Memories of Africa (Part 3)

Bwabwata National Park, Namibia

Bwabwata National Park

In the fall of 2011, my daughter and I traveled to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. To read “Memories of Africa (Parts 1 and 2),” please see the previous two posts.

The rock that moved

The rats in our tree house were quit tolerable compared to Penny’s uninvited visitor.

Penny, a teacher from Canada, is a member of our tour. Last night, she left the Ngepi Camp lodge after dark and walked back through the woods to her tree house. Hers was the last one on the trail. When she arrived, she noticed a large gray boulder—one she had not remembered—blocking the steps.

Then, the rock lifted its massive head and opened its jaws. A hippo!

She ran back to the lodge. Trompie and Lucas, a local guide, returned to help. Lucas suggested they throw pebbles at the hippo to scare it away. Initially, the beast seemed confused.

Then it charged. Continue reading

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Memories of Africa (Part 2)

Etosha National Park, NamibiaIn the fall of 2011, my daughter and I traveled to Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. To read “Memories of Africa (Part 1 of 3),” please see the previous post.

Lion porn

The next morning after breakfast at Toshari Lodge, we headed back to Etosha. At eighty-six hundred square miles, Etosha is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. Its grasslands sustain an abundance of wildlife, including several threatened and endangered species, such as white and black rhinos.

We stopped first at the Ombika waterhole, where a pride of eleven lions lounged in the grass. No other animal dared venture near the water.

We drove slowly through the park, stopping frequently to take photos. Numerous zoos could be filled with the multiple species grazing in the savanna—elephants, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, wildebeests, kudu, oryx, black-faced impala, springbok, spotted hyenas, black-backed jackals, bat-eared foxes, and warthogs.

As we drove, Trompie spotted a large male lion hiding in the shade of a tree near the road. A minute later, he excitedly proclaimed that a cobra was in the tall grass near the lion. Continue reading

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Memories of Africa (Part 1)

Zebras, EtoshaWhile my travel plans (and probably yours) have been suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sharing an account of a trip I took with my daughter, Allie, in the fall of 2011.

The trip was her idea. After teaching high-school English for four years in the Bronx, she was between jobs and somewhat burned out. She was looking for an adventure to reinvigorate her outlook.

“Dad, do you want to go to Africa?”

When offered a chance to share a travel experience with my daughter, I didn’t think twice. “Of course, Allie.” Continue reading

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Going Dutch


Open-Air Museum NL
On a day I was traveling through the Netherlands by train, I saw thousands of farmers blocking a major road into The Hague with their tractors.

Later I learned their caravan was sixty miles long. Many of the farmers waved red, white, and blue Dutch flags, as they protested a government livestock policy.

A sign read No Farmers, No Food. The Netherlands exports more food than any other country in the world except the United States, making Dutch farmers a powerful lobby.

Land managment in the Netherlands is historically esteemed. Approximately one-fourth of the country lies below sea level. Thus, the name: nether means low-lying.

To improve their lot, the enterprising Dutch engineered complicated drainage systems, involving dikes, canals, and pumps driven by windmills. They claimed their country by reclaiming it from the sea.

Remarkably, the Netherlands, with all of its farmland, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Its seventeen million citizens live in an area the size of Maryland.

I spent most of my time in Holland, which is a region within the Netherlands. (Holland and the Netherlands are not two names for the same country.)

The Netherlands regularly ranks high in per-capita income, quality of life, and happiness. Proud locals boast, “If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.” Continue reading

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Afoot in Flanders

Bonne Chiere Mill, Bruges BE

Bonne Chiere Mill, Bruges

YearTripper is not a food blog, but Belgium begs the exception.

Where Belgium’s rivers drain into the North Sea, mussels are both plentiful and popular. Over sixty thousand tons of them are consumed annually. Most restaurants sell them by the kilo (just over two pounds).

The shellfish are steamed in Belgian ale or white wine, onions, celery, garlic, herbs, and butter. Mussels are usually served with fries, in a combo known as moules frites.

Belgians claim they, not the French, invented french fries. Thank Americans for the misnomer. Supposedly, fried potatoes were first introduced to American soldiers in Belgium during World War I. As French is one of Belgium’s three official languages, the soldiers nicknamed the dish “french fries.”

Ever since, the wrong country has been getting the credit. Continue reading

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Ruins and riches

Semperoper, Dresden DE

Semper Opera House, Dresden

The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.

This is how author Kurt Vonnegut described his character’s (and his) first view of Dresden, Germany, in 1944.

My recent impression of Dresden’s cityscape was much the same.

The Old Town is a fascinating cluster of ornate palaces, churches, theaters, museums, monuments, and squares. Its dense arrangement of royal buildings is among the grandest in Europe.

But in the time between Vonnegut’s first look and mine, all of it was erased. Continue reading

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Streets of Berlin

Reichstag DE

Reichstag

In late September I joined forty-four thousand fellow visitors for a tour of central Berlin.

As participants in the Berlin Marathon, we circled the inner city clockwise and, over the course of a few hours, passed several historical landmarks spanning centuries.

The race starts in Tiergarten, a central park much like New York City’s. After World War II, residents of Berlin planted potatoes in the park in an effort to stave off starvation.

Their dire situation was caused by both the devastation of war and the Soviet blockade of West Berlin. The hunger was somewhat abated by the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.

Altes Museum DE

Altes Museum

In response to the Soviet siege, the Allies launched hundreds of thousands of flights into the city to deliver food, medicine, and fuel.

At the rescue mission’s peak, planes were taking off and landing every ninety seconds. Some of the pilots dropped chocolates to Berlin’s children.

The airlift was based at Tempelhof Airport. Now out of service, the airport was put to use as the venue for the marathon expo. To pick up my race bib, I walked through the deserted terminal, past ghostly check-in desks, empty baggage carousels, and blank departure boards.

Next to the expo, a Douglas C-47 transport plane was parked on the tarmac, a reminder of the airlift.

Douglas C-47 DE

Berlin Airlift plane at Tempelhof

A couple of days later, I lined up at the start with runners from 150 countries. The sky was overcast and threatened rain, but the participants were anxious to begin.

Berlin’s course is flat and record-eligible. In 2018 Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge ran the fastest ratified marathon ever run in a time of 2:01:39.

I just wanted to finish. Continue reading

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