Friday, July 26, 2013

Tomorrow is the big day...

I doubt I will be blogging much while we're on the road to Texas because it's hard to write on an iPad.  But when we get to Texas, I am certain I will have plenty to write about.  This is the first time I've done a road trip of this scale.  So stay tuned!  I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Packers just left...

They've been here for about 6.5 hours, packing up all our stuff.  We're throwing a good load of things away, but still, it's amazing how much shit we've accumulated over the years.  The movers will be here tomorrow-- a large crowd of them, actually-- to load up everything.  Hopefully, we'll be done cleaning early on Friday and can, perhaps, start working our way out of here a little early.  That would be nice.  We wouldn't have to spend so much time on the road each day if we could manage to get out of here Friday instead of Saturday...

Of course, it all depends on how shitty I feel when we're done with everything.  Last time we moved, I was utterly exhausted once we were done packing and cleaning.  I needed a night of rest before the drive.  But then, that was only six hours from here.  This drive will take days and I imagine it will be nice to take our time a bit if we can.  After all, I have never been to Louisiana.

We're doing pretty well with things, though...  I think we may be able to swing a slightly early exit.  This, even though Bill's bosses at Fort Bragg keep making him come in for more out-processing bullshit.  He's going to be out of the house for most of tomorrow, just as he was today.  That will leave me to deal with the movers.


The scene at my house tonight.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Costa Rica again...

SeaDream recently sent me an email with a link to the newest cruises for late 2014 and early 2015 (phew, that seems so far away).  I noticed they weren't going back to Costa Rica, which makes me a little sad because I'd love to go there.  I know there are other cruiselines that go there, but I am a SeaDream fan.

So then I looked at what is still available for this fall.  One cruise had a super bargain guaranty rate of $2699 a person, which may seem like a lot, but for SeaDream is very reasonable.  It would be the week before Christmas.  I looked into flights to San Jose, Costa Rica and it would be about $1200-$1400 to fly down there.  The flights are a bit on the sucky side, but they are within our reach.

I must say, it's REALLY tempting to book.

Booking that cruise, however, would mean that we would likely not be able to do anything next year.  We may not do anything next year anyway, but I was hoping to get rid of some debt.  And I'm also not sure I want to do another cruise so soon after our last one.

But still... it really is tempting.  I do want to go to Costa Rica.  And a Christmas trip might be just what we need.

Well, we'll see...  When we get to Texas, we'll be paying more for housing and we've heard energy bills are higher.  On the other hand, food is cheaper and there are fewer taxes.  And Bill will be closer to work, so he won't be spending as much on gas.  We could also forgo TV, which would probably do me a lot of good.

I doubt we'll do it, but you never know.    

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The French learn how to become more "Touriste" friendly...

Just read an interesting article about French tourism.  It's basically about how the people of France are learning to embrace the many tourists that flock to their homeland every year.  Though people love France, apparently, they don't spend that much money there.  And the folks in charge of French tourism  have figured out it's because some people may not feel comfortable there.

Things have changed in France over the past few years.  Some stores in Paris, located in "tourist zones", have started staying open on Sunday to accommodate tourists who may only have a day or two to stay in town.  And the French are starting to realize that tourism can be a great source of jobs in an economy that is lagging due to a recession.

I know my first impression of France wasn't very good.  It was June 1st 1995 and I was stuck at Charles De Gaulle's very noisy and confusing airport for about twelve hours.  I found the people who worked in that airport to be singularly unhelpful and unpleasant.  Though I had heard about how "rude" the French were-- and we had hosted a couple of teenaged French boys when I was in high school who also gave me that impression-- that first experience in the airport turned me against France.

But then I went there in 1997.  I arrived by train and had a delightful time, starting with a stop in Nice and continuing with visits to the Loire Valley, Tours, Amboise, and of course, Paris.  I got to see the countryside and met some people who were very nice and friendly.  Indeed, I visited several countries during that trip and did not think the French were particularly rude or unpleasant.  I've been back to France several times since then and can honestly say I love France.  My husband, Bill, who used to disparage France's military, loves it even more than I do.  We may be visiting France next, when we have the chance to vacation again.

I will say that CDG is still a pretty unpleasant airport.  Bill and I flew there in 2009 for a whirlwind trip to Paris and found it very hard to navigate and quite uncomfortable.  Just finding the bus into the city was hard and then once we got on the bus to the city, the trip into Paris took longer than the flight from Germany. Word to the wise.  The train is a lot more efficient.  We took the train from Paris back to the airport and it was a lot quicker and more pleasant.  We even had some fun accordion music from a traveling busker.

Besides Paris, Bill and I visited Strasbourg, Briancon, Nancy, and Marckolsheim.  We've enjoyed every visit and plan to go spend a nice "proper" vacation in France sooner rather than later.  I'm hoping for the Champagne region or perhaps Burgundy.

Anyway, I think it makes sense for France to accommodate tourists more.  However, I hope that doesn't mean France starts adopting habits that alter their national character.  I doubt that would ever happen, but one never knows.  I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that most businesses are closed on Sundays.  I don't know that businesspeople should feel forced to be closed, but it's not a bad thing to have a day of rest.  And I think the whole point of travel is for people to experience new cultures and learn how to adapt.  It's good when cultures accommodate visitors, but not to the point at which the visitor doesn't get an authentic experience.

As I'm writing this, I was inspired to take another look at European Waterways' Website and Bill said the more he sees of the videos posted there, the more he wants to barge.  I don't know if or when we will, but it's now officially on the bucket list.

Friday, July 19, 2013

In honor of yesterday's Brangelina post...

I found more footage of the haggis ceremony on Hebridean Princess.  This was the first gala we attended, while the other film is of the second one.

I wish to God I was on that lovely ship right now.

Brangelina to marry aboard Hebridean Princess?

I just read an admittedly silly article about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's prospective nuptials.  According to the article, they are supposedly considering getting married aboard Hebridean Princess.  The article describes the ship as "sprawling".   Funny, that is not the adjective I would use to describe Hebridean Princess.  Intimate and charming is more like it...

I kind of hope this rumor isn't true.  While I know Hebridean Princess would love the publicity and it would probably be wonderful for their business, I like to think of it as a distinctly British experience.  Hollywood types have no place on that charming vessel.

A photoshopped photo of the Princess's bow...

On the other hand, I'm guessing it's the most private cruise ship out there...

Haggis anyone?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gotta find a local hotel...

A week from today, our furniture is going bye-bye.  We'll be in transit, but we have to stay in a local hotel for a couple of nights so we can clean up the house.  I don't think it'll take a really long time to get that done, since this house is smaller than the last one was and has no carpets.

Sanford, North Carolina is not the most cosmopolitan place in the world.  Last time we stayed around here, we stayed in Fayetteville, which is pretty far from Sanford.  So I guess I'll be consulting TripAdvisor to find a suitable place.  And then we will probably stay in a series of La Quintas, since they are famously pet friendly and we will have the dogs with us.

I generally stay with the dogs when we travel with them, so they don't bother other people or get into trouble.  Last time we moved, it was pretty easy because Atlanta was only about six hours away.  Once we were done cleaning, we went to sleep at a hotel, picked up the dogs, and started driving.  This time, it will take a few days to get where we're going.  I've always wanted to drive across the country, but I'd rather do it in one car and without pets.

It's a lot more fun to do this kind of trip when it's really a trip and not a move.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Literary locales of authors whose works I never read...

I wasn't planning to blog again today, but it's pouring down rain and the TV is on the fritz.  I was just in the shower after painting a couple of old rocking chairs... and I know that effort was just wasted.  So I figure I might as well write about something that occurred to me when we were in Texas, looking at a plaque dedicated to the poet and musician Sidney Lanier.  I posted a photo of the plaque on Facebook and one of my old English professors, who is a Facebook friend noticed and got all excited.  She asked if I had read any of Sidney Lanier's work and I drew a blank.  But then another friend-- one I have never met in person but know through RfM-- piped up and made my old teacher happy.  Sidney Lanier was a great southern writer and somehow I never ended up reading any of his stuff, even though I was an English major...

This plaque was in the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas...

It got me to thinking about all the places Bill and I have been that had special literary significance.  In May 2009, we traveled to Paris, France and stayed at Hotel Le Sixe, which is a boutique hotel in the Montparnasse region of the city.  We didn't know it at the time, but that part of Paris has literary significance because Ernest Hemingway used to spend a lot of time there.  In fact, we were staying just across the street from his favorite bar.  Sadly, I also never read any Hemingway, though I had a friend who took a whole class devoted to Hemingway and Fitzgerald back when we were in college.

I wish I had gotten a photo of the actual bar, but this was very close to Hemingway's favorite Parisian bar.

Enjoy these shots of various Parisian landmarks...

For more on Hemingway's Paris, check out this very cool link...  

When we got back to the States, it took awhile to get back to Europe.  We took a few USA and Caribbean trips instead.  We ended up going to Key West, Florida, which is where one of Hemingway's former homes has been turned into a museum.  We had a very entertaining visit there, met some of Hemingway's six toed cats, saw his huge pool, and read some of his love letters.

Hemingway's House in Key West.

Big pool!

Hemingway's study...

Cats are welcome everywhere!

A few months later, we went to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate our anniversary and stayed in a bed and breakfast that was once a boarding house.  And one of the well known tenants there was none other than the actor, Charlton Heston.  Heston and his wife, Lydia, managed a playhouse in Asheville, which is why they stayed in the lovely North Carolina city.

Asheville is so pretty

Okay, so Charlton Heston wasn't known for being a writer, but I thought it was cool that we stayed under the same roof he once did.

I guess while I'm on the subject, I might as well bring up that when Bill and I were in Barcelona, Spain, we had a fairly dreadful lunch at Els Quatre Gats, the place where Pablo Picasso had one of his earliest shows.  We didn't know it was such a famous place when we ate there.  Actually, my lunch was okay, but Bill ended up eating a nasty undercooked piece of rabbit there.

4 Gatos in Barcelona...  photo courtesy of Yearofthedragon,

The following June, in 2011, we visited Maine for my birthday.  While we were in Portland, we needed to kill time and I needed to pee.  So we visited Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's house and museum.  Once again, he was not an author I read a lot of, but I found his house very interesting.  We had a great tour guide who did a great job of making his life come alive for us.  There was also an annoying woman there with her young daughter and she kept acting like she expected the girl to act out.  The girl was actually very well behaved and caused no problems at all.

Longfellow's House in Portland, Maine

A couple of hours after we visited Longfellow's house, we went to the movies and saw Midnight in Paris, which seemed even more appropriate, since it was a movie all about people like Picasso, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds (F. Scott and Zelda), Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, and Josephine Baker.

Incidentally, we heard when we lived in the Atlanta area that the area where we lived served as an inspiration for Margaret Mitchell when she wrote Gone With The Wind.  What's more, we lived very close to where Patricia Taylor Allanson lived... subject of Ann Rule's true crime book, Everything She Ever Wanted... a book I actually have read!

By the way... Midnight In Paris is totally worth seeing.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What goes into creation...

The above photo was taken on a fine spring day in Hechingen, Germany sometime in 2008.

The above photo was modified using Creative Cloud, Photoshop, and Lightroom...

Today's post is going to be somewhat philosophical.  It may not even belong on this travel blog, since it's not so much about travel as it is about what goes into creation.  It cost me nothing to take the above photo...  or did it?  How much is that first photo, which fathered the second photo, actually worth?

I couldn't take that photo today.  It would be impossible.  I happened to create that image one day when I happened to live in Germany and had the means to get to Hohenzollern Castle.  What events led up to my decision to snap that picture?

If you think about it, there were many things that went into that photo.... Years of preparation, really.  If I sat down to think about it, I could come up with a long chain of events stretching years in the past that went into that photo.  

Think about what went into the making of each and every person, place, thing, or idea on the planet.  A lot of people are responsible for the fact that I exist.  A lot of people went into the making of you, too.  If just one of the people of my past hadn't taken specific actions, I would not be who I am and likely wouldn't be where I am...  I might not have ever met or married Bill and perhaps would never have gone to Germany where I saw that beautiful castle rising majestically on a hilltop.

I met my husband by chance in a chatroom back in 1999.  He had just split up from his ex wife and I had just started graduate school.  We were both lonely and living in new cities.  We chatted for a year and a half before we met in person... again, kind of by chance, because the Army sent Bill to Columbia, South Carolina on business and I happened to live there at the time.

We married in 2002 and in 2007, some people in the Army decided to send us to Germany.  Taxpayers paid for our tickets to Germany.  My husband heard about Hohenzollern from a co-worker who had been there and thought it was a neat place.  We happened to live in a location near the castle, which made it easy for us to drive there.

Hohenzollern Castle was built centuries ago and rebuilt and modified when it fell into disrepair.  If not for the efforts of many people over many years, that castle would not have been available for me to photograph.    

It cost money to gas up the car for the drive to Hohenzollern and money to park there so we could explore the castle grounds.  The gas came from somewhere.  If we had not had access to the gas or the money to pay for the gas, we could not have gone to Hohenzollern and I wouldn't have taken that photo.  We paid admission to walk around at the top of the mountain... money that came from somewhere, a reward for someone's hard work.  We were rewarded by the sights of castle grounds in Germany, which I managed to capture with a cheap digital camera powered by batteries made by unknown hands in an unknown factory somewhere.

My husband paid for the camera I used to snap this shot, which was made by unknown people in a factory somewhere in the Orient.  I stored this image on several computers, again made by people I don't know in another country.  

Last night, I decided to subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, which provided the software I used to enhance that photo.  The subscription will cost me about $50 a month and I'm just playing around with it now, learning how to use it.  I am changing with this new knowledge and the new experiences I'm getting because I'm exposing myself to these new tools.  

A whole lot of people went into the making of that photo...  Yes, I am the one who took it, but I have many people to thank for the fact that I was able to take it.  So what is that photo worth?  Was taking that photo worth the effort?  I think so...  It's leading to new things and another chain of events that will affect creation.

Just something that crossed my mind this Sunday afternoon...    

Saturday, July 13, 2013

San Antonio... going home

We went back to North Carolina on July 8th.  It was sort of a stormy morning and we got an early start so we could get breakfast somewhere.  I get really bitchy and irritable when I'm hungry and sometimes when you're traveling, it's not so easy to fuel up.  We dropped off the car at the rental place, then went to the terminal, where we breezed through security and picked up gross breakfast sandwiches at Dunkin' Donuts.  In retrospect, I should have gotten donuts.  They would have tasted better and probably been just as bad for me.

As we were waiting in line, I noticed the woman standing in front of us...

I actually thought she looked nice enough... it was the shoes that gave me pause.  I can't imagine walking around in those heels with those platforms.  Ouch!  I posted the photo on Facebook and there were many comments.  One friend said she liked what the woman behind her was wearing... with the crocheted cuffs on her pants.

Our flight to Atlanta was quite nice.  We actually got there ten or fifteen minutes early and we had a nice lady sitting next to us.  She was pleasant to talk to and appreciated Bill's chivalrous offer to put her stuff in the bin for her.  Then we spent about an hour in Atlanta and ate some gross Pizza Hut pizza for lunch.  I was reminded of when ATL was our home airport.  It's huge and obnoxious, but you can get anywhere from there.  

The flight from Atlanta to Raleigh was a lot shorter, but very annoying.  We sat in an exit row, which has different seats that have fixed armrests and no windows.  And you're kind of sitting out in the middle, so the flight attendants can bug you.  One of them insisted that I put my purse in an overhead bin on takeoff, but didn't notice my iPad, which was under my seat.  Then, as we were about to land, another flight attendant insisted that I stow the iPad.  I know they have rules and shit, but it would be nice if they were consistent.  I'm afraid the second flight attendant got one of my trademark dirty looks.  I should probably try to restrain myself from being bitchy to flight attendants, but I have little patience for airline travel.  I have a feeling she wouldn't have said anything to me if it weren't for the first flight attendant getting on my case about the purse.  Incidentally, when I'm not in an exit row, no one ever gives me shit about these things.  

Also, the flight attendant who got on my case the second time spent a good portion of the flight chatting with a male employee who happened to be flying on that leg.  The whole time we were taking off, they were talking shop loudly enough that everybody around them had to listen to their chatter.  It's not that I don't think flight attendants have a right to socialize, but I don't think they had much situational awareness.  I will note that the flight attendant in question looked very professional and was very perky.  She made one guy smile by offering to hang his jacket for him, which I thought was nice.  

Bill was all upset because he wanted to go get the dogs from the pet resort, but it was taking forever to get the bags and then the bus to the parking lot took a long time to get to us.  And when it finally did, there were a whole lot of people waiting to get on and the bus driver was being really bitchy and yelling at people to stow their bags and sit down.  But there wasn't enough room to sit, so Bill and I stood and got off at the first stop...

Incidentally, we saw this on our way out of RDU on July 1st...

Welcome to the Bible Belt...

Anyway, I feel certain that I'll be wishing for a plane ticket on our upcoming 1300 mile road trip.  On the other hand, I hate flying.  I tolerate it because it's the only way I can see certain places and it's a lot faster and probably even cheaper than driving sometimes.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

San Antonio part 4

We spent July 6th on a road trip to Austin.  I had never been to Austin before and had heard it was a really neat place.  We got there, taking a brief detour through New Braunfels, which I had also heard was a pretty cool place.  We opted not to stop in New Braunfels, though the downtown area was pretty charming.  We also opted not to stop in Austin because it was really hot outside and the downtown area looked a little dead.

I was also feeling cranky because Aunt Flow was in full force.  Little did I know that two days after we took a driving tour of Austin, JimBoob and Michelle Duggar would be in town making speeches about "baby holocausts" and declared that any politician that wasn't pro-life should be replaced with those who are.  They were probably in or around Austin as Bill and I drove through there.  I'm not a fan of abortion and highly doubt I would ever want or need one, but I do think it should be safe and legal.

Anyway, I managed to get a few shots of Austin from the car.  Then we stopped at Chili's for lunch.  We would have and really should have found a better place to eat, but I really needed a bathroom and was feeling extremely crabby due to plunging blood sugar.  After fortifying myself with Southwest Egg Rolls and a Diet Coke, we were back on our way to San Antonio.  We visited my husband's mom again and had a nice time chatting and hanging out with the cats.

Austin skyline...

Texas statehouse

Margaritas with MIL

Two of the three kitties who visited with us

Good shot!

The next day was Bill's birthday.  I already wrote about the crappy bar experience we had.  Before that, however, Mother-in-law took us out to brunch at Tre Trattoria, in downtown San Antonio.  We had a really nice meal and some very creatively prepared mimosas.

A horse and buggy outside the window...

I had duck confit with an egg on top...

Bill had a big meatball...

Mother-in-law had eggs with pesto...

We really enjoyed this restaurant and would eat there again.  After our shitty bar incident, we went to the Menger Bar and celebrated Bill's birthday properly.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

San Antonio part 3...

We spent last Friday wandering around downtown San Antonio and ended up eating American style Italian food twice.  For lunch, we went to a place that offered free wine with the meal.  We didn't actually choose the restaurant for that reason.  Actually, we went in there because we were looking at the menu and the proprietor or someone else came out and welcomed us inside.

This cockroach died in a foyer at the Menger Hotel...

The photo to the left shows the paper hats some of the teens were wearing.  

I had some pretty good lasagna at that place and a glass of cheap merlot, which was nice because I had just been visited by Aunt Flow and wine is usually helpful in soothing the savage beast.  Bill had some sort of a pasta dish with feta cheese.  After we ate, we went out of the restaurant and were immediately accosted by a scraggly looking street person.  He asked Bill if we needed a guide.  Bill and I have learned not to engage folks that we don't want to have to disengage from later, so we ignored him.

The guy got very upset and said something along the lines of, "Oh, so you're just gonna ignore me?  You're just a fucking white nigger!"

We just kept walking and didn't react or respond to the guy's very offensive and racist comment.  Obviously, a reaction was what he wanted from us, otherwise he wouldn't have dropped the n word.  Maybe what I should have done was whirl around and take his photo, then call 911.  On the other hand, who wants to waste time with someone like that?

On the same street is a glass art gallery called Gallery Vetro!.  I noticed that the gallery was selling a couple of pieces by Stanislaw Borowski.  If you read my post on Polish artists, you have seen photos of Borowski's art that I purchased at the factory in Bolaslaweic, Poland.  Gallery Vetro! had the gonzo in a different color selling for $900, $600 more than I paid for it at the factory.  They didn't have the two other pieces I have, but I think it might be time to consider raising our insurance. 

Anyway, we went into the gallery and I ended up purchasing new jewelry.  We talked to the proprietor who gave us some interesting insights into San Antonio's street people and social welfare system.  Apparently, San Antonio has some very progressive programs for people who need help.  The proprietor also told us that after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, San Antonio inherited a lot of street folks from New Orleans who are a "different breed" and are a lot more street wise than local street people are.  Wow.

Bill looks in the window as I notice the glass sculpture.  See the yellow gonzo on the right?  I have a blue one just like it.  

This is the jewelry I purchased.  It's really gorgeous on.  The blue brings out my eyes.

I happened to notice this overpriced water right after I tried on my new bling.

I took some photos of the Alamo, though we didn't go in.  We visited the Alamo last time we were in San Antonio.  I also took shots of the outside of Schilo's Deli and a Mexican restaurant.

At an Irish pub...      

During the afternoon, we stopped by an Irish pub on the Riverwalk and killed time with a few beers.  Then a little later, we had dinner at an Italian place because I was craving pizza.  We ended up taking it back to the hotel with us, but I didn't finish it because we had no fridge and I wasn't wanting to tempt fate.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

San Antonio part 2...

The morning of July 4th, we ate breakfast on the Riverwalk.  A very brazen, persistent, and I daresay friendly duck joined us and begged like a dog for our scraps.  There were also sparrows and blackbirds begging, though they weren't nearly as cute as this duck was.  I took many photos.

We only applied for one house, because the next day was July 4th and we weren't going to be able to house hunt.  We spent the rest of the week just bumming around.  On the 4th, we went to the Tower of the Americas, a 750 foot tower that was built for the 1968 World's Fair.  Bill and I visited this attraction the last time we were in San Antonio, but I didn't get any pictures that time.  Also, they had a "4-D" show that we missed the last time.

It cost about $20 for us to see this attraction, including Bill's military discount.  The nice thing about it was that the ticket is good for all day, though we knew we'd be going to mother-in-law's house later.  My ears popped as we took the elevator up to the observatory area.  We walked around and I noticed that a lot of people had apparently leaned on the plexiglass by their foreheads.  There were lots of prints left there.

I got some nice photos...

We didn't get our fortunes read by Zoltar...  I was kind of tempted, though.

After we took in the views, we saw the 4-D film, which was actually a "ride" of sorts.  You put on funny looking glasses and watch a film while your seat moves and you get sprayed with mist and see smoke.  It was kind of fun to watch the film.  There was a little kid in there with us who was having a ball.  

Look closely and you can see Bill wearing goofy glasses.

On the way to the Riverwalk, I spied this very progressive bike rental station... Way to go, San Antonio!

We walked around the Riverwalk some more, along with many, many teenagers...

 I got this shot of Bill standing in front of San Antonio's namesake...

Later, we went to mother-in-law's house.  Bill grilled steaks and asparagus and baked potatoes.  We enjoyed chips, salsa, and guacamole, as well as margaritas.  I bonded with two of MIL's black cats who would come out of hiding.  My mother-in-law is a lot of fun to hang out with.  I like her cats, too... although Bill is very allergic to cats.   

Bill just talked to the property manager in Texas and was told another family applied for the house just after we did.  The owner has to decide which one of us gets the house.  I guess I wouldn't be too heartbroken if we didn't get the house, since it's a lot bigger and more expensive than what we really need.  But if we do get it, that will mean the housing search will be over, at least.  I have a feeling the other people will get it if they don't have pets.  The owners of the house are in Japan, which means they're probably Air Force folks.