travel

Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit

Munich, Germany

September, 2018

This past Fall, Karen and I were invited to celebrate the birthdays of some friends in Munich for the famous Oktoberfest. This annual beer drinking festival takes place at the Theresienwiese (the fairgrounds in Munich) and is locally know as the Wiesn. It dates back to 1810 when the crown price and future king of Bavaria, Ludwig I, married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. As its name suggests, Oktoberfest begins in…yep, late September and runs for 16 or 17 days or until the locals get tired of plastered tourists. According to a USA Today article from 2007, it is considered the largest folk festival (Volksfest) in the world.

Oktoberfest in Munich is a pilgrimage for beer drinkers and lovers of Bavarian tradition. If you go, I recommend that you go with some friends and reserve a table at one of the beer tents. There are thirty-some-odd large and small”tents” built just for the festival, then removed afterwards. Many of these structures are quite elaborate seating anywhere from just under 100 to well over 8,000 merry-makers.

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Official Oktoberfest beer must be brewed in Munich and conform to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1516, which states that the only products that can be used in the production of beer are water, barley, and hops. Yeast was also added to the list later after its discovery. The beer served in the tents are from six breweries: Augustiner-Brau, Hacker-Pschorr-Brau, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spatenbrau, and Hofbrau-Munchen. Please add umlauts as you see fit.

Most of the attendees are from the Bavarian region of Germany, but we met people from all over the world. Traditional dress is very common both at the festival as well as around town. Dirndls and lederhosen of varying quality are worn by locals and tourists alike.

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While in Munich, we stayed in a hotel near the English Garden, which deserves a mention as well. The 910-acre park was created in 1789 and is one of the largest urban parks in the world. Popular attractions include the Monopteros Greek-style temple, the Chinese Tower, a 21-acre pond known as Kleinhesseloher See, a Japanese teahouse, and an artificial stream frequented by surfers (seriously).

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But perhaps most famous area of the English Garden is the expansive meadow know as the Schonfeldwiese, where nude sunbathing is allowed. Here’s a pro tip. If you decide to go sunbathing in the raw, you’ll want to remember two things. One, you are not likely to see Scarlett Johansson or Chris Hemsworth. You are more likely to see olden folk with much more surface area. Two, and this one is very important, use sunscreen with a high SPF rating. Imagine the embarrassment of having to explain sunburnt naughty bits to a German doctor.

We’re looking forward to getting back to Munich soon to see more of the outlying area.

Thanks for reading,

Üncle Jön

Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @UncleJonSokol and peruse my articles and stories on http://www.myunclejon.com.

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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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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.

 

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The Ramblings of a Traveler…

There are a couple reasons why I am choosing to write an online blog.  One is to write about my travel experiences so that I can somehow understand what it is I like about traveling and to remind my faulty memory of the things I’ve experienced and learned on these travels.  Another one is so that I can become a better writer.  Creative writing is something that I have always wanted to start doing, but for whatever reason (probably laziness), I have only now really started to write regularly.

This is not meant to be a ‘how to’ blog.  There are many different resources, some of which I will mention later, that will do a much better job at showing you how to plan an itinerary, communicate in a foreign country or use a bidet.  These entries will just be the stories of my experiences and miscellaneous ramblings and observations.  Perhaps it will inspire you to go to some of the places I have visited.  Perhaps it will give you the confidence you need to visit a place you have always wanted to see.  Perhaps it will convince you that travel stinks and that you should never leave your home town.  Either way, I hope this will be entertaining to you.  If you do not find it entertaining, please stop reading this blog and use your valuable time to do something that has meaning for you.  To be totally honest, I am writing this for me.  If you, the reader, also receive some benefit then maybe I am on to something larger than myself.  Or not.

I will often play fast and loose with the facts.  For those who know me, this will not come as a shock.  I will quite often sprinkle, or sometimes even drown, my recollections with falsehoods, exaggerations, and outright lies.  Occasionally sacrificing fact for fiction is entirely justified in my mind when my aim is to entertain.  Remember that one of the reasons I am doing this blog is to become a better (creative) writer.  I will try hard, however, not to mislead the reader intentionally.

I do not know much about online blogging.  I keep up with a few bloggers who I like to read occasionally, and I may recommend some of these from time to time.  But this will be my first venture into online blogging and will certainly be a learning experience.  I’ll probably make some mistakes like posting entries before I am finished with them, not understanding the blog platform, and a multitude of grammatical errors, misspellings and improper word use.  I will try to keep these distractions to a minimum.  And, to be honest, I have only recently started a daily journal so I am not even sure that I will have the discipline to keep this blog going regularly.

I am also not what I would call technologically savvy.  As I write this, I am having difficulty getting connected to the internet.  If you have questions regarding how to best receive blog updates, how to post comments, etc., I’ll try to help as best as I can.  If you have recommendations or suggestions that you think would help me in my blogging whether it be software related, content requests, or if you have questions, please feel free to post in the comments section.  Let’s keep it friendly, respectful, and act as if we were all sitting at my kitchen table leaning back in the chairs.

Until the next entry…ramble on.