ANDY THOMAS: Travels Generate New Discoveries
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Recently I traveled to Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom on a trip that included lots of golf, wonderful cuisine, excellent weather, stunning scenery and a reunion of friends that was priceless. During this trip, I made note of several things that were completely new to me. They included:
The new fashion rage for European men is to wear what women have worn for several years: pedal pushers. These pants are like normal pants but the bottoms of the legs terminate just about mid-calf. They did not look that bad, I must say, and I predict they'll soon show up in the U.S. if they haven't already.
Not for me, however.
An example of European technology was a small computer, such as the ones used here when you return your rental car. Usually someone greets you as you pull into the return lane and inputs your mileage, etc. on a handheld machine and prints you a nice receipt in a flash and you're on your way.
I noticed this machine being used at restaurants and other places on our trip. It's also like the grocery store machine that asks you to press "OK" when you see the balance owed. The European machines are interactive to the point where you can even type in the gratuity.
All this saves the waiter from making a double trip to pick up your credit card and bring it back to you with a statement.
It was no problem driving from Portugal into Spain, as there are now no border guards to check for passports. This results from the membership of both countries in the Euro alliance. The Euro, about 1.28 times the value of the U.S. dollar, is used in all Euro countries and makes it much easier, as a tourist anyway, to travel and shop. On the whole, it appears to me that the Euro partnership has been successful, although there are still some problems and inequities involved.
Golfing in Spain and Portugal produced several new revelations. At the Vale de Lobo course in the Portuguese Algarve, the marshals ride around in little motor scooters checking on the pace of play. In 18 holes, I counted six or seven visits from the marshal whose unspoken presence alone helped us play in four hours 10 minutes. The scooters have a light attached, which I imagined flashed when the group was being warned. I had forgotten that golf carts are called "buggies" and pull carts are "trolleys."
At the Royal Golf Course at Vale de Lobo, the 16th hole, adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean, is a scene that is truly breathtaking. A sandy beach lies below, and the blue seawater sparkles in the October sun. Just prior to my tee shot there, while awaiting the group in front, I peered over the edge of the tee to take in the view. To my amazement, a middle-aged woman arose from her perch in the sand, removed her bathing suit and entered the warm Atlantic waters sans bathing attire.
This scenario, which is quite common there and no one makes any big issues about, helped to force my tee shot off the cliff and into the ocean below. As I got more composed, my second shot stayed dry.
My host, a longtime resident of the Algarve and a classmate, entered us into a medal tournament the day after we arrived. His club includes two beautiful oceanside courses, Quinta da Ria and Quinta de Cima. I played well but was beaten by a local bandit who carded a net 65. I guess suspect handicaps exist all over the world.
I learned that London is frightfully expensive. My wife and I had three drinks at the Park Lane's Palm Court, and the charge was about $55. But the harp music was exquisite. The tickets for "Spamalot" cost $140 apiece, including commission. Spamalot is a spoof on King Arthur and Monty Python. I cried laughter, it was so hilarious.
I learned that airports in England, Portugal and the U.S. are all different when it comes to security. Agents warn you before you enter the queue to remove all gels and liquids, but in fact, they never caught my small tubes of toothpaste and shaving cream.
I also found out that dining with our lovely hostess, Helga, was a gourmet experience in every sense. Her German background, coupled with her joie d' vivre and excellent cooking skills delighted us for the week that we were with her. Every good thing has a price, and mine was 10 pounds, which I hope to remove as I return to my local routine.
Perhaps the most meaningful and poignant education I received on this trip was the joy and affection from our friends, Larry (Helga's husband), Cack and Joanne, with whom we toured, took meals, sang, played golf, conversed and laughed. The stories from our school days 50 years ago seem to get better with each repetition.
Life is good.
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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