Library & Museum is in Atlanta at 441 Freedom Parkway.   The Carters reportedly spend 75% of their time at their home in Plains.

The personally most interesting Presidential connection took me to Roswell, 23 miles north of Atlanta but a world away in attitude and temperament.   Roswell has many must-see attractions.  My favorite is  Bulloch Hall.  When I asked our BH tour guide to name the definitive book about it, she told me Mornings on Horseback, a sensational read.

“The Bullochs of Georgia were nothing like the Roosevelts of New York,” wrote David McCullough in his National Book Award winning Mornings on Horseback in 1981.  In 1839 Major James Stephen Bulloch, a very early Roswell settler, built a Greek Revival home that most would now call a Southern Mansion.  Against all odds, Major Bulloch’s daughter Mittie married Theodore Roosevelt Sr. in Bulloch Hall in 1853.  A beauty and southern belle, Mittie gave birth to the Theodore Roosevelt who would become the 26th President.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, whose paternal grandmother was Martha Bullock, married Franklin D. Roosevelt and became First Lady when he was sworn in as 32nd President in 1933.  Mittie was Martha’s nickname.

With justification, Bullock Hall might very well have been Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Tara, the O’Hara plantation in Gone With the Wind. In the early 1920s a young reporter came to Roswell to interview Mrs. William Baker.   Evelyn King Baker had been Mittie’s closest friend and was a bridesmaid in Mittie’s Bulloch Hall wedding.  That reporter was Margaret Mitchell.

If & when you’re in Georgia visiting Roswell and learning much more  about all of this, include Warm Springs in your itinerary.  About 100 miles south of Roswell, Warm Springs has had a Roosevelt connection since the 1920s when Franklin Roosevelt, polio victim, visited this area’s natural mineral springs. The Little White House he lived in there is now a State Historic Site.  This is where he died from a cerebral hemorrhage while serving as President in 1945.

Nearby and worth a visit despite the fact that it has no direct presidential or Civil War connection, Callaway Gardens is ablaze with more than 3,000 native and hybrid azaleas in the spring and a place to see butterflies year-round.  Check it out.

Hank

p.s.  One Bullock Hall handout contained a recipe for scuppernong jelly.  Its first ingredient was three and a half pounds of bronze scuppernong grapes.   It’s still on my to-do list and likely to be for quite some time.