Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Oregon, my Oregon

Moving around the US as much as my family did when I was young, it’s not easy to come up with an answer to the question, “Where are you from?”  On the one hand, I am tempted to answer “Boston,” since that’s where the Cap’n and I lived for many years before making aliyah.  But despite my Vermonter mother and the fact that our ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, no one could mistake me for a New Englander.  I’m no Southerner (we only lasted two years in Georgia), nor a Coloradan, nor a Californian.  I was born in Seattle, but my family left before I was a year old.

That leaves Oregon, where I spent six years as a child and another twelve on and off as an adult.  I worked there, made friends, and got to know the place better than any other state I’ve lived in.  My friend Kathy and I would make day trips to the coast, to Astoria, to Warm Springs.  I skied on Mount Hood, hiked in the Columbia Gorge, stayed on the Metolius River, visited Sisters with my family, drifted down the Deschutes River with my father, attended a play at the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.  Portland was my stomping ground for many years, going to movies at the Movie House (an indie theater that doubled as the Portland Women’s Club, where the lobby was full of squishy armchairs, board games, and a fireplace); the opera; hiking in Forest Park and Tryon Creek State Park; visiting the zoo and the Forestry Center; strolling through the Rose Test Garden, Hoyt Arboretum, and the Japanese Garden; and enjoying the wide variety of great restaurants including our family’s favorites: Swagat (south Indian, located in Beaverton), Kashmir (Pakistani), Al-Amir (Lebanese), and Mykonos (Greek).

With the cooler weather coming here in Efrat, I am reminded that there was never a bad season in Oregon.  Summers were sometimes late (beginning in July some years), but warm and dry.  Autumn was cool and crisp, with a dizzying variety of apples (with which my family would make homemade cider).  Winter was cool and drizzly much of the time, but we got the occasional snow around New Year’s which made the place a wonderland.  (When my parents moved back to Oregon my last year of college, they bought a house atop a steep hill with a panoramic view of Mount Hood out the living room window.  It snowed that winter, and my entire family—Irish setter included—sledded down the steep hill in the middle of the night.)  And spring was magical, with fragrant daffodils blooming, the delicate smell from the flowering crabapple tree drifting through my open window, and the “Chiddle-urp! chiddle-urp! chiddle-urp!” of robins in the morning.

While Seattle was very hip in the 1990s for its grunge scene, Starbuck’s coffee, and crunchy, flannel-wearing Northwest character, Oregon has its share of attractions.  It’s always been a place where beer is beloved, with the Anheuser-Busch brewery right behind Powell’s Bookstore downtown, and microbreweries everywhere.  Windsurfers flock from all over the world to surf the powerful winds of the Columbia Gorge.  And those interested in natural beauty can find desert, lakes, old-grown forests, mountains, beaches, and rivers to explore.  Portland has more annual rainfall than Seattle, but growing up with that much rain taught me never to be put off by it.  (The Cap’n and I were once expecting Shabbat guests, but the torrential rain that day kept them at home.  We, on the other hand, NEVER missed a social engagement due to rain.  There is a Minnesotan expression, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”)  Rain, after all, is an excellent excuse for hot chocolate.

I once heard a talk by a local rabbi who was new to Portland.  He remarked on the magnificent view of Mount Hood from the city of Portland and wondered aloud when the wonder of it wears off.  The audience chuckled and murmured, “Never.”  I could say the same for the rest of the state.  Since in the American psyche, Oregon is one of those tucked-away places, like Wyoming, Delaware, and Nebraska, I’ll share a few photos of the place (from the Web):

Oregon coastline


Japanese Gardens, Portland

The Salmon River

Rose Test Garden, Portland

My children occasionally ask me if I miss America.  I can’t deny that I do sometimes, and that my yearning is not eased by the knowledge that I may never see Oregon again more than once, perhaps twice.  But I hope one day, on one of our family’s rare trips to the US, to take my children to see it.


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Summer is here, which means birthdays in the Crunch household: Banana’s at the start of Tammuz, Beans’s, Peach’s, and the Cap’n’s in Av.  Of course, summer birthdays often mean cramming classroom birthday parties into the last few weeks of school or gan.  Beans and Banana had theirs with cake, musical chairs, and brachot (birthday wishes) from their peers.  Peach has chosen a party at home in lieu of a school party, so I am preparing for 7 friends to descend for a party tomorrow morning at Beit Crunch.  But Hashem has bestowed upon me the blessing of a bat mitzvah girl in the neighborhood who hires herself out as a party planner and executrix, so all I have to do is provide the food, and she’ll provide the fun.

Then, of course, there are the gifts.  Back at the New Year, the Cap’n’s North American company ran out of cash, turning a posse of incredibly highly-skilled hi-tech workers out into the streets.  The Cap’n has since found a job at a reputable company in Jerusalem, where the benefits are not to be beat, but where the salary… well, let’s just say the Crunches are not big spenders, but we are nonetheless discovering for ourselves how it is that Israelis survive high prices, steep tariffs, and low salaries: by going into debt.  (So in between planning birthdays, running the house, ripping up smelly, dusty old carpet we inherited when we bought the house two years ago, assisting the Cap’n to buy a car that fits the whole family, making Shabbos every week, and shlepping Beans to get her ears pierced, I’m supposed to be looking for work.  La!)  So my solution this year?  Each girl gets a party (at school, gan, or home), a gift (not large, but something the child will enjoy), and an experience.  Banana had her party at gan, I bought her our favorite book (that I read her at gan at least once a week), and she and her siblings were taken to a kids’ fun place at a nearby kibbutz.  Beans had her party at school, I’m outfitting the sewing box my mother gave me for Christmas when I was 12, which is still in excellent condition, and although getting her ears pierced was actually the pay-off for a behavior contract we had, I think that is going to suffice for an experience.  (She’s so over the moon about it that I may not have to get her anything else until she enlists in the army.)  And Peach wants her party at home; I haven’t thought of a gift yet for her (fingers drumming); and perhaps a family trip to the beach in our new/used Mitsubishi Grandis will do for an experience.

The sad part, of course, is that by the time the Cap’n’s birthday rolls around near the end of Av, I am so wiped out from the hurricane of girls’ birthdays, I don’t know what to do for him.  For the past four years, we have been packing for SOMETHING (aliyah, moving, or trips to the US), and the Cap’n’s birthday has been swept aside by the flurry of boxes, suitcases, carry-ons, travel-size shampoos, and the like.  (Last year we had the inestimable joy of being with close friends in Boston, with the traditional JP Lick’s ice cream cake, but that is far from the norm.)  By his birthday, I am usually sick of the taste of cake, and one more chorus of “Happy Birthday” or “Hayom Yom Huledet” will send me over the edge.  And while he is a wizard at choosing gifts, he is the hardest person I know to buy something for.  So what shall I do this year?  Try my hand at a homemade ice cream cake?  The family-size gelato cakes at the divine Sorrento gelato stop in Beit Shemesh are a whopping 85 shekels, and I already have an ice cream maker.  A party?  We haven’t yet made friends close enough to consider what we used to call “the Usual Suspects” with whom we always did birthdays, but we’re getting there slowly.  An experience?  We could both use an overnight getaway somewhere (the Dead Sea, perhaps) with good food, massages, and no sound of giggling or fighting at 6 AM, and there are plenty of competent sitters around.  How to pay for it, though, short of selling Bill for scientific experimentation, is a mystery.

But hey–there’s always Gaza.  Aussie Dave has a write-up of Gaza’s Aldeira Hotel.  For $185 (the price of a mediocre room at the Sheraton Tara over the Mass. Pike in Newton) you can get this bedroom,

this bathroom,

and this fine dining experience.

Hey honey!  Where’s my burka?

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After a 19-hour taxi ride, a 6 hour wait in the Madrid airport, and a flight home on El Al, the Cap’n came home Monday night.  He took the kids to the local Yom HaAtzma’ut ceremony (and saw Beans dance), gave me a cool t-shirt from the official Beatles store on Baker Street, and we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last night by going to see “Kick Ass.”  He’s home this Shabbat for the first time in 2 weeks.  To celebrate, I’m making challah and curried chicken and vegetables for tonight, and cod a la spetse, pasta with pesto, and homemade ice cream for lunch tomorrow.  It’s good to have him home.

I’ve been thinking about what this volcano (and, potentially, two volcanoes) will do to travel in the near future.  I read about the Estonian president’s state visit to Turkey this week by bus, and getting coffee and sandwiches at convenience stores along the way.  Here’s the link to that story.  I know for the people stranded this volcano and the fallout from it are terribly frustrating, but once people get home there’s a sort of romance to the thought of people rediscovering travel by land and sea.  Perhaps it will help people slow down a bit, see the countryside instead of flying over it, and feel more connected to how people traveled in a bygone age.  I’m sure to people used nowadays to high-speed travel on airplanes, the crimp in their style is too much to take.  But I’m reminded of a passage Peach and I just read in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter (which is all about making do with almost nothing while the elements rage) where Ma and Pa discuss their meager resources and dependence on the mod cons (such as they were in the 1880s):

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered.  “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa.  “These times are too progressive.  Everything has changed too fast.  Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves—they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

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The Cap’n traveled to the UK on business last week, and as anyone who has taken a gander at the news for the past several days can surmise, he’s stuck there now.

He missed Shabbat with us, having to make do with the hospitality of strangers in Golders Green.  And he’s due to miss Yom HaAtzma’ut this week (including the spectacle of Beans dancing in the town’s official ceremony) if he doesn’t find a way other than flying to get home.

Stories abound of people rediscovering ground transport.  Ferries are clogged, and John Cleese—undaunted by either the volcano or cash flow—reportedly paid £3000 to return by taxi to Blighty from Norway.

When I spoke to the Cap’n on the phone this morning, he said the company has given its 7 or 8 employees stranded in London the green light to get home by any means within their grasp.  As it stands now, the Cap’n has contacted some of the others and booked a taxi to Madrid (an 18 hour ride), one of the only remaining airports in Europe to which El Al is flying right now, and from which he hopes to be on a plane for home tomorrow morning.  (British Airways, which he flew from Israel to Heathrow, is grounded until further notice.)  His boss suggested they buy enough kosher food in London to last three days in case they have to wait for a flight.  I told him that’s right and noble, but if he runs out of food en route to Israel, just avoid eating anything labeled puerco or jamón.  The rest, I guess, he can be forgiven.

The girls have been on a mope since it became clear their Abba wouldn’t be home for Shabbat.  I’ve tried to be more circumspect.  We know dozens of people in Israel who have family members who travel extensively for work, and in the course of all this travel must meet with delays, cancellations, and other upsets and chaos.  We’re spoiled, having had the Cap’n not only not traveling (well, hardly ever), but not even leaving the house for work for 3½ years.  If looked at through the lens of karma, it’s our turn.  And let’s face it; I’d far rather have the Cap’n delayed for a spectacular naturally-occurring geological event like this than what snarled airline traffic back around September 11, 2001.  Give me a volcano in Iceland any day.

May the remainder of the Cap’n’s journey home be speedy and uneventful.  Amen v’amen.

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Lessons from twenty years ago

I’ve been thinking these past few months about what I was doing 20 years ago.  Following my college graduation, I traveled for six months in Asia and Europe on my own, and saw wonders and learned things that I would never have seen or learned otherwise.

I had dutifully ordered my life according to expectations: going to school, getting good grades, staying out of trouble, going to college.  But as my college graduation approached, I became increasingly disillusioned with the well-traveled road I was on.  I was sick to death of school and could not bring myself to face an entry-level job right after graduation.  Fortunately, I had saved my allowance from the time I was a second-grader, and had a nice little nest egg.  I had always wanted to travel, and decided that this would be the perfect time.  My parents, though, were apprehensive (and just a smidge disapproving) of my plans and, from February on, began asking me what my plans were post-graduation.  I told them that I was going to travel, but they clearly hoped I would change my mind, because they kept asking.  And asking.  And asking.

My mind was made up, however, and while my college classmates were planning their weddings, buying cars, going to law school, and taking entry-level jobs at Dewey Cheetham & Howe, I was buying a backpack, a round-the-world air ticket, a Eurail pass, and a passport.  I was a little nervous about setting out on my own, especially since I had only been to Canada and Mexico, each time as one of a group.  But with a little Valium (thanks, Dad!) and a healthy dose of faith in humankind, I took the plunge.

My itinerary included four stops in Asia (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Nepal), and then on to Europe, where I visited Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, and then spent the latter half of my time abroad in England.  I visited friends, or friends of friends, when I had any on my route, but most of the time I was on my own and made friends along the way.

It would be impossible for me to relate everything that happened to me—my journals and letters are extensive during this period—but some of my experiences were memorable enough that they’re worth sharing.

In Taiwan, my friend and I did our shopping in the outdoor market in Taichung (the city where she was living that summer).  Live fish were flipping on wet tables, whole ducks lay in rows, their limp heads hanging off the edge, fruits and vegetables were covered in flies, and I don’t even want to imagine what that brownish gelatinous mass was (similarly covered in flies).  As I walked past the stalls, surrounded by the summer heat and elevator music, I begged my friend not to buy anything.  She insisted this was the freshest, cheapest food available, but I had a hard time letting go of my image of brightly-lit, air-conditioned American grocery stores as the only place to buy food.  She had purchased the Fu Pei Mei Cookbook (written by mainland China’s Julia Child) and was eager to try out some of the recipes.  Suffice it to say, we did our shopping at the market and despite my doubts, I rolled up my sleeves and pitched in in the kitchen that night and the several following, where my friend and her housemate created some of the most delectable dishes I’d ever tasted.  (And far and away the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.)  The lesson here: Food does not have to be beautiful to taste good.

Outside Hong Kong I visited a Buddhist temple (the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery), and after I’d wandered around, taking in the many groupings of Buddha statues, large and small, a group of Buddhist monks began chanting a service.  The sound was wonderful—like nothing I’d ever heard before.  I decided that next time I went traveling, I would make a point of taking along not just a camera, but also a tape recorder, to capture the sounds as well as the sights.

Most people are fascinating, and everyone has stories to tell about their lives—especially fellow travelers.  I had been with friends, touring, cooking, teaching English, and eating with my friends’ friends up until the time I flew to Bangkok.  This stop, I was on my own.  But looking back, I was never on my own for very long.  I made friends in Bangkok, with whom I went out shopping, eating, to watch Thai dancing, and seeing the sights.  When I went north to trek through the Golden Triangle, I was with friends I’d met in Bangkok, and along the way.  When I went south to Koh Phi Phi, I met up with friends as well.  And every time I returned to the guest house in Bangkok, I returned with a new friend.  Traveling seems to wake people up, open their eyes and ears, and predisposes them to meeting other people.  I was never without someone to talk to or take in the sights with.

In Nepal, I planned a trip for a few days to Pokhara, at the foot of the Annapurna Mountains.  The morning I was due to leave, I went for breakfast to a restaurant across from the bus stop.  Backpackers were required to leave their packs outside the restaurant (to make it possible for the wait staff and patrons to walk between the tables), so I set mine down next to several others lined up outside, and went in to eat.  When I finished and went out to claim my backpack, it was gone.  Once I absorbed that my things were gone, I realized there was nothing for it but to get on the bus for Pokhara anyway, and deal with my loss later.  (I still had my glasses, passport, money, airline ticket, and Eurail pass in a pouch around my neck.)  In Pokhara I purchased some clothing, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a towel and shampoo, all of which fit into a plastic bag.  For the next week or so, those were my worldly possessions and do you know, it wasn’t half bad.  Yes, I’d lost my camera, my gifts, my clothing, my digital watch (that I’d had since I was 12) toiletries, and other stuff.  But it was just stuff.  In the end, against any odds I could have imagined, the backpack  (sans camera and watch) found its way from the Himalayan trek it had been taken on by accident to the American Embassy, where a Peace Corps volunteer returning to the US a few months later checked it with her baggage, and it was returned to my parents’ house in my absence.  This was one of many instances were the advice to travelers to halve the clothes and double the money gained relevance.

Copenhagen was one of the loveliest cities I’d ever seen: beautiful buildings, canals, Tivoli Gardens, cobblestone streets, well-mannered people, impeccably dressed old ladies and, after being surrounded by palm trees for months, I got my first glimpse of barberry bushes—so like home.  I knew the Jews owe a debt of gratitude to the Danes for ferrying them to Sweden to escape the Nazis, and indeed, their moral compass still seemed intact: To this day, I’ve never seen people stand so patiently at a “Don’t Walk” sign with no vehicles in sight.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra was playing Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the “Eroica”) at Tivoli while I was there.  I was enthralled throughout the performance, and stood and applauded with everyone else at the end.  When the orchestra resumed their seats for the encore, they played a piece I’d never heard before, with a distinctly European sound and a bouncy tempo.  From the delight of the audience, I realized it must be a piece by a Danish composer.  The Chicago Symphony Orchestra knew what its patrons had come to hear, but they also knew what they’d be delighted to hear—an excellent lesson in hakarat hatov (showing gratitude).

After four years of studying German in college, I was delighted at last to have the opportunity to speak it.  Germany was filled with too many wonders for me to list—visiting Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, the Cologne Cathedral (and the museum of Roman ruins underneath it), seeing friends in Konstanz am Bodensee—but at the same time, it was the autumn, and large groups of schoolchildren seemed to be traveling the same routes tourists had taken during the summer, filling up youth hostels and causing the off-season youth tourists to be cast out to look for other accommodation.  I and my meager possessions had been turned away from the youth hostel in Konstanz one morning and with my small budget, it occurred to me that I may have to find a sheltered place outside somewhere to spend the night.  I had a newfound sympathy for the homeless, and it was only by sheer accident that I met up with a friend (whose address had disappeared along with my backpack back in Nepal) in the local department store later that day, and went home with her to stay.  This time, as so many others, I learned not to despair, and that I would eventually find what I needed if I waited for it.  Good things often happened at unexpected times and in unexpected places.

In Vienna, there were more things to see and do than I could have done in a month.  A city packed with beautiful architecture, unrivaled bakeries, cultural activities galore, and out-of-this-world shopping, I nonetheless managed to have a miserable few days there.  The youth hostels were full, the inexpensive hotels in my Let’s Go book were filled, and the only place I could find to stay was a seedy hotel with dodgy staff and clientele, a common shower with a clogged drain, and a bed where half the springs were broken.  (I discovered that there are worse things than cockroaches, which I sometimes had in my quiet, private rooms in Nepal.)  It was the worst night of my life, and I spent all the next morning finding a more suitable place to stay.  Oy Vienna—everywhere I went, people were rude, gave me wrong directions (usually sending me in the opposite direction from where I needed to go), and were appallingly behaved (I’ll never forget the sight of two women crouched behind a tombstone in the Jewish section of the Central Cemetery, peeing).  The only two people I met whom I really liked at the hostel where I ended up staying were…German.  I realized that sometimes it is actually possible to go for days without meeting a friendly face.  (I look forward someday to returning to Vienna and having a better experience.)

I was in England for the last three months of my journey, during most of which I worked in a pub in Cambridge, roomed in a house on Chesterton Road, and sang once a week in the Trinity College Choir (where the graduate student conducting the Verdi Requiem said he didn’t mind having a townie in the choir in the least).  The bar staff at the pub was international: an American, a Pole, a Brazilian, a Nigerian, a South African, two Irishmen, a Scot, and the usual assortment of Englishmen and -women.  The Brazilian and I had the closest friendship, not only because we were women (and not English), but because there was something about being from the New World that set us apart from the others.  I loved buying fruits and vegetables in the outdoor market in Cambridge, passing the colleges and the Round Church, and shopping at the Spoils Kitchen Reject Shop.  But my favorite thing, which I only discovered shortly before I left to return to the US, was the Fitzwilliam Museum.  I knew it was there, but I only had one evening and one morning off per week at the pub, so shortly before Christmas I made the time to go.  It was a treasure trove of art and history, but the thing that struck me most about it was that unlike American museums, it didn’t cost a fortune to get in: it was free.  (Donations accepted, of course.)  This, and the other free museums in Britain made me understand the importance of nations preserving their culture and making it available to everyone, free of charge.  Whether Britain has the politicized and controversial equivalent of the American National Endowment for the Arts, I don’t know, but the message sent by all the fights and cuts to the NEA’s budget is that American culture is for the elite, not for everyone.  I couldn’t disagree more.

Returning to the US after six months away was a shock.  I wasn’t in college anymore, and I wasn’t traveling; I had to get down to the business of living.  But that year, and the ones that followed it, I vowed to do whatever I could to make my life as much like vacation as I could.  I would travel whenever possible, spend more time outdoors, explore where I lived (the state of Oregon, at the time), and always think of how the people I met in the wonderful places on my trip lived.  I would never take a working toilet for granted again, I would learn to cook so I could make some of the wonderful foods I’d eaten, and I would always remember that you don’t need more than you can carry.

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