Road Warrior

A few years ago Facebook enabled a re-connection with Chuck, a guy who grew up in my neighborhood and I had known since kindergarten.  I have truly enjoyed our conversations in the past couple of years, visiting him in when we were in Chicago and him spending one weekend with us while on a nearby work assignment.

While not someone who has been focused on building and maintaining “body beautiful” something about RAGBRAI,  Iowa’s cross-state bicycle ride,  caught his attention and he participated last summer.  An annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state organized by the Des Moines Register, RAGBRAI is the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world. This year was the 40th annual ride and Chuck was there again.

You may say sure, a state like Iowa is flat so no big deal.  It is not completely flat and while the overall west-to-east route is downhill, you can see there are plenty of ups and downs. As you can see, the hills produce a lot of walkers. But before you scoff, you consider peddling 471 miles in the heat of a MidWest summer. 

Participation is limited to 8500 week-long riders and a lottery is necessary since the ride attracts more people.  Baggage trucks are provided, official bike repair stations are located along the route and there are designated camping areas. Chuck had a crew with an RV this year, something he enjoyed immensely because of the air conditioning.

Towns along the route prepare to welcome the riders and support crews with all kinds of food and drink as well as other amenities. Mr. Pork Chop prepares a tender pork chop that Chuck reports is huge.Riders can start at 6a.m. and many did since the temperatures soared over 100 and the headwinds increased as the day continued.

Scenery was pleasant with cornfields and small towns for the most part with huge welcomes and lots of fund raising opportunities by selling bottles of frozen water.

I’m proud of you Chuck! The first year is one thing, but this year you knew what you were getting into and you did it again!

Other bike touring events are available around the country. Consider what YOU can do.

Posted in Biking, High Value, People, Special Event, Sports, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Time Change and Body Clock

I’m an early bird and very rarely sleep past 6:00a.m. even when I  can. Gets me a bit annoyed sometimes, but at home I can at least go do something quietly and get going on my day.

When we travel, though, it gets to be more problematic, but sometimes I have been able to quietly leave the room and wander. A couple of weeks ago we were visiting a farm in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia and the early morning awakening treated me to a beautiful sunrise and some great rural photo ops.

When there is a time zone difference, however, it may not work so well. This past weekend we were in Nashville and when I awoke at what would have been slightly early at 5:30, it was only 4:30 local time and still very dark. I knew sunrise would be soon, though, so I left the house and went for a drive. There was no way to get to a pastoral setting so quickly, so I enjoyed driving around the downtown area and taking shots of some touristy places, without crowds and with nighttime lighting.

How do you deal with interrupted sleep when you travel?

Posted in Architecture, Culture, Family Travel, Habits, Natural Must See, Tennessee, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Get a passport

There are so many opportunities for travel today that it would be a shame if you could not grab some deal just because you did not have a passport. Since even travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean, places where Americans did not need one just a few years ago, requires one now, it makes sense that everyone who ever has an itch to go and see someplace new should have one.

If you are not pressed for time, acquiring a passport is not difficult nor expensive. The first step is the passport photo which must be a certain size. In my small town I can get one at any number of drug store photo counters or at the UPS store for $12.

If you have never had a passport before, the application can be found on the state department website. You can complete it online and print, or print the form and complete it in ink. Then you will need to go to a designated passport office, usually found in a post office nearby,  This link helps you find one close to your home.  This process will cost $110 plus the $25 processing fee for a passport book and will take four to six weeks.   For expedited service, another $60 is needed, and you will receive your passport within two to three weeks.

If you have made plans to travel and need a passport in less than two weeks, you must go to a passport agency. They are not as conveniently located; there are only 25 in the U.S. and may require travel. An appointment must be made in advance but is typically not difficult to obtain. The $60 expedited fee is required.

Travel to another country is an enriching experience but you need not have all the stress and added expense to rush through a passport process. So obtain a passport now and enjoy the knowledge that it is good for ten years…and start planning your trip!!

Posted in Budget, How To, Travel, Website to Explore | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Photo of the Day

Posted in Art and Artisans, Festivals, Shopping, Travel, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , ,

Small Town America Arises and Eats Well

For people like me who grow up in major metropolitan areas, living in a small town (Huntington has a population just under 50,000) is an adjustment. When I first moved here five years ago I easily noticed what was missing. But as I have written before something pretty neat is happening here despite the national economy.

Perhaps West Virginia is a bit unique in that it never rose high in the boom times so it did not fall as far in the recent difficulties. Many new businesses have started in the past year, belying the belief many people have that everything is going to hell in a hand basket with this administration.

One new star in our gastronomic constellation here is The Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar. Located at 841 4th Avenue in downtown Huntington (where, as we say here, the old Chili Willi’s used to be) Drew Hetzer has built a wood fired pizza oven to produce an interesting and delicious array of pies. Currently open for lunch, hours will expand to include dinner when the liquor license is in place, expected next week. He will offer micro-beers and an interesting selection of drinks from his own extensive experience as a bartender.

We enjoyed the Seafood Fra Diablo and the Jammin’ Jamaican which I ordered as a slice and a salad. Combos were tasty and the crust was very nice and crisp.

His raw bar provides a selection of fresh oysters (less than 48 hours since harvesting) including Delaware Bay but also will have Blue Points from Long Island Sound,  Beausoleils and others from Nova Scotia, and others from Apalachicola in the Florida Panhandle. He also plans on selling tuna and rolled sushi eventually.

This setting for his restaurant appealed to Drew because his mom worked at Chili Willi’s and he enjoyed watching everyone working and the camaraderie of the team there. Although he had a love for the hospitality business he pursued various majors at Marshall but finally came back to his first fascination. He also has run a video production business and it was that enterprise that helped fund the construction of this restaurant.

He has reused materials and is eager to be as green as possible with all aspects of The Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar. He also wants to get local food connections. Right now he is using Sysco as his major supplier. He hopes to make connections with suppliers at the Wild Ramp and use as many local ingredients as possible as soon as he can.  He plans on using cheese curds from one local farm in order to make his own mozzarella.

The restaurant will have WIFI but anyone who lingers for a long time will be urged to move to several areas of high counters if diners need the table space. Electrical outlets are provided every few feet under those counters for laptop usage.

Drew says anyone who wants to start a restaurant HAS to be passionate or they will fail. You can be passionate about the eating experience there. GO!!

Posted in Beer, Budget, Family, Food and Wine, Kid Travel, People, Restaurant, Travel, West Virginia | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

How To: Select a Private Guide

I’ve spoke often about how I place a high value on hiring a personal guide when you want a better insider experience in any place you visit. I’ve never explained how I chose a guide, though, so I thought I would share that with you.

A few years ago, my sister found a steal of deal: 4 nights in Paris with airfare for $399. She paid for herself, my daughter Lisa and me, and it became my responsibility to plan our days there. Joy!!!

After getting a “want to see and do” list from each, I then began to custom plan the 3 full days. I quickly realized that in order to experience what we wanted in that short a time, I needed the help of an insider.

I had looked through the kinds of tours being offered to see if there was anything that could sweep us through the chaff to get to the nuggets of value, but most offered were bus tours. The bicycle tours held my consideration for a short time but eliminated them because of concerns for the weather as well as figuring I would be watching the street in front of the bike, not permitting much enjoyment of the sights being discussed.  So I settled on walking tours.

Nothing grabbed me…nothing said “this is it!”. That is the feeling I aim for, not an “this is ok” acceptance.

Then I googled for “unique tours” and I found a reference to Richard Nahem in someone’s posted blog. I then went to Richard’s website and read it…all of it….and it was THIS post that made me realize that he sees the detail I was hoping for.

The actual location of his blog post was interesting but not on my “need to see” list…..but the fact that he showed Nureyev’s tomb indicated that he has an eye for detail and THAT was the kind of person I could trust to show me the back streets, and so I arranged it and we spent a lot of time with him.

This post is from Richard’s blog I Prefer Paris, and was posted April 8, 2009.

My Excellent Adventure with Mary & Phil Part II: St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery

ST.-GEN-1St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery is a Russian Orthodox cemetery started in 1926 by a group of Russian immigrants who settled in  Chateau de la Cossonnerie. The property  was bought in 1927 by English heiress Dorothy Paget who also set up a retirement home for Russian immigrants.The cemetery is the resting place for more than 10,000 Russian expats including Nobel Prize winner Ivan Bunin, Princess Irina of Russia, authors Dmitry Merezhkovsky and Zinaida Gippius, painter Kontantin Somov, and philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. Its most famous citizen is Rudolf Nureyev, one of the greatest dancers who ever lived and the main reason for our visit.

Continuing our adventure, we took another RER train to St. Genevieve-des-Bois, a sleepy suburb of Paris. Since Mary and Phil are cemetery enthusiasts, this was the big event that they had been waiting for for months. A bus dropped us off in in what looked like the middle of nowhere and about a quarter of a mile up a quiet road we spotted the cemetery. It was a cool, overcast day with sun fighting to get through and the light was perfect for photos. The cemetery was serene and quiet, smelling of  moss. Many of the graves had Patriarchal crosses that have two cross bars going across horizontally giving the cemetery a symmetry. What was most special was the profuse amount of spring flowers both growing in front of the graves and placed on top. After many fits and starts in Paris, spring was suddenly alive and thriving in St. Genevieve-des-Bois. Of course, Mary and Phil were in seventh heaven, acting like kids in a playground and practically skipping through the aisles of the cemetery.

After a few minutes of exploring, we had no idea where Nureyev’s grave was located, so Mary bought a cemetery map and we hightailed it. The grave was even more magnificent in person than the photos I saw before and the rich color of the gold, red and bright blue mosaic tiles just popped. What was most incredible was that it looked just like a tapestry and the way it was draped and the way the folds fell,  you would swear it was made of cloth. Notice the beautiful gold fringe adorning the bottom. Mary and Phil were so ecstatic about finally hitting the cemetery jackpot, they decided it was the perfect photo op. Notice how serious and somber they are in the photo below. The mosaic was designed and built by set designer Ezio Frigerio and was based on traditional Oriental kilim rugs. Rudolf Nureyev died of AIDS at the age of 55 in 1993.
ST.-GEN-2Mary & Phil: such sad sacks

We strolled around the rest of the cemetery for about another 45 minutes and discovered some unique graves including one with a head stone decorated with colored porcelain flowers, another stunner with a green sculpted face bordered with a ring of gold leaves, and a quirky one crowded with plastic flowers and kitschy objets like a glass cat filled with colored sand and teddy bears with Santa hats.

We left St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery feeling very happy and more than satisfied and we highly recommend visiting. I will be leading tours of St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery and of the Cathedral of the Resurrection and would love to take you.

St. Genevieve-des-Bois Cemetery
rue Leo Lagrange
St. Genevieve-des-Bois



I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.

I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at

Posted in Budget, Europe, Europe Websites to Explore, Family, Family Travel, France, High Value, How To, Paris, Travel, Website to Explore | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

To Attend or Not to Attend, That is the Question

I was talking with a childhood friend on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and we agreed that the best thing a very bigoted 5th grade teacher had taught us was that Shakespeare was accessible. We presented a scaled down version of MacBeth and while I can’t remember all my lines any more, I well remember how Jeff Puritz (playing MacBeth) had a longer sword than I did (I was MacDuff) and in our duel I had to tell him to drop it so I could “kill” him.

Most of us are put off by Shakespeare because of less enjoyable school experiences but he was one of the regular people and his plays are full of rowdy behavior. It really is time to try it again as an adult, and bring the kids!

When Sam was 12 years old we spent a couple of days in Ashland, Oregon. One day we went on a marvelous white water rafting trip with Momentum River Expeditions on the Klamath River. The next day we went to Sam’s first ever introduction to Shakespeare.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival runs from February to October, presenting at least 2 Shakespeare and 2 non-Shakespeare options each day. Now most people might not think The Taming of the Shrewis the best show to introduce a young adolescent to the Bard, but Sam has been eager and willing for more since then.  Presented in a replica of the Globe Theatre, open to the night sky, the setting added to the value of the experience.

Besides Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare festivals are held in many nations and in many languages. Dubrovnik, Croatia holds a Shakespeare Festival the end of April each year. The weather is superb and the setting in the Lovrijenac Fortress is unlike any other stage setting you will enjoy

And, similar to my 5th grade experience, some theater companies are empowering young actors through producing high quality classical theater.  The Bards of Birmingham (Alabama) is holding a Shakespearean workshop for grades 5-12 on July 28.  Other theater ensembles and university drama departments offer programs for young people during school breaks.

So, if you are a fan of Shakespeare already, you could plan a vacation around one of these festivals, or if you are planning a trip, check into the local theater schedule in that place and  plan one highbrow evening. You may be surprised how earthy the experience will be!

Posted in Art and Artisans, Culture, education, Family, Family Travel, Festivals, High Value, Kid Travel, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beacon of Hope

The Statue of Liberty, a gift from from the people of France to the people of the United States in 1886 was designated a National Monument in 1926. Together with Ellis Island, it is called Liberty Park and is the symbol of hope for many who long for the freedoms we take for granted here.  Plan a visit when in New York.

The statue faces the Verazzano Straits, welcoming all who enter.

Edouard de Laboulaye first proposed the idea of a monument for the United States in 1865, following the end of the Civil War. He strongly believed in the “common law of free peoples,” an ideal in which every person was born with an inalienable, sacred right to freedom.  The recent Union victory in the Civil War, which reaffirmed the United States’ ideals of freedom and democracy, served as a platform for Laboulaye to argue that honoring the United States would strengthen the cause for democracy in France.

Born on August 2, 1834 in Colmar, Alsace, France, Auguste Bartholdi was the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty. Excited by the grand scale of the Egyptian pyramids on a visit in 1865, he proposed a colossal statue of a robed woman holding a torch for a lighthouse at the end of the Suez Canal. The plan was not adopted, but the concept had been born. He selected Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor as the ideal location almost as soon as he arrived there.  When he returned to Paris in 1872, Bartholdi used his American contacts to assist  de Laboulaye in creating the Franco-American Union in Paris which raised 400,000 francs to fund the construction of the Statue.

Other people were also part of the team that participated in getting the statue in place:

  • Eugene Viollet-le-Duc was the first architect hired to design the internal structure of the Statue of Liberty.
  • When Viollet-le-Duc unexpectedly passed away in 1879 Alexandre-Auguste Eiffel was hired as his replacement.   He modified the original design supervised the Statue’s internal construction until its completion in late 1883.
  • Born on October 31, 1828 in Brattleboro, Vermont, architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal on commission from the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty. Two years of work preceded the final design.
  • When the American Committee for the Statue of Liberty ran out of funds for the Statue’s pedestal in 1884, newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer came to the rescue. Through urging the American public to donate money towards the pedestal in his newspaper New York World, Pulitzer raised over $100,000 in six months- more than enough money to ensure the pedestal’s completion.
  • Born on July 22, 1849 in New York City to a family of Portuguese Sephardic Jewish descent, Emma Lazarus was the poet who wrote “The New Colossus.”  Aside from writing, Lazarus worked as an aide for Jewish immigrants who had been detained by Castle Garden immigration officials.

Take a moment to read the poem and remember, unless you are fully Native American, your heritage, also, is one of the refugee, the immigrant. For a moment, put yourself back there.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Posted in Architecture, Art and Artisans, Culture, France, Historic Interest, Holiday, National Park, New Jersey, New York, United States | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Photo Challenge of the Week: Fleeting Moment

At the finish line

Posted in Family, People, Sports | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Community of Bloggers

It’s happened again. I received another award for my blog. This one, awarded by Travelography, is called the 7×7 Link Award and lists 7 ways I have written posts that meet certain criteria and reaches out to 7 other bloggers whose writing has been so enjoyable that I want to share them with you.

When I think about how my online community has evolved over the years, from chatroom to IM to blogging, I recognize that the desire to communicate a concept or an image is universal. People have varying abilities, but the desire to share is extensive.  When someone has developed a writing style that communicates well, they deserve to be read.

When I post something about travel in this blog, or about the farms in West Virginia or my town’s efforts to develop a fresh local farm market, I spend a little time searching for similar topics in the WordPress Community. Some blogs are well written and those are the ones I like to bring to your attention when I have an opportunity like this.

But first, I have to comply with the first requirement of this award: I must tell you something that you may not know about me. This may be a toughie, since I tend to run at the mouth as much as I do, and perhaps only those of you who are relatively new to my world may not know all the pathways of my journey that I have shared with longer term friends, but here goes: I am addicted to sudoku. I probably spend about an hour a day, in 5-10 minute snatches of time, playing. My theory is that I may keep my aging brain a bit sharper a bit longer if I exercise it. Phew! I feel better now that I admitted it.

Now I will list 7 of my previous posts that meet criteria in the following categories: Most Helpful, Most Popular, Most Beautiful Piece, Most Controversial, Most Surprisingly Successful, Most Underrated, and Most Pride Worthy. Hot links are provided so you can read them if you can’t remember them

Most Helpful: Travel Pearls: Nova Scotia Kitchen Party

Most Popular: Travel By Rail-US Style

Most Beautiful Piece: Not Quite As I Remember It

Most Controversial: Thoughts on Dubai

Most Surprisingly Successful: America’s Resort: The Greenbrier 

Most Underrated:  Same Old Same Old Could Use a ChangeUp

Most Pride Worthy: Child-Centered Trip-NOT!

Okay, now I want to bring seven other blogs to your attention. You may have already checked some of them out when I mentioned them the last time I won an award, or there may even be a new one this time. Click on each one and read the latest post…and if you find it interesting, subscribe. I enjoy these and you may too.

Foot Meets Road  shares her love of travel. She is not a travel professional like I am, but a person who feels the itch to go see and do!

Movin’ On  is written by a woman I am eager to meet. I first noticed Gunta’s photography of the beaches in Oregon and where she loves to wander with her dog. She loves to travel and when the itch is strong, she does!

Eric Murtaugh  is a lot younger than I am but I really appreciate his insights so much. His philosophy is to grab life, not just watch it go by dreaming of when you might have a chance. Stop making excuses and do!

The Essence of Dubrovnik  is written by my friend Carol Sosa who, upon retirement from her career as a travel agent in California, moved to her beloved Croatia and has settled down with an old love and is learning a new way of life. She has jumped in with both feet and is doing it!

Going Dutch  is a glimpse into Malou’s world. Born and raised in the Philappines, she met her husband there and moved across the globe to live in his world in Holland. Their little girl is now 4-years-old and she gives us glimpses into their life, sharing tidbits of Dutch culture as well as her exquisite close-up photography. Malou likes to get out and do!

The Joyful Shoehorn  is the other Oregon blogger I follow. Kelsey is a travel junkie and much of her adventures involve outdoor activities that are actually achievable by almost anyone. She prefers the outdoors to being stuck inside and she will encourage you to do it too.

Temporary Lost  details the extensive travel by Andre Wamiet, a young man who was able to leave his job and travel. His goal is to cover a continent in a trip and we just had a marvelous introduction to Asia. He enjoys sharing the culture, the conversations and the cuisine and his tagline on his blog says it all: I’D RATHER REGRET SOMETHING THAT I’D DONE THAN SOMETHING I WAS TOO AFRAID TO DO.

You notice I like first person stories? Maybe you will too.

Posted in Asia, Croatia, Culture, Europe, Family, Oregon, Travel, United States, Website to Explore | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments