by Maria Ruiz
Maria often shares stories with us about Santa Barbara history, her travel all over the world, her dogs, and life.
You would think that crossing a street would be the same in every country. But you would be wrong.
In Amsterdam, we were trying to cross a small street (only one car width) and all going one way, from my right to the left. I had our dog Sherman on a leash as I waited until there was a break in the flow and stepped out. Suddenly, I was flying back, landing on my butt on the sidewalk. Sherman had been pulled back and missed whatever it was that hit me. As I tried to figure out what had happened, a man picked up a bike and brushed himself off before leaning over me. Ted had been across the street and now rushed back. My leg was throbbing, and I pulled up my pant leg to see what the damage was.
A very blue bump was growing on the side of my calf. I looked at the bike and could see that it had a long pipe attached to either side of the wheel and one of them must have hit my leg. The bike driver hurriedly continued on his way going against traffic while I was trying to stand up. I could feel the bump growing and told Ted that I needed ice. I hobbled on, going into café, and asking for ice. It was in the middle of winter and this café didn’t have any. I hobbled on to another café and got the same answer. Then Ted ordered an ice tea and they brought him a paper cup filled with ice. We found a bench, and I tried to put the ice on the angry blue bump. It helped somewhat, but I could have used an ice pack.
Later we thought about how hard it was to get ice. In Europe, it was winter and people don’t order ice drinks. Plus, even in the summer, water is not automatically set on the table when a client sits down. You have to order water, and they ask “Mineral or Natural”. You pay for water. Maybe this is something we in California need to do. The rest of the day was spent returning to the RV and keeping my leg up. Eventually it healed and left a dent in the side of the calf, my memento from Amsterdam.
In Athens, the RV park is right off the main highway into the city. I never saw any speed limit signs, but I’m sure the cars and trucks were traveling at ninety miles an hour. The bus stop was just across the highway from the park, and there was no crosswalk or traffic light. It was always taking our chances, waiting for a break in the steady stream of traffic, all going as fast as their vehicles could go. Braving the break in traffic, we dashed across, arriving breathless to wait for the bus.
One thing we could always count on in European RV parks was easy access to local transportation. In a lot of parks, the bus would stop at the office and pick up people to take downtown or to major tourist attractions. Here in the U.S. it seems like RV parks are placed out of the way and out of sight.
In Rome, we approached a traffic round. and it was full of cars, taxis, smart cars, little motorcycles, bikes, and trucks, all traveling around, peeling off onto side streets. We stood there, waiting for a break and none seemed to appear. As soon as a car or truck turned off, two more entered the round. I saw a priest cross from a side street through the traffic as if he was gliding. He seemed to be going in the direction we wanted to go. As he stepped up from the street to the sidewalk, I asked him if we could cross with him. Fortunately, he spoke English and could understand me, not something to assume in Italy. He laughed and said “You get used to it. Come.” We followed as traffic slowed to allow us to reach the other side where we thanked him and he continued on his way.
From Europe we flew to India, and there the streets are crowded with camels, camels pulling carts, trucks, cars, bikes, and occasionally an elephant. There are crosswalks, and by now, we knew enough to get across between moving vehicles. In the cities, there are traffic lights and the Indians did obey them, letting the pedestrians cross.
We flew from India to Asia. Thailand was the first place we visited and found an apartment in Bangkok. We didn’t do much walking there, partly because of the heat. We would take a taxi to the tourist spot, walk around, and then get a taxi back home. Bangkok has 8.28 million people and many of them have cars. Once, we grabbed a taxi to get across town to the Chinese embassy which closed at noon. We left the house at ten a.m., and with all the traffic, long lights, and car jams, we were too late to go in and apply for a visitor visa.
Most places were easy to walk around or find a taxi. The exception to that is Vietnam. There, each street is four lanes wide and one way, with traffic so thick you can’t cut through. At first, I wanted to get into a taxi and have the driver take me across the street. Ted was watching and soon figured out that if we walked slowly, traffic would part and go around us, allowing us to cross the street.
In Lima, Peru, it appears as if the vehicles are daring you to try and cross the street. As soon as the trucks and cars stop for the red light, the pedestrian light turns green and you start to cross, the drivers hit the accelerators and gun the engines. It’s as if they are letting you know they will start as soon as the light changes again and you better be across or left flattened on the asphalt.
Crossing the street can be an adventure and never take it for granted that you will get across. However, we did and some of those adventures burned the action onto our memories.
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