Saturday, February 20, 2016

First Motorcycle Trip of the Season: Trenton Kentucky - Should I Bring My Gun This Time?

I always like to joke around about our neighbors to the north.  We civilized people here in Tennessee from time to time discuss building a wall to keep them Kentuckians out.  On the other hand, what can we really do? Maybe checkpoints are the answer.

When I go to Kentucky I always try to bring my gun and travel during daylight hours. (I really don't ever carry a gun, but it sounds good.)  You can never be too safe when you go to Kentucky, but this trip across the border to Trenton didn't require all of that, this time anyway.  Seriously though I love Trenton and the people of Kentucky even though they like to dress in that godawful blue with a big K on the front of their shirt.

They opened up a new restaurant there and the weather was nice for a change so we decided to take the bikes this last Thursday night for some mighty good barbecue.  The Black Sheep Bistro is in an old gas station with an old car lift as a lunch counter.  We both had the pulled pork slider special, but I can't wait to go back for the smoked prime rib.  It really is a unique place.  I can't wait to go back.

We are actually friends of Trenton Kentucky and it's 419 souls that live there.  It is a small crossroads town on US Highway 41 a few miles from the Tennessee Border.  Terri has been going to a quilt shop there for years it is one of those special places that seem to be lost in time.  Yes, I am a quilting widow with Terri spending a lot of time at The Golden Threads Quilt Shop.

Oh No!!! I here they are getting ready to put in a Yarn and Knitting Shop.  I really don't think we can build that wall fast enough.  Although like the wall down south fails to keep illegals from coming into this country.  I doubt that a wall no matter how high can keep my wife from going to Trenton.  A quilt shop and a knitting shop it will be an irresistible attraction.  Please dig my grave now.

It was a nice short ride to Trenton.  A good time was had by all and I got the ladies at the quilt shop some Pecan Clusters.  So I'm hoping that they release her for good behavior.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Trip New Orleans and Mardi Gras. I'm Jealous!

My son was sitting on our couch visiting after his Air Force National Guard Drill in Nashville when I learned he was flying to New Orleans for Mardi Gras the next day.   Immediately my time there rushes through my mind.   Most people when they think of Mardi Gras they think of Bourbon Street and the big party, it is that, but much more.   Believe it or not it is mainly a family event that the people of New Orleans have been celebrating for over 300 years.

Sure you have to walk down bourbon street on Fat Tuesday on the day before the beginning of Lent.  At Midnight everything shuts down for Ash Wednesday.   The New Orleans police will line up on one end of Bourbon street and start to walk down clearing the street.   The walk down Bourbon on this day is not for the faint hearted no children allowed please.  But I would say one life is not complete until you've have done it.   But don't go into the Tropical Isle and have a Hand Grenade so you remember it.

The good stuff happens on Canal Street.  The Mardi Gras Parades are something to behold with large floats and marching bands it is where the real party is at.   Candy and Beads are thrown from the floats, it is a participatory event with everyone getting into the action.

After a the parade I like to head over to the Praline Connection for dinner and then to the Spotted Cat Music Club for some good blues or jazz.  These two places are on my favorite street in New Orleans, Frenchman Street baby.  Unlike Bourbon Street its where the real NOLA is at.  For breakfast in the morning head over to Cafe Du Monde for coffee and some Beignets.  Make sure while you're there you visit the Battle of New Orleans where Jackson kicked the British ass during the War of 1812.  It is just south of the city, well worth the drive and the visit.

So I am so jealous about my son going to New Orleans.  I would love to go and experience this marvelous city again and again.  It is one of the many reason I love the south.  It is the most unique American City.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Czech Republic, Poland, Krakow and Auschwitz (1994)

Sometimes when you travel to certain places, it stays in front of your memory for the rest of your life. This trip through the Czech Republic and into Poland is one of those trips.   Visiting the Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz and by accident attending the annual Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival is something that will always be stuck in my mind.

This was a family trip that we took in 1994. Eastern Europe was considered the wild west with the fall of the Iron Curtain only a few years earlier.  It was a time of tremendous transition.   We planned to travel from Stuttgart Germany where we lived, through the newly formed Czech Republic, into Poland.  With planned stops at Auschwitz and a tour of Krakow.   At this time people were still apprehensive about traveling into the former soviet block.   There were stories about waiting in line for gas, cars being stolen; people being robbed, but it was safe if you took appropriate precautions.

So our plan was to car camp until we got to Krakow.  In Europe and even in eastern Europe there is an excellent network of safe commercial campgrounds.  Before leaving, we made reservations at the Holiday Inn in Krakow the only widely known places to stay in southern Poland.  Understand that Krakow is the cultural center for Poland and Silesia.  Silesia combines the border areas of the Czech Republic, southern Poland, and southeastern Germany.

So in the summer of 1994, we are off in our Dodge Caravan for a trip of a lifetime.  We make our way out of Germany into the Czech republic.  The first thing noticeable was the increased level of poverty and lack of mechanization.  It was not abject poverty, but it was very apparent that this wasn't western Germany. There was not a Mercedes parked in every driveway.   We passed abandoned Soviet military bases with rusting equipment and dilapidated buildings. It was evident that the Soviet threat was not as ominous as we were lead to believe.

Our first stop was Pilsen at a campground on the western side of Prague. Which consisted of a restaurant by a lake that was surrounded by a large field.  We set up camp and had dinner in the restaurant. Then spent a pleasant evening by the lake. Pilsen like you might think for the beer.  The Czech Republic is more famous for their beer than Germany. They say that they invented it.  To include the original brand of Budweiser whom the American counterpart are distant relatives.

So our first stop after a night of camping is Prague.  We parked the van on a busy street for a short walk around downtown. The famous St. Charles Pedestrian bridge which connected both sides of old Prague that was divided by the Vltava River.  This city was very similar to other European cities with a classical downtown, but the outskirts and suburbs were dominated by Soviet-era tenement style high rise buildings.  Some that seemed abandoned and were in the process of being torn down.

After a short tour of Prague, we headed to our next destination the Eastern Carpathian Mountains. We stayed here for 2 nights camped beside an idyllic mountain stream.   We visited a local mountain town.  Most of the stores still had the soviet era set up.  All the goods and merchandise were behind a counter.  If you wanted something, you had to ask the clerk who would hand it to you to look at before purchasing it.  I bought a small hatched to chop firewood with.  I'm sure it was made in some hatchet factory in Russia.  At the campground, we met an older couple from Holland.  They introduced the game of Le Ball, which is a yard bowling game.  We had fun playing in the dirt road of the campground.  Come to find out he was there reconnecting with the past.  His family was from the area, they were displaced during the second world war.

After 2 nights in the Czech Mountains, we head to Poland and the border city of Cieszyn.   The drive through the farmland of the Czech Republic was an eye-opening experience.   The complete lack of modern farm machinery was evident.  Family farmers were in the fields using horses, carts and big pitchforks to gather the first season of cut summer hay.

On the way to the Polish border, we stop in Ostrava for gas.   It is the only time we had to wait in line for fuel. While I waited, Terri took a tour of the vast open-air market across the street.  All I remember was a flatbed semi-truck with nothing but baby carriages on in.   While waiting for gas, there was a boy washing car windows.  Once he got to our car, I let him wash the windows.   Once he was finished, I gave him a US dollar bill.  He became utterly ecstatic in a joyful sort of way. Thanking me and talking incredibly fast in Slavic,  I'm sure he had never seen a US dollar bill or even met an American.

After our stop in Ostrava, we cross into Poland and Cieszyn.  At the border checkpoint, I stop and exchange a $100 and become a polish millionaire.   I remember getting this big wad of worn colorful bills.  So much, I could not put half of it into my wallet. It was a crazy and confusing pile of money.  Once in Poland, we stop a commercial campground on the Oles River near Cieszyn.  The boys and I need a shower, so we head to the camp bath.  On our we back I see a crowd of people standing around our van, Terri is giving everyone a tour of our new 1994 Dodge Caravan.  Our car was an odd sight in Poland since this far into eastern Europe most of the vehicles on the road were still the soviet era Trabant 601.  While traveling in Poland, I noticed every crossroads, street, park, and/or town would have a small monument to the dead.  There are so many of them that it is not practical to see them all.  You have to understand 33%; or in human terms, 3 out of 10 Poles were killed during WWII.

Our first night in Poland was uneventful except for the impromptu car show, the next day would be very different indeed.   The following day our first stop was in Oswiecim Poland or what can be said the most depressing place I have ever visited.  Oswiecim is infamous home to the Nazi Concentration Camp of Auschwitz and the Death Camp of Auschwitz II-Birkenau.   The Museum is located at the original concentration camp of Auschwitz.   During our tour of the Museum and grounds, some of the exhibits were closed to children. So Terri and I took turns going through them. There was a room full of a pile of shoes and another full of a collection of children's clothing.   It was a very moving experience.

After the Museum we drove to the death camp at Birkenau.  This camp had remained relatively untouched since the camp was liberated by the Russians. Some of the buildings are in the process of falling down.  There was an eerie explainable feeling here. Like there were ghosts present.  Here in Birkenau the specially designed rail station was right next door to the gas chambers that could kill 5000 people at a time.  At one point in 1944, they were killing 100,000 people a day here.  When totaled up, about 1.6 million people were killed at these 2 camps between 1941 and 1944.   Like I said the most depressing place I have ever been too.

After this stop its a short drive to Krakow where we have reservations at the old Holiday Inn on the outskirts of the city.  The next morning we take a taxi to the town.   We spend the whole day looking at Krakow.  It has become instantly one of my favorite European cities.  Once we arrived downtown, it is interesting to see that this is the week of the Krakow Jewish Festival.  You must understand that before World War 2, this was the international heart of the Jewish Community in Europe. On this day there were stage shows of classical polish dance. Although most of the original Jews were killed during the war, they were still a tremendous impact on polish culture and heritage. We watch a couple of dances in the magnificent 13th century Krakow Old Town Square.

A park encircles the old town which was developed after the old city wall was removed.  This leads to the Wawel Royal Castle, which has been said to be the most culturally significant site in Poland. The castle was developed into a Museum in 1930.  It is a small miracle that Krakow was spared the devastation of the World War was never be bombed or fought for during the war.  This was one of the bright parts of the trip.

"The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally important site in Poland. For centuries the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, the Castle is now one of the country’s premier art museums. Established in 1930, the museum encompasses ten curatorial departments responsible for collections of paintings, including an important collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, prints, sculpture, textiles, among them the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection, goldsmith’s work, arms and armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain, and period furniture. The museum’s holdings in oriental art include the largest collection of Ottoman tents in Europe. With seven specialized conservation studios, the museum is also an important center for the conservation of works of art."

We break for lunch, for some authentic Polish food to include borscht, which is beet soup. We then make a final stop at St. Mary's Basilica, which is right on the Market Square.  Famous for its Trumpet Call, the 5 note part of the Polish anthem.  The original reason for this is unknown. It is thought to signify the opening and closing of the city gates.  After a long day in Krakow, we take a taxi back to the hotel totally exhausted.

We get up very early the next day for our long drive back to Stuttgart.  Before leaving Poland, we stop at the polish pottery factory at Boleslawiec right before the German Boarder.  We load up the car with dishware and ceramic pottery.   It's just something you do when you're a soldier stationed in Europe.  At the border, it is a crush of traffic to get back to the west and a unified Germany.    This trip was special because it was one of those family trips that we will always remember.