Friday, October 31, 2008


Several years ago, my husband and I decided to go to Iceland for spring break because Icelandair was having a promotion. We knew that it would be cold for our three-day visit so we broke our own rules and took a large suitcase each with winter clothing, including a heavy coat. As the plane turned to land on the runway, all we could see was snow and cleared runway. We asked ourselves, "What have we done?"

In spite of our first impression, we really enjoyed our visit. A friend who taught school at the military base there arranged for us to have a taxi driver who took us around. He drove on the icy roads like it was the middle of summer and took us to the Golden Circle where you could see geysers, frozen waterfalls, and steam bubbling out of the ground. It was amazing. It was also 25 degrees F with a pretty nasty wind chill so I was really bundled up. In fact, when I took my hand out of my glove to take a picture of Geysir, a famous geyser, I thought it would freeze.

Icelanders swim outside in the thermally heated water. We saw the Blue Lagoon where people were having fun swimming and we even swam outside ourselves in a friend's hot tub. We learned that homes in Iceland have no hot water heaters because the water coming from under the ground is so hot, it is piped into the house just like the cold water.

When we got home, the temperature was in the 70's. What a change!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Madeline's Twenty Travel Tips

Because we travel so much, we have learned several things that will make our life away from home a lot easier. I am not being negative, but want to make you aware of some of the things that I have experienced that can spoil a trip if you are not prepared. Some of them are listed below:

1. Pack light. You will be carrying or pulling your own luggage quite a bit of the time, getting it from carousels, and putting it on buses. Pack your suitcase(s) with what you think you will need and then remove half of it. Leave room for souvenirs.

2. Buy a portable scale that you can take with you to weigh your luggage for your trip home. Overweight luggage is very expensive to check.

3. Do not put valuables in checked luggage. You never know who will be going through it.

4. Don't lock your luggage. Even if you use a TSA-approved lock, security in foreign countries will break it off.

5. If you are leaving Europe and want to take a bottle of water with you, purchase it at the airport after you go through security and have the cashier put it in unopened in a sealed see-through bag. Keep the bag sealed until you get on the plane.

6. You may be served strange and unfamiliar foods while traveling in foreign countries. Food that disgusts you might be food that is served in your honor by your host.

7. It is best to listen to your guide while on a bus tour. Your guide has been trained to look out for your safety and warn you of any dangers that you may encounter.

8. Be sure to be back at the bus on time when traveling with a group. Nobody wants to wait for late stragglers.

9. Make sure you carry Kleenex with you as toilet paper is not always provided in public restrooms in other countries. Also realize that toilets in other countries may look different than those we use in the United States

10. When going to another country, leave all electrical appliances at home. Converters don't always work correctly and you may burn up your hair dryer. Since you will never see the people you meet again, you don't need to worry about perfect hair.

11. Take all prescription medicines in their original bottles in your carry-on bag. Make sure you also include plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent, especially if you are going to the tropics. Follow TSA regulations for liquids that you will carry on the plane.

12. Layer your clothing instead of taking a heavy coat. And remember that blue jeans will add weight to your luggage. Many stores and mail-order companies sell clothing especially for travelers.

13. In Europe, do not wear white athletic shoes. This will single you out as an American and a visitor to their country. You want to blend in with the country's people as much as possible.

14. Respect the people of the country you visit just as you expect them to respect you.

15. Leave valuables such as expensive jewelry at home. If you want to wear jewelry, buy cheap imitations.

16. Read about the country or countries that you plan to visit before leaving home. A simple travel guide gives you great information.

17. Don't gripe if you are inconvenienced. Remember that you travel to see how people in other countries live. You don't want them to get a negative view of Americans.

18. Guard your passport well. Put it in a safe place such as in a neck or waist pouch.

19. Remember that planes do not always fly on schedule, luggage doesn't always get to its destination, cruise ships are often missed, and tours are cancelled. Purchase travel insurance before you go to protect yourself. We have had to use ours several times. Insurance purchased 14 days after a trip is booked will cover preexisting conditions.

20. Have a great time! You are traveling to learn about other people, taste different foods, and see new sights. And think about what you can tell your friends at home!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beware of Camel Drivers

Egypt was very interesting, especially seeing the Pyramids, Nile River, and Sphinx. Before we got there, our guide told us to beware of the camel drivers. Tourists want to sit on a camel (while the camel is down) to have their picture taken and will pay the drivers a few dollars for this purpose. However, once the picture is taken, the driver will tell the camel to get up with the tourist on its back and start to go around the pyramids. It will then cost the tourist quite a bit of money to get off the camel. This actually happened to the son of a friend who was on the trip with us but was on a different bus since their guide did not warn them. I did not want to get near the smelly beasts.

We took a lunch cruise on the Nile River where we had entertainment by a belly dancer and a whirling dervish. The dancer even went over to my husband and patted him on the head. I got a picture of that. I was trying to get a picture of the whirling dervish and he almost knocked me over with his very large whirling skirt. The ship's photographer got a picture of that and put it on the cruise's video.

Just getting to Cairo from the port was an adventure. We were in a convoy of many buses. Each had an armed guard with an assault rifle. There were guards in front and behind the convoy and in spaces between the buses. In Haifa, all traffic was stopped for our convoy to get through. The reason for all of this security was to encourage tourism after a tour bus was hijacked in the late 90's. The guards were also visible when we visited the tourist sites.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Viewing the Leaves

As we travel through the Appalachian Mountains, I remember when we used to live in the rural area near Ewing, VA during the time my husband worked at Lincoln Memorial University. The first year we were there, I wasn't able to get a job, so I substituted in the three states in the Cumberland Gap area - Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The second year I got a job as librarian (not library media specialist as we call it today) in three tiny elementary school in Lee County, VA with the closest being 39 miles from home on two-lane very crooked roads. Salaries weren't great, but the quality of life was wonderful. Our son went to the westernmost high school in Virginia and had a great two years there. We are excited about going back to visit on our way home. Once you are accepted in that part of the country, you are a friend forever.

Even though it usually took me an hour to get to work, I enjoyed it as the view changed every day. I looked upon it as God's way to enjoy the wonderful world that He had created. As a Louisiana native, I had never seen the glorious colors of fall that I saw in the mountains. We didn't travel the world like we do now, but were able visit attractions such as Gettysburg, Hershey, PA, the Biltmore House, and best of all, got to see the play "Steel Magnolias" at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA, written about my home town of Natchitoches, LA, before any of the people in Natchitoches were able to see it.

Unfortunately, we were not able to remain in this beautiful area, but moved to Birmingham because of my husband's new job. However, I love to go back periodically and think about a much simpler time and a much simpler way of life. We had less money, but managed to do everything that we wanted and needed to do.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Get Real!!!!!!

We decided not to take one of the ship's tours in Kagoshima, Japan, because we were tired of being on tour buses and listening to long-winded guides. Instead, we took the shuttle to downtown Kagoshima to explore the town on our own. While we were walking, we noticed people staring at us because we looked so different than they did (it is easy to blend in with the crowd in Europe as long as you don't wear white athletic shoes, but Japan is a different story). While waiting in line at the restroom in a large department store to use the "squatty potty", the lady behind me looked at me and said in a friendly voice, "Welcome to Kagoshima". I thought to myself - now how did she know that I was a visitor. Then I realized - "Get real" because there was no way that I, with my European background, could blend in with the native Japanese.

Buying a bracelet and earrings in the department store was also an adventure. The salesgirl spoke no English and I spoke no Japanese. After she gave me a bow, to show that I was an honored customer, I pointed to my wrist and ears to tell her what I wanted. We communicated in sign language and after I made my choice, she carefully cleaned the jewelry before putting it in a box and bowed again to thank me for my business. I felt that she really appreciated my purchasing something in her department, rather than having to look all over the store to beg someone to take my money like I do at home.

Art We Can Understand

We went to Amsterdam several years ago and our son, who is an artist, told us we needed to go to one of the art museums. On the last day we were there, we decided we better do so and we visited the Van Gogh museum, because we could understand his paintings. It was fantastic and we enjoyed it. When we got back home, we ordered the print "Wheatfield under Thunderclouds" because we liked it and the colors went with the guest room. We ordered it because we didn't want to take a chance getting it home on the plane undamaged. We knew if we didn't go to an art museum while we were there, we would hear about it from our son.

What an Accent!

My husband and I were in a shop in Rotorua, New Zealand, picking out souvenirs. He noticed that everyone in the store stopped talking and looked at us to hear me talk. I can't help it that I have a Louisiana accent, can I?

Sunday, October 19, 2008


One of the most "interesting" foods that you find in Australia and New Zealand is vegemite. Vegemite is a yeast extract, tastes extremely salty, and is spread on bread to make a sandwich, just like we spread peanut butter on bread to make a peanut butter sandwich. Children in Australia like to bring vegemite sandwiches in their lunch boxes to eat at school.

After my first trip to Australia, I decided to let my students try vegemite. I found a place to order it in the United States and put a little bit on an unsalted cracker to give to each of my students. Only one or two liked it and the rest threw it away. I did this with several classes and even brought some back the second time I went to Australia. I also had the students write a descriptive paragraph about it and never saw so many words that meant "yukky".

That was years ago and I still run into students, now grown, who tell me they remember the nasty stuff I gave them from Australia. Now I can buy it locally and I just let the students smell it rather than have them eat it. Of course, actually eating the stuff wasn't a requirement but all the students wanted to try it.

Hard to Understand

This was an embarrassing moment for me, even though it didn't take place in the classroom. When I first started using email in 1994 (I got my first Internet connection from UAB and it was text only since there wasn't such as thing as a web browser then), I became pen pals with a 4th grade teacher from Sydney, Australia. Our students corresponded back and forth for a while but it was very hard since I had to type in the messages myself using the weird commands of a text-only email program. Two years later my husband and I decided to visit Australia. The week before we left, my friend called me on the telephone and it was all I could do to understand what he had to say. I had to ask him to repeat what he said several times. I had been reading his messages using my own accent (except for words peculiar to Australia) and words on a computer screen don't imitate accents. Of course once we got there and could converse face-to-face as well as observe body language, it was much easier.

When we got back to Birmingham and I mentioned that my friend had met us at the airport, one of my students said to me, "Mrs. Buchanan, I thought you weren't supposed to get in a car with anyone you met on the Internet." I had to think fast on that one and I finally said, "Well, my husband was with me and my friend's description matched the one he had sent to me a few days before we left." At least I taught that student something.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Travels with Madeline

I am going to use this blog to talk about traveling. My husband and I travel as a hobby and we have been to many very interesting places in the United States and around the world. Some of the most interesting places that we have visited have been Australia and New Zealand, Iceland, Israel, Egypt, Alaska, and others. I will be posting interesting facts about the sites that we have visited as well as humorous things that we have encountered as we travel.

In 2009, we are going to the Panama Canal, to the western Mediterranean, and on a Danube River riverboat cruise. I am looking forward to learning more about the world.