Notes from London on an April Day in 2020

This guest post is written by Thomas Shipley, who is riding out the time of COVID-19 in London.

A fog shrouds the world outside my window. There is no one outside and all is quiet except for the chirping of the birds. Inside, I find myself in a haze of unreality. I am not in a Stephen King novel. I am not in a Quentin Tarantino film. I am in the year 2020. Wildfires ravaged the Australian bush, Trump almost started World War III, and now humanity is facing a global pandemic. Worldwide shutdowns of travel and business. London is under lockdown. I am, though, allowed to leave the house to go grocery shopping.

I step outside into the cool British spring. As I breath uneasily under my face mask, the condensation causes my glasses to repeatedly fog up. I am in the heart of London – a city of millions – and it is eerily still except for the occasional passerby. I get to the local supermarket. I see a frail old woman in an aisle that was once was fully stocked with items such as laundry detergent. The store clerk sadly tells her there is none. Panic buying. We are scared, so we forage like squirrels do acorns in order to survive the winter. No toilet paper or hand sanitizer anywhere to be seen. Many basic necessities lacking. Is it selfishness? Perhaps. Yet, it is hard to undo thousands of years of human evolution. The pandemic eats away at the polite façade of our social order. I discover that crises such as this bring out the worst and best in people.

Staying inside for days on end, I lose my sense of place and time. I catch up with old friends that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. We have long conversations and we laugh. We talk about the virus. It infects our conversations. I wonder how long the pandemic’s grip on our daily lives will last. How long it will be until I am again able to hug my family and friends, dance, commute, and travel. I scroll through my social media feeds. Everyone is posting memes to relieve themselves of the anxieties that we feel in these unprecedented times. And yet – they are not so unprecedented. I remind myself that such plagues have regularly upended our sense of normality for thousands of years. The Antonine plague in ancient Rome killed many around the stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, and yet he persevered. None of this is new. This too, shall pass.

I am grateful that I have the luxury to remain inside and isolate. Grateful, that I live in a developed country with a robust health system. Grateful for each day that I get to experience on this earth. I do not wish for easy times, but that I am strong enough to brave them. This pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities. We had forgotten how fragile our existence is. We must learn from this and prevent it from happening again.

Sun setting in London on 03 April 2020

A Good Reason to Travel

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.

– Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. –

Bantry Bay, Ireland

Bantry Bay, Ireland

Cork Screws and 3 Things You Can Only Find in a French Supermarket

On the last evening of our three-day stay in Riquewihr, we had dinner at the Au Tire Bouchon restaurant. True to its namesake, it had an innovative display of old cork screws on the wall, mounted to an old Badminton board. And yes, dinner and service were good.

The cork screw industry must be doing well in France. There is a lot more wear and tear. Proof of this you see in the supermarket aisles. 🙂

cork screws

On the way back to Germany, we stopped in the French town of Wintzenheim at the Simply Market supermarket. I loved the aisles (yes, aisles) of red wine on display.

red wine

As we were passing the produce section, a blast of steam came out right from the shelving unit. I’d suppose this is to keep the produce fresh and moist. I’ve never seen this in a German supermarket.

keep veggies fresh

My daughter likes to eat walnuts, but all we get at our very big supermarket in Oberursel is prepackaged ones. I was surprised to see so many nuts for sale.

nuts

On the Road in Canada – Sailing in Lunenburg, NS

We booked four tickets on the Eastern Star for the afternoon turn, and the time we had on that boat was priceless.

The Eastern Star in dock

The Eastern Star in dock

The Eastern Star

The Eastern Star

The boat has some history and this is what the skipper told us (scribbled down in my notebook):

The boat, built in 1948, originates from Denmark. In its early days, it was mostly used for smuggling,  and also ran under three different names in three different countries.

Eventually the sailors were caught smuggling, and the boat was confiscated by the Halifax authorities in the 60s or 70s. The local authorities used it for a number of years until they auctioned it off.

The next owner had it for a few years until the boat suffered heavy damage in a storm. The insurance company paid for the storm damage, but not for the consequential damage (new flooring, etc.) He then went bankrupt and was forced to sell it.

The current owner bought it in the 90s.

My husband had sailed before and enjoyed getting his hands on the rope and wheel of the boat. The skipper and his crew woman got us involved (if we wanted to) and the whole ride was a lot of fun. The photo shows our son on the wheel.

helpers on board

helpers on board

We had picked an overcast afternoon, and we were glad to have brought extra clothing. There are extra blankets on board as well. Can you see the silver lining?

ocean

As we had boarded, we ended up sitting on the left side, which the skipper explained would be the low side going out. I had no idea what he really meant and just smiled. By the time, we were out on the ocean, I knew what low side meant. Similar to hanging on to dear life on a roller coaster ride. Well, not quite, but close enough. I had the time of my life!

As we were taking the bend and sailing back, we were advised to switch sides to sit on the high end. It had the advantage of having two free hands to take photos. On the way out, I had only used my hands to hold on and not slide through the railing. It was not quite like that, but it seemed this way at times. The flow of adrenaline was something else.

Nearing the shore, the skipper had to do his usual work and was able to tell us the boat’s story.

Eastern Star skipper

Eastern Star skipper

Lunenburg has a lot to offer and this is one place I would consider returning to. I might easily like new places, but I am very picky about the ones I would return to.

reaching the harbor

reaching the harbor

Lunenburg Harbor

– Raise your sail one foot and you get ten feet of wind.-
(Chinese proverb)

Notes from Amman, Jordan with a Surprise Knock on the Door

This time, Nobuko is in Amman/Jordan and has this to say.

My flight from Alexandria arrived in Amman at 5pm. Air Arabia is a nice airline – I liked the friendly service, food, and the punctuality. The price was good at $110! I got myself a Jordanian SIM card, and then took a 45-minute ride on a  bus into the city. But Amman is a challenging city to navigate – it’s big (of course, it’s the capital!) with wide multi-lane avenues. I should have had a good map or a 3G ready device with map function in my hand.

I had contacted a host via couch surfing. She told me the neighborhood where she lives, so the bus driver dropped me off at the nearest stop to that area. At that time, I did not know this, but it’s quite far from the city center.

When I called my couch-surfing (CS) host, she instructed me to call her again after catching a cab, that she would give the address to the driver. Well, cab drivers in Amman are not so kind with tourists. If you don’t cough up big bucks, they simply drive away. I tried several cabs and each time I had to call my CS host again. I asked her to text me her address to avoid using up my phone credit, but she claimed that she had no credit herself and was unable to send outgoing calls or texts… and she also refused to tell me verbally, since she didn’t believe that I would be able to say it correctly (I do not speak Arabic).

I never found a cab who agreed on the fare. Soon I ran out of credit. The SIM card I had bought came with only 15 minutes worth of credit, and there was no store nearby where I could buy more. One hour had passed by this time, me on the curb side hustling for a cab. And I was carrying my bag weighing 15kg in total. So I decided to ditch the cab and my unhelpful CS host, and walked to look for a bus stand to go to city center instead.

However, since I was in an area that resembled U.S. suburbs with hardly any pedestrians, I could not find people to ask for directions. I wandered around for 30 minutes, and found a bus going by and tried to flag it down. But here in Amman, a modern and organized city, it seems that buses don’t stop unless you are at a stop. OK.I found a food joint and asked there “Salaam alecom, bus?” You can imagine how successful this interaction went. I really cursed myself for not knowing Arabic. I saw and flagged down a mini van (collective taxi) and said “City center?”. The driver nodded yes, so I hopped on. But a fellow passenger, who spoke English informed me, that the bus is NOT going to city center. So I got off after two stops.

I was fine to hunt for the right bus, but I was tired of carrying my bags. I saw a hotel-like building nearby, and walked there in hope of getting someone to help me. It was not a hotel, but there was a travel agency! The manager, Mr. Ali, who spoke fluent English, tried all that I requested, but in the end, said its far easier if he just dropped me off himself at a hotel in the city center. He served me coffee and sweets in a luxurious waiting room with a nice sofa – he even let me use the computer for internet – while I waited for him to close the office.

Then he drove me to a hotel (Palace Hotel). His parents are from Palestine and he was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. He recently took a trip to New York and found it boring to be there alone. I can understand that. Being in a mega modern city alone is not fun. I checked in and had two beers, Skyped with my friend Maria in Germany (the host blogger) and went to sleep.

The next day, I walked to the Citadel. It was a 30-minute walk uphill, but a pleasant one since there were hardly any cars driving by. The view it commands is amazing. You can see the city at 360 degrees around. From there, I walked down to the Roman Theatre, which casually sits by a busy road. Some locals approached me during my walk, but Jordanians – or more accurately, Amman residents – seemed less extroverted compared to Egyptians. I stopped at a food joint and had a big meal for 3 JD ( 1 JD = $0.73), so this is not so cheap. But the owner gave me free refills on salads and beans for which I was very happy!

The points of interests are spread out in Amman. So if you try to walk it, or do it cheaper by bus, you need a lot of of time. I gave up the idea of visiting mosques on the opposite hill from the Citadel and instead walked around the market near the hotel. Out of all, honey stores and shops that sell naughty lingerie stood out because I love honey and I find it charmingly interesting that predominantly Muslim countries (Egypt likewise) openly sell fantasy triggering night wear.

Every time I see one of these lingerie store I want to go in and look what else they have inside, but unfortunately the shop keepers are always men and I assume that me going in alone may not end in a harassment-free interaction. But why are the shop keepers selling women’s lingerie  men? Do only men go to these places to buy skimpy underwear for their wives and girlfriends? Don’t women go there themselves? I actually have never seen any customer inside – neither women nor men. So I don’t know what the make up of the clientele is.

That same night, I also received a surprise from a hotel worker. At 10pm, there was a knock on my door. I was stupid to open it, but I did. In India, I would have NEVER done that. There stood this guy who works as a cleaner. He asked me if everything was OK, and if I needed anything. I said no. Then he zipped down and pulled out his not so impressing wee wee….. I was speechless for a few seconds, due to the caliber of stupidity of this, but came back to myself and got really pissed off. I pushed him away (and he hit the wall and almost fell – with his ding dong hanging out, which is a funny scene to recall) and I locked the door.

Immediately, he started to bang on my door begging for my forgiveness. What an idiot! I called the front desk using my cell phone and asked the attendant to come to my room. He came, and that idiot was still standing there, half crying. Anyway, we settled the matter by the idiot paying for my hotel fee. Had he touched me even with one finger, I would have pressed charges against him. But this is all funny now. Ladies, be smart and don’t open the door, even if the knock comes from a worker.

Well, I raved about how I had never been subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt. But this guy was Egyptian. Just like anywhere, there are always stupid people as well as gentlemen. The male friends I made in Egypt were mortified and ashamed when I told them the story.

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