Well, I hope you like my title as it describe quite accurately what I do - I ramble! I am highly educated though so sometimes I manage to say something coherent and you might enjoy the words. No guarantees though!
Green Valley, AZ: 18 June 2019
Well, I've had a few weeks rest and am feeling pretty good in general. My neighbors tell me I look and act much healthier than I did a year ago. I guess using my treadmill more often and all the walking I did traveling has paid off some. Did not help my knees and back but certainly helped the rest of me. Now my friend, Art, and I are talking about where to go next this fall? We shall see?
European Travels - 6 April – 16 May 2019
Mediterranean Islands, Greece, Egypt, Turkey and Italy
Sunday, 7 April 2019 And we are off!
Well, I am safe and sound aboard the Norwegian Spirit ship has we have begun sailing from Rome to Athens. They have switched the Athens and Santorini stops, supposedly due to weather conditions, but right now the sky is clear and the Mediterranean Sea is flat calm. I am feeling good and have not even felt any motion of the ship.
The flights over were the usual hell with sprinting between flights in order to not miss them. The gate connections at Denver from Tucson (80 gates) and at DC Dulles from Denver (short time) were very far apart and running was required, of which I am much too old for. I got only about 4-5 hours of restless sleep on the planes in order to get here and not “miss the boat.” I am, as most know, a big fan of U of A women’s basketball and they were playing in the NIT Tournament Championship game on Saturday. My son texted me the score (we won) just as I got seated on the plane at Dulles DC airport. I tried to text him back and couldn’t any longer so getting the score was my last communication in the U.S. before my departure. It was nice news to get.
From the Rome airport we had a bus that took all the incoming cruise passengers to the ship, about an hour away. My friend, Art, and I are now settled into our window room, nice ocean view, which is small but quite adequate for our needs. Art has unfortunately had to visit the ship’s doctor already with bad blisters on his left foot and both legs with foot problems. He has already run up about two grand in bills but says it is no worry as he has good insurance. Otherwise all is fine. The food is very good and there are so many choices of what to eat! I have no doubt I will gain weight but will try to hopefully hold it down some. Tonight we are exhausted but working to get our bodies on the local time schedule. All for today.
Monday, 8 April 2019 Cruising the Various Mediterranean seas
Woke at about seven to go and have a nice breakfast and discovered we were passing between Sicily and mainland Italy. We have a free time at sea today so walked the entire circumference (promenade) of the ship and tried to discover all the choices there are on this ship. Now, whether I can find any of them again is a whole other question? Unfortunately I’ve been sleeping very poorly. Think I may be eating too much and too rich food so I am trying to cut back today. I don’t think the ship’s motion is bothering me so am guessing it is the food. I am exhausted though this morning, Tuesday, and soon off to see Athens for the day. I’ll try to struggle through the day as best I can for now.
Tuesday, 9 April 2019 Athens, Greece
Well, going to visit Athens and the Acropolis and was actually a bit disappointed. Athens seems to be no different than any city in Europe except for the Acropolis and other previous Olympic sites. Now, these are all historical and, in that respect, quite interesting but the weather was a major inconvenience and huge crowds at the sites. As it is not yet summer tourist season, I expected less people but not so! Tourists everywhere. And the weather was gray, cloudy and about 50 degrees with the wind howling at 35-45 miles per home, bringing the wind chill temp quite down. The wind was so strong one could not even hold the camera still! So between the wind, weather and shaky camera, I question if I got any decent shots. The site itself though is impressive and I am glad I walked the hundred or so steps to the top. I did slip and fall once but mostly suffered only a loss to my dignity! Did much enjoy seeing the original Olympic stadium, which still stands as a historical site, So, despite the weather and probably poor photos, still enjoyed the day.
The strangest thing is all the security checks! Get checked getting off and on the ship, out and in of the port terminal. Plus long walks from one spot to another and it almost wear you out before you even start. Oh well, living and learning how cruises work. Tomorrow to Island of Santorini and another new experience. I give Athens a C+.
Wednesday, 10 April 2019 Santorini Island, Greece (At least that was the plan)
The good: Started off the day with an excellent breakfast after my first really good night sleep since leaving Tucson. I finally feel back to mostly normal, or as least as normal as I get. I also got in line to get my ticket for the tender to take us to shore from our ship to Santorini and got #2, which meant the earlier boat and more time on shore. Great1
The bad: At 8:45 AM they cancelled all tenders to Santorini as the winds are so bad, like yesterday, that they cannot get us safely ashore – at least in the ship captain’s eyes. The #1 island everyone wishes to visit was just crossed off our itinerary!!!!! Bummer. #2 is Mykonos, which is our supposed destination for manana. One can only hope we will get to visit it?
So in just a few days I have been exposed to both the good and bad of cruising. The good being easy unpacking and always food to eat – ALWAYS FOOD. The bad we are at the whims of the weather, the ship captain and – ALWAYS FOOD.
So now we have a completely free day at sea to do whatever? So I guess one will prowl the ship again and try to keep oneself occupied in whatever fashion one can. Another reason why I always bring reading material on my travels. As they say though, if you are served a lemon that day, make lemonade, but it was too cold for drinking lemonade! The wind had the waves so big I thought of surfing, but that also did not seem like the best choice – so headed up to one of the lounges to read. However, on the way I passed the ship’s game room, where they had cards, scrabble checkers, chess, Chinese checkers and more including mahjong! So I found a Chinese family of three from Brisbane, Australia, and joined them to play for about two hours. Then I found another group of three Chinese, two from Taiwan and one from Hong Kong and played another three hours! Even crazier, I won far more games than any other player and they were all amazed that a “foreigner” could play so well! I did point out though that we were in Greece so we were all foreigners! Anyway, it was all great fun!
Strangely enough, the dinner theme for tonight was an oriental buffet, but was nothing special as the cooks failed to spice up the Chinese food correctly. Too bland overall. Then after dinner went to one of the live shows put on by the cruise staff and it was okay. Sort of a high energy rock singing and dancing show and was a nice diversion to end the day. So it was sad to miss Santorini, but managed to make the best of the day and a few new friends. And that was it for the day/night.
Thursday, 11 April 2019 Mykonos Island, Greece
This turned out to be a great day. We had near perfect weather, beautiful white houses and incredibly blue sky under which to tour this beautiful island of Mykonos. We caught our scheduled tour van around 9 AM and immediately headed for the far side of the island, only about 30 minutes away. We visited a small village, local Greek Orthodox church, sampled some local pastry and coffee and simply experienced small town island life. It was a very pleasant experience. We then went back to the main village/port and our guide led us on a several hour walking tour through the mostly narrow and winding streets of this very interesting port, including the famous windmills. The streets have no names and the building no numbers. The locals just know where everyone lives and where the various businesses are! A very unique village in every way. The island itself is essentially just a big pile of rocks and is very arid. They can grow relatively little here, though they do get some water from a deep aquifer and do some desalination of sea water for household use. Art and I stopped at a little water front shop for some Greek yogurt and then took a Sea Taxi from the village waterfront across the bay and back to our cruise ship. Then I got to play more mahjong! There are so many Chinese people cruising it seems I can usually find a game. Cool!
The food theme for this night was Greek/Persian. There food themes each night are sort of silly as they will have maybe 10 or so dishes of the theme and the rest is the usual variety from all over. I did enjoy the Mousakka though as I like eggplant dishes. The desserts every night are fantastic but have managed to mostly avoid them so far to watch my calorie intake as best I can. We set sail at 6 PM for our next stop at Rhodes in the morning and we will be back on tour by around 8:30 AM. I give Mykonos an A. All for now.
Friday, 12 April 2019 Island of Rhodes, Greece
We were up and out of the ship about 8:30 AM to begin our shore excursion to see the city of Rhodes. The weather was again perfect, local wildflowers in full bloom and the city turned out to be a wonderful surprise! Saw an ancient Greek stadium and athletic field and a variety of other historical sites and artifacts including the wonderful old governor’s mansion. Most wonderful though was simply the vibe of the city! This is not a large place but is clean, neat and a lovely place to simply walk around, shop, eat, drink coffee at one of the many sidewalk cafes in one of the many plazas. I actually had my first real Greek Gyro at a real Greek café on a real Greek plaza! Art had a coffee and we talked about what a pleasant a place this was. We both LOVED this place. Our tour ended early and we had several hours to walk around on our own and then walk back to our ship as the cruise pier was right on the edge of the city. It was only mid-afternoon but us two old men were tired from both the walk and the incredible fresh seaside air.
I then got to play a few more games of mahjong before having dinner followed by a hot shower and early night. We have an early tour, 7 AM, tomorrow morning as we make our last stop in Greece before heading to Malta and then back into Italian waters. We will hit the small island of Crete for a quick visit and the weather prediction is again good as of now. I give Rhodes an A+.
Saturday, 13 April 2019 Chania, Island of Crete, Greece
Today’s tour began at the ridiculous hour of 7 AM and we barely woke up in time to rush out the tour to visit the Agora and the old city area of Chania (apparently pronounced Han-ya). We were glad we did though as the old city was very interesting with very narrow streets and interesting architecture. The waterfront area was especially lovely with a long line of little shops and cafes and Art took the opportunity to have a real Greek breakfast in a real Greek café! A little later I took the opportunity to have some real Greek pastry from a real Greek bakery in Chania, Crete, Greece! You got to love these experiences! It was a short tour overall tour but enjoyable. We had to be back on the ship by noon and set off for a 24 hour sea cruise to our next destination – Malta. I’m still eating way too much, now including desserts, but other than that all is fine. And I again managed to get in a few games of mahjong before dinner. I give Chania an A-.
Went to the Starlight Theater on board for the evening show which was World Music Tour and it turned out to be an excellent music and dancing show. Very high energy with music and dance numbers from all over the world, many of which I recognized from my own travels and one dance, the click-click dance, that I had actually done in HCMC, Viet Nam. Really nice evening and I give the show an A. Now we turn our clocks back an hour tonight to get back on Italy time for the remainder of the cruise. Plan to sleep late in the morning, have a mid-morning brunch and then off to see Valletta, Malta. All for now.
Sunday, 14 April 2019 Valletta, Malta
This was sort of an up and down day. We had been looking forward to sunny Malta but the morning was cold and the wind howling as we pulled into port and our port time was limited. We started out on the top deck of an open top tour bus only to quickly choose to go down as it was too cold and wind too strong to take any decent pictures as I could not hold the camera still. We only got to visit one really cool site, M’dina, located on the highest point of the island. We then simply went back to walk the central core of the city and main drag but that turned out to be okay. Lots of interesting architecture and little shops of all kinds. Plus we managed to witness a parade band in cool costumes marching right through the center of the city!!!!! Evidently it was some kind of holiday though we were never able to be certain what? It was a nice unexpected pleasure though as were some of the parks, gardens and views we had. The walk back to the ship though was quite long and winding and we were winded by the time we returned. Decided to have a nice dinner in one of the fancier dining places and skip the main buffet before heading back to room for shower and rest for an early start again tomorrow. I give Valletta a B.
Monday, 15 April 2019 Messina and Taormina, Sicily, Italy
We woke to cold and rain and wearing several layers of clothes as we boarded our van for our tour, which began with a one hour drive along the Mediterranean coast to the town of Taormina (Tower me na), an absolutely beautiful place high up above the Mediterranean. I always said Bariloche, Argentina, was as pretty a place as I’ve been but now must call it a tie with Taormina! They are totally different but each spectacular in their own way. The architecture here was amazing and I just took photo after photo after photo and will have to wait and see all that I got. Incredibly lovely place. Art and I stopped at one shop for frozen fruit bars covered with chocolate and nuts. I had mango covered with chocolate and pistachios. It was wonderful. We later stopped for a light Italian lunch of cafe latte with cannoli – which was really delicious. Tourmina is a place here in Sicily that I highly recommend to all travelers. Spend several days. We wished we could have done so.
Soon though we headed back to Messina, which in itself is a nice town with wonderful architecture and a magnificent cathedral and campanile (clock tower). It is probably the most magnificent clock tower I have ever seen! So Messina is also worth a few days of your time. In fact, a vacation just to Sicily would be a great experience. We have been to several great places now but certainly Sicily ranks very high in our visits. Tomorrow we must get up early again for Naples, but still had some time for a little mahjong! I give the whole day an A++. All for now.
Tuesday, 16 April 2019 Naples, Italy
We started the day with a big breakfast as usual and then walked about a quarter of a mile to catch the hop on / hop off bus. We first rode it to the highest point of the city, Capodimonte, where we hopped off and walked around the park there to take some photos of the great views of the city. We then rode one stop down and again hopped off to walk, see the duomo, several other cathedrals and get a general feel of the city as a whole. The duomo was beautiful outside and was absolutely fabulous inside. Not the largest duomo I have ever seen but the artwork inside was exquisite and cameras were firing away.
We went down a variety of interesting little narrow side streets filled with people and shops of all kinds. We were never really sure where we were going but we figured if we kept walking mostly down hill we would eventually get back to our ship. We planned to walk to another of the hop on / hop off bus stops and ride back to the pier. Unfortunately the street names were never clear or mostly non-existent so we never really had much of an idea where we were! Art figured we walked about seven miles and he was probably correct! We were both quite exhausted by the time we got back to the ship, but by keeping on a relatively downhill path, we made it back safe and sound again. Two old men who manage to keep on keepin’ on! The bottom line though is we saw a lot of the city and its people and that made the day worthwhile.
Some general impressions? Naples is filled with traffic, cars, motorcycles, buses and more. It is a hectic city to walk in, not the cleanest of cities and graffiti is everywhere. The people seem to talk pride in their city but they don’t seem to treat it with pride. Sicily was far cleaner in every way. I give Naples a B.
No mahjong today but we had a special show in the Stardust Theater tonight called “Elements.” It was the grand finale of the on board shows and was again quite good. Very high energy again with elements of dance, gymnastics, aerialists and an excellent illusionist. Art and I both very much enjoyed it to top off our day. I give the show an A.
Wednesday, 17 April 2019 Livorno, Italy
Livorno was the most disappointing port of the cruise. We are docked miles from the city and one must take a EU$5 bus just to ride to the center of the city. Then, when you get there, there is little to see. It’s a pleasant enough seaside town but it simply has little of note to tourists. So I wandered around the center for a few hours and then took the bus back to the ship. Took a long warm shower and cleaned up good for my journey tomorrow morning to Cairo, Egypt. Many of the cruising tourists took buses for day trips to Lucca and/or Pisa, as Art chose to do. In retrospect, I probably should have gone to Lucca but it would have made for a long day and I still have much ahead of me. Plus I had already seen Pisa. One could also take a long daytrip to Florence but Florence is not the kind of place that should be rushed. It is too magnificent and beautiful to be rushed through. So I am back on the ship, clean and organized and ready to go in the morning. Livorno itself was a D.
Thursday, 18 April 2019 Rome, Italy, to Cairo, Egypt
Had to be up early for breakfast and then walk off the ship by 8:30 to catch our bus for the hour drive to the airport. The Rome Airport is the most difficult airport I have ever tried to transverse – and I have been in a lot of airports! Our arrival and bus to the ship and back was routine and easy. However, trying to depart from the airport itself is insanity! And for an old person – double insanity. First, when dropped off at the international terminal (10:45AM) my international flight to Cairo, they say I am at the wrong terminal and need to walk to another terminal which was about a quarter mile. So I hustle there and then go through a line that goes round and round and round just to check in to Atalia Air. Then I go round and round, up and down, round and round, up and down, over and over to get through security. Then I go round and round over and over again, up and down several times again to get to my gate E7. I got to my gate at 12:15PM after walking about three miles! This airport is horrible to depart from. Art was leaving on Lufthansa for a Munich connection and I have no idea what happened to him? I do want to say though what a pleasure it was to travel with Art. We turned out to be very compatible, good companions, and sort of looked out for each other as we wandered, It was all very nice and hope we maybe get to do it again one day.
Anyway, then from the airport departure gate, we had to board a van that drove us at least another half mile out to the plane that was parked far, far, away. I do not care for the Rome airport at all and I have to fly from there again in a few weeks. I will be sure to get there real early.
Then the flight itself was crazy. 100% full and they served us an interesting lunch (good) of three little sandwiches, one egg on white bun, one of something on an orange bun and one with three little shrimp on a dark brown bun. This plus a little ricotta cheese cake and a little fruit cup. I had a blood orange juice to drink that seemed like red grapefruit tasting to me. It was all quite good, but the rest of the flight, not so good. Two crying babies, six children (5M, 1F) who paraded up and down the aisles the whole flight and then one of them vomited in the aisle and newspaper was placed over it for the rest of the flight! I can’t say much good about their parents but the flight attendants showed incredible patience and I don’t know how they managed to get all their service done. In addition, I do not know if it is the Italian way or just this flight, but adults were walking up and own the aisle and chatting like they were at a bar or a social gathering, all while ignoring the parading children and the flight attendants. I have never seen a flight quite like it and I have flown over a million miles!
We finally land in Cairo and there is a man there with my name on a paper to meet me and get me into the country after having to purchase a US$25 Egyptian visa. He was Ahmed and not overly friendly. He delivers me outside to another man, Mohammed, who I think is going to be my guide for the week. He was very friendly and chatted some with me while our driver attempted to get us to my hotel. I say “attempted” because driving in Cairo is a zoo. This city is home to about 26 million people and all of their vehicles. The roads all the way are just packed. Freeway is four lanes wide but six lanes of cars all trying to maneuver around each other any way they can. When we get to the hotel though, I am pleased with the relatively decent quality of the room and the hotel. I have to be downstairs for breakfast at 7AM and then Mohammed will meet me in the lobby about 7:30 to begin my tour of Cairo. Should be interesting!
Friday, 19 April, 2019 Cairo, Egypt
Up with the roosters and off to breakfast. The hotel breakfast was very good with many different items to choose from, some of which I did not know but everything I tried was very good. I had to be up early as the company was picking me up at 7:30 to begin my day, and it was a long and tiring one. We started with a short drive outside the city to see the Pyramids of Giza and the nearby famous Sphinx. To see them in person is incredible because one cannot imagine how large they really are. Simply huge! Camels were everywhere offering rides but I declined. I have ridden camels before and they are smelly and not comfortable. Been there, done that.
After that we went to the “old city” to visit a mixture of ancient religious buildings. There are old churches, temples, synagogues and mosques all erected very close to each other and going on for thousands of years. Several of them are actually built on Roman ruins and many have stories with them such as the travels of Mary and Joseph, the finding of the baby Moses and more. Interesting art and architecture wandering this small but very historic part of the city. We then visited the Islamic area of the city, though why it is called that I do not fully understand since Mosques and their accompanying towers are everywhere throughout the city. We had lunch there in a typical local restaurant where I enjoyed a typical meal of Koshary, a mix of noodles, macaroni, lentils and various spices. Diners usually add spices (very hot), lemon juice, or both to their meal. I tried some of each but the Koshary was spicy all by itself so did not add too much. It was actually quite delicious and they say very healthy, all vegetarian.
Beginning shortly before our noon lunch and continuing through our next visit, to the main bazaar (market) of the city, the sound of Islam prayers were over loudspeakers everywhere as Friday noon is the primary Muslim service and mosques were over flowing with worshipers. The market itself is huge, supposedly several thousand merchants and off in many directions. I may return there to wander at will during my last few days (free days) in Cairo. We then went to the Egyptian Museum, supposedly one of the finest museums in the world, and right across a very busy street from my hotel. It is a wonderful place filled with items thousands of years of age. I may go back there also during my final free days here. I was then taken back to my hotel exhausted.
Now, a little about my hotel and Cairo. My hotel is Ramses Hilton but it is a bit “well worn” and not exactly Hilton standards. It has a bit of discount chain feel to it though I am quite satisfied with it overall as it is clean and the food is good with exceptionally good restaurants. Plus it has good internet connection. Now Cairo? Cairo is dirty, dusty, filthy, chaotic, noisy and a dump in every way. You blow your nose and it is not a good color. This city has 26 million people and thus garbage is everywhere. The housing is concrete or red brick and concrete. Various shades of beige or brown, built poorly and it appears most people are living in squalor to some degree. This is not a world class city. It is clearly a second world county, at least here in Cairo. And it is hard work here. To go or get anywhere is very tiring. The city wears you out as nothing is easy in any way. It takes three times as long to get anywhere as it should. You have to leave hours ahead of time. Commuting is a nightmare. This is not a place I would ever want to live. You come to Cairo to see the Pyramids, the Nile River (world’s longest), and a bit of history. You just endure Cairo in order to do so. I was thinking how sad it was to heat the news about Paris and Notre Dame as Paris is a world class city. Cairo is more like Notre Dame after the fire.
I have a nice dinner in the hotel at the Maharajah Indian restaurant of Vegetable Biryani and a spicy potato side dish. All excellent and very filling before heading back to my room. Now it is 6:30 PM and I am about to shower and go to bed. Then I find the shower glass door will only close about a third of the way and water gets all over the floor. Definitely not Hilton standards but endure we must and we do as I needed to get clean after a day in Cairo. I must be checked out and in front of the hotel by 5AM to be picked up to go to the airport and fly to Luxor for the next four nights in a houseboat on the Nile cruising to Aswan before returning to Cairo. So I am tired just thinking about it! All for now.
Saturday, 20 April 2019 Cairo to Luxor, Egypt
I am not a morning person. Rising from the dead at 4:30AM to start one’s day will never fall into the category of a happy time. I manage to struggle through though and am out in front of the hotel when the driver picks me up at 5:30 to head to the airport. The airport, in what has become typical Arabic fashion, was very disorganized and we had great difficulty finding our way around to the correct airline and correct gate, plus you go through security multiple times, often just a few yards apart! We were not impressed by Air Cairo or the airport. I see we because it seems another guy, Joseph, much younger than I, was on the same tour as me, taking the same flight, to the same city and boat – and he is from Tucson, Arizona! We discovered we lived only about twenty miles apart. Weird!
So we finally get on our flight, land in Luxor, a city of about 200,000 built on the site of the ancient city of Thebes, an hour later and we are met at the airport by a rep from Reflections Travel, the people we are booked with. But do we go to the boat/hotel to check in? NO. We go to tour the Luxor temple and ruins site for maybe ninety minutes walking in the dust and sun. Then we are taken to a perfumery to sample Egyptian perfumes (sales pitch crap), from which I get up and walk out because the smells were nauseating and causing me to cough. Do we go to the boat/hotel now? Of course not! We spend another ninety minutes in the sun and dust wandering the Temple of Karnak! Now understand this – we have been up since 4:30 AM and done all of the above without a single bite to eat! We were given one bottle of water each though. We finally get to the boat at about 1:30 and are immediately taken to the buffet lunch and after lunch, finally, we are assigned our rooms. Then we have nothing scheduled for the rest of the day! Incredible disorganization and poor planning by Reflections Travel and I will let them now that after all this is over and I am out of Egypt.
Now, on the positive side, the ruins were fantastic and incredibly huge. After seeing the Greek Acropolis and Parthenon, which everyone thinks is huge, that site looks like a tiny temple next to these Egyptian sites. Really unbelievable in size. No pyramids today but other incredible sites here in Luxor.
Now our river cruise boat, “Renaissance,” calls itself a five star place. Well, it is a three star at best. Very average overall with cramped rooms and food more like a school cafeteria or similar. Nothing to write home about. The room A/C is also very noisy so used my earplugs to sleep. As the saying goes, the bad news is the food is not particularly good but the good news is it is a buffet so you can eat as much as you want! One item is exceptional though. The local olives are big, juicy and delicious. The shower in my room is no more than a leaky faucet and one cannot effectively wash anything including one’s self. The restaurant staff seem to want to tell you where to sit, moving my table three times! You are not allowed to sit where you wish and get to know whom you wish. Very strange. And TV? We had CNN for a day but then nothing but one Arabic station once we left the Luxor dock.
Sat on the top sundeck and read for a while and watched the sail and other small boats traveling the Nile in a lovely sunset over the Nile River. The longest river in the world is lovely here. Its width seems not as wide as the Amazon but maybe wider than the Yangtze and definitely wider than the Mississippi from what I have seen so far. Now it is 8:30, I am exhausted and going to bed. No internet on this ship but need to write each night so I do not forget what went on that day. Breakfast is at 7:00 AM before we head off to see whatever it is we are supposed to visit tomorrow. Lunch is always at 1 PM and that is okay but dinner was always at 7:30 and you do not finish until after 8:00 and I consider that much too late. Heck, in Green Valley we are done eating by 5:30 and the local restaurants are all closed by 8. But we are captive now so can only go where they lead us until we eventually return to Cairo and hopefully have internet again. Ciao for now.
Sunday, 21 April 2019 Luxor to Edfu, Egypt
Made it up for breakfast as scheduled. I consider breakfast important when traveling and often the best meal of the day. We then drove about an hour to visit the Valley of the Kings, just outside of Luxor, where 62 Pharaohs were buried in tombs scattered around the Valley. This is the place where the tomb of King Tut was discovered and excavated. Extremely dry place, away from the Nile, where nothing is growing but rock. Was about 85 with blazing sun and listened to many tourists complaining about the heat and sun, one saying it must be 150 degrees out here! Southern Arizona folk would only laugh at that. Had to be a “yankee.” We actually walked into three of the tombs where one could see the art and writings on the walls and ceilings and the HUGE sarcophagus. The first tomb walk was not difficult. The second tomb we entered was the deepest tomb found in the Valley. It required walking 219 steps down into the tomb and then 219 steps back up – unless, of course, you just dropped over into the sarcophagus at the bottom and just stayed there! I walked all 438 steps plus about a quarter mile of flat land and was pretty proud of that! The final tomb we visited had only thirty steps down and same up, so was nothing for a great “tomb hiker” like me. LOL
We then drove about ten minutes to make the obligatory stop at an alabaster shop to observe them making various items to sell and the trying very hard to sell them to me. I’m real good at saying “no” though and do not negotiate unless it is something I really like and can safely get back home. So I bought nothing.
We then drove another five minutes to visit the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut, also from the 15th century B.C. This place was also HUGE and yet only a small part was excavated and reconstructed as the rest was totally destroyed under tons of collapsed mountain rock. This was built into the mountainside and required about 100 yards flat walk just to reach the bottom of the 97 steps up and then back down 97 steps and another 100 yards back to meet the guide. I, of course, did it all. So, all before lunch, I walked over 700 steps plus about a mile of flat land. Not bad for an old man!
Going back to the ship for lunch, we finally got our passports back, which they had been holding since we boarded. I do not like being without my passport and watch over it closely so was glad to have it returned. We then left the dock and started cruising down the Nile to Edfu, where we will visit some more temples tomorrow morning. So I am now writing these words sitting on the ship top sun deck and cruising down the Nile, the longest river in the world. How cool is that? I think it’s pretty cool myself! Cruising down the river on a Sunday afternoon ………. Isn’t that an old song? I believe so. The Nile is an interesting River. Without it, Egypt would not exist except for an occasional oasis. The Nile brings rich farm land to the people. It is strange how you go only a little ways away from the river and it is all rock and dust and nothing grows. Along its banks we see marshes, crops, farm animals and numerous islands in the middle of the river also being farmed. It is an interesting way of life that seems to move along with the slow rhythm of the river. We have a swimming pool on the top (sun deck) of our ship and when people jump into the pool and are noisy it seems to disrupt the natural rhythm of the river.
Tonight I will have dinner on board, shower, get some sleep and off again tomorrow. All for now.
Monday, 22 April 2019 Edfu to Aswan, Egypt
Up for a good breakfast and off again. I have been seeing many carts and carriages every day pulled by camels, horses and donkeys, mostly one animal but sometimes a team. There are also the tuk-tuks everywhere in many colors, mostly red, gold and black. Sometimes three wheels, sometimes four. Sometimes they look like golf carts, sometimes like farm wagons. I have seen an occasional woman driving a car but never a tuk-tuk. Those, and the animal carts, are always driven by men and boys. I noticed one boy driving a donkey cart looked about age five! Well, we started the day from our ship by getting on a horse cart, which I think was probably older than I am! Was definitely not a carriage through Central Park as we bounced all over the place. Very dirty, dusty and lumpy. I do so love the joys of travel!
We began with a visit to Edfu Temple, actually built by the Romans during their rule over Egypt. Our guide, Ahmed, pointed out the differences in architecture that made it Roman. Ahmed has been with us all of our days on the ship and has been a pretty good guide. He seems to know a lot of the history and architecture of each place we have visited. I like him. The most interesting of cultural interest though was that all the visitors seemed to have come by horse carriages as they were all over the place. I must mention that there are many cruise ships on the Nile, sometimes sailing three abreast with another ahead or behind! Everywhere we go has been quite crowded; not as crowded as attractions in China, but more crowded than most places I’ve traveled. It is hard to compare different crowds as tourists seem to be everywhere as the world travels more and more. Relatively few Americans though as Europeans and Asians dominate the numbers.
We then returned to our ship and cruised on to Aswan area where we visited the Kom Ombo Temple, dedicated to two gods, the right side to Sobek, the crocodile god, and the left side to Horus the Elder, known as the Good Doctor. This place also had Roman origins. In the crocodile museum adjacent there were about a dozen mummified crocodiles! Not sure why, but there they were. We then returned to our ship for dinner and to sail on to Aswan, where we were to spend our final two nights on board and visiting Aswan before flying back to Cairo around noon on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I am a little sick and coughing up enough yellow to paint the throne of an Egyptian king. I am wearing my surgical face mask everywhere I go now and medicating myself heavily each night. I think I am improving slightly but we shall see? I have three days in Cairo where I can spend it in bed if I must do so. Old age and dirty air. At least in Cairo I should have internet again, though nothing is for certain in this area of the world. All for now.
Tuesday, 23 April 2019 Aswan, Egypt
Up for a full breakfast again and then off to see Aswan, a city of about 400,000, with a large Nubian population, and Egypt’s gateway to southern Africa. It is where Agatha Christie wrote “Death on the Nile” and the home of the famous Aswan Dam. First impression is Aswan is definitely the cleanest of the Egyptian cities we have seen. Ahmed was kind enough to stop first at a pharmacy where I picked up two kinds of medicine to assist with my condition, some amoxicillin and an expectorant, cost of about US$6 for those of you who do not believe how the drug companies rip off the consumers in America. Aswan is also the newest of cities, developing from a much smaller place by the building of the Aswan Dam (British aid) and then further enhanced by the construction of the Aswan High Dam (Russian aid). The U.S. seems to be mostly known here for backing corrupt government officials rather than actually helping the country. The Aswan High Dam is enormous, the second largest dam in the world, behind only the dam, Itaipu, on the Brasilian/Paraguay border. Aswan has done nothing but good things for the Egyptian economy. Anyway, the dam was very impressive as was the huge Lake Nasar it has created behind it.
We then when on to visit the Philae Temple on an island in the Nile. It is a World Heritage Site and was actually moved (huge stone by huge stone) from another island about 100 meters away that was placed underwater by the new High Dam. A Swiss and German archeological team led the work. We took a mall boat out to and around the island and could thus stick our hands in the water. Cool but not cold.
I should mention the heavy security we always see. Many ten or twenty years ago there was a terrorist attack at one of the pyramids killing some tourists. This is completely unacceptable to the Egyptian government as this country depends heavily on tourist dollars. Consequently, all sites are now heavily secured. You have to drive through a maze of barriers to reach any site, you must open the trunk of your vehicle, there are armed guards in watch towers and on the ground, and all bags of everyone go through the x-ray machine. A whole different level of security than we are used to in the USA.
I must also mention women’s dress. It ranges greatly. Virtually all local women wear a long dress of some kind and all wear a head scarf. However, I have only seen a scattered number of women wearing the complete black hijab covering with only eyes showing. Shoes? You see every kind worn. Egypt is 90% Sunni Muslim but is slightly more open than other Muslim nations.
After Philae Temple we drove to our last site before lunch, the unfinished Obelisk! It cracked during construction is the story. However, it is difficult to reach and up many slippery steps and slopes so Ahmed said I may want to skip this due to my feeling poorly. I agreed with him, so waited in the car and took some photos of passing people and vehicles to occupy myself. It was then back to the ship for lunch. There were some optional excursions available for the afternoon and evening but I passed. I am resting, taking my medicine and concentrating on my health for the moment. I write this sitting on the sundeck and this is the extent of my work for the day. I then just relaxed on the sun deck until dusk. The weather has been a non-factor here as the temperature is very similar to Arizona at this time of year. Maybe even a little cooler. More humid near the river but the river breeze makes up for that. Ciao.
Wednesday, 24 April 2019 Aswan to Cairo, Egypt
Had my full breakfast than relaxed as best I could until time to go to the airport for my flight back to Cairo. I had to check out of my room by 8 AM and then wait in the lounge for about four hours until the travel company picks me up about 12:30 to go to the Aswan airport for my 14:30 Air Cairo flight back to Cairo. Than another travel rep will meet me at the airport in Cairo to take me back to the Ramses Hilton for night. Here I can finally use the internet again. Before that, I had to figure out how much tips I needed to leave for everyone here? They did nothing special, except for Ahmed, but they are all paid very low and they live off of tips. It is a tipping society. I do not like that, but that is how it is so I just figure it out with the three kinds of money I have in my wallet: Dollars, Euros and Egyptian pounds. Fortunately, I am pretty good at math – or at least once was! In Egypt, and all-inclusive tour is not so all-inclusive. Ahmed though has been a good guide. He calls me “habibi” (friend) or sometimes just “Dad.” He is very polite and considerate and has taken good care of me. I hope I tipped him okay.
Landed safely in Cairo and was met by the travel agency person and taken to Ramses Hilton as scheduled. The man that met me this time was especially nice and we had a nice conversation about our families on the slow drive in from the airport. He was so interesting I probably over-tipped him. We arrive at the Ramses Hilton and there were long lines to check in as it seems this is a popular place. Last week when I was here I had a room that faced an old brown building, one lamp burned out and a shower door that did not close. I don’t know if they noticed or if this was by chance, but now I check in and I am placed in a mini-suite with a grand view of the Nile and I was given a basket of fruit to boot! So I am pretty happy! They even told me I could pick my own time for check out and I chose 11 AM. I would like to stay here but unfortunately I have already paid for the next three nights at the Cleopatra Hotel which is supposed to also be nice. However, it is about 500 yards away as the pigeon flies but a mile or more walking and crossing very busy streets, so I will probably have to take a taxi!
But at least I have internet now for the first time in over a week, so hello world again. So now I will check my mail, go to Maharajah again for dinner, have a hot shower, take my medicine and get a good night’s sleep. All for now.
Thursday, 25 April 2019 – Cairo, Egypt
Started the day with a very nice full breakfast buffet. I give the Hilton credit for an excellent breakfast. However, the shower was again very poor as the shower head would not stay in any one place and you could not get any significant water flow. I did manage to complete a well-needed shower though and felt much better when I went to the Maharajah again for a great dinner.
Still making my medicine and still coughing up yellow junk but it appears to be a little lighter and less often. I do feel a bit better and hope that will continue. Cairo air is just horrible though so have to keep my mask on as much as possible until I can leave this city. This morning my problem was how to get to my next hotel, the Cleopatra Hotel, which I can see from my window here but have to get across about16 lanes of heavy traffic to do so. I decided to take a taxi if it would be cheap and it was so, 25EGP, about US$1.50. It was worth it just for getting my luggage here. Now I am settled until going to the airport and my flight to Istanbul.
Hotels here are quite strange. You never know what you are going to get? The Hilton is a big name place but in my three nights there (2+1) the shower was always terrible but the restaurants were great. Now at the Cleopatra, my room is pretty much Motel 6 quality except the bathroom and shower is far better than the Hilton. The shower is walk-in, has a large shower head, super strong pressure and gets hot quickly. However, the pressure is so strong that the floor floods very quickly and the room is wet before you realize it! In addition, when I checked in one lamp had no bulb and the TV would not turn on. They sent an “engineer” to fix both of these things and now all is working. The TV did keep going in and out though for the rest of the evening. However, I have learned in Egypt nothing works or, if it does, it does not work for long.
Today, after my check in, I went to the Grand Bazaar via taxi, about US$3, to shop some, mainly to buy a new large suitcase. I have discovered that I am old and can no longer carry a heavy backpack and/or luggage. So I purchased a large four-wheel drive suitcase that my backpack actually fits inside so have now reorganized my luggage to make it easier on my old body. It looks like it will do the trick.
My biggest continual problems though are “old man” issues with prostate causing leakage problems. When I am asked where I may go on a future trip, I answer that it depends. I am worried that answer now becomes that it depends on “Depends.” A frightening thought but does one just give up and stop traveling? That would be difficult for me. More cruising may be the compromise answer. We shall see how it goes once I have returned to Arizona. Toilets, when needed NOW, are usually much harder to find when you are traveling in another country, and clean ones even more difficult to find.
Even worse though is a new issue for me and a problem I have never had in four dozen countries but have now developed here in Egypt. Instead of the famous Tijuana two-step I have developed a bad case of the King Tut “Tut-Tut.” Is that where the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” came from? It started on the Nile cruise ship a few days ago and I cannot seem to shake it. Why? Is it the food? The oil they cook with? The yogurt? The Egyptian “medicine?” The water? I only drink bottled water, of course, but brush my teeth with tap water and probably swallow a little. Was that the cause? Could it be my own body’s illness? So many possibilities so I just don’t know? I will say a hair dryer in one’s room can come in handy.
I do believe there is likely a relationship between my coughing up yellow and the bad air here. I do feel that seems to be slowing improving with less hacking and lighter in shade as Luxor and Aswan were better air. Istanbul and Venice, my next stops are directly on the ocean shore and with cleaner air. Cairo air is as polluted as the worst places I have been. Too many people with too many vehicles in too crowded a place. Egypt, especially Cairo, are obviously not among my favorite places that I have visited. As my friend, Art, warned me, you can only see so many pyramids. The rest becomes more questionable. I’ll probably stick close to my hotel tomorrow. Thankfully, Egyptian Museum is right across the street.
Friday, 26 April 2019 Cairo, Egypt
The Egyptian/Arabic culture has shown me they enjoy a full breakfast. Cleopatra hotel also has a full breakfast buffet but not near as complete as the Hilton did. The Hilton was one of the best breakfast buffets I have ever encountered. The Hilton offered at least four different kinds of potatoes as an example. The Cleopatra had no potatoes. I took some of what I thought were potatoes but not so. Seemed to be some kind of chicken sausage? Then when I poured my coffee, the cup leaked and all ran out the bottom of the cup! That is Egypt. Nothing works and, again, if it does, not for long. Cleopatra buffet also has you going down to the lobby/reception, then walking up seventeen steps to reach the buffet. Can be difficult for many and I saw no elevator for patrons?
I had a good breakfast but tried to eat more bread items as “solid” food to try and alleviate the problem. One tries to do whatever one can do. For my new readers, you might ask why I write about such things? Again, this is not a travelogue, it is a journal of my journey and experiences which I write for myself; for me to remember and think about. If others wish to share, that is fine and perhaps will give you your own ideas, thoughts, concerns, solutions or whatever for your own future travels and experiences. Life is many things when you travel; most is wonderful, some is so-so and some is a bit difficult. You just have to deal with whatever the world has placed in front of you, both good and not so good. As I believe is credited to Yogi Berra, “One thing for sure, you never know.”
So I have had breakfast and we will see what happens now? I am coughing up less and lighter mucus now so that problem seems to be improving. I continued to mostly wear my surgical mask as I wandered in Cairo. Started the day by wandering across the street to the world class Egyptian Museum and spend my day among the mummies and other various 5000 year old artifacts. Again, the U.S. is only about 250 years old. We are a blip in time compared to Egypt, China and a hundred other places. And, as individuals, we are even smaller, just a blink of the eye – now if only trump would disappear in that blink! He is hated here in Egypt also, of course, as he is hated all over the world. On a man’s t-shirt yesterday, “Trump and hate does not make America great.” Then later I met a man from Kuwait who said he loved Bush but hated trump. I think all of you probably know why, or at least you should. I will never understand how any decent person can vote for a totally immoral man. In my view, if you place money over morals, you have lost your soul – and this how the world has come to view the U.S. under trump, America has lost its soul. I can only hope we have learned and can recapture our soul and morality in 2020.
So now I went across the very busy street, dodging vehicles as I go, and visited the museum. I arrived at 9:30 to a line for entry (two side by side entries) of about 300 on one side and 200 on the other. Security remains tight as all bags go through the x-ray machine twice, once to enter the museum courtyard and purchase your ticket and then again to enter the museum. Many tickets are sold in bunches to tour guide leaders who have a separate ticket window inside the courtyard, so it goes a bit faster than one would first think. I was inside the building shortly after ten and spent the next 3.5 hours wandering among the many artifacts. Some of the statues are more than 10 meters high (33 feet). It is said that if you spend one minute looking at each item 24/7, it would take you nine months to see it all.
Leaving the museum, I decided to wander for several blocks around my hotel, as I am prone to do, and away from the main street and to see a bit of the real non-tourist Cairo. That turned out to be a wise decision as about three blocks away I stumbled upon Felfela, a famous Cairo restaurant and coffee house that serves traditional Egyptian cuisine. How famous you ask? Well, it seems that President Jimmy Carter ate there in 1990 and several U.S. ambassadors and other famous people have enjoyed there cuisine. Upon returning to my hotel I discovered it is recommended strongly in my little guide book, but I just stumbled across it by accident! Another reason I like to wander. You never know what you may find.
I ordered “shakshuka,” a common people’s dish of egg, tomatoes, onions, cheese, eggplant (?) and spices baked in an oven. It was really quite tasty. I was also served a basket of pita and another flat bread along with a dip for the bread. I tried to think what the dip was but could not figure out what it was made of? Good, but unlike anything else I have ever tasted. I also order a Turkish coffee – very strong and served in a little cup maybe 2.5 inches high. You sip it until you get to the bottom about 1/8 inch and that it is so thick you feel you are sipping mud! Doubt I will ever order it again. Then I topped it off with a dessert of an Egyptian Banana Split! Many of my followers know that, in homage to my Wisconsin dairy state roots, I try to have a banana split in every country I travel to. And every split has been different!
The place was very “atmospheric” inside so I shot several photos of the interior. I was a little surprised at the bill though. It seems they charge you for the bread and dip (not ordered – just given), there is a cover charge, a service fee and VAT so what I ordered totaled about 92 EGP but the bill was 175 EGP. That is only a little over US$10, but if you happen to be short of EGP it can catch you by surprise. Fortunately, I had just stopped at an ATM or I would have been short.
Several things I have not said much about. Egyptians are heavy smokers and this does not help in one’s breathing of clean air. Most larger restaurants have a non-smoking section now but smaller ones do not, so the air is often smoky wherever you go. Mostly it is cigarettes but water pipes are often seen in restaurants and sometimes among pedestrians. And Cairo traffic! If you were to look down from above I think you would see some kind of intricate weave as every vehicle seems to be changing lanes constantly and, in fact, pay no attention at all to any lane markings. One driver yesterday told me there are few accidents only because everything is moving so slowly. If each car would be dragging a line of lace behind it, I believe you would end up with a beautifully weaved table cloth. It is a unique experience to be sitting in a taxi here and try to keep from cringing every minute. They do drive on the right though, like in the U.S., and that helps Americans. Most streets in the center are one way and trying to turn a vehicle is crazy. You have to turn left and make a big circle to turn right and turn right and make a big circle to turn left. The drivers all seem to have it figured out but it would be a great challenge for me. And crossing the larger streets on foot is its own unique challenge. So far, so good though. I did read that Cairo is the second most polluted city behind only Mexico City. I can certainly believe that. Yet the sun here is much like in Arizona, brutal in summer, but one is comfortable in the shade.
So now I am back at my hotel for the evening and will clean up and rest. Tomorrow is my last full day in Cairo so am thinking about what I may do? So far today my “Tut-Tut” issue has subsided. Maybe my careful choosing of what I eat is why or maybe it has just run its course? If I make it through the night okay it will make it easier to choose what I wish to do tomorrow. Meanwhile I am checking the Packer’s web site to learn of their draft picks. I am a little surprised that they traded three selections to move up for one guy! All for now. Ciao.
Saturday, 27 April 2019 Cairo, Egypt
My last full day in Egypt began with another full breakfast, carefully choosing what I ate, just as I did yesterday. The breakfast buffet at the Hilton had about 60-70-80 choices. The buffet here has about 25-30. There are about 10-20 different kinds of breads and rolls at every buffet. Different breads are the main staple of the Arab diet. This morning I had a round brown golf ball size item that turned out to be green bread inside. I generally like to experiment with the local food but am being careful at the moment. The buffet here requires going down to the reception lobby, then up 17 stairs and then down 6 steps to reach the buffet. Very strange. I could see no elevator though I would assume there is a service elevator somewhere.
I coughed up little during the night and am coughing or sneezing much clearer this morning so hope that is the progress I seek and that the medicines are working. I felt well enough that I returned to the Grand Bazaar this morning with high hopes for the day. I was only seeking a Nubian mask in my shopping venture today and did finally negotiate to purchase two masks, but of uncertain origin. I found one that was certainly Nubian but was so expensive that I passed on that one. I am comfortable with the two I purchased.
I arrived at the bazaar about 9:30 and found many shops just opening up but by 10:00 the market was packed in every direction. I thought I knew where I was going when I exited my taxi but I was very wrong. I must have walked by 500, 600, whatever number of shops and stalls, bouncing off people like a billiard ball as I tried to find my way? The noise envelopes you and includes speakers blaring what are apparently religious prayers or chants. The cooking smells from certain stalls are quite different from what westerners are used to. You see people carrying huge loads, including women balancing large bags on their head without using any hands. I have only seen a few dogs, but cats are everywhere and really ugly cats: scrawny, scabby, rib showing, street living animals. They seem to survive somehow though and cats have always had a certain reverence in Egyptian history. The cats lay around everywhere, but when they move they always seem to know where they are going. It seems the locals do also but for the non-local you wonder how an owner even finds his own shop? There are, I am told, over 4000 stalls and it seems like a huge maze, with paths running off in every which direction and dead ends popping up often. It seems like a 100 acre corn maze at an American Halloween.
I, of course, quickly got lost. So much for thinking I knew where I was going? I just kept turning different directions that somehow looked logical to me and eventually stumbled upon the shops and items I was searching for. An amazing bazaar and experience for the wanderer. I then grabbed a taxi back to my hotel and was amused when the driver said, “Cairo is so beautiful, yes.” I replied, “I think you have many beautiful mosques.” That is true but Cairo beautiful? No. It is perhaps the dirtiest, ugliest, most polluted city I have ever traveled to. Yes, the museum, the pyramids, mosques and historical temples and other buildings are wonderful to view and very impressive to visit; but they are what you come to see if you wish. Cairo you just put up with to accomplish your goal.
After returning to my hotel I decided to take a final walk in the opposite direction of my walk yesterday. I am glad I did so. I found myself next to the Nile and walked across a long bridge, from the east to the west bank, over the great river. Upon reaching the other side I found a small park and took a circle path/walk around it. I also discovered the Cairo Opera House was across the street. Anyway, I sat on a bench in the middle of the park for a bit and observed my surroundings. Several benches were occupied by what appeared to be young courting couples: sharing food, holding hands, chatting and smiling. Some were sitting under trees. All the females wore head scarfs. There were two small cafes in the park and a waiter actually delivered drinks to some of the couples sitting there. I guess courting is similar all over the world.
Sitting there I began to muse, as I am prone to do, and at 76.5 years of age continue to wonder how I got here in the middle of a park on the west bank of the Nile? Much like the musing I have done in Machu Picchu, China, the Amazon, the Greek Islands and other places. If I have fortunate to survive another few years I wonder where I will sit and muse next? How did I get so lucky to have friends all over the world? To see and experience so much of the world? To be sitting here writing this journal, the continuing epic of my somewhat different life? Sometimes I can only sit in awe of it all.
So that is it for Cairo. I am coughing up more gook again as the Cairo air clearly does not agree with me, even though wearing a mask all day. I am still battling a bit of “tut-tut” that I hope leaving here will finally bring it to an end. I will now eat a little dinner, take a good warm shower, and fly to Istanbul clean in the morning. That’s all for Cairo and Egypt. Ciao.
28 April 2019 Cairo, Egypt to Istanbul, Turkey
I actually had a good shower last night and accomplished it without getting the floor flooded! I am slow to learn, but I do still learn. Breakfast at seven and taxi by eight to travel to Cairo airport and catch my Nile Air flight to Istanbul. Couple of final notes on Cairo. The food has been generally good. Hotels have had excellent breakfast buffets an Cleopatra Hotel also has a small restaurant/Café attached, “La Poire,” which I think is French but do not know for sure. I had an excellent mushroom soup and a Fuselli pasta and vegetables last night. Really good. I have, however, avoided eating street food, which I normally eat simply because of the questionable cleanliness of Cairo. I expect Istanbul will be cleaner and hope the food will also be excellent. I know it will be cooler there, with highs only about 70. I just want some cleaner air.
So the day started routinely, but then it fell apart quickly and was a very difficult day, but then that is Cairo and Egypt. I was dropped at terminal 3, the International terminal at the airport. I get inside and then they tell me I am at the wrong terminal. But I have an international flight? No matter. My particular international flight to Istanbul leaves from Terminal 1 and they tell me I must take a shuttle bus. So I drag my luggage outside to find a shuttle bus. I get on the shuttle bus only to find that it only goes to Terminal 2. Then you have to get off and take another shuttle bus to Terminal 1. There is no direct bus that circles to all three terminals. Typical Egyptian disorganization. You go through x-ray security to get into the terminal, then you go through x-ray security to get to the gates, then you go through x-ray security to get to your individual gate, including removing your shoes and more.
When I try to go through the first security to just go to the check in counter for my flight, some crazy armed guard would not let me through without a paper ticket. “Where is my printed ticket?” he shouted at me. I kept saying electronic ticket and he keeps saying that with no printed ticket I cannot come in! He physically shoved be backward when I tried to enter. And, of course, the U.S. has not used paper tickets for over a decade. Then he asked for my ticket receipt? I give same answer. Meanwhile, my luggage has gone inside. I try to tell him I need my bag. I have a receipt in my bag – which I did not but was stalling for time. He refuses to give me back my passport until I give him paper ticket or receipt. I pretend to be looking for it in my luggage when he throws my passport at me and yells, “go,” so I quickly go. The whole scene was Egyptian insanity.
Then I go to the check in counter to be told the flight will be and hour late – which turned out to be two hours late. Once we took off I was so happy to get out of Cairo I finally could remove my face mask and breathe again. Now, as I have said, most people were friendly polite and kind to me but Cairo has a city and Egypt are one of the most disorganized and polluted places in the world. I cannot recommend travel there unless you really, really, want to see the pyramids and historical sights n then quickly leave, I also suggest you stick to Egypt Air or Turkish Air and maybe Air Cairo. Avoid Nile Air.
On the plane, I wonder why Japan, a nation of 30 million, China, Singapore and most of the Asian peoples and nations can run so effectively and provide such a good quality of life for their people whereas the Arab nations are a total mess. Is it genetics? Is it the societal emphasis on religion instead of society as a whole? Is it the inequality of the sexes? I do not have any certain answers but the societies that work vs those that don’t are obvious to the traveler. Personally, I feel the inequality and lack of rights for women has held these societies back. They have chosen to ignore 50% or more of the brain power in their countries and this will continue to hold them back. When Mao unleashed the power of women, China began to grow. As Mao said, “Women hold up half the sky.” Billions seem to be spent on Mosques and religious pursuits in Arab countries and nothing on society. The Asian countries, on the other hand, spend little on religious pursuits and do well for their people. I find that interesting.
So when we finally land at the old Istanbul airport (think Houston Hobby vs IAH or Chicago Midway vs ORD), and routinely go through passport procedures and get my luggage, I go outside to find my name on a sign and my ride to the hotel waiting. Good, yes? But the traffic is again so bad that it took 90 minutes to get to my hotel and finally get to my room about 7 PM, ending an eleven hour travel day.
But now we end the day a good note. Istanbul looks beautiful driving in. The drive was long on a three lane freeway, but everybody drove wisely and stayed in their own lane, unlike Cairo where they drive all over the road and with no order of any kind. Consequently, the traffic here moves slow (too many vehicles) but steadily along. The architecture is so modern it reminds me some of the new Wuhan. The freeways berms, up or down, are beautifully planted and decorated. The land is green and hilly. Only a small % of buildings looked in need of paint, whereas in Cairo only a small % of buildings were painted! We passed a large park, Turkmenistan Park, along the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, where there appeared to be over a thousand people/families picnicking whereas in Cairo I saw only one park with about 10-15 people there. I was becoming more and more excited about Istanbul as we drew closer to my hotel and, upon arrival, was soon beaming! The Sultanahmet Palace is beautiful with both front and back gardens and breakfast is served in the back gardens. It is built in the manner of the old architecture inside and out and my room is a little small but quite lovely. It has those big Turkish tubs for hot soaks with two foot sides, so one must step in and out carefully. The shower doors in this area of the world seem to only cover 2/3’s of the tub side and the towels could be fluffier, but the water is hot and pressure good. The area all around us seems to be little cafes, shops and artists as I noticed driving in. I had dinner here in the Sultan’s Garden at a window table overlooking the Bosphorus, which was just a few blocks away. So all is looking much brighter!
Had a hot shower, writing my journal updates, and going to bed. I will begin exploring the area and seeing the local sights tomorrow. Ciao.
Monday, 29 April 2019 Istanbul, Turkey
Breakfast in the back garden at 7:30 and it was truly magnificent. Morning sun shining on the garden and an incredible array of selections from which to choose including some unique Turkish specialties such as two kinds of vegetable stews, one based on beans and peppers and another based on spinach and peppers. Both spicy and wonderful. You could scoop fresh honey on your bread directly off the comb, which was suspended on its side over the table. I am already in love with the food here. So now it is off to find an ATM. I am carrying Euros, US$ and EGP, but no Turkish Lira. I needed to solve that problem and quickly found an ATM to get Turkish Lira and then found an exchange that took my EGP for TL so I’m okay for cash now.
My hotel is in an excellent location. I only walk 150-200 meters and I am standing directly between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque! In a few more steps I am at the Obelisk and the German Fountain. Other major sites are also very close and I am in love with Istanbul! This is a very clean and beautiful city and may be the most beautiful city in the world. It is up there with Tokyo, Paris and a few others. Architecture is a lovely combination of European, Muslim, Roman and Ottoman Empire. I could live in Istanbul quite comfortably and would love to teach here. It is an interesting comparison to come from Cairo and its filth to Istanbul and its cleanliness. Cairo is toilet paper compared to Istanbul and if you are from the U.S. and want to see just one or two great foreign cities – come to Istanbul and/or Tokyo first & second. Tokyo is the most clean, efficient and organized society anywhere and is the greatest example of how 30 million people can live well. Istanbul seems a very close second though. In Cairo, one is always waving away flies. In Tokyo and Istanbul, one does not even see an insect! And even to a non-Muslim, sitting on a bench facing Hagia Sophia with the Blue Mosque at your back and listening to the loud speakers announce the 5:00 call to prayer is truly magical. And there are so many wonderful small cafes and restaurants here you could spend years just dining at different cafes! This is a wonderful and magnificent city in my opinion. If I have not yet made it obvious – I LOVE ISTANBUL!
Now, note Istanbul is mostly Muslim, with 3000+ mosques, but has a history of religious tolerance and all people getting along peacefully. Now imagine what Cairo, Bagdad, Tehran, Islamabad and other large Muslim cities could be if they were also places of religious tolerance, respected women’s rights and brought their populace peacefully into the modern world? Istanbul is living proof of what can be done and the prosperity good government leadership and tolerance among the people can bring. Unfortunately, our own “leaders,” basically trump, mcconnell and other republicans, have shown to understand nothing about such things. Ironically, there is a building here (nothing special architecture wise) with the name Trump Towers high up on its side.
Today I formulated my overall plan for the remainder of the week. First I took the Big Bus (open top) tour around the city, both Europe and Asia sides, in a big circle to get a general feel of this lovely place. I also walked through the Blue Mosque which, unfortunately for those of us visiting, is currently undergoing a reconstruction so we cannot see it in its full glory. I then spent the rest of the afternoon simply walking the streets around the hotel and checking out the architecture and the cafes. Tomorrow I will be taking the boat ride around the Bosphorus and between the two continents. Wednesday I am booked on an all day tour of the major attractions of the city. Then Thursday and Friday I am free to go see anything else I wish or to go back to see something I wish to see more of. Then Saturday I will fly to Venice, Italy, for the fourth and last leg of this excursion. I am also feeling much better with only minor “Tut-Tut” problems now and coughing up far less and much clearer. Dirty air matters and Cairo air certainly did not agree with my body.
So, where to go to dinner? There are about 100 hotels and 100+ restaurants and cafes within about 200-250 meters of my hotel. I finally chose the Lamp Café just around the corner because the guy out front “hawking” the place made me laugh. I tried the vegetarian pizza with a cappuccino and, after dinner, a Turkish tea. The pizza was really quite excellent, though a little heavy on the amount of cheese. Served on a round wooden board. Chatted a bit with the couple next to me. They were from France and their little girl, four, was wearing a Disney princess shirt and reminded me of Emma. Very cute and funny as she talked to me in French.
Then back to my hotel, a quick shower and rest for another exciting day tomorrow as I cruise around the Bosphorus between the continents. Can truly say I am having a wonderful time in this great city. All for now. ISTANBUL – I LOVE YOU.
30 April 2019 Istanbul, Turkey
Good night’s sleep as it is amazingly quiet in my hotel despite being so wonderfully close to the “action” of the city. Had another great buffet breakfast here in the hotel. I love the spinach and peppers one can put over toast or scrambled eggs. Makes you start the day feeling like Popeye, the sailor man, and appropriate in a great city based on water. After breakfast, I then headed out to take a little walk around the area again. I needed to return to the hotel before noon, when they will pick me up for the Bosphorus cruise. I managed to cover the Sultans Tomb, the Obelisk and the German Fountain and discovered that the Cistern is close by and will check that out later. I also discovered this city has fast electric trains, like Amsterdam, Stockholm and other European cities that can quickly move you around the city. May use those later in the week.
Then spent from 12:30 – 19:30 on the Bosphorus cruise all the way up to the Black Sea and return. The lunch on the boat was routine but the scenery was spectacular. I even spotted two dolphins breaching the water. Discovered all of the many bridges that span the Bosphorus and learned Europe and Asia are only separated by only 693 meters (about 763 yards) at the narrowest point and the Bosphorus handles about 75 loaded cargo ships passing through each day between Black Sea and Sea of Marmara. It seems the Black Sea was a freshwater lake until and earthquake opened up the Bosphorus and the resulting salt water killed the freshwater wildlife of the lake, thus the name “Black” Sea. Also discovered that Istanbul has the longest and most beautiful urban waterfront in the world. Absolutely beautiful buildings along both shores that included businesses, hotels, universities, private residences and more. Both sides have waterfront paths one can stroll and fish from, especially long on the European side and saw many fisherman casting from the rocks along the path or from sections of the many bridges. Beautiful and colorful flowers and plants all over the city including the biggest and most colorful tulips I have ever seen. So lovely I thought they were fake until I investigated closer. Just an incredibly beautiful city.
Four interesting side notes; (1) one of the guides told me he had been to the U.S. once. I asked him where and he answered “Wisconsin!” It seems his university here sponsored a two month summer visit to Wisconsin Dells! (2) Spent most of the time on the cruise with a young Japanese couple. They are quite unique. She lives in Tokyo and he is on a one year training assignment in Belgium. He proposed to her in Rome, they were married in December and were now on their belated honeymoon to Istanbul and Athens, Greece. Truly an international couple! She also could not believe my age and said, “Oh, you’re very strong.” LOL (3) The weather has been near perfect every day and is predicted to continue to be so, low 70’s and blue sky. (4) I spent little extra in Cairo, but am spending more than usual here in Istanbul. Prices are good and I am finding many things I like. Oh well.
Returned to hotel, selected a restaurant about three blocks away for dinner, then showered and sat down to write a bit. It’s been a long day though and time for bed. I have an all day tour tomorrow to the major highlights of the city before having Thursday and Friday currently free for whatever I choose. All for now. ISTANBUL – I LOVE YOU MORE TODAY THAN YESTERDAY …..
1 May 2019 Istanbul, Turkey
Early breakfast for early tour and, by the end of the day and after a lot of walking, I have seen most of the major historical sights here. The Hagia Sophia was the most impressive to me. It was first built as a Christian church and served as such for over 300 years. Then it became a mosque for over 400 years and now it is a museum. The changing of governments in power and different leaders of the old Ottoman Empire, which once covered parts of three continents (Northern Africa, Europe and Asia) were behind most of these changes. It is also under-going some reconstruction but we still were able to see much of it. A very impressive structure. We also traveled to the Balak neighborhood for lunch and a visit to the orthodox iron church, one of only three churches in the world built primarily of iron. Later we visited the Topkapi Palace, former residence of the ruling sultan at the time. The Sultan rulers eventually moved on to the new Dolmabahce Palace, one of the sights I may choose to see tomorrow along with Taksim Square and the Grand Bazaar, but first the Cistern. I have discovered one can spend a lot of time in this city and still not see much of it. Amazing place.
There are so many great restaurants here I have been trying a different one every night. I actually felt like pasta but will have plenty of that going to Italy next week, so wanted to stick to Turkish food and cooking while I am here in Istanbul. Tonight I went to Al Nakhla, also just around the corner from my hotel. I had a vegetarian casserole, an Ottoman coffee, some excellent rice pudding and a six scoop sundae (small scoops). Believe the flavors were chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, lemon, pistachio and caramel. Much better food than Cairo and am having no intestinal issues at all. My belt seems to think I am losing weight with all my walking, but my body doesn’t look like it. Will be back on my serious diet when I get back to Arizona. All for now. Ciao.
2 May 2019 Istanbul, Turkey
Had my usual great hotel breakfast buffet while listening to Turkish jazz, vocals and instrumentals of Beatle music. At least I call it Turkish jazz. Since jazz is such free form music I can only name it after the country I am listening to it in. It continues to amaze me how, at some point, I hear Beatles music in virtually every country of the world and in virtually every form on a great variety of different instruments! Talk about being influential! The Beatles have impressed me all of my life and still do wherever I travel.
Then after breakfast, I set out to see what else I could see in Istanbul. I start a little tired though as the miles of walking yesterday have my body a little sore, but it does not stop me as I covered a lot of ground again. I first visited the Basilica Underground Cistern, originally built about 650 AD to store fresh water transported from the forest about 25 kilometers away. It was an amazing engineering accomplishment that is now an underground museum. I then took a few minutes to figure out how the electronic train worked and where it went and then decided to take it across the Bosphorus to another part of Istanbul. Because I foolishly said how nice the weather was, the day was gray and overcast and only 60-65 degrees, but still comfortable.
I met a nice young woman originally from Kyrgyzstan on the train. She is 29 and married to a Turkish man and loves living here in Istanbul. She was going to the same stop I was, Kabatas, the end of the line. She changed to a bus from there whereas I walked about 200 meters, now in the rain (which now went on steadily and cool for about seven hours) to visit the Dolmabahce Palace, the home of the Ottoman Empire Sultans after moving from Topkapi Palace. It is also the home where Ataturk died. It was quite interesting to see how the sultan’s lived and the luxury provided for his mother, his many wives and his many concubines (harem girls) at that time, including their private baths. It is a large complex and I spent about three hours touring the site.
I then walked back to the Kabatas station and took the tram up the hill to Taksim Square, where a very large mosque is located and currently also under reconstruction. The tram itself was amazing – also electronic and speeds rapidly up the hill through a tunnel. Impressive bit of transportation. Like a very modern version of the old ascensors I have ridden in Valparaiso, Chile. I wandered the area for some minutes and was impressed with the overall feel and activity of the area. I then sat on a bench for a bit and in conversation with a nice Russian woman, Natalia, from Moscow, also traveling alone. I had to remind myself to NOT get involved with any Russian woman. BTDT and I have learned from it.
I was trying to figure out a circle tour to get back to Sulanahmet and on to the Grand Bazaar but I couldn’t seem to do so. The mighty Bosphorus always got in the way. So I took the tram back down to Kabatas station and caught another electronic train to Beyazit station and walked the few blocks from there to the Grand Bazaar. It was not what I expected. It was more of a modern “grand” shopping mall. It had hundreds of shops that weaved through many different lanes, but half seemed to be very “Turkish” and half to be modern fashion shops. I managed to buy a tee shirt and considered some Turkish sweets, but thought the price of the sweets was far too high; like buying a fancy candy bar. Anyway, I saw the Bazaar, which was the main item still on my list to see.
I then leisurely walked back to the Sultanamet area and my hotel to dump off my wet back pack and various damp clothing. After that, I walked across the street to the smaller bazaar located there for dinner. I ordered what I thought was grilled stuffed eggplant smothered in yogurt, a pistachio shake and rice pudding. I have loved rice pudding since about eighth grade, and that was good. The pistachio shake though was not any shake. It was more of a pistachio milk and very thin. The main entrée was served with a grilled tomato and about a 6” long grilled green pepper. What I thought was to be eggplant, I do not know what it was? It was about 8” long and rolled with a hollow center. It tasted more like some kind of meat to me but, if it was, I couldn’t figure out what? Maybe it was a rolled grilled eggplant but the spices they used confuse me. I guess I’ll never know, but the yogurt sauce used did create a nice tasting dish.
I have been looking for a special item, likely a painting, as my main remembrance of Istanbul. I saw one I liked in a little shop just across the road earlier this week, but have continued to look elsewhere to see if I saw anything that topped it? Well, after visiting the Grand Bazaar today I still had found nothing I liked better so stopped and purchased this small original painting that I first fell in love with by a supposedly famous Turkish artist. A little more than I usually pay, but I am happy with the purchase.
Okay, I have done all the places I planned to cover, so what to do tomorrow for my last full day here? I plan to wander a different direction from my hotel to see what’s there and may be take a walk along the beautiful sea front. We shall see. Hopefully the sun will be shining again tomorrow. ISTANBUL – I still love you even when it rains! All for now.
3 May 2019 Istanbul, Turkey
Rise and shine to again enjoy the great breakfast they serve here and the amazing view of the Bosphorus you enjoy while you are dining. I first booked a car for 8:00 AM to take me to Istanbul’s new airport and catch my Turkish Air flight to Venice for the fourth and last foreign leg of my 2019 journey. I then decided to walk along the Mamara Sea but first needed to get there. I simply walked downhill and continued to walk downhill until I reached the Mamara. Now, this was not a straight route or even close. The streets wound around every which way and, what was maybe 100 meters as the sea gull flies, was about ten times that for me. It was interesting though as I wandered through neighborhoods where “normal” people live and tourists do not go. As my readers know, I like to do these things and often get lost as I walk, just as I took several wrong turns today in winding down the hill. Finally, I reached the sea though, and sat for some time staring out at the Mamara and having another of my ”Zen” moments in thinking how I got here and how lucky I feel to be here.
Then a really crazy thing happened! I am sitting quietly on a bench when Natalia, the Russian woman from yesterday, comes up and says hello. Now, where I met her yesterday was about ten miles from where I was sitting. Her hotel is also about ten miles from mine. We had zero idea where either of us was going today – and there we were! In a city of maybe 25 million or so, we bump into each other again just 24 hours later. Is this fate? Turkish “Kismet?” A rather incredible coincidence! We sat and talked and walked and talked and walked and …….. We slowly wound our way back up the hill together, neither of us knowing where we were going or where we would end up, but we used the tall minarets of Sultanahmet as a guide to get us back to the top. Incredibly, we turned one corner and ended up directly in front of my hotel! Again, neither of us knew where we were going and somehow we ended up in the area, Sultanahmet, that we wished to end up. Eventually I took her to lunch as we continued to talk and walk and …… She is 61, a physicist by education but works as a manager for a fish company because that is life in Moscow. She said, “Trump, Putin, no difference.” I found that amusing! She said she would send me some pictures she took of me and I told her if she did email them to me, I would send the photos I took of her also in return. Que sera, sera.
Anyway, she took the electric train back to her hotel and I stopped for a light dinner at another different restaurant near my hotel. I had “Dervish Spaghetti,” which was supposedly cooked with different peppers and spices. I was disappointed though in that it pretty much tasted like all spaghetti! Good, but just spaghetti. So that was my totally unexpected day in Istanbul! Then I was back at my hotel by 5:00, paid by hotel bill so as to be ready to leave in the morning at 8 AM, went to my room to pack everything as securely as I could, the showered and wrote my remarks for the day. Do not know what Wi-Fi access I will have in Italy, so do not know when you may here from me again? All for now and on to Venezia, Italia!
4 May 2019 Istanbul, Turkey to Venice, Italy
A long and tiring day and even slightly depressing. Up before 7 AM to finish all packing, quick breakfast at 7:30 and car to the new airport at 8:00. IST is a brand new super clean and technologically up to date airport as while as the biggest terminal in the world under one roof, surpassing Beijing. It is a bit away from the city at present but one can see all the new construction going in around it. It was a pretty drive going out as one goes through a lot of green and forested land. Double X-ray security again as you go through to enter the airport then again to enter the gate area. I am at the counter to check luggage and get my boarding pass 2.5 hours before my flight is scheduled. The counter person tells me my flight is full!
Now I get a little upset as I pointed out to her I had purchased my ticket three months ago and my hotel in Venice was already paid for and not refundable. After about ten minutes and several phone calls by her that no one answered (probably a good thing), she finally gave me my boarding pass. I go through security again and head for my gate, which it seems is about a 30 minute walk away in this huge new airport. I board my flight but did not feel secure until we were actually in the air as the flight was definitely full. The plane was beautiful and the service was all excellent and the food much better than one would expect. So I was impressed with the flight except that my little seat back screen did not seem to work. Oh well, I usually do not watch anything anyway.
It was about 2 hours and 45 minutes to Venice and Venice Marco Polo is an ancient airport and had the slowest passport control I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. No one seemed to know what they were doing nor seemed in any hurry to do it! Very strange. When you finally get through and pick up your luggage, you now buy a EU$15 to take a “alilaguna” water taxi (small boat) about 1 to 1.5 hours, depending on your getting off point, and walk to your hotel from there based on whatever map and/or instructions your hotel provided for you. The directions were good for me and I had only about a four block walk to the Hotel Serenissima, checked in about 4:15, and my prepaid room for three nights at US$120 per night for a little tiny room approximately 5.5 feet wide and about 12 feet long, one twin bed and a small bathroom ensuite. But, hey, breakfast is included.
Venice is expensive, but this will be my one and only visit to Venice. It was raining on the boat ride into Venice and remained cloudy and drizzling for the evening. I managed to take a walk mostly in the area around the hotel to get my bearings and have dinner. I quickly learned I am in a good location, very close to St. Mark’s Square, so that was nice. I will now have two full days to see as much of Venice as I can and can only hope the weather will cooperate. I am spoiled after all the excellent weather in Istanbul. I also quickly learned if you stick to basic pizza and/or spaghetti, you can eat for EU$17-22 or so. If you go to any sit down restaurant, with salad, entrée and coffee, you’re looking at EU$50. I’ll be eating lightly until I am out of Venice. I do not yet know what the breakfast here will be, but I’ll be eating it whatever it may be. Okay, I’m tired and still need to plan my circle walking route for tomorrow, rain or shine. It seems they do not allow back packs in most the sites, so will have to plan my layered look for whatever the weather may be. All for now. Caio.
5 May 2019 Venice, Italy
Up at seven for breakfast and was very pleased to see they served another excellent breakfast with a variety of hot and cold items. Most are very different items than served in Istanbul, but quite excellent and filling in every way so as to not need lunch and just pay for a nice dinner. One cannot tell the weather until going down to the lobby and about to exit the hotel – which was good or I might have stayed in bed! The weather started out very cold, windy and with rain steadily coming down – and it pretty much got worse throughout the day. What are you going to do but go on as best you can.
I started by walking to Piazza San Marco wearing a tee shirt with a wool sweater over that and topped with my hooded windbreaker. The wind was howling at least 30 MPH or more and was frigid coming off the ocean waters. I was miserable, so stopped at the first vendor I see and buy a hooded Venezia sweatshirt which I pull on over my wool sweater and under my windbreaker. My head is covered with a hooded sweatshirt, my hat over that and my windbreaker hood over that – and I am still miserable. I am walking along the Grand Canal dressed as such, walking with my trusty metal cane and the wind nearly blows me away. How windy was it? Well, I grasp my cane through a wrist strap so I don’t lose it. The wind several times picks up my metal cane and tries to blow it away! My other hand is holding down everything on the top of my head. But, crazy trooper that I am, I keep on marching along the Grand Canal and shooting photos every which way I can through the rain and, of course, with no idea what my photos will eventually look like? My view finder is wet, my lens is wet, my camera and batteries are wet and I just keep going.
After about a half mile along the Grand Canal, I decide to wander off along the narrow side streets just to see what I could see and, of course, am soon lost as usual. I just keep turning this way and that, discovering one interesting church, San Zaccaria, the Bridge of Sighs and a whole lot of small bridges and canals. All of a sudden I make a turn and I am right back on the Grand Canal, very close to where I had started wandering from!
So I walk back to the Piazza planning to visit San Marco (St. Mark’s) Basilica but see the line, despite the cold and rain, is about 500 persons long. Many people are obviously just as crazy as I am! I decide to then try the Doge’s Palace, and that turns out to be an excellent decision. Again, there is a line of maybe 500 people, and I am limping along leaning on my cane talking to a woman in a wheelchair when an employee of the Palace comes over and takes us both in ahead of the line – and I get a Senior Discount to boot! EU$13 got me in to most things the rest of the day. Being old and somewhat handicapped has only a few advantages, but this was one of them.
Now, Venice is a strange city that is slowly sinking in to the sea and will likely one day disappear altogether. When you are approaching the city on the boat from the airport, Venice looks quite ugly. The outer edges appear like a slum. As you get closer to the city though, the city begins to look better, until when you reach the main part of the city it turns beautiful. It is like a very plain person who dresses up in finery and turns handsome or beautiful. It is an amazing transformation. Two full days will be enough for me, but I am glad that I came.
Back to the Doge’s Palace – this is place everyone should have an opportunity to see. The art is simply magnificent and every square inch of the walls and ceilings are covered with incredible art. You probably have to be a biblical scholar to know what much of it depicts, but it is not difficult to appreciate the sheer beauty of it all. I am not a religious person, but I am an admirer of great art. Much of the work was by Tintoretto and even I am aware of his greatness. Between paintings, sculptures, carvings, busts and more, you’re overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the place and of the work before you. I have been to the Vatican but believe this place may be its equal. The Doge and his council were cruel people though, who ruled with an iron fist and, according to history, quite arbitrarily, placing people in prison for petty purposes. Prison cells in the bowels of the palace that were all concrete, 6” thick, and freezing cold in winter weather (like today). In fact, the Bridge of Sighs runs from the Palace to the prisons, as the last view a condemned prisoner was to see of the world was from this bridge.
From there I walked quickly, one does not stroll in the wind and rain, across the Piazza to the Museo Correr, which was a Royal residence for various people, including where important visitors would stay when visiting or conducting business in Venice. Emperor Franz Joseph was among royal visitors to spend time here. This was also interesting to visit as was the attached archeological Museo, all included in my single Senior Discount ticket.
My now it is about 2 PM and I decide to try and see St. Mark’s Basilica again. But as I am walking toward the Basilica, and still bitterly cold, I notice the Campanile (Bell Tower) is open and with no line! The top supposedly has the best views of Venice in every direction. Here I pay EU$8 for the elevator to the top. The single elevator takes a load of about ten people up and brings about ten down on each trip. I get to the top and I understand why there is no line. It is so friggin’ cold with the wind blowing about 50 mph and a wind chill clearly below the freezing mark. People (like me) that get off the elevator, hustle to take photos in all four directions and get back in the line to go down as quickly as possible! My hat, which was held down by my jacket hood goes flying off! My hood is blown off and the hat follows. Luckily, the whole tower is screened in every direction or my hat ends up somewhere at the bottom of the Grand Canal and washed out to sea! I have not been this cold since I traveled to Mt. Everest in Tibet, China. Two girls on top were from North Carolina and they looked like walking popsicles in their summer outfits. Everyone was very happy to return to the bottom, which now seemed not so cold!
At the bottom, I look at St. Mark’s Basilica again and note there is now only about 70-80 people in the line to get in and the line seems to be moving nicely. I am surprised but quickly get into the line to enter and within ten minutes I am inside. Like the Doge’s Palace, every inch of this huge cathedral is covered with art and multiple domes that are incredibly high up there! It is truly a magnificent place in both art and architecture. The one negative is that it is so dark inside and the art also dark that nothing is easy to see except the domes, and then you have to lean way back to really see them as they are very high up.
It was now 4:30 PM. I was cold, wet and hungry, so decided to select a small place for a dinner of spaghetti carbonara and a cappuccino. That turned out to be good and just right for me. I also stopped at a small snack shop walking back to my hotel and had a EU$6 Cherry Crème Frappe/Shake. It was excellent and the perfect ending to my very good day, other than the miserable weather, I did cover everything that I had hoped to see today so that was good. My pictures? Who knows? But the memories are now implanted in my slightly senile brain. My room supposedly has heat but I can’t seem to figure out how to use it, so will now crawl under the covers and try to stay there until morning. Sometimes all your years of university studies mean nothing! LOL Unfortunately, the weather report for tomorrow morning does not look much better. Que sera, sera. Ciao.
6 May 2019 Venice, Italy
Had another excellent and filling breakfast before embarking on my last full day in Venice. The day started gray and overcast so I was again concerned about the weather. I decided to walk over and cross the Rialto Bridge, one of only three bridges that cross over the Grand Canal, and which features many steps up and down. One could actually walk to the train station but Rialto would be a problem for one carrying any heavy load, so I will not do so. I am staying in the San Marco area of the city, where most of the main tourist attractions are. Now I crossed into San Polo to visit an area called the Rialto Markets, and then continued walking on into San Croce. I, of course, got lost as usual but that was fine. I discovered many interesting little streets and several small churches that you do not know are there until they appear in front of you. Very interesting walk.
Then about 11:30 AM everything changed. The sun came out, the sky became bright blue, and the city turned far more beautiful than what I saw yesterday. Everything looks better, of course, under blue sunny skies and Venice is no different. So just after noon I crossed back over the Rialto Bridge and decided to walk back to the areas I had visited yesterday to get some photos in the sun. EVERYTHING had changed! All the vendors and the tourists that were in hiding yesterday were now out of the rain and shadows and the Piazza and the areas along the Grand Canal were now very crowded. I spent most of my time taking new pictures and a lot of people watching. There were no particularly long lines for St. Mark’s or the Doge’s Palace. I am guessing the lines were so long yesterday because they were the good places to go (indoors) in the rain and cold. Today everyone seemed to be thrilled by the sun and how much more beautiful the city looked.
I did notice, however, that the Grand Canal water level was higher after the rains and water was lapping slightly up on to the pavement. I thought that was an example of the ominous future for Venice. People can, of course, move elsewhere when that eventually happens; but what will happen to all the incredible art work is another question altogether. Even some of the very small churches I discovered today were filled with magnificent artwork on walls and ceilings. But those are questions for future engineers, hydrologists, geologists, environmentalists and a whole bevy of scientists whose intelligence in these matters far exceeds mine.
I stopped for dinner of another vegetarian pizza. The vegetarian pizzas are quite different here. Instead of a variety of chopped up veggies, they feature only 3-4 kinds of veggies but huge pieces of each. They also feature a lot of eggplant, but then I have always like eggplant. The thickness of the crust seems to vary by restaurant. Last dinner in Venice though. Tomorrow morning, hopefully no rain, I will walk a few hundred meters to take the “vaporetto” (water taxi) to the train station and then catch the first train I can get to Bologna, my next stop on this venture and with supposedly the best pasta in Italy. I plan to find out. Nearing the end and I am feeling it. All for now. Ciao.
7 May 2019 Venice to Bologna, Italy
Had my usual excellent full breakfast here at the hotel and then headed out for the vaporetto and the train station. That part was mostly routine and the water taxis are not difficult to use. They stop right in front of the stations and you just roll your luggage on in. The weather looked promising for those still staying in Venice. I bought a ticket for the 10:00 train to Bologna, arriving here at 11:27. The first few miles of the train track are elevated over water and it takes a few minutes before you are clearly on sold earth again. I bought a first class ticket and discovered that one’s luggage needs to be place on an overhead rack – not your carry on, but your BIG luggage that you would check on an airplane. That caught me by surprise and I could not lift my heavy luggage that high. A nice man from Washington, DC, put it up for me and then got it down upon arrival in Bologna. I joked with him that it was nice to see something good coming out of Washington!
Arriving in Bologna, it took me about fifteen minutes to find a toilet and then my way out of a very confusing train station, certainly compared to the ease of Venice. The bus terminal is just a block from the train station so I was able to immediately purchase my ticket for an 11:30 bus on Thursday to Siena. The train does not run to Siena so will take bus to there and then bus also to Florence. The bus terminal is on the main street into the city and so is the place where I am staying. It turns out it was only about a thirty minute walk to my “guest house” and from there only 20 minutes into the heart (old section) of the city.
I call where I am staying a “guest house” as it certainly is not a hotel and I am not pleased with the place that I chose on line. The room is just a hair bigger than I had in Venice and my private bathroom is not so private. I have to leave my bedroom and go about ten feet across a “common” area to reach by toilet and shower, for which I have to use a key. They tell me it is a private bathroom because I have the only key! That is called “stretching the truth” in my opinion. It is also a problem for a guy who has to get up 3-5 times every night to use the toilet and I have to take fresh clothes with me and towel off in a wet room when taking a shower. Even the included breakfast requires one to go to a bar outside and across the street to eat it! I am not pleased for US$90 per night non-refundable. In addition, it is only slightly cheaper to eat here than in Venice. Italy is, for me, quite expensive. But I am already paid for my hotels in Siena and Florence so we will make do as best we can. I was so exhausted today and knees ache so badly that I only saw a little of the city today and am choosing to read a little and retire early. I will spend a full day tomorrow to tour the city center and try the pasta. Ciao.
8 May 2019 Bologna, Italy
My readers know that I am not a complainer. I generally simply accept things as they are in whatever county I am in – but two things are important to me: location and bathroom. I study location on line before I book any place because I want to be centrally located and not have to drag my luggage too far. Call that a concession to old age but if my location is not so good, it is my own fault, as I simply made an error in researching a place and made a poor decision on my part. But a private bathroom, not one down the hall requiring a key, is super important to me. That is an absolute necessity in my advanced years and, of course, I pay for that necessity. So when I am simply lied to or bathroom described falsely, that is the “hotel” and that does disturb me. Five trips last night alone requiring putting on pants and using two different keys is irritating and I will point that out in my on line review. Enough said.
The day started with a “fake” breakfast, one crescent roll, a small cup of coffee and a bottle of water. That is what we were provided. It was nothing compared to the wonderful breakfast provided at my hotel in Venice.
After that, I set out to explore the city and its food. I had mapped out a rough big circle around the city and took off accordingly. The city center is full of medieval architecture and many beautiful churches, two of which I must especially note: Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi and Basilica of San Petronio. Both these cathedrals were huge in both length and height and quite stunning even before one notices all of the wonderful art work inside. Most of the other buildings of the city I could not enter, but simply admire the architecture from outside. The city center also has two towers: Asinelli and Garisenda, both of which are apparently leaning! Take that Pisa! You can walk 496 steps to the top of one should you choose. I did not choose. Another unique feature of the central city is that most all of the sidewalks (walkways) are covered porticos. A very unusual addition to a city.
I stopped for lunch at a little place called “Pia Fabbri,” where I enjoyed a “Tagliatella bolognes” and a little tiny coffee, maybe ½ inch deep for EU$1.50. Coffee is the “thing” here but it is expensive literally per drop! The wide spaghetti noodles were good but served a bit more al dente than would be in the U.S. The lady, who appeared to be the owner, was very friendly and helpful to me though. After lunch I continued to walk and actually purchased two items at a little shop; one item I just thought was cute and the other, a towel, to wrap it in! I know that sounds crazy but if you ever come to visit me in AZ you will see why I did it.
The afternoon was a bit disappointing in that I could not get into any of the other buildings, even the churches, that I tried to enter. I have always found that strange about churches. Shouldn’t the “house of God” always be open? Shouldn’t the “house of God” also always have a toilet for the poor, the elderly, and all who need this basic necessity? I know, I think strangely, but that has always seemed logical to my mind. The Catholic church is incredibly rich, i.e, but what do they really do for the people?
Stopped for another expensive dinner at a little “upscale” restaurant. Ordered Tortellini Soup and Lasagna Bolognese. About US$27 for quite small portions. The soup was nothing special but the Lasagna may be the best I have ever eaten. The layers between the pasta were some cheese and a lot of seasoned Bolognese sauce. The pasta was green, so may have been spinach pasta. I am not certain. The total effect though was very tasty. Afterwards, returned to my room to take hot a shower, write some and early to bed.
Now there are, however, two things that, in my opinion, ruin Bologna as a tourist attraction and also for the people of Bologna. One, is that there are wires everywhere overhead and you cannot seem to take a photo of anything where wires of one kind or another are not in the way. That very much distracts from the old architecture of the city, and, two, there is graffiti everywhere. In fact, I do not believe I have ever seen a city so graffiti filled. It seems neither the government nor the people take any pride in the appearance of their city. I find that very sad in what is supposed to be a major tourist town. So for those reasons alone, I cannot recommend stopping in Bologna. Despite several wonderful churches, there are better choices in my opinion. All for now. Ciao.
9 May 2019 Bologna to Siena, Italy
Did not get up until after 8 AM to dress and go eat breakfast. After breakfast, I took my time in checking out and then walking the several hundred meters to the bus station and then taking an 11:30 bus to Siena as I come closer and closer to the end of this adventure. It was raining and cool as I walked to the bus station but, fortunately, had the covered walks almost all the way. Sat in the cool to cold air waiting for the bus, which turned out to be about 45 minutes late arriving in Bologna. We finally pulled out of the station though just after noon and the sun came out over the next hour or so.
The drive down to Siena was very interesting and scenic. We actually stopped at Florence and then on to Siena. The drive to Florence was 2-3 lane expressway all the way and the entire terrain was green hills and valleys with little flat land to be seen. The road seemed to be all bridges over valleys or tunnels through mountains. After the stop at Florence and driving to Siena, the road was all two lane, much slower and all curves and mountains. Again, very scenic though.
When we pulled into Siena about 3:30, the sun was shining and what was left of the day looked promising. Hailed a taxi to go to my hotel (flag drop was EU$6), Laconda de San Martino, which I discovered to actually be as advertised, in the heart of the old city. And this is the way an old city should be and where Bologna badly failed. SIENA IS INCREDIBLE!!!!! The old city is a walled city and the exteriors of the buildings are wonderfully preserved. Modernization has, of course, been accomplished on the inside of most buildings, but the outer character remains as it was 450-500 years ago. That is correct. I am sitting in my hotel room as I write this, a building about 450 years old! There are old wooden shutters and latches on the windows and old wooden furniture is the décor. An updated tiny bathroom has been stuck in the corner behind an old wooden door. Think twice airplane size with the additional half being a small shower. The toilet tank is on the wall above but you do not pull a chain to flush – you push up a small plunger. This is the coolest place I have stayed since an old gaucho/vaquero hangout in southern Chile! I love it!
I had about two hours max of daylight left to walk around some and have dinner before returning to my hotel. My first move was to buy a map and locate the hotel on it as this place is a twisted maze of streets with nothing parallel to anything else. Auto traffic is mostly limited to delivery and taxi loading and unloading. Only some residents have a permit to park inside the walls as space is clearly tight. What I did see in my brief stroll though (yes, you can stroll here), is a wonderfully preserved medieval city that is incredibly dark and “stone” cold after the sun is gone. The reception at my hotel closes and locks up at 8 PM, though he will give you a key code if you wish to go out. I will not do so. Breakfast is from 8-10 AM and I want to be up and going as I have only one full day (tomorrow, Friday) to explore this historically wondrous and fascinating place. I was very worn out yesterday and on the drive down today but, seeing this place, now my energy is renewed. All for now. Ciao.
10 May 2019 Siena, Italy
Up for breakfast at 08:00 and was pleased to see it was a nice breakfast buffet. No eggs, but several choices of cereal, lots of pastries, fruit and yogurt plus good coffee again. I went over my map to attempt to plan out a route but that turned out to be a bit silly. The streets are so twisted and turning, street names sometimes not on the map and sometimes do not seem to agree with my map. You stop at every intersection, look at your map, check any signs on the walls, and you make your decision. Yes, I was lost a few times but it always seemed to turn out okay eventually. This city, the old walled part, was founded in the 1100’s and built as a fortress on a hill so nothing is very flat. You do primarily up and down walking throughout the day. I mostly took my time though, with so much to see, that I never really got too tired out at any time. Weather was a concern as it was cool and overcast but, fortunately, it never did rain on my Siena parade.
I started with the Basilica dei servi and then down a street called Via Romana to see the first of several original portals/gateways into the city. Then I was trying to go to San Augustino but never did find it and ended up at Piazza Il Campo, the magnificent medieval public heart of the city. It is one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen and must be seen by any person who calls themselves a student of or lover of history. One could sit at any of the cafes around and drink coffee all day and not be bored.
At one point, I started again for San Augustino but, as mentioned never found it, ended up at the Plaza del Duomo and the grand duomo (main church) of Siena. My breath was taken away! It was a magnificent building inside and out and leaves you in awe as you take photo after photo of incredible art, architecture, design and beauty surround you. I must now add the Duomo of Sienna to Venice, Florence and the Vatican in Rome as truly amazing places. I would even add Krakow, Poland, and maybe Santiago, Chile to that list. It made me wonder again about the riches of the Catholic Church and why more is not done to help people’s lives? I do give the church credit though for providing the world with great art and architecture.
I then started out to find San Augustino again, as finding it had become a challenge – which I again failed. Another “wrong” turn led me to a hidden (under roof) wonderland of a 6 or 7 series of escalators that led one down to the lower ground and outside of the city walls, which turned out great! I got to see the old walls up close and a little bit of the city outside the walls. After a little wandering, I took the series of escalators back up (you did not want to walk it!) and eventually back up to Piazza Il Campo again. Along the way I browsed in a variety of small shops, picking up a few items I liked and especially two paintings, one of Piazza Il Campo and another of the Duomo, as I was very impressed with both of them. If Shakespearean clothing was being sold I probably would have purchased a fashionable outfit and walked the streets greeting visitors!
If you come to Italy (and you should) spend your time in Tuscany. Siena and Florence should be visited by all and Pisa, Lucca and Portofino among several others are all worth a stop. Siena though is “magnifico” and has now been added to my favorite small cities in the world. All places shining beacons in my head. Now, from what I have seen, the countryside around Siena is green, hilly and beautiful, but then that seems to be the case for all of Tuscany, Really, really, beautiful.
An interesting note about Siena; from what I have observed all the taxis are electric, as are the local buses, vans and garbage trucks! A medieval city but a very progressive one. Most places I have been in on this trip have electric railways in town and high speed trains in the country; all being far more progressive than the U.S. I laugh at the morons in the U.S. who run around saying “we’re #1.” In what? We are so far behind the world it is just sad. People like Sanders and AOC and others are trying to change that but will moronic voters listen? Who knows? My “hija especiale” once told me that Americans know how to make money, but they don’t know how to live. She is a very intelligent woman.
I finished my evening with an excellent pizza sitting in Trattoria Nannini, overlooking Piazza Il Campo, and listening to a group of young men boisterously singing at a restaurant next to ours as they seemed to be celebrating a wedding. A little gelato for dessert as I walked the short distance back to my over 450 year old hotel to write these impressions. Then I took a shower in my tiny little shower, which turned out to be not so tiny when one stepped inside and was perfectly fine for my needs. I then finished my packing (getting tighter), and tried to get a good night’s sleep (bed is a little hard for me). Tomorrow I head for Florence and the last real stop of my 2019 adventure. Ciao, ciao, all.
Saturday 11 May 2019 Siena to Florence, Italy
Up before 08:00 to enjoy another good breakfast. After breakfast, the hotel called a taxi for me to go catch the bus to Florence. It was routine and we were rolling on our way to Firenze by 9 AM, arriving at the main bus station in Florence by 10:30. The drive out of Siena was again green and beautiful; green and hilly everywhere you looked. I found the rest of Siena, outside the old city walls, to also be lovely with many hotel and restaurant choices. You can stay outside the walls and just visit inside for a day if one chooses. I liked staying inside the old city, but that is just me and my choice. But my readers all know by now I am a little crazy!
The first job I had was to find my hotel. I had a map of Florence so thought I knew where I was going. Not so. I walked, dragging my suitcase, about two miles until I reached my hotel, only to discover I am less than a half mile away had I turned correctly. Older and dumber every day.
After I checked in to my even tinier little room and even tinier shower, with only a curtain, that gets the floor all wet. It is strange in that the bathroom is clearly newly installed but designed very poorly. Que sera, sera. I then headed out to explore the city and stumble my way around as best I could. My map and street signs often disagreed, streets changed names and veered off in different directions and it seemed every tourist was looking at a map and looking puzzled, so I was not alone. I first visited the Medici building across the street from my hotel and then Church of San Lorenzo, around the corner, though my map shows the opposite is true? I then stumble over to the Palazzo Medici. The Medici family was the most important family here historically and created much of the wonders of Florence, thus their family name pops up in many places. I then managed a correct turn and about four blocks later came upon the Convent of San Marco. It is now a museum and one can visit about 40 former “cells,” a library and some other areas. Very stark form of living.
I then headed back towards the city center but within a few blocks I discovered the Museum of Leonardo da Vinci, an interesting little place filled with working models, many hands on, and made from his sketches and drawings. Upon leaving there, I made another turn and there in front of me was the Baptistry and the Duomo of Firenze. I took many outside photos but was too late to visit inside today and much of it is closed on Sunday, so they will be my main project for Monday, my last full day here. I then, totally by accident, discovered they were only about four blocks from my hotel and I am in an excellent location, right between the Duomo and the train station! Sometimes you manage to come out okay even when you do not always know what you are doing!
I have also noticed that autos are smaller (I knew that) but also the great number of bicycles and motorbikes. Both are more economical in European cities where parking is hard to obtain and very expensive. The Italians are also known as big bikers, not just in races like “Tour de France,” but there are regular bicycle races all over Italy, Siena having a major race every year.
Sunday, I am going to try to get in to the Uffizi if I can (may need reservation – which I do not have) and the Palazzo Pitti, across the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno. We shall see. I have been in both of them some years ago but will go again if I can. In any case, I am happy just soaking up the atmosphere of Firenze, one of the world’s most beautiful cities. All for now. Ciao Ciao.
Sunday 12 May 2019 Florence, Italy
A bit difficult to sleep as my room overlooks a busy plaza, but that’s what you get when you choose by location. I always carry ear plugs when I travel though and they work quite well for me. Anyway, I am up and going and immediately head for the Uffizi Palace, one of the great museums of the world. Those of you who have seen me recently know my back is bad and a bit bowed these days. I use a cane whenever I am out walking any distance or exploring a city, which, of course is what I am doing here in Florence. So as I approach the entrance to the Uffizi I note this is a line of several hundred people waiting to buy tickets and enter. A kind woman Uffizi employee notes my difficulties and immediately takes my hand and leads me in to the handicapped entrance. It is 8:30 and I am already in the magnificence of the Uffizi! Unfortunately, to start the full tour it is 120 steps up, four sets of thirty, and the same down, but at a slower pace. I made them all though. This “Tortuga Antiqua” just keeps plugging along.
I the spent the next 4.5 hours wandering and wondering at the works of so many masters of the art world: Botticelli, Roselli, Perugino, da Vinci, Raffaello, Michelangelo, Correggio, Tiziano, Caravaggio, Galileo and even Rubens, Rembrandt and more. Simply magnificent work. It is especially interesting that virtually all artists of the period had “patrons” who sponsored them, supported them and thus allowed them time to paint or sculpt or more. That is missing in today’s world.
Upon leaving the Uffizi, I walked to and crossed over the Arno River via the Ponte Vecchio, the gold, silver and jewelry merchants bridge that has been active for, I believe, 6-700 years. The bridge means something to me personally. My mother’s only brother, my favorite uncle, John, was stationed for time outside Florence when WWII was coming to a close. He told me that the American soldiers would go down to the Ponte Vecchio bridge every night because that is where they went to meet the local Italian girls! I always enjoyed his tales about that.
Crossing the bridge one soon comes upon the Pitti Palace, the immense and largest private residence in the history of Florence. It was relatively small when built by Pitti, but he then sold to the Medici family who greatly enlarged it. It is now filled by four different art museums but they pale next to the Uffizi. It is the immense size of the building from outside that you come to see.
I then crossed back over the Arno and headed to see the Santa Croce, or Church of the Holy Cross. The church itself is not particularly grand but is highly noted as the place where so many prominent historical persons of Florence are buried or entombed. I stood in front of the burial places of Dante, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, Pio Fedi (designer of the Statue of Liberty), Marconi and more. So here I was, standing in front of the final resting places of some of the greatest minds in the history of our world. Amazing feeling for me as a former world history teacher. I love having history come to life (or death) in front of me.
It was now 4:00 and I headed for the Accademi Bele Arti, and, specifically Michelangelo’s “David.” Arriving about 4:30, I again encountered difficulties with a line of several hundred waiting to enter when another kind employee noticed me standing there in pain and came over to take me inside through the handicapped entrance. And I was definitely in pain. I had walked more miles today than even yesterday on the hard stone of Florence and my back was really hurting tonight. It was kind of that man to assist me or I would have missed entering to see David again, as I had seen the work about forty years ago!
David is generally considered the greatest sculpture ever in the world and possibly the greatest peace of art ever, an opinion with which I agree. David is simply magnificent as every muscle, vein and body part is so exact, so well done, that David is considered to be the perfect man. When I stand in front of him I feel as if I am looking in a mirror! LOL
Anyway, I was thrilled to see David again and only wandered the rest of the museum for a short time. My back pain had simply become too much. From there, I walked directly back to my hotel and had dinner at a small trattoria directly under my hotel. I chatted some with a nice young woman from Seattle who had gone to UDub there. She knew a little basketball and we talked a bit about how U of A stole our women’s basketball coach, Adia Barnes, from UDub and the great job she is doing at Arizona. We shared a table in the small busy place we ate at. She was heading to Venice in the morning.
Okay, my goal for tomorrow is to see the Duomo and the Baptistry. If I can do that I will have accomplished all that I set out to see and do in Venice. Ciao for now.
Monday 13 May 2019 Venice, Italy
Up by 8:00 and off again to accomplish my goals for the day. I am in some pain heading out but will soon be getting plenty of rest back at home so, for now, off I went. All went well and I was in the Baptistry when it opened and soon after in the Duomo and several associated museums. I did not enter the Campanile because the only reason to do so is to climb the 400+ steps up for the view of Florence. I passed at this point.
The Duomo was a bit of a disappointment. It is very beautiful outside but very plain and ordinary on the interior. Large but not especially eloquent except for the great dome/cupola. You have to make an appointment to actually go up there but, again, it is hundreds of steps only to look down at those looking up! Again, I passed. By the time I had finished with the Duomo and all the associated museums, it was 1 PM, so stopped for a little lunch and coffee at a small trattoria called “Smalzi.” I wondered about the name?
I had accomplished all I wished to in Florence so slowly wandered the city a bit more, working my way over to the Piazza and the Church of Santa Maria Novella and behind the church, the train station. I took a photo of the train station as my last photo before leaving Italy in the morning. Ironically, my camera memory card showed full, so I guess it is time for me to go! So, for now, I give my last goodbye from Italy. Ciao.
European Adventure 2019 Wrap up
Well, another adventure has come and gone. It was a bit longer than most but it is now over. The trip home was not an easy one though. I had to take a train from Florence, Italy, to Rome; than a train to Fiumicino (Rome airport) and there was where it got a little exhausting. I was at the airport about 3 AM and thinking, okay, a little coffee and my 10:30 international flight to Chicago will be loading about 07:00 and I can sleep most of the 9.5 hour flight. I figured to be in Chicago by late afternoon and have dinner with an old friend and her husband that evening. I was definitely wrong! The flight from Rome ended up leaving five hours late, I got very little sleep and did not arrive in Chicago hotel until near 9 PM. I showered and collapsed in to bed as I had a flight to Tucson at 10:30 the next morning. Felt bad about missing dinner but such is life.
I took an airport shuttle back to the airport the next morning at 07:00 and went immediately to the United Club. I get two passes a year to go there and I have save them for special occasions, as this was. They put out a full breakfast spread so was able to get a nice meal plus several cups of coffee. That was all great as this flight to Tucson also left an hour late, so I just sat there nibbling and drinking coffee until time to go to the gate. Finally arrived safe in Tucson where my good neighbor, Al, was there to pick me up and back home to Green Valley, where I am now safe and reasonably sound.
Some final thoughts? I discovered I like cruising, depending on the itinerary of course, but generally enjoy it - especially when you have a good traveling companion, as I did with my old friend, Art. I like Italy and most of Europe in general, but it is expensive and difficult for me to afford, so not sure how much of it I will get to do in the future. I love Istanbul, as you all know by now, and highly recommend the place. Egypt is simply terrible. Cairo has horribly polluted air and I was fighting illness all the time I was there due to the air. They also had the most chaotic, disorganized airports I have ever encountered. If you really, really, want to see the pyramids, fly in, see Giza and the Egyptian Museum (very near each other) and get out of Cairo.
Except for the bad air and airports in Cairo though, I am happy I made this trip. Yes, it was tiring and I am certainly not getting any younger; but my body handled it pretty well overall. Working out for six weeks prior on my treadmill definitely helped and my legs are stronger than they have been in some time. My back pain is a problem, but it is something I suffer with sitting in front of the TV or traveling the world - so I choose to suffer traveling the world. Heck, if I could afford it I would be happy to take a yearlong around the world cruise! Dream on! I do hope to take another one somewhere with Art as soon as he gets his health back. We're both old, so health is always the most critical item in any future decisions. I can't say I'm "fit as a ruttin' buck," but I'm doing okay for an "emeritus" old stag. LOL
To all my readers, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings and remember, the invitation to join me in my travels is always there for your consideration. But for this trip, Ciao, Ciao.
Green Valley, Arizona: December 2018
I have been sitting here thinking about my annual end-of-year holiday letter and what could I say? It seems to get more difficult each year as one's life becomes quieter and quieter over time, but let me try to review the past year and, if I make a mistake, forgive me as exact time has become more confusing than it used to be.
First of all, I remain healthy, or as reasonably healthy as one can be at my age. I have done a decent job of losing some weight, which helps. I flew to Florida In April to visit Maria, her partner Val, and my beautiful little step-grand daughter, Emma. Most of you know that Maria is my Argentinean "hija" ever since meeting her in Parana, Argentina, over twenty years ago. Val is also from Argentina and a college softball coach in Florida, were their family is happily settled. I had a wonderful visit with them plus, since I was in Florida, drove down the coast to visit with my good friend from grad school at Tennessee, Steve. We are two of five guys who shared many classes and hung around together at that time. We now live in five different states: Florida, Tennessee, New York, Illinois and Arizona; so it is rare when any of us get to see any of the others. Only two (TN & NY) are married. Three of us are still "wanderers" on this planet! It was great to see Steve and catch up on his life.
Upon returning from Florida, I was also healthy & energetic enough to wander to Peru and Ecuador last spring. I spent time in the Peruvian Amazon River rain forest, staying in a quite comfortable lodge up on stilts for six nights and about forty miles downriver by boat from "civilization," which was the city of Iquitos in this instance. Interestingly, I felt the "jungle" was in many ways more "civilized" than Iquitos - certainly much cleaner in every way. I had an excellent time, saw lots of wildlife, ate excellent local food and overall had a wonderful life experience. I highly recommend Muyuna Lodge which, of course, you can "Google" as you wish. I also enjoyed my several days in Iquitos though I did find it hot, humid and relatively unclean, as are most river/port towns. It seems the nature of the beast.
Leaving Iquitos, I flew to Trujillo, Peru, for a few days to visit with my friend Rosy. I have known Rosy for over twenty years as we met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the mid-90's when she was working for the Embassy of India there. She was my tour guide and pleasant companion for a few days as we visited some interesting archeological sites in the area, especially "Chan Chan."
From Trujillo, I bused up to Ecuador, stopping first at Loja, Ecuador, a pleasant little town in the Andes for a few days, and then proceeding to Cuenca, Ecuador, where my old friend of almost thirty years and song writing partner, Jerry, has retired. Cuenca, a mid-sized city in the Andes just south of the equator, is a popular retirement destination for American "gringos," and a place I strongly considered - and am still considering if Americans are stupid enough to re-elect trump and the criminals calling themselves republicans. Together, they have decimated my country's standing in the world and made life risky and unpleasant for all of us, particularly if you are a non-white minority in America. They are without heart and as pure evil as I have ever experienced in my long life. And for all my many foreign friends, remember, trump lost the popular vote by several million people and only was elected through our electoral college system that the crooked republicans manipulated to their advantage. I, and the majority of Americans, detest trump and what he has done and is doing to our country. Hopefully, we will rid ourselves of him and his mafia-like family soon.
Other than that, summer in Arizona was as usual, hot and quiet. I spent much of my time gardening, particularly in the cooler morning or early evening hours. I must say my garden is doing very well and I receive many complements on it and my eclectic use of cacti, succulents, bushes, pots and mix of color. I am quite proud of it as it is certainly something I did not grow up knowing much about! I guess my Stanelle farmer genetic roots are somehow coming through as I have no other explanation for it.
Fall started out okay with interesting baseball playoffs but that rapidly deteriorated with the start of football season. I follow (and watch whenever I can) five teams: Ball State (losing season), Tennessee, (losing season), Arizona (losing season), Wisconsin (barely a winner), and, of course, the Packers (losing season). So, as far as sports go, it has been a miserable fall season! I would say "on to basketball," where most of the above will have winning seasons but, unfortunately, it appears none will be competing for any championships. It will be a so-so basketball season also.
The fall was not all lost, however, as I did turn 76 in October and still remain on the right side of the ground, so that is a good thing. Plus, as my fall highlight, I was fortunate enough to get a visit from one of my former "athletes," a young man who played for me many years ago. Tom came to visit for a weekend and we attended a football game together. This are came about as a result of getting back in touch with many of my former "Comanche" family, a wonderful group of boys then and now young men. Many happy memories for me and hopefully them also.
Now thinking about Christmas, I was remembering how when I was young that everyone you knew, individuals and businesses, sent out Christmas cards to everyone they knew! You would count them and line them up on your fireplace mantel, tape them on your door frames, or in some way use them as decorations of the season. And now? Literally no one sends such things anymore. For the last few years I have received just a single card, from a wonderful young woman who I was fortunate enough to hire and work with many years ago. I have been able to joyfully observe her family grow over all these years and, each year, she continues to bring a little joy to my heart. I leave out her name but she knows who she is.
I speak regularly by phone to my children, Dori and Brad, which is of great importance to me. I also see Dori a few times a year as she only lives a few hours away. My son lives two days drive away but hope to visit him next summer again. I have been able to speak with a few other old friends by phone, particularly Gary, Marcus and Kevin, who always bring a little joy to my heart also. The same is true when I receive any email from any of my former players, students or friends in the U.S. or China. Just simple words from any of them bring sunlight to my days. Again, they know who they are.
Many ask me if or where will I travel in 2019? I can only tell them that I do now know? If my health remains good enough to travel, I will certainly go somewhere, but where is still a mystery to me! So many places I would still like to see (Turkey, India, Greece, ????) but so little time anymore. China? Maybe, but maybe also they are tired of seeing me after all of these years. I would like to go (dream?) around the world: China, India, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Morocco, wander all of Europe and eventually back to the U.S. and a few places here. But will I remain well enough? Have energy enough? And have money enough? All very valid questions that will remain unanswered right up until next spring.
For now, I close with wishing you all a wonderful holiday season and a joy-filled 2019. I thank you all for being part of what to date has been a wonderful memory-filled life and pray that we will all eventually see 2020 together, especially all of us who have always had to wear glasses to see! My thanks, appreciation and love to all, Bob
Green Valley, AZ: 14 August 2018
It has been a long hot summer here in Arizona. August rains over the last few weeks have cooled us down but the orange moron we have as our president and his republican cronies are keeping me hot under the collar. This man and his supporters are screwing up our country for near a half century if not forever. His antics, and that's what they are, antics, stupid edicts of all kinds that are destroying our environment worldwide, the economy worldwide and our standing throughout the world. We have gone from a respected nation and leader to a hated nation and laughing-stock among our former allies. Yet all we can do is continue to speak against these people, vote totally democratic in 2018 and hope to somewhat contain him with a democratic congress and then vote totally democratic in 2020 and throw the orange moron out of office. We continue to hope that the Mueller investigation will impeach him before then but who knows? Stories come out daily about what an idiot he is but somehow he remains in office. Sad.
As for me otherwise, my health stays mostly the same except for some deterioration with my feet. My neuruopathy keeps getting worse, particularly in my right foot, and it has become painful to walk. The doctor has me taking more vitamin B but it doesn't seem to help any. Just more of the joys of getting old along with poor reaction time to most anything and the worsening memory loss.
I still have travel hopes for next year though. I would like to return to China once more, if possible, and hopefully also to Japan again, India, Turkey and Europe. Maybe even a cruise? They are all big question marks though. Health and money situations will determine what choices I am able to make.
Also on the plus side, I am very happy in my home and with my friends and neighbors. I have worked very hard on my garden over two plus years and counting both in-ground and pots I have over 200 desert plants in my garden and 98% of them seem to be doing well. My work now is replacing the few that die, reppotting those that grow too big for their pot, doing some trimming in fall and spring, and watering where necessary. Most of my plants are either on a sprinkling system or drought tolerant cacti. I two have two citrus trees but cannot remember what they are I planted? Oranges? Grapefruit? Lemons? Limes? I'll just have to be surprised when they bloom! One now has two small green fruits growing on it and when they get bigger I should at least know what one tree is!
I continue to hope for visitors from afar, particularly China, but it has not happened. It is sad for me as I very much miss my friends in Wuhan and elsewhere. One of my former students has emailed me that he is coming to the U.S. sometime in September but his final itinerary is not set yet. I do hope to visit with him a bit though.
American football season is starting though and that means I will have my Green Bay Packers, Arizona Wildcats, Wisconsin Badgers and Tennessee Volunteers to watch and cheer for most every weekend. And fortunately, for my entertainment pleasure, college basketball will soon follow. All for now.
Green Valley, AZ: 12 April 2018
It has been awhile since I touched base with everyone so am now doing so! I just returned from a great trip to Florida. I have never been a big fan of Florida because I do not like the high humidity there. I much prefer my desert dryness climate. However, this was a GREAT trip because of the people I saw and spent time with.
First I spent half day with Steve, a special friend from my graduate school days at Tennessee. He showed me a bit of the Florida terrain as we took a short hike and then had dinner at a wonderful Thai restaurant. Of course, we filled each other in on our lives as much as possible plus the lives of our mutual friends. We both agreed that our friend, Keith, was doing exactly as we expected but the rest of our little group was all over the map, figuratively and literally. Steve seemed especially interested in my time in China.
I then spent a three day weekend with my Argentinean hija (daughter), Maria, her partner, Val, and my delightful step grand-daughter, Emma, who will be four on 7 May. Maria means a great deal to me and now so do Val and Emma. In truth, I love all of their family and am crazy about Emma! She is just an absolute delight to be around. Of course, Val and Maria are spoiling her terribly! They all live in Florida, in a lovely home on an island between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean, only a few blocks from either one. Being Florida, of course, they have a swimming pool in their yard so they are pretty much surrounded by water but are very happy there. The climate is actually somewhat similar to where they were raised in Argentina. Maria has finally obtained U.S. citizenship and continues to work in management for the Campbell's Soup Corporation and Val is the head softball coach at Florida Institute of Technology.
I then took a final day to drive down to Miami and across the Everglades, something I had always wanted to do. Except for seeing a small caiman, maybe 30", it was pretty uneventful. Hit a heavy rainstorm on the way back to the Orlando airport but then had a routine flight back home.
As for my daily life, I am still pro9bably as fine as an old man can be. I will leave on 18 April (next week) to fly to the Amazon jungle for a week, another place I always hoped to visit, and then see more of Peru and Ecuador before returning to Arizona. I have old friends in both Trujillo, Peru, and Cuenca, Ecuador, I will also be visiting with. Hopefully, my tired old body can still take it and, if not, well that will tell me something also. We shall see.
Green Valley, AZ: 22 Feb 2018
Thought I'd write a short response today to what has been going on in my country and the world. First, I hope that all of my wonderful Chinese friends had a great Spring Festival this last week and that they were all able to spend time with family and old friends, enjoy good food and live in total happiness. Don't forget me and please write on occasion.
I am certain that my friends in China and everywhere have read about another school shooting here in the U.S. and the continued violence we are forced to live with due to our disgusting politicians and our equally disgusting NRA (National Rifle Association). These are the people that allow guns to flood our streets and the violence and killings to continue. These idiots keep reciting the 2nd amendment to our constitution giving all citizens "the right to bear arms," well giving no intelligent thought to the fact that it was written hundreds of years ago when rifles were single shot muskets and have to bearing to how the world and weapons have evolved since. Why any hunter or any normal person needs to own an assault weapon of war is beyond any rational thinking but then politicians and the NRA are not rational.
Large numbers of students of all ages and many of their parents and other adults have been taking to the streets in protest and demanding that AK47s, AR15s, and other "weapons of war" be banned. I cheer for all of them and believe strongly in their cause. They are reminding politicians they will be eligible voters in a few years and will vote only for those who support gun control. To date though, our idiot president and the republican politicians (and some democrats) have paid no attention to their cause. One can only hope voters will keep this in mind come election time. If we do not stop these people I fear our country is doomed. It may be already under trump and the republicans in congress.How do people who believe in peace and non-violence stop the people who believe in guns and their right to use them? It sounds impossible on the surface. Historically, we moved from the so-called "wild west" to a "civilized" nation and somehow we have gone back to the wild west. Sad.
As for me personally, I am okay and my health remains much the same. I live in a peaceful area so do my best to live in that same way. I hope to take a trip of some kind come this April/May time period. I am not sure where yet but have narrowed down to the Peruvian Amazon, Spain or the UK. So many choices and so little time and money. Such is life though. One just keeps putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Even if you do not know where you are going, you still wind up somewhere! All for now my friends. Stay happy and well.
Green Valley, AZ: 30 November 2017
This is how Senate Republicans compromise these days: They could make their enormously unpopular tax bill, which lavishes benefits on corporations and wealthy families, more generous to real estate tycoons and hedge fund billionaires to win over a couple of lawmakers who say the legislation doesn’t do enough for small businesses.
Even by the collapsing standards of Congress this is astounding. The change demanded by the two unhappy senators — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana — would further lower the tax bills of people like President Trump who earn most of their income through limited liability companies, partnerships and other “pass through” businesses that do not withhold taxes on the money passed along to their owners. About 70 percent of all pass-through income goes to people in the top 1 percent of Americans who receive any income whatsoever.
Under the Senate bill, business owners could claim a 17.4 percent deduction on their pass-through income before paying taxes. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Daines want a higher deduction, meaning that moguls would pay taxes on less of their earnings. It is conceivable that this could benefit some mom-and-pop businesses, but only modestly so. This is really about stuffing the pockets of people like Mr. Trump, who controls his real estate, licensing and hospitality empire through more than 500 pass-through businesses, according to his lawyers.
Forgotten in this deal-making are the millions of poor and middle-class families whose tax and health insurance premiums would rise under the Senate bill. Republican lawmakers keep talking about how middle-class families would see tax cuts of about $1,000, or about $19 dollars a week, but those cuts would last only a few years before expiring after 2025. By 2027, families making under $75,000 a year would on average pay more in taxes, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. All told, half of all taxpayers would pay more by that year and two-thirds of people in the middle 20 percent of the income distribution would pay more, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. People earning $40,000 to $50,000 would collectively lose $5.3 billion by paying more in taxes and receiving less in government spending in 2027 while millionaires would gain $5.8 billion, according to the Joint Committee and the Congressional Budget Office.
The bill would also repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty. As a result, up to 13 million could lose coverage, and premiums would rise 10 percent a year for the next 10 years, the C.B.O. says. Senator Susan Collins of Maine has correctly noted that any temporary tax cuts for the middle class would be more than offset by the higher cost of health insurance — a good reason for her to vote against the bill.
Because it would cut corporate taxes so deeply — to 20 percent, from 35 percent — this bill would blow a huge hole in the federal budget. Over the next 10 years, it would add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit. That hole would have to be filled somehow, someday. That would probably mean even higher taxes on the middle class in the future and cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other important government programs. Several Republican senators — Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Jerry Moran of Kansas — have expressed concerns about the deficit. If they are genuinely troubled, they will uphold their demand that Congress not pass the buck for tax cuts to future generations and will vote no on this bill.
The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is trying to rush the bill to a vote by the end of the week. This self-imposed deadline is intended to give lawmakers and the public as little time as possible to analyze and understand the bill. The Senate has held no hearings on this legislation, which has been cooked up behind closed doors by Republicans without Democratic input. Senator John McCain of Arizona gave a stirring speech in July about the need for the Senate to be “deliberative” and “bipartisan” during the debate about repealing the A.C.A. The mad dash to get a tax bill passed before Christmas has been a prime example of what Mr. McCain was railing against. If he stands for the principles he spoke about so eloquently, he will vote no on this bill, just as he did on the deeply flawed health care legislation.
Republican senators have a choice. They can follow the will of their donors and vote to take money from the middle class and give it to the wealthiest people in the world. Or they can vote no, to protect the public and the financial health of the government. There’s no compromise on that.
Green Valley, AZ: 24 October 2017
Well, it has been awhile since I have put any thoughts on paper so decided it was time again. My country continues to be a place of much sadness as the orange-haired Liar-in-Chief continues to be our president. He lies multiple times every day, insults others multiple times every day and continues his desperate attempts to get policies passed that would benefit only the wealthy, such as himself and his cronies. He is the most despicable human being ever to hold the office and we remain stuck with him so far.
He also keeps trying to undo all the good things that President Obama, one of our most popular presidents in history, had done. Unfortunately, he has been successful at undoing some of them. I, and millions like me, continue to fight him daily though in any way we can. His so-called approval ratings continue to decline while disapproval ratings rapidly rise so we have hope, despite the incredibly ignorant people that still support him, many of whom I am unfortunately related to.. I do not speak to any of them but, as is said, you can pick your (intelligent) friends but you can’t pick your (ignorant) relatives. You’re stuck with them too.
Day-to-day though life goes on relatively peacefully for me and I remain about has happy as I can be for one who will be 75 the end of this week. Three quarters of a century! Wow! I would have taken better care of myself (maybe) had I known I would live this long. I finally have my several new teeth (dentures) and am slowly getting used to them. My old bones continue their arthritic aches and pains but otherwise healthy. My garden is doing well and quite colorful, drawing many butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. I also had the exterior of my home painted so it all looks really good.
I went to Colorado earlier this month to visit with my son and see the home he has purchased in the Denver area (Lakewood). It was a great pleasure to see him doing well. We also went to see the Arizona at Colorado football game which our AZ team won. The day I left Colorado was experiencing their first snow of this season. This weekend my daughter and her husband are coming down from Phoenix to visit for my birthday and we will also attend the Washington State at AZ football game on Saturday night. It is U of A’s 100th Homecoming weekend and a big game as both teams are having good years to date. I also went to the Arizona basketball Red-Blue game last weekend with my neighbors. It is the inaugural event of the basketball season and AZ is expected to have one of the top teams in the country again this year. Being a big fan of AZ sports is great this year with our really good teams. Unfortunately, being a Packer fan is a little tough with the injury to Aaron Rodgers (broken collarbone), our stat quarterback. Cheering for the U of Wisconsin is also fun as they are undefeated so far in football but cheering for the U of Tennessee is just the opposite as they are currently having a really bad season.
Outside of watching sports, I still spend most of my time reading and enjoying a variety of good books, 1-2 every week. I still hope to travel somewhere again next April, May, June or thereabout. We will see how my health and funds are. I wanted to go back to Europe but not sure as it has become so expensive and not always so safe anymore. I still like South America but have been there many times. I’ve managed to get to forty countries so far and would like to try for fifty but who knows? I have also thought about just driving all over the U.S. and Canada. Again, who knows? I have had the privilege and joy of connecting via email with some old friends from my undergraduate days at Ball State and that has been nice. I am still greatly hoping my Chinese friends will come to visit me here and I can show them around the western USA.
I guess that is all for now. If I have repeated anything, that’s just another joy of old age. I hope you are all well and happy, wherever you are in this big world. Try to live long and prosper as best you can.
Green Valley, AZ: August 31, 2017
As many of you know, my family and I lived in Houston, TX, for 14 years. Many of you reading this also previously lived in Houston at one time; so we have all been watching the happenings there with great interest and perhaps relief that we do not live there now. But many of us still have friends that may yet live there so the news has been somewhat devastating to watch. I know that I still have several friends in Texas and I have tried to phone them but have only gotten recordings to date. I am concerned about them but also realize they probably have much to concern them without taking time to return calls.
I know both my son and daughter have friends there yet as they both went to school there from first grade thru HS. The home we lived in at Atascocita/Humble, TX, just NE of Houston off HWY 59, may or may not have been flooded. I tend not to think so as we were several feet above the norm of Lake Houston. However, our home was also only one lot off the water so it is entirely possible our old home is heavily damaged. I have looked at many photos but nothing is very easy to recognize except for freeway and street signs. I also owned a fishing cottage at Matagorda (SE of Houston) at one time and I have little doubt that is now completely gone. In addition to the hurricane winds, the area got as much as 52" of rain in five days which is, of course, a record for the area. In fact, a record for the entire U.S. Meanwhile all the rest of us can do is donate to various relief funds and hope the best for everyone there and especially those we know and care about. Plus, they say that with the global warming storms will get worse as they gather their power from warmer ocean waters. Yet we have an idiot for a president who still denies the reality of global warming. One only hopes the courts and congress will to everything they can to stop him from making it worse.
By contrast, I am well, safe and dry at my home here in AZ. In fact, the 52" of rain that fell in just five days in Houston is over five times what we in southern AZ get in an entire year! So except for my ongoing dental problems I am doing fine. They tell me that my dental issues should be pretty much taken care of with the next month though so all should be good. September through the beginning of April is my favorite time of year due to football (pro & college) and basketball (college) seasons often keeping me glued to the TV and cheering for my times. It is, of course, also a great time of year for our weather in Arizona so I continue to hope for visits from my Chinese friends. (I keep reminding them to come see me).
I am still doing mostly a good job of keeping my weight under control and developing no new significant health issues other than normal old age stuff (like eyes, teeth and joints), so all-in-all I am as happy as can be for now. I plan to go to Colorado for a few days in early October to see my son and likely a weekend with my daughter sometime soon. I also play cards one night a week (Tuesday) and am even considering doing a little substitute (short-term) teaching this fall. Maybe, maybe not, I don't know? That's about it. I am well as is my lovely garden and hope you are well also. Keep the folks in Houston in your thoughts and wishes.
Green Valley, AZ: 06/03/17
I have been back from my wonderful trip to China and more for a few weeks now. My body has recovered from the long journey but my mind continues to wrap around the joy of it all. It is the primary joy I can find being back in a country that remains filled with an ignorant president and the millions of ignorant people that follow him. The pied piper leading lemmings to the cliff. It is so sad to see my country being led to ruin by these idiots. These people have less sense than any other living creature from aardvark to zebra. They are as unthinking as an android, filled not with AI but with artificial stupidity. Every day is a struggle to live in such a nation and among such ignorant people, so ignorant and naive that they believe the incredibly obvious lies uttered every time Trump opens his mouth. He is a complete traitor to our country and the world and he and the ignorant who voted for him have mortgaged our future if not killed it altogether.
Our country will never be the leader in the world again. Now that doesn't bother me so much as there is nothing wrong with being #2 or #3 or #10 or much, much, lower as our president is taking us. He caters to the advocates of fossil fuel which anyone of even mediocre intelligence should know is finite and clean energy is not just our future - but our only choice for a future. And coal? Coal is virtually extinct as a fuel. No company nor individual, other than a coal miner, wants to burn or in any way use dirty coal. When I was a small boy in the 40's and 50's, we lived in my grandfathers house equipped with a coal furnace. I well remember the coal truck making its deliveries and pouring it down the outside coal chute into our basement. I well remember my grandfather shoveling coal into the furnace all winter long to keep the house warm. It was very, very, hard and dirty work. Coal will NEVER return as a primary fuel in our country yet the idiot Trump lies to those who once worked in the industry and tells them he will bring their jobs back. And it's the same for the now rusted out factories. These jobs are NEVER returning and ignorant people again think otherwise, led in their mass delusions by our non-industrious and non-illustrious lying president.
The future is in the clean energy and robotic machinery which can do every thing a factory worker once could but cleaner, cheaper and more efficiently. This should be obvious to anyone with even an average IQ. Unfortunately, in my country, those people seem to be greatly lacking in number. Many of these people complain about their inability to find a job or only a low paying job. Yet there are thousands of well-paying jobs available to those qualified. Why do we have so few qualified? For two main reasons. (1) Our students are educationally lazy and avoid math and science education, which is where the jobs are! Yet they want more money per hour when they can't even make simple change for a dollar as a cashier. (2) You have to go to where the jobs are. When a town has died economically due to the death of steel plants, coal mines, or whatever obsolete industry, you don't sit there and wait for the now non-existent jobs to return. They are not coming back! Never. It is the equivalent of attending a seance and believing your long dead relative is going to return and talk to you.
I, like many economists, believed China would be #1 power in the world by 2050 but now, thanks to the idiot in the white house, it is going to happen much sooner, perhaps only a few years away. Why? Again, for two primary reasons. (1)Chinese students are far more industrious than American students. They love math and science and take great pleasure in discovering things. So they become smarter and work harder. (2) Their government is far better than ours, far better. They make intelligent decisions based on the long-term future for their people. They work with other nations to build cooperative agreements and programs in every way. I have personally witnessed the great changes that have occurred in China over the last few decades and they are marvelous. Anyone who has actually traveled to China several times over this period knows what I am talking about.
Our president, in turn, tells other nations to go F-- themselves, that we do not need them. When, in the entire history of the planet, as it been wiser to go alone instead of cooperating with others? Never. We are a country of less than 400 million people. China and India alone have more than 2.5 billion, more than six times us, and the world as a whole is more than ten times us. Yet the idiot in our white house continues to yell "America first!" When you are vastly out-numbered, more than 10 to 1, you have no real power alone except in your own small mind. But you can have a lot of power and influence when you work together. Our ignorant president would be a cashier unable to make change had he not inherited forty million from his father. He is no "intellectual businessman." He is a clown in big boys clothing. You can dress him up and put makeup on him but he is still an ignorant circus clown. No insult intended to real circus clowns who can actually make people laugh rather than be appalled at their antics. Trump regularly insults others but can't take it if someone insults him back. Sad.
Why do I stay in the U.S.? I am not sure. At my age it is difficult to move for a variety of reasons: time, energy, money, language, etc. So I sit here desperately hoping for the 2018 and 2020 elections to throw Trump and most of these republican crooks out of office before our health insurance, retirement and more is all gone. These people are the biggest crooks since Nixon and, unfortunately, our people have become even more ignorant since that time. Meanwhile, I continue to look seriously at Chile, Ecuador and Peru. I like China but would need to marry a Chinese citizen to do that and, probably a much younger woman. None of these things are easy to do.
Otherwise, I am fine and my health remains good. I actually find it amusing when idiots right things to be like "calm down" or why don't I leave if I don't like it here? First of all, I am virtually always calm. I write not as any rant, but simply as a thinking person analyzing a situation and expressing my views. And why don't I leave? I've covered that above.
An old friend of mine has reminded me that throughout history great nations have only lasted about 200 years before their decline and fall. We have been around for 243 now so perhaps our time is up. Meanwhile, I continue to keep an eye out for a good woman from any country who thinks somewhat as I do, can communicate with me in English (or Spanish) and might enjoy reading and traveling with me. Meanwhile, I guess que sera, sera. Ciao for now.
Seoul & Korea: May 1-8, 2017
I enjoyed my visit to Korea as I had never been there before. I spent most of my time in Seoul plus a one day visit to the DMZ and Panmunjom. Seoul is another big city that was much the same mish-mash as most all big cities. There were several interesting historical sites though. The first was the Gyeongbokgung, originally built in 1395 as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty, burned down by the Japanese in1592 and then finally rebuilt in 1867 before again being partially destroyed by the Japanese Efforts to fully restore it have been ongoing since. Worth a tour for history buffs, of which I am one
The next is Changdeokgung Palace built in 1405 as a secondary palace of the Joeson Dynasty, though why you would need two only a few kilometers apart seems strange but that is what dynasties do. It was also destroyed by the Japanese and then rebuilt in 1610 and then served as the main palace for the next 270 years. You will find the Throne Room and several buildings of interest, or at least I did.
The third palace is Deoksugung Palace which was used on and off as the King's residence due to the various Japanese invasions and rebuilding efforts of the other palaces. All three of these palaces have tours in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. Seoul appears very much tourist oriented and thus the tours in many languages. The same is true at Jongmyo, a Confucian-based shrine where the supposed spirits of all deceased kings and queens are enshrined.
I also found of interest Jogye-sa, Seoul's largest Buddhist Temple and a quite colorful place to visit, plus the Bukchon Hanok Village area of the city which features a large concentration of traditional Korean homes featuring patterned walls and tile roofs. There are, of course, also some newer structures of architectural interest scattered around the city, such as the new Seoul City Hall.
Once you visit those five historical places though the rest of the city seems very heavily geared to shopping, shopping and more shopping. The big three shopping areas are each slightly different though and have characters of their own.Namdaemun Market was only a five minute walk from my hotel so I had ample opportunity to wander the great variety of places in this area and sample some good street food. I was especially fond of some vegetable steamed buns I found very tasty.
I also enjoyed the Insa-dong street and area. Though very tourist-oriented one could admire many craft and artists shops and I did pick up a few small items in that area. The big shopping area though is Myeong-dong. It is not just large in size but features most every kind of store for all budgets plus a great array of street food! You definitely want to spend at least one evening in Myeong-dong, more if you are a serious shopper or street food aficionado! My favorite "snack" here though was a 16" tall green tea/vanilla ice cream cone as, after all, I am a Wisconsin boy!And, of course, no one can eat just one, so I went back the next day and had a strawberry/blueberry one! Unforgettable!
As a whole though, I am glad I visited but overall seeing Seoul once is likely enough for most folks. The Korean peninsula itself is cold with constantly changing weather. One experiences three seasons a day quite regularly and often strong winds. I was there at the time of the Korean presidential elections which was certainly interesting. The liberal anti-Trump policies candidate was elected, whipping the conservative pro-Trump hardliner by 17% points. Korea proved to be no different than Japan and China in their over-whelming rejection of Trump and his ways by the people of Asia. The Korean president resides in the "Blue House" as compared to our U.S. White House, though one could argue ours as been "blue" since Trump entered it.
My most interesting day though was my last in Seoul when I took the one-day tour to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Panmunjom. The entire day was almost comical and only left me wondering why the hell we are even there? You can only go on an escorted tour and you have to sign a long list of often strange rules before you or your tour bus can proceed. Each of our passports was checked a total of six times before the day ended. Once we entered the DMZ we were escorted by a UN soldier who came on our bus and then escorted us to a different bus. By chance, we happened to get an American from New Jersey who seemed more laid-back about the whole experience. He told us all the rules and things we could not do, many of which seemed silly. He took questions but answered only those he was "allowed" to answer, which were few. He mostly said, "Sorry, I Can't answer that." When asked, for example, how many Americans were there he only responded, "Enough."
We visited a variety of interesting things and made a variety of stops before we even got as far as the "escorted" part though. We saw various closed bridges, toured the third of four tunnels supposedly dug by the North Koreans into South Korea.. We saw Dorasan Railroad Station connecting the North and South and that has never been used and, of course, many views of the North across the DMZ. We were always hearing very loud blaring speakers. The American U.N. soldier who accompanied us on the second bus said that the North Koreans blasted sound into South Korea 24 hours a day describing how wonderful life was in the North and asking people to come over and see. And, of course, South Korea blasted the same propaganda into the North telling them to come over and see. This has been going on for over half a century and, in my view, it is all insane! All wasted man-power, energy and pure stupidity - but then that is what war is, pure stupidity!
He also told us, though somewhat indirectly, that no one wanted to be based there that was not from South Korea as the weather was terrible, they had one small canteen, one small gym and that was it. A year of cold, wet and boring. The best part of the tour was entering the MAC Conference Room, which actually straddles the border and is in both countries. Yes, I was actually in North Korea!!!!! Two ROK soldiers were guarding the door into North Korea, I guess so none of us could defect to the North. This room designed for the peace talks has been unused for a very long time. Crazy.
If I were president I would tell China they can have Taiwan, Macao, Hong Kong, Tibet and whatever they want. They agree to stay out of North Korea and not support them in any way, the U.S. agrees to stay out of South Korea and not support them in any way, and let these crazy people fight it out among themselves for this relatively small, cold and miserable peninsula. Stop wasting all this money and time and let the Koreans handle it themselves and get it over with. But then I'm just a crazy old man but so is this whole situation. I did like kimchi though!
So, it is unlikely at my age that I'll ever go back to that area of the world, but if I do it certainly would not include Korea. China and Japan are far better choices. Besides the most beautiful women are in China with Japan second and Argentina third. All others are much further down my list. I may be old but I can still look and see!
Finally, my daughter asked where will I go next? I have no idea! I am still trying to get my body adjusted to the fifteen hour time difference and very long flight back home. The attached picture is of me standing in North Korea with the two South Korean (ROK) soldiers intensely guarding the door into the north. All for now.
Wuhan, China: May 1-8, 2017
I have returned to my home in Arizona and have been putting off writing this for some days as I am not sure how to explain it all as it was unbelievable even to me! So I just decided to tell what happened and if it sounds self-promoting, so be it, but it is not meant to be. It just was.
When my many friends in Wuhan insisted I come back for a visit I was a bit hesitant as it is such a long, long, trip and I have become so old! However, my friends kept insisting and en my children said to go for it once we found out I did not have any serious illness. I had also never visited Japan and Korea so decided I would stop at those also. As most of you know I visited Japan first and much enjoyed it. I stopped in Korea on my way back to the U.S. and will write about that later.
I arrive in Wuhan near midnight on Monday, 1 May, on a direct flight from Tokyo. Because it was late all the currency exchange places were closed and I had nothing but some Japanese yen and $US. Fortunately, my friend Lin Li, the university VP/Director of International Programs and Cooperation had sent a car for me and I was very happy to see my name being held up by the driver. I was taken to the Harvest International Hotel near the university, a brand new and very beautiful hotel. I was in a palace compared to the places I usually stay. Lin Li had left a message that she would pick me up at 11 AM the next morning as she knew I would be tired from my late arrival. Breakfast at the hotel was included and they had the longest breakfast buffet I have ever seen and which I enjoyed most every day.
When Lin Li arrived the next morning, looking lovely as always, I informed her that I needed to stop at a bank and exchange some money has I had not one single RMB. She said, "Don't worry. You will not need any" - and things just got better from there!
Wuhan city slogan is "Wuhan - different every day," and is it ever. I spent some time being shown much of the new Wuhan which is now grown to about 12 million since I last visited about five years ago. The area around the university was all farmland and has now been purchased my developers and the farmers are all now rich and retired! The former back street is now all high-rise condos. Wuhan has built five new subway lines and is adding about one every year. East Lake has been turned into a lovely place with jogging and biking trails. The water is also far cleaner and thousands of trees have been planted all over the city. In fact, the residents are all thrilled with the wonderful job the local government is doing. I was very impressed and even more impressed when compared to our current worthless government in Washington.
On my last visit to a local "eating street" there is a wall mural of the twelve main historical/cultural sights in Wuhan. I was looking at it with Lin Lin and commented that I had been to all of them but one. No longer! She had remembered that comment and thus I was taken to that last one of the twelve, a WWII Chinese gunship that had been bombed by the Japanese and sunk in the Yangtze. Just another example of my amazing friends and colleagues in Wuhan and the many little things they remember and do for you.
Every lunch and dinner I was with somebody. In fact, I could not keep up with all the invitations I was receiving. I got to spend one evening and dinner with my wonderful English teacher friends Christie (and 6 year old daughter), Sophia (and 6 year old son), and Ellen and husband (with their 2 year old son). And I got to spend and entire day with Rebecca, Christie, Sophia and Ellen. We all had lunch at Rebecca's home (plus her growing big son) and then "tea" and dinner out together. We just talked and laughed and had a most wonderful Saturday.
I was so busy on Sunday I first had lunch with Brooke (the student who visited me in the U.S.) and her husband plus Sophie, another of my former students. They drove over an hour from out of the city to spend time with me and it was a delight to see them. Then I had an afternoon tour with Lin Li and then a 6 PM dinner with another English teacher friend, Wendy, and her boss, the head of the Foreign Languages department. Another wonderful day and evening.
I was taken by car early Monday morning back to the airport and off to Korea. Now, as wonderful as the whole week was, I still haven't mentioned one of the greatest days of my life. That was Thursday, May 4, 2017.
I knew I was going to speak to students and some faculty for about two hours, as I always do when I visit. But the whole day turned out to be big surprise and incredible honor for me. I was picked up for lunch and then taken to the room I was to speak, a new auditorium type room since I was at the university. We began in the back "media" room where I was interviewed as were several of my teacher friends to be broadcast on Wuhan TV. It was mostly in Chinese so, of course, I had an interpreter to answer most questions. Many of the media questions were about my book and things I had written. I also saw Zhang Xia (Ann) my good friend for years and Lin Li's assistant. I had been at Ann's wedding and I did not recognize her as she had lost 60 kilos! That's about 140 pounds and she looked fantastic!
Anyway, about 1:30 I am taken to the front of the room and seated while a video of various students was shown talking about me and how much they had learned from me during my time there. I was amazed and we had just begun! It seems I was voted the most popular American foreign teacher in the history of Wuhan Textile University and was presented a certificate by the president of the university naming me the "Most Welcomed American Professor" as selected by the greatest number of students! I was fighting some tears by now but my next "duty" was to speak to the students for near two hours and it was a good thing I had made some notes or might have forgotten everything I wanted to say. I mostly talked about my five+ years in China, relating many stories from that time and why I decided to write the book. I was probably speaking to about 250-300 people and it seemed to go very well judging by applause, comments and more. Lin Li also announced the day was also a "book publishing party" as my book was now out in Chinese and available to purchase.
When I completed and took questions I was pleased to discover many had already read my book in English and now more would now be reading it in Chinese! I was thrilled. You can only imagine how wonderful I felt to have my book published in two languages! You can find it at www.xinhuapub.com that is if you can read Chinese! I will have it up on my personal web site, www.robertstanelle.com as soon as I can get it done. No pictures in the Chinese version as that is not their publishing style. Heck, their "words" are actually pictures as it is a character language.
The questions were often interesting. One international student from the Middle East told me he had read my book in English and how much he had learned from it and that he had been very nervous about coming to China to study but that my book had relaxed him and he had learned so much from it that he quickly became comfortable studying in China. Another student told me how they hated Donald Trump (I heard this, of course, everywhere in Japan, China and Korea) and what I though of him. I answered in Chinese, which got me huge laughter and applause. "Shenjingbing!" Which means he's a crazy man! When asked how he could be elected I explained how he did not get the majority of votes from the people but due to our strange electoral system he became the president. Most of the questions though were about the book and things I had written. Lin Li also announced that if the book sold well enough all profits from the book would go into the "Robert L. Stanelle Scholarship Fund" so that my name would live forever at the university! A really nice honor for me.
Madam Huang, a university VP from my time there said that my work had greatly benefited the entire university and all of their students because I had trained so many teachers how to be better teachers and they had trained other teachers further about what they learned from me and the earlier textbook I had written about how to better teach English and just how to be a better teacher in so many ways. She said my work would live forever at their university!
I also agreed to stay and sign some books and before I knew it there was a long line and I must have signed and personalized about a hundred books in both English and Chinese. Then a large group picture was taken of me and many students holding my book! It was amazing to be and I was very warmed by all the interest and things said about me. I was fighting watery eyes and thinking about how I wished my kids were there and how my parents and grandparents would have proud had they seen this. Heck, I have tears in my eyes writing this.
Finally, Lin Li and our driver take me back to the hotel and waiting for us there is Mr. Zhou Ping and two others of his staff, all of whom I worked with during my time there. We chatted for another thirty minutes plus they telephoned several of my former students who wanted to speak with me. While they were there I was delivered another box from the university with some very nice university clothing gifts for me and many more books to sign, which the driver took back to the university! When they all got up to leave I was hugged by the men and, again, greatly touched as the Chinese men do not normally hug!
What an unbelievable day as my heart was filled with great joy and love for the university and all my wonderful friends in Wuhan. And I guess that is all I can say.
Still happily known as China Bob
Tokyo, Japan: 29-30 April 2017
Saturday (yesterday) was a beautiful day, high about 70. Took a train and spent the day in tee shirt wandering around Harajuko Takashime shopping street and walking from there down to Shibuya shopping district. It seems it is now something called "Golden Week" with sales everywhere and shoppers out in great numbers. It is amazing to me how well this city moves and functions despite the near 30 million residents. Did actually see some trash on the street for the first time since I have been here!
I tried a Japanese walnut & caramel crepe for my breakfast. They make about 50 kinds of crepes and they are very popular here so had to try one. Not diet food but really good!
I believe I have failed to mention another cultural trait here in that the Japanese do not shake hands. They greet others with a slight bow of the head when entering a shop, meeting someone or almost any occasion. I've come to like it.
After taking a train back to Hamamatsucho station I had dinner at a Mosburger, which is a Japanese burger chain except I had a grilled vegetable burger and a rice (imitation meat patty) burger. The bun for both was actually a round rice patty. I have been meaning to try Mosburger for several days now and glad I did. Pretty good.
With all my back, leg and foot pains I have been wearing my back brace all week and using my cane everywhere I go to lessen the pains. I move so slow some might think I am going backwards! I have become the little crooked man with the little crooked walking stick who lives on the little crooked street in the little crooked house. I am a living nursery rhyme and probably a sad sight to see but I do keep putting one foot in front of the other. I have always been a grinder and am afraid I will lie down and die if I stop!
Sunday (today) morning I was off again on a train to the Ueno area and the Tokyo National Museum and what a great day it turned out to be. Sunny and 70 degrees. the park in Ueno is fantastic. There are a half dozen museums or so there. a large zoo and, on the edge of the park, the University of Tokyo - which I suppose is another kind of zoo! Great crowd of people having a great time. Even got lucky and was able to watch a group of about 16 girls and 10 boys doing a corrdinated dance show in the center of the park. Loved it! Spend a few hours in the area and then took another subway to Asakusa, the most popular temple and shopping site in Tokyo and it was sardine packed and needed to take baby-steps all the way. I hate crowds - I LOVE TOKYO! I love moving along with the flow and the happiness of the people and crowds here are not like the craziness of American sports. Here they are relaxed and calm. I am really glad I came here. I spent much of the day looking for a small gift for my neighbor, Jane, as she is taking care of my garden for me while I am traveling. I think I was successful.
Okay, tomorrow morning I am off on a train to Narita airport and then early evening flight to China. Finally, I really, really, like the Packer's draft but then I have full faith in Ted Thompson and the team. All from Tokyo.
Tokyo, Japan: 28-29 April 2017
Yesterday, Friday, I took my last day long bus tour heading to Kamakura and other places a few hours outside of Tokyo Nice day with mostly sun and about 60-65 degrees. We visited many temples: Jomyo-ji and Hokoku-ji temples in the morning and then stopping for a Buddhist vegetarian lunch. Now most of you know I am a somewhat serious vegetarian and work to eat healthy but this was as tasteless a lunch as I have ever had! About 20 small portions of different things and about 4-5 I liked. They seemed to use no seasoning on anything and thus it was all a little too "natural" and tasteless. Interesting experience though.
After lunch we visited the Kotoku-in temple and the Great Buddha of Japan and it was a big one! Enjoyed seeing that. Then we went to Enoshima a small island town and a popular seaside spot for the people. Of course there was a temple there also dedicated to god of protecting seafarers. I skipped getting close as it involved 150 steps and I can no longer traverse that many steps. Much too painful. I enjoyed walking around the town though and looking at the many kinds of seafood offered.
Most interesting were the temples we visited were Zen temples. They refer to them as Zen Buddhists but they are plainer than normal Buddhist temples, more Shinto in style and thus somehwere in the middle in appearance.
We then returned to the city, Ginza area again, and I took train back to my hotel. We spent too many hours on a bus again so my feet and back got more rest than anything. These10-11 hour bus tours have become a little too much for me. I watched a little Japanese TV back in my hotel first some Japanese baseball which is a real story in itself in the way the fans stand and cheer coordinated and make all kinds of noise. It is wild! Then I watched some news that was also interesting. They were showing Bill Clinton speaking here in 1994 and warmly greeted by the tone of the broadcast. They then showed a picture of Trump with his face all red and with a growling sneer to it and, though I could not understand the Japanese commentary, the implication of the picture was clear! I wish I could have understood the words. Interesting.
Regarding some more cultural notes, traffic drives on the opposite side of the USA here. In China they drove on the same side as the USA except Hong Kong and Macao. Drivers may be the most polite in the world. No one seems to speed, no one races to beat a red light and most stop on yellow. They also politely stop for people in crosswalks and I have never heard a horn blow. Very civilized. In the same way, pedestrians walk on the left side and cross only when the sign says so. Sometimes hundreds of people are crossing the street going in opposite directions and yet it all moves smoothly. I have never seen anyone bump into another. Amazing society and I continue to be impressed in the way Tokyo works. Heck, I would be glad to teach a year here if anyone wanted to hire an old man!
Kyoto? I am going to take a pass as I am too tired to take a two day trip to Kyoto and I have now seen so many temples. Besides, that may give me an excuse to come back one day!
I will spend my last weekend here going back to a few places in the city I wish to explore more: Harakuju, Shibuya, Ueno (Tokyo Museum) and ??? Then Monday off to see my friends in Wuhan, China.
Tokyo, Japan: 26-27 April 2017
Yesterday I took the tour north of Tokyo to the Toshugu Shrine and Nikko National Park with Lake Chuzenji and Kegon Waterfall. The ancient Buddhist shrine was interesting but the lake and waterfall were nothing spectacular and the skies were gray all day. I cannot recommend this tour as it was about ten hours and most of it on the bus. Rides were long and tiring and I was exhausted upon my return to the hotel. The most interesting thing we saw was spotting four Japanese Monkeys in the park up near the lake. Sort of an off-white color and the guide said that people like to see them but the little shop keepers hate them because they steal from them. They sneak up and grab food items and run away! Now that we wanted to see but it did not happen!
The bus trip did remind me again how you only have to get an hour out of Tokyo, an area of 30 million people in 23 wards (districts), to be in lovely mountain areas. Did also see many cherry trees in bloom as they bloom later up high whereas the bloom time is mostly past in Tokyo. The mountains in Japan are not like the U.S. Rockies though except for Fuji area. Most are more like the Appalachians in height and do not rise above tree line but are numerous and lovely like the Smokies. We were told that the color is spectacular in fall but traffic is then terrible with color viewers. Just like in the U.S. The rain held off and we only received a light mist up in the mountains near the waterfall. Did notice a fisherman about every fifty meters along the lake shore, wading out various distances and casting for trout, bass or other fish. There was not much walking so my foot suffered little pain and the rest of the bus was probably good for it.
A reader asked me the other day about my writing "political" at times. Some of you long-time readers have heard me say this before but I say again for the benefit of newer readers. I do not write political. I do not write in anyway special. The three monkeys that do not speak or see or hear are popular here. I am the opposite of the three monkeys+ in that I see, I hear plus I think, and then I speak about what I have experienced and felt that day. It may involve food, an ancient site, a cultural experience of some kind, a political comment or who knows what. When I arise in the morning I do not know what I may experience that day and I explore wherever I am with an open mind to the day - and what happens, happens. Remember, I write this journal for myself, for me to remember my journey forever. I am pleased that so many of you choose to share my journeys with me but if you choose not to that is okay also. That is what the delete key is for. I am happy and loving my life as I continue to explore and learn more of our magnificent and highly interesting world.
On a cultural note, I have observed that about 90% of office workers, male or female, wear black or dark navy blue suits, some women in skirts, some in pants, but always those colors with white or blue shirts/blouses and conservative ties. One sees no cows or pigs or humorous ties. I have mentioned the cleanliness of everything. Well, I have learned that no eating or drinking is allowed while walking! You can get take out but must take to your home. There are no trash cans on the streets as there is no trash. Tokyo reminds me of Singapore in its cleanliness and rules of living. Now, some of you might say that is no freedom but you would be wrong as that is the way the people of these nations like it and choose to live. Some would say such rigidity makes for a dull and humorless life. But in the evening the restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs are always full and people are laughing and having a very apparently great time. I have learned in my travels that every culture must be judged on its own merits. Whatever works for the people.
Every person I have met also tells me Japan is a peace loving nation and never wants war again. Never. It is too terrible for the people. They worry most about the leaders of North Korea and the USA because of the uncertainty of how they might respond to each other and Japan be caught in the middle. Interesting.
Today, Thursday here, I awoke to rain and dark gray skies but after another great hotel breakfast I continued to plunge ahead and started with subway to Harajuku area of the city and, by 9 AM there was no rain and the day temps ran from 55-65 and sometimes windy. Not too bad overall. My first visit was to the Meiji-jingu Shrine and the Gyoen Garden. This was interesting to me for several reasons. The gardens were heavily forested and it was mainly a walk in the woods with a pond in the middle. A very Walden like experience. The temple was a Shinto temple which I was less familiar with. I have, of course, seen many Buddhist temples in my travels but few Shinto.
They say if you ask a Japanese if they are Shinto, 90% will say yes. If you ask if they are a Buddhist, 80% will say yes! They routinely practice both and some kind of their own blend. Weddings and happy events tend to be Shinto. Funerals and sad events tend to be Buddhist, simply because they like their ceremonies better for such events! The country is less than 1% Christian but in reality the Japanese, much like the Chinese, do not care much about religion. Maybe that is part of why I feel so at home in most of Asia?
I then took another train, with a transfer, to the Ginza area of the city. This is Tokyo's version of NYC's Fifth Avenue or LA's Rodeo Drive with very fancy and expensive shops. I did not buy anything but walked several miles in the area enjoying the often unique architecture and some people watching. I probably walked 4-5 miles today and had only minor foot pain until the last hour or so. I managed to struggle to the train station and took another train back to Hamamatsucho station and then walked back to my hotel, grabbing a bite along the way.
Now I shall shower, read a bit and hit the bed early. I have another early tour tomorrow partially outside the city to Kamakura, the old Edo capital, and Tokyo Bay. That is my last organized tour here. My weekend is open to see more of whatever I decide. Then Monday I am off to China.
Tokyo, Japan: 25 April 2017
First, several things I forgot to mention yesterday. Getting away from the city was really beautiful. The land is very mountainous and was told there were many good hiking trails in Japan and the people love to get away and hike. I also learned that the reason all the rivers, lakes and waters are pure and pristine here is because it is the culture. No Japanese person would ever think of throwing trash into or dirtying the waters in any way. This country lives off fish and to destroy the waters would destroy their food supply. They have very strong laws about that sort of thing whereas in the U.S. we let the big companies pollute and as individuals we have many slobs among us. Interesting.
The weather was a bit brisk at the Fuji base camp, probably 40-45 degrees and snow was still on the ground there. At the base camp at at our luncheon stop I used the toilet and discovered the seats were thick, soft and heated! Nothing like a warm feeling for your tush!!!!!
The shower hook up in the hotel bathroom is also quite different. The bathroom is very small and the bathroom sink overlaps the tup slightly. One side of the sink is a heater control and the side by the tub is a dual control with a hose and shower end going into the tub. Turn it one way and the water runs into the sink, turn it the other way and it runs into the shower head. There are no actual pipe connections of any kind in the tub except for a drainage plug. The tub sides are a good meter high and I have some difficulty stepping into and out of the tub. It seems the Jqapanese like to take deep soaking baths thus the tub size.
Since their homes are also very small they do not entertain at home. When they entertain it is at a restaurant or club, thus their are so many places to eat and live it up. Entirely different life style then the western world. They also do not have a "main" dish but a meal mostly consists of small doses of many different foods. This includes the excellent breakfast here at my hotel which I have discovered the the cost of US$11 is actually cheap for Tokyo.
I also learned from our guide yesterday that the Japanese are a disciplined people and ALWAYS on time. Trains, buses, etc., and the people are always very punctual. It is considered poor form not to be and promptness is fully expected. Again, something the U.S. could learn from.
Last night I was at dinner and four men working in international banking were discussing a variety of subjects in English when one mentioned Trump. I asked what they thought of our election and their comments were interesting. They all said they were sitting around (lunch time here) and watching the U.S. results come in and they were shocked. They could not believe the "American people could be so stupid to elect this man!" Sean, one of the group, said, "Trump is a buffoon, a circus clown. He understands nothing about business or the way things work in the world." I was smiling and told them that I certainly agreed with them. I also could not believe the stupidity of the American voters. I hear these same things from my friends all over the world and I can only be embarrassed for my country.
Then this morning I take the train to the Tsukuji Fish Market, the largest in the world where they process over 200 TONS of seafood every day. The market is surrounded by many other outlets also so you can buy your seafood fresh and wet, live, dried, smoked or however you want it. There are many fresh sushi restaurants open from 6AM on. And, of course, there are many other stalls selling most everything from dishes to special fish knives and various souvenir items. I almost tried sushi egg on a stick but chicked out. Several places sold souvenir t-shirts and one was selling t-shirts that had two lines - Line 1 said in Japanese "Loud, Crying & Ugly" and the line below said only "TRUMP." It was HILARIOUS! I wanted to buy one but they had only a few small sizes left. The man said that was his best seller to both westerners and the Japanese people as that is what they think of the man. I was laughing like crazy. It made my day!
I next took another train to the Roppongi area and visited a Japanese cemetery. I always find it culturally interesting how different societies honor there dead. I guess that is some macabre part of me! There is also a lovely area there called Tokyo Midtown with a beautiful and colorful park area and some cool architecture. It was such a nice day, probably 70 and sun, that I sat in the park for awhile to read and rest my feet which continue painful. I bought some insoles to put in my shoes for extra padding and it seems to help a little but Father Time seems to be the big issue. I then took another train to Shiba area and visited Shiba Park and the ancient Zoji-ju Buddhist temple. The people here are a great mix of Shinto and Buddhist and there own combination of such. I then had dinner on my way back to my hotel to write these notes.
Now to shower and bed. Tomorrow I am on a scheduled tour to Nikko National Park, so out of the city again from Hamamatsucho station on a tour bus. Rain is predicted so am hoping it comes early or late or not at all out of the city. We shall see. Meanwhile, I continue to stumble my way around Tokyo and plunge onward. All for now.
Tokyo, Japan-23-24 April 2017
This is really an impressive city. For some reason Japan never interested me but now I am very glad I came. Friday (arrival) and Saturday were both very gray and overcast days. But Sunday I woke up to bright blue skies and a beautiful day. High probably in low 70s. I wore a windbreaker in the early morning but then just a t-shirt most of the day. I started Sunday with another large hotel breakfast and then taking the train from Hamamatsucho to Tokyo station and then walking about 700m to the entrance of to the Imperial Palace Gardens. Walked all over the place, covering about another 400m and then 700m back to the Tokyo station. Tokyo station is so BIG and so many tracks/lines run through there you walk about 400m just entering or leaving there.
I then took another subway to Shibuya, a fabulously interesting area known for three things: (1) shopping, shopping and more shopping. stores everywhere and people everywhere shopping. (2) their famous "scramble light" where about six roads meet and when the cars all stop hunreds of people scramble every which way. (3) Hachi Plaza, right in front of the Shibuya station with the statue of the famous Hachi, the dog who waited at the station every day for his master until the dog died. His master had died earlier but the dog kept waiting for years for him to come home. People fed him until he died there in front of the station, where his statue now is. The movie "Hachi" with Richard Gere playing his master was about the dog. I walked another 1000m or so around the area (so many restaurants and interesting dishes). I did indulge in a cold drink, iced Osaka Juice. I could not determine what was in it but enjoyed it. I then took the train back to Hamamatsucho and back to my hotel for the night. I probably covered two miles on Sunday and was gone for seven hours and was again really tired. I am only about 10% of the man I used to be. I used to cover a mile in under 6 minutes - now it is 60 minutes! And every bone and joint in my old body hurts! I went to bed hoping for the same good weather on Monday as Monday is my scheduled bus & train tour to Mt. Fuji, leaving from Hamamatsucho station.
Some other items of note: my hotel room is really small for US$83 per day but immaculately clean and it is still better than the tiny expensive rooms in Hong Kong, which is the costliest place I have been. The food is good and the prices are not too bad when you stick to eating lighter and in the small neighborhood restaurants which are everywhere. All-in-all, except for the bodily aches and pains, I continued to be doing well as of Sunday night.I am very happy with the train system and negotiating it is fairly simple. Some other things I forgot to mention, Asakusa is a traditional town and I saw many women dressed in colorful kimonos. I also have a bit oa sunburned face so need to ear a hat more.
Monday morning and I awake to mixed skies so not sure if I would see Mt. Fuji. Has it turned out we did get several good views of Fuji from the bus but probably not any good photos. We went to Fuji base camp where the road ends about half-way up the mountain. It is from this point where those who climb/hike to the top begin their trek about midnight so they can see the sunrise from the summit. It is supposedly a difficult trek but two Japanese men have each done it over 1000 times and counting! Crazy! I met two people on our bus who were from Martin, TN, and thought they had met my friend Keith Carver. They described him as no too tall, balding and a little pudgy! I said, yep. that sounds like Keith!
After lunch we took a short boat ride on Lake Ashi (means breezy) and then a cable car to another mountain top where you can supposedly see Fuji on a clear day. Today you could only see gray mist. We then bused to Odawara where we caught the bullet train back to Tokyo proper. And I do mean bullet! When you are riding it is smooth and humming much like flying. But when standing on the platform waiting for our train another one flew by and my back was to it and it scared the living H out of me! It went by like a rocket ship and I expected to see flames shooting out of it. I am not sure how fast they go but is is the fastest thing I have ever seen on the ground! Wow! I exited the train at the Shingawa station and transferred to another for Hamamatsucho and back to the hotel. It seems Shingawa is the largest station in Japan, more than twice Tokyo station. It was another incredible experience going through it to find my connection. A Japanese man told me Shingawa and Shinjuku stations get about 300,000 people a day going through each station.
Anyway, I am now back at my hotel, my feet are still killing me and I am going to bed. All for now.
Tokyo, Japan-22 May 2017
Well I have now spent my first full day in Tokyo and so far I like the city and am glad that I came. I was exhausted last night after the long trip here so was showered and in bed by 8:30 but up at 7 this morning to enjoy an expensive ($11) but excellent breakfast buffet here at the hotel including eggs, rice, salad and all kinds of spicy veggies. I was not hungry further all day and will shortly go have a light dinner.
I had to adjust my itinerary simply because of discoveries as I went along my way. I walked only about 5-6 km total. First I found the train stations (Daimon and Hamamatsucho) near my hotel and, after several wrong turns, discovered they were only 2-300 yards away but with many steps down into them. My knees do not take those so good and my back is killing me tonight. Worse even is my right foot is acting up and toes constantly cramping and painful. I do not know why as My shoes are not new. Anyway, I next walked to one of the gardens here and enjoyed the beauty of the cherry blossoms, the flowers and the large bonzai trees. I watched one of the gardeners trimming some and the little snips they make to create a real work of art. I then walked to another larger garden but that was mostly trees. The smaller garden was much prettier.
The larger garden though was on the river that leads into Tokyo Bay. I took a river cruise from the park upriver to Asakusa which is one of the leading tourist areas of Japan and it was packed on a Saturday here. Very enjoyable walking there though. There is a famous ancient temple and lots of interest shopping. One stand sold masks and along with the many Japanese style masks they sold masks of Trump, with his big mouth open of course and his wild hair. It was quite funny. I considered buying one but just could not bring myself to even spend a penny on that idiot. I have found the Japanese, just like the Chinese, mostly think he is nuts also.
I was able to buy a new suitcase for about US$50, a necessity since the one I brought with me broke. First one of the handles ripped off as I was leaving Tucson and then the handle to roll the suitcase was broken upon arrival in Tokyo and I had to drag the thing about 200 yards to my hotel from where the airport shuttle dropped me off. But that problem is solved now. I then took my first subway ride and pulled it off successfully! I rode back from Asakusa station to the Daimon station (nine stops later). I am much more confident about taking the trains now. Fast and comfortable and clean. I have also found that there are enough people here on the street and in the subway/train stations that getting some guidance is never a problem.
Everything here is very clean.The Japanese do not seem to litter at all and I have seen no trash on any street, river, subway or anyway. Public toilets are numerous and also very clean. I have been very impressed with how efficiently the city seems to run. No heavy traffic has been evident as the extensive subway/train system seems to be the way to go. Granted, it may be somewhat different on M-F but so far I have to say this city works well and smoothly. I wish folks in the U.S. would be so neat and clean.
Enough for now. I am going to grab a bite at one of the many little restaurants near my hotel, then shower and hit the sack early again. This old man is worn out!
Green Valley, AZ: 15 April 2017
I have not written in some time, at least since my cancer scare, so thought I would update all. After I was told I was probably free of any cancer, both my children and several friends all asked me the same question. What do I still want to do with my time now that I still have some? It was a good question which I thought about quite a bit.
First, I decided I wanted to return to China one more time. In all my travel to China and all over SE Asia I had never visited Japan or Korea. So I am leaving next Thursday, 4/20, to travel to Japan for ten days, then to Wuhan for a week with old friends, and then to South Korea for a week before returning to the USA. The South Korea part is, of course, subject to change if either our idiot president or North Korea's also idiot president start to bomb each other or South Korea. With all the crazies in both countries, who knows what might happen? The world has evolved to a very scary scene in so many places these days.
After my return and a little rest period I plan to do some traveling in the U.S. I would like to visit my son's home in Denver as he bought a home last year and I have not seen it yet. I will also visit my daughter in Phoenix but I do see her more often as she less than a three hour drive away. My son is a long two days drive. I also plan to visit my Argentinean "hija" in Florida but that will likely mean flying.
After that I hope to go somewhere in Europe later this year or, more likely next year. It all depends on continued good health and finding a bargain air fare some place! That is as far ahead as I have dared to think at this time. I have been to South America 11 times and all over China and SE Asia, so more of Europe (especially Spain) and maybe Israel or some of Africa are all that still appeal to me. I am not a beach person so visiting any small island nations has never had any appeal for me, nor does most all of the Middle East.
Going back to Australia and/or New Zealand again has some appeal, but it is a really long trip for an old man. I have often considered a cruise but I am afraid I might get bored on a ship. I don't know? As always, lots of crazy thoughts are always running through my head.
Lastly, for now, I had a most enjoyable lunch in Tucson with Monty & Mindy Ravlich. They are visiting from Calgary, Canada, and enjoying a luxury Tucson spa and golf vacation. I hired and trained Monty in interviewing and recruiting many years ago as a young college graduate on my staff in Houston, Texas. He then returned to work in our Calgary office and has gone on to other places and made a great success of his life like so many of the people I used to work with. He's a really good guy in every way.
All for now. Looking forward to seeing many of my Chinese friends soon and new experiences in Japan and, hopefully, Korea.
Green Valley, Arizona: February 13, 2017
I met with the surgeon today and, unfortunately, it did not go as well as I had hoped. I am now going to have another endoscopy and additional biopsied done to different parts of my stomach. Dr. Safdar is supposed to call me tomorrow to schedule the additional endoscopy.
The surgeon, Dr. Sherafgan, made it clear to me that she would have to remove part of my stomach but the additional biopsies will tell her how much of my stomach and very possibly all will have to removed. She said they want to know as much as possible ahead of time to be best prepared for the surgery.
She also told me this would not be minor surgery and would not be done at Green Valley hospital. This was major surgery and would be done in Tucson at St. Mary’s Hospital and I would be in the hospital at least one night and possibly several. I was comfortable in the respect that she explained everything very clearly to me but, of course, it all still leaves be very nervous. I go back to see her on March 2 as she will hopefully have all the additional biopsy reports back by then. Then she would schedule the surgery accordingly.
That is all the news for now or at least all that really matters at the moment. I do assume I will be losing some weight!
Green Valley, Arizona: February 11, 2017
Earlier this week I was at the oncology center where they took dye analysis of my chest, stomach and groin area plus a full body scan from my neck to thighs. Then yesterday, Friday, I again met with my oncologist, Dr. Porterfield. He told me that the news was mostly good at this time, at least much better than it could have been.
I will need surgery in the next few weeks and will meet with a surgeon or surgeons on Monday afternoon. I may need both a general surgeon and a chest surgeon as the cancer is up high in my stomach and may involve part of the chest area. And, of course, I may lose at least part of my stomach. Not the best method to lose weight but we will take whatever positives we can get!
I was told my tests showed that it has not spread too far and I may have gotten lucky and caught it early. They will not know anything for certain until they actually get in there and see what they may find. That will determine how much they can get and what additional chemo or radiation therapy I may need and for how long. I will continue meeting with the oncologist for a month or more after surgery and was told I will need to have an endoscopy annually as cancers do often come back to various degrees.
In any case, if all goes well, it will likely be a several month process before I can be considered in remission as cancer is apparently never really cured but often lurks somewhere in your body which is why regular follow ups and preventive care as much as possible are necessary.
Sometime in the next few months they will also be doing some genetic testing on me and searching for the presence of a cancer “gene.” That knowledge will supposedly help my children in terms of their own preventive medical. That is important as they already both have stomach/intestinal issues.
Interestingly my primary care physician is an Hispanic male. The doc who performed my colonoscopy and endoscopy, which discovered my cancer is a Muslim male. My oncologist is a black male. My surgeon is a Pakistani female. One of my cousins suggested I take a photo of them all together and send it to Donald Trump!
That is all I can think of for now until I Learn more from the surgeon on Monday. I thank all of my friends and family for your thoughts and prayers. If all goes as hoped for I might still have time to see the Packers win another Super Bowl and get the retarded trump voted out of office! So for the moment, I remain hopeful.
Green Valley, Arizona: February 1, 2017
Dear friends and family:
I am sad to say that I will not be traveling to visit China or anywhere else this year and my traveling days are probably over.
I have been diagnosed with stomach cancer and if I able to defeat the cancer it will not be a quick fix. I will be undergoing several tests over the next two weeks to determine more exactly how much the cancer has spread. A determination will then be made as to the next steps such as surgery, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, or some combination of treatments. Obviously, I am very anxious at this time but will listen to the doctors and fight as hard as I can to continue to survive.
Though I may write less often, I will keep all informed as much as possible. I thank you for your thoughts and your long friendship. You have added great joy to my life.
Green Valley, Arizona: January 1, 2017
It is time for my new years greetings and update but for the first time in my life I enter a year sadly and with dire expectations. Personally, I have always tried to treat fairly and not show prejudice in any of my associations with others. I have consciously avoided racial, ethnic, religious, gender or any kind of prejudice in my work with others. Have I always been successful in that? Probably not, but I have always tried.
I have been involved in civil rights/equal opportunity issues since the spring of 1963 during my undergraduate years when I participated in my first protest march against a racist individual (George Wallace) speaking on our campus. There have been many types of protests and activities since then that I will not bore you with. Suffice to say I have been involved in such activities for over fifty years. I had tears running down my face sitting in my apartment in China in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected in the belief that my country had finally gotten beyond our sordid history of racial and other such prejudice. I was so happy.
Now, eight years later, I am filled with immense sadness for my country as I have been shown to be wrong. We remain among the most prejudice nations in the world in all its forms and proved that with the election of Donald Trump, the most racist, sexist, hateful person possible. We again demonstrated our sordid history of prejudice in all its forms and the future of my country is at great risk. How place as a "world leader" has been permanently lost. How can any of the world, a world filled with many different races, religions and ethnic groups, respect a nation who elects a man like Trump to the highest office in our land?
Like the majority of Americans who bothered to vote he is NOT and never will be my president. NEVER. But still, he will soon be in charge of my country and that is the scariest event of my lifetime. In truth, the scariest world event since the rise of Hitler and, in my opinion, history repeating itself. Many of my friends of different race, ethnic, religious, and other minority groups have updated their passports, live in fear of what may happen and looking at what options my be available to them. Myself, I also have no idea what to do at this point. I am an old man with limited funds which, of course, greatly limits my own options but I fear for the old age of my children and the future of all of us.
I wish all of you the happiest of new years, the year of the rooster, which seems appropriate for the pompous strutting cock we have made our president.
Green Valley, AZ: December 5, 2016
It has been awhile since I have written. That has been for a variety of reasons but mostly due to my deep depression from last months presidential election here in the U.S. I have been trying to understand how my country could elect such an ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynist, egotistic, lying con man to our highest office and the only explanation remains the ignorance, naivety and blind stupidity of the voters.
Some have told me that I just hate him because he is a Republican? No, I am an independent voter. I hate him because he is an ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynist, egotistic, lying con man. He is not an ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynist, egotistic, lying con man because he is a Republican. He is an ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynist, egotistic, lying con man because he is an ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynist, egotistic, lying con man! It is his very nature. It is ingrained in him and that is what the voters failed to understand.
Facts have shown that when speaking he lies on average every three minutes! He states ignorant, racist, sexist, misogynist lies every three minutes – and yet voters believed him! He is the pied piper, the music man, leading the rats who happily dance behind him. “He is Trouble with a capital T and that stands for Trump right here in River City.”
Another mindless critic of mine says “but he is a successful business man.” No, he is not, another con of his. He started with about $15 million from his father and yet has filed bankruptcy six times! He even bankrupted a casino! Ask anyone in Las Vegas how near impossible it is to bankrupt a casino? You have to be an incredibly bad businessman! How many of you would be “successful” if you got $15 million from your father? I think near all of you and without six bankruptcies.
And, of course, the last thing we need is a “businessman” as president. Running a business and running a government are two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT things. It is the governments job to do what is right for ALL the people under its rule. It is a business persons job to make a profit without regard for the good of others. A business “leader” is ruthless and egotistic in his quest for profit, a government leader is benevolent and humanitarian in its desire to make life better for all the people.
There are many great social programs in our country but two of the greatest are Social Security and Medicare. The policies enacted by a business thinker will DESTROY our country if they are allowed to happen. Trump and the Republicans are planning to privatize many programs including these two great programs! That is insanity for the people. Run as private businesses, there goal will be to make a profit and NOT to do what is right for the people. Benefits will be drastically cut for the people for the sake of profit to line the mink pockets of the wealthy. People will die with Medicare cuts as they become unable to afford their needed medicine. This will include someone very close to you, as it does me.
My former Chinese students will remember my lessons about “what is the main goal of business?” To make money! And if they make a lot of money “what is their next goal?” To make more money! It is the nature of business and the business man. This is Trump and his equally egotistic cronies. The people who suffer mean nothing to them as they only pad their own bank accounts.
Whereas a benevolent humanitarian leader, such as Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders is, promotes the welfare of all and does so by taxing higher those who have more as to create a more equitable society and better life for all of our people. This, of course, is why many of the rich, the racist, the sexist and the greedy worked to stop her election.
Trump’s biggest lie and con job was he would “drain the swamp” in Washington and the ignorant voters fell for this Hitlerian/Mussolinian BIG LIE. The theory if you shout a lie loud enough and long enough that voters will believe it is true. Educated voters, students of history, know far better. Unfortunately, “educated” does not apply to so many of the American voters. They wear “brown shirts” and march in “goose step” to the big lies.
Note the cabinet appointments announced by Trump do not “drain the swamp” – they all fit in the category of millionaires and billionaires, “the wealthy in crowd,” the same racist, sexist, misogynist lying con men who got us in to our current doldrums. His treasury nominee, e.g., was the banking king of foreclosures that took the homes of multiple thousands of our people. Another nominee is a known Muslim and immigrant hater, and the list goes on and on.
Now, I am an old man, my life is almost over, and I will probably not suffer too much under Trump and his cronies, but my heart cries for my children and the young people of this country. And the young who voted for this orange-haired egotist or who didn’t bother to vote at all, well, you have created a very serious problem for yourselves from which you may never recover if these people are left free to enact all of the programs and profitable privatizations they wish.
I remain happy living here in Green Valley and it has been a good choice for me. I play cards (Sheepshead) one night a week, occasional mah jong, some movies, community coffees and various small events with other old retirees. A few old grouches but most are nice friendly people.
Finally, I wish happy holidays and wonderful 2017 to all of you who voted for Hillary. If you foolishly voted for Trump, well, unless you are in the top 1% of incomes you will suffer in 2017-18 but, hey, you did it to yourself!
Summer Thoughts from Green Valley, AZ
As most of you probably know, I did my graduate work at the University of Tennessee and was fortunate enough to meet Coach Pat Summit and perform volunteer work as a counselor for many of her players during the mid-90's and some national championship years. She was truly a great person and teacher who had a greater influence on the world than probably 99% of us who have ever lived and always impressed me watching her work. Both Tennessee and the world of basketball will greatly miss her. Though I never personally met him, I felt much the same way about Muhammed Ali, who also had a great influence on my life and my way of thinking. Two of the great influences on my life both lost in a very short time. RIP.
I am also feeling a bit melancholy today as I sit and think about many other things. First, I am very happy to live in Green Valley. My home remodeling has gone great and is nearly completed. Just changing a few light fixtures and a little painting and all will be done. More importantly, Green Valley, AZ, is a GREAT place to live I cannot imagine a better place to retire to. Wonderful weather, very friendly people, serenely peaceful yet much to do if one chooses and the big city (Tucson) and the University of AZ only 20-30 minutes away. In that respect, I am as happy as I have ever been in retirement.
On the other hand, I was an excellent teacher and I very much miss that. I miss all of my students, I miss the way their eyes lit up when they grasped some point I was trying to make. I miss the joy of their laughter. It is strange how, at my age, I have more knowledge to offer than ever and more skill at communicating said knowledge than ever - but, at my age, no one will employ me or offer me the opportunity to do so, to exhibit these skills. Some days I find it very sad that our accrued wisdom is ignored here in the USA. What I consider a great irony, we elect "old" presidents (60s & 70s) to run the country but we ignore those over fifty when I comes to employment, let alone those of us over 60 or 70. We are often "all dressed up with no place to go" - unless, of course, we are rich and want to run for president!
Even in China, where greater respect is given to the wisdom of the aged by ones students, the government will rarely give work permits to those over 60. Again, a great waste of talent in my opinion. One of the big reasons I believe in national cradle-to-grave health care is it would take away the excuse of health issues and associated costs used by employers to ignore the older worker. This is despite the fact that ALL surveys and studies show older workers are absent less than younger workers. We know more, are there more and yet employed less.
For any of my readers who may have a "connection" of some kind, I would be pleased to speak to your class or group where my knowledge is valuable. I have extensive skill and/or knowledge in: teaching English as a Second Language, teaching for greater student involvement, interviewing and evaluation skills, teaching or traveling in China, traveling in Southeast Asia, traveling throughout South America and more. Just go to my website, send me an email or give me a call.
This also ties in with why I so much value visitors to my home and especially those of my ex-students and co-workers from Wuhan. The great joy now and of memories past they bring me is so immense as to be almost unimaginable. Every email from one of them has me dancing with joy - and all of my students remember how much I love to dance!
On the positive side though, my health is good and I am happy overall. Come the end of this summer I should have my home completed and ready to travel some again. I still plan to leave for a major (several month) adventure come April 2017 which will likely include a short visit to Wuhan. Meanwhile, I am ALWAYS ready for your visits and showing you the beauties of the greater American Southwest. Feel welcome to come alone or bring spouse and kids. I have a guest room and bath, two couches and plenty of floor space to make do as needed.
With love to family, friends and reader friends, as always,
Some Random Thoughts
I have not written anything for a while and really have no reason why. I think sometimes we simply get caught up in the world as it pertains to us and our individual lives and time simply flies past us. I know that I consider my life full but then, as we age, it takes less to fill our days than it did in our youth. We are more content to move slow, read more, ponder what we read and take an occasional nap!
I like my certain sports teams, as you know by now. My Packers are having a bit of an up and down year but still first in their division and in the playoff hunt. Tennessee Vols football is going to a decent bowl game for the first time in years. Lady Vols basketball is struggling some though and that is a little disappointing. Arizona Wildcats football had a so-so year but will play in minor bowl though. Arizona basketball is good, as always, and thus provides me with a lot of viewing pleasure. I still play Chinese mahjongg several times a week.
So that is my reflections on sports at present. As for the rest of life, I spend a lot of time reflecting on many issues. Much of it comes from reading of mystery/detective novels, favorite authors include John Sanford, Sara Paretsky, Daniel Silva, Lee Child, J.A. Jance and more. I read the news daily but find much of it depressing or plain stupid. Trump leading in polls? Have we become that stupid as a nation? Apparently we have! Can a woman (Clinton) be elected? I don't know? I hope so. I am actually a fan of Bernie Sanders but question whether he can gain the nomination?
I am a true independent but believe a democrat will again win the next election simply because the entire slate of republican candidates are so incredibly stupid! Where do they get these people? Sad. None of them seem to realize what we have become in terms of a diversified nation in every category and seem to espouse so much hatred. It doesn't matter if you consider diversity a good or bad thing, but it matters that you understand what we have become and act accordingly. Building a wall is perhaps the dumbest thing any politician has ever said - and they have said a lot of stupid things! We have one of the longest land borders in the world between Mexico and Canada. We have one of the longest water borders in the world between the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. It cannot be "walled" off. You don't have to be very bright to understand that. Yet people like Trump don't! Absolutely incredible. It all makes me very sad for my country.
Enough said. I going to have a class of wine and read. Later all.
Back from Ecuador & Peru
I am back home after a wonderful two months in Peru (Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Puno, Lake Titacaca, Arequipa & Lima) and Ecuador (Guayaquil, Cuenca, Banos, Otavalo & Quito). I highly recommend it to you fellow travelers out there. Arequipa was not as interesting and I probably should have gone to Nazca instead but the other places in Peru were all very interesting to see and wander.
Guayaquil, Ecuador, is very hot and humid but observing the rather large lizards in Parque Bolivar made it worthwhile. Creatures up to five feet long. Cuenca is one of my favorite cities on the planet and many people from the U.S. have retired there. If you travel there you will quickly see why. Wonderful climate and overall living conditions. Banos was nothing special for me. Otavalo, on the other hand, was great. There Saturday Market is the largest market in South America and I wandered at length among about a thousand vendors. Very interesting.
Quito is another story completely. The city is very large and spread out over a valley among the Andes Mountains. It sits at over 9000 feet elevation and literally everything is up a hill or down a hill. Flat does not seem to exist in Quito. Thus it is a very tiring city to walk around. An interesting place but exhausting for the visitor from the flatlands.
Finally, Cuzco & Machu Picchu are world wonders and everyone should try to see them at some time. The history of much of mankind is embodied there. Incredible.
Off Again to South America
I have been sitting too long and, as many of you know, it doesn't take very long to be "too long" for me. So I have decided to return to South America and visit Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. It is the corner of that continent I have always missed somehow. This means I will only have missed Bolivia and the Guineas. I will be right near Bolivia but I refuse to pay the US$135 fee they want for a visa to enter. I strongly object to such fees and only pay them if I want desperately to visit a country. I don't feel that way about Bolivia.
Anyway, I'll have some reactions later and probably add some photos to this site at some later date. Ciao for now.
NCAA Basketball Finals
Well, the final game was played last night and Duke won, although I did not feel they should have. The referees clearly seemed to favor Duke over Wisconsin with several unbelievable calls based on the replays. Even when the replays clearly showed what happened, the refs still called it wrong! But then the officiating as been terrible throughout the season and the tournament. The ridiculous touch fouls that are called one time and then the bull-like charging calls (such as Duke players) are ignored. The refs are destroying the game with so many stoppages and no longer allowing anyone to play good defense.
It is not basketball either when an offensive player can pick up the ball and run nearly three steps right over people and get away with it. If you are allowed to carry the ball and run like a football running back how is a defense allowed to stop you if charging is not called? When a player has defensive position and another player, such as Duke's Okafor, is allowed to use their large posterior to simply back up and knock you away, what chance does a good defender have? The combination of "rules" and referees are destroying the game for both players and fans. It greatly saddens me.
Sweet Sixteen Set
While the Sweet Sixteen is set and both of my teams are still alive. If Arizona beats Xavier and Wisconsin defeats North Carolina then, unfortunately AZ & WI will meet in the Elite Eight to get one of them to the Final Four. On the plus side though, it is great to see both programs having such success and avoiding the upsets that many other programs suffered.
Meanwhile, I continue to consider other options for my own life adventures once the tourney ends. I am leaning towards heading back to South America for a month or so, perhaps the Peru/Ecuador corner, but we shall see. For now I am doing my reading and my research of the area to make the best decisions. Until then, go Arizona Wildcats!
My favorite time of year!
It is NCAA March Madness time again and my very favorite time of the sports year. I especially love the first weekend when smaller schools and underdogs manage to pull off so many upsets. It is always a joy to see the little guys defeat the big guys! There are two exceptions for me though. I am a serious fan of the Arizona Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers, so I hope to see both of them in the Final Four and one of them win it. Meanwhile I will be glued to the TV for the next few weeks and appreciate all of the action Go 'Cats & Go Badgers.
Day of happiness and sadness
My former student and now a dear friend, Brooke, has returned to her home in Wuhan, China, after a wonderful month together during which I was able to enjoy her wonderful Chinese cooking and simple daily companionship. I was very sad to see her leave but also very happy to have experienced the joy of having her here. Like so many days in life, a mixture of joy and sadness. The sadness will, of course, fade but the joy of her visit will stay with me forever. The older we get, the more one cherishes precious memories. Thank you for those, Brooke.
Days of Joy
I am now in the midst of days of joy. Brooke, one of my many wonderful students from my time of teaching in Wuhan, China, has come to visit with me for a month. I always told my students that if they came to visit me in Las Vegas they were welcome to stay at my home. Two young men have come to Vegas before and now Brooke is the first young woman to join me and it is my great joy to have her here.
We have just spent two weeks showing her California from Death Valley to the Sierras, over to Muir Woods and San Francisco for several days, then down the coast to Santa Cruz, Carmel/Monterey, Morro Bay, SLO, Solvang, Santa Barbara and into LA for several days. She has greatly loved everything but found a special fondness for the beauty of Solvang and the incomparable Universal Studio Tour. It has been a joy to show her some of my country and to watch her try American food. She has decided she does not like American food except for junk food! She loves potato chips, cheesecake, cookies and peanut butter ice cream!
I have, of course, taken her to many casinos on the strip were she has taken a thousand photos! We have seen "Blue Man Group" and will soon see "Jubilee." She is very interested in architecture so the strip is amazing for her to see. The Venetian is her favorite with Bellagio probably next. Several of the hotels and casinos are also decorated for the Chinese Spring Festival so that has been interesting for her also to see.
I am greatly benefitting from her stay because she loves to cook and so has been my personal Chinese Chef during her stay. She is an excellent cook and, as I love real Chinese food, an epicurean delight for me. I look forward to every meal she prepares and she has told me to do nothing - she will cook and clean! In addition she is a very intelligent young woman, holding a masters in electrical engineering, speaks excellent English and provides interesting companionship and conversation for me. She is now a teacher herself in China. I am in a personal heaven during her stay and will be sad to see her leave before much longer. These are truly days of great joy.
Days of Sadness
We know it is not life and death, it is only a game, but as an avid Green Bay Packer fan the last few days have been filled with sadness, as they have been for Packer fans everywhere. What happened in the NFC title game was so unbelievable as to leave all football fans in shock. Even Seahawk fans could not believe it as so man of them left the game early, something Packer fans do not do in Green Bay. Most are loyal to the very end, winning or losing. This one really hurt though. The greatest thing though was how Packer fans greeted to team on its return to Green Bay. They lined both sides of the aisle from the plane's arrival gate all the way to where the players cars were parked! They love their team and wanted to let them know it once again. As one player said, "We were the best team today, but the best team doesn't always win." We'll be back and stronger than ever. GO PACK GO remains the chant in all of our hearts.
2015 Begins with more terror
I am a pacifist. I have never understood violence in any form. But then I am also an intellectual in that I admire the workings of the philosophers and thinkers far above the pugilist or the gun toting cowboy. Most of all though, I will never understand those who kill and maim in the name of religion as Muslim terrorists continue to do almost daily. Now, I do understand this is not a new issue. Christians and their so-called crusades waged war against Muslims near a thousand years ago. But, in my mind, they were wrong then just as Muslim extremists are now.
In that same light, I have never understood prejudice in any form, but then I have never felt the need to think I am better than someone because of my religion or color of my skin. We are all primarily products of our environment, what our parents provided for us and what we now provide for our own children. Perhaps I was fortunate in having a mother who was basically kind to everyone. M<y fathers side was protestant and my mothers was catholic. I routinely went to events on both sides and thought nothing about any differences. The youth activities on either side were all fun, the weddings were all fun and the funerals not so much. I certainly never saw either side as better or worse than the other.
When I was middle school age my two best friends were Jewish. My mother welcomed them in my home and I was welcome in theirs. We didn't think anything about it. Throughout high school I had several black friends and others I participated in sports with. My mother always welcomed all in our home and happily fed them ice cream or meals along with our own family. No body was ever treated any different than anybody else - so I guess I owe my mother a great deal for that exemplary education. The primary fisticuffs in our home were when my brother and I argued and my dad made us go down to the basement, put on big boxing gloves and pound on each other, never lasting more than a few minutes.
So, as you can see, I welcome everyone and so does my God, Allah, big Medicine Man or whatever. To each his own. Like ice cream, it is why we have chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and a hundred other flavors. To each his own. Several years ago during my travels I had an opportunity to speak with a wise old Buddhist monk in Lao. He told me that, essentially, all religions have the same rules: do not kill, do not steal, do not be mean to others, love others, etc. He said "the problem is not religions, the problem is men do not follow the rules." Men change the rules to fit there own need to kill, steal and more.
I ask myself - if God really did create man in his own image, why do so many behave like they do? That perhaps also sums up why I have trouble believing in any god, and I certainly do not believe in any organized religion. Organized religion has historically proven to be a disaster for so much of mankind. And if a god created man in his image, he badly messed up with terrorists and a whole lot of other people. I'll believe when god strikes them all off the face of the earth but I am not holding my breathe. Meanwhile I hope all nations will cooperate to rid this earth of such people. I believe strongly in free speech and freedom of expression, such as France's "Charlie," but when it comes to terrorist and indiscriminate killing, even as a pacifist, I say death to them.
2014 Year End
It is the last few days of 2014 and I am now launching my completely new web site. I purchased a program from Go Daddy and have learned to do it myself! Well, sort of anyway. It has been a month long learning experience but I am mostly pleased with what I have learned and accomplished. Still a few bugs and things to work out, so if you spot any of them, well, I am trying.
All-in-all, it was a decent year and I am happy. I also appreciate my many wonderful friends in China being so kind as to send me Christmas and New Year messages. They are always so gracious to me and it warms my heart. It helps make up for U.S. politics which produces only tears and sadness for me. Anyway, I hope 2015 will be great for all my friends, family and readers. My plans are to again do some serious writing on my new novel attempt now that I have gotten this new web site going. Ciao for now.
November Mid-term Elections 2014
At the moment I am a bit disturbed by the elections. I don't understand any of the nonsense that goes on in elections and am convince that about 80% or more of voters have no idea what they are doing. The stock market is booming, gas is the lowest it has been in years, unemployment is under 6% (far lower than under Bush), our stupid Bush wars are winding down, our politicians get nothing done as McConnell and the Republicans refuse to cooperate on anything, such as ignoring any immigration reform, and yet the voters cast ballots for the Republicans who have messed up this country for years. Voters scream they want change and then vote in the same incumbents. I am at a loss to understand anything so, for now, will just crawl back
under the covers and have a long nap - the only safe place for the middle-class majority of us to go. My head