Hero Worship

Hero Worship

Have you ever had a hero? Someone you admire, usually from afar. A person who has attained fame or notoriety due to exceptional deeds or talent? Perhaps they’ve accomplished something noteworthy or written something that made an impression or touched you on an emotional level. It was the latter for me and my “hero” was James Herriot. Dr. Herriot was a Veterinarian who ran his small practice in the Yorkshire Dales of England. His real name was James Wight but he’d written a successful series of books under the pen name, Dr. James Herriot. The titles of his most popular books were taken from the lines of an old English hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful and The Lord God Made Them All. His stories recalled his service to the local animals and the people who loved them. The book series was so successful that is was later made into a television series. Altogether, Dr. Wight wrote 15 books under his pen name and I read them all.

I’m a great believer in creating lists of “must see” sights when planning a trip. Most travelers seldom get to visit a place a second time so it becomes imperative to compile a list that is reviewed, and rated in order of importance. When I got the first opportunity to visit the United Kingdom I made my list. For me, retracing the steps of the Beatles in Liverpool was tied for first place with visiting the practice of Dr. Wight. Practicality helped form my itinerary and my visit to the Yorkshire Dales would precede the visit to Liverpool. Dr. Wight actually lived and ran his practice in a small town called Thirsk that is near the Yorkshire Dales and Moors.

I brought a copy of a book called “The Christmas Day Kitten” with me to have autographed. It wasn’t one of his more widely known books but it held special significance to me for several reasons. I have a special fondness for cats, kittens and Christmas, not necessarily in that order and it covered all three topics. Plus I shared the same first name with the tragic heroine. The story centered on a young cat named Debbie who would regularly visit the home of a local named Mrs. Pickering for food and affection. One Christmas Day, despite being very weak due to illness, Debbie made her way to Mrs. Pickering’s home where she turned over a single newborn kitten to the woman she had grown to trust. After ensuring that her kitten would be left in good hands, Debbie died shortly afterwards. It was almost as though Debbie knew that she wouldn’t survive and wanted to ensure that her baby would. The story had many emotional elements and touched me deeply. Therefore my copy of “The Christmas Day Kitten” was more than worthy of making the trip from New York to the Yorkshire Dales in the hopes of receiving the good Doctor’s signature.

Fortunately. the City of York is worth visiting with or without the hero worship factor. York is about a two hour ride from London and I think, well worth the effort. Located in the Yorkshire Dales, the area is everything we imagine England to be. Rural with sheep in the fields, yet comfortable for tourists. Proper with castles and Manor homes, yet casual enough to allow you to enjoy your “holiday’. York has an interesting history that also includes confectionary and chocolate making. It’s a walled city that contains the beautiful York Minster, a magnificent Gothic stone Cathedral, The Shambles a narrow street with shops and restaurants that dates back to medieval times, and even a Railway Museum.

As it would come to pass, when I finally made my way to the almost “blink and you could miss it” front door to the Veterinary practice, I immediately saw the handwritten note taped to the door. The sign was advising visitors that Dr. Wight wouldn’t be receiving guests because he wasn’t well. I left disappointed but decided to try again the next day. I returned in the morning before continuing on my itinerary with the hope that the practice would have…

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Weather or Not – Anguilla

Weather or Not – Anguilla

Hurricane season fills most travelers with dread. Yet some are willing to take their chances in quest of the lower rates and smaller crowds that the late Summer and early Fall season bring to the Caribbean. You may not have heard of Anguilla (pronounced as Angwilla), a small island that is part of the Leeward islands. It’s not overly developed, unlike most of the islands you might be familiar with and is best known for its 33 world class, gorgeous white sand beaches and gourmet restaurant scene. It’s also known as the place that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston broke up. They couldn’t have picked a nicer spot. It’s also known for being a very relaxed island where a big night out means putting on clean shorts, a flowered shirt and heading over to Sandy Ground to visit Johnnos on the beach for a few drinks.
I like smaller islands. They remind me of the way the Caribbean was before the development of the large all- inclusive resorts that now dominate the vacation scene. They allow you to relax in a way that larger islands with hundreds of resorts, casinos and traffic jams just can’t make possible. A colleague who worked for the airlines recommended the island very highly and I was eager to get away from it all. But, about a month before my departure date approached so did a storm. Hurricane Luis made landfall as a category 4 on the Safir- Simpson scale which in plain language means a pretty darn bad storm. Being such a small island usually makes it a harder target to hit. But, this time it was directly in the line of fire and it took a head on strike. It’s not pretty after a storm like that. Multiple trips down to the Caribbean have allowed me to view the aftermath of major storms even up to several years after a storm has passed through. Despite nature’s ingenuity in designing palm trees so that they’re able to bend with the tropical winds they frequently are uprooted and tossed around without discretion. With a high level of uncertainty I decided to go ahead with my travel plans. I arrived about a month after the storm blew through and what started in dread quickly turned to discovery and wonder.
A scooter was my preferred mode of transportation on the island. As I rode around I saw locals who were busy piling detached palm fronds and branches into stacks to be collected and discarded. Water filling stations were everywhere but were cooperative and social. The clean-up efforts were organized and calm. It was imperative to the Anguillans that life return to normal as soon as possible. Their resiliency impressed me. I was admonished to not give handouts to the children even if they asked. “We are not raising our children to be beggars”, I was told. I respected that. I still do. The locals were warm and accommodating and I decided that it was okay to be on vacation on an island that just took a hard knocking. Once I relaxed, I stated to explore. Then I started to realize what a unique opportunity I had been given. Because of the winds, beaches were literally rewritten when the sand was picked up and redistributed elsewhere on the island. It may be the only time in my life that I will ever be one of the first people to walk on a newly created beach. The beaches were almost empty. I’m sure many less adventurous travelers cancelled or rescheduled their arrivals to coincide with what they hoped would be more favorable conditions. I experienced the most fabulous shelling that only exists in most other island’s histories and in traveler’s dreams. I can tell you that it’s pretty hard to find a decent shell on the more popular, frequently visited islands. New little baby palm trees had already been planted to take the place of the mature trees that fell under the pressure of intense winds. Baby palm trees are surprisingly cute. Maybe I’ll be able to revisit when they’re all grown up and tell them about “way back when”. The skies were sunny and clear and turned to beautiful cloudless nights. I took great pleasure in the nightly ritual of sunset on a beach where I was the only one in the audience. After the sun dropped, those few visitors who were on the island headed over to Johnno’s to join the locals for drinks and some dancing and pehaps some neighborly bonding. I am always amazed that the most interesting experiences can come out of etraordinary circumstances. In my office I keep a glass jar filled with some of the shells I collected to remind myself of that regularly.

Breakfast of Champions – Czech Republic

If dinner is a reflection of the local cultural scene then perhaps breakfast is more a reflection of the local working scene. It’s basic nourishment to get people up and going and through their day. People with a physical job no doubt eat a heartier breakfast than someone like me who sits at a desk for most of my day. Breakfast is not where most cultures pour their artistic culinary talents into. Breakfast has a job. It needs to get us up and going and perhaps ready for a challenging day. I’m sure I’m not the only one who tends to eat basically the same breakfast day after day with minor rotation. Sometimes being a good guest means doing as the locals do. Nothing says more about local customs than breakfast. In the Czech Republic it’s apparently never too early to have a beer or a brat for that matter. There are as many beer and bratwurst set ups on the local corners of Prague as there are pretzel and hotdog stands on the corners of Manhattan and they open for business pretty early in the day. For someone used to eating a daily heart healthy breakfast – think fruit and cereal and fat free milk- starting the morning with alcohol and animal fat sort of sets the tone for the rest of the day. Apparently, the majority of talent and artistry has gone into the wonderful city that is Prague. It’s alive with culture and arts and music and beautiful crafts leaving nothing for the morning meal. Unfortunately, that same sparseness followed into the midday and evening fare. Meat and potato centric meals were served for both lunch and dinner. In one particularly telling exchange my inquiry to a restaurant server of “where are the vegetables?” was answered in the same patient way you would respond to anyone asking an obvious question; of course, the vegetables were in the gravy! But, I digress. Back to breakfast. In other areas of Europe, items like yogurt and granola, breads, cheeses and meats are commonly found on the Breakfast Board. Sometimes, in an attempt to appease the Americans, you can find cereal in miniature boxes. You know, the kind of boxes that when cut down the middle allow you to eat the cereal and milk right out of the box. It’s as if the lowly sweetened grains weren’t even worthy of a bowl. In the United Kingdom the typical Bed & Breakfast offers the standard fare of eggs, meat and toast and marmalade but it’s not unusual to also find baked beans and tomatoes or fish on your morning plate. As you might expect, lighter fare is served in the Caribbean islands, where the selection of freshly cut up fruit is always tempting. Most of us love fruit but few of us take the time to remove skins and seeds early in the morning to produce the variety you often find “on island”. Of course the view of the beach and the breezes coming off the sea are also challenging to recreate at home, thus only serving to cruelly remind you that you’re not in the tropics but in the chillier Northeast. Travelling further around the globe to Asia, the breakfasts there often start off with what we in the States would consider a heart healthy dinner; fish and seaweed and rice. Being a fan of neither fish nor seaweed left me with little choice but rice. In Korea, soup and the ever present national dish of kimchi, a fermented dish often made of shredded cabbage or vegetables with varied seasonings and spices are also daily options. For me, these options were the most challenging. I tend to prefer a sweeter breakfast and surprisingly, some of the best morning pastries I’ve tasted originated not in the Patisseries of sophisticated Paris but actually in the street shops of phenomenal Hong Kong. In all fairness I suppose I could always choose to break morning bread at a Starbucks, America’s contribution to global sharing along with McDonalds. Both can be found worldwide. The menu is always familiar, usually with a few local touches thrown in and you’re guaranteed to find fellow American travelers. But doesn’t that take the fun out of…