Reader mail: trip memories, history lessons

Experiences from around the globe are a part of this installment of reader mail. Here are snippets. Please keep your stories and observations about travel coming; it’s great to hear from you!

Harold Kuschel of La Crosse writes fondly of the time he spent in Japan as a cryptographic technician with the U.S. Air Force from 1946-48. “I will never forget the kind and friendly people,” he writes.

“I never would have written this, but when you described eating that meat dipped in raw egg, I got hungry. I used to take (a woman) in a jeep to an inn in the high hills for that.”

His only bad experience? Being in his jeep when a typoon hit.

Raleigh J. Haavind, also of the La Crosse area, refers to the same column.

“Enjoyed reading your Japan piece recently, but noticed you translated Akihabara as “Electric Town.” The actual translation is “Autumn Plain.” I studied Japanese in Tokyo as a young man, after mustering out of the Marines. Subsequently, I married a Japanese girl and we’ve spent 42 years together.

“I purchased a Japanese/English word processor in Akihabara when I started a trading company years later, in 1991.”

The translation is much appreciated, Raleigh. “Electric Town” apparently is a nickname; it was one of the few signs in English at the Akihabara train stop, and our host also referred to the area this way (probably to ease my understanding of it).

John R. Thurston of Eau Claire writes about how he and his daughter helped the Kinnickinnic Church gain a place on the National Register of Historic Places. He says he also operated Evergreen Acres, described as Eau Claire County’s first bed and breakfast.

Via e-mail, we chatted about the challenges of B&B operation. “The criteria established (by the county) at the time prohibited the preparation of breakfast,” Thurston writes. “Coffee could be prepared – but the doughnut or roll had to be purchased from an accredited bakery.”

The B&B closed three or four years after its opening in the 1980s; “on a good week, we had perhaps one or two visitors.”

Thurston takes issue with my favorable references to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The organization’s accomplishments “are often inflated,” he writes. “It trumpets ‘need’ rather than providing evidence of how well that need is being met.

“It has no outreach program to protect endangered historical sites. A lot of them have vanished – and are vanishing. Many individuals who are interested in having a site of theirs registered have been discouraged by their contacts with the WHS.

“Part of WHS’s current financial woes might be attributed to the lack of support they receive on a grassroots level. They seem to be out of contact with the ‘common man.’”

From Thurston’s perspective, the Kinnickinnic Church’s registry listing “was accomplished only after meeting monumental challenges, most of them imposed upon us by an unhelpful Wisconsin Historical Society.”

I am particularly interested in hearing other opinions about historic preservation challenges, issues and triumphs in Wisconsin.

Peter Byfield of Madison shares a few travel tips. Half of his dozen trips to Europe have included visits to the Algarve region, usually in Salema, Portugal.

“Now that Portugal has become a member of the European Union, the infrastructure of the country is improving rapidly; we have found that most everything we need is there,” he writes.

“Initially, in the early ’90s, we took peanut butter, ground or minced garlic, and things we needed to prepare meals. (We rent an apartment and fix some meals, although the local joints have tasty stuff.)”

What else is on his packing list? “I guess copies of the passport picture page is tops. I carry a tube for posters or prints. Sans a poster, it can hold socks or a small umbrella.”

Gordon and Elizabeth Hampel, Holmen, write fondly of the Schwartz Ballroom, “a grand open space with a perfect dance floor and located in a small park.”

It was in Hartford (Washington County) and has since been restored as The Chandelier Ballroom, which was mentioned in a New Year’s Eve round-up. The Hampels, in the early 1930s, used to drive there from Milwaukee, to dance to Big Band music.

The Eagles Ballroom, on Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Avenue, also was a treat, partly because of its house band, the 10-piece Billy Baer Orchestra.

“We married in 1940, and our lifestyles changed,” the Hampels write. “Last Nov. 20, we observed our 62nd wedding anniversary. We are both 89 years old and no longer dance together, but we jig a bit!”

Iline Marking, Monona, writes about a bad travel experience in Stillwater, Minn. Six carloads of relatives went there for the wedding of a niece.

At the start of the reception, the bride and groom were told their dinner menu had been changed (it was “very skimpy”), and that the event was to end at 10:30 p.m., which was earlier than expected. The hotel’s management had changed, after the event was booked.

Iline also says the elevators didn’t work and third-floor sleeping rooms were dirty. “To this day, our children refer to this place as the black lace panty inn,” she writes, a reference to a soiled undergarment that was found upon entry to one of the rooms.