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The Fine Art of Travel

My wife, Lynn, loves to travel. I can tolerate travel, but I’m not very good at it. Lynn has been to Europe at least once a year for the last 10 years. I have accompanied her on some of these trips, but not all. She likes to go everywhere and see everything. My preferences are much more restricted, which is why we don’t make good traveling companions.

We own a timeshare in southern Spain in a little fishing village called Garrucha. I love Garrucha. It’s quiet, peaceful, and there is nothing one must do, other than meet one’s nutritional and hygienic needs. I find this very appealing. Lynn hates it. So we compromise. I either stay at home or we do what Lynn wants to do which basically involves going somewhere else.

I’ve actually spent a good bit of time in other parts of southern Spain. I like the Costa del Sol quite a lot. It has towns with cool names like Torremolinos, Estepona, Marbella, and Fuengirola. There are also beaches sporting people who wear only the bottom part of their bathing suits. I suspect many of these people are female. It is actually a very heart warming almost, emotional experience, to see young healthy women playing beach volleyball, unfettered by restrictive tops of any kind.

One of the more problematic issues I face in traveling abroad is conversing with the natives in their own language. This is not a problem for Lynn who is fluent in Spanish, moderately fluent in German, and can order food and inquire about the location of the train station in French.

I can get along pretty well in Spanish. For instance, I can order things in a restaurant. One time when we were in a small family owned eatery in Carboneras, I took the bull by the horns, so to speak and ordered my meal even though there was no menu. “Mi pato ha comido su gato.” The waitress seemed surprised that I had done so well. She and Lynn laughed with delight and admiration. At another restaurant I was equally adept. I ordered a fish dish. El pescado ha roto su bicicleta.

One time I got stopped by the Guardia Civil simply because I didn’t know how to convert kilometers per hour to miles per hour. I could clearly see that the speed limit was posted at 120. Unfortunately my rental car had a speedometer calibrated in miles not kilometers. Since I always try to exceed the speed limit by just a bit (I am after all from Texas), the officer felt certain that I was trying to escape from the commission of some heinous crime. I explained my situation—“Mi coche ha perdido sus plumas y su pata está metido en la arena.” The officer had a good laugh, as did my wife. He was very understanding and let me go with just a warning.

One of the few things Lynn and I both enjoy is traveling to the small mountain villages in southern Spain. None of the residents speak English but they are unfailingly friendly and gracious and they laugh a lot. The food in the little mom and pop restaurants is copious and delicious. I enjoy making conversation with the owners who are also the wait staff. “¿De dónde es usted? they might ask. I would reply “Mi caballo es grande y come snaranjas.” “Muy interesante,” they respond. I will then ask them “Cómo exprime su ascensor uvas y por qué vomita su perro? All the Spaniards in the restaurant are by this time enjoying our conversation. I tell the crowd that sometimes my wife thinks my Spanish is not up to par and because of this she is constantly “embarrassed.” I of course used the Spanish word “embarazado,” which caused the Spaniards to laugh and applaud lustily.

After having made several trips across the Atlantic, I have become a somewhat jaded but wiser traveler. In the process I have learned some things that would probably make your trip a bit easier, should you decide to go to Europe. I will share them with you.

Sometimes in European airports such as Charles de Gaulle in Paris, the time between your arrival on one airline and your departure on another is uncommonly brief. This may seem like poor planning, and to a certain extent it is. So include in your planning the possibility that your departure gate may be several hundred kilometers from your arrival gate and can be reached only by a bus, which is not clearly marked in any known language.

You should also be aware that in Charles de Gaulle, and probably other European airports, if nature is demanding immediate relief (you’ve got to go really bad), and the restroom normally designated for your particular gender is closed for repair, you may use the restroom of your choice regardless of the gender designation on the door. In an emergency I was forced to visit the les femmes and found the occupants to be pretty equally divided among all known genders.

Eating can be an adventure for the uninitiated. Restaurants serve such things as snails and squid and burro, and conejo, and other things that we would try to get rid of with a heavy application of pesticide or with firearms (which is more likely in Texas). Don’t be afraid. Look around you at the other people in the restaurant. They look healthy and happy and as a culture have been around for thousands of years. They eat this stuff and like it. It mostly tastes pretty good. So eat it and don’t whine.

Finally, remember that anything you pack in your suitcase, you have to carry all over Europe. The suitcase that met the 48-pound weight requirement at the airport will miraculously gain up to 374 pounds on the numerous stairs of the Paris metro. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you have overseas experiences you would like to share, send them to me. I’ll probably put them in a future column about foreign travel.