How Times Have Changed!


The Cortina Method with the old “records” played at 16 r.p.m.

The other day I was looking for a website for my wife to practice her reading in Spanish.  We found an amusing site which showed us how much travel has changed over the years.  The site, called the Cortina method, dates back to the early 1880s!. I was reading the edition from the early 1950s. 

The introductory lessons were about an American businessman traveling with his wife to South America.   “Señor Miller” was on a buying trip in several countries including Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina. 

My favorite lesson described an excursion to a department store to buy clothes for a formal dinner.  He was searching for a suit, handkerchiefs and drawers and his wife was looking for a girdle, long gloves and a face veil.


I was fascinated by how they traveled. After flying from New York to Miami, they took a steamboat to Caracas, followed by an airplane from Venezuela to Bogotá, Colombia and then from Colombia to Buenos Aires, Argentina with stops en route in Lima, Peru and La Paz, Bolivia.

An old travel poster advertising non-stop jet flights between New York and Miami
A lengthy trip from New York to Buenos Aires

They brought many suitcases including ones specifically for their hats.


Their reservations had been made by their travel agencies which involved sending the requests by cable or teletype.  A uniformed delivery person such as Western Union delivered their confirmations to their hotel. 

An old picture of the Western Union delivery person
I don’t think I received more than a few telegrams in my life.

While they were traveling, they sent home “picture post cards” to their children who remained in the United States.   Can you remember those mail chutes that were always located next to the elevators in the large hotels?

A typical hotel mail chute next to the elevator

These stories made me reminisce about the first time that I went to Europe in the late 60s while I was in college.  By that time, jet travel had introduced an eager American middle class to many European countries previously visited only by the rich.  Hordes of bargain travelers descended upon England, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany and Italy giving rise to the term “Ugly American.” Many Americans complained that the people they interacted with were unfriendly and they couldn’t find any American food!

When I was only 18, I spent the whole summer working in a paper mill in a small town in SW France where no one spoke English.  My family at home sent me letters by way of an aerogram.

I loved using aerograms back in the day

This was a piece of light paper which would be folded into the shape of an envelope.  It was priced less than regular postage but you weren’t allowed to enclose anything.  My grandmother would write to me every day.  In the tiniest print written with a fountain pen, she would fill every square inch of the paper, sometimes even spilling onto the back of the envelope.  In large cities, you could have your mail sent to the local American Express or Thomas Cook offices, but in smaller towns where I was staying, you would use the “Poste Restante” system where your letters were held until you arrived.

If I had ever had to make a telephone call, I would have had to make a reservation for a “cabine”   in the local post office. 

The line of post office “cabines”

Not only was it expensive, but the quality of the transmission was usually poor.  I remember these calls being a minimum of three minutes during which most people would  be constantly asking “Can you hear me?”  There were two rates, “station to station,” where you would speak to whoever answered, and “person to person,” the higher rate which was charged if you wanted to speak to a specific person.    

Can you remember what it was like when you traveled across borders from one country to another? For many Americans, it was their first international experience.   Obviously, in Europe going between countries was much more complicated both because of language differences and the individual national currencies.   Before the Euro was introduced, you either had to use a money-changer on the street, in the train station or at the airport, or at a bank where you would be lucky to find someone with whom you could communicate.   Back then, you would use traveler’s cheques  (spelled the British way) or American dollars and the transaction was very formal with lots of written receipts stamped in a very official way.  

Travelers cheques

Think about how things have changed in the 50 years!   Men are usually not wearing formal hats or carrying handkerchiefs, 2and women aren’t wearing girdles and face veils.  If we don’t receive an email, text or photo instantly, we complain about our cellphone company’s poor service.    And imagine if we couldn’t use our credit cards for our purchases or find an ATM for immediate cash from our accounts back home.  

I can still remember carrying a “Europe on $5 a day” book and being quite satisfied with what I was able to get for that amount.  

Millions carried Arthur Frommer’s books all over the world.

My wife and I still enjoy seeking out the bargains while traveling but it is no longer necessary to bring the actual book along.   By searching the internet, you can instantly find suggestions for places to visit or restaurants where you can eat the best food in your exact location.  

In almost any travel destination, it is fun to think of how much easier we have it now.   Google Maps can tell you exactly when the next public bus will arrive in many cities around the world. 

It’s hard to live without Google Maps

If you get lost, you can ask Siri or Alexa to find you the best route back to your Airbnb.  And you can say something in English into your phone and receive an instant spoken translation if you would have to communicate with an actual stranger.   

What an amazing difference 70 years has made!

¡Cómo Ha Cambiado Todo!

Una versión de la serie Cortina con discos reproducidos a 16 rpm

El otro día estaba buscando un sitio web para que mi esposa practicara su lectura en español. Encontramos un sitio divertido que nos mostró cuánto han cambiado los viajes a lo largo de los años. El sitio, llamado Cortina Spanish, se remonta a principios de la década de 1950.

Las lecciones introductorias trataban sobre un empresario estadounidense que viajaba con su esposa a Sudamérica. El “Señor Miller” estaba de viaje de compras en varios países, incluidos Venezuela, Colombia y Argentina.

 Mi lección favorita describió una excursión a una tienda departamental para comprar ropa para una cena formal. El buscaba traje, pañuelos y calzoncillos y su mujer buscaba faja, guantes largos y velo.

Las fajas de mujeres en los 50s
Un velo popular

Me fascinó cómo viajaban. Después de volar de Nueva York a Miami,

Un cartel que anuncia vuelos sin escalas a Miami en avión
Un viaje muy largo de Nueva York a Buenos Aires

tomaron un barco de vapor a Caracas, seguido por aire de Venezuela a Bogotá, Colombia y luego de Colombia a Buenos Aires, Argentina con escalas en ruta en Lima, Perú y La Paz, Bolivia. Trajeron muchas maletas, incluidas algunas específicas para sus sombreros.

¡Una sombrerera!

Sus reservas habían sido realizadas por sus agencias de viajes, lo que implicaba el envío de las solicitudes por cable o teletipo. Un repartidor uniformado como Western Union entregó sus confirmaciones en su hotel.

Una foto vieja de un repartidor de Western Union
No recuerdo haber recibido mas de unos pocos telegramas en mi vida

Mientras viajaban, enviaron a casa “tarjetas postales con imágenes” a sus hijos que se quedaron en los Estados Unidos. ¿Te acuerdas de aquellas rampas de correo que siempre estaban situadas junto a los ascensores en los grandes hoteles?

Una rampa de correo típica de un hotel junto al ascensor.

Estas historias me hicieron recordar la primera vez que fui a Europa a finales de los 60 mientras estaba en la universidad. En ese momento, los viajes en jet habían introducido una ansiosa clase media estadounidense en muchos países europeos que antes solo visitaban los ricos. Hordas de viajeros de gangas descendieron sobre Inglaterra, Irlanda, Francia, España, Alemania e Italia dando lugar al término “americano feo”. ¡Muchos estadounidenses se quejaron de que las personas con las que interactuaban eran hostiles y no podían encontrar comida estadounidense!

Cuando solo tenía 18 años, pasé todo el verano trabajando en una fábrica de papel en un pequeño pueblo del suroeste de Francia donde nadie hablaba inglés. Mi familia en casa me envió cartas mediante un aerograma.

Disfruté usando aerogramas en el pasado.

Este era un trozo de papel ligero que se doblaba en forma de sobre. Tenía un precio inferior al del envío postal normal, pero no se le permitía adjuntar nada. Mi abuela me escribía todos los días. Con la letra más pequeña escrita con una pluma estilográfica, llenaba cada centímetro cuadrado del papel, a veces incluso se derramaba en la parte posterior del sobre. En las grandes ciudades, podría hacer que le enviaran su correo a las oficinas locales de American Express o Thomas Cook, pero en las ciudades más pequeñas donde me hospedaba, usaría el sistema “Poste Restante” donde se guardaban sus cartas hasta que llegaba.

Si alguna vez hubiera tenido que hacer una llamada telefónica, habría tenido que hacer una reserva para un “gabinete” en la oficina de correos local.

Una línea de cabinas de correos para hacer llamadas telefónicas.

No solo era caro, sino que la calidad de la transmisión solía ser mala. Recuerdo que estas llamadas duraban un mínimo de tres minutos durante los cuales la mayoría de las personas preguntaban constantemente “¿Puedes oírme?” Había dos tarifas, “de estación a estación”, donde se hablaba con quien respondiera, y “de persona a persona”, la tarifa más alta que se cobraba si deseaba hablar con una persona específica.

¿Recuerda cómo era cuando cruzaba fronteras de un país a otro? Para muchos estadounidenses, fue su primera experiencia internacional. Obviamente, en Europa ir de un país a otro era mucho más complicado tanto por las diferencias de idioma como por las monedas nacionales individuales. Antes de que se introdujera el euro, tenía que usar un cambiador de dinero en la calle, en la estación de tren o en el aeropuerto, o en un banco donde tendría la suerte de encontrar a alguien con quien pudiera comunicarse. En ese entonces, usaba cheques de viajero P (escrito al estilo británico) o dólares estadounidenses y la transacción era muy formal con muchos recibos escritos sellados de una manera muy oficial.

Cheques de viajero

¡Piense en cómo han cambiado las cosas en los 50 años! Por lo general, los hombres no usan sombreros formales ni pañuelos, y las mujeres no usan fajas ni velos faciales. Si no recibimos un correo electrónico, un mensaje de texto o una foto al instante, nos quejamos del mal servicio de nuestra compañía de telefonía celular. E imagínese si no pudiéramos usar nuestras tarjetas de crédito para nuestras compras o encontrar un cajero automático para obtener efectivo inmediato de nuestras cuentas en casa.

Todavía recuerdo llevar un libro de “Europa con $ 5 al día” y estar bastante satisfecho con lo que pude obtener por esa cantidad.

Millones de personas llevaron los libros de Arthur Frommer por todo el mundo

Mi esposa y yo todavía disfrutamos buscando las ofertas mientras viajamos, pero ya no es necesario llevar el libro. Al buscar en Internet, puede encontrar instantáneamente sugerencias de lugares para visitar o restaurantes donde puede comer la mejor comida en su ubicación exacta.

En casi cualquier destino de viaje, es divertido pensar en lo fácil que lo tenemos ahora. Google Maps puede decirte exactamente cuando el próximo autobús público llegará a muchas ciudades del mundo.

¡Es difícil vivir sin Google Maps!

Si te pierdes, puedes pedirle a Siri o Alexa que te encuentren la mejor ruta de regreso a tu AirBnb. Y puede decir algo en inglés en su teléfono y recibir una traducción oral instantánea si tuviera que comunicarse con un extraño real.

¡Qué diferencia tan asombrosa han hecho solo 70 años!

“You Have Arrived!”

A few years ago, we had just arrived in Madrid where we were planning to spend the whole summer.  Although we were exhausted from the flight from the United States, we decided to re-set our jetlagged internal clock by staying awake.

Relativity by MC Escher

Right after we had moved into our Airbnb apartment in downtown Madrid, we decided to go to the exhibit of the Dutch artist, MC Escher, at the Palacio Gaviria on its last day.  Since I didn’t want to risk not being able to attend if our flight had been delayed, we arrived without reservations so we lined up outside the Palace two hours before its closing time at 5 pm.  

The line for non-ticket holders moved slowly because of the controlled capacity of the beautiful downtown palace.   At 4 pm, a box-office person came outside, counted the number of people waiting, and designated who would be able to enter, and who would be denied entrance. 

Along with another twenty or so people, we were in the group who, although we had been waiting at least an hour, were told that we could not visit the exhibit.  I immediately went into begging mode, explaining that we had been up all night on the flight and why we had not purchased tickets in advance.  After checking with her supervisor, she obviously took pity on us because they allowed us to enter the show. 

It was an excellent exhibit, and the stunning architecture of the old palace made it even more special.  As we left, my wife said to me, “Let’s see if we can find that Chinese restaurant that we read about.” 

You see, Chinese food has a mysterious curative effect on my wife, Meryl.  If, for any reason, she is feeling stressed or low, just the whispering of the words “Chinese food” has an immediate therapeutic response. 

Almost right up the street to the Plaza de España

Before leaving the US, we had bookmarked the name of the restaurant which we had found on the internet, and put it into our Google Maps app.  Thankfully it told us that it was only about 1 km away and it mapped out an easy route for us.


Less than fifteen minutes later, from my pocket, I heard the familiar words, “You have arrived.”  We stood there confused in the middle of the enormous Plaza de España with its monument to Cervantes. There was no restaurant in sight.  We turned around, walked a few feet in both directions, and our GPS kept on saying that we were in the right place! 

After asking a few passersby if they knew where the restaurant was, we left the Plaza discouraged.  One person told us that there were several other Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood, thankfully in the direction of our apartment. 

It turned out to be fortuitous.  We chose a very busy Chinese restaurant where we were seated right next to a young Chinese woman and man.  We knew it had to be authentic since there were many other young-looking Chinese students and the prices were right, even for an expensive town like Madrid. 

Yan and her brother

The Chinese woman was in fact a doctor who had attended medical school in Cuba and the man was her brother who was studying computer engineering in Spain.  She was enrolled in a cardiology residency in Madrid and we communicated well together in Spanish. For the rest of our stay, we enjoyed meeting her at least once a  week so that we could have Chinese food with her at her favorite places in the city. 

When we returned to our apartment, we attempted to figure out where we had gone wrong in our search for the original restaurant at the Plaza de España. After going back to the original bookmarked site, we read through many reviews and discovered that the restaurant was actually located beneath the Plaza de España in a row of shops adjacent to the subterranean municipal parking garage. 

We were right on top of the restaurant when we heard “You have arrived”

This explained why when we were standing directly on top of the restaurant, it informed us that we “had arrived.”  It wound up being our go-to place where we frequently went to for our favorite sweet potato noodles and pork rib dumplings.

Now back at home, whenever we use our GPS, we always question how accurate its directions are.  When we hear the words, “You have arrived,” we begin to salivate for that delicious Chinese food, in of all places, the capital city of Spain.      

Me, Meryl, Yan and her brother