Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


Surprises can make a trip special

After half a century of overseas travel - and almost a quarter century writing about it - it stands to reason that we should have a decent highlight roll that we can view on cue.

So, fast backward some 11 years to our favorite nautical conveyance, the good ship Narvik, cruising Norwegian waters off the Lofoten Islands.

It's 5:30 am. We're sleeping in our tiny cabin in the bowels of the freighter, lulled by the regular slapping of waves on the hull and perhaps an Arctic brew or two. There's a sharp knock on the door. A Scandinavian tar calls out that we have a phone call from America in the purser's office.

We scramble into our clothes, race up a deck or two, and joyfully learn that we've just become grandparents to a baby boy called Harry. Mother and son doing fine.

The celebration lasted all the way to the North Cape and beyond.

Another celebration. Another birthday. Another part of the world: It's October, 1991, very early in the morning, and we're in the main Budapest train station, a crowded, dirty, cavernous affair. We're taking a group of tourists through to Prague not long after both cities emerged from their decades of Soviet internment. And one of us has a birthday that is taking a back seat under the circumstances.

Without warning, the group stops in its tracks and forms itself into a makeshift choir. Led by a master musician from Bowling Green State University, they break into a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." Surprised commuters join in. Voices, applause, and laughter turn a dank and dreary hall, and a rather ugly October morning, into a happy place filled with smiling people.

Move on to the foredeck of the yacht, Ocean Spirit, returning to Cairns Harbor under sail after a brilliant day of diving over the Great Barrier Reef.

The snorkeling had been sublime. We had seen a gazillion fish, teeming, translucent, every color of the rainbow.

We're tired, happy, and relaxing from an overindulgence of sun and sea. Suddenly an Aussie troubadour breaks out his guitar and as the sun sets behind the sails, starts an unforgettable singalong of Aussie favorites such as "Raining on the Rock" and "Waltzing Matilda."

The place now is Dresden. East Germany: the main beer hall of the Rathskeller.

Three long tables have been set up, and they're overflowing with platters of meats, cheeses, and, naturally, flagons of beer.

A group of 25 Americans sits across from an equal number of Dresdeners. All are gathered for this special intercultural occasion by a young forester named Bernd Weinbrecht, whom we had met in this very same place a year earlier but under very different circumstances. For that was the year the Wall came down and a time when this "Valley of the Unknowing" (Dresden) was one of the catalysts in the fall of communism.

As no one in either party spoke another language, it was left to family photos, gestures, and several liters of adult refreshment, to break the ice and provide just the right message of friendship. It must have been successful, for the following day, every member of the group was invited by their German hosts to a home visit, a dinner, or a ride in the country in a two stroke, plastic Trabant!

Another memorable motoring event - more recent and with quite different automotive overtones - happened when some 20 Porsches pulled up in front of our hotel in Douglas on the Isle of Man and proceeded to take our group for the ride of their lives round the famous TT course, all 26 miles of it.

The Isle of Man, of course, is probably best known for its motorcycle racing and its tailless cats - so the next cat story should be proof positive that timing is everything!

After three days on a safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park, we had spotted four of the so-called Big Five: lions, buffalo, elephants, and rhinos. But we had practically given up hope of seeing a leopard - those stealthy creatures that do most of their hunting after dark.

But on the last day, just as we were leaving the park, our mini-van screeched to a halt to allow one fabulous slinky adult leopard to cross the trail right in front of us. It was our own lucky cat - a magical way to end an African adventure and this highlight reel.

Contact Roger Holliday

and Claudia Fischer at: rogerholliday@wcnet.org.

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