Day 1,106 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Pompeii, Italy. November 2, 2020.

Like us, you probably don’t know the date or the day of the week! Our 1,000th day of homelessness and adventure whizzed right by us. Today, the Day of the Dead, is our 1,006th day of – well, living in hotels around the world (we can’t quite say “traveling the world,” since we have been sidelined, along with the rest of humanity).

We visited on November 19, 2009. We were on a cruise that stopped in Naples, so we made our (long) way through Naples to the train station, where a dedicated train leaves for Pompeii several times a day. Our admission fee included an audio guide, so off we went. It was simply amazing. To think that all of these houses and shops, streets, an amphitheater…an entire wealthy civilization…was covered in 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice from Mt. Vesuvius and not discovered for 18 centuries is almost unbelievable.

Pompeii is one of the travel sites we talk about a LOT when asked about our favorite places. A few years ago, we also visited Herculaneum, which is a few miles down the road from Pompeii, with similar views. At that time, we visited our friend Sebastián in Austria. His family was hosting a high school student from Italy for a semester. Excitedly, we told him how much we had enjoyed Pompeii. He wrinkled his nose and gave us a perplexed look. Pom-PAY, we pronounced it. Nothing change in his expression as we repeated it several times. How could he not know Pompeii, we wondered? As we described the city buried by Vesuvius, his face broke into a smile and he blurted out, POM-pee! NOW he knew what we were talking about!

Since today is the Day of the Dead, we are starting with some photos of the plaster casts of those found under the ash. Looking up at Mt. Vesuvius, it was easy to imagine a city of people, much like ourselves. They were going about their business in 79 AD, having no idea they lived next to a volcano, until it started spewing ash. After two days of that, a pyroclastic flow of hot gases and volcanic matter came rushing down what they had thought was a mountain a few days before, moving up to 400 miles per hour, killing everyone who had not abandoned their homes and businesses due to the rumblings, smoke, and ash. With a population of about 20,000, approximately 1,100 bodies were found, meaning that the majority of people were able to flee. Over the centuries, the city was forgotten. It had been looted after its destruction, and in the 1500s an architect built an aqueduct that traversed part of the city, but the architect never revealed Pompeii’s location or even a description. It is now one of Italy’s most popular tourist sites, with 2-3 million guests per year.

You can see two photos of the amphitheater at the edge of Pompeii, which is in pretty good shape, with its six-arched entrance. After that comes one of our favorite discoveries in the city…the fast-food stand, called the Thermopolium. There are two photos of the counter that ran along the street, with holes built into the stone. At the bottom of the holes was a fire; pots of stew, soup, meats, and vegetables were placed in them and on the fire to keep them warm. People walking by could see what was being offered that day, and stop for lunch! Amazing!

Following these photos are several from around the city. As you can see, many frescoes were uncovered, as well as entire streets. Pompeii had a brothel with “paintings” on the wall. We found that it was a menu! Since the port of Naples drew sailors from around the world, not all spoke Italian. So when they visited the brothel, they could just point to the picture of whatever service they desired. Seeing the frescoes, and the carved stone details, is all the more enjoyable, knowing that it was buried for all those years and is still quite beautiful.

We have been to many museums all over the world, including some which had amazing collections, such as the British Museum. We found there is nothing like going to a city and seeing items in place as part of the city. While walking down the sidewalk (yes, they had sidewalks), we noticed that there were raised pillars set at regular intervals in the middle of the street. After some thought we realized that they were a society moved around by animals, which left their “waste” in the street as they traveled. How does one cross the street without interacting with that waste? By walking on pillars above the street, of course. And since they had carts moving down the streets drawn by some of those animals, likely the pillars were spaced in a way to allow the wheels to travel through.

Our favorite photos are the last two. There is an open area that was in front of the Forum and market. But look in the background – you can see Mt. Vesuvius looming in the distance. And the last photo is that of a home’s front entrance. It was locked, so as people wouldn’t damage the tile by walking on it. There is a snarling dog in mosaic, and in Latin, around the bottom, it says, “Beware of Dog!” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Day 987 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Zermatt, Switzerland. October 14, 2020.

Many years before we took this trip through Switzerland, we had read an article about Zermatt, nestled near the top of the Swiss Alps and gateway to the Matterhorn. The village is at an elevation of “only” 5,310 ft, but it lies in the foothills of the Matterhorn, which looms above Zermatt at 14,692 ft. We talked about going over the Christmas holidays, when the area is all buried in snow. It sounded very romantic. No roads lead to Zermatt; it is only accessible by train. We also read that there were no cars there, which isn’t true. There were motorized carts, to be sure, but also small electric vehicles, such as the police van seen near the end of the photos. Combustion engines are prohibited. Horses with carriages are also utilized for transportation. Before we arrived we were looking forward to walking around a city and not having to be concerned about traffic. But we realized soon after arriving that you needed to be more concerned about the traffic, as it moved just as fast, but was silent.

But the train ride up into the mountains…Wow! What a feast for our eyes! We passed through little villages (such as St. Niklas, shown near the end), and saw so many gorgeous mountain scenes. The second photo is one of the scenes from the train.

The village of Zermatt wasn’t as small as we thought it would be…it has been built up because people want to ski the Matterhorn, which is what it is all about. We visited from October 4-6, 2014, and yes, there was snow on the Matterhorn, and people were skiing throughout our stay. The town was bustling. It is as expensive in Zermatt as the rest of Switzerland….one of the lunch specials was a burger and beer for 20 Swiss francs, which was equal to about US $20. Commonly, dinner entrees are $40-60. They are way out of control! Even McDonald’s items cost quite a bit higher here than in the US, where hamburger combos, with fries and a drink, are $6-8. Here, they were $10-14. A no-frills pedicure was $60.

The first, third, and fourth photos are of the mighty Matterhorn. It is hard to take pictures in Zermatt and NOT also capture the great mountain. One day we just hiked for several hours through the foothills just outside of town, and it was green, warm, and quite pastoral. Window boxes were jammed with pretty flowers. In the next-to-last photo, you can see the appetizer to one memorable dinner: Swiss fondue. It was heavenly, served with bread, veggies, and apples. Switzerland is a cheese lover’s paradise. Besides the famous fondue, we also enjoyed a cheese dish they invented called raclette, usually served melted in a small skillet. The bread and veggies are served on the side. We have come across raclette a few more times in other places and have usually ordered it when we had the opportunity.

And the last photo is one of our very favorites after many years of travel. It was a sign in a small rotisserie chicken takeout restaurant, owned by a very crusty woman who spoke quite bluntly and sharply. But she relaxed as we talked, and our last impression of her was that she was actually very kind. Making a living in a tourist town with at least 100 restaurants is difficult. Many of the restaurants still had their outdoor decks open, with views of the Matterhorn as we dined. It was in the mid-70s, a very pleasant time of year. The shops were full, and several coffee shops with outrageous-looking desserts always seemed to be crowded. Not really the quiet getaway we had imagined, but so pretty. So Alpine. So Swiss.

Day 957 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Loire Valley, France. September 15, 2020.

We are in the middle of taking an excellent online 48-hour course on the French Revolution, which caused us to remember various times we had been in France. The professor told an amusing story about how, in trying to amass troops to defend the country at the beginning of the revolution, nonmilitary people such as farmers and merchants were placed in commanding roles. One of them, on the front lines, was startled when the other side began shooting at him and his troops. He yelled, “What is the other side doing? Are they crazy? Don’t they know there are people over here???” Stories like that make learning so much fun!

Outside of a drive in the French countryside going from Andorra to Biarritz last year, we hadn’t been in France since mid-September 2014. At that time, we took a train from Barcelona to France, and then wandered through the Loire Valley in a rental car, stopping at several castles/chateaus, and taking on a canoe trip. Chateau de Chenonceau is the best-known chateau in the Loire Valley, as it spans the River Cher, its arches making for a lovely reflection in the water. After the Palace of Versailles, it is the most-visited chateau in France. The estate of Chenonceau is first mentioned in the 11th century. The current building, shown below in the first six photos, was constructed between 1514 and 1522 on the foundation of an old mill. It was beautiful to tour, and hard to leave, as the gardens and outside views were as pretty as the interior. There was even a labyrinth!

A twenty-minute drive from Chenonceau is another chateau, Clos Luce. It was used as a summer house for French royalty, until Francis I gave it to Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci lived his final three years of life here. Since the Mona Lisa resides in the Louvre in Paris, and since Leonardo lived in France for a while, the designer of this restored home and park opined that “for us, he is a little French.” The grounds are beautiful, with a garden and several of Leonardo’s inventions, including models of a helicopter, a chariot, a multi-barreled gun, and a revolving bridge. His sketches are interspersed through the grounds. The museum includes many working models of his inventions. He really was a Renaissance man, full of innovative ideas.

The third chateau that we visited is the Chateau de Chambord, and it is shown in the six photos after the Clos Luce. It was glorious, with lots of towers and spires. It has a famous double staircase, one of the few left in existence. It has connections to da Vinci, also, as he may have helped in its design. This chateau was built by Francis I, who gave Leonardo the Clos Luce.

The last two photos are a fun memory from this trip! We wanted to canoe on the Loire River, and there several companies to choose from. The one we chose, Canoes Loisirs, advertised that they would pick us up once we arrived downriver and return us to their parking lot, so that did it for us. As you can see in the last two photos, we passed little villages as we paddled along. It was very easy and restful, until….. Do you see that pretty bridge in the last photo? The current took us toward it, and we paddled hard, but, SMASH! We went right into one of the columns. We don’t think we chipped the bridge, nor did we dent the canoe, but we laughed for a long time that, with all of that room, we couldn’t avoid hitting the bridge. Doesn’t the bridge know that there are people in the river???

Day 926 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Ephesus, Turkey. August 15, 2020.

“Make the most of every living and breathing moment…and don’t live thoughtlessly.” ~ St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 5: 15-17

We can see in the photos that the city of Ephesus took Paul’s letter to them to heart. Paul lived there from 52-54 AD, and 10 years later he wrote his epistle to them from prison in Rome. Ephesus is now in ruins, but you can look in and through the stone ruins to gain an idea of the city it once was. The history of Ephesus dates back 8,000 years, and it welcomed some of the most notable figures in history in addition to St. Paul: Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Constantine the Great, to name a few. Just a mile away stands the few stones of what was the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Our visit to this wonderful city was on November 22, 2009. Some of the ruins date to the 10th Century BC. In the first two photos, you can see the great Library of Celsus. Its construction began in 114 AD, and it once held around 12,000 scrolls, one of the three largest libraries in that part of the world at the time. It is the most recognized and notable building in Ephesus. Just look at the fabulous detail that still remains after two centuries! The intricacy is gorgeous. What you see as the library was found all in fragmented pieces, of course. Archaeologists used the pieces, and some manufactured replacements, to rebuild the facade of the library between 1970-1978. The library could only be used by men during the period it was in use, as women were not permitted. Interestingly, a “secret passage” was found inside the building that led to a brothel/saloon. Men could tell their wives they were “going to the library,” when in fact they had other things they really wanted to do!

You can see four statues in the wall niches next to each entrance. They represent feminine representations of the four virtues: Sophia (wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence), and Arete (excellence). There is a closeup of Arete farther down in the photos, with her name in Greek underneath.

The fourth photo is what is left of the Temple of Hadrian. After that are two views down Curetes Street, the main drag leading to the library, where Mark Antony triumphantly entered the city with Cleopatra. Then there is a sculpture of what looks like an angel holding a wreath…that is Nike, the goddess of victory. Immediately following Nike are two photos of the Great Theater of Ephesus, built into the hillside and able to accommodate 25,000 people! This theater is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 19. A silversmith named Demetrius led a revolt against St. Paul as he tried to enter the theater (he was disrupting the locals’ livelihood), and Paul was subsequently deported. The theater was used for plays, but in the first century AD was also used for gladiator games.

In the photo after the theater, you can see a sarcophagus in the foreground and several columns from a destroyed building in the background. The photo after that shows ancient toilets. Note that there are no dividers. You sit, talk to your neighbor, do what you must, and continue with your day. Our guide told us that there was running water under the toilets, so everything moved along, and there wasn’t as much of a smell. And, amazingly, the system still worked perfectly! He noted that in his town nearby, they installed a sewer system several years prior….and it was already out of use. The final photo is one of our favorites!…truth in advertising….Genuine Fake Watches. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Day 920 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: St. Petersburg, Russia. August 9, 2020.

This past week, we watched the Netflix miniseries, The Last Czars, basically a documentary but with actors used to recreate some scenes. It had us talking about our two days visiting Russia, and when we saw the scene where conspirators attempt to kill Rasputin (poisoned, shot, and finally thrown in the Neva River), we remembered that we had been in the very room where this took place. So our next blog entry here just had to be St. Petersburg!

We visited Russia on September 5-6, 2012, and a tour was required to enter the country (no walking around on one’s own!). We had to enter passport control one by one, so Jan reached deep into her memory from high school language class, smiled at the agent, and in Russian said, “Hello! How are you today?” In return, there was no smile or acknowledgement of a woman trying to connect with the agent in her own language. She stamped the passport, slid it back with a glum expression, and said nothing. Oh, well, at least we tried!

The first photos are of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, a former Russian Orthodox Church, now a state museum. It was built on the site of a terrorist attack in 1881 that blew off Czar Alexander II’s legs and led to his death, and its construction took 24 years to complete (1883-1907). It is often mixed up with St. Basil’s in Moscow, with its mosaics, onion domes, and gilded interior. The first five photos are of its interior, followed by a photo of a part of the exterior. You must remember that back in 2012, we were not photographing for a website, just for our own use. We had no idea, even six months ago, that we would ever post old photos in retrospectives, but it has been thrust on us by the pandemic. So the photos aren’t as complete as we would like them to be.

Following the church are two photos from Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was taken out. The first of these photos is a dark cellar room with a mannequin of Rasputin, in the very place he was poisoned. The second is an upstairs green ballroom, showing the palace a bit more and how the family lived. The next two photos were taken at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral, and in the first photo you can see some of the tombs it houses. We saw the tombs of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Nicholas II and his family, only interred in the last 20 years after their bodies were found buried in a forest near their final detention home 80 years prior. The second of the photos shows members of the church choir, who sang some Russian chant for us. We remember how beautiful it was because in Russian chant, the notes are all very close to each other…it is almost like the voices are sliding along together down a hill, adjacent, and very silky somehow.

The photo following the singers is a very funny memory. We had been told by the tour guide that we would have “pierogi” for lunch. Polish pierogi, almost like cheese-and-potato-filled ravioli, is Jan’s favorite food on the planet. We arrived at the restaurant, only to see what you can see in the photo, which looked like loaves of bread. We asked the guide where the pierogi was, and she pointed to the bread. Apparently, this is Russian pierogi – bread stuffed with sauerkraut and cheese. You have never seen a more disappointed girl in your life! We tried some, along with a bowl of borscht. It was all fine, just not quite what we had in mind.

Next up are five photos of the Catherine Palace, a rococo palace given to Catherine the Great by her husband, Peter the Great. A bit south of St. Petersburg, the palace is in the village of Pushkin, and was used as a summer palace by the czars. As you can see, a wedding was taking place when we were there. As you can also see, it is quite “over the top” with its furnishings and trappings! After that come six photos of another lavish palace, Peterhof, built by Peter the Great as the Russian answer to Versailles! No wonder the common people suffered and starved, and never had very much…all this money put into palaces for the czars. This has an intricate series of fountains, as you can see. In the last photo of this set, we wonder how they though it was a good idea to have seats that are impossible to reach without an umbrella! It was quite funny.

The next five photos were taken at one of the world’s most famous art museums, the Hermitage. The full view of it was taken from across the Neva River, on a rainy and windy day. The photo after that is of one of the museum’s most famous paintings, Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt, just gorgeous. It was dizzying to walk through the museum and gawk at so many famous pieces of art, following a guide, and thus not able to choose our own path. But we remember the museum as being exceedingly crowded, so we felt lucky to have walked right in, as we were part of a group, rather than waiting in a very long line to get in.

The last three photos are a little whimsical. The city is so proud of its subway stops, of all things, that they are regularly an important part of any city tour. They were designed to reflect architectural styles, having lots of sculptures, and to be more than just drab grey waiting places for your ride. Check them out! It was really interesting.

We found the buildings and treasures of the city to be breathtaking and unusual, very different from the rest of Europe. We did notice that people walked hurriedly, with their heads down, and in general did not look happy or animated…nobody was smiling. Our guide told us that, growing up, they were taught about the “horrors” of democracy, and in fact the word “democracy” was as scary to them as the word “communism” was to us!

Day 906 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Valletta, Malta. July 26, 2020.

Malta (known as the Republic of Malta) is the world’s tenth smallest country. It was made part of the British Empire in 1814 and became independent in 1964. One of its official languages is English and another is Maltese (who knew?).

Valletta, the capital city of Malta, has a population of about 7,000 people, and the city consists of just 0.61 square km, making it the smallest of the European capitals. The island is just about smack dab in the middle of the Mediterranean, about 100 miles from Sicily and 200 miles from Tripoli in Libya.

Valletta’s 16th century buildings were constructed by the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Malta. Its gorgeous Royal Opera House was destroyed in World War II, and the interior is now used as a car park. There were plans to rebuild the opera house, as well as plans to renovate the entrance to the city. All of the plans were subsequently scuttled due to various controversies.

We visited the island in November 2015. You can see in the street scenes that Valletta is very mountainous, and climbing some of the streets takes the wind out of you! We had to climb a hill to get from the port to the city center. It was a gorgeous Mediterranean day, with dark blue ocean and light blue skies. As you can also see, (1) the easiest way for the local police to get around is on motorcycle, (2) Jamie Oliver has a restaurant in Valletta, and (3) there are some beautiful and wild sculptures in the city!

There is quite an “old world” feel to Malta. As we were sitting in a coffee shop we struck up a conversation with an older lady with a strong British accent. She talked very affectionately about seeing Queen Elizabeth (a princess at the time) and Prince Philip, a military officer at the time, walking through the streets as a young couple in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Recently the government of Malta has had some scandals, which resulted in the car bombing murder of a reporter in 2017 who was cataloging the corruption among the political elite. The event, rather than quashing further news about the corruption, ended up causing a worldwide outcry. Under pressure from street protests in 2019, the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, resigned, effective January 2020.

During the time we were there, none of that was visible to us and the island seemed a quiet testament to old world elegance and calm.

Day 900 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Stockholm, Sweden. July 20, 2020.

So, before you read any further: we ask that you scroll through the photos first, enjoying the detail and beauty of this ship called the Vasa.

Okay, are you done? Did you do it? Are you in awe of the artwork, carvings, and great detail of the Vasa??? Good. Now, consider this: the Vasa was underwater. For a long time. A very long time. To be exact: 333 years!!!

The Vasa was built to be the finest military ship of the time, and was to be Sweden’s flagship in its war with Poland-Lithuania. It was certainly the most expensive, and most-embellished ship of its time. However, she sunk on her maiden voyage, just 390 feet from shore, and took 53 lives when she went down. Too top-heavy! It took two years to build the Vasa, from 1626-1628. King Gustavus Adolphus pushed for an accelerated schedule, and upon hearing that Denmark was building a ship with two gun decks, ordered this feature, as well. The trouble is that the keel was already laid, and adding another gun deck disrupted the center of gravity, making the Vasa unseaworthy. In addition, all of the elaborate carved figures added weight to the upper level of the ship. It needed more ballast, but adding ballast to the hold would have put the lower gun deck under water. A “lurch test” was performed to test the ship’s stability, consisting of 30 men running from side to side. The ship started to sway violently: it had failed the test, but was launched two weeks later regardless. So, from inception to launching, it had undergone many innovations with nobody bothering with the engineering specifications as the ship evolved over time.

The Vasa laid in a busy shipping channel just off the coast and slowly sunk farther and farther into the mud over the years. Its valuable bronze cannons were salvaged 30 years after it sunk, and then the wreck was forgotten. It was relocated in the 1950s and finally brought to the surface again in 1961.

The ship was a treasure trove for archaeologists, as never before had a four-story structure been recovered largely intact. Items found in the wreck included clothing, food, weapons, coins, cutlery, drink, and 6 of the 10 sails. Since the water of the Baltic Sea was very cold and polluted, with a high degree of salinity, the shipworms that normally devour wooden ships were absent. The highly toxic and hostile environment of the Baltic meant that microorganisms that break down wood had a hard time surviving. Since it was in a shipping channel, a good portion of the upper ship was destroyed by other ships dropping anchor onto it. But what was salvaged was unimaginably well preserved, as your own eyes can see!

We visited Sweden on September 8, 2012, and the museum in which it is housed is on an island just off the coast of Sweden. It is the most-visited museum in Sweden. Some vestiges of paint on the carved figures were found, leading to the restoration and repainting of some of the figures, as shown in the photos.

Toward the end of the photos, you can see some of the 15 skeletons and closeups of the skulls that were recovered from the wreck. Just like in the TV show Bones, the last photo shows a recreation of what two of the people might have looked like.

Day 889 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Casablanca, Morocco. July 9, 2020.

Many people hear Casablanca and think of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman… “Play it, Sam,” not “Play it again, Sam,” as everyone thinks, by the way. But Casablanca is, of course, the largest city in Morocco, with a population of around 3.5 million people. We visited on December 8, 2015, on a cruise, so it was just for one day. Morocco is only the second, and last, country that we have been to on the African continent. We posted about Egypt a while back. Since we knew that Morocco would be a very different culture, we opted to take a tour of the city rather than attempt seeing it on our own, as we usually prefer.

So our first stop was Rick’s Cafe, which of course was Humphrey Bogart’s joint in the movie Casablanca. Give the people what they clamor for! Of course, it was Rick’s in name only, having nothing to do the movie. After that we went to Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco, which took seven years to build. Its uniqueness also comes from being located on the beach, in fact, the largest mosque in the world on a beach. You can see the mosque, starting with the second photo.

After the mosque are some street scenes. Notice the pretty leaf-motif lampposts that line the downtown area. And of course, you can’t visit Morocco without going through a few bazaars. Here, dates, nuts, and spices were the ubiquitous items, in addition to the usual seafood and pretty flowers.

Our last stop was unusual for a heavily Muslim country…Eglise Notre Dame de Lourdes, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes. Catholics make up less than 2 percent of the population (50,000 out of 31 million) in Morocco. We were there on the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), and the first thing we saw was an outside grotto with a statue whose banner declares, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” But the church’s most noteworthy feature was its windows in bold colors, made with chunks of glass. We have included just two of them at the end of the photos.

You can see our guide, with glasses, in one of the photos at the mosque. He was very friendly, and overall we felt quite safe in the city. Some women wore full hijabs, and some wore merely a head scarf. All, however, checked out the western women in our tour group, noticing our clothing. Our initial plan for this summer was to spend some more time in Morocco, including Tangier, Fez, Rabat, and Marrakesh, but the pandemic has made that impossible for now. Maybe next summer? Stay tuned!

Day 877 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Dunnet Head & John o’Groats, Scotland, UK. June 27, 2020.

The end of the world! Well….at least, the end of the UK. The most northerly end. Of mainland UK. Scotland. In July 2017 we took an epic driving tour of Ireland and the UK, 104 days, with 72 days in a rental car in the UK, covering England, Wales, and Scotland. On July 14, 2017, we were staying in the lovely city of Inverness, Scotland, and wanted to take a road trip to the north. We drove on very narrow, two-lane roads, passing through the “metropolises” of Wick, John o’Groats, and Dunnet. Dunnet Head (also known as Easter Head) was just a little farther north from Dunnet, and being the northernmost spot on the mainland, we decided we really should go for it, even though the clouds threatened rain off and on all day. We drove about 250 miles round trip. You can see in our photos most of what we saw. The views from Dunnet Head were just gorgeous, deep blue water crashing on the rocks, and just a few other tourists.

To get there, we also drove through John o’Groats, a destination for people trying to make the longest trek possible through the UK mainland in one direction (from Land’s End in Penzance). Its name is taken from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who ran a ferry. People from here are called Groaters. You can see the village’s guest house in one photo, and this is one of the UK’s most famous landmarks, believe it or not! It was built near Jan de Groot’s original home in 1875, fell into disrepair, but was refurbished in 2013. Without the internet, we never ever would have guessed that this very humble guest house was famous in any way or shape!

Following the photo of the guest house are just pastoral photos we took along the 250-mile drive….fields, flowers, vistas, open space, some sheep and cattle. In the forefront of one photo, you can see an ancient property wall, which we saw in many places in the UK. It is simply thin rocks standing upright. Sometimes it is built up, in several rows, but often it is just a single row, as it is here.

We stopped at a small cozy cafe as the rain came in, as you can see in the last photo. We were surprised to find that it was a former church…notice the high windows, chandeliers, and a pretty mural of a church filled with people…the former congregation, we would guess. We always say…we go to the weirdest places! Winding up at the northernmost point was just pure luck, though, and is a wonderful memory.

Day 869 of Traveling the World, Retrospective: Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany. June 19, 2020.

Did you know that Oktoberfest takes place largely in the month of September??? It’s true! But “Septemberfest” sounds awkward, right? We attended Oktoberfest in Munich on September 30, 2014, and that year, Oktoberfest ran from September 20-October 5. But, we dally.

How was it? It was one of the most fun days we have ever had traveling! We didn’t know what to expect at all. We asked a young man at our hotel’s front desk where we should go, or what we should see. He said immediately, “Go to the Hacker-Pschorr Hall!” So off we went by train in late morning. It is held in a fairgrounds called Theresienwiese, which is accessible via two different trains. Unlike a state or county fair in the US, there is no admission fee! It is free to walk in. And actually, it is exactly like any fair, with rides, food and dessert stands, drink stands, and games of chance. BUT, the grounds are also dotted with 14 large beer halls and 20 smaller beer tents. Yes, that is 34 places to purchase – and consume – beer, in the size of a modest-sized fairgrounds.

We went to the Hacker Pschorr Hall, as it was said to attract more young people than the others. It was early in the day, about noon, but we sat down and ordered drinks and lunch. There were still seats to be had, at this hour. We went on a Tuesday rather than a weekend. We were soon talking to people around us, including a friendly young German man who had moved to New York City for work, but always returned to Munich for Oktoberfest. He was sort of protective of us, helping us with getting oriented, and he translated the menu for us. We stayed for several hours, and some college kids joined our table….Catherine, Cassie, Manuel, and Christoph. You can see them in four of the photos, halfway down. They were there to – DRINK. Period. So we talked with them, drank, took photos. And then we announced that we were going to see the rest of the fairgrounds, as we had just walked up to this hall and stayed there. They begged us to stay longer, but we really wanted to experience and see the rest of the festival. They told us to come back, and we said we would try.

We walked around and were surprised how family-oriented the event was outside of the beer hall. You can look at the last nine photos to see some of the fairgrounds. We did try a “Baumstriezel,” or chimney cake, as shown in one of the photos. It is pastry cut into long strips that are then wrapped around a thick spit, and baked over a fire or electric grill. It is dusted with sugar and other toppings, if you wish. You just peel it round and round in strips. It was very good with some espresso! There was a fun house, as you would see in the US, and lots of movie monster-oriented rides and attractions. Many brands of beer had horse-drawn carts rambling around to “remind” you that beer was available!

We went into some of the other beer halls, but most had “reserved” signs on their tables for people who had made reservations, and they weren’t very welcoming. Also, the age of the drinkers was much older than our original hall. Since we were told it would get very crowded, we returned to the Hacker-Pschorr Hall with great trepidation around 5:00 pm. As you can see, the picnic tables are set up as close as they can be to each other to allow for a narrow aisle for ingress and egress, but not much more. Each bench at either side of the table could not accommodate more than four people comfortably. We went back to our original table, and there were six people on each side, crammed together. Our four young friends were on the inside, next to a barrier, not on the aisle end. They were ecstatic to see us and told us to come sit with them. We told them there was no room, with six people almost on top of each other, and we couldn’t even squeeze past the people on the aisle end. “We are making room! Come!” Mike volunteered to go first. He squeezed and squished past people, and when he got to them, there was one inch between them and the other people. “Sit!” He said, how?? Just lower yourself! It was like the parting of the Red Sea. He started to sit, and bodies wriggled, some protested, and he was down and seated! Mike called for Jan to do the same! She did what he did, and it unfolded the same way….we were in! They were so cordial to two old foreign people! Everyone welcomed us, and people across from us waved and said hi…it was terrific. We bought a few rounds of beer for everyone, and we partied! They said…wait till the dancing starts!

There was no dance floor, only picnic tables as far as the eye can see, with the band in a raised bandstand in the middle of the enormous room. Puzzled, we asked, where does the dancing take place? We soon found out. In fact, you can see it in the first photo. Dancing consisted of standing on our seats, moving together, lifting beer mugs, and singing at the top of our lungs, yelling, and cheering. You couldn’t remain seated, of course, when your bench, intended for four people and now having seven or eight, all stood. We acted as one. It was a blast. Friendships and camaraderie prevailed. The funniest thing about the evening was their two favorite songs, sung loudly and lustily by the mostly German crowd: Take Me Home, Country Roads, and Sweet Home Alabama. They knew every syllable of every word, perfectly. I asked Manuel, who was very drunk, if he knew where Alabama was. He answered, “I don’t even know what Alabama is!” After we sang Country Roads, I asked, likewise, about West Virginia. He said, “well, what is West Virginia?” I told him that was my question to him, and his answer was, “I have no idea.”

Prices were high, but that was to be expected at a fair of worldwide notoriety. Do you see the menu? Beers were almost 11 euros (although they were huge!), apple strudel was about 8 euros, and Wiener schnitzel cost 20 euros. We could figure out those items on the menu, but needed help translating some of the others. The food was pretty good, surprisingly.

The first photos are the inside of the festival hall. Then come the photos of our four friends. Everyone wearing a dirndl was showing a lot of cleavage…that’s what they are designed to do! Most men were in regular clothing, but some wore lederhosen with a regular shirt. You can rent either of these costumes in shops around the fairgrounds, if you want to be traditional. We liked the two posters you can see….kissing, yes; smoking, no; eating and drinking, yes; smoking, no. We can only imagine what it was like in the days when there was smoking in the hall! At any rate, everyone was very fun, friendly, gracious, kind, and……drunk! What a great memory.