Traveling brings plenty of knowledge

rSome people mistakenly believe that spending money on travel is a waste of funds. I certainly disagree. There is much to learn when one mounts a car, boat, plane, motorcycle or even a bicycle for a long-distance journey.

A June trip to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom was most assuredly a learning experience. Allow me to share some of the knowledge I attained on my wife and my recent European expedition.

One day at breakfast in Ireland, I noticed some advertisements for new cars in a local newspaper and wondered at the designation of “182.” I couldn’t see a pattern, as autos listed were of a number of different types and styles.

So I asked the waitress what the numbers signified. She said Irish license plates include a series of numbers and letters that include a three-digit code that shows the year the car first hit the road. So, “182” indicates the car is to be tagged in the second half of 2018. The year comes first, followed by a “1” for January through June, and a “2” for the second half of the year.

The rest of the tag shows the county and the number of autos that have been registered that year.

Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, is the proud home of the “Book of Kells,” an elaborately illustrated text that includes the four Gospels. Though no one knows the exact date it was created, the large volume was most likely penned in the 800s.

I’ve seen the book before, so it wasn’t a big “wow” moment for me. But as I perused the items for sale in the ubiquitous souvenir shop that enhances every major tourist attraction, it occurred to me that there were no mascots listed on the Trinity College sweatshirts on display in the store. I spotted a young student outside the museum and asked if the school had a mascot. She said she was not aware of one, so I suggested the Fighting Librarians. She said she would pass the idea along.

While strolling through a cemetery of considerable antiquity in Haydock, England, my companions and I noticed that several family names were often listed on one headstone. Did that mean the grave was a final resting place for more than one body?

According to our bus driver (if local, coach operators are often a great source of area history), multiple family members were, and often still are, buried in one plot. Some relatives might be cremated, which would make for a bit more elbow room, but it is just as likely that bodies have been stacked. Real estate is precious, apparently.

Speaking of bus drivers, this same fount of knowledge was at the wheel through Wales on some harrowingly narrow roads.

At one point, we heard what sounded like a rifle shot, and the front side window shattered. Turns out another vehicle and our coach kissed mirrors, which caused ours to be slammed into the driver’s side. The only casualty was the secondary viewing glass. Neither operator bothered to call the local authorities or even to stop and assess the damage.

During the trip, I saw quite a few discarded mirrors along the roadways, further evidencing the lack of space allotted to oversized vehicles.

Trucks are called “lorries” in Ireland and the UK, and I have often wondered why all the tractors pulling trailers are of the cab-over variety, where the driver sits on top of the engine.

In two weeks, I never saw a long-snouted Peterbilt or Kenworth, the types that pull most of the 18-wheelers in the United States. The reason, it appears, is quite simple. In most countries in Europe, length limits are strictly enforced.

Since the tractor is included in overall measurements, it only makes sense one would want the shortest pulling vehicle possible. Again, consider the narrow roads and city streets.

One day, I learned a very personal lesson about the need to read and heed signs. After a nice lunch of fish and chips, my wife and I stopped for an ice cream in a small, seaside town. My dessert was a luscious blend of tropical fruit seated on a small waffle cone. I had earlier noticed a few signs warning tourists to beware of the seagulls. I soon found out why.

As we were sauntering along a pier, I heard a sudden flapping commotion in my right ear. There was a tug on my hand, and in an instant, my entire frozen treat disappeared. All that remained was a stub of the cone. I never even saw the assailant, who was so skilled that not a drop of the confection was fumbled.

I always thought that a flapjack was a pancake. Not in the UK. It is more like an oatmeal bar with nuts and dried fruit. The fresher, the better, and most places offer clotted cream as a frosting.

When it comes to fickle weather, Kansas does not even come close to what we experienced in Edinburgh, Scotland. First, there was rain. Then, there was sun. A drenching rain was again followed by full sun. All in a 15-minute period.

The Scots take it all in stride by layering their clothing. On the same street, we saw some people dressed in winter parkas and some in shorts. It is summer, after all.

Some of our many stops in England included Bath, where the Romans built a city so they could enjoy a giant spa, and Stratford, where William Shakespeare was born, married and buried.

We visited Salisbury, which was not famous for smothered steaks, but rather for a cathedral that houses one of only four copies of the Magna Carta known to still exist. You might remember from world history that this document set down the rules for early democracy, pointing out that even kings (or in modern times, presidents) were not above the law. It was a precursor to our Constitution.

We also learned a few other tidbits as we circumnavigated England. We visited sites made famous by the “Harry Potter” books and movies, and we were told on a walking tour in London that nobody knows the true identity of Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer. At Stonehenge, we learned that the person or persons who placed the giant rocks in the middle of a pasture also remain a mystery.

I suggest they take a close look at Jack. Maybe they can solve two puzzles at once.