Blogging Hiatus

My wife and I will be concluding our 2017 Fall vacation on Friday with a Celebrity Repositioning Cruise to our home base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. USFMAN looks forward to resuming blog postings and accompanying photos of our six ports of call after we return in late November. Thank you for continuing to find interest in my reflections of the present moment of travel in “Snippets of the Traveling Mind.”

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London Evokes Halloween Spirit

E2DEF307-3F1D-4F5B-A232-D06AF16E2695As Halloween approaches soon, my recent tour of London revealed it to be an ideal place to witness the masquerade revelry and ghostly ghoulishness of this popular holiday. Without question, the oldness of London reeked authenticity, where the adventurous traveler could easily retrace dark and dismal remnants of olden times. In contrast, a modern viewpoint of London Halloween portrayed a spectacular show of pop culture inviting a carnival of sinfully goblin pleasures for sure. Four vivid examples immediately come to mind.

Let me begin with the famous Tower Bridge of London, whose twin towers hover prominently over the Thames River leading to the infamous Tower of London. At night, a quick glance at this iconic landmark symbolized the eerie path to the infamous dungeon with its suggested backdrop of tortured prisoners within its imposing, medieval walls. Since its construction in the late 19th century, several incidents have also occurred where mysterious drawbridge openings occurred at strangely inopportune times More recently, President Clinton’s motorcade arrived at midpoint of the bridge span in 1997 as it dangerously rose, threatening the safety of several vehicles along his motorcade.

In deep underground London lie the famous “Tubes” that provide efficient transportation for London travelers daily. Yet my experience of this aging tunnel system on this visit depicted a maze of meandering passages  that confuse the mind of distance and direction. Feeling trapped like a rat at times, a nightmarish vision set in that there might be no way to exit in case of emergency. Speaking of rats, I have sighted several of the alleged half a million pesky rodents lurking as if awaiting the next tube to arrive.

Murder mysteries seem to be an appropriate theme for scary Halloween in London. In my case, a short visit to the Jack the Ripper Museum revealed a sad time in London when a deranged man created mass outrage in the city by murdering eight, innocent women in cold blood. A sizable collection of gruesome artifacts from the crime scene displayed there provides ample evidence of the grotesque nature of these crimes.

For a more contemporary vision of Halloween in London, our visit to Camden in North London would certainly suffice. Along main shopping streets, brash displays of bohemian coolness and gothic darkness tantalized my senses as the weird excesses of impulse buying for exotic body piercings and illicit drug sales there seems impressively evident. What a perfect place to protest the blandness of everyday routine in such a spectacular fashion!

Why not put on a costume of my dreams now? In fact, with “Comic
Con”, taking place in London during our visit, this convention seemed to incite an ideal motivation to celebrate Halloween in such disguised fashion during this visit. With one day  left until the ghosts and goblins arrive, I think that I will settle for reading a scary story or two in a comfortable bed on this long and arduous journey. I could use some sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Evolving Travel Psyche

When mind chatter seeks wander from drizzles of gray
It means time to move on to fresh traveling ways
When robots of idle bring burdensome days
It means time to pound feet on new cobblestone ways

When curious of mind finds so little to learn
It means time to pursue a more globalist earn
When mountains of stuff invite greediness goad
It means time to store less with much lighter pack load

When ego burns anger in blameful offend
It means travel in peace in true search for new friend
When fine fettle flows fit to trust body and soul
It means travel means more than a neighborhood stroll

Many landscapes I’ve seen, much more to explore
Opening paths through new portals embrace distant shore

Heavy Dose Of Dublin Grayness

I have to admit I enjoyed the dull grayness pervading the chilly Dublin air this week. After leaving the vibrant, “bonne vie”of Paris, Ruth and I arrived at our latest destination in mid morning struggling to keep our umbrellas upright in pelting rain. Amidst the normality of such austere weather conditions here, I desired to probe how Dubliners had weathered the ravages of such hard times? My analysis would provide ample reason that these hardy people adapt quite well to such dismal weather. We would accordingly refuse to allow such weather weariness dampen our own spirits on this visit.

A first clue to Dublin’s staying power arose upon being informed that our Air B&B flat would not be ready to occupy for several more hours. Popping into a local coffee cafe, then, we would spend our idle time savoring the warmth of a hot coffee, sweet carbs, reggae music, and the solitude of an easy chair to plan our four day itinerary. Our later wanderings would reveal no surprise about why there were so many pub-filled establishments throughout the city. A heavy dose of Irish Coffee as well as Guinness Beer seemed tempting options for Dubliners under these circumstances.

Settling into our cozy flat in mid afternoon, we desired to walk along the nearby O’Connell Street corridor leading to sites in the heart of downtown.Yet the inclement weather convinced us to make use of the Dublin mass transit system and wisely book a ”Go Dublin “Pass for convenient hop-on, hop-off access throughout a more expanded portion of the city. This efficient mode of transportation would shelter us from the shivering wetness as we conversed friendlily with fellow passengers and sang Irish songs with them along the way.

So many famous writers have lived in Dublin. I could now join this esteemed literary past and use the “downtime” created by anticipated foul weather to write to my heart’s content in the company of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce, and Jonathan Swift. It excited me that the wind blown grounds of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the shadowed blackness of the River Liffey, and the rain soaked presence of a homeless beggar would stir my creative juices as they did long ago for these immortal authors.

When the overcast skies finally cleared, we decided to get out and explore the surrounding coastline.Traveling by train to the seaside gem of Howth, we absorbed the serene atmosphere of this fishing village and realized that the Dublin milieu did not portray all gloom and gray. Toughened to endure a weather beaten existence, Dubliners can always find a time/place for experiencing some “sunshine”in their lives. So keep your “head up” when your thoughts turn to gray and realize that “blue skies” will always lie on the horizon.

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Prime Stages Of Parisian Delights

This independent traveler and his wife play many roles in satisfying their enjoyment of the present. Returning to Paris, this week, we found ample opportunity to practice this multifaceted philosophy. We would first indulge our senses in intellectual, culinary, and artistic delight in a city that honors its illustrious past so well. Concurrently, tests of our sporting mind would enable us to traverse great distances through spacious parksides and winding riverfront to stay in shape. Feeling less challenged, at times, Paris finally represented the opportunity to slow down in life to rest and watch the autumn season unfold.

Having a close friend visit us in Paris this week brought excitement as she decided to accompany us on our itinerary. In fact, her infectious travel energy would inspire us to play tour guide in spite of our jet lagged fatigue. We would thus enjoy introducing her to the bohemian heights of Sacre Couer, the “Impressionistic” paintings of Musée d’Orsay, as well as the Baroque wonders of Versailles Palace.

We love to walk in Paris when we can, as attested by our accumulated total of over 22 miles hiking distance in merely four days. Following the intricate maze of mass transit stations each day became our biggest source of exercise So many steps to ascend and descend amidst bustling, commuter passage would challenge our cardiovascular fitness on this adventure .

“Impressionistic” landscapes envisioned for us a more relaxed kind of Paris. Such masters as Monet, Renoir, or Pissarro would paint scenes of pastoral beauty, reminding us to make time to seek serenity in nature there. Thus, we would find such inner peace on this Paris visit by strolling aimlessly along the Seine River and Luxembourg Gardens this week. Finding a quiet bench to sit, on occasion, we could savor the autumn season of falling leaves and cool breezes then.

Standing silently under the Eiffel Tower one starry night, we gazed in awe at this great symbol of Parisian pride. In this moment, our emotions stirred to truly appreciate this iconic symbol of liberty. We thus certainly intend to make good use of this freedom to travel as far as we can and for as long as we can in the future.

 

In Search Of My French Groove

A momentous travel decision in my life has finally been made. In anticipation of our one week stay in Paris, next week, I am overjoyed that I finally have decided to “bite the bullet” and learn to speak a bit of French. Conditioning myself to spend an hour or two each day for several months now, I have appeared to accomplish this goal by obtaining a decent grasp of French vocabulary. Such efforts are thus described as follows:

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Duolingo Free App

Using Duolingo as a game strategy keeps me motivated from a learning perspective. Each lesson contains visual cues, audio pronunciations, and ample opportunities to earn (instead of buy) valued gems” for prolonged playing time. Formidable challenges, however, are built into the program as one progresses from simple to more complex phrases. In particular, too many errors made on a given lesson results in an immediate cut off from free access for the remainder of a given day. For the most part, spelling for accuracy presents the greatest challenge for me as I attempt to move ahead to longer French phrases ( eg. Qu’est-ce que c’est).To alleviate my stress, I also use the Duolingo website option which offers a similar format as the app with “unlimited” completion time. As a result of these efforts , Duolingo reports that I have achieved 48% proficiency in French.

Duolingo Tiny Cards

Flipping cards in fast pace fashion to learn meanings and pronounce sets of words helps me immensely. I enjoy the pleasant pings and happy smiles that appear every time I get a word or phrase correct. Such required memory for detail required here reminds of my childhood passion to recite hitting/pitching statistics on the back of my beloved baseball cards. As a side note, I would recommend using Tiny Cards on occasions when the app version disqualifies one from further playing time.

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Learn The Culture

To learn a new language, it makes sense to immerse oneself in real, cultural situations. In watching foreign films, I have thus become a captive observer of time/place for dialogue cues in street scenes , cafe seatings, and times of confrontation. For example, the character portrayed by Julie Delpy in the touching dramas “Before Midnight” and “Before Sunrise” seemed helpful for me to understand Parisian norms of when and how to speak formally or informally to convey a growing friendship accompanied by times of dissatisfaction.

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Color Coded Cheat Sheets

The convenient app, Google Translate, enables me to instantly convert my English to French as needed. Finding a need to stimulate my memory more actively, however, I also write my own paper translations of such online provided phrases. In color coding my lists by category, I can take quick peeks at the appropriate phrase on my cheat sheet list in language challenged situations.

To feel the passion yet sophistication of the French language seems wonderfully empowering to this independent traveler. To know that awkward silence in the face of French interaction challenges in the past can be replaced by intuitive understanding and proactive conversation on my part is equally exciting. It might feel right then to say: “J’aime apprendre comme je cherche la bonne vie à l’étranger.”

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Autumn Stroll In Return To Paris

The cold seeps through my light jacket and makes me shiver. Yet here I bask once again in the glories of autumn in Paris. With each breath taken, I notice how life slows into the shadowed nuances of a Monet or Renoir masterpiece. I will thus quiet my mind from life’s endless complexities and simply enjoy the present moment now. Past regrets or future worries can always wait.

So I walk quietly along the Seine with no destination in mind. Crunching along the fallen leaves, I gaze starry-eyed at priceless vestiges of an earlier time. Stately buildings display illustrious inscriptions from the French past. A royal chandelier shines brightly from a passing window with ghosts of sumptuous feasts gone by. Noticing the French flag soaring proudly on a passing barge, I truly feel the French pride in country now.

The geometry of shape mesmerizes me in several ways as a grand footbridge draws closer. Gilded bronze decorations of gods and goddesses reveal a time when great emperors ruled the Western world. Cast iron streetlights remain as a ornate remnants of Beau Epoque ornateness in the late 19th century. A perfect symmetry of arch is formed as a tourist boat quietly emerges into view. As dusk approaches, now, the dramatic presence of Notre Dame suddenly emerges beyond these murky waters in full, Gothic splendor.

The Parisian landscape that I have observed today on this simple walk along the Seine reveals a moment of personal truth. So much in life can be gained if we notice the simple signs of nature that surrounds us every day. A dying leaf, a mystical river, a stony path: I suddenly wish that today would never end.

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Bully Bob Gone Haywire

The following poem is a fictional endeavor that reveals some insight about the dangerous mix of guns and bullies amidst our country’s current culture of open anger expression. While I have been inspired to create this work by the tragic events of the recent, Las Vegas shooting, I do not claim authenticity of the ideas presented. Having experienced the angered backlash of bullies in the past, I find it appropriate to attach the following video from the late and great Tom Petty – “I Won’t Back Down”

BULLY BOB GONE HAYWIRE

Bully led mindsets rain bullets of hate

Cold boasts of no feeling for victimized fate

Delusions of glory no time to see Mom

Stay blind to regret he delivers death’s bomb

 

Set rules to win power whose life he can screw

Imagine no end to his acts of blood spew

Feed nightmares that protest this city of sin

No point in false game when one’s money can’t win

 

Spread fire and fury few question this villain

Our country enraged let’s gets on with the killin’

Spin personal gain in quick triggers of lout

No time for compassion in hubris bound spout

 

As feathers comply with the power of winds

In bully bound glory his life care rescinds

 

Disney Brand Endures

Thinking “outside the box” after facing the wrath of Hurricane Irma in South Florida, my wife Ruth and I decided to celebrate my mother’s 91st birthday with a two- day escape to Walt Disney World this week. Realizing that she would not be physically comfortable with long walks in touring theme parks, we opted to maximize “quality time” together by planning a less ambitious agenda. Thus, our planned itinerary would blend hotel-hopping in mid morning, shady siestas in the afternoons, and leisurely dinners in early evenings. In retrospect, our “Plan B” decision proved wise under these circumstances.

IMG_1752Arriving in early afternoon, our spacious suite at the All Star Music Resort would set the tone for a relaxing visit. Admiring the colorful murals of musical artwork, and well preserved landcapes of native vegetation, I immersed my mind in picture taking “heaven”. To insure privacy for all, my mother would also enjoy her own bedroom while we “made do” with living room, sleeping accommodations.

A few years ago, my wife and I experienced the Victorian grandeur in the Grand Hotel of “Somewhere In Time” movie fame on Mackinac Island , Michigan. Observing that Disney World built a well conceived replica of this iconic resort at the Grand Floridian Hotel, we decided to treat her there with an elegant, dining affair there on our first night. Taking in historic ambience offering a glimpse of American nostalgia for the Victorian American past, we thus imagined ourselves living lavishly as time travelers in this much revered era without paying the $500.00 and up daily booking rate.

On our second day, Disney’s free transportation options for visiting key attractions proved helpful as the idea of slowly traveling by boat seemed the most relaxing option. Embarking from the riverside dock at the Port Orleans resort, we imagined ourself surrounded by French Quarter balconies of Bourbon Street today and Mississippi River plantations from the antebellum past . Arriving at Disney Springs Outdoor Marketplace before noon, we ambled slowly in search of shopping bargains, thus avoiding the tourist crowds and rising heat of the afternoon. With thoughts of fresh seafood entering our mind as we returned to our New Orleans theme point of origin, we would end this relaxing day by indulging in a sumptuous buffet of endless crab legs for dinner at the Beach Club Resort.

“Think like a kid”, “good triumphs over evil”, “beauty defeats beast”, welcome home”; These enduring testaments of the Disney brand brought over 30,000,000 visitors to Magic Kingdom and Epcot alone last year. For this curious follower of the present mindset, each Disney visit arouses my desire to seek childlike play amidst such pleasurable fantasies. For good reason, then, the Disney brand for me remains a much valued commodity, even when I indulge at a much slower pace.

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A Vital Form Of Protest

Mack appreciated his role as the defensive play caller on a winning football team. He felt he had truly earned this honor by enduring eight years of violent, gridiron battle. On game days, he would always look forward to adding maximum energy to each testosterone-filled collision that he encountered on the field. Off the field, Mack’s incessant scowl would similarly offer evidence that he “cut” others little slack.

Last season, Mighty Mack had begun to notice that his mind would stray otherwise from the field of action.  Much younger men than him seemed to rule with gladiator bravado, having less concern for the brute physicality of this game. In fact, he now sensed that time might be running out for him as a dominant presence in this competitively demanding career. Cortisone shots in his aching shoulders before each game would ease the physical pain but could not silence such mental anguish. Recent stories about early onset, brain disease among retired players added to his increasing anxiety.

During training camp, Mack received cold news that he had been traded to a new team far from his home state. Allegiance to the past meant little now as he pondered how his value in this new environment was measured to be no more than the late round draft choice that he was offered for so dispassionately. It seemed that family and friends suddenly meant more to him than his exorbitant salary.

Predictably, Mack could not will himself to be silent under such circumstances. He knew that any attempt to “dog it” on the field would bring immediate calls to “cut him” during preseason. If personal protest was needed, then it made sense to make opening day the target. The stage would now be set for Mack to go AWOL from his new team and send a message of defiance against such disrespect of his talents

On the eve of the first game of the regular season,  Mack knew the familiar, road game ritual. Team meetings would end early and a player curfew would take effect overnight. With each player banished to their hotel room, Mack would now scurry out on the street without being watched at midnight. Booking an early morning flight on his I-phone, Mack would soon escape from his inner pain by finding refuge at home. His mind would finally find peace in this vital form of protest.

Boisterous Mack would never again play the game of professional football; the game he truly loved. The bone-crushing hits that he had endured as a player would mean a future life of stiffness and pain. Yet Mack would find new success in raising two children successfully, staying married , and later passing the bar to become a dedicated lawyer in this country. Past glories on the football field seemed so unreal to him now to be replaced by the sweetness of a much more settled mind.