Around the World by boat in 1958/59

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April 26th 1958
Published: June 13th 2011
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Second RTW

Our journey to America

We took the train from Khon Kaen to Bangkok, and then down the Malay Peninsula to Singapore, where we would embark on the Lloyd Triestino Line’s Asia, one of the last great ocean liners of the “Golden Age.” But before that we toured Singapore. My favorite spot was the Botanical Gardens, which was overrun with monkeys. You could buy bags of peanuts to feed them, but they preferred going through whatever personal belongings that you brought along. They got into Dad’s camera bag and stole some flash bulbs. I can imagine their surprise when they attempted to bit into one.

Then it was time to board. The ship was beautiful; fully air-conditioned and our cabin had its own private facilities. We were in tourist class. There was also a first class. The two did not mingle. Each class had its own lounge, verandah, card room, writing room, children’s play areas, and swimming pool.

We sailed through the Strait of Sumatra turning west into the Bay of Bengal where we got caught in a typhoon. Our family ended up staying in our beds for the duration of the storm, taking turns throwing up in the sink or toilet. When it was over we made full use of the playrooms and pool. They had organized activities for the kids, including a talent show. My sister Sue performed a Thai classical dance in full costume and won first prize!

Our first port of call was Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). All I can remember is going to the zoo.

Then we sailed around the west coast of India to Bombay. We entered through the Gateway of India, a monumental arch built in 1911 to commemorate the visit by King George V, and used but those arriving by passenger ship. My first impression of the grandeur of India was soon replaced with images of huge masses of impoverished people; much worse that anything I had seen in Southeast Asia. We took a taxi north along the boulevard known as the Queen’s Necklace, because when viewed at night the lights along the curved bay look like a diamond necklace. This was the wealthy part of Bombay. But at the far end we came to Malabar Hill. On its summit was the Tower of Silence. Following the Zoroastrian tradition, dead bodies were placed on the flat roof to be picked apart by vultures. This gruesome sight left me with a lasting impression, and I have never wanted to visit India again.

Our next port of call was Karachi, Pakistan. I don’t remember much about the place other than the vast market.

From there it was on to Aden, which was then an English colony, and is now Yemen. I remember it as being much more exotic than Karachi; more like a scene out of the Arabian Nights. Aden was at the southeast entrance to the Red Sea. I knew the Red Sea at the body of water that Moses parted so that the Israelites could cross to escape the Egyptians, so I was looking at the banks to see if there was any evidence remaining of this event.

We arrived at Suez, Egypt, the town at the southern end of the Suez Canal. My Dad got off to join a tour to Cairo and the pyramids of Giza. A magician, called a gully-gully man, came on board to entertain us kids. He would pull chicks out of nowhere, and played tricks with cards, string, scarves, and metal rings. I also remember a snake charmer, but that might have been in Bombay. Anyway, once through the canal, we stopped at Port Said, where my Dad rejoined us for our cruise across the Mediterranean.

I remember approaching Sicily and seeing Mount Etna, an active volcano, in the distance. We passed through the Strait of Messina and at night passed the volcanic island of Stromboli, which we could see as a red glow from the volcanic activity. It is known as the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.

The next day we arrived at our final port of call, Naples. My Dad had arranged for the delivery to portside of a 1958 VW Beetle. This was to be our transport across Europe and eventually America. My two sisters, Sue and Judy, both got large dolls in Naples, as if there weren’t enough problems with the five of us and our suitcases fitting into the car.

Our first stop was Pompeii. My parents enjoyed the archeological remains of this Roman city which had been buried by volcanic ash in 79 AD. They visited some Roman villas that for some reason were off limits to us kids. We enjoyed chasing the lizards that scurried around the ruins.

Then it was off to Rome. I remember trying to find our pensione at night, and being so relieved when we found it. We spent several days visiting the Roman Forum, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and Vatican City. We saw the Pope give his blessing from the window of his apartments. I was most impressed with the Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms.

We drove from Rome to Florence, stopping along the way to visit the American Cemetery, where I received my first WWII history lesson. Florence was full of museums. I was impressed by the statue of David, but mostly with the Ponte Vecchio, with shops lining both sides of the bridge. I had never seen a dual purpose bridge before. From Florence we drove to Milan to see Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper.

Then it was north to Switzerland, passing over the San Bernardino Pass, and arriving at Lucerne. We walked all over town. I was impressed with the Kapellbrucke, a medieval bridge that crosses the river coming out of Lake Lucerne. The most exciting thing we did was to take a cable car to the top of Mount Pilatus. It seemed that I could see the entire Alps spread before me. It was cool and the alpine meadows were strewn with wildflowers. This was heaven compared to hot, humid, dirty Southeast Asia! We then took the cog railway down the mountain to Lake Lucerne, and took a lake steamer back to Lucerne.

We then drove to Frankfurt, West Germany, which had only recently been freed from Allied occupation after World War II. There were still many buildings with the scars of war. And I vaguely recall my Dad using script currency to pay for dinner at a gasthaus.

We drove up the Rhine River to Wassenaar, Netherlands, where we stayed at a large mansion that was now serving as a mission guest home. I remember a stained glass window, which had a portrait of a missionary pilot who had died in New Guinea.

Next was Brussels, Belgium, which was having the 1958 World’s Fair, the centerpiece of which was the Atomium. (Note: Little did I know that I would eventually live in Brussels for 11 years, and see the Atomium every day from my office window at NATO headquarters.) We took the escalator up to the top, and could see all of Brussels. We met one of my Dad’s cousins there. She was a teacher at a Defense Department school in Europe. The U.S. and Soviet Union pavilions were trying to outdo each other displaying their advanced technologies. I saw myself on television for the first time at the Soviet Union pavilion.

From Brussels we drove to Calais to take the ferry to Dover, and then on to London. It was more museums, the Changing of the Guard, and palaces.

After a couple days we drove to Southampton, where we loaded our VW Beetle onto the SS United States, the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic in something like 5 days. Again the ship was divided into two classes, with us in tourist class. The ship was very nice for adults, but not so interesting for kids, like the Asia. I just remember crossing the North Atlantic in grey stormy weather, but not as stormy as the typhoon in the Bay of Bengal.

Our Furlough Year in the States

We arrived in New York City, and looking through our stateroom portal we could see the Statue of Liberty in the early morning light dimmed by the fog. We docked and drove our VW off the ship and to my Dad’s parents’ apartment on 110th Street West, a block or so from the Hudson River. After lunch and a short visit , it was then on to our home for the year at Nyack, New York, about 30 miles north on the Hudson River known as the Tappan Zee.

My family lived in Merrill Cottage on Terrace Drive, looking over the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Before the summer ended, we took a trip to the family farms on Punkin Ridge, Clearfield County in western Pennsylvania where my Dad’s mother was from. He spent his childhood summers on the farms. We also took a trip to Toronto, Canada, where my Mom was born and where most of her family still lived. We had a family reunion at the summer camp at Glen Rocks north of Toronto on Lake Muskoka.

I was in third grade at Hilltop Elementary School, about a 15 minute walk around the hillside from my home. Finding a part time pet was the best thing to happen to me that furlough. One day after school a Shetland collie came up to me. I patted it, and the he followed me home. We played all afternoon until Mom called me for dinner. Then it was time for the dog to go home. The next day after school the dog reappeared. This happened every day for the rest of my school year. He was my special buddy, and I didn’t even know his name.

We got our first TV; black and white of course. My favorite shows were Lone Ranger, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, the Rifleman, and Sugarfoot. It seems like every program was westerns. I remember walking down to Wagschall’s to buy my own cap pistol and holster. My Dad told us we weren’t allowed to watch TV on Sundays. I asked what he did on Sundays as a kid, and he said “Read the funnies in the Sunday paper.” I asked how watching TV was any different. After that we got to watch TV on Sundays!

That fall my grandfather took us to see Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and Trigger perform at Madison Square Garden. Another time we went to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Those are memories that will last forever.

As the cold weather arrived I had many sore throats, so in December my parents took me to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital to have my tonsils taken out. Shortly after that we drove to Toronto, Canada to celebrate Christmas with my Mom’s parents and her sisters and brothers. We took my Dad’s parents with us so both sides of the family had Christmas together. The drive to Toronto on the New York State Thruway was in the middle of a snow storm, and our car died when the gas froze. We were towed to the next service station where the mechanic advised us that in cold weather we needed to add something to the gas. The great thing about the thruway was the Howard Johnson restaurants! Anyway, when we got to Toronto, my throat was still very sore from the operation. My aunts served toast with honey butter, which I absolutely loved! So I ate lots of toast and honey butter that Christmas despite the pain.

Drive Across the States

After the school year was over, it was time to return to Southeast Asia. In July 1959 we drove from Nyack to Toronto to visit Mom’s relatives. From there we drove to Bena, Minnesota, where my Mom’s sister Jean was a missionary among the Chippewa Indian tribe. She had a cute log cabin she built by herself. I was impressed!

After a short visit with her we drove to Rapid City, South Dakota to see the Passion Play, Mount Rushmore, and Wind Caves National Park. We drove south to Cheyenne and then over Rocky Mountain National Park and southwest across Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park. Somewhere along the way Dad was pulled over for speeding. He explained to the officer that the VW, which was probably the first one he had ever seen, didn’t have much power so it was important that he speed down the hills to be able to get up enough momentum for the next hill. He let Dad off with a warning.

We arrived at Mesa Verde National Park at night and I remember how scared I was driving up the side of the mesa, with the steep drop off on my side of the car. We stayed in a large tent, and I had a nightmare about my Dad having a gun fight with Paladin from “Have Gun Will Travel.” Dad wasn’t as quick a draw.

We drove to Flagstaff, Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. What a spectacular sight! From there we drove across the Mohave Desert to Los Angeles, where we went to Disneyland. Next we drove Yosemite National Park and San Francisco. Somewhere along the way I left my white cowboy hat at a restaurant; so my cowboy days were over. My Dad sold the VW Beetle. It was a great car!

Sailing Across the Pacific Ocean

In San Francisco we boarded the SS Steel Rover, a freighter that had about a dozen passengers. We kids had the run of the ship. We particularly enjoyed visiting Sparks in his radio room. We had to be escorted to the engine room so did get there often. Life was pretty informal on the ship except for dinner time. At the first dinner I went without my shirt. The captain asked who the mother of this child was. He then told my Mom that even children were expected to be fully clothed when seated at the Captain’s Table, which was every meal. I felt really bad for having embarassed my Mom.

As my sister Sue and I weren’t going to return to Dalat School until a month after school started Mom gave us our lessons every day and we had plenty of homework to do. I remember making a map of the world using dough; making mountains where they belonged, and then painting the map blue for the oceans, tan for the deserts, and green for the forested parts. This gave us an appreciation for where we had traveled since leaving Thailand and how wide the Pacific Ocean was.

We had plenty of time since the first port of call, Manila, Philippines, took 30 days to reach, without any land in sight the entire time. While in Manila we visited Corregidor where the U.S. Army surrendered to the Japanese at the beginning of WWII. We toured the city, but I don’t remember much of interest. Our next port of call was the Dole Pineapple plantation on the island of Mindanao. That was interesting as we got to take jeeps around the plantation to see the harvesting and canning process.

From there we sailed to Surabaya, Indonesia, and then on to Jakarta. The ship was in port for a few days so my Dad exchanged about $10 for Indonesian currency, which was enough to pay for train tickets to Bandung, located in the mountains, three days food and accommodations there, and a taxi back to Jakarta. I remember the terraced hillsides where rice was grown in narrow paddies. Bandung was a very pleasant hill town where the Dutch colonists would spend their vacations not so many years before we got there. I remember being told not to stand with my hands on my hips as this was an insult to Indonesians who despised their Dutch masters who would assume that stance when giving orders.

Our last leg of the trip was from Jakarta to Saigon. We sailed up the Mekong River to Saigon, where Sue and I disembarked. My parents and Judy continued on to Bangkok. Missionaries made sure we got safely to Dalat.

Additional photos below
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31st January 2012

Thanks for the memories
When I was 11, in late 1959, my family sailed from Sydney to Naples on the Lloyd Triestino's Neptunia. The route was the same as yours from Columbo except we went to Cochin instead of Bombay. Your description brought back a lot of memories I had forgotten. Djakarta was especially exciting as there had just been a coup and there was still fighting going on in the city. First time I had ever heard a gun fired in anger. John
1st February 2012

Thanks for the memories
So you did a little bit of traveling at a young age, too. I hope my sixty two years of blogs inspire you to finish writing about your trips. I noticed that you are a bit behind on your Trans Mongolian/Siberian rail trip to Europe, and look forward to reading the rest.
6th September 2012

A lifetime of memories!
I am working my way slowly through all your blogs and loving it! So interesting and a lot of time and effort invested in putting it into blogs. Well done!
6th September 2012

Thanks for reading my blogs!
A lot of history...please comment when you find something to comment about.

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