The case of the traveling gnome finally solved!

Murphy, a 8 lb gnome, returned to the doorsteps of an old Gloucester couple with a bag of photos and immigration stamps hailing from Mozambique, New Zealand, Singapore, Laos, Australia, and some dozen other countries. In an attached note, he wrote:

Hello! First of all I feel I should explain my prolonged absence. A gnome’s life is full of time for reflection, and whilst surveying your garden one summer morning, I began to get itchy feet.

I came to the conclusion that the world is a big place and there is more to life than watching the daily commuter traffic, and allowing passing cats to urinate on you. So I decided to free myself from the doldrums of the Shire and seek adventure. My travels have taken me across three continents, 12 countries and more time zones than I can possibly remember.

There have been high points, low points, and positively terrifying points. But I have survived – small thanks to the companion with whom I have shared all these moments.

Now the caper has been solved. Read more about the 22-year-old law grad who took Murphy on a worldwide tour.

Gnome bandit reignites French-German hostilities

The French and the Germans have a long, complicated diplomatic history. Aside from the fierce hostilities that took place during World War I and World War II, the two countries frequently bicker over disputed boundaries, in particular the Alsace-Lorraine region. Though tensions have cooled noticeably in recent years, it looks as though a new “international incident” involving garden gnomes (?!) is once again stirring tensions.

According to Metro UK, a sneaky gentleman from France has been charged with stealing around 170 of the statues on both sides of the French-German border. Although the motivation for the crime has puzzled French authorities, some have speculated that it may be part of the work of a shadowy organization known as the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. At the very least, it seems to be only one in a long string of gnome-targeted attacks.

Could this be part of some vast international gnome conspiracy to topple the world order? I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure, though I have my suspicions that Travelocity’s annoying gnome mascot (or at least a clever marketing department) is somehow involved. Stay tuned.

Amazing Race Season 12, Recap 5

Last week, Martha’s recap left our Amazing Race traveling pals in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. That’s where this episode started off since the teams stayed here for a night of R&R at the Hotel d’Ville.

Although the people of Burkina Faso were described as “warm and kind” by one of the teams, that’s not the general feeling the teams are now having towards each other. Their determination to win the race has heated up, so no one is chit chatting or making nice whenever the teams’ paths cross.

“Our eyes are full of fire and we’re going to use our fire [to win] ” explained Rachel when the teams found out that their next leg was to Vilnius, Lithuania.

Everyone seemed peppy with this news. “I heard they make some great pastries,” said Ron, as he and Christina headed off in a taxi to find out how to get there.

Getting out of Burkina Faso was not exactly a slam dunk. Since the rules said they had to use an official ticket office, the teams had to find one that was open.

Here’s a tip. If you’re ever in Ouagadougou, head for an Air France office. While most teams piled into the Onatel Internet cafe first after finding the airport virtually empty, Ron and Christina headed to the Air France office in town to let a ticket agent do their searching for them. This got them on a plane with the least amount of fuss. That’s my opinion.

Ron did do what any savvy traveler should do, though. When the first flight option was not satisfactory, he insisted that the travel agent look again and include another airlines. “She’s fossilizing her mind to Air France,” he said. For once, his stubbornness paid off. They got an earlier flight.

Watching people try to get flights out reminded me just how fickle air travel can be. Flights that are full may actually have room. That’s what Nicolas and Donald found out. They were told a flight was full only to find out that one of the other teams bought two tickets on that flight after they were told it wasn’t available. Nicolas’s frustration with the ticket agent may not have helped.

Whether you’re flying from Ouagadougou to Vilnius via Paris then Amsterdam, Frankfurt or Prague, you’ll arrive in time to still be in the thick of the race. Christina and Ron, who were the only once to travel through Prague, arrived last, but because they weren’t frazzled, they were able to catch up fairly easily and Ron’s hernia had a chance to settle down. As soon as they figured out that navigating Vilnius in a car wasn’t easy, they hired a taxi so they could follow it to St. Ann’s Church, the place where they would find the instructions for their first task. What a great idea. Keep this in mind. It’s possible to hire a taxi to get you where you need to go, even if you are driving a separate car.

TK, also going with the stay cool approach, explained “Teams that stress out and use useless energy will loose.” As this episode progressed, illustrations of this principal at work were increasingly evident. For example, the blonds, unlike cool Ron and Christiana, found their frustration with each other increasing by the minute, and it almost got them hit by a bus. I could almost hear the sound of crunching metal, but they missed disaster by a hair. While they drove around bickering and looking for the church, most teams were already involved with the first task.

The task involved a scavenger hunt through the Old Quarter of Vilnius, a lovely area of quaint, baroque style buildings of apartments, cafes, restaurants, and shops. One of the team members had to find a woman doing a chore such as beating a rug in order to receive a clue, plus a basket of baked goods. That clue led to another person who the basket was to be delivered to, and who had another clue to another location and so on. The idea was to simulate a Lithuanian message service.

I loved this part. The number of people who agreed to take team members to the spots they needed to go to was heartwarming. Everyone who knew where a place said “Sure” when he or she was asked, “Can you take me there?”

If you ever feel like no one in the world feels helpful anymore, head to Lithuania. The people are gems, at least on a reality TV show. One of the things I also liked about this segment is that it enlisted the help of many Lithuanians. They seemed as if they were having as much fun being part of the race.

TK and Rachel and Vyxsin and Kynt breezed through this task, totally opposite to Nicolas who was vexed by this little game. His communication problems with getting info out of people seemed to have followed him from Burkina Faso to Lithuania. Although, he and his grandfather arrived in first place, they were one of the last to get all the clues and head off to Rumsiskes, the town where Lietuvos Liaudies Buities Muziejus, an outdoor ethnographic museum is located.

As soon as Vyxsin and Kynt arrived at this living history museum, they lit up. The traditional Mid-Summer’s Festival was going on. All the people dressed up in medieval garb and pagan wear made them feel right at home, Kynt said as he and Vyxsin headed off to search for a Travelocity gnome among 100 others. “It’s a lot easier to care for than a chicken,” said Vyxsin, as they found their gnome. Gnomes are popular items in Lithuania. I expect you could pick one up one of these babies as a souvenir. From the looks of the ones throughout the gardens and on windowsills the variety is extensive.

Once the teams found a gnome, they had to complete the road block. Once choice was to walk on old-fashioned board stilts, and the other was to count all the slates on a very, very, very long picket fence. Oh, I could have so nailed this one. Walking on stilts is one of the things I can do. Counting those slates would have made me mental, though.While the teams who chose this task were counting, the folks at the festival played music in their faces, banged sticks on the slats, and basically did all those things that make you want to slug someone.

Ron had the most dramatic moments with his stilt walking. He ended up falling hard in the dirt, but picked himself up, hernia and all, to make a rousing 3rd place finish with Christina calling him her hero.

If you’ve ever wondered how traveling can pull people together or drive them apart, this section of the episode was it, particularly if your names are Jennifer and Nathan. My word, those two would win if there was a race for bickering and throwing verbal barbs. The blonds were almost as bad. They stopped getting along in Burkina Faso. While they were arguing about how best to count the slats, Nicolas, who discovered he made a mistake, but kept his cool, was able to get the number of slats correct (717) after adjusting for his error, and head off with grandpa to the Pit Stop at Aukstaitija Windmill. They came in next to last.

The blonds, in tears, arrived at the Pit Stop as the sun was setting. The sky, along with the circa 1884 windmill did make a lovely backdrop for their demise. What they learned by this experience is that their life of manicures, pedicures and facials back in the U.S. didn’t amount to a hill of beans on this global dash. As they strode back up the hill past the windmill, their silhouettes against the brilliant reddish- orange streaks of the sky, their last comments were to the effect that they would always be friends. Aw. That’s sweet. From the looks of next week’s episode preview, I’m not sure if the same could be said of Nathan and Jennifer.

Oh, yeah, who came in first? TK and Rachel. Their coolheadedness and pleasant ways got them a 10 day-trip to Japan. Azaria and Hendekea were happy to come in 4th and didn’t seem at all disappointed that they lost their first place standing on this particular leg.