Ryan in museum in Athens
It had been a very rough year. My mother had passed away on Halloween of 1996, two days after my birthday & I had to deal with my two sisters & my nephew while dealing with an incompetent probate lawyer, real estate vultures, AT&T lying through their teeth and claiming mom didn’t have any pension, etc. I was glad that I had convinced my Aunt Sylvia to be co-executor with me because we had to both co-sign every check, etc. and I knew my sisters would accuse me of cheating them.
I got my first real chunk of money from an insurance policy my mom had and thought that this would be a great opportunity to hopefully instill the travel bug in Ryan, my son. He’d be a teenager in a couple of years and would start pulling away from me & want to hang out with his friends much more than me so I struck while the kettle was hot so-to-speak. I had big dreams for Ryan since he was born & unfortunately, home schooling didn’t work out so I saw this as an opportunity for him and me to have a very special experience together. So I bought us Eurail passes and tickets to Europe for the month of August. It was 1997 and Ryan & I were both very excited about the adventure before us. I tried to convince Jeri to let me take the video camera with us but she was a ding-a-ling and trusted me to take our son to Europe but not the video camera. Oh well? My major concern was Ryan’s asthma so we went to the asthma specialists’ office and told him of our plans & the doctor started him on a reduced level of prednisone a few weeks before we left & this was suppose to build up his immune system. The following is from the travel journal that I kept during our trip. Ryan also kept a journal but I’ve never seen it. I bet it’d be interesting to read?
Well, the first leg of the flight wasn’t bad. I was disappointed though that Aunt Vi & La Dawn weren’t at the Detroit airport to meet us. The second part of the flight from Detroit to London was miserable though. We couldn’t sleep due to the loudness of the engines and I was particularly uncomfortable due to the lack of legroom and rudeness of a woman behind me.
She said, “I know you’re just trying to get comfortable but I just wanted to let you know that you have only so far to go back because I’m resting my head on the tray in front of me.” In other words she was telling me I couldn’t recline my chair because her comfort was more important. And the person in front of me had reclined their chair so, I was as cramped as a sardine. As usual, I didn’t say anything but just sat there in discomfort & stewed.
Another unsettling aspect was that just as we were taxiing out to the runway, we came to a stop and the captain said that a mechanic had spotted some leaking hydraulic fluid and that we needed to have it checked out.
We arrived at Gatwick airport and I commented to Ryan that I had never seen such poor service by stewardesses. They never smiled and we’d asked for water or something and they’d forget all about us. Oh well, their loss. I won’t fly Northwest Airlines again.
We breezed through Customs and caught a train for Brighton. We then caught a bus from the train station to the youth hostel. And as usual, I was being an asshole to Ryan because I was tired and aggravated. We went to bed at 5 P.M. and were constantly awakened by the rude jerks that shared our room.
We woke at 5 A.M. and quietly moved our stuff out into the hallway and took showers and left. We discovered at the bus stop that a bus probably wouldn’t be by until 8 A.M. and tried using the phone booth nearby but it didn’t work. We hitchhiked & got a ride in less than ten minutes. It was a lorry-driver who gave us a ride and his name was Tony. He gave us a ride to about six or seven blocks from the train station. We saw a little café and since Ryan was asking me before we even went to bed the night before if we could have a big breakfast, we ordered a traditional English breakfast. It consisted of an egg, beans, and two slices of bacon, a banger and a slice of buttered bread. They don’t ask how you’d like your eggs done and the bacon was under-cooked and the banger was over-cooked and the café was a dingy hole-in-the wall but the meal hit the spot.
We then caught a train for London and when we arrived at Victoria Station we learned that trains were leaving for Edinburgh every hour but we had to take the Tube to Kings Cross train station.
The weather since we arrived had been very muggy and I still was uptight from the jet lag and the terrible night’s sleep at the hostel. So, I wasn’t ready to tackle London yet. We caught the train to Edinburgh and it only took a little over four hours and was a pleasant journey.
inside Edinburgh castle
When we arrived in Edinburgh we went to the Accommodations office and waited in line. The cheapest room available was $100 per night and the youth hostel was full. We decided to put our packs in baggage storage and do a little sightseeing and Ryan was anxious to do some shopping.
wax figures inside Edinburgh Castle
We walked up to the Castle and it was quite a view of Edinburgh from the top of the Castle. We did a little window-shopping after our tour of the Castle and then went back to the train station to catch a train to Glasgow. We figured we’d try to call Chris Lever’s brother in Greenock to see if we could pay him a visit and rest up from the road.
When we got to Glasgow and called Chris’s brother he said we could come by for a couple of hours but that he didn’t have the accommodations to put us up for the night. I felt this was kind of cold so I said that maybe we’d stop by on our way back from Inverness.
Atop Edinburgh Castle
We then checked to see if there were any trains to Inverness but there weren’t. We tried calling the youth hostel & several hostels but they were all filled-up. A ticket person told us to take the Tube a few stops to an area called High Hill because they had several places with rooms for rent. We asked at a bookstore and the woman directed us to a Cecil st. but we couldn’t find it. We did find a couple of places that rented rooms but they had no vacancies.
I was struck by the number of women out walking alone or with another woman. A lot of beautiful women and a trippy area. Several nightclubs with jazz, blues, and rock & roll. A couple of record shops with some very old album covers from the 60s. We gave up and went back to the train station. I must add that Edinburgh did have a room for $100 a night but I didn’t want to pay that much. And there was a room in Glasgow for $66 a night but it was so late we didn’t think it was worth it. We caught the last train back to Edinburgh and thought we’d be able to catch a train going somewhere and sleep on the train overnight. But again, no such luck. This woman at the train station ticket office suggested that we talk to the station manager and we did. He was sympathetic and said that he’d find someplace for us to spend the night but it was difficult because there was a lot of construction going on once they closed down at midnight.
He said it’d be around 1 A.M. before he could help us and it was about 11:30 P.M. at present. We went to try to find something to snack on but everything was closed down. I saw a bar and told Ryan to wait with the packs just inside the bar so I could keep an eye on him. I stepped up to the bar and an employee came up and said, “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t have children in the bar.” I said that I just wanted to order a little food and we’d leave shortly. He said, “no problem.” We had a couple bags of chips and were sitting on the cement just outside the bar when the same guy came by and after asking about our plight, told us about a youth hostel near by. He said he’d try to call them for us and be right back and he was. The phone line was busy each time he’d call and so he directed us how to walk there.
We tried but couldn’t find the place. We did see the fireworks display from the Castle. And again, I was surprised at the number & quality of the women who were out and about. We went back to the station manager’s office & he showed us to the travel centre office, which was closed down. There was a row of padded chairs long enough for me and a row long enough for Ryan. A potted plant separated us and we slept head to head. I told Ryan to wake me if he needed anything and we hugged each other goodnight.
The manager said that the office opened at 7 A.M. and we thought fine because the train for Inverness left at 9:30 A.M. I heard a few noises in the morning and people talking but nodded back off. When I did wake up it was 8:30 A.M. and people were lining up in the ticket office not 30 ft. away. But where we were was still dark and the door between the offices was wide open just as the night before. I went to the toilet and again had to pay 40 cents and then I woke Ryan up. He had peed in an empty water bottle during the night.
He went to the toilet and the woman told him to crawl under the turnstile rather than pay. We bought sandwiches, chips or “crisps” as they call them and a bottle of water and waited for the train to Inverness. We caught the train and passed through some very beautiful country which included several bodies of water with some lovely cottages and a bridge that resembled the Golden Gate Bridge, several cemeteries, and lush fields of grass that looked more like green carpet than grass.
I had read an article and I thought that it had highly recommended Perth and so we got off there. I thought why rush it, we still had almost a week on our Britrail passes and had been through a lot of stress in our first few days.
We couldn’t put our packs in lockers because the lockers were all full. We set off to explore the town and stopped in a café to have a hot meal. We ordered breakfast and instead of Black Pudding (fried lamb blood) we got extra sausage. We then walked around for a while but almost everything was closed. We were trying to find a camera shop because Ryan had found a nice Cannon camera on the bench next to us in the train station at Glasgow just before we boarded the last train back to Edinburgh the night before.
We weren’t sure if it was any good or how to work it. Anyway, Perth seemed pretty dull and I discovered it wasn’t the town I had read about in the magazine. The town I was thinking of is Stirling. It’s where a famous battle was fought in the movie “Braveheart.” And some argue that it’s the prettiest town in Scotland. We were headed back to the train station to catch the 3:10 P.M. train to Inverness and I spied a pub/restaurant that had a large yard (what they refer to as a garden) with tables. I figured it’d be a nice spot to relax for the two hours we had to kill and I could enjoy a beer. I went in and bought myself a beer and a coke for Ryan. We were the only customers in the garden and while I wrote in this journal, Ryan played on one of those huge inflatable jumping things. Ryan also wrote in his journal and did a little reading. I drank three pints and felt pretty good as we boarded the train for Inverness.
The trip to Inverness was uneventful and punctuated by picturesque vistas. I again got short-tempered with Ryan and he too with me. I really do need to go to anger management classes or therapy. I’m always quick to blame others for my shortcomings or frustrations. This trip is either going to drive us apart or cement our relationship!
our hostel in Inverness
When we arrived in Inverness we called the hostel and got the last two beds. By the time we walked up the hill to the hostel, I was sweating like a pig. We put our packs on our bunk beds and I took a shower and felt much better. We then went out to check out the town. Again, being still Sunday, most shops were closed. We did go in one shop that had Scottish souvenirs and wool blankets and etc. Very expensive but nice! We had dinner in a pub/restaurant and I got the eye from a very lovely blonde Scottish lassie! Ryan had sausages with beans & chips and a coke and ice cream. I had Steak pie with chips (fries) and pickled vegetables and a pint of beer.
river in Inverness
The atmosphere or ambiance was pleasant & relaxed. I bought some post cards on the way back to the hostel and we watched a little TV. when we got back. It was a stupid Western and we were getting sleepy so we retired about 10 P.M. We first tried calling Jeri but got her answering machine.
It was another night like at the hostel in Brighton. Guys kept coming in and out all night long, slamming doors and making racket. We awoke about 6 A.M. and I purposely let the door slam shut several times and wasn’t too concerned about waking anyone. I’m tired of being polite & considerate and not having it returned.
We again tried calling Jeri and got her answering machine. Ryan took a shower somewhat reluctantly because the water was cold but I insisted. The night before I had tried to reserve another day at the hostel but they told me that they were booked-up and that I had to let the desk person know first thing in the morning and if they had a cancellation we would get another day. We had to have all our stuff out by 10:30 A.M. at the latest so they could clean, so we got an early start and left by 7 A.M. and went looking for a place to get some breakfast.
I thought the train station might have a café open and they did and we were their first customers. Breakfast was $6 for one, so we shared one breakfast and a cup of tea. It wasn’t much but it was warm. We then went back to the hostel and lucked-out and got another day. We then went looking for a camera shop and after several stores that still weren’t open, found a store that was very helpful and bought a flash, some film, and batteries and got a few instructions in the use of the camera—though they weren’t real sure about all the functions of the camera.
taking a break, Inverness
Ryan’s favorite spot, the Amusement Centre
We then went out in search of good photo opportunities and took 12 pictures as a trial run. I am currently sitting in a pub facing the Castle about two feet from the doorway. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I’m enjoying watching the occasional beautiful lady stroll by. Ryan has gone down the street to the amusement center.
When Ryan returned, we went for lunch after first dropping-off the trial roll of film. We stopped in another bar/restaurant, which was doing good business. It was loaded with memorabilia from the 1920s & 30s in Great Britain including two working model trains. I ordered a Shepherd’s Pie for us to share figuring it’d be more than enough since it cost five pounds ($10).
It was a great disappointment because it was such a small portion though it did taste good. When the waitress came over and asked how things were, I told her it was tasty but the price was ridiculous because it was such a small portion. I said, I know it’s not your fault, she was pleasant and said she’d tell the manager. We then went in a bookstore and again the prices were outrageous.
my favorite pub in Inverness
We then went to the amusement center Ryan had been to because he wanted to show me a game. He lost at the game and was upset and almost started to cry. We left and went back to the pub I was at earlier because we were killing time until two hours were up to pick up the pictures we had just taken to see how the camera worked.
Ryan was still upset and I got upset with him for being so distraught over a game. He started crying and it came out that underneath the tears over the game it was really about me being so hard on him that he felt he couldn’t do anything right. We had a long talk and I promised I’d try to watch my rush to criticize and he’d say a code phrase of “eat a dead fish” to warn me when I was doing it again.
We then went down to pick up the pictures and they’d turned out great. We stopped at a super mart to buy some groceries to cook our own dinner at the hostel and save a little money. We bought sausages, potatoes, carrots, and butter to cook the food in.
At the hostel, they had a huge kitchen with several small stoves and lots of pots & pans and three or four sinks. Ryan volunteered to help cook and he took care of the sausages while I peeled the carrots and potatoes. We just beat the crowd and it was refreshing to see the kids of the other guests all pitching in and helping to prepare their meals. We could barely finish our meal and it tasted great and only cost us about $2.50.
After dinner, we went to watch a little TV. I think a young girl there was flirting with me because of the length of her gaze at me? I couldn’t do anything though because Ryan was with me. We didn’t last long because we were both so tired. We went to bed about 8:30 P.M.
The new roommates were a lot more considerate and my only complaint was that one of them kept closing the window I opened up. It felt a little stuffy. We awoke around 7:30 and I took a shower and we checked out. We walked to the train station to see when a train was leaving towards the Lighthouse hostel we wanted to check out. It was leaving at 10:45 A.M. so we went looking for breakfast.
The hotel right next to the train station wanted 8 pounds 50 pence, which was like $17, and we said, no thanks. We walked on and found a pancake house and shared one breakfast for five pounds, which was very tasty and fairly generous portion. While waiting in the train station we wrote most of our post cards. The train ride was only about one hour and fifteen minutes. When we got off the train, I thought uh-oh; there wasn’t even a train station. There was a little craft store and a tiny post office about 10 feet by 12 foot. Just as we were leaning our packs against the post office and I was saying to Ryan, all right, this looks like a good time to send our post cards, a woman in the post office said, “Do you want to catch the bus?” I looked and a postal van was there. I walked over and spoke to the woman driving the postal van and told her where we were going. She said she could give us a ride for ten miles and I asked how much and she said one pound 80 pence. We climbed in and were separated from the front of the van by a wire-mesh screen.
taking a break on way to Lighthouse hostel (hitch-hiking)
I felt as if we were prisoners. The road was a single lane for cars traveling in both directions and you’d often have to pull to the side in little pullouts to allow a car going in the other direction to pass. We were let out at another little hole-in-the-wall village but this one had a little store, a pub, a hotel and several cottages for rent. You could catch a bus from here, which would take us another 20 miles closer to our destination but the last 12 miles we’d have to hitchhike. The bus wouldn’t be there for another six or seven hours so I thought let’s go have a pint or two and then try our luck at hitchhiking.
We sat at a picnic table under the shade of a tree just outside the pub and I enjoyed my beer while Ryan enjoyed his coke. Ryan also figured out how to set the timer on the camera and took a picture of us.
We started hitchhiking and it probably took us less than half an hour to get a ride and it was an elderly gentleman driving a garbage truck. He was a very pleasant fellow and I enjoyed our conversation. Ryan hardly said a word. The driver asked if I’d noticed the prices had gone up and I said yes and that I was shocked at how much they’d gone up. He said yes, it’s a disgrace and they raise the prices just for the tourists.
He let us off at a little resort town near the sea and we went into a tourist bureau and I cashed travelers check. We then went to a little store and Ryan bough an ice cream cone and I bought a can of Guinness and some sun block.
We then walked a few blocks to a shady spot in which to hitchhike the last 12 miles. We were there maybe ten minutes when a guy in a van pulled over. His name was Leo and he gave us a ride all the way to the Lighthouse hostel even though he wasn’t going there. When he dropped us off he gave us his address and said we were welcome to spend a day or two with him and his wife.
Lighthouse hostel built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s brother
The hostel was beautiful in its simplicity and was very remote. I said to Ryan we might have a long walk when we leave here. The lighthouse was built by the brother of Robert Louis Stevenson and was now fully automated and two women who operated it as a hostel and a bed & breakfast owned the buildings.
cliffs near Lighthouse hostel, Scotland
When we walked in, a young woman who worked there showed us to our room and also showed us the sitting room, the bathroom, dining room and kitchen where we could prepare our meals. Doors and windows were wide open and dogs & cats lying around and several roosters were roaming around outside. The girl told us we could pay when we left.
We went out to do a little exploring and followed a trail to what use to be a ramp where ships were unloaded and the goods hoisted up the ramp. A family had climbed over the rocks and was perched on a high point overlooking the ocean. I was amazed at how calm the sea was. There was no sand, only jagged and treacherous rocks. A wild rugged beauty. We went back to the hostel and the woman picked out a basket of groceries for us to prepare some spaghetti. Ryan diced and sliced while I cooked. We made a sauce of zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and canned tomatoes. He grated up some Parmesan cheese and we had a feast.
After dinner, we washed up our dishes and went for a walk to help the digestion. Ryan spotted what he thought was a suitcase down on a rocky beach and we climbed down the cliff which was a bit tricky for me because I was wearing my shower slippers. It turned out to be a car seat not a suitcase but he did find what we thought were shark’s teeth.
sunset at Lighthouse hostel
We climbed back up the cliff and took a picture of the sunset. And I bought a warm can of beer and a warm soda for Ryan and we drank them as we watched the sun go down. There was a great sense of peace & tranquility and trust and openness between the guests and the proprietors.
We then went into the sitting room, which had a stereo, a tattered rug, several worn stuffed chairs and small couches and a British version of Trivial Pursuit. We met a family from Kent and soon entered upon a pleasant and wide-ranging conversation. The husband, Allen, was listening to a radio program on UFOs and his wife, Julie, was relaxing with their son, Sam, who was 15 years old and a very clever and pleasant lad.
I learned that Julie is a special education teacher and we compared notes and had a very interesting conversation. Ryan as usual was Silent Sam, and disinterestedly occupied himself with making paper airplanes. Ryan later brought in his deck of cards and built a house of cards. I suggested he ask Sam if he’d like to play and as usual he was too shy so I asked Sam if he’d like to play cards with Ryan and he said yes.
Sam and his dad took turns playing around with an acoustic guitar that was missing a string. They were both quite talented. We talked until around 11:30 and then went out to see the lighthouse lights and Ryan and I said goodnight and went to our room, which had about four sets of bunk beds.
The next thing I knew, I was woken-up by a guy who was sleeping in one of the other bunk-beds and he said I was snoring so loudly that he couldn’t sleep and he asked if I could change positions or something to stop the snoring? I replied that I was sorry and I’d try. A few hours later, his girlfriend poked me several times until I woke up. She said that I was still snoring and could I go sleep in the sitting room because there wasn’t enough room in there for her & her boyfriend. I replied again that I was sorry but that I needed to stay near my son. She angrily got dressed and went to the sitting room. They talked loudly in German and I can guess what they were saying.
She kept coming back into the room and took great care to be as noisy as possible. I guess she couldn’t get comfortable in those short couches but expected me to sleep in there so as not to disturb them? I guess that would have been the humanitarian thing to do but I’m only self-sacrificing to a point. Awhile later, I heard the guy yell, “Do you think that’s fair?” And he stormed out. I just ignored them because I was afraid of my temper but they were pushing it. He came in awhile later and turned on all the lamps and the overhead light. I thought, enough is enough and I turned over and sat up and was going to tell his ass off and he wasn’t there.
They were obviously trying to make me get no sleep since they couldn’t sleep. I turned off the overhead light and went back to sleep. When I awoke the next morning, I woke Ryan up and told him we needed to go because if I saw them I was probably going to have a confrontation.
I paid our bill and the owner said she was going into Gairloch and could give us a lift. She didn’t say a word for the 12 miles and I’d told her about our roommates, so I assume she thought I was wrong? Well, fuck her too! Ryan has severe asthma and they could’ve molested him for all I know?
I left them a note before we left and it read in regular size print: “Mr. & Mrs. Asshole (and in large underlined print) Fuck You! When we got let off, we went into a little store because Ryan was hungry and said that his throat was hurting. I bought some rolls, ham slices, an orange, some throat lozenges, chocolate milk & a beer. We found some rocks on the beach to sit on and had our breakfast.
We walked several blocks to the turn-off in our direction and our friend, Leo, who gave us the ride to the lighthouse, stopped by and got out of his van and came over to chat. As we were talking, a couple pulled up and asked where we were headed. They were headed in our direction and so we said goodbye to Leo and piled in. They were from Cambridge and we had an enjoyable conversation. They dropped us at the little pub we had been at the day before where we had a couple of sodas and beers and took a picture of ourselves.
We tried hitching for about 45 minutes and were just about to go take a break and have a drink when the lady in the postal van pulled over and we paid her a pound and 80 pence to get a ride back to the train stop. We had an hour before our train to the Carbisdale Castle Youth Hostel, so we finished addressing our post cards and mailed them. We sent 13 cards and it cost about four pounds 80 pence.
When we got our train, we got off at a town called Dingwall and had about a four hour layover till the next train going in our direction. We got some money at an ATM and went into a pub. I had a Guinness and Ryan had a coke. We asked the waitress for a menu and she said okay but then completely forgot about us. She walked past us or rather clomped past us several times and never once looked, smiled or remembered. I think she was a young airhead.
The next thing we knew, she was walking out the door with her purse. We went on our way in search of nourishment and ended up buying an order of fish & chips. We crossed the street to a bit of shade under a tree and leaned our packs against a wall. Ryan wolfed down his food and then we leaned our heads against our packs.
Ryan was afraid we’d oversleep and miss our train but I reassured him that your subconscious and your inner clock were on guard for you when on the road. I awoke before Ryan and started writing in this journal.
When Ryan woke up we went back to the pub and had a few more drinks until it was time to catch our train. It was about an hour and a half to Carbisdale Castle. It was half a mile from the train stop to the castle through thick forest and there were hardly any signs of life or civilization. The train stop was a platform and a wall and you had to request for the conductor to stop at it—it wasn’t a regularly scheduled stop.
castle hostel we stayed in
When we got up to the castle we were impressed. It was a real castle. We were also tickled-pink that we had our own room. It was the maid’s room and still had the bells of the various lords & ladies to let her know who was ringing for service. I took a shower and felt much better. We then went exploring. The main hall impressed me the most with its statues of nudes, paintings, stained glass, and beautiful hand-carved staircase. There was also a quiet room for reading, a TV. room, a commons room for socializing, a billiard and ping-pong room in the dungeon, several dining rooms and kitchens. We went outside and took several pictures and then bought some food to prepare.
Ryan on stairway in castle hostel
We made pasta with cheese, leek & onion sauce and on top meatballs with gravy. The meatballs looked like dog food and not that I ever tasted dog food, tasted like it.
Ryan wanted to play pool but we didn’t finish eating until 10:30 P.M. and we were both so tired we decided to turn in. I slept pretty well but Ryan said his throat was hurting him. I woke at 7:30 and went to the desk to see when the next train heading south was. It was at 8:40 A.M. so I went back and woke Ryan up and told him to hurry.
They were serving a free breakfast and I got a tray and tried to leave but they wouldn’t let me. It was getting close to train time but Ryan needed a shower. So, he took a shower and I packed. We had to forego breakfast to make sure we had time to make the train. When we got to the train stop, there were several other travelers waiting. It looked like you could only go in one direction because there was only one set of tracks.
foyer in castle hostel
So, I assumed —big mistake! —We went north a bit and then transferred to a southbound train. I should’ve asked the other travelers but I didn’t and as I said, there was no station to speak of & certainly no station master to ask and we left. We came to a stop not ten minutes away and I was looking for a ticket collector I could ask about whether we were going in the right direction and there was another train going south. But of course, no conductor came by and we stayed on the train. Ten minutes later a conductor comes by and I showed him our Brit Rail passes and told him where we were headed and he said, “You’re on the wrong train, you’re headed north.”
Well of course, dumbshit, I knew we were headed north. Anyway, we were stuck. We’d now go three hours north and then turn around and go three hours south to where we left from. Just our luck or should I say, par for the course? When we got to Thurso, we had an hour and 15 minutes wait so of course, I headed for the nearest pub.
Ryan was happy because they let him play the slot machines and I was happy because I got a buzz and I enjoy checking out pubs wherever I go. As I told Ryan, I enjoy going into the pubs, bars, taverns, etc. wherever I go because there you get the real feeling of a community. You meet the real working class locals who aren’t friendly because they have their hand out for a tip. You can either strike up a conversation or simply eavesdrop.
We got to Inverness about 4 P.M. and learned that we could go on to Edinburgh but that there were no trains from Edinburgh to London except for a sleeper that would cost an additional 28 pounds each. So, we went to the Pancake Place for supper and each had a Grand Slam breakfast.
We then checked out a couple of hostels and youth hotels but they had no vacancies. We went back to our old hostel and they were full also but had an emergency overflow in a nearby high school with no showers. They told us to wait around for 20 minutes and if people didn’t show, they might have a vacancy. We got two beds in the women’s dormitory but they had changed the room we were in to a men’s room for the night. All my clothes were dirty and some of Ryan’s, so I did a load of clothes in the hostel’s laundry. We then went to the local pub and had a drink and then Ryan wanted to go back to the amusement center to try his luck again.
We then walked back to check on the clothes in the dryer. Ryan wanted to gamble some more, so we went back to the amusement center and I had a beer in the pub next door and told Ryan to come and get me as soon as he was done. We walked back to the hostel and watched a little TV. and went to bed.
We had some more inconsiderate roommates and I said, you know, some people are trying to sleep. They said “sorry,” and quieted down until later when two more came in drunk and hiccupping and they started giggling like schoolgirls. I gave up and finally got back to sleep. We woke up about 5:00 A.M., got dressed and walked to the train station.
I bought a sandwich, chips, water and a candy bar and we caught the 6:35 train to Edinburgh. We met a young law student from San Diego with two traveling companions and they were pretty friendly. He said, “I know, just what the world needs, another lawyer.” I replied yeah, I was trying to bite my tongue because I have two lawyers right now and I see why they make all these lawyer jokes. I also added though, that my wife, Jeri, has a good friend who is a lawyer and that she has helped us out a few times.
We arrived in London and it was muggy as Hell again. I found out that there were no more trains to Dover until the next day and that meant we’d have to find a room, pay for train fare to Dover the next day because our BritRail passes would expire and pay for the ferry across the Channel—probably 15 pounds apiece. There was a Eurostar—the new highly touted three-hour service from London to Paris thru the Chunnel.
I decided to go for the Eurostar though we had to pay an additional 72 pounds. I didn’t want to put up with the humidity and we’d spend just about as much to stay another night in England. And I figured we might get lucky and catch a late train out of Paris for Basel. It wasn’t really anything to rave about (the Eurostar). We sat at a table opposite two young French women. One had her nose up in the air so I raised my nose even higher. The other one at least smiled once in awhile and didn’t seem to be stuck up. We didn’t say a word to each other for three hours. The haughty one was playing with what looked like a Tarot deck.
We arrived at Paris’ Gare du Nord and found out that the Gare du Est was a short walk and I figured we’d need to catch a train from there to head towards Basel. It was 11:30 P.M. and no trains were leaving for Basel until the morning but there was a train leaving for Strasbourg in 20 minutes and I knew that was in the right direction and not too terribly far from Basel. I didn’t relish the idea of spending the night in the train station and figured we could sleep on the train with any luck.
So we caught the train to Strasbourg and we did luck out. We got a first class cabin to ourselves and the seats slid together and we got a fairly good rest. I woke at 4:30 A.M. and because it was a little cold, I put my sheet over Ryan and I put my sweater on. I went back to sleep and we reached Strasbourg about 6 A.M. We then caught the train to Basel and arrived there about 8:30 A.M. They just waved us through Customs. With Ryan, I haven’t been checked once yet.
I called Ruedi’s parents but his mother had just got out of the hospital the day before & they said it wouldn’t be a good time for a visit. I said we’d call again after we came back from Greece. I then called Ruedi and he had a long day of work to do for a publisher and then had to attend an exhibition he had arranged on Sunday. He said after Monday would be best. I thought we’d go to Munich and get a hold of Gerdi (a girl I had a one night fling with years earlier).
We grabbed a bite to eat and caught the train to Munich. We were about an hour out of Basel when this elderly German woman came up to us and started ranting and mumbling in German. I got the gist of it though; she wanted us to move because we were in her seat. She didn’t say danka or anything, she just huffed and so I huffed also as we moved and I left our mess as to say “up yours.”
Munich, I loved the architecture of this building
We arrived in Munich about 2 P.M. I started thinking before we arrived that maybe Gerdi didn’t live near Munich but only worked in Bavaria? And through checking the area code of her phone number & the codes in the youth hostel book I discovered that she lived another several hours north of Munich. I decided that maybe it’d be better to go on down to Greece and give Ruedi’s mom a chance to recuperate & Ruedi a chance to get his work done and we could pay Gerdi a visit on our way north again?
it was actually a sunny day, me in front of fountain
There was an overnight train to Bologna, Italy where we’d transfer to Brindisi. It wouldn’t leave until 11:30 P.M. and we’d spend the rest of the day sightseeing and trying to find a video parlor and toy store for Ryan.
We first put our packs in a locker in the train station after I cashed an American Express Travelers Cheque. We then went into a bookstore that had books in English and I bought a book called “Serious Creativity” by Edward de Bono. I needed something to pass the time and was bored with the tour guidebooks I’d brought along.
We then went roaming around. Oh yeah, before we left the train station I told Ryan that we needed to have a Knautwurst & Bratwurst and a beer & coke for Ryan. The streets were packed with people and there were many sidewalk cafes with people either having a beer or eating or both. When we came to this square with a huge building with a life-size sort of cuckoo clock, thousands of people were standing with their necks craned up towards the figurines on the clock. You’d have thought it was the second coming of Christ?
me, leaning against wall near pub with sand & Harley Davidsons
We walked on and Ryan was more and more bummed-out because most of the stores were closed. We stopped at a little bar that was a block off the main drag because the music was blaring and it seemed rather festive. They had poured a load of sand in the street in front of the bar and had a couple of beach umbrellas stuck in it and several beach toys scattered around. I went inside to order our drinks and the music was blaring. Several customers were frolicking around like it was Mardis Gras. A woman behind the bar who looked like an old hooker was shaking her size 50 tits at anyone & everyone. I saw her in pictures on the wall and wondered if she might be the owner?
There was a big banner outside that said something about Harley Davidsons and there were two Harleys parked outside. The old floozy went for a ride with one of the “bikers” in her hot pants, black stockings, caked-on makeup and bleach-blonde hair. We walked on and came across a movie theater that had a bar inside and a huge picture of Marlene Dietrich that was very sultry and flattering of her. The music was playing loud and was some smooth jazz and sounded great so we ordered drinks. I had asked if any of the movies were in English but they weren’t.
The young guy who worked there was very helpful though and showed me the way to a theatre that did have movies in English but they were playing “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and I didn’t think Ryan would enjoy it. After our drinks, we headed back toward the train station and were checking the restaurants for prices. We settled on a sidewalk café and shared a dinner that offered a variety of Bavarian foods. The meal was pretty good but still a little on the skimpy side. We walked back to the station and did a little more window-shopping. I treated myself, by purchasing a pocket watch because I’d always wanted one.
We then had a couple of drinks in a bar/restaurant and then collected our packs. We went over to the platform for our train and when we boarded it was packed. We were lucky to get two seats. There were people in the aisles, in the area between cars, etc. It was terribly cramped and made for a very lousy night’s sleep.
We were supposed to arrive in Bologna at 7:30 A.M. but as usual, we were given bad directions and had to get off and catch another train back to Bologna. Before this though, we sat for about an hour and it reminded me of that feeling when you’re in jail and time is going so slow and nobody is talking, they’re just anxiously waiting for something to happen and the tension is so thick that you can almost cut it with a knife.
A few conductors walked by and I tried to ask them when we’d be in Bologna and they completely ignored me. I was tempted to say, Hey Stupido! to see if they’d pay attention then. Anyway, we finally learned we were on the wrong train—it happened to me three or four times on my first trip to Europe when I was trying to get to Greece due to these incompetent train employees. We got off and caught the train to Bologna. At Bologna we got some money out of an ATM, bought a slice of pizza, then went to McDonalds where Ryan had an ice cream and I had a beer and the music was loud and contemporary.
I must say, I’ve been most impressed with these Italian women. Of all the women I’ve seen so far on this trip, I’ve never seen so many exquisite beauties as here in Italy. A lot of tanned and very sexily dressed women with wild hair and fire in their eyes. We bought a few snacks for the seven-hour ride to Brindisi from a very rude woman at a snack stand. When we boarded the train it was packed to the gills. We were forced to sit in the tiny walkway behind the toilet and on the steps.
It was hotter than Hell and we had to sit on our packs. It was like sardines and I was pissed—first class my ass (I’d paid for first class Eurail passes)! Ryan was falling asleep on my shoulder and my back was hurting. We stayed there for four hours and tried to find seats at each stop but they were taken each time and more people got on.
I saw people sitting in the dining car that weren’t eating or drinking, so I said to Ryan, come on; we’re going to have a bite to eat. We left our packs where they were and asked the Oriental woman who was sitting next to us to watch them. We ordered Risotto Parmesan style and I had a whiskey & coke. We ate very slowly and continued to order beers & cokes and sip very slowly. We stretched it out for two to two and a half hours and I wrote in my journal and Ryan wrote in his and started reading the second book in the C.S. Lewis series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
As soon as we arrived in Brindisi, I warned Ryan of the con artists and we stopped briefly in an office that advertised ferry tickets to Greece. We were there two minutes and heard them tell a guy, “The ferry is sold out for tonight.” I told Ryan, this sounded like a scam and we left. We walked another few blocks and saw a crowd in front of the Hellenic Line to Greece. This was one of the two lines that my Eurail book recommended.
I had Ryan stay near by with the packs and I got in line. People were a little pushy but they didn’t push me too much because I believe my size was a little intimidating to them? I had to tell one guy who tried to cut in front of me to get behind me. He readily apologized. After I got our tickets, 62,000 lira even with Eurail passes (1,700 lira = $1.00) we had to walk to the police station to have our passports checked and then back to the office to catch a bus to the ferry.
blurry pic of me on deck of ferry boat (our bed for the night)
We got on the ferry and climbed to the top deck. I’m not sure but I believe our passage was just for deck space, not even a reclining chair. So, we laid my sheet down right next to the railing at the top of the stairs and laid our heads on our packs. We put our sweaters on and tried to cover ourselves as best as we could with Ryan’s sheet (sheets we’d sown together like a sleeping bag because many hostels require them).
I was just wearing a tank top at first and felt fine. There was a warm breeze in Brindisi but Ryan said he felt cold. It was a romantic, adventurous feeling lying on the top deck of the ferry and headed for Greece.
It was cold when we woke in the morning but I pretty much slept soundly through the night. I asked Ryan before we went to sleep if he thought I’d bother anyone with my snoring (the sound of the engines & the sea being fairly loud). We had only slept for maybe six hours and tried to go back to sleep but it was so cold that we couldn’t. I was reminded of the movie, Ship of Fools, where all the poor people i.e. Mexicans, had to sleep on the lower deck of the ship. We went into a restaurant and I got breakfast i.e. two hard-boiled eggs, a bowl of cereal, a cup of tea, a cup of orange juice, two eggs sunny-side up, a few pieces of bacon and a piece of bread.
After breakfast, we went back out on deck and it was warm enough to take our sweaters off. I was writing in my journal when I remembered that I forgot to call Jeri yesterday with all the rushing around (I promised Jeri we’d call her every Sunday so she wouldn’t worry as much about our welfare). I asked the Purser if they had a phone on board and he said no, you’d have to use the ship radio. It was behind the bridge. The radio/electronics officer told me to have a seat in the radio room and he’d be with me in a few minutes. I was reminded of MASH when Radar makes long-distance calls.
The radio officer came in and I told him I wanted to make a call to the U.S. collect. He said that you couldn’t make collect calls from the ship and I asked how much to call to Oregon from the ship and he said about 12,000 liras. It took awhile to get through and it must have been about 12 midnight or 1 A.M. Jeri’s time. She sounded glad to hear from us.
I told her that we didn’t have a chance to call yesterday and that we were on board the ferry to Athens and that Ryan was fine. I also said that he was playing the gambling machines and she laughed. She asked me to call again next Sunday and she wanted to speak to Ryan but I said he was down watching our packs. I kept the conversation short to also keep the cost down. After we disconnected and I paid the officer, we had a little conversation.
He told me that the best thing to do in Athens was to find someone who speaks Greek to show us around because they would charge us four times as much for everything as they would for those who spoke Greek. I asked where I could find someone to show us around and he said all the Greeks spoke English. He said that they’re required to learn Greek, Spanish, & English in school and if someone said they didn’t speak English they were crooks trying to rip you off. He wrote down four different places in Athens to head for and when I asked how much it’d cost to have someone show us around, he said, “No, no, no, they would be offended if you offered them money. They enjoy showing people their city. He said you needed a month to really see Athens because there were over 3,000 museums.
I asked if it’d be hard to find a room at midnight when we were due to arrive in Athens and he said yes, the Greeks don’t sleep at night, they go to the bars and the Acropolis, etc. and sleep in the morning. He also said that you couldn’t expect to get served at every restaurant. If the owner doesn’t like you, he’ll refuse to serve you and sometimes if they do like you, they won’t accept any money for the meal.
I also asked him about a good island to go to that didn’t have many tourists and he said Crete was the best and told me how to get there. He also pointed out what he calls the best beach in the world. He ended by giving me his address on Crete and saying that if we were here in September, we were welcome to be his guests. I offered to give him my address but he said that it wouldn’t be possible for him to come to the U.S. for a long time because he had four daughters. He mentioned earlier that he was born in Philadelphia and then moved back to Greece and got married. He knew Oregon and said it was very beautiful. I thanked him and left.
I discovered a shower and it didn’t cost anything and was available so I took a shower. I also bought a bottle of Ouzo (a fifth) for 10,000 liras.
Observation: Italians seem to be a very happy and easygoing people. For example, when we were stuck on the train from Bologna to Brindisi sitting on the stairs, hot & cramped like sardines, an Italian fellow I believe who was married to the Oriental woman we asked to watch our packs when we went to the dining car, was singing and helping people on & off the train and he had to stand for four hours. We saw many other Italians who also seemed very cheerful.
Back on the ferryboat to Patras, Greece. We had a hearty lunch of spinach pastries, lasagna, mixed cooked vegetables, salad, watermelon, coke, and beer. It cost around $15. We then went back on deck and Ryan taught me how to play wist—the card game he learned at the Lighthouse hostel. I was feeling tired so I laid my sheet under a stairway and stuck our packs under there also and I took a good nap for about two hours. When I awoke, Ryan was sleeping next to me.
I let Ryan continue to sleep for as long as possible even though we were almost to port because if the radio officer was right, we might be up all night partying. Ryan woke up about an hour before we reached Patras. The wind really picked up and I was a little nervous that it might blow my glasses off but I loved the feel of it blowing so strong in my face and my hair-blowing wild.
We waited until almost everyone had disembarked so we wouldn’t have to stand in a long line holding our heavy packs. We watched the tugboat push us into place and the Texaco refueling barge gas us up and several other huge ocean liners.
After we got off the ferry, we walked several blocks to the train station. We had 20 minutes until the train for Athens left so I bought a bottle of water, some chips, and chocolate chip cookies for the four-hour ride. We got on a first class car but it was hard to tell. It reminded me of an old railroad car from the old West in the U.S.
The seat I was in wasn’t even completely bolted down. There were several young, Spanish travelers in the same car who were rather amusing in their youth and enthusiasm. A young girl with the group came up to me and asked me if I spoke English and what time we would arrive in Athens. I replied, 12:00 midnight. (Ryan is upset with me for running two of his pens out of ink now). It was a pleasant trip and I read the introduction to the de Bono book I bought in Munich.
I didn’t know he was a Rhodes scholar. He also owns and lives on an island in Venice. I’m impressed. The countryside and what I could feel reminded me of Mexico. Most of the houses were of the same basic design; squared and white stucco. There were a lot of very nice homes and some were simple and humble. But what struck me most was how many homes had the owners sitting in their front yards or porches eating dinner, drinking, or simply socializing.
Ryan slept most of the journey and again I thought he’d need the rest if we’d be up all night. Just before we arrived in Athens, several guys came up to us with brochures and their various sales pitches on hostels. The first guy who approached me was a small Englishman named Steve and he had the best sales pitch. I politely accepted their brochures and told them I’d think it over. Steve pressed for the closing but I didn’t divulge much and I was a bit suspicious due to all the tattoos on his arms.
We arrived in Athens and taxi drivers kept trying to hit us up but I took heed of the radio officer’s admonition to stay away from the rip-off taxi drivers. We walked towards what I thought was the bus station but it was closed. There were several young people hanging out and I asked if they knew where we could catch a bus. They said the buses had stopped. So, I asked for directions to the hostel that Steve had told us about.
While I was talking to them, a taxi pulled up and the driver got out and was yelling “taxi, taxi, “ he then said, “It’s not safe for you & your family to be here.” I was getting a little nervous at this but didn’t know if he was just trying to drum up some business either. Anyway, I tried not to show any fear and I remembered that the radio officer said if they claim they can’t speak English, they’re trying to rip you off. They didn’t know how to direct us to the hostel so we started heading back toward the train station.
Just as we neared the train station, we ran into Steve and a couple of his fellow employees. I told him that we decided to check out his hostel and he said great and that he’s show us the way. There were three of them and I noticed a guy walking behind us for a bit and when Steve said, “Let’s take a short-cut through here, I really started sweating.
The short cut was through a dirt area with a few scattered trees. It was only about 200 feet wide and I could see a busy street on the other side and it wasn’t too terribly dark. I was mainly worried for Ryan’s safety and was feeling very vulnerable with my pack on my back, the day pack over one shoulder and the bag in my other arm. I wondered how fast I could slip my pack off if they made an aggressive move towards us?
I wasn’t intimidated by their sizes or demeanor, Steve was about 5’4’’ and 120 lbs. and the other two weren’t much bigger and the guy behind us had disappeared but I was very relieved when we reached the busy, well-lit street and after crossing it, were at the hostel.
It was a run-down place and I knew instantly the brochure photos were a deception. We got a room of our own and I asked if I could pay the next day though I had the money because Steve and his buddies were all standing around and I didn’t want to pull out all my money with them watching. So, the boss—an Indian gentleman—kept my passport. The room was the pits and you couldn’t flush the toilet. I killed a huge cockroach and we went down to the “bar” in the hostel. Steve and one of his friends joined us in the bar. I had a rum & coke and Steve asked the owner for a beer and the owner offered him a coke and Steve insisted on a beer and the owner acquiesced.
Steve smelled of alcohol when I first met him that night. I surmised he might have a drinking problem. We watched an American gangster movie with Robert De Niro and James Woods. After my rum, I ordered a beer. The bar was supposed to remind one of a South Seas tropical location but was very cheap and tacky. When I ordered my second beer, I also bought one for Steve.
He was periodically pumping me for more info while we watched the movie. At 2 A.M., they closed up so Ryan and I went back to our ‘room.’ I slid a dresser in front of our door for added security. We put our sheet down on the bed for added protection. I woke several times due to bug bites that itched terribly. In the morning, I was awakened by a knock on the door and the sound of the dresser being pushed.
I got up and moved the dresser and one of the hostel employees came in with a young Japanese couple to show them the room. They left shortly and I attempted to go back to sleep.
A short while later, they returned to take up residence. Ryan and I started packing after we took showers. We turned in our key, paid our bill and I collected my passport and we were on our way. We had to find a shop to sell us bus tickets to Vulla. It took three tries to finally get tickets and we caught a trolley downtown where we had to catch the bus we needed.
We took the A2 to the end of the line by the seaside. The driver directed us to Vulla Plaza. We came to a Texaco station and Ryan used the toilet and I asked directions once again. We had passed it up. It was what looked like a private beach with volleyball, tennis, etc. I asked if they had a bar and the woman said yes. We paid about 800 drachmas to enter. We walked towards the beach and saw an old, heavy-set woman sunbathing topless.
bar we spent the day at in Vulla
I spotted a bar and we headed for it. It was decorated in a tropical motif and had three or four levels of wood decking and several large speakers hung from the rafters. There were three different bars to order drinks from. We found a good table in a corner with a huge straw umbrella to shade us from the sun. I went to order our drinks and a waitress intercepted me to ask what I wanted and I told her that was okay, that I’d do it. I figured that she just wanted a tip. I ordered our drinks, a large Heineken and a coke with ice. She told me to go sit down and she’d bring the drinks over. She also brought over a bowl of stale cheese popcorn. It felt great to sit in the shade, drink a cold beer and watch the ocean ten feet away. The radio station played a lot of great songs that I haven’t heard in years. They played a lot of Motown and Dylan’s “Knockin on Heaven’s Door.”
Ryan was getting restless and bored and we had an argument. I was digging the ambience and getting a mellow buzz but he wanted to do something active. I told him to go for a swim and I’d watch him from the deck. But he didn’t want to. I was also enjoying the view of two young ladies, one of whom was sunbathing topless and the other was nude. Our waitress was about my age or a little older and her name was Ava.
the beach-side bar in Vulla
She gave Ryan a free coke and later on gave me a free beer. I asked her if she knew of any places to get a room and she said that she’d think about it and get back to me. When I went to the toilet later on, she told me to come over. She said she’d call some places and let me know. I went back to our table and continued writing in my journal and Ryan was reading (I had one rule for Ryan every summer i.e. he had to read for 20 minutes every day & I’d pick a book for him to read and when he finished it, he’d pick the next book—I did this to keep up his reading skills).
A little while later, the bartender, a young man from Bulgaria named Daniel, told me there was a phone call for me. I thought who in the Hell is calling me? No one knows I’m here. It was a lady from the tourist bureau that Ava had called. I told her that I wanted to be as close to Vulla as possible and wanted a hotel because Ava said they were safer.
She gave me the numbers for five or six places and then Ava said she’d call them for me. She called and found one nearby with its own bathroom for about $27 per night. She said she’d get someone to watch the bar and she’d give us a ride there and asked when I wanted to go and I said no, when would it be convenient for her? So, we agreed on a half hour.
We had a conversation in the meantime and she said that she was glad to be able to help. She had a family and felt that we all needed to treat each other as humans. She also felt that health was the most important thing and I added that children were too. I told her that I felt very lucky to be able to take my son on this trip and I couldn’t have afforded it if it wasn’t for my mom passing away and leaving me the life insurance money.
We finished our drinks and Ava gave us a ride. She stopped at two other hotels first to see if they were the same price because they were closer. They either didn’t have a room or were too expensive. We found the one she’d called and we went up to check out the room and it was very clean and had a balcony and we took it.
Ava left and I gave her about a $6 tip (looking back, I wish I had been much more generous considering all that she did for us). We changed clothes and I freshened up a bit and we set off to explore the area. Ryan wanted to do a bit of window-shopping. We then headed back to the bar we’d met Ava at. I wanted to eat there and check out the dancing.
It started to rain on the way and we sought shelter under a beach umbrella. It was a very light rain so we continued on. We were approximately two miles from the bar. When we got there, Ava was glad to see us again. I told her that we wanted to eat and she suggested a ham & cheese sandwich for Ryan and I said, make it two. She seemed surprised like she thought I should order something more extravagant. Ava bought us another coke and beer. I couldn’t believe her kindness.
Ryan skipping rocks
It started to rain so Ava and Daniel started to gather up all the cushions from couches and chairs. There were hundreds of them so we pitched in to help. Ryan and I decided to go for a walk down the beach. The grounds near the tennis and basketball courts were not kept up and there were some abandoned buildings. We also skipped rocks for a while and had a contest to see who could hit the big rock platform that people would swim out to and sunbathe on. I of course was the winner but Ryan came very close.
We went back to the bar and it was time for Ava to get off work. She introduced us to the owner of the place and we spoke briefly. I complimented him on his shirt and he said he’d just bought it that day. Ava told us that they were expecting a thousand people for a company party that night and told us to go check out the other side.
We went through a big door and much to our surprise, there was a whole other club it seemed like. They had a huge cage with a cute little spider monkey in it, a nice pool with a bridge over it, two or three bars, covered seating and outside tables, umbrellas and chairs. It was a very classy looking place. No wonder the drinks were so expensive here. I paid about $6 for each large glass of Heineken and $3 a coke for Ryan.
the other bar, part of one we spent day at, with parrots, monkeys, etc. for big parties
When we returned to the beach side of the bar, Ava was leaving and told me she’d give us her address tomorrow. There was a cool breeze blowing and the sun was going down and they lit their tiki torches and I felt good Ava and Daniel were leaving so I made sure to tip Daniel well this time because I’d forgotten him earlier. A few people started filtering in and around 10 P.M. they played a whole Sade album, which was the perfect choice.
There were three or four good looking women but no one got up to dance and we stayed there till about midnight. Ryan passed the time making paper airplanes and betting me whether he could fly them to the water or not. I treated him to a bowl of chocolate ice cream which wasn’t that big and cost $6, but what the Hell, we’re on vacation and he was pretty patient with my spending most of the day in a bar. I spoke a little with the waitress who served us—a good looking young lady—and asked about what islands would be good to visit. I mentioned Ios because that is where Ruedi went 20 years ago and she said that now there were lots of teenagers there and they get very drunk. Sounds like the Colorado River at Spring Break and not my cup of tea anymore.
We walked back to our hotel and bought a couple bags of chips and a beer and soda and ate & drank them on our balcony. Ryan said his chips smelled like turds and kept trying to get me to try them because he claimed they tasted good. I refused and he tossed a few in my bag of chips. Ryan said I laid across the width of the bed and he tried to get me to move for about ten minutes but I wouldn’t budge and was rambling in my sleep.
Ryan on the steps of the Acropolis (holy ground)
The church bells of the church our balcony overlooked, woke me the next morning around 10 A.M. I decided that we’d do some fun things for Ryan today and also see the Acropolis. We took a bus and had a heck of a time finding it. It was a maze of streets crammed with souvenir shops and we zigzagged back and forth until the Acropolis came into view. We stopped at a few shops here and there because Ryan couldn’t resist and I was looking for busts of Plato and Aristotle.
All I could find were tiny busts & statues of them. It was a hot day and the climb up the steps and the hill were very tiring. I felt like I was on a pilgrimage to my hero’s home or something. Some of the steps were slippery and we could see why they had a fire truck parked at the base of the Acropolis.
view from the Acropolis
We got some great shots of Athens and the Acropolis. A lot of scaffolding and a huge crane were inside to make repairs. Time and pollution are taking their toll. After we left the Acropolis, we walked a couple of blocks on the way down and stopped at a little café for drinks. We then started shopping. After several shops, I finally found a little tea set for my Aunt Sylvia. Ryan was having trouble deciding on the right gift for his mother.
another view from the Acropolis
We came to another sidewalk café that advertised Lowenbrau beer and it was at a four-way intersection of these narrow “streets” lined with souvenir shops. I told Ryan I’d sit there and have a beer and he could take his time and shop some more but to come back after each store and tell me where he was going. It only took him about 40 minutes to pick out and settle on a mask. And I downed two large glasses of Lowenbrau in the meantime.
Ryan on Cloud Nine
We then found our way to a bus stop and caught the A2 back to Vulla. Ryan fell asleep on my shoulder. (Oh yeah, I bought a small bust of Aristotle for myself). A few miles before our stop, I saw a go cart track and woke Ryan to get off at the next stop but we were too slow. So, we got off at the following stop and started walking back. I didn’t tell Ryan where we were headed because I wanted to surprise him.
Ryan, pedal to the metal
When we came to the go-cart track, Ryan yelled out “Wow! Go-carts!” I said, I thought you might enjoy this. We found out it was about $10 for 10 minutes. Ryan found a car and put his helmet on. I took a few pictures before, during, and after his thrill ride. He spun-out a couple of times and cut people off a few times. It was hilarious. As soon as he got off the car he asked if he could do it again if he used his own money. I said no, just enjoy it for what you had and let’s be on our way.
Ryan’s spin-outs & etc. scared the hell out of me
I wanted to see Ava before we left and we caught another bus but used our old tickets and were going to play dumb if asked for tickets. The bus turned on the street of our hotel so we got off there and dropped our packages off and then walked to the bar. Ava had already left but waitress from the night before served us and was pleasant and chatted for a while. We had one drink and then I asked the waitress to give Ava our address and a note and I asked her what would be a good island to visit.
She said Sifnos or Serifos and gave us directions of how to get to the ferryboats in Piraeus. I thanked her and tried to give her a tip but she refused and said it was too much. I don’t know because it was dark, I might have given her 5,000— I thought it was 1,000. We walked back to our hotel. We had dinner at the café next to our hotel. We ordered the chef’s special, a dish of spaghetti with baked cheese, ham, green peppers, and mushrooms. It was good and after we ate, we worked on our journals.
The next morning we caught the A1 bus to Piraeus and I didn’t realize it was like a suburb of Athens. I had Ryan ask the driver to tell us where to get off and the ticket guy said he’d speak to the driver. An elderly woman was going right to the ferryboats and offered to take us right there. She didn’t speak any English but offered to help Ryan carry a bag but I guess I’ve made Ryan so suspicious of people he wouldn’t let go of his bag.
We found out that the ferry wouldn’t leave until 9 P.M., so we had the whole day to kill. The lady at the ticket office let us leave our packages in the office and we set off to find the post office and the first two people we dealt with were very rude. The clerk took my money for stamps and wouldn’t answer my questions; she just motioned for me to go away. I stamped and addressed the two packages and got in line again. This time another clerk kept saying “Normal, only normal” referring to the tape on the one box. I said, why didn’t other woman tell me? And so now, I’m supposed to buy more stamps? She couldn’t communicate with me and vice-versa and we got her supervisor in on it. Finally, they gave up and said I pay 400 more Drachmas and it was accepted.
We then went in search of a phone I could call Jeri from. We found a place and I got hold of Jeri. As usual, she wanted to know everything and I was trying to keep it short. I told her the things I wanted of my mom’s (my sisters were dividing up our mom’s things & of course, they took what they wanted and didn’t care about my requests) and she spoke to Ryan. I also called Ruedi and left a message on his machine. I asked the telephone person to recommend a good Greek restaurant and he wrote down the name and directions for us.
On our way to it, we passed a toy store and I promised Ryan we’d return to it after we ate. We couldn’t find the restaurant and had trouble finding the toy store again but eventually we did find it. Ryan spent quite a long time looking over the toys and I had an interesting conversation with the owner. He had lived in Toronto and his son was born there. I told him I loved to read and he did too. I asked about our C.I.A. overthrowing the Greek government and he said yes and that’s why a lot of Greeks don’t like Americans. We talked about happiness, success, the drug problem, war, and etc. When Ryan finally decided on a robot, we shook hands and he said he was glad to have met me.
We then went back to the ferry station and ate at McDonalds or actually we took the food to the most remote end of a pier. I was tired of crowds and noise. We then went to a restaurant nearby and I had beers while Ryan drank cokes. I worked on my journal and Ryan played with his robot. They had a jukebox but Madonna was the only English artist and I never got a chance to play it.
When 7 P.M. finally rolled around, we retrieved our packs, bought some goodies and boarded the boat, which wouldn’t leave until 9 P.M. We had a good table but these youngsters moved their table closer to ours and tried to move our packs out of their way. I said no, we were here first, you move. They all started smoking so I went to find a spot near the railing on the side of the ship (Ryan can trigger an asthma attack for Ryan). When we started to move our stuff, one of the girls started clapping and I said, Fuck You!
After the ship got under way, I bought us some sandwiches, which were like two pounds of bread & three grams of ham. Ryan played with his robot and a little Greek boy joined him. It was funny! We fell asleep and woke just in time for our destination of Sifnos. It was a madhouse disembarking with all the cars, scooters, motorcycles and people on foot. It was 2 A.M. and we made our way through the little town and no rooms were available anywhere.
our first night on Island of Sifnos
I saw a sign that said camping and we made our way there. It too, was packed and I spoke to the guy who ran the place and he asked if we had anything to sleep on and I said, sheets. He said to try and find a spot and leave my passport with him. We found a patch of dirt between a tent and a garbage can. We laid out my pink sheet and put on warmer clothes and used some clothes for pillows and covered as best as we could with Ryan’s narrow sheet. The wind was blowing and we had a big gust blow some dirt in our faces. Just before we fell asleep, the guy who ran the place came by and covered us up with two thin blankets and a nylon two-man pup tent.
When we woke in the morning, I returned the blankets and tent and asked the guy about finding a room and he said he didn’t think we’d have any luck because even the police were calling him asking if he had any space. He said the best time to try to find a room was between 10 A.M. and noon. We had a ham and cheese croissant and orange juice and strawberry juice and set off.
I figured we’d better get an early start on finding a place because all the others had scooters or motorcycles and could cover more ground and much faster than us. I thought we’d go to the end of town and work our way back. We tried several places all to no avail and decided we’d better rent a moped before they were all gone too.
We found a place and the cost was approximately $12 for 24 hours. The guy asked if I knew how to ride a motorcycle and I said yes, but it’s been many years. He said it was a semi-automatic with no clutch. It was down 1-2-3. I had to leave my passport and he said we needed gas and the nearest station was Apollonia about five kilometers away. It was embarrassing at first because I had a difficult time shifting and getting the hang of it. We made it to Apollonia and gassed up and went on looking for a room. Again, no luck. I tried going up a few hills and started rolling backwards and Ryan had to hop off and walk up a little.
the beach near our campground on Sifnos
We gave up on finding a room and headed back to our campground. When we got back, I had a beer and Ryan a coke. We then walked over to the beach near us. It was pretty much deserted. Ryan worked on a sand castle and I on my beer. We then walked down the beach to a bar/café at one end of the beach. We were still hungry so I ordered an omelet and Ryan ordered sausage and eggs. As usual, the prices were high and the quantity low. I also ordered a bloody Mary and Ryan a mixed fruit drink.
Ryan’s chest immediately started to hurt like in an allergic reaction—we figured the banana in the drink. Ryan took some Ventillin and didn’t drink anymore of the drink. My Bloody Mary was pitiful. We then went back to the campground to get our stuff for the beach and I bought three beers and two cokes. I asked where a good beach was and he said just follow the road to the end. So we did. I was starting to get a little better control or feel for the bike but we still had to walk a few hills.
bar on the beach on Sifnos, near our campground
There were some beautiful views from the top of the hills. We reached the end of the road and parked the bike and walked down to the beach. We had to really hunt to find a little shade. We put on our sun block and went in for a swim but Ryan thought the water too cold. It was almost 72 degrees and I splashed him and got him wet. You could see pretty clearly underwater almost like in a pool. Ryan only stayed in for about ten minutes and got out. I went for a short swim and got out too since there was no one to play with or talk to.
There were a couple of huge yachts that must’ve cost over a million dollars. There were several women sunbathing topless and it was hard not to stare. We were losing our shade and had to move up onto some ice plant for more shade. We both fell asleep and when I woke I felt the heat of the sun and woke Ryan so we wouldn’t get too sunburned. I had promised Ryan we’d rent a boat but I figured we didn’t need any more sun. He was disappointed but that’s the way it goes.
Ryan dwarfed by yacht (guess the wealthy liked Sifnos?)
We packed up and left. Ryan didn’t think we’d be able to make it up a lot of those hills we came down on our way there but I’d finally got the hang of down-shifting and getting a running start on some of the hills. The only worry was a couple of sharp turns where if we were going too fast and a car was coming the other way it could’ve been nasty. I even goofed-around a little bit and bounced the bike a little and stood up somewhat on the foot pegs. I was yelling whoopee and ride em cowboy.
After we got back—and Ryan didn’t have to get off once—we went back to the bar on the beach. We played a game of checkers and Ryan had improved since we’d last played but I still won. I had five or six beers and was feeling good. I noticed a girl looking at me several times. I asked the DJ to play some Motown after he wouldn’t let me look through his albums. A salsa type song came on and I asked the girl who was watching me if she’d like to dance and she said no. She was practically dancing in her chair but oh well. Then Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me” came on and I said fuck it! I went over by the DJ booth and danced by myself. One of the waiters danced a few seconds with me and I got a lot of smiles. There were probably 50 people in the place but no one danced except me.
Guess why I took this pic?
After the song was over and I had returned to our table, a waiter brought me a Heineken and said it was on the house because I had brought a smile to people’s faces. I had tried each of the beers available—Heineken, Amstel, Corona and had three Heinekens. We then went to see if we could rent a mini-bike for Ryan but they said he had to be 18 years old. He was again bummed-out. I wanted to see when the ferryboat was leaving the next day and we asked at a Dolphin office. One was leaving at 9 A.M. and it only took two hours but it was expensive ($50) but I went for it. We then did a little souvenir shopping.
I bought Ryan another book because he’d finished his two books. He chose Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I bought a few more post cards. The scooter rental place closed at 10 P.M. and opened at 8:30 A.M. so I figured I’d better return it tonight so we wouldn’t be rushed in the morning since I’d booked the 9 A.M. Dolphin. We had Mousaka for dinner at the campground and I told the owner I wanted to buy him a drink. He had said that morning he’d find a tent or something better for us for tonight and he did.
We had the tent we’d slept next to the night before and he gave us a quilt to lie on the floor of the tent. He said he’d have a drink with me later. After dinner we went back to the bar because I wanted to dance. We had to pay $3 each to get in this time and there were a few people dancing but I couldn’t find any single ladies so we had one drink and left. We went back to the campground and the guy said he didn’t care much for alcohol so he let me buy him an orange juice. I had a Bacardi & coke and he said to say when and it was at least a third of the glass i.e. a strong drink.
We then went to our tent. I threw-up several times during the night. Luckily, I left the front flap open to get some fresh air and I’d just stick my head out of the tent and barf and cover it with some dirt.
Oh yeah, I forgot that when we went back to the bar, one of the bartenders who was on duty when we were there earlier came up to our table. He said that my dancing had made everybody happy and he thought it was great for Ryan to be traveling at his age because he could learn by experience rather than just through books.
When we were awakened by our host (I’d asked him to give us a wake-up so we wouldn’t miss our boat), we took showers, packed our stuff and paid our bill. We caught a Dolphin (sort of hydro-foil boat) to Pireaus and it only took two hours. We had very comfortable seats and the boat really flew. When we arrived in Pireaus we immediately tried to phone the train station but none of the phones had the number for information or anything. We walked several blocks and then a young lady directed us as to which bus to take to get to the train station. We had been walking in the opposite direction.
It was about a five-minute ride to the train station but it was a sub-station and we had to wait about an hour and a half. I bought a couple of burgers and fries while we waited. We got on the train and went a short distance to the main station where they told us we had to get off if we didn’t have reservations. A lot of good our 1st class Eurail passes did us! We had to wait another hour to catch the next train. A family tried to tell us we were in their seats but their tickets didn’t match our seat numbers so we refused to move.
It was a long and hot trip and it took five hours this time instead of the four hours it took us upon arrival. When we arrived in Patras, we immediately went looking for either the Hellenic or the Adriatic ferry lines, which were supposed to honor the Eurail Pass, but still charged us a fee. We found the Adriatic and at least it didn’t have a line. They wanted to charge us an additional $90 for berths and they didn’t have any seats. I decided we’d just pay for deck passage. It cost us about $24. We had to go see the passport police again and as usual; they were very rude i.e. they just throw your passports and papers back at you.
We then stopped at a sidewalk café and had drinks and Souvlaki (pork pieces on a stick). We then boarded the ferry a lot more quickly than on the Hellenic Line coming over. We found a good spot on the second to the top level that had windows blocking the wind and were next to a restroom and shower. We laid our raincoat & poncho down and then my sheet on top of them and dressed warm. We covered with Ryan’s sheet and slept pretty soundly. Ryan said they were playing some good music that he recognized including his favorite, Smashing Pumpkins.
view from our spot under the stairs, next to the bathroom on ferry boat
We slept for about ten hours and when we woke up it was warm and the sun was beating down. I took a shower and felt much better. I had Ryan hold the shower door shut because it kept opening. I was getting angry earlier before we got up because nobody would close the bathroom door and it kept hitting my foot. Just like on the train from Athens to Patras. Was I being the Ugly American again?
I slammed the door a couple of times and people looked kind of surprised but I think they got the message. We passed the time reading and writing and playing a little cards. There was a small pool (I guess they were imitating a luxury liner) and many of the teenagers & early 20 something’s lounged around it in their swimsuits. We had a hot lunch in the Buffet. All in all, I think it was better than the Hellenic Line.
Ryan napping on the ferry boat
the young, luxuriating in their pseudo lifestyles of the rich & famous
When we reached Brindisi, we headed for the train station. Ryan had to stop and take some Ventilin so; I carried his pack and had him carry only one bag. I was worried he might be getting overheated so I made him take his shirt off. He didn’t want to but I insisted. The next train to Milan was leaving in about an hour. When we boarded the train it was a madhouse. I sent Ryan ahead and I loaded the packs. It was standing room only in the aisles.
Ryan made his way back to me and he was sweating profusely on his face. He had no luck. A girl was smoking even though it was a no smoking car and I tapped her on the shoulder and pointed to the no smoking sign and she ignored me. I tapped her again and repeated what I’d said and she said something like, “Don’t touch me.” I got right in her face and called her stupido, bitch, etc. She eventually putout her cigarette and went back to her compartment. But person after person kept lighting up and I kept asking them not to smoke and made gestures indicating Ryan had trouble breathing.
A big guy lit-up and I also tried to get through to him so he went to the door separating the cars and kept the door open while he and several others in there smoked. He was being defiant and showing me he didn’t give a damn what I didn’t like. I went over and tried again to explain to him & the others about Ryan’s asthma and I don’t know what they said but I could tell by the tone it was basically, go fuck yourself. I was getting so pissed-off I was afraid I was going to start swinging.
When a conductor came by, I told him about the girl and he didn’t say anything to her. I insisted he tell her and he just said, “No fumar.” She motioned that she had been smoking out the window and he went on his way. Ryan said we ought to just get off the train, it was too crowded. I wanted to make some progress towards Switzerland but I agreed eventually due to my anger level at all those inconsiderate bastards who probably didn’t understand me and just thought I didn’t like smoke.
We only rode for about one and a half hours and got off in Bari because it looked like a good-sized town on the map. We went to the Information office and I explained to them what had happened. I told them I didn’t care whether it was first or second-class just so long as people weren’t smoking because I didn’t want to have to take Ryan to the hospital. They got on the phone for about 20 minutes and said sorry, all first class is full but they kept trying and then they called the guy who handles reservations and he said no problem.
We left with him and he put us in a compartment on an empty train and put a note saying compartment reserved. Ryan lay down a little while later and fell asleep. It was two and a half hours before we left and whenever someone walked by, I’d fan Ryan to make it look good why we had a whole compartment to ourselves. It was hard staying awake, I was really tired. Finally we left and all night people kept coming in and I’d point to the sign and say reserved. A few asked like why only two people? I’d just point to the sign and say excuse me. Around 2:30 A.M. I gave up and stretched out to sleep. The next time I heard the door, a guy was sitting in our compartment and had been for a while. Ryan had sat up & fallen asleep sitting up. A conductor asked to see our reservations and I showed him the note they’d written saying Ryan has asthma and please don’t smoke. People who were sitting in the aisles were pestering him.
He looked it over and told the people “Reserved.” They weren’t very happy campers and I felt a little guilty but not so much as to give up our private compartment. Some of the people who tried to enter our compartment were smoking and again it was a no smoking car. So, we had our own space all the way to Milan where we arrived about 9:00 A.M. the next morning.
the architecture of Milan’s train station blew my mind
inside Milan train station; felt like a cathedral
the cutie in blue-jean shorts caught my eye
taking a break in Milan, I think?
We had a couple of hours to kill until the train for Bern so we went to find something to eat. On the way I found a phone and called Jeri. We ate at McDonalds again. We then did a little shopping in the station and I took a few pictures. (Oh yeah, while in McDonalds, Dean Martin’s song “Volare” came on & I started chuckling, Ryan didn’t know what was so funny) We arrived in Bern around four o’clock and called the youth hostel.
near the bear pit in Berne
On our way to the youth hostel, we came to a park where all the junkies hung out. It gave me the creeps and I asked Ryan if he noticed anything but he hadn’t. (Need to insert something here that I forgot to mention; when we were in Patras at an ATM machine, I was taking out some money and Ryan was facing the ATM with me & I told him, no Ryan, this is when I need you to put your back to mine and let me know if anyone approaches because it’s places like this where you can get mugged. It was a seedy-looking part of town, down by the docks) I asked two passersby for directions and they were junkies. Luckily we didn’t have to go through the park. (I again asked Ryan if he had noticed anything about the guy who gave us the directions to the hostel & Ryan said no. I told him the guy who gave us directions had all those marks on his arms because he shoots-up heroin. I was always looking for opportunities to teach Ryan some street smarts.
another example of my poor photography skills
We found the hostel and got a family room at the normal price. I washed a load of clothes, took a shower and we played ping-pong. We then went to a pizzeria that had nice outdoor seating but everyone was smoking. We were told of another restaurant but all they had was fish and it was expensive (Ryan had developed quite a talent at calculating the costs in U.S. dollars & saved me a lot of trouble & I’d think over whether I felt it was a fair price) so we just had drinks. It was right near a waterfall on the river running through town and it was scenic but loud. We then went back to the pizzeria and got a pizza to go. They were very friendly and helpful. We had drinks while we waited on the steps.
outside chess at our hostel in Berne
Ryan ate almost the whole pizza except for the two slices I had. In the morning I had Ryan take a shower and he was embarrassed because there was a man in the shower also. I told him to get over it. We had a roll and a glass of orange juice at the hostel and then went to the train station and put our stuff in a locker. We found out about Hermann Hesse’s museum in Montagnola and then went out shopping and sightseeing. Ryan was in heaven.
our hostel in Berne (image of Lenin)
enjoying our dinner by the river in Berne
Lake Thun, reminded me of Disneyland with storybook atmosphere
I bought a four CD set for about $12 and a shirt for Jeri and a few post cards. Ryan bought some fireworks and candy. We caught a train around 2 P.M. for Leissengen, a beautiful hostel on Lake Thun. We took a Lake Steamer boat the last stretch for about one hour & 45 minutes. It was gorgeous with all the little lakeside houses and beautiful lawns & gardens and the mountains and lush green hillsides. Ryan slept a good part of it on my shoulder. Oh yeah, I also bought a tank top in Bern for about $6 and I was very tempted to buy a cuckoo clock.
Ryan as arts & crafts teacher
When we got off the steamer, I asked a man for directions to the hostel and he gave us a ride in his Opel—a very funny car. The hostel was a big house and it was 30 feet from the lake. The woman who ran the place said she’d made a mistake and had overbooked but we could have dinner with them and could get a hotel room for less than the hostel would cost. I ordered a beer and a soda and I was writing and Ryan was reading when dinner was served. I was a little offended when no one told us to come to dinner and it didn’t look like there was space for us anyway.
the hostel we had dinner at in Lake Thun
So we just continued reading & writing and then the woman in charge said to us, “Come and eat, you ordered dinner.” I said there didn’t appear to be any room and she replied yes, there in the middle.” We felt a little awkward and uncomfortable but the German family whose table we were sharing, were friendly and I gradually got into a conversation with them. The husband was a teacher of math & physics with students 15 to 25 years old. They had twin sons, Georgio & Henry, I believe? Their sons were eight years old.
I was enjoying my conversation but Ryan never uttered a word even though I kept trying to get him involved in the conversation. Finally, when I told them that Ryan designed probably a hundred different paper airplanes, the father asked Ryan if he’d show them one. Ryan got my tablet and started to work. When he flew it and it went all the way into the lake, he was an instant hit with all the kids. There must have been six or seven kids gathered around Ryan and he taught them how to make various models. They would go to the top floor of the hostel and launch them out the windows and etc.
The kids had a blast and Ryan loosened-up. Ryan wanted to have a foot race against the twins and he won once and they won the next. It was a very pleasant family atmosphere. They had a boathouse that had a ping-pong table and a stereo system. They had paddleboards i.e. like a surfboard you paddled with a kayak type paddle. It started getting dark so I paid for dinner and asked directions to the hotel.
It was about a 20-minute walk and it was a clean & decent looking hotel. We paid about $32 for our room and breakfast. Before we went to bed, we had a drink on the terrace balcony. We wanted to watch a little T.V. in the T.V. room but couldn’t figure out how to work it.
waiting for our train at beautiful little village Lake Thun
The breakfast the next morning was actually a buffet. There were several kinds of breads, meats, cheeses, fruits, cereal, juice, etc. The hostess also made us soft-boiled eggs like they serve in a tiny, metal egg holder. We stuffed ourselves and then paid the bill and were on our way. I really wanted to see the Hermann Hesse museum so we got on a train for Spietz to transfer to Brig and then supposedly to Lake Lugano (I almost forgot to add that when we were at the youth hostel in Bern, they had a pin-up board with pics & descriptions of youth hostels all over Switzerland and I told Ryan that since I had been picking almost every place we went to, it was his choice as to which hostel we went to in Switzerland and he chose the one we went to at Lake Thun).
We were told to transfer again after Brig for Dusseldoma and were back in Italy. Three men who worked for the train system took about a half-hour giving me directions of how to get there. They said we’d have to go back to Milan then come to Lugano and then maybe a bus. I gave up and told Ryan forget it. It’d be late at night and the museum would be closed and we’d probably have trouble finding a room. So, we boarded a train for Zurich. We arrived in Zurich around 6:30 P.M. and I called Ruedi and he again said he was busy for the next couple of days. He asked me to call a few days in advance and I said okay.
I told Ryan how disappointed I was in my “friend,” and it added-up, I’d write him and maybe five years later he’d write back. He didn’t have time for us. I saw there was an overnight express to Amsterdam and we had three hours to kill so we shopped around in the huge shopping complex under the train station. Ryan found an encyclopedia to his Magic cards he was collecting and I bought it for him to make him happy and because I felt bad for my “friend’s” bad manners. Ryan commented that he too was disappointed because he was looking forward to meeting Ruedi because I had spoken so highly of him so often. Once again, I’m not the good judge of character that I like to think I am when it comes to “friends.”
We had an appetizer sampler at the American Bar, which had computers you could use to chat with people on the Internet & etc. The appetizers were tasty and they included; potato wedges, poppers, tortilla chips, meatballs, barbecue chicken wings with thousand island sauce, ranch, salsa, etc.
When we boarded the train, we shared a compartment with two Japanese young men from Toronto. We slid the seats together and I slept with Ryan’s feet in my face and vice-versa. We arrived in Amsterdam at 9 A.M. and put our bags & packs in a locker and went looking for a room. We first went to the Hotel Kabul where I’ve stayed at a few times. The woman at the desk didn’t think it a good idea for Ryan because of all the pot smoking, drinking, & partying. We checked out a few hotels in the better part of town but they wanted $100 to $120 for rooms that weren’t worth $30 a night. We decided to just do some shopping and try to find an arcade and then we’d head for Dover.
Antwerp, beautiful architecture
Ryan was pissed-off because they wouldn’t let him play in the arcades. You had to be 18. It didn’t make sense. All the drugs and sex shops and yet he couldn’t play kids video games. We did find a bar with pool tables and played a game of pool. We caught the train for Antwerp, Belgium and arrived around 7:30 P.M. We checked a couple of hotels and they were expensive. I found one for $54 and it wasn’t very hot (good). I thought I’d try the fancy, new hotel a woman had told us about. She said that she thought it had a swimming pool and special rates because they were brand new. It cost $89 but was well worth it.
The room had a T.V., mini-bar stocked with Heinekens, telephone in the bathroom, air conditioning, room service, and a safe for your valuables, etc. We immediately went for a swim and though chilly at first, it was very refreshing and relaxing. They also had a sauna, Lifecycles, etc. with several TVs mounted on the walls. Very top of the line.
I felt the price for the room was very fair but their food & drink prices were outrageous. Fifteen dollars for a hamburger if ordered through room service. The mini-bar cost $3 for a coke and $7 for a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels, about enough for one drink. We went out and got some fast food that was like shiskabob. We went back to our room and watched the Jay Leno show & Demi Moore was on. We then went out again. We found an amusement center that Ryan could play in and I got a pocketful of change and let him go for it. Then I said okay, now it’s my turn to play and we found a pub with a jukebox.
It was about one hundred feet from the arcade and there were a handful of customers in it. There were two other pubs close by but they seemed a bit rowdy. I played some tunes on the jukebox and had several beers while Ryan played a few games. I was feeling pretty good not just from the beer but also because we had a nice room and I felt better about myself. I felt more important or uptown I guess?
I bought the house a round, including the bartender, and did a little halfway dancing to a song by Mike & the Mechanics. I got into a conversation with a Belgian guy and had quite a good time. We touched on the subject of Vietnam and I started crying and said that it was a civil war and we had no business there. We changed the subject and I again was the happy drunk. The guy I was speaking to asked me if I knew how to roll pot and I told him I didn’t and couldn’t due to my mom’s Will which said my sisters and I had to be drug-tested before we got our share of the inheritance. We finally left the bar around 3:30 A.M. and got an assortment of meats (Middle Eastern, I believe?) and went back to our room.
Check out time was noon but we didn’t wake up until 11 A.M. We rushed through our showers and packing—well, I rushed Ryan and I drank three beers from the mini-bar fridge. We missed-out on the breakfast that was included and didn’t get to take another swim like I hoped to but I was still in a great mood. The guy from the night before had given me his phone number and invited us to be his guests and show us Antwerp.
We checked out at 12:30 and went to the bar across from the one of the night before because it wasn’t open yet. (I forgot another thing about our stay in Amsterdam, I purposely had us walk through the Red Light District in Amsterdam with the women sitting in the picture windows so perspective customers could do some window shopping. I think I wanted to see if Ryan would have any reaction but like on the Greek island, Sifnos, with the women sunbathing topless, Ryan didn’t show any signs of shock, no, he was a cool customer. I bet he couldn’t wait to tell his friends about these experiences when we returned to Oregon though?) Part of street smarts and life experience? I ordered drinks and called the guy up. He said his parents were over and that he’d meet us at 3 P.M. While I was ordering another round at this bar, one of the customers spoke to me. At first he seemed friendly and he said he saw us the night before. He then seemed to get a little disrespectful. I couldn’t make out exactly what he said but I could tell from his tone that he was being a jerk.
I played it cool and said firmly, no, I don’t understand. I stayed a while so as to make it clear I wasn’t intimidated. After the other bar, we were in last night, opened up, we went over. We waited until 4 P.M. and my “friend” never showed. I gave the bartender his phone number and asked her to return it to him if and when he showed up.
We caught the next train to Oostende and then booked passage on the ferry to Ramsgate. In Ramsgate we found a bed & breakfast for 27 pounds. After we unloaded our stuff, we went out to find our supper. It was Friday night and the young & not so young were out on the town. As we passed a disco, I noticed the bouncers frisking the guys before they entered. I thought this must be a rowdy area though I didn’t get that impression. We found a Greek restaurant and Ryan had an English breakfast and I had a Greek dish of meat & rice wrapped in leaves.
We walked back to the B & B and ordered drinks from the little bar in the lobby. Two guys—looked like working class stiffs—and a middle-aged woman, shortly joined us. She had a nice smile, looked a little weather-beaten but had a sexual charm about her. We were watching Star Trek or something but I heard the guys making a few crude and lewd remarks to the woman and then she moved closer to them.
I thought it wise to go to our room, so we did. We watched a little more T.V. in our room and fell asleep. We got up early the next day but I didn’t see where breakfast was served so I went back to the room and we took our time with showering and packing. When we came down, I saw the door to the dining room and we went in.
It was 9:15 A.M. and the woman serving breakfast was the woman of the night before at the hotel bar. While we were waiting, a guy came over and said, “We’re going to serve you even though you’re pushing it, you were told that breakfast is over at 9:00 A.M. I simply said sorry, I forgot, rather than try to explain. It was a substantial breakfast. Afterwards, we headed for the road to Dover. We had a pretty good walk and Ryan had to stop frequently and he took a few puffs of Ventilin.
When we finally reached a spot where traffic seemed to be headed out of town, we found a shady spot and I enlightened Ryan as to the tricks of the trade regarding hitchhiking. It only took about 15 minutes to get a ride. A young couple on their way to Calais for the day. Her name was Fiona and she & I did most of the talking. It was a pleasant conversation and she commented that she didn’t see many children hitching around southeast England. She feigned offence when after asking if we were going to London, I replied as short a time as possible.
I explained that the cost, the crowds, & the humidity were what I didn’t like about London. Fiona had red hair and had been to the States. She knew what I meant when I told her I didn’t think I’d ever get used to driving on the left side of the road. They let us out in the centre of Dover and we went in search of a place to cash travelers cheque.
We found a Thomas Cook Exchange and it cost $6 to cash a hundred dollars traveler’s cheque. We then had quite a walk past the docks to the road westbound towards Haslemere where I wanted to show Ryan the work I’d done at Lou & Kate Shields place.
We tried hitching a ride for about two hours but to no avail. We were just outside a place that was holding a charity auction and we went in to see if we could get some water. I spotted a water faucet and asked a guy who was doing some work on a building if we could get a drink.
He said to come with him and he’d get us some water from the house because the faucet water had something in it. He came out with a large measuring cup of water and some paper cups. A big man I recognized from the ferry ride the day before was sitting outside the house. Our host left us with him and asked him to get more water for us if we wanted it.
The big guy recognized us too and we exchanged a few words. He and his companion had slept on the beach last night and this place was like a Goodwill or Salvation Army but they were full up and so he’d have to be moving on. I introduced Ryan and myself and he said his name was Tiny. I smiled and lightly chuckled at this because he had to be 6’ 5” and near 350 pounds. We all shook hands and he gave Ryan some candy and we said good-bye.
We moved up the highway a bit to a bus stop with some shade and an area for cars to pull over. Ryan had been bugging me for a chance to try out some of the fireworks he’d bought. I told him it was okay. There was a fenced in area with a few goats in it. One goat had a long beard and wide horns and seemed to be the boss. Ryan had fun feeding the goats some old bread he’d found on the ground, some of our chips, some of his Starburst candy and the wrappers.
We finally decided to hang it up and walked back down the hill to the first pub we came across. The music was blaring and the décor was that of an old, sea-going vessel. I ordered the usual, a pint of beer for myself and a Coke with ice for Ryan. Ryan drank part of his Coke and fell asleep even though he had complained a few minutes earlier that he couldn’t sleep because the music was so loud. We were about three feet away from a speaker in order to avoid the smoke of the other customers. I had another beer while Ryan slept. Poor little guy was tuckered out with all the walking and carrying our heavy loads.
A group of people who were dressed up—maybe a wedding—came in. The women played pool and the one who seemed to win consistently had her blouse unbuttoned so low that I saw almost her entire breast each time she bent over to take a shot. She was probably my age but had an earring in her nose. Another woman with the party who was much more demure and seemed to command the respect & the attention of the others smiled at me or rather Ryan’s sleeping several times. When I took a picture of him sleeping she said, “That’s cruel.” I replied, Yes, I know. After I’d finished my second beer, I woke Ryan because we needed to find a room for the night.
We walked on to a quiet little pub that had the distinction of being the smallest pub in York. We would have taken up too much room with our packs and bags so we sat outside. As I was ordering the drinks, I asked if they knew of any reasonably priced B & Bs and was given directions. Ryan enjoyed petting a very mellow Golden Retriever that seemed to belong to the pub.
The dog would lie right across the entrance so that people had to step over him and he’d get up once in a while and go into the pub for a few minutes. We finished our drinks and headed for the street with the B & Bs. The first one we came to was full and charged 40 pounds. The next one wanted 36 pounds but was a dive. The proximity to the train station made the price higher so we walked past the next dozen or so until we saw one advertised for 12 pounds per person.
I knocked on the door and an elderly woman answered and said she did have a room. I took a look and it seemed cheerful and there was a T.V. We took it and dropped our stuff off and went out. We first stopped at the train station to price tickets to Canterbury. We then went to the pub across from the train station and had drinks. After our drinks, we headed for the centre of town to find a restaurant. And believe it or not, we again ate at a Greek restaurant but this time we got take away food because it was cheaper. We had the variety special and walked a short distance to a little square with benches.
We must’ve started something because then a few other travelers took up the other benches and ate their various dinners as well. It was getting dark and again the young were out and about. I noticed four pretty young things sitting outside a pub all dressed up. If I were alone, I probably would have seen if I could’ve got a dance or two. After dinner we headed back to the B & B but first we stopped at a Texaco station convenience store and bought a few goodies.
We stopped at another pub near our B & B and played Snooker pool and talked briefly with a couple of young boys aged 16 and their father. They taught us how to play and asked about the U.S. They had been to Disney World but not to Oregon. After they left, one of the customers got a little cocky with me but I shined him on and when we were finished with our game and walked out, I just let the door slam. I think he was pissed that I didn’t let him push my buttons.
The T.V. in our room was 12 inches and it only got one station & the reception was lousy. The next morning we took our showers and had breakfast and walked to the train station. We caught the train for Canterbury and arrived about 30 minutes later. I called the Youth hostel and was given directions but they didn’t open until 1 P.M. and it was 10 A.M. so we went in search of a laundry mat.
We found a launderette but it was closed. So, we did a little shopping and stopped at a few pubs to pass the time. On our way to the hostel, Ryan noticed a B & B for nine pounds each and I went up to the door to check it out. A woman answered and said she did have a room for us. I went and got Ryan and we took the room. It was a real home with lots of natural wood and natural wood furniture.
Our room was right off the living room and looked like a sunroom with bunk beds and two easy chairs. We dropped our packs and went out to explore Canterbury. The first place we stopped at was a Laser Tag place Ryan had spotted. I treated Ryan to a game of Laser Tag, it was only $7 and while he played, I had a couple of beers—this is my kind of amusement center. I went in with one of the employees to watch Ryan and the others play for a bit.
When Ryan came out 25 minutes later, he was very sweaty and high on the fun he’d had. He played a few of the arcade video and pinball games while I finished my beer and I played a few songs on the jukebox including a Smashing Pumpkins song for Ryan. We then went across the street to Safeway to buy some groceries for our supper. I bought a steak, some broccoli, potatoes, can of Leek & Potato soup, milk, and two Scotch eggs (a delicious concoction I had discovered at a pub when we lived in North Hollywood in L.A. which is a whole egg, deep-fried & wrapped with bacon). We then did more shopping in the quaint narrow streets. I bought a book on Shakespeare.
We gradually made our way to the famous Canterbury Cathedral and I’d forgotten how impressive it was 21 years earlier when I’d first visited it. You had to pay for a permit to take photos so I skipped taking pictures inside. The ceiling had to be a hundred feet high and the stained glass was awe-inspiring. Before we left the cathedral, we checked out the gift shop and I bought a parchment facsimile of the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral by Henry Scott Holland on the subject of Death. The words on this imitation scroll have given me more comfort regarding my mom’s death than anything else I have ever come across & I have shared it with several people, including Noam Chomsky who said it brought tears to his eyes—his wife, Carol, had passed away not long ago and I wanted to hopefully offer him a little comfort.
After we left the cathedral, we stopped in at another pub. Ryan wanted to play pool again and it was in an attic at the top of the pub that I had jokingly guessed when Ryan had asked me where it was. The poolroom looked pretty shabby and that’s where the youngsters gathered and they were smoking pot when we came in.
We played one game and left because some kids were waiting on the table and I was afraid our food might go bad. I had also bought us a couple slices of cheesecake because Ryan had been wanting some for a couple of days and we’d eaten it a couple of hours earlier. When we got back to the B & B, I started cooking our supper.
The woman whose home we were sharing was named Mary. She was Irish and from Galway. As I cooked and she prepared her family’s dinner she questioned me and passed her judgments on me. She was very opinionated and I was a bit annoyed but I didn’t show it or feel the need to justify myself. She reminded me of Nancy Reagan in her solution to the “drug problem”, “Just say No!”
Ryan and I went outside to eat in the backyard and I either was eating too fast or it simply went down the wrong pipe but I got a piece of steak caught in my throat. I kept going over to the bushes and spitting up flem and couldn’t get over that feeling of something caught in my throat. It went on for at least an hour and I finally told Ryan to eat my dinner.
After dinner, we joined Mary and her husband in the front room. The conversation at first was awkward and not free flowing. Then gradually as some of the other guests joined us, it got a little better. I felt like I was the social director and also felt a little guilty like I was talking too much. Later on, Mary’s daughter came in and though she wasn’t a raving beauty, she had a magnetism about her. I thought I noticed Mary giving me distrustful looks a few times because I felt her daughter was attracted to me & vice-versa. She and I talked mostly and the others mostly sat silent.
Mary’s husband had offered me a glass of wine earlier and I must’ve nursed it for at least two hours. One of the other guests was English also but he’d just spent ten years in Australia working in the mines. And there was a couple from Portugal who hardly spoke. Ryan was the central subject of our conversation. We discussed his many talents and he reveled in the attention. He demonstrated several of his talents including paper airplanes. Mary’s husband was much more mellow than she was. I liked him. He paid a lot of attention to Ryan, as did his wife but he got involved with Ryan whereas Mary mostly just sang his praises like a doting grandmother.
We also discussed education at length and I learned that Mary’s husband had once studied to become a priest. He also worked with abused children and we shared observations. He was in the process of building a little cottage or hut in their backyard and I told him about my efforts on Ryan’s tree house. Around 11:30 or so, Mary announced that it was bedtime and I went to sleep fantasizing about her daughter and wondering whether we should maybe stick around a few more days as Ryan had suggested.
The next morning, Ryan too wanted to stay. I believe he enjoyed the family atmosphere and the attention he had received. I told him that I really wanted to see Oxford University and the British Museum and that we had to move on and that he should just take it as a good experience and remember it as such. We said good-bye and Mary asked Ryan to write her. She shook my hand and hugged Ryan. As we walked away, I kept kicking myself because I felt that I might have walked away from a possibly lovely & sensual experience with Mary’s daughter. While we were packing, Mary’s daughter had come down to the kitchen in a flimsy slip and Mary scolded her and told her to go put something decent on, and I noted that Mary’s daughter didn’t seem particularly concerned about her mother’s prudish admonitions & didn’t exactly rush up to her room to change. I think she enjoyed titillating me with her lovely body? Several times throughout the course of our vacation, Ryan had wanted to stay at various places but I was so anxious to show him everything, I’d press for us to move on. Now of course in hindsight, I wish I’d listened to my son more often. I knew that we’d probably never get a chance to make such a trip together and I simply tried to cram too much in to our trip. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to add that Mary had to give me one last parting jab, Ryan was packing his backpack as we were preparing to leave & Mary said in a sarcastic tone, “Looks like Ryan is in charge,” (or something to that effect i.e. like Ryan was directing/running our trip). I just gave her a scowl and we left.
When we got to the bus station it started raining. The bus was late and then there wasn’t enough room so we had to wait for another bus. It was supposed to be another 15 minutes but was 45 minutes. When we arrived at Victoria Station in London, I was glad at least that it wasn’t muggy like two & a half weeks earlier when we had passed through. I called a few hostels and they were all full except one that wanted 36 pounds or $72 for a six-bed dormitory. I talked it over with Ryan and thought we’d find cheaper accommodations in Oxford.
We caught a bus to Oxford and arrived there one & a half hours later. On our way out of London, we noticed huge crowds filling the streets. Ryan guesstimated a million people and I thought he was way off but I later learned he was pretty much accurate. It was the annual Notting Hill Festival that the Blacks from the Caribbean put on. This year’s festival was supposedly one of the most peaceful. Only three stabbings and one shooting of a French student.
When we got to Oxford, the tourist information office was closed. We had drinks at the pub next to the bus station and I saw a board for tourist info. It had guesthouses, B & Bs, and hotels listed. I copied down several of the least expensive and returned to our table. Ryan was dodging bees. I also asked inside the pub re: places to stay and the bartender didn’t know of any. We were just about to leave when the waitress came by again. I asked her and she said she thought someone inside knew of a nearby place. When she returned she said it was right across from the bus station. I told Ryan to stay put and I went to check it out.
It was above a pub and the bartender showed me the room. It looked clean and the beds were okay and it had a T.V. and best of all, we didn’t have to go looking for a room. I had taken a gamble because when I called the Oxford hostel from London it was full up and the guy said that the B & Bs around it were expensive. So, we paid just as much as the hostel in London ($72) and we had our own room over a pub, next to the bus station and in the heart of Oxford University.
After we moved our stuff into the room, I went into the pub to ask where a launderette was. The bartender gave me directions and I packed a bag of dirty clothes and told Ryan to stay in the room and watch T.V. It took me 15 minutes or so to reach the launderette and it was closing in ten minutes. Typical of our luck on this trip. So, I washed a tee shirt & socks by hand and had Ryan was a pair of underwear, socks, & a tee shirt. We hung them near the window to hopefully dry by morning. I told Ryan I was going downstairs to the pub and he worked on his journal.
I got into a conversation with a history professor from Oxford. He was okay but I sensed he was somewhat insincere and I thought he might be gay. I tried to pick his brain and told him why we came to Oxford. I’ve always been curious as to exactly what Rhodes Scholars read and what sort of questions or papers they wrote and wanted to see how I measured up against these requirements?
I stayed a bit too long and Ryan came down to get me. We were going to go out for some supper and the bartender recommended “The Kebab Kid,” a fast food Middle Eastern place near by. Ryan got a Kebab burger and I got something like a Kebab Falafel. I was afraid it might not be enough so I also ordered fries and a meat pastry. It was more than enough and we had trouble eating it all while watching T.V. back in our room.
After dinner, Ryan wanted to check out a laser/video arcade but it was closed. We went back to the room and watched T.V. until we fell asleep. The next morning after we had our breakfast, we left our packs in the basement of the B & B/pub and set off. We stopped first in a bookstore called Dillon’s and I bought “A Beginner’s Guide to Plato,” the comic type series of books. A salesgirl photocopied a map showing us how to get to the Rhodes House when I asked about anything on what Rhodes Scholars studied.
We first headed to the Bodleian library because I thought it’d be intriguing and maybe a place to get info on Rhodes Scholars. We shopped as we made our way. I did find a Trivial Pursuit game for kids that I remember Willa (my supervisor at Aloha High—a real bitch) but it was 35 pounds. When we found the Bodleian Library it was closed. Typical!
We then moved on to the Rhodes House and it too was closed. A guard came over and I explained what I wanted and he let us in and showed us the way to the administrative offices. I again explained and an office worker gave me a short pamphlet on the Rhodes program.
I was very disappointed and we stopped at the first pub we came to. As we were enjoying our drinks, and if I remember correctly, the pub we were in used to be frequented by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and several other famous dons (professors) of Oxford University. After our drinks we did a little more shopping and went back and collected our packs/packages and caught the return bus to London. At Victoria Station, it cost me $14 to store our packs/packages in lockers. We caught the Tube (Underground) to the British Museum and boy was it packed. Mostly Japanese.
There was no charge but they requested donations. We first went in a gift shop inside because I’m always in search of posters or busts of philosophers. No luck and though they did have a few interesting items, prices were out of this world. We then went into the library and yes, it was impressive but everything was enclosed in glass cabinets and was locked. We looked around briefly and again I was disappointed. We didn’t care to check out the rest of the museum so we left. We did a little more shopping and caught the Tube back to Victoria Station. We planned on catching a bus to Guildford and spend the night there and then go to Haslemere the next day to show Ryan what I had worked on with Lou Shields.
We waited an hour & a half and got in line to board the bus. The guy from Information didn’t tell me the day before that for this bus you had to buy a ticket from the bus station, not the driver like we had on the other two buses we’d taken. And they let everyone on and we were the very last and they had no room left. I was pissed-off and I let them know it. I then went and stood in a queue to buy a ticket for the next bus. It took me a half hour to find out that it wasn’t due to leave until 10 P.M. and it was now 6:30 P.M. The guy told me to try the other bus line across the street or take a train.
I relayed the latest info to Ryan and was off again. The Green Line was closed and we’d just missed the last bus they had to Guildford. So, I bought a train ticket that was only a few pounds more than the goddamned bus would’ve been but I couldn’t understand what time or gate to go to. Another example of British courtesy! I went and got Ryan and I was surprised he didn’t even ask to go into the arcade in the shopping mall of Victoria Station.
We stood with the crowd staring at the Departure schedule board for probably about half an hour and I thought I finally knew the right platform to go to. We hustled over to it but there were no signs on the cars saying their destinations and there were no conductors to ask. I was afraid we might hop on the wrong train so we stood and watched it fill up. I saw the train driver/engineer and made a beeline to him and said excuse me and he looked at me and ignored me.
I angrily walked back over to Ryan and kept saying fairly loudly, fuck the British. We walked back over to the Departure Boards and I went back to the ticket window to find out for sure. Clapham Junction to transfer for Guildford at Platform 10 every five minutes.
We didn’t arrive in Guildford until 9:30 P.M. and I asked a group of cops if they knew of any B & Bs? They said most likely everything was full up but I could walk to the police station and get a list of B & Bs to call. It sounded like quite a walk and the odds were low we’d find a room and then we’d probably have to pay a rip-off taxi driver to take us there so we decided to see if we could catch a train to Gatwick Airport. There was a train leaving for Gatwick at 10:20 P.M.
I was going to see if we could sleep in the train station but they said they locked up at 1:00 A.M. Ryan was hungry and I saw what looked like a fast food place a few blocks away so I headed out and told Ryan to stay put. There was a woman sitting next to him and there didn’t seem to be any undesirables about, nevertheless, I walked at a brisk pace. It was a Chinese take-out place. The prices were so high I just ordered some rice and two cokes.
We wolfed the rice down and a few minutes later we boarded the train for Gatwick. We arrived about 11:00 P.M. and found a comfortable and long enough seat on the upper floor in “The Village” of stores, restaurants, and pubs, to sleep on. I went in each of the three pubs to get a beer but they each said, “Sorry we’re closed,” even though they still had a few customers drinking.
Ryan spotted a kids’ play area that had a T.V. on. We moved our stuff over to it and I said, alright, an old Jimmy Cagney movie. As soon as we sat down, a troop of young kids came in to play and we couldn’t hear or watch the T.V. so we went back to our bench. Ryan checked out the arcade and was mad that I wouldn’t let him go play in it. It was getting late and I knew we’d be woke-up early. I told him he’d have at least 20 hours to kill before we left on Thursday and to chill-out.
We were awakened around 5:30 A.M. the next morning and the place was swarming with people already. I bought donuts and milk for our breakfast but Ryan’s stomach was bothering him. I freshened-up in the restroom and later on went to see if there were any laundry facilities at or near the airport.
The airport didn’t have a launderette but they did have showers. The village a mile and a half away had one but you had to take the motorway and couldn’t walk on it. I checked out the Hilton Hotel connected to the airport but if you weren’t a guest, tough luck. The Hilton receptionist seemed genuinely sorry though.
I ended up buying a Bugs Bunny & Tasmanian Devil tee shirt in the Disney store in order to have at least a clean shirt for the flight back. We spent the day taking turns watching our packs & bags. I read quite a bit and Ryan spent a lot of time in the arcade. Ryan kept coming back and telling me of tickets or coins he’d found. I went to each of the pubs and had a beer in each and would sip on a beer to stretch out the time as long as possible. That is, I’d go to a pub while Ryan watched our stuff and then return while he took his turn in the arcade for a couple of hours. And then when it was my turn again, I’d go to a different pub. I hadn’t been keeping track of my ATM withdrawals for the entire length of our trip but had a hunch that I was getting very low in my balance and that’s why I was sipping my beer very slowly & I needed a change of scenery from sitting on the bench with our packs for hours at a time.
One of the pubs I went in was decorated with all sorts of memorabilia from the 50s & 60s. The bartender was a young guy who was truly entertaining. He reminded me of Tom Cruise in the movie, “Cocktail.” He’d toss glasses & bottles of liquor in the air with amazing juggling feats and he never missed. We had a brief conversation and I learned that he was quite a traveler himself. He’d go down to the Caribbean and work for a while and then be off somewhere else. He said that London was one of the best cities to get very cheap flights to various destinations around the world.
There were a couple of nice looking girls wearing Hawaiian tops & sexy straw skirts with leis of flowers around their necks who were handing out cards for some company’s promotion. Each time I came up the escalator, they’d try to hand me another card and I’d have to remind them that I’d already gotten one. I was starting to get a little bummed-out that they didn’t remember my face.
Ryan and I took turns cat-napping throughout the day. I went to a store downstairs that was less expensive than the others and bought us a couple of sandwiches & chips & a soda for Ryan and a beer for myself. I bought myself several beers during the course of the day and I thought that the airport police would say something to me but they never did. I felt kind of like a bum because we were camping out for so long at the airport but I also felt resourceful because we were making do.
In some ways, the time seemed to drag out but it really wasn’t that bad. I got tired of sitting though and would take occasional walks to stretch my legs. Reading has always been a good traveling companion. And Ryan and I would play card games and talk. Ryan also did a good amount of reading and kept trying to interest me in the arcade.
I finally gave in and went into the arcade with him. Ryan, I must say is very wise or frugal with his money whereas I’m the total opposite. For dinner we went to a cafeteria that wasn’t too expensive and had a good hot meal of soup, hot sandwiches and etc. After dinner we went back over to the kids’ play area with the T.V. and watched an old Jimmy Cagney movie.
By the time the movie was over, most of the benches were taken. We had to take seats in an area that had an air conditioner going and that I wasn’t too crazy about. We put our packs under the benches and slept head to head and I wore my money pouch inside my shirt. When we woke the next morning, there were already a lot of people coming & going. I had learned that there were showers for public use and wanted to clean up for the flight home. Another guy and I waited for quite some time. There were only two showers and he said that two Oriental girls were in them. When I finally did get in the shower, it felt great. I hadn’t showered for three days and felt like a slob.
I put on my new shirt and felt like a new man. We passed the next few hours pretty much as we had the day before. We checked-in for our flight about three hours before departure time and while waiting in line, I noticed a sign that said there was a $25,000 fine for bringing on board various things of which fireworks were one. We asked the ticket person about it and showed her Ryan’s fireworks. She said we couldn’t and Ryan was very bummed-out.
She took the fireworks and we went to the check-in area. After passing through the security check we were in a huge room with probably 20 different duty-free shops. We took turns staying with the packs while the other went to check out the shops. I didn’t see anything that I felt was a great deal. Ryan saw a hand-held computer that he felt was a good deal and he was debating on buying. Of course they had an arcade and Ryan wanted to check it out. They also had a pub and I wanted to check it out. So, I told Ryan to meet me in the pub when he was done. I forget the name of the pub but it was designed in the fashion of pubs in Shakespeare’s time.
They had a blackboard with a list of crimes and the punishments given for each crime in those times. It was very severe. I had a couple pints of Guinness and then Ryan joined me. I overheard a group of American businessmen who had come over to go golfing and felt a little superior, feeling they really didn’t experience “true traveling.” I had Ryan go and exchange my English pounds into American money.
Our flight back was a lot more pleasant than the flight over. The service was friendlier and the food even seemed to taste better. We transferred at Minneapolis/St. Paul and I checked out the shops while waiting. I lucked-out and wasn’t cramped for leg space on either portion of the flight back.
When we arrived in Portland, Jeri and her parents were there to greet us. They were amazed at Ryan’s cheeks and thought he had a reaction to his medicine or something. I told them that he must’ve put on weight because he had been eating like a horse the whole trip. He did quite a bit of walking and carried quite a load and worked up a hearty appetite.
We went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant though Ryan and I weren’t very hungry. Ryan’s grandfather, Sy, commented, “What a wonderful experience for Ryan to have had.” And I felt proud to have been able to take my son on this trip. I asked Ryan a few days later if the good outweighed the bad and he said yes and that there was hardly a day that went by that he didn’t think about our trip. I was concerned that I had been too tough on him but about a week after our return, I took Ryan and his buddy, Jeff, fishing in Estacada and as we were walking along a trail, I started to tell them that I was going to take a trip around the world and Ryan immediately exclaimed “Can I go?” I felt glad and a little awkward and tried to explain that this was something I wanted to do on my own and we’d just been to Europe for a month. But I was relieved to know that Ryan truly had the travel bug now and wanted to travel more with me.