solo on a vacation

Berlin Bear - photo by Ken PeacockIt is important to make new friends, especially as you get older and many of your friends have fallen off the perch. You have a choice, make new older friends who want to talk about their medical problems, downsizing the house, a favorite doctor or some new supplement to combat fatigue and old age. Or new younger friends who are likely to last longer and be around to go to your funeral so the church is filled. As the famous philosopher Yogi Berra once said: “If you don’t go to your friends’ funerals they won’t come to yours.”

I recently decided to fly solo on a vacation, in search of new wineries. After two weeks of travel and many wineries later I began to feel the need to talk to someone who would listen. My new friends at the wineries, after a few sample tastings, just kept talking in some foreign language I couldn’t understand. There is just so much you can say about wine before it becomes “whine.” My new wine tasting friends were not interested in what I had to say about the upcoming elections and the candidates, who incidentally didn’t stop talking about themselves and the other candidates – it was all negative stuff when I wanted to hear something positive. So I thought I should take a short break from wine tasting and seek out some new younger friends who were still in the beer drinking phase of their lives. I had to find another country and a different city.

From my youth I remembered that the best place to find attractive young, beer drinking people was at the beach where sunshine, a golden tan, refreshing water for swimming and a mighty thirst for cold beer was a prerequisite. As I was not near an ocean I headed for the nearest river where I found a beach. It wasn’t quite what I expected as the river was about six feet below the imported white sand. No one was swimming and when I looked at the murky water I could understand why they just sat in their beach chairs soaking up the sun, drinking large mugs of cold beer delivered by waiters in brightly colored shorts.

As I had traveled from mid-winter, without sun screen cream, I settled in a deck chair under a green umbrella and asked the waiter for a large beer so I could get started on a conversation with my new friends. One large beer wasn’t enough because everyone around me spoke a foreign language and I new that they would only understand English if I spoke it loud enough. Several beers later I asked the people closest to me: “What do you think of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton?” They laughed and went back to reading their books and drinking beer. I thought I could ask about local politics to get the conversation started and said: “What about that Angela Merkel and her open door policy for illegal immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East? Isn’t she something?” That cleared the beach!

By the river in Berlin - photo by Ken Peacock

The waiter decided I had enough to drink and declined to bring more beer even though I was the only customer he had left on the beach. It was time to move on anyway as the smell from the river and the noise of the PA systems on the tourist boats were annoying. I needed to find a quieter place where I could make some new friends who would at least listen to what I had to say about the current political situation even if they didn’t understand or care. After following the the river to a busy arcade with cafes, bars and souvenir stores, confident I would find someone to talk to over a beer or a coffee, I sat down at a table outside “JK’s” place. “JK” was a colorful character and welcomed me with open arms. He didn’t talk but I knew he was happy for me to start the conversation.

After a large, cold mug of beer I launched into my opening comments about the elections, the state of the economy and the problems of the EU. The expression on “JK’s” face was unchanged but I knew he understood what I was saying even if he didn’t agree. “JK” stood quietly, raised his arms and looked out over the river. The people at the other tables were smiling in agreement so that was enough for me. I had given them something to talk about with their friends. I moved on, back to the river’s edge where I could see four young people sitting quietly on the stone wall, possibly reflecting on the elections or the state of the EU. A young man and two beautiful girls faced the river and another young girl had her head down as she sat with her back to it. I decided to join them, trying not to stare at their tanned naked bodies.

After sitting between the man and the young girl with her back to the river I offered to buy them a beer to get the conversation started. They sat motionless and unsmiling, obviously concerned about the US election campaign whose outcome would have a huge impact on the rest of the world. After a brief summary of the candidates and an even briefer summary of their policies, I launched into a long discussion about the EU and the problems in the Middle East and Africa. They listened quietly but the large crowd that had gathered behind me were more vocal. I couldn’t hear what they were saying because of the noise from the boats heading up the river. But I was happy to have an audience and some new young friends, especially ones who didn’t drink beer or wine, listened quietly and shared my interest in the election campaign.

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Images: the photos were taken by the author, Ken Peacock.
Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock, a former senior Australian executive of a mining company, first visited China in 1972 at the end of the Cultural Revolution and before diplomatic recognition by the Australian and US Governments. This was the first of many visits to China during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978, he traveled throughout China with a trade delegation and revisited Shanghai where he stayed at the Shanghai Mansions Hotel and discovered the “Last Bottle of Gin in China”.