SUMMER TRIP 2003
Concerns that the war would make traveling in the Near East unsafe caused Eastern Michigan University to reorganize its program. It was a welcome change in some ways. Ending the trip in Munich meant that the first six weeks would be north of the Alps, the second six weeks to the south; that eliminated the shock of the Italian summer that usually hit students in Venice. For those who love Italy, of course, ah well....
In place of the Italian weeks, the program added Ireland and Scotland. Those were COOL, but it was possible to mail home some warm clothing and abandon other before we set off for France.
My first stop was in Yeovil, to see my grandson, Harrison. I landed at Heathrow and took a bus and train out west. The next day Rachel took me on a tour of the town, then out to Sherborne castle, and afterward I got to meet her family. A lovely time. http://www.yeoviltown.com/
A few more days and I would have picked up the accent, like after watching too many BBC mysteries.
The weather was COLD, especially for orientation in Salisbury--a fine place for the students to get to know one another and get a feel for English life. Salisbury is not a small town, but it makes a nice contrast to the big cities we would be staying in later. I had a cold and the drizzle and wind at Stonehenge did not help. Lecturing there was impossible, but at the youth hostel I was able to talk on the romantic spirit and the revival of interest in the distant past.
London had rain now and then. Just enough to make us keep the raincoats and umbrellas handy. But even at the Globe Theater, it was nothing more than a minor annoyance. We saw the usual stops (British Museum, National Gallery, Imperial War Museum, Tate Gallery, our favorite reasonably-priced restaurants, the expensive pubs), but also took time to climb St. Paul's and look for poets and artists in the crypt.
After visiting the Cabinet War Rooms, we saw this review of military veterans, all marching in perfect step and wearing medals from the Second World War and subsequent engagements.
Later we saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and practice for the upcoming program of the changing of the colours.
This was a very good group to travel with. A tad short of men, but that is the way international programs are nowadays. They were generally ready to try new food and willing to study.
I had a very nice visit with my publishers. Then suddenly the London days were over and we were on the train to Ireland.
Dublin started with an unpleasant incident at the cash machines. A scrubby, pimple-faced fellow was sitting right underneath begging for money and watching the girls dig their cards out of their money belts. He would not move and later his unkempt girlfriend appeared out of nowhere to shout at us for bothering him. Then we could not find anyplace to eat at a reasonable price, or almost anyplace we could get into. Our district was very fashionable, and across the river there was only a slum.
The highlight of the stay was the tour of the Guinness brewery. The palace and the Book of Kells were nice, but once we were in Scotland, we put Ireland out of our mind. Ryan Air was efficient and cheap, so we were quickly in Scotland.
Edinburgh was really a nice place! Our hostel was only so-so in most respects, but the staff was nice and the ability to cook and eat in a real kitchen was a treat.
Edinburgh castle was our first stop. A nice walk with a great view.
left: Benita lecturing at Hollyrood Palace.
Then Hollyrood Palace and a hike up the bluff overlooking it and the suburbs.
We had a free day that many used for a trip into the Highlands. Everyone, no matter which tour line they chose, saw the same Highland ox. Probably heard the same jokes. But my tour took us to Wallace's monument, on the height where his army had camped before the battle of Stirling Bridge. Since my great-great-grandmother was Elizabeth Wallace, it meant something special to me. (Also I work in Wallace Hall, so it is appropriate that I have ties with the Wallace Tartan.)
Afterward we had time to hike a bit around Loch Lomond and other beautiful places.
A day in Glasgow was nice, despite the rain, but we liked Edinburgh better. Back in Edinburgh I spent a free afternoon in the Portrait Gallery, reviewing its special view of Scottish history.
We took the train to London, then through the tunnel to Paris. As often happens, Paris had a transportation strike. It didn't inconvenience us much as it worried us. Only on the day we went to Versailles was it a significant problem, and even then we found an alternate way to the palace.
Left: Students at the Louvre.Right: Bill at Chartres.
The Rhineland was a great contrast to the great cities we had been in. Our youth hostel on the Lorielei rock was comfortable and the staff very friendly. The only disappointment was the inferior white wines we had purchased in Rudesheim. There was something going on every minute: the hunting horn competitions in the arena behind us, with the dog and horse shows (partly cancelled because of rain), the martial arts group exercising every hour, the motorcycle crossing the Rhine River as a TV stunt.
Berlin was very enjoyable. Good transportation, great places to eat near our hotel at reasonable prices, and world quality museums. The Comic Opera presentation of La Traviata, however, left much to be desired. The innovative set combined a subway station and a wall of revolving mirrors. It all worked okay until the last, when Violetta was allowed to die alone in the subway tunnel. Was that a downer!
Brandenburg Gate and Potsdam.
By now my impressions were solid enough to begin drafting some essays. And I continued to work on the murder mystery plays.
Prague was, as always, a pleasure. Walking across Charles Bridge at sunset is so enjoyable one doesn't even mind having to watch out for the pickpockets. We did spot two groups of three pickpockets at the castle the next morning, one group working on an old man; they were really angry when we knocked on the window and pointed to the hand in his bag. (They had actually started on another old man [me], but he noticed the arm under the coat trying to open his fanny pack and turned it away.) The second group followed us for a while, but gave up when it became apparent we had spotted them. I saw a well-done opera (the Bartered Bride) in the National Theatre with English supertitles.
Karlstejn castle. A fifty cent train ride into the country and a short hike.
Vienna was lovely, as usual. A number of us went to the opera. Don Giovanni (that I barely saw from my standing room place on the sweltering upper row) and La Boheme (great standing room places directly facing the stage).
MUNICH (last stop) Jackie joined me here.
Old friends were there, too.
Astrid and and Bettina came to get us.
We then spent several enjoyable days in Ulm.