In the newest Where’s Wilson post, our ICLEF travel expert, John Wilson discusses hiking throughout the U.S. and the World. Sit back, enjoy and learn from the travel master.
By John Wilson
My prior blogs have covered travel preparation, destinations, activities, some Olympic experiences and other stories. I have enjoyed warm weather, great natural beauty, fascinating cities with spectacular churches and museums, and great food ranging from the street, to home meals and fine dining. Through it all, the people I have met that have been the best part of travel. Here is my favorite people story.
I had not made a timely dinner reservation. When I called “Tito’s” in Florence in the early evening, they said they could seat Margaret and me at eight but would need the table at nine-thirty. Because only Margaret and I were going, and we had been traveling together for three weeks in Italy, I didn’t think we would have so much to discuss that we could not finish dinner in an hour and a half.
We arrived on time which was not easy as Tito’s (really Antic Trottoria da Tito dal 1913 if you want to go there) is not well marked on a side street in a city that has different street numbers for businesses and residences on the same street. We were seated and all was going well when four guys a couple of tables down ordered a two foot tall bottle of grappa. Channeling the Japanese tourist in me, I went over to take a picture. When I asked if the guys minded me taking a picture, they said okay and asked where I was from. Indiana in the States, I told them. They said they were all from Norway. One of them asked me if I knew Larry Bird and said he remembered when Bird left Indiana University and went to Indiana State. That is not a piece of information you would expect your average diner in Florence, Italy to pull up. Wife Margaret is a huge basketball fan, a bigger college fan and let’s not even talk about IU. She had to meet these guys. We invited them and their bottle of grappa over. We added some wine and lemon-cello and the party was on.
The four Norwegians were in their mid-fifties and had met playing basketball for Norway in international competition when they were in their twenties. Still friends, they took one or two long weekend trips in Europe a year. This year it was Florence.
By eleven o’clock, well past our scheduled departure time, the fourth generation owner of Tito’s, Bobbo, had joined us, the table was littered with bottles and the basketball stories were flying as fast as a Hoosier fast break. All was good until, Bjorn, one of the Norwegians, said he and his son had played pick-up basketball at the center of basketball in the U.S., Hell’s Kitchen in New York City. That did not sit well with us, not well at all. We refuted that statement in multiple ways, but they refused to be convinced. So we did the obvious thing that you would do with people you had only met three hours before. Margaret and I invited them to stay with us in Indianapolis, the true Mecca of basketball. And they did the equally obvious thing and accepted. The Norwegians gave Margaret a rose as did Bobbo. I settle the check (Bobbo, ” I have no idea how much your bill is. How about sixty euros?” Me, “Sure”.) We wandered home to our hotel.
After a very few e-mails, Martin and Bjorn landed in Indy late on a Monday evening in March. Big Erik and little Erik (Norwegians named Erik, who would have thought?) couldn’t make the trip. Mornings for the rest of the week were like Chanukah. Every morning brought a new present from Martin and Bjorn. First, smoked salmon, then basketball jerseys from their club in Oslo, Aquavit with traditional drinking glasses and more. We had chosen the week that the Big Ten Tournament was in Indy. It was also Boys High School basketball regionals.
To warm them to the task, on Monday night we showed them the movie, Hoosiers, including my one second appearance as a radio announcer. On Tuesday morning, I took them down to Hinkle Fieldhouse to see if we could buy tickets for the weekend high school games. We looked in the gym where a sole player was shooting baskets. Very Hoosiereske. That night it was a Pacers game. My friend Bob Poorman treated us to his fourth row seats. At half-time he introduced the guys to Larry Bird. The next morning at breakfast, Bjorn who had played international basketball all over Europe, told Margaret that he had felt like a kid when he met Larry Legend.
Martin, who was originally from Prague but emigrated with his family to Oslo when he was boy, still coaches an elite women’s team in Oslo. He was interested in learning more about the women’s game here in the U.S. A couple of attorney friends in Lafayette, Jack O’Bryan and Brian Walker, arranged for the guys to have an interview with Sharon Versyp, the Purdue women’s coach. She gave them two hours of one on one coaching thoughts and then had another coach give them an extensive tour of Mackey Arena. Much to my chagrin as an IU grad, Martin and Bjorn were so impressed with the experience that they almost bought out the Purdue gift shop and to make it worse, they wore Purdue stuff in my home.
With the men’s Big Ten tournament in Indy, we saw a lot of games, enjoyed the downtown hoopla and had some good food and drink. Martin’s mother who was ninety then was still active in the theater in Oslo. We introduced the Norwegians to our friends at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. They got a full tour including on stage and also got an IRT sweatshirt for Martin’s mom. Bjorn and Margaret ran in the Big Ten 10k which started and ended at Bankers Life. We caught a couple of the high school tournament games. We saw the final Big Ten Tournament game, sans IU and sent the guys on their way.
Inviting almost strangers to spend a week could have not worked out so well. But it did. Margaret and I agreed that we had never enjoyed Big Ten Week in Indy as much as we did when hosting Martin and Bjorn.
We kept in contact with the guys and ultimately decided that one good trip deserved another. Martin invited us to stay in his home. The following summer we were off to Oslo. He and Bjorn were working so we decided we would spend two long weekends with them in Oslo and travel by ourselves in the Norway in the week in between. We had never been to Scandinavia before and I thought it would be fun to also visit Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Denmark while we were there. Margaret was not so enthuse. My friend, John Westerman, met us for the last weekend in Oslo and another week of travel, without Margaret, through the other Scandinavian countries. He had met Bjorn when he was in Indy and stayed at his house. We took some gifts to Norway. Although we couldn’t out do their generosity from when they were in Indy, Martin’s granddaughter was very fond of her Raggedy Ann doll straight from the Riley Hostipal gift shop and there were no complaints about the Kentucky Bourbon.
The Norwegians were fabulous hosts. Martin really likes to cook, both Norwegian and Czech. In addition to several meals with the Norwegians and their families in their homes, Martin and his wife, Turid (“Touri”), threw a hog roast for us, a group of friends and family plus a lot of their basketball friends a including big and little Eric.
Martin’s women’s team was just starting informal practices before they got more serious heading toward that year’s season. We joined the group at the gym. Bjorn’s son had just graduated from high school and was heading to Italy for amateur, but full time basketball. Like basketball parents everywhere, Bjorn felt his son, Eivind, might not have focused on his defense as much as he could have. When Alex and two of his friends challenged, Bjorn, John Westerman and me to a make-it, take-it game, we accepted. It was half court, thankfully. Westerman is sixty and I am older. Even though only five foot ten inches, Westerman did play in college and is in great shape. My primary objective in the game was to not die of a heart attack. My secondary object was to harass my young opponent so much that he didn’t do too much damage. Bjorn was on a teaching mission and immediately drove on his son for two quick layups. Next he hit two set shots from outside. The youngsters never recovered and there was no rematch. There was, however, significant celebration that night by the oldsters.
Martin’s women’s team did not have ten for a scrimmage. John Westerman and I were recruited. I was opposite the best woman guard in Norwegian history. Fortunately, she was fifty and five foot four. Neither age nor height kept her from teaching this Hoosier a few tricks. Shooting is not my forte. I like hip checking and defense. I started getting heckled by the bystanders (my wife and Bjorn) to shoot. Late in the game, from the corner, I let if fly. Nothing but net! I walked off the court.
For our independent tour of Norway, Margaret and I made no plans or reservations before we got to Oslo. We were there at a time in August when most Norwegians and other tourists had already stopped touring. We asked a lot of question of Martin, Bjorn and their friends and family about their favorite things to do and see and made our plan based on that. It worked well. See us below getting ready to do the Lillehammer Olympic Bobsled Run and some other sights from that part of the trip.
Since then we have traveled with the Norwegians to Florida and Jamaica. We are now planning to sail in the British Virgin Islands. I speak to my friends about me consistently “Being rewarded for bad behavior”. I am not sure that asking our friends of three hours to visit us is bad behavior, but I suppose there could have been some risks. All we have had is rewards.
This is one of an ongoing series of travel discussions by John Wilson, retired lawyer and trust banker. John was motivated to start this series when he realized that his travel bio was more extensive and interesting than his legal credentials for doing ICLEF talks. He has traveled to forty-five states, over sixty countries and all continents except Antarctica.
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Photographs © 2014, John Wilson. Photographs may not be used without permission.