Friday, March 31, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

I have been here before lamenting my giant lapse in being faithful to my promises of some sort of routine writing. I know daily blogging is out of the question for me. So, no promises about frequency.

Many miles have been logged since my last post. Many new places have been visited. Things have changed in my life, and some are interesting or humorous enough to share.

In January of 2015, we took off to a favorite haunt, Paris (France, not Texas).

We had a great time and that was one of my last posts, not counting my rant about phlebotomy.

We had already  planned a trip to Cuba before the Paris adventure. We decided to make the trip to the island 90 miles south of Florida in June of 2014 which was before travel restrictions eased a bit. Our dilemma was whether to travel legally or illegally. We chose to make our first trip through an approved travel company.

We traveled from Cienfuegos to Havana and made stops along the way. I'm very glad we made the trip prior to opening up of travel to cruise ships and airplanes. The infrastructure was straining when we visited,; I suspect it is more stressed, today.

In December 2015 and January 2016, We traveled to Myanmar, formerly Burma. We made  bookend
stops in Singapore visiting old friends.

Tea time in Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

Ballooning over Bagan

We were a small group of 14 traveling together for 15 days over Christmas and the New Year. Our trip followed the election into power of Aung San Suu Kyi's party. There was lots of hope for quick change. This type of change is never as quick as anticipated.

Through some very good fortune, we found that our next trip would be to South Africa.

Elephant Sunset

Spotted Hyena

We stayed at two wonderful game reserves adjacent to Kruger National Park. Each was unique and memorable in its own way. After safari, we headed to Cape Town for another fabulous experience.

We did another RAGBRAI. I know that I said I would not do another, but I did. It was my third, and I did live to tell about it. 

Team Uff Da at RAGBRAI

December 2016 ended in Ushuaia, Argentina as we boarded a ship for a journey to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and on to Antarctica. We spent 21 days cruising with no seasickness. 

Rockhopper penguin

Giant Petrel

Photo Op with a Leopard Seal

The trip was beyond description. I may attempt to prove myself wrong in forthcoming posts. We returned to Ushuaia and then on to Buenos Aires followed by a visit to Iguazu Falls. We stayed a quaint B&B in Puerto Iguazu for 3 nights. We spent one day on the Brazil side of the falls. Both sides are unique in their own way. 

What's next? We are booked to travel to Bhutan and Rajasthan in October and November. Next summer (June/July 2018), we have reservations to travel to the Arctic. We are heading to Spitzbergen and hope to see polar bears and walrus. More adventures may be added, but that is it at this writing.

More to come!

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Strange and Mysterious Art of Phlebotomy

I have my annual physical scheduled for next week. This morning, I dutifully went to supply a blood sample. One of my reasonably few fears is encountering a new phlebotomist that has not yet mastered all of their blood drawing skills. A person who, with better counseling, could have found their real calling, which is not phlebotomy. 

Perhaps, my veins are difficult to find for some phlebotomists. Prolonged explorations of my arm, searching for a sometimes elusive entry point, raises my apprehension. My normal expectation is that this trained professional is capable of obtaining a  blood sample with only minor discomfort experienced by me. 

One thing that raises my anxiety is when the phlebotomist takes a long time fondling my arm searching for the desired blood vessel. I assume this is a necessary procedure, learned in phlebotomist school, to identify possible target locations for a needle insertion. More that 15 to 20 seconds of fondling/searching usually results in me breaking out in a cold sweat as I fear pain may be involved in the ensuing step of the procedure. 

I've heard many proclamations by the phlebotomist during this next step. I hate it when they say, "I think I've got it" (as they continue to push in) or "Almost" (after it feels like they have inserted it at least twice) or "This might hurt a little" (as they wiggle it around,I can assure you it doesn't hurt them at all). I prefer to hear, "You may feel a slight pinch." If I hear this and I feel a slight pin prick or less, I'm very happy.

Today as I sat in the waiting room for my blood letting, I noticed a small, Filipino woman, that I knew by name, Trina. She is the best phlebotomist that I have ever encountered. Fast, no-pain, blood samples with pleasant conversation, this is what Trina delivers. She drew my blood painlessly for my last 3 physicals. I was elated to see her and anticipated a pain free visit.

When my name was called, it wasn't called by Trina, bummer. Elation faded. I dutifully followed this pleasant, yet unfamiliar person to the blood drawing station. I was hoping for the best.  After more than 20 seconds of left arm-fondling, she asked "Is this was the arm that is normally used for the sample?" Fighting off the possibility of a cold sweat, I indicated that it was in fact the arm normally used. She continued with a seemingly new found confidence. After a well-felt insertion, she continued to probe with some additional pain felt by me. I made a few guttural sounds, and she said, "I think I've got it." I was somewhat reassured until she said, "Does it (referring to my blood) always flow this slowly?" I looked down and saw that my blood had moved merely one half inch down a 2 to 3 inch tube. Anticipating beads of sweat emerging on my upper lip, I indicated that Trina had never had difficulty with my blood flow. She bandaged my nearly bloodless arm. and called in Trina. Tears of joy nearly filled my eyes to overflowing. I was overcome with delight; a cold sweat was no longer possible.

Trina is not much for arm-fondling. She had the needle inserted and blood flowing before I could say a word. As she handed me my urine sample cup and directed me to the bathroom, she left me with some words that I will never forget.

"Request me to draw your blood next time."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Parisian Crepes

We had the great fortune to spend some time in Paris at the end of 2014 and to welcome 2015. Each evening as we returned to our apartment, we observed the proprietor of a creperie next to our entry making an assortment of crepes. One evening we could not resist the desire to sample his product.

Nutella on this one, please.

 Butter and sugar on this one.

The results were as expected, delicious. On your next visit to Paris, try this place near 50 Rue Rambuteau.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Some Things to Do in Paris

A friend of mine is going to go to Paris for the first time in October of this year. He asked if I could make some suggestions for his trip. I am not sure if my tastes will fit his needs , but I was not reluctant to give my picks for a first visit.

For first timers, there are some must see/do sites. I've given them *s, in most cases, to indicate my feelings about importance.

***The Louvre (Paris Museum Pass): I think of this a must do. I've have been there numerous times and never tire of visiting. Rent the audio tour; you can go at your own pace.
***Musée d'Orsay (Paris Museum Pass): I think of this a must do. Ditto everything I said about the Louvre.
**Musée de l’Orangerie des Tuileries (Paris Museum Pass): Small but nice museum with some very large Monet water lily paintings-actually an entire room.
*Musée Rodin (Paris Museum Pass): Go if you are a Rodin fan.
*Picasso Museum (Paris Museum Pass): Go if you are a Picasso fan. It is a seemingly endless history of his work from the beginning to the end.
**Centre Pompidou,or the Pompidou Centre(Paris Museum Pass): It is a unique building (worth a look if you are nearby) and large, active  square. The museum pass is for the Musée National d'Art Moderne which is housed in the building and is the largest museum for modern art in Europe. If you like modern art, go here. 

Notre Dame

***Notre-Dame: A must see church; a trip to Paris is not complete without a visit.
*Notre-Dame – Towers & Crypt (Paris Museum Pass): The tower is the better of the two.
***Sainte Chapelle (Paris Museum Pass): An amazing building not far from Notre Dame, but often missed by first time visitors.
**St-Germain-des-Prés: On La Rive Gauche, The Left Bank, have a coffee or other beverage at Les Deux Magots (across the street from the church).

Les Deux Magots

Rooftops with the Eiffel Tower in the distance

Monuments/other sites
***Eiffel Tower: Yes you must go and, at minimum, walk around its base. If time allows, take the elevator up to the higher observation deck. I've done the steps, but it is quite an effort. In the past, I would have suggested having lunch in the Jules Verne restaurant located on the tower. Alas, it has been taken over by the Alain Ducasse restaurant group and the prices have doubled (it was already pricey).

View from the lounge in the Jules Verne
(pre-Alain Ducasse restaurant group)

***Arc de Triomphe (Paris Museum Pass): Climb to the top to get a great view of Paris and the Champs-Élysées.
**Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the eastern part of Paris. Honoré de Balzac, Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Marceau, Yves Montand, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Simone Signoret, Oscar Wilde, and many, many more.
*Catacombes de Paris, The Catacombs: near Pere Lachaise. The ossuaries holds the remains of about six million people mainly from Paris cemeteries. Fairly bizarre. You might want to bring a flash light for improved viewing.
**Les Invalides , or the Invalides is where you will find Napoleon’s tomb. It was and is a retirement home for soldiers/veterans. It houses some historic and military museums.
**The Place de la Concorde is one of the major public squares in Paris; it is the largest square in Paris at the eastern end of the Champs-Élysées.
**The Conciergerie (Paris Museum Pass):  A  former prison in Paris, France, located on the west of the Île de la Cité (same island as Notre Dame). It was part of the former royal palace and the Palais de Justice. During the French Revolution, prisoners were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris. Marie Antoinette was one of them.

Other things to do

**Walk the Champs-Élysées from The Tuileries (gardens in front of the Louvre) to the Arc de Triomphe. Stop for a drink at  Le Fouquet’s (it was a favorite of Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, Winston Churchill,  Jackie Onassis and many others. Meals are very pricey. Nice view of the arc and the Champs-Élysées.

From the Arc de Triomphe

***Bateau Mouche: boat ride on the Seine, it gives a totally different view of Paris. I would not suggest the lunch trip, but for something special, take the dinner cruise to see Paris night lights from the river. There are 2 menu options for 99 euros or 149 euros. Go for the 99 euro trip. The food is good but not great. I’ve taken the dinner cruise twice.
*Walk around the Ile St-Louis (an island behind the Ile de la Cité which is where Notre Dame is located). Have an ice cream or eat some lunch. It’s a unique neighborhood.
*Walk around the Marais which is the Old Jewish Quarter which has some good delis and the “most symmetrical” plaza in the world, the Place des Vosges. It is amazingly symmetrical. Victor Hugo lived on the Place des Vosges.
**Walk around La Rive Gauche, The Left Bank. This is the former hangout of artists and writers. Visit St-Germain-des-Prés and  have a coffee or other beverage at Les Deux Magots (across the street from the church) which was a favorite hangout for Surrealist artists and intellectuals/writers/artists such as  Jean-Paul Sartre,  Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce.

Shopping the book stalls

*Walk around La Rive Droite, The Right Bank. This is the area containing the Louvre, walk toward the east and you will find all the book stalls you see in movies along the river.
**Walk around Montmartre which is the highest area of the city. This is where you will find Sacré-Coeur, the Sacred Heart Basilica. This area was an artist hangout and continues to have artists mainly around one of its squares near Sacré-Coeur.
**Go to a show at the Moulin Rouge. It’s kind of touristy but it is a Paris experience. It is not cheap, about 185 to 215 euros for dinner and the show or 100 to 115 euros for the show only. We've done it once, pricey but we had fun. The Lido is even more expensive; we have never seen that show.

Restaurants, some I've been to and others are from foodie friends that often go to Paris. I've opted to avoid using *s for this group of suggestions.
Le Hangar, 12 Impasse Berthaud, 75003 Paris: Small, excellent but not cheap. No Credit cards.
La Perla, 5 Rue Montorgueil, 75001 Paris: If you feel like Italian. 
A La Biche Au Bois, 45 Avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75012 Paris: Locals like this place.
L'As Du Fallafel, 32-34 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris: this is a middle eastern place in the Marais.
Au Petit Sud Ouest, 46 Avenue de la Bourdonnais, 75007 Paris: Eiffel Tower area, food from the south east of France.
L'Affineur' Affine, 51, rue Notre Dame de Lorette, 75009 Paris: Mainly a cheese and wine restaurant with tarts and things to accompany cheese. In the Pigalle/Moulon Rouge area. Lunch or light dinner.
Café de Mars, 11 rue Augereau, 75007 Paris: The Eiffel Tower area; moderately priced menu.
La Fermette Marbeuf, 5,rue Marbeuf, Paris: The Champs-Élysées area. A favorite place for my French colleagues to send Americans. I’ve eaten there several times, but not for a long time.
Au Pied de Cochon, 6,rue Coquilliere, 75001 Paris: Not too far from the Louvre. An old brasserie, the name means pig’s foot. We have often met friends there when in Paris.

Cafe at the Musée National d'Art Moderne

Note: As for restaurants in general, I like to just keep my eyes open during the day, check menus and go for something that looks good. Be aware that many restaurants have a fixed price menu with a more limited selection. This is often my choice. Distance from your hotel may come into play as well. You may not be up for trekking around the city in search of dinner. Lunch for me could be a baguette sandwich or pizza. 

Irish pub: try Carr's, 1 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris: A block off of Rue Rivoli near the Louvre and Place Vendome. A place for a pint and a respite from speaking French. The food isn't anything to write home about, so-so at best.

The Museum Pass is a good deal if you plan on a few of the places that accept the pass. A 2 day pass is about 42 euros. This is a deal if you do about 4 attractions; it also gives you priority entry at most of the museums. Options beyond 2 day passes are available. 

My preferred travel book for Paris (and most of Europe) is the ***Michelin tourist guide. It is the tall, thin, green book. They have one for Paris. It has many walks outlined which will take you by many of the sites mentioned above. 

Besides walking, we use the Metro (subway) extensively, day and night. The Michelin guide has a  Metro map. For the Metro, buying a 1, 2 or 3 day pass is worthwhile if you use  the Metro to get around. A single ticket is about 1.70 euros while a 3 day is about 25 euros (within Paris). You will need your passport to buy a 3 day tourist pass. The Metro doesn't run all night; the last train get to their end points at around 1 PM. That means it leaves its starting point at about 11:30 to midnight. When taking the Metro, knowing the start and end point for a given train is important; this will be of great help when trying to determine which platform to use to board the train.

Changing money at money changing booths around town can be a challenge if you have limited French. I prefer to use ATMs or change at the hotel even though the rate at the hotel may not be as good.

The quays on La Rive Droite

This is what I suggested to my first time in Paris friend. This is more than I would care to do in the 3 days he has to visit. So, my suggestion is to pick and choose; save the rest for the next trip. Good luck – bon chance!

Friday, February 28, 2014

All Things Must Start Anew

It has been some time since I made any, and I mean any, adjustments or additions to my website. The old website was built on a Photoshop centric software, called Sitegrinder. If your skills in Photoshop are good, a site can be built using a precise system of layer naming and layer comps. My skills in Photoshop have earned me an instructor status from Adobe, but Sitegrinder did test me numerous times. I built 2 sites, one for my wife and one for me.

 Screen shot of my last website home page

I was pretty happy with my last design. It was actually the first one that I attempted. It was still a little "klunky", and somewhat difficult to update without considerable effort. So, it hasn't seen an update since its debut in November 2011.

Several months ago, I joined the Adobe Creative Cloud and gained access to their new website software, Muse. Muse is not designed for coders; it is aimed at designers. I'm not sure that refers to me, but it is much simpler if you don't need to learn to use HTML code. I played around with Muse, but did not devote too much time to learning its capabilities. Upon returning from a 3 week trip to Argentina and Chile, I was motivated anew. 

Just about an hour ago, I uploaded the new site. 

Screen capture of the new website

This new site will likely need a tweek or two, but it is easy to update or change. I know; I've done it 2 times in the first 30 minutes after its initial upload. A large amount of my developing time was selecting the 350+ images on the site and optimizing them for the web. 

I hope you go take a look at:

Now, I've got to get busy on my wife's site.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lao Kids

On our trip to northern Laos, we had the opportunity to visit several remote villages and interacted at some level with the locals. The children were intriguing in that in many ways they are like any child anywhere in the world. They may not have video games or fancy toys, but they find ways to play and are curious about foreigners.

Who needs a bike or scooter, when you can pull your brother around on an old rice bag.

 Posing for a picture

One member of our group brought a Polaroid camera and some very out of date film. We took photos of children, sometimes parents, too, and gave them the developing photo. The pictures were not the best quality, but the kids loved them.

 Excited to watch the picture appear.

 A swing attached to the raised porch on a house.

 More boys posing for a photo, not really understanding why.

Watching the strangers leave the village; all is going back to normal.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

To market, to market, to buy...what!

We got up early one morning in Luang Prabang. Our objective was to observe the monks collect their alms just after dawn. Actually, some were out earlier. I suppose they were trying to beat the crowd.. It was an enlightening experience. After our monk watching concluded, we took a detour through the early morning market on a small street in the center of town. I don't suppose too many tourists would stumble upon it without some guidance. I don't think I need to point out too much or draw any conclusions about what is in the market. After a week in Laos, one realizes that just about anything that grows or moves is fair game for a meal.

 As you might expect, rice is a key part of the Lao diet. Their preference is sticky rice. It is much stickier than properly prepared steamed rice. The Lao use it as an eating utensil. A small portion is formed into a ball and the thumb is used to pinch the target food against the rice ball. It is then popped into one's mouth. 

Fish is a major protein. Since Luang Prabang is far from an ocean, fresh water fish is what one finds in the market.

There is an array of catfish in various sizes., large or small, whole or butchered. 

There is always someone ready to cut your selection to order.

Rice and eggs.

It is possible to grab a snack at the market. Some type of banana or sweet potato grilled to order.

If you are not in the mood for fish, how about a frog. The whole frog, not just the legs, are consumed.

Don't forget to pick-up some dried fish. It has a longer shelf life.

If you need some cutlery, it is ready and waiting for you.

We all need our greens. I'm not positive, but these might be river weeds. It is like a fresh water seaweed.

Poultry is always available. Both chicken and duck are readily available.

Another opportunity for a snack. It is a type of fish cake. 

More fish.

Live ducks, can't find fresher. Have them butchered here of take them home.

More fruit and vegetables.

Luang Prabang sausage is a local favorite.

If you prefer your frogs alive, that's no problem.

How about barbecued frog? You know, frog on  a stick.

A frog attempting to break out. It's not going to happen.

More fresh veg.

More poultry. You can tell it is fresh by the feet.

All sorts of fruits in the banana family.

Lots of pork cut to your specifications. 

All of the pork is really fresh. 

Grilled fish is really good, even for breakfast. 

And, more sticky rice.