Anniversaries are, without doubt, the perfect time to reminisce and reflect, wrap up any old business, and then start out again with a clean slate - or a yellow pad and brand-new Papermate, fresh out of the bubble wrap. Yes, we're still old school!
So today, to kick off the 24th year of this column, we're going to do all of those things. We've always wondered exactly how such disorganized souls have ever managed to survive this long, "columnistically" speaking, because our worst nightmare has always been running out of original ideas.
Thankfully, with more than a thousand columns behind us, whenever "the muse" goes on temporary leave, it usually takes just a newly arrived magazine or a reader's query to get the writing juices flowing again. And if all else fails, there are always our own experiences and memories to fall back on.
In the past 23 years we have traversed the length and breadth of Europe, from the frozen tundra of Scandinavia to the sun-bleached tip of Sicily, from the remote Outer Hebridean Islands of Lewis and Harris to the eastern fringes of Poland.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 we were there, chipping off our own chunks of graffiti at that famous New Year's Eve conclave. We rode out a hurricane on a freighter off of the coast of Norway in the dead of winter. We've relaxed on our own apartment balcony overlooking the Mediterranean, watching the sun go down and listening to the sweet laments of a guitar on the magical isle of Majorca.
We've snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, photographed big game in South Africa and Botswana, ridden horses on the Argentine pampas, visited the world's great waterfalls of Niagara, Iguassu, and Victoria. We've sat on the backs of ostriches in the Australian outback and even been driven at high speed round the Isle of Man's TT course in a Porsche.
We've been up and down coal mines in Wales, copper mines in the Upper Peninsula, and salt mines in Austria. We've watched slate being slit, boomerangs being hurled, sheep being herded. We've attended a professional soccer game in Barcelona and a cricket match in Australia.
We've tasted tea in countless B&Bs and wine in dozens of vineyards, from Beaune to Barossa, Strasburg to Stellenbosch.
While it was still possible, we rode in the cockpit of a 747 during takeoff and landing. We had our hands on the controls of the QE2 during a trans-Atlantic crossing (avoiding all icebergs), sat in the driver's cab of a super-fast French train speeding to Normandy, and steered a lobster boat in the foggy waters off Nova Scotia. Most recently, we lived and worked in a lighthouse on the sharp end of the Leelanau Peninsula.
In the past two decades we've also crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a liner, barged down European rivers, and watched mighty whales off the coasts of Scotland, Alaska, Africa, and the Canadian Maritimes. And we've always been in awe of these magnificent creatures.
We've hiked the high mountains of Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, and Slovenia, and have twice walked the length of the Thames River from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier in East London. We've rambled 200 miles across Britain from sea to shining sea, the Lake District to the Yorkshire moors.
As avid train riders, we've rolled along the old East German Baltic Coast in the steam-driven "Racing Roland" and puffed through the slate country of Northern Wales. We've ridden the mighty "Ghan" from Adelaide to Alice Springs, the Glacier Express from St. Moritz to Zermatt, and the 180-mph TGV under the English Channel.
But in the midst of all that, the people we've met along the way often leave the most lasting memories.
They include James Herriot (aka Alf Wight) in his animal surgery in Thirsk, Yorkshire, and Czech Revolution chronicler Alan Levy, in his editorial offices at the Prague Post. There was the gracious European editor of Vogue magazine in her farmhouse home in Provence, and Dario, our Tuscan guide turned best-selling author, who showed off the wine country he knows so well.
And we cannot forget a courageous 90-year old Auschwitz survivor who wanted us to see her tattooed number in a synagogue in Krakow.
There are thousands of other memories, of course - both of people and experiences never to be forgotten.
And who knows what still lies in store for the next 23 years!
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