I’m currently reading a great, old book by Mark Twain. The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869, was his breakthrough. It was a travel book about his trip to Europe and the Holy Land. Last night I came to chapter XVI. In it Twain, whose first pen name was W. Epaminondas Arastus Perkins, told about his visit to Versailles, which he found “wonderfully beautiful”. He described it so vividly that this reader felt like he has been there even though I have not. Ruth & I did not travel there while in Paris. His description got me to thinking about the celebrated places created by humans that I have not been to and am unlikely to see like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, China’s Lost City, and Egypt’s Pyramids.
But then I thought about the places Ruth & I HAVE been to, the Hermitage, Venice and Florence, the Empire State Building, the Sydney Opera House, the Panama Canal, and so on. I concluded that a fine description of Versailles by a great writer was equal to a kind of visit and marveled at Twain’s descriptions of a palace that has clearly not changed much in 150 years! He concluded that, “It was worth a pilgrimage to see”, and his historical perspective was multi-dimensional.
We spent many hours in St. Petersburg’s Hermitage, and I got a great story out of the experience. There was a flock of Asian tourists in one room we were in with a famous Raphael painting on display in a free-standing case. Each of them was determined to have his or her photo taken with this painting. The female babushka in charge of this room shook her finger at them and made them scatter. As soon as she was distracted, however, they reformed the line and began snapping away. They simply had to be in a photo with the Raphael.
I took Ruth to Firenze, also still called Florence, for her birthday one year in December and we spent a magical day exploring the Uffizi Gallery and other attractions. We ended the evening with Italian ice cream. This was three days after Christmas but the city was packed with tourists, and we were glad we were not there in one of the summer months and had bought tickets to the museum in advance.
We have a friend named Dick who had a heart attack during the last act of an opera in the famous Sydney architectural masterpiece of a building. As a result of his misfortune, we learned that this innovative building is without elevators. He had to be carried out to the ambulance on a chair. Not the kind of man to let such an incident affect his trip, he spent his hospital time learning about Australia’s excellent medical system and gathering recipes based on dishes he experienced during his hospital’s gourmet dinners.