Sunday, December 11, 2022

Madrid: The Prado

It is hot in Madrid this summer, so it will be nice to spend a day in a cool place.  After buying our tickets online, it is a short walk to The Prado from our Airbnb.  We get there before it opens, so we wait in a park across the street in the shade.  After the walk, the coolness of the morning is soothing. 

The Prado is one of the great museums in the world.  It is one of the highlights of our stay in Madrid, Spain.  It houses some of the greatest European Art in existence.   The building was designed in 1785 and originally held only Spanish art.  It continues to hold the Spanish Royal Collection.  Its 1st catalog was published in 1811. Spain's most famous artist Goya many works displayed here, but the Prado is so much more. 

The museum is laid out on 4 floors. We began at the top and worked our way into the basement.  The art from the 11th Century to the present is overwhelming and exhaustingly hard to take in all in one day.   It was a long day but completely worth it.  We ate in the Museum Cafe for lunch, spending about 6 hours going through the museum. 

Much like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris,  Goya's "The Executions" is a major attraction at the Prado.  It is a large painting, almost 9 Feet high and 12 Feet wide.  Its theme is emotional and historic, depicting the killing of Spanish rebels in Madrid by conquering Napoleonic french forces on 3 May 1808. 

Walking through this museum is a magical moment and is what travel is all about.  It's about education; travel changes you.  A trip to the Prado is something you will never forget. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

The World of Barbeque

You know I consider myself an aficionado of BBQ.  I would have a master's degree in BBQ technology if there was such a thing.  I once said BBQ wasn't hamburger and hot dogs cooked on a gas grill, but this is exactly what it is for many people.  Someone actually scolded me for this comment.  This was a wrong assumption that I made early in my Barbeque studies.  

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest of America, a barbeque was sometimes Salmon on the grill.  I've eaten BBQ all over the world.  Barbeque is like the Confederate Flag.  It means many things to many people.

In Slovenia, I've had it served to me on actual swords.  In Greece, with lemons and fresh herbs.  I've tasted the whole pigs roasting in the Mountains of Puerto Rico.  Bo-Bo's in San Juan is Island heaven.  I always grab a plate after leaving the Airport.  There's no way I'm driving by that place.  Texas is always off the charts coming fresh off the pit to the plate; BBQ prime rib is one of my favorites.  In Tennessee, nothing beats Jack's BBQ on Trinity Lane.  The pork ribs are to die for.  The downtown location is good also.  Watching NHL refs gobbling it down before the Predator Games is always fun.  

But today, it was all about Carolina BBQ, one of my favorites and so unique.  Carolina BBQ's main stay is pulled pork and fall-off-the-bone ribs.  Carolina BBQ always includes fried Catfish, fried chicken, and on special occasions, fried oysters.  During dinner, old, style Hash is served over rice.  BBQ Hash is a thick, tangy gravy of pulled pork and other smoked pork bits made special by the BBQ Gods.  This BBQ leans heavily on low-country Gullah Culture.  It varies from place to place and the closer you get to the seashore.  Getting better the deeper you get into the low country.  Hash is more prevalent in South Carolina.

So today, we got our fix on our way home from Norfolk, Virginia.  Driving south into North Carolina, waiting for that smell and smoke rising from a building.  It hit us like an old familiar friend.  I think I need that pork-flavored Narcan and a double dose of Lipitor.  Because I ate too much of this good stuff.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Lisbon's Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Museu Colecao Berardo)

During our week in Lisbon, we spent a day at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.  It was time well spent.  We take the tram from downtown and are there in about 30-minutes.  The Lisbon public transportation system is a modern marvel that combines Trains, Subways, Trams, and Buses to create a seamless modern way to get to any part of the city.  Do not rent a car while here; it's a waste of money.   

The museum was full of world-renowned modern works.  We lucked out the museums are free on Saturday in Lisbon.  The large modern building is a marvel yet seems out of place across the street from the Gothic Buildings of the Jerónimos Monastery and National Archeological Museum.   It is a  huge contrast to the other buildings in the area.  

The building is a multi-floor event comprising exhibits on 3 floors and in the basement.  Walking into the museum, you can start on the 3rd floor and work your way down.  The first three floors are full of painting and sculpture exhibits, and in the basement are the art installations.  

The highlight of the visit was the exhibit dedicated to the study of Cubism that Pablo Picasso started, along with the other artists he inspired.  On the first floor, Cubism is an avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture.  Several artists' works are exhibited here.

"The movement was pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque and joined by Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Henri Le Fauconnier, Juan Gris, and FernanCubismr. One primary influence that led to Cubism was the representation of three-dimensional form in the late works of Paul Cézanne."

The second floor had an Andy Warhol display with his "Judy Garland" painting and his " Ten-foot Flowers" painting.   Then there was his stack of "Brillo Boxes," along with other Warhol masterworks.

There were temporary exhibits on the third and fourth floors displaying minimalist installations.  Seeing works by Jackson Pollack was a bonus.  These large works consumed space that was thought-provoking to take in.

Lisbon's Museu Coleção Berardo, Portugal's main Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, is a must-see.  After visiting the museum, we take the tram back downtown to our AirB&B.  Our hearts are now full of this art and this culture.  It was a good day to be in Lisbon.  

Friday, September 16, 2022

The Mythical Greek Island of Delos


One of the most unique places I've traveled to is the Island of Delos.  It was once a large city and the spiritual capital of the Greek Islands.  It is also one of the world's largest and oldest archaeological digs, started in 1870 by the French.  The Delos island near Mykonos is one of Greece's most important mythological and historical sites.  4000 years ago, this was their spiritual center, which can be compared to the Vatican for Catholics.  

"Delos had a position as a holy sanctuary for a millennium before Olympian Greek mythology made it the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis.  In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the "exceptionally extensive and rich" archaeological site that "conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port."

Our cruise ship stopped in Mykonos, where we were tendered to shore to catch a tour boat to Delos.  The tour boat was over 50' long and was comfortable with a snack bar.  We ride outside, sitting on seats on the gangway on the ship's side.  It's a short sail from Mykonos to Delos, about 30 minutes.   

We land right at the Park entrance.  Once at Delos, we are divided into groups and were assigned a tour guide.  The tour guide was indispensable in viewing the Island ruins and relics.  He explained everything in great detail.  We first walk through the sacred precinct to the Terrace of the Lions.  The Sacred Precinct is a large area filled with temples and alters from thousands of years of worship.  The Terrace of the Lions, also called the Avenue of the Lions, overlooks the Sacred Lake. 

After this, we walked through the shopping and residential district.  Including the House of the Dolphins, a mosaic depicting the Phoenician goddess Tanit indicates that Delos also functioned as a meeting place of cultures and beliefs.  We then walked through the House of Cleopatra.  Many houses had incredible floor mosaics which were in the process of being unearthed. 

The theater was an important part of the cultural life of the island.  The ancient theater could hold up to 5,000 people.  We got to sit in the seats and imagine what it was like to be there during that time.   They were the privileged few who, at that time, considered themselves living with the Gods of Greek Mythology. 

Sitting in the theater, we could see the abandoned ancient city with the Ocean in the background.   It was strange, but you could feel the history.  We were definitely caught up in the moment.  Our time on the tour had come to an end. So we headed back through the city to board our tour boat for the 30-minute trip back to Mykonos.  

Sunday, September 11, 2022

God Bless the Queen, God Save the King

During my Army and Government Contractor Career, I have spent some time with British Soldiers and contractors. Their love for the Queen was always there, worn on their shoulders for all the world to see. I remember a few fights breaking out over perceived insults of the Queen.

One time early in my career, at an international leapfest for paratroopers, I made a light-hearted joke about the Queen and the American revolution. It didn’t go over very well, creating scowls and faces of disgust. Taken aside by a contemporary, it was explained to me the etiquette I had broken. We don’t joke about the Queen.

It was like talking bad about someone’s mother but much worse. Their love was always evident, especially during the queen’s birthday, celebrated around the world, which I’ve had the honor to participate in a couple times.

Since then, I developed a fascination with the Queen and the British Monarchy. A few years ago we visited England. I had made a mistake on our Airbnb reservation in Chelsea. Our flight arrived a day before we could get into our flat. So I made a reservation at a small hotel across the street from Windsor Castle to kill time. It was one of those situations where we were glad that it happened, getting to tour the castle the next day.

This morning I was watching the news with the queen's grandsons, William and Harry, with their wives greeting the crowd outside of Windsor Castle. For a second, I caught a glimpse of the window of the room that we stayed in. Thinking to myself about how ordinary the Royal family really is.

Even with all the scandals laid bare in the newspapers and petty family bickering, now grieving for a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. This is really what makes the monarchy special. The people of Great Britain and the Commonwealth nations see themself in the Royal Family. This intertwinement is what makes them British.

Friday, September 9, 2022

The Heart of Tennessee: State Highway 56

TN Highway 56 is one of the best motorcycle roads in Tennessee for its varied terrain and length. It's one of those roads you can ride repeatedly and always find something different. It will always leave the soul refreshed.

Tennessee 56 cuts through the state from north to south like a knife. It separates the eastern mountains from middle Tennessee. A region I like to call the foothills of the Cumberland Plateau. 56 also crosses the Plateau twice. It's an incredible ride and one of the best fall colors rides in the Nation. Today it's a ride from Clarksville to Chattanooga to meet my new granddaughter Ella Clarie. It's a special trip; it requires a special ride. This is it.

I make my way to Highway 56 from Clarksville, going through Portland, Tennessee, on Highway 52. I catch motorcycle nirvana in Red Boiling Springs. Once on Highway 56, it immediately turns into a curve-riding affair. After ascending the Cumberland Plateau, it's a sharp descent into the Gainsboro Valley. This is a fun ride with long high-speed curves with a mix of short S-turns.
After reaching Gainsboro, there is a short 2 exit hop on Interstate 40. Then it's a fun ride above Center Hill Lake on my way to McMinnville. Then it's a climb to Altamont back up on the Plateau. Finally, I leave Highway 56 on the way to Chattanooga. I drop into the Sequatchie River Valley and the town of Dunlap. It's then another climb over Signal Mountain before reaching our destination of Chattanooga.

It's been a long day of riding. It's time to meet my new granddaughter. I recommend breaking it up into a 2-day ride. We will ride this again in the fall when the leaves start to change. This road makes several lists as one of the best fall color rides in the Nation. It truly ranks as one of the great roads of our Nation.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Lisbon: The Fado Museum

As an amateur music historian, I am fascinated with all types of music. So when I discovered they had a  Fado Museum in Lisbon, I had to go. The fado Museum is located in the Alfama District of Lisbon. One of the oldest districts in the city.  It was originally established by Portuguese Sailors. Fado is a form of Portuguese Folk Music. Fado is a haunting version of the blues. The first recorded development of Fado is from 1820, although it's believed to originate much earlier. 

Fado, meaning fate, is hauntingly similar to the American blues even though there seems to be no direct connection; expect that the subjects are the same. Old Fado is played on the Portuguese Guitar and accompanied by vocals. "In popular belief, Fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor, and infused with a sentiment of resignation, fate, and melancholy. This is loosely captured by the Portuguese word Saudade, or longing, symbolizing a feeling of loss (a permanent, irreparable loss and its consequent lifelong damage).

Being a big fan of American Blues, I found it extremely interesting. After a long walk through the Alfama District, we reach the Fado Museum covered in sweat from an over 90-degree day. After checking our day packs, we head to the cool theater to watch a documentary on Fado. With its distinctive sound, it lives up to its mantra. Fado Music is a poem that can be heard and seen. The rest of the Museum is filled with Fado guitars, art, and other artifacts.  

If you are going to Lisbon and are a fan of music, the Fado Museum is a must-see. After the Museum, we head back to our Airbnb while strolling through the Alfama District. It is a picturesque scene. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Portugal's Cabo De Roca: The Western Tip of Europe

After visiting the Moores Castle near Sintra, Portugal, we return to the Hop on Hop Off bus for the 45-minute trip to Cabo De Roca.  The ride is full of incredible scenery through the coastal mountains of the Sintra area.                                                        

While riding the bus to Cabo De Roca, we sat next to a family.  They had two boys, about 5 and 7.  They were cutting up on the bus, wrestling in their seats.  The mother scolded them.  I told her, "we have two sons now in their 30's." So she asked, did they behave like that.  I said, of course, boys will be boys, that two brothers close in age will have a special bond like my two sons." You could see they had it too. 

I wanted to say that you'll miss even the wicked things boys do when they grow up.  Enjoy it while you can.  Before I could say it, we had come to our stop at Cape Roca.  There was only time to tell you two have some great-looking sons, she said thank you, and we exchanged, have a nice day.  It was nice to have that exchange, and I remember traveling with our sons when they were that age. 

Cabo De Roca is at the very western tip of the European Continent.  It was windy, so windy you had trouble standing up.  It actually made it kind of fun.  The monument signifies Europe's most geographical western point, a very important tourist landmark.  Imagine the sailors in the 1400s; sailing off into the unknown, hoping to win the lottery of discovery.  Imagine their anticipation and the dreams that they had.                          

Now to make the trek back to Lisbon.  After visiting the monument and walking along the cliffs, we catch the bus back to the Sintra train station.  After catching the train back to Lisbon's main train station,  After a short walk back to our condo, we reflected on a great trip.  More memories were made; what a great time. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

Sintra Portugal: The Castle of the Moor's

The trip to Sinatra, Portugal, is like going to the Biltmore in North Carolina.  Instead of just one large palace, there are 6 stately mansions originally built for Portuguese Royalty.  I wanted to see the Moorish fortifications and Roca Cape, the most western point on the European Continent.  We also got to see some dead Moores too.  Poor guys, it's always sad when a soldier dies so far away from home.  Even if it happened 800 years ago.

We leave Lisbon at the Rossio train station, a short walk from our Airbnb.  After about a 40-minute train ride, we arrive in Sintra.  Once there, we immediately buy tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus, which stops at the Sintra Train Station.   This is a National Portuguese vacation spot.  There is more to see here than can be accomplished in one day.  So we have a plan to visit the Moorish Fort and the Cape. 

The Castle of the Moors (Portuguese: Castelo dos Mouros) is a hilltop medieval castle located in the central Portuguese civil parish of Santa Maria e São Miguel, in the municipality of Sintra, about 25 km (16 mi) northwest of Lisbon.  It was an important strategic point during the Reconquista, part of the Christian forces' reconquest of the Iberian Penisula.  The Moors built the Castle fortifications in the 8th and 9th centuries.   It was eventually taken by Christian forces after the fall of Lisbon in 1147.  

It's about a half-mile hike to Moors Castle.  Once there, it's an impressive sight; with high stone walls, it commands a view of the ocean and the northern approach to Lisbon.  It's not hard to imagine soldiers standing guard on the lookout for invading forces.   We spend a couple of hours walking to the Castle walls and towers.   We have lunch in the Castle Cafe and snack shop.  Afterward, we return to the Bus stop and are off to the Roca De Cape.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Lisbon, Portugal: Europe at a Slower Pace

Unlike Rick from Casablanca, we made the plane to Lisbon, and I'm glad we did.  Portugal and Lisbon have always been places I've wanted to visit ever since seeing that movie.  It holds a certain amount of mystery to me.  You don't hear much about Lisbon and Portugal in the world news.  It seems like a little bit of the backwater of Europe.  The slower pace seems inviting, and the people are some of the friendliness I have been around.   

We stayed right off Rossi Square at the base of Castelo De St George.  We tried to walk up to an overlook the day we arrived, but it was closed for maintenance.  Several other tourists did the same thing.  Along the way, several street fairs were going on.  All the street graffiti art along the way was not lost and made the trip worth wild.  

Lisbon has an ancient feeling, unlike other European cities except for Rome.  It seems this is due to its Moorish and African influences. Some of the food that is Portuguese cuisine are olives, sardines, and octopus.  I tried all 3 tonight for dinner.  I was very surprised by the octopus on how tender (melt in your mouth) and smooth it was.   

Over the next few days, we got into the meat of Lisbon.  The Portuguese are proud of their colonial history, with monuments to their explorations everywhere.  Lots of Brazilian Tourists.  We went to the Arch of Triumph and Castle at Belem, the ceremonial starting point of all those 16th Centuries explorers you learned about in High School. Which is near their Naval center and the tomb of the unknown soldier.  We also discovered that the pigeons eat well here, scavenging at all the major monuments. 

The view from Lisbon's St. George Castle commands the city and waterfront.  Although human habitation of the castle hill is thought to begin around the 8th Century BC.  "The hill on which Saint George's Castle stands has played an important part in the history of Lisbon, having served as the location of fortifications occupied successively by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors before its conquest by the Portuguese in the 1147 Siege of Lisbon.  Since the 12th century, the castle has served as a royal palace, a military barracks, the Torre do Tombo National Archive home, and now as a national monument and museum." 

Some perspective here, this all happened 300 years before Columbus and 600 years before the American Revolution.  After touring the castle, we walk through the Alfama, one of Lisbon's oldest neighborhoods, originally settled by Portuguese sailors,  

On our last day in Lisbon, we are taking a down day to pack for our trip to Madrid.  It's been fun here in Lisbon, and we learned a lot.  The country is surprisingly diverse, with the population reflecting its colonial past.  It's a great example of the Columbian Exchange (world trade after Columbus), With Brazil being the most closely connected with Portugal.  Well, we decided to take one last walk-thru Town.  I'm glad that we did.  We saw some neat stuff and a completely different view of the city.

Just some thoughts on Lisbon and Portugal.  The climate is much like Southern California.  Hot and dry summers and very mild winters, not much humidity.  It's easy to see why Portugal has 640K ex-pats living here.  It is one of the most inexpensive countries in the EU to live in.  The cost of living is about 50% lower than in the US, although Lisbon, like any other major city, is higher.  Gas is currently $8.78 a gallon, and cars are much smaller, averaging 40 miles a gallon. 

We did not speak to another American while we were here.  The people in the restaurants were most friendly with us.  Talked to a few Brits, and one from Cambridge, England, said, "you're an American from the west coast."  He guessed correctly; I said, "I was born in Hawaii and grew up in Washington State.  I told him we now lived in Tennessee near Nashville, where they make Jack Daniels whiskey." It's funny many times; people don't know where Tennessee or Nashville is, but you say Jack Daniels, and everyone's eyes light up.  They know where that's at.  

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Spain and the Bullfights

More thoughts on Madrid and Spain.  It was a great visit to Madrid except for one thing.

There is one thing that I could not do in Madrid that I have always dreamed of doing, going to a bullfight.   Bullfighting season had just ended.   I think the week before we arrived. 

I didn’t want to go to any bull fight.  I wanted to take the train to Zaragoza to see the bull fights there.  Where Hemingway saw the bullfights.  Hemingway had an obsession with bullfighting. I believe he actually thought of himself as the bull.  

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honor.” - Hemmingway

I have had some discussions with people on this.  They ask how could you go witness such cruelty?  It should be outlawed they say.  Maybe so,  but if I were a bull who had a choice between the slaughterhouse or the Bull Ring; I would choose the ring. I would demand the Ring. At least in the ring, you have a small chance and even if death is almost certain, you go out fighting.  So until they outlaw the slaughterhouse they should keep the bull ring. I think the bulls going to the slaughterhouse would agree.  

I know even if a bull kills a madator, he is killed, but if the bull has behaved particularly well during the fight, the bull is "pardoned" and his life is spared.  So there is a chance for life, unlike in the slaughterhouse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Chattanooga's Prentice Cooper State Forest : Haley's Road a 4x4 Adrenalin Rush

This weekend I went down to Chattanooga to see my son's family and give the Jeep a workout on Haley's Road in Prentice Cooper State Forest.  Haley's Road is off of TN Highway 27 in the Sequatchie Valley.  This road for 4x4 vehicles only takes you to the top of Prentice Cooper Mountain within the Prentice Cooper State Forest.  This 7000-acre state forest is named after the 39th Governor of Tennessee; Prentice Cooper.  The State Forest is a four-wheelers recreation heaven. 

It takes us about 2 hours to overland the 6.2-mile road in a Jeep Wrangler JL. We came across two obstacles that we had to go around. First, taking an easier 4x4 route made the trail have a moderate rating and, for me, much more enjoyable.   There were obstacles that a stock Jeep just couldn't handle. Luckily we were able to get around those areas. The best part of the trip was a steep descent into a creek bed. Then the steep ascent that leads out of the creek bed. After fording the creek, the Jeep crawled up the other side with no problem.   It was a complete adrenalin rush.

After completing Haley's Road at the top of Prentice, Cooper Mountain it's a short drive to Snoopers Overlook.  We couldn't spend much time there because a wedding was getting ready to start.  So we got our pictures wished the couple good luck, and left.  

Here is the description of the State Forest from the State of Tennessee State Parks web page.  

" Prentice Cooper State Forest is located in southeastern Tennessee, Marion County. The forest is approximately 10 miles west of Chattanooga. It is situated on the scenic Tennessee River Gorge.

Approximately 6,939 acres are designated as unregulated scenic zones that protect this view shed and other scenic areas of the forest. Hicks Gap Natural Area (350 acres) also occurred in the forest and was developed to protect the federally endangered Large-flowered Skullcap. 

There are 35 miles of hiking trails, including the south end of the Cumberland Trail State Park. There also are two designated camping areas. Hunting has been a traditional use of the forest. Other recreational activities include OHV use in designated areas, rock climbing, hiking, Mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching, and camping."

The recreation opportunities are endless at Prentice Cooper State Forest. So if you spend any time in Chattanooga, please make your way to the Prentice. Be prepared for an awesome time. You won't regret it.