Once upon a time on the road

By: Sue Clark, From Here to There
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Once upon a time, I went to Beirut, Lebanon, the magnificent “Paris of the Middle East” at that time. Roman ruins, a sparkling Mediterranean Sea and the world’s largest casino/night club remain forever in my memory. But the most “ah-h-h” part in that remembrance was the elephant that walked across the stage, his huge size almost lost as he became part of the world’s largest nightclub show. I’m sure everyone who travels has similar memories. Like when I was at an outdoor bazaar in Turkey on my way to Ephesus. I’m sure the Turks have seen many redheads since then but my waist-long red hair seemed to attract the attention of far too many men. I’ve never been pinched, prodded or poked so much, even in Italy. Bathroom habits in some foreign countries often tend to stick in traveler’s minds. When I was riding in a slow bus down one of the main streets in Port au Prince, Haiti, I didn’t realize what I had just seen until about a block later. All the women wore full, long skirts, then. One woman squatted in the middle of the sidewalk for a minute and stared ahead, ignoring passersby. Oh, my! And once, when I returned home from a trip to Israel, I found that one street picture I’d taken in Bethlehem showed a man doing you-know-what, standing on a crowded sidewalk and aiming at a car passing by. I was more upset that I hadn’t seen him when I aimed the camera, than that I’d captured that common occurrence. Through the years that I’ve traveled abroad, I’ve continued to say that someday I am going to write a book titled, “The Toilet Paper I’ve Known.” I’ve actually saved little squares toward that goal. During the early years of my traveling life, I escorted a group of 15 high school students to Germany, Austria and Italy for their Christmas and New Year’s vacation. The world had been at peace for some time so guns and soldiers and terrorists were far from the kids’ minds. Needless to say, 15 mouths hung open when they encountered soldiers in Milan, with very big guns surrounding a crowd in the Piazzo Duomo outside the Galleria Vittorio. A man stood on a soapbox yelling at a small crowd about the upcoming election. That was quite a memory for those American teenagers. I’ve never been so cold in my entire life than once in Mexico City, even when my train got snowbound in Green River, Wyo. for three days on the way back from the West Coast to college in Missouri. Residents have no heat in their homes in Mexico City, so when snow covered the mountain peaks, everyone pulled out their coats and scarves. Only trouble was, I came for a two-day visit without a coat, scarf, mittens or hat. I went to a formal dinner in a lovely, large casa where we sat at a well-appointed table, most of us looking like a scene from the North Pole as we tried to stay warm in all combinations of borrowed outer clothing. I still remember my “money” adventure in Rio. At the time, the only place Americans could get dollars exchanged was on the black market. So, shaking, I joined several other travelers down an alley, through a suspicious-looking door, up a long stairway and into a small, dark room. We didn’t have to wait long. However, I felt like I’d been there a lifetime. I needed the money, but for the rest of my stay in Brazil, I wondered if I’d been given marked bills and would be thrown in jail. During one of my visits to Tokyo, a warm, fuzzy incident occurred. I was sitting on a bus in the station, waiting to be taken to the airport for my trip home. I had worn a London Fog raincoat, just in case we had some mists among the apple blossoms that spring. The bus, usually on time, was delayed. The driver didn’t say anything, not that I would have understood him. He didn’t close the door, either. Then, a small, older Japanese gentleman stepped aboard, held up a button between two fingers and in Japanese, then English, asked if anyone had lost it. I glanced down at my raincoat and was shocked to see the bottom button missing. I jumped up, ran up front, and thanked the gentleman profusely. I discovered later, that he had gone to every bus in the station. The drivers weren’t to leave until he’d checked each bus for the person who might have lost the button. Oh, I forgot to mention being body searched in Haifa, Israel or losing my rail pass in a London street market or leaving my purse in the Abu Simbel airport in Egypt. But, those are for next time. – Sue Clark is a Lincoln resident and travel columnist.