Travels Part 1: The Old World

I was asked recently how many countries I have visited and /or resided in and it came to 26. It really should be 27 as in Slovenia and Croatia, but since I visited when it was Yugoslavia, I was told it should be 26. The next questions were which was my favourite and which I would live in without reservations. Without much hesitation I would say Morocco to the former and Mexico to the latter.

It was fun to go to Europe back in the day-lots of brightly coloured currency and passport stamps. I travelled by car, bus, train and hitchhiked with a magnesium frame backpack with a Canadian flag on the back. I carried a bunch of those to sell to Americans travellers. So in no particular order here we go..

UK and Scotland…
..is history of course and lots of it. Castles, churches, museums, palaces, and a tour of Scotch distilleries with a wee dram at each. Plus Loch Ness, without a sighting of Nessie the plesiosaur, and more castles. Samuel Johnson said a man who is bored of London is bored with life, but British cuisine was an oxymoron. So I ate Lebanese. I made a holy pilgrimage to Freud’s home. I have been to London several times and twice for my MRCPsych (part 1 & 2) exams. On the last night I was invited to a drinking contest at a pub by two fellow shrink residents. One was from Belfast, the other from Melbourne. I lost of course.



France…

France has the Louvre, Versailles, and the usual Parisian sights and rude residents. I met with my maternal second cousin who was in the French resistance (Maquis) in WW2 and passed his days therein blowing up bridges and railway tracks. Good times.

I much preferred rural France where at the time for a few dollars you could dine on wine, a baguette,cheese and ham. I met up with an attractive student from Australia. She had long blonde hair and had more curves than a Swiss highway. We hitchhiked together and of course we never had trouble getting rides. A quick way to get to Belgium. When we parted I received a kiss and a thanks for being polite and not trying to have my way with her. How depressing. Life is full of regrets.

Belgium…
I wasn’t that impressed with this officious country except for the Grand Place in Brussels with the statue of a little boy urinating, waffles and of course Trappist beer- the best in the world-a good way to float to Holland next door..

The Netherlands…
Amsterdam was a very liberal and free wheeling place. I wondered around the red light district where I was offered a fair rate by a very nice young lady but I declined not wanting any social afflictions and later visited Anne Frank’s house which was a rather sobering experience. The Dutch were very fond of Canadians as my father’s generation liberated the place in 1945. Lots of tulips, windmills, Indonesian food, and houseboats with everyone enjoying the benefits of legalized cannabis. Nice country. Great people. No complaints.

West Germany…
Most of my time there was in the Black Forest and Heidelberg where I drank beer and ate sausage. I bought a cuckoo clock. I took a cruise up the Rhine river. Not a country that rocked my boat. Maybe my family said, the problem with Germany is that there are Germans there. (Maybe my collective unconscious triggered memories of striped pj’s). They are holocaust survivors so I understand the sentiment. Well there is always next door…



Switzerland..

….was the cleanest most efficient place I have ever visited. Beautiful scenery of course and everything was perfect. It has been recently classed as the best country worldwide (Canada is #2). I don’t think microbes were allowed there without being vetted. If you were on a train platform waiting on a train that arrived at 11:57 it would pull in at exactly that time, not 11:56 or 58. The country had a perfect balance of capitalism and socialism. But the place had no soul as in the non metaphysical definition, (“lacking emotional or intellectual energy or intensity”).

Liechtenstein…
A little principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria. Rather hard to find. Alpine meadows and cows with bells. Charming. Like Switzerland but with a soul.

Luxembourg….
Another hold over from the old monarchy days, a duchy to be precise. A bit of Belgium, Germany and France. Clean, peaceful with great pastry shops and Roman ruins.

Portugal…
A close runner-up to Mexico as my favourite country to live in. What can you say about their legalization of all drugs and adoption of a rehabilitation philosophy rather than punitive? And where bulls are not killed in the ring. I spent most of my time in the Alentejo region of farms, olive trees and poor peasants who were hospitable but expected you to understand Portuguese. It’s not exactly like Spanish. I was on a bird watching expedition with a Portuguese ornithologist so we were in places where the locals had no experience with outside visitors. Long way to go to study birds but I could move to Lisbon or Evora tomorrow. Plus I photographed a Dartmouth Warbler.

Spain..
There was nothing about this country that wasn’t interesting. The people were a bit aloof but the paella was great and I went to a bullfight in a little town outside Seville. The bulls lost. A very gruesome ritual. Great colour and pageantry. Finest looking horses I have seen. Bullfighting is something incredibly ancestral and is an art form like poetry to the locals. But maybe its time to retire it-a barbaric relic of an earlier time. When Hemingway and his homie Juan Belmonte walked the streets.

Monaco…
Not my cup of tea. The casino at Monte Carlo was lavish and full of ultra rich folks, many in desert Arab robes with Bentleys parked outside and yachts in the harbour. A monument to capitalist wretched excess and conspicuous consumption. Blech.

Time to go to Italy…
The best part of Italy were Italians, their food, the dirty canals of Venice, the leaning tower in Pisa and the Uffizi gallery in Florence where I stared at the artwork of Botticelli for sometime before proceeding to eat linguine, prosciutto and drink much wine. There is nothing about Italy to dislike, but the trains were never on time.

Yugoslavia …
A communist country at the time with a dictator named Tito who told Stalin to f..k off and survived.
Stalin threatened him with KGB operatives but Marshal Tito (above) retorted: “Stop sending people to kill me. We’ve already captured five of them, one of them with a bomb and another with a rifle. If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second”.

I spent my time in this organized and benevolent communist country in Zagreb and Ljubljana enjoying conversing with the locals who expected me to follow Croatian or Slovenian and ate a huge mound of a carnivorous mixed grill wonder known as a Serbian platter washed down a fiery pear brandy called Slivovitz. Good times.

Austria…
Full of happier Germanic people. Home to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Sound of music, Mozart and all that.
I had Wiener Schnitzel Holstein in Vienna (pic) , visited Freud’s birth home and Mozart’s digs in Salzburg. Lots of music and joy combined with German efficiency. A nice balance.

Morocco..
General Patton said this country was “a cross between the bible and Hollywood”. That’s about right. Truly the most exotic place I have experienced with an enlightened modern leader Hassan II, at the time. We landed in Tangier after taking the ferry from Spain and drove to Meknes and Fes. The latter had a walled Medina (market) 9 miles in circumference. We hired two teenage guides who took us through a maze of alleys and dark passages where you found beggars with monkeys, snake charmers, hash pipes, shops with silver ornaments and Persian rugs while evading landmines of donkey and camel dung. Lunch was lamb couscous and bumble bee tea. No beer.

The plan was to go on to Algeria to photograph Tuaregs and then on to Tunisia and take the ferry to Sicily. But the Algerians at the border were none too friendly and wanted visas and interviews and so back to Morocco and Spain. I would do Morrocco again, maybe Marrakech and Casablanca (no Cafe Rick).

On to.. Part 2: The Americas

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One Response to “Travels Part 1: The Old World”

  1. Claude Francis says:

    Awesome, wish I could have done something like that when I was younger.

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