White Women Canít Read (maps)
Well maybe black women canít either, but so far my extensive research with white women (5) indicates that they can not read maps. I have proven this over and over again when my spouse and I embark on our many European trips by rental auto. We have found over the years that this is the best way for us to tour. We spend many hours screaming at one another, get horribly lost, but somehow always manage to get to our ultimate destination and then congratulate one another on our skills and navigational ability. Follow these links to our adventures.. (Don't get lost!)
Casares Jesus Christ
We began our visit to Spain as typical tourists with a busload of people visiting castles, churches and other typical tourist destinations. We were getting bored so for the first time we decided to rent a car and go off on our own. We took the road to Ronda, home of the famous bullfights--- a treacherous drive along mountain roads with little room for passing other vehicles and no room for errors. We arrived safely and rented a guide to show us around. It was definitely worth the effort. At the suggestion of our hotel clerk we went off to visit a town called Casares (loosely meaning view in Spanish). The place was just as described... A city with no streets for automobiles. You had to leave your car outside the town and proceed on foot. All the houses were whitewashed and the people looked like they had just come from central casting. We went into one of the local shops for a drink. When we entered, they turned the lights on and immediately off when we left. Electricity must have been awfully expensive there.
No I did not see him in person, but a group of young children immediately on seeing me, grabbed my hands and literally pulled me to their church all the time crying out "Iglesias, Iglesias". Being the trained linguistic tourist that I am, I assumed that they were taking me to someone who spoke English. (Inglesias..Inglish.. Get it?) They swung open the church doors and stared up at me for approval. I nodded and then continued our walk through the town. We could hear snickers from the townspeople as we passed.
All of this was explained to us on our return to the hotel. The desk clerk asked if I went to Casares dressed as I was at the time--- Short pants, sandals and a mustache and goatee. He told us that at that time grown men in Spain did not wear shorts or sandals. The children in the town seeing this strange sight naturally assumed that I must be Jesus himself and took me immediately to their church-- Iglesias in Spanish. The adults just thought I was weird.
Germany Click on images to enlarge
I wanted to see for myself what the concentration camps looked like so we began one of our European trips by going to Munich first and renting a car to drive to Dachau. Dachau, as well as being the name of a famous concentration camp, is also a city, but strangely, hardly any German that we asked knew where it was. We had the same experience in the U.S.A. looking for Andersonville prison. No Southerners seemed to know where it was.
We finally found Dachau. It was a fascinating tour. Dachau was not, as Auschwitz and others, an extermination camp. Thousands were indeed incinerated there but the main purpose of the camp was to isolate those that were opposed to the Nazi regime. If you just happened to die there, as many did, the ovens were a convenient way of disposing of your remains. What fascinated me the most was the accuracy of the German records kept at the camp. I have never worked for a company that was as meticulous as this for keeping records. Apparently the Germans were quite proud of what they were doing there and like most employees hoped for promotions and rewards for their accomplishments. Many got their rewards.
I have met many Germans who lived in Germany during W.W. II Incredibly they all were either with the resistance or fighting the communists on the Eastern front. I wonder where all the guys that fought against the Americans went. Hmmmm?? The city of Munich was fascinating and charming, especially if you liked beer the first thing in the morning. The restaurants and beer halls were exactly as you might expect. Our first dining check surprised us, as it was more than we expected. The waitress explained as best she could, that the increase was because we ate the bread and rolls in the basket on our table. They werenít free as in American (and most other) restaurants. You paid for what you ate!
Driving in Germany is quite an experience. Everyone drives extremely fast, no matter what vehicle they are driving. I had a rental Ford product of some type and had the "pedal to the metal" doing around 88 MPH and had trucks and little VWs flashing their lights and gently beeping to pass me. Of course they all wore their leather driving gloves and are very professional in their driving. You hardly ever see accidents as you do in the USA especially with the horrible drivers in Miami, but they say when they do have one, it's a beaut! There was a point that I was asking my map-illiterate co-pilot where this giant city called AUSFART was. Every sign on the Autobahn seemed to point at it yet my co-pilot couldn't seem to find it on the map. When she asked the next hotel clerk that we met where it was, he replied that AUSFART means EXIT in Germany. (Another base hit for you-know-who.)
More on strange restaurant tales later.
Click on photos to enlarge
Holland is very much as I had imagined. Amsterdam was picturesque, and covered with dog doo. Everywhere you walked there was dog doo. It seems everyone has a dog there and dogs do what dogs do which is doo-doo. We stayed at a lovely Dutch hotel on a canal which was built before the United States was even thought of. What we in the U.S. call an historic building would be contemporary architecture in Holland (and most of Europe). We had to climb 4 narrow flights of stairs with all of our luggage because we were warned that Amsterdam is not a safe place to leave anything in your car. We were given a card to put in our car window stating that there was nothing of value inside. I have since seen similar signs in New York City. In Miami, it makes no difference. They will still break into your car to steal an old umbrella, or as in my case, an old gym bag with worn sneakers.
Just outside Amsterdam in The Hague is a place that my wife wanted to see despite my objections. It is called Madurodam and as she described it, there were miniature houses there. Great!! I guess I owed her this after dragging her to all of the WW2 sites. As it turned out, Madurodam was more fascinating to me than to her. It was the entire city of Amsterdam and its surrounds, only in detailed miniature. Being a toy freak, I could not help but marvel at all the details of virtually everything in miniature.. airports with taxiing jets, operating locks with ships moving through as the waters rise and fall, even a miniature of the Anne Frank house. In my photos after the trip, I had difficulty ascertaining the real house from the miniature. If you pass anywhere near this marvel, do not miss it.
Being the W.W. II buff that I am and knowing how my spouse just eats up visiting historical places with no place to shop, I proudly took her to Dunkirk, location of the famous exodus of British soldiers at the beginning of the war. Once again, no one in Dunkirk seemed to know where the beaches and battle areas were. The French were not particularly proud of this event, as you might imagine if you are a student of history. We did have the great experience of staying in arguably, the finest hotel in Dunkirk. Understand that Dunkirk is a real "Archie Bunker" type of town. Our room had a bidet and not much else. The bathrooms were centrally located on each floor and required that you twist a mechanical timing device to turn on the lights in the hallways. If you didnít get out of the john in time, you found a totally dark corridor, and had to grope your way back to the room. I must admit now that I did pee into the bidet at night rather than risk getting lost in the hotel corridors. My wife was quite upset the next morning when on our way to Paris we passed through a beautiful enchanting walled city called Boulogne sur-Mer that would have been a perfect place to stay overnight, but without the panache of Dunkirk.
Here is where I became convinced that white women canít read maps. Driving in Paris for the uninitiated is living hell. The streets are narrow and congested. One way signs pop out of nowhere and pedestrians are totally fearless. My wife would rather that I drive while she stays engrossed in whatever book she happens to be reading. Sometimes, she will explore the many travel guides that we have and tell me what we just missed as we move along. In Paris it was absolutely necessary for her to use the maps to guide me. I had no time to be looking around. When I saw her tipping the map upside down because that was the direction we were traveling in, I panicked. I finally gave her the choice of a divorce or allowing her to drive while I navigate. She accepted the challenge. It turned out that she was a much better Parisian driver than I had ever hoped to be. She drove through masses of French pedestrians as if they werenít even there. I would still be idling and waiting for a courteous Parisian (No such thing) to allow me to pass. Somehow, with her driving, they passed on either side of our car like a bow wave on a ship. When other drivers attempted to get in front of her they had met their match. On one occasion, she drove up on a sidewalk, moved several pedestrians aside and cut back in front of a rude French driver. He smiled as she completed her complex maneuver just as a W.W. I fighter pilot might have done in 1914. She was even up to the challenge of driving around the famous circle at the Arc De Triumph. Had the French been that assertive in 1940, neither England nor the U.S. would have had to enter the war.
Parisians Click on images to enlarge
I had always heard that the French hate Americans. The truth, as I learned much later, is that it is not the French, but Parisians, and that they donít hate just Americans, they hate everyone, including each other. Whenever my wife and I become lost on a Paris street and stood there with our giant map waiting for a passing French person to offer help, we waited in vain. It never happened. If you asked a Parisian for any kind of help you were greeted with words that we got to hear many times. "Non, Non". French for ĎBug Off!í On one occasion in a restaurant, as I meekly pointed to an item on the menu, having no idea what it was, but not wanting to appear stupid, my stubborn wife actually wanted to know what she was ordering. The waiter, when asked, replied "Non Non." Some nice French people at the table next to us said that they could not understand the waiterís rudeness. They knew that he spoke English quite well yet he refused to assist us. He met his match with Mrs. Sochin. She would not allow him to leave until he explained just what everything was that we were about to order. I guess I am just a big wuss when it comes to traveling. I did on several occasions attempt to order in French. In one expensive restaurant called Brasserie Lipp, I saw someone at an adjoining table eating a beautiful dish of raspberry sorbet, I went to the menu and ordered the first thing that had what looked like raspberries in it. I received a very expensive bowl of fresh raspberries instead of the sorbet. My wife said, " That is not what you wanted". I replied. " Of course it was!" At another place I attempted to order apple juice. I asked for pomme de jus. Got the usual "Non Non". I tried jus de pomme. Same result. I had a feeling, based on my high school French, that at least one of them was correct. I got no apple juice. My wife theorized that it was near closing time for the shop and they werenít about to let a couple of tourists delay their closing.
On our return to the U.S. I talked with a friend of ours, Thierry Reynard who was at the time French Consul General to Miami and himself a Parisian. He told us that he himself could not understand their rudeness, especially waiters and cab drivers. He was treated the same way in Paris, even though he belonged there. We eventually likened it to New York City, or Miami, both rude cities, (but donít ever tell a New Yorker that). People in N Y City are just too busy and in too much of a hurry to spend time directing people. The restaurants are too crowded and busy to offer courteous service. If you donít shout out "Hey Yo, Yo! Howís about some whater over here!" You will be thirsty for some time. In Miami, chances are the waiter or waitress doesnít speak your language. In either case, the perception is the same. They must not like Americans, tourists, Southerners, Northerners, Gringos, or whatever.Once you have visited Paris a few times, you kind of get used to this behavior, and that aside, it is without a doubt, one of the most exciting, charming, fascinating cities in the world. If you havenít been there, by all means go!
Most people dream about going to the world glamour spots of Saint Tropez,Portofino and Miami Beach. Fortunately, I live in Miami and have visited both Saint Tropez and Portofino. Going to these places is a very humbling experience. We go and spend a few days at each place and view the folks who spend their summers there, some aboard yachts that cost more than I will see in a lifetime. Where did I go wrong? I canít help but wonder if all these folks are that much smarter than I am, or worked that much harder or perhaps had the right parents. Who knows?
Driving from Paris through the Provence region is quite beautiful. Of course my navigator, true to course, would continually announce, "You should have turned back there!" Other than that, the ride was great especially one stop that we made along the way.
My Private War (Click on images to enlarge)
Being a war buff, I had always dreamed of actually seeing one take place. I had my opportunity when we took a break along the road at the city of Sisteron. We noticed a sign pointing up a hill to a place called The Citadelle and decided to take a little walk up the side of this small mountain and see what this attraction was all about. On our way up the hill we began to hear what was unmistakably heavy weapons fire, light and heavy machine guns, and saw helicopters flying over head. My first reaction was to get up there and find out what was happening despite my wife and navigator warning me to head back to our car. An old Frenchman came down the hill shouting " Ferme, Ferme". I remembered from my three years of High school French that this meant closed. Of course it also meant to me, get up there as fast as you can. When we reached the town, we (I) was not disappointed, There were bodies strewn all over the place, tanks cruising the streets, smoke emanating from just about anywhere, and the constant chatter on machine guns. The only thing wrong with this picture was that there were Frenchmen nonchalantly walking the streets with bottles of wine and loaves of bread under their arms. There were women hanging clothes on their front balconies, right next to a firing machine gun crew. My wife nearly got run over by a tank that was backing up. She got quite angry with the driver but my days as a tank commander allowed me to remind her that there are no rear view mirrors on tanks and that it was up to her to watch out for them.. I immediately became Ernie Pyle (Simple last name change) whipped out my 35mm camera and began recording the event for Life magazine or whoever would pay me the most for my coverage. We later learned from some English speaking snipers in the woods as we left that the whole thing was a demonstration of French arms in an effort to sell stuff. I didnít care. It was real enough for me. My wife claimed later that she had staged the whole thing so that I would no longer need to visit all those war-related spots that we had been going to. Maybe she did.
Saint Tropez Click on photo to enlarge
This was a few years back when topless bathing was limited to European places. I was not quite accustomed to seeing beautiful young ladies prancing about the beach totally topless. I tried to photograph the event without appearing to be a voyeur. I pretended to be taking pictures of a distant yacht or whatever and held my shot until a beauty walked into view. I donít think I fooled anyone. Suddenly a beautiful young lady stood in front of us and removed her bathing suit only to replace it with another.. and another .. and another. A crowd of other young beauties began to gather and do the same thing. The first young lady was selling and modeling bathing suits. The others were trying them on for fit and style. As a connoisseur of womenís fashion, I paid very close attention so I could predict the styles for next year. I have many interests.
Monte Carlo Click to enlarge photo
I took one nice suit along on this trip because we were planning to visit the famous casinos at Monte Carlo. I had seen James Bond in his tuxedo at all of these places and didnít want to appear slovenly. I neednít have worried. There were lots of people there in jeans and T-shirts. A new casino had opened called the American Casino. This brought everything down to American standards. One Budweiser, stirred, not shaken. I could have left my suit at home.
Why we travel by car.
We got to visit a beautiful little town near Monte Casino called Eze.The town had within it, a medieval town virtually untouched in hundreds of years. It was a sight worth seeing. Right next to this beautiful sight was a perfume factory. All the tour buses stopped there to visit the factory, spend money and leave early the next morning. At dinner in the hotel, we asked several of the tour group how they enjoyed the Medieval village. None of them had seen it.. No time! They did get to go to the perfume factory however. Please.. Rent a car if you travel to Europe. You will see so much more. Just donít let my wife navigate.
Rome is all it is cracked up to be. There are tons of things to see, Coliseum, Spanish steps Etc. The Trevi fountain was one of our key quests. We had seen it in so many movies and TV shows. When we finally got there (right around the corner from our hotel) we were a bit disappointed. I somehow envisioned it as a fountain out in the middle of a circle, not as it was, stuck to the back of a building. We had lunch at a charming little sidewalk cafť next to the Fountain. I ordered a simple seafood salad. I think of a seafood salad as shrimp, lobster and maybe some identifiable fish. Not so in Rome. Other than some baby octupie, I couldnít identify anything other than the lettuce. Yikes.
Driving in Rome is perhaps more difficult than any other major city that I have been to. Those stupid motor bikes belching fumes from their mixtures of gasoline and oil, plus the one way streets that seem to become one way at the oddest places, can drive you nuts. When it finally came time to leave Rome and take our leisurely drive down to Sorrento, I obtained a beautiful map that even my wife should be able to follow. It had a huge red line, Via De Something-or-other circling the city and apparently leading us directly to where we had to go. Within minutes of handing my wife the map, she had directed me right into one of the many viaducts in Rome. I did my usual screaming and demeaning and asked her to get me back on track, This time we came up to a huge park with no way around it. I grabbed the beautiful map, got back to where we started and begged her to PLEASE, just follow the big red line. This time we ended up in a market place called Plaza di Pupolu. More screaming! After arriving at Plaza di Pupolu for the third time my wife did the unthinkable. She jumped out of the car at a stoplight and went to ask directions from an Italian cop. I begged her not to humiliate us by asking directions of someone who probably didnít speak English and if he did would laugh at a stupid American male tourist who couldnít follow such a clear map. He did indeed laugh. My wife however did not think that what he had to say was so funny. Teeth gritting, she came back to the car, threw my beautiful map at me and told me to take the next right, which would lead us to where we were going. The map, she learned was a subway map of Rome. Well how was I supposed to know? It said via de something-or-other! Needless to say, things were much quieter in the car for the remainder of that particular trip.
Sorrento was as beautiful and romantic as we had imagined. We saw a lovely tratoria out at the end of a long pier and decided to have a nice fish dinner there. It was outdoors on the pier. The weather was perfect. A cloudless sky. The sounds of the sailboat rigging adding just a touch of flavor to the scene. Mount Vesuvius in the background just like so many posters we had seen and the beautiful mountains of Southern Italy on the other side. Our waitress spoke passable English, which made it even easier for us to enjoy this incredible place. She asked us where we were from, and when we replied Miami, she explained how lucky we were to live in such a beautiful place. Well Miami is not too shabby but this place was to us, paradise. We asked if she had ever been to Miami. She replied "no", but she had watched Miami Vice and knew what it was like. Well I guessÖ..
The Lake Region of Italy
Just what you have heard. Beautiful, romantic, rich and worth seeing. We chose Lake Maggiore and visited the Island of Pescatori. The only downer was that my co-pilot had spotted a Tachini outlet store on our way there and insisted that she could navigate me back to this store. (What is it with women and outlet stores?) Many hours of arguing later we did find it, spent some more lire and left for our next stop, Milan.
Milan was a bit too much city for me. It is the Italian center of commerce and fashion. Crowded, busy, loaded with beautiful women like you see in all those fashion magazines, and very easy to get lost in which we did often. The Dom ( Il Duomo) was one of the few churchy things that truly impressed me. I could not fathom the work that went on hundreds of years ago without modern construction equipment to produce such a magnificent structure. Each spire was different and each an individual piece of art. Don't miss it. I finally bought my Versace Tie in the Versace store and left for our next stop.. Florence.
Florence was a bit more charming than Milan and a great place to walk
through. Lots of street markets, it's own magnificent Cathedral, "The Duomo"
and perhaps the oldest Synagogue in Europe. We arrived there on the Sabbath and
had to agree to leave our cameras outside and to go in only to pray if we
wanted to see the Shul.
Once inside my wife and I were separated according to orthodox Jewish tradition. (Those old Jews knew what they were doing). At the end of the service all of the congregants wished both my wife and I a good Shabbos with a real warmth and affection that we had not experienced in too many of our visits. Neither one of us being very religious, we still felt a very strong emotional feeling on leaving that place. We couldn't wait to see the famous bridge called the Ponte Vecchio. My wife was thrilled at the experience. I couldn't wait to leave... you see the famous bridge is now a jewelry market place crowded with dozens of very expensive tiny stores selling all kinds of "women stuff". Not a hardware store in site.
Venice Click on
photos to enlarge
Venice turns out to be exactly what you might have dreamed. We arrived there with no advance reservations which is not a good idea. There was a travel office right outside the city that was most courteous and found us a great place to stay. I asked if they had parking for my automobile. Stupid me! Until that moment, I had never realized that there are no cars in Venice . Everywhere you go, you travel by vaporetti, a kind of water taxi, or you walk. The trouble is, that it is not advisable to leave any valuables in the parking garage outside the city, so you must take everything with you, board the water taxis and carry your stuff to the hotel. Once there you go to St. Marks square, allow the pigeons to defecate on you, and begin exploring. It truly is like stepping back in time. If only those Italians didn't carry their cell phones everywhere they went. They somehow seemed so out of place there. You must take a Gondola ride, expensive as they are. ( Around $100 per hour). I learned from our Gondolier that it is one of the most lucrative businesses in Italy. The skills are passed down, generation to generation and it is not uncommon for a gondolier to net half a million dollars a year. I wish my dad had had one of these boats. If you can't afford to actually go to Venice, the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas has captured the ambience down to the smallest detail, and the gondola rides are about ten bucks.
Watch what you eat.
I have already told you about paying for the bread in Germany. Italy too has its odd (to us) customs. We had dinner at a nice little place that had a great American, inventionÖ A salad bar. This was a great salad bar. Shrimp. Lobster, and all kinds of treats. We loaded our plates full of this stuff and then had our regular entrťe. When the check came it was humungous. When we asked why it was so much, the waiter explained that we had to pay for each piece we took from the salad bar and that someone discreetly watches you as you pass by noting everything that you take. Can you imagine that at Dennyís? At another outdoor cafť in a little town called Santa Margarita, we ordered a reasonably priced lunch and then noticed that two gentlemen sitting next to us had a small dish of mushrooms that looked appetizing. We ordered one of the same. When our check came it was more than double what we thought it would be. The waiter explained that the mushroom dish we had ordered was from a new crop of Porcini mushrooms. Price them next time you are at an Italian market. Wow!
London is a great place for Americans to visit. It is indeed a foreign
country and the people there almost speak English. What we consider historical
buildings in the U.S. are contemporary in Great Britain. They have many usable
structures built before there was an America. There is no end to historic sights
in England. If you are a W.W. II buff as I am, you could spend days at each
museum. (*Tip.. Let your spouse go to Harrods while you visit all these places).
The food sucks! I have always heard that and I was not disappointed. While we were there someone attempted to open an U.S. style rib place ala Tony Romaís. It is pretty hard to really screw up ribs, but the English found a way. We tried one of their famous beef houses where you get prime rib under one of those silvery carts etc. It too sucked! The only decent meals we had there were Chinese and Italian. Even breakfast eggs were literally destroyed by a soaking in some form of grease.
If you are a church/cathedral person, England is great. For some reason, every tour that you take in any country has as its feature a grand cathedral of some sort. I agree that they are beautiful, large, colorful, and whatever else you might want to say, but after you have seen a few dozen, you have seen them all. How many frescoes with little cupid babies flying about can you look at? I canít help but think of the poverty that existed amongst the masses when these expensive things were built and how all that money could have gone to feed the homeless and poor. If god does in fact exist, does he pay special attention to those people who build the biggest most ornate place to pray to him in? I know that Jewish people must believe this as they are always paying to have their name attached to some particular part of a temple. Of course if I am wrong about all this, I will see you in hell.
Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Italy