In Greece: Learning the Metric System and How to say “Please”

On our way to the market in Naxos.
© Stephanie Glaser

“What do you want?” a small voice asked from somewhere near the deli counter where I was standing in a 7-11esque convenience store in Naxos, Greece.  The question was definitely more a demand for information than an exercise in customer service.

I peered over the counter and spotted a skinny eight-year-old Greek boy in neon board shorts and a faded tank top with “I’d Rather Be Surfing – Greek Isles” peeling off the front.  He emerged from behind the counter because a shelf topped with various sausages and soft cheeses obscured his view.

I looked around for an adult proprietor.  An older woman with a tight bun, dressed in a loose-fitting floral sundress, sitting by the cash register seemed to fit the bill. A young girl wearing the same patterned sundress counted change next to her.  Meanwhile, the proprietor read what appeared to be a Greek tabloid.

The boy, however, moved directly in front of me. Despite the fact that I could have placed my beach bag on the top of his head, he was an intimidating presence with his arms crossed against his chest. Tapping his fingers along his tiny bicep, he waited for my response. It didn’t take body language fluency to figure out that this kid was irritated.  Indeed, it was evident — he would rather be surfing.

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Face-to-Face (Seriously) with a Koala

Arthur and I “nose” each other

Holding the soft, fuzzy animal that I had been somewhat obsessed with since childhood, I became overwhelmed — not by emotion as I thought might happen, but by an abhorrent stench. It was a combination of dried urine and eucalyptus oil. Was this really the case? How could my favorite animal, a cute and cuddly koala, smell so bad?

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Getting Schooled in Aussie Slang

Some of my crazy but lovable year 8’s
© Stephanie Glaser

Teaching eighth graders, who are pubescent pundits, is challenging no matter where you are. But when you are teaching in a new country and you don’t know their slang, it’s just plain brutal.

I discovered this the hard way when, as an exchange teacher, I bumbled my way through one year of instructing Year 8’s in Adelaide, Australia.

I already knew a few tidbits before I arrived. For example, never say, “I root for the team.” The connotation of that statement would be that I do way more than cheer for my team to keep their spirits up. I also knew not to freak out when kids would say that they wore their thongs to the beach; they meant flip flops not G-strings.

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Bad Travel Move: Bringing “Tear Gas” to the UK

It’s official — they seized “tear gas” from me.

Even pre-911, this was a really bad idea. I brought pepper spray to Europe in the spring of 1995. It was an extra rookie move since I didn’t even think much about it at the time. In an age when a bottle of more than three ounces of shampoo or a tube of toothpaste will be confiscated before you even get to your departure gate, it is pretty ludicrous when telling this story today.

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Avoid the Oops — Not Trying the Food

Time to suck it up!

Steph’s note: The adventures of travel are unpredictable and Travel Oops is all about celebrating the unexpected results. However, there are some travel oopses that you definitely want to avoid. Here is advice about the Avoidable Travel Oops.

The Avoidable Travel Oops: Offending your hosts because you don’t want to eat the food they offer.

Most travelers have had a dilemma like this: you don’t recognize what is on your plate; it smells like feet; it may even slither or crawl on the plate or it is of a hideous texture that induces immediate gagging. What do you do? Refusing to eat the food, in most cases, is an insult. Telling your host you are full may backfire since you might not get anything else to eat, and let’s be honest, it’s a pretty bogus excuse anyway.

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In Paris: “I’ll Have Cheese of the Head, S’il Vous Plaît”

How could France produce the beautiful Eiffel Tower and serve something so atrocious like head cheese?
© Debbie Bacharach

“Well, I know fromage means cheese,” my mom stated as she, my dad, sister and I tried to read a menu at a restaurant in Paris. The menu, understandably, was completely in French. None of us could speak the language, but my mom could recognize some words.

“I’m not sure why it’s listed in the earlier part of the menu. Usually, in France, cheese is served as dessert,” she wondered. Oh, well — whether at the front or the back of the menu, cheese was a great start. How could you go wrong with cheese?

“I’m also not sure what the phrase after fromage means,” my mom added. Our waiter came by and waited patiently as we stumbled through our order. Ultimately, we felt reassured that, at least, cheese would arrive.

By the way, the phrase on the menu after “fromage” was “de tete.” We would find out later the translation was “of head.” We were ordering head cheese. Basically, flesh and other bits from the head of a farm animal set in a jellied mold.

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Ballistic Bali Belly, a Squat Toilet and the Perfect Sunset

The sunset we almost didn’t see.
© Stephanie Glaser

I knew it would happen. We were in Southeast Asia; it was inevitable. I just didn’t think that our encounter with a squat toilet would take place at Bali’s spectacular Tanah Lot right as the sun moved in for an incredible and blazing appearance.

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In Western Australia: Yoda, can you help me find my purse?

The Pinnacles at dusk.
© Stephanie Glaser

Finding a needle in a haystack is difficult, no doubt, but so is finding something you left behind a Pinnacle. Pinnacles are found in the desert of the Nambung National Park, one of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited.  It is located, strangely enough, only 17 kilometers from the coastal town of Cervantes in Western Australia. The Pinnacles Desert is a golden yellow landscape marked by thousands of limestone formations that look like Bugles corn chips sticking out of the sand.

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In Spain: Asking for Directions in Dutchlish

Sevilla and its winding streets.
© Stephanie Glaser

Asking for directions in a large city in a foreign country is stressful. Usually, you are lost in the first place, and if the country’s citizens, understandably, don’t speak English, much effort is involved in the inquiry. Additionally, the streets of many older cities in the world were not developed with the grid system in mind.

This is the case, certainly, in Sevilla, Spain. The streets wind around and often, it seems, their names change randomly.

My mom, Judy, and I visited Sevilla during Semana Santa, Holy Week — the biggest religious celebration of the year. It was challenging to navigate since the city was so crowded. Also, impressive religious processions with large wooden floats, containing religious relics, would flood many of the streets. Consequently, you’d have to go down another street, which may have another procession coming through.

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Leaving our kid with a stranger in Bali (But it’s Putu!)

Eddie and Putu, best buds.
© Stephanie Glaser

Steph’s note: This story is more of a Travel Oops when I tell it in the United States, and I see people’s reactions. It still doesn’t seem truly like an oops to me. 

Everybody on the island of Bali treated Kurt, my kids Eddie and Kasey, and me like VIPs  — Brangelina even. Asian tourists often asked to take photos of the kids, who are blonde and blue-eyed, or even pose for pictures with them. We happily consented.

There were no strangers in Bali. We made friends with everyone we met and even flew kites with local boys at a beach in Sanur. Each driver we hired to take us sightseeing instantly became our best friend. Putu, a young, skinny man who had spiky black hair and wore a mint green button down shirt, was our favorite.

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