It’s all French to me

Four days ago we entered Canada. No big hoopla, but we needed not just our passports, I remember the days when we didn’t even need those, but also proof that we were vaccinated and held proof of a negative Covid-19 test. Good for you Canada. I wouldn’t trust us either. We entered just north of Detroit and after a long day of driving, departure time from Madison, 4:00 AM, we arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario. Yes, the Falls were spectacular. And Eh, the Canadians are as friendly as everyone says, They actually let you in gracefully when you need to change lanes, of course maybe they have heard so many stories about American drivers that it is just safer to let us cut in. Second day of travel took us to Toronto and the CN Tower. Much to be said about dinner at 1800 feet above the city, or as the Canadian’s measure it, 533 meters. They don’t realize that when you measure it in feet, it’s a lot taller. At least it sounds like it to us “size is everything” Americans. Needless to say it was a very moving experience, maybe in part to the fact that the restaurant was rotating.

Niagara Falls Bathed in Blue Light

That brings us to Quebec and Quebec City. I was fully aware that the province’s official language is French, but who knew they are actually French? First stop at a gas station, or should I say station-essence, left me believing I WAS in France. Now I may be exaggerating just a bit, I do understand geography, but it is surprising. It is also culturally stimulating. It is, in fact, the next best thing to being there.

St Louis Street in Old Quebec

Not that Quebec isn’t naturally beautiful sitting gracefully on the St Lawrence Seaway, but it’s when you pass through the gates of the Old City that Quebec’s charm, they pronounce it K’ebek, and her Old World beauty strikes you. You are transported in time and space to the culture of France. The architecture of the buildings, the beautiful artwork, and the sumptuous restaurants awaken your senses. Close your eyes and you are not just in Canada, you are in France.

Heart of Old Quebec

I choose to travel for many reasons. Sometimes for business, other times for pleasure, often just to satisfy my restlessness, but I also travel to experience a different culture. We can all too often assume that everyone everywhere is just like us. Until you travel, you will never appreciate how different we can be. This trip has shown me an aspect of Canada I had never experienced. It showed me France.

The Frontenac Hotel

Bon jour fellow travelers and merci for taking the time to read my blog.

PS: Big shout out to Larry Landsness for the incredible job of research and planning that went into this trip and it’s making it a success.

Steel City

I admit this is a travelogue, but I’ll make a point. Long, well long long ago, I was given the dare by a college friend on an all too many libations evening, to drive home for the weekend with him and another friend. No big deal except that we were in Wisconsin and he lived in Connecticut. We would leave late Thursday night and be back in time for our Monday classes. I took the dare and immediately started to worry about how my parents would feel if something happened and they would not have even known I had gone. The morning before we were set to leave, I caved in and called my dad. Totally expecting him to shoot down the idea as crazy, ill formed, and paid for how?, I awaited the big NO! To my utter surprise, my conservative, sensible father said, “I have given up so many things in my life and travel was one, you should travel every time you get the opportunity.”

I took the dare and we were off late that Thursday night, snow bound on the Ohio Turnpike at 2:00 in the morning, stranded in a truck stop till dawn and one whole day of driving, but we made it to Connecticut. Two days later and another all night drive and we were back at UW Oshkosh for my 10:00 am class. To this day, this opportunity remains an incredible memory.

A month or so ago, we were invited to the wedding of my next door neighbor’s son. The catch was that it was in Pittsburgh and I am sure the thought was would they really come? If my Connecticut trip all those years ago taught me anything, it was never pass up an opportunity to visit a city for the first time. I had never been to Pittsburgh so there really never was a hesitation, we were going and we would travel by car. Travel by car, as I have written about in other blogs, is the best way to really experience a trip. We split this trip in half, spent a day in Sandusky, Ohio and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania early on Thursday afternoon.

Lake Erie sunset from the Sandusky Pier Park
Tunnel view of the Point Park Fountain in Pittsburgh

My opinion of Pittsburgh, as my title states, was one of steel mills, heavily industrial, and well, likely poor. Granted we stayed in the downtown, but my opinion changed immediately. The city has been working very hard on regentrification and the impact is everywhere in the downtown area. Pittsburgh sits on the confluence of three rivers, the Alleghany, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Their meeting point is marked by a beautiful park surrounded by the bluffs on either side. Just across the river sits the Pittsburgh Steelers football stadium and just down the river the Pittsburgh Pirates ball park. The bike trails run everywhere and food, entertainment, and sports bars dot the area. In short, so much to do and see and in my case not much time to get it done. But I have two more days and I am confident I will leave here with not only new memories, but another city added to my completion list and an opinion changed.

Fountain at Point Park where the three rivers meet
Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Duquesne Incline at Pittsburgh on Mt Washington
Night view of the Incline from the Ft. Pitt Bridge

Travel can never be discounted due to what it does for the traveler. If one travels with an open mind and a good dose of curiosity, you will come home with better understanding of how our uniqueness is in our differences and that our common bond is found in our humanity.

How I Spent my Coronavirus Vacation

I don’t know if they still do this but when I was in school, and vacation came to an end, and classes began again, we were tasked with our first writing assignment; “How I Spent my Summer Vacation.” Mine was usually how I baled hay, stacked the haymows, picked stones and milked cows. This when I wasn’t pulling weeds and tending to our one-hundred acre garden, okay maybe one acre garden. Most days it just felt like a hundred acres. Thus the reason when my dear wife asked for a garden in the back yard of our little house, I handed her the hoe and a bag of seeds and said go for it. Once in a while I could throw in a week at Lutheran Pioneers Summer Camp. As I grew older and got to move out on my own, it was a little less work and a little more travel and play. Eventually, it was trips with my wife and children, forgeting about lesson plans and unruly students for at least a few months of summer. The journal was now filled with road trips to National Parks, camping, hiking and long bike rides. It was filled with people we met along the way and the shared experience of crowds and tours.

So what have we just gone through, and don’t doubt for a minute that it is over. We might only be half way through this coronavirus vacation. When it started, and we were hopeful, some of us thought this would be a short stay away from work, at worst a forced seclusion with our family and loved ones, on a vacation of sorts. As it dragged on, we started to realize that we had to continue on in a very foreign environment. Where prior to this virus, we strived hard to not bring our work home with us. Now, in the midst of this distancing and closures of our offices, it seems not only the work came home with us, the entire office came home to us. Where a meeting meant leaving my desk and assembling with my coemployees, Zoom now brought their desks into my house via my laptop.

Oh there were some bright spots in this experiment. For one you only had to dress the half of you people could see from your camera angle. I find myself hoping the other people in the meeting wouldn’t suddenly stand up and show off what I was trying not to imagine. Ties and professional wear has given way to something well beyond business casual Friday. Fridays will probably become business casual sweat pants, you know, your comfy sweat pants not the dressy sweat pants you were wearing the rest of the week with a sport coat and dress shirt on the top half.

Another bright spot was all this time we got to spend with our famiy. We all finally got the chance to teach our children the right way, you know the way we did it when we went to school. How’s that working? If I believe Facebook, teachers are going to, at least for awhile, be greatly elevated in social status. Driving is easier with nearly empty streets and finding a parking spot is a breeze. My car sits idle in the garage. Where I would have put on several hundred miles a week going somewhere, I have barely logged fifty miles in the last month. You know somethings changed when the insurance company drops your rates instead of raising them. And all this while gas gets cheaper every day. If it could, I’m sure my car is weeping in the garage wondering why our love affair has suddenly ended. We just don’t talk to each other anymore.

So what have I done with my coronavirus vacation? I replaced going to a museum with watching every available episode of ‘Mysteries at the Museum’. I have visited several National Parks, virtually. Amazon, Hulu and Net flix have replaced five buck Tuesdays and Friday night fish frys. I’ve gotten projects done, some that were necessary but I had been putting off. Some that were just to get my butt up off the couch. I replaced my Zoom virtual background with a beach scene just so I could believe I actually went. And I have worn out several pairs of shoes, and the sidewalks for that matter, walking in aimless circles around my neighborhood, waving politley and staying six feet away from everyone. It’s been a strange vacation. Cheap, but strange.

Hopefully you have read this with a dripping sarcasm in your voice. I can tell you, that’s the way it was written. Unless you were fortunate enough to somehow fare better or were just more in tune with the solitude of this crisis, the rest of us have gone a tad stir crazy. My heart and my respect does goes out to those that had to risk everything and work through this pandemic. While many of us were isolated in our homes, there were countless others who soldiered on through the storm; health workers, essential business service providers, delivery people and others just hanging on to survive. Heroes all. I guess my coronavirus vacation pales when you consider the big picture, but it was fun to write about it.

I have to go now. I am going to go wrestle alligators in the everglades and then do a little swimming with sharks off Madagascar. Who needs reality when virtual is so much cheaper and hey, safer.

Stay safe, stay well and stay connected. It’s physical distancing, not social. Just think of this as a vacation from the other reality, the one we all want back.

They Said the View was Worth the Climb

We have been in St Lucia for all of two days. The views from our deck and likewise those from the beach are both spectacular and relaxing. We are on Island Time as they say here. Everything slows down and your perspective changes. Things that others said mattered were suddenly less important and the things that were truly important became clearer. We sometimes get the two mixed up. I have decided to let a week of Island Life help with my perspectives.

There is a peak across the bay with a fort high atop its summit. It beckons to be seen. Not from afar, but from up close. On top of it to be precise. Upon some investigation, I was told that the fort is really not that tough to reach. Seems a trail leads almost all the way and that the short climb at the end is really doable. it’s the second, much higher peak that draws your attention. A good 600 feet higher and much more exposed, it too asks you if you are up for the climb.

I have done my homework. Mapped out the trail. I have even quizzed several other guests, eventually finding someone who has made the climb. To quote him,”the first climb to the fort is easy. It’s the climb from there to the higher peak, Signal Peak, that requires some effort.” So what is some effort? A longer walk? A steeper trail? The answer was both but the encouragement was other than climbing over some rocks on the way up a “sorta” trail, it was a walk in the park. I was sold. I would take the hike with Deb in the early morning and beat the heat.

So let’s talk for a second about perspective. Should I have asked my source’s age? Definitely, as he was much younger than yours truly. Next time, I will try to consider that.

We left for the fort around 8:30 and reached the base about 30 minutes later. We huffed and puffed a little on the last 100 feet, but a short climb up a set of steps that we would classify as a ladder and we were at the summit of the fort. I must admit the view was incredible as the Atlantic stretched out in one direction and the Caribbean in the other. But there, right in front of me rose Signal Peak. It was no longer a question of can I do this, let alone should I do this, but how fast could I convince Deb that I needed to do this. The answer, five minutes with an agreement that she would quietly stay behind and read her book while I was off in search of my fleeting youth and perceived manhood.

The climb was, to say the least, strenuous, but a half hour later I was at the summit, makes it sound so much higher when you call it a summit. Was it worth it? I still had the walk down, and they weren’t kidding when they said it was a “sorta” trail. They also weren’t kidding about the rocks, let’s be honest, near boulders that had to be negotiated on the way up. They were all going to be there on the way back down. But, they were right, the view was worth the climb. I could see everything including the views you couldn’t see from ocean level, and you could see them from an entirely different perspective, one of height.

And with that, I have to tell you that the climb is really a metaphor for life. Sometimes, to get the better perspective, we need to climb. We need to climb above the noise and clutter at ground level and find a point above it all. A point where we can take in the entire view. Only there can we gain the true perspective. Only there can we get the full picture.

My view was worth the climb. Next time you feel you just can’t get the full picture, find your peak to climb and then enjoy the view.

Talk Trash and the Universe Will Get You

Interesting fact. Your cell phone and for that matter Alexa, automatically adjust the time for the daylight savings switch. So what you say? It also attempts to read your mind. This will be a valuable lesson learned.
Yesterday I went on and on about having to get up early for our flight and then even earlier because the clocks were going to adjust for daylight savings time. With that in mind, we ordered our uber driver for 3:45 am and then set an alarm, no three alarms, for 2:45 am so that my wife and I would be dressed and ready when the driver arrived. The alarms did their trick but so did technology. We awoke to our alarms not at 2:45 but rather 3:45 since both of our phones and Alexa all decided that when we set our alarms we had been as smart as they were and would have set them for 1:45 knowing everything would magically shift to the proper daylight savings time. We weren’t that smart!
Part two, how not to start your trip. Awaking at what we thought was 2:45, my wife was showering at the same time our uber driver arrived at our door. This is when we discovered the error of our ways or perhaps our not so savvy technology prowess. We were about to set a new record for getting showered, freshened up and out the door with our suitcases in what I hope will be an all-time record! Now those of you who know me well, know that my MO is to not pack prior to the 15 minutes before we leave. Good news, I gave into Deb’s pleading and packed the night before. Had that not happened, I would be purchasing my wardrobe in St Lucia, possibly not a bad thing as I would at least have the latest in fashion, all be it, West Indies style.
Good news, we are on the plane as I write this, a little extra tip for the uber driver who nicely waited and a record of 7 minutes from bed to car. Impressed, you should be. Just try it sometime. Just maybe not before you are actually needing to do it.

Walking with the Spirits…a tourist in your own city

Yesterday dawned cloudy and downright cold for the season. The skies gave way to rain to further dampen our spirits. Several weeks ago, my wife and I had purchased tickets to attend the Talking Spirits Walk in Forest Hills Cemetery sponsored by the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The walk was to begin later in the evening and the rain and cold were definitely testing our resolve. Eventually, we decided we should go. We bundled up, donned rain gear and grabbed our umbrellas.

Forest Hills Spirit Walk

The walk, guided by a volunteer from the Veteran’s Museum, began just inside the main gates to the cemetery. The now light drizzle and darkness actually added to the mystery of the stroll through the Civil War sections of the cemetery. The cemetery was founded in the 1850’s and replaced the existing city cemetery located of all places on Bascom Hill located in the center of the University of Wisconsin. As we walked up the drive, softly lit by the hundreds of luminaries lining its edges, we were treated to the history of this famous cemetery and its peaceful residents now interred throughout the grounds.

We eventually reached the first vignette and waited, anticipating the arrival of our spirits. We were standing in front of what is called Soldiers Rest. Before us lay softly illuminated, the graves of some 140 Union soldiers. Before long, Mrs. Cordelia Harvey emerged from the graves and took her seat on the bench. She spoke of her husband, the late Governor Louis Harvey, who had perished by drowning during the Civil War. Her grave side soliloquize laid out the history of the era and the story of her husband’s untimely death while visiting the Union soldiers fighting down in Tennessee. As her story unfolded, another spirit emerged from the dark recesses of the graves. It was her husband, Louis Harvey. As their conversation evolved, we were drawn into their unrequited love for each other and the story of their lives cut short by his death. We were hooked. Rain and cold be damned, this was worth the effort.

Our walk through the cemetery last night afforded us three more opportunities to hear the stories, told by their spirits, of several very influential Madisonians and their impact on the city in its early period of growth. We met Benjamin Butts, an adopted Tennessee slave who became the barber of the Governors of Wisconsin. We chatted with Napoleon Bonaparte Van Slyke, a New York immigrant who became a prominent Madison businessman, Alderman and UW Regent. Among his accomplishments were the founding of the Forest Hills Cemetery and the Dane County Bank. We finished our walk with the specter of William Vilas, father of Henry Vilas Jr and founder of the park and zoo dedicated as a memorial to his son. Of the four vignettes, William Vilas’ was definitely the most moving. We felt his pride and grief and were pulled back in time as his story unfolded.

As we left the cemetery, we knew how sorry we would have been had we left the weather keep us away. We had a new understanding and respect for the role these people played in a tragic and yet exciting period in Madison’s history. In our hour and a half journey through the cemetery, we had been enlightened, moved and entertained by the spirits we met. We will soon be paying a daytime visit to Forest Hills to view and touch the grave stones of these famous people with a new found respect for their history.

This piece is meant to be a big shout out to the organizers of this event and an invitation to my readers to experience it for yourself. Even if not through another similar event, find time to just visit the cemetery and take a stroll through its beautiful and peaceful setting. Napoleon Van Slyke will certainly be pleased and maybe, if you are very quiet and the timing is right, you might just meet his spirit there beneath the trees surrounding his final resting place.

There’s Silver in Them Thar Hills

I am returning from our latest journey soaring above the clouds at around 30,000 feet at a speed of 500 some miles per hour. I’ll be home before midnight and am looking forward to a night in my own bed. I’ll face the usual tasks awaiting me tomorrow morning, all the price of being gone for a week. And yet, all of it worth it. Travel in today’s world is relatively easy, save for the hours spent in airport terminals, standing in line for the TSA check in or just lounging about waiting for your flight to board. Oh, and let’s not forget the general disrobing to get through the TSA process. But I am flying safely knowing that no one on board has more than 3 ounces of anything and that their shoes have been cleared of any lethal devices.

Our trip began last Monday at oh four thirty with our ride to the local airport. Seven and a half hours later we were retrieving our bags in Reno, Nevada. I had been invited to a three-day conference dealing with my volunteer retirement gig with SCORE. Deb, and I had decided to extend our stay so that we could see more of the area than the inside of the Atlantis Casino and, to give my two California sisters a chance to visit with their favorite brother, my estimation. I knew little about Reno other than its location on the eastern edge of the Sierra Range and that it was hot and dry. Why is it that everyone always touts the comfort of heat when it’s dry air? Seared must be somehow more comfortable than boiled. Regardless, Reno is a quite attractive alternative to the bright neon overkill of Las Vegas. You can still gamble your time away but in a smaller more picturesque setting. Footnote here, I didn’t gamble, I left that to my sister who apparently came close to bankrupting the casino, her estimation.

The conference was surprisingly educational, and I enjoyed the host of people I met and networked with throughout the three days. It seemed we had a lot in common. We were for the most part, retired and dedicated to giving back our wisdom to the clients we mentor as well as trying to find ways to grow our chapters to help even more startup companies improve their odds of survival. As it ended, I felt energized and ready to tackle phase two of our mini vacation.

Reno’s history lies in its proximity to the silver and gold fields of the Sierra Mountains. Situated at the head of the Owen’s Valley and on the banks of the Truckee River, it was in the ideal place for the vast shipments of gold and silver coming out of the mining towns. Close to a billion tons of the ore was pulled from the mountains to be processed into gold and silver bars in the late 1800’s. One such mining town sending down its bullion, was Virginia City. Remember the 1960’s show, Bonanza, that Virginia City. Before you get excited, the actual filming, as is the Hollywood style, was done miles up the mountain range at Lake Tahoe. But then we came for the history and not the glitz of fake reality. Virginia City did not disappoint.


After surviving a very cool antique car museum tour the day before that lasted four hours as our guide virtually insisted on giving us the facts on all one thousand four hundred cars the museum had collected, we started our Virginia City visit with you guessed it, another tour.


Deb, after suggesting the previous tour only to abandon us after three hours, seems she couldn’t take it, decided we should do another. With trepidation, Deb, I and my sister Karen along with her partner Larry, chose the Fourth Ward Schoolhouse from the host of museums and tours available. After all, we were teachers and this building went up in 1876 just after the Virginia City fire of 1875. That date qualified it as the historic and exactly what we were seeking. I will confess that Deb had made a good choice. The schoolhouse was full of Virginia City history, artifacts and incredible pictures as well as actual documents and bills of lading from the time of the city’s heyday. We forgave Deb for her indiscretions of the previous day and credited her with a great choice of starting points. Besides, this tour only took us an hour and a half. Either less information or we had learned to all read and browse faster.

Having satisfied our need for background, we now sought nourishment, both solid and liquid. Next stop, one of the many saloons that lined main street. We had our choice of at least ten such establishments with names like The Red Dog Saloon, Bucket of Blood, The Red Garter and the Delta. For some still unknown reason, Deb was especially drawn to the Bucket of Blood and this a woman who considers mean words issued in a film immediate cause to put it on her not to be seen list. We settled on none of the above and wound up in an unnamed establishment with good food, air conditioning and a terrific view, “one-hundred-mile view” according to the sign out front. Not surprisingly, three boot hill style cemeteries occupied the first mile of that view. This was our reminder of the rough life of the miner in the Old West. They ironically spent huge amounts of their time underground only to end up underground at the end, many before their time.

Having satisfied our growling stomachs, we began our saloon tour. The Red Dog offered us the “suicide table”. It seems the first three owners of that gaming table had all committed suicide. No explanation of why, just the painfully obvious statement that a fourth owner wisely never materialized and thus the gaming table is now an oddity on display in a dark corner of the saloon. Next stop, The Bucket of Blood Saloon. Here we learned the history of the wealthy Bower family who owned and ran the saloon. Business must have been good as the owners resided in the biggest mansion in town. Did I mention prostitution? Well it existed and was one of the more lucrative businesses in town, but because Virginia City was booming and, in an effort to attract a higher class of citizenry, it was relegated to its own part of town. Hats off to the Town Council, who knowing where they placed it, were likely its best customers. We finished our saloon portion of our self-guided tour at the oldest drinking emporium in Virginia City, The Washoe Club. Placed conveniently next to the biggest bank in town, and home of the Washoe Millionaire’s Club, they were the only saloon to survive the Great Virginia City Fire. No surprise that with a bank holding the majority of all the gold and silver taken out of the surrounding hills, the backfire, an effort to control the inferno, was started just to the other side of their street. Reviewing our pub crawl through town, we declared it well done, our estimation.

Our final push to fully explore Virginia City was aimed at the fascinating shopping experience offered through the myriad of eclectic shops. With that accomplished, we bid farewell to the area and headed back down the serpentine highway to Reno. We had come for the history and left feeling we had been able to experience some of the Old West’s flavor through the preserved buildings and the very well chronicled story of their past glory. You leave Virginia City with a better perspective of the role of the silver and gold rush of the 1800’s. It created the need to tie the West Coast to the rest of the country, opened the west to settlement and brought the railroads west with that expansion. The history books will tell the tale of the expanding and adventurous nature of our country, but we must never forget the cost of that expansion as we moved the Native American Tribes off their ancestral lands and onto the many reservations. It is easy to think of our ancestors as glorious explorers, but we owe a debt to the people whose lands we seized.


I will end my narrative with my fantasy. Whoa, not that kind of fantasy. Whenever I am viewing living history, my fantasy is that I would love, just for a period of time, to go back and walk the streets, to see the colors that are missing in those beautifully preserved pictures, to rub elbows with the inhabitants and to experience for myself what it was like to live back then. No electronic conveniences, no fast transit systems, in most cases very few conveniences at all. A less stressful, simpler, all be it, difficult time. A time of true adventures, unlimited opportunities and a vast country open to a future they could only imagine. Virginia City did a nice job of getting me as close to the fantasy as they could without offering me the time machine to experience it firsthand. Of course, had they sent me back, God only knows how long I would have survived.

The Errors of my Ways

We are on day five of our March to the South. For some reason, probably shear hope, I thought once we crossed the Wisconsin border into Illinois, the temperature would shoot up into the 60’s and we would crack out the Bermuda shorts, old age reference there, and bask in the warmth of the sun. Error of my ways, forty degrees and no sun yet. Here are things I now know to be truths. When you order a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser south of the Wisconsin border, If you are lucky, you get the Bloody Mary and a full size beer. Most of the time, you just get a confused look. If you try to avoid this confusion and order the classic Brandy Old Fashioned, you will need to explain what brandy is and why that would be in an Old Fashioned. Explaining to them that it is the classic super club way to make the drink, they will ask what in the heck is a super club? We have clearly left the safety of our up North culture and are now learning to adapt.

If you are keeping track of us on your US maps marked “Where in the South are Ken and Deb”, we left the St Louis area this morning, crossed Illinois and Indiana, and are now resting for the night in Louisville, Kentucky. We will lay siege to Louisville tomorrow and then head for a couple of days in Chattanooga, adding Tennessee to our list of states we have overrun. From Chattanooga we will eventually reach Atlanta completing our replication of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Unlike Sherman, we won’t stop there as we intend to eventually reach Daytona Beach before turning back North. I personally intend to continue to ask for cheese curds in bars and maybe even pickled pigs feet just to see if they can figure out from where we hale.

On a reasonably serious note, for those who are following this and waiting for the whimsical surprise, it was Old Louisville tonight. We asked about every employee of our hotel about places to see in Old Louisville only to determine that we might be the oldest residents of Louisville in the hotel and that has only been three hours. Receiving no advice from the bewildered hotel staff but honest denials, we checked the internet and Google Maps and found our way downtown for an incredible walk through several blocks of beautiful stately old mansions dating to the Civil War Era. They sat quietly nestled in boulevard style streets softly lit with gas street lamps. We followed up our walk with a stop at a corner Tavern on the Green for great drinks and very good food.

Tomorrow we have planned a trip to the Louisville Slugger factory and museum as well as a visit to the Kentucky Derby museum and Churchill Downs. I am quite excited to see the World’s largest baseball bat which though not on my bucket list could have been right up there had I known it existed. If you missed the sarcasm there, as Big Bang’s Sheldon would say, bazinga!

We lost an hour somewhere crossing Indiana and have determined we aren’t going to find it, so it may be early back there in Wisconsin but it’s nearing bed time here and we still have that World’s largest bat on deck for us in the morning. I will try to catch up with you after Chattanooga and fill you in with whatever surprises we find there. Until then, we sign off as Kentucky Wild Cats tonight.

The Gateway Arch….a little history can be surprising.

We have been in the St Louis area for the past three days visiting friends in Edwardsville on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. The company has been fun and gracious as we caught up and spent time doing some good sightseeing and dining, and yes, some good refreshment times. Yesterday we took a drive into St Louis and though I have been there countless times, we took in the newly redone St Louis Arch Memorial. Where one had to try to navigate an insane highway crossing to get to the Arch, it has been replaced with a much larger park area running over the top of the busy highways running underneath.

That is just the beginning of the refurbishing. The museum entrance has been relocated to the middle of the Arch and leads down to a very expanded museum with far more history to offer. But that is not necessarily my point. What surprised us, no shocked us, was the detail in the exhibits. In the past the history of the western expansion was pretty much told from the American perspective. We needed space, no one really seemed to be there and after all, we had discovered it and manifest destiny ruled. The exhibit on the Mexican War, the US name for it versus the Mexican version, Yankee Invasion, told a different story of how we had for the only time in our history, declared a war to seize land. I do not mean to disparage the memory of those great American heroes of the Alamo, or Louis and Clark setting out from St Louis to survey our new territories west of the Mississippi, but it really shed a different light on our motivation. With Texas, it turns out slavery played a big role since the South needed more slave holding territories for their cause and then consider that neither Spanish or French law allowed for slave ownership. There was also a display that counted, through a moving time line, the number of acres the US has seized since it’s birth in 1776, roughly 1,600,000,000 acres. Most of this taken from the Native Americans through 510 treaties, all broken in time.

As surprising as these revelations were, none impacted me more than this one. Prior to 1804, when the western lands held by the French and Spanish came under US ownership and thus US laws, women were allowed full rights to ownership, representation, and legal status in all counts and courts. In one day, as the US flag was raised over the new territories, women lost all of those rights as they came under US law. Not until the 1900’s, over one hundred years later, would we begin to acknowledge those rights. I’ll leave that for you to chew on.

All of this is food for thought. I am not trying to burn the American Flag for heaven knows, we have for the most part apologized and in some small way recompensed many of our past deeds, but it was shocking to have it put into perspective. It is of course a testament to our country that a National Monument has put these exhibits there for all who would seize the opportunity to truly discover the history of our western expansion.

I feel a need to end on a positive note. Deb and I are having a great time on this road trip adventure, visiting old friends and new ones and discovering little things that we would never see from the air.

All good things….

We have arrived in Switzerland and tonight we dine in Lucerne.  The Alps form the backdrop of most of our pictures and rise straight up out of the flat plains that surround them.

But let’s go back to yesterday and our farewell to the crew, the boat and new dear friends.  We have spent the last seven days doing pretty much everything together and saying goodbye last night was very difficult.  We have promised to stay in touch and have made some preliminary plans to visit each other’s homes.  Our friends are from Atlanta so this will take some dedication to make the journey either way.

When you travel in a group as we have these last seven days, it becomes quite easy to share our stories and suddenly find ourselves becoming bonded over common likes and plans.  This is a side effect of the travel but really one of the most important aspects of it.  There are river ships and ocena ships but the greatest are the friendships.

So this morning, we left the boat headed for our stay in Lucerne, without our Georgia friends.  They had left much earlier and caught their flight for home.  Though strange, we were still looking forward to our extended stay in Switzerland.

After our city tour and a quick lunch of local cuisine, we were on a bus headed for Stanserhorn and the long ride to its summit.  We start with a cog railroad ride for the first leg.  The train is the original train from 1893.  As we climb up the open meadow flank of the mountain, we see Lucerne and the surrounding villages drop away below us.  But this is just the first leg and the real climb waits at the end of the rail line.  At about 1/6 of the way up the mountain, we switch over to the cable car.

I have been on cable cars before.  I have been higher up on mountains out west, but this was clearly different.  Not sure whether it was the steepness or just the seeming singleness of this peak, but the sense of vertigo was overwhelming.  One can only wish the pictures could adequately display the view and somehow create the same sensation of floating, but only being there can have you truly appreciating the majesty of the Alps.

As if the sheer power and magnitude of the mountain and our precarious ride up its face were not impressive enough, there was a surprise.  Nearing the top, in a clearing hanging on the side of the mountain, we could see the switchbacks of a trail and then, to our surprise, the appearance of cows grazing at an incredibly impossible angle.  And where there were cows, there were farm buildings perched on the terraces of the mountain.

Switzerland has, by law, no corporate farms.  The average farm in Switzerland is a postage stamp fifty acres.  What shocked me, was that even here, high on this mountain side, farmers and their families were harvesting meadow hay for the cattle.

After a white knuckle hike to the final summit and a cliff walk back to the top of the cable car, we were headed back down.  Our cameras were full of the shots we could only hope told the story but the views and the sensations we experienced were etched in our memories and would travel down the mountain with us and then back to our homes as our journey was coming to an end.

We are comfortably seated at our restaurant on the edge of the canal.  Our waiter is bringing us more drinks and food as we listen to an impromptu concert break out across the canal.  The Alps are bathed in the waning sunlight as evening closes in on us.

One more day in Switzerland.  One more chance to record the memories of a country I never thought I’d see.  One more day to be the traveler.