travel

Living the Wild Life

San Diego, California

July, 2018

Karen and I do not have kids.  It was a decision we made before we were married.  It is not one that we took lightly.  We certainly have nothing against children.  Parenting is just something neither of us found interesting.  We do, however, enjoy spending time with our various nieces and nephews.

A late bloomer when it came to travel, I was in my early 20s when I went on my first flight.  I was well into my 30s when I made my first flight across the Atlantic to visit another continent.  Since then, Karen and I have become very fond of traveling, and we’ve made it a big part of our lives.

In an effort to pass on travel skills, and as a way to justify more journeys, we decided to take each niece and nephew to a US city of their choice the summer after their thirteenth birthday.  We figured this would be a good age to learn how to negotiate airports, hotels, public transportation, etc.

Our oldest nephew, Noah, chose San Francisco as his travel city a few years ago and we had a blast experiencing the city through his eyes.  His brother, Luke, turned thirteen late last year, so this year was his turn.

Like his brother, Luke is an experienced traveler having flown to Chicago a couple of times to visit family.  When we asked him where he wanted to go for the “Aunt and Uncle Weekend” he never hesitated. “I want to go to the San Diego Zoo.”

There are three things that Luke enjoys most: video games, professional wrestling, and zoology.  In fact, he is quite an expert in all three.  All you have to do is ask him.

We arrived at the Atlanta airport on a busy Friday afternoon. After scarfing down hamburgers at the airport’s version of The Varsity, we boarded our plane for San Diego. We arrived around 4 PM Pacific and took a taxi to our hotel in the Little Italy neighborhood near the waterfront, and walked along the harbor where tall ships like the Star of India and the HMS Surprise are docked near the USS Midway, the famous WWII-era aircraft carrier.  For dinner, we ate some great pizza at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto.  Get there early.  It can get crowded. The pizza is really good, especially if you like it extra cheesy.  And who doesn’t, right.luke pizza

The next day, we set out early for the zoo located a few minutes away in Balboa Park.  We bought our tickets ahead of time to skip the lines, but they really weren’t that bad. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the zoo handles busy summer Saturdays.

This zoo is amazing.  It is, of course, world famous, so our expectations were high and it did not disappoint.  One of the many things that sets this zoo apart from others is that it is more than just an animal display.  Education is a major focus here and they do it well.  Additionally, it is very helpful to have your own thirteen-year-old zoologist while visiting. Here’s an example.

As we approached the cheetah exhibit, I was shocked to see a yellow Labrador retriever wearing a collar lapping up water from a small water feature. Inside with the cheetah.  I remember thinking, “This is going to turn out bad. We don’t need to see what’s getting ready to happen to that dog.”

I put my arm around Luke and told Karen, “We need to get away from this. This is going to be ugly.”

Luke rolled his eyes and took me by the hand. “It’s okay, Uncle Jon. They’re buddies.”

Apparently, my expression warranted further explanation.

“When cheetahs are born, they’re paired up with a puppy to keep them calm. Otherwise, cheetahs are too nervous to live in captivity.”

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This turned out to be the first of several lessons I received from Luke that day. It’s interesting how Karen and I learn as much as our young travel companions do on these trips.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend becoming a travel mentor. It can be very rewarding.

Thanks for reading,

Uncle Jon

@sandiegozoo
@filippis

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On Baseball

Suwanee, Georgia

December 30, 2017

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PNC Park – home of the Pittsburgh Pirates – Summer 2017

Karen and I have several items on our travel bucket list.  One is to visit every Major League baseball stadium.  So far, we’ve been to, Pittsburg, Washington, Seattle, St. Louis, Colorado, Baltimore, both parks in Chicago, and of course Atlanta.

Karen was a casual fan when we met and has since transformed into a real fan who keeps up with her hometown Braves and even keeps score when we go to a ballgame.  For me, I’ve always been obsessed with baseball.  When I was five-years-old I remember seeing the 1977 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees, which featured Reggie “Mr. October” hitting three homeruns in the 6th game giving the series win to the Yankees.  My granddad insisted that we all pull for the Dodgers during that series because as a true southern gentleman he wouldn’t be caught dead pulling for the Yankees.  This is the same man who refused to carry $50 bills because “The Government defiled them with Ulysses S. Grant’s picture.”

As much as I love watching games, my baseball career actually ended when I was 10 years old.  During my first year of ‘fast pitch” (no batting tees or coaches pitching to the kids) Jimmy Beauchamp plunked me in the helmet with a fastball on the first pitch of the at bat.  It certainly was not Jimmy’s fault; I’ve always had a rather large head.  I remember that it didn’t hurt, but somehow, I wound up sitting on home plate and watching my mom hurdle over a four-foot-tall chain-link fence.  I tried to wave her off on my way to first base, but she insisted that I come out of the game.  She was well ahead of her time when it came to concussion protocol.  I also remember that my coach had to restrain her from charging poor Jimmy on the mound.  After that incident, I found it hard to stay in the batter’s box on inside pitches and became an easy strikeout victim.

After abandoning my early dreams of playing in the big leagues, I continued to follow my favorite teams throughout my childhood.  My teenage summers were spent working late nights stocking the shelves at the local Food Lion.  After working in the bright florescent lights, I found it difficult to go straight to sleep at home, so I would watch baseball games on the west coast.  The Los Angeles Dodgers were once again in the hunt for pennants, and I remember cheering them on during the summer of 1988.  Later that season, they would win the World Series against the Oakland Athletics which featured the iconic Kirk Gibson home run.

In my senior year of high school, I remember following the 1989 World Series which saw the Athletics face the Giants in the “Bay Bridge Series” which included a devastating earthquake and an Oakland four-game sweep both of which took the national headlines away from Hurricane Hugo, the 20th century villain of South Carolina who rivaled the 19th century villain known as Hurricane Sherman.

I was never really a Braves fan growing up, although I’d kept up with them on Ted Turner’s Superstation that broadcast the Atlanta games around the world.  In 1991, I was in a dorm room at Clemson when I saw Sid Bream slide into home clinching the National League pennant, and I got caught up in the dynasty that followed.  Although they only won one World Series in the strike shortened 1995 season, they would go on to win 14 National League pennants in a row. I moved to Atlanta in 2003, and although I watch baseball on television almost daily during the season, I make it a point to go see several games at the ballpark.

At one time, I could tell you the World Series winners for every year from 1977 to the present.  Although I’ve since forgotten most of these trivial tidbits as I’ve gotten older.  The other day I complained to my dad about how surprised I was at how my memory was not as good as it used to be.  He responded with, “Well, it only gets worse as you get older, Pete.”  I don’t even bother to correct him anymore.

Next year, Karen and I are planning an ambitious road trip that will take us into Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin where we hope to see ballgames at Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee.  We plan to hit several National Parks along the way, so stay tuned for our “Parks & Recreation Trip” in 2018.

Happy New Year,

Uncle Jon

PS: When do pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training?

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Washington Nationals Game – Summer 2017

 

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Uncle Jon Slept Here

Capitol Tour and Library of Congress

Washington, DC

July 10, 2009

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Day four of my visit to the nation’s capital.  Karen is working all day today and well into the evening at the Daughters of the American Revolution conference.  After eating breakfast, we went different directions.  She walked to Constitution Hall, and I rode the Metro to the South Capital Station.

I had reservations to tour the Capitol Building at 8:50 AM.  The two chambers of Congress were closed today so only the rotunda and Statuary Hall were available for tourists.  The tour was short but definitely a “must see.” Just standing at the center of the rotunda under the statue of George Washington and looking up into the richly painted dome inspires such awe that you barely notice the docent pulling at your arm to continue the tour.

Each state is given the opportunity to place two statues in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall that represent their citizens in some way.  Georgia has Crawford Long and Alexander H. Stephens.  South Carolina has John C. Calhoun and Wade Hampton.  All very important statesmen during their respective eras.  Interestingly enough, one of Florida’s dedications is to John Gorrie, the father of air conditioning and artificial ice-making.  Without him, parts of Florida may still be uninhabitable.

After the tour, I walked through the connecting underground tunnel to the Library of Congress.  The main portion of the Library of Congress is housed in the remarkable Jefferson Building which was built in the 1880s and is a perfect example of American Renaissance architecture.  The exquisitely painted interior is one of the most ornate you will see outside of Europe.

The original Library was commissioned by John Adams during his presidency.  Over 700 books were bought in England to provide the US Congress with a law library.  During the War of 1812, the British burned the library collection along with the capital and the rest of the city.  Later during Thomas Jefferson’s retirement, he offered for sale his entire library (the largest in the US at that time) to the government.  It was immediately acquired and it formed the basis of the new library.  Several years later, in 1851, another fire (this one accidental) destroyed two-thirds of the Jefferson collection.  The present library has attempted to make an exact restoration of Jefferson’s library.  At the time of this writing, they are about ninety percent complete.  I was able to see this extraordinary recreation as one of the main exhibits.  One-third of the books were the actual surviving books that Jefferson read and treasured.  Simply amazing!  Today the Library takes up three buildings and contains nearly 24 million books.

After visiting the Library, I walked behind the Capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and stopped in the Hawk ‘n Dove for lunch.  (I’ve since learned that the Hawk ‘n Dove went through a ground up renovation in 2013.  When I visited it again in 2017, I found that it had lost some of its dive charm but it is still a good place for lunch and a pint.) I then went to Riverby’s Bookstore on East Capitol Street near the Folger Shakespeare Library. I bought a couple of books and walked up to the National Archives.  I saw that the line was long so I took the Metro back to the hotel and took a “much-needed” afternoon nap.

At 5:30, I walked over to the Post Pub at 15th and L Streets.  This is an archetypical dive bar haunted by Washington Post newspapermen and a few tourists.  I highly recommend this bar if you are into wood paneling and juke boxes.  I had a great bacon cheeseburger and four Bass ales while talking with some of the locals.  Four is a good number for ales.  It leaves you in good spirits without the feeling that you want to drink four more.  One more beer, however, and you find yourself committed to drinking all night.  Before you know it, you’re fighting with the karaoke guy because he doesn’t have any Iron Maiden songs.

Until next time…drink responsibly and ramble on.

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The Louvre and Saint-Denis

Paris, France
June 24, 2010

On our last day in Paris, we finally decided to go to the overwhelming Louvre museum. On our arrival, we were immediately met with an unbelievably long line to enter the museum. After about fifteen minutes, we were informed that the long line in which we were standing was not the line for the museum but a line to get the new iPhone at the adjacent Apple store. We were then directed to a considerably shorter line for the museum. This line, however, was not moving at all. The museum still seemed to be closed thirty minutes after the posted opening time. It was then that we got our first taste of the frequent strikes that workers unleash in Europe.

We were told that the strike would not end until at least noon, so we decided to take a walk in the adjacent Tuileries Gardens. These gardens go back to the time of Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, back in the mid-1500s. The gardens became a public park after the French Revolution in the waning years of the 18th Century. In the Tuileries Gardens, you will see a statue of a gentleman blowing a horn while riding winged Pegasus, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not THE Arc de Triomphe but pretty impressive nonetheless), and the Musee de l’Orangerie which houses Monet’s Water Lillies and some of Rodin’s sculptures.

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Sainte Karen poses with a local in the Tuileries Gardens

After lunch in one of the Gardens’ cafes, we took a train to the nearby town of Saint-Denis and the basilica which houses the tombs of many of the French monarchs from Dagobert I to Louis XVIII as well as several queens, princes, princesses and other influential French statesmen. The Basillica itself was the most amazing site. Built in the 1100s, it was one of, if not the, first gothic basilicas built in the middle ages.

Of course, the town and basilica are named for Saint Denis who is famous for losing his head. Literally. Back in the 3rd Century, Rome still ruled the world and had not yet converted to Christianity. In fact, during this time, the Romans were known to go out of their way to punish Christians in creative and brutal ways. Denis, who was the bishop of Paris, and a couple of his buddies were decapitated in the city by the Roman authorities. Legend has it that Denis then picked up his severed head and walked several miles preaching the whole way until he finally collapsed and died. It was at that exact spot where the Saint Denis Basilica was built.

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Excuse me, ladies…my eyes are down here.

The town of Saint-Denis is also known for its higher than average crime rate, so be mindful of your surroundings.  Following the 2015 Paris Attacks which included the mass shooting at the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theatre, the mastermind behind the attacks was killed in a gun battle with police in Saint-Denis.

 

When we got back from Saint-Denis, we still had a few hours to spend at the Louvre. We saw the Mona Lisa (now encased in a climate controlled, bulletproof glass case to protect it from loonies), the Venus de Milo, the painting of Emperor Napoleon’s coronation, other important paintings and sculptures, exhibits on Greece, Rome and Egypt, artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia (make sure you check out Hammurabi’s Law Code etched on a seven-foot stone), medieval objects and art, and Napoleon III’s apartments.

The Louvre, by itself, is reason enough to visit Paris. Just make sure you give yourself a couple of days in case of strikes and to ensure that you see all that you want to see.

Until next time…ramble on.

https://uk.tourisme93.com/basilica/

http://www.louvre.fr/en

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The Ghosts of Normandy

 

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Rouen, France

June 25, 2010

My high school French teacher once told me that with my southern accent and feeble attempts at pronunciation, I would be better served attending more English classes than foreign language courses.  It certainly wasn’t her fault that I never picked up on the language.  I spent a fair amount of my time reading the novel Lonesome Dove rather than paying attention in class.  As a result, one of the only French expressions that I have been able to recall over the years is, “Je ne parle pas Français.”  Fortunately for English speakers, this is a very helpful sentence that you can use when traveling in France.

Rouen, France, is an ancient town located in the northern portion of France known as Normandy.  It is a picturesque, medieval town with several examples of fine gothic architecture and a rich history.  Some Americans will know Rouen because of the role it played in both World Wars, especially during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.  By the time of its liberation by the Canadians, almost half of the city had been destroyed.  Another of its claims to fame is that it was the site of Joan of Arc’s burning at the stake in 1431. After reading Desmond Seward’s The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337-1453, I knew I had to visit Rouen despite Mr. Seward’s obvious difficulties with mathematics.

After an early morning, two-hour train ride from Paris to Rouen, Karen and I walked immediately to our hotel to check our bags at the front desk until our 3 o’clock check-in time.  The Cardinal Hotel is located adjacent to the spectacular church that dominates the center of town, the Rouen Cathedral.  This is yet another jewel of France’s gothic architecture and was featured in a series of Claude Monet paintings.

In addition to the Cathedral, we visited the Church and Abbey of Saint Ouen, the gothic Saint Maclou church, and the 600-year-old astronomical clock known as the Gros Horloge (large clock).  We also visited the dungeon and tower in the Rouen Castle where Joan of Arc was threatened with torture after her capture during the Hundred Years War. We had a café lunch near the spot where the future saint went up in flames, which is now the site of a modern church built in the shape of an overturned Viking ship.  This town kicks ass.

Rouen has maintained a medieval feel while embracing the modern world.  One thousand-year-old streets are lined with shops and boutiques filled with tourists buying iPhones, perfume, Monet posters, dresses, scarves, and pastries. During the late afternoon, Karen and I walked into a wine shop and proceeded to buy ten bottles of French wine and two bottles of Calvados (apple brandy made in Normandy) to bring back home.  The proprietors of the shop acted as if they had something important to tell us, but they did not speak English.  After trying to communicate with each other using primitive sign language, one of the gentlemen asked Karen to accompany him to the nearest post office where they found an interpreter.  This is when we found out that you can only bring two bottles of wine or liquor in your luggage on flights back to the US.  It is also the first known instance of Karen using a French word appropriately.  That word was “merde.”

When Karen and the owner returned, we managed to negate the wine purchase despite our language barrier.  I kept the two bottles of Calvados and did indeed bring them back to the States.  We found many more instances of kindness like the owners of this wine shop showed to us during our visit to France.  The myth of French rudeness was nowhere to be found for us during our stay.

Late that night while sleeping in our very comfortable room, I dreamed that I heard the sound of birds in the trees near our hotel and the cathedral.  The sound then turned to one of children playing and running.  It then turned into the orderly stamps of platoons of soldiers marching in time through the streets of Rouen. We spent the night in our hotel under the imposing spires of the cathedral and the ghosts of Normandy’s past.

I normally do not remember my dreams, but I attribute the night’s hallucinations on the “sausage” that I had for dinner.  Just as Karen and I sat down at an outdoor café that evening, I realized I had forgotten to bring my food glossary with me.  With a sense of adventure, we poured through the French-only menu to find words that looked familiar.  One dish that caught my eye was Saucisse Andouillette, which to me sounded very much like andouille sausage, a spicy sausage known in the U.S. as a Louisiana Cajun delicacy.  It took me about three bites to realize that “andouillette” can best be translated to English as pork chitterling.

Don’t get me wrong; eating pig intestines is not necessarily an unappetizing meal.  With the right wine pairing and “mother sauce,” a properly trained French chef can make a bowl of catfish anuses taste like what a Ravel sonata sounds like. However, when you are expecting something very different, it can be quite shocking.  I am somewhat embarrassed to say that this Son of the South had his first taste of “chittlins” in northern France.

Looking back on my time in high school, now thirty years gone, I would like to apologize to the very talented Madame Mixon for not paying attention in her class, especially when we studied cuisine.  I would also like to apologize to Ms. Allen, my twelfth-grade English teacher, who specifically told me to never use the phrase “catfish anuses” in an essay.

Until next time…ramble on.

 

 

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Rouen Cathedral

 

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Go School Yourself

Suwanee, Georgia
July 6, 2017

I have a lot of reasons to want to become a better writer, but foremost is to become a better communicator, which I think I stink at. You can probably tell by the previous sentence that I have some work to do. Grammar and sentence structure are only a couple of my weak points when it comes to communicating. It has been a long time since I took an English class. But…that is no excuse. Classrooms and formal education are only starting points when it comes to learning.

I often hear people lament the current curricula that are offered in our school systems. Very little time spent on handwriting…will cursive writing die out? What version of new math is being taught today? Why are we not learning more about Darwin, Jesus, the Chinese language, etc.? My point is that school is only a foundation for your education. If you feel a void in the curriculum, there is nothing saying you cannot fill it with learning outside of classrooms.

Absolutely one of the best ways that I have been able to continue and broaden my education has been through travel. When I read a book about the French Revolution or the Battle of Hastings, I feel some pull to physically visit these places. And although visiting these famous settings will certainly help you learn more about them, you will get a lot more than just learning about a time or place when you travel. You suddenly find yourself outside of your known world and in a strange land. A place where you interact with people who have different backgrounds and beliefs than you. Then (and this is very significant) you begin to learn more about yourself.

Not everyone has the resources (time, money, etc.) to travel as they would like. I understand this. It took me a while before I was mentally comfortable with spending a large portion of my income on travel. I also do not suggest that you rack up debt just to take a trip. Another common apprehension is when you factor in the unknown associated with traveling to places you have never been. The risk versus reward conversation you have with yourself can lead you away from sinking your valuable time, money and effort into travel. Nevertheless, I contend that after your first well-planned trip, the risk versus reward conversation will go away, and you will quickly become more confident in your travel skills.

Your educational travel does not have to be expensive or extravagant. Travel to the neighboring town where you live. Go to the closest National Park or National Forest and take a hike. Take up camping or backpacking. Learn how to camp out of your car. But be warned, this is how I started. It can lead to a desire to travel further. The next thing you know you’re reading travel guides to India.

Karen and I do not have children which can make it easier for us to travel both in time and money. However, we quite often see families travel with children of all ages. As I mentioned above, you and your kids will learn things through traveling that they will not learn in school. I know some families who home school, and traveling is one of their many learning activities. If you are confined to traveling during the summer or spring, fall and winter breaks in the school year, then yes, you will be joined by many other families and will experience much higher travel fees. But it can still be accomplished with some planning.

For planning your first trip to Europe, I highly recommend Rick Steves’ travel guides. If you are interested in taking a budget-friendly trip to Europe, pick up a couple of his travel guides or tune in to his show on PBS. Other travel guides to use in Europe and most any other destination in the world include Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, and Fodors. Additionally, there are many more resources out there to help you get started.

Till next time…ramble on.

 

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

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Napoleon’s Necklace

Most of the stories that I post will not be in any kind of chronological order.  They will just be excerpts from my travel journals.

Paris, France

June 23, 2010

Day three of our visit to Paris.  We began the day at the Army Museum at Les Invalides located near the Eiffel Tower.  Les Invalides is an army hospital and convalescence home that is still being used today by the French military.  Louis XIV, the Sun King, began construction on the hospital in 1670, and France has kept it well stocked with wounded soldiers ever since.

Inside Les Invalides is the impressive Musée de l’Armée, where we saw an interesting exhibit on the Charles de Gaulle Call for Resistance in World War II.  After Paris fell to the Nazis in the early stages of the war, the Vichy regime was established to make peace with Germany.  Marshall Philippe Pétain, the French World War I hero of the Battle of Verdun, was named as the Prime Minister.  By contrast, Free France, the government in exile and the one recognized by the allied powers was led by General Charles de Gaulle who refused to recognize the armistice with Germany.  In 1940, while in England, de Gaulle recorded via BBC his famous speech known as the “Appeal of 18 June” which encouraged the French people to resist German occupation, launching what is now known as the French Resistance movement.

The next exhibit we saw was one of the most impressive displays of Medieval and Renaissance-era armor I have ever seen.  An entire room was reserved for the suits of armor worn by the kings of France. Elsewhere in the museum were displays of uniforms, weapons and other miscellaneous wartime paraphernalia spanning the stone age to the end of World War II.  Tombs of many of France’s military heroes, including Napoleon, can also be found here.

The section dedicated to the Napoleonic Era was a particular favorite.  Before our trip, I read several books on the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars.  It was here that we stumbled upon the famous portrait of Napoleon as Emperor.  While Karen was snapping a picture of me beside the painting, I noticed a glass display box which housed the huge necklace that Napoleon is wearing in the portrait.  I pointed to the necklace in the display case, then back to the portrait to show Karen what I had discovered.  Evidently, when I pointed at Napoleon’s neck my finger came too close to the painting and an earsplitting alarm began screaming in our ears.  Immediately four armed soldiers ran into the small room that was occupied by only Karen and me, noticed our confused looks, and escorted our red faces out of the exhibit.

 

 

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Calm before the storm.

If you are ever in Paris and have any interest in military history, please take an afternoon to visit the Musée de l’Armée.  Just keep your hands in your pockets.

Until next time…ramble on.

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Karen gets chummy with some French sailors.