Pleasant travel surprises (Part 8)

This item appears on page 18 of the November 2021 issue.

Ron Carlson of Lakeland, Minnesota, asked ITN subscribers to write in about serendipitous experiences that they had while traveling outside of the US. We’ve been sharing a few stories each month since the April issue, and this time we’re presenting more accounts of meeting famous or notable people.

After visiting Tibet in 1985, I always wanted to return to the Himalayas. July 1998 became my time to return, venturing to Ladakh, high up in the Himalayan area of India, on a group tour. I was excitedly anticipating the color and ceremony of the upcoming Hemis festival.

As our tour bus left the airport in Leh, Ladakh, we passed under a large yellow sign that said “WELCOME” in English, with something written in an alphabet I didn’t recognize below. ‘How nice,’ I thought. ‘They have a welcome sign out for our group!’

It turned out that the sign was for the Dalai Lama. He would speak the next day and we would attend, along with masses of people of many faiths, in a large park surrounding a small Buddhist temple. What a surprise!

At the park, they even had a section with a loud speaker through which the Dalai Lama’s speech was translated into English. After about an hour of this thrilling encounter, our group set off for our week-long tour of Ladakh.

The Dalai Lama speaking in Leh, Ladakh, India. Photo by Marilyn Marx Adelman

After attending the Hemis festival, we returned to Leh, from which we would drive back to New Delhi for our flight home. However, the roads were closed to traffic, so we had to stay in Leh another day and fly to Delhi. To fill our extra day, the guide would take us to some monasteries in the area.

When I mentioned to our guide that I had hardly seen any Ladakhi people (because they were following the Dalai Lama), he offered me the greatest gift possible: a private car and driver to take me to the Dalai Lama’s birthday party, back by the large park. Off I went.

Wow! The park was filled with celebrating Ladakhis all dressed up in their finest, most colorful clothing, even though it was quite hot outside. Each village had sent a troupe of dancers and musicians to perform for the Dalai Lama. I was able to amble my way up to the performance area, very close to him. His eyes twinkled as he smiled and swayed back and forth to the music.

After the performances, the Dalai Lama spoke briefly. He then walked out, forcefully throwing grains of barley at us as a blessing. I was hit with quite a scattering of the grains. What a privilege to have His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s blessing! We all scampered to pick up the remaining grains that had fallen to the ground.

Next, the villagers broke up into groups in the park, each group with its own traditional clothing (including ladies with stovepipe-type hats), musical instruments, singing, round dancing and picnic-type celebratory foods and beverages. Of course, they invited me into their groups, ever so happy to have me as their guest.

The party lasted all day long. I have never been so exhilarated by anything like this, totally unexpected, where I ventured alone while my group was off sightseeing. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What a wonderful assignment: to remember my most special unexpected moment of travel! Thank you, ITN, for allowing me to relive and share this wondrous experience with others.

Marilyn Marx Adelman
Chicago, IL



A naïve and unsophisticated boy from a small farm in Visalia, California, in 1961 I was a 19-year-old student in Aix-en-Provence, France, at the Institute for American Universities.

As was customary for many of the students, we often gathered in the early evening at Les Deux Garçons café at the east end of the avenue Cours Mirabeau in Aix. One evening, I saw many people looking over at an old man sitting at a corner table in the rear of the café.

I asked, “Why are you all looking at that old man?”

I was told, “Because that is Picasso.”

I said, “Who is he?” I had never heard of him.

Thankfully, I learned much more about Pablo Picasso as well as about Paul Cézanne during the next year of my life in Aix, all of which, ever since, has given me an enriched life back in California.

Knox Bell
San Diego, CA



I was on an Azamara cruise in the Baltic Sea with my cousin in the summer of 2017. Azamara is known for offering incredible cultural experiences. Every cruise has what’s called AzAmazing Evenings “that connect you to the heart of local culture.”

When we pulled into port in Gdansk, Poland, we were greeted by a marching band. That was only the beginning. We were informed by the cruise director that we had an incredible opportunity to have the former president of Poland, Lech Wałesa, as a guest speaker on the ship that night! Apparently, a crew member had some connections and was able to make this happen.

With the aid of an interpreter, Mr. Wałesa spoke to us for over half an hour. Though he had aged quite a bit, he spoke passionately and seemed to be enjoying the moment as much as we were, My cousin and I were fortunate to get front-row seats, and I was able to video the entire speech on my iPad.

As he spoke, a cruise ship artist situated off to one side painted a portrait of the former president, which was auctioned off later during the cruise. After he spoke, we had the opportunity to have our photo taken with him; my cousin and I were in the first photo taken. We also received autographed souvenirs from him.

My paternal grandparents came from Poland, so, for me, this was a truly special moment. What a memorable AzAmazing Experience!

Kim Hansen
Allen, TX




The Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Archangel Michael, viewed from the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt. Photos by Wanda Bahde

In March 2006, my late husband, Ray, and I were staying at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt, as part of Overseas Adventure Travel’s “The Eternal Nile” trip. We noticed an unusual bustle of activity and an abundance of Coptic clerics in the hotel’s public areas.

The hotel was hosting His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa, who was there to consecrate the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Archangel Michael, Aswan. (Before the arrival of Islam, the predominant religion in Egypt was Coptic Christianity, founded around AD 45 when St. Mark began preaching in Egypt. Today, up to 15% of the population is Christian.)

While the Pope and his entourage enjoyed lunch, I lurked around the hotel lobby hoping to get a photo. A dignitary approached me with a flower, and the hotel staff invited me to join their receiving line to present the flower to the Pope. Unfortunately, plans changed at the last minute when the Pope decided to use a back elevator instead.

Much to my joy, I was invited to go down the dark hallway to the elevator, and, after official photographers took photos, I presented my flower to the Pope. Then he blessed me. His eyes and aura sent tingles through my body.

Although I have no photos, I will treasure this moment forever.

Wanda Bahde
Summerfield, FL

Coptic clerics relaxing before a formal luncheon with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III — Aswan.
At the entrance to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Archangel Michael, awaiting the arrival of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III for its consecration — Aswan, Egypt.