Tag Archives: travel

Sideways in Georgia

Unless you’ve seen the movie, Sideways, or read the book by the same name, this blog post title may not make sense to you.

But as unlikely as it may seem for those of you who are familiar with this fictional tale of California wine experience, one that single handedly reduced the sale of Merlot wine once it was released, this was the theme that kept running through my mind during my recent vacation to North Georgia with my wife. As I explained in that post, one of the reasons we went to this location was to experience the wine country set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an industry we had no idea even existed in Georgia.

In years past, we have made numerous wine excursions to Napa and Sonoma counties in California. These trips gave us our experience as to what to expect at a winery. But this would be our first chance to visit multiple wineries in a state much closer to home.

Reviewing Trip Advisor, we found that a number of the wineries were only open on weekends. While this prevented us from visiting some of the ones we had considered, going during the week meant much smaller crowds and no waiting. Montaluce was one of the highest rated wineries and since it was open seven days a week, we chose it first.

In some of the review comments, it had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany. Although we have never been to Tuscany, this winery certainly looked like the images I had seen in photographs. And set on a hill, it reminded me of one of the first California wineries we had visited, Sterling.

We immediately found a seat at the tasting bar and began our experience.

Looking through the doors of the tasting room, we saw an expansive porch overlooking the vineyards and learned we could take our glasses there. The weather was perfect and the view most pleasurable.

Once we had found our favorite wine, we decided to have our lunch there. Montaluce has a large and elegantly styled restaurant with outdoor seating on the porch as well. We dined alfresco on a delicious lunch prepared with many ingredients grown on the property. Although their wine prices were on the higher end of our price range, the wine we chose was delicious and the remainder became our starting wine for dinner that night.

Our second winery was Frogtown, claiming to be the most award winning US winery not in California. We got there about an hour before closing and almost had the place to ourselves.

It too was elegantly decorated and had an even better view of the mountains from the porch outside the tasting room/dining room.

So close to closing and during the week, we had the sommelier to ourselves and so received special treatment.   One of the wines included in our tasting was the only grape indigenous to the United States, Norton. While it was not one of our favorite wines, it was interesting to try the one varietal native to the US.

When it came time to make our purchase decision, we asked our sommelier what her favorite wine was. She gave us a complimentary tasting and we agreed with her, it was very good and so added a bottle of it to our purchase.

Their grounds were very nicely landscaped and I thought a photo with their wine and Koi would make a nice reminder of our visit there.

For our third winery, we traveled about 20 miles away from our home base of Dahlenago (pronounced “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”) to Helen, GA to Habersham Winery which is just outside of town. We had read that Helen was a bit like Gatlinburg, TN, only smaller so we knew we would encounter more tourists. When we pulled into the city, we were met with a quaint little German town but with no free parking anywhere and lots of pedestrians. Thankfully we were there during the week so the crowds were smaller.

We made our way to the winery and went inside. This was the smallest of the wineries we visited with a tasting bar that could accommodate only about 12 to 16 people at a time. There were no chairs for tasting but the nice thing about their reasonably priced tasting was that you got to pick your own wines. And their wines were the most inexpensive we’d seen ($14 to $20 range).

We even found a nice Rose’ for our daughter-in-law.

With the lower prices, we opted for a half case garnering the discounted price.

Our fourth and final winery was Kaya, back near our cottage. This winery had previously been Blackstock (closed in 2012) and with the new owners, big plans had been developed for an on-property hotel and cabins. They had two separate tasting rooms, one small and one large as well as an outdoor tasting area.

The view from their outdoor area offered the best view we had seen of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since this was our second winery of the day, we chose to split a tasting and they generously poured us a larger portion of each wine since we were sharing.

We found a favorite red here also and so had to take a bottle of it home as well.

Sadly this was all the time we had for wineries on our trip. But since the main purpose of our 3-day vacation was not just to visit wineries, we felt we had done a good job of introducing ourselves to North Georgia wineries. And we had purchased a nice collection of wines to take home and enjoy…

…although some of them ended up as “fallen soldiers” (with a couple of CA wines thrown in for comparison) before we’d left town.

With nearly 30 wineries in the area, we felt we should definitely make a return trip to sample more of what this area had to offer. And with a newfound appreciation for their wines, I will certainly look for some of them on my next stop at our local wine store.

Finally, a Vacation!

The last weekend in July/first week in August my wife and I finally took a long overdue vacation. With me still working full time, most of my vacation days each year get spent teaching and visiting family leaving little time off for just the two of us. But that certainly got remedied with this trip.

My wife wanted to pick a place that we had never been before and one that was not too far away so we would not end up using a lot of my vacation time just driving there and back. Since she no longer works full time, she did the research and made our arrangements to travel to Dahlonega in the mountains of North Georgia, a place neither of us had ever heard of but an area which had a flourishing wine country.

At the last minute, our vacation got combined with a quick trip to visit my wife’s dear sister in North Carolina for a celebratory party so we did not get to our rental cabin until late Sunday afternoon. Getting there was an adventure in and of it self.

Relying on the trusty GPS in my wife’s Subaru Outback, we had no trouble getting to our remote destination until the very end when our GPS directed us to basically follow what appeared to be nothing more than a footpath and fjord a creek. Fortunately our contact at the rental agency was available by phone that Sunday afternoon to reroute us to a less treacherous path. We had been told the last mile was a rough dirt road but this partially washed out road was actually an improvement over the one we were faithfully following on the GPS.

Our cottage could not have been more perfect. With a quant and cozy interior,…

…a deck overlooking the river,…

…a screened in porch for if the bugs started biting,…

…and a dock right on the river where we could enjoy breakfast each morning.

We could not have asked for more.

Our first night we drove into Dahlonega to eat dinner. When we pulled into the historic downtown square, we found that the old courthouse had been turned into a Gold Mining museum. This got me thinking way back to a time when our young family of five had vacationed in Atlanta and went to Six Flags over Georgia. I recalled a roller coater ride we all thoroughly enjoyed, the Dahlonega Runaway Mine Train (my kids were most impressed I had remembered the name of the ride).

A little research on my part confirmed that this ride was based on the old gold rush days that started in 1829 in North Georgia, the first gold rush in the US predating the one in California by over twenty years. It felt really satisfying to be staying in a place that we thought we had never heard of before but which turned out to have had a fun family connection many years ago.

After wandering around the historic square for a while, we settled on an Irish pub for a hearty dinner.

The next day, we hit our first winery, Montaluce, which had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany (more information about wineries in next post).

Our next stop was back in Dahlonega since many of the shops had been closed the day before. We took in the Mine Museum first where we finally learned the correct pronunciation of the town’s name (I recalled pronouncing the Six Flags ride as De Longa which was totally wrong, the correct pronunciation is “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”, native Cherokee for yellow or gold color). Having had a late lunch after our wine tasting, we decided to pick up groceries to cook out a nice dinner to have on our river deck.

Our second full day was to take in one of my wife’s main objectives, getting to hike on part of the Appalachian Trail (AT), the southern trailhead for which, is less than 25 miles away. My wife found a portion of the AT that also had a fabulous overlook of a falls near by. We had attempted to hike a portion of the AT on a previous trip but had been foiled by blisters which developed on my wife’s feet on the three mile uphill hike just to get to the AT. This time we could drive the whole way to the AT path crossing, although the Forestry Service dirt road was described as “rough in spots”.

At times, I felt I was trying to drive our car on a washed out footpath with stretches where we could not exceed five miles per hour due to the rocky and washboard contour. Thank goodness for my wife’s all-wheel drive Outback! And when we came across an owl just sitting in the road (a special bird to my wife), we knew we would make it.

In spite of getting treacherously low on fuel, we found the AT crossing and hopped out for our adventure. The mile hike up to the falls was not too steep and when we found a sign along the way; we knew we had to get my wife’s photo.

And the falls were fabulous, being some of the tallest in the state.

After returning to our cottage to get cleaned up, we made it to our second winery, Frogtown, with a very large tasting room that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

On our third and final full day, we drove a short distance to Helen, GA, a cute little German town but probably a bit too touristy. My wife thoroughly enjoyed going through an antique store in a historic three-story house. It was a multi-level maze of displays, one that left me so overwhelmed, I had to just sit outside and read while my wife thoroughly explored it. Then it was off to our third winery next door.

Right across the road was an old gristmill, which on Saturdays, the old stone mill is water driven to grind the various grains. They had containers of cooked porridge and Southern grits for sampling, both delicious and of course we had to purchase.

At an old grocer in town, we had a quick lunch and then picked out some nice ingredients to have with our wine for dinner.

Returning to Dahlonega, we found our fourth winery and enjoyed another tasting overlooking the mountains.

That night we cooked our dinner to have on the porch of our cottage overlooking the river.

While dining, it gave us a chance to reflect on what fun our vacation had been. We both commented that it had not been one of those vacations of just sitting around and relaxing. Knowing that our days were limited, we tried to do as much as we could in the time we had. We agreed that it was not tiring at all but actually very enjoyable getting to see and do all these things in a locale neither of us had been to before.

We couldn’t say any one particular activity was our favorite as there were so many we had enjoyed. But for my wife, I know deep down one of her most pleasurable was getting on the AT, a goal she has had for quite some time of getting to hike.

At over 2,100 miles long, we only got a small taste on our short AT excursion but it will probably be motivation for her to take the next step (no pun intended). And since there were many more wineries we did not get to, I know we will plan another trip here sometime in the future.

I Love Glass!

I have always been enamored with glass artwork. I don’t know why; maybe it’s the intense colors or unique shapes they often have. Whenever I am at an art museum or art store, any objects made of glass always catch my eye. And when choosing a piece of original art to buy, I typically gravitate to those made of glass.

But of all the glass artwork that I have ever seen, pieces created by Dale Chihuly are my favorite. If you have never seen any of his artwork, I would highly recommend checking out his website at Chihuly.com.

I think I was first exposed to Chihuly when one of his exhibitions came to an art museum in Memphis. My first experience was incredible, taking this art form to a whole new level for me! Of particular interest was a display of intricately interwoven multi-colored pieces resting on a glass ceiling that you walked underneath. It was amazing!

A number of years went by before I was able to see another one of his exhibitions. I happened to be in Oklahoma City visiting my sister when she suggested we go to an art museum in downtown that happened to have a special Chihuly exhibit. I obviously jumped at the chance and had another thoroughly enjoyable experience.

While at the museum, we also got a chance to see a couple of videos of how Chihuly produces his beautiful pieces. If you have ever seen a picture of Dale Chihuly, you will immediately notice that he wears an eye-patch over his left eye, the result of a car accident many years ago. As a result of this injury, he has lost his stereoscopic vison meaning he has diminished depth perception. But in spite of this disability, Chihuly creates his glass art using a team approach with him as the creator and director. In fact, blowing some of the larger pieces literally could not be done without a team.

In the museum gift shop, I was amazed to see that some of his pieces were actually for sale. But the price for even a medium-sized piece was $15,000, well out of my price range. However, there were several books on his work (much more affordable) that featured some of his large outdoor installations. These photos were absolutely amazing.

My sister noticed my interest in one of these books and since it was close to my birthday, she surreptitiously purchased this one and gave it to me for my birthday.

It was a great gift that I read cover to cover!

Then one year on my annual trip to Amsterdam, I happened to walk past an art store on my way to the Van Gogh museum when I noticed they had Chihuly pieces for sale.

Even in Euros, I still could not afford one but it helped me to decide that my favorite shape of his work was what he called a Macchia, this particular one a bowl within a bowl.

And once looking for furniture at a local modern furniture store, I discovered that among the many furnishings they carried were what became known to me as “fake-Chihuly’s.” And at a price 1/30 the cost of a real Chihuly of similar size, I could definitely afford this (the real artist is Ioan Nemtoi).

This became my favorite piece of glass art that we owned and it enjoyed a prominent location at our home first and then at our condo.

Then in 2013, I got to experience what for me was the grand slam of Chihuly exhibits when my wife, daughter and I toured his Glass House and Garden, right next to the Space Needle in Seattle.

It far exceeded any display I had seen to date. Even the outdoor installations were amazing; my first experience of these.

And incredibly, the glass house was available for renting out for special occasions. Can you imagine having your wedding reception here?

This past July, I got another chance to experience Chihuly art when I went to visit my sisters in northwest Arkansas. While the main reason to drive over was to see my two sisters…

…what tipped the scale for this particular trip was the fact that Crystal Bridges had a special Chihuly exhibit, both indoors and outdoors.

Obviously, the Macchias caught my eye…

…but what was most impressive was a new display I had never seen before, explosions of glass, illuminated with ever changing light colors set to classical music. It was almost as if it were an indoor fireworks display with appropriate “oohs” and “awes” as the colors changed.

The outdoor displays…

…were no less stunning.

The only downside of the outdoor exhibit was the blistering afternoon heat, 95°F in the shade, which made returning to the cool interior of the museum that much more comforting. At night, the outdoor displays are lighted and on Saturday night, they have live music as well. Being a Saturday, we debated about coming back in the evening but ultimately decided we would wait until the fall when cooler evening temperatures would make the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

Naturally in the museum gift shop, they had Chihuly pieces for sale, smaller than the ones I remembered seeing in Oklahoma, but much more reasonably priced, although still above my price range even for this one, my favorite.

While the exhibit at Crystal Bridges was not of the same scale as Chihuly’s Glass House in Seattle, Washington (his home state), it was none the less enjoyable. Combined with visiting family and having several great meals together, it was an all-around A+ weekend of art and family time.

What’s It Really Going to be Like to Retire?

Now that my retirement date is less than two months away, I have really been thinking a lot about what it is going to be like to be retired. I know it is going to be a big change as I have worked full-time for over 35 years, ever since I was in graduate school. But I am looking forward to this next phase in my life.

Credit: Saveup.com

This biggest change will simply be to have all the extra time available to do things I want or need to do. I’ve talked to friends who have retired and many of them say they are so busy in retirement, they don’t know how they ever found time to work. I am looking forward to finding out that for myself.

Over my entire career, I have never been on vacation from work for more than two consecutive weeks. And the longest I have even been off from work was three weeks last year when I was off recuperating from surgery. This gave me my first taste for what retirement would be like although I certainly was not able to do whatever I wanted to do.

With all the extra time, I know I will want to spend a lot of it on projects that I have just not had time to do (I enjoy doing things with my hands). Rebuilding this garbage blind is high on my list, as it looks very worn out in comparison to how it looked when first built.

And while I have the table saw set up, I will likely rebuild this old and worn fence that is sorely in need of refreshing.

Our wooden deck overlooking our pool is over 10 years old now and a number of boards need to be replaced. Over the years, I have pressure washed and re-stained it but this time it will need major restoration.

Pulling weeds and mulching flowerbeds is a job that I have had to relegate to weekend days while working full time. Because of this as well as business travel I typically have in the spring, I always seem to behind the 8-ball and never seem to get it all done before the summer is over. My wife works in the yard too but her time has also been limited in the past by her work hours. Next spring, I am looking forward to having five days a week to work in the yard getting the beds ready for spring. And a reward will be that I will have my two weekend days to relax since I will have so much more time to work during the week.

Travel is another activity that my wife and I will have more time to do. Even though towards the end of my career, I have had over 6 weeks of vacation time available to me, I took much of my vacation days teaching the professional courses I have taught for many years. Combined with travel to visit our kids/grandkids, this left little time for as my wife says, “a real vacation.” One where I am not working and we are not visiting relatives.

And now that my wife has a really comfortable car for travel, we will be able to take many more road trips. Some of these could be weeks-long grand tours to places neither of us have been.

Speaking of road trips, I too am looking forward to some of “my road trips,” ones that are simply for the pleasure of enjoying the road (these are not ones my wife will want to take and so I will probably go solo). The last time I took one of these was in 2010 when I took my 2002 Mazda Miata on a 5-day, 2,000-mile trek to drive the Sky Line Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). I’m thinking of doing another drive of the BRP in my new and more comfortable WRX.

Another thing that will be different is likely the end of the day check in my wife and I have had for so many years.

We have what we call “our club” where we typically enjoy a beer and talk about our day. Since we are apart most of the day, there is usually much to talk about. But since we will both be home most days, we may not have as many things to talk about as we may experience our day together. A friend of mine who retired said while he was working, he and his wife usually had a lively conversation over dinner but now they had a hard time thinking of things to say that the other doesn’t already know and so sometimes have a meal mostly in silence. Hopefully that will not be our problem as we still have separate things to share, books we are reading, news we have heard, or interactions we have individually had with our kids. And there is always talk of making plans for what we will do now that we will have more time not working (my wife also retired this year).

So it is with eager anticipation I await my final workday. And after that, not even the sky will be the limit of what we can do!

Amsterdam and Beyond

Having been to Amsterdam 29 times over more than a 20 year period, it seemed appropriate to explore beyond the quaint and serene canals of Amsterdam. Typically before I teach my course, I only have the weekend to take in sights while I acclimate to the seven-hour time change. After nearly thirty trips, it is getting more difficult to discover new activities that I have not experienced. On my most recent trip, I decided to split my weekend between Amsterdam and The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch).

On Saturday, I was able to find an Amsterdam museum exhibit that I had not seen before, one of Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was one of those unique individuals who was not only an accomplished artist producing well-known masterworks, but also a talented inventor as well. This exhibit, while it explored both talents, prominently featured his inventions.

Included were hands-on, accurate replicas of many of his inventions that allowed one to explore the insightful creations of the inventor. It was truly amazing to see some of the ideas he came up with that pre-dated actual inventions by hundreds of years (think flying machines, gliders, and mechanized rolling wagons). One exhibit was of an unique 8-sided mirrored booth that allowed viewers a 360-degree view of themselves, reminding me of a house of mirrors at a fair.

It was quite an enjoyable display, particularly for someone like myself most interested in science and inventions.

My next new activity on Saturday was a visit to the Amsterdam Royal Zoo, the Natura Artis Magistra, oldest zoo in the Netherlands. When I looked up all of the top Amsterdam sights on Trip Advisor, I ran across many of the familiar ones that I had been to multiple times over the years. But the Artis zoo was one very high on their list that I had never visited.

It was a beautiful day and so was able to see many interesting animals. Knowing that my grandson particularly liked giraffes, I snapped this photo especially for him.

The Zoo also had an excellent aquarium and when I heard numerous people clamoring “look, its Dory”, I knew I had to get a shot of the colorful Blue Tangs.

Between these two enjoyable outings and walking to dinner, I was also able to log a new personal record for the week on my Fitbit although I missed achieving my second 25,000-step day by about 1,500 steps.

On Sunday morning, I set off on my “beyond Amsterdam” adventure. As is often the case when I travel by train on a Sunday, track maintenance precluded me from taking the most direct route to Den Haag and so had to make a connection through Utrecht adding about 30 minutes to my commute. But I had the whole day so it didn’t matter that much.

Although I have been to Den Haag multiple times, most recently to tour Madurodam, I still knew I could find some new activities. First on my list was the Mauritshuis museum, the Royal Picture Gallery. It was listed as number #1 on Trip Advisor so I knew I couldn’t go wrong. I also selected it, as it was less than a half-mile from Central Station in Den Haag. I was pleased to discover several well-known paintings of extreme interest to me.

First was this one by Rembrandt which was of particular interest to my siblings and I when we had been to Amsterdam a couple of years ago. I had seen a print of it before but seeing the real work was amazing.

I knew this painting by Vermeer, probably his most famous, was a part of the collection and so anticipated discovering it for some time as I strolled through the galleries. When I found it, I examined it from several different perspectives and wherever I was, it appeared as if the girl had her eyes directly on me. Even when I glanced back from the door leading to the next room, she hauntingly seemed to follow me.

But my most exciting discovery of the exhibits was this small painting by Carel Fabritius, entitled the Goldfinch.

This was a Pulitzer Prize book I had thoroughly enjoyed reading several years ago about a fictional, multi-year secretive journey this painting took outside its rightful home in a museum. It was as if I had found a long lost friend in finding this painting. For anyone who has not read the book, it is probably hard to grasp the significance of this small painting but just like the Girl with a Pearl Earring, it was a book that had made the painting so well known.

Over lunch, I explored what to do next. I had considered seeing an M. C. Escher exhibit but when I discovered that the Louwman Automobile museum was within reasonable walking distance, it was an easy decision.

My walk from the Mauritshuis took me through a heavily wooded park, Haagse Bos, an urban park on scale in size with Central Park in New York. It was nice that it was mostly shaded as this was the warmest day for me in the Netherlands.

At one point, I came upon a clearing with a large historical marker. When I approached it, I discovered from the photos that this was a secluded launch site for the German V-2 rockets that rained down on England in World War II. Given how poorly many of the Dutch were treated during the war, it surprised me that such a marker had even been erected.

Once I reached the Louwman, my first car to see was a classic “split-window” Corvette, a quite rare car. Ascending the elevator to the third floor where the exhibit started, I was presented with many firsts.

The museum was arranged in chronological order and housed some of the oldest and most unique automobiles any where in the world. Having over 250 cars on exhibit, in a word, it was HUGE.

My main interest was more modern cars but even here I found unique examples I had not seen.

As I rounded one corner, I began to hear Elvis music, very familiar sounds for someone from Memphis. Of course they had to have one of his customized cars.

Another car of interest to any Bond fan was the original James Bond Aston Martin featured in the early Bond films.

To say the museum was overwhelming is an understatement. Towards the end, I could only glance at some of the displays as I traversed the three separate floors.

But upon finding this unique car, I had to pause to take in its unusual design.

On my return trip to Amsterdam, while awaiting my connection in Utrecht, I realized this was the interesting train station that I had seen in miniature at Madurodam many years ago.

As I relaxed on the last leg of my train ride back to Amsterdam, I reflected on what an enjoyable day I had had. Over all the trips I have taken to the Netherlands, it always seems that I could find something new and interesting to do. With the photos that I captured over the weekend, I felt that I had permanent reminders of yet another successful adventure.

While there are always things I enjoy doing multiple times on my visits, on my next trip, I will definitely explore even further beyond Amsterdam for new adventures.

Amsterdam – Not a Visitor or a Resident

There must be a word to describe someone who has traveled to a city so many times, that they know it almost as well as the town in which they live. They’re not merely a visitor but at the same time they’re not a permanent resident in spite of having an intimate familiarity with that destination. This was a thought that ran through my mind as I landed at Schiphol airport to teach my course in Amsterdam for the 29th time. If I add up all the days I have spent in Amsterdam over the 20+ years I have travelled there, typically staying for at least a week, I come up with almost seven months. Even though it was not consecutive weeks making up those months, which I guess would make me a short-term Ex-Pat, surely I am still something other than just a visitor.

As with my trip to Amsterdam in 2016, this year found me travelling without my wife or other family members. And so being the sole guinea pig, I decided to try an experiment in my travel plans.

Normally I would be landing at Schiphol about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning and then arriving at my hotel before noon which often meant I could not check into my room. This frequently after a fitful night of less than successful sleeping in coach for an eight or nine hour flight when the hardest thing to do upon arrival is to stay awake the rest of the day so you don’t fall asleep at 7:00 PM and then wake up in the middle of the night (which is really sometime in the afternoon to your body).

For this trip, I booked a connection through Atlanta that didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Normally, I would be leaving on my direct flight to Amsterdam around 7:00 or 7:30 PM, which by the time you get wined and dined, you’ve lost, 2.5 to 3 hours of your potential sleep time during your flight. This late flight was advertised as only serving breakfast so I figured I would be able to get a reasonable five or six hours of sleep.

And the bonus was this connection was operated by KLM, an airline I used to enjoy flying with but have not been able to ever since Delta bought out Northwest. In the “good ole days”, I could even get a direct out of Memphis on KLM and earn Northwest frequent flier miles. And an even greater bonus for me this time was that it would be my first chance to fly on a Boeing 777, something I have wanted to do ever since watching the PBS special of how Alan Mulally brought this modern airplane into existence.

With a 2-hour layover in Atlanta, I managed to get in a number of steps walking between terminals, eat a quick sandwich for dinner, and begin to tire myself out reading before boarding. Once on the plane, I must say I was impressed with the modern interior. The technology was also up-to-date with what appeared to be an iPad in the back of the headrest of every seat. This allowed superior graphics and entertainment.

The ergonomic seats and generous legroom allowed me to easily stretch out my six-foot frame without encountering a hard surface; all the better for me to get some sleep.

Assuming they would keep the cabin lights off after take off, I read a little more to make sure I could easily fall asleep. But no sooner had we leveled off than the flight attendants began coming around with their noisy drink carts. Armed with my sleep mask, I whipped it on to get a head start on my sleep and so not be disturbed since I had already satiated my appetite for food and drink on the ground. Not long after, having squirmed around to find the least uncomfortable, partially reclined sleeping position, my olfactory glands began to sense Indian spices. Pulling my sleep mask up, I was amazed to see the passenger in the aisle seat chowing down with delight. Argh! That was not supposed to happen on this flight.

Needless to say, irritating serving and clean up noises disturbed my sleep multiple times (I unfortunately forgot to bring ear plugs).

Probably my longest period of uninterrupted sleep was about 45 minutes and all told, I might have gotten a total of about three hours of non-contiguous sleep. But I did get a delicious hot breakfast (KLM is known for their superior food), a cheese omelet with sausage and cottage fries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and actually very decent coffee which left me fairly refreshed and awake when I deplaned. Which helped me with my next surprise.

Typically I teach the three-day course staring on a Monday and to help acclimate myself to the 7-hour time difference, I usually arrive on a Saturday morning. But since I would be arriving much later having a 10:30 PM departure out of Atlanta, I booked my flight to arrive on Friday rather than Saturday. When I went to exit the airport, I found a phenomenally long queue line to go through passport control. Whether it was due to arriving during the business week or heightened security due to recent terrorist activities, it took me over 45 minutes to get through, about 44 minutes longer than normal.

As a result, I didn’t actually arrive at my hotel until 3:00 PM, about normal check-in time, which assured me of getting into my room for a sorely needed shave and hot shower.

Refreshed and cleanly clothed, I took in one of my favorite activities, sitting by a canal and enjoying a Dutch treat, a cold “domestic beer”…

…before wandering along the canals that I know so well. At the end of my first day, I was having a delicious dinner…

…at a balcony restaurant overlooking Leidseplein square.

But even following a small after dinner nightcap…

…and having had the rest of the day to ponder my original question, I still had not come up with a term that I could use to describe myself instead of simply visitor. But even if the visitor term is the best I can come up with, I was still glad to be back in this city that I know and love so well; a city that in spite of my numerous trips, I always find something new and fun to do.

Two Days in San Francisco

On my springtime trip to the West coast, not only did I get to visit with my daughter, son-in-law and grandson in Seattle, but I also flew down to San Francisco to see my oldest son, daughter-in-law, and youngest granddaughter.   I had a total of a week for this trip, a Tuesday to Tuesday but due to less than ideal airline schedules, I only had about two and a half days in San Francisco with my son’s family. So we had to make the most of the time we had together.

Sunday turned out to be a real treat of a day. As we were finishing up dinner on Saturday night, we began to talk about how we wanted to plan our day on Sunday. My son mentioned he was planning on running in the morning and I mentioned that I wanted to get up and run in the morning too since I had not been able to run in Seattle due to the cold and hilly topography. So I suggested we run together.

The last time I could recall us getting to run together was on a trip to visit my sister in 1996. So it was a real pleasure for the two of us to get run together for the first time in over 20 years. His pace, with him being much younger than me, was faster so he slowed down so we could stay together for the 30-minute run. I progressively picked up my pace as we went, so as we approached the end of our 30-minute run, our pace was fairly matched. It was interesting to think that 20 years ago, our roles were reversed and I was probably the one slowing down for my son as I was in my prime running days then.

After we got cleaned up, we headed to the Academy of Science Museum where we all had a great time. My granddaughter especially enjoyed all the aquariums there and this swinging pendulum caught her interest as well.

After we got back home and my granddaughter went down for her nap, my son and I got to go to a local bar for a beer and some lunch, one of my favorite activities to get to do with my kids.

Then after her nap, we headed off to a park where it was swing, swing, and swing, just like my other granddaughter.

On Monday, my son had to work and so I rode in with him to his office.

View from my son’s office

After a quick intro to the project he was working on, he settled down for his workday and I went in search of breakfast.

I found the perfect combination, a Peet’s coffee (a Bay area institution my daughter introduced us to many years ago while at UC Berkeley) and a New York style bagel, the other city my son lived in after he got married. After that, I took my son’s advice and went to the Ferry Building, a sight I had never visited in all my multitude of trips to San Francisco. The first floor of this old building had a lot of unique shops in which to browse.

After that, I thought I might visit a museum. But as I made my way along the Embarcadero, I quickly realized that being a Monday, many were closed. I kept walking along the piers and came across the ferries that toured Alcatraz, another sight I had not visited yet.

However when I saw the price and figured it would take more time than I had, I decided I would be satisfied just viewing the scale model of the island and facilities.

As I made my around the model reading the information…

…I spied what must have been placed as a joke, a period-dressed prisoner almost half the height of the water tower.

Zoom in to see the giant prisoner hiding

No one else seemed to notice it but maybe when they got home and started looking at their photos, they might see something strange.

Leaving there, I made my way on around the many harbor piers, completely bypassing the touristy Pier 39 to arrive at my ultimate destination, the Maritime Museum, which was open on Monday and even better, free. Three items in particular caught my attention.

First was this portion of a ship rudder of the Niantic, from the 1840s. It was uncovered near the Transamerica building when some renovation work was being done. Turns out in the Gold Rush years, many ships sailed through the Golden Gate in search of riches but many anxious prospectors left quickly simply abandoning the ships. This one had been turned into a hotel but then burned and was simply buried under the city’s land progression into the harbor.

Model of Niantic as a hotel

Second was what I at first thought was a Fresnel lens but turned out being a lens built by Henri LePaute and installed on Farallon Island in 1854.

I was automatically drawn to this having been fascinated by the first lighthouse I had seen at Point Reyes (north of San Francisco) a number of years ago and how the series of prisms could focus a single light source such that it could be seen over 25 miles away.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

This fascination was stoked further by reading a book on the Fresnel lens that my son had given me for Christmas.

The third exhibit that caught my eye was only a map but it showed a portion of the original San Francisco shoreline in 1848 (blue line), how wharves had been built out into the water, and then ultimately filled in to form new land, the very land I had been walking on all day. Included on the map were the locations of each of the ships buried under the present day ground. And at the top of the map was pictured where the Niantic was discovered, right next to the Transamerica Building. What was most fascinating was just the day before my son had explained to me how after the wharves were built out into the bay, that water lots were sold for future land sites, land that didn’t exist at the time but came some time later. It gave a whole new flavor to the shrewdness of “land” speculators in a rapidly growing major city.

With this interesting exploration over, it was time for lunch, a favorite of mine: a Boudin’s sour dough bread bowl, clam chowder and an Anchor Steam beer.

What an exciting visit it was to San Francisco! One I know my wife will accompany me on the next time we travel to the West coast to visit kids, in-laws, and grandkids.