Pleasant travel surprises (Part 1)

This item appears on page 19 of the April 2021 issue.

Ron Carlson of Lakeland, Minnesota, asked his fellow ITN subscribers to write about pleasant or serendipitous surprises that they had experienced while traveling outside of the US, such as the time in February 2018 when he and his wife, Joy, spent a week in Montecatini Terme, Italy, and learned there was a puppet parade (Carne vale) in nearby Viareggio, with puppets up to 50 feet tall!

ITN subscribers submitted numerous stories, and this month we’re sharing accounts of “invitations” being received out of the blue.

As my wife, Susan, and I finished graduate school in July-August 1970, we embarked on a 45-day trip through Europe successfully using Frommer’s “Europe on $5 A Day” guidebook. After two weeks in Britain, we activated our 30-day Eurail Passes and crossed the Channel to tour 13 countries. As part of our effort to save money, we traveled as much as possible at night to avoid renting rooms.

On an overnight trip from Rome to Munich, we arrived at 6 a.m. on a very rainy morning. Four hours later, after locating and settling into our B&B on the outskirts of Munich and taking a very long, wet walk to the center of town, we were trying, unsuccessfully, to order lunch at the restaurant in the Rathaus (town hall), which housed several businesses.

No waitress had the patience for our German (or lack thereof) until a man at the end of the communal table called out to one; she immediately came and took our order. We nodded our thanks to the man and had a great lunch.

As we were finishing, the gentleman called the waitress back over, said something to her and paid for both our meals.

We then learned that he and his family had been on the same Rome-Munich train, in the next compartment, and had watched our unsuccessful efforts to get some sleep. We discovered he was the Munich City Engineer and lived in the Rathaus and maintained all of its systems, including the Glockenspiel in the tower about five floors above the street.

He invited Susan and me to his apartment, where his wife and children were sleeping after their long night on the train. He took us on a short tour of the Rathaus, including a chamber in which both President Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth II had once spoken.

Imagine our delight when we then found ourselves climbing a ladder up into the tower. With the rain falling just outside the turret walls, we reached the control panel for the Glockenspiel. The man then pulled a couple of tubes (early 1900 glass switches in which the mercury flowed to close the connections) and started the carousel.

It was about 2:30 p.m., not the usual time for the figures to circle. To our very great surprise and that of the second-story diners at Café Glockenspiel across the street, who stood up and pointed in our direction, the characters began to perform their routine.

After we had thanked him for the delightful afternoon, we departed by a side door and started our long trek back to the B&B. It was, and still is, a great once-in-a-lifetime travel experience, one we have always savored!

Bruce Morrissey
Wilmington, DE



My husband, Richard, and I stopped in Edinburgh, Scotland, about halfway through our driving vacation in the British Isles in July-August 1987. We checked into a B&B and reserved a table at the Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile restaurant (now long closed), where the dining room was a large, gloomy refectory with one table. Other diners arrived, and we had an excellent Armenian meal with no menu and no explanation.

We really hit it off with the other diners — a businessman from the north of Scotland and a 3-person BBC crew from London there to film the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I endeared myself to the group by pulling out a book called “Sheep Dips” that I had picked up that day. Later we danced to folk songs led by our host. A wonderful evening!

The next day, Richard and I decided to get tickets at Edinburgh Castle to see the popular Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, one of several concurrent festivals in Edinburgh, but it was completely sold out.

As we waited for any last-minute cancellations, along came the BBC crew. They greeted us warmly and said that we had better hurry in to set up for the filming, and they swept us in with them and all their equipment. Once in, they said they didn’t need our assistance anymore, so we should just go find some seats.

It was a rousing, spectacular show. We wanted to thank the BBC crew afterward for getting us in, but they were long gone.

Kitty Chen Dean
New York City, NY


As a young US Army Second Lieutenant in about 1966, I was sent to Taiwan to participate in an exercise with the Taiwanese Army. On the day of their New Year, which the Taiwanese did not fail to observe, the US members were given leave.

I went into Taichung to purchase some furniture to ship to my quarters in Okinawa, Japan. After I ordered a bar, a silver chest, a hope chest and some other things, the shop owner invited me to have dinner with his family and celebrate the New Year together.

I have never forgotten that act of hospitality. Someone inviting a stranger into their home to celebrate one of the most important holidays of their culture was more than I ever would have expected.

Donald E. Brown
Fairfax, VA



Driving through Burgundy, France, during the grape harvest in September 2007, my wife, Joanna, and I happened across a crew harvesting grapes and stopped to watch.

The crew would snip the clusters and put them in a conical basket resting on the shoulders of one man. When the basket was full, the man would walk down the row and deposit the grapes into a trailer gondola by climbing a ladder and bending over so that the grapes would fall out over his head.

Through a series of hand gestures and some yelling, I was offered a chance to give it a try. Of course, I accepted.

I slipped into the harness of the grape basket and walked the row as the pickers put the grapes in my basket. When it was full, I walked to the gondola and tipped the lot into the bin.

It was lots of fun, with good feelings from all, even with no common language.

David Schwarcz
Danville, CA



Returning to Lalitpur (Patan) from our teaching assignment at Nepal Theological Seminary in Sunakothi, my husband, Bob, and I were squashed into the cargo section in the back of a public van along with a number of other people.

Having been in Nepal for only about six weeks, our language skills were very rudimentary, but my very gregarious husband struck up a conversation with two women squashed in there with us. As we bounced along the unpaved rutted roads, they exchanged bits of information in Nepali. Eventually, we reached the bus choke, the open dusty area where buses and vans waited to be filled with passengers.

As we all pried ourselves out of the van, the women said a word we understood as “come” and beckoned us to follow, so we did, walking along the narrow roads past Hindu shrines and old Newari buildings. From time to time we lagged behind, afraid we had misunderstood, but, each time, they turned and said “Come” until we reached a shop, where we were invited in and offered seats on a wooden bench.

The husband of one served us tea, and we all sat chatting to the best of our abilities. We were made to understand that a son, who studied at the university and spoke English, would soon come home, and they wanted to know more about us. As we waited, we noticed that neighbors were filling the open doors and windows to watch us, laughing and talking among themselves.

When the son appeared, we talked for some time more before we decided we needed to get on home, where we were expected for dinner. As we were totally lost, the son walked us to a spot in the Mangal Bazaar that we recognized, and we were able to make our way home alone through the rain.

As our year progressed and we became more familiar with the area, we tried several times to find that shop again, but we never could. It seemed to have disappeared, like Shangri-La, into the mists of the monsoon season.

That was 23 years ago, when I was a newly retired 59 and Bob was almost 70. It was just one of our many adventures among those smiling, curious, gracious people.

Patricia Ove
Aurora, CO