Europe 2004
France, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Germany (, France)


If it's Springtime, it must be Paris. Right? Returning to Europe in less than a year seemed an odd choice for me in some ways, but one Spring in Europe apparently begets another. This plan was rather easily laid. With the weak U.S. Dollar against the Euro, part of my thinking in revisiting the Old Country was in getting more bang for the buck by being off-season, too. Smaller crowds at immensely popular places - Paris is the #1 tourist destination in the world - had its appeal.

What has little drawing power to someone like me, though, is cold. Unfortunately in this case, I'd be starting out with more than my fair share of this. Landing in De Gaulle Airport in April, it only took a step outside to second guess my timing a bit. Sure, temps in the 40s and 50s are livable, even walkable, but did I really want to play my trumpet outside or sit on a park bench to read in such a chill? Not really, and not a promising start... but TripTrumpet ain't no optimist for nothing!

The good news this time around was that I would be meeting with friends in several places - in France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Germany - so that should take some of the edge off of the cold. Sorta. At the very least it formed a rough outline to my trip in the form of a loop out from Paris and back. I'd be able to add more territory to my touring should I have the time and will to do so. Horrors! - I actually had something resembling a... PLAN!

But here I was in Paris. I had been to Paris several times before, of course, when only living several hours away in (West) Germany. These forays included my notorious Interrail trip where I slept only tens of feet away from a horde of whores (okay, prostitutes, but I'm a whore for alliteration) doing their business. This time around, however, I'd hostel it as much as possible and take in the town in a leisurely fashion. I figured on at least a week; I'd tack on up to my entire two months of vacation if I was having a great time. THAT was more like my typical "plan".

Paris suited me well enough. There's an endless number of things to see and do, certainly, and likewise there are plenty of great directions in which to take a walk and just allow oneself to be surprised. It wasn't going to be ridiculously stunning like Rome, where I'd just randomly run into ruins 2000 or 2500 years of age, but Paris has notable and varied offerings. It's kinda famous for that.

The hostel was my first order of business, and I soon found one in the Marais (sixième arrondissemont for the francophile) that was super-centrally located and had a charm to settle into. The neighborhood, that is, not the hostel. The hostel was sterile and had the horrible habit of kicking everyone out for several hours in the middle of the day for cleaning. No fun. This is a luxury that the mega-touristed cities in Europe often have and use, but doesn't fly elsewhere (like in South America). Hadn't the managers of these institutions ever heard of a nap? Sometimes you just want to hole up, ya know? Not in this hostel, however, or numerous others in France to come.

When I wasn't griping to myself about that restriction, I could find others to yip and yelp about with, of course. For example, there was the first night's booming snore emanating from this giant who looked like a cross between a troll and a... giant. Some 19 of us looked around at each other in the middle of the night, eyeballs reflecting white gleamings in the moon's glow, each hoping for one of us OTHERS to offer a semblance of mercy from this perpetrator.

Eventually it was I that just couldn't take it anymore, determined to get my full 20 (25? Do I hear 28? - I don't remember.) Euros of slumberous rest. I jumped out of my bunk and walked over to the hulking, rumbling mass. I pleaded with him in a calm voice and, once I finally succeeded in actually haven risen his conscience over the roar (and I was a little past calm), he promptly turned on his side and the volcano went dormant. I vaguely recall that someone else shortly took his place in the role of sonorous disturbance, but what issued forth next doubtfully attained that four-freight-trains-crossing-in-the-night level.


Your better than average bunk art, I suppose.
Finding refuge for a couple of nights in a smaller room of four - I was playing musical beds in this insane asylum - I soon found myself in the company of a couple of young Americans, neither approved by David Bowie (please don't tell me this reference is lost!). Paris attracts the worldly college student in waves, and this is what one fully expects at a hostel - I wasn't surprised. One was from Brooklyn, and the other was a writing musician from Seattle. Wait a sec! That's my MO! It wasn't long before Mr. Seattle and I tired each of other - probably uncoincidentally - and Mr. Brooklyn asked if we were brothers from back in Seattle. Just the killing kind, I replied.

So the hostel wasn't much of a refuge, after all. The neighborhood made up for its shortcomings, however. Plenty of cozy cafes, ancient architecture, places to buy cheese and bread (at the fromagerie and the boulangerie - see, my French classes were paying off again!). I thus used the Marais as the locus to my focus and off I'd roam.





Of course there were the obvious attractions to wander by and sit in the shade of: Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Tuileries, the Royal Palace, Hôtel de Ville (city hall, even if it by name seems like it should be the city's #1 hotel), Invalides hospital, yadda blah etc. I enjoyed walking through or by them all regardless, even for all of their fame. This included the old graveyards with both Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, and that of Baudelaire. Classically classic classicism on display everywhere - what's not to like? Visually, anyway.

There were the seedier places too, like up the hill Montmartre by Sacre Coeur's cathedraled views. There one finds Pigalle and all of the peep show call girl attractions one could ever hope for, should that be one's fancy. Same went with the further reaches of the avenue St. Denis. My peeping - it need be stated - consisted of walking the streets and getting a feel for the area more than heeding the whispered calls of "I've got a sister available - interested?" Not that there wasn't the odd good-looking woman to make one pause if only for a split-second, I'll come clean. Sadly, though, it's the exception that the street walkin' prostitute is going to be hot: supply and demand works its magic in ALL businesses. Those that don't need to walk the street simply don't.

Most of my walking led to places to play my horn, however. The chill in the air made this quite a challenge, and that went beyond the usual defi (challenge) of finding proper accoustics. The sun came and went as did the rain, leaving the best of plans to writhe joyfully (or not) at the mercy of ol' Ma Nature. The ground was often wet, as were the park benches I so coveted, so I made do as I could with the random dry newspaper or napkins from the most recent cafe to help my cause.





Parks and open spaces were for the taking if I was willing to share the space, which I was and wasn't willing to do at times. Ultimately I settled on the river as my desired locale for playing away. I figured that my ad hoc companions, who by chance were sharing my space and had to make more of an effort to hear me if they truly wanted to, left me less to blame if they didn't like what they heard. The river was effectively a de facto open space in a very congested city.

Not that there weren't any boats going down the river to clog up the dream, however. The Seine is famous for cruising, and there were plenty of boats doing their regularly scheduled rubber-necking at the architecture and sights available from the rivière. They weren't a constant part of my field of vision, but they were there often enough. Some people on board obviously heard my playing, or tried to, while others yelled over to me to blast away for their entertainment (on any number of levels). Which I generally obliged in doing so. At least I did when I wasn't blowing on my hands for warmth or trying to unstick my lips from freezing to the mouthpiece. We musicians suffer for the cause!

By far my favorite venue for playing was underneath the array of bridges linking up the opposing banks that split Paris down the middle in a fashion more akin to the line in the yin-yang symbol than a bisecting cut. I made a mission of trying each one out within the city core, finding them all with their pros and cons. Some had stellar architecture and accoustics both: Alexandre III's bridge stood out. The ones with modern roads zipping underneath them were too challenging, leaving me pathetically trying to separate my sound out from the traffic zooming by. Not that the drivers seemed to mind - I received any number of thumbs-ups for my futile endeavors.

All the while I was strolling endless about the City Of Lights, I played phone tag with my friend A from the year's prior trip in Rome. Now a Parisien proper in the confines of Montparnasse district (finally moved into the city proper from the banlieues (suburbs) only months prior), he was doing odd work in a photo shop when not trying to work on his latest documentary project. Finally we managed to catch up near the Metro station Blanche (off of the grand Boulevard Clichy) at one of his favorite cafes. Conveniently this was also near the Cimitiere de Montmartre, which I would check out afterward.





On another occasion we met up his latest girlfriend accompanied by a girlfriend of hers for drinks preceded by eats in a famous fish market - one so famous I've completely forgotten the name. They seemed to enjoy the place quite a bit while never forgetting to remind me that it was where all the tourists came (which they did - the place was large and absolutely filled to the rafters, literally so since we were in the second story dining area). Lively conversation filled the evening, which I was fortunately able to reasonably keep up with in French. They were charitable with their pronunciation surely, even throwing in the odd English word where they figured I wouldn't have a chance.

A similar evening followed with some other of A's friends, a couple who had an apartment in which he had couch-surfed from time to time before finally leaving home in the suburbs to the city. He was all of 27 now, making him about average for leaving the nest in French society (and the rest of the countries sharing the romance language branch of tongue). Dinner consisted of a varied affair of good wine, cheese, and a pasta dinner. Similar to the other evening, though, many apologies of "This is not real quality French, of course, but..." preceded each item that was brought from the kitchen and quickly consumed.

I'd come to notice that there is an ideal of what French life is supposed to be, one that is at least vocalized or consistently sought. In reality, though, it is practically never attained. No one ever even tries to forget the ideal; they just merely and effectively ignore it instead as reality (cost, time) presides. It isn't as if anyone is suffering in this substituted actuality, but it nonetheless remains important for the French to show that they have a high standard. Moreover, it's one that they believe is higher than anywhere else in the world, only employed (of course) when they feel like it. But in the meantime, McDonald's (McDo's) does better in France than anywhere else in Europe and Europe's first and only installment of Disney lies just outside of Paris. How... French?

These observations in no way disturbed pleasant evenings spent with A and his friends. Conversation was playful, particularly focused on the stereotypes held by both Frenchmen and Americans concerning the other. Self deprecation has a way of keeping things flowing along nicely. And somehow at the apartment get-together, a great part of the evening was consumed by talk on nuclear power of all things - something which the French embrace (80% of their energy, I believe) and the Americans shun (since Three Mile Island's disaster in the late 70s). Go figure.

I was ready after a week or so to part with Paris, though. I would certainly be coming back to the City of Lights at least once more on this trip because of my return flight, and perhaps then I'd make more of a foray into the museums which I had been foregoing this time around. I had been strangely content to pass them by almost completely, with the exception of a Museum of Photography I had stumbled upon in the Marais. That was a treasure, with a large career retrospective (50 years) of a famous photographer whose images I had indeed seen plenty of without knowing his name.

But there was a train heading to Dijon, and it looked like I better get on it. I had bought the ticket, after all. A TGV (train à grande vitesse, or high speed train) was pulling out with me onboard soon enough. The countryside shortly was flying by at 200-300 mph, so much so that it was dizzying to peer at the foreground and I was forced to look considerably into the distance as those very distances whizzed by. I think it took 2 hours to cover what normally would have taken 4 hours not so long before. Or a day or more a century prior. Or, or, or. No, not gold, gold, gold - you're already thinking in French, I see!

Dijon means mustard, or so I've always thought. But of course I was really far more sophisticated than that by the time of my dramatic entry into the famed burg. It is a TYPE of mustard, I well knew, as opposed to yellow mustard. With a little more zip... see? Voila! So... French!





It also is, or was formerly, an important city in France. The Dukes of Burgundy had their capital here, and I'm sure they had a mighty fine wine, Jeremiah and bullfrogs be damned. The upshot is that there are some old buildings with fancy architecture in the town center, the usual deal when important farts from the past had their HQ in an area. As to the rest of it, in the form of lively culture or hubbub, Dijon was distinctly lacking.

Telling are the two greatest memories I have of the town. The first is that I found the diviest of dives in which to stay, an ancient hotel probably dating back to the Burgundys themselves. Certainly the building was that old, and the garret in which I soon found myself looked like a chamber right from the Three Musketeers movies, minus the finery. The mattress was so soft that when I plopped into its middle I had the sensation of the sides folding in over my head as I lowered to the floor and the sunlight was blotted out. Checks for fleas and ticks somehow turned up negative, though, even if not for lack of conditions.

My other grande memoire of Dijon was of a day trip OUTSIDE of it when I left to explore the similarly ancient town of Beaume, lying an hour or so to the south. There I would find a walled city of wine and food, though arguably little else. Its compact area made for pleasant strolling about on ramparts; its reputation for fine food and wine induced me to try some. My pièce de resistance? Eels presented on a large plate artistically decorated with dabs of color. Escargots (snails for the 1% of people who don't know) found their way to my innards via a creamy mushroom sauce, too. Frankly, they both were excellent, not to mention a perfect crème brulée for dessert. And so it went for a day in Beaume.

Which brings me back to Dijon. Over several days of trying to find a soul to the town, I ended up in resigning myself to the lack thereof. Granted, there was still a little too much Spring chill to the air for my liking (note to self about Spring weather in Europe north of the French Riviera), so the trumpet didn't achieve the TLC it was accustomed to but for an understreet passage tunnel where I was safe from the wind. Neither was the walking about in the older areas - now converted primarily into an outdoor mall - particularly enticing. No, all I got from Dijon was the checkmark that stated I had been to Dijon. Not my cup of tea.

So Switzerland it would be. Conveniently that was not far away at all, and not coincidentally so since that was the sole reason for my Dijon stage of the journey. Another speedy train moved me into the mountains to Lake Geneva, where I immediately found myself in Lausanne, a stunning town on its shore.

After the lonely days in the garret I was primed for a hostel again. And with the hefty price tag that is all that is Swiss, this wasn't a bad idea at all. Again I would soon find a hostel perhaps best noted for its sterility, but to the Swiss this is actually a prized condition. Banter with the cute girl at the check-in desk each day would keep me going, and my mind far from clean, in the near term anyway.



Lausanne's beauty is its calling card, and in some ways its only one. One can't help but appreciate the deep blue of the crystalline lake and the mountains which overlook and reflect upon it. Spring breezes were still keeping things cool, but here they felt rushes of brisk air meaning only to do the lungs good. Walking the lakeside and its cold somehow made me feel more welcome, true enough. It's a Swiss thing, I'm sure.



Nevertheless, Lausanne was similarly uneventful like Dijon. I shortly changed the scenery a bit, to Vevey and then Montreaux as well - neither far from Lausanne - but they, too, seemed inhabited more by nature's beauty than anything tangibly human. Even a gorgeous castle at water's edge failed to excite. But these are famous (and famously beautiful) places! It's a TripTrumpet thing... right?

Who knows. Even being able to speak French as a primary language wasn't cutting it any longer, either. Probably because it seemed that there was a universal understanding of English here, and one which they preferred over my snaggle-toothed French in a way which the French didn't. Sigh. Before the week was up, I guess I'm trying to say, I was more than ready to see some friends even sooner.

Fortunately, I had some relatively nearby - even if they actually were at the other end of the country. Rheineck, on the border with Austria, Germany and the large Bodensee (lake), would take some hours to reach. Nevertheless I was shortly on my way. I changed trains in Zurich, well into the German-speaking part of Switzerland by then, then went on to a smaller city, a St. Something [Sankt Gallen]. There I was picked up by my friend J. "Friend and countryman, I greet thee!" I bellowed. At least internally.

Ten days of relaxed village life began. Immediately upon coming to Rheineck I met J's new wife, T. When last I had a proper visit with J, by contrast, he was freshly done with his tumultuous relationship with a Venezuelan girlfriend back in Portland (Oregon), and THAT had been been the first time that I had seen him since us meeting on the Caribbean beach of Santa Fe in Venezuela. Okay, I'll fess up that I had one strangely coincidental meeting with both J&T in Denmark the year prior, but that was such a surprising and disjointed affair lasting only a few minutes that I wouldn't know how to qualify it. So - REALLY - I felt like I was meeting T for the first time, just a second time.

Although originally German, T had spent enough of her life in Switzerland to be a thoroughgoing Swiss by this time. Given that her mother was from the French-speaking part of Switzerland (or was it France?), and here we were on the Austrian border, T could claim an Alpine heritage quite fairly. The original Swiss Miss! Even if perhaps a bit light on the Swiss. Don't tell T I uttered that!

In the meantime, Rheineck was becoming a Croatian enclave of sorts. The large number of refugees from the wars in the Balkan countries had resulted in any number of them finding new homes all over Western Europe as a result. They generally weren't welcomed with open arms, it's true, but with the shadow of WWII and Nazism never too far away when thinking about conflict in Europe, the conflagration down in SE Europe had a way of scaring countries sufficiently. The horrors of war had not been really left that far behind - a good thing, sometimes. Certainly in this case.

And here I had been thinking they looked just a bit odd for Swiss people, rubber boots, babushkas (or whatever the Croatian word is) and all. I played enthusiastically with the kids in the alleyways, a happy and carefree lot for the most part, so it took me a bit to figure out that they weren't exactly locals. Not yet, anyway - just a matter of time. And in the time being our second language German skills masked our accents somewhat, even as the children were going to Swiss school and steadily making progress away from my shortcomings. As for the adults, a number of them had even taken to planting in nearby fields the crops they were used to from back home. Could this already be called their home? Time would tell.



In other words, Switzerland had a little American experiment going on. On the surface, it was looking like it would work better than the older Turkish situation in Germany, where the Turks had never been particularly welcomed with open arms but instead grudgingly so for their labor. The future will be the judge, but I doubted that a little diversity would kill Switzerland any more than Americans would never learn to like tacos. Mmm... fish tacos... I digress.

Beyond joshing with kids and playing my horn for their wonder and amazement (it actually seemed so, I don't feel I'm overstating the reality), I settled into Rheineck quite nicely for almost a fortnight. I could walk to the sea, true, but it was the hiking trails leading in every direction to the hills to which I was drawn. There were so many!







The Swiss have, over the years, developed a very well laid out network of trails that possibly cover the entire countryside. It's almost a wonder they aren't paved (some of them probably are). Or maybe this was just the case in the German-speaking part, as this anal proclivity falls far more into their realm. The French side would more likely have a network of cafes and bakeries, no doubt.

You need only start along any track and soon you'd find numerous signs at each junction telling you what lay ahead for each possible direction. Not serendipitous in its installation, agreed, but one could get started hopefully on a note of serendipity... and get hopelessly lost, too. The Swiss would have none of that, of course, no more than they would tolerate a watch off by a second or two. Who me, use stereotypes?

(In for an inch...) Yes, they'd have chocolate to compensate, too, while frantically adjusting for that second per year when things don't go just... so. Being in town around Easter, or just thereafter, meant that there was no shortage of chocolate for sale. Not like it takes Easter to have plenty of chocolate in the Swiss grocery store aisles - there are entire aisles dedicated to its sale yearround - but Easter is chocolate's glory time of the year, like mistletoe to Christmas and pumpkin to Halloween (in the States). It's an excuse to eat ever more chocolate by tradition: 'tis the season!

This is a way of saying that we ate a lot of chocolate. And the good stuff - often cannily produced in the form of bunny rabbits for Easter - came much cheaper than usual. Now there's a Swiss secret worth noting: chocolate on the cheap AFTER Easter, everybody! All I'm taking two paragraphs to say is that Willy Wonka never could have envisioned the chocolate aisle in an everyday supermarket that I experience numerous times, but the Swiss have - and how.

Another secret - I'm giving away the kingdom, folks! - was that pot could be bought by Swiss citizens legally. Or it seemed so, even if the shops that did so didn't advertise. I learned this curious detail from my sufficiently hippie friends in addition to other prurient factoids about THC which J lovingly recited and that I had never guessed at. I'm just saying, but not saying - know what I'm saying? Honestly, liquor is my drug of choice. And Switzerland has plenty of good stuff in that regard available to it, too, even if they don't notably produce it. Just sayin'.



So passed another week plus of my life in a lowkey manner. I heard tales of J&T's adventures in their Mustard Submarine, a large yellow diesel Mercedes van they had taken north into Scandanavian Europe. Not a bad concept at all... I met T's parents, and her sister, too. I had a temporary (non-hostel) space to do some yoga, some hills to bounce notes off of - a nice situation to drop into on all accounts. And then... it was on to visit my next victims - I mean friends! - this time a few countries away in the Czech Republic (CR).

A train briefly through Austria, then Germany - changing in Nuremburg for the trip east - had me tumbling into Prague all in one day. The Czech section of this railway networking was still improving, but that didn't make for any noticeable suffering on my part as the train chugged at 20mph through the mountainous (or hilly, depending on whether you are from Florida or Nepal) west of the Czech Republic. That vertically-infused charm eventually transformed into a leveling of the countryside as we plowed on to Prague through the factory city of Pilsen.

Pilsen - that DOES sound like beer! Yes, indeed. (That'd be a reference to the very thing of "Urquell" fame, though no one outside of the CR knows what the hell THAT means.) My friends M&K (Czech&Yank) met me at the station, and with M's friend S at the wheel and beers (not Pilsner Urquells, by the way) soon in hand we headed immediately out of Prague to M's childhood village in Milicin. This lay about an hour south on the main highway. Traffic was heavy in the evening, and the road was overwhelmed still as a result of the infusion of new cars without new infrastructure since communism. But we soon pulled into town.

Or, rather, the small village of 600. Diminishing in number rapidly. Already 600 had become more like 300 or 400 by the time of my esteemed arrival, and the gray heads outnumbered the fuller ones by a large figure already. That's because one of the unforeseen results of the Velvet Revolution (VR) was increased urbanization in the CR. Since people could actually make more money by working harder, or by working in more marketable areas of the economy - and opportunities are vastly greater in the cities - the villages had suffered.



Milicin perhaps had been suffering more than average with its easy proximity to Prague and its not-altogether-endearing nickname of Czeski Siber (the Siberia of the Czech Republic). That couldn't help. Not that this couldn't turn around later, as a distant commuting suburb to the capital as transportation links improved, but in 2004 this was not yet the case. There was a little bit of the ghost town to Milicin (minus the old mines, empty saloons, and horse-hitching posts).

Such imagery contrasted greatly with the actual house I was staying in. M's mother in particular rivals M in sociability, so the kitchen hosted an endless stream of visitors. This is typical village life, and a good reason why the kitchen need be sufficiently large enough to hold a small army of soup-slurping Czechs. Soup, it need be said, is ALWAYS on.

Indeed, I think soup is the national dish. Doesn't matter what kind, really, although if one soup rose above the rest it'd be garlic. Which was perfect for a garlic lover such as I. Traditional Czech thinking aligns soup with every meal; every meal is incomplete unless there is soup. The Czechs are souped up on soup. And they didn't even have Soupy Sales on TV! Whose parents were probably Czech, I bet.

When not flinging soup into the air in an ecstasy of all that is soupy, village life makes one think of farming. And here M's father F took over handily. That's because the other result of the VR was the newfound ability to own or at least lease your own plot of land. The great days of thousands of peasants threshing wheat, singing in time together to Rimsky-Korsakov with each shovelful, had apparently ended. F went right to work on this new capitalist concept, squeezing every inch of available land on his plot into production. No idea what he was singing along to.

To illustrate: his house was a microcosm of this mastery of space, if not somehow time as well. More precisely, its backyard was. I lost count of the number of vegetables and herbs sprouting in this walled-in 15x15 plot - I think every sprig had a different type of leaf. Beyond such floral fecundity, I think there might have also been a pig, a goat, and a rhinoceros. And THOSE would have been concealed somewhere behind the bird cages, chicken coops, and the barrels with carp.

F may even have had a contract with the sun on how to squeeze in light at all the right angles for the appropriate time periods. I wasn't sure, or at least had no idea who his agent was. To actually set foot in that yard without harming anything? THAT would have required a powerful network of criss-crossed ziplines, replete with a host of clips anchored to one's feet or waist to perform maintenance tasks while bouncing or lunging from above. You think I'm joking; I assure you I'm not.

Escaping the house, my trip coincided with one of the more popular events of the year in Czechdom, that of the burning of the witches. Yes, you read right. Now for someone with the slightest of Jewish heritage yet gypsylike aspirations in full, such as I have, this should have been cause for a case of the nerves. I'll admit to occasionally looking over my back during those halcyon days in the CR... just in case. And back in the day of my ancestors' ancestors I have a feeling this nervous feeling extended to anyone suspicious of being possibly deemed a witch. Fortunately, however, at the time of this sojourn only witch effigies placed high above a wooden structure (to be burned) need worry.



Furthermore, this fiery tradition was performed on the outskirts of town. So instead of a corralling of witches in the town center, it had more the feeling of an outdoor barbeque with marshmallows. Kids ran around and played, hoping to negotiate their way nearer to the flames. What else is new? Aw, shucks - 'lil Tomas done got hisself burned right up uh-gin! (Which might've been said if a Czech was from ol' Kintuck or Miss'sip, but I digress.) Then again, that might be how it was when REAL (accused, anyway) witches were burned back in the day - a grand day out of fun and frolic... except for the witches.



There was also a Maypole of some height and tasseling that took a number of the village boys to erect. How old school is that? This was both an honor and a duty in the village, particularly among the single lot. As one might surmise, though, it was also considered the height of bravery and expectation to steal that selfsame pride of the neighboring village... to be hidden or destroyed. Likewise it was the nadir of defeats to have one's own stolen, which had a habit of happening in Milicin of late. With only an army of 80-year-old farmwomen armed with canes to protect the town's glorious pole (symbolizing manhood?), this could not be cause for great surprise.

Really, I wasn't thinking THAT much about witches and poles. Mostly what I was musing about, and doing, was eating a lot of soup. I mean a LOT. And, indeed, it was a bit unseasonably cold out - soup weather. Or maybe it was seasonable after all, being Siberia and such (minus the odd gulag). I dunno, but I was more than merely overjoyed on the couple of sunny days where I was able to take a walk out over to the quarry across the highway in dry, non-windy peace. There I'd blast a few notes into its blocks-wide pit, now in disuse. It was steadily becoming overgrown again, but that didn't hurt the accoustics - yet. And I could always skip stones in the water in between masterful renditions of old latin tunes, slowly filling in the deeper regions of the pit.

But Czech is not just a country of villages! (That would be Slovakia, that land of ancestry on my mother's side, where the locals of the capital Bratislava call it the biggest village of the land of villages.) No, there's Prague! A real metropolis! And what a beautiful city it is, only all of an hour from Milicin by train. It miraculously escaped the bombing horrors of WWII to enjoy mere occupation by Nazis... followed by half a century of Soviet dominance. But she's still a pretty lady!



Yes, she is. The Charles Bridge and Prague Castle form the top of the highlight reel, but there is quite a bit of depth to the ville. Certainly, there is that aspect of having seen one big old North European city, one feels like it's similar to the other ones. But that doesn't take away from the fact that NEW cities with such architecture and charm aren't popping up. Like ever. And Prague, with its AustroHungarian vintage and lineage, is one big ol' North European city steeped in history.

Perhaps there is no history more central to the city's walls than the many years of beer drinking within them. So it shouldn't have been a big surprise that Prague, after the heady days of the VR, was these days being invaded with bohemians having nothing to do with Bohemia (a region of the Czech Republic by coincidence).

Excellent beer for a dime? Garlic soup for a nickel? And beautiful girls everywhere to serve the soup and beer? (Don't stop me now - I'm on a roll!) I believe that is known as a solemn rendition of paradise in some quarters. Honestly, I'm surprised I didn't go there and then myself. If apparently the cosmopolitan air of Tampa and the Gulf Coast hadn't overwhelmed my senses at the time. With seagull droppings, evidently, clouding my vision.

I could wax on-wax off about the wonders of Prague spent in a day wandering about, both with and without the company of M, who needed to come into town on some business. Cafes, cobbled streets, strolls through old lanes... and beers and soup by a waterwheel near the Charles Bridge - not bad at all. Granted, this was not a thorough tour of the town, but it worked for me. Last I checked, Prague would not be going anywhere - even after the bohemians left and the other Bohemians replaced them as a matter of course.









Also attracting flocks, but far more of a regional kind, was Tabor. This river city is the more traditional seat of cityness for puny Milicin, but no slouch in comparison to Prague by any means. It's all a matter of scale. With a population in the tens of thousands, the main square was perfectly and respectably grand, complete with its elegant church and bell tower. Uncoincidentally, this was where K&M got married. So was Tabor also a good place to drown a brew, walk about the city's ancient walls, and even stay the night to party with M's friends? Definitely.

Indeed. And when morning came and the cobwebs needed clearing, who but S (from day one in Prague, driving us to Milicin) reappeared with the hair of the dog and its bite. Yiminy! How these guys did it I'd never know. And here he was all vim and vigor to rent some bicycles to ride along a trail that followed the river, too. But I'm s-LEEP-ing!

It wasn't long before K & I joined him in this quest - after all, it was for us that S suggested it in the first place - and we did a very pleasant ride on one side of the river as we took in the rustic cottages on the other. Even a popped tire couldn't spoil an outing along such a bubbling brook of a stream of a river. That incident would be solved by S's good nature, assisted by a beer to provide a lucky fix at a riverside pub of our deliverance. Saved! And onward.

K&M and I also decided on another venture of a similar sort, to the castle town of Czesky Krumlof. This wasn't terribly far away (nothing is in the CR by American standards of distance), only an hour or two down the main highway of death. It's worth noting that Czechs are perhaps the worst drivers in the world, or at least have about the worst fatality rate. It's a rather straightforward equation: they have the bad habit of confusing the concept of being ABLE to speed like a maniac with the upgraded cars after the VR with and maniacally DOING on insufficiently upgraded roads to match. And that typically without seatbelts, to boot.



Yet we made it there safely, and a gorgeous little speck of a town it is. The castle - Czesky Krumlof's calling card - has ramparts enough to make the boldest of archers blush; its arching bridge begs to make a carriage's entrance most royal. Unsurprisingly, the old taverns by the river willingly accompanied our regal visit by serving good beer... and soup. I probably should mention bread, too, but the Slovak in me naturally assumes that as a given. Ah, Czeski K, we came to know ye welle... enough, anyway. What more can one say about CK? It's a movie set waiting to happen. It probably has.

In the meantime, the level of soup I had consumed was reaching my eyeballs. It was getting a bit disorienting, and people were starting to look at me funny-like when they saw it sloshing around in there. I was starting to blush like a 13-year-old girl with embarrassment - which probably isn't even the case any more these days, at least based on the boldness of my 12-year-old niece going on 22. Make it more like 6 for blushing these days, sadly. Anywho! It was time to head back to some more solid ground in the food world. Like Germany. Würste, Schnitzel, Brezeln - that's the stuff of gut-sticking if ever there is, or ever was for that matter.

Deutschland! Mein altes Heim; susse Heimat! (My old home; sweet homeland!) Not really, but I did live there for 3, 4, or 6 years depending on how you add it up. From 1982 until 1988 Kaiserslautern formed a home base for me, ending high school, introducing me to the work world, then serving as a launching pad and homing ground for university. I probably overloaded the place with responsibility during crucial developmental years I entirely misused and abused. Nevertheless, tough shit! I was headin' back to the 'hood!

First, however, I'd stop in Wurzburg. It was conveniently on the way; I didn't want to arrive in the middle of the night in KTown (Kaiserslautern in its American bastardization), after all. How would the band and the assembled masses be able to greet me properly? Besides, I'd always heard Wurzburg was a nice place to hang a hat.

Ta-da: righto! And if I had a hat worth hanging, as opposed to the mugger's snowcap which typically adorns my noggin, I'da gladly hung it in Wurzburg. Yet another handsome castle, and I mean a VERY gentlemanly establishment at that, towered over the river. A river walk took in abundant views; the Zentrum (downtown) had more than a meager offering of places to drop a Deutschemark. I mean EURO! Good on Wurzburg!

For me, personally, this was also a reintroduction to the German language. Over a few days I reveled in the fact that the words were STILL there in my brain bucket. They even came out reasonably well-sounding. And this was years after the last time in which I had strung more than a sentence or two in succession.

Furthermore, it was probably to my great advantage that the cheap (but impeccably clean) hotel I had chosen was run by an elderly gentleman. Whether he spoke any English or not I'd never know; I was sufficiently delighted to yammer forth in the language of the Teutons to not inquire. We were speaking German, the language of Beethoven and Wagner! Our discourse was minus all the lightning and opera singing, of course. Or WAS it?

This harkened back to my frustrated memories of when I lived in Germany and sought out older folks to practice my German language skills. Or lack thereof - that was the problem. Younger Germans invariably spoke (and speak) English more than passably well, and the insistence of this logical race of people in using the best language to converse between us was not to be denied. I'd start in German, they'd reply in English, I'd come back with more German, they would reply in more insistent and clipped English, I'd grab my bayonet, they'd pull out a bazooka... I guess we'll speak in English, I'd conclude. Fortunately, the older lot had far less compunction, and far less capacity in English. I had my solution. (I tactfully avoid the obvious and poor pun, and fairly so in this newer millennium.)

Language aside - Wurzburg couldn't hold me, though. Kaiserslautern was of far greater import. The old stomping grounds! Besides, my sister and her family were coming to town and would be meeting me there in a few days hence to continue onward (or back, in my case) to Paris. I had to get cracking and get all that nostalgia squeezed into my brain box pronto.

The modern S-Bahn train that carried me first to Heidelberg (vastly larger than I remembered from 16 years prior) and then Kaiserslautern was anything other than nostalgic. Downright sleek, actually. I guessed that the stunning advances in the French and Spanish systems had challenged the venerable Deutsches Bundesbahn to upgrade significantly in the interim of my German absence. All could at least console themselves in comparison to the generally train-deprived U.S. of A., where our own fickety rickety Amtrak was indignantly aghast and well beyond being merely green with envy. More likely, Amtrak looked to Western Europe in a fit of purpled apoplexy. Western European trains rocked - silently, and at high speed.

Kaiserslautern, oh Kaiserslautern - I knew ye well, too. At least I thought I did. But here was back in the town I had lived in more or less for 6 years, but now perplexingly found both horribly the same and completely different. How could that be?

The Kaiser's old hunting grounds on the Lauter river physically looked about the same; only a smattering of odd buildings challenged my memory in nearly two decades. The most notable difference was that the Pfalzgallerie museum had expanded greatly, most notable because it was located at the base of the hill below my former residence. But what about the stuff I had no memory of, but had to have been there all along back in the day?

Indeed, I spent three days walking extensively throughout the area, surprising myself repeatedly at the new things I'd run into that were evidently not new in the slightest conception. How'd I pass by the Jewish Memorial on a main street planted decades ago? Or the massive city graveyard with its Jewish section miraculously intact (or reinterred) and mysterious American baby section? What about the old Gasthäuser (pubs) of centuries or at least decades of age within a mile or two of our old house?

My greatest astonishment was still to come. My brother J (which by initial could be any of four people to my knowledgeable reader) had come back to town as well the previous year, recommending in his wake a hotel around the corner from our old drinking hole. Yes, we were all of 16 years of age then (at least I was, to start - many were significantly younger), but the drinking age was only nominally 16 or 18 then and never enforced. Or hardly ever.

The Alte Münz was our Gasthaus of note, with many a memorable evening spent quaffing numerous beers or setting heavier liquors (literally) on fire before drinking them. Some weeks might've even found my butt attached to a venerable bar bench 7 nights of the week. Back then it had gotten to the sad point that our neighborhood bar - originally "exclusive" to us American kids who lived on a couple of streets together above downtown - had become overrun with the entire high school. Then the junior high. And during the summers and winter vacation, returning college students too.

So perhaps it shouldn't have come as such a shock that I was to make the sobering discovery that our beloved pub offered food. My first night back, I saw a chalkboard with the evening's offerings above me. Curious, I asked the waitress "Since when did the Gasthaus serve food?" To which her reply, "Always," took me slightly aback. Say WHAT?!? I guess I DID remember the odd pretzel, sure, but Schnitzel, Kartoffelsalat, Zuppe, the works? How baffling! How telling. And it was delicious fare, too. Priorities had obviously changed in my absence. This was literal food for thought, or the lack thereof in my case.





Memory lane would draw me back toward my old house - an apartment building, actually - as well. Back in the mid-80s two streets - Fliegerstasse and Blutackerstrasse - had a sort of cordoned-off section reserved for colonels, generals, and their spawn. The random civilian was given the keys as well, thus my family's establishment in the area we all called "Flieger". Given the abundance of pilots who commuted from there to Ramstein Air Base, Flyer Street could rightfully have been deemed more than apropos.

Not much had changed over the years. A couple of odd planter containers in the street had dubiously made for more security far into the future of 2004 from 1988, but the random security check from the MPs stationed near the highest-ranking general's house was still about it. In our day, one such general had a few too many drinkypoos one fine evening and, after firing a round or eight from his pistol in the air and supposedly beating on his wife, found that he had unceremoniously retired the next day. And the military is all about ceremony. So there you go or, rather, there he went.

In any event I was allowed to roam these hallowed streets unchecked, freely allowed to observe most everything - which was almost completely most unchanged. Boringly so. So I continued a little further up the hill, where back when the larger Alex Müllerstrasse had by and large formed a barrier between the town and some farmers' fields above. The fields were for the most part gone by this point, almost entirely converted into apartment buildings or condominiums. CHANGE! Yes, even Kaiserslautern wasn't exempt.

Next I walked down and over the hill to Morlautern, through the Roman arches under the Autobahn 6 where I had sustained my first true drinking catastrophe. [No comment here, but that's a good yarn.] The olympic-sized (and notably freezing) pool was empty and silent on this weekday. Still there, though. As might be regarded typical for a teenager (then), my best memories of the pool were when the odd German woman would go topless in the sunning areas - unheard of at a community pool in the U.S. then or now.

Outside those hallowed gates I decided for the first time to use the woods nearby to play my trumpet. Now THERE was something new, not having played an instrument much at all in Germany when I found the local high school band to be a far cry from what I had been spoiled with in Michigan. From there I took the looooooong hike out to my old worksite along a local highway. That area hadn't changed much at all, either, but where the military installations ended now began a series of massive box stores a la Wal-Mart that I had no memory of. Sigh. Progress?

Memory Lane can be a shorter street than hoped for or even expected, but my work was quickly done here, I realized. I hadn't even noticed that many Americans around, period. Back in the day you couldn't shake a stick without hitting one - which couldn't come as a great surprise knowing that half of the 200,000 or 1,000,000 troops from that time had been drastically reduced. They just weren't around, or had accomplished a level of hiding that Americans are simply not known for. Maybe it was a 9/11 thing.

On day 3 of this wistful mental stroll I was going to be similarly relieved from duty, anyway. My sister and family would be rolling in, all entombed in the latest luxury offering from Bayerishe Motorwerken. Their promised vehicle actually wasn't ready, a disappointment - so a loaner would have to do. In the meantime, they would still reap the financial savings of a boondoggle to Europe to save on shipping.

Off we soon motored to Saarbrucken (Brucke = bridge, so bridges over the Saar River, get it?), then beyond to Paris the next day. With a 2-year-old in tow they had their own agenda, of course, but we'd meet up for a couple of meals and a day trip to Givenchy, of Monet fame.





Givenchy, the smallest of provincial burgs conveniently located not far from Paris, housed the gardens designed by Monet for his own impression on painting called... drum roll, please... Impressionism. Which is not to take anything away from the gardens, nor Monet's individual take. They were as lovingly arranged as the brochures promised. Indeed, the tour buses engorged with the likes of us - tourists - duly delivered their product in great numbers daily to appreciate the beauty. We enjoyed, too, snapping away perhaps too many pictures of flowers otherwise available all over the world - but particularly famous for their intertwining in this locale.

Back in the big city, I decided to move on from the hostel scene. Memories of my room of 20 or 200 a month before still loomed large enough to deter my reentrance onto the scene. This time I found a fleabag hotel in Montmartre to match my own level of filth, only fittingly it seemed. Really, did I stink that bad? Apparently so, judging from the comments from my sister and her hubby.

Oh well - I had found an equal in my milieu, then. Certainly this new neighborhood was a far livelier scene than the Marais, even while enjoying roughly similar ancient (if less grand) edifices. Even the ad hoc marketplace of tourist and knockoff goods was a welcome twist. Half of North Africa and the Middle East seemed present, ready to do business in nothing but the finest that Rolex and Gucci had to offer. And, with my own room, I could practice some tunes with my muted trumpet which didn't always work with the hostel's schedule or room assignments. This would work well - unless I left with a preposterously high number of flea or bedbug bites. (I escaped unscathed - so there!)



This time in Paris I was sufficiently motivated to wander into some museums, notably the Rodin and the Orsay. Miraculously I hadn't been to them previously. Although a big fan of sculpture, I was surprised to find myself uncaptivated with Rodin now that I was seeing his oeuvres in full glory and number. Not that his talent was anything less than superb; my tastes had just rolled on since last I had checked out his contributions. The English Queen's motorcade rolling out front, as I similarly rolled out of the museum, turned out to have significantly greater appeal if only to see what the hubbub was about.

Contrastingly, the Orsay worked its magic in the opposite direction. I had been wholly prepared to be underwhelmed, traditionally never a fanatic of impressionism but a mere admirer at a distance. As a consequence of this exposure, however, the Orsay would leave me a changed man.

A train station of old, the Orsay's new role as a museum was an artful choice of recycling. And it was precisely the ex-station's sky lighting on the impressionist masterworks installed on the top floor that did the trick, I believe. The play of light on paintings that made a point of focusing on the play of light was no mere coincidence. Duh. Wow - these guys should be considered masters! Oh. D-oh! (Homer would be proud.)

Monet, Renoir, Levy-Duvalier, Van Gogh.... These galleries were packed, even if the rest of the place was found far more airy in the absence of visitors. I had waited in a preposterously long line outside - thus my avoidance of the place to date among other things - and here everyone was crammed into one place. At least the line I suffered did sufficiently keep the numbers inside to a dull roar. Impressionism? Impressed.

My sister's brood soon on their way home, and my feeling restless again after a week's return to the big city, I once again soon found myself consulting a map. Bordeaux? Mebbe. Aix-en-Provence? Mebbe not - too far away (ignoring the expensive TGV). Normandy (Normandie)? Brittany (Bretagne)? Yeah - why not? Done! I knew little about what was special in that area outside of nearby Mont St. Michel, but that seemed like a good place to start.

St. Malo! Whatta town! Never heard of it, but apparently it was of popular repute in (at least) France for many a year. I cashed in my chips and got on the train west. A hostel a few kilometers from the coveted city center quickly took care of the roof over my head; I was ready to explore.

This was a pretty cool town to walk about. Its famed core lay on a peninsula of its own design, completely walled off from the sea and the isthmus connecting it to the rest of the mainland. Rampart upon rampart and an unending ring of wall enclosed this fortified redoubt; what was now not much more than a city of restaurants and souvenir shops within was more than adequately well-protected against... what? Who knew? Well, I guess the merry folks of SM couldn't be blamed for not tearing down useless, if handsome, walls.





So I joined the program (quite willingly) and sat down to eat. Crepes, or more specifically, galettes, are of great fame in Breton. But instead of being the sweet concoctions normally associated with the word, here they would more often be stuffed with mushrooms, meat, and maybe even draped with a sauce. They'd typically be served in a square shape with the corners folded in a lot or just a little, and be of varying color and consistency. I would compare or parallel it with the different fillings for an omelet... trying to make their way into a piroshky. Very tasty in any event, so I welcomed the attempt. I mean tradition.

Across one patch of water from St. Malo lay a bejeweled stretch of mainland easily reachable by ferry. This is the Atlantic Ocean not a great distance from Paris, after all - so one would expect sumptuous beach estates of the likes of Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons. And how, and on a royally French scale. That's what's there, unsurprisingly.





A popular beach walk is to amble below these imposing geants of architectural taste, grandeur, and - frankly - pomposity. Regardless, the various approaches to them, as they jutted out from the rocks to command the neighboring sea, are picturesque to the extreme. They have the presence of a fairy tale image come to life. Not bad places for a spot of tea and teacakes if one could afford the tidy sum of a mortgage they entailed.

The sea is the main draw for the area, of course, and communing with it was my intent when choosing St. Malo. This section of the French coast enjoys the biggest tides in the world, too, and I was very curious to see what THAT was all about. I thus took a lengthy hike from St. Malo on another day in the other direction, interested to see what I would find, and was more than slightly amazed. The effect of the tides on the lay of the land over the course of the day was no less than stunning.





Beaches quickly grew in size to the horizon as islands temporarily rejoined the mainland. I'd stand at various times at the water's edge only to watch it sweep beyond or behind in rapid fashion I'd never experienced before. More spectacularly, boats found themselves stranded as the sea left once more to reform these separatist islands, or make a large cove or inlet disappear in its hurried wake... before later reappearing once more.

Each craft looked oddly abandoned, slumping heavily and slumberously to a side with its keel oddly exposed to the sun. The concept of the necessity of onboard lockers, or of leaving nothing on the captain's table, and generally keeping a tidy shipshape deck in such an environment must take on new meaning. Especially when the boat rests at 45 degrees for such lengthy periods of time. One doesn't merely hop on the dock to jump on the vessel for a quick spin at sea without seriously consulting a tide chart here.

I was likewise interested in seeing the sometime island of Mont-St-Michel, the ancient abbey of pictured fame known throughout the world via brochures for France. A sharp rock of an isle only a stone's throw from the mainland, it too becomes part of terra europa mainlandus twice a day in this spectacular fashion. The cloistered bunkers that hug its rocky frame curl about it, swirling up until one reaches its steepled peak and finds theeself apparently nearer to god and such.





I entered the lower section of the abbey and gandered about for a short spell, noting the quaintness of facade in full bloom of advertisement and gift shop. But even a cafe respite did little to dispel my distaste for the tourist trap, so I skipped the barrage of entreatments to tour the buildings and headed back off the rock to look at it from the outside again. I was still more intrigued and partial to the sea.

This was what I found enchanting, after all. It's the juxtaposition of this noble hunk of rock to the sea and the sky, the reaching up of the architecture to touch what it can't but won't stop trying to. And it's the magic of the sea that can't make up its mind below, too. Here is where the tidal effect is most spectacular, as one sees the sea lap the isle briefly before rushing away as fast as it can go.

I decided to see where, in fact, it was going. So I walked into the Atlantic. Or, rather, I walked where the Atlantic had been. For over two hours I walked straight out to sea - on land as flat and firm as could be. After that period of time, I approached another island which had perhaps as much right to question its existence as Mont-St-Michel. Then it was time to head back.



This tidal sea is quite dangerous, you see. Many a life has been lost by not paying attention to tide and time. It's so tempting when the sea is nowhere even in sight, not even after having walked out into its domain for two hours. It sweeps back (or out) at a meter per second on average, but this is not what you exactly see. It flies across the sands at the shallowest of depths, leaving one in fully false confidence of its safety. For what is REALLY happening is beyond your vision, where it has already swept in rather completely to swell a lagoon a mile or two behind you that you had no idea that you crossed - in suddenly impending doom. When you know it, it's already too late.

Back at the abbey the claxon sounded. By then I had made it back, of course. I'm not writing this from some celestial redoubt in spite of the best intents of the monks. I returned to the abbey with still an abundance of sun and energy to match the offerings of the tide still out to lunch, so I walked the abbey's circumference as well. Scrambling about the rocks encircling the island made for more than a few places to stop and eat or play my horn. And watch for the return of the sea.

For something completely different, I tried my hand at a poem. Fortunately, this had the making of a one-off experiment - so I share the calamity with you with no self-conscious suffering of shame for more to come:
The sands of Saint-Michel,
walking to infinity.
The muds of Saint-Michel,
holding for eternity.
Trudging into the distance,
chasing an unreachable tide.
Endless rivulets of mudsand,
warm trickles over my feet.
An island of no destination,
blazing sun and constant wind.
Hours idly spent,
walking the ocean's floor.

No more, I promise. I'll stick to my adored prose and leave the poetry to the poets. And to the dusty shelves at the back of the bookstore. There's a reason for this - I've offered my hint.

Pretentious musings successfully negotiated, if unrealized in terms of actual success, and with darkness returning, I needed to return to St. Malo. If only to get away from it. Several gorgeous days had certainly been a treat for the eyes in addition to the stomach, but I wanted to see more of Breton. The hostel's sterility, which matched a convent - or perhaps a hospital - had been less than welcoming. It was time for something different.

In Vannes I found just that. Another Brittany (Breton, Bretagne) town of some repute, it lay further out and significantly lower on the tourist depth chart. Not that it lacked substance, however - why else would I venture there? A fair question, admittedly. Eschewing the charms of another charmless hostel in France, I again went the route of a cheap hotel situated not too far from the train station and above a bar. It sufficed in matching, if not particularly exceeding, the hostel scene. Oh well, at least I could grab a beer or a pastisse to while away a gray day if need be.







And gray and cool - and rainy - is what I'd get. Perhaps that's why there were virtually no other tourists. Brittany is notoriously wet and cold, even in June as the case was. Still, I would be undeterred in my walkabout regime. A river and various medieval offerings placed the town in a glowing glimmer of light as far as I was concerned, and such made for the finest of places to have a coffee. My game plan ALWAYS works... when it does. There's a reason why the caffeinated joe is coveted on such days where the heat fights the cold and the surroundings let the drug run wild and wooly with inspired thinking.

I have no idea now of what I was thinking then, however. Once again I meandered aimlessly with book in hand, if not trumpet. This entire trip had been an extended fight against coolness and cold feet, I realized in a gloomy frame of mind. For all the beautiful sights, and for a person who is always wandering about outdoors to look at architecture, stretch my legs, then sit and read or play the horn, this fickleness of weather had been an ongoing and unrelenting challenge. No amount of bundling fights fingers that don't want to work, or a dry bench that just can't be found.

Maybe I was just getting grouchy. The trip was nearing its end. Vannes' half-timbered architecture had its allure, but this lack of a friendly face had its push, too. Enough. Once again I consulted my map, this time choosing Nantes as my final locale to stroll around and pray for sun.

And indeed the sun returned there after a short train jaunt of a few hours, even if Nantes didn't provide the friendly face. Its noted gardens were notably beautiful, certainly. So was a surfeit of grand buildings I took in on my walks. But it was a lengthy conversation with a 78-year-old British cycle tourist that proved most memorable, as my new acquaintance waxed about his annual trek across some European terrain of grand distance. I wasn't rolling in merrymaking, to be sure, but at least I received some food for thought.

And then, finally, it was time to be back on my way home, back to the friendly faces I knew and missed. Paris would be mine again after a couple days and in a mere couple of hours, and then I found myself shaking hands again with Charles de Gaulle. I mean his Airport.

This had been an odd trip, even if traversing some of the most touristed areas of the world. I felt a strong contrast with my forays to South America, where I'd been in open land for extended periods of time - and my trumpet and Spanish opened door after door. For all its beauty and multitudes of people, Europe had only truly welcomed with me with open arms when they were the arms of those I already knew. This time, anyway. Hmmm.

But the knowing only comes in the doing, and the doing makes for more knowing. No mystery there. Perhaps that cyclist had it right, or a new means to an end. Or I should travel to friends' places more often. Or stick with the warm weather again. Or. Or. Or. Well, one thing was for sure - I'd travel some more to figure it out.

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