Monday, September 30, 2013

Moving Right Along

My last post about what to carry when traveling reminded me of another aspect of moving about the planet with baggage; that is, how we do it by train.

When I first came to Kent State University back in 1947, the main means of getting here involved a rather long session with trains. I left Springfield, Ohio, in the south central part of the state via the New York Central line. In a little town in the middle of nowhere, I got off that train and had to wait for two hours in an old wooden train station for the Erie line, from Chicago. It pretty much took all day. Car transportation wasn’t much better, even if I were lucky enough to catch a ride. I think  I was the only person from Springfield going to Kent State at the time. This was before Eisenhower and General Motors took over the country and replaced all the two lane highways with the super highway system we know today. I tried the bus once, but it was full of Appalachians headed for the tire factories in Akron, complete with whiskey bottles in brown paper bags. So the long train trip became my transport modus operandi for four years, by which time I was thoroughly sick of trains.

It wasn’t until I began traveling abroad that I fell in love with trains. I love the Victorian architecture of stations in England, places with names like Victoria, King’s Cross and the venerable Paddington. It was at Paddington where I met a man who had been a clock keeper there, who talked about the thousands of children being evaluated to the country during WWll, and how heart-breaking it had been to watch the parents saying goodbye to those children. The train station at Windsor is fit for a queen, one of the most elegant looking depots I’ve ever seen. I’ve been to the little station used in the Harry Potter films, when I took a steam-train through the moors in Yorkshire, years before those films were made.

When my friend Susan and I took the train from Munich to Florence, we passed through the Alps, covered with snow. We shared our compartment with a Greek businessman, who, of course, had relatives in Cleveland. He talked about the traffic rules in Athens, where one is allowed to use a car only every other day. He got around that by having two cars so he could alternate each day. The issue around this was the pollution’s effect on the antiquities of the city, so he wasn’t exactly doing his part.

Speaking of a compartment, that’s another thing I enjoy. It’s like.  being in one of those great thriller films, where the person across from you may be a spy or an escaped murderer.

On long trips, there’s the dining car, where you can enjoy a meal with constantly changing scenery, from snowy Alps to palm trees at Lake Como. From open country to the sooty backs of old faded brick buildings as you come into a city. I think it is a more active from of transportation. You’re not driving a car, but you are absorbing all sorts of sights, sounds, smells, atmospheres. You’re grounded, not aloft, attached to the earth and moving along it.

After a flurry of traveling abroad for over ten years or so, I have not been thee for a while and I do miss it. It’s a combination of age and hip replacements, I don’t have the stamina I once had for al the walking (once you get off the train), but I am so glad I have had the chance to enjoy and appreciate the fun and excitement of train travel.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

The ThIngs We Carry

My brother Ed and I talked the other day via Facetime, just before he and his wife took off for a tour of Ireland. He talked about packing for the trip and we discussed how to manage with a minimum of bulky luggage. He mentioned that once he picked our older brother Bill up at the airport when Bill was returning from a 10 day trip to Greece. Bill greeted him at the terminal carrying a gym bag. When Ed suggested that they go to pick up his luggage. Bill lifted the gym bag. “This is it,” he said. He said he accompanied him to the car, with Bill downwind.

The first time I went to Europe, I consulted my sister, who has been on every continent except Antarctica. She told me to pack my bag, wait a few minutes and then take half of it out. I was traveling with my friend Susan, who had been abroad several times. She had 5 weeks off from her doctoral studies at Ohio University, and I had recently retired from my job at Townhall ll. My main objective was to visit my daughter in Germany, but I also wanted to go to England and Italy with a stop off in Zurich where y friend Ethel had been living since college. Susan had the great idea of our using Back packs for every day necessities, plus clean socks and underwear as carry-ons. I packed a lot of dark colored clothes. We were pretty much winging it after England. We had Eurail passes, which in those days were good for where ever you wanted to go.

We traveled like students, basically. No fancy hotels, no posh restaurants. We had an apartment in London, where we could cook Wearing black turtleneck shirts with a fancy scarf got us through a few concerts and stage plays. We ferried over to the continent, took a train to Munich and took off for Italy with only our backpacks, leaving our suitcases with Emily.

In Florence, we found a pensione and our room with a view was a bus station, but who cared. My friend Ethel took us to a wonderful fondue place in Zurich and we walked through strings of fairy lights decorating the streets for Christmas.

Back in Germany, we had a great time eating good food and enjoying the lovely town and 1 year old Katina. And washing out a few clothes.

Besides being very tired of the same old clothes, the mobility afforded by packing light paid off as we boarded buses, trains and cabs. Since then I have always traveled light, even leaving clothes behind. We stayed in a B.and B. in London once where the Breakfast servers all seemed to have recently arrived from Bosnia, or some other war-torn country. I left a nice cardigan I was sick of, a tee shirt and a nightgown. I’ve done that several times in various places in England. Some entrepreneur should come up with disposable clothes for travelers. Several times, Susan and I have rented cottages, which work out well, since one has the advantage of a washer and dryer right there if you can figure out how to use them.

I have never gone so far as my brother, carrying only a gym bag, but if one can get away with it, it’s not a bad idea.
The illustration above has been enhanced by a terrific app I downloaded on my IPad, called PaperArtist. I do my blog illustrations these days on the IPad, with a couple of paint programs apps I have downloaded. I used to do the drawings and scan them, but now I can do it all on the computer.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

To say the least, it was the summer of my discontent. It began in June, along with the kind of humid weather that destroys my soul. I had no energy, no appetite, no anything. I was losing weight, along with the general malaise. A few tests suggested a thyroid problem, a lack of vitamin D, but nothing else. I finally suggested that perhaps my pancreas should be checked, since I had had pancreatitis last year. So I had an MRI, which disclosed a couple of cysts on my pancreas. I was referred to a gastroenterologist, who ordered a series of endoscopic procedures. The first was diagnostic, which was inconclusive. Another was to put in stents in the ducts, in case the cysts blocked them. The  last was to remove the stents after a few weeks. I was put on two drugs, one to assist the pancreas in processing digestion, the other to allay the acid caused by that stent implantation. What I didn’t know at the time was that these medications were also, over time creating a problem with allergies.

The upshot of all that was that I ended up with the worst asthma attack I have ever had, which also resulted in an episode of A-fib, which can cause all sorts of problems, like a stroke. So they put me on more drugs,, which made me dizzy. The A-fib came under control rather quickly, actually, but now I have a cardiologist telling me that I need to take yet another drug, the side effects of which are unknown to me. I shall see her next week and inform her that I shall not be taking her drugs,, thank you very much.

The pancreatitis I suffered from last year was from high blood pressure medication, by the way. The A-fib was caused by the asthma attack brought on by the pancreas meds. Are they trying to kill me, or what?

I read an interesting op-ed piece the other day about how doctors are now ruled by “procedures” and drugs. Yea, verily.

BY the way, the pancreas docs, all of whom are good, gentle, competent people, have names that sound like roll call at the Mosque. Unfortunately, like most docs these days, they do not listen to old women. There is an idea that we lose our minds after so many years and know absolutely nothing about our own bodies, cannot decipher prescriptions and their side effects and  therefore should be willing to trust their superior knowledge=, which they get from drug salesmen.

And the last charming  medical Middle sterner told me that the cysts are benign.