Are you a tourist or a traveller?
With the holiday season upon us, you have probably already decided. Travelling can be nerve-wracking. What’s the difference?
Shall we say that a traveller decides where to go and arranges it, but a tourist buys a dream sold by a travel company.
A tour in Yugoslavia
When I first had enough money for a holiday other than camping, I bought a holiday in Yugoslavia, as it was then, from a brightly coloured brochure.
The dream was of warm clear blue sea, sun and a luxury hotel. The dream was fulfilled except that the hotel was one of those still being built by the builders. It had some idiosyncratic plumbing in that water flowed up into the shower pan from – best not to ask from where.
Our group, tribe, herd or whatever assembled in Gatwick and was flown to Dubrovnik. From there we were moved around en masse to hotel, beach, monastery, traditional folk dancing and, of course, shops and finally back to Gatwick.
There were no problems except for the rep who was always one short on her head count. Eventually we let her know that one of the chaps had moved to another hotel where an attractive German lady was staying.
Travelling in Marseilles
A year later a tour was arranged to take a group of doctors, including me, to a conference on brains and things in Marseilles. The itinerary looked tedious and the timings were not convenient for someone from outside London so I decided to travel alone.
It must be easy enough, I thought, just buy the tickets and get on the train or boat. I awoke early and reluctantly to disembarque the overnight ferry from Portsmouth and staggered sleepily onto the coach which we were told was waiting to take us to Le Havre station.
All was well until someone announced on the coach PA: “Welcome to the Acme Computer Programmers annual outing to Honfleur.”
“What?” I asked, “Is this not the coach for the station?”
There were mutterings. I heard the words “Idiot, stupid boy, and some mothers do ‘ave ‘em.” Other voices whispered “I thought we were going to the station too.” “I’m going to miss my train.” The guide insisted that the head count was correct.
Then the computer programmers had to do something that programmers find difficult. They had to take note of other people.
“Where’s Sinkinson? What about Waddell? And Paul, someone should have kept an eye on Paul.”
The coach did a U turn and we found Sinkinson, Waddell and Paul and others looking forlorn at the ferry terminal. With them on board, the driver detoured to the station and dropped off we ‘Stupid Boys’.
A posh picnic on the train
I shared a rail compartment with an elderly couple who said nothing once they discovered that I was a foreigner.
After two hours the lady took down her basket and laid a table cloth and a formal place settings for dinner for two complete with cutlery, bottle of wine, glasses and serviettes. Grace was said (I think that is what it was) and after I had accepted a piece of bread with paté, their meal began.
I would not have witnessed that on the official tour.
Lost in Marseilles
You feel very vulnerable arriving in Marseilles late at night. Known with good reason as the crime capital of France for its smugglers, drug dealers, footpads and pickpockets.
I really should have gone on the tour. My taxi took me to the address I gave him but it was not the right place. It was close to midnight; more than ever I wished I had been on the tour. I did not know where I was. I did not speak French and I was beginning to wonder what ‘Plan B’ might be.
From a window a girl called to me. The message was clear but I hesitated to work out the form of words she used. She thought she had a client. When I turned away she threw a bread roll after me.
Then I heard my name called. Two colleagues were returning unsteadily from a restaurant. We walked a block together. I supplied physical support and they contributed geographical knowledge of where our hotel might be. It may be better to travel hopefully than to arrive but I was really glad to arrive.
A Feast for the Fore people
The big talking point in the conference was of the research done on the Fore people of Papua New Guinea. These people, unknown to the world until the 1930s, had a tradition of eating the brains of their recently deceased ancestors in the hope that the ancestors’ knowledge and noble characteristics would be passed on.
Unfortunately it was Kuru that was passed on to the feasters. This is a disease very similar to Mad Cow Disease which had yet to be discovered.
Kuru was an aggressive form of dementia and brain degeneration which could be passed on by infective agents called prions from the brains of the deceased.
A night with beautiful girls
After the conference I took the night train back to Paris. There were no seats. For the first time in my life I bribed the guard with 50 Francs to find me a sleeping berth. He took me to a dark compartment and indicated the top bunk. The other three passengers in the compartment did not stir. I fell asleep immediately, fully clothed.
I awoke to the clatter of wheels crossing points on the outskirts of Paris to find my sleeping companions already up and dressed. They were two most beautiful girls with their handsome mother. They were most kind and gracious to their unexpected lodger.
Tired and hungry after a day in Paris, I visited a restaurant and pointed to something I did not understand on the menu it was ‘cerveau d’agneau’ (sheep brain). Now I know what to avoid.
The waiter put before me a plate of sliced sheep brain. Beautifully cooked, no doubt, but I could identify all the features inside the brain and recalled their associated diseases.
About the sheep brain
The cortex, which shrivels up in Alzheimer’s disease and Kuru, the substantia nigra, black stuff which is responsible for Parkinson’s disease, the caudate nucleus which degenerates in Huntington’s chorea and the hippocampus where our memories are stored and lost.
Knowledge can be threatening. Sheep, I knew, suffered from Scrapie, a disease similar to Kuru. So far as is known, it has never spread to man but there can always be a first time.
Logic told me to walk away but intense hunger is a powerful motivator and I ate the lot. Kuru has a long incubation period but now 40 years have passed so I think I am OK.
None of this would have happened if I had gone on the tour. Maybe travelling is the thing. Every journey is an adventure and I have had many since.