Thursday, May 22, 2014

Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss at The Woods at Fontanel

We make the 40 mile trip to Nashville about 2 or 3 times a month.  We like going to the farmers market there and since Thomas lives in east Nashville we visit him every so often also.    A few years ago we noticed a brown tourist attraction sign go up for Fontanel Mansion.  We really didn't think much about it until we heard that they had a concert venue there also.

Fontanel Mansion is Barbara Mandrell's former log cabin mansion and farm.  It was sold a few years back and turned into a turned into a tourist destination.   So when we had an opportunity to see Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss there we jumped at the chance.  I ran into Willie Nelson in 1995 when I was getting off an elevator in Copenhagen Denmark.  I was there for an Embassy Inspection, apparently he was staying in the same hotel the night before his concert. Although at the time I cared little about Willie Nelson his famous troubles with the IRS were in the news at that time.  Being ignorant in so many ways of the world then I think when people pointed him out to me I said, so.

It was until much later I develop a taste for greater range of music and looking back at that moment have always wanted to see him play.   Willie Nelson although a great performer in his own right is an American Poet, a songwriter extraordinaire.  Wanting to see him partly because my father was such a big fan.   He would strum his guitar playing his songs by campfire many a night.  Probably one of his best remembered songs is Crazy made famous by Patsy Cline.  As a member of the Highwaymen, he is recognized as a pioneer of Outlaw country, with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.

Europeans are big country music fans because they appreciate the roots of the music.   So does Willie Nelson,he appreciates the roots.   This night when he first started playing, he did a montage of his hits. After this he and his son broke into a blues set.  Starting with a Texas Flood; "it's flooding down in Texas". He then did a rendition of Georgia on my mind.  I was amazed on how people really appreciate the blues.  Even if they really don't understand what they're listening to.

I have been to a lot of concerts and I have never seen such a range of people at this one.   He has such a great following of fans old and young a like.   Some of the older fans seemed to be there to say good bye to him sharing the twilight of their life.  Willie is 81 now, just turning that age this last April.  So who knows how long we will have him I this world.  He is a National Treasure.

Before Willie played Alison Krauss and Union Station took the stage.   Someone told me her voice is like an Angel sent from heaven.  That description is not exaggerated.  They sing a lot of bluegrass and are famous for there "Brother O'Art Thou" soundtrack.  It was just what I needed to hear in the twighlight of this perfect Tennessee spring evening.

At the end of the show Willie was joined on stage with Alison Krauss and Union Station to sing his new standard of Roll Me Up and Smoke Me when I die.  Although most think and it is an anthem for the legalization of Marijuana, to me it is more than that.   It it about living a life with no regrets with flaws and all.  We are all human after all.  Take me how I am because some things aren't going to change.

Someone asked me if Willie still had it.  I can definitely report that he still does and that at 81 more than we could ever hope for.  I was glad to be there while he shared it with the world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Snorkeling Boat Trip to Culebra

General DescriptionThis was a great paid boat trip. Taking a catamaran to two of the best snorkeling spots in the Caribbean.   Snorkeling off of a dive boat is always enjoyable.   We snorkeled two locations near the island of Culebra, Luis Pena Channel Natural Area and the West side of Flamenco Beach.  This was an awesome boat trip. 

Degree of Difficulty:  Easy

Grid Coordinates:  18.287030, -65.636018  (Marina)

Maps:  USGS Topo 20130920 Culebra

Finding the Marina:   From San Juan take Highway 66 to Highway 3.  Exit to the right headed east.   Follow Highway 3 past Fajardo.  Merge on to Highway 53 south.  Take the Highway 3 exit, the second exit past Fajardo.  Follow the signs to Marina Del Rey.  On this trip we decide to use East Island Excursions.  There will be signs guiding you to their office that is dock side.  It is good to allow for 2 hours for travel from San Juan the dive boat leave promptly at 0930 in the morning.

Trip Overview:     We stayed the night in Fajardo and went snorkeling the next day.  We arrived at the dockside office and checked in.  We were originally supposed to travel to the Icanos Islands, but the weather was not with us on this day.  So instead the Captain decided to take us to Culebra for the same price.   I was a little disappointed because we went to Culebra later in the week.   It turned out for the best, giving us a boat side perspective of the snorkeling areas on the Island. 


The ride to Culebra was about 40 minutes thru choppy seas. Once arrived off the beach of the Culebra Nature Area we were in the Luis Pena channel, shielded by a leeward island of the same name.  Once the boat tied up to the anchored buoy it was time to hit the water.

The boat a powered catamaran had two water entry decks with steps into the water. This was the best snorkeling that I have ever done in Puerto Rico.  There is a reason that this is a popular trip.  The variety of fish and coral was incredible.  In my memory this snorkel only has been topped by the red sea in the early 90’s.  

We were given about an hour and a half to snorkel.  The boat provided a lunch a complimentary drinks afterward.  This was all included in price of the trip and you could eat and drink at your own leisure.  After lunch we moved around the north side of the Island to Flamingo Beach and Bay.      

We anchor on the west side of Flamenco Beach one of the most picturesque beaches in the Caribbean.  Once there you could snorkel the rock jetty and follow the reef up the west side of the beach to view numerous coral and fish species.   You could also make the short swim to the beach, but I’m saving that for a trip later in the week.

Once we spent a couple of hours here it was time to get back to the Main Island of Puerto Rico and the Marina Del Rey .  The seas had calmed a little in the afternoon and the big cat made short work of the trip, we were dockside in 30 minutes.  

Snorkeling Instructions:     Whenever snorkeling off a boat always follow the crew guidance; be back on the boat when told to.   Always snorkel with a buddy and be sure to have fun and take pictures.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Ring of Fire, A Ride Around Nashville

I’m on Highway 41A getting ready to drop into the Nashville Basin.   Johnny Cash is coming out of my Batwing Fairing it is a sunny 85 spring day in May.   I’m on my motorcycle life could not get any better.
Riding past the Canola Oil fields it smells like I’m driving thru a flower bouquet.  It’s off to another adventure.

It’ another ride with my son, he finished his first year of grad school, it was time for a celebratory ride.  So I’m headed to his house in East Nashville from there we head down to old highway 70.   There was a fight with traffic the first 15 miles, but once we left metro Nashville it was smooth sailing.  We rode by the Confederate Cemetery in Nashville which was a very somber site.  When we get to Lebanon we turn north on Tennessee 141.  This is a much better road with just enough turns and twist; my son’s 919 Sportbike is loving this.  

Once we get to Hartsville we stop for lunch at Dillehay’s CafĂ© for a meat and 2 sides for $6.50.  It is downtown near the courthouse, this is quintessential Tennessee small town.   We both had the meatloaf which was pretty good.   Fueled up we hop back on the bikes and take a left headed east on Highway 25.  We are now headed to Gallatin on the Ring of Fire Trail.   We only are riding this trail for a short while today but it was good discovering it.  There is a return trip her, I can’t wait to ride the whole thing, it will gnaw on me like an unmade bed.  

Once we reached Gallatin, another downtown I must get back to, Thomas and I had decided during lunch we would split up here.  He headed back to Nashville on Highway 31E and I continue on Highway 25 back to Clarksville.   I make a stop in Cross Plains at the Piggly Wiggly to pick up pork chops to throw on the grill once I get home. 

It was a quick trip but worth it in the mission to discover the hidden byways of Tennessee.  The more roads that I ride, the more I discover that I need to ride.   There are a lot of trips out there that are in the back of my mind wanting to make it onto the road.    It is just a matter of time and good weather.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Snorkeling or Sun Worship at Playa Luquillo

General Description:  This is one of the most scenic beaches on the main island of Puerto Rico.  The snorkeling was mediocre but has possibilities.  You still must go here for the day to soak up some sun and shop at the kiosk near the beach.  

Degree of Difficulty:  Difficult

Grid Coordinates:  18.382847, -65.730023

Maps:   USGS 5964508 Fajardo OE N US Topo Puerto Rico

Finding the Beach:  From San Juan take Highway 66 to Highway 3.  Exit to the right headed east.   After about 10 miles the ocean will become visible from Highway 3.  You will see a long line of open air shops and restaurants, between the beach and the highway on the left.  The beach entrance is at the next light.  Take a left into Luquillo Beach.  The road will bear to the right, you come to a gate, there is a $4 entrance fee.   This is a large beach complex with many services.

Beach Overview:  This beach is hands down the best swim beach on the main Island of Puerto Rico.  There is no surf and the mountain views of El Yunque National Forest make you feel like you're in an exotic land and you are.  It is the definition of a tropical paradise.  The beach is a good 1 to a 1 1/2 miles long you can walk to open air restaurants and shops on the west end of the beach.   Although these shops are not part of the formal beach they provide a very local shopping and dining experience.   We had lunch one of the seafood restaurants.  The best ceviche I have had on the island.   For the very adventurous there is camping at the beach, with bars and restaurants close by this could be a fun time.    

Snorkeling Instructions:    This beach did not have very good snorkeling but with that being said I only snorkeled at the east end of the beach.  There might be some good snorkeling out further from the beach near the breakwater reef.  That would be a good 300 yard swim.   I did see people walking out on a reef further to the east off the beach.  As I said before this is one of the most unbelievable beaches I have ever been to.   There is a true feeling of paradise here.   There is a channel that leads to the breakwater and a reef at the east end of the beach.   This might be a good try.

Friday, May 2, 2014

International Travel : It's Easy Peasy!!!

Planning a trip can be fun and save you some money in the process.   There really is no need for a travel agent unless you enjoy the personal service and enjoy the experience.   Remember you are paying for these services indirectly.

Once you decide where to go, it is best to first decide where to stay.   I prefer short term rentals when I travel.  Houses or apartments people lease for a few days or up to a month at a time.   The internet site I have used is  Prices are based on level of luxury and there is plenty of competition.   A few summers ago I rented an apartment in the heart of Paris for $700 for a whole week.   I like staying in these homes rather than a sterilized hotel room.  To me it allows the complete experience of living the way the locals do. 

It was fun in Paris going to the French Grocery store and the specialized food markets.  I got up most mornings and walked down to the bakery on the corner to get fresh baked bread.  We saved a lot of money by eating out only 1 meal a day while in Paris.   I enjoy fixing a meals for my family it's even better in a foreign country.   Our Apartment had a small balcony which we dined on; it was a lot of fun.   A family stay in a short term rental can bring a lifetime of memories.  

When I stay in hotels but I try to get them off season or even better a bed and breakfast, the more eclectic the better.   In Europe you can find excellent deals on hotel stays at ski areas during the summer.   After staying in Paris we drove to Chamonix in the Alpes and stayed at a wonderful smaller Hotel  Les Lanchers on the outskirts of town.  We will remember this place in Chamonix for the rest of our lives.

Once you decide where and when you're are going to stay you can make your travel arrangements.   When I fly I use Kayak an internet search engine, it will find you the best prices if flying internationally.   Remember some airlines do not allow access to generic search engines, for those airlines tickets can only be bought at the airline web site.   So be sure to check out other airline web sites, to shop around for the best price.  I like flying Southwest in the United States I have always found them to be cheaper, but more importantly reliable.   I like the fact that I can change plans with minim notice with usually no cost.  Plus a checked bag flies free. 

Renting a car; it used to be that outside the United States required an international driver’s license this is no longer the case.    Any US drivers license will get you a car in most countries.    Before driving in Europe or anywhere else in the world I would get a diagram of international road signs and study them.  Most are pretty much common sense, but a review of the signs would be good for general information and safety.

Modern day travel over the last 20 years has become so much easier.   The Web has connected us in so many different ways with the rest of the world.  You'll be able to get cash using your debit card almost anywhere in the world.  I have used mine in Afghanistan.  Just make sure it’s a reputable Bank machine first.   English thanks to the British has become the international language.  It is good to learn a few words of the local language anywhere you go for politeness; but most of the time the person that you are talking to will start communicating with you in English. 

So when traveling, always be aware of your surroundings.   There are places in my home town I would not go to at night.  So it is good to have a travel guide book for the area that you are visiting.   Be safe but don't let your fear discourage you.  Travel Fearlessly!  Oh and bring good walking shoes.