Sunday, October 20, 2019

Help! It’s Hazardous!

Neither Pope nor I have led a particularly safe, secure, boring life. We stuck our necks out, traveled, ventured into the unknown.

That doesn’t mean I am courageous or fearless (though I can’t speak for Pope). Many times I’ve been scared, anxious, indecisive, lonely, homesick—or just plain sick. Often I felt like I couldn’t cope.

Do I actively seek excitement and adventure, or does it just happen? I don’t know. What I have noticed, though, is that I seem to encounter more than my share of risky situations.
In Hawaii, that island paradise where most people go to relax, others enjoyed leis and luaus while I came face to face with dangerously hot lava and steam vents. Rip tides. High surf. Giant turtles staring me down while peacefully snorkeling, minding my own business.
Even mangoes that fall on your head and cause concussion. Where were the flowers and sandy beaches? All I wanted was a leisurely drive to some waterfalls in a white convertible. Instead I found myself cringing, ducking, and watching where I put my feet.
Unlike gentle Hawaii, New Zealand has a REPUTATION for being wild. Pope and I tried to play it safe. We eschewed bungee jumping, admitting we were too old to trust our life—and our hearts—to being bounced at the end of a rubber band (see photo). Even a couple of the younger folks backed out before jumping off the bridge. (They didn’t get their money back.)
But before I could even say “Whew,” we found ourselves being pushed off a cliff with only a flimsy film of nylon and some string preventing us from crashing to the rocks below.
After that, there seemed to be endless dangers to entrap and harm us—boiling mud, fatal amoeba waiting to crawl up our noses, fast drivers on one-lane bridges. Wild boars. Horrendous bee stings that threatened to put me in the hospital. Topping all that was a near-collision with a Mack truck because I forgot to look right (driving on the “wrong” side of the road). My goodness. Do all tourists in New Zealand feel as threatened as I did?
In Europe, on the other hand, people have been relatively safe and sound since the end of the Crusades and demise of the Inquisition. Yet even there, where I am currently minding my own business being an average tourist, those red and yellow warning signs seem to be popping up in my path. And I’m having a tiny problem with those darn southern France no-see-ums. Again. Just like in 2015! A mere 24 bites this time.

Back home in the US, also, it is wildlife that sets me on edge. Sharp-teethed alligators in Georgia and Florida. The occasional grizzly in Montana and Alaska. Sharks on the Cape Cod beaches. And in Utah and West Virginia, it’s human wildlife—gun-toting wahoos in pickups threatening my campsites and my life. 
I won’t even bother to describe the nautical hazards Pope and I have endured on sailboats. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know. It can be exhausting.
Maybe it’s just my nature—or my karma—to encounter danger, whether at home or abroad. Maybe I should just *sigh*, accept, and endure.

When I get old and check into a nursing home, being pushed around in a wheelchair, I hope that I will finally--finally!--feel safe and secure. 

But with my luck, there will probably be bedbugs, head-pecking pigeons, and potholes on the path to the dining hall.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

In Search of a Cheese Danish

I’m not a fan of junk food, donuts, or yeasty cinnamon rolls. But I’ve been known to indulge in a butter croissant or a cheese Danish.

During my weeks in France, I indulged frequently in light, flaky, fresh croissants. Yum. 

When I got to Denmark, however, finding my special pastry proved elusive.

There were plenty of Danes—tall, stout, often blonde. The towering blonde women inspired Pope with wonder.

I spied a few handsome males. This hunk’s at least 6’5”. Buff.

This young man is probably 6’3’. Lanky.

For a tall Dane, it’s easy to reach those overhead racks on trains and planes.

At other times it can be a liability.

But my quest was for delicate pastries with creamy, cheesy centers. A Danish, not a Dane.

The shops sell healthy brown bread with nuts and seeds—delicious with butter and jam, in my opinion. (Too healthy for Pope.)

The sweets include brownies and an assortment of items involving hazelnuts, which are not my favorite. 

After a brief visit to Copenhagen, we fled the big city for rural environs—a windy island, Samsœ, blanketed with potato farms. We cooked up eggs, local potatoes and buttery brown bread toast in our apartment’s kitchen. I found potatoes and a cucumber in a roadside stand.

At the small grocery store in Ballen, the small town where we stayed, I scored an avocado in heavy packaging—probably shipped from Spain or Portugal all the way to the outskirts of the Arctic Circle. 

Ballen is primarily a fishing village but also offers scuba diving, boat tours, and three small restaurants. On the weekend, lots of Danish (people) came over on the ferry. No Danish (pastry).

The restaurants served lots of fish, but the only dessert was hazelnut cake. No thanks. 

We rented bikes in pursuit of coffee shops in other towns. Alas, there was only one such establishment, in the tiny village of Besser, in the middle of the island. It was closed.

The bike ride was cool and windy. At Besser, Pope plunked himself down in a chair and refused to continue. He turned back toward Ballen, vowing to stay inside our apartment with its double glazed windows and radiators.

I persisted for another dozen or so kilometers, all the way to the top of the island. Here, there was nothing but rocks. And wind. And a few Danes strolling out onto a narrow spit of land at low tide. In pursuit of...what? Fresh air? Plenty of that.

The next day, I cycled the other way down the coast, to another rocky beach. 

No other stores. No coffee shops. Not even a beach-side tiki bar. Lots of wind. In fact, wind turbines are abundant, towering above the potato farms.

I tried biking inland to two more towns. Nothing but potato farms and crooked houses. 

You’d be crooked, too, after hundreds of years on a windy island.

The weather turned cold and wet.The gloomy clouds dramatically reflected my predicament. I reluctantly relinquished the rental bike and resigned myself to settling for brown bread for breakfast.

After three days, I persuaded Pope to reboard the ferry to return to the big city, Copenhagen. 

At the ferry’s snack bar, Pope bought me a custard-y almond Danish, a perfectly adequate substitute, though not quite the real thing.

In the big city, I’ll try again. There are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants. If I can’t find a real cheese Danish, maybe I can at least find a cheese quiche served with a flaky dinner roll.

My mouth waters in anticipation.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Why Do I Travel? And Other Incidental Questions

Have you been reading my blog and Facebook posts? I am in the final week of my five-week European experience, which has been delightful. 

Cividale, Italy—spectacular scenery

For no particular reason, I took time this morning to grapple with some travel-related questions.

How well am I coping with an extended absence? I love it. I do not feel tired, worn out or homesick. It is relaxing to be free of cooking, laundry, repairs, mail, phone, meetings, volunteer obligations, neighborhood problems, and news of the US government.

Rovinj, Croatia—do I look relaxed?

Internet access is intermittent, and I have no phone service. If there are messages on my cell phone, I don’t know about them and can’t listen to them. After a few days of fretting about this, I gave up worrying about missed invitations, unfulfilled obligations, and people asking for help.

How am I enduring weeks on the road, living out of a suitcase? Performers do it all the time. For me, the keys seem to be:

1) Getting lots of sleep.

2) Moving slowly and taking lots of time to get somewhere. You can do this when you have five weeks. For example, Pope and I got off a canal boat in France Monday morning and arrived at our next destination—an island in Denmark—Wednesday night. In between, we spent a night in Bordeaux and a night in Copenhagen, in hotels near their train stations, and ignored sightseeing in favor of rest.

Collioure, France—one of many, many train stations

3) Staying extended periods in one place. I spent one week at a yoga retreat in the Czech Republic, and one week on a canal boat in France. 

Mas d’Angelais, France—leisurely touring of the French countryside

We are spending four days in a quiet village on this Danish island.

Ballen, Samsœ Island, Denmark—not much happening here

4) Taking breaks when walking around, whether sightseeing or shopping for groceries—and especially when carrying luggage. Benches and cafes are ubiquitous.

Vicenza, Italy—thick, hot sipping chocolate

5) Packing cubes from eBags have helped me enormously in staying organized, and I don’t buy souvenirs that could weigh me down. 

I would have added proper diet, but that would be disingenuous. I feel great, despite subsisting on bread and cheese and rarely finding vegetables except in an occasional salad. No sign of a whole grain except fried oats in sugary granola. Fruit is plentiful, the bread is fresh, and the cheese is phenomenal.

Udine, Italy—typical outdoor market

Mas d’Angelais, France—member of boat crew picking figs along the canal

I frequently indulge in local pastries, but instead of causing fatigue and hyperglycemia, this habit results in a smile on my face and joy in my step. Gelato in Padua, croissants in Crolles, canelé in Bordeaux.

Villeton, France—
chouquettes (chantilly cream puffs)

What are the most serious drawbacks? I miss my workouts and socializing with other retired ladies at my Capitol Hill gym. However, I walk miles every day because it’s easier than figuring out buses, and carrying luggage up and down stairs substitutes for weightlifting. There are few elevators or escalators in Europe.

Collioure, France—our room was on the third floor

I long for insect screens on windows. I have two dozen itchy bites despite hanging my portable mosquito net in front of hotel and boat windows.

The back wheels of my suitcase shredded from rolling it on cobblestone and brick.

Kalundbourg, Denmark—similar to lanes all over Europe

I am now carrying my suitcase, which is awkward. It feels heavy, even though it weighs less than my bicycle at home, which I carry up and down the front stairs. 

Kalundborg, Denmark—the wheels survived four weeks of cobblestones

But it’s my final week, and only need to carry it a few more times: to a ferry, a train, an airport, and home. I bought it because of its light weight without realizing it also has lightweight wheels.

Why do I indulge in extended travel? That is not clear. Not just for sightseeing (although in 2015 I visited 15 or 20 of the 1,001 castles in Dordogne). I often skip it, having seen hundreds of churches, temples, castles, forts, statues, paintings, historic buildings, medieval cities, coasts. 

Nerac, France—I continue to be attracted to medieval fortified villages

Not for culture; I skip museums and sometimes spend days alone, interacting with people only in restaurants. 

Sometimes for food, although being mostly vegetarian is a burden in Europe.

Villeton, France—I eat a lot of salads, fruit, and cheeses

Europe has tugged at me since my first hike in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1982. Hiking and biking are core activities. 

Grenoble, France—hike in Chartreuse Mountains on a hot day

Canal de Garonne, France—biking alongside the boat

Walking the streets and sitting in cafes are favorite pastimes—whether in big cities with imperial architecture or tiny villages with medieval walls or fishing boats in the harbor.

Bordeaux, France—city gate 

Bordeaux, France—puzzling over the map

Spending time with friends is another source of contentment. On this trip, I caught up with old friends in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, and France. 

Strilky, Czech Republic—European friends at the yoga retreat

Padua, Italy—long-time friend, formerly of Alexandria

It also gives me pleasure to share my cities and villages with Pope and others from the US who join me for a few days or a week.

Villeton, France—boat crew at canal-side restaurants

This morning, I am lounging in a beautifully furnished apartment with a view of the sea, not missing any of the comforts of home, with no yearning to run around seeing local “sights.” Pope is watching Danish TV.

Ballen, Samsœ Island, Denmark—view from our balcony

In a little while I’ll stroll down to the harbor to buy some granola and milk and look for a rental bike. I anticipate another relaxing travel day.