Monthly Archives: June 2013

Blue Ridge Parkway – Day 2

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The next day, the weather was perfect for a top-down drive.  Knowing that I would be sitting in the car all day, I decided to take a short run to get some exercise before I hit the road.  No sooner had I started than I ran across a “Beware of Bears” sign.  In the city, I never think about running and having to watch out for dangerous animals, just cars.  I think I might have run a bit faster than normal that morning frequently glancing over my shoulder to be sure a bear looking for his breakfast wasn’t following me.  After a shower and a great country breakfast of my own, I was ready to set off, but not before purchasing a 75th Anniversary t-shirt to commemorate my experience!

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In no time I was driving past views where the mountains soared above the clouds, a feature the Smoky Mountains are most known for.

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My next stop was another spot I had never been to before–supposedly the most photographed spot on the BRP–Mabry’s Mill that sits right next to the BRP.

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After parking, I just had to wait for the lawnmower to get out of the way so I could get some pictures.  But freshly mowed grass just added to the quality of my pictures; I took a number from different perspectives but thought this one was the best shot.

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After a quick picnic, I continued my journey.

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There was a multitude of scenic overlooks along the way but after stopping and getting out to take several shots, I decided it would be more fun just to view them from the car as I casually drove by at the posted 45 mile per hour speed limit.  For this was not a road to speed on.  It was a road to savor the views and I would allow my mind rather than my camera’s memory card to store these images.

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It was after leaving Mabry’s Mill that I ran across my first construction zone.  In several locations that day, only one lane was passible and so I would have to wait in a line while traffic from the other direction cleared before following the construction lead truck through the construction zone.  I was pleased to find that the road was being well maintained but surprised that so many sections were actively under construction considering this was their 75th anniversary.  I can only assume that politics had delayed getting ready for the celebration.  A year before I planned my trip, I had gone to the BRP website and found a section where construction zones were listed.  I just failed to check it again before my trip never thinking it would be still going on during the 75th celebration.

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As I neared Asheville, NC, my destination for that night, I stopped to capture a shot of the Black Mountains, a range that lent their name to Black Mountain, a small town for which I also had fond memories from my childhood.  I always assumed the town had been named for a black mountain, now I knew where it was.  In my eagerness to reach my night’s destination, I passed without stopping, another beloved childhood destination, Grandfather Mountain.  From previous visits to the summit, I could visualize in my mind’s eye the view from the top but now was able to reflect on the great controversy that raged here during the building of the BRP due to commercial development that had been established prior to the building of the BRP.

As I left the cool mountain air of the BRP and entered Asheville, I realized as the sun warmed my face that I had apparently gotten sunburned while driving all day with the top down.  I planned on spending a couple of days in Asheville, Black Mountain, and Montreat to visit some of my favorite childhood spots and to spend some time not driving.  Little did I know that something more painful than sunburn awaited me on my third and final day on the BRP.

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Blue Ridge Parkway – Day 1

Growing up, my family frequently vacationed in western North Carolina.  And whenever we traveled to Asheville, NC, one of my favorite summertime activities was to get to ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP).

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For those who are not familiar with the BRP, it is two-lane scenic route built in the 1930s that stretches 469 miles along the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina.  For someone who loved mountains and cars, you couldn’t find a better national park to explore.  As a child, I always envisioned as my Dad drove us north on the BRP to Mt. Mitchell what fun it would be to drive on the BRP in my own little sports car.

As an adult, I got the chance to share my love for the BRP with my wife and children when we too would vacation in the area.  Driving the curvy mountain roads, I was a little kid again taking in the spectacular views of my childhood.  Only I wasn’t in the little sports car I had dreamed of – I was driving a mini-van.

On one of our visits to the Folk Art Center (Milepost 380), a favorite stop of ours on the BRP, I came across the book Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History by Anne Mitchell Whisnant.

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I had purchased and read other books in the past about the BRP but reading this in-depth accounting, I gained a new appreciation for this road I loved so much and for the first time, knowledge of some of the controversy surrounding its building.  At times, I was even caught by surprise when my reading would evoke emotions for unknown reasons.  This led me to realize that this road had a lot more to offer beyond the southern 100 miles I had previously experienced.  As I absorbed this fascinating information, I also couldn’t help but marvel at R. Getty Browning, the chief locating engineer who walked every mile of the proposed route.  His feat motivated me to action.  If he could walk the entire route, I could surely drive it.  And I just happened to have the right car – a little red convertible.

Driving the entire 469 miles would bring some of things I had just read about to life.  This would be a trip where the journey not the destination was the purpose of the trip.  And it just so happened to be the 75th anniversary of the completion of the BRP.  What better year to drive it and help celebrate its Diamond Jubilee?

When I explained to my wife what I planned and asked if she wanted to go, her quick response was an emphatic no.  This would just be a trip by myself with my thoughts, my music and the sun beaming down on me in my little red sports car.  Having learned through my reading that the 105-mile long Skyline Drive ended at the beginning of the BRP.   I decided to add that onto my trip as well.

Living almost 700 miles from the beginning of the Skyline Drive, it took me more than a day just to get there.  While this portion of the trip was all interstate driving with little of interest to see, I was filled with anticipation the whole way.  As I settled into my hotel room in Blacksburg, VA on the first night of my trip, I was excited to think that early the next morning I would be at the beginning of my real journey.

The next morning, I drove the remaining 100 miles to the beginning of the Skyline Drive.  I planned to drive the whole trip with the top down but light rain at the start forced me to keep the top up.  I took a few quick photos of the starting point and began my adventure.

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Soon after starting out, the rain cleared and I was able to put the top down.  I stopped at several scenic overlooks along the way to take pictures but for the most part was dissatisfied with what I saw.

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After years of seeing majestic mountain scenes on the BRP in North Carolina, I was disappointed that most of the views along the Skyline Drive were of the Shenandoah Valley.  While the view gave me a sense of being on top of the world looking down, there weren’t the mountain scenes I was really looking for.  I stopped for a brief picnic lunch but then decided to accelerate my pace to reach the BRP.

At one point, it appeared that I was driving back into some rainy weather.  As anyone who owns a convertible sports car knows, you never put the top up if you think you can out run the rain drops.  I was managing to get just a little mist in my face when all of a sudden I exploded out into full daylight.  I then realized that I hadn’t just driven through rain; I’d driven through a cloud.  I decided to turn the car around and take this shot into the cloud creating my own Twilight Zone excursion.

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As I neared the end of the Skyline Drive, I began to see views of distant mountains.

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This was what I was really looking forward to seeing and not too long after this view, I came across this sign, which was the main purpose of my trip.  Now I was going to begin driving on a portion of the BRP that I had never been on before.

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I had read that where the BRP started (Milepost 0), the view showed fewer mountains than valleys.

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My first views confirmed this but before long, I came across a Christmas tree farm nestled among the foothills.

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As I approached the spot where I planned to spend the night, I was excited to see a view of the mountains I would be driving through the next day.

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From my reading, I had learned that lodging on the BRP was limited to only a few locations but was something definitely worth the experience.    It just so happened that the Peaks of Otter Lodge (milepost 86) was just the right distance into the BRP for me, as I had spent most of the day getting to and driving down the Skyline Drive.  It turned out to be the perfect spot to spend my first night on the BRP.  The lodge had a 1950s rustic appearance and the room and view were charming.

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Even the bathroom had a built-in feature you don’t find anymore, particularly in this day of disposable plastic razors.

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Before dinner, I wandered around to get some pictures of the area.

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Coming back from a hearty, southern-style dinner of fresh vegetables, I found the lodge lit up nicely with the mountains as a backdrop.

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In Search of a Building in Hoorn – Part 2

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long as I had a trip planned to Amsterdam for that October.  The day before I left, I took a photo of the prints with my camera.  This was not to confirm its identity; that we already knew.  My goal was to take photos from the exact same perspective of the building in the print.  And to do that, I would need a copy of the prints.

A real downside to having only a couple of days to sightsee is that plans can become very tenuous due to weather.  On more than one occasion, our plans had been foiled by rain or bad weather.  I set out on Sunday morning in spite of grey, overcast skies.  On the train ride north from Amsterdam, the skies darkened and it began to rain.  I feared that my plans would be ruined again.  Tensely, I watched the weather out the window, as I grew closer to the Hoorn Train Station.

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Fortunately by the time I arrived, the rain had stopped although the skies still looked grey and ominous.  Undaunted, I set off on foot with my camera and an image of the google map emblazoned in my mind’s eye.  I knew I needed to walk east from the train station about three fourths of a mile.  Using only dead reckoning and a good sense of direction, I walked through the town and towards the water.

I came out from between some buildings and found a pier with boats floating on the water but no building.  Puzzled, I walked to the north along the pier.  When I came to the end of the pier, I looked to my left down another road and there stood my building.  Feeling relief in finding it and in the rain holding off, I walked the last block to my elusive prize.

The first thing I noticed was that the town had been built up around the building.  I thought that would just add interest and show the lapse of time—I recalled seeing early pictures of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Hall in Amsterdam sitting all by itself when built in the late 1800s and marveling how the city had grown up around it over the span of a hundred years.

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I started with the front view of the building.  I snapped a shot and then compared it to my picture of the print.  I immediately could tell that I was way too close to the building.  I started stepping backwards to get further away and ran up against the wall of a building.  I walked down the street away from the building but when I looked through my viewfinder, I realized I wasn’t facing the front of the building like in the print.

I then realized I couldn’t take the same photo.  I would probably have to be in the kitchen of the corner restaurant I backed into to be at the right distance from the building for the photo.  Hoping to get the best picture I could, I pressed myself up against the window of the restaurant as much as I could and took several shots.  It was as close as I was going to get to the original.

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I next decided to capture the seaside photo.  Surely I could get this one at the right distance.  But here again, it seemed I couldn’t back far enough away from that side either.  Maybe the pier had been longer when the print was made.  I took several photos and hoped for the best.

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I decided to take a few more photos around the little town.  I found one of a drawbridge that framed the building but I could tell the overcast skies were not giving me good lighting for my photos.

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When the rain started back up, I decided to seek cover at a restaurant close by where I had a delicious open-faced sandwich and a cup of strong Dutch coffee before my return to Amsterdam.

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As I boarded my train back, I felt a sense of elation of accomplishing my task.  And while it wasn’t possible to capture the exact same photos, at least the rain held off long enough for me to feel I had successfully completed my mission.

When I returned home, I printed out some of my pictures and began to compare the building from the prints to my recent photos.  It was apparent from scrutinizing both that some changes had been made to the building over the years.  But in spite of a few alterations, it was obvious that the building had remained mostly intact.

I decided that the best way to display my new photos would be to frame them in similar frames and hang all four together in a single grouping.  So before our son’s next visit home, I had them framed and grouped them into a “before and after” arrangement.  When my son arrived home, I was proud to show them off.

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I don’t know if my son realized what an exciting adventure his gift had created for me.  What had started out several years earlier as simply a birthday and father’s day present had resulted in a multi-year quest to track down and photograph an elusive building from years ago.  For me, it made the gift even more special that it had turned into a transcontinental journey to one of my favorite countries to explore.

In Search of a Building in Hoorn – Part 1

I’m off to Amsterdam for the 25th time to teach my course.  And for anyone who has visited a city this many times knows, it gets more difficult each time to think of new and interesting things to do.  While there are many things to do in Amsterdam, it became necessary several years ago to venture outside the city to find new and exciting experiences.  On my last trip to Amsterdam, my wife accompanied me and we ended up having quite an adventure to Hogue Veluwe Park.  Her post on Mindfulmagpie vividly describes how our innocent outing turned into one that left me with serious concerns about even getting back to the city in time to teach my class.  But prior to that trip, I took a side trip to Hoorn in search of a building.

This story began several years ago when my oldest son gave me a print of a building in Hoorn, Netherlands for my birthday.  It was an unusually shaped building, round on one side, constructed of several materials and topped with a clock tower.  Based on the attire of two gentlemen in front of the building, it appeared to have been photographed sometime in the early 1900s.

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He knew I traveled to Holland frequently and thought I would appreciate the print of this building he found at an art sale in San Francisco.  He was right; I loved it for its historical significance and its uniqueness.  Then on Father’s Day, I received a second print of the same building taken from the opposite side.

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We could tell that the prints had once been in an illustrated book but there was no way for us to figure out how old the prints were or from what book they were taken.  I was happy to hang the two pictures together in our dining room as a reminder of the country I visited so frequently.

The next spring, I was again headed to Amsterdam.  As our side trip for this visit, my wife planned a ride on an antique train from Hoorn to Zuiderzee and then a ferryboat ride back to Hoorn.  I wondered as we neared Hoorn if that building was still standing and if I would see it.  I knew the building was near a body of water; maybe this was the right one.  On our boat ride back to Hoorn to take the train to Amsterdam, I got excited when I thought I saw the building as we entered the harbor.  Upon disembarking, we made our way over to the building.  I took a number of photographs from several different views to be sure if it was the same building that I would have the right modern view to compare to the historical view in the prints.  Unfortunately, when I returned home and compared my photos to the prints, it was obvious that the two buildings did not match.  I told my son I had thought I had found it but was mistaken.

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Several years later, my son was exploring on Google Earth when he came across what appeared to be the building.  When he zoomed in and switched to the street view, sure enough, he could tell it was our building.   He sent me an e-mail message that he had found the location of the building and it was still standing.  It was an electrifying moment when I pulled up the site myself.  I held up my computer screen next to the print hanging on the wall and confirmed it.  Now that I knew it was still standing, I had to go see it to make a personal connection with the prints from so many years ago.  I imagined it would be like seeing the actual flower vase Van Gogh had painted sitting next to his painting several hundred years old—a thrill I had experienced on a previous visit to Amsterdam.

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To be continued…

How I Got Started Teaching – 401 (prerequisite 301)

In our second year–the first full year of teaching–the course took off in popularity as we taught nine separate times.  Five of these courses were in Europe and I remember moving up in frequent flyer status so quickly, that I was achieving the next level even before I received the credentials in the mail for the previous level.   Separate trips to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland in addition to the other four domestic locations allowed me to really rack up the frequent flyer miles.  I remember my boss coming to me at the end of the year to say that I was gone from work so often, that people were beginning to ask if I had left the company.  His suggestion was to teach less the next year, which I did—only seven times in 1999.  These courses also included European trips to Amsterdam (twice), Portugal, and Israel.

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While I often comment that M and I have seen the world together, a downside of using my vacation time to teach this course is that it has limited the time I had to take “real vacations” with my family.  Fortunately my wife has been able to travel with me on many of the trips and occasionally my children have been able to come along as well.  Admittedly teaching involved work for me but fortunately there was always a way to include a few days of vacation on the front or back end of the course.  While I was sacrificing some of my vacation to “work,” I was teaching a topic I loved and was very passionate about and after teaching it so many times, was easy to do without any preparation.

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This year, I made it to Asia for the first time when I was asked to teach in Turkey.  For this course, I would be the only lecturer but I didn’t anticipate this would be a problem since M and I had each taught alone previously due to scheduling conflicts.  But several factors resulted in this being one of the hardest times teaching.

First, I came down sick with a sinus infection two days before we left which left me symptomatic the entire trip.  Second, it took us so long to get there; I barely had a full day before teaching which with being sick, made the jet lag even more severe.  Then third, I found out once there that a translator would translate my comments into Turkish after I spoke.  This made it very difficult to keep up the flow of the class especially since I had already been asked to compress the three-day course into two days.  When it was over, I told my wife if that had been what it was like to teach this course when I first started many years ago, that I would have really had second thoughts about continuing.

15years

In 2012, we celebrated our 15th year of teaching the course.  Over those years, we have taught the course over 80 times to almost 2,400 participants.  In addition, these trips allowed me to travel to Europe 39 times.  While these trips may not have achieved the variety of destinations my mother- and father-in-law had traveled to, it certainly met or exceeded the number of European trips they had taken.  And I had not had to wait until retirement to begin my travels.

As I move towards retirement, I think of the additional time I will have to teach.  No longer will I have to decline teaching opportunities since I will no longer be limited by a finite number of vacation days.  I also plan to develop a second course that will afford me even more travel and I have begun to take steps to lay the groundwork for that course.

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By the time I do retire, I will have racked up over a million frequent flyer miles and will be able to consider myself an experienced international traveler.  I will have definitely answered my question from so many years ago—that no I won’t have to wait until I retire to be able to travel internationally.  I will have already done so and future travel in retirement will just add richness to the experiences I have already enjoyed.