Pleasant travel surprises (Part 3)

This item appears on page 19 of the June 2021 issue.
Sun going down behind seven huge, cantilevered fishing nets in the island of Vypin.

Ron Carlson of Lakeland, Minnesota, asked ITN subscribers to write in about serendipitous experiences they had while traveling outside of the US. We presented a few in the April and May issues, and this month we’re printing stories from travelers whose surprises were little things that moved them unexpectedly.

One day in February 2012, I ventured to Laugavegur, the main shopping street in Reykjavík, Iceland. After poking into shops and galleries, I spotted a signboard reading “Vintage Clothing,” which pointed to a side street.

I love vintage clothing, so I went up to the small shop, which was located in a house. It was full of ’40s and ’50s women’s suits and dresses and some accessories. They were exquisite and very stylish. I was in heaven, admiring and commenting on the goods.

As I was trying to find something that might fit, I had a long conversation with the proprietor, an elegant woman in her late 50s, and she told me the story behind the shop.

She had inherited it and its contents from her aunt, who was a tailor who handmade all the suits and dresses from designs from Paris and New York. In those days, they couldn’t import the clothing, so it had to be made locally. The aunt outfitted all the elegant women in Reykjavík.

As for the niece, she was renting some items but wanted to sell the rest, and when they were gone she planned to close up the shop.

It was a serendipitous meeting and a special one, which I’ll never forget.

Megan Pursell
Seattle, WA



During a riverboat stopover several years ago in Bernkastel, on the Mosel in Germany, I visited a vineyard to purchase a small bottle of Eiswein, which I intended to serve to family members that Christmas. While chatting with the shopkeeper, who spoke English, I mentioned a song which my grandmother had sung to me when I was a small child. I said the words “Alle meine Entchen,” and she sang this to me: “Alle meine Entchen schwimmen auf dem See, Köpfchen im das Wasser, Schwänzchen im die Höh,” which is translated something like “All my ducklings swimming on the lake, little heads in the water, little tails in the air.”

This made me feel good, since it reminded me of my grandmother.

Apparently, it is well known in Germany as a child’s song, almost like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but, because of my horrible singing voice, I did not attempt to sing anything for the shopkeeper.

Robert A. Siebert
Jamaica, NY



In the late ’80s, my husband and I were staying at a gîte (B&B farmhouse) in France, and the hostess asked if we wanted to have table d’hôte.

“What’s that?” I asked. She said that they would provide a meal at a reasonable cost. I asked what kind of meal and how much it cost. She said it would be $20 for two, and that day’s menu was ratatouille.

It was delicious, and we always asked for table d’hôte from then on. One time it was soup and bread, another time duck breast, and a third time it included steak, vegetables from the garden, apple tarte Tatin and free wine. Serendipity indeed!

Robin Baron
Fredericksburg, VA



About 10 years ago while touring southern India, my wife and I stayed at the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa in Cochin. After an early dinner, we were strolling the pleasant grounds that stretched down to the water and were asked if we wanted to take a free sunset trip on a small open boat. Of course we did!

After we had cruised many inlets, we came upon the island of Vypin, where I got the most wonderful photograph (below) of the sun going down behind seven huge, cantilevered fishing nets. This type of net was introduced by traders from China in the 14th century.

Like everyone else, I have hundreds of pictures from my years of traveling, but this remains one of my most prized and most serendipitous.

Pete Gandell
San Francisco, CA



Back in 2005, my wife, Joyce, and I decided to go to India that coming November. We chose that month because we knew about an amazing festival, the Pushkar Camel Fair, that would take place in the state of Rajasthan.

My birthday happens to be Nov. 22, and I was to turn 63 while on that trip. It would be the first time, in what was then nearly 40 years of traveling together, that either of us would get to celebrate a birthday on one of our adventures.

The festival more than lived up to the expectations we had for it, and when my birthday rolled around a couple of weeks after, we found ourselves in the southwestern coastal state of Goa. We had a very pleasant time there, going to the beach, touring the sites and getting to attend a colorful and beautiful wedding to which we had received a surprise invitation from an uncle of the bride. But that’s another story.

A couple of days later, we headed south to the canal-riddled tropical jungles of Kerala. We booked a kettuvallam, a small, wood-and-bamboo houseboat, and proceeded through those canals past many picturesque little villages whose crowded shorelines featured women washing dishes or clothes and men catching small silvery fish.

As I sat in the shade under a canopy at the stern of the boat, taking photographs of the passing wonders, one of the kitchen staff came topside and offered me a freshly plucked coconut from which to drink.

I’m a person who appreciates little moments, often savoring them for the rest of my life, and this, to me, certainly seemed to be one of those worth remembering.

The whole idea that little Melvin from Brooklyn, who grew up in a very poor family, was actually here in the midst of this paradise, at this moment, was very difficult for me to wrap my brain around. I’d wanted to travel since I was a child, but I never believed I would actually have the means to do so. The worst thing about being poor is not the lack of material possessions, it’s the lack of hope. But here I was.

I rarely have my own picture taken when I travel, but I thought that, in this case, doing so would be more than justified, so I asked a nearby deckhand to photograph me and asked my coconut hero to stand by my side for the picture.

I glanced at my watch a few minutes later and noticed that the date was Nov. 26. Somehow, that date meant something to me, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Then it hit me.

That moment, sitting under the canopy of that kettuvallam, gliding along a canal through the jungles of Kerala and sipping milk from a freshly picked coconut four days after my 63rd birthday, happened to be the fiftieth anniversary of my bar mitzvah.

In no way, when I was a chubby little 13-year-old, could I have ever conceived that a half century into the future, I would be having the incomparably rare moment that I was now experiencing. Not in my wildest dreams!

Mel Rabinowitz
Nesconset, NY



The Matterhorn above the cloudy valley floor. Photo by Alan Moore

My husband and I had been in Zermatt, Switzerland, for three days in July 1979 hoping to see the Matterhorn. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we hiked the many trails above the village, but we were disappointed that the Matterhorn was always hidden by clouds.

The last morning, we were disheartened as the weather worsened and clouds settled over the village. We were determined to give it one last try, though, so we boarded a little red train that would take us up to a high altitude. Maybe, if we could get above the low-lying clouds, we could get a glimpse of the elusive mountain.

Ten minutes out of the station, we emerged from a tunnel, and there, in all its shimmering beauty, was the magnificent Matterhorn! When we got off the train, a lady came running and said, “Nur fünf Minuten!” Only five minutes earlier had the clouds cleared.

Down below, we could see the blanket of clouds still covering the village. We found a rocky perch to sit on, drinking in the spectacular scenery surrounding us — white mountain peaks against the blue sky, and towering above them all, the Matterhorn.

We spent the next few hours alone with the mountains and God. There were no people around to share this true spiritual experience. We felt awed by God’s creation. It is a scene forever etched in our memory.

Emily Moore
Greenville, IL