Friday, July 31, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
My best friend back home in Pennsylvania is George Taylor. My wife could say the same about his wife MaryRuth. They lived just down the street from us - both were teachers - like us and had two sons like us.
But the news today is more about their son - Brandon. With his freshly minted degree from Penn State University in journalism - Brandon took an internship working for an English language newspaper in China. The internship was an effort to build a resume that would make him attractive to newsmagazines like Newsweek in New York City. I teased him about seeing him on the evening news in the future as a foreign correspondent. He often sent pictures back of what he was doing over there - like the video above.
His two months will be up in two days. I was expecting an email soon about how he was coming home and how he might want to come to Florida State and work on his doctorate. Imagine getting this -
"So, I have some good news! I got a job over here. Copy editing for a news magazine, The Beijing Review. Google it. They call it the "Newsweek of China" which is great because I've always wanted to work for Newsweek or a Chinese publication.
I had a job interview and copy editing test last Friday. They called Monday morning and offered me the job. One year contract. I start work this Monday. Is that quick or what? They either recognized that I have some true journalistic talent or were desperate to fill the position of English copy editor, haha.
Now I begin to search for a long term apartment, since my current one is only til the end of the month. It's all so exciting, but a little scary. I've never been away from home without seeing my parents for this long. Penn State was always nice because it was far enough away from home that my parents couldn't just drop by to say "Hi" (although I'm sure they would have) but close enough so that if there were a true emergency I could rush home or have them come up. Now I have half the world and an ocean between us. Actually, now that I think about it, it's very scary, haha."
Shocked.....that is all I can say. After the original numbness - imagining how it would be if Drew or Keith sent home that news - I was kind of proud of this young man. Here is a guy who early on didn't want to go to school. Not that he wasn't a great student - all of his "A's" beared that out - but he seemed introverted. That cleared up in high school and he really hit the afterburners in college enjoying the life in Happy Valley - even editing the Daily Collegian - the school paper.
It should have been expected - Papa Taylor was an award winning communications teacher and later an editor of the local newspaper. Mama Taylor taught German and English and would take the kids every summer to Germany for "cultural immersion." This kid from the coal regions had some pretty good breeding and training.
I can imagine what George and Maryruth are feeling about all this. Mortified at first but slowly - very slowly - that will turn to pride. Pride in their first born's sense of adventure - strong work ethic - his wanting to make a difference.
I remember when Keith was a freshman at Florida State how he wanted to transfer to Georgetown. Lulu could not imagine him walking out on the deal he had. After all, "Why would anyone want to leave FSU?" But he applied to Georgetown on his own and three years later we lined up along the banks of the Potomac to do our victory lap. Keith eventually returned to Tallahassee for his masters - but was no prodigal son. He did turn a couple of folks into "believers" though.
If we are good parents - we want our kids to fly and be a success - to think for themselves - and be happy. This is counterbalanced by our desire to hold them close - love them - care for them - and always be able to help when they call.
It was tough sending my boys off to college - hoping that we taught them to be able to think on their feet - afraid that they would be influenced by others and make bad decisions.
Before this is all over - I expect to be paying a visit to China. Father George has already sent out some feelers to see if I were interested. But this time it is not to make sure Brandon gets off to school - it will be to honor one of his first big decisions and let him know that he is cool and we are proud of him.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Associated Press Writer
A court in southwestern China has sentenced a man to death for a drunken driving accident that killed four people, in what state media said Friday was a first for the country.
Sun Weiming, 30, was found guilty of endangering public safety and sentenced to death Thursday, several state-run newspapers said.
Sun was drunk and speeding in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, last December when he struck four other cars, killing four people and seriously injuring one, reports said. He was also driving without a license.
Several media outlets, including the Tianfu Morning Post and the Sichuan News Network, said the case marked the first time in China that a person has been given the death penalty for endangering public safety by driving drunk.
The claim could not be immediately confirmed.
China imposes capital punishment more than any other country. Amnesty International reported earlier this year that China put at least 1,718 people to death in 2008. The penalty is used even for nonviolent crimes such as graft or tax evasion.
Tianfu reported that Sun told the court he would appeal and begged the judge for a chance to start a new life.
"At the time of the accident, I was completely dazed from drinking and completely unaware and I did not intentionally cross the double line (into oncoming traffic)," he was quoted as saying.
CLICK SAFELY ABOVE TO SEE REVIEW PICTURES
I got up early this morning - 4 AM - but my body still thinks it is in Rome at 10 AM. So here is a nice jet-lagged review of the past month.
While Lulu was busy teaching her class for FSU - I was free to roam at my leisure. The last week Lulu and I spent alone in Italy. What a great time we had. We visited Dr. Bill Woodyard and his classes at the FSU Study Center in Florence.
It started out with visiting the typical tourist spots in London - Westminster Abbey - Parliament - Big Bend - Buckingham Palace and the British Museum. Add to that - side trips to Wimbledon - the White Cliffs of Dover - Oxford - Stonehenge - and Salisbury. Throw in shows - Billy Elliot and Mamma Mia - several nice drinks and suppers at the pubs - and visits to Hyde Park - Saint James Park and Regents Park. The two weeks in London flew by way to fast.
A Eurostar train through the Chunnel had us in Paris in two hours. Paris was way too busy celebrating Bastille Day - crowds were bad in the Louvre - Versailles - and the Bastille Day parade. A train to Epernay and the Champagne District was a beautiful quite pause to enjoy the other France. A trip up the Eiffel Tower - a walk through Notre Dame Cathedral - a boat trip along the Seine were magically followed by a French dinner with music and singing completed Lulu's class's time and we wished them a safe trip back home.
After having to be "on duty" for 3 weeks - Lulu and I boarded a train for Chamonix in the French Alps. We had 8 day train passes - and planned to get our money's worth out of them. After the cable car ride up Mount Blanc - it took 10 hours of trains to get through the Alps to Italy. After getting over the hump - we cruised on trains to Milan - Pontedera -Pisa - Livorna - Florence and Rome. Time ran out before we ever got to Venice - but by yesterday - we were ready to come home.
Walking through the ruins in Rome by sunset is incredible. Your imagination runs wild to think that civilized people lived in these building over 2000 years ago. People entered the Colosseum - with ticket - sat in superboxes - watched people fight to their death. Roads built before Christ are still being used.
I have strange tastes. Things I enjoyed best were - the Billy Elliot Show - the Vespa Museum at the factory - the haunting feelings of the Colosseum - the simplicity of Stonehenge - and the Chapel on the hill in Florence form the movie "Obsession." I just couldn't pass up a photo shot of a different car - motor scooter - electric vehicle - or bicycle. It is always fun to see the many different people - the clothes they were - what they eat - and how they conserve energy. The cost of gasoline is over $7.00 a gallon and electricity is equally expensive. The incentive to save fuel/MONEY - has produced many simple elegant solutions on way to save. Italians always hang their clothes out in the warm dry air. French showers have their own little water heaters in them. London offers incentives to driving electric cars like - free parking - free charging - lower license and insurance fees - and they waive the congestion fee in town. People pay less for electricity at night to put their power plants to more efficient use.
But most of all - I am amazed that I have the time - health - and money to be able to do this. Without Lulu's job - this would be impossible. After this amazing month - I am in awe of how well Lulu does her work - enjoys being with her students so much - and loves what she is doing. It is so much fun seeing the students taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Click on Rome in headline to see more pictures.
After 30 days on the road - our grand finale was a full day of touring Rome in 88 degree heat and with long pants on. In order to be admitted to the Sistine Chapel - shorts and sleeveless garb were not allowed. So I spent the day in blue jeans.
Lulu came down with a bad cold and sore throat - but she refused to let it get her down. She was able to purchase penicillin at a pharmacy for 3 euros - without a prescription. To save energy and prevent sore feet - we used taxis between points of interest. Not only were we able to fit much more things into the day - the rest and the air conditioning in the cab kept our batteries charged.
We visited - the Spanish Steps - the Vatican - the Colosseum - Capitoline Hill - Palatine Hill - the Forum - the Pantheon - and finally Trevi Fountain at 10 PM. Not a bad day.
Tomorrow - Thursday - we expect to be home in Tallahassee - unless we get offered a "bump." Due to airline overbooking - they offer people cash vouchers to give up their seats and fly later. On the way over to London - they offered us $1200 to take a later flight. Like most trips - we had a fantastic time - other than Lulu's cold - everything went well. But after 30 days away - it will be nice to sleep in our own bed in Tallahassee - and see all our friends and bore them with travel photos.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Click on Italy Above to See More pictures
We are zooming across the farmland between Florence and Rome at about 180 mph after a day of exploring the city of art. It is a bit like Venice without the canals. After a month of visiting so many European cities - the cathedrals - restaurants - avenues - park - museums - and artwork seem to blur a little.
One spot that obsessed me was SAN MINIATO AL MONTE Chapel - so much so that I hired a cab to relieve our sore feet and dragging butts for the long climb up the mountain. If a church can be plain and ornate all it once - this one pulls it off. The view of the city of Florence and the countryside was one of the prettiest I have seen. It is hard to categorize "pretty" but this one was a 10 in my book. The chapel was surrounded by all sorts of graves - masoleums - and memorials. We were there at noon - but alone on a bench overlooking the city - and all of a sudden all of the church bells started to peal the time of day - but in my mind it was Europe and the city wishing us a Bon Voyage.
About 20 years ago (is it that long?) - Cliff Robertson and Genivieve Bujold starred in a movie called "Obsession" where part of the story centered around this chapel. I won't ruin the story for you - but it ended with a romance between a man (Robertson) and his daughter (Bujold). I did not re-call the city of the church until I saw it today. I love kinky movies - love with a twist.
Not having a bus ticket back down to the city - the driver just nodded us into the bus and we got a free ride back to near the FSU campus. At the campus - Lulu received a VIP tour by the director and I took a tons of pictures of the students from back home. When I told them the pictures were for the Tallahassee Democrat - they launched into a primping party. One of Lulu's interns is the librarian at the FSU Study Center and she was delighted to fill Lulu in on how things are going there.
After a late lunch of some of the best pizza I ever had - we caught a cab to the station - hopped on the high speed train to Rome. Lulu is sacked out now - fighting off a runny nose and sore throat. The sun was a little hotter and the bags seem heavier as we rushed to catch this train.
On a personal note - we returned to Bill Woodyard's apartment to pick up our bags. He was home between his two daily classes. I went out on the terrace to get my clothes off the wash line - they were gone. I went inside - Bill was busy on the phone - but on hangers on my room door were all my clothes - freshly pressed - and ready for my last two days. Ever since visiting my friend Ben Houser down in the Keys - I am highly impressed by folks that try to make their guests feel welcome. Working class - middle class - upper class - nothing says class more than making someone feel welcome. Isn't it funny how things like that affect your attitude about any visit. I am really glad we stopped by Florence for the night.
Monday, July 20, 2009
CLICK ON VESPA IN TITLE TO SEE MORE PICTURES
One of the best days of my life started out really badly. I usually love Mondays because everyone goes back to work - leaving the roads and stores for me. "Monday - Monday - don't trust that day."
We got up early at our Pontedera hotel after waiting two days for the Piaggio Vespa Museum and Plant to open. After breakfast we briskly traced our 1/4 mile path from the hotel to museum. When we got to the gate - to my chagrin the sign said, "Museum closed Mondays." Obviously not everyone returned to work this Monday. We sulked back to the hotel certain that we could kill the extra day on some other touristy thing.
Lulu told our hotel desk clerk our bad news. He got on the phone to the plant for us. He talked to a young lady - Maxil - and told her our troubles. After a roller coaster high - then a low - we were back up to the top when she said we could come to the plant and she would open the museum for us. We hustled back to the museum and pressed the buzzer. Turns out Maxil was the plant's librarian and media archivist - and she recognized Lulu's name and wanted to meet her. Not really - that would be a better story - but Maxil was just being nice to Americans.
She opened the door - flipped on the lights - and I felt that I had met my maker and was in heaven. There were Vespas everywhere almost one of eeach of the 160 models produced since 1946.
A little history. Enrico Piaggio was an Italian industrialist long before World War II. They built al sorts of mechanical items - even airplanes and train cars - but nothing earth shattering. During the war - Pontedera and Piaggio Company were bombed into the stone age.The roads and railroads were left as piles of rubble. To add insult to all this - the allies refused to let Piaggio build planes again.
When given lemons - make lemon aid. Piaggio had all these airplane parts and decided to use them to build scooters. The rest is history. He developed a line of scooters heralded as the best ever. And I fell for the hype and bought a few.
Lulu tolerated my three hours romp through scooterland - and then we left. Although it was after 12:00 - the hotel desk clerk allowed us to check out and ge ton our way to Florence and then Rome for a couple days before it was time to go home.
We checked our email at the hotel. There was an email from Bill Woodyard another FSU professor. He was teaching at the FSU campus in Florence and asked us to be his guest. It took 10 second sot put his address in our GPS and rush off to the train station to Firenze (Florence).
When we arrived in Florence - the cab took us right to FSU campus - really a small very old building just a block our two from Florence Cathedral. Bill greeted us and took us to his apartment. On the outside it was this quaint Italian 4th floor walkup - but inside it was beautiful.
After Bill's class - we all went out to dinner - toured downtown a bit - had some gelato ice cream - and headed back to the flat. I did a load of laundry and hung it out on the patio overlooking the city.
It is 11:30 now - but I have to get all this down before I forget the details. Tomorrow - we will catch a train to Rome after walking around Florence a bit. But tonight - I sit here in the dark on the balcony - thanks to the unlocked wi-fi signal of "SpeedTouch542899".
Good things happen in 3's. First - a private VIP tour of the Vespa Museum - then an invitation to a free night in downtown Florence - and finally a free internet signal to send the story home to tell my best friends. Once again - Monday morning has not failed me. I hope your day was good too - but I will have to go a long time to top this Monday Monday.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
TO SEE PICTURES - CLICK ON PISA ABOVE
Waking up on Sunday morning in this old Italian village is really different. From our second floor hotel room - with windows open - we could not hear a car or any kind of traffic noise. A loud church bell peeled just across the square. People walked from their homes to church in their Sunday best.
We enjoyed a wonderful Italian breakfast with two other couples. It appears that this hotel is not too crowded on the weekends. As we left the lobby for our daily adventure - the only other person we saw beside the kitchen help - was the desk clerk. She gave us directions to places we wanted to visit.
First we went to the Piaggio/Vespa Museum - we knew it would not be opened but we wanted to check out the walk. The museum is right in the old factory. After that we caught the train to Pisa - about 15 miles away. The ride went quickly - we had a first class cabin alone. When we got to the Pisa Station - it was basically an "elephant walk" form the station to the cathedral and tower - a little over a mile away. It seemed that everyone was walking in that direction.
We were already pretty hot and dried out by the time we got to the plaza - but already at 10 am - there was an orderly large crowd there. Most of them were just happy taking pictures of the tower - pretending to be pushing it over or holding it up. Others were perfectly happy buying little replicas of the tower. The sky was clear dark blue - no clouds in this "Souther Cal" type climate. Even though we were heated up - sweat was not dripping because of the low humidity. Lulu got a neat little tower for her xmas tree for one euro - we had lunch on the plaza - pizza and frozen drinks.
We had brought along our swimsuits because Lulu loves testing new waters - and we were about 10 miles from the Mediterranean and she was not going to be denied. We hopped on a busy bus - we did not have tickets - but the driver did not seem to mind and in minutes we were back at the train station and on a train to Livorna.
Livorna is a busy port where cruise ships dock. We quickly took a bus to the port area - got off - and started looking for the beach. The su was beating down and we walked along the coast road - but found no sand. The closest thing to a beach were the small swimming clubs with big rocks - a few jetties - plenty of bathers in swimsuits - but few people in the water. Even with those terrible conditions by Florida standards - they charged an admission of 4.50 euros to swim in their pools and use their dressing areas and beach chairs. Lulu was very disappointed - so we found an open bar and had a couple beers. After spilling another guy's drink at the next table - an old guy - we caught the bus back to the train station - this time I showed the driver our rail passes and he nodded okay. He obviously was not getting a cut of the fare.
At the station - there was a train back to Pontedera every 30 minutes. We had a whole first class car to ourselves - both fell asleep - and nearly missed out stop in the town of our hotel. We could have taken the train all the way to Rome - would have awakened there in about 2.5 hours. A short walk to our hotel - followed by a good bath - and a trip back to our favorite restaurant. We arrived for supper at 7 pm and dined alone - it is way to early for dinner over here.
After a walk home - I settled down to catch up on email and web pages - and now I am up to date. It is 12:30 here - and I am watching the 6:30 news from back home on Slingbox. We are having a great time - but the trip is winding down. All that is left is a day in Florence and then two days in Rome - and a long flight home.
FOR MORE PICTURES CLICK MILAN IN TITLE ABOVE
It took us over 10 hours to get from Chaminox in the French Alps and Milan. We had to back track a bit because there is no train over the Alps directly from the Chaminox train. We were on 5 different trains until we finally caught the high speed line in Modane and were cruising along at up to 190 mph. Lulu booked a Malin hotel online at an Internet cafe in Modane. We arrived at about 9 am in Milan and used the GPS to find our hotel - about 1/2 mile from the station. The hotel was old but nice - but we could not get the Internet working there. We slept well - had a nice breakfast - and set out to tour the city on a hop on/hop off bus. at about 4 pm - we hopped on a southbound train to Pontedera - the home of Vespa scooters. The train had a one hour stop in Firenze - a really neat town. We walked around a bit but had to rush back to catch our connection. When we got on the train - Lulu said we really likes Florence. I asked her when was she there. She said just now - I was not aware that Firenze and Florence are the same city. She then reminded me that Roma was Rome - and Torino is Turin - and Milano is Milan. And to think I was a geography major in college.
Finally we arrived in Pontedera at 7 pm without a hotel. Pulling our rolling bags down the cobblestone streets brought plenty of looks from the people quietly strolling on the streets. Downtown Pontedera reminds one of a downtown in America in the 50s People still sit out in the wonderful weather - the old folks are not afraid to claim the benches on the streets - and their are no loud radios blasting. Lots of people are having supper and drinking at the street side cafes - and many folks are dressed up for the night out.
After tiring a bit - we stopped into a quaint little restaurant - and the owner in broken English directed us to a fantastic old hotel. the hotel was so nice - and we were so tired - we paid the rack rate - and went to our room. The room was fantastic. We got cleaned up - and went back to that same little restaurant and had a fantastic dinner.
The town felt so neat - and we planned to visit the Piaggio Museum and the home of the Vespa Scooter - that we booked the hotel for 3 nights. Since the museum was closed Sunday - our next day would be spent in Pisa of tower fame.
CLICK ON CHAMONIX IN TITLE FOR MORE PICTURES
July 16, 2009
We are zooming along at 180 mph on the train to Chamonix. We left Paris at 7 am - and have two stops - one at Bellegarde - and the other at St Gervais.
Today was the start of our train week in France and Italy. Lulu got us 8 days first class train passes for $400 per person. They allow us to ride any train at any time. The train we are on now is pretty empty. We have crossed the Rhone River and the Jura Mountains. The GPS gets a very strong full signal and show that we are at 1500 feet.
Chamonix - our destination for tonight is at 3400 feet at the base of Mount Blanc which towers to 15,700 feet. There is a cable car that starts at Chamonix goes up over the mountains and comes down in Italy. We plan to do that tomorrow - it will provide some breathtaking views for Lulu and some white knuckle moments for me..
Our last night in Paris was spent with Lulu's students. First we went to the Notre Dame Cathedral - then a cruise on the Seine - followed by a beautiful French dinner party. After that we all said our goodbyes and went on our way separate ways. From our hotel room we could see and hear some of the students gathering in the courtyard for a little afterglow.
In the town of Bellegarde - the police with a sniffer dog came on the train. All of our trains have been on time - so we expect to be in Chamonix at 1 PM. Lulu got us a hotel downtown for 70 euros over the computer.
Our train has slowed down a but for the climb up the mountains to about 40 mph. We are rising through chalet country.
July 17, 2009
Chamonix is a cute little town nestled in a valley at the foot of Mount Blanc. The first Winter Olympics were held here in 1924 - and the town is generally for well-heeled European ski bums. Lulu told me that Doris Molinaro's son was killed here by an avalanche last Christmas. She was on the school board with me back home - and her family did everything together. What a place to lose a son - not that there is any good place to lose your child.
Our hotel is really nice - outside pool - hot tub - sauna buildings - and internet. We quickly freshened up and went to the cable car station. It was $60 a person to the top and back. We had planned on taking the cable car to the top and over to Italy - but alas there was no train station over there.
There was a bit of a crowd at the cable car station - and we considered buying tickets for the next day - but after some quick thinking decided to go to the top at 5 pm. What a glorious ride we had. I must tell you I did not like the tipsy cable car - but figure with 50 people on it - they had some safety features on it. The views on the way up were breathtaking - and at 15,000 feet at the top - the air made you tipsy because it was so thin.
After coming back down from the mountain - we shopped and had supper in town. There are a lot of mountain climbers here - you will see some neat pictures later.
During the night we had a tremendous rain and thunder storm. It even knocked out the power to the room. I got up around 1 am - and was stumbling around the pitch black room - for a moment I thought they were just trying to conserve power. When we awakened in the morning - it was pouring outside - we had no internet - and we were very happy we scaled the Mount Blanc the first day.
I am typing from a tiny train station that looks like a school bus stop. It is foggy - but at least the rain stopped. The train should be here in 20 minutes. It is a narrow gauge train track and the train runs by electricity - but has no overhead wires. It gets its power thru the rails and if one touched the left rail and the rabbit rail - one would die. I can't imagine them allowing this in America - exposed high voltage for maybe 40 miles.
Because of this track going into Switzerland - we must back track through France to to Italy - around the mountain. Out train pass is for France and Italy - so we will go back to Lyon - then take a high speed train to Milan.
After different trains to St. Gervais - La Rouche - Annesy - Chambery - Modane - we finally got on a TGV high speed train to Milan. It was difficult getting trains thru the Alps.
We boarded the TGV high speed train in Modane around 6 pm. It crossed under the Alps in a long train tunnel - I am guessing 10 miles. At 8 pm- we are speeding across the flatlands as the Alps fade in the distance. We should be in Milan soon - we have passed through Torino. Milan is the richest city in Italy and many think it should be the capital. Torino grew after the war as poor people from the south moved north to find work in the factories. Today - they produce many things but at the top of the list are - medical products and computer technology.
We have a nice private compartment and Lulu's is napping at the time. It is pouring like crazy right now - making this train sound like a tin can.
Tomorrow - we plan to take a special high speed train from Milan to Venice. It is a train that leans so that it can go at high speed over regular train tracks. It should be fun. After spending one night in Venice - we plan to travel to Pisa (the Vespa plant is near there) and Florence (FSU has a campus there). We already have booked a fancy 4 star hotel for the last two nights of the trip in Rome.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Last night - Paris let it all hang out to wish us a good trip home. Millions of people gathered around the Eiffel Tower to join in our celebration.
Tomorrow - Lulu sends her students back to America and we will catch a high speed train to Italy. We will spend a night high in the Alps at Chamonix on the French/Italy border. We will take a cable car up 15,700 foot Mount Blanc - then maybe come down the other side on the cable car in Italy.
We have 8 day first class Eurail passes good for travel anywhere in France and Italy. If you buy them in America - they are only $400 each.
Oh yes - the Parisians were also celebrating July 14th - their Independence Day. After a bottle of champagne it just seemed like they were celebrating our trip and happy to see us going home. :-)
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Lulu and class went to grave of Jim Morrison instead.
It is a perfect day - clear blue sky - 70 temp - and my wood barrel
keeps folks away.
Bastille Day is the day the people stormed the castle and threw the
king out. Since then they have re-invented the wheel 5 times - last
From 1940 to 1944 - this city was taken over by the Nazis. The
Germans tried to invade Britain from here but failed.
Patton helped free this city in 1944.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Brown, Stephanie: http://stetsongal.blogspot
Clark, Myra: http://myraspicturesquetal
Goode, Kat: http://web.mac.com/katgood
Hardy, Connie: http://www.conniescuriousc
Kangas, Beth: http://web.me.com/bkangas/
Kepple, Jen: http://jennyslondonparis.b
Orban, Carolyn: http://obliquetraveler.blo
Rasmussen, Nate: http://www.natedujour.blog
Simoneau, Michele: http://michelesummerinlond
Tamplin, Joanna: http://www.tamplintreadmar
Wallace, Jeannie: http://jeanniesgrandtour.b
Watkins, Merle: http://merlesmeanderings.b
Weimer, Alexis: http://takeeuropebystorm.b
Yusko, Laura: http://web.me.com/lauriest
Zabel, Megan: http://muchadoaboutmegan.b
Perignon Champagne is produced. Only wines from this region can
officially be called Champagne.
We got up early and took a first class high speed train out of town.
Yesterday we were overwhelmed with all the tourists in Paris - and at
the Versaille Palace. We needed a quiet interlude in the country at
the little town of Epernay. As we cruised along at over 100 mph -
fields of vineyards flew by in a blur. Along the way we passed through
Chateau Thierry - where the battle of Belleau Woods was fought during
World War One. The train stopped there for a few moments and we were
able to photograph the giant war memorial on the top of the hill. A
French fellow proudly reminded me that this battle was decisively won
when John Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces into the war
In another 1/2 hour we were at Epernay. Folks say, "Don't judge France
by visiting Paris," and this proved very true thanks to Epernay. After
waiting in line two hours the day before at Versailles - it was
refreshing being immediately seated at a sidewalk cafe and choosing a
very nice lunch from a reasonable menu.
After lunch it was a short walk to the Moet and Chandon Winery where
Dom Perignon Champagne is made. During the tour we walked through some
of the 18 miles of underground tunnels where the wine is aged in
perfect 50 degree temperature all year around. After the tour - we
were served several bottles of white and pink champagne - while still
underground. The only thing that could pry our group from the serving
area was the sound of our train whistle signaling that it was 4:30 and
time to head back to Paris.
Whether it was the sunny breezy day - the quiet beautiful country town
- the first class train - the immaculate winery - or the unlimited
supply of champagne - this was easily the top side trip for most of
our group. The first half of the trip home was mainly the excited
babble of the young ladies reviewing the wines followed by a second
half of deep sleep - only to be awakened by the lights and sounds of
Paris on the Eve of Bastille Day. Our hotel faces the square where the
Bastille once stood. All that remains is a towering obelisk and
tonight a party that extends all the way through tomorrow.
What a difference a day makes - we have all fallen back in love with
Sunday, July 12, 2009
It seems that every French bumpkin decides to vacation in Paris in July. Combine that will Bastille Day Weekend - July 11 to July 14 - add a Sunday - and you have a French recipe for disaster.
We just came back from a Sunday afternoon at Versailles. The palace there is beautiful - but the crowds and lines are unbearable. If it weren't Lulu's birthday - I would have stormed our of there in a huff. I hate the Saturday afternoon crowd at Governors Square Mall back home. Multiply that by 1000 and you get an idea of what it is like. We were in line to buy tickets for the Louis XIV palace about two full hours. The line snaked back and forth into infinity. Then after you paid 13 Euros for admission you had to get into another line for about 1/2 hours to get inside. After that - the line extended all the way through the palace.
There was very little rule enforcement and many folks kept butting into the line. After a while I got tired of being a traffic cop. Once in the palace - you could not see the "no flash allowed" signs because of all the tourists insisting on capturing every chair in digital lightning bursts to bore the folks back home.
Our hotel is about one block from the Bastille and Tuesday is Bastille Day - their excuse for the 4th of July. On that day the people stormed the castle right where we are staying - and they started one of their many numbered governments. I had to chuckle when I saw a pictures in Versailles (Versailles?) of De Gaulle marching into Paris in 1944. In my opinion - the French were right about Hussein and Iraq - but not much else. Even a stopped watch is right twice a day.
Don't even get me started about the toilet facilities. It is an absolute disgusting shame the way they make women wait in line to use the john. Lulu and I had the pleasure of using the same squalid bathroom in the subway. There is something disconcerting about staring women in the eye as you use the urinal. I didn't mind it and enjoyed making a real good "aaaah" relief face as the women watched in line in jealousy - but Lulu was always lost in a line for the toilet.
Many of Lulu's students are doing essays comparing London to Paris. One of the biggest differences is graffiti - Paris is covered with it and I am guessing that the 24 hours a day video cameras in London have helped wipe it out. When we visited London and Paris 10 years ago -the scribble marking status is reversed.
Lulu and I visited France in April 2001 for the Easter Weekend. She found a package deal of hotel and plane for $400 per person. Not only were we in a hotel from heaven - but we had Paris to ourselves. So - if you are planning to visit the French - mind the calendar.
I would have loved to include picture but our Internet server is horrible too :-)
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Google To Offer Phone Service Almost Completely Free - I am not kidding - GOOGLE VOICE - You saw it here first
10 Reasons Google Voice Will Rock the Phone World
Compelling new service is starting to open up to new users
It isn't enough for Google to dominate the world of Web search while also grabbing a huge slice of E-mail and . The online giant now thinks it can slip past AT&T and Verizon to capture the center of voice communications.
First was its Android that's competing for mobile phones. Now comes something called Google Voice, which reflects its broad ambitions. It's a feature-rich service that promises to upend our relationship with phones, twist our perception of phone numbers, and alter how we use both.
[Read about other fun and free phone tricks.]
Understanding Google Voice is difficult without experiencing it. And that's been difficult for all but a small group of testers, most of whom got into the service when it was under the name of Grand Central. Google bought Grand Central several years ago but didn't say much about the service until earlier this year.
Then the search company rolled out Google Voice. The essence of Grand Central was a single phone number that, when dialed, would ring any phone that you wanted. That means one dialing destination that would never change and that would ring a mobile handset, home phone, office line, ID, and/or any other of a user's changing cast of numerical nicknames.
But Google Voice lathers on numerous features to Grand Central that make the service unlike anything else available.
It's a compelling offer, especially at the price. In typical Google fashion, there is no cost to users, at least not yet. Maybe there will be later, at least for premium services. For now, the only cost is a potential loss of privacy. That will give pause to the same folks who won't use Gmail because of spying Google robots that scan their missives and post related ads alongside.
The same thing is likely to happen in what could be called "Gvoice." Google will have access to voice mail, if not phone chats themselves. The ever more-pervasive giant is finding new ways to probe our thoughts for products we might want to buy.
That paranoia aside, other issues arise with the service. Calling from the new Google Voice number means having to dial an extra set of numbers or visit the service's Web page. Otherwise, calls from a cellphone or land line still display its original number in caller ID. That will confuse recipients on which number they should use to call back. New apps for smart phones make it easier to use the Google Voice number but don't fully solve the issue.
[Read how the iPhone has a huge lead in apps.]
Still, everyone should take a close look at Google Voice. There's no beating the price.
Google late last month announced it had opened the service to others who had asked for "invites." Google hasn't said how quickly it is adding new users, but here are highlights of what they'll find:
One ring to find them all. A single, central number alone made Grand Central a great service. Google Voice also hands out a new phone number free of charge. Users then decide which other numbers are rung when that Google number is called, managing it all through an easy-to-use . Users may think it's a hassle sending out yet another change in numbers. But, in theory, this would be the last. Move across country, and the Google number moves with you. Also, for those who wait, Google hopes to soon be able to transfer or "port" existing numbers to its service. A current cellphone or land-line number could become a Google number.
One ring to bring them all. All voice mail gets dumped into one, big, fat mailbox. No longer do you have to remember to check three or four voice boxes. If you don't answer a call, Google gladly records the voice message. The service then sends a note to your E-mail address or multiple addresses, or even a text message to your cellphone. The message arrives as an audio file that you can play without ever having to call Google Voice.
Transcripts! Say it again: Transcripts! Imagine a secretary who listens to voice mail and sends a typed transcript of each message. Golden. The Google secretary is a bit hard of hearing, sort of like getting phone messages jotted by a grandmother. But almost all the transcripts get the gist. And reading is so much faster than listening. This is a service that's been available by paying third parties to intercept cellphone calls. Now it will be available for all phones, free.
Do not disturb. Users can say which phones can be rung during what hours. The Google number can ring all of them during the day—but maybe only the home phone during the evening. No more taking phones off the hook to prevent them from ringing.
Do not bother. Control freaks can even decide which callers ring which phones. They can also organize them into groups for simplicity, such as "family" calls that ring all phones and "business" calls that connect only to an office line. Or users can send certain callers directly to voice mail. They can even block callers who get a "number no longer in service" message. No muss, no fuss.
[See how you can hide behind a virtual number from Vumber.]
Call screening returns. Remember the sly luxury of listening as someone left a message on an answering machine? A quick grab of the phone, and the lucky caller would discover you were actually in and feel flattered that the call was taken. It's back with Google Voice, which lets users listen as someone leaves a voice mail. Hit one button, and surprise the caller with your generous and immediate attention.
Call capture debuts. Until now, recording a call has usually meant fumbling for a recorder that adds to the cable spaghetti on desks. With Google Voice, push a button, and the audio capture starts. The recording lands quickly in a Google Voice mailbox for your listening pleasure. So far, Google can record only incoming calls. But stay tuned.
Text that roams free. Like voice calls, text messages sent to a Google number can arrive at any phone designated to receive them. For those who want to avoid the cost of text messages, they can be read at the Google Voice site. Text messages also can be sent from the Google Voice site.
Calls that roam free. Google Voice makes it easy to transfer incoming calls between phones, say between a cellphone and a land line. Simply hit a button while in a conversation, and the other phones connected to the Google Voice number begin to ring. Pick up one, and continue the conversation. A call answered at home can continue on a mobile handset as you head out the door. Not available yet for outgoing calls.
Free calls. Google Voice users can call U.S. phone numbers for no charge, which is cheaper even than Skype. Like Skype and other Internet calling services, Google Voice also offers rates on international calls that are lower than most land lines and much cheaper than those offered by wireless carriers.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
You have probably looked at the video of our London flat for this year on a previous post. It is really small but fine for two people for two weeks. This morning the housing administrator took us on a tour of our apartment for next summer.
When John Kennedy became president he was like a rock star. The entire world wanted to get a glimpse of the bright, young, good looking, first Catholic president. But on one of his first trips abroad - Jackie went along with him to France. Jackie could speak fluent French and crowds gushed to see and hear her. At first it seemed that JFK was a little jealous of being upstaged - but later he went with the flow and opened his speech with, "I am the guy that accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris."
Shelley Smith is my son's sister-in-law. She is tall, pretty, bright, and funny - and we had a nice day touring London yesterday. Shelley is a veterinarian and had a few days off - so she flew to London to spend time with Kim - one of her schoolmates. Kim works over here with horses. Kim was working so Shelley asked if I could take her on a grand tour - but try to keep the cost down.
At 10 AM - we met at the Tube station. After two weeks of marvelous weather - the London skies were starting to act normal.
First - we walked to the British Museum with a short stop to see the FSU campus. The British Museum was crowded - probably most of the visitors were trying to avoid the rain. We went directly to some of the highlights - the Rosetta Stone - the Parthenon from Athens - and Cleopatra's Mummy.
Next we took the Tube to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum as it started to rain harder. Eerie because there was a wreath on the Tube Station honoring the anniversary of the Terrorist Bombing that happened at that station. We got to the Wax Museum on Baker Street - and the line to enter extended around the block. We thought they were offering some sort of deal but the sign said 25 pounds ($40). This did not fit into our time or money budget - so we passed it up and went to Regents Park to see the beautiful rose gardens. The skies were agreeable as the sun came out and the roses glistened.
After walking by the Sherlock Holmes Museum (obvious tourist trap) - we stopped for lunch. Just as we entered the restaurant - it started to rain hard. When lunch was over the rain let up a bit and we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Two things fit the bill - the admission was free and it had its own underground subway entrance. After seeing some of Rafael's giant paintings and other things - we left hardly scratching the surface of that building. We had miles to go before the Big Ben struck 5 and Shelley would meet Kim and I rode the pumpkin home carriage home.
Although it was raining - we had to weather it to visit the at Buckingham Palace. We took the required pictures and marveled at the long line of people dressed to the nines going to see the queen. Many were in top hat and tails - and getting rained on just like us. I asked one fellow what was the big deal - he said in his stilted proper English, "We're invited to a card party." I wondered if he was going to play strip poker with Camilla Parker Boles. I noticed his card was wet.
It was getting late - and we arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral hoping to enjoy a guided tour before closing time. Alas - we got there at 4:05 - and the last tour started at 4. We were lucky enough to find an open door and we went inside - sat down - and marveled at the main sanctuary. After 20 minutes of that - I exclaimed, "How about that beer you offered?" Shelley sprung up and of we went to find a pub - which stands for public house.
We found the "Ye Old Tavern" and bellied up to the bar with maybe 15 taps lined up in front of us. We had a couple of pints of Fosters - and gabbed away with the bar tender. He said Shakespeare used to drink at this bar. He asked me what I thought of London - I said I loved it. He said the lawyers from Justice next door were cheap - always bargaining for beer and burgers. He said Americans are generous - I think he was working me for a tip.
We drank until 5 PM - then Kim came from work. I was expecting someone in office garb - but Kim had on jeans and looked quite normal. It would have been rude to leave without sharing another pint with her. After a couple of pints of Fosters - even my same old stories seemed interesting - or at least they listened and laughed.
Soon it was time to go - I felt a bit like a guard keeping the young guys away from these two pretty girls (I know - women - but when you are 60 - and you are with women less than half your age - they look like girls).
As I walked out of the bar - dodging the raindrops - toward my tube stop - I wondered if Shakespeare ever shared a pint there with two - pretty - young - lady - horse doctors. I just did. And it was a very nice end to a rainy day.
End of Tour at Pub with Kim and Shelley
Saint Paul's Cathedral - closing time
Statue at V&A Museum
Shelley at Buckingham Palace
Shelley with body casts at V&A Museum
The Rose of Regent's Park
Cleopatra's Mummy - she was only 17.
The British Museum.
The Rosetta Stone is behind glass now.
British Museum down street from our flat.